Peanut Butter and Jam Sponge Sandwich

January is quite a hard month (not just personally but for a lot of people), it’s cold, dark and the excitement of Christmas has long since passed. It feels like this year has been particularly not fun. In a month we’re moving in with Dan’s parents whilst we work out our next steps. Because all the majority of our possessions are going into storage, we’ve been really trying to evaluate what we want to keep and what is just dead weight. Whilst minimalism is something I’ve always aspired to, I am a hoarder at heart. Even letting go to things that have been hidden in a box and not looked at for years is tough for me.

Am I ever likely to oil paint again? Probably not. Do I need two cupcake stands even though I rarely bake cupcakes? How about my mini Cuisinart mini food processor now my new Kenwood one comes with a mini bowl? The worst offender is probably my broken ice cream maker (and box, stored separately) that I have hung on to for nearly two years.

Reading the first chapter of the Happiness Project a couple of times has helped. Ruben breaks down of the main types of clutter into four types – nostalgic clutter (things you keep for sentimental reasons), conservative clutter (this could be useful someday), bargain clutter (but it was a really good deal!) and crutch clutter (things that are worn out, still continually used, and should be replaced). Evaluating why I want to hold onto things when I know that I should be letting go of them has really helped the process. Donating still useable things to friends and charity shops can also be comforting, knowing that I will not cluttering up a landfill with my decluttering.

Even though we only live in a small apartment, it still feels like a mammoth task to undertake. Reminding myself of my favourite mantra ‘one step at a time’ I broke my possessions down into just under 20 bite size categories, wrote them down on separate notes and stuck them to a wall with washi tape. Not only does it make the task less intimidating it also gives you the satisfaction of being able to see the project progress as you take down each completed tasks note.

As I have mentioned before, in times when I am feeling stressed and generally not my best I like to reach for comfort food. This cake combines two of my favourite treats (which I only indulge in once or twice a year) the very British Victoria sponge cake and the American peanut butter and jelly sandwich. These transAtlantic classics merge well into the perfect pick me up after a session of brutal clutter clearing.

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Peanut Butter and Jam Sandwich Cake

note: the cream and peanut butter filling does not keep well so this cake is best served straight away.

For the Sponge:
190g Butter
190g Caster Sugar
190g Self Raising Flour
3 eggs
1.5tsp Vanilla Extract
50ml millk

For the Fillings:
⅓ cup peanut butter
200ml whipping cream
50g icing sugar
⅓ cup strawberry jam

Preheat the oven to 180C, grease and line 3 20cm circular cake tins.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Beat in a tablespoon of the flour.

Add the eggs slowly to the mixture, making sure they are fully incorporated after each addition.

Repeat this process with the flour.

Beat in the vanilla and milk.

Divide between the tins and flatten the top with a spatula.

Bake on the middle shelf for 20-25 minutes until the top is golden brown and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool for 20 minutes, then remove from the tin and let cool to room temperature on a on a cooling rack – if the cake is still warm it will melt the cream.

Whisk together the cream and icing sugar until it forms stiff peaks.

Add the peanut butter and whisk slowly until combined.

Spread half the jam over the sponge and then top with the peanut butter cream, leaving about 1cm between the peanut butter cream and the edge of the sponge to allow for it to spread under the weight of the other sponges.

Carefully layer the next sponge on top and repeat.

Lay the final sponge on top and serve immediately.

Spiced Pear Tarte Tatin

I’m going to take it as a good thing that over 20 days into January my new years resolutions are still in the forefront of my mind. For the first week of the month, I asked nearly everyone I conversed with what their resolution for the year was. All these snippets of hopes have been rattling around my head encouraging me to work harder to become closer to the person I want to be at the end of 2014. My favourite of these resolutions was from a friend who wants to learn a new skill every month, from how to shuffle cards to how to bake a loaf of bread.

