Olive bread in a thunderstorm


A couple of weekends ago I really fancied baking something a little different for lunch (not the usual while loaf I make for breakfasts). I rather had the idea for something with olives in. I had recently finished ‘Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery’ by Jenny Colgan (Mt Polbearne no.2) and remembered that this was one of the recipes in the back.

I had woken up at 7am on a Sunday morning, bounced out of bed, put on my ‘happy’ playlist and set to work with the mixer. The first thing that puzzled me was that it said 1tbsp of salt. Really? tbsp not tsp, but yes I made sure that I read the recipe several times and followed it to the letter. One minor oversight may have been not rinsing the olives before adding them to the mixture (they were in brine). It took longer than I thought for the kneading, staying sticky for a long time.

Anyway the dough was proving and despite it being morning it had been getting darker and darker and the rain started pouring down. I was in the middle of the washing up and ‘holding out for a hero’ was blearing out of the speakers, when suddenly the thunder rolled (quite appropriate dramatic timing really).

Now the point of this story is that by mid afternoon the dough had still not risen and so my question is “can bread rise in a thunderstorm?”. I know that atmospheric pressure will affect the proving process but the exact physics I am unclear of. My first fear was that all the salt had killed the yeast, but my failsafe of heating the oven to 50c then turning it off and putting the bread inside did make it rise enough to bake on the second prove.

The bread was really nice, but really really salty and i recommend it best dipped in tomato soup. It had quite a dense spongey texture and I don’t know if its supposed to be like that but I can see next time I make it.


Your tisane, Monsieur Poirot

                    Miss Lemon: Your tisane, Monsieur Poirot
                    Hercule Poirot: Thank you, Miss Lemon. This is what you need, Hastings.
                    Captain Hastings: No fear; I’ve tasted it.


Monsiour Poirot is always calling for his tisane and waving away the traditional tea and coffee of the British. Tisane, is just the name for what we usually call herbal teas (the word tea having been widened in its definition to include infusions not just using the leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis)

Herbal teas are like a lucky dip, you can either love or hate the results and often looking at the packets you cant even begin to imagine what they taste like, especially the ones with a variety of ingredients. I have been drinking herbal teas for many years now, some because of the health benefits and others because I just enjoy them. From experience I have never found a fruit tea that I like, I find the idea of hot fruit offputting (unless its in crumble). Here is what I have been drinking recently

Yogi Classic Chai (cinnamon, cardamon, ginger, pepper, cloves): I love chai tea (which I only ever drink without milk – although I may try it infused into hot milk or hot chocolate). Another spice one is Pukka After Dinner which includes chicory, fennel and cardamon. The spice infustions are definately my favourite and a staple for the autumn and winter months. There are so many different variations in the ingredients and their ratios that I want to try them all such as Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice and Yogi Himalaya.

Pukka Love (rose, lavender and chamomile): From the ingredients on the front of the box I dont think I would ever have picked this up (although I do like rose petal tea) however my friend gave me a box as a present once and i really loved it. It is a really relaxing tea and can be perfect for any time of the day.

Echinacea (immune system): I am about to start drinking a cup of this every morning in the run up to winter. As a teenager my mum got the the tablets but once I discovered how nice the tea tasted I switched to that. I only ever have the pure echicacea however I am tempted by the one with lavender


I always check the ingredients on the back of the boxes. They are usually listed in order of quantity so i watch out for ones with vanilla or liquorice root near the top as these are often used to sweeten the tea, something which I am not at all keen on

Here are a few more I drink from time to time and their health properties:

Fennel (digestion): Rather than bothering with tea bags I just take a pinch of seeds from my spice jar and since they mostly sink this works really well

Mint (digestion): This is one which I never go for the tea bags (which seem to taste vile if you brew them for longer than 2 seconds) I only ever drink fresh. Its a good idea to keep a mint plant in a pot to just snip off a couple of leaves into your cup.

Nettle (catarrh): I really try not to think about the smell or taste of this and concentrate on how good it is supposed to be for me. Its not that it tastes bad, its just that it tastes ‘healthy’ if you know what I mean.

Edible Gifts

parish christmas biscuits

The photo above shows the shortbread and soul cakes which i made for our recent Parishes meeting to add a little festive something.

