Baking Bread at Loaf Online

Apologies for the delay between posts but I have returned to work and it’s been a bit of a shock to the system after being off on maternity. Whilst I have been doing some work during my maternity in and around Baby G’s naps and feeds, now she goes to a childminder for 2 days per week. I try not to miss her too much and get some work done, with try being the operative word!

Not satisified with a day job, a baby to look after I all the rest of things that fill my life I have also setting up my own papercraft business as an Independent Stampin’ Up! demonstrator. My other interest apart from cooking is crafting, and being a demo is now becoming a big part of my life.

So that’s where I’ve been and why I haven’t yet told you about the completion of one of my 2011 resolutions. This year I wanted to learn to bake real bread and I particularly wanted to go on a course at Loaf Online. Once word got out on twitter that me and Jo of Jo’s kitchen were going, we had a few other tweeps interested and so organised a Midlands Food Bloggers (and friends) course with Tom Baker of Loaf Online. Now I’d previously been to Loaf Online as part my first foray into the food blogger world and so knew what to expect and was really excited about the reality of learning how to bake good bread, and what’s more consistently good bread.

The day began with some fresh bread (naturally) and tea and coffee whilst Tom explained what we would be doing during the course. It sounded like we had a lot to do … ciabattas, white loaves, wholemeal rolls, fougasse, brioche dough and not forgetting pizzas for lunch!

As Tom demonstrated the perfect kneading technique we learnt how to ensure consistent good baking with a few tips and tricks like the right oven temperature and weighing your water amongst others.

Then it was our turn and in pairs we set to work on making our dough’s. I loved how “hand’s on” the course is, as getting the right dough mix and knowing how the feel of it changes as you knead is really the key to good bread. Plus we had Tom there to check we had kneaded it enough and had a good dough to prove.

Bread course

Once the dough’s were made and left to prove, we were taken outside to Tom’s clay woodfire oven to prepare fougasse and pizza’s.

Tom built this oven himself (wonder if can get hubby to add one to our garden?!) We were shown how to make fougasse with it’s distinctive slits and then set to work to make our own. The hardest bit for me was trying to get the bread into the oven with the peel – it’s all about a confident sharp shove apparently!

Our fougasse were flavoured with the morrocan spice blend Ras el hanout and once baked put to one side to kick start our  bread bounty that we would take home at the end of the day.  Then it was on to lunch and we each to prepared a pizza to share with the group. 

During the day we also made the dough for the ciabatta,  which we all found quite tricky to work with due to the wetness of the dough, but it was good to do this on the course so you can get a feel for how wet it really “should” be. (oh yes, I did sit there smirking when the contestants on Great British Bake off seemed perplexed about the wetness of the foccacia dough!)

During the afternoon it was time to bake the loaves, buns and ciabattas we had prepared and the last job of the day was to prepare a brioche dough which we would take home to bake the next day.

It was a great day and I can say it made me feel more confident in baking bread at home.

Thanks to Tom and all the other MFB tweeps that attended for a really enjoyable day.

Mad about Baking

I have always been a keen cook but tend to stick to savoury dishes and until recently my baking skills have been limited to my trusty carrot cake and a few cupcakes, or a couple of loaves of bread. However, with a date with the Derby Clandestine Cake Club looming I need to up the anti with my baking skills, and adding fuel to the fire is my weekly addiction to The Great British Bake Off so I have decided in the next few weeks to practice lots of new baking treats …… but where to start?

I do have a decent collection of cookbooks but quite often when I want to get creative in the kitchen and not sure what to cook I get out my trusty aid …… google! With a quick look at the BBC Good Food page and a search on UKTV food I was still at a loss at what to cook and went on the hunt for more recipe ideas.

I found this recipe at Baking Mad and decided to give it a whirl.

Chocolate Gingerbread

200g Molasses Sugar
4 eggs
50g Chocolate (Plain 65% cocoa solids)
75g butter unsalted
4 tbsp Yoghurt
pinch salt
225g plain white flour
25g cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
3 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
pinch black pepper

Whisk the eggs and sugar until combined. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave oven. Stir in the yoghurt. Gently stir into the egg mixture.

Sift the dry ingredients together and gently fold into the chocolate mixture until well combined. Pour the mixture into a 23cm/9 inch greased square tin and bake for about 45 minutes Gas mark 4/180ºC/350ºF until cooked through.

Leave in the tin for 15 minutes, and then turn out onto a wire rack to become cold. Store in an airtight tin.

I really enjoyed making this and it was a simple start to my new baking adventures. Baking Mad has lots of fabulous recipes for me to venture on to and has a handy search function so you can search by word, ingredient, preparation time or by type of cake with categories such as Posh Puds, Celebration cakes or even Cake Stall Bakes. I shall definitely be seeking inspiration for my Clandestine Cake Club bake from there.

