VonShef Popcorn Maker

Domu asked me to review something from their range of kitchenware and cooking equipment. I selected to review their popcorn maker. My eldest daughter loves popcorn and would invariably buy a bag when we called into the sweetshop on the way home from school. This was quickly becoming an expensive habit and with expensive presents requested for Christmas we came to an agreement that there would be no more visits to the sweet shop after school until after Christmas so we could save some money to put towards the presents that they had requested. It is a lot cheaper to buy a 500g bag of popping corn and make your own than to buy the ready popped variety. Each day before school pick-up I was popping corn in a pan with a spoonful of oil. This can get messy if you happen to start another job and forget your pan of popping corn.

The VonShef Popcorn Maker in action

The VonShef Popcorn Maker in action

I hadn’t considered the option of a popcorn maker. In fact, I hadn’t realised that you could get one for the home. I have to say, I am very impressed. The popcorn maker is reasonably priced at £22.99 and is well worth the purchase price if you eat a lot of popcorn.

The popcorn maker is very easy to use and requires no oil. The corn is popped by hot air circulation and it takes about a minute to pop a bowlful of popcorn. It is quite noisy when operating but no noisier than a food processor.

The popcorn is much fluffier than when popped in an oiled pan and there is less waste. I tend to find quite a few unpopped corns in a pan and the most I have found in a full bowl of popcorn made by this machine is ten unpopped corns. There is less washing up too, particularly when you don’t have burned pans to wash up.

You can add whatever flavour you fancy to the popped corn. The favourite in this house is butter melted with golden syrup and a grind of sea salt.

The popcorn maker comes with a 500g packet of popping corn and four cardboard popcorn boxes. It has recipes on the side of the box too, including one for popcorn with bacon and maple syrup. That might be one we will be trying over the Christmas holidays if we get the chance to put our feet up to watch one of the Christmas films.

The only problem with having a popcorn maker in the kitchen is that it nearly kills you to buy popcorn at the cinema when you go to watch Paddington.

Domu sent me the VonShef popcorn maker for free for the purposes of review. All opinions are my own and honest. 

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Christmas cooking

It is my youngest daughter’s eighth birthday tomorrow, the party was held at the weekend and everything is ready for tomorrow. This, then, for me, means I can begin to think about Christmas. I can’t contemplate it before her birthday preparations are out of way. Thank goodness she wasn’t born closer to Christmas. What this also means is that I have been doing this blog for more than five years now. This was bought home to me when I printed off the chocolate birthday cake recipe for my mum to make for her and looked at the photo of the cake that my youngest had decorated for her Dad when she was three.

This made me think about just how many recipes I have posted on here over that time. It has become my own personal cookbook and I hope that it has the same purpose for others too.  In my planning for the holidays I started to look back on the recipes that are favourites and also found some that I really enjoyed when I made them but haven’t returned to since. It occurred to me that a round-up of the recipes I will be revisiting or would like to, but probably won’t have the time when it comes to it, would be useful for me and perhaps for a few of you too.

I do love all the cooking that comes with the Christmas holidays. The girls have two weeks off from school which means that we can have proper breakfasts, rather than a bowl of cereal or a piece of toast. So we will be enjoying pancakes, waffles, pikelets or Staffordshire Oatcakes as well as the occasional Full English.

The Aga baked ham will be cooked for Christmas Eve dinner and for tucking into afterwards too. Whenever there is a ham in the house Fidget pie is made, because I love it so much. When I made Fidget pie last week, I used white wine instead of cider and reduced it to a syrup before I added the cream and it was delicious. My recipes are always evolving.

My mum makes enough mincemeat for all of us, but if you do need a recipe the one I made with pecans was really tasty. Mince pies are very popular in this house, in fact I have promised to make some today. My eldest likes them slightly burned. I like to oblige, sometimes because I have forgotten put the timer on. The curse of the Aga.  Then when we are bored of them, mincemeat bars might make an appearance or that Norfolk Scone I have promised myself.

My mum will also be cooking the turkey, but she will be doing it this way because it’s tried and tested and delicious. Mushroom and chestnut wellington makes a very good alternative to the turkey.

Stollen might make an appearance, because I make marzipan at Christmas, not for the cake (mum makes those) but because we love it. Marzipan chocolates will be the result and I should really make my ginger and marzipan cake again because that was very, very good.

Christmas pudding is my absolute favourite, but if you want something different then my Cardamom and almond steamed pudding or my Whisky and honey cheesecake go down very well. Chocolate truffles, whether chilli or cherry flavoured will be on the table at some point and I might find time to make candied peel again.

Just writing this post has lifted me into the festive spirit so I am off to make mince pies and some lemon curd ready for the pikelets and oatcakes. Be assured that whilst I make these I will be half watching a movie on one of the Christmas channels. I started doing that back in November. Don’t judge me too harshly.

