Category: Reviews

The definitive guide to making perfect poached eggs

That’s right, perfect poached eggs. It’s time, I think, to pull together *dramatic movie dun-dun-DUUHNN* a definitive guide to poaching eggs, beyond the pods.

Since I started writing this blog, through its evolution from pure baking to a more rounded focus, one thing has been a constant. The typefaces have changed, my home has changed, and the URL has changed, but this one thing has, for almost three years, remained the same.

I have consistently been haunted by poach pods.

A little how-to on silicone poach pods has been my most popular post for a long time, and by a huge margin. They’re there 11 months of the year, hanging out at the top of blog stats. Tripping me up when I’m looking at actual recipes. Because, let’s face it, we can do better.

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Eating out: The Belgian Monk, Norwich

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wish I could tell you when it happened, but it seemed to occur all of a sudden. One month, nothing, and the next: a whole new city to discover.

Norwich, dear sweet little Norwich, got…cool.

Somewhere between then and now, grotty little shop fronts gave way to swanky barbers and coffee shops, and people started talking about where’s good for brunch. All the boys grew beards and got undercuts. Food started being served on slates and wooden boards. Pockets of the city became like London, full of independents and entrepreneurship, but without the tourists and grime.

But it’s not the first time Norwich has had excellent food. Read More

Review: Dolce Gusto Jovia

“There isn’t enough room on the counter top and you are the only one who drinks coffee.

“Well…yeah…but…we can move the bread bin? The bread bin is just full of boxes of tea.”

“And bread.”

My flatmate and I were having what was, to my memory at least, our first argument. Not a proper one, really, just sighs, slightly raised voices, and eyebrows arched in indignation.

She was right – and oh man, I will never hear the end of admitting that – in that we don’t have an enormous amount of counter space. It’s taken up with by a utensils pot, a spice rack, the kettle, a biscuit tin, a ceramic chicken for keeping eggs in, and the dreaded bread bin, not to mention the bottles too tall for cupboards and the obligatory sugar and coffee jars. Read More

Review: retro kitchen scales

Growing up, I used a hopelessly old fashioned set of scales that has a place in my heart even now. They were the balancing type that required a steady hand when adding ingredients, and a good eye for a horizontal line. The edges of the weights had been worn smooth and rounded with use, and young me didn’t realise that the tiny “oz” engraved in each one meant “ounce”. We didn’t have a digital set for weighing grams when precision was needed, but somehow the lack of accuracy didn’t result in any mishaps, something which many modern cooks would probably have you believe is a total fluke. It was a way of cooking that might not have adhered strictly to the science of baking, but made learning measurements by eye seem a lot easier.

But now digital scales are king, and the ounce has all but been eradicated from modern cooking. There’s been a bit of discussion about measurements on Twitter lately, with every cook and baker loyal to one particular method. With the proliferation of blogging, seeing American measures has become a lot more common, adding another level of translation to using recipes. A lot of people don’t see the point of weighing in ounces any more, and even more don’t understand the cup measurement, particularly us British bakers.

Personally, I use ounces, grams, and cups, depending on the recipe, clearly no longer loyal to my ounces-only cooking roots. So when I was offered scales to review that weighed in ounces and grams, of course I wanted to give them a go.

Review: retro kitchen scales | The Littlest Bakehouse Read More

Abel & Cole veg box review

That picture up there is of a scene I never thought would feature in my life. That is a big-ass pile of fruit and veg. When this delivery from Abel & Cole arrived on my doorstep, I was like a kid on Christmas day.

I’d been toying with the idea of veg boxes for a while. It made sense to save myself from the time spent trudging around with plastic carrier bag handles slicing into the creases of my fingers under the weight of a week’s worth of bananas, onions and various roots. I’m far from alone in feeling this way — in the past year, Abel & Cole’s customer base has increased by 25%, while in the wider market home delivery of organic boxes saw growth of 10.3%.

But frankly, I couldn’t find any reviews written by people I know or follow or just generally trust, so I approached the company myself, asking if they’d be interested in having me do a review. Clare, the PR I spoke to, was really friendly and sorted it all out for me quickly, despite my awkward delivery specifications (more on that later!).

The growing of organic food is a practise that requires a lot of financial risk, hard work and dedication to stick to — farms have to be pesticide-free for 2 to 5 years before they even get certified as being organic. In a climate like ours, managing to do all this and come out with product that the fussy modern shopper deems good looking enough to eat is no mean feat. It’s not just a sticker you whack onto a lettuce so that you can charge 50p more.

