Winter spiced tea recipe

Spiced tea was a recent discover for me, and to be honest, at first I wasn’t sure. Now however I am a full on convert. It’s another of those little comforters for the dark cold months we are about to embrace.

So where did this come form? Well for me, it was an innocuous little packet of tea we bought in Whittards. It was cold and dark and Kate and I were trampling along the high street near to christmas. I was becoming more and more annoyed at the endless christmas themed latte tasters that the coffee shops were offering as we passed. Kate was having a blast but at that time I hadn’t developed a love for coffee, so felt left out.

Luckily we passed Whittards and that mean I could treat myself to some nice tea to take home. After all the pumpkin spiced lattes, gingerbread lattes and Black Forest mochas Kate was sampling, the idea of a winter spiced tea grabbed me and I grabbed a bag of it. Off home we went.

This wasn’t the traditional Chai Masala or Chai latte, it was much more subtle and for me, much more winter (think cards with robins and snow). I loved it, subsequently so did my friend Hayley who loves tea as much as me and so we usually end up sharing new found delights.

So… to jump to the end of this rather long and meandering tale… this year I am making my own and it’s not as hard as you think. I make my own Lady Grey (and Hayley approves) so I jumped right in.

The dominant flavour (and aroma) for this tea is cloves. I know, shocker, I was absolutely assuming cinnamon given the associations with winter, but nope. It’s actually cloves. The secondary aroma and flavour is orange peel.

To make the tea

Ok we are going to make this as one mug of tea. You will need:

  • Black tea (tea bag or loose leaf but enough for one mug). Assam works great but any black tea will do the job. Avoid already flavoured or scented teas like Early Grey though)
  • An orange or satsuma to get that citrus peel. You just need a couple of bits of peel.
  • 4 cloves (whole). This sounds like a lot, but we are using them whole and not grinding them so they actually impart way more aroma than flavour.

How to

Brew your mug of tea to your liking. I drink my tea black so I don’t like it too strong. Then simply steep your cloves and orange peel in your mug of tea. Make sure you have a plan for how to get them out again. I have a little one mug tea pot with a filter basket that I use.

That’s it. Really. It’s so easy, but such a lovely, makes you smile cuppa.




Iced coffee – 3 ways, latte, and freddo

I have been getting into iced coffee this summer in a big way thanks to my teammate Iraklis who introduced me to Freddo Espresso. I’m not a huge fan of those sweet high st. coffee chain iced coffees so when he introduced me to the strong, black greek version I was hooked.

So I thought I’d share my iced coffee secrets with you guys since we’re about to get a warm snap and you might fancy one.

So iced coffee, 3 ways. Let’s start with the milky, sweet iced latte.

Iced Latte

Think of those creamy, sweet iced coffees you get from high st. coffee shops like Starbucks. This is my super easy version, you need

  • 600ml cold coffee,
  • a tin of condensed milk

So cold coffee, you can either brew coffee overnight using cold water or make regular coffee and then let it cool and refrigerate. Pick which method is easiest for you, I usually just chill a normal batch of coffee for this.

Now since you are using condensed milk, which you can’t really use in small amounts easily as you buy by the tin, I make a large batch of these coffees and keep them in the fridge for when Kate needs a nice, cold, latte hit. I get about 5 or 6 small iced coffees from this batch.

So what’s the trick… it’s really complicated, I’m not sure you’d manage…. add condensed milk to coffee, stir lots and lots to mix it up, serve over ice.

Thick, creamy, sweet, mmmmmmm

Freddo Espresso

Next is my favourite iced coffee, Freddo Espresso. It is very simple, just espresso over ice, but… the espresso is whipped to make it really thick and creamy. My teammate at work, Iraklis, introduced me to these. He is Greek and this is his favourite Greek iced coffee. So for this one, you need a fancy gizmo, a drinks mixer.

I have heard other folk saying you can do this using your stick blender, but Iraklis has assured me it just isn’t the same, and I trust him, so I got one of these widgets.

It is basically a really high powered whisk that lets you whisk the coffee up really quickly.

So basically to make a Freddo Espresso you just need

  • espresso

Yup that simple, obviously to do the whole iced coffee thing you need ice, but generally I’m assuming you have that one coffered.

So it goes like this. Put your espresso into a large cup and add one ice cube just to cool it down. Then whisk. It will take a couple of minutes to get it all properly whisked and creamy but you’ll be amazed. Then pour it over ice in a glass and enjoy.

