Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Christmas Cake

When I first posted about finding this recipe I sat and cried. Hot tears rolled down my face as I typed my post.. I had forgotten how much I loved my grandmother.  It's 22 years last month since she died.  I remember it well, I was a chef and worked a double shift that day.

My mother since told me that when my father read this post he wept silently too, but I am so grateful to have this recipe. It is treasure.

Although I say so myself this cake is delicious and each time dad eats a slice of my cake his face transports to his childhood.  It tastes of love and laughter and Christmas past -  for her recipe is from about 1920, and she wrote this recipe down just a couple of weeks before she died. Whilst my mother taught me almost everything I know about cooking, it was my grandmother who bossed me about the kitchen teaching me ( little miss know it all) how to bake!

Lillian Hulme made wedding, christening and Christmas cakes for her living, and her recipe is over 80 years old. I was given the original recipe by my mother while I was researching Prepped.  Dad told me that in the 1950s and 60s my Grandmother’s cakes were so amazing that people travelled from miles around to order one of them. I’m also told that cake-making was a sociable occasion, so even if it is last minute .. I still get the children involved, and boss my own daughters about in much the same way as my grandma did I'm sure!

Makes 16 slices
Prep time 25–30 minutes
Cooking time 4 hours

250g self-raising flour
A pinch of salt
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
200g butter
Zest of 1 lemon
200g soft brown sugar
2 heaped tbsp treacle
2 tsp vanilla essence
6 eggs beaten 
450g sultanas
220g raisins
300g currants
20 glacé cherries
100g chopped nuts
Drop of milk, to mix
100ml Spiced Orange & Clove Brandy, to feed the cake

1 Preheat the oven to 150°C/gas mark 2

2 Sieve the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and spices into a bowl.

3 Cream the butter, lemon zest and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the treacle, and vanilla essence until light and fluffy.

4 Mix in the eggs a little at a time. To stop the batter from curdling add a tablespoon of the flour. Fold in the remaining flour. Mix well, then fold in the dried fruit, glacé cherries and chopped nuts.

5 Grease a 20cm round or 18cm square cake tin and line the bottom and sides with baking parchment (not greaseproof paper).

6 Turn the mixture into the tin and make a slight hollow in the centre to keep the cake flat on top. You don’t want to decorate a domed cake!

7 Bake for 1 hour, then turn the oven down to 140°C/gas mark 1 for about 31/2–4 hours. Push a skewer into the centre to test for doneness. If it doesn’t come out clean, return the cake to the oven for up to another hour. Test every 20 minutes or so until the skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven. Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes.

8 Turn out onto a wire rack. Once the cake is completely cool, poke a few holes in it with a skewer and pour over 3-4 tbsp of Spiced Orange & Clove Brandy. Let the brandy soak right into the cake. Keep the cake wrapped in foil and in an airtight tin or plastic container, with the holes-side up. Spoon over 2–3 tablespoons every week until you decorate the cake.

Tips & Uses
• To makes gifts from this cake, quarter it to make 4 small cakes serving 4 slices each.

> Spiced Orange & Clove Brandy

Monday, 19 December 2011

Instant Mincemeat Recipe

I've posted this recipe before  .. but it so good I'm posting it again ! 

Christmas week I seem to rush about like my hair os on fire I often realise too late that I haven't made mince meat. This recipe is so quick and simple to make - it's happiness a pot as fa as I am concerned. Packed full of orange, spices and fruit - it tastes fantastic and what's more a jar in the fridge makes a super emergency gift - and you know you need that peace of mind of having one stashed - just in case!

Makes 2 x 440ml Jars
Preparation 10 minutes
Cooking 20 minutes
170 ml Orange and Cinnamon Brandy (or just brandy )
200g soft brown sugar
170g dried cherries/ blueberries or mixture
300g Fresh Cranberries
200g of currents and raisins
30g peeled very finely grated fresh ginger
2 tsp mixed spice
juice and zest of 2 medium oranges
a Vanilla pod cut into 4 pieces

1 Add the sugar and brandy into a large pan and warm gently. Add the fresh cranberries and cook gently for about 3 minutes. Stir well.
2 Tip the Dried fruit, ginger, mixed spice, orange juice and zest and vanilla and stir well. Cover and simmer very gently for about 15 minutes, stirring and checking occasionally.
3 Spoon into clean jars and store in the fridge. This keeps happily for up to 2 weeks.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Vanilla Vodka

