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The Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook – part 3: Brunch and Baking

The Ultimate Cookbook - Part 3 - front cover

So following on from my first post about the Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook, the Sunday Lunch edition, and last weekend’s Quick Eats, this weekend I’m really excited that Brunch and Baking are on the menu.

Being rather late weekend risers, we’re big fans of brunch in this household.  Leafing through the recipes (once again, I got a little early sneak peek), I was delighted to see such diverse brunch dishes as classic eggs Benedict from Le Caprice, and fresh and funky fried eggs with radicchio and torn bread from lovely Aussie Bill Granger.

Obviously I’m a huge baking fan, and Mary Berry’s beautiful whole orange spice cake is one that I’ll be bookmarking for some lazy Saturday afternoon baking very shortly.  But for me, it had to be a rather amazing recipe by one of my biggest culinary girl crushes, the Sunday Times’ own gorgeous Gizzi Erskine.  Gizzi’s millionaire’s shortbread has the clever addition of rosemary in the caramel.  The boys initially turned up their noses, but as the caramel bubbled on the stove, and the delicious sweet, herbal scent filled the house, everyone was strangely drawn towards the kitchen to have a taste.

Because I’m lazy, I made the shortbread in the KitchenAid, which took about two seconds (I’ll be using this recipe next time I bake shortbread), but the whole recipe represents everything I love about cooking: pressing soft dough crumbs into the baking tin, melting chocolate and stirring sweet, bubbling caramel.  The very best form of kitchen therapy.

The finished article, with its buttery shortbread, thick caramel and crisp chocolate top, is a bit of revelation, with the rosemary adding a rounded edge which is the perfect foil to the sweetness.  Deeeelicious.

Gizzi Erskine rosemary millionaire's shortbread

 

Get your copy of The Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook: Brunch & Baking this weekend, the third in a four-part series.

Featuring a selection of the finest recipes of the celebrity chef era, The Ultimate Cookbook is part of The Incredible Edibles Food Series dedicated to food and dining.

The final edition in the series is Dinner Party next Sunday.

Visit thesundaytimes.co.uk to subscribe and to find out more details about exclusive Times+ chef events, hosted at some of the country’s best restaurants.

The Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook – part 2: Quick Eats

The Ultimate Cookbook - Part 2 - front cover

So following on from my first post about the Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook, the Sunday Lunch edition, this weekend it’s all about fast, fabulous Quick Eats.  Once again, I got a little sneaky peak of the recipes and there are some absolute crackers in there.  Just because you’re time pressed or busy, it doesn’t mean that you can’t eat well.  I was delighted to see Nigella’s wonderful lemon linguine featuring – it’s a family favourite here, often served simply with some peppery watercress salad for a satisfyingly quick supper.  We keep grated parmesan in the freezer, which is really convenient and means that we avoid that awful moment when you reach for the block of cheese in the fridge and discover it’s gone a pretty shade of blue.

Yotam Ottolenghi has a delicious Jerusalem artichoke soup – a great choice for a quick and easy meal, this soup contains egg and yoghurt and I’m dying to give it a go.  Eventually though, as we love a bit of spice, we decided to cook Ken Hom’s Sichuan prawns in chilli sauce.  I couldn’t find any chilli bean sauce locally, so used our favourite spicy chilli sauce.  It’s such an easy recipe – the hardest thing is chopping up a couple of cloves of garlic.  The sauce is rich, spicy and zingy.  I served ours simply with some buttered noodles and fresh green salad.  Delicious, healthy, fresh and simple.  Who needs ready meals?

Ken Hom Sichuan chilli prawns sma

 

Get your copy of The Sunday Times Ultimate Cookbook: Quick Eats this weekend, the second in a four-part series. Featuring a selection of the finest recipes of the celebrity chef era, The Ultimate Cookbook is part of The Incredible Edibles Food Series dedicated to food and dining.

Upcoming editions in the series are Brunch & Baking on Sunday December 1 and Dinner Party on Sunday December 8.

Visit thesundaytimes.co.uk to subscribe and to find out more details about exclusive Times+ chef events, hosted at some of the country’s best restaurants.

Oven baked rice pudding with a brown sugar crust

Rice pudding

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

1.5l milk

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.

rice pudding with brown sugar crust

Step by step squidgy marshmallow chocolate brownies

Squishy marshmallow brownies

Regular readers will know that we’re HUGE chocolate brownie fans here at English Towers.  I was desperate to get back in the kitchen and do some baking after being away for three weeks and we were all craving a batch of brownies.  I chucked in a couple of handfuls of marshmallows and the result was rather pleasing.  Because they’re quite airy, they rise to the top, which gives you a nice gooey marshmallowy layer on top of your squidgy brownie.  The tops of the little marshmallows also brown which gives a little crispness to each bite.  They’re not the prettiest looking brownies but hey, you can’t have everything!

