Ok so this isn’t technically about baking or anything delicious. But it is about something that’s equally as dear to my heart. Last week I stepped into my role as a World Vision ambassador and went to a local school – Carshalton Boys Sports College – and spoke to Years 9 and 10 about World Vision’s work as part of their RE day. I spoke specifically about World Vision’s humanitarian work in the Middle East, specifically Syria.
I have been a World Vision ambassador since 2012, having sponsored a child for over a decade. This role sees me go out to local schools and community groups to talk about World Vision’s work, collect fundraising cheques and to shake a bucket for donations when there are emergency appeals.
After a brief presentation, I took the boys outside to the playground where they formed a long line, standing shoulder to shoulder. Each boy had been given a character and had been asked to think about what life might be like for their character – whether they had free education and healthcare, a loving family, lived in a society where they didn’t feel discriminated against… I asked the boys questions – such as take a step forward if your character has never felt discriminated against because of their language or religion, take a step forward if your character has a house with a television and take a step forward if your character has a loving and supportive family. The final result was a visual reminder at how unfair life is – most of the boys had taken one or two steps forward, some had taken a step with every question to end up right at the front and sadly some of the boys hadn’t taken a single step forward. And it’s like this in real life for children.
Some of the boys had asked to swap characters: “I want a better one Miss…” And I wouldn’t let them because I wanted them to understand that, like this game, our start in life really is just chance.
I’d been warned that, as teenage boys, some of them might not care. And one or two did admit this and I respect their honesty. However, what really struck me was the thoughtfulness and compassion shown by some. One boy said he would like to move into his brother’s bedroom so that a Syrian refugee could live in his. It was so lovely, and reassuring to know that, that in a time that sometimes feels so full of judgement, fear and hate, there is always hope for the future.
If you would like to bring hope to children around the world visit www.worldvision.org.uk to find out more about child sponsorship.
Ok, this is a long-winded explanation as to why I’m blogging about sausage rolls but please bear with me, I hope it’ll be worth it (or at the very least slightly entertaining!).
Last March I went with my good friend Leigh to the CMA Songwriters Series – the opening night of Country to Country that takes place annually at the O2 in London. It was there that we discovered the fantastic talent that is Charlie Worsham; I’m not going to lie, all of us ladies went a little bit giddy for the weekend and we were lucky enough to see him four times (and meet him three times!). Through a couple of online fan groups I became friends with the lovely Anna Mac, aka Charlie-Anna (I have a few Annas in my life and I need to distinguish each of them somehow!).
In early September Anna came to stay with me in south west London. This was a bit scary for both of us as we’d cultivated a great online friendship but how did we know neither was a crazy murderer?! Thankfully neither of us are and we had a lovely weekend enjoying some live music (thank you Lucie Silvas) and making Anna’s sausage rolls. Anna has a whole range of delicious flavours she makes but I’m such a fan of blue cheese I just had to go with the stilton and walnut sausage rolls. The joy of this recipe is that you can easily cheat using ready-made pastry sheets. It’s also a great recipe for anyone who likes to roll their sleeves up and get their hands in there! I recently made these sausage rolls again for a party I was catering for (but without the walnuts and parsley) and they were the hit of the buffet – I’m sure if I’d made twice as many they still would have all been eaten!
Next week I’m going back to Country to Country with Leigh and Anna; I think we probably should take Charlie a box of sausage rolls Anna – don’t you?!
Anna’s stilton and walnut sausage rolls
Two sheets of ready-made pastry (with the paper it comes with)
500g sausage meat
50g walnuts, chopped
Flat leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
Mix the sausage meat with the stilton, walnuts and parsley. Don’t be afraid to really get stuck but make sure you have a sink or some wipes close by! Season with salt and pepper.
Place one sheet of the pastry on a preparation mat leaving the paper on the underside. Take a small ball of the mixture and roll into a long, thin sausage shape. Place the sausage meat along the long side of the pastry sheet one inch from the edge. Carefully roll the pastry over using the paper to help you to wrap the sausage meat with a slight overlap. Trim above this and start again with the rest of the sheet to make another long sausage roll. I like to turn the sausage roll so that the pastry join is on the underside (top tip: this means you don’t necessarily have to seal the pastry with water).
Cut the long sausage roll into sections of around one inch and, using a sharp knife cut a slit in the top of each one. Brush with egg and place on a tray lined with baking paper. Bake on 180 for around 15-20 minutes or until they turn a lovely golden colour. Enjoy hot or cold, with friends or on your own, under a blanket, in front of a good film with a glass of something nice!
