run out of womb

... learning how to be a mum from scratch

Sunday 20 July 2014

Review: Babymoov Swoon Up

One of the (many) gloomy pronouncements parents told my husband and I during my pregnancy was: "you like having dinner together, sitting down, talking? Yeah, enjoy that now. 'Cos it won't happen again til the little one's 18. Or older, with the new uni fees. They'll never leave home."

For the first few nights, I could see what they meant: tiny man would lie in his Moses basket for oooh, about two minutes as we served up the food - then insist on sitting on one of our laps or going for a walk up and down the stairs (again) when we were ready to eat.

But when he got a little bit bigger - about four weeks - that all changed because he could sit up, in a bouncer, and take in the view as we ate, and he really liked it. Our bouncer was a family hand-me-down; it was missing its head rest but it still had a vibrate function that gave us another few minutes' eating time when just-plain-sitting there got a bit boring.

Then along came the Babymoov Swoon Up, a brand-new bouncer that frankly I wish I could fit into: it's a lot more comfy than our kitchen chairs. Its USP is having two levels - so your babe can be sitting (or lying - it's adjustable like an airline seat) at ankle-height, or it can be set much higher up so they can sit almost at your dinner table.

And it's great. There is a five-point harness to keep the baby on-board, and the cushion is seriously plump and soft. The chair can swivel around (360 degrees) too so if, say, you're cooking the baby can be facing you and learning how to make a bolognese early in life, then with an easy push they can face another direction. There's a mobile too (although my babe inexplicably isn't a fan of the dangling animals), and the whole thing folds up.

The latter point is useful because one of the chair's only bad points is it has a really big floor footprint. Even though the seating bit itself isn't huge, the floor pads spread out wide (which is good for stability) it does make it hard to tuck the chair in, and easy for grown-ups to trip over. 

Another drawback? The newborn-insert cushioning is white.. Which isn't the best for a young baby who fairly often has a poo-nami or throwing-up event. It is, though, easy to take off the chair and wash (it goes in the washing machine at 30 degrees).

A few extra details: the Swoon Up is suitable from birth up to 9kg, costs £119, dimensions (at full height) are H78 x W77 x D57cm, and it weighs 7kg.

 Item sent to Run out of Womb for review. Rest assured, though, that I'm seriously gobby and would never rave about something that's rubbish.

Friday 13 June 2014

Battenberg baking

Back in the day, the very best after-school treat was a little packet of Mr Kipling's mini Battenbergs. They were only ever a one-day wonder, because the six pack didn't last long in my house. But those almondy rectangles, with the pink and yellow chess-board centre, tasted so darn good I thought I'd try to bake my own.

The history books reckon the cake was created to celebrate the marriage of Queen Victoria's granddaughter to Prince Louis of Battenberg. Nice context, but I was more worried about how to use one loaf tin to make a two-coloured cake, without waiting around all night for two batches to cook. Turns out, it's not so hard.

time for tea

First, the recipe. This is a normal cake batter, and a simple recipe, but makes a cake so good that the lure of cut-off bits of unneeded Battenberg were enough to raise my husband from watching The Wire on the sofa three times - and not much keeps him away from it.

175g butter
175g (6oz) caster sugar
175g (6oz) self-raising flour
three eggs
2 tbsp milk
Pink food colouring
Jam- apricot is traditional, but I didn't have any so used raspberry.
Slab of white marzipan (I went for shop-bought, it was only 50p, but you can make your own)
loaf tin

Step by step:

