Recipe Review: Lemon & Ginger Cordial

Lemon & Ginger Cordial is a perfect pick me up for this time of year when the cold and flu bugs start spreading.  I am particularly fond of this topped up with hot water and perhaps a dash of something alcoholic like rum, although it is also lovely with fizzy water.

It is really easy to make as well – chop up ginger, peel lemons, squeeze lemons, boil with sugar and water a couple of times, strain, cool and bottle.  Actually, a really important tip is to cool it fully before bottling it – as otherwise the sugar can re-crystallise at the bottom of the bottle.

This is a wonderful present to make for Christmas as you can do it in bulk (my potful above produced four 500ml bottles with just enough leftover for a mugful right away) – or just as a little gift for someone you know has succumbed to a cold/flu and is in need of something really lovely to help them recover.

Lakeland do wonderful swing top bottles here: http://www.lakeland.co.uk/15020/Cordial-Bottle 

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Christmas Gifts for Foodies: Missed the delivery deadline?

Christmas is now 5 days away – and if you’ve been super organised you’re all set!   However, many online retailers now don’t guarantee delivery by Christmas unless you upgrade to next-day delivery.  If you don’t want to face the high street, or pay over the odds for delivery (which may still fail – the number of stories I’ve heard!), or if you’re reading this on Christmas Eve itself, you still have options for Christmas gifts for the foodies in your life.

Get to a supermarket for your ingredients and spend an afternoon making some presents (here are some suggestions from another post). This year the hamper for my immediate family is going to consist of:

  1. Pru Leith’s Gingerbread (a staple every year),
  2. Ginger & Lemon Cordial,
  3. Triple Choc Chip Cookies,
  4. foie gras (this year I’m doing this spiced recipe which goes well with toasted slices of gingerbread, as well as doing my staple fig and port version – recipe to come),
  5. and possibly… nougat (I’ve heard it is a tricky thing to make, so we’ll see if it makes it in to the hamper!).

The other alternative is to buy a voucher – the bonus here is that these can frequently be printed immediately so you can get these right up to the last minute.  This also means that the recipient can not only choose their preferred things, but can generally take advantage of the January sales, so making your money go further!  Some ideas especially for foodies include:

Beat the Christmas Bulge

I’ve been planning my Christmas food this last week – and having concerns over how much high-calorie food there will be in the house which may prove disastrous to my weight management goals.  However, in the interests of preventing the average weight gain of 2kg (or 5lbs in old money), I’ve put together a list of my top tips to help bolster your intentions.

  1. Use smaller plates – studies have found that eating from a smaller plate makes us feel more satisfied than the same amount on a larger one.  Coming from a generation of children who were taught to clean the plate otherwise there would be no pudding, I’m very used to getting through everything on the plate I’m given.
  2. Don’t pile things high – especially when there is a buffet!  I’m guilty of piling things high on occasion – and mostly it is because I didn’t look at all the things available when I’m serving myself – so completely misjudging how much space there is on the plate and how many dishes there are to try out.  Start small, then go back for seconds if there are any left… (or you can do what some people do and have a good look at everything on display before joining the queue so you know what you want to save some space for).
  3. Plan ahead – try to plan in some lighter meals amongst the overly rich meals that may be on offer this season.  I’ve got some hot winter salads planned around the necessary ham, goose and beef days…  (I’m also thinking about doing some Gazpacho – my version is effectively an intense salad puree which I seem to crave to offset all the fat and starch around this time of year).
  4. Exercise – if all else fails, find some high-intensity workouts (at your appropriate fitness level of course) to offset the intake.  I am fond of kickboxing workouts as they seem to work well for me, but there is an interesting trend of 1000 calorie workouts – here’s one on youtube which I might try – which would make you feel all saintly again!
  5. Watch the booze – empty calories and hangovers!  I tend to volunteer to be the driver so I don’t look like a wimp because I don’t want to drink very much – I resent the wasted calories and get horrendous hangovers these days so feel rubbish the entire next day.  I also think that when I’m not allowed very much (perhaps one glass with lunch) I enjoy it more.

An Advent Calendar for a Foodie

AdventI’ve just opened the first window on my first advent calendar since I was at school – I saw the Montezuma’s Advent Calendar on sale on Ocado and went for it!  (although I see it is out of stock at the time of writing, it is available on Montezuma’s website at 25% off).  I am definitely in favour of calendars with quality chocolate in them – I don’t see the point in wasting calories on chocolate which is lower in quality!

The Lindt Milk Calendar looked interesting – but I prefer dark chocolate if at all possible, so the entirely milk chocolate selection didn’t quite tempt me enough.  The Lindt Dark Calendar  tempted me a lot until I saw the price!  It is cheaper on the Lindt website, but you then have to add nearly £4 shipping and having to be in for the postal delivery (as opposed to being able to pick a slot with online shopping).

