December 28, 2012


christmas pudding mini muffins1I’m a great fan of traditional Christmas pudding. It’s a must for Christmas dinner in our house – and luckily there is usually some left over.

I happen to think that the leftovers are one of the great joys of Christmas - having spent my childhood sneaking a cold Brussels sprout or spoonful of trifle when nobody was looking.  The Christmas pudding does present a bit of a challenge though so I did a bit of Googling and came across this recipe by Rachel Allen.

christmas pudding mini muffins2

It is also in her book “Bake” which I bought not long ago when it was less than a fiver.  In it she calls them St Stephen’s Day Muffins.  Boxing Day muffins by another name !!

It’s a simple muffin recipe, with the addition of a little booze and crumbled Christmas pudding.  When I read that they also freeze well I just had to have a go – the opportunity for little morsels of my Christmas pudding later in the year really appeals !!  Yes, I love Christmas pudding that much but somehow eating one at the wrong time of year seems a little wierd.

 christmas pudding mini muffins3 christmas pudding mini muffins4

The recipe makes exactly the right amount for a standard mini muffin tin and they take no time at all to make and bake.  In the book Rachel suggests dusting them with icing sugar but on the website she gives a recipe for sherry butter icing.

christmas pudding mini muffins6

I had some leftover brandy butter so I decided to use that and add few Christmas sprinkles.  They were absolutely scrumptious, with all the warm spicy flavour of a Christmas pudding but with none of the stodginess.  They were beautifully light and fluffy and would go really well with a nice cup of coffee at any time of year. christmas pudding mini muffins7 I even think they would actually make a nice alternative to the pudding itself, for those who like the flavour but haven’t got the room in their tummies !!


125g plain flour

1tsp baking powder

½tsp mixed spice

75g caster sugar

1 egg

75ml milk

25g butter, melted

2tblsp sherry, brandy or whiskey

125g Christmas pudding


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease a 24-hole mini muffin tin.

Sift the flour, baking powder and mixed spice into a large bowl.  Stir in the sugar.

Whisk the egg in another bowl, add the milk, butter and booze.  Crumble in the Christmas pudding and mix well.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the flour mixture and mix together, not over-mixing as usual with muffins.  Spoon into the muffin tin and bake for 10-15 minutes until risen and brown. 

Cool on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar or decorate with buttercream.

Makes 24 mini muffins.  Or makes 12 standard muffins (bake for 5 – 10 minutes longer).

December 25, 2012



The bird is in the oven, the sprouts are trimmed, the champagne is chilling and we are waiting for the guests to arrive and transform the organised calm into joyful chaos.


I made some party canapés using my Pampered Chef mini muffin tin and “dibber”, but you can get something very similar in Lakeland and elsewhere. 

You just cut small chunks from a block of ready made shortcrust pastry and drop one into each hole.  Then mould them into tart shells by pressing  into shape with the dibber and add your choice of filling.  I used a sliver of smoked salmon for half of them and a ½tsp of onion marmalade for the others.  Top each one with a small disc of goat’s cheese and bake at 200ºC/180°fan for 15-20 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and the pastry is cooked.  (Any bits of cheese that boil over can be snapped off to make the tarts look nice and tidy.)


So all that’s left for me to say is:


December 20, 2012


This month’s Random Recipe Challenge from Dom at Bellau Kitchen is to cook a recipe from a cookbook received as a gift last Christmas.

Between us Nick and I got four cookbooks (if you count the one I gave to him) and a random shuffle turned up “The French Country Table” by Laura Washburn.  This is a lovely book, full of gorgeous recipes and wonderful images so evocative of life in France that it always makes me want to pack my bag immediately and head south for the first available ferry.

poulet basquaise

We have cooked a number of recipes already from the book and I half expected a shuffle of the pages to turn up one that was familiar to us, but instead the pages fell open at a recipe for “Poulet Basquaise”.  This is chicken cooked with peppers, onions, ham and tomatoes.

poulet basquaise4poulet basquaise5

The recipe calls for a whole chicken which you cut up yourself but I used a pack of chicken thighs and legs instead.  It also uses whole tomatoes which you should skin an deseed before chopping but I cheated and used a tin of chopped tomatoes.

poulet basquaise2 poulet basquaise3  

I must say that it was a delight to cook beautiful bright and cheery peppers on a dismal and grey winter’s day.  Having all that colour in the pan was a joy indeed and the kitchen soon smelled heavenly as the chicken cooked.

