Toffee Rum

Back in my hedonistic days as the assistant manager of the Bath Hobgoblin pub my drink of choice was “double dark rum, diet coke and a straw”(shouted quickly and loudly over the sound of loud rock music).  For some reason the straw was important, I forget why now, it was probably to help not spill it all over myself as I was generally quite drunk back then.  White rum has never been my thing either, although the guys at the Eldorado Rum stand at last years BBC Good Food Show let me sample one that I really liked (perhaps the exception to my rule).  Anyway, golden rum is my thing these days, its caramel flavours just bring out the best in a lime (and me).  I’ve spent a lot of time in the Philippines where Tanduay rum is king.  It used to be 30 pesos for a bottle of rum and 60 pesos for a can of coke (a beer was 15 pesos) so a rum and coke was 70% rum, 20% ice (also too expensive) and 10% coke.  Even better the Tanduay rum bottles had a lid lottery so when you opened your big bottle of rum you would see on the inside of the lid what your prize would be, it was usually another bottle of rum!

Whenever I visit a food festival there are always lots of people selling toffee vodka, and it’s lovely (most of the time) but for me vodka has always been a spirit that you use to make other drinks/infusions with.  Despite it being the straight drink of choice for every character in Eastenders (seriously WHY?) I would never choose to sip away on a plain vodka, and yet I use it in so many of my concoctions.  Actually there was a brief phase when I was about 13-14 and living in Hong Kong where a karaoke bar used to do 2-4-1 double vodkas with lime cordial for $10 which we drank A LOT of which is probably why I’m not a fan of the spirit now.

So I figured I could easily combine my love for golden rum with toffee as the natural caramel flavours can only enhance the toffee right?

Ingredients:

  • 70cl Golden Rum (I used Appletion Estate)
  • 600g hard toffees (such as Werthers Original)

Just put your rum and toffees in a sterilised jar and leave for about 24 hours (stir every now and then to help the hard toffee dissolve).  I used about 350ml rum and 1 x 200g bag of WO but it could have taken 2 bags easily for a sweeter version.

So there you go, it’s really easy and if you smash up the toffees before adding the rum then it will probably be ready in about 2 hours. Hell yeah!

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Soda Bread

Straight out of the oven

I had a really crap night last night so this morning I decided I needed cheering up and what better to cheer the soul than freshly baked bread.  I turned to my new favourite baking book Bread Revolution by The Thoughtful Bread Company for Patrick’s recipe.  Marvelous, I thought, I have all of that except the red wine vinegar so out came the big bowl, in went the dry ingredients (including the wonderfully coarse Whissendine organic wholemeal flour) and then I realised we were almost out of milk. Arse.  I did however have Buttermilk in the fridge that I was saving for scones so I used that instead and swapped red wine vinegar for some Womersley Golden Raspberry and Apache Chilli vinegar.

Whilst mixing the sloppy dough (it’s meant to be that way) I realised that my loaf tin was out on loan so ended up adding extra flour so that the dough could be shaped and baked without a tin.  I then kicked myself for ONCE AGAIN starting a recipe without checking to see if I had all the ingredients and equipment (another reason I don’t really use recipes or bake much!).

Luckily it turned out really well, if a little more crumbly than it perhaps should have due to my substitutions but oh my it tastes so good! It has absolutely cheered my morning and I can now see soda bread being a much welcome and more frequent addition to the table. I used to eat quite a bit of soda bread as a kid, my Dad is Irish and so it was almost a staple loaf of the bread bin but for some reason I have just kinda stopped eating it, until now that is.  Next time I am going to try Thoughtful Bread‘s recipe to the letter though and you never know, I might even check to see if I have everything I need before ploughing in!

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Cinnamon Swirls

Recently I visited the ultra lovely folk of The Thoughtful Bread Company at their pop-up cafè in Bath.  I love these guys, their attitude, their bread (and cakes!) and now their book too.  “Bread Revolution – Rise Up & Bake” has been in my possession for less than 48 hours now and I am already smitten.  It was my fella’s birthday yesterday and I felt bad that the only package that the postie delivered was my copy of Bread Revolution so I told him to pick out absolutely any recipe he liked and I would make it for his birthday (I’m nice like that see).

Now, I don’t really do baking.  I’m not one for weighing and measuring anything and much prefer to rely on my instinct.  I’m a bit odd, I see tastes in terms of shapes and colours (recently I found out it has a name and is called Synesthesia), it’s totally normal for me and I grew up thinking everyone was the same – it actually came as a real shock to find out that other people weren’t manipulating triangles when cooking!  Anyway, Glen picked out their recipe for Cinnamon Swirls which was really handy as I already had all the ingredients in the pantry.  I’ve never made a sweet dough before and wasn’t entirely sure about whether I should keep flouring the worktop as I was kneading the dough (it was really sticky), but I did, and probably shouldn’t have as the dough was a bit tight as I went, but I carried on anyway.

I decided to try their Sugared Raisin version. I’m not a huge fan of raisins in any food (heaven forbid I find a raisin in a pot of curry sauce) but I had some jumbo sultanas and raisins set aside for making more smoked tea booze concoctions so I used them and threw in a load of flaked almonds too for good measure.

 So I rolled up my dough creation, and after some Twitter reassurance from Thoughtful Bread that a water sprayer wasn’t essential (massive relief as mine were all still full of last year’s Black Fly beating mix of washing up liquid and water), I sliced it and left them to prove for about 90 minutes.  My intention was to pop most of them in the fridge overnight but I could only fit one tray of 4 in there (damn) so I had to cook the rest, all 12 of them (double damn!).

Just 15 short minutes later and the first batch of 6 were ready.  I decided to add a good dose of cinnamon to the sugar glaze that was bubbling away on the hob (I love cinnamon), glazed them then waited for them to cool before scattering a few more flaked almonds on them and drizzling with icing.

I can honestly say I was pretty shocked by the result, they tasted even better than I imagined, in fact they tasted amazing!  The dough was so soft and light, the buns sticky and sweet, and the filling was just wonderfully sweet/soft/cinnamony/crunchy.  I have a new addiction.  The buns that went into the fridge overnight were brought to room temp today and baked off – they turned out to be even better.  I think the overnight cold prove helped the dough become even lighter and if I can manage to resist eating them all on the same day I will from now on always do it that way.

I have completely fallen in love with this recipe and for the first time ever I am actually really excited about working my way around a baking cook book.  Bread Revolution’s sweet dough has been quite the bread revelation (sorry) for me and I can’t wait to experiment more. I don’t own a food mixer, which they recommend in order to make their brioche, so it looks as if it may be their Bacon Fougasse next, or their Nettle and Chive Flowerpot Breads, or doughnuts, or rye crackers – there are just SO many I want to crack on with,  but seeing as though I have eaten nothing but cinnamon swirls today perhaps a bit of a foraging walk first for ingredients…..

Roast Chicken with Jerusalem Artichokes and Sherry

Roasting a chicken on a Sunday is one of my favourite things in the world. I know many people like to spend as little time as possible cooking but it’s the opposite for me when it comes to Sunday roast dinner.  Once I’ve returned from the boot sale, where I will have bought my veggies and free range rooster (and lots of other less essential treasures, or as Glen puts it: “more bloody plates, glasses and shit”), I will orchestrate it so I can spend hours pottering away in the kitchen – wine open, Radio 4 on and me doing the occasional little happy dance to myself.

This year I grew Jerusalem Artichokes and whilst I adore their taste I am somewhat less fond of their unfortunate and rather explosive side effects, hence their nickname “fartichokes”.  Glen refuses point blank to eat them anymore and I didn’t want them to go to waste so this recipe was born.  It’s a great way of cooking a chicken as you can leave it happily in the oven for a couple of hours (even 3) and it doesn’t dry out. The chicken takes on all of the wonderful flavours and you get THE most amazing gravy ever. I roast my potatoes in a separate tray in the bottom of the oven then move them up later on.  You don’t have to eat the artichokes, the flavours have infused the chicken, but I can never resist and I always regret it later!

Ingredients:

  • 1 chicken/rooster/capon whatever you fancy
  • half a lemon
  • bunch of fresh thyme
  • Jerusalem Artichokes peeled and quartered
  • 1 bulb of garlic
  • 1 heaped tablespoon garlic powder
  • 400ml cream sherry
  • salt and pepper

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to its hottest setting, mine is 230C.
  2. Put your lemon and thyme inside the bird’s cavity and put it into a big roasting tray.
  3. surround the chicken with the artichokes and unpeeled garlic cloves.
  4. season the chicken with salt and pepper then sprinkle the garlic powder over the bird  and artichokes.
  5. Pour the sherry into the roasting tray.
  6. Cover with tinfoil making sure there are no gaps for steam to escape then roast for about 2 hours in the top of the oven.  Put your roasties in the bottom for now.
  7. After 2 hours (or longer is fine) remove the tinfoil, drizzle the bird with olive oil and roast uncovered for about 20 minutes or until the skin is nice and brown.  I like my wing tips crispy so always give them a good rub of oil.
  8. Remove the bird and place it on a plate covered in tin foil and a tea towel to rest.
  9. Take your artichokes out of the tray and add them to your roast potato tray which now moves up to where the chicken was to get them all crispy and lovely (or throw them away if you don’t want to be farting furiously later).
  10. The pan juices will taste amazing, just thicken them slightly by making a Buerre Maniè and whisking it into the juices whilst on the hob.

Thoughtful Bread

 I was born in Bath and whenever I head back for a visit I become so terribly homesick for many reasons, but one of them is the abundance of fantastic bread there.  I don’t know why but great bread is really thin on the ground round my way.  The upside of this though is that I bake quite a bit of my own, which I love doing, but my oven has a mind of its own (and its a bit of a nightmare) so it would be so lovely to have fantastic sourdough bread readily available.

I first heard about The Thoughtful Bread Company last year through BBC 2’s The Big Bread Experiment in which founder Duncan Glendinning and head baker Patrick Ryan help a Yorkshire community set up their own bakery.  I knew that they had a stall in Bath’s Green Park Station so vowed to visit them.  I did just that last year and was not only really impressed by their amazing breads and cakes (oh my god their cakes!) but by the guys that make up the company itself. Ross was running the stall that day and we got chatting about the company and their eco-friendly business. Not only are they absolutely lovely guys but their passion for bread is really inspiring.

Ross at the Thoughtful Bread stand last year

 So when I headed off to Bath last week for my big sister’s birthday I made sure I popped over to see them once more. It was only 12:30pm by the time I got to the Farmer’s Market at Green Park Station and met up with Ross but he was already sold out. Gutted. All was not lost though because Thoughtful Bread had a pop up cafè in The Guildhall for 2 weeks during the Bath Literary Festival – HOORAY!

Ross and Duncan were busy behind their counter and their cafè was a quirky mix of mismatched crockery, hay bale seating and trestle tables all surrounded by their gorgeous breads.

How beautiful do these loaves look? They make so many variations of loaves depending on what’s in season – cider, beetroot, walnut, wild garlic – all beautifully made and most importantly tasting amazing.

Flatbreads for homemade dips

Oh and their cakes really are something special. “Try our gluten free spiced orange cake” said Ross.  For some reason I avoid gluten free cakes but I won’t anymore.  The wheat flour had been replaced by ground almonds and the sweet, sticky orange cake was absolute heaven. Their Guinness cake, although I didn’t try it, completely inspired my Guinness free Guinness cake that I made for my Domestic Sluttery posting on Friday and those chocolate and raspberry tarts are just beyond delicious.

Gluten free spiced Orange and Almond, Guinness cake and Dark chocolate and raspberry tarts....swoon

They even have a book so you can make their breads at home!

I bought one of their sourdough loaves to take back to my sister’s later that day.

I stopped off on my way back that afternoon to pick some wild garlic so I could have my favourite Spring treat…sourdough, wild garlic and cheese sandwiches – hell yeah! Plus my gorgeous niece Nyla tried wild garlic for the first time and loved it!

 Nyla gave their sourdough an almighty thumbs up too!

So if you find yourself in Bath make sure you head to see the fab fellows of The Thoughtful Bread Company, say hello from me, try their goodies and stock up.  Oh, and if you happen to be heading up to Melton Mowbray, bring me a loaf too!

And no, they haven’t paid me to say all these lovely things about them!

Potato Dauphinois

This is not a traditional dauphinois, it’s just been adjusted to for our tastes.   I know it’s really naughty so my concession is to use  Elmlea 50% reduced fat double cream, yeah I know that’s like people ordering a huge takeaway meal and having a Diet Coke on the side but I don’t care! Garlic powder is something I also love.  I use it in so many dishes, sprinkled on homemade oven chips/roast potatoes it gives a sweet garlicky taste without any bitterness or harshness and you control exactly how much you use as its in such a fine powder form. We have our own chickens that are ex-battery farm girls so we use a great deal of eggs, the yolk in this recipe just adds that extra bit of luxury. I never peel my potatoes for this as apart from their being so much goodness in the skin I just like it that way, I prefer waxy but it’s entirely up to your preference. My oven is really quite rubbish (actually its a bloody nightmare) and temperature fluctuates massively so the timings are what works for me.

Ingredients:

  • Enough waxy potatoes finely sliced on a mandolin to fill your bowl/tray
  • 500ml double cream (I always feel you can never have too much but it sucks to have too little, the creamy sauce is so good!)
  • 1 tablespoon chicken stock powder (I use Essential Cuisine as it’s brilliant)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 egg yolk (or 2 if we have a surplus to use)
  • thyme leaves
  • sea salt flakes
  • few grinds black pepper
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • a bit of finely grated parmesean/cheddar depending on whats in the fridge

Method:

Preheat oven to 180C. Combine everything except the potatoes in a bowl, mix thoroughly, leave to sit for 30 minutes (not entirely necessary but really does help bring out the flavour).  Keeping some creamy mixture to one side combine with the potatoes and give a good mix to make sure its all well coated in the tray then pour the remaining cream  over the top, grate over some cheese, cover with foil and roast in the oven for about an hour or until thoroughly cooked.  Remove the foil then cook for a further 10-15 minutes to brown. Dead easy and really tasty!

Hot Smoked Chicken Gizzards

Compared to the rest of the world the UK tends to be a lot more squeamish about nose to tail eating.  I was brought up in Hong Kong where everything from the animal is eaten and chickens are sold with heads and feet still attached.  I happen to love chicken feet but outside of a Chinese supermarket they are pretty hard to find here, so where do they all go? Likewise poultry gizzards are popular throughout the rest of the world and yet when was the last time you saw some for sale?

Here in Melton we have two fantastic Eastern European food shops.  One has the most fantastic deli selling cooked meats and cheeses (their smoked garlic brawn is amazing) and the other focusses more on preserved goods and has a brilliant selection of vodkas of all descriptions (also amazing!).  Today I popped in for some Pierogi and found they had some hot smoked chicken gizzards for sale, well, not to turn down a chance for some kitchen experimenting I immediately bought some and headed back to the cottage.

I bought about 40 gizzards which were pretty heavily smoked and faintly garlicky.  My first thought was to flash fry them – they were like amazing chicken smoked bacon! Because they had been hot smoked they were already cooked so a really quick fry made them lovely and crispy on the outside and meaty on the inside, however if left slightly too long they toughen (like bacon) so if you miss the perfect moment you then have to carry on until they are thoroughly crispy like scratchings!

A quick forage in the garden and fridge provided some baby carrot tops, beetroot and chard leaves, some baby broad beans (frozen last year), a quick feta sauce and some nutty rapeseed oil to accompany. The feta sauce I whizzed up ended up being drizzled all over the dish as it was so good!

Feta sauce was simply feta cheese, lemon juice, a bit of freshly ground pepper and a splash of double cream (normally I would use yoghurt but I didn’t have any plain so used the cream instead) simply mixed until smooth.  If you grow your own carrots then you will know how amazing the young tops are, they are one of those things like courgette flowers or nasturtiums that have to be eaten straight away to get the best out of them.

So that was today’s quick starter of hot smoked chicken gizzards, definitely something I will be buying again and more experiments to come!

Kick Ass Salad

Last November I headed off to The BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham where I was able to sample Womersley Food‘s infused vinegars.  I was photographing the show for Great Food Magazine so promised the lovely guys on the stand that I would be back to buy a bottle of their Golden Raspberry and Apache Chilli Vinegar once I was done.  Alas I got waylaid  *ahem*  at the Compass Box Whisky stand and ran out of time (lost all sense of direction).  Head honcho at Womersley is Rupert, he’s one of those lovely people on Twitter who always takes the time to chat to you and reply to your messages and well worth a follow if you use it.  Anyway, lovely Rupert very kindly sent me a bottle of the Golden Raspberry and Apache Chilli along with his Lime, Black Pepper and Lavender vinegars to play with.

Last night turned out to be a bit of a late one involving rather large amounts of wine and beer. Such indulgence combined with an early morning walk to the train station to pop an equally hungover mother-in-law on the train home had left me feeling somewhat fragile.  Normally at this point I reach for an emergency bacon sandwich but the sun was shining and I had my Womersley Vinegars to play with…perfect!

Creamy, salty feta and smoky bacon are fantastic together but throw some fresh zingy herbs into the mix, a nice hum from the red onion and the amazing sweetness and kick of the vinegar and it turns this from something nice to something really, really good.  My fella is not a fan of salads at all and has proclaimed it “seriously tasty”, from him thats pretty high praise indeed!  If you needed any more reasons to give it a go then I should mention that cheese, bacon and chilli are a sure fire hangover cure too…

Kick Ass Salad:

  • 250g feta cheese
  • 1/4 red onion
  • handful smoked bacon lardons/panchetta
  • mint leaves
  • coriander leaves
  • 2 tablespoons Golden Raspberry and Apache Chilli vinegar
  • sea salt flakes
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • few pomegranate seeds

Method:

  1. Fry off the lardons until crispy and drain on kitchen towel.
  2. Roughly chop the herbs, microplane the onion and combine with the vinegar and seasoning in a bowl.
  3. Break the feta into chunks, add to the bowl and mix gently.  Leave to infuse for 20 minutes if you can bear it then add the crispy bacon, sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and dive in!

This salad kicks serious ass!