Wednesday, 19 November 2014


You can't have a tearoom without having scones. That would be madness.
If you're not familiar with them, scones are a kind of quick bread - usually made with flour, fat and baking powder (you could argue that they are actually a form of pastry, but I'd recommend that you quit taking things so seriously). 
Opinion is divided on the pronunciation of the word scone at the tearoom. Mike favours rhyming it with cone (which is the Southern English and American pronunciation), I prefer rhyming it with gone, like the rest of the North of England, Scotland and Canada). We have reached a compromise where whoever makes them decides. Which is me. Buahaha*
We make two types of scone - sweet and savoury. The savoury scone I'll write about another day, but the sweet scone is a classic tearoom treat. Light, fluffy and slathered with butter and jam is my favoured method of eating them, but the classic jam and cream is always popular.
To paraphrase the old saying, a good scone is hard to find. I've eaten far too many that are dry, doughy or tough. A scone should be light, buttery and melt in the mouth. The secret is to use butter (sorry vegans! Though coconut butter makes a rich, exotic scone that is pretty awesome too), to take care rubbing the four and butter together (lumps of butter left in there will give the scone a slightly weird flaky texture) and to handle the dough as little as possible (easier said than done!)

300g strong white flour
75g butter 
2tsp baking powder
50g sugar (though you an use a substitute like apple syrup or stevia if you want it sugar free)
1 egg, whisked
75ml cream
50ml milk (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190C. Rub together the four and butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. This will take about 5 minutes but feel like 10,000 lifetimes.  To the radio. John Finnemore's souvenir programme is about half an hour long, you'll have scones by the end of an episode! As the baking powder cand sugar (for sugar free scones you could add apple syrup or sugar free jam for a fruity scone). Whisk together the egg and cream and add to the flour. Quickly mix into a soft dough, adding a little milk if it seems dry.
There are two ways you can proceed. Option one is the traditional method - roll out about 3 - 4cm thick and cut into rounds with a 7cm cutter (pressing sharply down rather than twisting to ensure an even rise) and arrange on a baking tray. Brush with milk if you want to be fancy and bake for 15 minutes, or until the tops are pale gold.
Method two is good if you don't have a suitable cutter. Roll the dough into a rough circle 3 - 4cm thick. Brush with milk if you feel like it. Then using a sharp knife, mark the circle into 6 pieces radiating out from the centre like the spokes of a wheel. Game for 20 - 25 minutes, or until golden and will risen.
Turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool. Serve with jam and cream, or a smear of butter, and cup of tea.

Of course, a plain scone is a thing of beauty, but that doesn't mean you can't mix things up. Try adding chopped dried fruit and nuts, or grated cheese mixed with diced chillies or finely shredded spring onions. Here are a few other ideas.
Cherry Scones: Replace the sugar with 50g of diced glace cherries
Date & Walnut: Replace the sugar with 30g chopped dates & 20g chopped walnuts
Spiced: 1/2 tsp each of cinnamon & mixed spice and 50g dried mixed fruit (my favourite!)

*Simple pleasures, my friends 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Chocolate & Banana Sugar Free Cake

I've been really enjoying the challenge of sugar free cakes (without resorting to buying that slightly disturbing white granular stuff in the supermarket*). This chocolate & banana cake sold out about 4 hours after I put it on the counter. Good, because I am ridiculously proud of it, it's one of the best damn cakes I've ever made. Moist, rich and indulgent (and slightly less terrible for you!). It's sweetened with very ripe bananas & apple syrup, which gives it a richness and really brings out the chocolate flavour without being sickly.
This recipe makes a huge cake! But you can reduce the quantities by a third & use 20cm cake pans for something a little less excessive

Healthy - if you don't count all the butter and cream!
Chocolate & Banana Cake
250g butter (yes, that's a whole packet. But no sugar, so it's fine!)
3 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
175g apple syrup (I like Sweet Freedom. You can use any fruit syrup, but I find apple balances the banana well)
300g plain flour
3 eggs, whisked
50g cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
100ml single cream

