Sunday, 30 August 2009

Chocolate Cupcakes!

Chocolate Cupcake Recipe


170g flour

100g cocoa powder

170g sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp baking powder

120g butter

1 cup milk

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt

1. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt together. Mix well.

2. Cream together the sugar and wet ingredients in a seperate bowl.

3. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredient mixture. Add a little at a time and mix well.

4. Bake at 180C/350F for about 15 minutes. I used reusable silicone cupcake cases, but you can use the disposable paper ones as well.

To decorate:

I made a chocolate buttercream icing, but added in marshmellow cream and a generous splash of vanilla extract. Pipe onto the cupcakes. I bought sparkly pink sprinkles and sugar hearts to sprinkle over the top.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Hurray For Lavender

Lavender sugar has been one of my favourite new ingredients this summer. I had never cooked with it before, and now I love experimenting with it. Lavender has such a delicate flavour. It's sweet without being sickly. It makes desserts taste light and refreshing rather than heavy. It tastes like warm summer days lying on your back looking for shapes in the clouds and hearing bumblebees drift from flower to flower.

So, before the summer is completely over and all of the lavender flowers are finished for the year, I needed to include a post about lavender sugar. You can buy it at high-end supermarkets (like Waitrose) or specialty shops. Or you could get a lavender plant and make your own.

When it's in bloom, snip off the blossoms and dry. I used a dehydrator, but you can also do it in the oven, or even in the sun if the weather cooperates. It helps if you dry them still on the stems as the flowers are quite small. Once they are completely dried out, put the flowers (not stalks) in an airtight glass jar, and then add sugar. You can use regular white sugar, but I prefer using the finer caster sugar. The flowers are completely edible, and will flavour the sugar. You need about a teaspoon of dried flowers per cup of sugar, but that's only a guideline.

As long as the jar is kept free of moisture, it will last for a very long time.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Cow & Gate Vouchers

So I don't know if I have any readers in the Republic of Ireland. If any of you are Irish, I don't know if you have kids. Here's the thing. I have 5 vouchers for Cow and Gate Growing Up Milk Powder worth 2 Euros each. That's 10 Euros that somebody can save. I hate to throw them away just because I'm not in Ireland.

Cow and Gate makes really high quality baby food and baby formula. Growing Up Milk is designed for babies from their first birthdays, and provides a transition for toddlers between breastmilk or formula and cow's milk. Growing Up Milk is nutritionally balanced for toddlers.

If you're interested in these vouchers, let me know and I am happy to mail them to you.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Lavender and Blackberry Birthday Cake

Today was my sister-in-law's birthday. When I told my daughters that we were going over for her birthday party, my three-year-old informed me that we needed to make a birthday cake. So we decided to make a light, seasonal birthday cake. My girls had a great time helping me to measure, stir, and taste-test.

Lavender has been one of my favourite ingredients this sugar (look for a separate blog post about lavender sugar). Blackberries are in season right now and delicious. I love how they seem to grow everywhere and you can just pick a few and eat them still warm from the sun. I decided to combine these two seasonal flavours and make a blackberry and lavender cake.

I made two thin round cakes in sandwich tins. The cake itself was lavender flavoured. For the basic cake recipe, click here. To make the cake extra fluffy, I used half plain flour and half self-raising flour. After making the dough, I folded in fresh blackberries (about a cup picked fresh from the garden).

When the cakes were baked and cooled, I spread a layer of blackberry and lavender compote in the middle and then sandwiched the cakes together. I had made the blackberry and lavender compote previously, but you could make it while the cakes are baking. I didn't follow an exact recipe because I was making it up as I went, but basically I cooked down blackberries with a little water. When the fruit was soft, I added some lavender sugar and a little caster sugar, as well as a few drops of vanilla. I'm not giving exact amounts because I didn't measure anything. Just taste it as you go. It should taste predominantly of fruit with a just a hint of floral sweetness. Cook until it is compote consistency--not as set as jam, but not too liquidy either. I like to have pieces of fruit still in mine, but you can mush it down if you want a smoother compote.

Then I made a frosting (a mixture of buttercream and cream cheese frosting with some red and blue food colouring added) and covered the cake.

Decorating this cake was really fun. As it was a blackberry cake, I decided to use blackberries in the decorating. I picked some berries--including some still on the branch with the leaves attached. I stuck the leaves into the cake, and then piled the extra berries around the base. As my sister-in-law often goes by 'Bea' and so likes anything with bees, I added a cute little bumblebee to it. To make him, I painted with yellow and black food colouring on edible wafer paper, and then cut out around him. Finally, I wrote 'Happy Birthday' on with green icing.

