Feast of Photos in the Snow

It’s been snowing hard here today and as soon as my little boy looked out of the window he said “It’s all snowy, make a snowman”. Indeed once the blizzard like conditions had subsided we wrapped up warm and headed out into our garden. It was a good job too as cabin fever was setting in and some fun in the snow was needed. This is the first time I’ve made a snowman in years. We were properly snowed in last year but George was too little to enjoy it then, snow came over the top of his boots, cold wet feet are not pleasant!

I hope my photos of the snow give a little taste of our British winter – it’s freezing!!!!! Since I took these pictures we’ve had another 3 inches or snow, that’s 6 inches in total!

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Cranberry Gin

Christmas is fast approaching and I’ve been slowly working towards filling a kitchen cupboard full of yummy treats to give as presents. So far we’ve got plenty of chutney, some jam and now I’ve got Cranberry Gin to add to my list. A few years ago my husband and I developed this recipe and gave it as Christmas presents. My father-in-law was a particular fan of this gift and has ever since been asking for us to make it again. Well, since we last made this we’ve nearly completed our conversion of an old bungalow into a house and also had our first baby, actually he’s two now, so this is the first time we’ve been able to concentrate on the requests we’ve been getting for homemade Christmas gifts.

This recipe makes a fabulous Christmas present, it is delicious, seasonal and with the bright red berries it is handsome too! It took us about 15 minutes to make this, from cleaning and sterilising a bottle to mixing the liquid and adding the berries. Quick, easy but very worthwhile.

Here’s the recipe for you to try:

Ingredients:

  • 500ml clear glass bottle* with a screw cap (choose a sturdy bottle, thin/delicate glass could break)
  • 200g fresh cranberries
  • 1 orange
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 500ml gin
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Method:

  1. They are several ways to sterilise your glass bottle. I either wash my bottle in hot soapy water, dry with a clean tea towel and put on a clean baking tray in a oven preheated to 140°c for approx 30 mins; or use the bottle straight from the dishwasher still hot. Remember to carefully clean the bottle cap, but this does not need to go into the oven as it will be too hot for it.
  2. Prick each cranberry several times with a needle (this is not as tedious as it sounds and really only takes a few minutes).
  3. Peel 4 long strips of orange peel from the orange.
  4. Break the cinnamon stick in half and carefully shake out any lose shards, discard these as it will not be pleasant to have tiny shards to cinnamon when the final drink is poured.
  5. Place the sugar in a large, clean jug (one that is good to pour with), add the gin and mix with a spoon until sugar has dissolved.
  6. Gently push the cranberries and orange peel into bottle and pour on the gin solution, leave approx 1-2cm gap at the top of the bottle to allow the cranberries to give out some juice. Screw the lid on tightly.
  7. Store the bottle in a dark cupboard and shake it regularly to encourage the mixture to infuse.

Serving Suggestion:

  • Use a small clean tea strainer when pouring cranberry gin, this prevents any cinnamon shards in the final drink.
  • Mix with lemonade for a gorgeous long drink.
  • Serve neat as an after-dinner liqueur.

*You can be environmentally friendly by reusing an old bottle when making this recipe.

This post was contributed for Boisdale.

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Hearty Chilli Con Carne with Dumplings

For my birthday this year I got a fabulous cookbook called The Complete Book of One Pot Casseroles and Soups by The Australian Women’s Weekly. The first recipe I cooked from the book was a delicious Chilli made with proper chunks of beef instead of the usual mince; the classic chilli con carne went from your average tasty meal to a total winner. The dish is served with dumplings and it was the first time I’ve ever made them, they were easy and a hit with my family.

While I was cooking this meal I made quite a few adjustments, not only to improve the recipe, but to make it my own.  When you see the long list of ingredients, please don’t be put off, this is a recipe which, once you’ve chucked everything in the pan you can leave for several hours, all day or afternoon to slow cook. In Nigella Lawson’s book ‘Nigella Express’ she classes a recipe as easy when, no matter how much preparation it needs at the beginning, you can walk away and leave it to cook, she calls this a ‘quick quick, slow recipe’. I like this way of cooking, to prepare ahead and then leave the meal to cook, so that later you have a tasty dinner, as Nigella says “[s]low-cooking, quite simply, can be the express route.”* I hope you enjoy this recipe.

