Monday, 31 October 2011

The Secluded (French Fancy!) Tea Party

You might remember my post a few months ago about The Secluded Tea Party and the literary-themed event I attended. Well, a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a second event hosted by Miss Sue Flay in a secret Cambridgeshire location. This time the tea party had a French theme and Miss Sue was joined by the lovely Cat from Cakes by Cat who gave us a masterclass in the art of decorating French Fancies.

When we arrived at the venue we were ushered in the bunting bedecked room with a large table in the centre of the room adorned with a pretty checked tablecloth and covered with an assortment of mouth-watering goodies. While we introduced ourselves to each other we enjoyed some sparkling elderflower cordial served in a variety of pretty vintage teacups.

Our first task of the evening was to prepare our flower decorations to add to our cakes later on. These were surprisingly simple to make but very effective as you can see in the pictures of the finished cakes.

Then it was on to the rather messy job of icing our cakes. Cat had provided three different cakes layered with buttercream in a variety of flavours, topped with marzipan and ready for us to cut into squares or circles. Once our cakes had been cut to size we then dipped them into bowls of pastel icing ready for the final decorations.

In between these activities we were also busy tucking into the various delights supplied by Miss Sue Flay. These included cucumber and egg mayonnaise open sandwiches, lemon madeleines with rose petal jam and luscious profiteroles filled with creme patisserie.

And of course a Secluded Tea Party wouldn't be complete without one of Miss Sue's fabulous layer cakes - in this case a Black Forest Gateaux-inspired cake stuffed with buttercream and cherry jam - delicious!

The final part of our decorating class involved icing and decorating our cakes. Cat showed us how to create little icing bags out of baking paper - a trick that required quite a lot of dexterity! These were then used to pipe lines and swirls on top of our cakes before we topped them off with our fondant flowers. When all the cakes were finished and placed in cake cases and boxes the effect was very impressive and I think we all felt rather pleased with ourselves!

Thanks again to Miss Sue Flay and to Cat for hosting such a lovely evening. If you would like to find out about upcoming Secluded Tea Parties then be sure to have a look at Miss Sue's website here and you can read her write up of the evening and see some more pictures here. Cat also runs regular cake decorating classes - have a look at her Facebook page here for more information.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

East Anglian Food Events - November 2011 to January 2012

Here's my second monthly roundup of upcoming foodie events in East Anglia (those that I know of anyway). There are a few exciting things coming up as we head towards the festive season - I'm particularly looking forward to La Hogue Farm's Christmas Tasting Extravaganza next week and I will shortly be booking my place at The Secluded Tea Party's blogfest.

If anyone has anything they'd like me to include then please let me know by leaving a comment or sending me an email.


Farmers Markets
5th - Snape Maltings, East Suffolk - 9.30am to 1pm
5th - Jimmy's Farm, East Suffolk - 10am to 2pm
12th - Rickinghall Farmers Market, Mid Suffolk - 9.30am to 12.30pm
12th & 26th - Woodbridge Farmers Market -East Suffolk - 9am to 1pm
19th - Aldeburgh Farmers Market, Village Hall, East Suffolk - 9.30am to 12.30pm
26th - Easton Farm Park, East Suffolk - 9am to 1pm (£5 carpark charge redeemable against purchases)
Every Saturday - Wyken Vineyards, West Suffolk - 9am to 1pm

Other Events
19th - The Secluded Tea Party - Blogfest - Cambridgeshire - 10am to 2pm
26th - Cambridge Cake Crawl - 2pm to 5pm
23rd - 27th BBC Good Food Show, Birmingham NEC
25th - 27th - Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre - 10am to 7pm (5pm on Sunday)
27th - Top Secret Tea Parties - Chocolate Themed Tea Party - Peterborough - 2pm to 4pm


Farmers Markets
3rd - Snape Maltings. East Suffolk - 9.30am to 1pm
3rd & 4th - Jimmy's Farm Christmas Fayre, East Suffolk - 10am to 2pm
10th - Rickinghall Farmers Market, Mid Suffolk - 9.30am to 12.30pm
10th & 17th - Woodbridge Farmers Market - East Suffolk - 9am to 1pm
17th - Aldeburgh Farmers Market, Village Hall, East Suffolk - 9.30am to 12.30pm
17th - Easton Farm Park, East Suffolk - 9am to 1pm (£5 car park charge redeemable against purchases)
23rd - Snape Malting Christmas Market, East Suffolk - 9.30am to 1pm
Every Saturday - Wyken Vineyards, West Suffolk - 9am to 1pm

Other Events
2nd - Top Secret Tea Parties - Gingerbread, Gingham & Gifts Soiree - Peterborough - 7pm to 9pm
11th - The Secluded Tea Party, Grinch-inspired Xmas Tea Party - Cambridgeshire - 2pm to 4pm


