Category Archives: Cooking

Denial Cakes

Denial cakesNow that the Christmas decorations have come down and the last of the leftovers have finally been consumed, the true gloominess of January presents itself. Dark, cold and probably very, very wet,  the month is bad enough before you resolve to try and become a better person by joining a gym and giving up alcohol for a few weeks. Why do we do this to ourselves every year? I’ve yet to meet someone who has claimed their life changed because they went out and bought a new pair of trainers on the 1st of January, or became ‘more approachable’ by writing it down in their diary.

It is silly to inflict this torture on ourselves in what is already one of the worst months of the year. Instead, I suggest moving the ‘new year, new you‘ resolutions to February. By the second month of the year, your body will no longer expect you to start drinking at breakfast time and have pudding and cheese after every meal, you will have got used to putting 2013 as the date (even if you haven’t quite got over how ugly that number sounds) and, most importantly, February is only 28 days long. This makes any goals you’ve set yourself seem far more achievable, and by postponing these aims by a month, you’ll feel super-smug as you sip green tea and snack on carrot sticks while everyone around you gave up 2 weeks ago.

So sod January, I’m in denial.

Which leads me to the cakes. I am not, by any means, an accomplished baker. Last summer I decided it would be nice to make cookies to take into the office on the last day of my internship. Sadly, I had no idea what I was doing and the resulting cookies were hard and bitter. Still, I took them in for my colleagues, and most of them sampled them. Only the boss turned down the chance to try my  (I quote) ‘rock cakes’, but it turned out he’d gone and bought Prosecco and a Victoria sponge for us all instead which was much better.

What I lack in baking skills, I make up for in eating ability. There is a long-running joke in my family about my devotion to brandy butter. Every year the brandy butter comes out with the Christmas pudding and every year I have to wait until everyone else has helped themselves to brandy butter because they all know that, if I had it my way, I would eat the entire bowl without coming up for air. So when I came across a recipe for brandy butter cupcakes, I knew I was onto a winner. I waited until Twelfth Night to make them, to have a last blow-out of Christmassy food. Then I realised we were out of brandy. Instead of giving up on baking and going to watch The Holiday for the 450th time, I decided to make rum fairy cakes instead. With ‘cheery’ rum buttercream icing.
It is unlikely that you’ll want to give these a go, but if the photos of my creation (doctored on Instagram to make them look slightly more appetising) inspire you, here is the recipe.

You will need:

(For the cakes)

  • 75g margarine 
  • 75g self-raising flour
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp dark rum

(For the icing)

  • 50-75g of softened butter (I started with 50g but ended up adding more)
  • 100g icing sugar
  • Dark rum (to taste)
  • Vanilla extract (to taste)
  • Food colouring
  • Silver sugar balls

To make denial cakes:

  1. Preheat fan oven to 160 C
  2. Line fairycake tin with 12 paper cases
  3. Place sugar and butter in bowl and cream together with electric whisk
  4. Add the eggs and whisk
  5. Sieve the flour into the bowl and continue to whisk
  6. Still whisking, add the vanilla essence and rum
  7. Spoon mixture into cases
  8. Place cakes in oven and leave to cook for 10-15mins

To make the icing:

  1. Make sure you’re butter is really really soft before you start!!! I didn’t do this so for a long time my butter’cream’ looked more like crumble mixture
  2. Cut up the butter into small chunks, then place in a bowl and whisk
  3. Add the icing sugar and continue to whisk, turning the bowl in your hand as you do so
  4. Still whisking, add the vanilla extract and rum to taste (I put in a tsp of vanilla and a good slosh of rum)
  5. If desired, add food colouring. After raiding the kitchen cupboard, I found a bottle of red food colouring and a bottle of blue colouring. I thought that combining the two might make a nice festive purple, but in fact it resulted in weird palma violet shade. I then added a load more blue colouring so the icing ended up looking a bit like a Muppet had vomited on the cakes.
  6. Spoon the icing onto the cakes. Top with silver sugar ball (remember when eating to swallow this whole to avoid cracking your teeth)
  7. Eat
Purple denial cake

The weird violet coloured icing. And the muppet coloured ones in the background.

