Tag Archives: Christmas

Winter flavours…

I bloody HATE how early Christmas is every year. There were advent calendars for pets in the local supermarket back in August. I mean, if there’s one thing that’s not essential for Christmas it’s an advent calendar for your pet (sorry Doris)

And then I got irrationally angry about this product and signage in the supermarket yesterday.

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IT’S A CHRISTMAS TREE.

We can all see it’s a bloody Christmas tree, Sainsbury’s, calling it a ‘tiered tree objet’ does not make it less of a seasonal product. And let’s not even go to the bit where you’ve missed the ‘c’ out of object. It does not make it more desirable. I’m hoping it’s just a typo and not some misplaced sense of thinking Frenchifying a word makes a product hipper.

Having said all of that I love Christmas spices. LOVE them. All of them. And so, this very morning, I decided to make a batch of orange and cardamom cookies. And sure, they’re festive, but I deliberately made them heartshaped so they’re not seasonally relevant. Well, Valentine’s day I guess but I’m not American or 14 so I just don’t care. Let’s say I made them as it  was our six year anniversary  a couple of weekends ago and I’m filled with the romance of our love for each other*.

*If you know me, you’ll know I vommed a little in my mouth as I wrote that. 

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Orange and Cardamom biscuits 

  • 50g caster sugar
  • 40g dark muscovado sugar
  • 15 cardmom pods, seeds removed and ground
  • Zest of two oranges
  • 170g butter softened
  • 240g plain flour
  • Pinch of salt

Mix the orange zest and ground cardamom seeds into the sugar so that the sugar is flavoured with the spices. Beat in the softened butter and then sift in the flour and salt. Mix till just combined, then split dough into two, flatten into discs and refrigerate for up to one hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 170C.

Take one disc of dough and roll out to about 0.5cm thickness. Using whatever cutters you haev to hand, cut out biscuits and put onto a baking tray (lined with greaseproof paper, of course).

Keep rerolling until all dough is used up. The first disc made about 10 heart shaped biscuits so this recipe will probably make 20 or so.

Bake at 170C for about 15 mins until the biscuits are golden brown. Remove to a cooling rack and leave to cool before eating.

The dough can be frozen as can the actual cookies, so you can always have a festively spiced biscuit treat to hand.

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Cranberry and Orange marscapone sponge cake

Welcome to my Christmas blogging spree. As you’ll have seen from previous posts, I kinda went a little political but I’m back on the food stuff now and frankly, that’s much nicer than being a little bit sad and miserable about the state of the world.

So I had a birthday last month. As you may remember, last year was a big ole birthday, so this year, I decided to keep it low key and went to see a play about the troubles in Sri Lanka at the Arcola. Slight change of pace but lovely fun day. I also indulged in a cronut from the newish Dominique Ansel London. Man, I’m glad that place isn’t too close to home, I could eat one of those every day.

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As part of it not being a big milestone birthday, I didn’t want a normal gift – I’m good at buying myself things and we’ve been complaining for years about how we hate our kitchen/dining room but haven’t been able to afford to do the big works (knocking a wall through). So this year, I told the wino I wanted a nice dining room for my birthday, so we spent a week ripping out cupboards, painting, putting up shelves etc etc. And it’s so very nearly there. I love it very much. But I’ll save that for a future post, when we’ve finished both rooms.

I hosted my inaugural proper Sunday lunch in the dining room last Sunday. We’d had a cheese and wine and drunken dancing party a few weeks before but what happens on a drunken night stays on a drunken night. So I’m just going to talk about the amazing cake I made for the Sunday lunch (in my new fancy cooker).

I love a Victoria sponge but I don’t love double cream that much. Also not a huge fan of butter icing. I may be a little late to the party on this, but I’ve recently discovered the joy of throwing all the icing sugar at a tub of marscapone and adding some orange zest and juice to it and using that as a quick and dirty icing. It’s delicious and simple.

And because it’s Christmas, I’d bought a bag of fresh cranberries and was thinking about making cranberry sauce for gifting (if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll have seen the kitchen clearout unearthed several hundred glass jars – hence the gifting).

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See? Crazy lady jar collection.

But then I had a brainwave. Why not make a cranberry cake? And then I had a second brainwave – why not make a cranberry jam to use in the aforementioned Victoria Sponge cake? So I did. And paired it with an orange marscapone.

My recipe for a sponge cake is well old fashioned but basically, weigh the eggs in their shells, then weigh out the same amount of butter, sugar and flour. And a pinch of salt. I’m a creamer (of butter and sugar) and then an adder but do what you feel best. I’ve just never been able to make the all in one method work for me.

