Thursday, 18 December 2014

cinnamon and cranberry festive 4 plait loaf

... you know how when you're feeling poorly you can't remember what's it's like to be well and when you're feeling fine it's hard to quite grasp that feeling of illness... well I think Christmas is a little like that.  All year long you're either loathing or really looking forward to it because Christmas has this kind of magic mysticism to it but then once it's here - which seems to happen earlier and earlier each year - it's like being gripped with an illness that you can't seem to shake... running around like a fool... spending more money than you can afford... dreading the big day and then boom, it's all over and you can't quite remember what all the fuss was about, leaving you juts about well enough to start dreading the new year!

cinnamon and cranberry festive 4 plait loaf
if like me you're not so bothered about a christmas cake or christmas pudding but are still keen to savour that christmas taste then try this super-easy sweet bread.  It's not quite a stollen but it has all the christmassy spices and sticky goodness without being heavy or sickly.  I've thrown in some cranberries, apricots and sultana's but you can grab any kind of dried fruit for this.  The plaiting is super easy and I followed this excellent video which was very informative.  I made the decision to put the plait into a cold oven which is a slow-baking technique i've used before which usually adds a gentle rise to the loaf but it doesn't seem to have worked here... plus I think my oven was a little too hot as it's very dark in some places although to be honest it doesn't taste burnt so mate it's simply the huge amounts of sugar that have caramelised... so just a little warning when baking...

for the dough
450g plain flour
75g golden caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 sachets of fast action dried yeast
75g butter - melted
200g milk
1 egg - beaten
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
100g mixed dried fruit - i used cranberries, chopped apricots, chopped dates and sultanas
1 tablespoon honey - warmed

sift the flour into a large bowl and add the dried fruit, sugar, salt, spices and yeast.  Gently melt the butter then add it to the milk and beaten egg and pour it into the flour.  Bring it together (I use a rubber spatula) and then once combined use your hands.  It will be sticky and look a little ragged.

tip it out onto a floured surface and oil the bowl.  Knead the dough for a few minutes until the surface becomes smooth and the while dough becomes a little drier.  Place it back into the bowl, cover with a tea towel and allow it to rise for at least 1 hour or until doubled in size... because it's so packed with sugar and fruit it may take longer than a regular loaf of bread to rise

flour your surface and divide the dough into 4 equal portions, roll these into long sausages and plait into a loaf (see video above)

set aside covered in a little oiled cling film for about 30 minutes

place in an oven, switch it on to 200C and let it bake until the oven reaches temperature, then reduce the temp to 180C and bake for a further 25 mins - set aside to cool

as it's cooling brush liberally with honey and sprinkle with pretty christmas colours

eat and of course, enjoy and a very merry christmas to you all!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

christmas cocktails

... we all love a tipple at Christmas don't we and I think it's the perfect time of year to get a little festively creative with our cocktails.  It's time to jazz up our regular snifter with a flush of sparkle and a dash of cinnamon... quite frankly we now live in a world where it's no longer de-rigueur to offer granny her regular glass of sherry and when your neighbours pop by for a little festive cheer a warm glass of cream liquor simply won't do i'm afraid.  No, this year, one simply must offer a drink with a little flourish.  Of course i'm not expecting you to spend a fortune by serving flaked gold in every cocktail which is lucky because the good people at Aldi have the perfect selection of conveniently inexpensive booze on offer and i'm fortunate enough to have been asked to create a couple of cocktails inspired by their range and share them with you... well, someone's got to do it...

... it always makes me giggle when supermarkets recreate their own versions of classic labels and then name them something that sounds very similar... they do it with all sorts of products from perfume to toothpaste and they are usually very clever with the packaging which can look all but identical but the names do make me laugh... Macardi instead of Bacardi... Flailey's instead of Bailey's ... well its not quite like that but you get the picture...

