Jus-Rol’s easy peasy Bake-It Fresh cinnamon swirls

When I spotted these bright yellow packets in the supermarket, I instantly thought of those moments when we as a family fancy a homebaked sweet treat.

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And these would enable us to indulge in just that – without me having to do a lot of cooking and messing around, especially at the weekends when I prefer to sleepily stagger around in pyjamas for a few hours.

I gave the husband the option of which we’d try first and he quite fancied a cinnamon swirl so off I went to preheat the oven.

The instructions are incredibly easy to follow and it all works just as it should. You open the tin as directed…

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and expose the log of dough inside –

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Then you cut in into six sections and lay them evenly on a lined baking tray or baking sheet.

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Then all you need to do is bake them for 11 minutes or so on the middle shelf of the oven.

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Final touch? A drizzle of icing, easily done thanks to the little pot of icing sugar which was also included in the packaging! The three of us demolished them in seconds.

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We will definitely be trying the rest of the products in this range: pain au chocolat, pains aux raisins, croissants and chocolate chip brioche. Treats at weekend brunches are going to be a doddle 🙂

Dad’s apple crumble

I grew up in a home where my dad did the bulk of the cooking. He got back from work first, so he’d have the family meal on the table by the time my mum arrived. It never struck me as unusual at all, and I learned quite a few tricks from him over the years.

Now I do all of the cooking in our house – I didn’t marry a man who took after my father in that respect! There are times when I think back to dad and all of his hard work, especially when I end up throwing together something in the kitchen that has come straight from his textbook.

One of his key puds is apple crumble. When we had rhubarb growing wild in our garden, the pinky batons were his favoured filling but now it’s apple all the way. I think he averages two a week, and my mother regularly requests a few to be given to her friends, fellow charity shop volunteers or just a stranger she meets – almost. Northern Ireland is THAT friendly.

The cooking apples which came my way recently did end up in my kitchen in a very Norn Iron fashion. Walking back from our local post office, I happened to smile at an older gentleman coming the opposite way, a habit I’ve almost grown out of after almost 13 years living in the semi-hostile standoffish south of England. Obviously deeming me worthy, he stopped abruptly and said, “Would you like some apples?”, gesturing to three plastic bags he was holding.

Offering him a pot of chutney or apple-related treat in return – which he refused – he then encouraged me to take a few apples from the bag, explaining that they’d come from his daughter’s garden. Off I trotted with my bounty, and, feeling too knackered to make anything elaborate / I’d have to think about, I set about putting together a basic crumble a la dad.

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A soupcon of apple carnage later, I put the cubed apples into a pan with a little water and caster sugar.

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After adding a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg and whipping up a batch of crumble topping – flour, butter, rolled oats, demerara sugar (added after you rub the butter into the flour, obviously) – off my two crumbles went into the oven for 40 minutes at 160 (fan).

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I ate a large portion afterwards with some custard made from Bird’s powder. It was a comfort on a rainy, rainy, autumn day – and definitely a taste of home sweet home.

Easy chutney – and we’re onto our third batch of this recipe already

Once we finished picking blackberries this year, almost immediately we made the move to apples. Friends passed on a bag of the first fruits to fall from their tree and so my mind turned initially to crumbles and tarts and then to chutney.

Chutney is one of the nicest things to pass on as an edible gift and one recipe in particular seems to get most favourable feedback from those we give it to. Another plus is that it’s extremely easy to make in one pan on the hob.

It’ll be no surprise that it’s a Nigella recipe, given my devotion to the domestic goddess, and it comes from her excellent Christmas book. It’s a simple mix of cider vinegar, onion, cranberries, apples, seasoning, sugar and spices, and takes just 45 minutes or so to cook.

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Once the apples have broken down, it does turn into a lethal spitter – watch out for those volcanically hot sparks flying out as the chutney simmers – but given the rest of its qualities, we can let it off with that!

I love this chutney so much that its page in the recipe book is pretty dirty (always the sign of a favourite) and I have made it three batches so far this autumn.

Practically every jar (we have eaten a few ourselves) has gone to a happy recipient and, once I get my hands on some windfall apples again, I’m sure it’ll be on the boil and bubble again.

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Nostalgic foodie souvenirs from Spain

We’ve just got back from two weeks on the Costa del Sol, and, as ever, a highlight of the trip was my usual trip to the supermercado to see what interesting or quirky things I could bring home.

I don’t mean serious stuff like the finest serrano ham; I’m talking more about silly nostalgic treats, and anything else interesting.

i was most keen to source the two items which remind me of the couple of trips I made to Spain as a child. I can vividly recall swimming up to a barstool with my dad for a treat of chocolate milk and a doughnut and I can also clearly picture the packaging of both items as they were handed over.

The milk I remember so fondly is Cacaolat, not the seemingly more popular Spanish brand Cola Cao and I was delighted to get my hands on it, and on a multipack of the doughnuts, in a larger store. To my eternal delight, neither the appearance of the milk nor the doughnuts has changed much in the 30 or so years since I devoured them as a child – and that taste, oh that taste, was just the same.

