Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

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Tuesday 2 June 2015

In the Kitchen

Last week’s food.  I’ve been trying to get out of a bit of a food-fug and have been searching for some cooking inspiration.  The recipe for the cupcakes was Delia’s lemon cake recipe from her cake book, filled with her lemon curd (tip: don’t bother with the bain marie, just whisk it constantly on the heat and it won’t curdle) and topped with Italian meringue – a treat for Mr VP’s office.  The fishcakes are smoked mackerel and horseradish; cheap and delicious they provide virtually mercury-free omega-3s and are extremely cheap (and quick!) to make.  Yum.  They were even good as leftovers for lunch the next day.  One of my lunches: ham, chutney and red Leicester quesedillas with avocado and tomatoes on the side – absolutely delicious.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Birthday Cake

To celebrate a recent birthday, I made one of our new-favourite cakes: the America’s Test Kitchen Lemon Layer Cake.  After making it a couple of years ago, it quickly became a family favourite as it is full of lemon curd, dreamily light frosting and moist sponge – what’s not to love (even if it is the oddest cake batter you’ll ever make)?!  In a change from their recipe (because it was simpler), I made a proper Italian meringue topping, using 115ºC sugar syrup and egg whites to make a stable meringue that would work as a topping and – believe it or not – not be too sweet.  The lemon curd wasn’t a hard set as I didn’t let it refrigerate the amount of time recommended as I needed to get it finished (my bad), which is why the cake is sloping and not in perfectly-even layers (the first one was!).  However, despite that little hiccough, it was absolutely delicious and much-appreciated.  It is one of those cakes that definitely has quite a bit of wow factor on the dinner table :)

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Experiments in Wild Yeast

I like to make my own bread, but the urge to do so comes in fits and starts.  There will be months where I only eat homemade bread and then something will happen to prevent me from getting into the kitchen and I will revert for a few months to the mindless ease of buying bread from a bakery or supermarket. This is something that I’m quite serious about trying to make a daily part of our lives, not least because Mr VP and I (and my mother, who gets some of the goodies!) prefer it and I like it particularly because I can control exactly what goes into each loaf.

For years I’ve been meaning to have a go at making a sourdough starter from scratch; after all, it’s not difficult and would yield bread that contains more beneficial substances than the sum of its parts.  But for some reason, getting around to actually doing it has never quite happened – until a couple of days ago.  In a kilner jar, I put some Doves Farm organic wholemeal einkorn flour (one of my favourites) and added enough water to make a thick paste, following the Guardian’s recommendations.  I covered it with a paper towel and popped it somewhere so that it could be forgotten for a couple of days.  In this starting phase, the wild yeasts present in the (organic – it really has to be) wholemeal flour will get to work, their enzymes will break down starches into sugars and the yeast will use these as food.  After a few days, I added more flour and water, stirring and repeating until the starter was ‘alive’ and filled with lots of little bubbles of gas to show that the yeast was active.

Until I could use EinaMay-2015 (don’t tell me you don’t name your sourdough starter too!), I was adamant that I’d get to grips with my basic wholemeal bread recipe with baker’s yeast.  I’ve had a lot of success with Delia’s stellar, reliable recipe, but I also find it lacking something and I know that it was to do with the amount of water it contained.  So ever-curious, I set off to improve my bread.  I made two different loaves, one with a mix of Allinson wholemeal bread flour and einkorn and the other with Doves Farm organic wholemeal and einkorn, each very similar, with slight changes to the amount of water, yeast and the length of the kneading and rising stage.  It turns out that, as this article suggests, the amount of water is crucial to the development of the bread, as is the length of kneading a wholemeal dough.

Through my research, I found that here’s something called a ‘baker’s percentage’ of water that professionals use when it comes to making bread.  In the case of wholewheat bread, as the whole grain absorbs so much more water than white flour, it is advisable to use 105% water (more water than flour!) and not be too vigorous when it comes to kneading.  I cheat on the kneading front and use my Kenwood as it makes the job of kneading an extremely sloppy dough easy, but the key is that you don’t knead vigorously or for too long.  Why?  Well, the sharp pieces of bran in the dough can slice into the gluten and shred it, stopping it from making the long, springy strands that you need to provide lightness.  Butter (not oil, it doesn’t work as well) your tin and bake at 220ºC for about 20 mins and then another 20-25 at 190ºC.  I use my anodised aluminium loaf tin, as it provides the best heat conductivity and also doesn’t release PTFE or PFOA when heated to very high temperatures, gaining its non-stick patina instead from regular use.  Taa-daah – prefect bread (no photos as I have been a bit lax on that front – but it looked like the most lovely wholemeal loaf you can imagine!).

