Mr English isn’t the romantic type, so we’ve never really embraced the whole flowers and chocolates thing, although we do send a card to each other (not really the same when you’re pretty certain who your secret Valentine is). People tend to fall into two camps Valentines-wise, they either love it or hate it. I think that if there’s a day in the year when you’re reminded to tell someone how much you love them, then so much the better. And what better way to express your love than with cake?
So once upon a time, back in… ooooh… 2010, I did this competition called The Great Cupcake Challenge. The entries were fab, and encouraged by this, the competition morphed into English Mum’s Big Bakeoff, (yes, before that one on the telly) and since then we’ve had various different ones, including the ‘baked with love’ bakeoff for Valentine’s Day, an Autumn bakeoff and even a fresh bread bakeoff. My fave, though, has always been the Christmas one.
So without further ado, I give you… The Big Christmas Bakeoff 2013!!
As usual, there really are no rules, and since the ‘send English Mum a piece of your entry for testing’ rule was scrapped (dammit) these are the only ones that remain:
1. You actually must have baked something yourself (although see below re: sneaky rule breaking) – doesn’t need to have been specifically for the bakeoff though.
2. You must take a picture (there’s none of those dodgy ‘I baked it, but then I ate it’ excuses…). The picture MUST be of your baking and MUST be original (I do check them!).
3. Email it to me at english[dot]towers[at]gmail[dot]com, telling me what it is and who you are. Entries must be received by midnight on the closing date (see below).
The Cheaty Bit
Hey, it’s Christmas, and any bit of Christmassy cookery is basically fair game. And I do like a healthy bit of skulduggery amongst friends, so any entertaining reason why your entry should be considered will be looked upon favourably. For example, if your trifle is beautiful, but obviously not exactly baked, let me know. I’m a flexible type and I’ll probably allow it. No lying though.
Okay, a bit of lying then, but not too much…
The Social Media Bit
If you’re a blogger, please link back to this post, and if you’re on Facebook or a tweeter or Instagrammer, please use the hashtag #bigChristmasbakeoff - if you’re none of the above, then just ignore this bit completely.
The Exciting Bit!
Those lovely little pixies down on the farm at Yeo Valley have very kindly agreed to give the winner a copy of their brand new cookbook. The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook, plus a lovely cool bag full of delicious Yeo Valley goodies!
The Inspirationy Bit
Get that camera or phone out and snap a picture of your home made mince pies, your festive cupcakes or your Grandma’s old Christmas cake recipe. Or maybe you can have a go at my jaffa cake Christmas trees, or some cranberry and pistachio biscotti. Whatever floats your boat.
And don’t think you have so be some sort of uber super duper food stylist. The bakeoff is all about the fun.
The Judgy Bit
Entries will be displayed in one enormous blog post and accompanied by the usual descent into hysteria while I wrestle with pixels and uploading and all that other complicated stuff. Follow me on twitter (@englishmum) to witness the carnage as it happens.
The very lovely Catriona from the very popular Irish food blog Wholesome Ireland has very
foolishly kindly agreed to be our judge this year. You can find her on Twitter @wholesomeIE if you want to attempt a bit of online judge tampering. The judge’s decision is final. No arguing. She’s an Irish mammy y’know, she’ll take none of that boldness.
So that’s it, then. You’ve got loads of time, plenty of inspiration, and some very ambiguous rules. Let’s get baking!
The Small Printy Bit
This competition is open to everyone in the UK and Ireland. No age limit. The closing date will be Wednesday 18th December at midnight. There is no cash alternative to the prize. If you’re outside of the UK and want to enter, please feel free. If you win, I’ll mail you the cookbook but I’m afraid the yogurt won’t travel!
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…
I do love a new cookbook. My family would say I already own far too many (if they could speak, my many groaning bookshelves would possibly attest to this), but there’s something lovely about ripping open the cardboard to find someone’s much-loved and oft-cooked recipes, delightfully photographed and neatly bound for posterity, ready for sharing.
I always think this is especially true with a first time author like Sarah Mayor. I like to imagine that she, like me, has a huge file on a kitchen shelf, jammed with hand-written, sometimes sticky recipes (especially given her immaculately foodie heritage, being the daughter of the founders of Yeo Valley farming family; the Meads). I imagine what a thrill it must be to see that scrappy file transformed into a brand new, glossy cookery book.
The book is a wonderful testament to everything that Yeo Valley holds dear: local, organic, fresh and seasonal. As I flicked through, marking pages of recipes I’d like to try (I know, a terrible habit, but I’ve always done it): marmalade glazed gammon (poached in West Country cider), deep trout fish cake with lemon butter and chive sauce (you guessed it, there’s trout in Blagdon Lake, running alongside the farm), it became clear that this is not only a rather wonderful country cookbook, but an absolute celebration of how we should be living right now. Modern food at its best.
