Last month I was invited to give a live baking demonstration at Culina, a local kitchen showroom that was celebrating its first birthday. Very exciting! My kitchen at home isn’t fancy and the one in the shop is fit for purpose but not luxurious by any stretch of the imagination so it was really nice to go along and bake in such a shiny, modern kitchen.
I wanted to keep things simple; I was aware that, being a live event, there was plenty of opportunity for it to go wrong (with me at the helm? Never!). I decided to go for my basic cupcake recipe, which would give those watching the opportunity to choose which flavours we added. Both lavender and chocolate chip were popular choices on the day, so I decided to mix things up and make chocolate chip and lavender cupcakes – which went down a treat!
The flavour that was chosen for the biscuits was cherry and vanilla – delicious! It’s so easy with these basic recipes to just add whatever else you like to create your own, favourite biscuits. And then it’s up to you whether you share them!
Chocolate and lavender cupcakes – makes 12
8oz self-raising flour
A bar of dark chocolate, chopped
A handful of culinary lavender
Soften the butter and cream together with the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time and mix in. Sift in the flour and mix again, but not for long (you don’t want to beat the air out of the cake mix!). Stir in the chopped chocolate and lavender and then fill cupcake cases. I use an ice-cream scoop to measure out the mixture evenly and fill the cases to the same level.
Bake in the oven (150) for around 20 minutes or until golden. Icing can be added to taste once cooled.
Cherry and vanilla biscuits
A few drops of vanilla essence
8oz plain flour
A handful of glace cherries, chopped
Soften the butter and then cream together with the sugar. Add the egg and vanilla essence and mix well before sifting in the flour and mixing. Add the chopped cherries into the dough before rolling out on a floured surface. Roll the dough flat and use cutters to cut into shapes. Place on a baking tray and cook in the oven (150) for around 12 minutes or until golden. Cool off before lifting from the baking tray so they don’t break. Enjoy with a lovely cup of tea!
Last November was a fun month for me with lots of bookings and events at Willow Bough and a lot of nights out with plenty of fabulous live music. Definitely a work hard, party hard month! I was lucky that one of my favourite musicians, Charlie Worsham, came over to the UK to support the wonderful Lucie Silvas and I’d booked tickets to see them in Islington on 13 November. However, Charlie wanted a bit more of London than just one night it seemed…
Charlie played a Warner Music event which I was lucky enough to attend at the end of October. The following day, my friend Caroline interviewed him for Think Country and snuck in a sneaky fan question: “What’s your favourite cake?” She also said, “I think you’re going to know the girl who asked this” to which Charlie replied, “I think I do…” – I clearly have a reputation!
I then saw Charlie play at a free gig at Gail’s Bakery on Tottenham Court Road (as one of four acts playing that night) on 2 November and was due to see him again in a small café in Chiswick where he would play for just 50 people on Sunday 5 November. I felt so lucky to enjoy Charlie and his music live three times in as many weeks having only paid £5 for the privilege (honestly, if you’ve seen Charlie live you’ll know just how fortunate I was). This seemed a somewhat unfair deal to Charlie – although a marvellous one for me! – and so I wanted to do something to say thank you. So back to the question of Charlie’s favourite cake; while he admitted that all cake was great, his favourite is carrot cake. Back at the shop I set about making a carrot cake like no other carrot cake Charlie will have had before.
Now I don’t mind admitting that I’m a very good baker – my cakes and bakes always get such positive feedback and I know myself when something is good. I also know what I’m not so good at, and making my cakes look pretty is one such thing. I called in a favour from Lisa, who I’ve teamed up with at Willow Bough. Lisa is the queen of sugar craft and can make anything out of icing. She really is a very talented lady and I cannot sing her praises enough. Having made the carrot cake (which was absolutely beautiful, even if I do say so myself!) I presented it to Lisa to turn into a true masterpiece. Which is exactly what she did, turning my cake into a guitar.
Charlie arrived at Rhythm and Brew in Chiswick ahead of his gig, and came over to say hello to me and my friend and I presented him with the cake. And I quote: “My favourite cake ever in my life…” I think our cake was a success!
