Monday, 31 October 2011

My Victorian Kitchen Garden Renovation .. so far

We’ve been here in our forever house for three months already!  I can’t tell you how much I love it. It’s home.  However there are times I look and get a bit daunted.  It’s quite a project we’ve taken on ...  as you can see from photo’s below this side of the house is a Victorian Kitchen Garden and it needs some serious love and attention. Thankfully my husband is amazing.  He’s spent every weekend in the garden from first thing in the morning until last light with this weekend was no exception; he’s set to clearing the kitchen garden and has made such a difference already.  he has repaired the urn with my father in law using a stone glue and  I can see the potential ..  I’m so excited.  You can listen to my father in law fixing the urn using my hairdryer !

As most people renovating a property I have to keep to a budget. The cost of food is going up each year so  I think growing more my own fruit and vegetables will be good for my wallet and brilliant on our plates, so I am planning to grow the most delicious things.

 I’m really a cook who gardens so I know that I’ll be getting all my plants, seeds, flowers and bulbs from Thompson and Morgan.  I love that they are the oldest British seed catalogues in the UK and I’ve been using them for years  myself on my allotment. I  am currently leafing through their catalogue like I’m looking at a restaurant menu! I want this, this that and the other, but to start with I am going to get some garlic bulbs in and some onions to plant next weekend. 

It’s going to be amazing. It’s going to be delicious. 

Saturday, 29 October 2011

My Recipe book - Prepped

In the first instance I started this blog to write a recipe book.  Of course now the blog has a life all of it's own.  If you 'd like to have  a look at a copy you should find it in any good bookstore or on line here on Amazon. 

Its full of time saving tips, tricks and techniques that result in easy delicious food to save you time and washing up in the kitchen! 

It's a beautiful book and I am very proud of it... and here are some of the lovely things people said about it. 

I'm so proud of it !

Images from Prepped 

This book is a kitchen life saver! Jason Atherton

A book full to the brim with stunning ideas and flavours. A fabulous collection of recipes that magically intertwine. Ruth Clemens

Prepped! is a brilliant book for the modern mother as it gives you loads of time-saving ideas and really wonderful recipes. Heidi Wallace
Always short of time, but with a passion for good food and plenty of it, I was delighted and hugely excited to find Vanessa's stunning book that multitasks cooking. It appears that Prepped! was written just for me. Laura Tenison, Founder & MD JoJo Maman Bebe

Great ingredients, proper food, but with the odd short-cut and doubling up of recipes to help you on your way. Vanessa calls it linked cooking.

It's time to make way for the new kitchen genie Vanessa. Having it all isn't magic ... it's about being ahead of the game, and Prepped! is the answer to how I can fit in cooking fabulous food for my family & friends easily, whilst running one of the UK's most creative chocolate establishments. Chantal Coady of Rococo Chocolates --.

Spontaneous parties, unstructured suppers, impromptu invitations, unexpected guests at any time of the day - welcome to Prepped!, a new, time-saving, inspirational and delicious way of cooking.
Vanessa Kimbell takes a selection of fabulous flavours and creates a basic 'wardrobe' of go-anywhere dishes.
By linking your recipes you can produce delicious food in less time, and by layering a selection of signature flavours you can transform your everyday cooking into something special.
Prepped! Stunning food that makes an enviable statement about your lifestyle.

I'd be delighted to sign a copy and send it you . please give me a shout .. I have PAYPAL  £20 + postage 

Friday, 28 October 2011

I Love James Ramsden's Secret Larder

I’m not a nervous person, but last night I felt a little apprehensive as I arrived at James Ramsden’s supper club, because Al was at home with the children and I went on my own. It’s interesting that people assume that because you are bubbly then you don’t get butterflies. Well bubbly people to get butterflies .. we’re just good at hiding them!

James is very understated when he talks about himself, but writing for the guardian word of mouth, Waitrose Illustrated and having a brilliant cook book Small Adventures in Cooking (New Voices in Food) out he really is one of the country's finest food young writers.

Well, I needn’t have been worried.  I was made so welcome when I arrived the tables were laid beautifully, the people were lovely and chattering and everyone was very relaxed.. including James !