And right there, as the postie walked away from the house, I decided I had to have a go at one of the recipes: a puffy, golden souffléd egg and bacon tart: a proper British picnic staple.
And, oh, the tart: light as air, cheesy, dotted generously with bacon and with pastry crisp and snappy. We devoured it. Never mind that it was about three o’clock in the afternoon and I was idly wondering about saving it for tea, maybe serving with some little rosemary potatoes and a nice salad. No, we descended upon that poor tart and devoured it. I’m not proud, but there was actually some arguing over the last slice.
I’m thinking that this one might not make it far away from the kitchen. My groaning shelves will heave a sigh of relief.
The Great British Farmhouse Cookbook (Yeo Valley) by Sarah Mayor is out now, priced £20.00 RRP
I’m almost loathe to type this, as some of the country is still swathed in snow. I do wonder if people will throw things if I suggest getting out and about with the kids?!
Still, Lands’ End have challenged me to seek out a few days out for Easter, so let’s be positive and hope that this wintry weather will soon be behind us and we can finally get to experience a bit of spring! If not, I can recommend their range of warm kids’ jackets to keep the little ones toasty.
First on my list will suit those still not ready for the great outdoors. The Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter is an absolute must-see, with a huge collection of props, costumes and even entire sets from the Harry Potter movies. They’re currently celebrating their first anniversary too – sign up for their newsletter to be the first to hear about special events and competitions too. Visit www.wbstudiotour.co.uk for details.
Heading further north, Warwick Castle is a perfect day out if you’re after adventure, especially of the knights and dragons variety. The castle itself is beautiful and there are always different things to see and do: live shows, battle re-enactments and even a chance for the little lady in your life to become a princess for a day at the Princess Tower.
Merlin: The Dragon Tower is well worth a visit if you’re heading to the castle – it’s a brilliant interactive journey which will take you into the depths of the castle – you might even come face to face with a fire breathing dragon! Check their website for more information.
Finally, for a more relaxed day out, why not visit the beautiful organic gardens at Yeo Valley’s Holt Farm in Blagdon, North Somerset. There are six and a half acres of gorgeous gardens to explore as well as a delightfully quirky tea room (after extensive testing, I can recommend all the cakes). Sarah Mead and her small staff are friendly and knowledgeable and often stop to chat with visitors. Throughout the year there are garden courses and lectures, plus a plant fair in early May. Do check opening times before you set off. More details at www.theorganicgardens.co.uk.
So what are you waiting for? Wrap up warm and get out there!
So yesterday we went down to lovely Blagdon for our Yeo Valley meeting. There are lots of exciting things afoot at YVHQ, many of which I can’t tell you about because I’d have to kill you as they’re very top secret, but I CAN tell you that we ate lots and lots of yogurt and that you’re going to adore all the fabulous new products that they’re bringing out. I’ve got some brilliant new things to share with you over 2013 and some amazing giveaways coming up too, so don’t feel too bad.
The really thrilling news from yesterday, though, was that the refurbishment of YVHQ is finished, and darned fine it’s looking too. Designed by Sarah Mead, who also designed their gorgeous tea rooms, the interiors are fun, quirky and quintessentially Yeo Valley. Here’s a sneaky peak:
Let’s face it, baking is trendy at the moment. It’s not just the Great British Bakeoff that has prompted a resurgence in home baking either. I think it’s a return to local and seasonal food – an embracing of all things home-made – and I think there’s something quintessentially British about baking. I’m a long-term baking convert. To me, baking means home: cricket teas, making fairy cakes at Brownies, bringing those first (slightly grey) shortbread biscuits home from school and eating the marzipan off the Christmas cake. A home made cake is as good as a hug. You can’t beat walking in to a kitchen fuggy with the scent of vanilla and chocolate, and knowing you’ll soon be tucking into something deliciously sweet and soft, made just for you.
So what better way to celebrate National Baking Week than baking a delicious lemon drizzle cake. The natural yogurt in this recipe keeps the sponge really moist, and if you don’t fancy icing, substitute the icing sugar for granulated and dribble over your cake when it’s warm out of the oven. You’ll get a delicious, crisp topping. Serve warm with a dollop of Yeo Valley Greek Style Yeogurt with Lemon and Ginger for a fabulous dessert, or slice the whole cake lengthways and sandwich with a layer of lemony buttercream (add the zest and juice of ½ a lemon to buttercream made with 200g icing sugar and 100g butter) for a cake fit to grace any school fete cake stall!
Check out Yeo Valley’s recipe pages for lots of inspiration this week to celebrate all things bake and beautiful.
One of the things I love about Yeo Valley is that they never stop being creative. New flavours and limited editions are always appearing, and their new Limited Edition Damson and Plum Yeogurt is a fine example of this – a lovely, and very British mix of gorgeous ripe plums and that tart little late-summer smasher, the damson.