Here’s my tried and tested brownie recipe.  See what you think:

How to make chocolate brownies:

You will need:

200g dark chocolate

170g salted butter (or add a pinch of salt if using unsalted)

3 free range eggs (room temperature is always better)

200g soft brown sugar (caster is fine if you don’t have any)

110g plain flour

About two large handfuls of small marshmallows

So firstly, assemble all your ingredients together, and preheat the oven to gas 4/180 degrees.

The method

Step one: melt the butter and chocolate in a bain-marie – basically, a heatproof bowl (so not a plastic one) over a saucepan of just-simmering water – don’t let the bottom of the bowl come into contact with water.  Turn the water off when it’s just bubbling and stir the mixture gently until it’s combined.  Take it off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature (if you pour very hot chocolate into the eggy mixture, you risk getting blobs of scrambled egg in your brownies. Ick).

Step two: meanwhile, whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale, light and frothy.  There is no raising agent in brownies, so the air whisked in at this stage will stop them being a big chocolate brick.

Step three: pour in the cooled chocolate/butter mixture and stir well.

Step four: lastly, add in the flour and the marshmallows..  Stir briefly until the flour disappears.  Less is more here.

Baking

I use a square silicone cake ‘tin’, given a little spritz of cake release spray, but any square or rectangular tin will do.  Make sure you line it very well as the brownies will stick.

Step five:  bake for about 30 – 40 minutes or until the top is cracked and shiny.  The centre should still be slightly soft and squidgy.

Leave to cool a little bit before slicing.

We also thought that maybe if you added little bits of digestive biscuit (Graham crackers, I believe if you’re in the US), they would almost be like s’mores.  Yum.

marshmallow brownies

 

Step by step: how to make lemon curd and news of the ‘lemonster’

Lemon curd

Lemon curd

My Mum’s been on holiday to Sorrento.  While she’s been away I’ve been popping in occasionally to look after the cats and water plants, etc.  I’m always worried that people will think I’m a burglar, so I always talk really loudly to the cats: ‘hello Harreeeee!  Are you missing your mummmeeeeee?’.  It’s now dawned on me that rather than being labelled a burglar, my mother’s neighbours think I’m some sort of weird cat whisperer wannabe.  Ah well.

True to the English Mum philosophy of nothing going right if it can go wrong, I was startled awake the morning of her return at 1.30am by a phone call: ‘it’s me’, said my Mum, ‘you locked me out’.  Ah.  I’d managed to leave the key in the back door when locking it from the inside, not realising that she hadn’t taken a front door key with her.  No matter.  I drove down and let her in.  Whilst there, she handed me a suspicious, nobbly parcel.  It was obviously a good pressie as she was pretty pleased with herself.  Delving deeper, it turned out to be THE BIGGEST LEMON THAT YOU’VE EVER SEEN IN YOUR WHOLE LIFE.  One of my twitter followers named it ‘The Lemonster’.  Here it is next to a lemon from my fruit bowl:

The Lemonster

The Lemonster

During the following lemony discussions, it turned out that most people have never made lemon curd OR Limoncello.  Both of which are dead easy.  I’ll start with lemon curd.  Once you’ve got the basic recipe, you can make lots of different kinds of curd – I’ve made berry before, and you can make lime, passion fruit… basically any juice that’s nice and sharp will translate well into a lemon curd.

You will need:

2 lemons, zested and juiced (or about 6 tablespoons of sharp, fresh juice)

100g butter (I use salted as I think it brings out the flavour)

150g caster sugar

2 large free range eggs, plus 1 extra yolk

Take a saucepan and add in the juice, zest (if using citrus fruits), butter and caster sugar.  Melt it all together slowly until the sugar is all dissolved.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until well combined (if you’re being restauranty here, you can sift the egg to remove any lumps of white).

Now, take the warm juice/butter mixture and gently pour a little bit into the egg, whisking all the time, then a bit more, then a bit more, until you’ve combined about half of it with the eggs.

Pop that lot back into the saucepan and keep whisking and gently simmering until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon.  If it’s really not going to thicken, you can help it along by popping in another egg yolk and whisking again until it does.  Remember it will continue to thicken as it cools.

