Where’s your head at? I feel like mine’s usually like the scene in the Wizard of Oz (it’s a twister!’) where Dorothy bangs her head and then everything starts lifting off the ground and whooshing past the window. If, like me, you feel your thoughts and tasks and mental to do lists all start to become too much, I’d like to recommend a little ritual. Something that I find comforting and grounding, especially when I’m really busy. I’ve started to replace my morning cuppa with a coconut chai tea. I take my time, stirring the ingredients together and really trying to clear my head, then take it back to bed and sip it slowly.
I’m just not really a breakfast person. I’ve tried hard to change this, but the most I generally eat before about 11am are copious cups of tea and maybe a biscuit or a banana. So when Breville came along with their Blend Active Diary Challenge, bandying about phrases like ‘a smoothie a day’, and phrases like ‘lesser used vegetables’ and ‘superfoods’, I was a bit worried I wouldn’t enjoy my challenge week. Still, I’m always up for a bit of experimentation, and let’s face it, an entire healthy meal in a glass sounds like a lazy person’s dream come true. Here’s how I got on:
At this time of year, there’s an awful lot of hot chocolate being consumed here at Number One. Of course everybody knows that the best hot chocolate comes with a big dollop of whipped cream and loads of marshmallows. Not as many people know that the absolute best hot chocolate comes with a big dollop of frozen whipped cream and loads of marshmallows. ‘Wait, can you freeze cream?’ I hear you shout. Oh yes. Whipped double cream freezes really well, and if you freeze it in handy dollops, it’s ready to be added to the perfect hot chocolate at any time, as well as topping hot mince pies, desserts… loads of things. Here’s how to do it.
So we’ve dressed up as witches cats (was that just me?), trick or treated, eaten all the leftover sweets and now it’s full speed ahead to Christmas. But wait, there are all those cute little pumpkins and squashes we bought to decorate our home (and, if you’re me, adorn your Instagram feed)! And it’s such a shame as most of them will get thrown away. Before they go in the bin, though, consider the beautiful, autumnal thing that is pumpkin butter. Even better, consider using it to make the very delicious, frothy and warming pumpkin spice skinny latte with new Arla BOB milk.
I adore my Dad. I love it when he emails me ALL IN CAPITALS and rings me and updates me on what he’s been up to, which seems to be mostly falling over, or sleeping:
‘I’ve just had a nap’
‘Dad, it’s 9am’
‘I know, but I got up at 5 and I get tired’
And I love his outlook on life:
‘I’ve been saving £200 a month. And then I said to myself ‘Alan, you’re 80 years old, what on earth can you possibly be saving for?’
Today, he rang to complain about the raspberry thieves. It seems the birds are eating all his raspberries. He’s hung CDs above them, to frighten them off (I should imagine Elaine Paige’s Christmas album would be enough to deter most of them), added netting and fake birds of prey, but still they come. Now, thwarted by all the aerial fortifications, they’ve taken to just tootling up the path and eating the low ones.
Anyway, he’s got far too many raspberries, and even though he doesn’t want to share them with the birds (‘I don’t grow raspberries to feed the local bloody bird population’), he’s quite happy to share them with us, so Sam I and I popped round to help him pick some.
His garden is absolutely beautiful, and while we were having a chat and playing with Alfie (well, Sam was having a chat and playing with Alfie and I was actually doing all the work picking raspberries), I started thinking about raspberry cocktails. With mint, and maybe other summery, garden-based things like roses. It just so happens that we got sent some elderflower and rose cordial recently so I decided to experiment.
To make it extra special, I froze some rose petals and raspberries in ice cubes to decorate.
Summer rose and raspberry cocktails:
5 or 6 raspberries per person
2 or 3 fresh mint leaves per glass
1 measure gin
A dash of elderflower and rose cordial (just elderflower is fine if you can’t find it – mine is by Belvoir)
Sparkling water or soda
So just muddle the raspberries and mint leaves in the glass, then add the gin, elderflower and rose cordial, and then top up with sparkling water.
Delicious! It’s his birthday next week so the boys and I are going to take him for a pub lunch. More shenanigans will ensue, no doubt. Cheers Dad 🙂
If you’re a ‘last minute Larry’ like me, there are still plenty of wonderful things to buy, and often, if you hang around for a bit before ordering, you’ll find there are quite a few deals to be had. First things first, though, you need a mince pie and a glass of fizz….
There are now just nine weeks until Christmas (sorry). I wouldn’t normally be bandying the C word about so early, but in this instance, it’s necessary – if you want to make sloe gin, you need to do it now. Sloes (sometimes called Blackthorn berries) are perfect right now, although there’s a school of thought that says they’re better after the first frost and I couldn’t honestly tell you if there’s been a frost yet. I’d say not as it’s been a really mild start to October. No matter, pick them and shove them in the freezer overnight. It does the same thing.