The coffee separates out like a proper espresso with the dark coffee and light crema but keeps that lovely luxurious taste. A word of warning though, even though this is just an espresso, it packs a punch. I don’t know if it’s because the coffee is cold, but it tasted like it’s a way more powerful espresso than normal.

Now you have a choice, you can serve this as is, but you can also tweak it. Namely, the Greeks serve this as either plain or sweet. So you can choose to sweeten to your taste. Apparently, most folks drink it as medium sweet, which is a big spoon of sugar in the espresso, mixed to dissolve before you whisk.

Now I mentioned that you can have this 3 ways, and we already mentioned, as it comes or sweetened. The third is with milk.

Freddo Cappuccino

The Freddo Cappuccino is simply the Freddo Espresso but with a small amount of cold, whipped milk added. Just like a regular cappuccino.

So again, whip your espresso and pour over ice. Then whip a small amount of milk using your widget and pour this on top of your espresso. It gives you a softer, less punch you in the face coffee hit 🙂

So there you go, iced coffee three ways.




Panettone – Italian Christmas Bread

We all grow up with family traditions based around certain times of year – birthdays, special events, cultural holidays etc, but as an adult, you get to choose which traditions you carry on and share with your family or indeed which ones you choose to leave behind.

The creation of our own family traditions has been one of the best things about sharing Christmas with Kate and over the years we’ve developed a few which are unique to us, for instance, we have french onion soup for tea on Christmas Eve. Kate makes the soup and I make the bread croutons. We open our presents while sitting on the floor at the tree and we each give each other one silly present, like a onesie, just to have a giggle on Christmas morning.

There is one thing that Kate has been asking for all this time and we’ve never done though. Kate asks every year if I could make panetonne as she is a massive fan. I’ve never made it for her, because it always seemed terrifyingly complicated.

That will change as we add a new tradition this year, we will be having panettone and coffee for breakfast on Christmas morning.

I have really been learning about bread making over the last couple of years, and now, I’d say there is nothing complicated about panettone at all so I’m going to share the recipe I’ve come up with and my hints and tips so that you can make this too.

Makes 1 large or 18 small individual panettone

Treat additions
120g mixed dried fruits
120g candied lemon and orange peel (finely chopped)
200g of chocolate chips
4 tablespoons orange juice

For the Dough
1 1/2 tbsp fast action dry yeast
150ml warm milk
50g fine sugar
650g strong bread flour
1 tsp salt
6 free-range eggs (5 for the dough and 1 to glaze)
250g (1 pack) softened unsalted butter
zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange

Get prepared

Put all the dried fruits into a bowl and cover with the orange juice. I like to do this a good 5 or 6 hours ahead to give the fruit a chance to plump up. You could do this overnight.

Make the dough

TOP TIP – this is a wet dough, it’s much easier to work in a stand mixer than by hand.

Heat your milk to warm, but not hot and stir in the sugar until it dissolves, then add the yeast and leave it aside to let the yeast come to life a little.

Add your flour to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and sprinkle the salt in, let the dough hook mix this gentle for a few seconds before adding your yeast and milk, which hopefully is showing signs of life by now.

Keep the mixer on a slow speed and begin adding your other ingredients, first the Start by mixing on a slow speed to combine the ingredients. Add 5 beaten eggs slowly, letting them incorporate into the dough and then turn the mixer up to a medium speed to get things properly incorporated.  

Add the zest from the lemon and orange.

This is where my experience may be useful for first timers with enriched dough. This is a very wet and sticky dough, don’t worry, that’s why it ends up being so fluffy. Just keep going, I promise, it will all come together and make the most gorgeous, pillowy soft dough in the end. It just takes a bit longer.

Next, again top tip, don’t try to rush this. Add your butter about a tablespoon at a time and let it properly mix in before adding the next amount. It is going to take time to get that oily butter to properly mix in rather than just make the dough greasy, be patient.

When you first add it, you’ll see it smear all over the mixing bowl, just let the mixer do the work and suddenly just before you give up hope, it will vanish. That’s when you add the next bit of butter.

Now let the mixer knead away for at least 5-10 more minutes, this is when the dough becomes that pillow of softness I spoke about. Don’t worry about how soft and unmanagable it appears, remember this is all texture 🙂

Grease a large baking bowl and put your dough in there to let it prove. Cover it with cling film or put it in a baking bag to stop a skin forming on top. Leave your dough aside and be patient.

You want this to at least double in size, but ideally treble, so be patient.