The cake turned out to be a big hit. She loved the bumblebee theme, and everybody enjoyed eating it. The end cake was light, fluffy, fruity, and completely seasonal.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Corn Chowder

Sweetcorn is coming into season! If you garden, you're probably watching the ears of sweetcorn with anticipation. Even if you buy them, you can take advantage of corn being in season. When I have lots of corn, I love making corn chowder. I made up this recipe for it a few years ago when we had a huge crop of corn from our garden, and it's since become a family favourite. My corn chowder is vegetarian, and has brie in it for an extra rich flavour. The cheese and corn really compliment each other.

For my corn chowder recipe, click here.

Serve hot with a thick slice of fresh bread and enjoy.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Scrapbooking On A Budget, The Scrapbooking Challenge

It amazes me how much money some people spend on scrapbooking. Now, I admit that you can buy some really cool embellishments and accessories, but it just gets ridiculous sometimes. For example, I was given some scrapbooking magazines (I got them from Freecycle, and then passed them on to someone else). In one of the scrapbooking magazines, there was a budget scrapbooking challenge to create a single page for only £5. Apparently people found it difficult!

If, like me, you can't afford to spend a fortune on scrapbooking, but want to save family memories, there are cheaper options. Click here to read my advice for scrapbooking on a budget.
So here's my scrapbooking challenge:

Whether you are an avid scrapbooker, or are have never done it before, try to create a great page completely for free (I've used napkins from picnics as backgrounds, stuck in airline or train tickets as embellishments, glued in dried leaves and flowers, used scrap bits of fabric, etc.). You can use a white piece of scrapbooking paper for the background, but nothing else specifically boughten for scrapbooking. You can use any non-scrapbooking things that you already have around the house (brads from the stationary drawer, paints from your kids' craft box, etc.).

I'll try to do it as well, and I'll post my "free page" later. Let me know how it goes for you. Send me a picture of your page by the 1st of October 2009. The creator of the best "free page" will receive a prize compliments of The Hidden Domestic. I can reveal that the surprise will be related to scrapbooking, but to find out exactly what it is, enter the competition!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Baked Redcurrant Cheesecake

I love my local farm. We went to the pick your own area and picked red currants (£2.35 per kg). They are at the end of their season now, but you can still find a lot of really good fruit if you look deep inside the bushes. If you have kids, I definitely recommend taking them to a pick your own farm. My girls love it.

We decided to use our redcurrants to make a cheesecake. It was creamy and rich without being too sweet. In my opinion, redcurrant cheesecakes are the best type of cheesecake.

Click here for the recipe that we used as our basis. We did make a few changes. Obviously we used redcurrants instead of raspberries. We also used three small eggs instead of two eggs and a yolk. Plus we had to cook it for much longer than it recommended. The end result, though, was absolutely scrumptious.

PS-I can't take too much credit. My husband did most of the work on this cheesecake. Thanks hun!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Making Stock

Stock is a common and useful cooking ingredient. It makes a base for soups and can be used in cooking to add flavour (works especially well with couscous). Most people use the dried stock cubes, which are usually very high in salt, or buy premade stock.

However, stock is easy to make yourself. The next time you do a lot of cooking, save your scraps and toss them in a large pan. Put any vegetable offcuts, peelings, or stalks in. If you're cooking chicken, for example, toss in the carcass (all the bits you don't use in the meal). If you have them, tossing in some peppercorns and sprigs of fresh herbs can help add a nice flavour. Cover with water and let simmer for several hours. The more that you let it reduce, the stronger the flavour will be.

You can then freeze the stock to use whenever you need it. I like making vegetable stock and then freezing it in ice cube trays. That way you have portion size amounts ready to use when you're cooking.

Making your own stock makes delicious stock, saves money, and is healthier for you.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Field Trip to Mottisfont Abbey

Normally this blog is all about the domesticsy things I do at home, but I wanted to include a field trip.
Yesterday we went to the nearby National Trust site Mottisfont Abbey. Thanks to Henry VIII, not much of the abbey still remains, but it was converted into a massive country home, parts of which you can tour. To be honest, though, what I enjoyed most were the grounds.
Set on a huge plot on the River Test in rural Hampshire, the Mottisfont property is breath-takingly beautiful. The shallow river ambles through the gardens, and is full of ducks and fish. The grounds include both more overgrown, natural woodland, and carefully manicured gardens, and Mottisfont is home to the famous rose garden that preserves old and endangered varieties of roses. I loved how throughout the gardens, a lot of aromatic and edible plants were used. You could find sage used as a border plant, rosemary in amongst flowers, and figs hiding behind the roses. There were also a variety of fruit trees on the grounds (including mulberries, which I got to pick and taste for the first time). It was a peaceful, inviting place to be.