What are your favourite baking treats to make?

Baby G’s Naming Day

Oh what to do ….. this was a question I pondered for quite some time. A Christening was not on the cards due to a lack of religious belief, but a Naming Day … well what was it and would it be suitable?

Naming ceremonies are secular (non-religious) ceremonies, yet their origin is from the Catholic faith which celebrate the day of the year associated with the Patron Saint of your name. I remember from my time in Spain that traditionally your name day was more important than your birthday. .Nowadays naming ceremonies can be organised like civil weddings, with a number of venues nationwide  able to hold a naming ceremony and The British Humanist Association (BHA) can arrange a special ceremony to welcome your child. But that all seemed a little over the top when in essence all I wanted was the chance to celebrate the safe arrival of Baby G and ask 3 special people to be “godparents” to her.

So after a little look on the internet in parenting forums I found that many people decided to host a party at home and then speak a few words or read a poem to express their thoughts on their new addition to the family. Perfect I thought …. just what I wanted!

So we invited close family and friends round for a small and intimate party which actually coincided with Baby G’s six month birthday, not that she’ll be getting two birthday parties every year you understand! ;-) Though she did get spoilt rotten by those who came and clearly loved her new toy!

Obviously the gorgeous pretty dress from Mama’s and Papa’s was perfect for riding around on. We found a poem and prepared some words to say to the godparents together with 3 small gifts.

I opted for a cold buffet so we could enjoy the party rather than spend time serving food. It featured all the usual suspects – ham boiled in the Hairy Bikers style, home smoked salmon (more of this on another post!), homemade quiche and scotch eggs courtesy of the in-laws, pizzas from my sis-in-law, salad and bread rolls and a cheese board featuring a range of English cheeses.

The pièce de résistance was a cake I had specially made by Nouskie Noo’s. They are a local funky cake company who make occasions cakes specific to your requirements. I wanted the cake to feature Baby G’s name, birth date and asked for the design to feature the Zeddy and Parsnip characters from the nursery range we have from Mama’s and Papa’s.

The cake was a rich chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream, but you can opt for all kinds of combinations. Vanilla, Lemon, Carrot, Coffee, Fruit cakes plus many more, with all kinds of buttercream – chocolate, caramel, or maple syrup to name a few.

 It was a lovely memorable day with many special moments and one that we will always remember. I’m so glad I chose to celebrate it in this particular way and spend time with close family and friends. Surprisingly Baby G even managed to last the whole party in one outfit – so she obviously approved too!

Thanks to Nouskie Noo’s for doing such an amazing job with the cake. You can find them on Facebook or Twitter too.

Fresh from the Oven – Carrot & Walnut Bread

This is my first entry into the Fresh from the Oven challenge which encourages bakers to test their boundaries and venture into new recipes one loaf at a time. This month the challenge was set by Sally of My Custard Pie who wanted to assist vegetable growers with the over abundance of vegetables in their season by using them in bread. She made some gorgeous looking courgette cluster rolls and whilst I was tempted to give them a go I was suffering with an abundance of carrots in my vegetable rack. Normally these would be transformed into my infamous carrot cake but I thought I’d try a bread with carrot.

After a quick google I found this recipe on the ever faithful BBC GoodFood site.

Carrot & Walnut Bread

350g plain flour
150g wholemeal flour,
1tsp salt,
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda,
150g carrots, peeled and grated,
handful of walnuts, toasted and chopped
300ml low fat Greek yoghurt
125ml semi-skimmed milk

Pre-heat the oven to 230C. Mix the flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda, then stir in the carrot, walnuts, yoghurt and enough of the milk to make it a soft, quite sticky, dough.

Tip onto a floured surface and form a flat ball, put on a baking sheet, slash the top and bake for 30 minutes until risen and cooked. Listen for the hollow sound as you tap it.

This was a really enjoyable. Perfect with some strong cheese or even just slathered in some butter.

Thanks to Sally for hosting this months challenge and I’m sure I’ll be back next month.

Hasta la proxima / until next time

La Rosilla and Gazpacho

I’ve been having Spanish withdrawal symptoms as not been there since I got pregnant so to bring a bit of Andalucian sunshine to my blog Lynsey from La Rosilla has popped over. Originally from the Midlands, Lynsey moved over to Spain with her family and opened up a Country House Supper Club in the mountains above Malaga. She also does Gourmet Tours and Cooking Classes –  so fabulous and I’m so jealous! ;-)

Anyway, over to the lovely Lynsey …..