  • Before you turn on the oven, time for a little cutting and sticking. Line the loaf tin (or any small square or rectangular tin, if you’re OK with an unorthodox Battenberg shape) with parchment, then use a piece of folded tin foil to create a division going right down the middle of the tin. Folding it into a ‘T’ shape with the top of the ‘T’ lying on the bottom of the tin can help it stand up. Make sure the foil goes as high as the top of the tin.
  • Now get the oven blasting at 180°C
  • Mix the (softened, although I usually accidentally blast too long in the microwave so it’s runny and it doesn’t make a difference) butter and sugar, then add the eggs, flour and milk.
  • Once it’s all mixed, spoon half of the batter into one of the halves of the tin. Don’t worry if it leans a bit, the pink batter will soon be pushing equal pressure on the other side.
  • Add a few drops of pink food colouring to the rest of the mixture, and pour/spoon it into the other half of the tin.
  • Put it in the oven, and check after 25 minutes; take it out if a fork/skewer comes out clean, otherwise give it another 5 minutes.
  • Once the cakes have cooled, cut each in half, lengthwise, to create four long square-shaped tubes. You might have to trim them to make them flatter or straighter. Now put a yellow and a pink tube on the bottom, sticking them together with a covering of jam, and add the other two on top, pink on yellow and yellow on pink, again sealing with jam.
  • Roll out enough marzipan (if it’s sticky, a sprinkling of icing sugar will sort it out) to cover the cake
  • Spread a little jam all over the outside of the cake, and roll the marzipan around it like a present
  • Trim the ends, and if you want to look pro, etch a criss-cross pattern on the top of the marzipan.

Ta da, you have a Battenberg cake. After I spent an hour on the above process, I learnt my husband doesn’t like marzipan. All the more for me!


Pat a cake, pat a cake, bake me a house

Given the choice, I'd much rather bake a cake than relax in front of the TV, but my favourite evening-at-home activity has to be decorating them. My brother started the trend. For years he's been the family birthday cake-maker, always concocting something the bday boy or girl loves, in cake form.

Over the years I've been sung to over a cake newspaper and a cake tennis court (he's borrowed from his niece's Lego set for some little Andy Murrays); he's also whipped up cake iPads and gardens, football matches and knitting sets. But this year, with my sister's birthday approaching, our bro was on holiday. 

A cake chasm emerged: gingerly, I stepped in. 

I thought of a theme: a sugar version of my big sis's house , which she'd just had extended after a looooong legal battle (and blogs about here).

I looked online for ideas. Then I got a little bit scared. There are some amazing cakes out there. I mean, check out this one - serious cladding and life-like foliage, it could practically be an image from Foxton's website:

A house I'd gladly move into

If you're looking for a house cake, I also found loads more inspiration here

But once I'd worked out a plan, I looked up 'how to' guides, and they all seemed to go something like this:

'It's easy to create a house-shaped cake. First, fill your house-shaped cake mould with batter...'

Er, I thought, house-shaped cake mould? If I had one of those, I wouldn't be looking this up...

Elsewhere, recipes would suggest rolling out icing sugar out onto tile moulds for the roof, and using polystyrene support systems for the porch. That's not my idea of cake-baking: the ingredients alone are expensive. I'm not going to shell out on a million types of moulds I'll use once. 

So I went down the DIY route, without a single trip to B&Q. Here's my house cake:
I'd probably be a bit worried about the leaky roof to move into this one

And here's how to do it:

1) Bake four rectangular cakes. I know, four: it's loads, especially if like me you only have one rectangular cake tin and have to bake in batches. But you can at least make the batter all in one go. I tried a few different chocolate cakes and found the sturdiest for construction and most delicious for munching to be Nigella's old fashioned chocolate cake.

2) Once they're all cooked, cooled and released from their tins, it's construction time. Make up a triple quantity of the above recipe of icing, or your own chocolate frosting if you prefer. This is your mortar..

3) One of the cakes needs to be cut up into a roof shape. You cut two triangles off the edge of the cake, then stick them upside down on the top of the trimmed cake. But that won't make much sense: luckily an amazing internet bod has made an easy diagram of it here.

4) Now layer the three cakes, cemented together with icing, and the roof on top.

