So walking the dog yesterday morning in blazing sunshine in shorts and t-shirts, we were surprised to see big, fat blackberries already on the brambles. I wonder if we’re just not normally very observant, or if they’ve come in very early this year? Anyway, we thought we’d get picking before the birds get all the best ones, and had a decent sized pot of them without even really trying (they’re stabby buggers – I’m nursing a few nasty scratches).
So recently. The Organic Trade Board challenged us to take the Thrifty Organic Challenge and switch our usual weekly shop for organic. The average grocery shopping budget for a UK family of four is £83 a week. Could I switch everything we usually buy to organic , stay on budget, and still produce yummy, healthy food for my family? Here’s how we got on.
It’s been a mad week here at English Towers. The Sainsbury’s #loveyourfreezer campaign has gone live and it’s been really lovely receiving tweets, texts and Facebook messages (and AWFUL screenshots – thanks guys haha) saying ‘ooh, I’ve just seen you on the telly!’. I’m SO proud of this campaign – Sainsbury’s have been amazingly lovely to work with, and there are loads more exciting things coming up.
So tomorrow (23rd November 2014) is stir up Sunday. If you’d like to cook a Christmas pudding this weekend – or if it’s any other date and you’re arriving here from the future, in which case HELLO FUTURE PEOPLE! – here’s my easy peasy step by step way to do it.
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.
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 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.
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.
Okay, so I know we’re all supposed to be eating light and healthy now it’s the New Year, but oh, this weather is shocking isn’t it? On Sunday, we had rain, hail, thunder and lightening all at the same time. The poor pupster was so terrified, she did a ‘panic wee’ on the floor, bless her.
Of course, on Sundays at English Towers all bets are off anyway and I was already whipping up a bit of comfort food in the shape of a yummy chicken pie (full instructions here), so I decided to go the whole hog and add a nice, warming pudding too.
This self-saucing pud really is magic. You start off with a very simple cake mix, then pour over an easy chocolate sauce. Some strange chemistry-type stuff happens in the oven and you end up with light, soft chocolate sponge with a deliciously decadent chocolate sauce on the bottom. I’ve no idea how. But just run with it:
Chocolate self-saucing pudding
For the sponge mix:
115g caster sugar
175g self raising flour
2 tbsp good quality cocoa powder
For the sauce:
300ml hot water
75g brown sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder
Preheat the oven at 180 degrees/gas mark 4 and then butter a pie dish (make sure it’s pretty deep, this rises a bit). Make the sponge by creaming together the butter and sugar with a hand held electric whisk (or use old fashioned elbow grease if you’re not as lazy as me) until it’s light and fluffy. Add in the eggs a dribble at a time, and then fold in the sifted flour and cocoa. Stir until it’s combined into quite a firm batter. Spread this in the bottom of your dish androughly level off the top.
Now for the sauce. Pop the water, brown sugar and cocoa into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring until it’s all dissolved. It’s good idea to put the pie dish onto a baking tray just in case it overflows, then just pour the liquid over the sponge (it looks weird, but trust me, it works!).
Place in the oven for about 45 to 50 minutes. Serve with a dribble of double cream or maybe a scoop or two of ice cream. Yummers.
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.
This week, one of Charlie’s best buddies, James, turns 16. They’ve known each other forever, well, since they started school, and James just feels like one of the family, basically. He had a Halloween party yesterday (his poor Mum) and they also went up to Wembley to watch the Jags vs 49ers American football game too (which was amazing, apparently – ‘apart from the streaker. Legend’).
I promised to make him a double chocolate cheesecake (we class the chocolate in the digestives as the second chocolate – probably slightly tenuous, but hey), and even though it’s not officially his birthday yet, we let him blow out the candle. We’re good like that.
Double Chocolate Cheesecake
100g salted butter
300g pack of dark chocolate digestives
500g cream cheese
100g icing sugar
200ml whipping cream
200g good quality dark chocolate
So warm the butter in a small saucepan until it’s just melted and in the meantime whizz up the digestives, or if you don’t have a processor, just put them in a plastic bag and whack them with a rolling pin. Stir the butter into the biscuits then press into the bottom of a springform tin (you’ll never get the bugger out otherwise) and leave to cool.
Now, melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of water (don’t let the bowl touch the water), turning the pan off once the water boils. Put the cream cheese in a bowl, beat it until smooth then beat in the icing sugar.
Now, and this is important, you must wait for the chocolate to cool back to room temperature. Wait until it feels the same temperature as your finger when you dip it in. While you’re waiting, whip the cream.
