Monday, 31 December 2012

Ginger Foxtails

I met my husband on New Years Eve. My flatmate had invited one of his old school friends (later to be my husband) to spend it with us. As we bar-hopped my friends disappeared one by one and by midnight only my future husband and I remained to face the unlikelihood of securing a taxi back to join my flatmate. We bonded on the hour-long icy slip-slide walk home, and started dating a couple of weeks later. Since then I have much preferred to stay in and enjoy the company of friends and family. Huddling in crowded bars, shouting to be heard and queuing in the freezing cold for a taxi are not my idea of fun. True, our lives could have been very different if we hadn't ventured out on that particular New Year's Eve. But this year my husband and I will be celebrating the New Year and our first meeting by sharing a few cocktails by the warmth of the fire, cocktails inspired by our wonderful daughter who will be (hopefully) fast asleep in bed, blissfully ignorant of the debt her existence owes to the many cab drivers who failed to stop for her parents all those years ago.

Ginger Foxtail

This cocktail was inspired by our daughter Evie who has the most beautiful ginger hair. She is also at that amusing age where she gets words a little mixed up. During the Christmas holidays she has amused us by wrapping presents with 'sellopate', singing to wish us a Merry Christmas and a 'happy new ear' and asking her Auntie Beth why we drink 'foxtails'? So, here is a 'Ginger Foxtail' inspired by Evie and her equally gorgeous, ginger fox Aunt. Evie will just have to wait a few years before she can try it.

Ginger syrup
Grand Marnier
Sparkling White Wine: Champagne; Prosecco; Cava...

For the ones I made I used a tablespoon of ginger syrup from a jar of crystallized ginger that I had in the cupboard. You could equally make a ginger syrup by roughly chopping some fresh ginger and adding it to a mixture of 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. Bring to the boil in a saucepan and stir so that the sugar dissolves. Take off the heat and allow to cool. I put a tablespoon of the syrup and the same of Grand Marnier and topped it up with the sparkling wine. 

Happy New Year!

Friday, 28 December 2012

Baked Camembert

Hygge is an inspirational word. It is a Danish word that does not have a direct translation into English. I would love it for this reason alone, for its uniqueness, its layered complexity. I like the higgledy-piggledy way that languages cannot sit side by side; words can have nuances that cannot be neatly and easily defined in a bilingual dictionary. I also love the way that language is so intrinsically tied to a place, a culture and its people. I have never been a scholar of grammar beyond necessity, but am passionate about language as a path to the discovery of another culture. My love of languages stemmed from a curiosity about other cultures, and in turn this led to a love of food and its place within a culture. Hygge represents all that I love about language and food as an insight into the soul of a nation. It is part of Danish heritage; the art of creating a comforting and cosy experience to share with friends and family, particularly in the depths of winter. 

The beauty to be found in language is one of life's simple pleasures, along with delicious food the perfect way to lift my spirits. Is there a simpler or more pleasurable experience than plunging bread into sweet and unctuous melting cheese? When the air chills and the night's draw in my cravings for melted cheese begin, most often I figuratively and, if I am lucky enough, literally head for the melting dishes of the Alps: tartiflette; raclette; fondue. But for simplicity you cannot beat baked Camembert, a lazy fondue that is delicious baked cocooned in its wooden box but which can be enhanced with so many possibilities: slivers of garlic; a splash of wine; studded with dried figs, apricots or cranberries. My current favourite is a subtle flavouring of herbs and honey. Throw in some crusty bread,  a few slices of saucisson, cornichons and capers, a snuggly blanket, candlelight and someone to share it with by the fireside. Hyggelig.

Honey & Herb Baked Camembert

This is not a recipe. It is more a state of mind to lift the spirits and a serving suggestion.  

A whole boxed Camembert (Brie makes a good substitute)
A teaspoon of honey
A few slivers of garlic (optional)
A small handful of herbs; rosemary or thyme.

Remove the Camembert from the box and take off the waxed paper. Return the cheese to its box or a dish that fits the cheese snugly. Make a few slits in the top with a sharp knife and push in the garlic. Top with a spoon of honey and a sprinkling of herbs. Bake at 180°C for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is molten. Serve with your choice of charcuterie, cornichons, capers, crusty bread, boiled potatoes or toasted brioche and for preference a small glass of sweet sherry.   

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Grandma's Russian Toffee

When I was little my Grandma would send us bags of treats: home-made biscuits, cakes and sweets. Russian toffee and her fruit cakes were my favourite. For the uninitiated, Russian toffee is not toffee in the usual sense; it has a buttery fudge-like taste but with a more pleasingly crumbly texture. There is a similar confection known as Scottish tablet, though this usually comes in much chunkier pieces. I like to follow my grandma's lead and smooth it into flatter pieces. It is very sweet; a little goes a long way. I should warn you that although this recipe is very easy, you do need to stir the toffee constantly for about 20 minutes, so it is a recipe for a day when you are in the mood for a mindless, repetitive task. It is certainly worth the effort and makes a great present when visiting friends and family at any time of year.