Turn the dough into panettone

Ok so now that your dough is HUGE and you are a little worried it may eat you… time to add all your treaty bits and shape it.

Tip your dough out onto a floured worktop and gently spread it out with your fingertips. It will deflate but don’t worry, although try not to be overly heavy-handed.

Strain the soaked fruit and discard the juice. Mix with the choc chips and candied peel and spread about half of it out over the dough, and then fold the dough over the fruits and lightly roll the dough around to distribute the fruit evenly through the dough.

Do this again, spread the dough and repeat as before with the remaining fruit.

At this point, the dough is going to be an ugly, bumpy sod. Don’t worry about it, but look it over to make sure the fruit is as evenly distributed as possible.

Now you can choose to make one traditional panettone loaf or lots of smaller indiviudal ones.

For one big loaf, make the dough into a ball.

Grease a panettone tin or paper case. If you have don’t have any of these of these, use a regular cake tin, but line the base and sides with greaseproof paper standing at least 2 inches above the rim.

Drop the dough into the centre of the tin and cover loosely with a tea towel.

For lots of individual panettones

Roll the dough into a long sausage and cut into around 16 equal sized portions. Roll them into small bowls and drop into tulip muffin wrappers and then into a muffin tray and cover with a tea towel.  This acts as your panettone moulds.

Whichever method you chose, leave the dough aside until it rises again. You want the single loaf to be higher than the tin by maybe 2 inches and for the little individual ones, you want them to be just over half way up the muffin wrapper. It’s essential here to be patient. If you want that airy, fluffy texture the essential part is that the dough gets the chance to properly rise.

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Once the oven is heated, make an eggwash by beating the remaining egg and brush over the surface of the panettone.

Bake the large loaf in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 160C or 150C for a fan oven and cook for a further 40 minutes. The panettone is ready when a skewer comes out clean.

For individual panettone, Bake for 30 minutes at 160C or 150C for a fan oven.

Let the cake cool for 5 minutes in the tin on a cooling rack, then remove and leave it to cool completely.

Serve and enjoy!




Eye spy mince pies!

Its December, and for me that means only one thing – its finally mince pie season! But Kate, I hear you cry, mince pies have been in the shops since July – don’t get me started on the ridiculously early appearance of Christmas food, suffice to say that for me part of the joy of the mince pie is that its SEASONAL, a mince pie is for Christmas, not for all year round! (OK, rant over.)

I always look forward to the first mince pie of the year, and I am very strict that I don’t have one until the first of December. Last year Eli and I made a special day of it, by combining the first mince pie with the first festive hot chocolate and a wander around the Christmas market for a spot of retail therapy. This year I decided it would be fun to try to make my own mince pies, and as Eli isn’t actually a fan of mincemeat, I thought I would make some spiced apple pies for her so she didn’t feel left out.

I don’t do a lot of baking, so I think Eli was slightly worried when she was banished so that I could get into that kitchen and rattle them pots and pans.

The beauty of making your own mince pies is you can make them exactly the way you like them – your favourite pastry – shortcrust or puff -tasty  filling- with or without alcohol – and even decide on the top – full crust, fancy shapes or even iced!

This is my recipe for mince pies (makes 16):

Ingredients

For the filling:

  • 1 large jar mincemeat (about 600g) – or if you are feeling super adventurous you could make your own!
  • 2 satsumas, segmented
  • 1 apple, finely  chopped
  • zest 1 lemon

For the pastry

  • 375g plain flour
  • 260g unsalted butter, softened
  • 125g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 large egg
  • plus 1 beaten egg for glazing

Method

  1. Put the flour and butter in a bowl and rub together until they look like breadcrumbs.
  2. Add the caster sugar and one of the beaten eggs, and mix together.
  3. Tip the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and fold until the pastry comes together, but  be careful not to over mix or the dough will get too sticky.
  4. Wrap the pastry in some cling film and put it in the fridge to chill for 10 mins.
  5. Put the mincemeat into a bowl and add the segmented satsumas, the chopped apple and lemon zest.
  6. Heat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7.
  7. Roll out the pastry to about  3mm thick – a bit thicker than a pound coin.
  8. Using a round cutter (about 10cm), cut out 16 bases and put them into your baking trays – I used non stick muffin trays. Put 1½ tbsp of mincemeat mixture into each. Brush the edge of each pie with a little beaten egg.
  9. Re-roll out the pastry to cut 7cm lids and press them on top to seal. Glaze with the beaten egg, sprinkle with the extra caster sugar, then make a small cut in the tops to let the steam out.
  10. Bake the mince pies for 15-20 mins until golden brown. Leave to cool for about 5 mins before releasing them from the muffin trays and then dust with a little more icing sugar before serving.  The hardest part is waiting for them to cool before tucking in!

