Monthly Archives: December 2010

2010 Round-up

2010 has been a busy year for both of us and who would have thought that this year’s resolution to turn my love of food in to day job would come true. Along with trying new recipes and techniques we have eaten and experienced many fabulous places.

Croissants – if the hits on the blog are anything to go by Croissants are top. Although they are time-consuming to make I very much enjoyed making and eating these.

Tandoor Oven – One of Hubs’ most recently projects. The lack of summer did mean it didn’t get used as much as we hoped so crossed fingers for a decent Summer 2011 so we can brush up on Naan bread making.

Murgh Makhani – Mallika made me realise that Indian food can be easy and delicious.

Gingerbread Men – My top google hit of the year which hit a spike over December. Not surprising given it’s one of my favourite recipes in my cookery classes.

Northcote –  Our first Michelin starred experience came courtesy of a visit to Northcote. A superb meal along with Afternoon Tea with a fantastic stay in one of their rooms.

Our glamping staycation – Perfect summer weather, a clay pizza oven, friends, open fire and cider from orchard less than a mile down the road. What more could you want?

A colourful gardening – The theme for our garden this year was very much bright coloured vegetables and edible flowers. Due to the success of the peas in the garden they will certainly be returning next year.

As for 2011, who knows what it will bring? Let’s hope it’ll be friends, food and fortune.

Mince Pies

By the time Christmas has been and gone I’ve worked out I will have made over 450 mince pies in some form or another. Thankfully not for my own consumption but made during the classes I was teaching and for friends and family. I usually make my own mincemeat, but this year due to some of my pupils being unable to come to classes due to illness I was left with nearly a kilogram of mincemeat to use up. To make shop bought mincemeat taste more like homemade mincemeat simply stir in a generous glug of sherry into the mincemeat. No one has to know.

I like using this pastry recipe for mince pies as the addition of orange juice helps shorten the pastry and give it a subtle taste. I don’t sweeten the pastry with sugar because I think the mincemeat is sweet enough. If you wanted the pastry a bit sweeter you could add a small amount of icing sugar to the pastry.

You can top your mince pies with the traditional full covering of pastry, but I prefer to cover with stars. 1) because I think they look nicer 2) you get more mince pies out of your pastry.

Mince Pies

Makes around 12 mince pies

200g plain flour

100g butter

orange juice

200g mincemeat

1 egg, beaten

Demerara sugar (granulated sugar will also work fine)

1) rub the butter into the flour until it has the consistency of breadcrumbs.

2) Add the orange juice 1 tbsp at a time until it forms a soft dough. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 min.

3) Roll out the dough until 5mm thick. Using a 9cm diameter cutter, cut out rounds and press gently into a bun tin.

4) Place a heaped tsp of the mincemeat on top of the dough

5) Top the mincemeat with a  pastry star. Brush  the star with beaten egg then sprinkle with Demerara sugar.

6) Bake at 180° for 15 minutes.

Christmas Nibbles

Due to the size of The Cottage it does make entertaining more than 6 people quite difficult, so in the week run up to Christmas it is tradition for us to throw drinks & nibbles party as there is no room to host a sit-down meal. With the Christmas tree decked, mistletoe hanging from the beams and a roaring fire ready for chestnut roasting it officialy kicks of the Christmas week for us. We live in what could possibly be the only place in the whole of the UK that hasn’t been hit by snow this week so thankfully guests didn’t have any problems getting to us.

When it comes to the food I’m usually am incharge of the veggie and sweet nibbles whereas Hubs concentrates on the meat and fish and I have to say he’s far better at it than I am with meat and fish. He came up with the Black Christmas Pudding idea as we usually serve it up in one one form another at the party. Last night’s menu included:

Sweet Potato Stackers

Mini Toad in the Hole
Halve the recipe for normal toad in the hole and use chipolatas. Place one chipolata in each section on a bun tin, pour over batter and bake at 220°c for 15 min.