5) And now, the fun bit: decorating. I use Tesco ready-rolled fondant, cos life's too short to fuss with DIY. Add a drop of red, blue and green food colouring (the only ones I have, but you could just buy brown or use a liquid cocoa) to roll out brown for the tiles. I used the head of a ginger bread cutter to make lots of tiles, then popped them in the fridge for an hour to stiffen, before laying them like a roofer, with icing mortar. I used a Cadbury's Mini Roll for the chimney.

6) The bricks: I made these from the same fondant, cutting long strips of brown then chopping across with a sharp knife. I made short and long tiles, an easy way to add realism. The windows were white fondant and red shoelace sweets for the lattice.
TIPS: if you can, make your fondant decorating parts a few days in advance. They'll harden up, and be easier to stick on the cake (use a pastry brush or your finger plus a little water as glue), plus it's way too tiring to do all that baking AND decorating in one go.

Happy house-baking.

Patriotic Pavlova

Brr, it's cold out there. Yesterday I was yearning for a taste of those not-so-long-ago summer days. and decided that pavlova, heaving with soft berries and with that marshmallowy centre and crispy-but-melting edge, would be the perfect dessert.

I went patriotic with this one not because I was expecting Baby George and his royal mum round for tea, but just because it's a quick and cool way to decorate. I just made a thick diagonal cross of whipped cream (getting it stiff with just a fork definitely equates for at least a slice's worth of calories, on my blog anyway) followed by a thinner '+' sign of cream. Then it was strawberries on the cross, raspberries on the diagonal, and blueberries in between.

The never-fails* meringue recipe I used was by genius cook Evelyn Rose: the Master Recipe for Pavlova Layers from her New Complete Jewish Cook Book

It calls for:

2 tsp cornflour
8oz / 225g caster sugar
4 large egg whites
1 tsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extracts

And the plan of action is:

Mix the cornflour and sugar. Separate the eggs and add a pinch of salt; whisk, whisk, whisk until you've got those majestic stiff and glossy peaks, then add the flour/sugar mixture a tablespoon at a time. Finally, when it's all beaten in, add in the vanilla, followed by the vinegar. 

Had a whole lot fewer berries knocking around last time I made it..

Spoon half the mixture into a circle on one piece of baking parchment, and try to make a similar sized circle on another sheet. You could go all techy and draw out circles, but I find the dollop-and-hope method works pretty well.

Have the oven heated to 150 degrees, but just before you put hte meringues in, turn the temperature down to 140 degrees. Bake for 45m-1hr, switching the meringues' oven positions half way unless you want a tortoise-and-hare situation: one burnt at the finished line, the other raw in the middle.

* The only time I mucked this up was using baking paper not parchment. Who knew there was a difference? I didn't, until the meringues I'd lovingly made and spent ages whisking got utterly, fatally stuck to the paper. It was quickly turned into Eton mess... Parchment is now the only brown roll allowed in my kitchen!


Millionaire's date biscuits

Celebrations in my family tend to take place around a table, and it's always heaving with food. This recipe for sticky date biscuits comes from my sister-in-law's mum Harriet: after dinner, she brings out a tray of loads of tiny biscuits like these yummy treats. 

I always assumed they were really tricky to make, thanks to their posh-looking chocolate swirls on top. Turns out, they're super-simple, and create a caramel-biscuit-chocolate bite of deliciousness... even though you might, like me, wonder if your biscuits are turning into an omelette at one point....

Here's the recipe:

Sticky date biscuits

250g butter
250g chopped dates
1 cup sugar (to translate into measurements, Delia's done it for you here)
2 eggs (beaten)
300g digestive biscuits 
300g white chocolate
80g dark chocolate (or just whatever you have: I melted down two dark Green & Black mini squares)

1) Melt the butter and sugar, slowly add the eggs. If some of it goes into scrambled egg white lumps, don't worry but try to stir enough to avoid it)
2) Bring to the boil and add the dates
3) Cook until it starts to thicken, then remove from the heat
4) Add the biscuits, crushed into small crumbs
5) Pour into a lined tin - ideally 9x11 inches, although I only had a bigger one so just folded up the parchment paper and stopped the mixture travelling too far)
6) Leave in fridge to set
Here comes the white chocolate..
7) Melt the white chocolate and pour onto the biscuit mix to cover it completely
8) Melt the dark chocolate and drizzle it in thin lines for decoration
9) Chill in fridge; when cool, cut the block into small squares

My biggest problem with this recipe? I can't help myself from tidying the edges and chomping away whilst cooking..