Serves 3/4

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • approx 50g flour
  • 700g skirt of beef
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic crushed
  • 1 large red pepper
  • 1 carrot diced
  • 1 stick celery sliced
  • half a butternut squash diced
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cinammon
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 2/3 bay leaves
  • handful fresh thyme
  • 400g carton/jar passata
  • 100ml red wine
  • 100ml chicken/beef stock
  • 200g canned red kidney beans

Dumplings

  • 30g self-raising flour
  • 40g polenta
  • 25g butter, chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 20g grated mature cheddar
  • large handful chopped fresh coriander
  • 75g sweetcorn
  • approx 1/2 tbsp milk

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160°c.
  2. Heat the oil in a large ovenproof saucepan, or any Le Creuset style dish, toss the diced beef in the flour and add to the pan to brown. Tip browned beef on to a plate and add onion, garlic and all the vegetables into the pan to cook until softened.
  3. Return beef to the pan, add all the spices and fresh herbs, stir for a min of two.
  4. Add passata, wine and stock to the pan, allow to boil and then reduce to a simmer. Place a lid on the dish and put into the oven for at least 3hrs 30mins or reduce the heat to 140°c and cook for up to 5/6 hours.
  5. 1 hour before you want to serve this dish take the pan from the oven, remove half the beef and with two forks shred the meat, return the meat to the pan and add the drained kidney beans. Pop back into the oven.
  6. Now make the dumplings: rub the flour, polenta and butter together to make breadcrumbs, mix in the egg, cheese, coriander and corn to make a soft sticky dough.
  7. Half an hour before serving take the pan from the oven and return to the hob, drop tablespoons of the dumpling batter on top of the chilli, approx 2cm apart. Place the lid on and simmer for 20-30 mins, until the dumplings are cooked through.
  8. Serve with plenty of fresh chopped coriander.

*Nigella Express, Chatto & Windus, 2007, pg 109.

Top Tip: To vary this dish try with either pork or lamb.

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Cauliflower & Broccoli Cheese

I’ve always loved cauliflower cheese and sometime ago I blogged about the recipe my Mum first made for my Dad on their honeymoon. Now my son 2 year old son likes this dish and I decided to update it to include broccoli, adding an extra vegetable to any meal is a bonus! I made this last night and was surprised by how quickly dinner was made, in under 30 minutes we had a healthy, delicious and inexpensive meal.

Here’s my recipe:

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 large cauliflower
  • 1 large head of broccoli
  • 300ml (½ pint) milk
  • 110g (4oz) grated mature cheddar cheese
  • 3 tbsp plain flour
  • 50g (2oz) butter
  • 1 tsp mustard
  • 12-16 cherry tomatoes quartered
  • handful fresh thyme
  • 50g freshly grated parmesan
  • Plenty of toast or savoury scones

Method:

  1. Pre-heat grill to 180°c, gas mark 4.
  2. Trim the cauliflower and broccoli and cut into florets. Cook cauliflower in salted water for 10-15 minutes or until just tender, cook the broccoli for approx 5-8 mins.
  3. Meanwhile, add the butter to a hot saucepan and melt, stir in flour to make a thick paste, then slowly add the milk stirring continuously until the sauce thickens, boils and is smooth*, simmer gently.
  4. Add grated cheese and mustard, cook for a further minute, stirring well.
  5. Place cooked cauliflower, broccoli and quartered tomatoes into a large shallow dish, pour cheese sauce over and sprinkle fresh thyme and grated parmesan on top.
  6. Place under a hot grill for approx 6 mins or until the cheese sauce begins to bubble and become golden.
  7. Serve with toast or warm savoury scones.

*If your sauce is lumpy push through a sieve to make smooth.

Top Tip – To make this meal quicker:

  1. Buy prepared bags of broccoli and cauliflower, most major supermarkets sell these.
  2. Choose a pack of pre-grated cheese.
  3. Swap my homemade white sauce for a ready made jar of béchamel sauce.

Ways to vary this meal:

  • For a dinner party serve this along with the main meal as a yummy side dish or alternative to vegetables.
  • Try adding some stilton to the cheese sauce to give a different flavour.
  • Serve the dish with some cooked bacon for a more filling dish.
  • Swap regular broccoli for purple sprouted broccoli – a great way to add this superfood packed with goodness to your diet.

This post was contributed for Sauce Communications.

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I Love Curry by Anjum Anand

Since receiving this book to review my thoughts have been on a rollercoaster, up and down, up and down. Firstly, I loved the photography and the whole vibe of the book; page after page of delicious recipes, I didn’t know which to try first. Next, I felt worried, where would I get all the ingredients? I’ve looked locally for tamarind paste before to no avail, but what about pigeon peas and what is panch phoran? Was this book really for a housewife from the suburbs?