We also ate at the restaurant there. They serve dishes including trout (caught fresh from the river), and use produce from their own gardens and local farms. They also use locally milled flour (from Winchester) and cheese produced at local farms. The food was delicious, and really inspired me to keep using as many local products as possible.
I definitely plan on going back.
To see more pictures of Mottisfont Abbey, click here.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Damson Jam

A house down the street from us has a bucket by the street with a sign that says "Free Damsons". These very generous neighbours of ours have several fruit trees, and they always give away the windfall for other people to enjoy. They even put out little plastic punnets so that you have something to take the fruit away in.

We decided to use our free fruit to make a favourite of my husband's: damson jam. If you haven't tried it, it's delicious. (If you don't know what a damson is, it's a small variety of plum.) A lot of people make jamming sound complicated, but it's actually pretty simple to do. Here's how we made damson jam.

1. We removed the stalks & leaves from the fruit, and then weighed it. We didn't wash it until after weighing it so that we were just measuring the fruit and not the extra water. Cut a slit around the fruit (this will make it easier for the stone to leave later). Then put the fruit in a large sauce pan.

2. Add just enough water to keep the fruit from catching on the bottom of the pan, and cook on a medium to high heat until the fruit is soft and mushy. Stir constantly. As you cook, use a slotted spoon to remove the stones. They will separate from the fruit as it cooks, and so you should be able to see them as you stir. It is a bit fiddly, but if you keep stirring through with a slotted spoon, you should find them all. If the fruit seems very thick, you can add a little more water. The fruit turns a fantastic colour as it cooks!

3. Meanwhile, you need to have sterilized jars to store the jam in. You can buy new jars or use Kilner (or similar) preserving jars. Or you can save money and use old glass jars (store-bought jam or sauce jars, honey jars, etc.; any glass jar with a screw-on metal lid will work). Wash the jars well, then fill both the jars and lids with boiling water. It's easiest to do all of that either before you start making the jar, or to have one person sterilizing the jars while the other stirs the fruit. Then put the jars in the oven on a low heat until ready to use. (If you are using preserving jars with a seal, you will need to soften the seal as well.)

4. When the fruit is well cooked and all of the stones have been removed, add the sugar. You need a one to one (1:1) ratio of fruit and sugar. So if you have a pound of fruit, add a pound of sugar. Then boil vigorously and stir constantly for about ten minutes. Test for a set by putting a little of the jam on a cold plate (we stick ours in the freezer before we need it).

5. When it is set, pour into the sterilized jars and twist firmly shut. You can check that they have "taken" or sealed properly. If the metal pop-up section in the lid is down, then they are sealed. If it moves up and down, then it has not sealed and should go in the fridge. You don't check for the seal until the jam has completely cooled.

6. Enjoy! I particularly like damson jam on toast, but it's also good with plain yogurt, in cakes, in sandwiches, etc.

PS-We gave our neighbours a card and jar of jam to say thanks.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Ode to Weeds

Dandelions. Yes, they're weeds, and most people just want to kill them, However, they are so cheerful and summery. Also, you can eat them. Gourmet salad mixes include dandelion leaves, but you can eat the whole plant. For more information on eating dandelions, click here. And when your three-year-old picks you a bouquet of them, they are beautiful.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009


I love cooking from scratch. There are so many foods that people assume you can't make yourself, but are actually surprisingly easy to do. For example, I grew up always having pancakes from a mix. It takes maybe thirty seconds longer to make them from scratch.

Falafel are a fantastic Mediterranean food that are easy to make yourself, and always impress dinner guests. Tonight I made falafel, my husband grilled vegetables, and we had a picnic on the living room floor and watched Inkheart with our daughters. Fantastic evening.

For my no-fail falafel recipe, click here.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Hurray for Carrots!

This year I added a fantastic new crop to my vegetable plot: carrots!

I planted two varieties: summer and winter. I've been picking baby carrots for a month, and should be able to keep picking carrots right until Christmas-time. If you grow carrots, I really recommend growing both types.

