When I’m cooking for the family, my intention is always to nourish (I know, I’m just so new age). I want to choose foods that will fill our bodies full of good things, so that kind of excludes all the delicious stuff like cakes and biscuits, right? Well, maybe, but sometimes you just really need a biscuit with your cup of tea, so I started to think about creating a little sweet treat that still has some good stuff in it. Oats are so good for you: a great source of fibre as well as lots of important vitamins and minerals, and oat bran is high in protein (although if the taste of bran is too ‘knit your own yoghurt’ for you, feel free to replace it with wholemeal or rye flour instead). I’ve tried to keep the butter to a minimum by adding banana (but hey, I’m a fan of full-fat dairy) and they’re not too heavy on the sugar either, so if you’re desperate for a sweet treat, why not reach for one of these cookies instead of that packet of biscuits? If you’re calorie counting they come in at about 120 kcal each which isn’t bad for a nice, fat cookie. I’m not going to go so far as to say they’re healthy, but let’s call them healthier oat and cranberry cookies instead.
If you’ve ever looked at recipes on Pinterest, you’re bound to have seen those ‘three ingredient brownies’ recipes that use just chocolate spread, eggs and flour, right? I keep meaning to have a go at cooking them, I mean they look like they work, don’t they? And then a lovely friend of mine gave me the heads up about Jim Jams – a chocolate spread with 83% less sugar than Nutella, and I thought – wait, then that would be three ingredient brownies with a fraction of the sugar, and well, being January and all about the healthier choices, I gave them a go.
I really enjoy writing this round-up post – traditionally my last one before Christmas. I probably say more or less the same thing every year (don’t panic! It’s just a big roast dinner), but as usual, remember that it’s your Christmas too. Grab a few willing helpers to make some Christmas cookies, or whip up some of my perfect frozen whipped cream hot chocolate and have a little prep-party on Christmas Eve (it’s amazing how much you can get done the night before). Need a little inspiration? Read on for my top tips and recipes for Christmas dinner and beyond: fresh ideas, old favourites and more!
I’m obsessed with everything Scandinavian (some of you may know that I’ve just written the recipes and contributed some of the food photography for a book called Nordic Style for Viking Cruises along with Liz Jarvis and Sara Malm – super proud!). I especially love how the Scandinavians do Christmas, and, knowing that Homesense often have extra special bits and pieces from around the globe, I headed to my nearest store to find some inspiration for a Scandi Christmas, and a few bits for some special Scandi Christmas cookies.
We love a rich, fruity, spiced Christmas cake, but as I’ve said before, I’m just not organised enough to bake it weeks in advance then feed it every week. Happily, it’s very easy to make a lovely, moist cake this close to Christmas – if you get the chance to feed it a couple of times before you ice it, happy days. If not, it will still taste absolutely fine. I think that the trick is to use lovely plump, soft fruit, and get a bit of moisture into the dried fruit before you add it to the cake mix. This recipe gives the fruit a warm Christmassy bath of booze, honey and clementine juice, which makes all the difference to the finished cake. I used my fab new Kenwood Chef Elite (I’m completely obsessed) to make a really lovely light cake mixture to hold all that delicious fruit. This year, I decided to use my beloved Bundt tin as well – bit of a worry as I had no idea how long to cook it for – but with trial and error (and lots of poking and checking), we got there in the end. If you’ve got a tin, a Christmas Bundt cake looks striking, but I’ve left instructions for how to bake the cake using just a normal springform tin too.
Recently, an enormous box arrived at English Towers with a lovely note from the folks at Kenwood: ‘we know you love cooking, so would you like this beautiful Kenwood Chef Elite?’ Seriously generous, right? But I didn’t rush to open it, because, well, I’ve got a mixer already that I’ve had for ages and love, and on the box it looks all complicated and new-fangled, not homely and quirky like mine. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, though, and because everyone kept complaining that there was a huge box on the kitchen floor, I opened it up and popped it onto the kitchen counter. Well. Cue choirs of angels singing and all that jazz, because this thing is beautiful. Seriously, I sent a pic to Mr E and he replied ‘erm, wow. It really goes in our kitchen’. To give it a thorough test, though, and make sure it has brains as well as beauty, I attempted some Christmas crumble muffins with my sleek and shiny new baby. Here’s how I got on:
I do love a good muffin, don’t you? Here’s a quick muffin vs cupcake factorama for you: muffins are different from cupcakes because a) they don’t have a big swirl of icing or frosting on top (but they can be glazed), b) the texture is denser (wet ingredients are stirred briefly into dry, rather than creaming butter and sugar) and c) they tend to be much less sweet. Anyway, I wanted to do something with a bit of a Halloween twist involving the cupcake’s less sweet, denser, unfrosted cousin, but I’m absolutely no good with novelty things (as evidenced by these rather clumsy Halloween cupcakes back in 2013), so I decided on chocolate orange drizzle muffins basically because chocolate orange is my favourite flavour combo and also because the drizzle seems suitably autumnal and pumpkin-coloured (I’m always thinking about the ‘gram). I used cacao powder because I think it gives a better chocolatey hit than cocoa, but feel free to use either.
You know that I’m a complete Halloween addict. I love all the little bits and bobs that come out around this time of year, and yesterday I was nosing around John Lewis, intending to buy a few baking bits to make my spiced chocolate skeleton gingerbread men (more of these in a second). They have some absolutely gorgeous gifts, decorations and treats for Halloween this year and I ended up buying rather a lot of that stuff too (I mean, mini pumpkin fairy lights, come on!).