I know that if time is short and cash is light then making a gift can seem like the last thing you have the last thing you have the nerves for ..  but this takes about 2 minutes, and costs about £16 ... there is still time to do it!  ( Waitrose vodka is £10.60 & the Nadali Vanilla pod £4.99)
You can buy flavoured vodkas, but believe me: this is so much nicer and more vanilla-y. I love to use this in cocktails and I give it as a gift with the cocktail recipe below attached to the bottle. 
It also goes on a treat  on Christmas puddings if like me you've drunk all the brandy,  that is if you can bear to pour it in the pudding rather than into a cocktail glass!

Makes 1 x 75cl bottle
Prep time  2 minutes – or more if you drink some !

75cl vodka
3 vanilla pods
250g Vanilla Sugar
2 tsp of edible glitter (optional)

1 Put all the ingredients into a sterile glass bottle and seal. Shake well.

2 Shake several times a day over the course of a week and the sugar will dissolve to leave you with a beautiful clear liqueur with vanilla flecks

Vanilla White Russian
Serves 1
Prep time 2 minutes

50ml Vanilla Vodka
25ml coffee liquor
25ml single cream

Fill a shaker (or a jam jar if you don’t have one!)  two thirds  full with ice add a large (50ml) shot of Vanilla vodka and a shot of Kahlua or coffee liquor . Shake and strain into an ice-filled glass. Pour a small shot of single cream over the top,. You get it to sit on top by pouring it over the back of a spoon. Finish with a dusting of cocoa powder.

Tip  - you can use Baileys instead of cream

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Indoor Christmas Wreath ... on a budget

I wasn't going to post this but Englishmum and I were just tweeting about the wreath on the front door  .. and I said I'd take a photo of the indoor wreath I made. Next thing I know I'm writing post! 

I don’t want to spent a fortune on Christmas decorations I’d much rather save my spare pennies and get some real roses for Christmas day… but in the run up to then I still like to make the place festive  .. so my indoor wreath is also on a budget and is made up of my dried hydrangea’s from in the garden, ivy from on the wall outside and left over cones and old cinnamon sticks.   I used silk roses, although they look very real, and a big white candle.  It took about 30 minutes to make and I popped it onto a large platter.  It looks so pretty with  candle lit in the evenings.

This is the cost breakdown:

Oasis Circle £3
3 x roses @ £1.50 each  £4.50
Candle £7
Greenery from the garden

Total Cost

Roast Pork Belly with Orange & Cloves

As Christmas approaches, my purse and my spare time inevitably seem to shrink in unison. This ultra simple dish is now a favourite in many restaurants, especially as these cheaper cuts of meat have become so fashionable. This has a crisp, crunchy crackling with melt in the mouth sweet meat, alongside the aromatic, festive orange and cloves. .. and what’s more I challenge anyone to take more than 6 minutes to get it into the oven!

Serves 6
Prep time 10 minutes
Cooking time 6 hours
Suitable for freezing No

6 garlic cloves, whole and unpeeled
peel of 1 orange using a vegetable peeler to get large strips
15 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1.5kg pork belly, scored (ask your butcher to do this)
2 tbsp sea salt
35ml of Orange and Clove Brandy or zest of an orange and 35ml of brandy
1 glass 100ml of orange juice
1 tsp sugar

1 Preheat your oven to its full whack: at least 220°C/gas mark 7.

2 In a roasting tin, put the garlic cloves, the orange peel, 8 cloves and the cinnamon stick on the bottom, underneath where the pork will be.

3 Rub the underside of the pork belly with half the salt and rub the other half into the skin.

4 Press the remaining 7 cloves into the skin and pop it into the oven. Drop the heat to 150°C/gas mark 2 and cook for 5–6 hours, until tender

5 Remove from the heat, take the meat out of the pan, and set it to one side to rest. Strain the juices into a pan and add the brandy and heat up until boiling.  Slowly add the orange juice and and sugar. Boil this for 2–3 minutes to reduce the liquid and concentrate the taste of the sauce.