So naturally, I expected this to be reflected in the price. And doing price comparisons with supermarkets (online shopping), it was. With comparable items – although in some of the supermarkets there were no comparable items, or items were not organic – Tesco came out cheapest (£13.09), followed by Asda (£14.27), Sainsbury’s (£15.74), Waitrose (£15.98), and Ocado (£16.77). Once you factor in travel, the higher prices of local “convenience” versions of these stores, or delivery, it might not make much of a difference, but overall Abel &  Cole were marginally more expensive.

The medium fruit & veg box (£18) contained:
5 bananas
4 onions
1 mango
Celery
2 grapefruits
1 lettuce
1 red pepper
175g mushrooms
630g carrots
1kg potatoes

abelcole

One of my favourite things about the delivery is that I didn’t have to eat broccoli, which is probably the food I hate the most. You can look ahead to see what the coming week’s box will contain — great for people who meal-plan — and if there’s something you can’t stand (blurgh, broccoli), you can substitute it for something else. In my case, I got celery, which ended up being a handy accompaniment for the houmous I made and to bulk out risotto. And if you want more of something, you can add that to your box provided it’s in season.

But what I didn’t know, despite having heard of Abel & Cole before, is that you can buy pretty much all of your groceries from there if you want and can narrow down your choices according to dietary needs and preference, including gluten free, vegan, and Fairtrade. Oh, and you can get cakes, and baking kits. It’s all incredible flexible and, well, friendlier than most online shopping services.

When delivery day came, I woke up like a five-year-old on Christmas morning, trying to peek out the window to see if Santa the delivery man had been. My flat isn’t an easy place to deliver to, as there’s no shed or porch to leave things in, and I’m pretty sure my neighbours wouldn’t answer the door. I’d given the delivery man the best instructions I could, asking him to leave my box under the dodgy bit of wood in the bin area in front of the flat, and crossed my fingers that no-one would nick it while I was at work.

Well, no-one did steal it, because by the time I left for work, it was there. I obviously struck lucky with my area, living in a place where A&C deliveries come early.

I wasn’t disappointed — it was all good quality. But more importantly, the variety of fruit and vegetables meant that not everything needed to be used in the first few days, but rather it ripened at different rates and lasted longer than a week. It also meant that I was challenged to find new recipes, to be innovative with ingredients I wasn’t familiar with.

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The Abel & Cole cook book also comes with the first order. Living in a small flat, my collection is small and I prefer to rely on instincts. But this book had me running to my flatmate to show her something else amazing every time I flipped through it. I’d put page markers in it for later use but there’s no point because I’d be marking about 80% of the pages — even on recipes for vegetables and fruits I’ve not heard of before — from savoury tarts to sweet and sticky puddings. Alongside beautiful photography and inspiring recipes, there are storage tips and flavour pairing ideas throughout. If you buy only one cook book this year, I implore you to make it this one. You won’t regret it.

Alongside this, Abel & Cole have an excellent collection of recipes online, sorted by ingredient, that’s open to everyone, no log-ins required.

Overall, the fruit & veg box was great quality and inspired me to try to new things — I couldn’t have been happier with what was delivered.

Recipes made using veg box ingredients

Roasted red pepper houmous // Grapefruit & rosemary cake // English breakfast parcels // Leek & Stilton risotto // Mamma’s banana cake

(Apologies for the not-very-inspiring photos. I just don’t have a chopping board that big — it’s a lot of food!.)

Small space solutions: for a lack of cupboard space

If your home has a small kitchen – and I mean really small, not the size Pinterest seems to think is small – chances are you need every square inch you can get. We, the tiny kitchen brigade, have tucked away our dreams of displaying flour artfully in kilner jars, to neatly store them in mental compartments with labels like “For when I move out of London” or “For when I get a pay rise”. For the here and now, any helping hand is welcomed.

As soon as we got the chance when we moved into this flat, we found the nearest Ikea and hopped over there. It was my first time there. I’ve not been back since, for fear of my bank balance.

But the one definitely-worth-it thing we came back with was this shelf insert. If you’re low on cupboard space I’d 100% recommend stocking up on a few of these. Unfortunately, Ikea seem to have discontinued them, but you can get a very similar insert from Betterware.