You'll also need two 23cm springform cake tins, greased & lined, for this.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F
Soften the butter in a large mixing bowl & combine together with the mashed bananas and apple syrup. Add the cocoa powder & eggs (it will look a little lumpy and weird, but don't fret! It will be good!). Add the baking powder & flour & mix well. It will make a fairly stiff batter, so add the cream a little at a time until it forms a nice soft batter that clings to the spoon, but succumbs to gravity and flops off back into the bowl after a few seconds. If the idea of raw egg doesn't squick you out, have a quick taste and see if it needs a squeeze more of apple syrup (a lot of the sweetness comes from the overripe bananas, so less blackened ones will need a little help) Divide between the two cake tins and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer, knife or other pointy, prodding instrument jabbed into the cake comes out clean.
Leave a few minutes before turning out of the cake tins and handle with care. Cool on a wire rack, then sandwich together with some whipped cream (a 300ml tub of double cream is plenty for this sized cake) & dust with a little cocoa powder.
Eat with a slightly misplaced sense of virtue

*No offence to those that do, I just find myself staring at the stuff and asking myself "But what is it?!")

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Pumpkin Chutney

One of the most popular items on our menu at the tearoom is Cheese & Chutney Panini. I've been surprised by how many people have never tried the combination of toasty bread, cheese & chutney before, as it is delicious, and has been the post-pub meal of choice for myself & Mike for as long as I can remember.
But then, I have always been a fun of chutneys & pickles over jams & curds.

Ahh, chutney. Friend of cheese, saviour of the boring sandwich, secret ingredient of savoury dishes from stew to tagine (I'm not kidding, try stirring a heaped tablespoon of good chutney into pie fillings, curries or casseroles. It makes all the difference). I make several types of chutney for the tearoom, a good flavourful Winter Ale chutney for the aforementioned Panini, Tomato & Ale to accompany the Calzones & summery specials, Lincolnshire Pickle for the Ploughmans Lunch, plus seasonal specials depending on what I have an abundance of in the garden or the local hedgerows.
It's All Hallows Eve next week, which means that there are pumpkins everywhere (yay!). Most folks will be suggesting you make soup from your pumpkin (yawn), but soup is such a simple, sparse recipe, it needs a really good squash (like Kabocha, Onion or the mighty Crown Prince to make it worthwhile (and those big orange numbers in the supermarket are a little lacking in flavour). So make some Pumpkin Chutney!

Pumpkin Chutney
700g pumpkin (any variety will do, really), peeled, deseeded & chopped (the size of the pieces is up to you. I like quite a chunky chutney, but if you have nothing better to do you could painstakingly chop it into 1cm cubes).
700g apples, peeled, cored & chopped
1 large onion, peeled & diced
300g demerera sugar (or any brown sugar)
450ml cider vinegar
250g raisins
1tsp salt
1tbs chilli flakes
1" ginger, peeled & chopped

Pile all of that into your preserving pan. I know it doesn't look like there's enough vinegar in there, but there is.
In a piece of muslin (though I used a reusable teabag here. A crazy little invention from Whittards) tie up 1tsp peppercorns, 1 cinnamon stick (you can break it up if you need to) & 6 or 7 cloves. Or you can add 1/2 tsp mixed spice. Chuck into the preserving pan & bring everything slowly to the boil. This will occupy you for the next hour or so. Listen to some music. Or the radio. Go on iPlayer and listen to Cabin Pressure, a radio comedy about an airline (well, airdot, you need more than one plane to make a line) and play 'Brians* of Britain'. I don't encourage knitting, you'll get onion on the yarn.
Stir occasionally, and when it reaches a boil reduce to a simmer & give it the odd stir to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom or burns (unlikely to happen at the start, but after an hour it'll get thick & tricksy). After about an hour (maybe more, maybe less depending on how watery your pumpkin is) it will have darkened in colour and thickened up, and you can draw your spoon across the bottom and see the base of the pan briefly, like Moses parting the Red Sea. Only it's a chutney sea.

You have Chutney! Spoon into clean, sterilised jars & seal. Waste half an hour on Google images looking for a good picture to go on the label, then store in a cool, dark place for a couple of months to mature (though you'll probably have one jar that's only half full. That can be used straight away. Future jars will be more matured and well rounded in flavour, but it will still be tasty.

