This last week before we head off on our long-awaited cruise has been a bit strange. We’ve barely seen the boys as they’ve been spending time making the most of their last few days of freedom before education beckons again, and I feel a bit like I’m in limbo: like I know that this really is the last of our English summer and that when I come home it will properly be autumn. Already, as we’re walking the dog, the blackberries are ripe and ready to pick, and even on a really hot day, there’s that little nip in the air when the sun goes in. I’m still loving quick, healthy eating and we’ve been packing away easy summer dinners of warm salads, fish and stir fries. Read more
So GBBO is back on our screens tonight and I’m completely over-excited! I LOVE baking (and watching other people baking) and I particularly love making bread, don’t you? It’s the ultimate slow food. I do feel that I’m rather chained to the internet, what with blogging and writing and, well, Instagramming and stuff (I know, it’s totally my own doing), so sometimes it’s just nice to switch off and have a lovely potter in the kitchen. Bread baking can’t be rushed and it forces you to relax and gives you plenty of head clearing time. These easy soft wholemeal rolls are based on my ‘quick and easy soft bread rolls’ recipe, published back in 2010 and since archived. I often get lovely emails from people asking where they went, and keep meaning to update the recipe (and the horrific photography – and the dodgy title – I prefer slow bread to quick bread!) so I made a batch yesterday and feel rather chuffed to be able to have one topped with smashed avo and a poached egg for my breakfast today!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s SO much easier to eat healthily in the summer isn’t it? We’re such lazy eaters and it really suits us – I’ll bake a load of chicken breasts and we’ll have them hot with the yummy easy rice dish above (you might have seen it if you follow me on Instagram), and when the boys come in they just slice them and stuff them into baguettes with a load of salad. Easy peasy. Here, then, for your viewing pleasure is the latest instalment of ‘this week, I have been mostly eating…’
Last Friday, we decided to throw a little bash to test out some sparkling wines. There’s nothing nicer on a summer evening than a glass of fizz and – unsurprisingly, my family were quick to volunteer when the subject of a party with a little tasting of some summer Champagne and sparkling wine was mentioned. As usual, I was completely useless and didn’t take any photos (apart from a very blurry selfie), but we had a fab time and discovered loads of wonderful summer sparklers for you. Here are our top tips:
It’s a chill out day here at English Towers. We had a fab party last night (more of this very soon!), so today is all about lazing in the garden (isn’t the weather divine? I never want it to end) and easy, tasty food. This summer, Sainsbury’s launch the latest in its Little Twist recipes: each one giving an unexpectedly clever and yummy new twist on classic summer recipes. Since we’re lazing, I decided to give the rice pop chicken tenders a go. Here’s how we got on:
OMG it’s so sunny isn’t it? I’m absolutely loving it. The boys went camping last night – they found a place locally what would allow groups of young lads (I’ll report back to tell you whether that was a wise decision) and off they went with tents, sleeping bags, one of those bucket barbecue things, and basically the entire contents of the fridge: bacon, sausages, plus my freshly baked bread. I said on Twitter the other day that having teenagers is kind of like having massive Borrowers. You bake something, then ten minutes later it’s vanished and there are just crumbs left. Oh well, at least they won’t starve. I’m having a bit of a health kick at the moment myself, leading up to our family cruise in September (squee!): following a ten minute weights workout every other morning (to combat the dreaded bingo wings) and doing sit ups, bike rides with Mr E (who is waaay fitter than me) and longer dog walks too. These delicious kiwifruit and coconut breakfast bowls contain one of my latest obsession: Zespri SunGold kiwifruit. Have you seen them?
Good morning, good morning! The sun is shining (well, it is at the moment – clearly if you’re reading this next November then it might not be) and this week’s Sunday baking has a lovely, summer strawberry theme, courtesy of Beko, who challenged me to create a perfect strawberry recipe, inspired by their Wimbledon strawberry recipes page (check out the strawberry, basil and goat’s cheese panini – yum). Our local pick your own farm has just opened again for the summer and the strawberries are ABSOLUTELY HUGE! I thought I’d do a bit of research into strawberry shortcakes and it seems they’re actually more scone-like than shortbread, so this one’s a bit in between: a shortbread mixture, but lightened up with baking powder and an egg. I love the little dots of green pistachio in there too – so pretty! Bash them with a rolling pin, but leave some big pieces which add a bit of crunch.
