Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Now it's all over...

I hope you all had a nice Christmas. Mine was very good. I decided to give myself a couple of days off and to be honest, it felt a bit odd just doing nothing after such an intense year. Even our holiday wasn't very relaxing.

To be honest, I feel as though I have really overdone things this year. I don't think I have eaten that much, but I just don't feel good. So, I have decided to start 2012 as I mean to go on with a challenge for January. I'll bring you more news on this very soon.

Watch this space for some interesting blogs too - I've been very behind on things recently, so I hope to catch up soon.

I'll be in touch with more over the coming days.


Saturday, 24 December 2011

Thank you and Happy Christmas!

So, it's finally Christmas. Everything has been done very late here this year. I have been absolutely swamped with work in the last few weeks and am very behind.

Today the tree has finally gone up, I made a wreath from some holly and ivy I picked up on this afternoon's walk, and we've baked some sensational vegan mince pies for my vegan sister using Vanessa Kimbell's instant mincemeat recipe. And to my surprise, they are even better than the "regular" ones I made last week!

I just wanted to write a quick post to thank everyone or all their support this year. It's been such a fantastic year, from winning awards, to cooking alongside top chefs and meeting so many fantastic people. I know there are even better things in the pipeline for 2012 which I can't wait to share with you all.

Thank you for reading my blogs and I wish you and your families a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful 2012!


Charlotte X

The tree finally is put up!

My homemade wreath - took 15 minutes to make and was FREE!

Mince  pies fresh out of the oven

Friday, 16 December 2011

What I will be eating this Christmas: Part II

This morning I’ve been making my Christmas cake. Yes, this morning. I do not believe you need to make your Christmas cake six months in advance to achieve a superior result. I must add though, that I don’t think my family have a old Christmas cake recipe passed down through the generations, as so many families do, so it’s not like we have any long-standing family rituals when it comes to Christmas cake.
In recent years, we have really enjoyed this recipe for a last-minute Christmas cake. Sadly, I am in the minority in our household for actually liking icing and marzipan, so we always go for a plain cake topped with nuts. This cake is very easy to make and once it’s cooked, you don’t need to feed it or ice it - it’s just ready to be wrapped up and kept until Christmas or cut immediately.
All I do in advance is put the fruit in a bowl to soak. This fruit has been left for 36 hours

Sticking with the theme of keeping it simple, I make this cake in my Kitchen Aid

Here's the cake ready to go in the oven, topped with whole brazil nuts

This recipe is adapted from a Delia Smith recipe, and can easily be adapted further to suit any food allergies. Replace the flour with 200g of Shipton Mill Wheat Free Blend and use gluten free baking powder in the same quantites for a gluten free cake. Use soya or sunflower margarine instead of butter for a dairy free option, and just omit the nuts for a nut free cake. It’s very straightforward to play with and works well every time.
Charlotte’s Kitchen Christmas Cake
Makes one large 8” cake
225g Self raising flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
150g butter
3 large eggs
150g dark muscovado sugar
2 teaspoons mixed spice
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
100g chopped nuts
For the soaking:
150ml Spiced orange and clove brandy
400g Homemade mincemeat
100g prunes, chopped
100g glace cherries, wholw
175g cape sultanas
50g mixed peel
  1. Place all the ingredients in the soaking section into a bowl, mix well and leave to soak. I like to leave this for 36 hours if I can
  2. Preheat the oven to 170C/ Gas Mark 3
  3. Grease and line an 8” round cake tin
  4. Cream together the butter and sugar (I do this in my Kitchen Aid)
  5. Add the eggs and beat in
  6. Add the flour, baking powder and spices, and mix lightly
  7. Finally, add the soaked fruit and nuts and gently fold in until evenly combined
  8. Bake for 2 hours in the oven
  9. Leave to cool in the tin for 30 minutes after removing from the oven, then leave to cool fully on a wire rack. 
  10. Wrap and enjoy in a couple of weeks’ time, or eat immediately.
A quick snap of the finished cake whilst cooling

Thinking about Christmas food, we’re going to buy our meat this weekend. I would like a rib of beef and a free range turkey crown. I hope to get this from the lovely Henry Herbert at Hobbs House Butchery. It was a great pleasure to meet Henry (and indeed his brother, Tom) at the Tetbury Food Festival, where I cooked earlier this year, so I plan to try their meat this year. 
Watch this space for more last-minute Christmas food next week!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

My Christmas list: what to buy for foodies like me with lots of kit already!