Sticky Squash with Sesame Seeds

Mini Ham & Mushroom Frittatas
Either make one large frittata and slice into bitesized pieces or bake in silicone cake cases for around 15 min

Tempura Prawns with Sweet Chilli Sauce

Onion Bhajis with Riata

Cold meat platter

Vegetable Sticks with Hummus

Black Christmas Pudding topped with Parsnip Puree
Roll black puddings in to golf ball sized balls. Fry off the balls until crispy. Peel and dice a couple of parsnips and fry off with some butter. Blitz the parsnips with a small amount of cream to give a piping consistancy. Pipe a swirl on top of the black pudding. Decorate with a tiny piece of chilli and herb leaf.

Cheeseboard featuring Winchester, Blacksticks Blue, Crozier Blue, Red Leicester and Somerset Brie.

Puddini Bonbons

Eccles Mince Pies

Ginger Beer

Hubs is partial to ginger beer be it a glass of tastebud tingling Luscombe Hot Ginger Beer of a pint of Crabbies.When he saw the River Cottage Every Day episode where they made ginger beer he knew he had to make it. Now given some of our past adventures in brewing haven’t exactly been successful, um Nettle Beer that had an acquired taste and looked like dishwater, I tried not to get too excited about this latest foray.

When studying A’level biology as part of the Food Science module along with making sauerkraut we also made ginger beer. Looking back it was quite odd that us 17 year olds were encouraged to make alcohol all in the name of science. Back then my ginger beer went very well, possibly too well as it exploded all over the garage. The tale of when I covered the garage in ginger beer is often recalled around the family dinner table. This time the bottle was sitting behind my desk and I wasn’t going to let this bottle explode. 2 days into brewing the bottle began to make the tell-tale squealing sound that a plastic bottle makes when it is about to shoot its gingery contents across the room. That day I had to release the gas from the bottle no less that 3 times to keep the pressure at a safe limit.

After chilling the beer to stop the yeast and filtering it I have to say it’s made a decent drinkable beer. We have attempted to measure the alcohol content of the beer using a hydrometer. Made an error with the first measurements making us think we had made a 4% beer, but in reality it’s around the 3% mark.  It’s certainly worth giving this recipe a try, just remember to keep a close eye on it so it doesn’t explode. If you made it today it would be ready for Christmas.

Ginger Beer
from River Cottage Every Day

¼ tsp brewer’s yeast (you can get it in Wilkinsons)

225g caster sugar

1½-2 tbsp finely grated fresh root ginger

Juice of 1 lemon

1 good tbsp honey

screw-top, 2-litre plastic bottles, which you have cleaned thoroughly using sterilising tablets

1) Add the yeast to the bottle. With a funnel, pour in the sugar.

2) Mix the grated ginger with the lemon juice and honey.

3) Pour the ginger mixture through the funnel into the bottle. Now fill the bottle about ¾ full with water, put the cap on and shake the bottle until all the sugar is dissolved.

4) Top up the bottle with water, leaving a 2.5cm gap at the top, to allow for production of gas. Cap the bottle tightly, then place it somewhere warm. Leave it for about 48 hours. Once the bottle feels very hard and has no give in it, your beer should be ready.

5) Place the bottle in the fridge for several hours to stop the yeast working. Once the beer is thoroughly chilled, pass it through a fine sieve and serve.


Christmas Fairy Cakes

I can’t believe the first term of the academic school year is drawing to an end and I’ve survived my first term in business. Would I change anything? I’ve certainly learnt some lessons, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Let’s just hope in 2011 my success continues to grow.

One of the schools I’ve worked in this term hosted an Afternoon Tea Party yesterday to raise money for a school in Ghana. I baked them some Gingerbread Men, Eccles Mince Pies (these always go down well!) along with Christmas Fairy Cakes. This was a perfect opportunity to use up ingredients that were left from this term of cookery along with experimenting with a technique I saw on Kirsty & Phil’s Perfect Christmas.

I coloured the sugar paste Wednesday evening and wrapped it up in clingfilm ready to use Thursday morning. What I didn’t anticipate was the colours in the icing becoming more intense. I’ve never noticed icing doing that before, hence the quite bright, borderline garish colours. You can find the instructions for making the bows here. Although I could do with a bit more practice, I enjoyed making them. Next time I would roll the top stripes a bit thinner so they don’t stick out as much from the bottom layer when the fondant is bent to make the bows.