If you’re potting it up, make sure your jars are sterilised (good sterilising advice from my friend Mammy’s Kitchen right here), but if you’re using it straight away, or pouring it into a tart case, let it cool a bit, remembering to stir it occasionally to keep it from getting a skin on. When it’s about room temperature, pour it into the pastry case and pop into the fridge to cool.

A sealed jar will keep for a good few months in the fridge, but opened jars should be eaten within about a week.

Sorrento sounds utterly fabulous, by the way.  Tempted to pop over and pick up a few more enormous lemons.

Chocolate and vanilla Congo brownies for English Dad’s birthday

So you know the rules, then… every birthday person at English Towers gets to choose their own birthday cake.  This time, however, we were going to dinner at Glam C’s and I needed something that would work well feeding a crowd too so the Hubster let me choose, bless him.

I looked through my recipe books and found a ‘Congo Brownie’ recipe by Flo Braker and this is an adaptation of that recipe.  As far as I can work out, the Congo bar part of it is the white layer – often called blondies and made with nuts, but if any of you can shed light on the name, I’d be delighted to know more!

I’ve split the ingredients and methods up.  If you want to have a go at just making the Congo bars, I’d suggest doubling up the quantities and baking for 30 mins in total.

For the Congo bar layer:

85g butter – I use salted with chocolate

225g golden caster sugar

2 free range eggs (1 whole egg, 1 white – save the yolk and bung it in with the brownie)

1 tsp vanilla

175g self raising flour

For the chocolate brownie layer:

200g dark chocolate

170g butter (again, add a pinch of salt if using unsalted)

3 free range eggs

200g soft brown sugar (caster is fine if you don’t have any)

110g plain flour

So preheat your oven to gas 4/180 and butter a square tin/lasagne dish/whatever you have.

Melt the butter gently in a pan and set aside to cool.  Whisk together the sugar, egg, egg white and vanilla then stir in the cooled butter. Sift in the flour, stir gently and spread evenly in the bottom of the baking tin.

Pop it in the oven for a scant 15 minutes so that it’s just set.

Meanwhile make the chocolate brownie layer: 

Melt the butter and chocolate in a bain-marie (basically, a heatproof bowl (so not a plastic one) over a saucepan of just-simmering water – don’t let the bottom of the bowl come into contact with water).  Turn the water off when it’s just bubbling and stir the mixture gently until it’s combined.  Take it off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and sugar together (plop in the extra yolk here) until pale, light and frothy.  There is no raising agent in brownies, so the air whisked in at this stage will stop them being a big chocolate brick.

Pour in the cooled chocolate/butter mixture and stir well.  Lastly, add in the flour and stir briefly until the flour disappears.

Now pour the brownie mixture over the Congo layer.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until the top is cracked and shiny.  The centre should still be slightly soft and squidgy.

Finally, I melted a small bar of milk chocolate and spread it over the top of the cake.

Sadly, there were no number 8 candles left, so for the purposes of this dinner party, Hubby had to be 49.  He didn’t mind. Especially when Glam C served up the most amazing chilli and the most delicious creamy raspberry cheesecake you’ve ever seen:

 

 

Spanish omelette with manchego and chorizo, and serrano ham shank with summer haricot beans

There was much excitement at English Towers this weekend, with a delivery of delicious smelling goodies from Lola España, a gorgeous website selling everything Spanish.  Our rummage through the MASSIVE box brought all sorts of squeaks of excitement: ‘six month cured manchego cheese!’, hand carved jamón Ibérico Bellota…oooooh!’ and ‘look at this chorizo!’, before leading us off on dreamy plans as to what we’d cook up.

While we were dreaming, we troughed our way through this entire pack of delicious Spanish biscuits too…

Of course, we had to stay slightly traditional and decided to make a proper tortilla de patatas.  Purists will blanch slightly at the fact that we added the chorizo and manchego, but hey, you can’t please everyone and I’m delighted to say that it tasted utterly delicious.

Spanish omelette with six month cured manchego cheese and chorizo Ibérico

4 or 5 floury potatoes

2 tablespoons rapeseed oil

1 shallot, finely diced

3 or 4 thick slices of chorizo, cubed

6 large free range eggs, beaten

Large chunk of manchego cheese, cubed

So firstly, peel the potatoes and chop into inch or so dice.  Boil in plenty of salted water until tender.

Next, fry the shallot in the oil until translucent, then add in the chorizo – stir it around until it starts to darken and release its oil, then add in the cooked potatoes and stir gently so you don’t break them up too much.

