You’ll probably remember that back in the summer, The Organic Trade Board challenged us to take the #thriftyorganic challenge and switch our usual weekly shop for a 100% organic one, all for £83, the average grocery shopping budget for a UK family of four. We ate really well AND stayed on budget, and it made me really think about what we eat, and made me plan our meals properly as well. Eating organic on a budget really is possible!
Did you know it’s National Apple Day today? To celebrate, I’m starting the day with a delicious bowl of spiced apple porridge. The spiced apple compote can be used for loads of things: spooning over ice cream, stirring through yoghurt, on top of rice pudding as a delicious dessert (add a splash of rum too, if you like), and it’s great with savoury dishes too like roast pork. But this morning, with the rain battering the windows, I chose a big, warming bowl of porridge. By the way, the spice I use is pumpkin pie mix from Steenbergs Organic, but you can use a couple of pinches of anything warming: nutmeg or cinnamon, maybe.
For the compote:
I’ve used English eating apples. I tend to make quite a big batch of this and keep it for other things, but you can make it with a single apple too – just with a dot of butter and a couple of pinches of spice
5 English apples – I used Coxes
2 tbsps brown sugar
Couple of tablespoons of water
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
Peel and core the apples and chop them into quite small pieces. Butter an ovenproof dish, then tumble in the apple pieces. Dot with the remaining butter, sprinkle over the sugar and spices and dribble with the water. Give it a quick stir then cover and cook for about 20-25 minutes, or until the apple pieces are tender.
While the compote is baking, make your favourite porridge recipe. Stir the compote through the porridge and finish with a dribble of honey and a little extra spice. Delicious, and a really comforting start to the day!
For more information about English apples, visit Love English Apples.
How often do you throw out leftover bread? We used to be really guilty of this until a while ago when I did the Sainsbury’s advert and had to go through my freezer and explain why things were in there, and there, nestled at the back were some breadcrumbs I’d made and forgotten about.
So walking the dog yesterday morning in blazing sunshine in shorts and t-shirts, we were surprised to see big, fat blackberries already on the brambles. I wonder if we’re just not normally very observant, or if they’ve come in very early this year? Anyway, we thought we’d get picking before the birds get all the best ones, and had a decent sized pot of them without even really trying (they’re stabby buggers – I’m nursing a few nasty scratches).
So recently. The Organic Trade Board challenged us to take the Thrifty Organic Challenge and switch our usual weekly shop for organic. The average grocery shopping budget for a UK family of four is £83 a week. Could I switch everything we usually buy to organic , stay on budget, and still produce yummy, healthy food for my family? Here’s how we got on.
It’s been a mad week here at English Towers. The Sainsbury’s #loveyourfreezer campaign has gone live and it’s been really lovely receiving tweets, texts and Facebook messages (and AWFUL screenshots – thanks guys haha) saying ‘ooh, I’ve just seen you on the telly!’. I’m SO proud of this campaign – Sainsbury’s have been amazingly lovely to work with, and there are loads more exciting things coming up.
So tomorrow (23rd November 2014) is stir up Sunday. If you’d like to cook a Christmas pudding this weekend – or if it’s any other date and you’re arriving here from the future, in which case HELLO FUTURE PEOPLE! – here’s my easy peasy step by step way to do it.
One of my absolute favourite adventures while we were in Walt Disney World was a special, money can’t buy visit to Chef Jeff, Executive Chef at Disney’s beautiful Contemporary Resort, one of my top five Walt Disney World resort hotels. Chef Jeff and his team are responsible for all the patisserie for the resort, from gorgeous special occasion cakes, to the wonderful cupcakes available in the café.
Every time we’ve been out for a walk recently, we’ve been laughing at the dog, carefully picking off the choicest blackberries off the brambles along the way.
People, especially ‘foodies’, are often a bit snobby about microwaves. I’ve got one and we use it quite a lot, whether it’s to heat up a quick bowl of soup or baked beans, melt butter to add to my favourite gooey iced bun recipe, or to reheat someone’s meal when they’re late to dinner AGAIN.
My baby boy is 16. How did that happen? I’ll save you the ‘it seems like only yesterday’ speech, mostly because it doesn’t seem like only yesterday, in fact, I can barely remember those first few weeks, to be honest, plus it’s a bit yawny when parents start getting all misty eyed. Suffice to say, we’re the proudest parents, we love him to bits and we’ll move on to the birthday cake of choice.
I’m generally more of a cake lover then chocolate (you had no idea, right?) but there’s something about Cadbury Creme Eggs (yes, it’s Cadbury, not Cadbury’s – y’know, like Cinderella Castle at Disneyworld) that makes me long for Easter every year (the season is actually quite short – they’ll be gone from the shelves again on April 20th). I think it’s a bit of a comfort thing in miserable January and February (plus March is my birthday month and I associate it with Creme Eggs!). I’m a ‘bit the top off and lick the goo out’ person, but recently we’ve become a bit addicted to popping them in the freezer. The filling doesn’t set solid, but becomes firm and fondanty. Delicious, and a bit easier to scoff on the sofa, admittedly.