It’s been an absolute bumper cherry harvest this year. We’ve scoffed cherries all summer and they’re still in our local farm shop even now, as fat and juicy and gorgeous as ever. As they’re coming to an end now, look out for bargains and ‘two punnets for the price of one’ deals, as cherries freeze really well. If you’ve got a glut right now, may I suggest the cherry mojito? They’re pretty scrumptious!
IT’S NEARLY HERE! If you’re hosting Christmas lunch/dinner this year, here is everything you need to do, including lots of tips to make it stress free and ensure you spend your precious time with your family and friends, and not too much chained to the oven! Remember, don’t panic, and just think of it as a roast dinner on a slightly larger scale.
Before you start, grab a cuppa and have a read through:
A friend of mine’s got a bit of a thing for premium drinkies and, knowing I feel the same, sent me a bottle of this lovely stuff: Snow Leopard vodka. This uber cool super-premium vodka was created by Stephen Sparrow, a passionate conservationist and ex-drinks industry expert, who heard about the plight of the Snow Leopards during a trip to the Himalayas. There are just 5000 of these beautiful big cats left in the wild and Stephen created the Snow Leopard Trust UK with a goal to raise a million dollars a year to save them.
We have very weird wine habits in this house. When Mr English is home we really splash out and try a few nice wines, but when I’m at home on my own when he’s working, I tend to have a glass of a supermarket red on the go and I don’t think there’s any shame in that. I often read my friend Helen’s blog: Knackered Mother’s Wine Club for inspiration as she’ll regularly recommend a good bottle or two.
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.
You know me, I pop up all over the interwebs, and at the moment you can find me chatting about Stir Up Sunday on the Yeo Valley website. Funnily enough, my recipe is the same as theirs in that you’ll need to start a little prep the day before, as the fruit benefits from an overnight soak, but if you don’t have time (or you’ve only just read this bit and were all ready to go), don’t worry – just give it as long as you have. Now, if you need information, hints, tips, ingredient notes and a step by step guide to making Christmas pudding, please just click here.
This is my updated recipe for 2013. This year, I’m going back more to how Christmas Pudding used to be, with loads of figs, currants and sultanas, and moving away from the more modern apricot and cherry additions.
I was chatting to our lovely friend (and wine expert) Tom Forrest from Vinopolis on Twitter about what booze to use, and he had some really lovely suggestions. I’m a huge fan of Pedro Ximenez and Tom recommends a Pedro from the English Whisky Company (£18) or an Aussie Brown Brothers Muscat Liqueur (about £12). You can also be more traditional and just use brandy, obviously.
Figgy Christmas Pudding
250g dried figs, finely chopped
50g prunes, finely chopped
100ml black tea
1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half
100ml Pedro Ximenez or other booze
3 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp black treacle
1 Bramley apple, grated
100g self raising flour (or rice flour for gluten free)
100g fresh white breadcrumbs (or again, ground almonds if you need to keep the recipe gluten free)
150g veggie suet
150g dark muscovado sugar
25g almonds, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
So on to the recipe then:
1. Weigh out the dried fruit, then have a good pick through and get rid of any stems, they’re yucky if you crunch on them. I let them fall through my fingers into the bowl a handful at a time. With the larger dried fruit, make sure they’re stoneless and snip them into small pieces.
2. Finely grate the lemon zest, then juice it as well. Add the zest and juice to the fruit then brew up the tea (one tea bag is fine for that amount of water) and pour it over the fruit, along with the rum. Add in the cinnamon stick and stir it all up. Cover with a plate and leave the whole shooting match to steep (make sure it’s not a metal bowl) overnight, stirring occasionally if you remember.
3. The next day, weigh out all the dry ingredients and combine them in a huge bowl. Don’t forget the spices! The muscovado sugar can be a bit lumpy so you might need to sift it to break up any lumps.
4. Take the steeped fruit and remove the cinnamon stick pieces. Add the eggs (give them a quick mix with a fork first), honey, treacle and grated apple (leave the peel on).
5. Stir well, then you can add all that into the dry ingredients. Give it a really good stir (get everyone to take a turn to stir and make a wish).
6. Now butter a big basin (3 pint/1.7 litre) or two smaller ones and bung in your mixture, pressing it down well and filling as near to the top as you can.