The recipe was easy to do and the end result was delicious.  Yet again I have cooked something really good that I will no doubt make again and again, thanks to Dom and his Random Recipe Challenge.


poulet basquaise6

As suggested in the book, I served it with rice, although I decided to do brown rice, which is a current favourite of the house.  I also served some broccoli on the side.

Here’s my version of Poulet Basquaise – the quantities given are for four and I literally halved it for two.


4 chicken thighs or a pack of mixed thighs and legs

2 red onions

2 red peppers

2 yellow peppers

4 large garlic cloves, crushed

1 thick slice of hand cut ham from the bone

½tsp dried chilli flakes

1 large can of chopped tomatoes

2 tblsp olive oil for frying


In a frying pan that has a lid, heat the oil and add the chicken, skin side down.  Cook for 5-10 minutes, turning once, until brown.  Remove the chicken and set aside.

Peel and slice the onions, deseed and slice the peppers and add to the pan.  Season with salt and pepper and cook uncovered on a medium heat for 15 minutes or until they are soft.

Cut the ham into strips and add it to the pan with the garlic and chilli flakes and cook for one minute.  Return the chicken to the pan, skin side up, cover with the tomatoes.  Put the lid on and cook on a low heat until the chicken is cooked, about 30-40 minutes.

Serves 4

December 18, 2012


This is one of the cakes that I had in mind to bake for our Children in Need cake stall in November.  I changed my mind because I thought it wouldn’t sell well.  The best sellers are always the large cakes which are decorated in lots of gooey icing. 

lemon ginger cake1

However, I recently needed a cake and I was most intrigued by the recipe so I decided to give it a go.  It’s called lemon and ginger cake and it’s essentially a ginger cake with half a jar of lemon marmalade in it.

lemon ginger cake2The recipe comes from this book, which is one of the series of little cookbooks that you could buy in Sainsbury’s for 99p each during the 80’s and 90’s.

I was reminded of my own collection of these books when Phil wrote about Bolton Flat Cakes in his blog “As Strong as Soup” a few months ago. I don’t know if I ever bought this particular book and in fact all of my little Sainsbury’s books have long since disappeared.  I think I took them to the charity shop in an overenthusiastic and regrettable clearing out session.

Anyway, I liked the sound of Phil’s recipe – this kind of book is just my cup of tea right now - so after a bit of lazy internet research I found a copy on Amazon.  For the princely sum of 99p (plus postage of course) so that’s not bad. 

lemon ginger cake3

The cake was really easy to make, a melted mixture of butter and golden syrup being added to the flour with the marmalade.  I used Robertson’s Silver Shred – it’s many decades since I bought a jar and it was a favourite of my grandmother.  Which is how I came to have a large collection of the gollies that you could send off for, using the coupons on the jars.

The strange thing is that when I was measuring out my ingredients I found myself weighing in ounces, which isn’t easy as I have to deliberately reset my scales to do this.  Obviously my mind was wandering back to times gone by as I followed the recipe – how spooky is that ?!  I felt quite a little shiver down my spine when I realised what I was doing !!

lemon ginger cake4I just gave mine a dusting of icing sugar and the flavour and texture of the cake are so lovely they speak for themselves,  but I would have to think of a way of glamorising it if I was going to be sure it would sell at the cake stall next year. 

(Next time I make the cake I will be tempted to add a little lemon zest to boost the lemon flavour.)

Lemon Marmalade and Ginger Cake Recipe


250g golden syrup

125g butter

250g (about half a jar) of lemon marmalade

1 egg, beaten

250g plain flour

2tsp baking powder

1tsp ground ginger


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4. 