So having sorted my regular wholemeal bread recipe, I had given enough time for the starter to really get going (through regular feeding and attention), now it was time to use it.  Following the Guardian recipe, I added 150g of the starter to 500g strong white flour and 370ml warm water.  I put it into the Kenwood mixer and brought the dough together.  I left it to sit for 30 mins before adding the salt and then kneaded it in the machine for 30 seconds (15 didn’t seem enough), leaving for 15 mins and then repeating the knead-rest cycle once more.

I wasn’t keen on using the usual (Continental/European) method of baking it free-form, as I prefer a) loaves for slicing and b) the ease of rising and forming the loaves, which the tin does for you.  With that in mind, I opted to bake the loaves in my normal loaf tins.  Apparently the folding malarkey that the Guardian article talks about is quite important, which I hadn’t realised before (this site explains the process), so I did the suggested three folds with time in-between and then let it sit in the tin to rise for another hour because the heating isn’t on and it wasn’t a particularly warm day.  Preheat oven to a whopping 240ºC and bake for 35-55 mins.

Taaa-dahh!  The photo was taken whilst it was still warm and not great for cutting – it is less raggy and a much cleaner slice this morning.  It had the proper sourdough smell and flavour and a crust that saves you needing to visit a dental hygienist – just like a proper French loaf!  Next loaf I will change the amount of water I use, as I thought that I’d make it a little wetter than the recipe to increase lift, but instead it made it a little on the doughy side.  I will also remember to grease and cover or wet the top of the dough to prevent the skin forming which led to the top of the bread ‘separating’ when it was baked.  I would also like to try other flours, such as organic spelt and organic rye starters, to see if they yield a different flavour or rise. But yay for wild yeast!

Saturday 25 April 2015

Saturday Morning Breakfast

I don’t know about you, but I try to make at least one ‘proper’ breakfast for Mr VP and I at the weekend and we usually settle for eggs, pancakes or croissants.  That said, I’m not really a huge fan of bacon, but there are rare times that I really do fancy some and so we visited a local butcher and got a couple of slices, which I served with pancakes and homemade blueberry jam.  It was absolutely gorgeous, if a little decadent ;-)

Wednesday 25 February 2015

In the Kitchen

I haven’t done much food photography recently and I blame my general blogging malaise and poor lighting conditions for it!  I have every now and then managed to snap some of our meals, however, and so I thought I’d post a snapshot.  Quiches are a family staple for all seasons, whether served in spring with Jersey Royals and salad or winter with mash and root veg.  I have been craving eggs recently, so made two bog-standard cheese and tomato quiches, which were extremely well-received all round.

Another favourite meal was this epic salmon salad.  I know it’s not salad weather, but I really have been desperate for a break from the non-stop root-veg that is in our veg box and welcomed a little bit of variation.  It was a salad that was piled high, full of peppers, apple, avocado (can’t get enough!), cucumber, tomatoes, gherkins and soft baby leaves.  It was absolutely delicious, as was the organic salmon that we baked en papillote in the oven with lemon and thyme.

The next meal was a tiny bit of beef mince, fried until cooked with some garlic, fresh tomatoes and a bit of ras el hanout.  We served them in these really great little tortilla ‘boats’ with a crunchy pepper, gherkin and avocado salsa.  It doesn’t look anything special, but it was delicious and really quick as a weeknight meal.

Last but not least was a recipe I saw posted on a blog (original recipe here).  I couldn’t be faffed with deep frying things and we used turkey instead of beef.  I also massively changed the quantities of the things in the sauce and added vegetables like peppers and peas for a bit of colour.  The end result was a spicy (from the ginger) and tangy, absolutely amazingly delicious meal that I could’ve eaten twice over (it was that good!).  Yum.