Add in the cubed cheese and pour over the beaten eggs.  Cook gently until the bottom is set.  If you’re brave, try the traditional method of popping over a large plate, flipping the omelette over and then putting it back in to cook the other side.  Otherwise, just pop it under the grill until golden.  Serve with a green salad and crusty bread.

Click here for the recipe for the serrano ham shank with summer haricot beans.  Mahoosive thanks to Lola Espana for the delicious food and the inspiration.

The Knorr recipe challenge: roast chicken with creamy tarragon sauce

The very generous and lovely people at Knorr recently sent me a parcel of goodies and challenged me to cook up something lovely using the ingredients and their new stock pots.  The ingredients came beautifully packed from Forman & Field and, amongst other things, included:

1 Rhug organic chicken

2 shallots

Biddenden Ortega white wine (from Kent!)

A bunch of tarragon

A bunch of parsley

I also used a Knorr chicken stock pot and a couple of tablespoons of sour cream.

On to my recipe, then. Frankly the chicken looked so beautiful: plumptious breasted and yellow skinned that I decided to simply roast it, then make a delicious sauce to accompany it from the ingredients.  There were mushrooms in there, but the Death Wish Dude is a mushroom hater, so I had to leave them out.  Feel free to add them in if you like while you’re frying the shallot.

This is a lovely way to serve a roast chicken and different from my normal ‘stick a chicken up its bum’ method,( or ‘poulet avec citron au derrière’, to give it its full title – which, hilariously, Google translates to ‘chicken with lemon behind’).

First, then, roast your chicken.  This one was quite small, about 1.5kg, so I just roasted it for an hour and 15 minutes (see my rule of thumb on the other post) at 190 degrees/gas 5.

By the way, if you’d rather do this with chicken breasts, just roast them in the oven for about 20-25 minutes (check they’re done by pushing on them – they should feel firm – or if you’re worried, cut them in half and have a look – you can always serve them in slices) and prepare the sauce in the same way.

On to the sauce, then.  Drop a knob of butter into a heavy based saucepan and add in a finely chopped shallot.  Fry gently until translucent then add in a glass of the delicious English wine (drink the rest) and about 150 ml stock.  Leave it to bubble and reduce right down to at least half, if not more.  Finally, add in the tarragon (don’t use too much, it’s quite strong – a level tablespoon of chopped leaves is enough), and a handful of chopped parsley, then the sour cream.

Serve with the roast chicken, a fresh green salad and maybe some baby new potatoes.

Many thanks to Knorr.  By the way, if you’d like to win one of these lovely seasonal boxes, leave a comment here or pop over to my Facebook page, where you can enter too.

 

**************THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED – THANKS FOR YOUR ENTRIES! *****************

Review: Cakes by Pam Corbin (River Cottage Handbook no 8)

I knew I was going to love this book from the moment I was offered a review copy.  I stalked our poor postie, Bernard, mercilessly every day until he was beginning to look a little uncomfortable, I was so looking forward to reading it.

Happily (for me and Bernard, it appeared.  And I wasn’t wrong.  I bloody love it. Cakes (River Cottage Handbook) is probably one of those books that could render half my cookery book collection redundant, it’s that useful. I even took it on a recent Aer Lingus flight where the lady sitting next to me in departures took a look at it, nodded and smiled appreciatively.  I mean, who doesn’t love River Cottage?  And who hasn’t watched ‘Pam the Jam’ working her magic?

And yes, I’m a sucker for a bit of pink, so the cover alone is enough to make me want to carry it around in my handbag, but the contents more than compete in the gorgeousness stakes, believe me.

I’m a page turner-over (I know, kill me now) and this book now has so many corners turned over I can barely shut it.  Pam’s recipes for retro favourites are on my must-cook list (jammy dodgers!), and so is her fabulous chocolate fudge icing recipe.  I also spied a really gorgeous gluten-free lime and coconut cake that I want to pass on to a Coeliac friend.

There are some really great old-fashioned favourites here, like cherry cake and proper fruit cake, but also some really surprising new ones to try, my faves being a really interesting looking potato and apple cake, plus a twist on the wonderful Battenburg, made with chocolate and hazelnuts.

I love a cookery book that is more than just a collection of recipes.  I want something I can take to bed (or on a plane) and read, and really get a sense of the person writing the book, and the stories behind the recipes.  This book more than delivers.

Don’t be put off thinking this is just another book about cakes.  It’s an absolute must-have for seasoned cakeophiles and beginners alike.  Grab it while it’s hot.

The River Cottage Cakes Handbook is published by Bloomsbury and available now on Amazon, priced £7.68.