The plum and damson flavour is delicious on its own, spooned over a fruit compote (use the plum recipe here) or made into an easy, frozen terrine. As you have to wait for each layer to freeze, it’s probably best to make this the day before you need it. Here’s how I did it:
You will need:
1 pot Yeo Valley Damson and Plum Yeogurt (450g)
100ml double cream
For the plum compote:
60g brown sugar
250g ripe plums, halved and stoned
1 vanilla pod
First, line a medium loaf tin with cling film
Next, whip the cream and stir gently through the yogurt. Be gentle as it’s the air bubbles that keep the texture of the finished ‘ice cream’ light.
Pour half the yogurt mixture into the loaf tin, level off the top and freeze for a couple of hours. Pop the remaining half into the fridge for later.
Meanwhile, make the compote. Put the sugar and water into a saucepan over a low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the plums and vanilla pod, bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer until the plums are tender – about ten minutes should do it. Turn off the heat and allow to cool.
Remove the plums from the syrup (fish out the vanilla pod but keep the syrup, it’s delicious drizzled over the finished terrine) and whizz the plums in a blender or food processor until smooth. Pour over the first frozen layer and return to the freezer for another couple of hours.
Finally, spoon over the remaining half of the yogurt mixture and freeze for another couple of hours or overnight. Remove from the freezer about 20 minutes before serving.
Yeo Valley’s new Damson & Plum yogurt (450g) is available from all major retailers at MRRSP £1.49. For more information about Yeo Valley, product information and recipe ideas, please visit www.yeovalley.co.uk
*Limited edition – on pack offer*
For those thinking of starting their own mini fruit orchard, there’s a fabulous on-pack competition to instantly win one of 500 English fruit trees, with varieties including Conference pears, Victoria Plums and Discovery Apples. Simply pick up a limited edition Damson and Plum yogurt to be in with a chance of winning and keep these rare British fruits alive by starting a little bit of countryside in your own back garden!
So it’s sheep shearing time for the Yeo Valley sheep, and lovely Alex, Yeo Valley’s shearer, is working very hard. Yes, I know you’re all looking at the sheep *cough*
For more about the sheep (and Alex) check out Yeo Valley’s blog here.
British summertime means strawberries, and for me, that means making the strawberry scented fairy cakes I remember baking with my Mum. If you’re surprised that this recipe contains sour (or ‘soured’) cream, you’ll soon realise that its fresh flavour is the perfect complement to sweet, summer strawberries. It also has the added benefit of making sponge cakes tender and light.
Lovely Yeo Valley have just added a soured cream to their range and gave me some to play with (check out the funky packaging) and it’s incredibly versatile. It’s fabulous for dips, sauces, baked potatoes and dolloping on a spicy chilli con carne, but it teams equally well with fruit: think hot apple pie with a mountain of cinnamon-laced, slightly tangy soured cream. It also whips quite well. You won’t get the volume of double cream, but the texture is lovely. After whipping, fold through a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar for an almost cheesecake-like flavour. Perfect with berries and crushed meringue for a different take on Eton Mess.
For the fairy cakes, you’ll need:
170g butter, softened
170g caster sugar
3 free range eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
200g self raising flour
100g strawberries, mashed
4 tbsp sour cream
For the glacé icing:
5 tbsp icing sugar
Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
Crack the eggs into a bowl, add in the vanilla and lightly mix with a fork. Add it to the butter and sugar mixture a little at a time, mixing well.
Stir in half the flour, then add in the mashed strawberries. Stir in the rest of the flour and finally the sour cream.
Bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for 20 minutes until just golden. Allow to cool, then sift the icing sugar and add just enough water to make a thick paste.
Dribble onto the cakes and finish with a small strawberry.
The lovely chaps at Yeo Valley are always coming up with nice ways to use their 100% yeoganic yogurts. Recently they’ve been dabbling in smoothies (ooer) and have come up with some fab yogurty recipes – perfect for breakfast times, especially if you’re in a hurry, trying to be a bit healthier, or even just not mad keen on eating breakfast.
Such is the SHEER EXCITEMENT at the new smoothies down in the Yeo Valley, they’ve decided that they want everyone making them and have teamed up with the wondrous KitchenAid. From this weekend, you’ll be able to find a special code on promotional pots of Yeo Valley’s Natural and Fruited Big Pot Yeogurts which can be entered into Yeo Valley’s website or Facebook page. 1,000 (I know, right? 1000!) lucky people will win KitchenAid artisan blenders, and there are 10,000 gadget sets (they include a whisk, peeler, can-opener, ice cream scoop and spatula) too.