7. Cut out a circle of greaseproof paper, bigger than the top of the basin/s, then add a layer of foil. Tie the two layers tightly just under the basin rim with string, leaving lots of excess to make a handle. Now there is some weird way to loop the excess string underneath the basin to make a handle, but I’ve never managed it as I didn’t pay attention at Brownies. If you want to be extra sure no liquid gets in, add another layer of foil and tie again. Or you can use a basin with a lid, or tie it in a muslin, or use one of those special circular moulds.
And that’s it, you’ve made a Christmas pudding! Pause here a minute to give yourself a quick round of applause.
To steam it, you can use a steamer if you’re posh, but I haven’t got one so I just use a huge saucepan and balance the basin inside it on a circular metal pastry cutter so it isn’t sitting on the bottom of the pan. This will also stop it burning if you inadvertently let it boil dry. Add boiling water about halfway up the basin and put the lid on the saucepan. Steam for 5 hours, making sure you go back every so often to top up the boiling water.
I rewrap it with fresh greaseproof paper and foil, but you don’t have to. Keep it somewhere cool until Christmas day when it’ll need to steam for about another 2.5 to 3 hours (don’t worry if it gets a bit longer, it won’t ruin it). Or you could *gasp* just microwave it on Christmas day. Much easier, but not really traditional!
On Christmas day, just warm some booze gently, then at the last minute, pour it over the pud and set it alight. A splash of rum or a bit more of that Pedro and a tablespoon of icing sugar in some whipped cream (Yeo Valley Organic of course) would make a welcome addition.
I’ve noticed that I’ve been a bit remiss with the cocktails of late. And well, you know me, it’s not because I’ve not been DRINKING them, oh no, it’s just because I usually drink too many and then forget to take a photo!
This particular Bloody Mary (left) was served to my friend Laura and I at the Cassis American Brassierie in St Pete’s, Florida.
It came on the morning after the night before which featured far too many Lycheetinis, some very bad karaoke and a 3am finish. Followed by a very fuzzy 7am start.
Reader, we were hanging.
Happily, the Cassis came to our aid and medicated us back to reality with this incredible glass of hair of the dog. Plus a big huge durty burger about the size of our heads. They also provided oysters. They didn’t go down quite as well.
The Perfect Blooody Mary
The best Bloody Marys are strong. I”m talking 1/3 vodka to 2/3 tomato juice strong, but if you like, you can tone it down.
Start with a full cup of ice, pour over the vodka (any old vodka will do but if you can find Absolut Peppar it adds a welcome kick), then top up with tomato juice (Waitrose pressed tomato juice is good, so is V8 juice)
Then you want a nice couple of slugs of Worcestershire Sauce, and a few dashes of Tabasco for heat. We go for about half Tabasco to Worcestershire, but adjust to taste.
Some people add horseradish but I HATE the stuff. Feel free, though, if you’re that way inclined.
Now for the accoutrements. You can stick any old stuff in there really: the traditional ones being sticks of celery, but olives are good too. Maybe a wedge of lime.
Finish with a nice sprinkling of celery salt and you’re good to go. If you’re being posh, you can freeze the glasses, then run a lime around the rim and dip them in celery salt. But sprinkling is fine too. Serve, preferably with a huge plate of bacon and eggs, maybe a stack of pancakes too… but that’s just me.
Lemon and mint cocktail
On our amazing trip to Dubai, we were served a refreshing drink made of lemon and mint. I got quite addicted and since coming home have found myself drinking it a lot, with the addition of a slightly less traditional little ‘freshener’ of gin. Oh it makes all the difference. Those little minxes at British Mummy Bloggers challenged me to vlog a summer recipe, so I cheated and did this cocktail instead. Here’s a still from our ‘shoot’:
To whip up the cocktail, you’ll need
1 large bunch of mint
1 tablespoon sugar
Large jug of ice
Large slug of gin
So first, squeeze the lemons into the blender. Try to get as much pulp in there as possible. Then add in the mint, removing the stalks so you don’t get any woody bits in there. Add in the sugar and the ice. Whizz for a LONG time. Until your ears are ringing and you can’t bear it any more should just about do it. Finally throw in the gin. Whizz again just to mix. Serve immediately. But hey, just sip okay? This one’s a bit of a killer.
Of course, if you serve it in one of these luscious Urban Bar glasses, it’ll taste much better:
Quick and easy home made hummus
Obviously to complement your zingy cocktail, you’ll need yummy nibbles. Hummus is quick and easy and served everywhere in Dubai. You can keep a tin of chickpeas in the cupboard for when you want to whip up a quick bowl of dippy doo. Add in a handful of chopped mint or coriander for freshness:
1 tin chickpeas, drained
1 clove garlic (I sometimes cut out the garlic and just use a good quality garlic oil instead)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Pinch of salt
2-3 tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil
Handful of chopped mint or coriander
Paprika to garnish
So just whizz the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and salt up with a stick blender, glugging in enough oil to loosen the mixture. If you like it a bit runnier, feel free to add a couple of tbsp water. Stir in the herbs and serve sprinkled with paprika and maybe a swirl of oil, with crispy toasted pitta breads, breadsticks or some crunchy veg for dipping.
