cords

Perfect trousers, not just for Christmas

It isn’t madly often I can recommend trousers but here is why these are good:

They come in various colours. I like this choice even though, of course, I stick to black and navy. (I may tip toe into taupe in the new year, who knows, I do live in the country now.)

They are slim fit, skinny I guess, without being unflattering. But you can tuck them into boots which I wear every day because, have I mentioned, I live in the country. I got these after seeing a picture of me wearing normal trousers with a wind behind me and realised I didn’t need that much fabric around my legs.

They have a gentle stretch which means you can eat over Christmas, still look good, but without feeling as if your trousers have given you gastric band surgery.

However, they have a proper waistband. This is terrifically important over any holiday season. Never wear elasticated trousers long term. And here‘s why.

They are not fucking hipsters. God I hate hipsters. I hate watching women pulling up their fucking hipster trousers because they are falling down. And that’s just me, watching my own reflection. Yet they are not so high waisted that they make you feel like you are in an ad for  incontinence pads. You know the ones.

They are the perfect waist-band height, I think

Anyway, I think they are optimum trousers for this winter. For Christmas, for beyond Christmas. They are corduroy, which I like, they are also apparently slightly thermal (‘heat tech’). I can’t say I have noticed, but I haven’t been cold. When I bought them they were on offer at half price, but sadly they’ve gone back up to £29.90 now.

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White chocolate and berry cheesecake

I’m mindful, at this time of year, of having lots of people to cater for at once, and also the value of being able to Do Things In Advance.

I made this at the weekend, for a lunch party at a friend’s house where I was asked to bring pudding. The value of this is that it feeds lots – easily 12*. It not only can, but has to be made in advance. It looks good, but can also be brought out after a meal, to sit on the table for many hours without spoiling and be picked at (‘I’ll just tidy it up’) as guests get drunker and drunker.

I didn’t have a tin big enough, so I made this in one large rectangular Mermaid tin and a smaller tart tin. But this cheesecake is so good that I think it’s worth buying the right size tin for it as I will be making it again.

A few notes:

I put in 300g of frozen mixed berries as that’s the packet I had, and didn’t see the point of keeping back a handful of berries.

Yes you do put the berries in frozen.

Do build the crust up to a good height at the sides, although this mixture didn’t (for me) rise up, there is a lot of it and if your sides aren’t high enough, you’ll be at a dam-bust situation.

It may be an idea to put the tin on a baking sheet to catch any drips – I didn’t have any but see my point just above.

It definitely took an hour in my oven, maybe a few minutes more.

That’s it. This is a good one to keep up your sleeve for party season and the other great thing about it is that * you can cut the slices as thin or thick as you want, so it could feasibly feed may, many more than the predicted dozen.

Here is the recipe.

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Prune and almond loaf

This is a magnificent bread recipe, adapted from the equally magnificent Donna Hay magazine that was out this summer.

It’s fantastic when you need something bready, fast, and it is SO delicious. No yeast or proving is necessary. And come on it’s got nuts and prunes in! Good for you..

I’m not going to pretend some of the ingredients are ‘store cupboard’ but aside from the buttermilk, nothing will go off quickly so if you get them in you’ll have something to rustle up over the Christmas period if you (gasp) run out of food, or even if you need to bring something to someone’s house as a little present.

This loaf, with some nice cheeses and a cheese humidor, would make an excellent gift for a cheese-loving friend. But it’s also good with pate.

Ingredients

125g plain flour (not bread flour)

125g wholemeal plain flour (not bread flour)

1.5 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda

half a teaspoon of salt

100g whole blanched almonds (not the end of the world if you have them with their skins on) – you could also, if you wanted to, use other nuts such as walnuts or hazelnuts.

85g pitted prunes, chopped up

40ml maple syrup – this really adds something to it so try not to substitute it for something else

190ml buttermilk

65ml of sweet sherry

Method

Preheat the oven to 200C. Lightly grease and flour a 2lb loaf tin. (I use this one.) Place the flours, bicarb, salt, almonds* and prunes into a bowl and mix up. Make a well in the middle and add the maple syrup, buttermilk and sherry. You will have a very sticky dough, slop it into the tin, whack it in the oven for about 40mins and that’s it. Leave to cool for five mins, turn it out, let it cool and then eat it with joy.

(*The astute amongst you may notice there are nuts on top of my loaf. This is what the original recipe stipulated – that you reserve half the nuts and scatter them atop the dough before it goes into the oven. I’m not sure I would do this again as some of the nuts got a bit too brown, but see how you feel/what sort of effect you want.)

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Dense chocolate loaf cake

This is a lovely chocolate cake that I’ve been making for years. It’s so simple, yet so good. I’ve put it up here for my friend Kate who has never, to my knowledge, asked me for a recipe. But she did after tasting this on Saturday. It’s a cake that keeps, a bit like gingercake, for a good few days wrapped in parchment and foil. Ideal for taking for weekends away, picnics, lunchboxes

I don’t know a child who doesn’t like this – and it’s rare I can say that; and, slightly warm, and with custard or maybe some cream, makes a nice, simple pudding.

