Monthly Archives: December 2008

Well that was Christmas…

After what seems like a month or so planning and baking it’s all over in a flash. I found the above photo on our camera. Hubby took it on the 23rd, you can see me rushing around and the chaos of the cottage in the run up to Christmas. It also makes it look like our cottage is huge, trust us it isn’t.

This year Hubby & I spent Christmas with my parents Oop North. As a pressie for my parents I offered to buy the turkey. 3 days after Christmas and 3kg of turkey later, plus a multitude of variations on a turkey theme it is eventually finished. The same can’t be said for the Christmas ham which is going to be reincarnated into a ham & leek pie later this evening.

Christmas started when we arrived on the afternoon of Christmas eve and the men cracked open the smoked porter from Burton Bridge Brewery this was soon followed by a trip to the local to hear my brother busk. Incidentally anyone one in and around Southport during the week run-up to Christmas would have heard my brother and his brass-instrumentalled-mates belting out Christmas tunes. Us women stuck to the good old Baileys. Once the obligatory cuppa was out of the way Christmas day started with a peach schnapps and champagne cocktail made by little sister who in plaster due to a disagreement with the piste while snowboarding a few days before Christmas. Late afternoon we sat down to a traditional turkey roast dinner with all the trimmings plus the Guinness Christmas Pudding I made back in November. It had a stronger taste of cloves this time, but I imagine this is due to me maturing the pudding for a bit longer this time around. The last of the alcohol to be tried was the Haw Brandy and Apple & Blackberry Gin we made after one of Hubby’s foraging adventures back in October. It was filtered on Christmas eve and both produced such beautiful, pure drinks. The gin went down particularly well and we’ll certainly be making a batch of it again for next Christmas.

Santa certainly came up trumps this year. Along with the Made in England rolling pin I also was lucky enough to receive lots of wine, a Hotel Chocolat discovery box, a set of Homepride flour tins and from Hubby not one but 2 trips to River Cottage. The first being the famous Valentines Feast, the second – a place on their bread making course. I was truly shocked when he announced where he was taking me. We must think very similar as his early Christmas present was Pig in a Day with Hugh and it just so happened we booked each others pressies within a few minutes of each other and spoke to the same events coordinator. I can’t wait to visit.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful Christmas.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

The past year in our little cottage has been a busy one with lots of cooking and foodie discoveries and I hope 2009 continues the same way. The next week or so is busy with family, friends, food and fine wine so I wish you all a fantastic Christmas and raise your glasses (or cup of tea) to a superb new year.

Baileys Coffee Cream Pots

My love of Baileys, is well known. Not just for drinking it, but also cooking with it. My Baileys Cheesecake is one of my most requested desserts and highest google hits. Hubby’s late great-Aunt was a woman very much after my own heart as they only thing she would put in her coffee was Baileys, no matter what time of day it was. A coffee called Baileys Blitz also fueled my university days.

Last week Baileys contacted me asking if I would like to try some of their new Baileys with a Hint of Coffee plus have a go at some of their recipes created by James Martin. Me being one to rarely pass on the opportunity to try a new alcohol or dessert recipe I jumped at the chance. It came at the perfect time as I had just finished my most recently bottle of Baileys and was trying to work out which Supermarket had the best deal for a bottle of it.

Hubby doesn’t like coffee so rarely do I cook with it, even if it is one of my favourite ingredients. As I’m now on my Christmas break I took the opportunity to get up early (in reality far too early) and set about making some Baileys Coffee Cream Pots for myself as I knew it would take 6 hours to set.

After a lot of impatient waiting (and watching some quite frankly dire daytime TV) the 6 hours eventually passed, just in time to get a photo before the sunset. I have to say it was the perfect dessert for me. Creamy with a generous coffee hit. To often am I disappointed in restaurants with their coffee flavoured desserts as the coffee hit is never enough for me but this was spot on. If I could have 2 puddings on Christmas Day this would be my coffee course…now that’s an idea 2 puddings…sorry I digress.