Carrot Kheer – Anjum Anand’s Mothers’ Day recipe

Hope all you mummy-types out there are getting your feet massaged on the sofa and getting breakfast in bed, etc.

I saw this lovely recipe from Anjum Anand (I LOVE her – I think she’s actually got a new book coming out soon).  She was talking about the fact that she made this with her mum, and now makes it with her daughter, which is exactly how cooking should be.

It’s really difficult to find a dessert to go with Indian food, and this one sounds like it could be a winner.

Anjum says ‘carrot kheer is a light, cold pudding made only with milk, carrots, sugar and almonds but this deceptively simple sounding dessert is a most refreshing and flavourful end to a warm, savoury meal. It is my all time favourite Indian pudding and I would urge my mother to make this whenever she had people coming around, mainly in the spring and summer months. I would then get busy helping my mother in the kitchen, it wasn’t a particularly important job, peeling and grating the carrots, but I enjoyed cooking and felt important when my mother would tell her friends that I made it with her.’

What a perfect recipe for Mother’s Day. I’m determined to give it a go now.  Carrots for pudding, anyone?

Carrot Kheer

Serves 6

1 litre full-fat milk

250g carrots, peeled and grated

3–4 tbsp sugar

Good pinch of saffron strands

1⁄3–1⁄2 tsp green cardamom seeds, powdered

2 tbsp pistachios, chopped

2 tbsp flaked almonds, toasted

Caramelized pine nuts, to serve

Heat the milk in a wide, heavy-based saucepan, stirring and scraping the base with the spoon frequently to make sure the milk does not catch and burn. If you are standing at the cooker you can increase the heat and stir constantly, but if you are busy in the kitchen (please do not stray too far!) keep it on a low heat. Keep cooking until it reduces by about one third – this takes about 25 minutes depending on your pan and heat.

Add the carrots and continue cooking for another 15–25 minutes or until they are soft and the milk is as thick as you like it. This is a personal thing – I like it quite thin but others like it quite thick; you will need to keep up the stirring though. Stir in the sugar, saffron and cardamom powder, cook for another 2 minutes and taste for sweetness. Chilling any food dulls its sweetness, so you may need to add a little more than you would deem necessary. Cool and then place in the fridge, covered with clingfilm as milk absorbs flavours from other food in the fridge.

When ready to eat, serve in bowls sprinkled with the nuts.

A little Valentine’s Day wander around the internetz

I’m not feeling very romantic today so I thought I’d give you a quick roundup of some lovely places to visit for some Valentine’s inspiration:

We’ll start our little culinary journey at The Glutton’s, with her gorgeous ♥ Apple and Salted Caramel Tart Fine ♥

Then it’s off to the lovely Babaduck’s to check out her rather gorgeous Tarte D’Amour.

Next, you must visit Cake in the Country and marvel at her Lady and the Tramp inspired spaghetti and meatballs

Then, we’re off to my lovely friend Julia at A Slice of Cherry Pie, for an oldie but goody – her lovely cinnamon hearts

… and Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be Valentine’s day without cupcakes – not particularly romantically inspired, these gorgeous Tropical Cupcakes from lovely Lucy the Teen Baker, would certainly hit the spot.

The incredibly talented Jules from The Butcher, The Baker has made these amazing Rolo cupcakes for her man.  They look utterly gorgeous – he’s a lucky fella!

Elra’s beautiful meringue hearts with citrus curd cream are almost too pretty to be eaten!

And last but not least, I’d like to suggest my very easy heart-shaped lemon and almond cake for your delectation…

If you’ve made something gorgeous for Valentine’s Day, do leave a comment and a link – I’d love to have a look.

And finally, here’s a romantic Valentine’s poem, from my wonderful sons:

Roses are red

Violets are blue

I’ve got a knife

Get in the van

Around the web in 20 clicks: in praise of bloggers

I love blogging.  I’ve met all manner of wonderful people (and the odd horrible one), both in real life and online, travelled, visited amazing places and made loads of friends.  Sometimes, when I’m reading the gazillions of blogs that I subscribe to, I think it would be nice to tell other people about the fantastic things my friends and fellow bloggers write about and photograph.  There are always so many amazing things on the internet: great recipes, fun stories, great photos…

So I thought I’d put together a little ‘top 20′ for you to enjoy at your leisure. Think of it as my gift to you for November.  Some are old, some are new, but all are brilliant.  Enjoy!

1. Like Mam Used To Bake went to Barcelona.  This is such an amazing piece – great photos, loads of restaurant reviews… bookmark it if you’re ever tempted to visit.