Add the cooled chocolate to the cream cheese and icing sugar. Stir it in until the colour is uniform, then fold in the cream gently with a metal spoon so you don’t lose all the air you’ve incorporated. Smooth the mixture over the prepared base.
And that’s it. Just let it set in the fridge. I decorated mine with a bit of melted chocolate (excuse the rubbish photo – there was a bit of hilarity), but you can add whatever topping you like: grated chocolate, maltesers, raspberries, even a cheeky layer of chocolate ganache.
Happy birthday James. Sweet 16! xx
Our new rule, when Mr English is home, is to make sure we indulge in a full-on Sunday dinner. What with being on holiday and it being nice weather, we’d kind of got out of the habit, but I’m right back on it now. On Sunday I made a lovely beef brisket with roast potatoes. For dessert, I thought I’d do a rice pudding. I love rice pudding. It’s so easy – just mix it up and bung it in the oven. For those of you who have rice pudding skin haters in the family, I’ve got a little trick with some brown sugar which shuts them right up. Bonus.
You will need:
Small knob of butter
150g short grain pudding rice
3 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
So first, preheat the oven to gas 3/160 degrees. Take an ovenproof dish and butter it generously. Then, just tip in the pudding rice, milk, sugar and vanilla. Give it a big stir and whack it in the oven for a couple of hours, giving it a quick stir every so often just to separate the grains (you don’t even really have to do that, to be honest – I generally forget).
Now, if you’re not a pudding skin hater, that’s it, but if you’ve got haters in the family, here’s how I deal with them, the moany blighters: remove the pudding from the oven and scrape off any skin. Sprinkle generously with brown sugar (I actually used golden caster, but brown looks much better – darn you store cupboard management skillz) and then pop it under a hot grill until golden and bubbling.
Scrummy. This is delicious with any sort of fruit compote (we love it with caramel apples) or just a big spoonful of jam.
The lovely chaps at Waitrose are celebrating all things apple at the moment and sent me a surprise box of yummy Brilliantly British Estivale apples. Estivale are an eating apple, but still worked really well in this pie. If you use Bramleys they’ll obviously break down a bit more, but you’ll still get a great result:
For the caramel apple filling:
6 or 7 large British apples (about 1kg)
100g brown sugar
Peel, core and slice the apples (pop them in salted water until you’re ready to use them which will stop them going brown).
Melt the sugar, water and butter together in a large saucepan, then just add the apples and cook until just soft – about ten minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Meanwhile, make the pastry.
For the rough puff pastry:
You may think that life is too short to make puff pastry, but rough puff pastry, as its name suggests, isn’t one of those complicated things requiring rulers and setsquares, and mine is even more easy and rough and ready than most. Plus it’s so delicious and buttery and luxurious and actually pretty good fun to make too. I promise you’ll love it.
What you’ll need:
350g plain flour
250g cold butter
150ml iced water
As always with making pastry, the trick is to keep everything cold, hence the need to pop a couple of ice cubes into your jug of water.
Measure the flour out into a large bowl and add the salt. Now, chop the butter into small squares – the smaller the better, and pop those into the flour.
Now, get your hands in there (wash them in cold water – every little helps) and just with your cool fingertips, lightly rub the butter lumps into the flour so that they’re pretty much separate. You don’t need to make crumble, just make sure every little lump is covered in flour (as you can also see, I’m pretty slap dash at this bit, but it doesn’t matter):
Now, add in the cold water and stir around a bit, then unleash The Claw: get your hand in and start gently bringing it all together until you can tip it out onto a floured work surface:
Squish it roughly into a rectangle, pressing the edges in, then roll it out into a larger rectangle. Now, fold the top third of the pastry down, and the bottom third up over the top of it:
Now give it one turn, just 90 degrees, and do it again… roll it out into a rectangle, then flap the top third down and the bottom third up – see how you’re making flaky buttery layers?
Do that two or three times (that’s usually all I can be bothered to do), then pop it into the fridge to chill for 20 minutes or so, letting it relax is quite important.
Split the dough into two: one third for the lid and two thirds for the base. Roll out the base pastry and line a baking dish. Pop this back into the fridge just while the apple mixture is cooling. If you put hot apple into it, it will start to melt the butter and make it go soft.
Once the apple is cool, spoon into the prepared pastry dish, roll out the lid, pop it on top and crimp around the edges. Brush the top with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes at gas 6/200 degrees until golden.