Okay, so I know we’re all supposed to be eating light and healthy now it’s the New Year, but oh, this weather is shocking isn’t it? On Sunday, we had rain, hail, thunder and lightening all at the same time. The poor pupster was so terrified, she did a ‘panic wee’ on the floor, bless her.
Of course, on Sundays at English Towers all bets are off anyway and I was already whipping up a bit of comfort food in the shape of a yummy chicken pie (full instructions here), so I decided to go the whole hog and add a nice, warming pudding too.
This self-saucing pud really is magic. You start off with a very simple cake mix, then pour over an easy chocolate sauce. Some strange chemistry-type stuff happens in the oven and you end up with light, soft chocolate sponge with a deliciously decadent chocolate sauce on the bottom. I’ve no idea how. But just run with it:
Chocolate self-saucing pudding
For the sponge mix:
115g caster sugar
175g self raising flour
2 tbsp good quality cocoa powder
For the sauce:
300ml hot water
75g brown sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder
Preheat the oven at 180 degrees/gas mark 4 and then butter a pie dish (make sure it’s pretty deep, this rises a bit). Make the sponge by creaming together the butter and sugar with a hand held electric whisk (or use old fashioned elbow grease if you’re not as lazy as me) until it’s light and fluffy. Add in the eggs a dribble at a time, and then fold in the sifted flour and cocoa. Stir until it’s combined into quite a firm batter. Spread this in the bottom of your dish androughly level off the top.
Now for the sauce. Pop the water, brown sugar and cocoa into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring until it’s all dissolved. It’s good idea to put the pie dish onto a baking tray just in case it overflows, then just pour the liquid over the sponge (it looks weird, but trust me, it works!).
Place in the oven for about 45 to 50 minutes. Serve with a dribble of double cream or maybe a scoop or two of ice cream. Yummers.
You know me, I pop up all over the interwebs, and at the moment you can find me chatting about Stir Up Sunday on the Yeo Valley website. Funnily enough, my recipe is the same as theirs in that you’ll need to start a little prep the day before, as the fruit benefits from an overnight soak, but if you don’t have time (or you’ve only just read this bit and were all ready to go), don’t worry – just give it as long as you have. Now, if you need information, hints, tips, ingredient notes and a step by step guide to making Christmas pudding, please just click here.
This is my updated recipe for 2013. This year, I’m going back more to how Christmas Pudding used to be, with loads of figs, currants and sultanas, and moving away from the more modern apricot and cherry additions.
I was chatting to our lovely friend (and wine expert) Tom Forrest from Vinopolis on Twitter about what booze to use, and he had some really lovely suggestions. I’m a huge fan of Pedro Ximenez and Tom recommends a Pedro from the English Whisky Company (£18) or an Aussie Brown Brothers Muscat Liqueur (about £12). You can also be more traditional and just use brandy, obviously.
Figgy Christmas Pudding
250g dried figs, finely chopped
50g prunes, finely chopped
100ml black tea
1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half
100ml Pedro Ximenez or other booze
3 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp black treacle
1 Bramley apple, grated
100g self raising flour (or rice flour for gluten free)
100g fresh white breadcrumbs (or again, ground almonds if you need to keep the recipe gluten free)
150g veggie suet
150g dark muscovado sugar
25g almonds, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
So on to the recipe then:
1. Weigh out the dried fruit, then have a good pick through and get rid of any stems, they’re yucky if you crunch on them. I let them fall through my fingers into the bowl a handful at a time. With the larger dried fruit, make sure they’re stoneless and snip them into small pieces.
2. Finely grate the lemon zest, then juice it as well. Add the zest and juice to the fruit then brew up the tea (one tea bag is fine for that amount of water) and pour it over the fruit, along with the rum. Add in the cinnamon stick and stir it all up. Cover with a plate and leave the whole shooting match to steep (make sure it’s not a metal bowl) overnight, stirring occasionally if you remember.
3. The next day, weigh out all the dry ingredients and combine them in a huge bowl. Don’t forget the spices! The muscovado sugar can be a bit lumpy so you might need to sift it to break up any lumps.
4. Take the steeped fruit and remove the cinnamon stick pieces. Add the eggs (give them a quick mix with a fork first), honey, treacle and grated apple (leave the peel on).
5. Stir well, then you can add all that into the dry ingredients. Give it a really good stir (get everyone to take a turn to stir and make a wish).
6. Now butter a big basin (3 pint/1.7 litre) or two smaller ones and bung in your mixture, pressing it down well and filling as near to the top as you can.