This recipe makes two 8” cakes which you can sandwich together with buttercream icing. Alternatively, you can ask Lisa to turn them into a guitar.
350ml sunflower oil
12oz muscovado sugar
12oz grated carrots
4oz walnuts, chopped
Zest of 2 oranges
12oz self-raising flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
Mix the oil, sugar and eggs together and add the grated carrots, sultanas, chopped walnuts and orange zest.
Mix together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and mixed spice and sift into the wet mixture before mixing together.
Divide the mixture into two greased and lined 8” cake tins and bake in the oven (I have my oven on gas mark 4) for 40 minutes or until the cakes pass the skewer test.
Sandwich together with a classic or orange buttercream icing and enjoy a large slice with a cup of tea while listening to Charlie’s album Beginning of Things. You won’t be disappointed.
I thought I might get a break from cooking over Christmas – which I spent in France with my family – but I just couldn’t help it. Firstly, I think if you have the love, passion and need to cook you just can’t help yourself. Secondly, in south west France the produce is so good it’s just too tempting to buy most of the shop and take it back to the kitchen for some fun!
We stuck to an almost traditional Christmas lunch on Christmas day, with duck as our main meat, served along with pigs in blankets, stuffing wrapped in bacon, Brussels sprouts, roast potatoes… the usual trimmings. So by the day after Boxing Day I was ready to use up the left overs in something delicious – that could also serve as a picnic for the long drive back to London.
So I used the left over sprouts with onions and potatoes to make bubble and squeak patties that are not too dissimilar from farçou, a local street food that is sold at markets. We also had some eggs – too fragile for the long car ride home – and sausage meat – wouldn’t make the long journey without spoiling – and so I decided to do my own take on scotch eggs. While I didn’t have any breadcrumbs (all the spare bread went to feed the local donkeys!) I did have some streaky bacon left. So I wrapped my scotch eggs in bacon. And I was delighted with what I created, which turned out to be perfect picnic food!
While I’m sharing my recipes with you, I would urge you to have a go at these yourself but adapt the recipes to use up whatever leftover food you have. Be creative, include flavours you like, take advantage of what’s on offer in your local shops and use up what you have in your fridge. You never know you may discover a new favourite recipe!
Bubble and squeak farçou
12 cooked Brussels sprouts
8 small potatoes, mashed
One onion, chopped
One egg, beaten
A splash of milk
Garlic, finely chopped or crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
Brown the onions in a frying pan, using a small piece of butter. Half the already cooked sprouts and add to the pan, stirring together. Add to the mashed potato, adding the egg, a splash of milk, the garlic and salt and pepper, and mix together. Make sure you already have the flour set aside on a plate, as the next step will see you get very sticky hands! Take a ball of the mixture and flatten it to create a patty, then cover in flour on both sides and set aside. Once you have used all the mixture fry the patties in a pan of hot butter until golden brown. I especially like these farçou fresh from the pan with a soft boiled or poached egg. Delicious!
Bacon-wrapped scotch eggs
Three eggs, soft-boiled
Nine slices of streaky bacon
I always use the same fool-proof method to soft-boil eggs. Place your eggs in a pan and cover with boiling water and put on full heat. From the time the water is properly boiling, not simmering, start the timer for four minutes. When the timer finishes empty the water and cover with cold water. Replace the water again and shell the eggs in the water (this will leave your eggs totally clean of shell).
Now split your sausage meat into three pieces. Roll out one piece of sausage meat between two pieces of baking paper (or using the paper the meat came in, if you’ve bought it from your local butcher). Wrap the disc of sausage meat around one egg, ensuring it’s covered fully. Then wrap in three pieces of streaky bacon, covering a different side each time. Secure with a cocktail stick or two. Once you’ve done all three eggs fry them in a pan of hot butter or oil, turning frequently until all sides are cooked.