If you’re cooking individual mince or fruit pies, it should take about 15 mins at gas 6/200 degrees.
I was pretty pleased with the result. The pastry was nice and light and crumbly. Okay, not perfect, layered puff pastry, not brilliant crimping, possibly a bit soggy on the bottom… but hey, if you want perfect, you can buy one in a supermarket, and where’s the fun in that? Where’s the ‘TA DA!’ moment when you plonk this on the table in front of your family?! This is home baking. Bake the ones you love a pie. An imperfect, rough puff pie. They’ll love you for it.
Waitrose are running a competition on the Waitrose Facebook page to find your best apple recipes. The winner will have their apple creation featured on Waitrose.com and have the recipe mentioned in their weekly in-store Waitrose Weekend magazine. They’ll also win £500 Waitrose vouchers. Click here to find out more!
My Dad and his wife have a beautiful garden at their lovely bungalow tucked away down a leafy lane in Hertfordshire. The garden is centred around a wide piece of lawn, is completely enclosed and private and has the most wonderful flowers and fruit trees. We were walking around talking about his plans for the strawberry and raspberry beds (dig them up and start again – apparently they only last a certain amount of years) and discussing the fact that all the plums on the tree this year have little worms in them (I tested this – they do. Ugh) when we came across the big old apple tree which is GROANING with huge apples. I obviously offered to relieve him of some of the glut (I’m all heart), and we arrived home with his strimmer, hedge cutter and a huge bag of apples!
Even though it was still quite warm, we decided that apple crumble was the only way to go. Here’s how I made it. I like oats in my crumble and crunchy brown sugar, but personalise it however you see fit, maybe add sultanas or cinnamon in with the apple, or sprinkle the finished crumble with slivers of almond.
For the apples:
6 or 7 Bramley apples (my Dad’s apples aren’t Bramleys, but seem similar)
Big splosh of apple juice or water (say 100ml?)
2 tbsp brown sugar
For the crumble:
225g plain flour
125g brown sugar (I use Demarara)
25g porridge oats
Preheat the oven to gas 6/200 degrees.
To prepare the apples, just peel and core them, then slice them into smallish chunks. While I’m doing it, I pop them into a bowl of salted water to stop them going brown. When they’re all done, drain them and put them into your pie dish. Sprinkle over the couple of tablespoons of sugar and pour over the liquid (water is fine). Give them a quick stir to distribute the sugar.
For the crumble: rub the butter and flour together (not too fine – a lumpy texture is better), then stir in the sugar and porridge oats. Cover the apples with the crumble and bake for about 30 minutes. Serve with double cream or custard. Oh, and you can’t beat a cold bowl of crumble with yoghurt for breakfast either. Yummy.
I’m quite confident in the kitchen and really happy making lots of things from scratch: pastry, cakes, pies, jams and more. But when Yeo Valley challenged me to make my own yogurt for their blog, I was slightly perturbed – I mean, the masters of organic yogurt production challenging little old me to play them at their own game?
First of all, I felt at a distinct disadvantage – I don’t have the beautiful herds of British Friesians (all Yeo Valley born and bred – they haven’t bought a cow for over 20 years), neither do I have acres of lush organic pasture or the sparkling little stainless steel factory in the Mendips of which Yeo Valley are so rightly proud. Still, they gave me a little pot of their own yogurt to get me going and, being a gung-ho sort of gal, I set to work.
Yogurt making (on a very small scale) is actually quite easy. In the Yeo Valley Cookbook (The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook – out now), Sarah Mayor describes the process step by step. It’s basically heating milk, mixing in bio yogurt and waiting, but everything must be scrupulously clean and you do really need a thermometer to get it right.
And then the fun really begins. We got to choose our flavourings from what we had in the fridge and cupboards: honey and cinnamon, cherry and banana, honey and almond, cherry and almond, and my own creation: cherry and basil yogurt (no, don’t laugh, really, it works).
By this time of course, we were very very full up, but it’s a fab thing to do at home (kids will love it, watching how the milk thickens is like magic) and you can carry on and strain the yogurt more to make it thicker, or add salt, herbs and all sorts of other things to make a lovely soft cream cheese too (more details are in the book). Plus, of course, once you’ve made it, you can repeat the process and make more – meaning that – in principal – you’d never have to buy yogurt again (except, of course, I’m addicted to Yeo Valley’s Lemon Curd yogurt so that would never happen).
Now if only I can sell my cherry and coriander yogurt idea to Yeo Valley…
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