Mmmmm drizzled chocolate...


Beach cake

The brainstorming wasn't going well. My mother-in-law's birthday was on the horizon, so I asked Mr Finchley Kitchen for cake ideas. "Old people?", he suggested, since MIL volunteers with the elderly. I couldn't think that a geriatric-themed cake would be very cheerful. And as for his next suggestion - Arsenal, for his mum is a season-ticket holder, I thought a Gunners t-shirt might be a bit too five-year-old.

Luckily, it was sister-in-laws to the rescue: they reminded me that their mum loves the beach. So beach cake it was.

Birthdays are a chance to bake a cake that is too time-consuming for everyday occasions, like the fact that it's been raining all day, which I fairly regularly regard as a great reason to get the scales out. But as with the house cake, here I made the fondant bits in advance and baked the cake on the actual day, to ensure it was fresh and the decorations were solid. 

So for the toppers: I went for hand-formed flip flops, and shells, (little stars prodded with a fork for star-fish shapes), rolled out red and white stripes of fondant to create a beach towel, and then spent ages trying to get a free-standing parasol.

I eventually made it by cutting out a circle with a ridged cookie cutter, painting panels with gel icing, then letting the parasol set on a table tennis ball (the exact right shape, it turned out!). After it had set  - which took two whole days in the fridge - I stuck the cocktail stick of a cotton bud to the parasol using a blob of icing and water, then made a base in the same way.

TIP: if any decorations are flopping or sticking, put them in the fridge to harden. And if fondant is cracking, a little water brings it back to life.

Then, the cake-baking. I used Nigella again, this time the Malteser cake from Feast: Food that Celebrates Life.

150g light brown sugar (I used Muscovado as it was all I had, and all was fine)
100g caster sugar
3 large eggs
175ml milk
15g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Horlicks 
175g plain flour
25g cocoa 
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Oven on, at 170C, and line two circular cake tins- 20cm ones are ideal.
Whisk together the sugars and eggs, then heat the milk, butter and Horlicks in a pan until melted, and hot, but not boiling. 
Pour into the egg mix, and add all the remaining ingredients. 
Divide the cake batter evenly between the two tins and bake for 25 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean and the cakes spring back when pressed gently. 

Let them cool, then turn them out of their tins.
I then made a small bowl of chocolate buttercream to sandwich the cakes together:

Just add the following ingredients and stir together:
70g icing sugar
40g melted dark chocolate
30g soft unsalted butter

For the 'sea', I made a thick buttercream frosting, (with 50g soft butter, 125g icing sugar, 1 teaspoon milk) then tinted it blue with food colouring, and used a spatula to 'flip' waves upwards.

The 'sand' is a sprinkling of Muscovado sugar. I had made a slab of yellow fondant, but this looked more realistic.


Parisian macarons

“Paris is the only city in the world where starving to death is still considered an art,” wrote Carlos Ruiz Zafón. So no wonder whenever I visit the city I ogle the Eiffel and explore the Pompidou but only get really, really excited when I'm stuffing my face.

It helps, of course, that my tour guide in the city of lights food is usually my old uni pal Lydia, who knows all the best gastronomique spots in the City (Philippe Starck's Mama Shelter was her last, delicious recommendation).
Last time I was in town, Lydia ushered me away from Ladurée's doors: Pierre Hermé, she said, was the place to stock up on macarons. And we did, and she was right... 