Christmas Fairy Cakes
Makes 12 fairy cakes

100g caster sugar

100g butter, softened

100g self-raising flour

2 eggs, beaten

200g icing sugar

freshly boiled water


food colouring

1) Preheat oven to 180oc. Arrange cake cases in fairy cake tin. Beat together butter and sugar then one by one beat in the eggs.

2) Stir in flour until ingredients are well combined. Half fill each fairy case with the batter. Don’t over fill or you won’t have room for the icing to puddle.

3) Bake for 15 min until risen and golden. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

4) Add boiling water to the icing sugar until you have a smooth icing that pours off the spoon. Using a teaspoon slowly pour the icing on top of the cakes. You can guide the icing somewhat as to where you want it to go and it almost acts like self-levelling concrete. Once you have finished icing place your fondant decorations on the icing and leave to set.

Christmas present ideas for food loving kids

It’s nearly the end of term so that means Christmas is just around the corner. I’ve been busy teaching kids the art of making mince pies. I know quite a few of my pupils have asked for food/cookery related things for Christmas and here is what I think is some of the best items out there at the moment for children with an interest in food.

Silicone cake cases – Silicone cake cases come in a multitude of shapes and sizes and are not only great for baking cakes in, but also for sorting ingredients along with making food like mini frittatas in.

Roald Dahl’s Completely Revolting Recipes – In my opinion one of the best cookery books for children out there. It’s especially popular with boys. All of the recipes featured in the book are based on food that is mentioned in Roald Dahl stories. Scrumdiddlyumptious Scrambled Dregs and bellypopping Butterscotch anyone?

Lego ice cube tray – although I’ve put this in the kid’s pressie section I know many adults, including me, who would love to find this in their stocking. Like the silicone cake moulds they have a multitude of uses. How about Minifig chocolates?

Funky Lunch – This is the brain child of Mark Northeast after wanting to make his children’s lunches more exciting. This book shows kids how they can make their sandwiches look like their favourite characters/animals. My pupils love looking at this book.

Natural History Museum Biscuit Cutters – You can never have too many biscuit cutters, but the hard part can be finding great cutters in interesting shapes. The Natural History Museum currently have a superb selection in stock along with Cake, Cookies & Crafts & TK Maxx.

Edible glitter – or Cake Makeup as Cam calls it. Glitters and lustre are popular at the moment for decorating cakes. Kids love using it. Edible glitter is non-toxic but it is still recommended just for decorating and not for eating in large amounts.

Childrens Garden Gift Voucher Rocket Gardens is a fab company that posts out baby plants to help you get on your way to growing a veg garden.

Percy Pig Apron – it’s Percy Pig, need I say more!

Jigsaw sandwich cutter – These cutters don’t just come in jigsaw shapes, but also dinosaurs and dolphins. Not only for sandwiches, but could be used with toast and biscuits.

Top Cookbooks

In the run up to Christmas quite a few people have asked about which cookbooks I would recommend and with Jamie O’s 30-minute meals being declared the fastest selling non-fiction book I thought it was apt to share my top choices of cookery books. Some in my list were published this year and some have been long time favourites of mine. All (apart from 1) have pride of place in my kitchen and are aenthusiastically splattered with the remnants of dishes. A messy dog-eared cookbook is a sign of a great cookbook. Of course for food geeks like me the holy grail of cookbooks is an ancient copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, which Hubs kindly gave me for Christmas last year, but these are not the easiest to come across.

For ease I have linked all the books to a well known online retailer, but they are all easily available from anywhere that sells books. A few of these books are currently for sale for bargain prices at The Book People

Darina Allen – Forgotten Skills of Cooking (2009) This monster of a book could quite easily be described as an encyclopedia of cookery. Full of lots of recipes including recipes things that have probably slipped off the foodie radar. We were lucky to pick up our copy up for the bargain price of £8 at a local discount bookshop.

Perfect for: keen cooks and people with an interest in classic cooking techniques.

Bread: River Cottage Handbook No. 3 (2009) I love this bread book. Every recipe I’ve done from it has worked well and it’s one of the few bread books around that remains to be interesting, informative and not patronising. Interestingly they have brought out a US version.