I could have made things easy and just made a double batch of pastry and filled half with mincemeat and the other half with an apple mixture, but I decided to make things harder for myself and so I did a slightly different pastry for the apple pies:

Eli’s little apple pies (makes 16)

Ingredients

For the pastry:

  • 350g Plain flour, plus extra to to roll out the pastry
  • 200g Cold butter
  • 100g Golden caster sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 capfuls of vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 1 tablespoon of milk to glaze

For the filling:

  • 3 large apples, chopped thinly
  • Juice of one orange
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2-3 tablespoons of light brown sugar

Method

  1. Put the flour and butter in a bowl and rub together until you have a mixture like breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar and salt.
  2. Separate the egg and put the yolk into the flour, butter and sugar with the vanilla essence. Stir with a knife.
  3. Add the water a bit at a time and stir with knife until it begins to clump together, then make a ball with it using your hands and knead until smooth you may not need all the water you just have to judge when its holding together without being sticky .
  4. Put the pastry in the fridge to chill for an hour.
  5. Peel and chop the apples and squeeze the orange juice over them, then put the sugar and spice and mix together with your hands making sure the apples are all coated evenly.
  6. Pre-heat the oven to 180 fan and roll out the pastry to about 3 or 4 mm. Cut out circles to fit your muffin tray (about 10cm) and place them in the wells of the tray.
  7. Divide the apple mix between the pies then re-roll the pastry to make the tops and place them on.
  8. Glaze them with milk and stab the tops once with a knife.
  9. Bake for 15-25 minutes or until golden brown.
  10. Leave to cool for about 5 mins before releasing them from the muffin trays and then dust with a little caster sugar before serving.  

All in all I had a fun afternoon in the kitchen doing some baking, and dare I say it, its starting to feel a little bit like Christmas!!

 




Tattie scones – a traditional Scottish treat for St Andrew’s Day

Happy St Andrew’s day folks!

St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and 30th November is his day, St Andrew’s day. In all honesty, we don’t actually do anything to celebrate it, it’s just another day and a heck of a lot of Scots probably couldn’t even tell you when St Andrew’s day is but…. it gives me an excuse to share some of my favourite Scottish noms with you. So I’m all up for it!

Last year as a St Andrew’s day treat, I shared my recipe for traditional Parlies (or Parliament Cake) with you. A spicy, dark, ginger biscuit which goes fantastically well with coffee.

This year I’m sharing Tattie Scones or Potato Scones if you are being posh. These are a basic staple in a full Scottish breakfast but they aren’t just found in Scotland, you get them in Ireland too, although there they tend to be called Farls. They are super easy to make, but soooo tasty, so here goes.

You will need….

  • Leftover mashed potato…. yup you read that right, cold mashed potato, preferably without milk or butter added. Tattie scones are basically a little cake of fried mashed potato. You need 500g.
  • Add in 160g of plain flour and a half tsp of salt.
  • Add a tbsp of oil or melted butter.
  • Now get your hands in there and mix it all together.

You are not looking for a dough as such, more just until it starts to stick together. It will come together in a ball, that’s what you are after.

Dump that out onto your surface and roll it into a sausage shape and cut 6-8 equal portions.

Next roll them into little balls

and roll them out into discs. You are looking for a nice even depth of about 2 – 4mm or the thickness of a pound coin (ish).

Pound coin for scale Dan?

Next is the reason these are called Farls in Ireland, we cut each disc into four quarters, you do see tattie scones as squares as well but I grew up with tattie scones as triangles so this is how I make them.

The cooking…

  • You need to get a large frying pan on the stove at a medium heat. Drop some butter into it and let it melt (butter gives the best flavour and makes then lovely, golden brown and crisp. mmmmmmmmm)
  • Cook batches of four at a time and you are looking at about 2 or 3 minutes per side, until they are nice and golden.

How to serve…

You can eat these hot or cold and serve them with pretty much anything. My favourite is to have them on a roll with bacon but you can eat them with butter and jam, or Kate likes them with butter and cheese. Most folk I think would include these as part of a cooked breakfast ( a full Scottish). Just enjoy them any way you like.