The marscapone is done to taste (god, this is a rubbish recipe, huh?!) But basically, a tub of marscapone, the zest and juice of one orange and a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar – to taste. Mix it all up. Job done.

Now, here’s the cranberry jam recipe. I did it in American units, because I couldn’t be bothered to weight out the ingredients. Is that bad? It might be a bit. Oh well.

Cranberry, mint and ginger jam

  • 300g fresh cranberries – washed
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup caster sugar
  • A handful of mint leaves
  • 1 inch fresh ginger root, grated finely
  • One stick cinnamon

Put the water, sugar and mint leaves into a saucepan and bring to the boil until the sugar has completely dissolved. Leave to one side for 10 minutes, to let the mint seep in.

Remove the mint leaves and add the cranberries, ginger and cinnamon. Bring back to the boil and then simmer for 10-15 minutes stirring regularly. I’m sure there’s clever things you can do with checking temperatures and things – I didn’t. Cranberries thicken up as they cool so once you’re happy that the majority of the cranberries have popped, give it a quick stir. You want it thick but not jellified. Transfer to a clean bowl and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, make the marscapone as above, slice your cake in half and once the jam is cold, spread a layer of marscapone, followed by a few dollops of jam. Then repeat on the next layer (if you have two layers) or on the top (if you only have one middle cut.

Put some mint leaves on top if you’re that way inclined. Slice and enjoy.

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You can see a bit of my new dining room in the background. How awesome is that colour? 

 

What to do with leftover chocolate (which isn’t often a problem….)

I’m aware that it’s only October and I’ve got my ‘life begins at’ birthday in a fortnight (which I’m totally fine with, perhaps because I’m pretty sure this can’t be happening and I’m really only 25) but I decided a couple of weeks ago to start clearing out the kitchen so I can make space for the amount of food we end up buying in the run up to Christmas. And, let’s be honest, I say food, I mean those big tubs of Quality Street and Celebrations. And despite Christmas being months away, those gigantic tubs of chocolatey goodness have started appearing in supermarkets and whilst I hate the early arrival of Christmas by retailers, I freaking love me some chocolate.

During my cupboard clearout I discovered a not insignificant amount of Easter chocolate that I’d hidden after Easter to try and stop myself from exploding. I also found a box of Ferrero Rocher varieties and as I have mentioned before, my least favourite chocolate pairing is nuts and chocolate which probably explains why that’s leftover.

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Now, I love a Lindt bunny (or sheep or chick) as much as the next chocoholic but I also love a Lindt gnome or Father Christmas. So I figured I’d use up the leftover chocolate in what I like to now refer to as Chocolate Saturday. Catchy, eh? And so creative.

The three things I decided to make were: salted chocolate mousse, Ferrero Rocher cupcakes and an orange and chocolate chip loaf cake. The mousse was the easiest of the lot – 30g of chocolate and one egg per person (I made enough for four, so 120g chocolate, 4 eggs). Melt the chocolate in a bain marie and then remove from the heat. Separate the eggs and whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. Whisk the egg yolks into the melted chocolate and then beat in a third of the eggs whites – when this is all combined, fold in the rest of the whites. If you’re using dark chocolate and you’ve got a sweet tooth, whisk a tablespoon full of sugar per egg into the whites – I was using Lindt bunnies and they’re plenty sweet enough. Put into bowls and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours or until set. Sprinkle a tiny amount of sea salt onto it before serving for that crunchy goodness.

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The Ferrero Rocher cupcakes simply involved shoving a Ferrero Rocher into each cupcake case and then covering with cake batter (actually, put a little bit of batter in the bottom first, to stop the chocolate from catching as it cooks). My last post had a cupcake recipe so I just used that. I iced using a buttercream (because of the slight disaster we had with icing the other ones) which I’m sure you all already have, and then I shoved another Ferrero Rocher on top. Apparently they’re lovely – I wouldn’t know, don’t like chocolate and nuts. I may have mentioned this before.

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My final recipe is the one I’m sharing here: Chocolate chip and Orange Loaf.

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I love orange and chocolate together, it’s possibly one of my favourite things (note to self: don’t forget the Terry’s Chocolate Oranges for Christmas) so this loaf ticks all the right boxes. I have to apologise to anyone more comfortable with metric (like me), it’s in US measurements, but that’s because I think the Yanks make loaf cakes much better than the Brits.