Irish cream espresso martini
the drink of the moment, the espresso martini is given a special festive twist by the addition of one of the most popular drinks of the season... as above, the Aldi version isn't called Flailey's it's called Ballycastle but you know what you're dealing with here.  This cocktail packs a punch but it takes seconds to make - which is properly extremely dangerous - but you'll look like a professional when you serve it.  You need a cocktail shaker for this but I would highly recommend investing in one as it really does make all the difference...

makes 2 glasses
50ml freshly made espresso
50ml Ballycastle Irish cream liquor
50ml Tamova Vodka - this is Aldi's award winning vodka
ground cinnamon

fill your cocktail shaker with ice then pour over all the liquids.  Shake until thoroughly combined and pour into martini glasses. Dust the top with a little cinnamon

mulled cranberry cider
whilst I love the aroma of mulled wine I'm actually not a huge fan of it.  I find most people make it headache-inducingly sweet and one glass leaves your whole mouth lined with a deeply unhappy sensation... I much prefer mulled cider which doesn't get served anywhere near enough over the festive period so i'd like to take this opportunity to start a mulled cider revival... it's so much lighter that mulled wine yet it still has all that wonderful rich, deep aroma and of course all those gorgeous christmas spices... Aldi had a great offer on their Orchard cider so it was an easy win for me too!

makes enough for 6 people
2lt cider
1lt cranberry juice
150ml vodka
the juice and zest of 2 oranges
7 cloves
4 whole star anise
2 sticks of cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3 tablespoon honey
slices of fig and caster sugar for serving

place all the ingredients into a large saucepan and gently bring to the heat.  Let is simmer for at least 20 minutes before serving warm

i've served mine in mason jar glasses with the rim wiped with orange juice and then dipped in sugar and a sliced fig

drink and of course, enjoy!

Monday, 15 December 2014

spinach and mushroom cottage cheese quiche

... well I guess it's time I came clean and told you that we're off for our annual pilgrimage to California... we usually go after Christmas to visit family and get a little winter sunshine but this year we've decided to go for the big day itself.  If we're entirely honest The Viking and I have mixed feelings about being away from Belleau for Christmas but I'm sure once we get to the sunshine we'll soon forget it!  As you know, I adore Christmas, mainly for the food but I just love the whole twinkly lights spectacle of it all and i'm sure California will deliver this in heaps, albeit with added sunshine but one of the things that has been interesting about planning to be away this year has been how freeing it is not to have to plan for the big day... we've barely done any Christmas shopping... and even though i've been developing festive recipes for the blog just the idea that I don't have to think about cooking for the next two weeks is making me feel a little bit giddy.  It's like a proper holiday for me and I cannot wait... and whilst I hate to make you all feel thoroughly sick I will be sending blog postcards from the sunshine, so watch this space...

spinach and mushroom cottage cheese quiche
it can all become a little too much at this time of year can't it?  All the rich food and alcohol... it's nice to take a break once in a while and have something a little lighter.  I'd always seen quiche as the ultimate summer food but actually it's so lovely to take a break from the turkey sandwiches and have something that feels a little less like winter on a plate.  The addition of cottage cheese in the quiche helps cut through the richness of the cream but you can still be a little naughty with a cheese shortcrust and plenty of butter... i've gone for a classic spinach and mushroom but you could easily replace the mushrooms or spinach with shredded sprouts which I think would be delightful...

for the pastry
250g plain flour
100g salted butter
1/ teaspoon english mustard powder
50g finely grated strong cheddar
water to mix

for the filling
1 medium onion - halved and finely sliced
one large box of closed cup mushrooms (380g) - finely sliced
3 large garlic cloves - finely crushed
300g baby spinach leaves
butter and olive oil
fresh rosemary - finely chopped
salt and pepper
4 eggs - beaten
100ml single cream
150ml cottage cheese

I've used a 25cm fluted quiche tin which is 3cm deep... which I buttered well into all the grooves

make the pastry first by rubbing the butter into the flour in a large bowl until you have something resembling breadcrumbs, stir in the grated parmesan and mustard powder then add a tablespoon or two of cold water and bring together into a dough with your hands, you may need to add a little more water to create the dough but you will feel how 'short' the pastry is.  Wrap in cling film and pop in the fridge for at least 30 minutes

in a large pan gently melt a generous amount of butter with a little olive oil and add onions, stir and gently sauté for about 15 minutes until they begin to turn golden brown... remove from the pan and then add a little more butter and sauté the mushrooms, garlic and plenty of pepper and salt until they are tender and have a little colour... then turn up the heat a little and add the onions back in then tip the spinach on top, place the lid on, turn down the heat and steam for eight minutes until the spinach is soft, then remove from the heat.

now your pastry should be ready, roll it out and line your greased quiche pan. Scrunch up some baking parchment and then lay this into the pastry case and pour some baking beans on top. Blind bake for 15 minutes on 150C

once your pastry is turning golden, take it out of the oven and set aside whilst you beat the eggs into the cream and cottage cheese... pour the mushroom and spinach mix into the pastry case followed by the cream and bake on 160C for about 15-20 minutes until golden and risen, set aside on a wire rack to cool.  The quiche should easily slide out of the tin.

eat and of course, enjoy!

