Bits & pieces 9: Coconut yoghurt & baked oats

I've written here before about my love of breakfast. I don't understand those people who rush out the door with nothing in their bellies. Lately, I've gotten into preparing my breakfast the night before so I just need to assemble in the morning. While I love a berry or green smoothie as much as the rest of the smoothie-drinking world, at the moment I just want oats. Be it porridge made with soaked steel cut oats, raw with nut milk or yoghurt, or baked the night before into a delicious cakey goodness. Baked carrot cake oats

Above is my adaptation of Baked Carrot Cake Oatmeal from the wonderful Green Kitchen Stories. I omitted the nuts, added desiccated coconut and poppy seeds to the topping, and made it with chia seeds instead of eggs. Delicious. It's definitely good enough for both dessert and breakfast.

This week I'm going try out this recipe for homemade coconut milk yoghurt for the second time. My first attempt at making it a couple of weeks ago, failed miserably for some unknown reason. It kinda curdled. Ew. I'm determined to make it work though as I love yoghurt but, like most dairy products, I don't really eat it much as it brings me out in eczema. Secondly, we actually have an Easiyo yoghurt maker that I bought the boyfriend a couple of years back. He got bored with it though and would rather spend his kitchen time perfecting a loaf of sourdough than faffing around with yoghurt. Said yoghurt maker is sitting unloved on top of our kitchen cupboards so I'm determined to use it by making my coconut milk version.

Have you ever tried making your own coconut milk yoghurt? How do you like oats? Baked, raw or cooked stove top?

X c

An ode to ginger & molasses cake — The Violet Bakery Cookbook

Violet cakes cookbook It's fair to say that I'm giddy with excitement to have a copy of The Violet Bakery Cookbook in my hot little hands. Only released a couple of days ago, I have been waiting/hoping for this book since I first tasted Ptak's ginger and molasses cake back in about 2007 after buying some from her then-new Broadway Market stall. For nearly four years now, I've lived a mere hop, skip and a jump from the Violet cafe on Hackney's well-hip Wilton Way. I don't frequent the bijou bakery as much as I could (waistline woes) but sometimes, when the sweet tooth takes hold, we pop in for cakes as an afternoon tea treat. Salted caramel icing, deeply dark chocolate cake, lemon drizzle cake, sticky buns and more fill the old glass shop case. I can never decide. Served up on utility vintage crockery, accompanied with lashings of tea or a strong coffee, it's a lovely spot to while away an hour.

Violet cakes

Wilton Way blossom

The ginger and molasses cake for me, that is the stuff dreams are made of. I love baking and whipping up cakes, so over the last few years I have tried to recreate the ginger and molasses cake several times. While they've always turned out damn tasty, I've never quite nailed it. So it is now I can say thank you, thank you Claire, from the bottom of my heart for this beautiful book that will allow me to recreate your incredible cakes in my own tiny kitchen. I know exactly what I'm doing this Sunday.

Violet cakes cookbook 3

This beautiful book has dozens of yummy recipes I'm looking forward to trying out, all beautifully photographed by Kristin Perers, an East London photographer, whose gorgeous Instagram feed I've been double-tapping for while.

The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak is out now.

x

p.s. You can see the another piece I wrote about Violet Cakes over on This is Your Kingdom.

p.p.s More cake musing here.

N.B. This post isn't sponsored, I bought this book myself. I just really, really like baking cakes.

Boozy spelt Christmas cake and Chickpea magazine

Vegan Spelt Christmas cake See ya 2014! You've been a good-un. I'm in bed with a rotten cold and am trying cheer myself up with this stack of brilliant inspiration from friends and family, near and far. My bedside reading today includes the gorgeous and brilliant vegan quarterly magazine, Chickpea. And it features a recipe for boozy spelt Christmas cake - written by me! (Hooray). Soon I'm going to drag my sorry self from my sickbed and whip up some coconut oil frosting for said cake which is now nicely boozy with brandy. It's become a bit of a tradition to cut my Christmas cake on New Year's Eve over the last couple of years, and while I'm not a fan of traditional Christmas cakes, I do like making my own version. We're planning on staying in this evening and cracking open the bubbles - should mix well with the cold and flu tablets. It's the first time in a very long time that I haven't gone out partying on New Year's Eve and I'm looking forward to it. Fingers crossed I can keep my eyes open 'til midnight. Wishing you all a wonderful 2015. x Photo for Chickpea magazine by Arthur Ravenscrag

Feeling lighter

IMG_2948 After four weddings, a funeral, a 40th in Wales, a hen do, a trip to Paris and Amsterdam, a visit from my sister, multiple trips to Edinburgh for work, too many nights out and general too-much-to-do-ness, I've been feeling somewhat knackered and weighed down. Now things have calmed down and before the silly season kicks in, I've decided to get back to basics, get organised and get my routine sorted.

After chatting about it with my sister, I've started reading Dr Libby's book Accidentally Overweight. And my god, it just makes so much sense. Since starting it, I haven't eaten one ounce of dairy or had a single drop of alcohol. And  it's been easy. Dairy hasn't been any great sacrifice as it's always bought me out in a rash so I tend to not have much anyway. But booze, well, there really is nothing nicer than a glass of red on a chilly evening or an Aperol spritz on a hot day. Even so, I've found this no great loss either.