Cooking with cast iron – let’s bust the myths

I love my cast iron pans, they put the most amazing caramalised crust on a steak, give you the best fried onions and you can cook on the cooker top and put them straight into the oven to bake. So versatile, what’s not to love? However, some folks do seem to be scared of cast iron, or think it takes too much looking after. Let’s bust some of the myths.



Myth 1: “Cast iron is hard to look after.”


The myth: Cast iron will rust, chip, or crack easily because it’s a temperamental metal. You need to spend lots of time looking after it, be careful not to knock it against the cooker or other pans in the drawer and be careful when you store it so that seasoning doesn’t chip off!


The truth: Cast iron is tough as nails! (obviously, as they are iron too). Hence why people are still cooking on grandma’s 80-year-old cast iron pans or buying old pans from car boot sales.  The stuff is built to last and it would take some amount of work to completely ruin it. Check out youtube and watch guys take grinders to old pans they’ve found in a skip, clean the rust off and end up with something beautiful.


The seasoning is built up in nice thin layers, it’s bonded to the metal. It absolutely won’t chip, don’t worry. I store my cast iron pans stacked directly inside each other with no issues, I would NEVER do that with my non-stick pans.


If you are worried that having to season your cast iron is a big job or overly complicated. Skip to the end of this blog and I’ll take you through just how easy it actually is.


Myth 2: “You should NEVER wash your cast iron pan with soap.”


The myth: The seasoning on your cast iron is a thin layer of oil and as soap is designed to remove oil, the soap will take the seasoning off.


The truth: OK I understand the misunderstanding here. It is true that you season the pan with a thin layer of oil, but the seasoning itself is actually not oil, it’s a thin layer of polymerised oil.  Let me explain, when you season the pan, you rub on a thin layer of oil and then heat that oil. You do this over and over creating more layers. But when you heat that thin layer of oil it changes its chemical structure and becomes a hard layer which has bonded to the surface of the metal. This is what gives cast iron its non-stick surface, it’s actually no longer an oil, so soap shouldn’t affect it.


However… something you don’t want to do is let it soak in the sink. Obvious iron and water are not best friends, so leave the pan on the cooker until you’ve had dinner if you have to, but don’t leave it sitting in the sink full of water.


Myth 3: “You can’t cook tomatoes and other acidic stuff  in cast iron.”


The myth: Acidic foods react with the metal and give your dinner a weird flavour.


The truth: In a well-seasoned cast iron pan, you have built up that layer of seasoning so the food in the pan should only be coming in contact with the layer of polymerised oil, not any metal. Also cast iron is no different to other cookware like that with a non stick coating. Acidic foods, if left in contact for prolonged periods regularly can damage the coating.


So for this reason, your cast iron pan probably isn’t the choice for making a tomato sauce where you are simmering acidic foods for a long time. On the other hand, a little acid is not going to hurt it. You can fry or roast your tomatoes or even deglaze your pan with red wine. 

A good point to consider though, cast iron cooking can leach trace amounts of iron into your food, this is a good thing as we need iron in our diets.


Myth 4: “You can’t use metal cooking utensils on your cast iron pan, it will scrape the seasoning off!”


The myth: The seasoning in cast iron pans is delicate and will easily chip if you use metal. You should only use wood or silicon utensils.


The truth: You are thinking about non stick coatings. The seasoning in cast iron is actually seriously tough. It’s not just stuck to the surface, it’s actually chemically bonded to the metal. So scrape away with a metal spatula and unless you’re actually gouging at the surface, there shouldn’t be any issues. Any little black bits you see will most likely be burnt food from a previous dinner because you didn’t scrub things with soap after the last meal.


Myth 5: “New cast iron pans are just as good as old grannie’s old cast iron. It’s all cast iron.”


The myth: Cast iron pans are cast iron pans. They are all the same cause well, metal is metal.


The truth: The metal is the same yes, but just like everything else the production methods have changed. In the old days, cast iron pans were made by casting and then polishing the resulting pebbly surfaces until smooth. Vintage cast iron tends to have a satiny, smooth finish. However, like anything, popularity for a product meant production scaled up and was streamlined, this final polishing step was dropped from the process. This means newer cast iron still has that bumpy surface.


It is only a minor thing though. So long as you’ve seasoned your pan properly, both vintage and new cast iron should take on a nice smooth, shiny surface, but modern cast iron will never be quite as non-stick as the vintage stuff. I am so jealous of anyone who has family hand me down cast iron.


Seasoning your cast iron


It is actually really easy to season your cast iron, it’s not a big faff at all but I do have one tip to prevent divorce, so read on.