I was given a Moscow Mule by James’s delightful sister Mary and got chatting with some of the other guests. There was laughter, smiles and a brilliant buzz in the room, which with its high ceilings and simple clean décor made the atmosphere really open and easy.

The food was utterly delicious. A spiced soup with ginger, wild mushrooms and chilli was light and warming on a cold October evening. The charred chicory was balanced with spiced pickled pear and creamy gorgonzola -  a clever addition of ground caramelized walnut and smoked salt gave the whole dish a sweet salted crunch.  The main was pure comfort.  Slow braised beef on garlic mash with green beans that had the perfect al dente crunch. The gluten free chocolate cake that followed was just divine .. I am going to have to add the recipe into my own dinner party book of tricks.  Deep dark rich fudgey chocolate cake.   Hot coffee and rose marshmallows were the perfect ending to a superb meal.

James’s supper club is one of the best evenings I’ve had for ages.  He is naturally charming and fun, with a serious ability to turn out superb food.  I can’t wait to go back ... only next time I will definitely take my husband. I called him earlier and told him what a great evening and that I’ve re booked for the next one.

Click here to contact James. 

I love Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet

A few weeks ago I attended Dan Lepard's Sourdough making course and Dan was just bursting with pride with his fabulous new book  Short and Sweet . Well I have to tell you that it really is one the best baking books ever..  The book itself is designed with the cook in mind.  Clear type, easy straight forward instructions, and it sits open flat so the page stays on the recipe you are making!

Then there of course there are the delicious recipes, and they are not just cakes ( .. although there are plenty.)  There are bakes, cakes, sweets, bread, muffins, and some of the most utterly gorgeous recipes ever. 

Dan's recipes are easy to follow, and always turn out exactly as they should. So if you are buying a baking book this year  I can't reccomend Short and Sweet
highly enough. 










Monday, 24 October 2011

Let’s make Christmas - The Food Blogger Gift Swap

It occurred to me just the other day that we food bloggers don’t often get the chance to meet up and yet we love nothing more than a cup of tea, something delicious to eat and a good natter about a recipe.  So I decided to organize just that. 

So I spoke to the lovely people in one of my absolute favorite shops in the world, Fortnum & Mason and they thought it was a wonderful idea for a get together and the swap has been arranged on Friday 18th November 3 – 6pm.  I love their gifts and if ever I haven’t got he time to make something then I know many of their goods are hand made and, as you can see from my pictures they make fabulous gifts.

I am so excited not least because we’ll all get to sample Fortnum & Mason’s delicious world famous tea and eat cakes and mince pies but we’ll get the chance to meet world class baker Dan Lepard, who’s recent book Short and Sweet is looking to be one of 2011 Christmas best selling baking books.

There are now just 3 spaces left 

If you'd like to come please add your comment below and tell me what you favourite thing to make at Christmas is and what your blog is called. 

On the day 
You will need to bring along your gift to Fortnum & Mason's 4th floor at 3pm (with your name and the recipe must be attached in an envelope.)  Your gift needs to be entered into the swap by 3.45pm. Your gift get’s a number and a category.  At the end of the event you get to pick out the tickets (According to how many gifts you brought with you ) out of the hat and leave with the gifts correlating to the number that you have picked from the hat it's like a raffle and you will leave with someone else’s gifts.  I wanted to add a bit of gentle competition to it all ... so Dan Lepard has very kindly offered to judge the gifts and the timetable is as follows: 

4 -5pm Dan Lepard will judge the entries and pick the winning gifts.

5 .45pm you pick a ticket out of all the entries and you leave with a gift.  