For so many of us the beginning of winter is an ongoing battle between wanting to stay in warming ourselves up with hot puddings in a face-stuffing frenzy of carbs and custard and trying to get ourselves looking fabulous for the little-black-dress party season. The two are, for the most part, not compatible. However, since my detox in September I’ve been trying to find some healthier ways to get the warm, content feeling you get from a winter pudding. And this recipe really couldn’t be simpler… Of course, it’s quite possible to ruin the good intentions of this recipe by covering it in custard!
Bananas (one per person)
Brown sugar if you’re being naughty
Honey if you’re not being naughty
Place one banana on a piece of tin foil and cut in half up the length of the banana.
Open slightly and sprinkle a pinch of ginger, two pinches of cinnamon and drizzle with some honey or sprinkle with brown sugar, depending on how naughty you are being. Close the banana and wrap tightly in the tin foil, making a little parcel for the oven. Place on a baking tray and put in the oven (I put it on gas mark 5) for 20 minutes. Be careful when you take the parcels out of the oven and unwrap them as they’ll be very hot and possibly steamy. The good news is that these baked bananas are tasty enough to enjoy on their own – and they taste like such a treat!
It’s the time of year when we crave comfort food – generally anything hot and carby. And it’s also the time of year for pumpkins and the like. So my recipe for butternut squash and Stilton pasties was perfect for this weekend. They’re super-easy and fun to make, and fun to eat too! They’re perfect for Halloween or bonfire night.
Butternut squash and stilton pasties
1 butternut squash
2 sheets of ready rolled short crust pastry
Chop the butternut squash into small cubes and add to a roasting tin (oiled) and pop into the oven on gas mark 5 for 10 minutes. Chop the onion and add to the squash, returning to the oven for another 40 minutes.
Cut the sheets of pastry into 12 squares (six squares per sheet). When the butternut squash and onion are cooked and cooled, add a desert spoonful to the middle of each square. Be careful not to overstuff as this can cause the pastry to tear. Add the Stilton, having chopped
To seal the pasties dip your finger in water and run it around the edge of the pastry square. Fold the square over the filling and fold up the edges, crimping together (you can use your fingers, and don’t worry if it doesn’t look perfect, it will taste great and that’s all that matters!). Place on a baking tray and prick each pasty with a sharp knife before coating the pasties with the egg wash. Then pop them in the oven on gas mark 5 for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Enjoy while hot – perfect for Halloween or bonfire night!
It’s that time of year again, when the coughing and sneezing and sore throats start; and didn’t mother always tell us that it was a nice thing to share?!
I came down with my annual cold a couple of weeks ago and it was a bad one. After all, if you’re going to do something you might as well do it properly, right? And so it started, the sore throat on day one, heading up to a swollen and blocked nose by day three and shocking headaches after that.
I’m the sort of person who tries to resist medication at almost all costs. Not because I’m daft or because I want to play the martyr but because paracetamol, aspirin and ibuprofen really don’t agree with me and I end up curing one ailment and giving myself another. But I really needed help with this last cold (which felt closer to flu at times) and you know what they say – “feed a cold”…
My good friend, nutritionist Sally Wisbey (yes, her of Closer magazine’s fridge raider fame) told me that turmeric had excellent anti-inflammatory properties and I knew that ginger was something else I needed – along with a LOT of vegetables! So I made a carrot and ginger soup with turmeric and cayenne pepper. Now I can’t make any medical claims about my soup but I can tell you that my own personal experience was my swollen nose and sinuses feeling a million times better within minutes of drinking the soup (thank you turmeric, I’m crediting you with this miracle) and my throat was no longer swollen and sore (thank you ginger). I didn’t manage to fully avoid the cold capsules but my magic soup really did help make me feel human again!
Magic carrot and ginger soup
A knob of butter
1 white onion
2 pints of vegetable stock (or any other stock you like)
Freshly ground ginger, grated or finely chopped
2 tsp of turmeric
1 tsp of cayenne pepper
Melt the butter and add the onion, chopped. Cover and sweat on a low heat. Chop the carrots and sweat on a low heat until soft.
Add the stock and simmer for around 15 minutes, adding the ginger, turmeric and cayenne pepper. You can add as little or as much as you like but when you have a cold you’ll probably lean towards more rather than less.
