The Summer Sun Approach to Eating

Let’s get the weather moan out of the way first thing: “SHEESH, it’s hot out! No, seriously – so hot.” Well done. We have fulfilled our clichéd social obligations. Now, on to something useful and constructive.

I don’t know about you but while I love the summer sun, relentlessly high temperatures with very little breeze – which is what we’re having here in my part of the UK at the moment – wears me right out. I become lethargic, cranky and even the simplest tasks seem like major undertakings. So what’s the solution? Well, if I was still living in Houston where heat and humidity are a daily fact of life except during a few weeks in January and February, the answer would be AC. But I am not in Houston – or even the US – so AC is not as common and the answer is circulating fans, lots of water and choosing a summer sun approach to eating. What do I mean by that? I’m glad you asked. Continue reading “The Summer Sun Approach to Eating”

The Bread Baby

Does anyone remember that craze back in the 90’s, where people gave each other little pocket sized computer thingies that you had to ” feed” and “bathe”, or they pinged in an annoyingly loud manner? Or that episode in “Frasier” where Niles attempted to simulate fatherhood by looking after an eight pound sack of flour for a week? No?

I had forgotten them too – but they all came rushing back to me in the early hours of the morning about a month ago, when I found myself under the glare of my kitchen lights, giving it the full Colin Clive and screaming, “It’s alive! IT’S ALIVE!!

That’s Dr. Frankenstein to you, thank you very much.

I was making my own sourdough bread.

Moreover, I was learning – all too painfully – that making your own sourdough bread is not about the baking the bread, but rather about making the “starter.” And making a sourdough starter is uncomfortably like looking after a small baby for an extended period of time. There’s a lot of feeding and changing, quite a bit of gas, the regular disposal of beige goop, some malodorous smells, and far too much fretting and crying.

How did I get to that darkly cinematic moment in my kitchen in those wee small hours? Not naturally or easily actually. I have always considered myself more of a “cook” than a “baker” but my confidence in baking had truly grown in the last few years. Continue reading “The Bread Baby”

Pickled And Baked

It’s not what you think.  I’m not wallowing in wine or whacked out on weed. (At least not right now.) I do, however, have homemade bread baking in the oven, and I’ve just put up a bunch of pickles. Again, it’s not what you may think.

I haven’t joined a commune in Vermont, delved too far into the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder, or taken up extreme right-wing ideologies and moved into a nuclear bunker in Tennessee. I’m just trying to stay hip. And for once, I’ve found I haven’t already aged out of the latest trends. Both baking and pickling are tres chic here in the UK. That runaway smash tv show The Great British Bakeoff has taken the nation by storm over the last few years.


Both baking and pickling are tres chic here in the UK. That runaway smash tv show The Great British Bakeoff has taken the nation by storm over the last few years. Continue reading “Pickled And Baked”

Spaghetti: Dressed For Dinner

We recently celebrated Spaghetti Day here at Fabulous Foodie. Deborah’s fabulous post about the various forms of- and sauces for- spaghetti got me to thinking about what a large part spaghetti has played in my culinary life.

I remember being a child watching my dad make his spaghetti Bolognese sauce, and how – though it’s certainly my own sauce now – mine is based on his. Yes, I know that sauce is actually called a ragu, and that in Italy it’s never served with spaghetti (except perhaps resignedly to tourists) because spaghetti is the wrong shape and texture to properly hold the sauce, but like everyone who didn’t grow up in Italy, that’s the way I first ate it. And it’s still how I prefer to eat it to this day.


As a teen, I learned how to eat spaghetti properly, instead of cutting it into childishly spoon-able lengths; how you gather a few strands on the tines of your fork, and twirl the fork against the side of the bowl or a spoon until they’re neatly twined around your fork. And how it’s actually okay to slurp a bit , just to get those few recalcitrant straggly ends into your mouth. (At least it is in my house.)

Then I remember how I learned to cook spaghetti (and all pasta) properly:

Continue reading “Spaghetti: Dressed For Dinner”

10 Best (Non-Baking) Uses for Bicarb

Before anyone asks: yes, my fellow Americans – bicarbonate of soda is the same as baking soda. Now that we’re on the same page – Happy Bicarbonate of Soda Day!

There was a time when I assumed the only thing bicarb was good for was, once mixed in with water, as a hangover remedy. These days I bake more so I realize there’s more to it than that. But I’ve also realized in the past year or so, that its usefulness as a tool in the cleaning arsenal around the house is unrivalled. Well, only rivalled by lemons. Between bicarb and lemons, I hardly need anything else.


I’ve been switching to greener cleaning options these days – for a number of reasons, chief among which is the obsession that cleaning product manufacturers have these days about scenting EVERYTHING. They clearly have a very different understanding of the word “lemony” or the phrase “pine fresh scent” than I do. YUCK!