We sold a lot of our homemade soup in Willow Bough last week. It’s not surprising with the cold weather and the promise – or was it threat?! – of snow. What I love about our soup is that it’s so easy to make and there are an abundance of different varieties you can make; it really is just a case of what your favourite vegetables are.
The two tips I give for making soup are: firstly don’t worry about how neatly or small you chop the vegetables. It’s going in soup and will get blitzed at the end so it really doesn’t matter what they look like; and for the same reason, I always buy the supermarket economy vegetables for my soups.
Today we made curried parsnip soup and Edie, who was working with me, was keen to take note of the recipe for when she goes to university in September. She’s conscious of cost and making sure she gets her five a day, plus Edie is a big fan of parsnips cooked in any way, and so this soup will be perfect for her once she moves into student accommodation. As with all homemade soups you can make a big batch of it and store in individual portions in the fridge or freezer. It seems obvious but I’ve learned over the years that it can be easy to get out of the habit of being organised in order to eat well on a budget. And the cherry on the top is, that this soup is so tasty it really is a win/win recipe!
Curried parsnip soup
A knob of butter
1 white onion
2 packets of supermarket parsnips
2 vegetable stock cubes in 2 pints of water
2 teaspoons of mild curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Milk or cream (optional)
Chop the onion and sweat it in the butter in a large pan. Chop the parsnips and add, handfuls at a time, sweating them with the onions. Once the vegetables have softened add the stock and simmer for around 20 minutes. Once the soup has cooled down blend it with a hand-held mixer (or similar) and add the curry powder and seasoning to taste. The soup can be decanted into individual portion-sized containers and put in the fridge or even frozen ready to be enjoyed on a cold day!
It’s Burns Night tonight so I wanted to share a new Scottish-themed recipe with you. I love Burns Night because I absolutely love haggis! Even though we’re not a Scottish family my Mum always serves up haggis each year with a side of neeps and tatties. As much as I love my mother’s Burns Night meal this year I fancied doing something slightly different and have taken my favourite Scottish ingredients – haggis, black pudding and whisky – and created this scrummy gnocchi dish. A perfect plate of comfort, I served it with green beans. It was so tasty, it had me and Lovely Livvie, a fellow food fan, going back for seconds!
Haggis, black pudding and whisky cream gnocchi
300ml double cream
A generous tea spoon of Dijon mustard
A generous glug of whisky
A packet of fresh gnocchi (or homemade gnocchi)
Haggis (available from any good butcher)
First to cook the haggis; remove the outer plastic and place into a casserole dish, cover and bake in the oven as per the instructions on the packet. Fluff out the haggis half way through baking.
Unwrap the black pudding and slice. Grill both sides of the black pudding slices for two minutes and set aside.
Heat the cream on a low heat and add the mustard and whisky. I love the flavour of whisky so I tend to add a good glug but if you’re after just a hint of whisky add a couple of tablespoons. Don’t worry, the alcohol will burn out through cooking it. Turn the heat up and simmer the sauce for a few minutes.
Stir in pieces of the cooked haggis.
Cook the gnocchi as per the instructions on the packet (if you’re feeling more adventurous you can make your own gnocchi!). Pour the sauce over the gnocchi and garnish with a couple of slices of black pudding. This is a rich dish so I suggest you enjoy with green beans, curly kale or something equally as fresh and green!
One Friday in December my friend Mary sprung some surprise news on me: “I’m getting married on Monday!”
This was a surprise to me because, despite having known Mary for over 15 years I had no clue that she and her partner weren’t already married. What came next was an even bigger shock: “Can you make me a wedding cake please?”
What an honour to be asked to make such a special cake – the centrepiece of any wedding breakfast – but only having a couple of days’ notice, combined with having new staff to train in the tea rooms and already having other commitments that week did make this a bit of a challenge, but as I’ve said before, I do like rising to a challenge!
Mary loves anything chocolatey so we decided on a large chocolate and raspberry sandwich. It’s always a good idea to choose a contrasting flavour for your second cake, rather than something similar, so that you’re catering for wider tastes, so we chose a lemon buttercream sandwich for the top tier. Mary’s colour scheme was burgundy, perfect for a December wedding, so we decorated the cake with fresh flowers in white and dark red, and also used some lovely dark foliage and sparkly pine cones. And sitting on the very top of the cake was some miniature ‘Just Married’ bunting.