Farmers Markets
14th - Rickinghall Farmers Market, Mid Suffolk - 9.30am to 12.30pm
14th & 28th - Woodbridge Farmers Market - East Suffolk - 9am to 1pm
21st - Aldeburgh Farmers Market, Village Hall, East Suffolk - 9.30am to 12.30pm
21st - Easton Farm Park, East Suffolk - 9am to 1pm (£5 car park charge redeemable against purchases)
Every Saturday - Wyken Vineyards, West Suffolk - 9am to 1pm

Other Events
7th - The Secluded Tea Party - Murder Mystery Tea Party - 7pm - 11pm

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Pudding Club Part 3 - Rhubarb Marshmallow Meringue Roulade

So here's the final installment in the Pudding Club series and I can now reveal that the dessert that I've placed at the top of the pile is the simply fabulous Rhubarb Marshmallow Meringue Roulade. This recipe comes from Jo Pratt's book, In the Mood for Entertaining: Food for Every Occasion and was just as delicious as it sounds. The meringue was perfectly soft and marshmallowy, just as the title suggests, with just a whiff of crunch on the outside and the rhubarb and cream filling was heavenly. To top it all off, this was probably the easiest of the puddings to make. The meringue and the rhubarb can be prepared several hours in advance so all you need to do at the last minute is whip up the cream, fold in the rhubarb and assemble the roulade. I was a bit concerned that the meringue might be tricky to roll up but it was breeze.

This is a pudding to be eaten as soon as it's assembled if possible and it makes just about the right amount for six people (assuming you're not expecting them to get through three more puddings afterwards!). The leftovers the next day were more than edible but I wouldn't have wanted to keep it any longer than that.

All in all, this pudding was voted a winner by most of the people who tried it and there's no doubt I'll be making it again.

Rhubarb Marshmallow Meringue Roulade
(adapted from In the Mood for Entertaining by Jo Pratt)

for the meringue
4 large egg whites
175g caster sugar
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sifted icing sugar, for dusting

for the filling
400g trimmed rhubarb
50g caster sugar
200ml double cream
1/2 teaspoon rose water (I didn't have any so left it out)

1) Line a baking tray measuring approximately 35cm x 25cm x 2cm deep with non-stick parchment paper and lightly oil. Preheat the oven to 160c/fan140/gas mark 3.

2) To make the meringue, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks then add half the caster sugar and continue to whisk for a couple of minutes. Mix the cornflour with the remaining sugar and add to the egg whites with the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Whisk until you have a firm, glossy consistency, a bit like shaving foam. This will take a good few minutes. Spoon and spread into the prepared baking tray. Place in the oven and cook for 25 minutes.

3) In the meantime, cut the rhubarb into 3-4cm lengths and place in a saucepan with the sugar and 1 tablespoon of water. Cook for about 10 minutes, turning a couple of times with a metal spoon and trying not to let all of the pieces become too mushy.

4) Remove the cooked meringue from the oven and leave to cook in the tin for a few minutes, then carefully turn out on to a piece of baking paper heavily dusted with the icing sugar. Cool completely.

5) Whip the cream with the rose water (if using) until it forms soft peaks. Fold in the rhubarb and then spread over the meringue, leaving a border of about 2cm. Carefully and loosely roll the meringue lengthways into a fat cylinder shape. Transfer to a serving plate and serve.

Serves 6

Friday, 21 October 2011

Pudding Club Part 2 - Rococoa Cake & Date & Orange Syrup Pudding

In my last post I wrote about my dinner party/pudding club and the first of the recipes I used - the French Apple Tart. This time it's the turn of the two recipes that, I think, came in joint second place.

The first of these is the Rococoa Cake from Nigella's book, Feast: Food that Celebrates Life, a rather decadent chocolate cake layered with a zabaglione/mascarpone filling and heavily laced with rum. This one was probably the most divisive of the four puddings, with some people declaring it as their favourite and some putting in a definite fourth place. I personally loved it although it was definitely the richest of the puddings on offer and also the most complex to make. Having said that, it needs to be made the night before serving it which is always helpful. I will certainly be making it again and it would make a perfect dinner party pudding at Christmas time as the rum gives it a real festive flavour.

I'm afraid I won't be sharing the recipe for this one as the list of ingredients and instructions are pretty lengthy and it would take ages to reproduce it here. I do recommend you find yourself a copy of Feast if you don't already have one though as it's a great cookbook.

The other pudding that I've ranked in joint second place is a delicious Date and Orange Syrup Pudding that I found in Rachel Allen's book, Home Cooking. I love steamed puddings and this one turned out particularly well. For some reason I always half expect steamed puddings to be quite dense and heavy but this certainly wasn't the case this time. The sponge was light and fluffy and the orange mixed with the syrup gave lots of lovely fruity, sweet flavour. As you can see in the picture below the fruit all sank to the bottom (or top depending on how you look at it) of the sponge. I don't think it was supposed to do this but it didn't matter and actually made the sponge look quite attractive when turned out. And it still tasted great!