Perfect for: both beginners and experienced bread bakers

Mark Diacono – Taste of the Unexpected (2010) Mark is Head Gardener at River Cottage and this book is all about not filling your veg plot with fruit and veg that is readily available but experimenting with more unusual plants like Egyptian Onions. The book not only has tips and advice about growing these unusual plants but also recipes for them.

Perfect for: keen veg gardeners.

Stefan Gates – Extraordinary Cookbook (2010) This is the 1 book on the list I’m yet to own, but I know it’ll be a fab book. Come on, if Stefan Gates can turn uninterested kids on to the wonders of food this book will be great. There appears to be two different covers for the book.

Perfect for: people who like to experiment and do something different in the kitchen.

Mallika Basu – Miss Masala (2010) I’ve been avidly following Mallika’s blog for years so when I heard she was releasing a book version of her blog I was very pleased. The book is down to earth and gives all the secrets of great indian cooking away. All the recipes I’ve tried so far has been superb with my favourite being the Murgh Makhani.

Perfect for: Indian food lovers, people who don’t have loads of time on their hands to cook good food.

Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall – The River Cottage Meat Book (2004) I honestly believe this is the bible for meat. If we ever have a query about a piece of meat,be it how to cook it or what to do with it you can guarantee this book has the answer.There is various different covers for this book but inside they are the same.

Perfect for: carnivores, suitable for beginners all the way through to enthusiasts.

The Cookie & Biscuit Bible (2010) This book has been and gone over the years and is about to be republished again. Catch it while you can because it really is a great book. Has recipes for every type of biscuits & cookie you can imagine. I use this book a great deal in my classes because the recipes work so well. What is great is that the book has a section about baking for people with allergies.

Perfect for: kids who like to bake, baking fans,

Sarah Raven – Garden Cookbook (2007) I first bought this book as I was drawn in by the amazing photography, but it  has turned out to be an incredibly useful book in the kitchen. When ever I’m lost for inspiration with fruit or vegetable Garden Cookbook is my first call. I also love how it is set out in seasonal order. This book is to blame for us getting a bit obsessed with growing odd coloured vegetables. It all started with the purple sprouts!

Perfect for: grow your own fans, lovers of great photography, fruit & veg fans!

Nigella Lawson – How to be a Domestic Goddess (2003) This isn’t a book for healthy types. It’s all about comfort baking. If your squeamish don’t look at the amount of butter that goes into these recipes! A classic cookbook that was the first one I bought when we moved into The Cottage. It was this book that gave me the cooking bug. Nigella has brought out many cookbooks since releasing this one in 2003 but it is still my favourite. The brownies and banana bread from this book are the best.

Perfect for: any budding Domestic Goddesses/Gods, cake lovers

What cookbooks would your recommend for presents?

BBC Good Food Show with Tourism Ireland

This year Hubs & I attended the BBC Good Food Show at the NEC after being invited by Tourism Ireland. On the Tourism Ireland stand it was great to see so many producers who were passionate about their product. Not all the products are currently available in the UK but the intention is that they will be soon.

The first person we met was the fabulous Joe O’Flynn from Rathsallagh House. He explained to us and let us taste their delicious famous Breakfast Ham that they serve to their guests every morning.

Flahavan’s At this time of year breakfast isn’t breakfast without a big bowl of creamy porridge. I had heard about these oats after reading blog posts about them. I have to agree they are super creamy and I’ve enjoyed having them for breakfast these cold wintry mornings.

Ballyhoura Apple Farm While on the stand we tried both an Mulled Apple Juice and Apple & Beetroot Juice (not sure if this one is available yet). Maurice Gilbert, the owner of Ballyhoura Apple Farm, was bubbling with enthusiasm over both of the products he was showing at the show and I know why. Both the juices and the apples he gave us to try were delicious. I particularly liked the Apple & Beetroot juice and it’s interesting that a product like that could be appearing in the market.

Cashel Blue & Crozier Blue Hubs adores blue cheese, I’m not so much a fan, but both the Cachel Blue and the Crozier Blue are deliciously creamy and I would happily eat them if they appeared on a Christmas cheese board. The cheese is sold relatively young but once left to mature will intensify in flavour.

Harty’s foods. Melanie makes a really great pepper jelly. Perfect sweetness and heat from the chillies and delicious with some of the breakfast ham we tried. What I liked about the jellies, along with the taste, was the colours of the jelly. They were crystal clear.