I've also started meal planning for the week ahead, which I always thought sounded like a total chore and something only bored American housewives would do, but actually it's been brilliant. I downloaded a free online planner and just planning what eat for the week ahead. No scrambling for ideas, trips to Pret or last minute trolley dashes to the supermarket. A visit to the farmer's market on Sunday, a scoot around the vegetable patch and a few bits from the local shop on the walk home from work. It's been somewhat of a revelation and I'm loving it. It's certainly saved us money too. I just print it out, stick it on the fridge and meal an ingredients list in Trello. That way I don't get distracted by anything else and buy/make what's on the plan.

I'm not going teetotal but I have decided I'll save the booze for special occasions - birthdays, catching up with friends, parties and weddings, Christmas etc. Just no more I'm-bored/ had-a-bad-day/ it's-6pm-drinks anymore. I'm off to another wedding (5th this year!) soon so I'll definitely be indulging but hopefully not too much!

As for the dairy, well, I'm not going to say never-again but for now it's off the menu. I'll still eat eggs but the cheese, cream and anything else moo-related can stay away from me. After only two weeks, I'm less bloated, my skin is clearer, the dark circles under my eyes are going. I generally feel lighter and brighter, and my clothes fit better.

I don't feel like I'm on a diet, like I'm depriving myself or that I'm missing out. I'm eating yummy food that makes me feel good. Getting out of bed in the morning isn't a breeze (it never will be) but it's certainly easier. Let's see how long I can stick with it.  I'm also still walking to and from the office where I'm working at the moment, and back at yoga once a week.

Dinner tonight? Leek, greens and cannelini bean soup with rye bread, and nasturtium, apple and almond pesto.

Reading: Anything by Dr Libby

Eating: Green smoothies, oats and nut milk, rye bread, loads of vegetables and soups.

Photo: Nasturtiums growing in Monet's Garden last month.

Sunday bake off: Making magnificent meringues

As a born-and-bred New Zealander, I naturally feel a sense of ownership and fondness towards the Pavlova. Equally, as someone who has adopted the UK as their home for the last 7 years, I love a good Eton mess. My experiences with baking meringue, both in it's huge pavlova form and mini-mounds of crunchy goodness, have always been somewhat hit-and-miss.  My mother is the queen of Pav baking. My sister creates decadent mounds piled high on a cake stand with whipped cream and fruit that looks like it's leapt straight off one of the pages of an Ottolenghi cookbook. My attempts? Either magnificent or pathetic.  Either, 'Oh look it's perfect!' or (more likely), 'Oh crap, it's a disaster'. This week for a last supper with a friend, who is all visa-approved off to New York after 20 years in London, I decided to give meringue making another crack and try and work out if there is a tried-and-true method. My friend's also originally from NZ, so in a nod to both his childhood and his adult years in London, something somewhere between Eton Mess and Pavlova seemed appropriate. Making magnificent meringues Inspired by Leigh's post on Rosewater and Pistachio meringues, I considered giving my old-favourite Ottolenghi's recipe a go. But I found myself turning towards the very gorgeous Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose (yet another expat New Zealander). A gift from my sister, it's become my go-to baking cookbook these days. I've tried out several recipes and they've all been a success. I'm a huge fan of using maple syrup, raw sugar, spelt flour and unusual ingredients, and this book is full of nourishing recipes using interesting and natural ingredients. (Her lovely instagram is worth a follow too for daily prettiness and inspiration.) Love Bake Nourish Maple syrup meringues (adapted from Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose) Serves 6 to 8, depending on size. Or three people who REALLY love meringue. 2 teaspoons cornflour 2 teaspoons cider vinegar 6 large free-range eggs whites (I used medium sized eggs as that was all I could get nearby) Pinch of salt 200g unrefined golden caster sugar (I used raw granulated sugar) 2 tablespoons of maple syrup 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I'd run out but didn't worry about it) IMG_2800 1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Or thereabouts if you're temperatures have worn off the oven like mine. Line baking sheets with baking paper. I only needed one baking sheet but you might need two depending on how big you'd like your meringues. Eggs yolks 2. Save your yolks for breakfast/dinner tomorrow. Mix the cornflour and vinegar well in a little bowl until well combined and lump free. 3. I used my kitchen aid mixer for this step which is a blessing when it comes to making meringues. I have made them successfully with a hand mixer too.  Whisk the eggs whites with the salt until stiff peaks form. 4. Add the sugar a tablespoon at a time, alternating with really small amounts of the vinegar mix. Whipping up a storm 5. Keep going until it's all combined. The meringue should be really thick and glossy. At this stage it looked just how I remembered my mum's best pavlova mixtures. 6. Add the fold syrup, folding through with a metal spoon. Pile high in mounds on the baking tray. You should get about 6-8. 7. Put in the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 100 degrees C. Bake for about 1.5 to 2 hours, then turn the oven off and let the meringues cool in the oven. Meringues TA-DA! Amber Rose' recipe then goes on to make caramelised pears to serve atop the meringues. I'm not a fan of pears (does anyone else think they are gritty?) so topped mine with fresh strawberries, raspberries, chopped roasted hazelnuts and whipped cream. DELISH. Chewy, a little crunchy and a bit fluffy. Sadly, we'd a had a few too many wines by the time I dished them up so there are no photos. The secret to making the perfect meringue? I think it's down to a little patience, a lot of whipping and very fresh free-range eggs. The right temperature oven (mine is always a guesstimate as the temps have been cleaned off!) plays a big part, and the time to leave them to cool in the oven. It's a good idea to make them the night before and turn off the oven before you go to bed. If you take them out before they've cooled, you run the risk of collapsing and cracking meringues. And I think the maple syrup really gives extra chewiness and flavour. Have you ever tried making meringues or pavlova? What's your secret? x C