I think our Easter cake debate is over

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I love Simnel cake (ok, I really love marzipan, the cake is just an excuse to eat marzipan), but none of our kids are that keen. But it wouldn’t be Easter without a cake.

I think Lakeland have given us our answer:

 

The Lakeland Easter Anti Gravity Cake - chocolate lovers delight!

 

This anti-gravity kit is a clever piece that I’ve seen them illustrate with all kinds of ideas, but I particularly love this one and know it will go down well here. I mean, Flake and Cadbury Mini Eggs? Ok, it’s not exactly single origin chocolate, but it is Easter.

This piece of kit is just £9.98, and if baking is your thing then I can imagine you having some fun with this.

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Getting ready for Australia Day

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So familiar, and so amazing to have stood here

 

In spite of Austravel’s best attempts, I’m not heading to Australia this year but I guess we could be very tempted to celebrate Australia Day on January 26.

It was certainly a trip of great eating and drinking, and there are some things I’d definitely think of having on the menu here to celebrate:

 

SundayFavourite end to a fabulous trip of great eating in Australia

 

So, it’s unlikely to be BBQ weather here (although with the way things are going then you never can tell), so I’m going to go with the Bill Granger option and make a pile of the ricotta hot cakes. Or, given that it’s a Tuesday morning, then maybe I’ll make the sweetcorn fritters for dinner instead.

 

Tim Tams in every possible flavour

 

I seem to remember my luggage had a whole load of Tim Tams in it, from the original through to the chocolate raspberry, some peanut butter ones and the coconut ones. And the salted caramel. They didn’t last long. Sanza have quite a few of the flavours, which is cheaper than the return airfare!

 

Vegemite spread - one for the shelves

 

I never got into Vegemite, but then I’m not a fan of either Marmite or Bovril. But it would seem appropriate to have a jar on display at least.

 

Bundaberg Ginger Beer

 

For when it wasn’t quite yet wine o’clock, then I got seriously into Bundaberg Ginger Beer. Perfectly refreshing when it was warm, without being too sweet. It went perfectly well with fresh fish and chips on the beach. And it appears you can get it pretty much everywhere here too now, from Tesco to Waitrose. I must remember to stock up.

 

Getting used to the local wine in Australia

 

When it was wine o’clock then it was hard to choose from the huge variety. In the end I ended up picking a name I liked the look of. I choose racehorses to back in the same way. I had better luck with wine than I’ve ever had with horses. Looking at the choices on Majestic, then I’m going with Two Left Feet Shiraz. About right for me.

 

Banana bread: appears to be a national obsession in Australia

 

And if I wanted to get baking, then there could only be one thing: banana bread. Everywhere we went it seemed to be on the menu, in much the way a scone or flapjack might be here. My go to recipe has always been from Domestic Goddess, we have always been, and remain, Team Nigella.

I would love to be in Australia for Australia Day, it was definitely the most incredible trip and I loved every minute of it. But, not to be, at least this year, but I’ll be raising a glass to family and friends there, and to the expats who for some reason want to leave all that for here.

What about you, anyone else joining in?

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So, what kind of food year was 2015?

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Seems an age since I wrote about my hopes for 2015 on the food front, when I was hoping that grip of the big four supermarkets on our shopping might continue to loosen. Well, according to reports, that seems to be happening.

 

#Backofchallenge - what food is lurking in your cupboard?

 

January saw me starting the Back of Challenge for unloved food. I have to say, I still have some of the things I took out of the cupboard then, although I haven’t replaced them and the cupboards are still somewhat emptier.

 

Chocolate Macarons from Drop Dead Chocolate - the most beautiful chocolates to gift to a food lover

 

February of course is about love and Valentine’s Day for many. I loved the chocolates from Drop Dead Chocolates, and would also have been very partial to a hamper from The Modern Pantry. To be honest, anything from the Modern Pantry would be great, any time of the year.

 

Beauty in the Juice? Or not.

 

In March I was being cynical about claims made for a fruit juice. I’m probably not finishing the year looking any younger, as I haven’t been drinking it, but then I’m also not siginificantly poorer either.

 

Favourite end to a fabulous trip of great eating in Australia

 

March and April saw MGG and I on our Australian adventures, and there were flat whites on many days. Although there was a reasonable amount of the local wine taken too. And a breakfast to remember at Bill Granger’s.