6 Slice the pork, drizzle it with the sauce and serve with pan-fried potatoes and rosemary. 

Photo above of my raw pork by Nikki Callis 

My wreath on a Budget.

I have a friend Gill, who is an artist with flowers. Every year she helps me make a wreath for Christmas. We sit in her cellar, where she works, drinking hot soup and chatting about how another year has passed making our decorations.  It is one of the loveliest days before Christmas, and I treasure it. 

Up until this year I use fresh roses .. as you can see from last years video .. but this year I’m on a budget so I’ve used Hydrangea’s instead.  Its so beautiful .. even if I do say so myself !

This is the cost breakdown:

Oasis Circle £4
5 x hydreagea’s @ £1.50 each  £7.50
Fresh miniature roses £3.49
Greenery from the garden

Total Cost

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Roses for Christmas

I never really write a post on a Sunday, but today is the exception.  I really love my garden so whenever I've been asked what I would like for my birthday or as a house warming I've been asking for roses.  Aunty Inga,  my friend Cathinka and my husband all bought be roses yet I know when it is winter the last thing you think about is getting the garden ready for summer, but I’ve just spent most of the day getting in David Austin bare root roses in the ground with my husband doing all the hard work.  My job is to point, smile, praise and make tea for him. .. and yes I do sprinkle the root powder on too.

Now it’s dark and I’m just getting warm with a cup of tea. I am back at my computer, my damp hair is all curled into ringlets, the fire is lit and there is a lemon chicken roasting in the oven.  The children are watching Monsters inc and I can hear them giggling. I have a few minutes to pop up a post about these beautiful flowers and share my vision for summer. I would say that for any garden lover now is the time to get your roses in .. right up until March, and they make superb Christmas gifts. 

I have also ordered my flowers for Christmas  .. they are fabulous.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Ben Vear in Vanessa's Kitchen - Christmas Pudding Ice-cream

I've known Ben Vear for quite some time.  He's extremely talented and has the most incredible knowledge about ice cream, so in my kitchen is Ben Vear.  He's fourth generation ice-cream maker from Winstones Icecream and Ben from the heart of the Cotswolds. We popped into my local Waitrose, picked up the ingredients and headed straight home where we set to making this festive flavour. I asked him  how he came about becoming such an expert in Ice-cream "My Great Grandfather Albert Winstone started Winstones Cotswold Ice Cream in 1925 near Stroud, Gloucestershire, where the business is still today churning out delicious ice creams under my mother Jane Vear who sits as managing director and my father Colin is General Manager. So it's in my DNA" he explained with a smile.

Ben is seriously passionate about ice cream.  Certainly it seems that he inherited his grandfather's insistence on sourcing the finest and freshest ingredients, as much as possible from the local community and he really encourages use of seasonally home-grown or locally sourced ingredients and we had a really relaxing afternoon in the kitchen chatting and stirring and I found his knowledge fascinating.   Now I  don't want to spend a fortune on expensive ice creams this year so I asked Ben what we could make on budget this Christmas.  So here you can listen in to us making his recipe for Christmas Pudding ice-cream for under £5.  

Christmas Pudding Ice - cream 
• 400ml carton organic double cream
• 200ml local full fat milk
• 100g fair-trade caster
• 3 large free-range egg yolks
• Handful of sultanas
• 4 tbsp quality brandy
• 4 tbsp quality rum
• 1 tsp mixed spice
• 1 tsp ground clove
• 1 tsp ground cinnamon

1. In a bowl combine spices, sultanas, brandy and rum, leave covered in a cool dry place for approx half an hour, to allow the spices and alcohol to infuse.
2. In a mixing bowl whisk together egg yolks and sugar until you form a smooth, pale mixture. Place over a low heat and stir until mixture begins to thicken to a custard like substance.
3. Combine milk, cream, yoghurt and the infused rum mixture, ensuring all of the fruit is adequately mixed and mix into the egg based custard.
4. Return to a low heat for approximately 10 minutes or until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
5. Pour mixture into your ice cream maker, following manufacturer’s instructions or decant to a pudding bowl and place in the freezer for approx 3 hours, or until set.

To impress guests, you could decant the mixture into a pudding basin, freeze, and turn out when it is ready to serve… not only will the ice cream look and taste just like a real Christmas pudding, but will act as a good alternative for those who find the richness of Christmas pudding too much.