  • Zest of one large orange
  • Juice of one orange, topped up with boiling water to make 1 cup
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (I used a smashed up Lindt bunny, you can use whatever you’ve got – I’d imagine dark chocolate will give it much more of a Jaffa Cake flavour)

Put the orange peel into a bowl and cover with the juice/boiling water – allow to stand for at least 10 minutes. Pre-heat oven to gas mark 4 and grease and line a 900ml loaf tin

Combine the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, bicarb, baking powder, salt) in a bowl and whisk together the egg, butter and orange juice mix in another.

Beat the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until combined and then fold in the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf tin and bake for 45-55 mins until a skewer inserted into it comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tin for 10 mins, then allow to cool fully on a wire rack. I served mine with the salted chocolate mousse and some strawberries but I think it’d make a perfect breakfast loaf, with a nice cup of Earl Grey, so that’s what I’m going to go eat RIGHT NOW. Bye.

Festive sweet treats round up

As much as I love the festive season, I do sigh with relief come January at the fact that I no longer have to make sure my fridge is stocked with just enough goodies to pull together a last minute treat for random drop ins. And let’s be honest, how often do you have random drop ins over the festive period? Modern life (and middle age) has made us all planners, dates are booked in months in advance and if you’re anything like me, you’ll have planned a menu weeks ahead of “impromptu” visits.

So yeah, it’s just an excuse to buy gigantic tubs of Quality Street or Celebrations. And cheese. A shit load (official collective noun) of cheese.

Last Christmas we hosted mine and the husband’s immediate families at our house. It was brilliant to host them all for the first time in our new home and we properly felt like grown ups. Given our 1970s monstrosity of a kitchen + the utterly awful oven, I decided against a traditional roast and instead went with a Moroccan spiced, slow roast lamb with bejewelled cous cous and a seasonal (read: root) vegetable tagine. And then I did a dessert table of random bits for people to choose from – chocolate brownies, meringues, raspberry coulis, hokey pokey. None of the desserts came out as well as I wanted it to, but looked pretty. Maybe a case of too much showing off?

This year, we decided to allow our families to feed us (generous to a fault, that’s us), which meant that we had three Christmases with my husband’s lot, and Christmas day with my sister.

However, we did entertain a few times over the break (with one meal mostly being a repeat of Christmas 2013) and I did make a lot of desserts to gift and help out the hostesses. Of course, I forgot to take pics, because I’m a fool and I’d eaten so much chocolate by Christmas day that I’m pretty sure my brain was 83% cocoa.

So here are some of my festive sweet treat highlights:

Cranberry spiced bundt cake

This was made in order to use up leftover fresh cranberries and show off a bit with a bundt cake taken to a party. However, I didn’t grease the pan properly so rather than being a ‘wow’ cake, I had to slice up the bit I managed to salvage (that wasn’t stuck in the tin as you can see from the photo below). I’ll do this again before cranberries are taken off shelves and share the recipe, totally worth it and probably easy enough to repeat with whatever fruit you have in the house (in berry form).

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Lemon Meringue Pie.

Liked this so much, I made it twice. In a week. The recipe is Dan Lepard’s from the Guardian and in my opinion, pretty much fool proof. It’s always been one of my favourite puddings and I reckon I’ll make this a few more times before 2015 is out.

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I used the same pie base for a chocolate mousse cake after being inspired by the chocolate tart at Newman Street Tavern. Man, that was amazing. I have no pictures for my version though, but I’d say that the NST chocolate tart is one of the best I’ve ever had. As was the pork crackling. In fact, if you’re in London, it’s a great place for a Sunday lunch.

On new year’s day, wanting to clear some space in my fridge, I made my first ever attempt at a berry clafoutis. Again to use up fruit that was about to go off. Whilst it was delicious hot out of the oven, I think my fruit to batter ratio was off, so a little bit bitterer than I would have liked (I blame the cranberries entirely). Custard sorted that right out though. However, it was even better when sliced and then pan fried in butter and brown sugar for brunch the next day. It’s basically pancakes and fruit, right?

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Finally, an amazing recipe from the lovely Edd Kimber (aka theboywhobakes) for salted caramel truffles that I gifted at a family new year party. So. Good. I’m surprised I managed to make any, the truffle mix is delicious and I definitely didn’t eat 14 spoonfuls out of the bowl before it had cooled. No sir. That’d be totally gluttonous, right?

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Thanks for a lovely time Christmas 2014, see you again next year.

Christmas Crackers (for cheese)

We’re big fans of cheese in this house. Blue, soft, hard, goats, cows, sheep(s), we’ll eat it all. And there’s nothing better than a good cracker to have with your cheese, maybe with a little touch of quince jelly or a grape or two to make the cheese feel a little more virtuous.