Once the soup is cooked and cooled blitz in the blender – or with a handheld blender (you can get these very cheaply from large supermarkets) and box up into individual containers ready to reheat and enjoy as required.
As you may have read in my previous blog, I’ve been trying the healthy eating thing since leaving Slimmeria in Devon one stone lighter. A meal I’ve always really liked is aubergine tagine, but I used to eat it with white rice and the recipe I’d been using was rather oil and salt heavy. My challenge was to make a yummy tagine with less oil and add another ingredient to make it more filling, without moving away from the Slimmeria diet. So I used less oil (and changed it to coconut oil) and added sweet potato – delicious! The coconut really works with the sweet potato (it’s also what I use when I roast them in the oven) and it goes so well with the aubergine too, making this delicious meal moreish!
Aubergine and sweet potato tagine
2 sweet potatoes
2 tins of chopped tomatoes
Garlic – as much as you like!
Mild chilli powder
Put a teaspoon of coconut oil on a baking tray and heat in the oven. Now chop the aubergine into 1cm cubes and add to the heated coconut oil and pop into the oven on gas mark 5 for 20 minutes.
Chop the onion and add to a pan with another tea spoon of coconut oil, and sweat the onions on a low heat with the chopped and peeled sweet potato. Add the roasted aubergine, chopped tomatoes, garlic – feel free to go wild and add a whole bulb! – and mild chilli powder and simmer on the hob for around 15 minutes.
Enjoy this delicious tagine with chicken and rice or bread, or just on its own for a healthier option. However you enjoy it, it’s always delicious!
One of the downfalls of running a tea shop is that it’s so easy to put on weight; surrounded by cake all day it’s hard to keep on the straight and narrow and healthy eating is always sabotaged by the temptation of cake (trying each and every one is a very important part of my job – or so I told myself!), fish finger sandwiches and bacon butties. Add that to several months of 40th birthday celebrations – both for me and some of my oldest friends – and I saw myself pile on the pounds and then pile on some more!
So I decided to go back to what I knew would work – Slimmeria. I’d been to the Sussex retreat twice before, losing 11lbs in six days both times. The great thing about Slimmeria is that I know it’s possible to continue post-retreat and it’s not a crash diet (as many of my friends have suggested), it’s more of a programme that flicks the switch in your mind, reprogrammes your brain and gives you the wings to fly in much healthier skies.
However, this time I wasn’t to go back to Sussex. Slimmeria has proven to be such a huge success (because it works!) that Galia, the retreats fabulously eccentric owner, has expanded the business and so I was booked into her new retreat in Devon. The new Slimmeria in Devon is slightly different and, in some ways, more challenging, than Sussex. For one, it’s not stuck in the middle of nowhere but on the edge of the beautiful coastal town of Ilfracombe, a three-minute walk from Lidl and not much further to a high street jam packed with tea rooms and fish and chip shops. So this ‘holiday’ would be all about learning to say no. We also got to enjoy a few more calories (although not many more) than Sussex which gave me the extra energy to work that bit harder in the classes.
Our day would start when the bell was rung at 7.30am. After a quick shower (no make-up required on this holiday!) I’d throw on leggings and a t-shirt and head to the dining room for my lemon tonic (a detoxing drink and a great start to the day) and a sliver of apple. I’m not exaggerating when I say sliver either, it couldn’t have been more than 1/16… And then on our empty(ish) stomachs we’d go out for our two-hour hike. If you’re not familiar with north Devon it’s really beautiful but also very hilly. Steep hills. And because it’s on the coast it’s also rather blustery. So the morning walks did have their own challenges, but what a way to start the day! Walking by the sea it becomes easy to see the power in nature, and suddenly my body felt anything but powerful. But given time and a lot of work I knew it could be and as the week progressed, I could feel the metamorphosis begin.
Arriving back from the hike at around 10.15am we were treated to breakfast. Sadly no poached eggs or full English at Slimmeria! Instead we enjoyed a glass of juice (carrot or grapefruit) before changing into our trainers for a fitness class. The daily fitness classes were lead by Sam, who got the balance between pushing us enough to benefit from the class and being kindly conscious of our light-headed, rumbly-tummy weakness (which varied and improved as the week progressed) just right. Some days we’d be lunging and cruching (between pathetic grumbles, mostly from me) and other days it would be kettle bells or boxing. Whatever the activity, it was always fun (no matter how much complaining I’d do!).