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Almond fingers

Almond fingers

These little bars of deliciousness are, like the Norfolk Scone, inspired by Jennie Reekie’s Cakes, Pastries and Bread book. I have altered her recipe though replacing half the flour with ground almonds to make them more almondy, taken out Jennie’s cinnamon addition and changing the method, so they really are only a doff of the hat to Jennie. Mine are more macaroon to Jennie’s shortbread. In fact, if you pinned me down to describing them I would say that they are a hybrid macaroon/shortbread. A bit like the Norfolk Scone being a hybrid scone/eccles cake. There seems to be a pattern forming here…

They are quick to make and very, very tempting.

100g butter
50g caster sugar
75g plain flour
75g ground almonds
1 egg, beaten, for glazing
25g flaked almonds
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Method

Line a 20cm square tin with baking paper and preheat the oven to 180°c, gas mark 4 or use the middle shelf of the Aga baking oven.

I use a food processor and whizz the butter, caster sugar, flour and almonds until the mixture begins to form a ball.

If you don’t have a processor then rub the butter into the flour, almonds and sugar. You will start with a breadcrumb texture and then it should start to bind together to form a ball.

Press the mixture into a 20cm square tin using the palm of your hand to level the surface. Using a pastry brush, brush all over with the beaten egg. Prick all over with the tines of a fork and sprinkle over the almonds and granulated sugar.

Place in the preheated oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Cut into fingers whilst still warm, lift the baking paper out of the tin and place onto a cooling tray.

Almond fingers

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Hotel Chocolat Pasta and Pesto

Hotel Chocolat pasta and pesto

I was recently approached to review items for Hotel Chocolat. There were some lovely Christmas chocolates that I could have quite happily chomped on, but what really caught my eye was their cocoa pasta and pesto. I was intrigued. They arrived beautifully presented and the girls were immediately interested. Well, of course they were, the bag had the word chocolat on it. I had planned roast chicken for tea and the girls were eager to try the cocoa pasta. The pesto is what it says on the bottle – a basil pesto with added cocoa nibs. So I boiled the pasta and stirred in the pesto. A simple, quick solution for an unusual dinner. I have to admit the first taste was unusual. The pesto is quite bitter. But, a few bites in and I was more convinced and Mr OC agreed saying that he thought I had gone mad at first but that the pasta/pesto combo was really quite delicious. I think the slight bitterness of the cocoa nibs in the pesto was a step too far for the girls though with their less adventurous palates.

I made a dip to go with the chicken too, by mixing an equal amount of mayonnaise and natural yoghurt together and adding pesto to taste. This edged out the bitterness of the cocoa nibs and made a very good dip indeed. I will be having this a lot.

The next day, the family were coming for fireworks in the garden and so I cooked the remaining pasta and made a chocolate custard, mixed the two together and served cold with brandied cherries that I had frozen after making cherry brandy. This was a great success, the pasta adding a bit of bite to the dessert. The cherries made a lovely addition but the dessert would stand well enough on its own.

cocoa pasta and chocolate custard

125g cocoa pasta

100g 70% chocolate
300ml double or single cream
4 egg yolks
1 tsp cornflour
1 tablespoon caster sugar

Method

Boil the pasta in a large pan of boiling water until al dente (it must have a slight bite to it). Drain and set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water or in the microwave.

Pour the cream into a heavy based saucepan and bring just to the boil. In the meantime combine the egg yolks, cornflour and caster sugar in another bowl. Add the hot cream in a steady stream to the eggs and whisk all the time to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Wash out the saucepan and then add the cream and egg mixture to the pan and whisk over a gentle to medium heat until the custard thickens. Whisk in the slightly cooled melted chocolate. Add the pasta to the custard and place into a serving dish. Grate chocolate over the top. Place in the fridge until you are ready to serve.

I really enjoyed trying these items, so thank you to Hotel Chocolat for the opportunity.

I received the items in the top photograph for free from Hotel Chocolat for the purposes of review. I was not paid for this review. All opinions are my own and are honest. 

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Norfolk Scone

Norfolk scone

One of my favourite things to do is to  look through the cookbook section of our local charity shop. I don’t know why, but this particular shop seems to receive some very good cookbook donations. I always come out with one or two new books for my ever-growing collection. One of my most recent acquisitions was Cakes, Pastries and Bread by Jennie Reekie, first published in 1977. It’s a wonderful book full of the staples that you want to cook again and again. The recipe that really caught my eye was the Norfolk Scone. This filled scone is a cross between a  scone and an eccles cake, and, quite frankly, that appeals to me on so many levels. My mother-in-law had come for lunch and I offered to make her some scones to take home with her. I remembered the Norfolk Scone and thought I would give it a whirl. It was a great success. The crumbly scone contrasts beautifully with the rich, sweet, sticky filling. Next time, I am going to make it with mincemeat as the filling, because, well you know, it’s that time of year and I want to try it.