Melt the syrup and butter together in a medium saucepan.  Off the heat stir in the marmalade and egg.  Set aside to go cold.

Grease and line the base of a 20cm (8”) square cake tin.

Sift the flour, baking powder and ginger into a large bowl, mix together.  Add the syrup mixture and beat until well combined.

Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for about 45 minutes.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Makes 16 squares.

December 13, 2012


Fresh cranberries first appeared in our local supermarkets several weeks ago, which was obviously way too early because lots of them ended up in the reduced bins.  Which tells me that most people don’t want them in October or even November and I still think many people don’t know what to do with them at all !!

Anyway, it’s lucky for me because I enjoy making my own cranberry sauce and there were bargains to be had !!  Usually I make a good quantity of sauce, put it into little ramekin dishes and freeze it so that all I have to do is take one out of the freezer a few hours before I want it.cranberry sauce1I seemed to have misfiled my usual recipe for cranberry sauce and when hunting around for another one I came across an interesting alternative by Jamie Oliver for apple and cranberry sauce.  It sounded lovely and I had plenty of cranberries so I decided to have a go at that as well and make both sauces.

cranberry sauce2 cranberry sauce3

The traditional sauce recipe is just cranberries, sugar, orange juice and zest, and red wine or port.  It cooks up very quickly and looks and smells glorious while it’s on the hob.

It makes a lovely thick, bright red sauce, not too sweet or tart, with a nice hint of orange.  I like to leave some whole berries in it and not blitz it completely smooth.  (Since I have been making my own I tend to find a lot of the shop bought ones are sometimes rather sweet and runny.)

cranberry sauce4aHowever, Jamie’s cranberry and apple version has Bramley apples and cinnamon in it but no orange.  You make it in a similar way but store it in jars, which makes it useful to give away as presents.

cranberry sauce5 cranberry sauce6
cranberry sauce7 Jamie’s sauce was delicious – a nice fusion of apple and cranberry flavours and quite different from the usual cranberry sauce.  I shall be serving both with the Christmas bird to see which people prefer.  You can see the original recipe here.

Recipes for both sauces are given below:

Cranberry sauce

500g fresh or frozen cranberries

175g caster sugar

zest and juice of one large orange

150ml orange juice

150ml red wine


Put everything except the orange zest into a large pan.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently, uncovered, for about 30 minutes or until the berries have burst and the sauce has thickened.

You can if you like lift out some of the berries, liquidise the remainder and put the reserved berries back in, with the orange zest, before serving.  I didn’t do this as I liked the effect the sauce already had. 

Add the orange zest and serve warm or cold. 

The sauce will keep in the fridge for a day or two if made in advance.  I froze mine in ramekins ready to serve when thawed. 

Makes 5-6 pots which are each big enough for 4-6 people.

Cranberry and apple sauce

500g fresh or frozen cranberries (thawed if frozen)

2 Bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into small chunks

150g caster sugar

1 cinnamon stick


Put all the ingredients in a large pan with a good splash of water.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently, uncovered, until the berries have burst and the apples softened. 

This should take around 30 minutes and the original recipe says to boil down until the sauce has thickened but in fact I had to add a splash or two more water to stop it from catching.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool.  Transfer into sterilised jars.  Once opened, keep in the fridge.

Makes 6-7 small jars of sauce, each one enough for 4-6 people.

December 11, 2012


Not long ago my friends Tim and Pauline, who live not far from our little cottage in Le Grand-Pressigny, posted about the old-fashioned pudding, the “Betty”. 


I hadn’t eaten a Betty for years and the last time it was a fancy version served up for dessert in a gastro pub.  But you can’t beat the original Betty, made essentially with fruit and breadcrumbs.  The last time I saw a recipe for it was probably in an old copy of Woman’s Weekly – which is, I confess, at the risk of losing all credibility completely, one of my guilty secrets !!  (Great knitting patterns.)

Anyway, I was so taken with their post that I just had to have a go myself, that very day.  My dad was coming round for his dinner and I knew he would love it.