The only very slight alteration I had to make was the fact I didn’t have any instant coffee in the house so instead used Lyons Coffee Bags that are usually reserved for our camping trips. If you would like to see the lovely James Martin make this dessert along with the accompanying shortbread click here

Baileys Coffee Cream Pots

Makes 6 ramekins

5 egg yolks
80g caster sugar
260ml milk
260ml double cream
5 tsp instant coffee granules
100ml Baileys with of hint of Coffee (or normal Baileys)

1) Preheat the oven to 150oc. Whisk together the egg yolks and 40g of the sugar.

2) Put the cream, milk, coffee and remaining sugar in a heavy based saucepan. Gently bring to the boil. When it has reached a boil take of the heat and stir in the Baileys, then add the whisked sugar & egg. Quickly stir then strain into the ramekins.

3) Place the ramekins into a deep roasting tin and pour boiling water until it is half the way up the ramekins. Bake for 25-30 until they have a slight wobble.

4) Chill for at least 6 hours before eating. Serve straight from the fridge.

The Christmas Fifty

Andrew at Very Good Taste has launched his festive food list. How many have you tried? I was quite pleased with how many I managed to tick off. If your unsure of any of the foods visit Andrew’s blog and there is links to the different foods.

Here’s what to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve tasted.
3) Place an asterisk after all the items you’ve cooked/prepared.
4) Optional: Cross out anything you never want to try, or add an exclamation mark after anything your really want to try.

You’re also welcome to post a link to your version of the list here at

The VGT Christmas Fifty

1. Crystallised or candied fruits
2. Egg nog (and I never want to try again!)
3. Bûche de Noël, or Yule log
4. Rum balls*
5. Bebinca
6. Roasted chestnuts*
7. Cavallucci
8. Tourtière
9. Uszka
10. Port & Stilton
11. Hallaca
12. Roast goose
13. Lefse
14. Sugar plums
15. Romeritos
16. Pinnekjøtt
17. Hot toddy
18. Christmas cake*
19. Tamales
20. Sorpotel
21. Panettone
22. Candy canes
23. Pasteles
24. Speculaas
25. Makowiec
26. Christmas pudding*
27. Stollen*
28. Figgy pudding
29. Lebkuchen*
30. Turrón
31. Mince pies*
32. Wassail bowls
33. Buñuelos
34. Pio Quinto
35. Marzipan fruits*
36. Mulled wine*
37. King cake
38. Christmas beach barbecue
39. Cola de mono
40. Lutefisk
41. Kutia
42. Pizzelle
43. Dominostein
44. Cranberry sauce
45. Pfeffernüsse*
46. Satsumas or clementines
47. Pumpkin pie
48. Smalahove
49. Nut roast
50. Brandy butter

Chocolate Stollen

As I’ve mentioned before, some of my childhood was spent living in Germany and I have very fond memories of celebrating Christmas there. During the last few years German Christmas Markets have been springing up in cities over here in the UK. Nothing like the Christkindlmarkets in Berlin, but it’s a good start. The biggest Christmas markets here take place in Leeds and Birmingham. We visited the Birmingham market Saturday evening and it was heaving. Unfortunately I was so enthralled with the whole experience I forgot to take photos.

While there we there we ate kartoffelpuffen with apple sauce, kirschkuchen and pretzels. I was boring Hubby with all my explanations for the different foods and getting overexcited every time I saw something I hadn’t seen in years. I would have had Glühwein but Hubby was driving and I felt a bit guilty drinking again when he was driving. To make up for it the following night we drank mulled cider while putting up the Christmas tree.

One of the popular German Christmas bakes is Stollen, a yeasty fruit and marzipan bread and I’ve been told it represents a swaddled baby Jesus. I would go as far to say I prefer it to Christmas Cake. When I came across this recipe for Chocolate Stollen, although not traditional, I knew I had to make it. A few years back I made a traditional stollen using a slightly different method which worked well, but not as good as this chocolate version. Technically this was one of the most demanding cakes I’ve made. It also turned out to be one of the most impressive and tasty cakes I have ever made. Nigella would be proud. I’ll be submitting it to Yeastspotting. Now take a deep breath and prepare for possibly one of the longest recipes I have ever posted.