Try cooking on a bare, unseasoned cast iron pan and not only will you see it rust quickly but food will stick like nobody’s business. So to prevent all of this, we season our pans.


Now I don’t mean salt and pepper, instead, I mean a hard, protective coating that’s created by heating multiple thin layers of oil on the cast iron. As the oil is heated, it bonds to the metal and to itself in a process called polymerisation, as the oil converts into a form of plastic. After enough layers of seasoning have been applied, what you end up with is a hard, blackened skin that protects the metal.


OK admit it, who thoughtI was talking about flavouring?


When you buy a new pan, it might already come “pre-seasoned”, this means it’s already got layer or two of seasoning on there, so the job has been started but I would still recommend giving the pan a good clean to get rid of any manufacturing yuk and giving it a couple of coats of seasoning just to get it perfect.


So how do I season my cast iron?


Step 1: Wash and dry it


Give your pan a good scrub with warm, soapy water and a scrubby sponge, then dry it thoroughly. Even if you are super careful and use your favourite towel, there might still be some water there so shove it on the cooker for a few minutes to just drive off any water.


Step 2: Rub oil all over it and then buff the oil off ( to make sure it’s a thin layer).


Now it’s is clean and dry, rub it all over, all over, inside and out AND the handle with oil. Any oil will do but be aware that different oils have different smoking temperatures. I use plain old vegetable oil.


It’s important that you rub / buff off the oil after as even a little excess can pool and cause sticky bumps and lumps. You want to build up thin, thin, thin layers.


Top tip, use an old rag, tea towel, t shirt etc, something lint free. DO NOT use paper.


Step 3: Heat


Now you have the pan oiled, you need heat to polymerise it. The best way to do this is to put the pan in a hot oven – upside down – for an hour. HOWEVER… things will get smokey, so to prevent divorce (Kate hates when I get the kitchen stinky and smokey), my top tip is to do this in the garden in the BBQ.



The reason we use an oven (or the BBQ) is because we want a nice even heat. This is much better at setting the oil all over the pan.


I put the pans in upside down, it’s just added insurance against any excess oil that decides to run and pool, since gravity will pull it out of the pan.


Step 4: Repeat 3 to 4 Times


When the hour is up, take the pan out. It’s bloody hot though so be VERY careful and rub it once more all over with the oil, buffing it out as before. Repeat this 3 or 4 more times.Once you’re done, just let the pan cool down. You are now ready to go!


Just to allay any fears, you don’t need to do this every time you use your pan. Every time you cook in it with some type of fat, think frying steak, bacon etc, you’ll be laying down more seasoning. So you only need to reseason once in a while to keep on top of things.




More sweet treats to comfort you on a cold night: honeycomb cinder toffee

Growing up, we called this honeycomb but I’ve heard it called cinder toffee, hokey pokey, puff candy and even sponge toffee. No matter what you call it, this is a bomb of sugary delight and fabulous on a cold night, in front of the fire with a cuppa. 

You know the orange, toffee-like centre of a crunchy bar that just melts in your mouth and then goes super sticky? Well, that’s what we are making.

It’s actually really simple to make and very quick, although you do have to be patient and wait on things setting oh and did I mention it’s pure sugar? This is a big pile of empty calories that will rot your teeth… but oh my god it’s so tasty!!!

First things first though, we are going to be working with CRAZY hot, burny, molten lava-like sugar. BE CAREFUL!

Ingredients

  •  5 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp cream of tartar
  • 250ml water
  • 650g granulated sugar
  • 340g golden syrup

The science bit

This sweet delight gets called honey comb because of the bubbly texture, you don’t actually need to add honey to the recipe. I use golden syrup cause the taste an colour work really well and honey can burn really quickly.

Talking of burning, we are basically melting the sugar and then heating it to crazy temperatures,150ºC or hard crack to be precise. The water helps to stop the sugar burning, but the amount of water in the finished toffee also dictates the texture of the finished product:

We are going for hard sweeties as we want the crunchy texture.

Another note about water, or humidity to be precise, open a window while you are cooking this as the high humidity of the kitchen will make your honeycomb sink while it’s cooling.

Ok Let’s make sweeties

Grease and line a (roughly) 23-x-33 cm baking tray with greaseproof paper (grease the paper as well, trust me).

And make sure the paper comes up higher than the sides by a few cm and have all your ingredients measured and to hand, this is gonna be fast when it kicks off.