It’s originally from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, but, like a lot of Nigella’s recipes, God love her, I’ve cut down the sugar dramatically and changed the flour around a bit.

225g very soft, unsalted butter

250g dark muscovado sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

100g dark chocolate (70%), melted

150g plain flour

50g wholemeal plain flour

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

150ml boiling water

A 2lb loaf tin, about 23x13x7. Mine one is bigger. If you want to use two smaller loaf tins you can, cook for less time: 20min for first part, then 10minutes.

Preheat oven to 190C.

Line the loaf tin – this is really important as this is a very moist cake and it will fall apart if you have to wrestle it out of the tin. If possible leave some baking parchment overlapping so it lifts out easily.

Put the chocolate on to melt – in a bowl above a pan of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. When melted, set aside to cool slightly.

Cream the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon, then add the eggs and vanilla. Now fold in the cooled chocolate. Mix the flours and the bicarb together.

Now you’re going to add the flour mixture and the water, a spoon at a time, stirring well between each. This is important. If you add the flour and water too fast, the boiling water will cook the flour into little balls and you’ll end up with little white flour balls in the cake. I know because I’ve made this many, many times and tried to cheat the system and it doesn’t work.

You’ll end up with a very runny batter. Put – pour- in the cake tin, and if your tin is very up to the brim already, it may be prudent to put a baking tray underneath to catch any spills. (This is why I use an even bigger loaf tin than recommended. I can’t bear to lose any to the oven.)

Cook for 30 mins, then turn down to 170C and cook for a further 15 mins. I do this exactly and end up with a very squidgy, moist cake. If you use two smaller loaf tins, cook for 20mins and then 10 at lower temperature. The top should be set and there shouldn’t be any discernible ‘wobble’ (or not much) but a skewer inserted may still have some crumbs attached due to the moistness of the cake. Don’t overcook.

Let it cool completely before taking out of the tin. It will sink a bit in the middle, don’t worry, it’s meant to. If you don’t eat it all immediately, wrap in parchment and foil and enjoy a slice every day.

 

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Alcohol laced creams. Mmm.

Today I was in Waitrose and I found these flavoured creams. They have a really long sell by date (the ones I picked up today were sell by 10th Jan), I guess because they are pasteurised and have booze in them.

The two I picked up were laced with amaretto and spiced plum and dark rum Channel Island creams. I picked up two because they were on offer: two for £4 instead of £2.65 each, so it seemed mathematically wrong not to have two.

You hear what I’m saying.

There was also a Cointreau one and a Remy Marten one.

Anyway they are pretty fab. You can put a dollop in hot chocolate for adults, or do as I did tonight: spooned some of the amaretto cream onto some crushed amaretti biscuits and ate it like a sort of lazy, boozy, two-ingredient (okay, three if you count the amaretto) pudding, in front of the fire. It reminded me of the sparse, yet oh so delicious assembly job dinners I’d have when I was single. Like mashed potato studded with chopped up bits of salami and mozzarella (truly, delicious).

Note: the next day, I had the Spiced Plum and Dark Rum cream with this toffee apple, apple crumble and it was delicious. And really Christmassy. But don’t tell anyone because it’s still only November.

 

 

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One giant Twix (tart). Gluten, dairy, sugar and fat full

I like this tart for bringing to people as a present. I’ve yet to meet a grown up, or child, no matter how posh or spoiled and used to presents, who doesn’t love this (unless of course you hate Twixes). But it also makes a good dessert when you really can’t decide what to make to please everyone. And just a small slice is really enough.

I can’t overstate this. It is pancreas-bustingly sweet. A bit too sweet for me if truth be told, it sets my teeth on edge. I want to play around with the recipe next time to try to resolve this. That said, a small slice (or even cube) is a treat. But, like the Wagon Wheels I made last year which set off a sort of crazy reaction, proceed with caution

The caramel making is a faff, I won’t lie. A thermometer is a must (I can hear you sighing). I have very similar to  these, which is brilliant. You can use it to probe meat with, take the temperature of a child, use it to make confectionery – it’s great because you just have a probe sticking into the hot caramel, with the actual body of the thermometer somewhere out of the way. I stick mine above where I’m working, to the extractor fan hood (it has a magnetic back). Obviously you do need to remember to clean the probe between child and caramel.

Anyway, this recipe was from Delicious magazine some time ago. I made a fundamental change to the timing of the caramel/temperature, because the first time I made it, taking it up to 115C meant the bottom of the caramel burned, so you had burnt/darker bits. It didn’t affect the taste, but it was annoying. I now stop the last bit of the caramel making at 111C – precision is all in caramel making – and it’s fine: chewy, golden and just before it starts to burn. I also changed the way you make the chocolate ganache.