Edible gifts can be a great present at this time of year, be it a tin of biscuits for a group of people (makes a change from the usual chocolate selection box where everyone leaves the coconut ones) or a few choice treats in a pretty box or bag. Here are some recipes which i recommend

Chocolate Brownies recipe from BBC Good Food (tried and tested and someone declared they were the best he had ever tasted – i used dark chocolate all the way through though swapping it for the milk and white in the recipe)

Chocolate Truffles recipe from BBC Good Food – a bit messy to make but utterly delicious. I made some a few weeks ago and added cherry liquor although i wasn’t really sure you could taste it

Shortbread – recipe can be found on this previous blogpost. From experience with my oven i cook them on the top shelf but see what your oven is like

I like the idea of making fudge although I’ve never tried it and they would look lovely in these pretty snowflake bags from Lakeland

lakeland festive bags


Savoury Cheese Muffins


Sometimes you just want to bake something savoury. I’ve had this recipe bookmarked in my Afternoon Tea recipe book for a while and on discovering that I had all the ingredients I decided to give them a go.

I really love this book, which I got as a christmas present from a friend, it has so many good recipes (cakes to quiches to scones) and is really easily laid out. You can see the recipe in the image below. Its really easy to mix and for once I didn’t need to use the kitchenaid (hoorah for less washing up). It makes a really gloopy paste which you put into bun cases with a block of cheese in the centre. The main thing to watch here is how much you put in each of the muffin tins. The first time I made these I put too much in the bottom and didnt have enough to cover the cheese on top.

The second time I made these it worked better. They were a little dry the first time and moister the second. I have no idea why this was although i didn’t bother with the recipe quantity of cheese the second time, as realising it needed more, I just cut a generous square for each of the muffins. More cheese is definitely better.

These work really well for a lunchtime or afternoon snack and are best eaten warm on the same day you bake them. They can last one more day but are really really dry if you leave them any longer (could microwaving to reheat be an answer? I didn’t try). Just be careful eating them too soon from the oven as theres a lot of molten cheese in there!


First meeting of the people in Bath who are interested in home brewing but we don’t yet have a cool name


The gentleman of the house is a home brewer, and I like to put fruit in gins. My friend Chris (a purveyor of fine spirits and beers in Bath) realised that through his work he has met a lot of local home brewers but we haven’t yet met each other   And so the first meeting was devised, all we need to think of now is a good name.

The idea is meet similar minded people, share knowledge and of course try beers.

The first meeting was held in Independent Spirit (on Terrace Walk, otherwise known as Bog Island) and there was really quite a good turn out. I don’t know a lot about brewing (that being the gentleman of the house’s department) but I did get to have a nice chat with a lady about my plan to make parsnip wine.

We had a beer tasting session. This was mostly some Canadian beers but there was also some home brew to comment on. I tried to write down some tasting notes, so here they are (i really no expert so I hope you get the gist of what i’m trying to convey). I have added some comments from other people in quotes.

1) Highlander Brew co. Twisted Spruce (6%)

Tangy refreshing summer taste on the roof of the mouth followed by a warm winter aftertaste on the back of the tongue. Some people thought it was odd but I thought it was really yum (oh such technical language ha)

2) Nickel Brook. Maple Porter (6%)

A bit too carbonated for the style and smelled rather antiseptic. It was definitely a winter beer. Some of us left it to go flat to taste later and it was much much nicer sort of like drinking pudding.

3) Bush Pilot Brewing Company. Stormy Monday, Barley Wine aged in Calvados barrels (11%)

Smelled of mince pies, spiced baked apple and vinegary. This is definitely a winter drink to sip slowly on a winter evening, and more like a sherry than a beer. “Somewhere between Christmas and cough mixture”


4) Paul’s Unnamed Belgian Triple (Homebrew!)

Brewed at 8degC, Fruity smell and refreshing – apologies I didn’t write much down of the discussion but people were enjoying this and the next one.

5) Paul’s Belgian Dubbel (Homebrew!)

Very fizzy caramely and malty

6) Johnny’s Use Up Experimental Leftover Brew (8%) (Homebrew!)

Fruity, Tasted like beer. “Tastes like its fermented in it’s own juices”

7) Johnny’s Green Beer (Homebrew!)