My Christmas list this year is all food-related. Forget shoes and handbags, this is what really gets me excited.
First of all, and most lusted-after on my list is the Cuisinart ice cream maker. I’m desperate to get my hands on one, having really got into making ice-cream this autumn, thanks to Ben Vear and his excellent book. I adore Cuisinart’s products. I have their Elite Blender which is excellent. Their products are so solid and well-made and perform exceptionally well. I might also add that the Spice and nut mill is also on my wish list.
I’m quite well-off for kitchen gadgets and to be honest, I am often disappointed with so many I have bought.  What I really want are lovely objects which work well and look good in the kitchen. I want my equipment to be good quality, robust, and I want to know that it will last being used over and over again for years to come.
The girly side in me really would like a set of these Emma Bridgewater tins and some of their lovely mugs. I love the fact that they are made in Britain and the designs are gorgeous, although they are not typically what I would go for in the kitchen.
I also have a new-found obsession with homemade pizzas, so a pizza stone such as this French one by Emile Henry would be also be useful.
I can’t get enough books. I have quite a collection and I particularly treasure my collection of copies signed to me. On my list for Christmas this year first is The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit which is a book I have wanted to read for some time. It's had great reviews and I think would be a great read over Christmas (bear in mind, I don't read fiction, I just curl up with cookery books). 

Next up, is Orchards in the Oasis by Josceline Dimbleby, another book I've wanted for ages. I was thrilled that Josceline was also on the lineup at Wimborne Food Festival back in the Autumn. Being a bit too young to remember some of her earlier writing, I only really heard about her in the early days of Leon, which is of course, run by her son, Henry. I am really thrilled though, as this week, Tony's mum found some 1970's original books of hers in her collection which she has passed on to me, so I hope to read Josceline's food writing through the years this Christmas. 

Sticking with the Leon theme, the next book I am hoping for is this beauty by Allegra McEvedy: Bought, borrowed and stolen. I am a huge admirer of Allegra. I think she is a truly inspirational woman. She's a fantastic chef whose recipes I adore. I love her style of cooking; modern, interesting, with a healthy twist, and her approach to the sourcing and sustainability of the food we eat is very important. Enough gushing, but Allegra is a real heroine of mine. 

I'll finish briefly with a mention of another heroine of mine: Rose Prince. I was lucky enough to meet her at Feast of Dorset where I also cooked this year. Many of the reasons I enjoy Rose's writing and recipes so much are similar to the reasons why I like Allegra's work: the fact that she champions great food, cooked from simple, local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients. Kitchenella, her most recent book, and the only one of hers missing from my collection, would be a wonderful present this year.

Friday, 9 December 2011

What I will be eating this Christmas: Part I

I'm starting to get organised now in terms of what I will be eating this Christmas. I think the key for me is to keep things simple. Nothing fancy, just great ingredients and a few lovely treats.

I have been in London this week, and I have stocked up on a few essentials that I love every year.
First of all, I bring you an absolute essential. I have to confess I buy this all year round, but I like to have a good stash in to last over Christmas and New Year. A really good coffee. I buy mine from Monmouth Coffee in Borough Market or at Seven Dials in London. Monmouth is my personal favourite, although there are many great coffee roasters out there.

The great thing about Monmouth is that they source their coffees from individual farms all over the world, from Asia to Latin America. You know exactly where the coffee has come from and that it has been well-produced. I'm currently drinking the Finca Valentín from Bolivia and the Tres Pueblos from Nicaragua. Often their coffees are bought in smallish quantities, so you find the varieties they sell in the shop change regularly.

Next on my list, is cheese. I don't really buy or eat cheese throughout the year to be honest (with the exception of Parmiggiano Reggiano in cooking, so Christmas is the one time I really enjoy a selection of cheeses. For me, it has to be really good cheese. I am totally indifferent to average cheese and happy to go without. But really great cheese, to me, is a revelation. We always get our Christmas stash of cheeses from Neal's Yard Dairy. I picked our cheeses up yesterday from Borough Market, and just had to take some snaps of the sensational selection of cheeses on display

I chose three large pieces of cheese. As ever, Neal's Yard take preorders for Christmas cheese, which I have done before, which you can collect right before Christmas. Alternatively, which is what I have done this year, they stock cheeses which will ripen in time for Christmas. So, I have their unbelievable Colston Bassett stilton, some Lincolnshire Poacher cheddar, and some Spenwood, which is an English hard sheeps milk cheese, not dissimilar to the very wonderful manchego. Having lived in Spain I certainly acquired the taste for manchego and membrillo, so I buy a wonderful English quince paste from Neal's Yard to go with this. Their English quince and damson pastes are also always on my Christmas list as they work so well with the cheeses. What is even better, is that they are made in Bermondsey (of all places!) with Brogdale fruit, which is grown in Kent.