Sieve the baking soda and cream of tartar together in bowl and have this in grabbing distance. Trust me on sieving this. In a large pot, add the water first to help the sugar to dissolve, and then add the sugar and golden syrup and bring the mixture to a boil without stirring. You can swirl occasionally (carefully) but do not stir. Stirring will cause the sugar to crystallise. This is the hardest thing, I know but you must resist!!!!

Continue boiling until your temp hits 150ºC then remove the pot from the heat and QUICKLY sieve in the baking soda and cream of tartar mixture and stir quickly to make sure it has been incorporated, but stop once it’s no longer visible.

But quickly!!!

QUICKLY pour and scrape the now frothing contents of the pot into your baking tray and let it set. Try to do this without screaming, panicking or dumping the now volcano like pot and running away.

Do not touch it, stir it, try to spread it. Don’t even try to tip the tray, just leave it where it naturally sits. Did I emphasise enough that you need to be quick? It takes seconds for this to turn into a volcano of froth as the baking soda erupts but it also takes seconds for you to knock the air out, hence quickly and do not touch.

Now you have to leave it alone and let it cool for around 2 hours until it is solid. Really, I know it’s tempting to touch it and test if it’s set, don’t do it, it’s bloody hot!!!

After 2 hours smash it into bite-sized pieces and enjoy or you know be virtuous and give it away (but nobody likes virtuous I don’t eat sweeties types). It’s extra awesome dipped in chocolate, or so I’ve been told, cause you know I don’t eat unhealthy things so I wouldn’t know.

My body is a temple.

Oh sorry no, amusing park, my body is an amusement park, I always mix those two up.




Butternut squash soup… an autumn warmer or còsagach recipe

Last year we introduced you to our winter fun known as Hygge. It the association of all things warming and comforting to get you through the dark nights, happy with what you have and the time spent with loved ones. Well as we were telling you all about this, a local newspaper here in Scotland introduced us to what they are claiming is the Scottish term for this… còsagach.  Now I will not lie, I have never heard of this and no one I spoke to had either, but hey I’m all up for a new term to explain things which is way easier to say 🙂

So còsagach…. VisitScotland the tourism people are claiming it means snug, cosy or sheltered. Maybe relating to sheltered as in a den or foxhole, something an animal shelters in? Some folk relate this to a bit of a mix up with còsag maybe sounding like the English word cosy?

But hey, what the heck let’s have some fun and go with it. So today’s recipe is a warming Butternut Squash Soup for a còsagach autumn evening. Maybe after raking leaves in the garden adding more duct tape to the poorly and failing greenhouse?

Ingredients

  • 1 large peeled and deseeded butternut squash, cut into little bits
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 0.25 tsp chilli powder
  • 0.25 tsp paprika
  • 0.25 tsp cardamom
  • 0.25 tsp nutmeg
  • 1.5 litres stock (I like chicken)
  • Salt and pepper

How to

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan
  2. Put the squash into a large bowl with the oil, spices and salt and pepper and give it all a good mix
  3. Spread it out on a roasting tray and roast for about 45 minutes, or until squishy
  4. Fry the chopped onion until soft and then add it to your soup pot
  5. Once the squash is cooked, put it into your soup pot and add the stock
  6. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 mins. Check the seasoning
  7. When you are happy, blend the heck out of it!!! You want it velvety smooth

Serve it with some crusty bread and butter or for extra còsagach/hygge, you could roast the butternut squash seeds (just for 5 minutes or so) with some oil, chilli powder and garlic salt and then sprinkle on top.




Halloween here isn’t about pumpkins… apple spiced muffin recipe

I’ve been involved in a bit of facebook rant recently about Halloween and the fact that Scottish kids celebrate this as the American version (trick or treat) rather than holding onto the traditional Scottish celebrations I knew as a kid. It’s just one of those things, the world is becoming smaller with the advent of communications technologies. We grow up with American, Hollywood films and TV shows regularly come from the states, so it’s only natural that there is a crossover of cultures. So I suppose that’s where bloggers like myself have to talk about our cultural traditions so they don’t get forgotten.

Pumpkin

Pumpkin is everywhere at this time of year… now. It wasn’t a thing really when I was a kid, but these days Halloween and Autumn, in general, are filled with pumpkin. We have pumpkin decorations in the shops and pumpkin spiced coffees in the coffee shops etc. Here in Scotland, the tradition at Halloween was to carve a turnip. Yep, a turnip and it was bloody hard work, really only adults had any chance. We also had a few other traditions which I loved.