*Name famous Brits called Brian. Like Blessed, or Cox.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Sugar Free Marmalade Cake

I love a challenge, and coming up with new and delicious ways to make cakes sugar free was one I couldn't resist! So I'll be posting a sugar free cake recipe every week for the next month, and doing something a bit different each time. This weeks cake needs a special ingredient - sugar free marmalade!
Sugar free jam & marmalade (technically they are fruit spreads, as they don't contain sugar) is made with fruit, grape juice & pectin. I love Meridian Wild Blueberry Spread & St Dalfour Strawberry Preserve. This recipe uses St Dalfour thick cut orange preserve (its marmalade, folks), which is available in most large supermarkets (hey, if I can find this in rural North Lincolnshire, you can find it. I'm not Yotam Ottolenghi demanding you source sparrow beaks & seventeen types of foraged twig for one sandwich here)

Sticky, delicious & sugar free

Sugar Free Marmalade Cake
175g butter
150g St Dalfour Marmalade (other orange preserves are available)
3 eggs
225g self raising flour

You'll need a 20cm springform cake tin.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/G4. Cream the butter in a bowl & add the marmalade. Add the eggs one at a time. Fold in the flour. It should have a soft consistency that drops from the spoon. If its too thick, add a little milk. If its too thin, stir in a tablespoon of flour (or ground almonds). Pour into the prepared tin & bake for 45 - 55 minutes, or until a skewer poked into the middle comes out clean. Pretend you're in the Spanish Inquisition and cackle while you poke at your cake.
Turn out onto a wire rack & leave to cool. Spread some of the remaining marmalade on the top for a glossy finish. Eat with a cup of tea, trying not to get sticky fingers on your knitting

This is the kind of recipe that begs to be played around with. Substitute 30g of flour for cocoa powder & use black cherry or raspberry preserve. Or 30g of ground almonds and apricot preserve. The only thing I would suggest is use the darker preserves for chocolatey cakes and the paler ones for lighter sponges. Blueberry preserve in a pale cake comes out looking a bit weird. Not pink exactly, just a bit... wrong.

Oh, Sugar!

The lovely Shelly at Little House in the Corner blogged about giving up sugar for a month, which is an unbelievably brave thing to do, especially as the nights draw in & the soul begins to crave sweet puddings and warming drinks of an evening.
Acknowledging & tacking the unhealthy or sticky aspects of your relationship with food is never easy to do, and I have so much admiration for those who recognise their issues and work on them.
So I had a good long think about the Tearoom. For me cooking is an expression of love, of friendship & of compassion. I make food to make people happy. I have always had the policy of there being sugar free options for diabetics (my scones & teacakes are sugar free, and I offer sugar free jam for toast and cream teas). But I also enjoy a challenge, so for the next month I'll be making sure there is always a sugar-free cake on the counter.

Now when I say sugar, I mean sucrose, the refined granular stuff that goes in your tea. I'm well aware that fruit contains sugar (fructose), dairy contains sugar (lactose). You are also aware of this, so don't wave your finger at me saying 'Apricots have sugar in them'* and missing the point like a like a joyless pedant.

When going sugar free in baking, there are several alternatives to sweetening your treats.

Agave Nectar
The refined juice of the Agave plant, a massive succulent that grows in South America that is also used to make tequila. It is a little sweeter than sugar, but has a distinct flavour somewhere between honey & caramel. It works well in darker, richer cakes that have a lot of dried fruit or cocoa in them.

Apple Syrup
Made (as you might have guessed) from apples, it's a great sweetener for cakes (and lovely on porridge!), and I use it in scones & teacakes. I'm a big fan of Sweet Freedom apple syrup, which is made from apple, grape & carob. I find it much easier to use than apple puree, which is a bit sloppy & tricky to use in cake making, where too much moisture can be the difference between light & delicious cakey noms and something that gets thrown to the chickens.

Dried fruit
Dates & apricots are great for making sugar free chocolate or fruit cakes. They can be chopped or soaked in water & blended to a thick puree. Chocolate brownies made with dates simmered in tea until they collapse into a fragrant mush are pretty damn fine.

Stevia etc
I suppose you could, but what fun would that be?

Sugar-free cake recipe coming soon!