The gift categories are:
1 Pickles and preserves
2 Sweets
3 Alcohols / Drinks
4 Cakes, biscuits and baked goods

The Prizes are as follows
1 Overall best gift.  –  Fortnum & Mason Hamper
2 Best preserve / pickle is Aga Preserving Pan & Maslin Pan
3 Best sweets Rococo Chocolates course with Laurent Couchaux -  the Principle Chocolatier at Rococo Chocolates and winner of Chocolatier of the year 2011
4 Best drink - Champagne tasting class with Leiths Cookery school resident wine expert, Richard Bampfield this fun, informative tasting of the world’s most desirable tipple is the prize for the best drink
5 Best baked goods Signed book Short and Sweet by Dan Lepard & a Kenwood kMix KMX58 Stand Mixer, Citrus Yellow
mixer by a leading brand of Kitchen appliances Kenwood.  ( Hurrah for British design!) 

The Rules
You must share your recipe and blog about your gift using the Fortnum & Mason Let's make Christmas Logo in the blog post. 
You may enter up to 3 categories. Minimum entry is 1 category. 
You must provide an envelope with the recipe inside and your name and email address. Ingredients must be clearly marked to accommodate andy food allergies. 
All gifts must be packaged in a way that is appropriate for someone else to transport home. 
Prizes will be sent directly to the winners.  If you win you will need to leave your address with me at the end of the day. 
All decisions by the judge are final  and there are no cash or product alternatives. 
All gifts must tbe hand made, and credit the recipe to the author if appropriate.
You must be over 18 to participate. 

Friday, 21 October 2011

The Best British Spa Break

Every now and again I just need a break.  Of course the problem comes of course when I try to find the time, and the money because there isn’t any time and I really don’t have huge budget. However I think I found the perfect solution at Ragdale Hall and, of course, being the foodie that I am the food had to fabulous too!

So last week I asked my friend Robyn to come with me and went on a reviver break to Ragdale Hall health hydro.  It was exactly what I needed! Ragdale Hall itself is set in beautiful rolling Leicestershire countryside and manages to combine state-of-the-art facilities whilst keeping the charm of traditional the Victorian architecture.  To be fair I have to say it one of the most luxurious and relaxing health spa’s I’ve ever been to and not surprisingly it was recently voted Best Spa in Europe.

In just twenty-eight hours I left for home feeing totally relaxed and refreshed as though I’d had a week away! The treatments were heavenly, the food was fabulous and the staff were wonderful.  It was, as you would expect from a spa that has won some serious awards, fantastic, however the two things that stood out above any other spa I have ever stayed at was the friendliness of the staff and the absolute cleanliness of all areas, especially the changing and showers.  The staff really seem to love their jobs, and delight in making you welcome. Nothing is too much trouble and even as my friend Robyn called the night porter at 11pm beacuse she had forgotten her toothbrush the duty manager opened up the shop and had a new one at our door in minutes.

Certainly as I met and chatted to other guests I discovered that most guests are on their umpteenth visit.  I caught up with a group of ladies who regularly meet up there and you can listen to what they say below… they love it at Ragdale for sure.

One of the things that I find in spas that I have stayed in before is that the general area’s are not always up to the same standard of cleanliness as one would hope. My two nick names from my father and husband are water baby and bleach baby and if cleanliness is next to Godliness then I am saint Vanessa, so I was really at home in the common area’s at Ragdale because they were exceptionally clean.

The other thing that I really loved was just how British you can make your stay.  With local food in the restaurant, British wine on the wine list and Elemis being a British brand the treatments were seriously luxurious, but the prices of the treatments, including Ragdales manicures and Pedicures were on par with my local beauty salon.  It was refreshing not to have to wince at inflated prices!

Of course me being me I have to catch up with the chef and ask him about the food, and I must recommend the Steak .. it was melt in the mouth tender and from the local Hamblton herd.  I caught up with Chef David Ross and asked him about the Ragdale Hall recipe book   - you can listen to our chat below and asked him how he managed to produce such delicious food that was so healthy and that  really made the stay extra special.

So after several swims, a massage, a facial, manicure, pedicure, two delightful lunches, a seriously delicious supper, a great catch up with my friend Robyn and a bouncy beautiful wash and blow dry in the hair salon I found myself leaving on a high totally refreshed and I booked to go back in January.

So it is my absolute delight to offer you the chance to enjoy the same reviver break.  Simply comment below and tell me what is the best thing about staying at a spa … and who would you take with you if you won?

Good luck!