To accompany the main cake I also made some matching cupcakes – chocolate with vanilla buttercream icing topped with raspberries and lemon buttercream topped with red rose petals. The guests really enjoyed the cakes and the bride was thrilled with what I’d made for her. It really was a lovely cake for a lovely couple!
This weekend I catered for a new year party in Surrey. I love new year parties – while extending the party season – and let’s face it, you can never have too many parties! – it’s the first opportunity to get creative in the kitchen with new ideas, moving on from Christmas flavours for another year and rediscovering other winter treats.
Because it’s so early in January and most people will still be on somewhat of a health kick, we decided to keep lots of the canapés fresh and light – melon and jambon de pays, on-the-vine tomatoes and crudités. But it is still winter and of course I wanted to include some more hearty goodies too, including homemade sausage rolls (watch this space for another blog about those beauties!), cheese biscuits, savoury tartlets and pesto pinwheels. I have my firm favourites but I’m always interested to hear what other people enjoy. The pesto pinwheels received rave reviews from the guests, many of whom were vegetarian and were grateful for the non-meat selection. They not only taste great but look great, especially if you use both red and green pesto. And they’re so easy to make, especially if you use the ready-made pastry! I can also imagine the bright swirls of pasty would be a super addition to a bonfire night buffet.
Pesto and parmesan pinwheels
2 sheets of ready-made short-crust pastry
1 small jar of red pesto
1 small jar of green pesto
100g parmesan, grated
1 egg, beaten (optional)
Unwind the first sheet of pastry, leaving it on the paper, and using a palette knife, or similar flat-edged knife, spread out the red pesto until the whole sheet is covered. Sprinkle half of the grated parmesan on top of the pesto. Using the paper to help get you started, roll the pastry slowly and gently, width-way so you have a long roll of pastry. Wrap the roll in the paper and pop in the freezer for around 20 minutes.
Do the same with the second roll of pastry, green pesto and remaining parmesan.
Once you’ve removed the pastry rolls from the freezer slice them at intervals of around half an inch. Pop on a tray lined with baking paper, lightly brush the beaten egg on top of each pinwheel and bake in the oven, heated to 180 or equivalent, for around 25 minutes or until the pastry turns golden.
For me Christmas baking is some of the best baking of the year; I’m not sure whether it’s the seasonal flavours of cinnamon, mint and orange that get added to so many goodies or whether it’s just good old fashioned nostalgia but whatever it is, the magic ingredient seems to send me into a festive frenzy!
And so many Christmas bakes make great presents too! These peppermint creams – or angel kisses as I like to call them – are not only tasty but look so pretty in a little box or cellophane bag finished off with sparkly ribbon. And I do think that homemade gifts are so much nicer – someone has taken the time to make something especially for you.
I make my Angel Kisses with American peppermint extract but they can be made for other occasions with rose water, lavender or bubblegum flavours. And they make lovely wedding favours or additions to party bags.
The white of one egg
12oz icing sugar
Silver balls to decorate
Whisk the egg white in a mixer and then add in the sifted icing sugar, mixing periodically. Add a few drops of peppermint essence and mix again. You should end up with what looks like a ball of white plasticine.
Roll out the dough, making sure there’s plenty of icing sugar on the counter and the rolling pin. Using a cutter, cut out your mini-sweets and add a silver ball for decoration. I like to use a mini heart-shaped cutter with frilly edge – the perfect shape for angel kisses xx
Banana loaves are, as we all know, a great way to use up squishy brown bananas that have maybe seen better days. But I find they can be a great way to use up other fruits or other sweet foods.
The secret ingredient I use in my banana loaves is clotted cream. It adds richness to the cake and prevents the loaf from becoming too dry. With such a wet mix it does mean that you may have to bake it for a bit longer (top tip – cover the cake with foil for the second half of the bake to prevent the top from becoming too dark) but it’s worth it – and the extra calories!
Today I’m going to share not one but two of my favourites with you. Banana and pear is a particular favourite of mine; I love cooking with pears, whether savoury or sweet. I stumbled upon using pears in a banana loaf when I had some that were on the turn and I just didn’t fancy making a plain pear cake and I had bananas that needed to be used up so why not put them in the same cake? And it worked really well! So it’s now my go-to recipe when I want to make a banana loaf with a fresh twist.