Chocolate Stollen

Green & Blacks Chocolate Recipes

100g mixed fruit
60ml dark rum
zest and juice of 1 orange
50g glace cherries, quartered
100g (1 bar) G&B Maya Gold chocolate (or decent dark chocolate), finely chopped
375g strong white bread flour
25g cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg, grated
1 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp dried active yeast (not the fast action kind)
150ml milk
125g butter
50g golden caster sugar
2 eggs

100g ground almonds
75g icing sugar
25g cocoa powder
a few drops of almond essence (optional)

40g icing sugar
25g cocoa powder

1) Overnight soak the mixed fruit in orange juice, zest and 30ml of the rum. When you are ready to make the stollen stir in the glace cherries and chocolate.

2) Melt together the milk, sugar and 75g of the butter butter. Leave to cool then beat one egg plus one egg yolk into the milky mix. Keep the spare egg white until later.

3) In a large bowl add the flour, cocoa, salt, nutmeg, mixed spice and the yeast then gently pour in the milk and mix until you have a smooth dough. Knead lightly then place in bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise for 30 min. While waiting for the dough to rise make the marzipan, line the 30x20cm baking tray with greaseproof paper and preheat the oven to 190oc.

4) To make the marzipan mix together the icing sugar, cocoa, ground almonds and the egg you saved from earlier (I love very almondy marzipan so also add a few drops of almond essence). Knead until you get a soft, pliable ball.

5) Melt together the remaining 50g butter and 30ml of rum. On a lightly floured board knead the dough then roll out into an oblong shape about 5mm thick (something I’m not very good at!). Brush with the melted butter and rum.

6) Turn the dough so you have a long oblong (rather than a wide oblong) in front of you. On the top cover 2/3 of the dough with half of the mixed fruit mix. Fold the bottom 1/3 two thirds the way up the oblong, then fold down the top third over it. Much like when you fold a letter for an envelope. Press down the open edges to help seal it.

7) Turn the dough 90 degrees clockwise (a quarter turn). Roll out to an oblong shape again. Brush with the butter and rum then repeat step 6 with the remaining fruit.

8 ) Mould the marzipan into an oblong shape just slightly smaller in length than the dough and half the width. Place the marzipan down the centre of the dough, fold the two sides of dough in to meet one another and place join side down in the lined tin. Brush the top with the butter and rum and bake for 35 minutes.

9) As soon as the stollen is baked, brush with the butter and rum (you may need to reheat the butter & rum it to regain the liquid consistency)and dust with loads of icing sugar and cocoa.

Vegan & Gluten-Free Mince Pies

We are entering one of the dreaded weeks for people who work in education. As one colleague calls is “Nativity & Glitter Week”. The kids are on a high, nothing gets done, Joseph gets stage fright, a shepherd will pick his nose then eat it, the recorders are as squeaky as ever and Mary suddenly discovers a penchant for sucking her toes…mid nativity.

Rather than giving presents out to fellow workmates I usually make a batch of festive goodies. As it was Xmas and not all my workmates can eat my eccles mince pies, I decided to have a go at making vegan, wheat-free mince pies. Not only the pastry had to be vegan, but also the mincemeat. It just so happened that the brand of cider & rum I used in the suet-free mincemeat I made a few weeks back was also vegan. This was a new departure in baking for me. Before now the only vegan baking I have ever had the courage to attempt is flapjacks.

The first task was to find a gluten free flour alternative. Sainsburys came to the rescue when I noticed they sold Dove’s Farm Gluten Free Flour Blend. I was anticipating me having to make my own flour blend. It has a slightly different texture to conventional plain flour, in a kind of way squeakier. The butter replacement was easy, Pure Sunflower Spread. I’ve used it in cooking before with no problems and it is readily available.

One tip I picked up while reading around about using gluten free flour is that at first it looks gloopy, resist the urge to add more flour because once it has rested for a bit the flour absorbs the liquid and it magically turns into the right consistency.

I have to admit these mince pies were a triumph. I don’t know why I had been so scared about them. The pastry was perfect and my non-vegan friends also really enjoyed them. I’ll certainly be making this pastry again.

Vegan & Gluten-Free mince pies
Makes 12

200g Gluten-free plain flour
125g Vegan spread/butter substitute
1 tbsp icing sugar
4 tbsp orange juice
200g mincemeat Suet-free mincemeat (just make sure you use vegan cider. All rums are considered vegan)

1) Rub the spread into the flour until you have the consistency of fine breadcrumbs. Stir in icing sugar, then orange juice and combine until you have a soft dough. Don’t worry if it looks too wet at this stage.