Tim’s recipe is so simple and uses shredded suet and demerara sugar with the breadcrumbs.  You can read his version, written in his own unmistakeable style, here in their blog “De la bonne bouffe”.


You could use pretty much any fruit, provided it is cut into smallish pieces, and flavour with anything you like.  Rhubarb and ginger might be nice, or rhubarb and orange, apple and blackberry, pear, plum, the possibilities are endless.  I used some leftover granary bread, a couple of Bramley apples and some leftover strawberries, with Atora Light, which is shredded vegetable suet, and cinnamon.  I just peeled the apples and sliced them straight into the dish, just like my mum used to do when making her apple crumbles and pies.  It’s a great way to use up leftover bread and bits and bobs of fruit.

betty2 I don’t think my mum ever made a Betty.  In those days food processors didn’t exist so it was probably easier to rub fat into flour to make a crumble than to make breadcrumbs from leftover bread.  She often made bread and butter pudding though….now that reminds me of something else I haven’t had for years, too !!

betty4In the end my dad didn’t come for dinner.  He had been out for lunch and couldn’t manage a second big meal so he cancelled.  Sadly we had to eat all the Betty between the two of us……..such a hardship !!

I am linking this post to “Bookmarked Recipes” on the blog “Tinned Tomatoes”.  Bookmarking recipes for future reference is one of the great joys of reading blogs and I have loads of recipes in mind to cook at some point ….. so many recipes, so little time !!

Here’s my version of Strawberry and Apple Betty


4 oz of 2-3 day old bread which should still be moist

3 oz shredded vegetable suet

3 oz demerara sugar

½ tsp ground cinnamon

2 Bramley apples

a handful of strawberries, hulled and halved

1 oz butter, cubed


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan/ gas mk 4.  Take a deep ovenproof dish.

Blitz the bread in a food processor to make breadcrumbs.  Mix together the breadcrumbs, suet and sugar in a bowl.

Peel one of the apples and slice into the base of the dish.  Add half of the strawberries and sprinkle half of the crumb mixture on top.  Repeat with the other apple, the remaining strawberries and crumb mixture.  Dot the butter on top.

Bake for 45 minutes until golden brown.  Serve warm with cream, ice cream, Birds custard or whatever takes your fancy !!

Serves 4.

December 8, 2012


Dom’s Random Recipe Challenge back in October was “storecupboard finds” - to use ingredients found lurking at the back of the cupboard.  A rummage in my cupboard turned up a can of Carnation Caramel and a jar of peanut butter.  I remember buying the Carnation a while ago for some recipe that never got made but is long since forgotten – but why the peanut butter was there is a total mystery !!

I spent a happy half hour or so looking through my cookbooks for a recipe using Carnation caramel or peanut butter.  There are plenty of recipes for peanut cookies but I really fancied making a cake.  Eventually I found one in my most recent treat to myself, a book by Rachel Allen called “Cake” and luckily it required both of my storecupboard ingredients.  (It’s a lovely book and there are lots of other recipes I can hardly wait to make….I just need the opportunity.)


So with good intentions I took the jar of peanut butter, the tin of Carnation and the recipe with me to France in October but ……… time ran out and I brought them back home again, unused !!  We seem to do that quite often – i.e. take stuff all the way across the channel and bring them back home again, untouched.  C’est la vie !!

A few weeks later it was time for our Children in Need cake stall at work with the perfect opportunity to make lots of cake  so I fished my tin of Carnation caramel and jar of peanut butter back out of the cupboard again and set to making the cake.

It was dead easy to make and I can vouch for the fact that it tasted very peanutty!  I used a smooth peanut butter (because that’s what I had) and I think I would do that again – I’m not sure I would have liked the cake quite as much with crunchy bits in it.

peanut2The icing is made by beating cream, caramel and peanut butter into melted chocolate – almost like a chocolate ganache, something I have never knowingly made before.  Very nice it was too and the cake looked gorgeous.