After the fitness class Nikki would take over with a pilates/yoga class. Another point of difference between Devon and Sussex where the post-fitness yoga class was more about relaxing and meditation… Nikki, who also happens to be a champion Irish dancer and a Team GB power lifter, put us through our paces before lunch.
Lunch was usually a small salad (no bread roll or salad cream
here I’m afraid!) followed by a fruity or herbal tea. Then came the tricky part, killing an hour and a half before afternoon tea (you guessed it, no scones and clotted cream, only small pieces of fruit albeit beautifully presented) and then distracting myself by walking up to the harbour and back. My walks to the harbour each afternoon were lovely but so full of temptation – my solution was to always leave my purse at home so even if I was tempted I couldn’t ruin my efforts!
At 6.30pm each day we were treated to a really tasty supper. And that’s an important point about the food at Slimmeria, it might be scarce but boy does it taste good! So much red onion, garlic, chilli… there really was no need to complain about the quality of the food there. Quantity? Well that’s why I was there in the first place…
The morning of the final weigh in was nerve-wracking to say the least – I was aware that I’d been consuming more calories than at Sussex, but Galia reassured me that this new programme was seeing some really impressive results. My time came; 3 inches off the waist and bust and 14lbs down. To say I was delighted was a complete understatement, and bear in mind that after six days of around 600 vegan calories the emotions are all over the place!
Having checked out, I headed to the harbour for my first meal of freedom. The gingerbread and banana ice cream was a huge mistake and left me feeling quite unwell (my body just wasn’t used to that amount of food, let alone dairy) but the lobster and crab sandwiches (I got half of each) that I bought to enjoy on my long drive home were HEAVEN! As was the salmon fillet, sweet potato and salad I enjoyed at home that evening. And since I left Slimmeria? I’ve been enjoying much healthier meals and created some beautiful dishes with healthy and tasty ingredients. Watch this space for recipes…
It’s award season in Merton! And I was thrilled that Willow Bough, my beautiful little tea shop in Wimbledon, is a finalist in the Best Customer Service category of the Merton Best Business Awards run by Merton Chamber of Commerce. We’ve only been open for two years and are still becoming known in the borough, but it seems that so far our customers like what we’re doing!
We work really hard at Willow Bough to provide a high level of customer service, along with excellent food. We know it’s not just what’s on your plate that counts when eating out and you really do get the whole experience at Willow Bough.
So in September I’ll be dusting off my posh frock and glamming up for the awards ceremony. Whatever the results, I’m sure we’ll have a wonderful time and will feel proud just to have reached the final
At the weekend I got a really bad craving for homemade potato salad. I have no idea why, but something in me wanted homemade potato salad and so that’s what I was going to have! So I based my whole meal around the potato salad and I didn’t let myself down.
To make the potato salad I boiled new potatoes and then chopped them into bite-size pieces. I added chopped red onion and mayonnaise with a squirt of fresh lemon juice.
It was so hot I decided to enjoy said potato salad with tuna steaks and a salad of lamb’s lettuce, radishes, cucumber and tomatoes dressed in olive oil and the juice of the other half a lemon. I cooked the tuna steaks on a high heat for around six minutes, turning after four minutes and squirting with the remaining lemon juice. The fresh salad and tuna steak felt light and right with the potato salad.
For pudding I wanted something equally as summery, indulgent but also not horrifically naughty. So I made a raspberry Eton mess with meringue (yes, shop bought. I can’t bake and make everything all the time!), fresh raspberries and organic raspberry yogurt. It didn’t last long!
The wine I chose to enjoy with this meal was – and please note that I am no exceptional wine connoisseur, just someone who likes what she likes as long as it falls in budget – a white rioja. I’ve been drinking white rioja for a few years now and picked up a bargain bottle in Lidl for just under £4. What a bargain!