Birthdays, celebrations, special events, parties, even the ‘C word’ (it’s okay, I didn’t say it)… there are so many occasions to uncork a bottle or two. But before you can begin to pour, you have to choose your poison – an onerous task if you are venturing into unknown territory.
One of my absolute favourite adventures while we were in Walt Disney World was a special, money can’t buy visit to Chef Jeff, Executive Chef at Disney’s beautiful Contemporary Resort, one of my top five Walt Disney World resort hotels. Chef Jeff and his team are responsible for all the patisserie for the resort, from gorgeous special occasion cakes, to the wonderful cupcakes available in the café.
Every time we’ve been out for a walk recently, we’ve been laughing at the dog, carefully picking off the choicest blackberries off the brambles along the way.
So it’s been a little frantic here at English Towers. First we had A level results, and then within a week it was GCSE results. Honestly, I really should have planned my children a little better.
Still, it was all good. I used the hashtag #noexamswerefailedonthisday on Instagram but in truth, one exam WAS failed. But hey, it didn’t matter. Sam got what he needed to head out into the big wide world of university, and Charlie’s off to sixth form.
If there’s one thing I always insist upon, it’s a celebration when someone’s done something brilliant. As parents, we spend plenty of time enforcing rules, cajoling, counselling (okay, and occasionally moaning), so when something amazing happens, I always think it redresses the balance a bit to celebrate. Everyone loves a pat on the back when they do something great, don’t they?
So obviously all this exam success called just such a celebration, and what better celebration is there than a whopping great warm, chocolatey, squishy brownie cake smothered in lashings of chocolate ganache? None, that’s what…
You love doughnuts, right? Everyone loves doughnuts. But wait, you love muffins don’t you? Soft, fluffy and perfect breakfast fodder. So why not put them together? I’ve been fiddling about with this recipe for ages, and the boys are pretty sure that I’ve perfected the whole doughnut/muffin scenario, but the jammy bit had beaten me.
Yesterday, we were wondering what to have for dinner – it never seems right to have a roast on a hot day – when Sam mentioned that we used to have chicken noodle soup all the time, but we hadn’t had it for ages.
Just so happens that I had a chilli, a lime, and some ginger (I keep the ginger in the freezer anyway) and half a pack of noodles, and it seemed the perfect, fresh alternative to full on Sunday dinner, so it was game on.
People, especially ‘foodies’, are often a bit snobby about microwaves. I’ve got one and we use it quite a lot, whether it’s to heat up a quick bowl of soup or baked beans, melt butter to add to my favourite gooey iced bun recipe, or to reheat someone’s meal when they’re late to dinner AGAIN.
My brother is really into his wine. He’s a serious collector and really knows his stuff. He’s introduced me to some amazing wines and we’re always telling each other about our new wine discoveries.
We decided to get together for a bit of a ‘wine-off’ with Big Bro and his wife picking some wines, then me and Mr English picking some wines, and decided to make it a bit more tricky by agreeing to cover the labels.
So my lovely, naughty, silly Dad is 79 this weekend. We tried to pin him down to a date to come for dinner, but he’s such a social butterfly that he didn’t have a day free. We compromised by persuading him to pop round after going out for dinner somewhere else to have the cheese and dessert courses with us! Read more
One of my earliest memories is of sitting up on the work surface in our green melamine kitchen watching my mum make jam. Of course I was placed well away from the hot liquid bubbling away in a huge preserving pan, but I was often allowed to do the ‘saucer test’, carefully pushing my little finger against a blob of jam on a cold saucer to see if it was set.
I love roast beef. I’m a bit slapdash when cooking it, but I always use the same timings and it always turns out okay for me. This step-by-step works whether you’re intending to cook a full-on roast dinner, or make the warm salad with Thai flavours that I’ve made here.
I still feel the urge to cook a ‘proper’ Sunday lunch, even though a full on roast dinner seems a bit at odds with the time of year (although it seems to have done nothing but rain recently). This tomato-based braised beef feels a bit lighter than my normal beef stew and dumplings, especially with the addition of some spring greens just before the end of cooking.
Our day in Barcelona still rates as one of my very favourite travel experiences. We’ve earmarked it for a return journey very soon, but until then, every time there’s a sunny day, my mind races back to the gorgeous restaurant at the very top of the Arenas shopping centre (the old bullring) where we sat and had enormous buckets of gin and tonic with scoops of sharp lemon sorbet.
We’re big fans of Prezzo and pop in quite regularly for dinner, or occasionally Mr English and I will pop in for a quick lunch and a glass of wine. They’ve just launched some lovely new Summer menu items, and we went along to try a few.
Regular readers will know that I’m a huge yogurt fan, so when the lovely chaps at the Yogurt Council asked me to join in next week with yogurt week, the UK’s first celebration of everything yogurty, I knew EXACTLY what I was going to cook.