Grandma's Russian Toffee


A can of condensed milk (397g.)
500g. sugar
250g. butter
A couple of tablespoons of water.
A few drops of vanilla essence (optional)

Line a baking tray with parchment and put a large saucepan on medium heat. Put the sugar and the water into the saucepan and warm to dissolve the sugar. 

Add the butter and condensed milk, melt all ingredients together. Constantly stirring, bring the mixture to the boil. You want to keep the mixture bubbling gently, you may need to reduce the heat a little if it starts to spurt with the ferocity of an Icelandic geyser.

Keep stirring and bubbling until the mixture turns a caramel colour and thickens. After about 20 minutes, it will become more difficult to stir. At this point pour it into the baking tray and smooth down the mix with a spatula or pallet knife. You need to work quite quickly as the mix will start to set. 

When it has cooled for a minute or so cut into pieces with a sharp knife and then leave to cool in the tray. Stored in a jar (the ones in the picture are 75 pence from Ikea), it will keep for weeks; decorated with ribbon they make a lovely home-made gift.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Cranberry Frangipane Tartlets

We had a lovely laid-back Christmas Day, just the three of us. Much as I love to entertain a crowd, it was nice to linger for a little too long in our pyjamas and have a loose schedule to the day. We grazed through the morning and early afternoon, culminating with an early evening Christmas Dinner. The cranberry sauce leftovers were used to make this little treat to savour after Evie was tucked up in bed.

Cranberry Frangipane Tartlet

Makes 4 tartlets.

Shortcrust pastry (I used some leftover ready made that I had stashed in the fridge - see Gooseberry Tart recipe if you need to make some)
8 tsp. cranberry sauce
50g. butter (at room temperature)
50g. caster sugar
50g. ground almonds
1 egg
1tsp. cinnamon 
A handful of flaked almonds.

Preheat your oven to 180°C. Roll out your pastry and line 4 tartlet tins. Spoon a couple of teaspoons of the cranberry sauce into the bottom.

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Beat in the egg, then carefully stir in the ground almonds and cinnamon. 

Spoon the frangipane over the cranberry sauce to fill up the tart cases and place a few flaked almonds on the top.

Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until the frangipane is cooked through and the almonds are lightly toasted. Serve warm with a dusting of icing sugar.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012


Nadolig Llawen! Merry Christmas! I know, I know... I have been absent for a month. I have been occupied by Christmas fayres, carol concerts and nativity plays, not to mention the shopping, the baking... oh and the day job. Something had to give and I'm afraid it was the blog. I have been feeling guilty about failing to inspire in the run up to Christmas. Then I heard Chris Evans on his Radio 2 breakfast show. He was explaining how he and his wife had decided that this year they were avoiding Christmas celebrations until Christmas Eve and continuing the festivities right through the traditional twelve days of Christmas. Unfortunately, by the time I was listening to this it was too late for our household; the tree was already up and Evie had already sat on Santa's knee thanks to her school holding their fayre in November. Nevertheless, I think this is a lovely sentiment and one I am going to try and go for wholeheartedly next year. Just starting to think about Christmas in this way has changed my mindset. It is all too easy to get carried away with the logistics of Christmas Day and forget that though its presents and culinary traditions are an important part of the celebrations it is actually only a small part of the whole holiday. So, as I sit in a mess of torn wrapping paper, watching Evie busily play with her new toys and open her fifth chocolate before breakfast I am excited about the fun to come: baking and crafts with Evie; family winter walks followed by lazy, comforting meals; ice-skating; teaching Evie to ride her new scooter; having time for my family and myself. This is better than any present anyone could buy. So, really the festive season has only just started and I am kicking it off with gingerbread biscuits.

Gingerbread Biscuits

I first made this gingerbread for my sister's wedding. We made snowflake shapes for the favours. It is easy to roll out fairly thinly, holds its shape and doesn't rise too much in the oven, perfect for decorative gingerbread biscuits. But more importantly, it tastes good and fills the kitchen with deliciously sweet-spiced Christmas scents.

Makes approximately 24 medium sized biscuits.

125g. butter
100g. light muscovado sugar
4 tbsp. golden syrup
325g. plain flour
1tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon 
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg

Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup together on a low heat. Allow to cool.

Mix in the other ingredients to form a dough. Roll into a ball and squash down into a disk shaped slab. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for half an hour or a couple of days until needed. 

When you are ready to make your cookies preheat your oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with parchment. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to no more than 1/2 cm. thickness. Cut into shapes and place on the baking sheet. Bake for approximately 10 minutes or until golden.

Allow to cool and decorate. Here I used piped royal icing and edible glitter on the snowflakes and on the round biscuits I cut out ready rolled icing disks and stamped them using acrylic stampers and an edible ink pad fashioned from food colouring gel soaked kitchen paper. What better way to spend a festive afternoon? Happy holidays. Vx