2. Laura changed the habit of a lifetime, got busy in the kitchen and made a really scrummy spicy butternut squash soup.

3. Liz sparked serious debate when she asked ‘do you support the decision to scrap child benefit for those earning over 44k?

4. My lovely cousin, Don’t Bug Me, taught us all about hummingbirds (and showed us some beautiful photos too).

5. The Glutton made the most gorgeous home made sausages with cider and mustard gravy.  Nomnomnom.

6. Lovely Karen got married.

7.  And so did the beautiful Miss Power (sorry, Mrs Lister!) – check out the cheese wedding cake!

8. My mate Erica ticked another thing off her ’100 things to do before I die’ list and attended a foodie festival.

9. Lu gave us all exercises for the perfect arse (squeeze that pelvic floor, people)

10. 40NotOut encouraged us to wrap up in these inspired winter knits.

11.  Rach from Tales from the Village visited the Highlands, and took some stunning photos.

12. Joanna came face to face with Take That!

13. Shit Mummy nearly suffered Death by Polyester.

14. Tara photographed possibly the cutest witch I’ve ever seen (edit: I do apologise, she was a spider).

15. The lovely chaps at Yeo Valley released their farmer rap on iTunes (with lovely Ted the Wol on the front cover).  I love Ted.

16. Liz and family over at Violet Posy did some pumpkin carving.

17.  Josie met a lean, green, fighting machine.  Well, a frog.

18. The Cornish foodie made gingerbread skeletons.

19. My fab cousin, Moon and his family slaughter their pigs (fascinating, but be warned, the pics are a bit graphic)

20. And finally, we waved goodbye to Wallop.  Victoria and her family set out on their epic adventure.  Good luck, guys! x

PS: If any bloggers would like to take up the baton and write about their 20 favourite recent blog posts, that would be fab.

Erica’s week of Annabel Karmel Pasta Recipes

From Erica at LittleMummy.com:

A little while back ok, quite a while back the lovely English Mum asked me to review Annabel Karmel’s book ‘Annabel Karmel’s Top 100 Pasta Recipes’, you see they aren’t big pasta fans over here at English Towers. Of course I was more than happy to oblige, but then I started to worry about how I would keep up the cookery standards you’ve come to expect here on Englishmum’s blog. It’s a well known fact that Englishmum is a baker extraordinaire, even this post involved a bribe for lime and pistachio cupcakes (Englishmum forget my cupcakes and there will be trouble, you hear me?)

Anyway onto fulfilling my end of the bargain, and in answer to the cookery standards quandry I’ve gone with quantity over quality. It was meant to be ‘a week of recipes from Annabel’ (including homemade pasta, with like a pasta making machine and everything), like all the best plans this did not come to fruition and we are left with three recipes (I believe we have a chinese takeaway and a chippy to blame for that *cough*).

Right! So here we have three recipes from Annabel’s book.

Stir-Fried Beef

Chilli Beef

First up was the stir-fried beef recipe. This recipe had a number of processes, a couple too many in my opinion. The beef ended up a bit soggy and the dish on the whole was a bit flavourless. Oh, and I don’t want to rub it in Annabel but my husband said that my own chilli beef recipe was superior in the flavour department (although this may have been in a bid to secure extra conjugal rights *cough*)


Spicy Sausage Meatball Pasta

Meatball Pasta Bake

Moving on then, the second dish we tried was the spicy sausage meatball pasta. This was delicious and very easy to prepare. The little meatballs were particularly tasty, especially as I made my own pesto *insert smug look* which complemented them beautifully. We even managed to get Erin to eat them passing them off as ‘sausage nuggets’ (she’ll only eat things in nugget form, bloody kids eh). Definitely one to try again and this time I’ll make extra meatballs sausage nuggets to freeze.

Wild Mushroom Tagliatelle

Mushroom Tagliatelle

Finally I made mushroom tagliatelle for myself because nobody else likes mushrooms. I made my version with closed cup mushrooms and chestnut mushrooms as I didn’t have any wild ones. It was surprisingly light and very tasty and probably quite low fat as it’s made with creme fraiche. I think you can see that by this point I was finding my feet, see the extra chives on top assembled in decorative manner? I saw that on tv once :)

Overall I’d happily recommend Annabel’s book but if you’re cooking for adults be sure to add some extra flavour into the dishes with extra seasoning, garlic, chilli, whatever’s included and then you’ve got some very nice dishes.

Englishmum, should I send you an invoice for the cupcakes?