This beer was not ready but we tried a bit anyway. It left a dry aftertaste and someone suggested “socks”

8) Nickel Brook. Old Kentucky Bastard (10%) Aged in Kentucky Bourbon barrels

This smelled like a very dark sticky and vinegary apple chutney i once made. It was sour and smelled like a musty old cupboard. It was certainly interesting but personally I didn’t want more than a few sips.

Everyone had a really good time and got very excited about possible future plans. You can find out more on the Independent Spirit’s Facebook page and i quote…

“Not so much a tasting as a get together for like minded people. Want to brew at home but don’t know how, perhaps you want to take the next step and move from kits to full mash brews.
(this is starting to sound like an ad for match.com)

We still use the event as an opportunity to introduce a few of our customers with similar hobbies to each other so that we can all benefit from experience and perhaps get the tips we need to move on with our brewing and create a little homebrew community here in bath.

We shall use these events to settle into our little community as we work out a plan for upcoming events whether we specialize in particular methods or indeed organize full brewdays as a community to learn skills and swop beer.”

A Rosy Morning


Good Morning, the reason I have been absent for so long was because I have been busy getting married! (which is a very busy business). However I return to you this morning with a pot of delicious rose petal tea.

This infusion is purely rose buds steeped in hot water for 3 mins and is both refreshing and relaxing (none of that pesky caffeine)

I have lots to tell you, and hopefully I will be posting a lot more regularly again

Wild Beer Tasting


A while ago I did a tasting at Independent Spirit of the  the Wild Beer Co range of beers. (sorry im a bit late with posts at the moment) They are a relatively new company based in Shepton Mallet. As with coffee, what i really enjoy is discovering new flavours in a drink and the Wild Beer Co have some really exciting ones. According to their website “Our beers are brewed with a combination of ancient and new techniques, with the aim of producing a beer for people who want to discover and understand new tastes and flavours.”


The tasting consisted of 6 beers and one rather exciting combination in a champagne bottle. Below are the tasting notes which I took at the time:

Epic Saison. (Belgian style) = Hoppy. Apricots. Tropical fruit. Very nice summer drink

Scarlet fever  with toffee caramel and citrus hops = fruity orangey black coffee

Bliss secret spices roasted apricots and wild yeast = light fragrance of curry. Moroccan curry flavour. Spices subdue and fruitiness comes more out when warmed

Fresh. Fresh hops = very very hoppy

Wildebeest (500 vanilla pods in every batch) and chocolate and crushed espresso and  = smells of coffee. Fizz on your tongue then aroma of coffee. Perfect for after dinner you’d drink it like port. Aged in a 12 yo highland park barrel

Madness ipa = Very fruity hops sweet fruity floral toffee. Small bit of bitter on the tongue but hardly noticeable (not my thing)

Ninkasi. Bubbles apples wild yeast. New Zealand hops Somerset apples and wild yeast. Champagne bottle = apple aroma lots of fizz. Not so apply taste


The Bliss and Wildebeest were my favourites

Round Hill Roastery Open Day


Last Saturday the gentleman of the house and I went to the Round Hill Roastery Open Day.

Round Hill Roastery is a UK based coffee roasting company which opened this year by a young man with a love for coffee. I met Eddie, the owner, about a year ago when when it was just an idea in his head and now he has his own company and supplies several coffee shops (including Colonna and Smalls and Society Cafe in Bath)


I was really excited about going. I had been to the Opening Party where I had seen all the machinery but was was really looking forward to seeing an actual roast in action. The gentleman of the house even got to pull some of the levers.


The raw beans are rotated by a paddle in a cylindrical barrel over the gas burner so that the beans heat but do not scorch. At a certain point in the process the beans ‘crack’ (internally combust) becoming their own heat source, at this point no more flame is needed. When the roast is complete the beans are released and cooled and any beans which haven’t roasted properly are removed (this is done by eye). The roaster is maintaining a perfect temperature now and the second batch of beans are released into the roaster. Throughout the process you can see the state of the beans through a little porthole where they turn from the greenish colour through a light peanutty colour to the dark brown we recognise.



There’s a lot of wizardry and maths involved and different conditions in the process can result in different flavours. The coffee being made was a blend of Honduras (giving the base earthy nutty flavours) and El Borbollon (which gives the nutty acidity in the cup). When the second roast was released for cooling the paddle mixed and cooled the beans before they were transferred to a container. Needless to say that it smelled lovely.