Now Pierre has moved into Londontown, he's a little less exciting. But in any case, no need to go out for macarons anymore: after a lot of trial and error and a lot more egg whites, I've honed a macaron recipe that means you can make your own. It's based on a recipe from Delicious magazine, but I tweaked it to make it a little easier.
Even so, macarons aren't the fastest baking around. But they're still far from the complicated razzamataz that some claim, and are a great way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon. Not convinced? Read on...


175g icing sugar
125g ground almonds
3 large egg whites
75g caster sugar


150g butter, softened
75g icing sugar
Few table spoons of jam, if desired


You’ll need to cook the macarons at 160°C, but I wouldn’t put the oven on until they’re ready on their baking tray and about to rest for ten minutes – it just wastes energy otherwise.

So, the first step is this: mix the icing sugar and ground almonds to as fine a mixture as you can – in a mixer if you have one. I don’t, so tend to sift the two until I can sift no more (even ground almonds are fairly big particles) and it’s as fine as I can get it.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt to soft peaks, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar until thick and glossy.

Fold half the almond and icing sugar mixture into the meringue and mix, then the other half. It should be shiny with a thick consistency.

Fold the top of a freezer bag or, if you’ve got one, a proper piping bag with 1cm icing nozzle, over the rim of a tall glass, and pour in the macaron mixture.

Line two baking sheets with baking paper.

Snip off the corner of the freezer bag, for a ‘nib’, or just pick up the piping bag and nozzle, and pipe small rounds of the macaroon mixture, about 3cm across, onto the baking sheets. 

Try to make them all a uniform size:

When the baking sheets are filled, carefully tap it on the work surface, or I sometimes put the tray very near the floor and drop it hard. This helps get rid of air bubbles.

Now put the oven on, at 160, but leave the tray to stand in the kitchen at room temperature for 10-15 minutes – it’ll form a slight skin, so if you touch the mixture, it doesn’t stick to your finger.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling: I love the above simple ingredients, with raspberry jam: it makes a sweet and tangy and colourful filling. Other ideas are chocolate (use cocoa powder or melted chocolate), other jams, or any kind of essence.

When the macarons have cooled, pair up partners that are most similar in size, spread a generous but still flat layer of filling on the flat side of one, then pop them together like little Saturns. Et voila, bon appetite..

PS If you want more colourful macarons, mix in a food colouring after all the other ingredients are stirred together. Be wary, though, of natural colourings: sadly in my experience they make the macarons taste of over-cooked, school dinner-style beetroot. So on this occasion, best to either opt for artificial colours, or stick to au natural, as above. 



After a pavlova disaster a few weeks back, I found myself with ten egg yolks stacked up in the fridge. There's only so many sunshine-yellow omelettes you can eat. So I googled ways to use up yolks, and stumbled upon a cookie recipe from that makes some of the most buttery, crumbly, moreish biscuits I've ever had. You can add various extras, like raisins, chocolate chips or jam, to half the mixture for some variety. The cookies freeze well. 

Ingredients - makes about 30 cookies

1/2 cup butter 
3/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks  
1 1/4 cups plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional extras: few drops lemon/other extract; handful raisins; handful chocolate drops; jam


Mix the butter and sugar 
Beat the egg yolks and add vanilla extract plus any other desired flavourings
Mix beaten egg yolk mixture with creamed butter and sugar.
Stir in the flour and baking powder
*If desired, add raisins/chocolate drops now*
Wet your hands, and roll the dough into walnut-sized balls
*If desired, add a little dollop of jam to centre of circles now* 
Place on baking paper, and flatten slightly with a wet fork
Bake at 170 degrees C for 8 to 10 minutes, depending on desired chewiness/crispness.


Main course soup di Philipio

It's been six days of OJ-swigging and Echinacea-guzzling, but the FK household still can’t shake off a cold. Stuffy nose, blocked ears, and it’s brrr outside too. 

So there was only one thing on the menu for dinner: a thick, warm soup.

