Thursday, June 28

Nutella & hazelnut/blackcurrant & almond loaf cake

This is a cake that just has to be made. It is so good. So good I can't articulate its good-ness. And it's foolproof - all you do is mix, and bake. It's lovely eaten warm. Especially if you're making the Nutella version, because then the chocolate filling melts in your mouth. The moist, nutty sponge probably will too.

Ingredients -

150g self raising flour
100g ground almonds/ground hazelnuts
175g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
Few drops almond essence
4 tbsp milk
150g high fruit blackcurrant jam/Nutella
25g flaked almonds

Do this -

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius.
Line a 900g loaf tin with baking paper.
Tip the flour and ground nuts into a bowl (to make ground hazelnuts, just put whole blanched hazelnuts into a sealed bag and crush with a rolling pin - they grind really easily).
Add the butter, sugar, eggs, almond essence and milk.
Beat with a handheld electric whisk for 2-3 minutes until light and fluffy.
Spoon half the cake mix into the tin, then spoon the jam/spread evenly over the top.
Cover with the remaining cake mix then swirl through the mixture with a skewer.
Smooth the top and cover with flaked almonds.
Bake for 1 - 1 1/4 hours until firm to the touch and golden brown.

Recipe adapted from here.
And here is what the blackcurrant and almond version looks like, in case you need further tempting (photo courtesy of Waitrose):

Tuesday, June 26

Little neighbours



If you look very closely, among the yellow flowers of the courgettes, past the tiny little salad leaves unfurling from the soil, between husky maroon apples already the size of plums, through heads of ornamental wheat and the tips of white lupins, behind a plump reddening strawberry, and around the pale green lavender flowers about to burst into purple...

you might catch a glimpse of a few little neighbours.

(Thankfully my camera lens can get nice and close so I don't have to!)

Sunday, June 24

Vintage in East London

There are some lovely streets and buildings in East London. Look past the smart-suited bankers swarming along Liverpool Street, past the clusters of hipsters meandering back and forth between vintage shops off Brick Lane, and you'll find Dickensian-looking terraces, ragged bunting flapping against iron lampposts, old churches and retro typography. I even spotted Carrie of WishWishWish being snapped down a photogenic side street (red umbrella'd lady to the right!).

We did hit the vintage shops too. Beyond Retro is probably the best - you're guaranteed to find something in there, be it a floral dress, knitted jumper, culottes, a playsuit or an old American sweater, and the prices are relatively decent. Some vintage shops try too hard and are full of unoriginal sixteen year old hipsters and obscure pounding music. But other shops are more my cup of tea - forties music humming away, knick knacks and old books perched precariously on every available surface. Look out for spontaneous basement sales where you might find the odd special bargain...

All photos lazily swiped off my Instagram. I couldn't live without that app at the moment (how predictable) because I always have my iphone on me and it's just so easy to use. Anyway, I didn't want to lug my dslr around the shops (lazy girl excuses)...

I'm spending all of today on my laptop, reading the papers and consuming hot drink after hot drink whilst outside it switches from sunny blue skies to gales and rainstorms every five minutes. Hankering after some summer weather, or a ticket somewhere hot. I haven't been abroad for two years, and my list of countries to visit just grows longer...I envy any of you preparing to jet off somewhere exciting!

Friday, June 22

Thank you, Mr Postman

Two lovely deliveries last week.

My belated birthday present from my parents - a Cambridge satchel. Because I am a brown leather satchel kind of girl. I've never spent more than about £20 on a bag so I'm quite excited by this. It smells beautiful and it's embossed with my surname initials. It probably won't leave my side for the next few years, hopefully it will become battered and homely and well-loved.

Nigel Slater's Tender vol.1. I have wanted this for a long long time, ever since I fell head over heels for The Kitchen Diaries, Toast, and his prose in general. And I like growing things and eating them. So I finally went ahead and ordered it, just as a nice treat. O it's heavenly.

Friday, June 15

An easy minestrone

I own some much-loved recipe books - Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries, Lorraine Pascal's Baking Made Easy, Peyton & Byrne's British Baking, The National Trust Teatime Baking Book - I could go on. And much-loved recipes too, yellowed cuttings from magazines and newspapers, little recipe cards, handwritten scrawls passed down through the family. But when the kitchen is full of 'bits' of ingredients left over from previous meals, I want to use them up rather than have to buy ingredients for another recipe.

So I improvise, and make something up.

Which sounds more impressive than it is, because anybody can make a soup out of what's-left-in-the-fridge-on-Friday. Really. And minestrone - this minestrone, anyway - is just that, a glorified soup-come-stew that will accept any withered old ingredient chucked its way and, given a bit of patience and slow simmering, transform it into the most tasty and satisfying of suppers.