Dookin for apples

Pic from  https://www.glasgowlive.co.uk/news/glasgow-news/glasgow-school-children-take-part-12106270

Dookin for apples was simply lots of apples bobbing in a big tub of water, which you had to catch with only your mouth – hands behind your back. There was much hilarity and soggy kids. We also ate apples coated in toffee with a stick stuck into them to hold, a bit like a lollipop.

Treacle Scones

Pic from  https://www.scotsman.com/news/how-scotland-celebrated-halloween-in-7-pictures-1-4272133

I have to tell you about treacle scones just for my baby sister Leigh (who turned 41 a couple of days ago – happy birthday Leigh! The game of treacle scones is basically, bits of scone, covered in black treacle, hanging from strings across the room (so they swing) and kids, again with hands behind their backs have to bite the scones. Imagine treacle all over your face, in your hair, on your clothes etc… My sister had long, thick curly hair and she was always a complete mess but the end of the game (it didn’t help that I worked out that I could nudge the scones just right so they’d swing right at her).

Guising

Lastly, in Scotland we go guising, not trick or treating. We made our costumes and go out prepared to “do a party piece” to earn our sweets. It could be you tell a joke, sing a song, show off your dance moves… or if you are my little brother, Arlen, tell an adorable cute poem when you are 3 – completely set up by myself and Leigh cause his cuteness got us extra sweets… We coached him well!

Anyways…. enough of my rant, you came here for a recipe..

Spiced Apple muffins (not pumpkin) for a warm autumn night treat

Ingredients for 12 large muffins

  • 500g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 0.5 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • 180ml oil
  • 150ml milk
  • 400g jar of Bramley apple sauce (with chunks of apple in)

I am being completely lazy and using a jar of apple sauce, but feel free to use your own homemade sauce it will probably be sooooo much better.

Get Baking

Muffin wrappers

Step 1.  First, preheat your oven to 170 C for a fan oven or 190 C for a conventional oven & then prepare your muffin tin – if you aren’t using muffin wrappers as I do (see above), oil your tin.

Step 2. In a bowl, combine all your wet ingredients and sugar and then give it, really good mix to break up the egg and combine the egg and oil. Then add your applesauce and mix it through.

Step 3. Sift the flour, spices and baking powder into a big bowl and give it a good mix.

Step 4. Pour your wet into your dry, give it enough of a mix to combine but don’t over mix. How to know it’s right, it should drop thickly and easily off a spoonBaking can add more milk if it’s too thick and a little flour if it’s too runny.

Step 5. Add the batter to the muffin wrappers. They should be NO MORE than three-quarters full. Do not overfill, trust me, as they will rise heaps in the oven.

Step 6. As quickly as you can, get them in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 mins, until they are golden brown on top.

Step 7. Let them cool and then nom!




What to do with a glut of tomatoes… make passata of course

As always with a veg garden, there are times when you have such a glut of produce that you are trying to find ways to use things up rather than give it all away or worse, waste it. So today, with the crazy amount of tomatoes we’ve grown, we are making lots and lots of homemade passata, or tomato sauce.

this was just one harvest

Passata is really easy to make, basically you are just cooking down the tomatoes.

So lets start, chop all your tomatoes and get them in a huge pot with a sprinkling of salt. Put the lid on and let them cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes or so, just until they are all softened and broken down.

You want them all softened to make the next part easier, you are going to push all this through a sieve, so separate all the tasty, lovely juicy stuff from the pulp.

Really it’s that easy. Just ladle a small amount into the sieve and then run the ladle or spoon over it until it all breaks down further and pushed the liquid out, leaving just the pulp behind. Which you can discard.

Lovely, smooth, tomato sauce.  Now you want to boil this for about 10 minutes to get rid of any excess water and let it thicken slightly. Be very careful as it will spit and tomato sauce is like lava. Once it’s done you will be left with a gorgeous, smooth sauce for pasta, pizza, lasagne, stews etc.

This is the perfect time to have a taste and add any seasoning, herbs etc you want. A good thing to know on flavour… you can use unripened tomatoes too, you may just have to add a little sugar to supplement the sweetness of the tomatoes as unripened tomatoes are not as sweet as ripe ones.

A bit of advice though, obviously red tomatoes give you a vibrant, red sauce… purple tomatoes give you a brown sauce. Just be warned so you don’t think, “what the heck…”

Passata can be stored in jars in the fridge or food storage boxes or even in freezer bags in the freezer. That’s what we do. We’ve now got a freezer full of tomato sauce for easy and quick weeknight dinners.