2) Press the dough into a thickened disk shape, cover in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 min.

3) Preheat oven to 180oc. Roll out pastry until it is about 4mm thick. Using a 9cm biscuit cutter, cut out rounds and press gently into a regular cupcake tray. Fill each pie with around 1 dsp of mincemeat.

4) Using the remaining pastry cut out shapes and place on top of the mincemeat. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 min, until pastry is golden. Allow the pies to cool in the tin for a short while before placing on a wire rack.

Pig in a Day with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Hubby is one of those annoying/lucky people (depending on how you look at it) who’s birthday is during the Christmas festivities. After him buying me a KitchenAid for my birthday, I knew I had to pull one out of the bag to make his birthday pressie just as special as his present to me.

A few weeks back I received an email from River Cottage making me aware of some dates with Hugh. Dates with Hugh in River Cottage are becoming rarer and rarer so I knew I had to act quick. The Catch & Cook in June course sold out 5 min before I phoned so I went for the Pig in a Day course, meaning Hubby would have to get his Birthday pressie early. He was a tad bit shocked when I announced where he would be going and that he would be meeting his idol Hugh.

So here I pass on to Hubby who has written his own account of the day, also if you are veggie I suggest you don’t read or scroll down any further:

The day started when I pulled into River Cottage. You can’t park right at River Cottage so took a bumpy ride down into the valley on a trailer pulled by a tractor. When me and my 23 fellow course mates arrived we were shown to a yurt where tea, coffee and delicious brownies were waiting for us. It was a lovely warm welcome. Then all of a sudden my idol of idols Hugh appeared. He shook my hand and introduced himself to me, signed my Meat cookbook then had our photo taken. The photo makes Jules laugh as we look like bosom buddies.

We then headed down to a converted barn for the course which was essentially demonstrating the process and principles of butchering and processing a pig. I don’t own any pigs, yet, but would love to in the future and a smallholding mate of Jules has offered us half a pig after Christmas. Along with Hugh there was also the legend that is master butcher – Ray Smith.

It started with half a pig that Ray slowly butchered into different joints while Hugh cooked the various dishes. This was definitely nose-to-tail eating. The first dish to be prepared was brawn as it has to be slow cooked. From behind the demonstration counter Hugh produced a quartered pig’s head. I was able to taste the brawn later on in the day.

The first dish I tried was pig’s brains. Hugh first poached the diced brain then coated in breadcrumbs and then deep-fried. Curiosity got the better of me and I knew I had to try it. It’s creamy and melt in the mouth, not much taste, more texture. This evening Jules & I have debated over whether or not you can legally buy pig’s brains. I say yay, she says nay. Either way it’s not worth the risk of seeing Jules’ reaction if she came home one day to find a pig’s brain the fridge.

Next on the menu was devilled kidneys. Again something I have never tried before as I thought I didn’t like kidneys, but these were very very tasty. Hugh may have converted me to kidneys. Liver pate was also demonstrated, but I didn’t get a chance to try this one.

While the barn was being transformed for lunch we had the opportunity to walk around the grounds. The pigs all looked very happy in the mud and the geese were quite adamant to peck my shoes. I was also inspired by their smokers made out of barrels. Lunch was generous slices of pork served with creamy mash and roasted veg. To follow was pear sponge cake. Very tasty.

The afternoon was hosted by Ray and Steve and was primarily about preserving and processing meat. During the afternoon they demonstrated how to make air dried ham, chorizo and sausages. All of the people attending the course were given some chorizo and sausages to take home. We ate the sausages the following night and they were absolutely delicious. Very different from sausages you usually buy. They were packed with meat, herbs and a bit of sugar which helps the sausages to caramelise when they split.

I found it a really interesting and informative day. On top of the recipe demonstrations they also advised on what knives to use, how to tie a butchers knot, the right questions to ask at the abattoir. It was a lovely chilled environment and you were encouraged to ask questions throughout the day. I will be returning as I enjoyed myself so much.

The Big Knit

For the past few years Innocent have launched their annual Big Knit Campaign where people are asked to knit little woolly hats for Innocent bottles. In turn, for every bottle sold with a hat, 50p will be donated to Age Concern. This year £250,000 has been donated. It’s an innovative fundraising idea from a quirky company.