Click here to see the full details of the reviver break and here to see what is included in every stay at Ragdale. You will need to book your stay and use with in 6 months of winning


Please see competition Rules before entering. This giveaway is open to all readers over 18 with a UK mainland address.  The winner will be chosen at random by  You need to leave your e-mail address in order to comment, I am the only person that can see it. Please do not include your email in the actual comment as well.

This competition on behalf of Ragdale Hall and they will be responsible for organizing the prize with the winner. Their decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

There is one main way to enter and there are 3 more chances to win .. . and you must leave a separate comment for each bonus entry otherwise they will not be counted. 

For a chance to win please comment and tell me what is the best thing about staying at a spa … and who would you take with you if you won?

For a 2nd chance to win  please follow @RagdaleHall on Twitter and comment below to tell me you have done so.

For a 3rd chance to win please like Ragdale hall on Facebook and comment to tell me you have done so

For more chances of winning Tweet this article and comment below to tell me you have done so. Each comment counts and an entrance and you can have a maximum of 1 entry per day to win this break  - but you MUST comment with your twitter ID telling me you have done so!

Automated Entries are not allowed.  There is no cash or product alternative.  The invitation must be used by

Closing date of this competition is 4pm Tuesday November 15th 2011, The winner will be announced on Wednesday 16th November 2011

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


Last week I caught up with a friend and had a fabulous lunch in Odettes in London.  Douglas Blyde who is a former documentary maker now turned culinary scribe.  With almost 5000 London food lovers hanging on his every word Douglas has been described recently as  ‘one of the most respected (and well-fed) experts on eating out in the capital’ by the Evening Standard. He is a journalist, photographer, consultant, famous for his foodie Blydisms, and tremendous fun to eat out with. The only downside to eating with someone who’s dry wit sometimes makes me laugh out loud is that ‘s not terribly elegant when I have a mouth full of food!  

That said, I just love dining out with Douglas.  His palette is the most refined I’ve ever encountered and without sounding like I am dissecting a frog in a biology lesson, I get such a thrill from his detailed analysis of the dishes, his wry observations and unparalleled wine knowledge makes him a delight to dine out with. In short he is the perfect lunch partner.

Listen here to Douglas and Bryn chatting after our meal

So I felt that I must share our lunch at Odettes, not least because it was utterly delicious and the truth is, that I can’t recommend eating there enough. Bryn Williams is the owner. Initially becoming famous as a sous chef in 2006 as he won the opportunity to cook the fish course for the Queen's 80th birthday celebrations on the Great British Menu and he is regarded as one of Wales' best chefs and has taken over the long established restaurant in Primrose Hill.

The food is straight forward, simple yet elegant, the menu was, as you would expect is balanced and seasonal but what I found really extraordinary was that the 3 course set menu was just £20.  Douglas described it in a word as a steal.

The steak tartar was clever, as Douglas noted that the crunch from the potato weaved over the top was a textural delight.  We chatted away whilst being served a friendly Chardonay and agreeing that Bryn has an honest way with food letting the ingredients take centre stage.  The brown crab custard was like a savory Crème Brulee, it was smooth and rich with a velvety finish and my steak tartar was wonderfully balanced.  Douglas encouraged me to go for Bryn’s signature dish the Pan Fried Turbot with Oxtail and salsify.  It certainly lived up the hype (although I must point out this is not on the ser menu.) The beef was sweet. Intense tender melt in the mouth richness against the firm pan-fried turbot on a base of cockles and salsify.  There is no doubt that Bryn’s country background has given him a wonderful understanding of combining the best simple ingredients in life.

At the end of the meal I wanted to cook three of the recipes and hoped that Bryn would come out and chat so I could pick his brains about the dishes.  To my delight he did pop over to our table and had a chat pointing out that his book  Bryn's Kitchen had all three of the recipes in that I wanted.

For me eating out is as much about being inspired in my own kitchen at home, and so I can must say that I’ve so far cooked three of these recipes, which is a true indication of just how much I like a chef’s creations. 