This is what you need:

For the base

225g shortcake biscuits

75g unsalted butter, melted

For the caramel

125ml double cream

90ml condensed milk

125ml golden syrup

110g caster sugar

30g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

For the chocolate topping

200g good quality milk chocolate (I use Green and Black’s Cooking chocolate at 37% cocoa solids)

75ml double cream

Small knob of butter

 

What you do:

Heat the oven to 170C. Put the biscuits and melted butter in a food processor, then pulse until all amalgamated. Line a loose bottomed tart tin, mine was 35cm x 12cm the biscuit crumbs. You can lightly oil the tin first, if you are of a nervous disposition.

Press the crumbs down and up the sides,  chill for ten minutes then cook it for 15 mins. Let it cool, then put back in the fridge. You’re done with the oven now, so switch it off.

To make the caramel, put the 125ml of double cream in a sauce pan with the condensed milk and heat up very slowly. I do this at the same time I’m making the caramel, cos I’m ‘ard and can multi task. If you do it separately it’s important it’s kept warm-ish as otherwise, if you introduce it to the caramel – such as you will later – cold, it might split.

Now put the golden syrup and caster sugar in a separate pan with 30ml of cold water, trying hard not to think of the glycaemic index of these two ingredients combined. Heat it gently until the sugar melts, stick the thermometer in, bring to the boil and then bring down to a simmer until the thermometer reads 120C. This may take a while (5-10mins). When making caramel, the temperature rises, then seems to stall, then rises again, then leaps. Be careful here, a caramel solution at 120C is very, very hot. Don’t have small children wondering round. Don’t leave it unattended.

When it reaches 120C, take it off the heat and stir in the chopped butter, then add the still warm cream/condensed milk mixture. Stir stir stir, (take out the tart base from the fridge in its tin), and put the caramel mixture back on the heat and bring back to the boil – this will take a while – until the mixture is at 111C. When it reaches this temperature, pour the caramel into the biscuit crumb lined tray and leave to cool completely. When it’s cool, put in the fridge.

Then, make the chocolate ganache: put a bowl atop a saucepan of simmering water. In this bowl put the milk chocolate, the 75ml of double cream and the knob of butter. Stir until everything has melted. This is the chocolate ganache. You now pour this over the caramel filled tart and as it cools, make wavy patterns, just, you know because.

Leave to set. Keep in fridge. Eat slowly and in small portions. No-one wants diabetes for Christmas.

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Pumpkin and ginger loaf

I got this recipe from the BBC Good Food magazine. I have adapted it ever so slightly. I would also experiment with dropping the sugar content, but never the first time I make something. It’s great for using up Hallowe’en pumpkin carving scrapings, but I admit I used butternut squash as bit too early, for us, to be carving pumps.

Ingredients

250g pumpkin or butternut squash chunks (note: peeled weight)

50g black treacle

140g golden syrup

140g light brown sugar

100ml milk

100g cold butter, diced

125g self raising flour

100g plain wholemeal flour

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

half a teaspoon of baking powder

1 tablespoon of ground ginger

2 teaspoons of mixed spice

2 eggs

8-10 pieces of crystallized ginger, thinly sliced

What you do

Oven to 180C. You need a 2lb loaf tin (23cm x 13cm x 7cm) which you have lined in baking parchment.

Put the pumpkin or squash chunks in a bowl with a bit of water, cover with pierced cling film or a suitable microwave cover, and cook on full power in the microwave for about 9-10 minutes. When done, drain any excess water and mash it up.

Whilst that is doing, put the treacle, golden syrup, milk and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a very gentle boil, stirring until the sugar is all dissolved. Take off the heat.

Sift together the dry ingredients: the flours, ginger, mixed spice, bicarb and baking powder, add the diced butter and rub together with finger tips until like fine breadcrumbs. I admit it, I did this in a food processor because I am a lazy bastard. Set aside.

Whisk the egg gently into the pumpkin/squash, just until you have a gooey, orange mass. Now pour this into the treacle/syrup/sugar/milk mixture, or vice versa. Now add to the dry ingredients, mixing carefully and slowly. If the syrupy mixture is too hot and/or you add it too fast, then you will get small clumps of flour that will never disperse.

Or you could be like me and chuck the whole lot into the bowl of a food mixture and whisk it together, because you can never have too much washing up.

Pour the batter into the loaf tin and onto the top, scatter 80% of the sliced up crystallized ginger. Bake in the centre of the oven for  45 minutes. A skewer should come out with some moist crumbs, you don’t want it too dry. Five minutes before, scatter the rest of the sliced ginger on top.

Take out and cool completely. Like all gingerbread, it tastes better after a few days of being wrapped in baking parchment/foil and is delicious sliced and spread with butter and served, in front of a fire, with a cup of tea.  It is full of lovely autumn flavours.

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