Then, when I actually got down to the cooking I found there were plenty of recipes I could try, with all the ingredients listed to be found locally. Now, with the cooking completed and my meal eaten I’m feeling really proud of myself. I’ve cooked yummy naan, for the first time ever, my rice was better than it’s been in months and my two year old son ate all of his creamy almond vegetable curry!  This is a book I will not be leaving on the shelf, but tackling head on – finding ways I can get these recipes onto my weekly meal plans.

Best of all my husband was really chuffed with the book. He suggested (with no hints from me) that he could regularly cook his own “fakeaway” on a Saturday night for us, and true to his word last Saturday he cooked Lamb Roganjosh. Just like me my husband felt an immense sense of achievement after putting together his meal with rice and his own chapatis. It was delicious. If this book gets your partner cooking your Saturday dinner, and excited about doing it, then you can’t find a better reason than that to buy I Love Curry.

You can see the pictures of the meals we cooked below and, with kind permission by Quadrille, the naan recipe (in my own words) is included – you have to try it, so quick, so tasty!

Instant Naan:

Ingredients:

  • 300g plain four, plus more to dust
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 4 tbsp milk
  • 4 tbsp plain yogurt
  • 15g butter melted, plus more for brushing

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to its highest setting (usually 275°C).
  2. Place a baking tray on the top shelf to heat.
  3. Mix together the dry ingredients, make a well in the centre and add the wet ingredients with 85-90ml of water and bring together with your hands to make a dough. Kneed until smooth.
  4. Pull pieces off of the dough and roll into approx 0.75cm  thick naan breads (trying to make characteristic teardrop shapes), use extra flour on hands and surface to prevent dough sticking. You should be able to make approx 6 medium naan.
  5. Place on a baking tray (you may need to do this in two batches), pop into the oven for approx 2-4 mins or until there are golden spots on the surface of the naan.
  6. Brush with extra melted butter and serve hot.

Top tip – You can add flavour to your naan by adding extra ingredients at the dry stage, I added 1 tsp of dried coriander, but you could add any ground spices or fresh herbs you like.

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Iceland

I sometimes pop into my local Iceland to pick up some good quality bargains. A friend recently asked me to recommend a list of what is good to buy there. So I thought I’d share my list and if you are out shopping this weekend, why not try your local Iceland you may be surprised by what you find.

Iceland Goodies:

  • Cheese
  • Bread/crumpets/potato scones etc
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Own brand frozen pizzas (cheap, delicious & good ingredients)
  • Family sized lasagna (good ingredients & great value)
  • Fresh fruit & vegetables
  • Free range eggs (6 for 99p, or maybe £1)
  • Wine

Please leave a comment if you buy any particular items from Iceland, they could be added to my list!

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Calcott Hall Farm Shop

I’ve been reading Jamie Oliver’s “Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook”. Since this book was given to me it’s been sporadically used, but I decide to try reading it from cover to cover to learn something new. I’m still in the process of reading it now.

So far I’ve found Jamie’s emphasis on good quality ingredients has intensified my interest in this subject. Jamie says Italians eat very well but fairly cheaply by buying expensive meat to eat a couple of times a week and great risottos, pastas, frittatas on other days to drive down the food bills. This concept could replace the idea of eating cheap mass produced bargain meat everyday, as seems to be a trend in Britain. My husband is a big meat eater and I discussed these ideas with him, what can I say, Jamie Oliver won him over! Less meat, but better quality, more expensive meat for us from now on.

In the light of all this my husband charged me with the task of finding us some good local farm shops. Boy did I do a good job! We visited Calcott Hall Farm Shop, Billericay, Essex. When we walked in we were blown away. We’ve shopped in a lot of farm shops, but this beat them all. Every shelf was packed full of the best quality vegetables, displayed beautifully, there was such a range of homemade products, a great butchery department, something for everyone and it was all competitively priced. The staff were really friendly and helpful and we can’t wait to visit again.

If you live in Essex or are visiting I urge you to try this shop out. See their website here. Maybe you have already visited this farm shop – please leave a comment, what did you think of it? What about farm shops in your area? Any recommendations?

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Homemade Ice Cream

Since I had my baby boy, I’ve become more interested in knowing the ingredients in everything I buy than ever before. George loves ice cream and I began to wonder what exactly was in ice cream. When I looked on the back of the tub from the supermarket I wasn’t too happy with the list of ingredients, preservatives and a whole bunch or other stuff that I felt sure wasn’t necessary. So, when I got home and started googling ice cream recipes I soon found out that ice cream is only a frozen egg custard with whipped cream added; simple ingredients, that although fattening, are a better option than the stuff I had been buying from the supermarket. Next, I had to find a recipe that did not require an ice cream maker, simply because I don’t have one. I finally found a recipe, not on the internet, but on my own bookshelf in Tanya Ramsay’s book Family Kitchen and adapted it to suit my tastes.