Except that the top layer slid very slightly off the bottom layer while my back was turned, making the cake look a little wonky.  Once the filling had set there was nothing I could do about it – but I don’t think anybody noticed !!


I decorated the top with some chocolate covered peanuts and it looked, even though I say it myself, really nice with a caramel coloured crumb and glossy icing.  It sold well at the Children in Need cake stall and I cut myself a small slice just in time to see what it was like before it sold out.  It was perfectly yummy so I would definitely make it again, even though peanut butter is not usually one of my favourite things.  I bet kids would love it.

Here’s my version of Peanut Butter Cake:


200g softened butter

75g peanut butter (smooth or crunchy, as you prefer)

200g caster sugar

4 eggs, lightly beaten

200g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

For the icing

100g milk chocolate

3 tblsp double cream

50g peanut butter

100g Carnation caramel


Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°fan/gas mk 4.  Grease and base line two 20cm sandwich tins.

Beat the butters together until creamy, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.  Sift the flour and baking powder and fold into the mixture.

Divide evenly between the tins and level the top.  Bake for about 30 minutes until done.  Leave in the tins for 5 minutes then remove and cool on a rack.

To make the icing, break the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and place over a pan of gently simmering water.  Allow the chocolate to melt, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the heat and beat in the cream, peanut butter and caramel.  While it’s still warm use half to fill the cake and half to ice the top.

Decorate with a few chocolate peanuts, chopped peanuts or just a sprinkle of icing sugar.

Cuts into 8-12 slices.

December 6, 2012


With the temperatures falling, the days getting ever shorter and the roads being choked with the whole world and his grandmother doing their Christmas shopping, what we really needed to cheer us up after work on a horrible evening was something cheerful to eat.

chicken3This recipe is based on a real winner from the book “What’s for dinner?” by Fay Ripley and I have cooked and adapted it a few times with great success.  You can see the original recipe here.

I bought the book earlier this year after hearing the author being interviewed on the radio.  It’s full of really sensible, easy to make recipes, mostly designed for families but easily adapted for two busy people who get home late from work and need to satisfy both their hunger and their desire to do something other than just shove a ready meal in the oven, but with very little more effort. 

A bit like 15-minute meals but more realistic – just as easy to make but the cooking time is longer – and you don’t end up with a trashed kitchen to clear up !!  I have been enjoying Jamie Oliver’s 15-minute meals series but reckon the whole process still takes getting on for an hour by the time you have fished all your pans and ingredients out of the cupboards and then cleared up afterwards…..!!

chicken1 On this occasion I used butternut squash, parsnips and beetroot, with a mixed pack of organic chicken thighs and legs.  The jewel-like colours of the veg in the baking tin went a long way towards cheering us up while the weather outside could only be described as filthy.  The wind was howling and the rain turning to sleet but who could fail to feel better as the smell of our dinner filled the kitchen.


You can use pretty much any root veg for this dish – it’s the sauce that you pour over the top that makes all the difference.  A mixture of olive oil, mustard and lemon definitely brings a tangy taste to the chicken and roots and a smile to the face.  I served ours with a dishful of greens.  Yum yum !!

chicken4 Here’s my adaptation for a cheerful chicken bake:


4 small chicken thighs or legs

¼ butternut squash

1 small beetroot

2-3 parsnips

2 tblsp olive oil

1 tblsp Dijon mustard

1 sprig tarragon (or 3 tsp dried tarragon)

zest and juice of 1 lemon


Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°fan/gas mk 6.

Peel the veg and cut into small chunks.  Scatter into an ovenproof dish or baking tin.  Cut the flappy bits off the chicken and place on top of the veg skin side up.  Season with salt and pepper.

To make the sauce, mix together the olive oil, mustard, lemon zest and juice in a small bowl.  Spoon the mixture over the chicken.  Add the tarragon.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the chicken is golden brown and the veg are tender.  (Mine took about 55 minutes and next time I would be tempted to cook the veg for 10 minutes before adding the chicken.)

Serve with green veg.  Serves two hungry people or four if you use larger chicken pieces and more roots.