Although the cakes didn’t really rise all that well, and the icing didn’t look that appetising, they actually tasted ok. I suppose you can’t go too far wrong where sugar, rum and vanilla is concerned.

I’ll now spend the rest of the week stuffing my face with these whilst pinning nice spring pictures to Pinterest to trick myself into thinking winter is already over.


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Recipe for a Disastrous Dinner

I’ve vowed not to buy any more meat until October. I’m also trying to use up what’s left in my cupboard before leaving halls forever next weekend. This resulted in last night’s dinner disaster. You’d think egg-fried rice which I’ve made approximately 4 billion times this year would be a piece of cake. You’d be wrong. Last night was less egg-fried rice, and more a kind of vegetable rice stew. If you fancy making yourself feel a bit queasy, feel free to follow the recipe below (enough for 2, or for one if you enjoy it so much you want leftovers the next day!).

You will need:

A saucepan

A wok

A wooden spoon

Brown rice (don’t measure it, just whack in far more than you could possibly ever eat)

Vegetable stock powder (again, as much as possible)

Chicken stock powder (roughly the same amount as the veg stock)

Button mushrooms (lots)

A liberal quantity of frozen peas

Chopped red and green pepper

Half a courgette (diced)

2 medium-large eggs

A bottle of soy sauce.


1. Pour vast quantity of the brown rice into the saucepan. Run under the cold water tap until you think there’s enough in there.

2. Put rice on mid-heat on the hob, and leave for 30 minutes whilst you go and watch iPlayer in your flatmate’s bed.

3. Return to the rice. See that it hasn’t come to the boil. Throw in a shed load of veg stock powder. Plus a bit more.

4. Stir. Watch the stock begin to turn the water/rice mix sticky.

5. Taste it. Realise it tastes and smells like that revolting vegetable soup they forced you to eat in nursery. Pour in further shed load of chicken stock powder (despite previously swearing off meat). Stir.

6. Realise you have made a horrible, congealed rice gravy. Notice that you have now passed the point where you could’ve drained off the excess water. Try to boil it off instead.

7. Watch the rice gravy begin to stick to the bottom of the saucepan.

8. Meanwhile…. heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in the wok. Bring to a heat where you are at risk of being scolded when it splashes back as you drop the vegetables in.

9. Drop the vegetables in. Watch for hot oil splashback! When you inevitably feel the pain of a splash of hot oil on your skin, run under cold tap until the pain subsides. Try not to flood the kitchen, despite the fact the sink is full of a fortnight’s worth of washing up.

10. Stir veg. Notice that none of it has softened yet, and that the peas are still frozen. Ignore this fact, because you are bloody hungry and have better things to be doing.

11. Stir again, adding so much soy sauce that the peas begin to float in an oil-and-soy puddle.

12. Add the rice gravy to the wok. Stir. Add yet more soy sauce. Stir. Taste. Try not to cry.

See point 12

13. Crack one egg into the mixture. Stir. Don’t bother checking if it’s cooked yet.

14. Add the second egg. This time, don’t dump it in in one go, but let the egg white trickle out around the wok, and try and split the yolk with the egg shell, in turn, getting egg shell into the wok. Leave and watch the egg white turn from clear to, well, white. Stir.

15. Taste again. You really should’ve checked those peas were cooked first shouldn’t you? Woops. Oh well, too late. Does it need some more soy sauce? Why the hell not. Does it need some salt and pepper? HELL NO! The veg stock has put your monthly allowance of salt in there for you.

16. Slop onto a plate in the way Mr Bumble’s cooks dispensed gruel to poor Oliver Twist in the workhouse (don’t worry, you won’t be wanting more!)

17. TUCK IN!

18. Show off your dinner to others. Watch them laugh. Hear them refuse to try it. Watch their eyes light up as your face contorts in revulsion. Eventually persuade them to try some. Watch them nudge it around the plate before eventually opening wide. Hear that it is ‘not great, but still kinda edible’. YES, another culinary success!