I’m hungry now.

I’ve never really given much thought to crackers, given that they’re mostly just a vehicle for speedy and clean delivery of cheese to mouth. But as I’ve had a lot more time on my hands recently, I’ve been talking to the cat about crackers. Or maybe I’m crackers for talking to the cat. Regardless, I recently found myself on a cracker making mission (mostly because there were none in the house and I was loathe to change out of my pajamas at 4pm to buy some. Stay classy, Vins.).

Crackers

A few years ago, a group of us hired a cottage in Devon for New Year’s Eve. Being typical Londoners, we filled the car with booze, cheese, duvets and an essential Xbox (including Singstar) and assumed that upon arrival there’d be a corner shop nearby in which we could find some food for that evening, before doing a proper supermarket shop the next day. Bear in mind, we arrived around 4pm on a Sunday and had chosen the cottage for it’s remote location. Yup, we’re townie twats. No shops to be found, but we had packed some flour in amongst the wine and the taps had running water so we fashioned some flatbreads and ate those with cheese. Not the worst meal ever – in fact, that meal is one of my favourite memories of that trip (I was drunk most of the rest of the time).

So my brain goes, if I can fashion flatbreads out of flour and water, just imagine how amazing my crackers would be with a cupboard full of ingredients and Google?

Google shows me that many other people have had much the same thought so my cracker mission starts with a couple of hours of reading recipes until I eventually find myself nodding along to this article from The Washington Post, which leads me to this recipe, also in the Washington Post from Pat Elliot at Everona Dairy. She’s a cheesemaker and developed these crackers to go with her cheese. Perfect for my needs.

The base recipe is just about perfect on it’s own – light, a little salty, delicious and a perfect cheese delivery system. But sometimes you just want a cracker (not often) so like Pat, I thought I’d experiment with my own flavours and so made four variants – cheddar, fennel, cinnamon sugar (that was hers, FYI) and parmesan, fennel and cumin seeds.

The recipe is below or via the links above. According to the WP journalist, these were a fraction of the cost of buying them – I didn’t cost them up but I’d completely agree, and this recipe makes between 80-100 bite sized crackers – which last a couple of weeks if you don’t eat them all at first sitting (which I definitely did).

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour (and more for dusting)
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 stick (57g ish) butter at room temp, cubed
  • 1/2 cup hand warm water (use sparingly)

Method (stage one)

  • Preheat oven to gas mark 7 (or equivalent)
  • Whisk together dry ingredients
  • Using rubbing in method, as if you’re making pastry, rub in the butter till you get a texture like fine breadcrumbs
  • Once you have a texture you’re happy with, without any lumps, gradually add the warm water until the dough is just combined
  • Turn onto a floured surface and give a quick knead until the dough is smooth
  • Split into four equally sized balls and leave to rest for 10-15 minutes in warm place

Whilst you’re waiting for the dough to rest, consider your toppings. What I used is below, but feel free to adapt to your own tastes – just be careful to not change the consistency of the dough. There are other variants available via the recipe link above.

Toppings/flavours (amount per ball)

  • 25g grated cheddar (use a microplane)
  • 25g parmesan grated (as above)
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon sugar

Method (stage two)

  • Take your first ball and flatten a little
  • Cover the top of the ball with the 25g cheddar and fold/knead in till its all incorporated – should only be a minute or two. If you overknead, your crackers will end up dry and overworked
  • Once your dough is relatively smooth again, flatten out again, dust your board and rolling pin and start rolling
  • Keep rolling (picking up, redusting and rotating as you go) till you can practically see the board through the dough – this will take some time and a lot of upper body strength. Keep going, imagine the cheesy crackers you’ll have at the end of it
  • Once they’re thin, cut them into your desired shape – I started with squares and then realised it’d be much easier with a cookie cutter – the smallest ring size (I want to say 6cm but I could be lying) is the perfect bite size
  • Transfer the crackers to a lightly floured baking sheet and prick with a fork
  • Bake for 8-12 minutes until the tops are golden – you may need to move them around on the tray during baking in order to ensure the ones on the outside don’t get burned
  • Cool on a wire rack

The method is much the same for all the other topping ideas – I mixed the seeds with the parmesan but incorporated it all at the same time.

If you’re using cinnamon sugar, get your unbaked crackers rolled and cut and onto the baking sheet, then sprinkle with sugar before baking. Word to the wise, sugar burns so keep a very close eye on these unless you want them very ‘caramelised’.

Since I first discovered this recipe a fortnight ago, I’ve probably made them once a week. They’re really good and really easy – and apparently cost effective too. Enjoy!