So to be invited to Lunch by Bryn William at Odettes or win a  a signed copy of Bryn's Kitchen please tell me what you would cook for the queen if you had the opportunity to feed her?   Bryn will pick the most creative entry to enjoy a three course set lunch menu in January 2012.  What a perfect start to the year!


Please see competition Rules before entering. This giveaway is open to all readers over 18 with a UK mainland address.  The winner will be chosen by Bryn Williams.  You need to leave your e-mail address in order to comment, I am the only person that can see it. Please do not include your email in the actual comment as well.

This competition on behalf of Odettes and they will be responsible for organizing the prize with the winner. Their decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

There is one main way to enter and there are 3 more chances to win .. . and you must leave a separate comment for each bonus entry otherwise they will not be counted. 

For a chance to win please comment and tell me what you would cook for the Queen if you had the opportunity.

For a chance to win a signed copy of Bryn's Kitchen please tweet this post using the button below and you MUST comment with your twitter ID telling me you have done so.

For a 2nd chance to win a signed copy of Bryn's Kitchen please follow @brynOdettes on Twitter and comment below to tell me you have done so.

For a 3rd chance to win  a signed copy of Bryn's Kitchen sign up to the Odettes Newsletter and comment below to tell me you have done so. Each Comment counts and an entrance and you can have a maximum of 1 entry to win this meal and 3 entries on win the recipe book. 

Automated Entries are not allowed.  There is no cash or product alternative.  The invitation must be used on January 2012 
Odette's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Sourdough Workshop with Dan Lepard

I’ve got back into baking sourdough, having discovered several years ago that I am not actually allergic to wheat, but I am intolerant of either commercial yeast or some of he preservatives or enzymes in commercially produced bread.  I have no idea which it is .. but I do know that my own sourdough is delicious, inexpensive and I have no problems digesting it. It's a huge relief to discover I can eat wheat again, especially as I spent years baking sourdough in the village I grew up in. ( in the Dordogne.) 

I've found baking in a domestic situation a challenge. It is easy in the bakery - it is always the same but in my domestic set up my loaves are not the exact texture I have been looking for.   Perhaps is the lack of a wood fired oven, or the flour, or the water?  It is frustrating, as translating commercial baking into my kitchen should be straight forward. 

I’m a huge fan of Dan Lepard’s work and it was his book the Hand Made loaf that really inspired me to start baking again. So when  Dan invited me to his mater class I took my eldest daughter with me and spent a happy day refining my own technique.

We were made so welcome with tea and muffins for breakfast and met the other lovely bakers attending. We got to have a good look at Dan's brilliant new book Short and Sweet and  I met a lovely lady called Azlia who wrote this account of her day here and a great chap called Chris chap from The real bread Campaign  who you can listen to below talking about the course.

Dan covered all the stages of making and keeping a healthy leaven, we all got he chance to talk individually about our loaves and baking with him and the course made everyone feel that they can make bread exactly how they want to. The explanations the Dan gives means that not only do you make the bread you can touch, feel, taste, smell and experience the dough in a way

We have the most fantastic day and left with two sourdoughs’ each.  My daughter loved every minute of it we have both been totally inspired by Dan.   She leant so much about making sourdough that I now let her make her own and  I refined my knowledge to the point where I am now turning out the best bread I have ever made in a domestic kitchen. Hurrah. 

I can’t recommend doing this course enough and of course you must take a look at Dan' new book Short and Sweet 

35p for Beautiful Sourdough Loaf

I lived in the south of France every holiday since I was nine. Every day I would run round the corner and buy the  sourdough bread from the village bakery.

By the time I was eleven years old the smell of the first batch would waft through the pigeon holes in the roof where my bedroom was every morning.  I would listen to the bells from the church to ring four and creep downstairs. The smell of the smoke mingled with the baked bread on the cold air was magic. I would charge down the alleyway in the dark to a floury warm bakery where I would help make the bread, eat hot croissant and drink sweet dark coffee.

As a teenager worked in the bakery full time for a summer aged 17 and, a year later, went on to work in another bakery in the local town. As I got to about 19 years old I was busy at university and didn't go to France for several years...