19. Wake up the next morning feeling rather ill. Wonder why. Remember last night’s dinner.

20. Vow to never go there again.

21. Think the hell is over. Then walk into the kitchen and remember you've got all this to wash this up, because there is no way you can eat these leftovers for lunch


Filed under Cooking

Tonight’s culinary disasters, and other tales from today

They say bad things come in threes, and that rings true with tonight’s culinary disasters.

Firstly, I cooked dinner. ‘What’s wrong with that?’, you may ask. The answer, mes amis, is that I already had dinner, ready, in the fridge, cooked up by Mama Crumbolina. Down my stomach went a wasted half hour and new potatoes that could have lived to boil another day.

My further two cooking disasters relate to tomorrow’s lunch. I should explain why I am making tomorrow’s lunch already; tomorrow is the day I start my first ever archaeological dig, and, having been informed by a lecturer that he puts on a stone every year due to his frequenting the local bakery during the four week dig, I have decided it is best to make my own food. My plan was to make a simple pasta salad -brown pasta, mozzarella, assorted bits of salad -wham, bam, thank you mam, whack it in a tupperware. But then I burnt the pasta. All I did was leave it unattended for a few minutes whilst I went to try on tomorrow’s outfit (khaki linen trousers, blue vest, checked shirt, straw trilby, walking boots, yellow hi-vis jacket), and by the time I returned, the water had evaporated and my poor pasta was stuck to the bottom of the pan, accompanied by some burnt-on pasta water.

Whilst putting on my second load of pasta (I gave up trying to rescue the first batch), I set about making the rest of the salad. Realising that I’d managed to buy THE muddiest lettuce known to man, I carefully washed it, and then proceeded to shake off the excess water. Down my lettuce leaves fell into the soapy washing up water in the sink. I did what any impoverished student would do, and scrubbed it a bit more, then chucked it into the salad. I think I got a bit over-eager with the contents of my salad (drizzled with freshly home made honey and mustard dressing) because now my tupperware box is heaving with contents, and I’ve had to secure it with three elastic bands and two plastic bags in the hope it won’t leak over my state-of-the-art-ergonomic-sixteen-pounds-if-you-please brand new trowel.

I am rather looking forward to the dig. Of course, this excitement will have worn off by Wednesday when a torrential downpour is predicted, but I shall cross that bridge when I come to it. Today we had to endure an extremely retro health and safety video, the highlight of which being an instruction about being careful with pronged geophysics equipment, “take care the probes don’t penetrate your foot, or anything else that might be regretable”!!! I will do my best.

The dig itself is at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, and is being run by these merry men:

Mark Horton, who you may recognise from Coast. He is also responsible for Bonekickers. Enough said.

Stuart Prior (right). He may look hard, but he recently gave my essay a First, so he is in my good books. He is also the lecturer who warned us about the bakery!

We’ve been informed that tomorrow will be spent clearing nettles from the site. Now I realise why I brought my gardening gloves to uni! They certainly haven’t been used for gardening -I returned to halls after a weekend at home, to find that the water in a glass holding dead daffodils had turned green, and was congealing. Now the glass is soaking in a Fairy liquid/bleach/water mix, alongside the pan with the burnt-on pasta. This is but a small manifestation of how chaotic the inside of my head must be.

I better dash to get my beauty sleep, I have to leave halls at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning. I’m not sure how my body is going to react to doing this all day, every day for two weeks, combined with manual labour, and not getting home until six. Any plans I had to go out over the next fortnight are quickly evaporating.

I leave you with a link to ‘A History of the World: Jenner’s Marvellous Medicine’, a programme by Mark Horton, about Edward Jenner (the man who created the smallpox vaccine), who lived in Berkeley in the 18th Century, and whose garden we shall be digging up over the next two weeks.

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Filed under Archaeology, Blunders, Cooking