I very much like the idea (next year) of getting a reusable advent calendar and filling it myself with Dark Lindor Truffles or Dark Ferrero Rocher (I am still in mourning that these don’t come in their own box anymore, and you have to get the milk and white ones too).

Christmas Wishlist for Foodies – Buy Cheap Buy Twice

I never really believed in the old adage “Buy cheap, buy twice” until we managed to kill a coffee machine every year for three years running!  We gradually moved up the price scale each time (admittedly the very first one was a £20 machine so we had quite a way to go to get into the luxury range), until we found a coffee machine that has now lasted three years and is still going strong.  I do get embarrassed though when someone asks the price, but in the long run it has saved us money by not going out to get our coffee-fix.  Considering my first ever job was a barrista for a not very well known chain of coffee stands (usually found in train stations), I have had a long-term love affair with all things coffee.  My husband has also had a long-standing reliance on caffeine given that he is a hospital doctor – between the two of us we make that machine work hard!

Sometimes it really is worth the extra spend on something that will last and save you time… or at least that’s what I tell myself.  Here are some of my top picks which are definitely worth the extra spend.

The coffee machine – DeLonghi Prima Donna

  • Don’t buy the fitted models – you’ll move and have to leave it behind, or it might break before the next kitchen refit and there is no guarantee that the newer models will fit in the space.
  • Do think about counter-space – some of the top models are quite tall, so may not fit under your cupboards, and since many require you to load them with water/beans from the top, pulling it out and pushing it back will increase the likelihood of damage (either to the machine or your counter-top).  An integrated bean-to-cup model enables you to choose your beans (and buy them in bulk), and grinds them for you, saving you the hassle of having a separate grinder on the counter.
  • Do think about cost-per-use – the pod style coffee machines lock you into using their refills, which can get quite expensive if you are not interested in learning how to fill your own pods.
  • My top pick: the DeLonghi Prima Donna (Amazon.co.uk link). 

The Food Mixer – The Kenwood Chef

  • Try not to get too influenced by form over function – the best models will last for 30 or more years (my mother still have two Kenwood Chefs that she was given as wedding presents – one for each of her marriages – which are still going strong 30-40+ years later).  Look for fully metal gears as these motors will last, while those not made out of metal will likely break if you leave them on too long too often.
  • Think about the attachments available – you may not want to make pasta or mince meat now, but you might in the future.  Pick the model with the best selection of attachments.
  • Think about who is going to clean it – one of the major reasons I picked the Kenwood over the KitchenAid is ease of cleaning.  The Kenwood has simpler lines making wiping it down after use a doddle, while a friend who has a KitchenAid regrets her choice as it is constantly getting dirty and takes that bit longer to clean.  You could always get a cover to  minimise the mess though…
  • My top pick: The Kenwood Chef Major Titanium (Amazon.co.uk link)

The Food Blender – The Vitamix

  • Think about what you may make – the better models have the most powerful motors which won’t burn out on long blends.  The cheaper ones may need time to cool down in between bursts of activity so you may be hanging around twiddling your thumbs – or you may break it!
  • Think about noise levels though – these machines are LOUD.  If you live somewhere with noise restrictions think about whether those neighbour relationships are good enough to withstand this…
  • My top pick: The Vitamix Blender (Amazon.co.uk link)
  • Second choice: The Berg Commercial Blender (Amazon.co.uk link)

The Toaster – Dualit New Gen

  • Four slices of toast at a time and a warming rack for buns/pastries – this does the job of something a lot cheaper, but feels far more solid than the previous £40 toaster we had…  This is definitely a luxury not a necessity, but such a lovely luxury…
  • Amazon.co.uk link

The Slow Cooker – Crock-Pot Slow Cooker

Things still on my wishlist to try:

Kitchen Kit: The Oil Cloth Apron


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Images from the justwipe.co.uk website

One of the most useful tools around the kitchen is an apron – I’m sure I don’t need to explain why!  However, in recent years the oil cloth version, my preferred type, has apparently become really unpopular as it has become nearly impossible to find.   Every single one I see in shops is the basic fabric type which I don’t like at all.

The oil cloth apron is better (in my opinion) than the basic fabric type for three main reasons:

  1. It protects your clothes more – splashes from the hob/food processor/hand blender/sink don’t go through an oil cloth apron, whereas a strong splash will go through a fabric one and end up on your clothes underneath.
  2. It is far easier to clean – take a wet cloth and wipe it down.  It doesn’t need to go in the wash and it doesn’t stain (unless you have an old one with cracks where the fabric is unprotected – those cracks will stain).
  3. It doesn’t need ironing as it never goes through the wash!

