Spiced prunes

This week is National Breakfast Week and by pure chance I was going to tell you about these prunes anyway. I have to eat within ten minutes of waking up or I am horrible. That means that I need something easy to eat. A year or two ago that would have been a bowl of cereal. But now I find that they taste either of cardboard or sugar. I have made my own muesli for the past year or so. This is simply a mix of oats, nuts and whatever dried fruit I have in the cupboard, eaten with milk or greek yoghurt. I sometimes make granola too. But I needed a change. The idea of stewed prunes just appealed to me. I am not sure why, as the very words ‘stewed prunes’ has connotations attached to it that you don’t really want to think about first thing in the morning. That, perhaps, is why I chose to title this post ‘spiced prunes'; that sounds so much more appealing and exotic and doesn’t conjure up grandmas quite so easily.

These are easy to make, taste delicious and you make a big batch and it will keep in the fridge for a week or so, no trouble at all. I eat them with a big dollop of yoghurt stirred in. I forgot to buy some prunes this week and now I have run out and I am missing them. So, now, against all the odds and the “who’d have thought it”s, I am a confirmed stewed (aka spiced) prune eater. Give them a try and you will be too.

You can ring the changes with whatever spices you fancy. I like star anise, cinnamon and ginger but cardamom is good too. Try whatever appeals to you. It doesn’t need any sugar as the prunes are naturally sweet. I have tried adding a slice of lemon or a slice of orange but the stringency didn’t appeal to me. Give it a go though if you think you might like it.

250g prunes (this amount lasts me a week of breakfasts, just for me)
water
your choice of spice, I use one star anise, half a cinnamon stick and a teaspoonful of finely chopped fresh ginger

Method
Put the prunes in a saucepan, add enough water to cover and with about 1cm of extra water. Add the spices. Place over a medium heat and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down a little and simmer for about 10 minutes until the water is syrupy. Take off the heat. Put into a bowl, once they are cool cover with clingfilm and place in the fridge and eat whenever you feel like it.

Honestly, they are really delicious and probably very good for you.

 

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Teavivre

I was recently sent some tea samples for review purposes from Teavivre. I have to say that it has been a real treat. We British have a reputation for being tea drinkers and that is certainly the case in this house. When we go abroad on holiday I make sure I pack enough teabags for at least two cups of tea for me and Mr OC a day. You can’t get more British than that.

Despite our love of tea in this house we are prone to buying the tea that comes in teabags in a box from the supermarket. Some of these teabags, it has to be said, make a comforting cup of tea. We do also buy loose tea from our local teashop and at weekends we make a proper cup of tea – in a pot and using a strainer, as opposed to a bag in a cup, but beyond that we are not very adventurous with our tea.

So, it was a real treat to receive these teas. Take a look at the Teavivre website to see their full range of exceptional teas. I was sent a range of black and white teas to try, which included Yun Nan Dian Hong Black Tea Full-leaf, Bailin Gongfu Black Tea, Premium Keemun Hao Ya Black Tea, Organic Nonpareil Silver Needle White Tea (Bai Hao Yin Zhen), Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) Wuyi Rock Oolong Tea Fujian.

Teavivre teas

They are beautiful teas to look at and the taste is exceptional, whether it is the rich, almost chocolatey taste of the oolong or the delicate floral taste of the silver needle tea. There is a tea for every occasion and for every taste in the sample pack that I received and that was only a selection of those available on the Teavivre website.

The website itself makes for fascinating reading with its advice for brewing the tea in the traditional Chinese way. One thing that I have learned is that you do not pour boiling water over tea, but rather boiled water at 90°c. After thirty odd years of making tea (well, I was only seven when I made my first cup of tea) this parcel of tea has been responsible for me changing my tea making habits.

Teavivre send their teas direct from China and delivery takes between 6-10 days. Their website is available in British Sterling, just select the currency at the top of the webpage. They also have some lovely teapots and teacups that I have been admiring.

Teavivre sent me teas for free for the purposes of review. I was not required to give a positive review and all opinions are my own and honest.

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Happy New Year

To all my lovely readers I wish a very happy 2015. May the year bring you happiness and good health, without too many of the inevitable bad moments.

We had a lovely, relaxing Christmas break, which was much needed by all four of us. It’s time to get back to it now.

For my own part I am hoping that Veg Patch Kitchen will take off this year and that I will be teaching lots of people the joy of making their own bread. Beyond that, then it’s the basics of happiness that I am hoping for and that means good health for everyone I care about.

Here’s to your good health.

Kath x

 

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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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