Review: Tana’s Kitchen Secrets

Maybe it’s because spring is finally in the air (or maybe its just publishers’ deadlines), but there seems to have been a little flurry of new cookbooks published recently (and a few more to come, I gather).

This one’s completely different to the Canteen cook book, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less worthy of a spot on your kitchen shelf.  Firstly, it looks very nice and is rather chunky too.  I love a new book and this one appeals on many levels: the print is attractive and clear (with cute little tags giving extra information on every recipe), the photos are stunning (incidentally, they’re by photographer Laura Hynd who also did the photography for Rose Prince’s ‘The New English Table’, which I adore) and the ingredients are simple, seasonal and accessible.

This is a great book to learn the basics – there are some excellent confidence-building lessons here: bread making, buying fish, baking great cakes, making family roast dinners, simple stews and some great desserts.  I’d recommend Tana’s Kitchen Secrets as the perfect gift for maybe a student, someone just moving into their first home, or for a new family keen to expand their repertoire.

However, if you’re a bit more confident in the kitchen, don’t overlook it, there are some fabulous ideas for that  ’what shall I cook tonight’  moment and some wonderful dinner party dishes (the chocolate cheesecake was easy to make and disappeared in seconds!).

Tana’s Kitchen Secrets is out now, priced £19.99 (£10.00 on Amazon at the moment!), but my lovely mates at Octopus Books have given me two copies to give away.  Just leave a comment and let me know what your family’s favourite easy supper is, and one of these beautiful books could be winging its way to you (see how good I am to you?).

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This competition is now closed – the lucky winners, as chosen by Octopus Books, were Insomniac Mummy and Emma@NotSuchAYummyMummy – congrats!!

Review: ‘Eat Me!: The Stupendous, Self-Raising World of Cupcakes & Bakes According to Cookie Girl

Well firstly, I’m a bit cross.  This ‘Cookie Girl’ has just gone and written the book that I was always meant to write, goshdarnit.

Seriously, if you’re a bit of a cupcake afficionado like my good self, Eat Me!: The Stupendous, Self-raising World of Cupcakes and Bakes According to Cookie Girl is the book that you will cherish, love and continually be covering in dropped splodges of buttercream.  It’s one of those books that’s just so lusciously pink and pretty,  so inspiring, so flippin’ cute, that you’ll adore it forever.

The story behind the book is just as unique as the book itself.  Turns out, Xanthe Milton started her cupcake career by selling her wares door to door in West London dressed in the kind of Alice in Wonderland/Nell Gwynne costume that must have had the fellas wanting more than her cupcakes.  She really does make baking sexy.  And I love Xanthe’s writing too, it’s difficult not to admire someone who pours so much love into every pink-iced morsel:

“…when making cupcakes for a wedding, it is essential to think thoughts of love, future happiness and prosperity for the bride and groom… never bake out of a sense of obligation or when feeling sad or stressed.  No good will come of it – the milk will sour and the butter will go rancid”

So far, I’ve made about three of the recipes.  I particularly loved the Pistachio Lime Cupcakes and the little lemon biscuits (for sheer quirkiness, though, check out the Jack Daniels Cupcakes!) and the book delivers on the quality of the recipes as well.  It’s a win/win.  Rush out and buy it now.

EAT ME! The Stupendous, Self-Raising World of Cupcakes & Bakes According to Cookie Girl by Xanthe Milton is out now, Published by Ebury Press, priced at £15.00.

Review: ‘My Kitchen’ by James Martin

My kitchen by James Martin

So I get some pretty wacky PR approaches – you name it, everything from: ‘would you like to come to our breastfeeding seminar?’ 

Er, no.

and… ‘would you like to write an article on our intimate lubricant?  Go on, we’ll send you a free sample!’

Er, no.

…to: ‘would you like to come to Vinopolis in London for an evening of fine wine and dining with James Martin?’

Would I bloody ever!

Sadly, events (and transport plans) conspired against me and I was unable to make it.  Bad times.  Happily, James’ lovely PR folks not only sent me on a goody bag with a swanky new doobry for leaving in your dishwasher than cleans 12 washes without refilling – this will be passed on to a delighted English Grandma as English Towers 2 is still in the dark ages and we have a ‘woman who does’ (yup, that’d be me) to do our dishes – but also a signed copy of his new book, My Kitchen.  Good times!  

So far, I’m loving the book and instead of adding to the large and precarious pile of cookbooks that currently irritates my Hubby by clogging up my bedside table, it has been my constant companion in the kitchen.  I really like the fact that the recipes are split into seasons (yes I know, been done before, but I think it’s so useful arranged like that), and I love the earthy, simple dishes.  There’s no poncy restaurant cooking here, just good, honest home food.  It reminds me a little bit of Matt Tebbutt’s book Cook Country: Modern British Rural Cooking.