The only real downside to them are that they do age – the oil cloth finish will wear thin anywhere where you habitually crease it (so don’t sit at the table in it) and the creases do eventually turn into cracks.  However, they probably last longer than fabric ones in terms of staining.  I love to cook with tomatoes and turmeric (not necessarily at the same time), the two worst staining offenders of all time.  So this is is a major consideration for me – it might not bother you if you tend not to cook with ingredients that stain.

In recent years, I’ve only found them in two places – either in tourist shops (with the requisite novelty patterns) or online.  One great place which I’ve repeatedly ordered from is www.justwipe.co.uk.  They offer a bundle of 10 for £50 or you can choose your preferred pattern for £9.99 each – with a range of patterns, including plain and seasonal patterns as well as patterns resembling ones from famous designers such as Orla Keily and Cath Kidston, there should be something you like.  Every few years I buy the bundle of 10, pick my favourite from the random selection they send to replace one of my worn ones (I have 3 on the go at a time – so there is one for every person who might be cooking at one time), and distribute the rest as Christmas gifts to people I know who like them – at £5 per apron, that’s a real bargain gift!


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Image from the justwipe.co.uk website

Recipe Review: Beef Wellington

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Saturday was an opportunity to try out a really special recipe – Beef Wellington.  It was the seven year anniversary of meeting my husband, so after creating our anniversary cards using Photoshop in the morning, we went out to the pub where we met, and then went home to do some serious cooking.  I tend to be the one who cooks the most, but my husband is rather good at being given a recipe and just getting on with it (although sometimes he does do some interesting substitutions without asking!).  We both love beef, steak in particular, and there was an offer on Ocado for a whole fillet of 1.2kg for £30, which is cheaper than I’ve seen it elsewhere.  I cut it roughly in half for this recipe, and bunged the other half in the freezer for Christmas.

Here was the menu:

Truffle butter on brown toasts;
Pommeau de Normandie (apple juice mixed with young Calvados to make a fortified wine strength drink)

Beef Wellington served with Dauphinoise Potatoes and Tenderstem Broccoli;
St Emilion Bordeaux (one of the most reliable regions for good quality Bordeaux)

Sabayon made with Amaretto

The truffle butter was quite simply butter left on top of the coffee machine to soften, mashed up with grated truffles (from a French friend who has them growing around his house) then put back in the fridge until needed.  Gorgeous – love a simple recipe like that.

The Beef Wellington recipe I followed was the BBC Good Food version although I found the photos of each stage on Simply Recipes to be incredibly helpful (not sure why they don’t include the wine and thyme in the mushroom duxelle although they do use English Mustard which the BBC Good Food version doesn’t so perhaps that might be why).  I have to say that I think a lot of people will be put off by the apparent difficulty of this recipe – although to be perfectly honest, with the photos and tips from the Simply Recipes site it was incredibly easy, as well as being delicious.   I tend to do a lot of research on the internet before trying new recipes – I look to see what people are varying across each version and see what stays the same, as well as trying to find ones that don’t use ingredients I either don’t have or don’t want to use.  My variation was to use Charroux Pourpre de St Pourcain Mustard – a very mild fruity mustard which goes really well with beef/wine/mushrooms etc.  Unfortunately while Charroux original mustard can be found in speciality food shops (I hear it goes for $35 per pot in New York!) outside of the Auvergne region in France the Pourpre variety is unheard of.  It is made with red wine from the St Pourcain region and is a good mild mustard.  I am lucky enough to get to stay with friends who live about 15km away from Charroux (a medieval village worth a detour if you’re driving down the A71 in France) so I’ve been unashamedly eating it forever – and bringing home the 1kg pots  of the two main types for myself (and to decant for family and friends).  I think last summer when I picked up my most recent pot, it was still going for about €20 per kilo.  Not bad going really, since the one website I found it on charges $20 for the tiny 100g pots which are sold for €4.50 in Charroux.

The dauphinoise potatoes was the husband’s dish – I handed him a recipe from the BBC Food website and he just got on with it – and they came out just right.  Another reason I’m glad I married him!

The Sabayon is a super-secret recipe from another French friend – who has specifically requested it be kept quiet and not shared.  I’m pretty sure that most recipes for Sabayon are pretty similar, but I’ll give you a hint – the quantities are really important as all yolks are not the same size… so adjust your quantities appropriately!   The two tips for a successful Sabayon firstly is to keep whisking and make sure that the whole lot has emulsified properly before serving (liquid can be hiding underneath the froth and you want everything to be evenly frothy).  Secondly, beware of scrambling those yolks – never let the bottom of the bain marie bowl touch the water below.

Overall a very lovely romantic day spent with my husband finished with a ridiculously rich meal.  I think next time something a bit lighter for pudding might be a good idea…  A sorbet perhaps.