*may Nyarlathotep send his bat-winged, clanking rat-thingys to poke you in the eye and call you a thundering old bellend

Saturday, 18 October 2014

A Hat So Easy It Should Be Called Yo Momma

Despite being a Proper Grown-up with my own business & TaxWeasels* I can't resist a Yo Momma joke.

Ahem. Anyway, tomorrow is our monthly knitting club at the tearoom, The Social Knitwork (name courtesy of the every pun-tastic Mike). It's a friendly, easy-going bunch of people, there's no charge for attending, and no one will look at you funny if you're making something crackerarsed like a Lucha Libre balaclava or Giant Squid Hat (mostly because I love that sort of thing)

So, to celebrate, here's my pattern for a really easy rolll-brim hat. Not only is it easy, it's also fast (insert appropriate 'Your Momma' joke here), and only takes an evening to make (this particular hat took me a Sunday double bill of Columbo). It also has the magic power of fitting comfortably on different sized heads, from my own 21" scalp to Mikeyfox's Mekonesque 24" cranium.
You will be needing a 41cm/16" 8mm circular needle (the 8mm is the needle thickness, the 41cm/16" is the length of the circular needle). Don't be afraid of the circular needle, it's more scared of you than you are of it. You'll also need 4 dpns (double pointed needles). Yes, they are scary looking, and if you don't keep an eye on them they'll slip down the back of the sofa & perform acupuncture on you when you're watching old episodes of QI on Dave.

You'll need a ball of wool too, the chunkier the better. A single 100g ball should do the job (though you won't have anything left over. If you're worried, get more, it'll get used for something eventually). I used King Cole Homespun super chunky yarn in green, which is a nice thick wool/acrylic mix. You could use any chunky wool suitable for an 8mm needle, Sirdar Super Nova Tweed wool works really well too. (If you're really worried about the finished hat size, then knit yourself a gauge & work out the stitches per inch)
Cast 60 stitches onto your circular needles. Yes, it looks far too small right now, but it will work, I promise. Now comes the fun part, 'knitting in the round'. Yup, you're going to be going around in circles. Firstly straighten out all your stitches & make sure that they are all pointing inwards (or down, if that's your thing). You don't want to get your stitches twisted up, or you'll end up knitting a Mobius strip (a surface with only one side it may be, a hat it isn't). You'll need a stitch marker (Plenty of people buy stitch markers, they come in all sorts of shapes & colours. A paperclip works just as well. For this I'm using an Ankh ring sent to me by the lovely Cynthia as my stitch marker). Just slip it onto the needle next to the last cast on stitch. The stitch marker is just there to show you where the end of the row is. When you knit your row & get to it, you just slip it from one needle to the other & carry on knitting. It doesn't get knitted into the hat, just goes round & round the needles and helps you keep track of where your row starts/ends.
Hold the needle with the last cast on stitch in your right hand & the needle with the first cast on stitch in your left hand and knit into that first cast on stitch, pulling the yarn firmly to prevent getting a gap in the join between the two stitches (though this being a roll brim hat, no one will actually notice if the joint is a bit shoddy).
Sensible folk will recommend that you knit with the needles facing towards you, rather than away from you (like in regular knitting). I can't wrap my head around such things, so I knit with needles towards me, which has the bizarre effect of turning the hat inside out. But that's fine, just turn it right way round when you're finished. Work whatever method suits you best.

Another magic power of the circular needle is it turns a Garter stitch into a Stockinette. Why does it do this? Because you're knitting in a spiral, rather than the back & forth of regular needles. So if you want to make a garter stitch hat, you'll need to knit 1 round, purl 1 round & keep repeating. Or you can knit an inside-out, garter-that-becomes-stockinette magic-hat instead. Keep knitting until you have 6" or 7" or so of knitting (a little less if you're making a Beanie style hat, a little more if you want a big chunky brim).

Now comes the decreasing. Just relax. get yourself a cup of tea. Or a glass of wine. Who am I kidding, get a bottle of wine. Knit 8 stitches, then knit 2 stitches together. Repeat until the end of the row. Now knit 7 stitches, and knit 2 together, and repeat until the end of the row. Now knit 7 stitches, and knit 2 together, repeat to the end of the row. I'm sure you can see where this is going. At this point you & the circular needles will have to part ways. Yes, its time to meet the dpns, the double pointed needles -discovered by a the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred in the ruins of Babylon & used to knit a cabled tote bag for his early draft of the Necronomicon. Wield them and despair!