Summer Sun in Spain, brings with it copious amounts hectic lifestyle. Visitors, family, friends, ferias and fiesta. Over indulgence, is inevitable , eating late in the evening to dine in the cool, is more pleasurable and often we sit until the early hours watching the stars and waiting for the last cicadas to rattle, and then peace falls on the mountain.

To compensate our bodies for the, late nights, extra vino, Tinto Verano & Mojitos we partake in, nature supplies us with a bounty of fresh ingredients to give ourselves a health kick, our necessary 5 a day, and a feeling of righteousness well for a short time anyway ;)

Gazpacho is the Spanish Summer Soup, filled to bursting with freshness, ladened with vitamins. from vine ripened toms, juicy cucumbers, home grown Olive oil, and peppers, each household, will have their own recipe or take on the dish, will add different toppings and enjoy at different times. I find many of my visitors to La Rosilla, say “I don’t do cold soup” but when they take a sip, all preconceived ideas are lost, and the taste ‘Summer in Spain’.

La Rosillas take on Gazpacho.

GazpachoServes 4 – Will keep well in the fridge in a jug, for a refreshing drink.

2 kilos of Ripe Toms, Peeled and quartered saving the juice, but not seeds
2 Cloves of garlic chopped
2 slices of stale bread crusts removed
8 tbsp Olive Oil
4 tbsp Sherry Vinegar
1 cucumber peeled
1 green pepper de-seeded

Soak the bread in a little cold water. Put all ingredients in a blender, and blend till smooth. Add enough ice cold water to make a soup consistency.Strain into a jug if you want a very smooth soup.Let stand in fridge for a few hours for flavour to develop.

To serve, pop in an ice cube, top with finely chopped pepper & cucumber. I like to add a basil leaf, a drizzle of oil, and a dash of vinegar.

Buen Provecho.

Thanks to Lynsey for the guest post – check out her blog here

Watching the weight comfort food

A few weeks ago Vanessa Kimbell of Prepped! fame, tweeted about the idea of a gourmands diet and within a few hours she had gathered together a team of foodies all with a want to lose a few pounds. I so wanted to join in, a delicious diet no less, and would have done so, but dieting and breastfeeding do not go together and I couldn’t compromise Baby’s G growth for the sakes of a few pounds.

I did decide however to try and introduce some healthier meals into our eating regime, not only to benefit my waistline but also to increase my intake of fruit and vegetables. July had been a month of foodie extravagance with lots of dining out for birthdays and a post baby treat of a meal at Loves with fellow foodie Jo of Jo’s Kitchen (we will review soon on the Midlands Food Bloggers community blog!) so we decided that August would be a “eat healthy” month in the aim to kickstart a better lifestyle change before winter comes along and all I crave is comfort food. I also had in mind that as Baby G is about to embark upon her own eating regime I need to lead by example right?

The changes me and hubs agreed to are:

  • no takeaways
  • eat more vegetables and fruit – try for the 5-a-day at least.
  • eat less sweet treats, including resisting the co-op Truly irresistible Chocolate cookies, something I got addicted to .
  • no fast food restaurants.
  • no drinking during the week, and only a glass of wine or two at

Now the first 2 weeks of August we began with good intentions but with more birthdays and Baby G’s naming day and a lot of party food left over we have admitted defeat. This week we set to start again on our Delicious Diet.

So I dug out my Weightwatchers Pure Points Cookbook – not something I would normally buy but it was picked up from a charity shop for a £1 – and tried to find something that would satisfy my urge for a homely comforting dish without all the calories. I spotted a recipe for a cottage pie and decided to give it a go.

Cottage Pie

Cottage Pie350g extra-lean minced beef
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed,
1 red pepper, de-seeded and diced
250g mushrooms, diced
1 tsp ground cumin
425ml beef stock
1 tbsp tomato puree
225g carrots, peeled and diced
450g potatoes, peeled and diced
3 tbsp half fat crème fraîche
salt and pepper

Dry fry the mince in a non-stick pan until browned and crumbly. Add the onion, garlic, red pepper, mushrooms and cumin, stir and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the stock and the tomato puree. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring pan of slightly salted water to the boil and cook the potatoes and carrots until tender. Drain and mash well with the crème fraîche and seasoning.
Spoon the mince misture into an ovenproof dish, spread the mashed vegetables over the top and back for 25 minutes.

Cottage Pie

I understand the need to reduce the meat to make it less calorific but not sure I am fully on board with the addition of red pepper, I think next time I will be adding more mushroom and onion and omit the pepper. I liked the gentle spicing and flavour of tomato, and was quite happy with the mash topping, but hubs said it wasn’t a proper cottage pie as the beef mix did not taste meaty enough.

It was good for an alternative to a family favourite though and I’m sure we will continue to use this recipe where we want comfort but without the calories.