As I went to university my health deteriorated. I have a virus and had dreadful fatigue and tiredness.  I discovered that I couldn’t eat bread. It bloated me and left me exhausted.  So for years I avoided bread.

Just 4 years ago I went back to stay in France. I woke in my bedroom to the smell of bread.  I was a child again and the wood smoke and fresh baked bred  drew me like the pied piper's song to the bakery doors. It was irresistible and before I knew it I was in the bakery spreading butter over warm crusty sourdough and sinking my teeth in. Oh, familiar joy! The crunch of the crust and the yield of the soft bouncy inner. Exquisite. I didn't give a fig. There was me.. and the bread - and that was all there was to the world.

I waited for the inevitable symptoms, but they didn’t come. As it turns out I am not intolerant of bread. I am intolerant to either commercial yeast or one of many enzymes or additives in commercial bread. 

When I got back to daily life I’ve only ever bought sourdough.  It’s not cheap I’d been buying this sourdough weekly at £3.85 until I came across a book by Dan Lepard called the Handmade loaf.  My sister recommended that I read Dan’s column in the Guardian and I a huge fan of his recipes.

I followed the instructions and made my sourdough using plain bread flour, and my utter delight they turned out beautifully.  So the cost of the flour is currently about £1.50 for a bag .. and even less of you go for a supermarket own brand.

Now My bread costs me just 35p  What a saving!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

What to do with all these quince ?

I've spent the morning with a friend Yvonne and her husband.  Each year then invite me over to pick the quince from their tree.  Each year I make Quince jelly.  Oh it's heavenly  .. but this year I have been given such allot that I'd like to try a few other things .

When I looked up quince on Wikipedia It amused me to read that Ancient Greek poets (Ibycus, Aristophanes, e.g.) use quinces (kydonia) as a mildly ribald term for teenage breasts!

Related to apples and pears I read in an article recently that quince trees originated in the Caucasus and that they are part of the rose family.  Certaily on the ancient world this was the fruit that represented  love, marriage and fertility and it was suggested that it was a quince .. not an apple in the story of Adam and Eve. 

The article went on to say that In 1275, Edward I planted four of the first ever quinces in England, paying sixpence for each one, and planted them in the grounds of the Tower of London. They must have been an exotic site in comparison to our apples and pears!

The white flesh is grainy sour, and hard, and it is only in cooking that they are transformed into tender fragrant rosy sweetness. .. So what to do with all these quince? 

Please do tell me your suggestions and I will set to .. for I know from experience that they do not keep well. 

Stuart suggests making Quinces-Roasted in Pineau des Charentes
Pippa suggested this fabulous Quince Tarte Tatin
The lovely Karen has suggested Quince Jelly and Quince and Wild Plum Sauce and Baked quince compote with Vanilla  oh and this one from All that I am eating for Quince and Apple Pie

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Let's make Christmas

I have two simultaneous reactions when I hear the word Christmas.  The first reaction is sheer excitement and joy.  I just LOVE Christmas.  Open fires, holly, mince pies, sherry, Christmas dinner, carols and laughter.. lots of laughter.

My second reaction is a sober moment when I think of the cost and that creepy feeling that comes over me when I realise how much money I’ve spent.  What really gets to me is that much of what I buy is so unnecessary.  So many of the gifts I buy are discarded two days later as the children seem to have had their thrill of opening the presents and I am left feeling that the commercialisation of Christmas has stolen the joy that gift giving it is meant to bring.

Then I have such trouble choosing gifts for some of my family too.. I mean who actually needs anything? My dad for instance has more scarves, hats, gloves, books and toiletries that you can imagine and my sister said just the other day said enough is enough and that her house is totally cluttered with gifts she just doesn’t need. That said ..  I still love giving.

So this year I am taking a stand.  Yes I know that it’s October .. but that is entirely my point .. this year I am going to plan it and make Christmas.   I know it will save a fortune and so I am going to make the best food gifts imaginable and wrap them beautifully.  I’ve several classic recipes in my book Prepped and I’ve bought a copy of Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet which has got a whole chapter on making sweets in it it's fabulous and I can’t think of anything better than a homemade gift.