Ballymaloe Country Relish Their products are made down the road from Darina Allen’s famous cookery school. We have a couple of jars of their versatile relish which were looking forward to trying with lots of different dishes.

Dee’s Organic Wholefood Burgers Dee’s aim is to produce foods that are jam packed with the good stuff. Both her Omega burgers and spicy bean burgers appeared to be selling well at the Good Food Show. We are yet to try the ones we were given but I’m looking forward to trying them.

As well as the food stalls there were many hotels, guest houses and other accommodation being promoted on the stand. While Hubs has been to Ireland many a time with work I’m yet to visit and we’re now both thinking of popping over for a holiday in 2011. Many thanks to Tourism Ireland for inviting us both to the BBC Good Food Show.

Beautiful Frost

The current weather that the majority of Europe is experiencing has brought some spectacular sights courtesy of Mother Nature. Where we are we haven’t had snow quite few days now but the subzero temperatures mean it hasn’t thawed. When Hubs left for work this morning his car was reading -11°c. Today is the first day we haven’t had a thick fog and instead a deep blue December sky. All the trees and plants are enrobed in a hoar frost which is beautiful. The photos don’t really do justice how stunning everything looked this morning after being touched by Jack Frost.

Today to get in the Christmas spirit I’m making Mince Pies with primary children. By the end of the fortnight, as long as the weather doesn’t jeopardise the classes, I will have helped to make over 400 mince pies. You should have seen the look of the cashier when I went to buy the ingredients yesterday. 7kg of mincemeat is quite a sight!

Christmas Food Wishlist

After writing my 2010 wishlist last week it made me think about the products that will hopefully be appearing on our Christmas table this year. Many of them are firm favourites with us. From top left:

Quenby Hall Stilton Our favourite Stilton. Strong and creamy and perfect for a Christmas cheeseboard. The beef from Quenby Hall is also superb and the best I’ve ever tasted.

Brays Cottage Pork Pie We first tasted these pies at the Good Food Show a few weeks back. Let’s just say they converted me to pork pies. What is delicious about the pies is that they don’t have jelly in them plus you can buy them either ready baked for frozen so you can cook them fresh.

Sainsbury’s Canape spoons I’ve seen these advertised in a recent Sainsbury’s magazine and love the idea of them. If we don’t have the time to workout how to make them successfully by our Christmas Drinks do we’ll certainly be buying some of these.

Camel Valley ‘Cornwall’ Brut A superb sparking wine from Cornwall of all places that is great drunk on its own or with a splash of sloe gin. I’m intrigued by their sparkling red.

Lidl Christkindle Glühwein At less that £4 a bottle it’s not surprising that this flies off the shelf as soon as it arrives in the Lidl stores. Aldi’s version is just as good. It’s tradition in our house to drink this while putting the Christmas decorations up.

Belvoir Spiced Winter Berries Cordial Delicious hot or cold and perfect for the non-alcohol drinkers. At parties I usually serve it in the same way as the mulled wine with fruit floating in it.

Heston from Waitrose Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding You may have heard all about these puddings in the media. The pudding developed by Heston Blumenthal for Waitrose has been flying off the shelves priced £14.99 and now selling for over £100 on eBay. Unsurprisingly they are now sold out in Waitrose. I’ve been lucky enough to be sent one and while I admit I did toy with the idea of flogging it on eBay I have decided to share it with friends next week as our Whisky Pudding for Christmas Day is currently maturing. You can read a review of the Heston pudding on Fuss Free Flavours.

Aldi Stollen Bites Warning: these are incredibly moreish and a packet doesn’t last long in this house. One problem with getting these as that I can’t go into Aldi without buying other products in the Christmas range like lebkuchen, pfeffernüsse and spekulatius. Lidl make a similar products that are just as good.

Chocolate Confetti Forget your Roses, Quality Street or Heroes at Christmas these made not far from me are so much better. They are not scared to experiment with flavours. A few years back I tastes  some of their Vintage Port & Quenby Hall Stilton chocolates (far better than they sound!) At the moment they are only available at Farmers Markets in the East Midlands, but you can order via the website to pick up at these markets.

What delights will be on your Christmas table this year?

%d bloggers like this: