Monday, 24 November 2014

Christmas Fair Cake & Candy Makes and Bakes

No more sticking my head in the sand. Christmas is definitely on its way. Even the weather seems to have a festive chill about it but thankfully no sign of snow yet. There seems to be an endless round of festive fairs at the moment all with requests for home baking, raffle prizes and donations for the chocolate tombola. Our school held its Christmas Fair at the weekend so with the help of boy and girl and some festive cake decorating goodies supplied by Hobbycraft we set to work on our contribution for the cake and candy stall.

Our first item is a crafty make rather than a bake but it contains food so I feel justified in its inclusion. Rudolph Candy Canes. So simple but really effective. Candy Canes from the pound shop and googly eyes, pipecleaners and pom poms from Hobbycraft. Top tip. Glue the candy canes together first. Hot glue gun works best for this and for attaching the eyes and nose.
Next came top hats with a festive twist. Into the cute wee festive paper cases went melted chocolate, followed by a marshmallow, more melted chocolate and topped off with M&S Jolly Jellies shaped as Santa, Snowmen and Reindeer. Pop them in cellophane bags and tie with spotty festive ribbon.
Mars Bar Krispy Reindeer were next on the menu. This is a no bake cake which we cut into triangles and placed into disposable icing bags from the pound shop. More pipecleaners, googly eyes and pom poms plus the hot glue gun turn rice krispies into reindeer.
Mars Bar Krispies

3 Mars Bars
3oz Butter
1 Tbsp Golden Syrup
3oz Rice Krispies
6oz Milk Chocolate

Roughly chop up the mars bars and melt them in a pan with the butter and syrup. Remove from the heat and mix in the rice krispies. Press into a greased tray-bake tin. Melt the chocolate and spread over the top. Once set cut into squares - or reindeer!
Last but by no means least came Mini Jolly Holly Cakes. Boy and Girl both love working with fondant icing so this was right up their street. The holly plunger cutters were very easy to use and the resulting holly leaves looked really effective. Mary Berry's fairy cake recipe was used for the mini cakes and squiggly icing secured the decoration. 
A bumper box of treats all set for the Cake and Candy stall. I really should have dug out the Christmas CD's to play when we were making them but they are still up in the loft with all the Christmas paraphernalia and decorations. I must confess that I do however already have a tree up. It arrived last week from UK Christmas World who spotted the perfect location for one of their outdoor trees in the wee seating alcove outside our new kitchen. How fantastic does it look growing out of my bistro table! It's a Cherry Blossom Tree in warm white and the lights are multi action so it has loads of fab flashing settings. I reckon I can get away with it this early by calling it a Winter Decoration as opposed to a Christmas one. Who am I kidding?! It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Disclosure : Thanks to Hobbycraft and UK Christmas World for providing products for this post. All views expressed are my own. 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Shortest Day Festive Food in the Wood

Following on from successful Wild Garlic Bearhunt, Blaebery Bash and Bramble Ramble events I'm teaming up again with Mandy at Mudpies for some seasonal food and fun in the forest. Come and celebrate the shortest day of the year with us. If you are coming to the afternoon event please bring a torch with you. We will be finishing at dusk and whilst we will have some lights you can’t beat a game of torch tag on the way back to the car!



Shortest Day Festive Food in the Wood

Sunday 21st December
10.00am - 12noon or 1.30pm - 3.30pm

Join Mandy from Mud Pies and Claire the Foodie Quine for family woodland Christmas Crafts and some hands on Festive Foodie Fun at Countesswells Woods, Aberdeen.
We’ll be foraging for wood sorrell, collecting sticks, cones and greenery to make festive heart and star decorations, tracking tangerines, lighting a camp fire, cooking Panettone french toast, drinking mulled apple juice, roasting Tunnocks Teacakes and if the snow shows signs of stopping, we'll have some corn for popping!
£8 per person
Suitable for age 3-12 and their grown ups

Book online at

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Christmas Pudding Recipes for Stir Up Sunday

Stir up Sunday is fast approaching (23rd Noverber 2014). I must admit to never having heard of it until I started food blogging and assumed it was something developed by supermarket PR departments! However apparently it dates back to Victorian times and falls on the last Sunday before advent. A tradition of the Anglican Church coming from a passage in the Book Of Common Prayer. 

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Following the Sunday Service the family would leave church to go home and teach the children how to stir up the ingredients for the pudding. Everyone gets a turn to mix, and an opportunity to make a wish. Stirring should be done East to West in honour of the Three Wise Men who came to visit baby Jesus. Breaking with tradition we've already eaten one Christmas pudding and made another for Christmas day!
A boozy pudding arrived in the post from Chef Neil Forbes at Cafe St Honore. These are available to buy in his Edinburgh restaurant for £12.50 but he's also shared the recipe if you fancy making your own. 