Friday, 12 December 2014

christmas jumper cookies

... so last year for my one of my stocking fillers The Viking bought me the most brilliant cookie cutter set and as with many things in life, time and tide ran away with us and the poor box sat on the shelf and it's not been until a full twelve months later that we've managed to un-pack it... and we're so glad we did.  Just look at the fun we had making these beauties... the cookie cutter set calls itself the Ugly Sweater Cookie Cutter Kit but that's a little American for us Brits and we all know what we're talking about here and that's the offending Christmas Jumper.  The Viking and I went all-out creative for the first few but then we lost the plot a little and started getting a little messy... in the end, may of them looked like granny had a few too many sherries whilst she was knitting!

christmas jumper cookies
i used the pre-mixed cookie mix and icing mix that came with the pack but I have created a lovely christmas tree cookie recipe for you so you can easily make these yourself... you'll need to purchase a jumper shaped cookie cutter but these are readily available on Etsy... and then you can get as creative as you like...

for the cookies
180g golden caster sugar
150g butter
50g ground almonds
350g plain flour
1 large egg
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger

for the icing
700g icing sugar
2 egg whites
1 tsp lemon juice

to make the cookies, take a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar till fluffy and then add the rest of the ingredients, stirring until it comes together to form a dough - pop this into cling-film and into the fridge for at least 30 mins

roll out and cut into shapes - bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 15mins on 170C until just beginning to turn golden - set aside to cool completely

to make the icing take a large bowl and beat the egg whites and lemon juice with an electric beater until the egg whites are soft peaks, add half the icing sugar and beat again for about 4 minutes, then add the remaining icing sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed then split into two and add green and red food colouring and stir until well combined

... bizarrely enough, today is the Save The Children Christmas Jumper Day where we're encouraged to wear our Christmas Jumpers to work and donate money for a good cause... I'm eating mine instead... are you wearing yours?

eat and of course, enjoy!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

thai basil curry Christmas roast - Christmas with a twist

... turkey is ok, in fact I totally see that it has its place at the extended family table but I'd still much prefer to roast 4 chickens that cook one turkey... there's so much more flavour, it's far less stressful because yore cooking a bird you understand and cook regularly and i've got to say it looks so impressive too bringing out 4 birds!... you'll need larger roasting tins so that 2 chickens can share a tin but believe me this just makes everything taste better and with a lot less wastage. I would go by the maths that 1 large chicken feeds 4 people comfortably - that's a Jewish 'comfortably' - your household may eat less... and still give you plenty of left-overs for the best bit about Christmas, the left-over sandwiches...

thai basil curry roast chicken with roasted carrots and cauliflowers
i've been working with and developing recipes for the good people at WorldFoods who create exceptionally good quality sauces, pastes and dips... this time we're taking the lid off the traditional Christmas menu and trying something a little east of turkey.  As you know I can be very picky when it comes to using this kind of store cupboard ingredient but because all of the WorldFoods products are organic, vegetarian and gluten free and all made in their country of origin and therefor have an exceptionally authentic and 'home-made' quality to them I have no problem using and recommending them... and of course because they're ready-made they are unbelievably convenient, particularly at this time of year when convenience is the word of the moment!

so i've been thinking about jazzing up the christmas bird and this is so incredibly easy yet packs so much flavour into the meat that it seems as though you've been slaving away at a hot stove for hours... i'm roasting cauliflower in the tin along with the chicken plus potatoes and carrots... roasted cauliflower seems to be the veg of the moment and I can understand why, it takes what can be a bit of a dull vegetable and turns it into a monumental beauty... and of course cauliflower are grown here in the UK so you're supporting your local farmer at this time of the year.  You could do all the veg separately too and either slather these in the paste or roast them in a more traditional way for a bit of variety... remember these sauces are vegetarian friendly and so would work equally well served as part of a veggie christmas dish... this particular paste, the thai basil curry paste has a glorious sweetness to its heat that comes from the thai basil and it becomes so mellow and sticky with the chicken juices...