On our trip, we visited the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding for a talk and lunch. Our food was amazing:
For an easy main course, look no further than this Arabic staple, Machboos. It’s made everywhere in the UAE and is very similar to a chicken biryani or paella (most people think this dish originates from India, but our generous hosts in Dubai claimed it as their own!). The original is made with chicken pieces and dried limes, or loomi, which are difficult to get here so I’ve left them out (if you find them, add two and make sure you pierce them first – apparently they explode). Here they are at the spice market (front right):
Arabic Chicken Machboos (or biryani)*
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 onion, finely chopped
Generous couple of pinches of salt
1 squeeze (say 2 tsp) tomato purée
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 or 2 bay leaves
4 chicken breasts,sliced into thin slivers, or leftover roast chicken, shredded
1 litre chicken stock
400g Basmati rice, well rinsed
Pinch of saffron
To garnish: fried onions, handful cashew nuts, handful sultanas and a handful of fresh coriander
So heat your oil in a heavy-based pan and gently fry the onion until translucent, adding in the salt at this stage. Add in the spices (not the saffron) and cook gently until they give off their lovely aromas. Throw in the chicken and fry gently (you might have to add a bit more oil here) until it begins to brown.
Take out the bay leaves and add in the chicken stock, rice, saffron and dried limes (if using). Stir well and cover. Turn the heat right down and leave to cook for about 20 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Try not to keep lifting the lid as you want to keep all the steam inside. I know it sounds funny but you can tell when the rice is done as it starts to make a kind of ‘crackling’ noise! Fork it through and then keep it covered until you’re ready to serve.
In Dubai, our gorgeous biryani was served with a garnish of onions, fried to the point where they were almost crispy, cooked with some cashew nuts and a handful of raisins. Delicious. We also ate from enormous platters of grilled fish called Safi, a really memorable meal. To the right is the Machboos and to the left is a really interesting spicy chicken ‘mousse’ called Madrouba :
I’m currently lusting after Denby’s newest collaboration with Monsoon: ‘Cosmic’ – a paisley print in ‘deep blue, teal, mauve and lime’. I want it all. I keep smashing my Denby Reflex, so I’m trying to persuade the hubster into a new collection. This is classic Denby quality with beautiful embellishment. What’s not to love? This teapot would be perfect for serving some refreshing mint tea in the garden after your deliciously scented Arabic meal:
And finally, for your entertainment, here’s me getting into the spirit of things and trying on the national dress (I’m on the right *cough*). Yeah, go on, laugh it up.
*Thanks to Nick Coffer for help with this recipe adaptation.
So being a bit of an Ebay-addicted household, lovely Ciaran the postie is well used to being mugged at the door of English Towers by eager parcel recipients. Friday was no exception, then, when my copy of Merry Kitschmas, The Ultimate Holiday Handbook by Michael D Conway finally arrived. I’ve been looking for it for ages after glimpsing it on the shelf behind someone on some tv programme or other (it might even have been a Nigella programme – I can’t remember now).
This treasure trove of the cheap and tacky is exactly what Christmas should be about. I mean, how did people survive Christmas before Michael Conway taught them how to make a Frosty the Chocoholic Snowman cocktail (above left) or a Santa’s Little Helper (above right). The one in the middle, in case you’re interested, is a Chocolate Candy Cane (1 part grenadine, one part peppermint vodka and one part Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur – garnished with a chocolate-dipped candy cane).
And for your festive food, how about a Weener Tree? It’s perfect for your Kitschmas cocktail party. Or why not decorate the table with an enormous styrofoam snowman (completely covered in white mini marshmallows) and on Christmas night, hang the Manipulative Parent’s Reversible Stocking on the mantelpiece: on one side it says ‘nice’ and on the other it says ‘naughty’. Threaten to hang it ‘naughty’ side out unless they do everything you say this Christmas.
And let’s face it: any recipe that starts with ‘3 x 3oz boxes sparkling white grape-flavoured gelatin’ gets my vote. So come on, spray that fake aerosol snow on your windows, crank up the wattage on the flashing Rudolph on your front lawn and be lavish with the tinsel. Celebrate your inner trailer trash. What? It’s Christmas.
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