For the scone:
400g self-raising flour
1 scant tsp salt
100g unsalted butter
1 egg, beaten lightly
200ml milk

For the filling and topping:
25g softened butter
100g currants
100g demerara sugar
½ tsp grated nutmeg or mixed spice
Milk for brushing the top of the scone

Method

Preheat the oven to 200°c, 400°f, Gas Mark 6 or use the Aga roasting oven with the grid shelf on the floor of the oven. Grease and flour a baking sheet that will fit a 20cm circle easily.

I used my food processor to whizz together the flour, salt and butter until it resembled fine breadcrumbs. Then added the egg and milk and whizzed again briefly until the dough just begins to come together. Empty the dough onto a lightly floured worktop and knead briefly to a soft dough.

If you don’t have a food processor you can rub the butter into the flour and salt mixture using your fingertips. Then add the egg and milk and using your hand like a claw mix to a soft dough.

 

The key to a light scone is minimal handling. Split the dough in half and roll out one half quickly to a circle of about 20cm. Spread the softened butter over the circle. Mix together the currants, all but 1 tbsp of sugar and spice and sprinkle over the scone. Roll out the other half to the same size and place on top of the currant mixture. Brush with milk and sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Place in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden on top and well risen. Leave to cool for ten minutes then serve warm with a cup of tea.

Norfolk scone

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Veg Patch Kitchen Cookery Courses

Do you remember I mentioned I was ready for a new venture? Well here it is – cookery courses at my sister’s house in South Shropshire.

I originally planned to set up as a home bakery. There is still a possibility of this happening in the future but for now I am going to concentrate on the cookery courses. The idea for the tutoring came about after a discussion with my sister. She lives in a beautiful 17th century farmhouse in South Shropshire, with a large farmhouse kitchen with an electric range and a wood fired Esse. The kitchen is perfect for teaching people how to cook in a domestic setting. So we thought why not? Let’s do it! So we are.

Have a look at our new webpage at VegPatchKitchen to see more about us. Initially we are focusing on teaching the basics of bread making. We had a trial run in October which went really well, inspiring some of the participants to bake bread at home for their families for the first time. I was so pleased that the day had made a difference to their cooking habits. You can take a look at the breads they made on the day here.

Gift vouchers are available if you want to treat someone to a Christmas present that they can use in the New Year. I can’t think of a better present myself.

I am really looking forward to the new venture, meeting new people and teaching them new skills.

There will still be adventures to be had here at The Ordinary Cook. I have been doing a fair bit of baking lately. I just need some time to write the posts.

 

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Grape cake

grape cake

There has been a bumper crop of grapes at my niece’s house this year. There have been lots of grapes in previous years. But this year with the warm weather these grapes are really delicious. They are small and unfortunately seeded, but for outdoor grown English grapes they are very, very good.

bowl of grapes

Until I picked up a copy of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy from the local charity shop I had no idea that grape cake was a thing. He also recommends freezing grapes and enjoying them frozen as a dessert with a bit of chocolate – my goodness, frozen grapes are delicious. So quite a few bunches have been frozen and then a couple of bunches made their way into this cake. The cake is really good. It’s a shame these grapes have seeds. I didn’t remove the seeds prior to including the grapes in the cake batter and they do ruin the texture of the cake a little. But with these grapes being so small, taking the seeds out would have been a long-winded process.

I have altered Jamie’s recipe. Well, I can’t help myself from tinkering. So this is my recipe for grape cake. Blueberries, raspberries or apple (chopped up small) would be a good alternative to grapes if you don’t have any handy. I had a bit of dessert wine left over that needed using up so I included it in this cake. If you don’t have any to hand then just use more milk in its place, so 150ml milk rather than the 75ml. This is a lovely moist cake and I will be trying it with other fruit too.

4 eggs
250g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter, melted
150g extra virgin olive oil
75ml sweet wine (or you could use milk if you don’t have any sweet wine)
75ml milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
400g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
600g grapes, or blueberries, or raspberries or apple chopped into small dice

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°c, 350°f, gas mark 4 or use the middle shelf of the Aga’s baking oven. Grease and line a 23cm cake tin.

Beat the eggs and the sugar together in a large bowl using an electric mixer until thick and moussey and the whisk leaves a trail. Pour in the cooled butter, olive oil, wine, milk, lemon zest  and vanilla extract and beat again until combined. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in gently. Add three-quarters of the grapes and stir in gently. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and place into the oven. Bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven and place the remaining grapes on top of the cake. Push them gently into the batter. Place back in the oven and cook for another 30-40 minutes until the cake feels firm when you press a finger on top. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for ten minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

sliced grape cake

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