Extracurricular learning for pleasure is not something that I have given much thought to in the last few years, which is a shame because I should have. Borrowing my friend’s idea I have collated my own set of abilities I would like to possess by 2015. However, basic home maintenance was a complete bust when I tried a little amatuer plumbing and ended up disabling our bath/shower for a week until we could get a professional in.

When Argos asked if I would like to review one of their kitchen appliances, I decided to shift my goal to getting over my irrational fear of making pastry and chose a Kenwood Multipro Food Processor. I was so excited when it arrived, as I have wanted one for a couple of years now. I can’t wait to see if I can recreate a Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals dish under the time limit. My best time so far slicing by hand has been 19min 22sec (yes, I timed myself – but everyone who picks the book off my shelf asks if it is actually achievable).

Argos has a large range of Kenwood products available to buy here. I chose the Multipro as it’s attractive, with a brushed metal base and a large variety of attachments, including a glass smoothie jug, which is always really useful when you live in a small city apartment where space is at a premium. I have used it a couple of times already and I have been really impressed. It is incredibly easy to use and to clean afterwards and the build quality feels strong so I am hoping to be able to use if for years to come.

The only small flaw that I have noticed is that the lid doesn’t form a tight seal with the bowl so a little flour was thrown out when I turned it on. Having never really used a food processor before I don’t know if this is a standard issue, but apart from that I have been really impressed with it. I can not express the pride I felt when after a couple of minutes of using the food processor I was holding a ball of pastry dough. It has been a source of much internalised guilt whenever I buy a roll of shortcrust pastry knowing I have all the ingredients for it sitting in my kitchen.

Tarte Tatin was my signature dessert before I started this blog. It has a rustic charm – which translates to it still looking beautiful even if it is a little rough and ready. It is quick and simple, and it’s creation can be fitted around preparing your main meal (it works particularly well accompanying roast dinners). This version has been updated to include a little depth of flavour from the cardamom and cinnamon. It is soft, sweet and crumbly in the middle whilst chewy with toffee and treacle undertones around the outside.

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Spiced Pear Tarte Tatin
serves 10

recipe from Jamie Oliver

250g Plain Flour
50g Icing Sugar
125g Cold Butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
splash of milk

Blitz the flour, sugar and butter in a food processor until it resembles bread crumbs.

Add the egg and vanilla and blitz until combined.

Add a small splashes of milk combining well between additions until it forms a firm dough.

Remove from the food processor onto a floured work surface and split in two.

Roll each half into balls and then flatten.

Wrap individually in clingfilm and place in the freezer until frozen.

Caramelised Pears

2 pears
125g caster sugar plus 2 tbsp
40g butter
6 cardamom pods
½ tsp cinnamon

Line your pie dish with baking paper and preheat your oven to 190C

Heat the 125g of sugar over a low medium heat, do not stir, just occasionally swirl the pan to make sure the heat distributes evenly. I found this stage very tricky, I burnt the sugar 3 times. I stopped this happening the last time by repeatedly taking the pan off the heat and swirling until any golden coloured caramel was completely mixed in with the rest of the sugar. It takes a bit of extra time and concentration but it’s worth it. This may be partially due to my electric hobs and not having complete control over their temperature.

When all the sugar is melted add the butter and spice and stir until combined.

Drizzle over the prepared dish trying to get it to cover as much of the dish before it sets.

Peel, core and slice your pears and arrange over the caramel.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven.

Following the BBC method using a cheese grater grate the frozen pastry in as long a slices as possible over the pears until approximately an inch thick. I found this bit difficult to do quickly and accurately so instead I grated the pastry on a chopping board which made the slices shorter but it then all hit the hot pears at the same time.

Bake for 20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 2 minutes.

Using oven gloves place a larger than the dish plate over the tarte tatin and with a swift consistent movement turnover, turning the tart out onto the plate.

Best served hot, though we enjoyed a lot of our cold too!