 

Cooked apple tart

 

By May we were focusing on heading to France, so helping the kids get into French food. I was also discovering that not every recipe book is well tested, and so recipes do fail.

 

Time for iced tea for Tea Jay

 

Praying for warm weather in June, then I was hoping for iced tea as well as hoping to get organised for next year’s World Gin Day. I was also being tempted by the Lakeland sale. Again. Somethings never change.

 

The best birthday cakes ever from my tribe

 

I had my unbirthday in July with some great cakes from the tribe. There was also a great debate about what kit was essential or not in a kitchen. Still think I’m missing some bits.

 

Distill your own gin at 45 Gin School, the best lesson I've been to in years. Perfect gift for a gin lover

 

August of course heralds the start of Bake Off, and I was musing on the 10 things I had learnt from Bake Off. It was also the month I went back to school, and made my own gin for the first time. Amazingly, there’s still some left.

 

My fabulous bread basket at Cafe Einstein

 

There was a gin theme in September too (ok, I know, when isn’t there?) as my favourite Advent calendar launched. And it probably turned up in my round up of 53 hours eating and drinking in Berlin.Though less so in my roundup from Rugby, although that does feature eggs Benedict.

 

Make Your Own Bacon - perfect gift for bacon loving food lover

 

October saw Christmas looming, and I reflected on the six gifts that food lovers hate to get. I also did a roundup of kits to make your own foodstuffs, of which bacon was the most popular. I also showed how to get a cocktail through a letterbox, one of my favourite tricks of the year.

 

That's no moon: Death Star cookie jar, great gift for a food lover with a Star Wars obsession

 

By November, the countdown was really on to the new Star Wars movie coming out, and I summoned up the foodie force for a guide to the best gifts around for Star Wars lovers. There’s also my top ten gifts for food lovers who love to entertain, just in time for the major entertaining season ahead, not to mention gifts for those just starting out on their own cooking journey.

 

The Best Gin Cocktails You've Ever Made. Apparently.

 

December was about getting ready for Christmas, whether the fun, with festive cocktails, or the practical, with funky tea towels for the drying up ahead. Not to mention my usual roundup of options if you had forgotten that Christmas was just around the corner.

Definitely a year of contrasts, and new adventures on several continents, but some great eating with good company, at our own tables and away from home too. Here’s hoping for more of the same in 2016. What are your food memories of 2015? Would love to know.

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They’re back again: Rosie’s Pantry Measuring Cups, Year 5

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Well, when you’ve got a winning formula, why change it? I swear that Rosie’s Pantry has had more facelifts than half of Hollywood. I first wrote about these back in 2011, and every year since.

Rosie's Pantry Measuring Cups - is there a food lover in the land who hasn't had these as a gift yet?

And every year they’re one of the most popular things I feature on the blog!

They still look lovely, and are a bargain at £10, and are part of the famous Boots mix and match deal. There are some other lovely things in the same range, from a toast rack to a cakestand, so you could probably get to your 3 for 2 deal just within this range.

Go quick though, these have been one of the first items to go in years gone by.

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The 7 oddest cake tins your baking doesn’t need

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My cake tin cupboard is one that drives me nuts, as they keep falling out. But there aren’t many pans in there that are contenders for getting rid of, as they are all sensible shapes and sizes. Whereas if any of these crazy shapes were in there, it would surely be an easy choice. Seriously, why would you with any of these?

 

Skeleton in Coffin Cake Tin

 

Don’t get me wrong, I love Halloween as much as the next person. But even I would find it a little limiting to know what to do with this tin outside of Halloween. I mean, do you think you could convert this into a Sleeping Beauty cake? But if skeletons in coffins are your thing, then go ahead!

 

Cakewich cake pan

 

A cake that looks like a sandwich? Like you don’t have a square tin and a good knife for shaping? No space here for this one.

 

Raggedy Ann or scary doll cake tin?

 

Apparently this is a vintage Raggedy Ann tin. Looks scary to me. Back to Halloween perhaps, but definitely prettier dolls out there.

 

Cabbage Patch Doll cake tin

 

And there again, there are much uglier dolls too. If you thought that one was ugly, then can it get any uglier than a Cabbage Patch Doll? It’s a no on this one as well from me.

 

Cornstick Cake Tin

 

Maybe it’s cultural, but I’m not even sure what a cornstick is. All I know is that in 47 years I’ve never felt the need for a cake shaped like one, so I sure as heck don’t need a tin like this.