Okay, so they're not that bad. But look, they make an Anarchy symbol when used to knit a hat. Coincidence? Probably.
You can just slip your stitches onto 3 of the dpns, spread them out equally & continue knitting the rounds of decreases. Or you can knit straight onto them, whatever works best for you. With the 4th needle knit off the dpns (it sounds complicated, but it isn't. Just take your empty needle in your right hand & the dpn with the stitches you need to decrease next in your left. Knit & decrease from left to right, and use the now empty left hand dpn to do the same again to the next one). Knit & decrease for as long as you can stand to (I keep going until I have 3 or 4 stitches, but I'm Peculiar), cut your yarn, leaving a tail of several inches, and thread through the remaining stitches. Tie off & weave in any loose yarn left (don't forget the bit at the brim where you cast on). Turn it right way around (if you've been knitting it inside out)

There you have it. A very fine hat.
You can play around with the pattern. If roll-brim isn't your thing, then a rib stitch for the first couple of inches works well, and gives it a bit of elasticity, too. 
And finally...
Yo Mama is so fat she has mass whether the Higgs Boson exists or not!

*Although the TaxWeasels have been fired and replaced with a much nicer lady called Diane who doesn't spend all her time coming up with new ways of screwing me for more money

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Chantico Chocolate Cake

So a while back I persuaded Mike to make a spiced chocolate stout, because as a lover of South American foods, I am heartily sick of chilli chocolate stouts made with raw green chillis or pure capsaicin*.
We based the recipe on Mole Poblano (not mole the burrowing mammal and curse of lawns but mo-ley, a rich paste made from roasted chiles, chocolate, nuts & spices popular in Mexico), crammed it full of roasted Ancho, Pasilla & Mulato chiles, fairtrade cocoa, cinnamon and peppercorns. And its pretty damn good.

 We named it Chantico (pronounced Chan-TEE-co), after the Aztec goddess of home fires & volcanos. Here she is dressed as a red snake with a crown of cactus leaves. She was turned into a dog after eating paprika (so no paprika in our stout!) and had a tendency to go batshit if anyone touched her stuff (and I'm sure we can all appreciate that)
And, aside from drinking it, what better use of a fruity, spicy chocolate stout is there? Making a cake, of course! And not just any old cake, a seriously decadent, damp & slightly bitter cake topped with a foamy head.

Chantico Chocolate Cake

For The Cake
250g butter
200g plain chocolate
300g demerara sugar
250ml chantico (or any well flavoured stout)
300g plain flour
50g cocoa
2 eggs
2tsp baking powder

For The Topping
300g Mascarpone
100ml double cream
150g icing sugar

You'll also need a 23cm springform cake tin

Preheat the oven to 180C/G4. Throw the butter, stout (there will be half a bottle left, better drink it!) & plain chocolate in a large pan & put over a low heat until the butter & chocolate melts. Resist the urge to just drink the mix. Remove from the heat, add the sugar & stir. Leave to cool for a few minutes and whisk in the eggs and cocoa powder. Add the flour & baking powder & mix well. If the mix is a little stiff add a splash of stout (if you've drunk all the stout milk will do). Pour into the cake tin & bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until it is firm to the touch and a skewer stabbed into the centre (if you favour the Vlad the Impaler approach to cake making) comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin & turn out.
For the topping, whip the cream to stiff peaks. In a separate bowl whisk the mascarpone, then add the icing sugar 50g at a time (you might want to sieve the icing sugar if its a bit lumpy). Fold in the whipped cream & spread over the cake to give it a creamy, foamy head.

This works just as well as a filling, if you want a sandwich cake. Divide the mixture between two 23cm springform cake tins & bake for 25-30 minutes.
This recipe also works really well with Belgian fruit beers like Kriek (lambic cherry beer) or with a strong old ale.

*Wow, it must have taken you 8 seconds to come up with that. May Quetzalcoatl fly out of the sun and punch you in the throat. And also eat you.