In association with Argos

Clementine Cake

Last weekend, in an effort to escape the general January malaise (the one that leaves you hiding under a duvet watching TV marathons) Dan and I hiked up to his alma mater to see Saving Mr Banks at the on campus cinema.

It was fun to retrace the steps we took when we were first dating and to hear stories about the time (seven years to be precise!!) that Dan spent at University. Being situated on top of a hill also gives you the best view over the city, which is absolutely spectacular, especially at night – please excuse the poor iPhone photos, I forgot to take my camera with me!

The other movie we watched this year was The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which as a chronic daydreamer had me hooked from the trailer. It fell firmly into my favourite category of film, the kind that you come out of the cinema believing that anything is possible. Through out the film there were repeated references to Walter’s Mother’s clementine cake, and that idea has stuck with me since the movie. A simple citrus drizzled sponge decorated with slices of candied orange. A little slice of summer in these cold dark winter months.

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Clementine Cake
serves 8
5 inch cake tin

For Sticky Candied Clementines
2 clementines
100g caster sugar
100ml boiling water

For the Cake
120g butter at room temperature
120g caster sugar
120g self raising flour
2 eggs
50ml milk
zest of 4 clementines
juice of 2 clementines

To make the candied clementines:

Cut the clementines into 5mm slices (I got 3-4 slices per fruit after you discard the ends).

Put the sugar and water in a large pan and heat on a medium-high hob until the sugar has dissolved then turn the temperature down to low- if you are using an electric stove I suggest swapping to a different ring to bring the temperature down quickly.

Lay the clementines in the sugar syrup so they are coated and not overlapping.

Cut a circle of greaseproof paper and lay over the top to keep them submerged.

Simmer gently for an hour, keeping a close eye on them. My first batch burnt.

After an hour (and when fruits have gone translucent) left carefully out of the pan letting the excess syrup drip off, and lay on a sheet of greaseproof paper to cool.

To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 170C, and grease and line your cake tin.

Beat together the sugar, eggs, butter and flour until well combined – this only works if the butter is soft.

Add the milk and zest, and beat until completely mixed in.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake in the middle of the oven for about 40 minutes – until golden brown on top and an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Whilst still hot from the oven, using a skewer repeated poke the cake to create a series of holes.

Squeeze over the juice from the 2 clementines, waiting between each addition to allow to soak into the sponge.

Allow to cool for 15 minutes and then remove from the tin and move to a cooling rack. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Arrange the sticky candied clementines neatly around the edge of the cake, they should stick well to the sponge.

Serve and enjoy.

London Particular

Happy New Year everyone! As you can see I’ve had a little bit of a spring clean round here and updated my blog design to something a lot cleaner and simpler for the new year.

Last year I read a lot of posts about intentional living and becoming the best version of yourself, I spent so much time with my head in books (or more correctly an iPad) at the same time Dan actually went out and achieved it (he got a job in London last summer). Over coffee this weekend we discussed this post about new year reflection and I realised whilst I don’t have any strong regrets about 2013 I wish I had accomplished more.

In 2014 I want to knock a couple of big things of the proverbial 10 year plan. I want to become better with my money and stop frittering it away by creating a proper budget (for the first time). I want to travel outside the UK, I haven’t gone abroad in years so I want to make seeing the world a priority. I’d like to think that I am a polite person, but I frequently late which is so rude! So this year I want to become punctual. I want to say yes to more invitations, I feel like I am always so hesitant to accept anything. I want to continue practising the good habits I started last year and build on them.

2014 is set to be a fantastic year with friends weddings, lots of big birthdays and a steadily filling social calendar. I’m going to my first hen do in the spring, running in my first half marathon. We’re moving out of our flat of three years, which has made me increasingly weepy the closer we get to the date (we’re now down to counting the time in weeks). It’s really exciting to be moving on to the next chapter in our lives but our home has been good to us, and I’m sad to say goodbye to it.