recipe for one roast chicken
one large free-range chicken
4 tablespoons WorldFoods Thai Basil Curry Paste
1 large onion - cut into eighths
2 carrots - cut into batons
a handful of roasting potatoes - skin on
1/2 cauliflower - divided into florets
olive oil

pre-heat the oven to 190C

clean your bird by running boiling water over it and into the cavity - set aside

place the cut veg randomly into your roasting tin - use half the onion and place the other half of the cut onion into the carcass of the bird

place the bird on top of the veg and then, using your hands, rub the thai basil paste all over the bird - season well and drizzle with a little olive oil then cover the whole thing with foil and roast for 1 hour

remove the foil, turn the chicken over onto its breast, pour over a cup of water and roast for another 20 mins without the foil, then turn the chicken back over so that it's breast side up and roast for a final 15 minutes - remove from oven and set aside for 10 mins covered in the foil.

serve with the veg from the roasting tin along with any extra green

eat and of course, enjoy!

Monday, 8 December 2014

fig and honey mince pies with chocolate shortcrust pastry

… whilst many people are beginning to wind down for Christmas we have the most excited week at The Persuaders this week as we launch a new product for Benefit Cosmetics… i'm a little bit nervous about what we've got to achieve and it's all top secret as the product is only going to be revealed to a selected few media types but it's been the most incredibly creative journey working with the loveliest team of people from the brand.  I love it when your clients become friends.  It can be a very tricky bridge to cross at times but when it works it works like a family.  The respect is still there of course but when a client can be honest with you about what's working and what's not and you, in turn can advise them with your knowledge and creativity then the best results are achieved and everyone looks good!... so if you're in London on Thursday look out for a giant pink shipping container on the back of a 40ft truck and wave hello and think of me...

fig and honey mince pies with chocolate shortcrust pastry
I always forget how much figs have an affinity with Christmas, not only are they part of Christmas folklore - think of a figgy pudding - but they are also natures Christmas baubles… gloriously dark and purple velvety in colour and then pull them open and they reveal a jewelled heart that puts any modern day plastic creation to shame - they also remind me of the story of the Three Kings as they have such a richness to them you can imagine Balthazar bringing them from Spain all the way to Bethlehem...

i'm also using some beautiful British Acacia Honey honey sent to me by the good people at Clarks… as regular readers will know I am a huge honey fan and will always look out for a local honey wherever I am in the world… British Honey is expensive and normally comes set, so by carefully mixing British blossom and Acacia Honey, Clarks have created an affordable natural, clear runny honey… it has a very floral and deep tone to its flavour and you can see why it has been short listed for the Grocer New Product of the Year Award 2014…

this is my utmost favourite pastry for mince pies and i've added some cocoa powder to it for some extra richness...

for the pastry (makes 24 tarts)
200g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
75g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter
100g full fat cream cheese
75g ground almonds
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 egg yolk
a little milk to bind

for the filling
whole figs - quartered

I use a non-stick 12 hole tart tin which doubles as a muffin and cupcake tray... I use it twice and get 24 tarts from this amount of pastry

start with the pastry by sifting the flour baking powder and sugar into a bowl, add the butter and rub until it resembles breadcrumbs

add the cream cheese, ground almonds, cocoa powder and egg yolk, take a knife and mix until it comes together into a dough, you may need to add a little milk here, as I did.

chill the dough for at least 30 mins before rolling out.

roll out the dough and use a cookie or scone cutter to cut out rounds to fill your mini tart tin... choose a cutter size that is slightly bigger that the holes rather than the same size)

place a teaspoon or two into each tart case then shimmy one or two pieces of fig into the mincemeat followed by a generous drizzle of honey

bake for 25 mins on 170C the set aside to cool before devouring!

i'm entering these gorgeous little pies into the we should cocoa bloggers challenge, hosted by Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog which has the theme of figs and i'm also entering it into the Tea Time Treats bloggers challenge hosted by Karen from Lavender and Lovage, which has the theme of Christmas sparkle!