I’ve been a bit late getting some bottles as they were came out at the beginning of November, but I eventually managed to pick up a few in Sainsbury’s. The couple of hats we collected from last years bottles reside on our Bride & Groom Wedding cake topper. Next year I’m planning to send our collection of hats back so they can be recycled. There have been some amazing hats knitted and next year should be more organised and pick up a funky hat.

The culinary equivalent of superglue…

The past week has been a bit of a crazy one. Christmas festivities in school are in full swing and Hubby has been working every hour under the sun to get a project finished in work so it can be shipped. Over the weekend I was back in the Homeland for an annual Christmas Ball at my dad’s work and a Victorian Christmas festival in their village. At the festival in amongst the roasted chestnuts and hog roasts we decided to choose mulled Vimto. Bad choice, I usually love Vimto but words cannot describe how awful the a mulled version of it was. It left me wishing I had gone for the hardcore mulled wine after all.

There are some recipes that sit on my cookbook stand for a while waiting for me to get the balls to try them. This recipe for nougat was one of them. I’m not too confident with boiling sugar and always worry about burning myself. Last year when making cinder toffee, hubby dropped the spoon into the boiling sugar, reached in to pick the spoon up and burnt his fingers. Although he put ice on it straight away he could feel it burning for the next 24 hours…ouch.

Now the pronunciation of “nougat” in our house is a bit of a contentious issue. I say “noo-gaar” where as Hubby along, with the rest of his family, say “nugget” as in chicken nugget. I still argue I’m in the right because nougat is a french word.

I have to admit I’m not too sure if I got it to the right constancy. I whisked it until it wouldn’t thicken anymore and considering the sugar took nearly an hour to get to the right temperature I was getting a bit fed up with it. It tastes like beautiful nougat and is sticky like anything, but slowly melts in the mouth. Cleaning the bowls after making it is another matter. This stuff is like superglue and sticks to everything and anything. The best tip I can give for cleaning all the bowls/saucepans is to use lots of boiling water. Pour it over the cemented nougat and it will melt away.

Just a warning this involves boiling sugar and it probably not a very child friendly. Be very careful when beating together the sugar and egg, if your mixer has a splash guard use it. Dentists turn away now…

Adapted from Fresh Magazine

680g granulated sugar
340ml (about 1 tin and a bit) golden syrup
60ml clear honey
235ml water
2 egg whites, beaten until stiff in a large bowl
1 tsp vanilla extract
75g dried cranberries
200g mixture of almonds and macadamia nuts

1) Gradually heat the sugar, syrup, honey and water in a heavy saucepan until it reaches 154°C (hard-crack stage)

2) When the sugar has reached the correct temperature carefully beat into the whisked egg whites until the mixture is stiff and waxy. At the beginning of this stage don’t worry if it looks a bit like fine scrambled egg in sugar syrup. Keep beating and it will thicken and combine.

3) Carefully fold in the vanilla, cranberries and nuts using a large metal spoon. The metal spoon, rather than a wooden spoon, helps stop the mix collapsing.

4) Pour the nougat into a tin lined with baking parchment. Allow to cool before cutting into squares…or if your nougat is anything like ours a knife won’t cut it and we ended up using a meat mallet to bash it with another sheet of baking parchement.

Wikio’s top 20 influential UK gastronomy blogs

For quite a few months now I have been following blog rankings on Wikio. A few days ago they contacted me asking if I would like to publish and exclusive look at the rankings that come out tomorrow. I’m shocked and very pleased to see me at 11 and some fantastic fellow bloggers in the top 20.

1 The Guardian – Word of Mouth
3 Spittoon
4 eat like a girl
6 spittoonextra
7 Cheese and Biscuits
8 A Slice of Cherry Pie
9 Tamarind and Thyme
10 Kitchen Delights
11 Domestic Goddess in Training
12 Cherrapeno
13 The Wine Conversation
14 Sour Grapes
15 Stonch’s Beer Blog
16 Bubble Brothers
17 Greedy Gourmet
18 jamie goode’s wine blog
19 The London Review of Breakfasts
20 Apple & Spice
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