Finally, I have made Vanessa Kimbells' instant mincemeat recipe from Prepped! which I talked about in my last post. It is absolutely stunning and I can't wait to cook with it. One of the main reasons I wanted to try this recipe, apart from the fact that it is absolutely delicious, is because it uses no suet. I'll be using it to make mince pies, both standard mince pies and gluten free vegan mince pies for my assorted loved ones who cannot eat various foodstuffs. Recipes to follow!

The ingredients for the mincemeat

And the finished mincemeat
Finally, I'll just add that I am generally not a huge mincemeat fan, bar the odd mince pie. This one is so good, I've had to put it on the very top shelf of the fridge to keep my hands off it. It is incredibly good.

So, that's it for now. I'll be making mince pies and Christmas cake in due course. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

What I will be drinking this Christmas

Although I have started to think about what I will be cooking this Christmas, I haven't really started to make any Christmassy food yet. The reason being is that I love Christmas food so much, I just can't keep away from it once it's in the house. So, in an attempt to try not to go up a dress size by January, I'm trying to save it for Christmas itself. Fighting the bulge is difficult enough at any time of the year, but I figure trying to stay away from sugary treats until Christmas has to help.

Anyway, the last thing I want is to turn this blog into talk about diets, so enough of that. I really do find though, that festive themed drinks are a very nice nod to the impending festive season before Christmas is really here. I do find if I start to get festive too early, the main event can be a bit of an anticlimax.

So, starting with alcoholic drinks, here are some of my favourites.

First up is my mulled cider, which I made for Let's Make Christmas just a couple of weeks ago. Just click on the link for my recipe.

My mulled cider
Next, I have to include mulled wine. I cheat and use the excellent Steenberg's Organic mulled wine sachets.  A beautiful blend of spices, which makes mulled wine so simple to make.

And finally, I made Spiced Orange and Clove Brandy yesterday (see my previous post). As I mentioned yesterday, I will be using this in my Christmas baking and it is delicious on it's own. Vanessa Kimbell recommends in Prepped! to enjoy this with ginger beer (1 part brandy to 3/4 parts ginger beer) to make a Christmas cocktail, so we will be enjoying this in our household, too.

Spiced Orange and Clove Brandy

Next, why not make your daily cups of tea a little more festive? Steenbergs Christmas tea is delicious. A spiced black tea which is not dissimilar to a chai, and is really lovely.

Christmas tea and my new Christmas mug - a lovely gift from Tony's Mum!
And sticking with hot drinks, I adore Steenbergs Christmas Drinking Chocolate. Deliciously rich, spicy and chocolatey, and with the added bonuses of being organic, fair-trade and dairy free. No milk powder in here; just cocoa, sugar and spices. My vegan sister can enjoy this made with soya milk, too. 

Organic Christmas Drinking Chocolate
And finally, why not make my muller cider, but as mulled apple juice with just apple juice and spices? Just follow the recipe using a litre of apple juice (I used fresh, pressed English apple juice).

Enjoy... and cheers!

Thank you to Steenbergs for the lovely tea, hot chocolate and spices!

Monday, 5 December 2011

What I'm making this Christmas

Spiced Orange and Clove Brandy

My preparations for Christmas start today. The first thing I'm making is Spiced Orange and Clove Brandy, from Prepped! by Vanessa Kimbell. You can find Vanessa's recipe here.

I've followed the recipe almost exactly, but have replaced the caster sugar with Vanessa's Orange and clove sugar, again from Prepped!

This took me just a matter of minutes to make, and I plan to use this in my homemade mincemeat and Christmas cake. Yes, my Christmas cake is not made. I always make a last minute one.

I'll be blogging all the recipes I use in the run up to Christmas....watch this space!

What to cook?

What to cook? Ever wondered that? It's something I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking about.

Last sunday, my lovely sister came for lunch. I was exhausted and had no food in. And my sister is a vegan. Not entirely out of choice I should add. Take a vegetarian with a diary intolerance and you pretty much end up vegan, apart from eggs and honey I guess.

I felt really uninspired to cook, but I suddenly had a brainwave - an idea I had seen on Nigel Slater's most recent television series, roasted peppers with tomatoes and garlic.

The photos are quite dark. It was a cold and gloomy day in London. One of those days when you stay in with the light and heating on all day long. And this recipe, although it appears summery, was just perfect. Warm, comforting, yet vibrant and fresh. I'm not going to even write a recipe here. All I did was cut peppers in half, remove the pith and seeds and stuff them with cherry tomatoes and garlic cloves (skin on), followed by a drizzle of great quality extra virgin olive oil and bake until soft and slightly charred at the edges.

I served the peppers with some homemade black olive spelt soda bread (recipe to come soon) to mop up the juices.

Here's one of my favourite photos of my sister and me. I'm so lucky to have such a wonderful sister