Hasta la proxima / until next time

Brown and Green on tour at Lymestone Brewery

A little while ago I was lucky enough to get myself on the first event known as “Brown and Green on tour“. Brown and Green are one of my favourite food shops that I’ve visited and I’m so lucky to have them just a little drive away at Trentham, Stoke-on-Trent. You can see my interview with owner Susie Keenan and what they are all about at my guest post on the Midlands Food Bloggers community blog here.

Part of the ethos of Brown and Green is supporting local suppliers and there is hardly a weekend goes by without one or more suppliers being in store with tastings. Brown and Green decided to take this to the next level by taking a group of customers to one of their local suppliers, in this instance Lymestone Brewery, based in nearby Stone.

It was my first visit to a micro-brewery and I imagine any other breweries will have to go some to beat Ian (Brad) and Viv Bradford , the duo behind Lymestone Brewery on their warm welcome, infectious passion for good beer and wealth of knowledge.

The evening began as every good brewery tour should – a sampling of some beer. No need to wait for service either, as we were all urged to try pulling a pint (something I’ve not done since my uni days!) for ourselves. there were 3 of Lymestone’s beers available to try – Stone Faced, Stone Cutter and Lymestone Cowboy.

After a brief introduction to the evening from Euan Keenan of Brown and Green we were handed over to Brad for a passionate talk on the history of brewing in Stone, their story, and a detailed look at the brewing process. Ian was head brewer for 18 years at nearby Titanic brewery and back in July 2008 decided to take a leap of faith in starting a brewery of his very own. It was clear to see that Brad loves his job, so much enthusiasm and passion, so you can see why they are perfect match to work with Brown and Green. Lymestone brewery have a selection of bottled beers they sell to the likes of Brown and Green, but also supply casks to pubs around the country. Their wide range of beers are always being complemented by new seasonal beers making them something to look out for at any time of year.

After more beer (of course!), a tour of the brewing room it was time for some food to mop up some of that beer with a fabulous buffet full of local foodie treats that are stocked in Brown and Green. (sorry I was too busy tucking in to take a photo before it had been devoured!)

So thanks to Euan, Susie and Jules of Brown and Green and the lovely Brad and Viv from Lymestone, plus the other lovely people that attended for a truly enjoyable evening. Can’t wait for the next one!

6 Months of Motherhood

For a foodie related post see the recent Freedom Brewery tour or come back soon for another bit of Comida!

Livin la vida loca …… well that could be how many people describe the first few months of motherhood, and to a certain extent I can see where they are coming from. With sleep deprivation and the steep learning curve of trying to understand what your baby wants and needs, it can get a little hair-raising.

However, for me it has been an amazing experience, hard work but amazing nonetheless. I adore being Baby G’s mum and feel that as we approach her 6 month birthday it is a good time to reflect on the time since her arrival. I won’t go into details of my labour story here (that may well be a later post!) but I thought I would share a few of the highlights of my 6 months of motherhood in a little post to my baby girl:

Dear Baby G, thank you for the most amazing 6 months.

  • The moment you arrived will be forever etched on my memory. We hadn’t found out whether you were to be a boy or a girl so when the midwife asked Daddy if he wanted to find out for himself, he looked at you and the biggest smile came across his face and it was at that very moment that I knew we had our baby girl. Daddy had often said he would prefer a girl, and whilst I hadn’t originally minded which you were as it drew closer to the day of finally meeting you I knew I wanted you to be a girl. Now here you are, our beautiful baby girl, Grace Ava.

  • We may have struggled for the first 24 hours of breastfeeding but once home we soon got the hang of it. It was hard work in those early weeks and I must admit I nearly gave up at the 3 week growth feed when you fed from 5pm to 12am constantly for several nights in a row and I barely had enough strength to hold you, but I’m so glad we persevered. I love the special bond we have from this and the time I get just to sit and hold you, watch you and cuddle you.


  • You were not many days old when I remember walking into the living room and as you were being cuddled by Daddy I spoke and you turned your head to look for me. This made my day!
  • Now we all know Daddy can be a bit silly sometimes (cough, cough!!) and I’ll always remember the first time he made you giggle, a proper little belly laugh. It was one of his infamous made up songs and now not a day go by without us having lots of giggles.


  • You were only 9 weeks old when we decided to move you into your own room. Those first few nights I woke at the slightest murmur. I felt like I had lost something as up to then we had never been apart. Though you seemed to love being in your own room, after the 3am feed, you would sit, gaze around and smile at all the cuddly toys on your shelves as though they were your friends. Nowadays I love going in each morning and being greeted with the biggest smile and a little flutter of feet kicking in excitement. What a way to start each day!

Dulces sueños / sweet dreams my little one.