As for this site, I have been beating myself up over it since it turned 2 in July, wanting to post more consistantly, and berating myself when I failed to keep up to the schedule I set, which happened nearly every week. It was exhausting! It made me resent blogging, which resulted in a lot of time spent staring at a blank screen getting nothing done. So this year I am going to accept that I can only comfortably post once a week and hopefully get some of my mojo back.

^^^ a couple of photos of soup and breadsticks from my Sherlock dinner party

On the topic of new things for 2014, I have become a little obsessed with the new series of Sherlock this week. I can’t believe that the BBC are showing all three episodes in just 11 days, it’s over so quickly. To celebrate the end of the winter break Dan and I threw a little Sherlock inspired dinner party for a couple of friends. As well as tuning in for the latest episode I created an 19th Century English menu (I love a theme) with gin and tonics (London Dry of course!), trifle for dessert and this posts recipe London Particular Soup.

Named after the thick ‘pea soup’ smogs of London – referred to by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as ‘a dense yellow fog’ this thick English soup is the perfect cure for the January blues. The recipe is very similar to the pea and ham soup I blogged last year, but uses dried peas instead, which makes it thicker a less watery. I found that using a ham stock rather than the chicken I usually use results in a salty soup, so it’s worth tasting the soup as you thin it and add water if instead of stock if it’s on the saltier side.

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London Particular
recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for the Guardian

For the Ham and Ham Stock
1 smoked ham hock, soaked overnight in cold water
1 onion peeled and halved
1 stick of celery leaves removed and roughly chopped
8 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
For the Soup
200g dried yellow split peas, soaked overnight
40g butter
1 onion, diced
1.8l ham stock
freshly ground pepper
some left over boiled ham shredded

Discard the water the ham was soaking in and rinse under a cold tap.

Place in a large sauce pan with the onion, celery, peppercorns and herbs and cover with water.

Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer, half cover and cook for a further 2 ½ hours, topping up the water if necessary.

Remove from the heat and the ham to cool in the liquid.

Strain the stock through a sieve and reserve for making the soup, adding more water if it tastes too salty.

Shred the meat into small chunks.

Strain the soaked peas and rinse until the water runs clear.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat and fry the onions in it until they turn soft and translucent (about 5 minutes).

Add the peas and stock and boil until the peas are very soft (20-45 minutes).

Puree about ¾ of the soup adding more water if it seems to thick.

Return the pureed soup to the pan with the rest of the soup and season to taste.

Add some of the ham and warm through.

Serve sprinkled with a little extra ham and crusty bread.

2013 in review

^^^ a few of my favourite shots from the year

This is only going to be a short post before I run off to enjoy the last few hours of 2013, but I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the past 365 days. I started my year with 3 broad intentions, to better take care of my body, to better my photography and writing and to better organise my home. Overall I would say that I have half completed those goals and have started measures to work on the rest.

Body: The main aims I have been trying to live by is eating at least 5 portions of fruit and veg a day, drinking at least 2l of water, exercising a couple of times a week and cutting back on sugary snacks. Not only have I lost a little under 2 stone (and hoping for a little more next year) but I feel more alert, calmer, focussed and healthier for it. I have lapsed during the holiday festivities but I’m planning on exercising everyday next month to jump start the process again.

Blog: One of my main flaws with photography is that I rush the process then regret it afterwards so I have been working this year on slowing down and considering each shot for longer, which has improved the final product. My next aim is to work more on my writing, one tip I read is to try and write for at least 30 minutes everyday if you wish to improve, so armed with a trusty moleskine notebook and Parker ink pen I am going to try and carve out time to do this every morning.

Home: This one I completely failed at. I am messy by nature and learnt that I work better as a minimalist (as I have less to leave out of place). This goal was pushed to a back burner as we plan to move house in the next couple of months so we will be exfoliating our possessions as we pack.

I hope everyone has had a fantastic 2013 and a brilliant night of celebrations!

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