In winter though, don’t we just want a bit of chocolate in almost everything we eat?! So today’s banana loaf included a good measure of roughly chopped dark chocolate. This makes the cake feel that bit more indulgent, especially if served with a generous blob of cream!
Banana loaf with pear
1 banana, mushed
1 pear, finely chopped
1 tspn vanilla extract
4 dessert spoons of clotted cream
8oz self-raising flour
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, followed by the vanilla extract, clotted cream and banana. Stir in the chopped pear before sifting in the flour and mixing on a high setting very quickly. Transfer into a greased and lined loaf tin and bake on 150c for 40 minutes. You may need to cover the cake with foil and bake further (I check at 10 minute intervals) until the cake passes the skewer test.
Banana loaf with chocolate
2 bananas, mushed
100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
1 tspn vanilla extract
4 dessert spoons of clotted cream
8oz self-raising flour
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, followed by the vanilla extract, clotted cream and bananas. Stir in the chocolate before sifting in the flour and mixing on a high setting very quickly. Transfer into a greased and lined loaf tin and bake on 150c for 40 minutes. You may need to cover the cake with foil and bake further (I check at 10 minute intervals) until the cake passes the skewer test.
This week the cold weather has well and truly arrived and at Willow Bough Tea Rooms we’ve been missing the summer. So we were inspired to make this delicious lemon and coconut cake which takes us back to the sunny days of summer not too long ago! And our customers agreed that it was a much-needed slice of sunshine served with a nice cup of tea!
Lemon and coconut cake
12oz self-raising flour
One lemon (zest and juice)
3 desert spoons of desiccated coconut
Cream together the butter and sugar, adding the eggs one at a time. Sift in the flour and then add the lemon zest and 2 desert spoons of desiccated coconut. My top tip for keeping a cake light and fluffy is to not over-mix at this stage, a quick blast on a high setting should do the job just fine! Bake in greased and lined cake tins (I use 8” tins) on 150 for around 20-30 minutes or until golden brown. Make sure you do the skewer test (insert a skewer in the cake, if it comes out clean the cake is ready) before cooling the cake!
Once the cake is cooled sandwich together with the lemon curd. Make the icing with the lemon juice and icing sugar and drizzle over the cake, topping with the remaining coconut. Enjoy with a fruit tea or a traditional cuppa!
This summer I was lucky enough to get away on a couple of European holidays to France and Spain. The first took me to spend some time with my parents at our home in the Aveyron; an idyllic little corner of France that’s rich in good food, wine and beautiful views. While it was a much-needed rest for me away from London life I couldn’t help but get my hands dirty in the kitchen. There are so many delicious foods in that part of the world and too many recipes to try out in just one week! But I gave it my best shot and over the next few weeks I’ll be bringing you stories of my culinary adventures in France and Spain as well as some super-yummy recipes to try for yourself.
I’ve been enjoying family holidays in France for as long as I can remember (my first holiday there was to the Pyrenees when I was just three months old) and been going to the Aveyron for over a decade now. And the first Aveyronaise food I fell in love with is still firmly my favourite! Aligot is the most delicious potato dish that goes wonderfully with the local beef or veal. I’ve served it to every guest I’ve hosted out there and they’ve all loved it. It’s beautifully garlicky and totally moreish!
You can buy aligot at pretty much any food market in the Aveyron, but I missed it when I was back in London and decided to have a go at making some myself. Of course I like to put my twist on it – and, I’ve been advised, this is also something some locals recommend; you may have guessed already, I like to add a spot of white wine. It gives the aligot a zingy kick that works well with a nice piece of pork belly and green beans, a great autumnal meal, but tastes especially good the next morning served on crusty baguette. Mmmm, delicious!
Aligot (serves 4)
Garlic (I like to use at least four fat cloves!)
2lbs potatoes (ideally Maris Piper)
14oz grated laguiole or cantal cheese (use Lancashire cheese if you can’t find the French cheeses in your local supermarket)
Salt and pepper to taste
Up to half a bottle of white table wine
Place the garlic and butter in a pan and melt over a low heat for around 20 minutes. Leave the garlic for longer if you have the time.
Boil the potatoes and drain. Add the garlic infused butter and cream together with a handheld mixer.
Add the grated cheese little by little, stirring over a low heat until it is melted and smooth. Gradually add the wine, continuing to stir over a low heat. Once the aligot is at a consistency you’re happy with serve and enjoy. And enjoy again tomorrow!