If you’re not one of the lucky ones, I’ve snaffled an extra blender away for you, my dearest reader. Just leave a comment. Any comment (tell me what smoothies you like… what you have for breakfast, hell, you can even tell me what colour drawers you have on… whatever takes your fancy) and one lucky person will be chosen at random to win the blender.
The small print: This competition ends on Monday 9th July. Winner will be chosen at random after this date and will receive one Empire Red KitchenAid blender. UK only. No cash alternative.
************THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED – WELL DONE TO ‘ANONOMUM’!!****************
So when it comes to the weekend, breakfast has become a thing of the past, especially now we have teenagers in the house who don’t emerge until a) there’s a phone call inviting them somewhere exciting, or b) they smell bacon.
Brunch has become the new breakfast, and it’s a great opportunity for me to get baking (which also passes the time until everyone’s out of their respective pits).
What to cook, then?
Well, the aforementioned bacon happens to be a staple of our brunches. Free range and preferably streaky, it’s stuffed into crusty bread and piled onto teetering mounds of pancakes before being drenched in maple syrup. You can use any flavour yogurt for the pancakes, but if you’re planning on eating it with bacon, sometimes natural is best. If you’re going to eat the pancakes with fruit, then try Yeo Valley’s raspberry flavour. It goes deliciously with maple syrup for some reason. Dollop a bit more yogurt on the top too:
150ml Yeo Valley yogurt
225g self raising flour
4 level tbsp caster sugar
So sieve the flour and stir in the sugar (f you’re using a sweetened yogurt, cut this down to 2 level tbsp). Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and whisk in the eggs, yogurt and milk to make a thick batter.
Next, heat a heavy-based frying pan and lightly brush the surface with oil. Dollop a couple of tablespoons of the mixture into the pan, trying not to let them touch, then wait until you see bubbles on the surface before flipping them over. The first one will be a disaster, it always is, but after that you’ll get light, fluffy pancakes.
Might I add that these also make a lovely dessert, served with some boozy fruit and a big dollop of creamy Greek yogurt.
To serve your brunch, pile the table high with bowls of fruit and yogurt, piles of gorgeous pancakes, a big tray of sizzling bacon and some crusty bread. Some of Yeo Valley’s fruity favourite muffins would be an excellent addition here too.
And then it’s completely permissible to go back to bed for a little snooze. Or is that just me?
I’m not a green fingered girl. My gardening skills currently run to rushing to my Mum’s every so often (usually when the grass in my back garden reaches Serengeti dimensions) to borrow her mower. So when Yeo Valley challenged me to get creative in the garden, I was a little stumped. Still, I love a challenge, and a quick trip to the garden centre later saw me armed with multi-purpose compost, a selection of seeds and a can-do attitude. Here’s what I learned:
Growing seeds is easy
First things first, have a quick recce around your outside space. If you’ve got a balcony, then consider keeping it small with, say, a few pots of herbs and maybe some salad potatoes in a little tub. Salad leaves take up little room and you can grow peas purely for their shoots, which are lush in salads.
Grab any available containers (thank you Yeo Valley) and fill them with compost. Pop in your seeds (read the instructions) and remember to water the little chaps occasionally and you’re in with a good chance that things will grow. It’s that easy.
BUT feel free to cheat
Don’t fancy growing things from seed? Garden centres and markets are currently full of all sorts of seedlings. I picked up two heritage variety seedlings for just £1.00 each at my local market, and now the chances of frost are past, the stallholder assured me they’d be fine in the garden.
So how did I do?
As you can see from the pictures, I had terrific success with my sweet peas, which I’ve now transferred to a larger pot in the garden, complete with some canes, optimistically added for them to climb. My herbs are also thriving: I’ve got basil, coriander, thyme and mint all doing wondrously. For some reason, my salad potatoes didn’t chit (they’re supposed to grow shoots when left on a sunny windowsill – mine sulked and did nothing of the sort), but I’m not beaten that easily so I’m starting again with a fresh batch. I also now have a beautiful Nigella plant which will add lovely flowers and delicious scent to my little patio.
If you’d like to know more, why not try Laetitia Maklouf’s wonderful book, Sweet Peas for summer, which has all sorts of hints and tips for the novice gardener, or try and get down to one of Yeo Valley’s gardening lectures with gardening greats such as Bunny Guinness and Jekka McVicar. Find out more here
l love cream. But with double cream containing 48% fat, it’s not exactly your healthy option. Fine for the occasional treat, but not for every day. So how can we still make all the lovely creamy recipes and sauces that we love whilst reducing some of the calories and producing a lighter, fresher end result?
Well, last time I was there, the Yeo Valley chaps set me a bit of a challenge: have a go at substituting yogurt in some of my favourite creamy recipes. And you know me, I’m always up for a challenge in the kitchen.
