James Wong – what a great writer!

James Wong – what a great writer! Just occasionally I come across a writer or a new book that really grabs me and this was the case with James.

The first book I bought was ‘How to Eat Better’ which I saw mentioned in Good Food magazine. It’s really fascinating and has masses of facts that made me exclaim out loud as I read through… possibly a little annoying for Richard! Did you know smaller (and therefore cheaper) blueberries are better for you than the big ones – green asparagus is much better for you than white? Lazy people rejoice as apparently the vac packed and cooked beetroot has as many good things going for it than boiling and peeling your own… and so the list went on.

I felt sorry for Richard listening to my reading out paragraphs aloud and so bought him (and his brother) a copy of James Wong’s ‘Grow for Flavour’ which has so many tips and tricks that help in the garden. For example – watering tomatoes with seawater gives them a much better taste – giving hard to germinate seeds like parsley a quick dose of soluble aspirin helps them along – and yes you guessed, Richard is now reading out bits to me from his book!

Finally, having been so interested in his other books I treated both myself and my sister (I love giving books) to ‘Grow your own Drugs‘ – Kate was a little worried as it had to get through the mail and therefore the Jersey Customs department but, so far it all seems to have gone swimmingly! As I have a summer cold at the moment I was very taken with the recipe intended to help colds and flu – Echinacea Ice Lollies. This contains 80ml of vodka and that alone has to cheer things up! But there are plenty of other ingredients that should ease the throat. Disappointingly, the vodka is to soak the Echinacea root and doesn’t actually make an appearance in the finished lolly – hmm, sad.

Just thought I would share these titles with you – I love books with useful hints and tips and James is certainly an author I will look out for him in future programmes – he has shared a TV series with another person I admire – Dr Michael Moseley and has covered the Chelsea Flower show with the BBC team … I will be keeping an eye out!


Crunchy Chocolate and Peanut cupcakes

Here’s a delicious recipe for crunchy chocolate and peanut cupcakes. Our wonderful baking bookkeeper, Jo B, produced these cracking cupcakes for our member of staff Maggie, who was celebrating her birthday!

Makes 12

For the cakes:

  • 125g butter
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, large
  • 125g of self-raising flour, sifted
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 75g milk chocolate chips

For the frosting:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 160g smooth peanut butter (nice with almond butter too)
  • 60g icing sugar, sifted
  • 21/2 tbsp milk
  1. Preheat the oven to 170˚C/150˚C fan /gas mark 3 and line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases. For the cakes, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs then beat well until thoroughly combined. Add the flour and milk and mix until smooth and fully incorporated.
  2. Fold the chocolate chips into the cake mixture then divide equally between the paper cases. Bake for 18-20 mins or until firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the tins and place on a wire rack to cool.
  3. For the frosting, beat the butter and peanut butter together until smooth and fluffy. Add the icing sugar and milk and beat together slowly until combined then beat a little faster until soft
  4. Now make the honeycomb which, by the way, could be used in ice cream or just gobbled by grandchildren!
  5. 200g caster sugar, 4 tablespoons golden syrup, 3 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda and chocolate to melt (optional)
  6. Put sugar and syrup into a pan and bring to the boil. Then gently simmer for 6 minutes. Add the bicarb and mix around quickly because it will immediately begin to fizz.
  7. Pour into a greased tray (the butter wrapper works well if you have one) and leave for 5 minutes, then gently begin prising from the tin. Leave for another 5 minutes and completely remove from tin. Break into pieces and keep in an airtight container.
  8. To clean the pan, add water and bring to the boil and just use the spoon to scrape.
  9. You can then half dip pieces of the honeycomb in chocolate if you wish – indeed I suspect serving just the honeycomb dipped in chocolate could get great granny points for me!




Eurovision – love it or hate it!

Copyright: https://eurovision.tv/story/ukraine-is-ready-to-celebrate-diversity-in-2017

There will be much excitement in our household this Saturday as it is Eurovision party night – woo-hoo! Rather like Marmite, Eurovision does tend to divide people into ‘love’ and ‘hate’ camps. I love it!

Yes, most of the music is awful and the costumes bizarre but it is so wonderfully naff and eccentric, I think it is a joy. Terry Wogan was, of course, the master of Eurovision but I have to say that Graham Norton makes a very good job of it too. Must be something about the Irish sense of humour.

The days of other countries voting for the UK seem to be long gone, but the spectacle of it all is still worth watching, not least because so many countries take it so very, very seriously. We Brits, with our ironic sense of humour, are able to take our ‘nul points’ with good grace. However, this year’s UK entrant, Lucie Jones is, apparently ‘one of the favourites’… we shall see!

This year is the 62nd edition (wow!) and it is being held in Kiev in the Ukraine. One of the great things about the show is seeing all the participants backstage laughing and having a wonderful time together with no sign of any divisions or political argument, which has to be a good thing, surely?

And so, we will be getting together with family and any friends potty enough to join us, and cheering and booing and doing our own scoring of the 42 countries taking part… if we can stay awake that long! I have such fond memories of previous Eurovision parties organised by my wonderful Mother. One year, we all dressed up as our designated country (I’m sure someone came as the Eiffel Tower!) while Granny always concentrated on wearing the colours of the French or Italian flags. Ah, such happy memories…

Why not host your own Eurovision party? It’s a great opportunity for silly hats and themed food! Here are some suggestions:

  1. Pizza! Perfect Eurovision fare!

    In tribute to France – garlic bread

  2. For Italy – pizza
  3. German sausage
  4. Some Danish bacon
  5. A few Belgian chocolates to round everything off!

But let’s remember one very important thing – if it wasn’t for this crazy annual music fest, we might never have discovered Abba!! Need I say more?