A selection of crackers

The granola of unemployment (or how I learned to turn off Netflix)

I’ve now officially finished working at my last job and have spent the last four weeks or so officially not working. Which has been awesome, but I am going slightly insane, what with talking to the cat, binge watching truly terrible series on Netflix (so far four seasons of The Vampire Diaries, which is like a rubbish combination of True Blood and Buffy), hanging out with my folks and being incredibly impressed by the quality of cars in the car park when I pick my niece up from her fancy school.

So, in my downtime from all that hard work, I’m spending a lot of time in my kitchen. My 1970s monstrosity of a kitchen, but a kitchen nonetheless. And as it’s (nearly) Christmas, there’s many an aroma of cinnamon and ginger and cloves emanating from within its orange and beige interior. But baking and eating aforementioned baked goods, doesn’t really promote good heart health when the most exercise you get all day is walking from the fridge to the sofa and back again.

From my earlier post, you’ll see that I’ve been on a bit of a juice binge recently but a girl cannot live on juice alone so I’ve been experimenting with granola and crackers.

First up, granola. On paper, I should hate granola – it’s dried fruit and nuts, neither of which makes me salivate. But turns out, coating them in a mix of honey and butter and baking them with oats, seeds and the merest hint of spices and a sprinkling of dark muscovado and then baking till they’re gooey and crunchy at the same time makes them utterly delicious. And it’s incredibly simple too, you just need to decide what you want to add to the oats and seeds.

I’m using US measurements (sorry) but I couldn’t find a good granola recipe to adapt on a UK site. And besides, it is a little trial and error because everyone likes different flavours or more or less crunch so don’t panic if you’re not happy with how this turns out, just try different variants on cooking time or oven heat.

Base ingredients: 

  • 1/2 stick of butter (this is about 57g in metric measurements)
  • 1/3 cup of honey
  • 2.5 cups of oats – not the quick cook kind but proper old school oats
  • A selection of seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, etc etc)
  • 1/3 cup of sugar – I used dark muscovado because I like the treacly taste, but use whatever you have apart from icing sugar
  • Pinch of salt (about half a teaspoon but depending on what fruits you use, it could take more)
  • A selection of ground spices – cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, all work well. Add to your taste, I do about two tsps of cinnamon to half a tsp of ginger and a pinch of cloves

Other ingredients 

  • 1/2 cup of nuts – pecans, almonds, brazils, cashews all work well – I find the taste of walnut a little overpowering but that’s just personal preference
  • 3/4 cup of dried fruit – raisins, cranberries, blueberries, apricots (chopped, obviously), pineapple (I’m stopping there before this becomes a long list of fruit that can be dried- that’d be tedious)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips (do this instead of the fruit or half the amounts if you’re doing a combination of fruit and chocolate)

Method

  • Preheat your oven to gas mark 6 or equivalent and line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper
  • Melt together the butter and honey over a low heat till its all combined and set aside to cool whilst you mix the dry ingredients
  • Put all the dry ingredients into a bowl including whatever nuts you choose – but don’t add the fruit at this stage
  • Mix all the dry ingredients together – using your hands seems to make it easier to get everything evenly distributed
  • Pour in the honey and butter mix and stir till every oat is coated in butter and honey
  • Spoon the mixture into the baking try and press flat
  • Bake for approximately 15-25 minutes, giving the mix a stir half way through

You’re looking for a glorious golden shade on your oats so keep an eye on them to make sure you’re not going from gloriously golden to ‘burnt toast’ – this can happen quite quickly

  • After you’ve removed the tray from the oven at the end of the cooking time, quickly stir in the dried fruit or chocolate chips of your choice and then press flat again
  • Leave to cool in the tray – after it’s cooled, you should have a crunchy toasty tray full of delicious granola – break into bite sized chunks and store in an airtight jar. I’m gifting this with some crackers for Christmas, so have put into small Kilner jars
  • It should keep fresh for a good couple of weeks like this. It’s perfect as a healthy snack, on yoghurt or as a smoothie topping. Or just with milk for breakfast – it’s terribly versatile

Today I’ve made two batches: the first featured almonds, walnuts, cranberries, raisins and the second was cherries, blueberries, pecans and dessicated coconut. I added the coconut at the first stir (halfway through the baking) so it didn’t get tooooo toasted. The second batch I screwed up a little (hell, we all make mistakes, right?) by using the wrong sized cup to measure oats so the mix is a little chewier than I’d like.

Here they are:

granola: ready for gifting Granola: raisins, cranberries, almonds Granola: blueberries, cherries, coconut