So my first gift that I am making is Sloe Gin. I’ve been out and about picking sloes each time I walk the dog.  I have a secret ingredient in my recipe.  It's very subtle and you only need the tinniest amount of star anise to lift warm undertones into your liquor.  

450g Sloes
350g Caster sugar

Prick your Sloes with needle. If the first frost hasn’t hit then freeze your sloes, even an hour helps as it breaks down the fruit slightly to get a fuller flavour.
Fill a bottle with the sloes, add the sugar and the gin and pop the lid on.  Shake gently to mix up the sugar and gin.  Keep turning the bottle each week until the sugar is dissolved. It can take up to 3 weeks.  Your gin will be ready to decant about a week before Christmas.

I’ve read in a recent article that cheap gin is fine to use.  I couldn’t disagree more. If you want a floral fragrant and complex flavour then use a good quality gin.  For the few pound extra I think it gives a far superior taste, so I’ve chosen a gin made quite locally to me from Waitrose called Greenalls Bloom London Dry Gin. It's created from juniper, chamomile, pomelo and honeysuckle and I feel using this particular gin adds notes of orange and honey behind the robust sloe for a far superior finish.

So there’s’ my first gift sorted .. I think that says so much about the say that you feel about someone and so I am inviting you to take part in Let’s Make Christmas 2011.

There is a prize for the best post.. a - a new K- mixer from Kenwood .. please see details here!

If you’d like to participate .. 
1) Use the Let’s make Christmas logo in your blog post and link back to this page.

2) Please make a comment in the box below to tell me that you are taking part. 

3) Tweet this page with the #LetsMakeChristmas

4) Remember to email me your blog post to

I’ll do a round up of everyone’s post on the 15th November .. which hopefully will give us all a truly fabulous collection of inspiring idea’s to make Christmas in plenty of time. .. but do keep sending your recipes in  .. I will keep on adding them !

Monday, 10 October 2011

Celebrate National Chocolate Week & Win a Tasting Session for 2 at Rococo

This week is National Chocolate week, and I can’t think of a better time of year to indulge in chocolate. I read an article recently saying researchers had found eating dark chocolate lowers blood pressure and that chocolate contains serotonin, which cheers you up! There are just so many chocolates to chose from .. not all of them are delicious  not all of them are responsibly buying their cocoa beans or support the communities where the beans are grown. 

One of the best ways of trying new chocolates and buying ethically is to go to a specialist chocolate boutique such as Rococo's in London and this week they have a series of events such as the Blindfolded Chocolate Tasting on the 14th of October  and a whole week of chocolate tasting in celebration!
Laurent Couchaux  Rococo's head Chocolatier won Chocolatier of the year this year .. so these chocolates are utterly divine.   Listen to my interview with him below to get an idea of just how heavenly  the flavours are!
Laurent Couchaux – Principle Chocolatier at Rococo Chocolates, Chocolatier of the Year (mp3)

So I am delighted to be able to offer a Customised Celebration Chocolate Tasting Session
Length: 1 hour for 2 people; maximum at the Motcomb Street Shop: Cost normally £75 per head. 
This tasting session, led by an experienced team member, will take you through a fabulous chocolate experience. You will taste different chocolate bars and mouthwatering handmade truffles whilst listening to the history of cocoa.  At the end of the tasting you will also receive a goody bag and a signed copy of Chocolate: The Food of the Gods
 by Chantal Coady.



Please see competition Rules before entering. This giveaway is open to all readers over 18 with a UK mainland address.  The winner will be chosen using an online randomiser and announced on this page on Friday 21st October  You need to leave your e-mail address in order to comment, I am the only person that can see it. Please do not include your email in the actual comment as well.

This competition on behalf of Rococo Chocolates and they will be responsible for organizing the prize with the winner. Their decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
There is one main way to enter and there are 3 more chances to win .. . and you must leave a separate comment for each bonus entry otherwise they will not be counted. 

For a chance to win please comment and tell me who you’d most like to take to the blindfolded chocolate tasting experience.

For a second chance to win please tweet this post using the button below and you MUST comment with your twitter ID telling me you have done so.