In baking, dressings and marinades you can add yogurt straight from the fridge. If you’re cooking with the lower fat yogurt varieties, you do run the risk, as with single cream, that they will ‘split’ (ie curdle) if you place them straight into a very hot environment. You can counter this by using the ‘standard’ versions rather than the low fat (still much lower fat then cream) and bringing the yogurt up to room temperature before you cook with it.
I used Yeo Valley’s Greek Style Natural Yogurt which has 9.5% fat (plus a nice long sell-by date) so it’s still got a nice creamy finish and isn’t too sharp-tasting. I’ve taken to keeping a couple of pots in the fridge as I use them at breakfast time, with fruit and muesli, as well as for cooking.
I had a go at cooking some of my favourite creamy recipes, substituting yoghurt instead. Here’s how I got on:
Spaghetti carbonara (or yoghetti carbonara – see what I did there?)
Snip a pack of smoked streaky bacon (outdoor reared, please) or pancetta into strips and fry in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until nice and crisp. Set pan aside on a low heat (you can do this while the spaghetti cooks).
Cook 300g spaghetti in plenty of boiling, salted water.
Meanwhile, mix a large tablespoon of Greek yoghurt with two eggs and a splash of milk, then stir in a big handful of grated Parmigiano or Pecorino.
When the spaghetti’s cooked, drain and dump it into the bacon. Pour over the yogurt mixture and toss to combine.
To be honest, once we’d added Parmesan, we could hardly taste the difference. Slightly sharper in flavour but still yummy. Fussy Death Wish Dude didn’t even notice and hoovered it down, and the Prof said that he’d ‘noticed something a bit different’ when I told him afterwards. Success.
We also tried:
Ice Cream: AMAZING success here. We actually liked the flavour of the ice cream better with the yogurt. Especially good with fruity and citrussy flavours and the bonus is here that you don’t need an ice cream machine. Try folding lemon curd through Greek yogurt and adding a grating of fresh ginger for extra zing, or just fold through your favourite fruit compote (Yeo Valley do some lovely flavours) before freezing. Take the ‘ice cream’ out of the freezer to soften up a little before serving.
As a dressing: I mixed the yogurt half and half with mayonnaise, added a squeeze of lemon and a handful of herbs and served it with smoked haddock fishcakes. Delicious.
However, my biggest success by a mile was with my usual buttermilk scone recipe:
Greek Yogurt Scones
Scone recipes often call for buttermilk. Yogurt makes a great substitute as it’s still slightly acidic but adds a lightness to the finished scones. Here’s my adapted recipe:
500g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp cream of tartar
125g cold butter
1 tbsp caster sugar
150g Greek yogurt
1 free range egg
First, get the oven nice and hot – you want it at 200 degrees/gas 7.
Next, weigh out all your dry ingredients. Sifting them together will give you a lighter finish. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a knife, then rub it in, squeezing the butter pieces into the flour gently with your fingers until only small ‘flakes’ remain. You don’t have to make it completely uniform. Stir in the flour.
Now mix together the liquid ingredients. Add them into the dry until it comes together into a soft dough. You probably won’t need all the liquid. Reserve it for glazing the scones at the end.
Roll the dough out quite thickly (say about 2-3cm) and cut out 12 rounds with a cutter. Pop them onto a baking tray (sprinkle on a little flour first so they don’t stick) and brush them with the leftover liquid. Sprinkle over a bit of extra sugar for colour and crunch.
These scones take literally about ten minutes to cook. Keep an eye on them. Serve warm with jam and more Greek yogurt.
The verdict: Fabulous. Light and fluffy in the centre and they rose magnificently too. I’ll be using yogurt from now on!
So earlier this week I was up and about at some ungodly hour, puzzling as to where exactly the car park spaces were supposed to be under several inches of ice in a windswept train station car park.
Still, it got better, as when we got to Yeo Valley’s beautiful organic garden and tea rooms in Somerset, they’d got the log fire burning and tea and biccies laid out ready for us (home made chocolate and mint – very yummy indeed). The gardens look beautiful even in the winter:
As you might know, I work with Yeo Valley Organic as an advocate, (along with Laura, who nearly missed her connecting train and managed to catch it by an ungainly sprint across the platform, hurling people out of her path as she went). We work with them on new ideas, feeding back information from a consumer’s point of view, and basically loll around eating as much of their yogurt as possible. Yup, it’s a tough job.
This week, then, it was all about the new look. Most of us already know that Yeo Valley’s farmers are British organic family farms, (which are more sustainable than intensive mass dairy production) but they really want to get that message across. Let’s face it, they have SO much going for them: beautiful organically-run farms in gorgeous Somerset, the stunning organic gardens and tea rooms, amazingly committed staff and fantastic organic products too.