Luckily, I had just the recipe: one from my dad. He doesn't do that much cooking, what with his job, a sideline in DIY call-outs for his kids and practising in case the World Solitaire Championships get in touch, but my dad does have a manly Guinness apron and a few signature recipes that bubble away on the weekends.

His warming main-course vegetable soup is one of my favourites. It's a little like Minestrone, but thicker. The beauty of it is that you can make it using almost whatever your freezer/cupboard contains, so it’s doable even when a miserable nose means you haven’t been to the shops yet this week.

Ingredients (serves four)

Dash of olive oil
One onion
A clove or crushed garlic
Tin chopped tomatoes
Mixed herbs
Tin baked beans
Extra veg, choose between 2 chopped carrots, handful of frozen peas or sweetcorn or diced potatoes, tinned beans or other veg
Squirt of Ketchup and Brown Sauce
Optional: grated Parmesan, crusty bread for dunking 


Fry the chopped onion and a little garlic until caramelised
Add 1 litre boiling water, the chopped tomatoes, and a twist of salt and pepper, half the baked beans, plus dried herbs
Use a stick blender (super useful and available for less than a tenner) to liquidise the soup
Add the rest of the baked beans, and your desired veg
When all cooked and soft, add a small handful of pasta for each person
Add the sauce squirts
When the pasta is soft, serve with greater parmesan, and crusty bread (this focaccia works a treat for dunking) and top with herbs - fresh coriander is my favourite.


Best chocolate mousse in the world*

I’m an unabashed, unsnobby chocolate fan. Dairy Milk or Hotel Chocolat, Yorkie or Prestat, I love it. And so I bring to you the best chocolate mousse in the world. *Except if you’re a fan of the coffee or liquery mousses. But if it’s just chocolate you love, this is delicious.
I must admit - there are some additions. It’s a Toblerone mousse, so some honey-ish crunch intrudes now and then. And I sometimes also make a variation on this recipe, Terry’s Chocolate Orange Mousse, substituting the Toblerone for the same quantity of Terry’s. 

They’re both equally as good, an excellent end to a dinner party (and you can make it the night before). I usually decide my chocolate direction based on which of the boxes are on offer at the supermarket the day I want to make it; but try both and see for yourself.
My next baking splurge is going to be buying this spoon mould and serving the mousse up with these. Chocolate mousse + chocolate spoon: can’t be a better combination.


300g Toblerone + few extra triangles for decoration
5 tablespoons water
300ml crème fraiche
2 egg whites
(Serves five big portions)


Melt the chocolate and water, either in a bain marie or, carefully, in the microwave

Cool, and add the crème fraiche

Separately, whisk the egg whites until they’re stiff
Fold them into the mix

Distribute between glass bowls, tea cups or little jars, and pop a triangle of Toblerone on top (or a segment of choc orange, if you went down the Terry’s route).

Refrigerate until set – I usually leave 24 hours.


Very posh biscuits

I blame the champagne. An evening's biscuit-decorating at the Icing Cafe of Notting Hill store The Biscuiteers sounded relaxing and easy. Kids-work, no? Well, turns out even icing a straight line isn't all that easy - it was an evening of scrunched-up faces and serious concentration - but it was also fun.

No recipes in this post - we were handed ready-cut biscuit shapes by the Biscuiteers, and had a brilliant teacher to help us create a box of London-themed cookies. If you want to try this at home, first ice the outline of your design, then leave it to dry until hard (baking in a 50 degree-oven accelerates the process), before filling the lines with slightly more watery icing sugar (the Biscuiteers use an egg-white, icing sugar, water combo). When that's all dry - and it'll take longer - you can re-ice the final biscuit with more fine detail.

Outlining Big Ben

Can you guess what it's going to be...

A taxi cab

Serious concentration...

Victoria helps out with a tricky postbox 

Victoria's biscuits - she was pretty glad her parents had the foresight to give her the same name as a Tube station

And mine. 
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