7. Cut out a circle of greaseproof paper, bigger than the top of the basin/s, then add a layer of foil. Tie the two layers tightly just under the basin rim with string, leaving lots of excess to make a handle. Now there is some weird way to loop the excess string underneath the basin to make a handle, but I’ve never managed it as I didn’t pay attention at Brownies. If you want to be extra sure no liquid gets in, add another layer of foil and tie again. Or you can use a basin with a lid, or tie it in a muslin, or use one of those special circular moulds.
And that’s it, you’ve made a Christmas pudding! Pause here a minute to give yourself a quick round of applause.
To steam it, you can use a steamer if you’re posh, but I haven’t got one so I just use a huge saucepan and balance the basin inside it on a circular metal pastry cutter so it isn’t sitting on the bottom of the pan. This will also stop it burning if you inadvertently let it boil dry. Add boiling water about halfway up the basin and put the lid on the saucepan. Steam for 5 hours, making sure you go back every so often to top up the boiling water.
I rewrap it with fresh greaseproof paper and foil, but you don’t have to. Keep it somewhere cool until Christmas day when it’ll need to steam for about another 2.5 to 3 hours (don’t worry if it gets a bit longer, it won’t ruin it). Or you could *gasp* just microwave it on Christmas day. Much easier, but not really traditional!
On Christmas day, just warm some booze gently, then at the last minute, pour it over the pud and set it alight. A splash of rum or a bit more of that Pedro and a tablespoon of icing sugar in some whipped cream (Yeo Valley Organic of course) would make a welcome addition.
This week, one of Charlie’s best buddies, James, turns 16. They’ve known each other forever, well, since they started school, and James just feels like one of the family, basically. He had a Halloween party yesterday (his poor Mum) and they also went up to Wembley to watch the Jags vs 49ers American football game too (which was amazing, apparently – ‘apart from the streaker. Legend’).
I promised to make him a double chocolate cheesecake (we class the chocolate in the digestives as the second chocolate – probably slightly tenuous, but hey), and even though it’s not officially his birthday yet, we let him blow out the candle. We’re good like that.
Double Chocolate Cheesecake
100g salted butter
300g pack of dark chocolate digestives
500g cream cheese
100g icing sugar
200ml whipping cream
200g good quality dark chocolate
So warm the butter in a small saucepan until it’s just melted and in the meantime whizz up the digestives, or if you don’t have a processor, just put them in a plastic bag and whack them with a rolling pin. Stir the butter into the biscuits then press into the bottom of a springform tin (you’ll never get the bugger out otherwise) and leave to cool.
Now, melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of water (don’t let the bowl touch the water), turning the pan off once the water boils. Put the cream cheese in a bowl, beat it until smooth then beat in the icing sugar.
Now, and this is important, you must wait for the chocolate to cool back to room temperature. Wait until it feels the same temperature as your finger when you dip it in. While you’re waiting, whip the cream.
Add the cooled chocolate to the cream cheese and icing sugar. Stir it in until the colour is uniform, then fold in the cream gently with a metal spoon so you don’t lose all the air you’ve incorporated. Smooth the mixture over the prepared base.
And that’s it. Just let it set in the fridge. I decorated mine with a bit of melted chocolate (excuse the rubbish photo – there was a bit of hilarity), but you can add whatever topping you like: grated chocolate, maltesers, raspberries, even a cheeky layer of chocolate ganache.
Happy birthday James. Sweet 16! xx
Our new rule, when Mr English is home, is to make sure we indulge in a full-on Sunday dinner. What with being on holiday and it being nice weather, we’d kind of got out of the habit, but I’m right back on it now. On Sunday I made a lovely beef brisket with roast potatoes. For dessert, I thought I’d do a rice pudding. I love rice pudding. It’s so easy – just mix it up and bung it in the oven. For those of you who have rice pudding skin haters in the family, I’ve got a little trick with some brown sugar which shuts them right up. Bonus.
You will need:
Small knob of butter
150g short grain pudding rice
3 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
So first, preheat the oven to gas 3/160 degrees. Take an ovenproof dish and butter it generously. Then, just tip in the pudding rice, milk, sugar and vanilla. Give it a big stir and whack it in the oven for a couple of hours, giving it a quick stir every so often just to separate the grains (you don’t even really have to do that, to be honest – I generally forget).
Now, if you’re not a pudding skin hater, that’s it, but if you’ve got haters in the family, here’s how I deal with them, the moany blighters: remove the pudding from the oven and scrape off any skin. Sprinkle generously with brown sugar (I actually used golden caster, but brown looks much better – darn you store cupboard management skillz) and then pop it under a hot grill until golden and bubbling.
Scrummy. This is delicious with any sort of fruit compote (we love it with caramel apples) or just a big spoonful of jam.
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