 

High Heel Cake Tin

 

Ok, maybe I’ve just got a thing against high heel things. There was the infamous blueberry vodka glass stiletto I hated. Then there was the bottle holder. And this tin doesn’t make me change my mind in the slightest.

 

Willy Cake Tin. Or, apparently, makes a decent lighthouse cake

 

What can I say about this one? Apparently you can make a decent lighthouse cake from it. But then I’ve never need to make one of those either.

So, what tins would you clear out of your cupboards? Can you add any more odd shapes to this list?

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The Friday Five – Christmas is most definitely coming

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Christmas is coming, time to get planning for the food lovers in your life

 

I am sorry to mention this, but three months today and it will be Christmas Day! Which means it’s time to start the planning for the meals, if only because I love this part. Looking forward to new traditions and old, so maybe that I need some new inspiration. These five books are all newly published in time for Christmas this year, so may be worth looking out for.

 

Elizabeth David's Christmas - could become my new go-to Christmas cookbook from one of the most important food writers of the 20th century

 

Elizabeth David’s Christmas – obviously the writing is not new in this, but it’s the first time Elizabeth David’s thoughts on, and recipes for, Christmas entertaining have been pulled into a book. She was such an influential writer it seems unbelievable this is the case, but I will really enjoy reading this one.

 

Dozens of Christmas cookie classic recipes for all the family

 

Christmas Cookies – the secondary title tells you all you need to know: dozens of classic Yuletide treats for the whole family. As we have a tradition of new PJs and hot chocolate on Christmas Day evening, maybe some of these would be ideal accompaniments.

 

Maggie's Christmas - sharing the best of Maggie Beer's Australian Christmas

 

Maggie’s Christmas – given this has been the year of our big trip to Australia, then it seems appropriate that we might add an Australian view of Christmas to the bookshelf. I think Maggie is the Aussie equivalent of Delia, and so these could become classics, even allowing for the differences in the seasons.

 

The Irish Countrywomen's Association Book of Christmas - for recipes, advice, blessings and traditions for a perfect Irish Christmas

 

The Irish Countrywomen’s Association Book of Christmas – from Australia to Ireland for another part of my heritage. This says it covers recipes, advice, blessings and traditions for the perfect Irish Christmas. I’m all about mixing traditions and recipes, so might give some food for thought.

 

Oh Come All Ye Tasteful - the foodie's guide to a millionaires Christmas feast

 

Oh Come All Ye Tasteful – who doesn’t want a foodie’s guide to a millionaire’s Christmas feast? Maybe it’s a bit of fun just to read, or maybe you can afford to stuff your turkey with foie gras and black truffles. Personally I think Christmas is memorable when you cook with love, not just expensive ingredients, but may be worth a read.

 

If you need more books, then I’ve written some other Christmas Fives over the years. There was “Christmas is coming, the cook is getting…?” which has the classic that is Merry Kitschmas in it. The first of my Christmas book offs with English Mum was in 2012, and I fired the opening salvo in 2013 too. I would have thought 20 cookbooks about Christmas was enough for anyone though!

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Looking for some flour inspiration

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It was bread week on the Bake Off, and I think the memory of the flour moth invasion is about gone. And I’m thinking that coming into autumn then there’ll need to be more bread baking, which means interesting flour testing.

I’m not sure whatever happened to Flour Bin, which used to be a great source for all kinds of flour, but they don’t seem to be trading anymore. I really like Bakery Bits as an alternative, and I like the sound of the Lammas Fayre Flour from John Letts.

 

Anglo Saxon Light Rye Flour from Lammas Fayre

 

Flour made from these more ancient, less intensely grown grains are often easier for some people to digest, so these may suit some. Might also appeal to history geeks, with things like the Anglo Saxon Blend of light rye or the Medieval Peasant’s Blend. Definitely need to try this one! Although somewhat different as includes peas and broadbeans in the mix.

Definitely a site worth checking out for all your bread baking needs from ingredients to baking tins.