So in their quest to be ’100% Yeoganic’ (which is obviously much more than just ‘organic’) they’re going back to their roots, with fab new flavours, lovely new packaging and a gorgeous new website to match. The yogurts have all had a ‘facelift’ too, with an amazing new.. erm… bacterium or something? (sorry, I was too busy eating yogurt during this bit) which is much creamier (without being ‘fattier’).
Here’s our tasting table. You’re jealous, right?
My particular favourite was this little beauty – a limited edition flavoured with blackcurrant and a fragrant hit of elderflower. Absolutely delicious:
There are also some brand new products, which we’re probably not supposed to tell you about, but hey, you know I’m an oversharer. Talking of oversharing, how about these new Top Notch yogurts, with a layer of fruity conserve on the bottom. The sticky fig and honey is TO DIE FOR:
And you can see the gorgeous new packaging for the milk and butter in the background there. Here’s a close-up:
and here’s all the new packs of pots and the cute new children’s products (including Yeo Tubes with some fabulous cow jokes). I think the smoothies are great for older children – they have bigger pots and more sophisticated flavours like peach and passion fruit, and mango and pineapple. You can take the outer carton off and inside you can cut out and build a 3D cow. I tried to bribe them into giving me one of the 3D cows, but they’re not out yet. Boo.
Stuff to look out for:
- the new ‘Mild and Creamy Natural’ – a lovely creamy version of Yeo Valley’s natural yoghurt. I can see this being a great substitute to cream, dolloped on apple crumble and splodged on warm chocolate brownies… mmmmm.
- new 0% fat yoghurts all thicker and creamier
- Fab new recipes including even yummier strawberry and raspberry flavours, blueberry with a hint of lime, a scrummy rhubarb flavour and a very posh raspberry and passionfruit one too.
- the Greek Style yogurts – so thick the spoon stands up in them (check out my fave: coconut)
- there may even be (shhhhhhhh!) some really creamy rice pudding in the pipeline.
All this lovely new stuff will be appearing in the shops very soon. Last photo is probably my favourite pot of all. The classic strawberry. Whoever thought you could look at a pot of yogurt and think ‘wow, that’s pretty’, but it really is:
Thanks, as always, to the fabulous team at Yeo Valley, for endless tea, delicious grub, heowge amounts of yogurt, tons of laughs, and ‘Yeo Em Gee!’ those puns xx
So this weekend is the big X Factor final. As you know I work with Yeo Valley and I’ve really enjoyed their ads this year – their ‘boy band’, The Churned, has frankly been better than a lot of the actual acts!
If you missed it (or just love The Churned), the advert will be playing during the X Factor ad break this Saturday. And on Sunday, the winner of the Yeo Valley singalong competition is going to be announced (it better be me or there’ll be trouble) during the ad break too.
Anyhoo, aside from creating boy bands for the X Factor, Yeo Valley are actually quite good at making yogurt as well (who knew?). Their most recent creation, the rather lovely and very seasonal Spiced Apple, is utterly gorgeous. I used it to very good effect in this simple yoghurt cake. You don’t have to use a posh bundt tin like this, but I think you’ll agree it does look rather nice and Christmassy. It would also be rather lush with one of their other flavours – they’ve got a new pear and butterscotch one too. Mmmmmmm.
To make the cake, you’ll need:
125ml rapeseed oil
450g self raising flour
300g golden caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
250g Yeo Valley Spiced Apple yogurt
For the yogurt frosting:
4 tbsp Yeo Valley Spiced Apple yogurt
100g white chocolate
So to make the cake, just give the eggs a quick whisk. Add in the rapeseed oil and whisk again until combined. Then add in all the dry ingredients and finally stir in the yogurt.
If you’re using a bundt tin, make sure you give it a good spritz of cake release spray (Dr Oetker is very good) to make sure you can get it out afterwards. If you’re using a normal cake tin, just give the tin a quick rub with some oil.
Bake for around half an hour at gas 4/180 degrees.
To make the frosting, just melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water, then just take it off the heat and mix in the yogurt. Pour all over the cake and stuff into face.
You do not want to miss The X Factor this Saturday. It’s all I’m saying.
So yes, I’ll admit it: Operation Yeo Valley was a tad complicated. It went something like this:
1. Pack bag. Check passport and ticket.
2. Threaten de brevren with death should there be any fighting, throwing things, torturing of the cat or breakage.
3. Check bag. Double check passport and ticket.
4. Lose car keys
5. Reiterate threats, adding loss of iPhones for EVER if anything gets broken/anyone gets bruised.
6.Find car keys. Leave for airport
7. Leave car in short-stay car park, leave key on front wheel (I know, I know) for Hubby (who has flown in from UK to mind kids) and text position of car.