EDIT: They’re back! You can find ’em here.

cupboardNext stop: tackling that shelf full of crap that we’re unwilling to trust to damp-smelling cupboards charming “open shelf” you can see on the end there.

Review: Tala heart cake tin {spiced chocolate cake}

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Valentine’s day, like any expression of love, has always been about feeding for me. Some people show it through grand gestures or physical love, for in my house it’s usually through a big plate of baked goods. This year will be my fourth Valentine’s with my boyfriend (!!!) and I’ve not yet been able to beat the heart/house/lobster shaped gingerbread I made for our first. I’m on a quest to do better.

So when Tala contacted me about a mini heart-shaped tin (springform), I jumped at the chance to get my hands on it. I’ve been a bit of a Tala fan since their cook’s measure saved  me from a cake-less life when I was without digital scales. It meant maybe I could finally beat my personal best.

I have to admit, I was nervous at first, but only because I’m prone to moments of incredible idiocy when it comes to baking implements. I like to stick to shapes that can be easily lined, or, better yet, have corresponding ready-shaped liners.

But this time, I was pleasantly surprised – the smooth lines of the tin mean you can easily grease it without having to use your pinky fingers to get in nooks and crannies. Tala 1 – 0 Hannah.

Unfortunately, halfway through making the mixture for the cake, I realised the recipe explicitly said “do not bake in a loose-bottomed tin” as it would probably leak. Erm, oopsie. It was too late already, and on I went. Remarkably, the tin held up and despite my pretty major mishap only let two tiny blobs of mixture leak out of the bottom. Tala 2 – 0 Hannah.

When the cake was cooked, I left it to cool in the tin for five minutes before staging the smoothest cake-removal operation ever. It’s honestly idiot (me) proof.

Being so short of space, I wouldn’t usually condone buying novelty bakeware. But actually, the tin is so dinky that it takes up barely any room at all, and is easily suitable for other occasions like Mothers’ Day too.

Absolutely 5 outta 5! You can find the tin online here (on sale!) and here.

Spiced Chocolate Cake

Recipe will make one 8 inch round cake, and is super easy – no creaming necessary! Adapted from Be-Ro recipe book. 

Ingredients
100g self raising flour
110g caster sugar
12g cocoa powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
50g margarine
1 medium egg
3 tbsp milk
2 tbsp water
Vanilla essence

Method
1) Preheat oven to 180C and line baking tin (ideally not loose bottomed!)
2) Combine flour, sugar, cocoa and spices, and rub in the margarine.
3) Stir in liquids, the egg, and a few drops of vanilla essence.
4) Bake in the centre of the oven for 30-35 minutes.
I topped it with simple milk chocolate icing, but it would also go well with a more robust chocolate frosting. 

Cooking with Poach Pods {or how to make a perfectly rounded poached egg}

Also alternatively titled, “How to make poached eggs that look a little bit like boobs”.

This post has been updated! Click HERE for wayyyy more info.

Poached eggs have a special place in my heart. I have loved them, with the kind of wistful adoration usually reserved for distant lovers, since my first taste, as part of eggs Benedict at Patisserie Valerie. But I’ve struggled to cook them, always being left with a weirdly gelatinous mermaid’s tale of egg white and never quite getting that perfect yolk.

So on one of my regular escapes from London, I couldn’t help but nip into a Lakeland to get some Poach Pods. And although they’ve been around for years, they were a bit of a revelation – no more trailing egg whites, and I get that elusive beautiful yolk every time. It wasn’t all smooth sailing though – the Pods’ packaging was devoid of usage tips, so on the first time I didn’t put a lid on the saucepan, so after 12 minutes cooking all I got was a half raw, half rubbery egg. Parts of the egg were stuck onto the pod too, as I didn’t realise they needed greasing before use.

But once you take these steps, the Pods are easy to use and deliver excellent results.

Poach

Tips for use

* Lightly grease the pods before use.

* Only half fill the pan you’re poaching in – any more and the water may go over the side of the Pod.

* Cook for 4-5 minutes with the lid on.

* Run a knife around the edge of the egg when cooked to ease it out.

You can buy Poach Pods from Waitrose, Lakeland, and Sainsbury’s.

Image: Poached egg in a toasted English muffin, 5 Weight Watchers ProPoints!

Christmas gifts: a baker’s dozen

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Christmas can be really tricky. With only two weekends to go until the big day, and the chance of one-time delivery shrinking with every day that passes, I can’t help but feel like the pressure’s on. I’ll be that person huffing and puffing on public transport on Christmas Eve. I’ll be the one hopping around with one leg in a pair of tights as I hurry to get ready for the evening.