eat and of course, enjoy!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

three ways with christmas stuffing

...most years, the lead-up to Christmas is a gentle fattening up of body and mind to prepare you for the big day. Like a triathlete training for the race, we feed ourselves rich stews and warming pies, subconsciously expanding the waiste-line in order that we don’t fall at the first slice of turkey, but this year, with the exceptionally mild autumn we’ve had it feels as though Christmas will land on us in a cloud of glitter and a rustle of last years wrapping paper. I don’t know about you but I feel quite unprepared… not that I’d let anything get in the way of a good meal, I know I’ll just have to pace myself this year, maybe have one round, sit down for a film and the queens speech and then attack the turkey again when I’m ready.

...this year, I thought I’d turn my attention to the humble stuffing. It’s actually not all that humble. In fact the stuffing plays a really important part in keeping the turkey moist and both imparts its flavour into the bird whilst enriching itself in all the glorious juices… it really shouldn’t be neglected and I’m afraid a packet of dehydrated sawdust simply won’t do.

three ways with christmas stuffing
I’ve created 3 stuffing recipes for you. One classic Pork, Sage and Onion, one slightly more adventurous with chestnuts, apricots, polenta and chilli and a vegetarian aubergine and nut stuffing that i've adapted from a Mary Berry veggie meatloaf recipe that is quite simply heavenly – I’ve served all mine here as separate dishes but they will all work just as well stuffing into a turkey. All will freeze well unto a month prior to cooking or could also be made a couple of days in advance of the big day and kept in the fridge.

Pork, Sage and Onion Stuffing Roll
1 onion – grated
1 small cox apple – grated
3 teaspoons dried sage
500g Lincolnshire sausage meat
4 tablespoons French Bread breadcrumbs
10 slices of bacon rashers
oil and butter

place a large pan on a gentle heat and melt a little oil and butter, add the onions and sauté for about 5 mins until soft, then add the apple and 2 teaspoons of dried sage, stir it all together and let it sweat for another 5 mins – set aside to cool

in a large bowl combine the sausage meat, breadcrumbs and the cooled cooked onions until well mixed

lay out a large sheet of foil and butter the surface then lay strips of bacon across it roughly 15cm long, then create a fat sausage shape with the stuffing mixture and lay this on top of the bacon. Using the foil, bring the bacon up and around the sausage shape then tightly roll the whole thing in the foil

bake in the oven when you roast your potatoes for 45 mins, unwrapping the foil for the last 10 minutes – carve thickly to serve.

Chestnut, Apricot, Chilli & Polenta Stuffing
1 onion – finely chopped
½ teaspoon chilli
½ teaspoon fresh lemon thyme
100g dried apricots – chopped
500g Lincolnshire sausage meat
150g polenta
100g chestnuts – chopped
1 egg - beaten
oil and butter

grease and line a roasting tin or cake tin at least 20cm long by 15cm wide

place a large pan on a gentle heat and melt a little oil and butter, add the onions and sauté for about 5 mins until soft, turn the heat up and add the chilli and thyme and sauté for a further 5 minutes then set aside to cool.
in a large bowl, combine all the ingredients including the cooled onions and plenty of salt and pepper then spoon it into your prepared baking tin. Place a few whole apricots and chestnuts on top for decoration and roast in the oven for 30 – 45 mins

Aubergine and Nut Vegetarian Stuffing
1 onion – finely chopped
1 large aubergine – diced
150g mixed nuts – finely chopped
100g Lincolnshire Poacher cheese – finely grated
4 tablespoons French Bread breadcrumbs
2 eggs – beaten
150g whole chestnuts - halved
fresh thyme and rosemary
salt and pepper

grease and line a 2lb loaf tin and place the halved chestnuts across the bottom

place a large pan on a gentle heat and melt a little oil and butter, add the onions and sauté for about 5 mins until soft, turn the heat up and add the aubergine, season well and sauté for a further 10 minutes, stirring often, then set aside to cool.

in a large bowl, combine all the ingredients well and then spoon it into your prepared loaf tin. Roast in the oven for 30 – 45 mins then set aside to cool slightly before carefully lifting out of the loaf tin and turning over to serve

eat and of course, enjoy!



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