Monday 12 January 2015

Menu Planning

One of my goals for 2015 was to get back into the habit of menu planning.  I used to do it religiously and then I got out of the habit.  I really missed its practicality and how it takes the hassle out of wondering what we’re going to have for dinner each night.  It also makes budgeting and shopping so much easier!  Thus once a week (usually on a Sunday), I flick through cook books and lists of meal ideas and then decide what we’re going to have for the week.  I have long since realised that planning for specific days doesn’t work for us, as I often don’t fancy what I’ve planned for that evening, so I now plan in a seven-meal rota and as long as those meals get cooked, then I’m okay with not necessarily having them on a particular day.

I was flicking back through the VintagePretty archives and looking at meals I’ve cooked previously and regret not posting these menu plans as a sort of archive of what we eat from season to season and year to year.  So from now on, I’m going to endeavour to post more, if not all, of what we eat at Chez VintagePretty, more as an aide memoire rather than for any other reason.  We tend to eat a lot of vegetarian/vegetable-based food, as I seem to prefer it (and I’m glad I do after this little bit of scientific research came out recently!) and Mr VP doesn’t mind what I cook as long as it’s tasty!

This week’s menu:

Last week’s menu:

  • Delia’s Piedmont peppers.
  • Veg-packed tomato pasta.
  • Delia’s curried nut roast and veg.
  • Stirfry & noodles.
  • Take-away.
  • Tuna pasta.
  • Roast chicken and veg (at Mum’s).


Wednesday 31 December 2014

The Old Year: 2014 in Review

You’ll have to excuse me while I panic at the thought of 2014 being over – I was just getting into the swing of things, and last I heard, it was September!  Time it is a-flying.  It has been such a lovely, if challenging year.  It started by joining a gym and taking up swimming again, which I really enjoyed.  I took a lot of power-walks along the rivers of Cambridgeshire, we had an amazing weekend in Southwold at the beginning of March, and then we were thrust into the rush of packing up and moving in March/April.  Before we knew what was happening we had found a delightful rental house, moved, Mr VP had changed jobs and we were ‘back’ into our new and exciting life in Northumberland.  We arrived just as the last of the blossoms in Cambridgeshire were fading and the first of the cherry and hawthorn blossoms were beginning to flower up here – we had the longest, most luxurious spring in my memory.

Summer was a holiday for both of us, and just what we needed after a stressful move.  We visited Coquet Island and saw puffins and seals, we spent our wedding anniversary picking strawberries, we walked for many miles along our favourite beaches old and new, and we made the most of every spare moment we could.  At the beginning of September, we began the mammoth task of house renovation.  This turned out to be not only extremely stressful and difficult, but also very educational and I know a lot more about things I didn’t even know existed (like building regulations and how best to choose decent workmen).  After three months, we moved in to an almost-finished house and that’s where we are now.  We’re still mostly living out of boxes as we’re still waiting for the floor to be laid, but with the lights on, candles lit and the fire going, it is very homely indeed.

If 2014 was about movement, then 2015 will, I hope, be about growth.  Moving house twice in seven months is unbelievably stressful and having to pack-up one house and oversee works in the other is tear-your-hair-out worthy, so I would like to settle down in 2015, yet still grow and develop. At some point I plan to return to my studies, either this year or next, and I would like to increase the time I spend doing good and useful things.  It sounds obtuse, but it means me taking on more challenges and making more committments to myself and the life I would like to create.

I always have a bit of a panic at the end of the year, as I worry about the future and what is to come.  I suppose it’s the not-knowingness that New Year represents that worries me the most, but each year I keep trying to let that worry go a bit more and spend a little bit more living as in-the-moment as I can.  I have had such a glorious year in 2014 that I am eager to see how 2015 will pan out and how we’ll grow and change to meet the year.

So that’s it for 2014.  Here we sit watching Guardians of the Galaxy (Mr VP’s pick), having nibbled at some of the buffet food I’ve made (the homemade sausage rolls and olive palmiers have gone down a treat!) and toasting ourselves in front of a warm fire.  We might not be awake come midnight, but we’ll usually be woken long enough to welcome the new year by the fireworks going off around and about!

To all the lovely blog readers who stop by, I would like to wish you all a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2015 for you and yours.  Thanks for reading and see you in 2015! :)

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