Five fun Eurovision facts:

  1. Fifty-two countries have participated in the Eurovision Song Contest since it started in 1956. Of these, 25 have won the contest.
  2. The “Euro” in “Eurovision” has no direct connection with the European Union! Several countries outside the boundaries of Europe have competed: Israel, Cyprus and Armenia, in Western Asia, Morocco, in North Africa and Australia making a debut in the 2015 contest! How did that happen?
  3. Ireland has won a record 7 times, Luxembourg, while France and the United Kingdom have won 5 times. Sweden and the Netherlands won 4 times.
  4. Poor old Norway has ended last 9 times! They came last in 1963, 1969, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1990, 1997 and 2001.
  5. In 1981 the UK act Bucks Fizz stunned viewers with their Velcro rip-away skirts and within 48 hours, Velcro had sold out across the country. Fabulous!

Homemade bread

I have been making my own soup for years and we have long been thinking we might try making homemade bread to go with the soup – instant homemade lunches!

However this good idea was shelved along with so many others we have, as we got busier and busier. Then whilst at my sister’s house last week we got up one morning to the most amazing smell of bread .. I wondered if she had one of those part-baked loaves in the oven or some frozen croissants, but this really was a very strong scent… enough to raise Richard into an enthusiastic early breakfast!

Kate (my sister) assured us it was real home made bread, courtesy of her bread making machine and it was sitting waiting for us to road test the latest loaf. Cutting a long and delicious story short, it was wonderful and Richard especially, was madly keen as he loves bread and cheese or bread and soup even more than I do.

So courtesy of Amazon we pressed a button and this machine arrived a day or so later. Richard has now taken full control and it is obviously going to be a man thing, a bit like the BBQ. However you will hear no complaints from me – it’s lovely to share the cooking.

We have tried three different recipes this week: a French bread (delicious but a different shape to usual French bread obviously!), a standard white and a 50/50% wholemeal and white and I can honestly say that every crumb has been consumed and little Grace, our granddaughter, gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to the ‘Grandpa’ bread she ate for lunch today.

We chose the Panasonic SD-2511 as that’s what my sister had – seemed easier than choosing a different one and it not being as good. Then all you really need to keep in the cupboard is strong flour, water, salt, dried yeast and a touch of butter. There are plenty of other things you can add but the basics have worked well so far.

I have bought several books on machine bread making and I think we will be trying loaves with delicious little extras like olives or pecan nuts and maple syrup soon. But for now, I think it is unlikely we will bother to buy much regular bread from the supermarket as we just love having it all set on a timer and having that smell of baking bread first thing in the morning.



When food gets weird…!

I always find it interesting how dishes and styles of food go in and out of fashion and how, sometimes, food gets weird! The Elizabethans had their sweetmeats while the Victorians used oysters in almost everything. Obviously, recipes reflect the cost and availability of ingredients – oysters used to be cheap, while chicken was a luxury.

I love reading about food and I was chuckling over some funny terms recently…

A few years ago, ‘fusion’ cookery was all the rage. This always sounded a bit too much like physics to me, but it was the combination of various forms of cookery, so you might have South Asian and Pacific Rim, or Texan and Mexican (Tex-Mex). This is fine it theory, but chefs do get a bit carried away. I remember reading about curried porridge, spaghetti tacos and Japanese Scotch eggs. Hmmm…

Chocolate soil, copyright www.epicurus.com

One of the very ‘on-trend’ additions to posh restaurant dishes at the moment is soil. I think our friends on Masterchef are probably responsible for introducing this one! Call me old-fashioned (and people do!) but I instantly think of my flowerbeds, and I’m not sure I want a version of this, no matter how delicious, on my plate. It’s just… odd. Mostly, it is dark chocolate and I’d be a lot happier if we stuck to ‘sprinkles’ or possibly even ‘shavings.’ If you want to have a go at making some chocolate soil, there are recipes online. Here’s one from www.epicurus.com

Hand salad
Yes, I know, weird! Apparently, it’s just a salad you eat with your hands, dipping lettuce and cucumber into dressings. So really, it’s simply an American term for what we used to call crudités – dipping veg into dips and sauces. Here’s a recipe idea for hand salad from www.bonappetit.com

A nice bit of hand salad with buttermilk, grapefruit, and mixed seeds, copyright www.bonappetit.com

There are so many trendy terms out there, I sometimes feel I need a translation app to find out what’s on the menu!

Jus ­– why can’t we call it gravy or sauce any more?

Pithivier of chicken, squash and sage by Sally Abé, copyright www.greatbritishchefs.com

Pithivier – it’s a pie! If you want to make a posh pie, have a look here at www.greatbritishchefs.com

Foam – this isn’t quite as bad as soil, but… Anyway, it applies to things that are full of air bubbles… we used to call them things like whipped cream, meringue or mousse!

Deconstructed – this one makes me smile! All the ingredients of a classic dish, but the chef didn’t want to assemble it!

Big dipper
I had to sneak this one in as it left me speechless! For Easter this year, a certain supermarket was offering ostrich eggs for sale. They recommended 50 mins cooking time to produce a runny yolk, perfect for dipping into, like a large, vegetarian fondue. They even suggested using a baguette as a ‘soldier’ I don’t know why… but that struck me as very peculiar!