8. Phone brevren and reiterate all threats whilst cleverly hiding this as final goodbye phone call.
9. Fly to Bristol, worrying about abovementioned fighting/throwing things/cat torture.
10. Land at Bristol to find that Husband has been delayed and won’t be home for another hour.
11. Implore husband to ring offspring and reiterate the threats of death for fighting/throwing things/cat torture.
12. Catch cab to B&B. Start to worry when cabbie won’t drive across gravel at B&B in case the owner’s wrath is incurred.
13. Get text from Laura to say that she has arrived at B&B after possibly the most expensive cab journey in the history of the world and been shown to her room, but a request to show me up there when I arrive was declined in case we ‘disturb’ other guests. Realise that Landlady possibly has us pegged as trouble.
14. Walk in door of B&B. Take shoes off (as directed by large sign). Meet B&B lady. Explain what a blogger is. Get show to downstairs room. Realise she has put me as far away as possible from Laura.
15. Realise that Laura has gin. Hatch an escape plan.
16. Spin ridiculous story to landlady about how I need to ‘brief Laura for tomorrow’. There is tutting. Sneak up to Laura’s room. Wince at squeaky stairs. Use special ‘password knock’ to gain entry.
17. Indulge in contraband Gin in a Tin (the stuff of gods – thank you M&S), and giggle a lot. It all feels slightly ‘Mallory Towers midnight feast in the dorm room’. Except with gin.
18. Text threats once more, just for good measure. Sleep.
19. Wake up. Send text to Laura in which I ask her to ‘knob for me’. Curse predictive text. I meant knock.
20. Have breakfast. Explain what a blogger is again. Meet lovely A from Yeo Valley and cackle like witches all the way to the fabulous Holt Farm Organic Gardens (more of this very soon), eat copiously and manage to say the word ‘knobber’ twice during brainstorming session.
Next time: serious garden envy, copious gnomage, aggressive roosters and how to eat so much yoghurt you think you’re going to explode.
Recently, the lovely chaps at Yeo Valley set me a little challenge: ‘fancy checking out a few of our products and then letting us know how you cook with them?’ ’No probs’, I said, ‘piece of cake’ (see what I did there?). So yesterday I had a call from a courier. Not your normal ‘yes, I’m just leaving Dublin – can I have directions?’ (you want an hour’s worth of directions? I hope you’ve got a big notepad), but a lovely friendly one ‘I’ve got some stuff for you from Yeo Valley – it’s refrigerated so I’m going to personally drop it to you now’. How’s that for service. When it arrived, my jaw did drop somewhat, though:
After unpacking (and letting a delighted D next door take her pick), I moved it all into the garage and called Poppy’s Mum to take all the children’s yogurts and those cute little tube things (she looks after two little tinies). After weighing her down with butter, compote, pots and creme fraiche and fifteen minutes of hysterical laughter when I took the packing peanuts out to the bin and was caught by a gust of wind (it was like a packing peanut snow storm), my fridges looked like this:
Unlike Laura, there will be absolutely no lemon curduments. Anyone seen looking even remotely suspicious near the lemon curd ones will be prodded with a sharp implement until they back the hell off. I might even bare my teeth and snarl a bit. What? They’re my favourite.
So what will I be doing with all this lovely stuff? Well, I’m going to try Laura’s Lovely Lemon Curd Cheesecake, but with the Mango and Vanilla flavour instead (nomnom) and I’ll be making my talented friend Like Mam Used To Bake‘s gorgeous healthy home-made granola to stir into the little fat free blueberry pots of probiotic yogurt for breakfast. We’ll be spooning the rhubarb yogurt over a slice of home made lemon and almond cake, and freezing the strawberry one in an ice cube tray to add to smoothies with banana and milk. Their fruit compote is a new one for me. I’m going to be popping a spoonful in the middle of some vanilla breakfast muffins this weekend and eating them for breakfast.
I’ll be making Anjum Anand’s Bengali Yogurt Fish (from her I Love Curry book) with the Greek Yogurt (one of my favourite fish recipes) and of course my own easy peasy tandoori chicken with the fat free natural yogurt (yummy in the boy’s packed lunches with crusty ciabatta, a blob of mayo, some rocket leaves and a teaspoon or two of mango chutney). Talking of Indian food – I’ll also be making my Indian spiced courgette fritters and serving them with a cooling yogurt and mint dressing.
I’ll be using the creme fraiche to make my friend Erica’s gorgeous wild mushroom tagliatelle and the lovely fresh butter for all manner of cakes, biscuits and, of course, for spreading thickly on hot toast.
What an amazing selection. I’m very impressed. Now back to guarding the lemon curd. Go on, just try me. I dare you.
