Food, Baking and Me

Welcome to my new and fabulous blog, dedicated to what has become my enduring passion; food!

I learnt to cook (as so many of us do) at my Mother’s knee, the kitchen was always the heart of our home and we would spend many happy hours preparing meals, gossiping and dancing to the music on the radio (regardless of whether it was Katrina and the Waves or Pachelbel).  It was a very happy time, until the moment I turned Pescatarian at about 14 years old; it was sink or swim.  My Mum thought the best way to put an end to my lunacy (she was a huge meat fan!) was to make me cook my own meals.  This was the best thing she could have done and I am so grateful for it, because I started watching cookery shows, reading cookery books and experimenting in the kitchen!  True I had some almighty disasters which ended up in the bin; but by and large I developed an understanding about what flavours worked and what I liked, which is something I keep with me today, even though I have returned to my formative carnivorous ways.

My early influences were; Ready, Steady, Cook!, Delia Smith and the only cookbook my Mum owned; Marguerite Patten’s Every Day Cook Book, I imagine it was a wedding present and is reflective of the style of cooking I had at home as a child.  Roast dinners, fry ups and stews were a staple and there was always lashings of bacon for which my Mum has a particular weakness!  It was probably this which made me long for something different and made excluding meat from my diet an interesting alternative, because I had to start from scratch and started my voyage of discovery in the wonderful world of food.  Until I saw Ainsley Harriott and Fern Britton, I had no idea what pasta was!  Shocking to think now, as it has become one of my favourite foodstuffs, due to its versatility and numerous different forms which never leave you bored.

Baking was not something my Mum did often, preferring to buy a birthday cake from Marks and Spencer’s or Sainsbury’s ideally iced like a football or caterpillar or similar.  My only memories of baking as a child were making the legendary Butterfly Cupcakes with a splode of vanilla butter-cream or Chocolate Crispy cakes (usually around Easter time) with melted chocolate and corn flakes.

I have always enjoyed making things and I remember that as children, my brother and I once trashed the kitchen attempting to make chocolate truffles as a Hand-Made Christmas gift for our parents, we managed to cover the worktop, floor and ourselves; but only managed about twelve chocolate truffles for eating!  It was a classic lesson in how preparation in advance of making something would equal success.  On this occasion I do not believe we had much success, but very much enjoyed eating the chocolate!

I still absolutely love the little sweet treats of my childhood and always try to err on the side of simplicity in the cakes and bakes I make for myself.  My favourites are gooey chocolate brownies, Mrs Skinner’s famous (in my house) lemon drizzle, meringues with my ‘atomic’ lemon curd, Mrs P’s Baked Vanilla and Raspberry cheesecake and Nigella Lawson’s beyond indulgent sour cream Chocolate Cake with sour cream chocolate ganache (it is the stuff of which dreams are made!)

I have been fortunate to have a few baking stars in my life, primarily my good friend Mrs P is second to none in knowledge and expertise.  She is a baking inspiration to me every day, as are the Skinner ladies, who are always whipping up wonderful mains or desserts which make me want to try something new!

In recent years there have been three key turning points in my baking life;

(1) I was given a copy of Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess by the craziest Swelsh girl in the land as a birthday gift,

(2) I became fast friends with baker extraordinaire Mrs P, who first taught me how to make a lemon drizzle cake (one of my favourites) and with whom I subsequently attended sugarcraft courses at our local college,

(3) The Skinners’ showed me how wonderful it was to be able to make a pudding or a cake for a family meal or social get together and it has certainly inspired me to feel the same way about baking.

Now I can’t get enough of it and whip up meringues, brownies and birthday cakes at the drop of a hat; baking for Breast Cancer to raise money in the office, making puddings for BBQs, taking fudge to parties and even the one-off Wedding cake (and Wedding cupcakes) have filled my baking life in the last two or three years.

I simply love making good cake and delicious fudge and have become increasingly frustrated with the quality of baked goods and sweet treats available in the public arena.  I am much less likely these days to eat traditional cakes or holiday fudge, because now I know good things can taste with the right ingredients, a bit of time and the passion to make great food!  Frankly, if it doesn’t make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end with pleasure – don’t eat it!

*smiles & sparkles*

Jo x

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