I’ve made quite a few of the recipes.  The honey madeleines were utterly delicious and the spicy crab linguini was quick and really tasty.  I also tried the sticky chicken wing recipe but used chicken breast instead (I hate chicken wings – what a ridiculous, scrawny waste of time) and it was scrummy served with steamed pak choi and rice.  Nom.

There you have it, then.  Me and James, we’re like bezzie mates, we are.  I’ve got his signature to prove it.

Heh.

2009: A year in recipes, rambles and silly buggery

Bye bye English Towers, we love you...

Well, well.  Another year over.  I’ve just been reading my post from around this time last year.  I called it Love, Loss, Ups and Downs, and I think the title could well apply to 2009 as well.

Meringue

January was a lemon meringue pie and beef stew and dumplings kind of a month.  The greenhouse blew away and I felt all growed up after hosting my first family Christmas.  February was perfect for chocolate fondants.  March was all pink birthday meringue and bourbon biscuits.

Me and Goofy (I'm on the right)

April was a monster month for me,when myself and the other intrepid members of the Disney 7 hit Florida in a big way, following lovely Disney Sarah around Walt Disney World like a little drunken gaggle of ducklings, #2 celebrated his birthday with a ridiculously chocolatey double chocolate meringue cheesecake and the Mad Professor turned 14.I made not cross buns for Easter and continued boring you about my Disney trip well into May (we even got a mention in The Times… yawn…), as well as churning out some rather fattening dark chocolate and peanut butter brownies and having smutty conversations about how much I love a good sausage.

Sticky buns

In June, I got the sack andcooked butternut squash and chickpea curry (not at the same time) and  in July I rejigged my 70s ginger cake, made some fabulously soft iced bunsand learned not to leave my dog in the house alone.

August was the month when our wedding blessing plans really began to take shape.  My easy tandoori chicken with cheaty flatbreads recipe got a mention in the Irish Times and the site got a well deserved faceliftcourtesy of the wonderful Andy at ADD Creative.  It was, however, also the month when Hubby was told that he was going to lose his job.

 

Despite this, our wonderful wedding blessing in September was everything we’d hoped it would be, and I continued with the family theme, making Grandma Maudie’s cranberry teabread, as well as chicken and broccoli pie with step by step pastry.

October saw The Death Wish Child learn that it’s probably not politically correct to put disabled people in a stew, English Grandma popping over for a birthday visit and some rum and raisin brownies, but shortly afterwards Hubby was offered a job in the UK and went off to work there.  I think in my heart I knew that the boys and I wouldn’t be happy without him for long, and in November, we packed up our wonderful Irish home and headed back to Hertfordshire, waving a sad goodbye to our friends in Ireland, our lovely chickens, and Bert the greyhound.

Bert sunbathing

Regular readers will know that we’d already more or less decided to find Bert a new, loving, child-free home after a couple of worrying, growly incidents.  The prospect of moving back to the UK and living, albeit temporarily, with my Mum (along with her dog and cat) while we found a house galvanised us into action and my mate Jen, who is well-connected in the greyhound world, found Bert a new home.  Still, driving up north to meet up with the greyhound charity lady who was arranging it was an incredibly sad journey.  I hope the old boy is happy in his new home.  Sadly, the lady has ignored all my attempts at contact, so I just have to hope it all turned out well.

December, then, finds us back home in Hertfordshire.  I’m pleased to be back with all our family and friends, but have struggled with the move, wondering exactly where I fit in.  Still, Christmas was wonderful, with masses of champagne, Christmas baking, turkey and stuffing.

And what of 2010?  Well, this blog will see its 4th birthday and I’ll see my 40th (hopefully in Paris… hint, hint).  I’ll be well on the way to 1000 blog posts and 10,000 comments.  Hubby is happy in his work and my lovely fellas, The Mad Professor and my little Death Wish Child are finally settled back into the local school, enjoying rebuilding old friendships.

And me?  I’ll be here, in the kitchen baking cakey buns,  probably.  Who knows, maybe even with a new little canine companion and hopefully some work to keep me occupied.  Remember to pop in and say hello (especially if you’re the Editor of a magazine – I’ll work for alcohol!).

I hope that this new decade brings you health and happiness.  I hesitate to say wealth as I think we’re all beginning to realise that there are so many more important things in life.  So wherever you are, thanks as always for reading, and have a very happy new year!

Pink cupcake