My three-year-old really loves helping me to dig them up. Her favourite way to eat them is straight out of the ground. She pulls them up by the stalk, washes them off (in her paddling pool if she things I'm not looking), and eats them raw (including the stalks, "like a rabbit").

I was afraid that rabbits would eat up the carrots before we could enjoy them (we get rabbits and other wildlife in our garden), but they don't seem to have touched them. I didn't weed them too carefully, and that seems to have helped.

If you prefer your vegetables cooked, here's what I recommend. (If you don't grow your own, you can buy baby carrots at the supermarket or--even better--farmer's market.)

Simple recipe:

1. Wash the carrots (don't peel) and trim the stalks.
2. Drizzle with local honey. Finely grate orange peel over them and then squeeze out the juice into the pan.
3. Spray finely with extra virgin olive oil.
4. Bake until tender (about 1/2 hour).

Seeding Poppies

Poppies are not only a garden flower. They are the source of opium, but also a nutritious food source. They are part of our culture, appearing in everything from children's stories to war memorials. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her companions are nearly overcome by eternal sleep in the beautifully dangerous poppy field. In Libba Bray's young adult books, some of the most dangerous characters are the poppy warriors.

Especially here in the UK, the poppy has become a powerful symbol honouring the sacrifices made by both servicemen (and women) and civilians during WWI and subsequent wars. Unlike most plants, poppies grow best in disturbed ground, and so vibrant red poppies (popaver rhoeas) quickly blanketed the countryside that war had ravaged. After watching his friend die in battle in 1915, John McCrae wrote the poem In Flanders Fields that captures the image and symbolism of this unmissable flower.

After wearing paper poppies every Remembrance Day, my husband and I decided this spring to plant some poppies. We had recently chopped down a large bush, and so I tossed several packets of poppy seeds over the space, sprinkled some soil on top, and hoped for the best. Although birds snacked on some of the seeds, enough of them survived that we had about a dozen poppy plants grow and bloom. Now that the plants are done flowering, it's time to harvest and plant the seeds so that we can have more plants next year.

So if you have access to poppy plants, here's my process for seeding poppies.

1. Gather the dried flower heads.

They'll kind of shrivel up into balls with the poppies inside. If you just leave them out on the flowers, they might go to seed by themselves (it works in the wild), but they might be eaten by bugs, or rot if there's too much rain. I like gathering them because them because it looks nicer and then you can control where to plant the new poppies.

2. Take out the seeds--when they're ready they should be black.

3. Either store the seeds until use (in a cool, dry, dark place) or plant.

Remember that poppies aren't like most plants. They don't want to grow in carefully planted beds with perfect soil. Toss them into garden problem spots. Try digging an area roughly with a trowel or shovel, tossing a little sand on it (or gravel), and then sprinkling with seeds. Cover with a little soil. I never specifically watered mine, and I didn't bother weeding around them either. They grew just fine without the extra work.

If you want to grow poppies, remember that although red poppies are the most famous, there are actually many different varieties and colours of poppies. Most of my poppies are purple.


Starting a brand new blog is a bit intimidating. It's all set up: there's a big title along the top of the page, and ads line the sidebar. I could google myself and find it. The only problem is that there's no content yet.

I feel a bit like I did when I just walked into my garden after being away on holiday. Our house-sitter hadn't touched the garden, and so it was left free to run wild. The grass in the lawn was like a meadow. I opened the gate on the white fence enclosing the vegetable patch to find morning glories wrapped tightly around the branches of my apple trees, and my carefully planted rows of vegetables invisible under a jungle of stinging nettles and dandelions. It was so overgrown that I almost didn't know where to start.

In my garden, I started with the simplest and most obvious task. I pulled out the lawnmower and cut the grass. With a blog, I'll start simple too, and explain why I'm starting it.

For the past few years, I've created content for websites. Mostly I write articles on a wide variety of topics. I love doing this, but these articles are mostly informative, and rarely have pictures. I wanted to try something more personal, to be able to share photos and anecdotes of my daily life. Like many people I know, I'm trying to balance a career with domestic aspirations. I'm married and have two young children. I have dreams of having a clean, organized home, filling our time with fun and educational activities (all of which will be documented in scrapbooks, of course), and cooking with local organic ingredients (preferably from our own garden).

If, like me, you're trying to balance professional aspirations with domestic yearnings, then my blog's for you.