Here it is, enjoy:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 fresh vanilla pod
  • 1/2 pint milk (skimmed or full fat)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 4oz caster sugar
  • 1/2 pint double cream
  • 50g chocolate chips

Method:

  1. Split vanilla pod open and place with milk into a pan, heat gently until nearly boiling.
  2. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl.
  3. Pour a little of the hot milk in with the egg mixture whisking quickly, slowly add the rest of the milk whisking all the time so that the eggs do not curdle.
  4. Pour the egg and milk mixture back into the pan over a low heat, stir gently, but continuously, until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
  5. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
  6. Meanwhile, whisk the cream until thick and once the egg/milk mixture is cool mix it together with the cream.
  7. Remove the vanilla pod, add in the chocolate chips and stir.
  8. Place in a plastic container with a lid and put in the freezer for approx 3 hours, after which take the mixture and stir well to ensure it freezes evenly (the edges will freeze first, the middle will be last, so by stirring the mixture it will replace the need for an ice cream maker).
  9. Leave in the freezer over night or at least 6-8 hours – then enjoy!

Top Tip:

Since the ice cream uses only the yolk of the egg you could use the egg white to make meringues – a great accompaniment to serve with the ice cream.

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Bake & Decorate Tea Time Luxury by Fiona Cairns

As soon as I received this book to review, I was taken by the beautiful photography; this book looks gorgeous from the front cover right to the last page and I was excited to start reading it. In fact this is just the type of book I would put on my Christmas list and snuggle up on the sofa on Boxing Day to read. It would make an ideal Christmas gift for anyone who loves baking.

The idea behind this book is that anyone can make a cake look fantastic, no need for professional cake decorators here. Decoration doesn’t need to be complicated to still look great. So Fiona begins by setting out around 20 cake recipes some of which appear throughout the book as she shows how to adapt the basics to make a range of cakes. For example her Orange Drizzle Cake is used again to make Crystallised Flower Fairy Cakes.

What I liked about these recipes is that although I have a lot of baking books many of the recipes in Fiona’s opening chapter I have never tried before. There are twists on all the classics such as a tropical fruit cake and instead of the ordinary lemon drizzle cake there is a tempting Very Lemony Crunch Cake.

Reading this book I have grown in confidence to try some cake decoration I always thought was too difficult. I’ve been practising making sugar roses following Fiona’s step by step guide accompanied by photographs. In fact I’ve been practising using play doh, as only the mum of a toddler would think to do! See my efforts below including the pictures of when my son grabbed my flowers, while I was photographing, and put them inside Dizzy from Bob the Builder, cute but not helpful:

I’m looking forward to trying all of the recipes in this book. Soon I’m going to try the Shortbread recipe which suggests using some cornflour or rice flour to improve the texture. Then I’m going to try the Orange Drizzle Cake, but to the pleasure of my family, and for the purpose of this review I tried out The Surprise Fridge Cake. I’m sure lots of people have tried chocolate fridge cake in one form or another, but here Fiona suggests packing it full of all your favourite sweets! Yum! This tastes even better than you can ever imagine. With permission of Quadrille I’ve reproduced the recipe in my own words below.

Ingredients:

Makes approx 12

  • 110g unsalted butter, plus more for the tin
  • 150g plain biscuits
  • 90g golden caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 tbsp cocoa
  • 50g 50% cocoa solids chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 150g chocolates and sweets (marshmallows, crushed honeycomb chocolate bars, malted chocolate balls and caramel chocolates)

For the topping:

  • 75-100g 50% cocoa solids chocolate, broken into pieces

Recipe:

  1. Butter a tin approx 24 x 11cm and line it with clingfilm.
  2. Crush the biscutis into small pieces by bashing them inside a plastic bag and chop chocolate bars into small pieces.
  3. Melt the butter, sugar, syrup, cocoa and chocolate in a non-stick pan over a gentle heat.
  4. Remove from heat and once tepid pour in biscuits, chocolates and sweets, mix until all are covered with chocolate.
  5. Spoon evenly into the tin, cover with more clingfilm and place in the fridge to set.
  6. Once set gently remove from the tin by pulling the clingfilm and easing out with a knife.
  7. Turn out onto a plate while you heat the remaining chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir the chocolate occasionally and once melted pour over the fridge cake.
  8. Cut into slices and store in the fridge.
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ilovemealplans.com

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