In my family, we’re all medium-snobby about something different, which makes it doubly hard. We’re appreciative of good things. I have one brother who, after several years of chocolate addiction*, has quite a taste for the sweet stuff, and another who’s pretty specific about what wine he’ll drink. My mum’s easy peasy – whereas my dad asks for socks and cheap sweets when he secretly appreciates some fancy fruit and nut. But a love of good kitchenware has been passed down to us all, whether that means super sharp knives (brothers) or excellent bakeware (me).

So for this baker’s dozen, here’s thirteen whatchamajigs that are, in my experience, indispensable to a budding baker, that this little “bakehouse” couldn’t run without.

Click here for more Christmas gift ideas.

One. Be-Ro Home Recipes cookbook. A lot of us food-fans are guilty of having bookshelves groaning with tomes on cake, bread, and cookies. You’ll probably find the odd volume dedicated to perfect pastry hidden down the back of the sofa. But a lot of us have one book that we always come back to – and for me it’s the Be-Ro book, which contains the first recipes I learnt. It’s no frills, and contains all the basics you’ll need – and with regular updates since the first edition was published in 1923, its recipes are definitely tried and tested.

Two. Lakeland tin liners. They’re the best loaf liners I’ve ever used. Simple.

Three. Good quality vanilla extract. Oh sure, you can buy vanilla flavouring, which is wayyy cheaper. It also doesn’t really have a vanilla flavour. Equally, who can afford to use vanilla pods? Vanilla is one of those flavours that’s really a case of go hard or go home, and you can’t beat a good quality vanilla extract in…well…a lot of things. You can buy a litre of Neilsen-Massey vanilla extract at the bargain price of £24.50 here.

Four. Measuring spoons. Because all my mismatched teaspoons don’t seem to have a standard measure.

Five & Six. Edible glitter & sugar paste food colouring. I learnt early on that people are really impressed by these little things that add minimal time to the baking process, just by turning a cake into a rainbow cake, or giving your cupcakes a bit of shimmer. Rainbow cupcakes are a really easy way to make new friends. As for the virtues of sugar paste colours in particular, the fact that they’re so concentrated means they’ll last for ages and won’t make your icing soggy.

Seven. Digital scales. Now, I’m pretty old school about my cooking sometimes. But after all, it is chemistry, and judging scales by eye when your sight is poor is a recipe for disaster. During the first month in my flat we had no scales, just a Tala measuring cone to go by. Some of our creations that month were…interesting.

Eight. Pampered Chef decorating bottlesNo piping bag disasters here! This icing bottles can be a little fiddly to wash up but are so worth it for ease of control and the fact that it makes tasks like injecting jam into cupcakes effortless.

Nine. Silicone tartlet mould. You know when you have to make enough desserts to feed about 30 people and you just can’t fathom how a pie or a cake will cut into that many pieces? Problem solved. I’ve used this mould to make feeding a crowd easier – and the results are pretty cute too.

Ten. Joseph Joseph nesting bowls. It’s time for an embarrassing story. When I first started getting into baking, I read a lot of American blogs and couldn’t for the life of me work out how to measure in cups. I went into our drinks cupboard and looked at every cup in there – and they weren’t the same size. Was a “cup” just a rough measurement? It can’t be! I went around absolutely puzzled for ages before I discovered cup measures.

These bowls include cup measures (thank goodness) and are an amazing space saver in my teeny kitchen – leaving more space for more goodies!

Eleven. Good palette knife. Because we’ve all had to hack at the underside of a biscuit with a normal knife when it’s stuck to the worktop and it ain’t pretty.

Twelve. Spatulas. It’s a bit of a simple one, but how else are you meant to lick out the bowl thoroughly use all your mixture?

Thirteen. Round cookie cutters of varying sizes. I have loads of cookie cutters. A whole jar full. I have bunnies, and houses, and a lobster. Yeah, I’ve made a gingerbread lobster before – he was delicious and not at all snappy. But sometimes you just need a plain cutter, you know? This Tala set is magic – it contains 6 reversible cutters, and only costs about two quid.

And you know the really great thing about buying people baking equipment? The consequential influx of baked goods that just need eating…

*The “addiction” has not been proven, but damn, he got through a lot of Milky Ways.