Neil Forbes, Cafe St HonorĂ© 
Christmas Pudding
Serves 4 (1 pudding)

Ingredients
125g sultanas
125g currants
125g raisins
20g glacé cherries, chopped
20g mixed peel
½ bramley apple, grated
20g carrot, grated
2 tsp finely grated orange zest
40g prunes, stoned and chopped
50g plain flour
20g ground almonds
60g bread crumbs
1tbsp milk
50g soft dark brown sugar
75g proper beef suet
1 tbsp golden syrup
1 egg
Pinch each of salt, mixed spice and cinnamon
Glug each of brandy, sherry and rum
4 tbsp stout

Method
Place the sultanas, currants and raisins in a large bowl. Add the alcohol and leave to soak overnight.
Line a 2 pint pudding basin with muslin, leaving enough spare to tie at the top.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl of soaked fruit and mix well.
Fill the lined pudding basin with the mix and tie up the muslin with a piece of string.
Gently steam the pudding for 2 hours in a lidded pot (water covering half the pudding basin). Don’t allow to boil dry.
Before serving, check that the centre of the pudding is piping hot.
Serve with brandy sauce or pouring cream.
Of course in the interests of food blogging we had to try out the pudding in advance of Christmas so steamed it up and served it with custard for Sunday lunch desert. No point in doing it half heartedly though so the brandy was unearthed from the back of the drinks cabinet and the pud was duly set alight. It was amazingly fruity, suitably boozy, moist, unctuous and perfectly spiced. We all loved it, even girl who is a devotee to her granny's one.
Now to my own Christmas Pudding. This is the one that my Mum has made for as long as I can remember. I assumed that it was my Grandma Monearns Recipe (she of the famous shortbread) however upon quizzing turns out that it might have come via my Mum's Auntie Mabel. Whatever the source it's a great pudding. Really quick and easy to make and nice and light and most suitable for an all year round steamed pud, not just at Christmas. Boy and Girl were in charge of making it this year with girl having the particularly important job of wrapping and hiding the charms. We all had a go at stirring and made our Christmas wishes.
Seven Cup Christmas Pudding

1 cup self raising flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup raisins
1 cup currants
1 cup shredded suet
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup milk
1 egg
1 tsp Bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp cinnamon 

Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir in the milk and beaten egg.
Pour into a well greased 3 pint pudding bowl. 
Cover with greaseproof paper and tin foil and steam in a lidded pan for 3-4 hours. Don't allow it to boil dry.
Freezes well so can be made in advance and steamed again on the big day to reheat. 

I made a steamed marmalade pudding at one of my AGA demonstrations a couple of weeks ago. When I came to remove it from the pan a couple of the attendees were very impressed with how I'd given it a string handle to make it easier to remove. I think it may have been the top tip that they took away from the event! This is the way I've always seen my mum do it so I just do the same. Sheet of tinfoil and a sheet of baking/greaseproof paper. Fold a pleat in the top to allow for expansion. Tie beneath the rim of the bowl with a double length of string then make a handle over the top to lift in and out of the pan. Simples!


With pudding made and in the freezer it seems an opportune time to reveal the festive version of my logo which has been pimped up with a bit of Christmas bling by my fab designer Camilla at mimihammill.com
All together now, best singing voices. We all want a figgy pudding...


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Glamping Domes, Loch Tay and Mhor 84

Regular readers will know that as a family we enjoy staying in unusual places. So far these have included...
Treehouse, Fernie Castle, St Andrews
Lighthouse, Buchan Ness, Boddam, Aberdeenshire
Hobbit House, Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire
Houseboat, Blue Hue, Ratho, Edinburgh
Hobbit House revisited 
Gypsy Caravan, Stirling

The October holidays saw us venturing to Loch Tay for a couple of nights in a Glamping Dome. The domes looked amazing online but were even better in real life. Definitely the most spacious of all the glamping accommodation that we've stayed in. 18 square meters to be precise.
It was rather dreich when we arrived but we soon made ourselves at home in our dome. There's a wee village of domes and ours was called Linnhe. They are kitted out with giant beanbags, a double bed, 2 single fold up beds and a woodburning stove. No electricity but candles and paraffin lamps. Outside are fire pits and picnic benches but alas the weather meant we didn't make use of them.
We dined at the onsite Bistro and then retired to our dome for a cosy evening of boardgames, candles, nibbles, fizz and gin. The rain continued to persist but it sounded much worse pitter pattering on the roof that the reality when you headed outside in a mad dash to the toilet block. We breakfasted next morning in the Campers Kitchen which was a great set up with cooking, dining and TV facilities.
With all the rain we'd had the Falls of Dochart at Killin were even more spectacular than usual. The water came roaring and crashing down and the autumnal colours provided a fantastic scenic backdrop. 

Next stop was Mhor 84 for a late lunch. This is part of the Mhor group owned by the inimitable Tom Lewis who I had the pleasure of meeting and eating with earlier in the year during a #HiddenGems press trip. The decor, food, drink and general relaxed ambiance of Mhor 84 combined to make a fantastic dining experience.

You can't fail to notice the groaning table of cakes, pastries and giant meringues as you enter and its definitely worth leaving room for something sweet. The whole menu was tempting, including a great Wee Menu offering for children. There's also a fab games room with jukebox, pool table and Xbox to keep any fidgety big or little kids occupied. We dined on mussels, crab, burger and macaroni cheese. All were amazingly good.
The restaurant contained a real mixed clientele with everyone made equally welcome from soggy dogs to drookit walkers and cyclists. The quirky decor was somewhat Highland Shabby Chic with plenty of antlers and the occasional badger. I doubt there are a pair of matching chairs in the place.
Back to the dome for another night in front of the fire. Gin and Rhubarb was the tipple of choice. The Sylvanian Families also thoroughly enjoyed their glamping experience.
Typically the best of the weather saved itself for our last day. Fry up in the campers kitchen but alas no toast as we had to save all of our bread to feed the ducks.

So where to stay next? I do have a few places shortlisted but I'm always keen to hear of more so do let me know of anywhere special that might be suited to an adventurous family of four. Mhor's Pilot Panther Wagon is looking like a good bet at the moment.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Slow Cooked Comfort Food. Recipes, Book Review and Giveaway

A slow cooker is a magical wee creature. Pop in an assortment of bits and bobs before you head out for the day and on your return the place smells amazing and you have a fantastically comforting one pot dish with very little effort and not too much washing up! My slow cooker is something that always gets dug out as the nights get darker, the weather turns autumnal and the clocks fall back. Up until recently I've only had a huge 6.5ltr crock which has been both a blessing and a curse. Great for batch cooking and large items like a joint of ham or a whole chicken but not so good on a day to day basis. I've recently added a smaller 3.5ltr one to my kitchen armory so 'Slow Cooked' couldn't have arrived at a better time.


The author of Slow Cooked - easy, thrifty and delicious recipes for slow cookers is none other than Miss South who I previously 'met' on her first book the wonderful Recipes from Brixton Village. The book is night and day from any other Slow Cooker Recipe Book I've previously encountered. Yes there are the usual soups and stews but there's also cakes, bread, fish, seafood, vegetables and preserves which prove just what a versatile piece of kit a slow cooker can be when you break free of its traditional shackles. My review copy arrived just before Halloween and a recipe for Stuffed Pumpkin immediately caught my eye.


Stuffed Pumpkin 
Recipe reproduced with permission of Ebury Press 

1 edible pumpkin, approximately 800g-1kg 
6 sausages 
1 tin of cannellini beans or 150g dried 
150g cherry tomatoes or 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes 
1 teaspoon tomato puree 
1 teaspoon smoked paprika 
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper 
200ml hot stock 
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 

Check your pumpkin fits the slow cooker. For a 3.5 litre slow cooker, I used a 7.5” pumpkin. Line the crock of the slow cooker with double thickness foil or reusable baking liner. The liner looks like thicker, stronger baking paper but is heat resistant and washable. You can buy in cooking shops, but I got mine in the pound shop and even if you pay more than that, it is much more economical than foil long term. 

Take the top off the pumpkin with a sharp knife. You want it to resemble a lid. If needs be, trim the stem down so it doesn't protrude and stop the slow cooker lid from fitting. Hollow the seeds and innards of the pumpkin out. Reserve the seeds for later, but discard the slippery bits. 

Cut the sausages into 2-3cm pieces and lightly brown them in a pan for about 3 minutes. I don't think it improves the flavour especially but they look unappetising otherwise. 

Drain the cannellini beans and rinse them well. Mix them in a large bowl with the tomatoes, tomato puree, spices and the now browned sausages. Combine well so it is all evenly distributed. Season well. 