Just a couple of months ago Ben launched  'Make Your Own Organic Ice Cream. I love this book it’s delicious ice creams are straight forward and so much nicer than anything you can buy in the shops. With recipes such as such as strawberries & cream, butterscotch chip, lemon meringue, Christmas pudding and even mulled wine; sorbets such as lime & basil, winter or summer Pimms, lemon grass & ginger and sloe vodka; and frozen desserts, smoothies and thickness  it's full of brilliant idea's .. you get the picture..  it’s a seriously great guide to making your own ice-cream. 

Friday, 9 December 2011

Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet Book Launch

I was asked the question a while ago if none of the objects in your house could ever be bought again and your house was on fire which 5 things would you save? 

God forbid that anything so awful should happen .. but the question does force you think about what you really value.  Of course once my husband, children, cats and my pup were safe one of the things I would rescue would be Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet. It’s up there with Nigel Slater’s books.  It’s no accident that they both have the same publisher, whom I met on Tuesday night at Dan’s book party. These books are the classics of our time, and while friends, acquaintances, journalists and colleagues celebrated with Dan we were all treated to some really aromatic and delicious food at a new Lebanese restaurant in South Kensington called Comptoir Libanais.

It was a lovely evening, for a truly fabulous book and I was pleased to see one of my all time favourite food journalists Xanthe Clay, who writes for the Telegraph there, along with Helen from FussfreeFlavours and Dawn from Aga.  There were some really great people who came along all of whom who couldn't say enough good things about Dan and his work.  As Dan took centre stage on the table, the room erupted in such heartfelt applause  -  it was a really friendly atmosphere, matched by the warm spices of the eastern food, and I was genuinely delighted to have been invited. 

So when I say it will be the best baking book you will ever buy believe me and pop it on your Christmas list .. I am sure you will love as much as I do!

December Blossom

I went to London this morning for lunch with Valentine Warner to celebrate all that is great about British game. It was a fabulous lunch and I am looking forward to sharing it.  But I will write about that in a day or so. 

Before I left I took a close look at one of my cherry trees and was quite shocked to see it in flower.  The delicate pink blossoms are somehow almost Japanese.  Whilst I appreciate that it is not normal to flower in December they are so pretty I had to pick some and I popped them this gorgeous jug.  Now I am concerned about my tree, and despite only being here for a few months now I feel quite emotionally attached to my trees already. I hope it will be ok.

I hate travelling back on the train and I was really especially pleased to get home tonight.  Home. The children were waiting for me to tuck them up in bed and my husband had lit the fire. This is what we have worked so hard for, dreamt, planned, prayed and waited for.  It is everything I had hoped and more. 

Although there is so much to be spent on the house to put it right,  I won’t be able to splurge and buy everything on the children’s list this year. The children's bedrooms need decorating, carpeting and new curtains to replace the 30 year old threadbare ones they have right now.  Mr K joked earlier that he halved my housekeeping and doubled my housework.  Actually it wasn’t so much as a joke as a statement that could only be said laughing for it is actually the truth.  And although earlier this evening he said that I really don’t need a new freezer (mine broke last week) being as we are living one. He went on to waddle about in a comical manner saying he now appreciated what those emperor penguins we have been watching on Frozen Planet have to go through. Yes … I will admit it’s cold, and that the roof, that I didn’t care about in sunny June, really does leak, and the 140 year old original glass in the windows despite being pretty, is still single glazing and yes is still seriously cold… but I am happy, and the single glazing stays.

Each year I light the fire, pop some festive music on, make mincemeat  and decorate the tree.  I savour each moment.  Each little trinket I hang has a moment attached to it.  The silver stag from an old school friend, the scarlet old-fashioned plane I bought in Calgary and the little hand made delicate ones my children have made each year. I hang each slowly and deliberately.  This year I looked back and remembered how as each year passed in my last house I felt somehow more unsettled, as though I was supposed to be somewhere else. I would unwrap and wonder if I would get to where I was supposed to be by the following year.

So although I am not very religious this feeling of being settled is quite strangely spiritual.  I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  I am finally home. It feels so right, and I am really looking forward to Christmas.