We’re a bit obsessed with kiwifruit in this house. (remember my kiwi and coconut breakfast bowls?) Sam always makes me laugh as on his late-night borrowing expeditions, he’ll sit with a big pile of them and eat them with a spoon, straight out of the skin. I particularly like the yellow variety: Zespri SunGold kiwifruit. Have you seen them? They’re deliciously sweet and particularly pretty, with their naturally golden glowy yellow colour. They’re also super-healthy: one Zespri SunGold kiwifruit contains three times the amount of vitamin C than an orange.
My poor Dad’s been having a really terrible time of it recently. After a horrendous biopsy to investigate a shadow on his kidney proved inconclusive, he’s now recovering slowly, with the terrible prospect of facing the whole thing all over again. He’s lost loads of weight and is feeling really rotten, so when I initially suggested a birthday dinner, we weren’t sure it would go ahead, but in true form, The Naughty One rallied and decided he’d come and celebrate with us this weekend. I cooked his favourite fish pie, and went mad with dessert: a salted caramel layer cake with a layer of vanilla sponge, one of caramel sponge and one chocolate sponge layer, all slathered in a salted caramel mascarpone cream (well it’s not every day you’re 82).
So it’s just dawned on me, after all the excitement of Florida, that I’ve totally missed out one of the birthday cakes: the birthday chocolate orange cheesecake! You all know about the birthday challenge, right? The birthday person gets to choose whatever birthday cake/dessert they want (within reason – I don’t do novelty cakes, I’m too cack handed), and I make it for them. I told you about Sam’s birthday lemon meringue pie, but then completely missed out Charlie’s chocolate orange cheesecake. This didn’t start well as I tried everywhere to find Terry’s Chocolate Oranges in all our local shops and supermarkets and just couldn’t find any, so I had to settle for Lindor Truffles. Still, it all turned out okay. Here’s how I made it:
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll see that over the weekend I was chatting about the ‘birthday challenge’. I’m not sure how this started but it’s been going on since the boys were really small. In our family, whenever it’s anyone’s birthday, they get to choose the birthday cake/dessert of their dreams – anything at all – and I promise to cook it for them. When the boys were small, they were always begging for novelty cakes way beyond my level of expertise: Buzz Lightyear and Power Rangers, then when they turned into little pre-teen smart-arses, it was always something really, really complicated – they would research for hours and come back with requests for things they thought were really exotic (my favourite was Sam’s request for a black forest gateau – I’m not even sure he knew what it was). Now, though, it’s all about requesting a big, yummy dessert and that suits me just fine. Sam’s birthday is on Tuesday, and I promised I’d do the birthday challenge last weekend as I’m away again next week (exploring Kissimmee, St Pete and Clearwater – I can’t wait). I was pretty chuffed when his request was for lemon meringue pie too – one of my favourites.
I’m so looking forward to this weekend! After a busy few weeks, it’s time to kick back and enjoy a lovely few days with the family. It’s Charlie’s birthday so we’re planning to head out on Sunday for brunch and I’m fully intending on spending Saturday baking hot cross buns and scoffing chocolate – let’s hope it stays nice and sunny! If you’re entertaining this weekend, I’ve got loads of recipes for you, including big roast dinners, delicious desserts, baking and – of course – hot cross buns! For this big Easter roundup, I’ve also picked a few of my favourite sweet treats, just in case you haven’t chosen your chocolate stash yet. Enjoy!
You know me, I LOVE to bake. I go through spells of obsessing about things: recently it’s been fresh bread (including these yummy iced buns), all sorts of different flavoured brownies, and muffins, especially breakfasty ones. It’s funny how things change but at one stage the boys would happily scoff a big breakfast in the morning: eggs on toast, bacon sandwiches… that type of thing. Recently, they’re not as keen (probably because they’re always late) and I hate the thought of them going out into the world with empty stomachs. Bring on the breakfast muffin: easy grab and go food, and not too hideously bad for them (better than a McDonald’s breakfast, no doubt). I absolutely love the flavour combo of these fresh orange and dark chocolate muffins, although obviously you could add things like blueberries or chopped banana instead (I only add a scant 75g anyway).
I’ve had a think about it, and I’ve decided that having Mother’s Day and my birthday on the same day is the way to go. I appreciate it’s not something I can dictate, but it made for such a wonderful weekend – full of my favourite people, some delicious food, and many laughs – that I think I’m going to try and swing it from now on. We started the Mother’s Day/birthday weekend (or should that be the Motherbirthday weekend?) with a trip to the cinema to see Beauty and the Beast. Oh, I loved it – I adore Emma Watson anyway and Beauty and the Beast has long been my favourite Disney movie, so the combination of the two of them, along with my three favourite men plus being able to sip a glass of wine (the Odeon MK has a gallery area where you can order a drink before your film) while I was watching was possibly the best thing ever.
I’ve been fiddling around a lot lately with this recipe. The boys have (mostly) been willing testers, although one of the batches tasted ‘kinda like chocolate pizza’, which wasn’t really the result I was aiming for. What I have been aiming for is a really soft white finger roll – you know, like the ones you buy in a bakery, smothered in gooey icing. I think the best ingredient in getting these soft iced buns as light as possible is actually time – they need to rise slowly, then be shaped, then rise slowly again. The perfect rainy-day occupation, then. And there have been quite a few of those recently (although yesterday I made them while the sun was shining and the kitchen door was open – and that’s good too.) Read more
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- The new hush spring 2018 collection February 13, 2018
- Perfect, fluffy pancakes for Pancake Day February 12, 2018
- Healthier oat and cranberry cookies February 10, 2018