Monkey bread for the end of the year of the monkey

img_20170101_180117579Funny how you can forget things for a really long time and then, BAM! – out of the blue, a childhood memory comes back. I hadn’t thought about monkey bread for decades until I agreed to do some cooking with the Year 1 children at my daughter’s school. As I cast about for a baking recipe that would be simple enough, and interesting enough, for a bunch of 5-6 year olds, I remembered making monkey bread with my mom.

Now, in the end, I didn’t make this with the children. First of all, when I made it with my mom, we made it the easy way with pre-packaged dough. As I so often find with American recipes, the shortcuts that help just aren’t readily available here (I’m looking at you Bisquick). And secondly, let’s face it – it’s super unhealthy. So, the school children got quick and healthy-ish banana muffins. And my kids got to make full-on monkey bread with me on New Years Day*.

So, for my European readers who have no idea what monkey bread is or how to make it, check out the from-scratch version by James Martin. It’s pull apart bread, all cinnamon-sugary and sticky. <drool>


It was pretty darned successful, and tasted pretty much the way I remembered. And also – super messy to make. But delicious. You’ve been warned.

* That’s the Western New Year, not the Chinese New Year mentioned in the title. The Year of the Monkey will end on Friday 27 January.

Quick cinnamon rolls

cinnamonRollsDue to Christmas and an early start to my maternity leave, I had a good 6 weeks of free time before my second child arrived in February. I used this time wisely – I baked, I knitted, and I binged on The West Wing.

These cinnamon rolls were super tasty and not too difficult to make, especially if you follow the recipe. I, however, forgot to buy buttermilk, so did the whole milk and lemon juice substitution recommended. Except I forgot that I made more than needed, so added too much of the mixture to the flour. Then I had to try and recalculate amounts to make it the right texture. Despite all that, they turned out quite tasty. And if I ever find myself with that much free time again, I might just make them again.

cinnamonRolls2The recipe can be found on the America’s Test Kitchen website – which you’ll need to register/join to see.

(Almost) sugar-free birthday cake for baby

We celebrated my daughter’s first birthday last weekend. Of course, there had to be birthday cake. But we have been trying to keep things healthy, limiting the amount of salt and sugar she is exposed to. There are several cool ideas for healthy (or at least somewhat healthy) birthday cakes. One great idea was to make a ‘cake’ out of fruit. Check out Confessions of a recovering sugar addict and See My Footprints… for some cool examples. But I wasn’t confident about getting enough ripe fruit for such an undertaking. And it seemed like more work than baking something.

I made a Banana and Blueberry cake, which my daughter and the kids at her nursery really seemed to love. We ate some too and it was lovely – very much like banana bread.

firstBirthdayCakeBanana and Blueberry cake*

4 oz (1 cup) old fashioned rolled oats
5 oz (1 1/4 cups) whole wheat flour
4 oz (1 cup) all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 tsp cinnamon
good pinch of salt
6 medium ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
4 fl oz (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup blueberries, chopped (use fresh, or frozen berries thawed and drained)
4 eggs, beaten well
6 fl oz (3/4 cup) frozen unsweetened apple juice concentrate, thawed (as I couldn’t find any frozen apple juice concentrate, I used squash – or cordial – to get the sweetness. This added a small amount of sugar to the recipe, but overall, it was less than you find in most baby yogurts, so I was ok with that. I did have to work out the correct ratio of squash to achieve the same sweetness and amount of liquid as called for in the original recipe – if anyone is interested in seeing my maths, leave me a comment)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F (175 deg C).
  2. Put the first seven ingredients into a large bowl and mix them together.
  3. Add all the rest of the ingredients and stir well until thoroughly combined.
  4. Grease a 9 inch cake tin and pour in the mixture.
  5. Bake for around 50 mins to one hour, until a sharp knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  6. Cool in the tin for 20 mins, then turn out on a wire rack to cool completely.
To make cream cheese frosting
Stir together one 3 ounce package of cream cheese, 1/4 tsp of vanilla and 2 1/2 tbsp regular frozen apple juice concentrate (thawed). Spread over the top of the cake once it’s cool.

* this recipe and others found here:

Lemon ginger salmon

lemonGingerSalmonBefore we had a baby, we used to watch Saturday Kitchen. This Ken Hom recipe is from that show a few years ago, and is a modern Chinese dish that is pretty quick and easy to make. Definitely one of my favourite ways to have salmon. Being a huge fan of lemon, I usually use the zest of one lemon but segment 2 lemons to add to the sauce.

Great served with some simply stir-fried veg, like bok choi or morning glory (which you can find in Chinese supermarkets, usually called Ong Choi). For a good veg stir fry, chop a chili and a few cloves of garlic. Heat some oil and quickly fry the chili, garlic and a pinch of salt before adding the veg. Stir fry for about 1-2 minutes, then add a bit of water or stock and steam until tender. Add a bit of soy sauce if desired.


Salsa verde: memories of Mexico

About this time 6 years ago, Ken and I went on our best holiday ever. We stayed for about 10 days in an eco-shack in Tulum, Mexico. It was off season, but still very warm, and we enjoyed long lazy days on the beach, cold cerveza and some incredible food. There was no electricity in our cabin, so we slept when the sun went down and got up as it rose. We had a conch shell for a shower head, a palm thatched roof, and a small crab liked to hang out in our bathroom. We enjoyed some fantastic holidays since but nothing has quite compared for total relaxation and peaceful enjoyment.