So, I thought to mark the occasion of Bicarbonate of Soda Day, I thought I’d round up a few of the ways I used bicarb around the house. You may find a useful tip or two – and by all means, share any others you might have.

Continue reading “10 Best (Non-Baking) Uses for Bicarb”

Kitchen Disasters R Us

It occurred to me the other night – as I frantically scoured out one of my favorite saucepans while flapping at the smoke alarm with a tea towel – that things in the kitchen don’t always go to plan.

Please note – no kitchens were harmed in the making of this stock photo.

What had gone wrong? Well, I had been making mashed potatoes for myself in my new favorite manner, which is to simmer them in a bit of milk, and then use that milk for the mashing liquid. It takes a bit longer for the potatoes to cook but you lose none of the potato flavor to water, and you’ve already got hot potato-rich milk for the mashing.  Add butter, and it’s a great no-draining method for mash just so long as you don’t get distracted by the TV as they’re simmering.

Which, of course, I did.

Continue reading “Kitchen Disasters R Us”

The Old Bake and Switch

Back in Better Baking Tips Part 1, I mentioned that the first thing to do when baking was read the recipe – ingredients and method – all the way through so you weren’t taken by surprise mid-bake.

Have you been doing so? Yes? Excellent. You would make Mary Berry  proud. You might even make Paul Hollywood proud but he wouldn’t let on since he’s been practicing his inscrutable face in preparation for the new series of Bake Off – which, did I mention is coming VERY SOON?

Mary-Berry-Paul-Hollywood-594359What’s that? You haven’t been reading through the recipes before starting? Well, OK. Let’s not mention that to Mary or Paul and see if we can’t come up with a “save” of sorts.

At the end of Better Baking Tips Part 2, we talked about what do when you have no buttermilk and how to make your own self-raising flour from the good old plain stuff. But there are all sorts of things you might find yourself running out of so here are a few more last minute ingredient saves.

Some swaps are straight one to one affairs that won’t actually change anything else. Some may result in minor changes in consistency or flavor. Some of those changes you may come to prefer. You may even want to try a a few of these just to see what happens.

  • Have you run out of baking powder? To replace 1 teaspoon of baking powder, use 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of cream of tartar
  • What if you don’t have cream of tartar? Well, try this swap within a swap! For each teaspoon of cream of tartar you need, use either 2 teaspoons of vinegar or 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • sugarsYou’ve looked everywhere for brown sugar and all you can find is white. Don’t worry – if you’ve got molasses, you’re covered. Need light brown sugar? Combine 2 tablespoons molasses with 1 cup of white sugar. Need dark brown sugar? Combine 3 tablespoons molasses with 1 cup of white sugar
  • Is corn syrup on the ingredient list but not in your cupboard? For 1 cup DIY corn syrup substitute, combine 1 and 1/4 cup white sugar with 1/3 cup of water
  • Need 1 cup of unsalted butter and there’s none to be found? Use 1 cup of shortening or 7/8 cup of vegetable oil
  • I can’t imagine running out of vegetable oil but I suppose it might happen – and if it did and I was baking a cake that called for 1 cup of oil, I could swap in 1 cup of applesauce.
  • Does the ingredient list call for a cup of Golden syrup that you don’t have? Use 1 cup maple syrup or 1 cup corn syrup instead.
  • Provided you don’t need to whip the 1 cup of heavy cream called for in the recipe, you can use 3/4 cup milk mixed with plus 1/3 cup melted butter instead.
  • Oh and that buttermilk swap I mentioned in Part 2? It is just one of many. You can also substitute 1 cup sour cream or 1 cup of plain or low fat yogurt for 1 cup of buttermilk. What you may notice about this tip is that there is another tip buried within in – what if you have no sour cream? Well, guess what? You can use the yogurt instead!

So – remember, read the recipe all the way through and do your best to have everything on hand. But you know – life happens. Sometimes we don’t get to the store when we mean to and other times we discover half way around the store that we have accidentally left our very carefully compiled shopping list on the counter. Don’t let these little hiccups stop you from baking up a storm. Swap and switch and bake on!

And check out the previous baking tips and tricks:

More Tips for Better Baking

The count down to Great British Bake Off continues and so does Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking. (See Part 1 here)

Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking, Part 2

butterBEAT YOUR BAKE: In many cake or cookie recipes, instructions say to cream the butter and sugar. This does not mean to mix them together for just a minute or two – this means to beat with a beater or in a mixer (or stir rapidly and briskly) until the butter grows lighter in color and texture. Doing so incorporates more air into your mixture and gives you bake more lift.

FLOURY FRUIT: When making a fruit cake, you want the fruit to be distributed throughout the cake not just settled at the bottom. To help ensure an even distribution, dust dried fruits (such as raisins, dried cranberries or blueberries) with a bit of flour before adding them into the mix.