The next stage is to de-stone the blend. This machine sucks up the beans from the hopper (behind) and removes the unusable (heavy) beans by weight.


As well as the demonstration I got to try some lovely espresso and ask all sorts of questions and even smell the raw beans (which smell like very dark chocolate and nutty). The process is obviously more complex than i’ve described here but I’ve learned a lot and hopefully will learn a lot more. Also as a result I have a new stash of decaff to try which i’m very excited about.

I had a really fantastic time, and I do recommend visiting on the next open day if you can. You can contact Round Hill Roastery via their website for details on email/facebook/twitter

My sister’s lemon drizzle cake

image source bbc food

Last weekend I had family visiting and at 8:15am on Sunday morning, the instant I get up my sister is there saying “can we make bread and cake now”. Last time I visited her we made ginger cake but this time i’d run out of ginger (must remember to go to the shop for more) so a quick search for ingredients resulted in a lemon, so drizzle cake was on the menu for breakfast.

The basis to this is my basic sponge I use for a base for most recipes:

  • 125g butter
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • 1 egg (from happy hens)
  • 125g self raising flour
  • half tsp baking powder

Cream the butter and sugar, add the egg and mix, add the flour and baking powder and mix till light and fluffy

  • Then grate in the zest of 1 lemon

Pour the mixture into a 2lb loaf tin lined with buttered grease proof paper. Bake in a preheated oven at 180 deg C for around 40 mins, when a knife comes out of the centre clean the cake is ready

Then came the topping, “no you done use icing sugar” says my sister and starts searching youtube for a recipe she’s used before. Ive not really bothered with lemon drizzle cake before because i couldn’t be bothered to heat up and make the sugar syrup but my sisters method is so much easier.

Put the juice of 1 lemon and 75g caster sugar in a mug and mix till mostly dissolved (and leave for a bit for it to dissolve more) then poke holes in the top of the cake and pour over the mixture so that it seeps in. Leave the cake to cool then eat.

Make your own Fruit Gins

When I was growing up my garden had such a wealth of fruit produce which I later missed. We used to have a morello cherry tree (which I was originally more interested in climbing) which my dad made a huge net to keep the birds out and sometimes we would make Cherry Vodka (something which actually my grandma used to do also). The last batch from this tree was in 2002 and since then I’ve used jarred cherries. Once I made blackberry vodka (freshly picked) but I didn’t put sugar in and it was a little too vodkary.

Personally I much prefer Gin. In the last couple of years the Gentleman of the House and myself have made Plum Gin. I started doing this once when plums were on 2 for 1 a punnet and thought hey why not and found a river cottage recipe on the internet (which I now can’t find) to give me the proportions of fruit/alcohol/sugar.

I was in London a few months and on one of the veg stalls I saw greengages! I once had greengage jam in a tequila cocktail which was amazing an i thought oooh i wonder what greengage gin is like. I wasn’t able to buy the fruit then but got some from my greengrocers (love them!) last week. I also bought damsons. Finally I bought some rhubarb a few weeks ago to make a cake but never got round to it so I think I’m just going to bob it in some gin and see what happens (waste not)

Getting the fruit/alcohol/sugar ratio is critical to the flavour and with practice you can tailor this to your preference depending on what your preference to sweetness is. Im using the ratio from the Damson recipe in  River Cottage Handbookno.2: Preserves. What is interesting is that the sloe gin recipe uses the same weight of sugar as sloes but with damsons its only half. Ive decided to use the half ratio for the greengages so that its not too sweet. (more can always be added later if needed)

Damson Gin

  • 500g damsons (pricked or halved)
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 600ml gin

Greengage Gin

  • 500g greengages (pricked or halved)
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 600ml gin

Rhubarb Gin – This i just adapted the recipe to however much gin and rhubarb I had left

  • 200g rhubarb
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 300ml gin

Make sure you use jars which seal properly. Give the jar a shake then store in a dark cupboard for around 6 months giving an occasional shake. You can leave them longer or shorter but it will alter the intensity of the flavour.

Once the Gin is ready empty the jars through a sieve and store in bottles (make sure they’ve been washed well or sterilised first)

Then drink and enjoy!