So what does this have to do with salsa verde? The link is my former boss, Amber, who shared my love of Mexican food and who reignited my interest in Mexico with her tales of living there several years back. She recommended Tulum as the best beach holiday she’d ever had. She also recommended several Mexican dishes that I’d never heard of or tried, despite growing up so close to the Mexican border. On that trip we tried cheladas and micheladas, lime soup, and bought chili tamarind paste for the first time. After we ran out of the supplies of hot sauce and refried beans we had brought back, she told me about – a great source for authentic imported Mexican goods.

And as the number of burrito places in London started to increase a couple years back, we formed The Burrito Club. With our colleague Mr B we would try a different burrito joint about once a month. Mr B always went for the hottest hot sauce (Adobo in Holborn won that contest, I believe). Amber was always on the hunt for crispy in the form of totopos or crunchy tacos. And I always, always ordered a burrito with slow cooked pork and salsa verde.

So, this recipe post is in memory of Amber and the best holiday I ever had. This particular salsa verde is a fresh one (with raw tomatillos instead of cooked) and I must admit, it isn’t as good as some of the jarred or canned ones I’ve had. But I think that is the fault of the chef, not necessarily the recipe, which comes from the always excellent Riverford Farm. Serve with tortilla chips, or on tacos, burritos, tostadas – anything. One of my favourite dishes with salsa verde (although best with a cooked version) is chilaquiles.

Or save yourself the time and effort and buy it at Mexgrocer or from The Cool Chile Company.


Quick lunch: haxe salad

The local supermarket does a few deli items in the back, including a roast pork knuckle (or haxe as it’s known in German). It’s a nice, quick and easy lunch when we don’t have time to cook anything. And it always leaves leftovers, which are great in a salad.

This salad contains the leftover ham hock, thawed frozen broad beans, red onion, tomatoes and a mix of watercress and baby spinach. A light honey mustard dressing finished the salad.

We bought a cooked haxe, but you can find a recipe for making it from scratch by searching for roast pork knuckle

Ken made up the dressing, so I don’t the exact recipe we used to share. But again, you’ll find loads of examples online.

I’m back… or will be soon…

I’ve been off the radar for several months as we settle in to life as parents of our lovely little girl. There has been no sewing and very little knitting during this time. We have started cooking more often as things have settled down, but blogging has just been more than I can tackle.

However, I think I’ve almost got the hang of this parenting thing and have a few things to actually blog about. Photos have been taken – now I just need to actually upload them and blog about them.

While I’ve been thinking about a return to blogging, I’ve been pondering whether to include photos of my daughter wearing the things I made for her. On the one hand, it’s nice to see clothing modelled by the person it was made for. And clothes make more sense when on a body.

On the other hand, I am a little cautious about creating an internet footprint for my daughter. Nothing on the internet every truly dies and she has no say over what I’m posting.  If this were a private blog, where I controlled who saw things, it would be different. But as this is public, I’ve decided not to post pictures of her here. I know this might make posts a little less interesting but it’s what I’m most comfortable with.

So, having said that, stay tuned for blog posts on salsa verde, knitted tank tops and ham hock salad in the coming weeks…

Mom’s peanut butter swirl bars

This is one of those treats I remember from childhood. It was the sort of thing my mom would make when a baked treat was needed for school or work. If  you like peanut butter and chocolate, you can’t help but like these cakey, chewy treats. (And for a pregnant lady with cravings for both chocolate and peanut butter, they’re just about the best thing ever)


1/3 cup / 75g butter

1/2 cup / 110g peanut butter (smooth or crunchy, doesn’t matter)

3/4 / 169g cup sugar

3/4 cup / 135g brown sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup / 115g flour

12-24 oz / 300-600g chocolate chips (depending n how chocolatey you want them)

2 eggs

2 tsp / 10ml vanilla

1 tsp / 5g baking powder


1. Mix the butter, peanut button, sugar and brown sugar in a bowl.

2. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well blended

3. Add the baking powder and flour gradually until well mixed

4. Pour or spread into a lightly greased 9 x 12 inch pan (you can use a different sized pan, but may need to adjust cooking times accordingly)

5. Sprinkle chocolate chips on the top

6. Bake in a 350 F / 180 C degree oven for 5 mins

7. Take the pan out of the oven and run a knife back and forth through the mixture to create the swirl of chocolate and peanut butter

8. Bake for another 25-35 minutes. The bars are done when a skewer inserted into the cakey bit comes out clean (the chocolate may still be runny)

Note: I’ve always made this using American measures/measuring implements, so the metric equivilents above are untested. If anyone tries it out and it doesn’t work, let me know!

A slightly healthier, vaguely more grown-up version of a childhood favourite: Super Nachos

When we were growing up, my sister and I used to make ourselves “Super Nachos” for lunch. This consisted of putting a bunch of tortilla chips in a dish, covering this with the contents of a tin of refried beans, grating on some cheddar cheese and sticking the whole thing in the microwave for 2 minutes. We ate this a lot – it might have been our favourite lunch.

This past weekend, I made a slightly healthier/more grown up version of this childhood favourite. We still started with tortilla chips, beans, and cheese going in the microwave, but at least the beans were homemade. I used Darina Allen’s recipe for refried beans, which seems pretty authentic and straightforward. We soaked the black beans over night, then cooked in plenty of water until very soft. The drained beans were then added to chopped onion and garlic that had been softened in lard, along with a bit of their cooking liquid, mashing the beans as we went.

Once the tortilla chips, beans, and cheese had been microwaved (to melt the cheese), we added chopped tomatoes, lettuce, sour cream and homemade guacamole and topped the whole thing off with a dash of hot sauce.

They were messy, but they were delicious – definitely worthy of the name “Super Nachos”