Here's what I used. You can chop and change the ingredients to suit what's left in your kitchen - just keep the proportions of stock, vegetables, meat, carbs and seasoning the same, and you'll have a winner on your hands. And that slightly-past-it bag of greens in the back won't have gone to waste after all.

8 sausages
2 tbsp olive oil
4 small sticks celery
2 leeks
1 large onion
1 carrot
2 cloves garlic
Bunch of purple sprouting broccoli/shredded chard, cabbage, any greens
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin cannellini beans
1 litre stock (to match sausages, or a mix of beef and chicken, or veg)
Big handful fresh parsley
Small handful fresh thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste

Fry the sausages/meat you are using, or cook in oven as you normally would. Leave to cool a little.

Meanwhile, chop up the celery, leeks, onion and carrot and steam for 10 minutes until starting to soften.

Then fry this veg gently in olive oil for another 20-30 minutes - or as long as possible - until soft and tasty but not turning to mush.

Add the garlic, parsley, thyme and rosemary, stir to combine, then tip in the tomatoes and greens.

Mix together, and cook for 5 minutes. Then add the sausages/meat, chopped into manageable chunks.

Now begin to add the stock. Add about 700ml first, or enough to cover everything, then add more during simmering, as lots of liquid will be lost through evaporation. You will probably end up using the whole litre.

Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil then simmer for as long as possible – the longer, the tastier. About 20 minutes before serving stir in the cannellini beans, or chopped up spaghetti.

Serve with foccacia or ciabatta bread. A basil pesto garnish is good too!


Wednesday, June 13

Just a minute in... June

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. I can't decide if I like her prose or not...there are some wonderful long descriptive sentences, but I find her stream-of-consciousness style really annoying at times - not to mention I'm halfway through the book and only about half an hour of time seems to have passed in the story.

Listening to...
Jake Bugg, who sounds like a young Bob Dylan for my generation. His song Lightning Bolt is catchy.

Not much, apart from the tennis - excited for Wimbledon! The football is now dominating our telly, not that it matters because there's hardly anything worth watching on. Quite intrigued by the programmes about the history of London's streets though; I'm a sucker for sentimental old footage. And have heard rumours that the next series of The Hour and The Great British Bake Off are soon on their way...yippee!

Vintage delights after a day spent around Brick Lane. And Nigel Slater's Tender vol. I. An all-time favourite writer of mine. His arrival on Twitter is just joyful.

All the gorgeous vintage packaging released for the jubilee.
Spending time in the kitchen. Lamb stew with cannelini beans, turnips, green beans and rosemary. Giant salt and pepper breadsticks.Turkey, leek and parsley puff pastry pie. Spaghetti with roasted vegetables and basil. Marmalade. Lemon and pepper crusted white fish. Summer berry bakewell tart.
Sunday morning routines - fetching the papers, smell of toast, coffee percolator gurgling, pottering around the garden.
O and I can't stop using instagram. Follow me - my username is @katemortmain.

Tuesday, June 5

A sunny day in the English countryside

Now I'm officially no longer a teenager I feel like it's slightly more acceptable to wax lyrical about gardens, nice views, flowers, weather, a good cup of tea, and the like. So without further ado...

My birthday fell in that spell of lovely weather at the end of May (seems like a dream now) and original plans to spend the day gallivanting around London were thrown out of the window in favour of a jaunt to the countryside. May is my favourite month: everywhere looks its best, full and green with all kinds of colours and flowers a-bloom. An opportunity to spend the day outside under blue skies just couldn't be passed by.

We went to Loseley Park to have a wander around their gardens and the surrounding land. The gardens were quintessentially English; lots of pink, white and purple borders, a pretty moat, long white greenhouses, lots of roses and wisteria. The main garden was walled (I have a thing for walled gardens, ever since reading The Secret Garden as a girl) and split into sections. There was an incredible herb garden with areas for household, culinary, medicinal and decorative herbs. So much colour. The organic vegetable garden put my raised bed to shame; it was groaning with variety and order, and every border flanked with pretty wildflowers. I can't wait to have the space and know-how to grow sweet peas, fruit bushes, squash, potatoes, asparagus, day!

One of my favourite gardens was the white garden where all the flowers were white or cream. It was tranquil, a bit wild, romantic, dreamy and very English.

The surrounding land is lovely too. Hills, rolling fields, the occasional splash of bright yellow rapeseed flower, cow parsley and meadowsweet lining hedgerows and country roads. Cottages, cottage gardens, small woods and lakes. Lots of birds and bicycles.

Lunch was had at the nearby Watts Gallery. The gallery, containing the art of George Frederick Watts, is amazing and the nearby church worth a visit as well. There's also a lovely gift shop and a teashop where they serve things like Welsh rarebit, bowls of soup, homemade sandwiches, tomato tart and slabs of almond cake.

Art, tea, cake and countryside. My kind of birthday!