Yogurt is great for tummies, bones and muscles (it’s full of protein, calcium and vitamin B2), plus it’s a healthier alternative to cream in loads of recipes. It’s available in a vast array of variants: low fat, Greek, fat free, fruity, chocolaty, you name it. In fact, it’s so popular that one in five of us eats yogurt every day!
So if you follow me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook (and frankly, why wouldn’t you? There’s cake, beaches, ships and the lunatic whippet of mass destruction makes the odd appearance too), you’ll know that I’ve been visiting Walt Disney World, Florida. I have loads to tell you – there’s news of the opening of the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, a review of the frankly beautiful Disney’s Wilderness Lodge resort, and masses of food, fun and breaking Disney news (Avatar!!).
(Okay, so not really doom, but it made for a good title).
So, for the second birthday of April (our planning was a bit off, wasn’t it?), our lovely Sam turned 19. Already suffering from the blow of my youngest child turning 16, I was a bit more philosophical about this one.
I have two basic default settings in the kitchen. The first is ‘all out go-for-it’ where I can throw myself with abandon into making a big roast dinner or a cake with lots of different elements. The other is ‘nah, can’t be bothered’, which usually coincides with days when I’ve been really busy working or testing recipes and I’ve just had too much kitchen time.
My baby boy is 16. How did that happen? I’ll save you the ‘it seems like only yesterday’ speech, mostly because it doesn’t seem like only yesterday, in fact, I can barely remember those first few weeks, to be honest, plus it’s a bit yawny when parents start getting all misty eyed. Suffice to say, we’re the proudest parents, we love him to bits and we’ll move on to the birthday cake of choice.
So, amazingly, Charlie has stuck to his rash ‘I’m not eating chocolate any more’ decision with incredibly amounts of willpower, even as we’ve been tucking into all sorts of treats we’ve been sent. He’s not even been eating his previous post-school staple of chocolate brownies. He is, however, still eating other treats, so I’m not overly worried that this is one of those mad teenage diets.
I’m generally more of a cake lover then chocolate (you had no idea, right?) but there’s something about Cadbury Creme Eggs (yes, it’s Cadbury, not Cadbury’s – y’know, like Cinderella Castle at Disneyworld) that makes me long for Easter every year (the season is actually quite short – they’ll be gone from the shelves again on April 20th). I think it’s a bit of a comfort thing in miserable January and February (plus March is my birthday month and I associate it with Creme Eggs!). I’m a ‘bit the top off and lick the goo out’ person, but recently we’ve become a bit addicted to popping them in the freezer. The filling doesn’t set solid, but becomes firm and fondanty. Delicious, and a bit easier to scoff on the sofa, admittedly.
Regular English Mum readers will know that Ireland means a lot to us all here at English Towers. In fact, it’s the reason why this little part of the interwebz even exists. Long, long ago (eight whole years to be precise) we set off on a new adventure to the Emerald Isle and spent many happy years living first in Dublin, then later Meath and finally beautiful county Cavan.
Mr English is of Irish descent and the boys are proud of their heritage. Charlie can even wow you with a bit of Gaeilge if you ask nicely (although it’s mostly swears) so when Paddy’s Day approaches, it instills in us all a mixture of nostalgia and longing for places and friends left behind.
Continuing with my new menu planning obsession (honestly, it’s saving me A FORTUNE – I’ve got my favourites saved on the online shopping app and I just tweak it every week, then buy the odd bit of fresh stuff from the farmer’s market or my fab local farm shop), I thought I’d share another of my staple ingredients: puff pastry. I do quite like making puff pastry (well, rough puff), but there’s certainly no shame in using ready made, and a pack of all butter puff pastry is the perfect thing to keep in the fridge to make tarts, pies and much more.
It’s lovely to have a few perfect recipes that you can trust to work time and time again, and this is definitely one of those.
Once you’ve got the hang of shortbread, you can do so many different things with it – it’s perfect for cooking with kids (Mothers’ Day is on the way!) or it can be served as part of a dessert, say, with chocolate mousse or lemon creams.
One of the best things about living in Ireland was the amazing food. I learned so much when we lived there, and of course was spoiled with all the fabulous ingredients: Irish cheeses, butter, beef, lamb… all incredible. I absolutely adore Irish soda bread and still make it all the time. It’s quick to make and requires just a quick mix – no kneading, no yeast and no waiting. Perfect for breakfast (you can make a lovely sweet version by adding sugar, dried fruit and orange zest), or if you’re having soup, you can knock it while the soup cooks. Traditionally you need buttermilk, but I tend to just squeeze the juice of half a lemon into normal milk and give it a quick stir. It thickens up instantly and works the same way.
- A guide to choosing the best wines for your holiday parties October 1, 2014
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- Giveaway: win one of two English Heritage family memberships September 29, 2014
- Happy Friday! 20% off code at Boden plus free delivery and returns September 26, 2014
- How to make Disney Frozen cupcakes – a masterclass with Chef Jeff September 24, 2014