The divine Cacaolat

The divine Cacaolat

I couldn’t resist eating and drinking them throughout the holiday – and bringing a few back packages and cartons back to help with the post-holiday blues, too.

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Among the other treats in my shopping basket were wonderful Inez Rosales tortas, chorizo and two little 47c mineral water bottles with cutesy Anna and Elsa wrappers for our daughter.

And then I came upon the trump card of the trip, a trio of perfection in the form of three Royal reposteria tins: cacao en polvo (cocoa powder), crema pastelera (custard powder) and azucar glas avanillado (vanilla icing). My mother laughed at how excited i was when I spotted them in the baking section, but all I think of was my little red Royal baking powder tin at home and how delighted it would be to be joined by such beautiful little tins.

DSC00515I’ll have to get someone to translate the back of the tins for me so I can fully appreciate them, but I know that, once their contents are gone, I will be able to refill them and reuse them for years to come.

A therapeutic chocolate (with a swirl of peanut butter) banana bread

We’ve had a rough time of late, hence the lack of any cooking action on this blog. Sadly, we lost another baby boy to Hughes Syndrome (APS) and I have been distracted by illness and, of course, the grieving process.

I have been dementedly trying to occupy myself, however, tidying and cleaning and working from home – anything to prevent me from sitting still, thinking about things and failing to cope with the day.

A very welcome distraction came when I spotted this sight on top of the microwave…

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Who could resist turning two blackening bananas and their soft companion into Nigella’s banana bread?

The recipe is one of my favourites – it’s from How to Be A Domestic Goddess – and I always tend to make the chocolate version which she details at the bottom of the page. I don’t bother preparing the sultanas with the rum and it has still never tasted anything less than magnificent.

This time, I needed to use up some Hershey’s swirled peanut butter and chocolate morsels, so in they went instead of the usual dark chocolate. Banana and peanut butter are a good combo, and it proved to be a very successful experiment.

I revelled in the smell of the kitchen as it cooked, and after cooling and cutting some generous slices, I finally dared to take a moment to sit still and enjoy it. Two days later, it’s going strong – and is especially nice with some butter on it, Northern Ireland-style (we love a bit of butter on anything).

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Thank goodness for modern hot cross bun options

All my life, I have had an absolute hatred of mixed peel.

As a result, I don’t enjoy traditional festive favourites such as Christmas pudding, or cake when it has the afore-mentioned peel in it.

I make Nigella’s recipe instead – she’s no fan of MP either, and therefore rises in my estimation yet again! 🙂

It has also meant that I have never eaten Easter favourite the hot cross bun – until recently.

Supermarkets have woken up to the possibility of this bun, and have released different flavours, quite a few of which contain no MP at all. Yippee!

This year, I have mostly been eating two varieties of hot cross bun, Sainsbury’s cranberry and golden raisin option and Marks & Spencer’s toffee fudge and Belgian chocolate version.

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The latter –

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– are particularly moreish. I prefer them lightly toasted (and therefore heated) with some butter.

It’s not the healthiest option, but it is a treat, and we are in the season of chocolate eggs and oodles of marzipan for the Simnel cakes, after all.

Happy Easter everyone!

I add yet another kitchen timer to my collection…

I know, I shouldn’t have – but I couldn’t resist.

Even though I promised myself and my husband that I was not going to buy any more bits and pieces for the kitchen – the countertops and cupboard-tops of our tiny kitchen are already groaning with my tins and pans and jugs and assorted kitchenalia –  I spotted something online and knew that it would be purchased, swiftly, and welcomed into our home.

I have had a long, long obsession with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. And I love the brand so much that I have kept the tub from every new flavour I have ever eaten. Most of them are in my parents’ home but I have quite an extensive collection round our way, too.

It all started over 5 trips to America, where the flavour combinations are many and varied – and AMAZING. Here in the UK we’re stuck with the same old ones, but at least peanut butter has finally been embraced by the market.

As all fans of the brand will know, they kill off flavours now and again and send them to the ‘flavor graveyard’ so I like that I have a little reminder of them here on earth! Especially when they were weird and wonderful like Concession Obsession, which I bought in Washington DC in 2002 with my friend Tamlyn.

All I have to do is look at that tub, and I’m taken back to our little wander out in search of ice cream one hot summer night.

So when I spotted this…

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on the UK Ben & Jerry’s site, it was a no-brainer.

It’s cute, functional – I love kitchen timers, and use up to four at a time depending on the culinary task at hand – and it has taken up position alongside a few of my current favourites.

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It looks right at home, and was just a few quid – no buyer’s remorse here, that’s for sure!

 

I almost meet my kitchen waterloo peeling quail eggs

I recently had the pleasure of hosting three good friends for lunch. It was the birthday of one of the guests, so I thought a three course spoiling of the person was in order.

I planned everything as usual, and on the day itself, thought that everything was running smoothly. Nigella’s ham in Coca Cola was all done and dusted, the veg were ready, the chocolate pear pud was just waiting for the oven and all that was left to be done was the starter.

My chosen starter, for ease of hosting and service on the day, was smoked salmon with wheaten bread, quail eggs and a rocket salad.