So as you know I’m great mates with the chaps at Yeo Valley Organic. When I was at the farm back in August, they were all talking very excitedly about their new advert – a rap video. Yup, you heard it here first:
The advert is a real, proper rap video directed by Julien Lutz, who has made videos with such superstars as R. Kelly, Usher, Kanye West and Nelly Furtado. I was delighted to get a sneak peak of the new video this week and it’s really quite something. What I love about it is that it’s actually filmed at Blagdon, the Yeo Valley farm, and shows the real Yeo Valley herd. Proof positive that Yeo Valley is a real place (unlike a surprising number of other ‘dairies’). Watch out for a glimpse of my favourite owl, the gorgeous Ted:
The advert’s going to screen for the very first time at 7.55pm (a change to the original 8.20 time) on Saturday 9th October during the X Factor. Even if you’re not a huge X Factor fan, do try and check the video out. I promise you’ll love it.
‘Big up your chest, represent the West’
Oh, and watch out for Ted!
HERE’S THE LINK!: http://www.youtube.com/YeoTube
I’d hazard a guess that Tim Mead isn’t your average company director. As our little gang of assorted journalists and food bloggers wanders wearily into Yeo Valley Organic’s head office, The Mendip Centre, he rushes to greet us, all smiles and firm handshakes. He chuckles at our civvy moans about being up at 5am (‘that’s normal for a farmer’) and takes us out onto the balcony for tea and pastries pointing out various landmarks in a view that stretches in a green and beautiful sprawl over the valley.
Tim is rightly proud of Yeo Valley. Started back in the 60s by his Mum and Dad (the sale ticket for the original Holts Farm is displayed in the centre), the company may well have expanded beyond the dreams of Mr and Mrs Mead, who started making yoghurt on the kitchen table in the 70s and could possibly never have imagined that they would end up producing 8 million pots of the stuff a week, but the ethos (and those cows) are very much the same.
The formidable Mrs Mead senior, now in her 70s, is by all accounts one of the best breeders ever (in fact, she was named Farmer of the Year in the BBC Radio 4′s Food and Farming Awards). Tim proudly points out that the magnificent Lakemead herd of pedigree British Friesians are still descended from her original cows.
Tim’s enthusiasm is infectious. As he explains their incredibly complicated organic crop rotation system (planting clover puts nitrogen back into the soil so that it doesn’t have to be artificially fertilised – and is high protein food for the cattle too) we’re rather taken by a gorgeous red-coloured cow in the otherwise entirely black, glossy herd: ‘ah, there’s always a rogue redhead in the family – I’m rather fond of her’. The luscious redhead can expect a long and happy life too: the cows aren’t expected to yield ridiculous amounts of milk and will live ten years on the farm. Later, he whizzes us around the Mendips in his Land Rover pointing out fields growing various crops, including a tall crop called Miscanthus (Elephant Grass), which, after it has oxygenated the atmosphere and put nitrogen back into the soil will be chipped and made into pellets to heat various offices and barns. Incredible.
Organic farming is, by necessity, high welfare farming. I am struck, for instance, by how cleverly Mrs Mead has bred the cows so that the male calves can be reared for meat, and not destroyed like so many in the industry.
It’s a family business in so many other ways too. Tim’s wife has transformed one of the milking sheds by their house into the most beautiful tea-rooms with gorgeous Sophie Conran crockery, where you’ll find his daughters serving towering cake-stands groaning with freshly made scones…
and fabulous home-made cakes (what? of course I noticed):
The tea rooms also boast one of the finest organic gardens in the country, again, all tended by the fair hand of Mrs Mead:
Some of the farm buildings are kept as centres for groups of visiting children where they can see chickens, sheep, Aberdeen Angus cattle and amazing organic veg grown in high-tech domes (all the produce goes to the canteen):
… and there’s even Ted, a tame owl who fell out of his nest and was adopted by the staff – he’s actually friendly enough to allow a little ear scritch too:
The afternoon sees us getting suited and booted (workin’ that hairnet baby) to visit the yoghurt factory. They still work in relatively small quantities and although it’s all enormous vats and sparkly stainless steel, some things are surprisingly low-tech (‘a factory manager from a large factory would probably laugh at us’, says Kevin, their infectiously enthusiastic Factory Manager, ‘but it’s important that we do things slowly and do them right’). They must be doing something right because we spy Tesco (Finest and Value!) and Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference tubs go past on forklift trucks.
The whole day was a complete eye-opener for me. I just wish everyone could spend a day with Tim at Yeo Valley. To be honest, I didn’t really understand what organic farming was all about and having seen the care and attention that goes into every little step, from the birth of every cow to the lid on every pot, I’m a complete convert to both organic farming and Yeo Valley’s fabulous products. There’ll be no more Mullers in the shopping basket for me. If I wasn’t so knackered on the train home, I would have been rushing up and down the carriage, telling everyone about this fabulous place where everyone cares so much and makes these amazing products.
I wouldn’t, however, have been dishing out anything from my goody bag. The Special Edition lemon curd organic yoghurt is far too good to share.
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