 

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The Friday Five – all about cake

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Ok, I know this week’s Bake Off was about biscuits, but I’ve got cakes on my mind as it’s my turn to take cakes in for the team. If I had time then I’d be baking, but sadly it’s only going to be thinking about baking this week. These books would be fabulous inspiration if there was time:

 

Naked Cakes - great gift of a cookbook for a food lover who likes to keep ahead of trends

 

Naked Cakes – how beautiful does this cover look? And I love this as a reaction to things like over-decorated cupcakes. This one is very much about the flavours, with things like Coconut Angel Cake with Raspberries or Chocolate Fig Cake. I think this one is going on my Christmas list.

 

Jamie's Food Tube: The Cake Book - great cookbook gift for a food lover who likes it big

 

Jamie’s Food Tube: The Cake Book – as you’d expect from Jamie, these are modern twists, and plenty of flavours involved. I like that these are seasonal recipes, so something to go at any time of the year.

 

Cakes in a Mug - great cookbook gift for a food lover who wants it fast

 

Cakes in a Mug – ok, there have been a few nights that cakes in a mug have featured here when there’s been no other sweet stuff to hand. This sounds like it might be a dangerous book to have on hand!

 

Surprise Cakes - great cookbook gift to surprise a food lover with

 

Surprise Cakes – sounds like the best kind of cake to me! I’ve never really tried anything like this except an ombré cake so wouldn’t mind giving a go.

 

Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book - great cookbook gift for food lovers who like to learn from the best

 

Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book – well, can’t really beat going a bit old school with the queen of the bakes, now can you? Funnily enough I don’t own any of Mary’s books, so maybe this is a good one to start with.

Whatever time you get to bake, hope you enjoy it and the results!

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No surprise that Lakeland are on the Bake Off bandwagon

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But you know what? There’s some lovely things in here, and a bit different. I mean, who doesn’t want bunting cookie cutters?

 

Bake Off Bunting

 

And slightly less frivolous, I really love this enamel jug too.

Enamel jug

There are lots of stencils and cake wrappers and things, so plenty to help get your baking to star baker level for whoever your judges are.

Ready. Steady. Bake!

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Ten things I’ve learnt from the Great British Bake Off

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Ten things I've learnt from the Great

 

Definitely an appointment to view tomorrow with the start of the new series of Great British Bake Off, though it’s hard to believe this is series 6. Which made me think about the things that the first five series have taught me:

1. Apparently you can make your own filo pastry from scratch.

But why would you? I cannot believe Paul Hollywood made his own when he worked in Cyprus. And life is too short to make it. Likewise puff pastry.

 

Kitchenaid Pink

 

2. A KitchenAid is a treacherous piece of kit

I don’t care how lovely it looks, my dull by comparison Kenwood Chef has never covered me in flour. I wonder how many episodes in we’ll get before it happens.

 

Glenn Cosby on tour in Edinburgh

 

3. It’s not always the winner who does best

I seem to hear more of some of the non-winners than some winners. Or maybe it’s just that I read the Guardian so see Ruby’s recipes on a regular basis. Or hear of Brendan’s classes. Or was in Edinburgh for the festival when Glenn was on tour.

 

 

4. It’s best, but not essential, to know your sugar from your salt

Didn’t do John Whaite any harm to mix them up. Although others have not been so lucky, even celebrities.I suggest very big labels in the kitchen. We did nearly have a nasty salt in tea incident here, so not learnt lesson very well.

5. Always check you’ve switched the oven on

Grilling cake tends to be limited to Schichttorte, otherwise it’s best to turn the oven on. And check it feels warm when you put a cake in. Otherwise there may be panic at some point.

6. Plaiting an eight strand loaf requires a lot of concentration

About the same as learning to French plait hair. I’ve given up on both.

 

Oh dear, she didn't like that

 

7. If you’re up in front of Mary Berry, make your own fondant

Who can forget that look? But if it’s not Mary coming round, then I’d cheat. Though not with the Sainsbury’s own brand stuff. Horrid in my view.

8. About episode 2 I’ll be really glad again that I didn’t enter

Every year throughout the series someone nags me about entering. I vaguely consider it given that I love baking, and people, generally, seem to like my baking. And then they do something spectacularly over the top, and I think “thank god I’m not there!”

9. I’ll still want one of those ovens

It’s all about those slideaway doors.

10. I will forget every week to get some baked goods in the house

It’s not the same watching it with just a cup of tea. Must get organised and get baking in preparation to settling down to enjoy the hour.

So here’s to enjoying the trials and tribulations ahead of the bakers and seeing what challenges lie ahead, of cakes we’ve never heard of, and those we long to try.

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