For a third chance to win please follow me @ rococochocs on Twitter and comment below to tell me you have done so.

For a fourth chance to win please like their facebook page and comment below to tell me you have done so. Each Comment counts and an entrance and you can have a maximum of 4 entries to win this course.
Automated Entries are not allowed.  There is no cash or product alternative. 

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Cardamom & Tangerine Drizzle Cake

Every domestic goddess needs a good drizzle cake in her repertoire  - it's a classic and this one kicks up the everyday lemon drizzle cake into something really special. 

Deep orange sweet tangerines have just hit the shelves so I’ve decided to make a Tangerine drizzle cake this week.  If you don’t like tangerine you can use lemon instead and If you like things a bit tarter then mix ½ a lemon in with the tangerine juice in the syrup.   If I am honest this cake always tastes much better the following day.   I was tweeted earlier to ask about lime drizzle cake by Penelope's Pantry  and I can recommend that it is utterly delicious made in exactly the same way but using limes instead -  served with a cup of coffee and good gossip with a girl friend or two of course!

Preparation time 20 minutes
Cooking time 35 minutes
Serves: 8


2 Tangerines, finely grated zest

200g unsalted butter, cubed and softened

200g  caster sugar

3 medium eggs,
200g self-raising flour,
½ tsp of ground cardamom

Tangerine syrup OR Lemon syrup
Tangerine juice from 2 tangerines
5 tbs caster sugar

1 Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4. I don't use the fan oven as it dries out the sponge.

2 Grease a 20cm, round, springform cake tin and base-line with a disc of baking parchment. Place the sugar, softened butter and Tangerine zest in a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon or an electric hand mixer The result should be pale in color, with a really light and fluffy texture. Putting in the tangerine zest when you cream the butter and sugar helps to release the oils in the zest, which results in a much more zesty sponge.

3 Now start adding the beaten egg, which should be at roughly the same temperature as the butter and sugar. Add it in stages, beating in after each addition. If it looks like it's going to curdle, add 1 tbsp flour. Finally, fold in the flour and cardamom. You will be left with a really thick mixture, but this is what you want for a dense sponge.

4 Spoon the mixture into your prepared tin and bake for 35–45 minutes until it is shrinking away from the side. Test it with a skewer to see if the mixture is cooked in the centre; it should come out clean or with crumbs, not with any mixture. Remove from the oven and, if it is done, prick all over with a cocktail stick about 20 times.

5 To make the tangerine syrup squeeze the juice of both into a saucepan and add 5/6 tablespoons of caster sugar.  Heat and stir for about a minute until dissolved.  Cool.  Alternatively you can mix it with icing sugar and use immediately for a more liquid drizzle.

6 Drizzle the tangerine syrup over the cake, slowly, waiting a few moments before adding more, so that it all sinks in. It should leave a crust on the cake as the juices sink in. Remove from the tin and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Lemon Syrup

You only have to mention homemade lemonade to elicit envious smiles from your girlfriends. Why? Because they’re torn between joining you and leaving in disgust of your fantastical domesticity! But this syrup is as magical as the one Alice in Wonderland drank. One sip and in an instant you’re transformed into everything  that years of styling of shabby-chic vintage crockery-collecting represents. There’s no need for an antidote, though: just pull up a pretty cushioned chair, add a drop of gin and ply them with a friendship-winning White Rabbit Cocktail; they’ll soon come round!

Makes 1 litre
Prep time 25 minutes
Cooking time 5 minutes

Zest and juice of 7 lemons
500ml water
500g caster sugar

1 Put all the ingredients into a pan over a low heat and gently dissolve the sugar.

2 Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 3–4 minutes. Allow the liquid to become still and scoop off any foam. The syrup should have thickened slightly and become more viscous. If it is not, then return to the boil for another minute. It is better to be on the under- than the over-side of syrupy. If you overdo it, you’ll end up with a bottle full of jelly!

3 Decant the liquid into a sterilized bottle. It will keep in the fridge for up to 4 weeks.

I use mine as the Drizzle for my Lemon drizzle cake