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 🙂
Have you seen the new Cathedral City advert with David Jason? I love the ‘cheese rules’, especially the one about when the cheese gets too small to grate, you get to eat the last bit. That always happens in our house. Cathedral City asked us about our own ‘cheese rules’ and it immediately made me think of the bubbly bits left on the pan after making cheese on toast. We always fight over them, but clearly I win as I’m the cook. Talking of cheese on toast, here’s my version of Welsh rarebit – alcohol free and with the addition of a few herbs. It’s absolutely delicious and moreish and makes the perfect working from home lunch or easy supper:
Those lovely bags of fries. They’re the nation’s favourite, aren’t they? A staple for any classic British meal. Quick, easy and tasty, the faithful oven chip has never let us down. It’s simplicity is its strength, because it goes so well with so much. Steak and chips, egg and chips, fish and chips, and so on.
However, chips are still far from reaching their full potential, and there are, it seems, plenty of quick, easy and mouthwatering ways of preparing a bag of McCain fries that we need to try. Some of these may seem unexpected, but they may just be your new favourite way of eating Britain’s favourite side dish. Here’s how I got on with my research:
Because I’ve been away quite a bit, I’ve really missed pottering in the kitchen, and the first thing that I wanted to do was bake. Oh wait, that was actually the second – the first was tidy up and put everything back where I like it – but then it was bake. I absolutely adore breadmaking: I love the delicious smell and the sense of achievement (and the fact that this recipe makes two loaves, because the first one gets scoffed instantly). What I don’t like is kneading. This recipe is 100% perfect WITHOUT kneading, and I know, because I make it nearly every day.
Well hello, hello! Sorry for the radio silence but I’ve been gallivanting around the outer reaches of Newfoundland on assignment for Cruise International magazine. I’ve had the most incredible time and can’t wait to tell you all about it, but the first thing I did (after getting massive cuddles from my boys and having a quick kip) was to get straight into my garden and have a look around. It seems like summer has truly arrived while I’ve been away, shivering under raingear, so it was time to whip up some fresh flavour in the shape of delicious steak sandwiches with basil chimichurri sauce!
There’s just no decent way to give this dish (I hesitate to say recipe) a decent title. If you go for ‘mozzarella stuffed, Parma ham-wrapped chicken breast with basil’, it’s about a gazillion miles long, but ‘mozzarella stuffed chicken’ leaves out the tastiest bits, and ‘chicken breast stuffed with chicken and basil and wrapped in Parma ham’ isn’t exactly catchy either. Anyway, I digress. This easy baked chicken is one of our favourite dinners.
I’m a huge fan of rapeseed oil. The fields surrounding the house are ablaze with yellow every summer, and we have great local producers, Chiltern Cold Pressed Rapeseed Oil, right on our doorstep. Rapeseed oil is really healthy – it has the lowest saturated fat content of any oil (6.6g/100g, compared to 14.3g for olive oil and 54.8g for butter), very high levels of Essential Fatty Acids (ten times the Omega 3 of olive oil) and is a natural source of vitamin E too. I use it for everything: roasties come out well as I think it’s quite pure so it heats to high temperatures quite well, it’s great for frying as it doesn’t smell too yucky, and I bake with it too. One of my faves is this rapeseed oil, lemon and almond drizzle cake – especially for dessert on a Sunday.
A lovely new friend came for a cup of tea yesterday. It’s a weird story, which I’ll tell you one of these days, but in short, Mr Tails, our Maine Coon cat, has decided he doesn’t really like us any more and has moved in with a neighbour round the corner. He seems to have fallen in love with their cat, and their love knows no bounds. Our neighbour felt terrible that Tails had abandoned us for his new love and was determined to move in with her and Fluffy, and popped in to see us. Since then, while she’s been trying to deter him, we’ve been in touch a bit, and she really is very sweet and funny. I’m hopeful of a fresh new friendship, which is always nice. Anyhoo, I felt bad yesterday, what with all the travel I’ve been doing, that I didn’t have a nice piece of cake to offer with the tea (not like me at all), and noticing the rather sad bananas in the fruit bowl (also abandoned, like my children, while I was away), I thought I’d bake a cake.
This week’s Sunday baking is steering into uncharted territory for me. I make pizza all the time and have a tried and tested dough recipe that always turns out well, so when the lovely chaps at Beko asked if I’d create a pizza for them, I was really happy to give it a go. Turns out, though, that Beko were after something a bit different! They have a sweet pizza recipe page on their website and my challenge was to come up with a new sweet pizza creation.
Sweet pizza you say? CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!
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