I started to assemble it on the plates, laying out the salad, portioning up the smoked salmon and cutting up a lemon wedge for each person, before finally turning my attention to the removing the shells from the eggs.

Having never previously attempted this task, I had no idea that it would turn out to be a complete nightmare. Despite removing them in a bowl of water, each egg’s shell fragmented into tiny bits and it was almost impossible to get hold of large sections in order to remove it.

Even worse, sections of egg remained firmly stuck to the shell and so I started to lose bottoms, tops and expose yolks all over the place – no good for presentational purposes.

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I ploughed on – there was no getting away from the necessity of the task – hoping that I’d end up with at least a few usable eggs.

FullSizeRender (1)As you can see from the above, I got away with it – just. I halved the best ones and placed them on the salads, and, of course, none of the guests were any the wiser. And in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t such a big deal – presentation mattered for only a few moments before everyone tucked in.

FullSizeRender I consider myself forewarned and forearmed for next time, should I ever use them in this way again!

How to cook two easy family meals – at once!

More about mince in this post – it’s such a staple and we’re one of those families who eat spaghetti bolognese once a week. Ah, what a cliche, but it’s easy and tasty and healthy, especially when you ram it full of veg.

I like to cook things from scratch as much as possible. I am therefore always on the lookout for a shortcut of some kind, albeit one which still results in a proper home-cooked meal, one which we will also be able to tempt the four year-old to eat (part of at least).

And last week I developed a new plan, one I think I’ll be putting into action quite a bit because of its ease and how happy I was with the end result.

Our shopping usually includes a 750g pack of lean minced beef and as I was deciding whether to make bolognese or chilli for dinner with it, I looked at the ingredients and realised I could make both simultaneously, thus taking care of a few evening meals at once.

I split the mince into two pans and turned it on to brown, breaking it up as it began to cook.

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While this was happening, I prepped all of the veg, dicing onions and chopping up carrots, celery, red pepper and some mushrooms for the bolognese. After draining the fat from each pan, into each went some onion, celery and garlic (press out cubes from the freezer) to cook for a while.

The bolognese then came together with tomato puree, basil, mixed herbs, the mushrooms and half of the carrot and red pepper – I like to chuck as much veg as possible in there – while I added the other half of the c and rp to the chilli pan, plus some chilli powder, cinnamon, ground cumin and coriander.

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For each pan, then came the chopped tinned tomatoes,  a can of water (swirled round in the empty tomato tin to get all the good stuff) and, for the chilli, a can of chickpeas.

No kidney beans were harmed in the making of this chilli. I am afraid that I am one of those people who hates them with a passion (oh, the number of times I have had to force them down when I’m a guest somewhere and the food on offer is chilli). I can’t quite explain why, except to mention that they remind me of beetles. Not sure how much sense that makes but whatever the reason, they make me shudder.

Chickpeas? No such problem, so in they went. Both pots cooked for an hour or so before they were perfectly ready.

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We ate the chilli with wraps and rice, and some sour cream on the side, had the spag bol and next night, and leftovers the night after that.

Three of our meals for the week sorted in one semi-industrious session at the stove.

How to make runny mince. It’s delicious – honest!

For all of my formative years, our Saturday evening meal was runny mince with mashed potato and carrots.

It was a working class household in the 1980s (and ’90s), and the carrots were from a tin – and we shared one small tin between four of us. Looking back now I wonder how we had enough to go round! It certainly makes me think when I am dishing up hearty portions for our family now.

Despite its simplicity, I adore this dish and it’s possibly my number one taste of home. I have fond memories of being allowed to take my plate into the living room so that I could watch Beverley Hills 90210 in peace, free to concentrate on the antics of Brandon, Brenda et al while tucking in.

It was also the first meal that my parents taught me to cook. I recall my mum telling me ‘you’ll never starve as long as you know what to do with a bag of spuds and a pound of minced beef’ before I left for university!

Whilst at home recently, it was requested as an evening meal by Mum, so, given that it had fallen out of favour with us a bit, I was delighted to oblige. To accompany it, I put on a pan of potatoes to boil plus carrot batons and some turnip / swede. Peas would also be nice, if you preferred.

As ever when cooking mince, I dry fried it whilst breaking it up into pieces, before draining the fat and then adding a large chopped onion, one stalk of celery (finely chopped). I let the onion and celery soften over a low heat for as long as the softening took.

I then added some lukewarm water to the top of the mince, added a dash of Worcestershire sauce and Bisto powder (made into a paste into a cup) and brought the heat back up gently, stirring frequently, so that it came together. Beware – Bisto powder added to very hot water instantly turns into black tarry lumps.

My mum likes her runny mince really thick, but I refrained from hitting her preferred levels of gloop.

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After draining the potatoes and mashing them hard – lumps are the enemy – with a knob of butter, it was all ready to go. Even though it’s a meal which many people would look at and think ugh, how unappetising, I loved it. It was hearty, tasty and simple, and really nostalgic. And I’m a sucker for nostalgia.

In this wet and miserable January, I’ll certainly be making it again soon.

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