Put the pumpkin into the lined crock and carefully put the sausage and bean filling into the pumpkin. Top up with the stock and the Worcestershire sauce. Put the lid on the pumpkin and then the lid on the slow cooker. Cook for 8-9 hours on low. The pumpkin will darken in colour and become soft and tender without collapsing. 

While it is cooking, wash and dry the seeds from the pumpkin by laying them on a baking tray lined with kitchen roll for a couple of hours. About 15 minutes before you are ready to serve the pumpkin, toast them on a low heat in a dry frying pan on the stove. Watch them carefully so they don't burn. 

Take them off the heat when golden brown. Scatter with salt, a pinch of cayenne and some black pepper and serve sprinkled over the wedges of pumpkin for some crunch. 
I loved the whole concept of this recipe, using a pumpkin as a mini slow cooker inside the actual slow cooker. A few amendments along the way for my own version... 
Firstly I removed the meat from my sausages. This is what happens when you make assumptions and don't fully read the recipe before you start prepping! Although my pumpkin was the weight specified in the recipe I only managed to get around half of the filling inside it, the rest I spread around it. The seeds in my pumpkin were unbelievably slimy so they all ended up in the compost bin rather than being toasted and sprinkled. The resulting dish was loved by the whole family - even picky girl! The use of reusable baking liner in the crock is sheer genius!
Lancashire Hot Pot
Recipe reproduced with permission of Ebury Press 

500g lamb or mutton shoulder, cut into 5cm cubes
1 tablespoon plain flour
200g black pudding
500g potatoes, sliced thinly
2 carrots, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
250ml water
salt and pepper
50g butter melted

Coat your meat with the flour mixed with some salt and pepper. Set aside while you sliced your potatoes as thinly as possible. If you have a mandolin, life will be easier. If not, use a knife to make them just a few millimeters thick.

Brush the bottom and the edges of the slow cooker crock with about half the butter and then layer some potatoes into the base. I usually do two layers here and then I put in half the skinned and crumbled black pudding with some of the onion.

Add another layer or two of spuds and then half the lamb and carrots. Repeat another layer of potatoes, then the rest of the black pudding and onions. Next up is more potato and then the remaining lamb and carrots. Add the bayleaf. Finish off with a final layer of potatoes.

Mix the Worcestershire sauce with the water and pour it all over the hotpot. Brush the top layer of potatoes with the remaining butter and put the lid on the slow cooker. Cook the hotpot on low for 8-9 hours.

The potatoes on the bottom will crisp up and caramelise while the lamb steams and the black pudding melts it all together making each layer extraordinarily good. Serve with red cabbage and a healthy appetite.
This was another big hit. I pretty much followed the exact recipe although I found that I needed a lot more potatoes than specified. For my Black Pudding I used the fantastic Ritchies of Aultbea. Before serving I popped the crock under the grill for a few minutes to crisp up the potato topping which, in my opinion is well worth doing. Next time I'd sprinkle salt on each of my layers of potatoes as I felt it needed extra seasoning.
Big thumbs up for 'Slow Cooked', I cooked the Lancashire Hotpot at my parents and my Mum was busy copying down various recipies from the book. She said it was quite unlike any other slow cooker book that she's ever seen. That should be taken as a huge compliment. The sheer variety of recipes and stunning photos shows there is much more to slow cooking than brown stew. To give you a flavour of what's included here are some other recipes I've bookmarked to try

Meat - Oxtail with Chocolate & Guinness, Lasagne, Apple & Ginger Poached Ham
Poultry - Brixton Chicken Wings, Chicken Liver Pate
Fish & Seafood - Salmon, Caper and Dill Loaf, Chorizo and Squid Stew
Pulses & Grains - Chorizo Butter Beans, Garlic & Herb Lentils with Goats Cheese
Vegetables - Braised Red Cabbage, Skirlie Stuffed Mushrooms
Soup - Sweet Potato and Corn Chowder, Ghanaian Peanut Soup
Curry - Sweet Potato, Spinach and Paneer Curry, Bunnychow
Preserves & Pantry Staples - Banana Ketchup, Lemon Curd
Cakes & Breads - Lemon Polenta Cake, Cinnamon Spiced Buns, Chocolate Hazelnut Fudge

Ebury Press have provided a copy of the book as a giveaway for readers of Foodie Quine. Entry is via the Rafflecopter widget below. To enter, let me know as a comment "What's your favourite Comfort Food?" For additional bonus entries you can follow me on Twitter or like me on Facebook. Good Luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

You can see what other bloggers thought of Slow Cooked on The Happy Foodie Slow Cooked Challenge.