JUST WHAT YOU KNEAD: You don’t want to use too much extra flour when kneading or your dough will dry out – and that can mess up your crust formation. If the dough is sticky, try lightly oiling your hands first and see if that doesn’t make things easier. Some people find a dough scraper useful and while we have a dough scraper and it is one of the most used tools in our kitchen, ironically we have never used it on dough. Go figure.

CrackingEggGET CRACKING: I am about to make a suggestion I know will be greeted with a few rolled eye. HOw do I know? Because I had the same reaction when I first heard it. But via the hard knocks of baking experience, I’ve come around and I say to you: Crack your eggs into a separate bowl first and then incorporate them into your mixture. Even if your recipe says to add one egg at a time. Crack it into the egg bowl, the from there into the mixture.

Yes, yes, I know it creates one more bowl to wash up but trust me. You just never know when you might get a bad egg – it doesn’t happen often but it does happen. It happened to me. Using the separate bowl means that should a bad egg or utterly splintered shell come your way, the only thing you’ve lost is an egg or two, not your whole mixture. Even if you are rolling your eyes now, you will thank me later.

SO CLOSE, SO FAR: It’s frustrating when you realize that you are one ingredient away from having everything you need. Here’s some swaps that mean you can avoid the shops and still get your bake on.

  • Need self-raising flour but only have plain? Just add 2 tsp of baking powder to every 200g (8oz) plain flour and presto! Self-raising flour.
  • Need buttermilk but failed to pick it up when you shopped for everything else? Stir 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar into 1 cup of milk. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 5 or 10 minutes, then use as you would do store-bought buttermilk.

As always, I hope these tips and tricks are useful should you find yourself in a baking way and I hope you’ll share your baking tips with the rest of us. I’ll be putting more up as we get closer to GBBO day.


Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking

At Fabulous Foodie, we’re very excited about the return of Great British Bake Off next week.  So much so that we’re finding it hard to think about anything else. To be honest, we haven’t actually tried that hard to think of anything else. I mean, it’s Bake Off! So, having embraced our renewed obsession, we ended up with:

Fabulous Foodie’s Tips for Better Baking

START AT THE START: I’ve said it before, I will say it again and I will keep saying it until I go to the great big bakery in the sky:  Always make sure to read through a recipe before you do anything else. Yes, from start to finish, all the ingredients and instructions. Nothing will upset the apple cart and ruin the apple cobbler like discovering mid-bake that you are missing a vital ingredient or piece of equipment.

flour TAKING MEASURE: Are you scooping your flour directly out of the bag with your measuring cup? You may not be doing yourself or your baking any good. The flour will get compacted that way. Always spoon the flour into the measuring cup and then run a knife over the top to level it.

Brown sugar on the other hand should be compacted.  One cup brown sugar means a packed cup so press down a bit to make sure you’ve got as much as possible into a level cup.  Speaking of brown sugar – have you discovered the brown sugar in the pantry has gone hard? No problem. Place it in a microwave-safe bowl with a damp paper towel on top and zap it for 20 seconds at a time until it’s softened up the way you want.

Bundt-panGETTIN’ GREASY: Want to make sure you’ve greased every nook and cranny of that baking tin with butter? Forget using a piece of butter in paper. Too easy to miss spots that way and doesn’t always make it into corners. Try using a pastry brush instead. Just run the brush over soft butter then swipe it around the tin. I find that it covers better than the paper and goes on faster.

Another top greasing tin tip — learn from my mistakes and remember that when using a bundt pan, greasing the bottom and sides is all well and good but get the center bit also. Trust me. *shuffles embarrassingly at the memory*

CHILL OUT: You’ve remembered to soften the butter but did you remember to take the eggs out of the fridge to warm up? Those of you in the UK will quite likely be wondering why on earth the eggs were in there in the first place – that’s another discussion for another time – but to those of you in the US, trust me. Room temperature eggs emulsify and combine with other ingredients much better than cold eggs. Get those puppies out of the chiller for a couple of hours.

If you forget and need the eggs warmed up quickly, place them in a bowl of warm water for five minutes.

PLAY IT COOL: A lot of recipes offer cooling times, but if they don’t a good rule of thumb for sponge cakes is – leave it to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then turn it out onto a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way. This ensures you don’t end up with slightly soggy edges. If there’s an overabundance of fruit in the cake in question, leave it to cool in the tin. Those fruits carry a lot of moisture and can cause “cake spread” otherwise.

I hope you find these little tips helpful. I’ll be posting more baking tips and tricks over the next few days. After all, it gives me an excuse to wallow in the Bake Off glow just that much more. 🙂 And as always, if you have any tips or tricks you’d like to share – please feel free. We’re always looking for ways to mix it up in the kitchen.