Date & Orange Syrup Pudding
(adapted from Home Cooking by Rachel Allen)

125g/4 1/2oz butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
50g/2oz pitted dates, sliced into 4-5 strips
25g/1oz raisins (small ones are best)
Finely grated zest of 1 small orange
75ml/3 fl oz golden syrup
juice of 1 orange
100g/3 1/2oz caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
140g/5oz self raising flour, sifted
2 tbsp milk

1) Lightly butter a 1.25 litre/2 pint pudding basin. Place the dates, raisins and orange zest in a small bowl and mix together. Mix together the golden syrup and half the orange juice and pour it into the bottom of the basin.

2) Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well between each one and adding a little of the flour if the mixture appears to be curdling. Stir in the flour, then the milk and the remaining orange juice, mixing them thoroughly.

3) Fold in the dried fruits and spoon the cake mixture into the pudding basin, taking care not to mix it in with the syrup at the bottom of the basin. The mixture should come about two-thirds of the way up. Flatten the mixture with the back of the spoon.

4) Butter a piece of greaseproof paper and fold a pleat across the centre. Cover the basin with the paper, butter side down, and secure with string under the lip of the basin. Place in a steamer with a tight-fitting lid and simmer on a low heat for 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 hours or until the top of the pudding is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remember to top up the water if necessary.

5) Remove from the steamer or pan and slide a palette knife gently around the pudding to loosen it, then invert onto a warm serving plate (one that is wider than the top of the basin). Spoon over any remaining sauce and eat while hot, served with cream or custard.

Serves 6-8

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Pudding Club Part 1 - French Apple Tart

It's no secret that I'm a fan of puddings so when I was struggling to find inspiration for a main course for an upcoming dinner party it won't be much of a surprise to hear that I quickly abandoned the idea of a sensible, nutritionally balanced meal in exchange for something much more fun - Pudding Club! It's a theme I've come across in restaurants from time to time and the idea is simple - a light starter is followed by a selection of puddings for everyone to sample.

After much deliberating I finally settled on my four puddings (plus a plate of fruit to add a bit of balance and virtue!) and over the next three posts I'm going to share the details of each one with you. Not surprisingly there was a fair bit of debate about which pudding was the best and I don't think any pudding was singled out as the outright winner so I'm going to write about them in ascending order of preference based on my personal opinion.

So, in fourth place (which of course is relative as I was pretty happy with the way they all turned out) is the French Apple Tart. This is a classic recipe that I have made in the past and is, in fact, one of the inspirations for this blog (after making one of thee about three years ago I thought it looked so pretty that I took a picture of it. Then I had the idea of taking pictures of all the nice things I cooked and, well, the rest is history). This time, however, although it tasted nice I felt there was a bit too much filling and not enough sliced apple on top. Also, the pastry didn't stay a crisp as I would have like. This is the recipe I used but next time I might try out a different one.

French Apple Tart
(original source unknown)

80z/225g plain flour
pinch of salt
6oz/175g unsalted butter
1oz/25g icing sugar
chilled water

2lb 4oz/1 kg cooking apples (approx five)
1oz/25g unsalted butter
grated rind of 1 lemon
2 dessert spoons lemon juice
1 medium-sized egg yolk
3oz/75g caster sugar
3oz/75g ground almonds
2-3 red dessert apples such as Royal Gala, washed
1 tbsp caster sugar
8oz/225g apricot conserve

1) Preheat the oven to 190c/375f/gas mark 5. Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the butter and rub into the flour using the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the icing sugar then gradually stir in 15-30ml (1-2 tbsps) cold water to make a soft dough. Shape the pastry into a ball, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

2) Peel the cooking apples, cut into quarters and remove the cores. Chop into small pieces then place in a pan with the butter, lemon rind and 1 dessert spoon of lemon juice and cook until the fruit is pureed. Take off the heat and stir in the egg yolk, caster sugar and ground almonds and set aside.

3) Place the pastry on a floured surface and roll out to a 30cm circle. Use a rolling pin to lift the pastry on to a 11 inch loose-bottomed, greased, flan tin. Gently press into the sides of the tin and prick the base using a fork. Line the base with greaseproof paper fill with baking beans, rice or similar and bake for 8-10 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 5-10 minutes.

4) Remove the flan case from the oven, fill with the apple puree and smooth flat. Cut the dessert apples into quarters, remove the cores and slice very thinly using a sharp knife. Arrange over the puree in circles and sprinkle with caster sugar. Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

5) Melt the apricot conserve and remaining lemon juice. Sieve into a bowl and use to glaze the flan. Cool for 10 minutes then remove from the tin.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Chocolate Rice Pudding

Yes, Chocolate Rice Pudding! I found this recipe in the children's section of Nigella Lawson's recipe book Feast, but don't let that put you off. This will appeal chocolate, rice pudding and warm-stodgy-comfort food lovers of all ages.

It was a breeze to make too, although I did have a bit of a problem with the cooking time. The book advises leaving the puddings in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, however mine showed no sign of being ready at this stage and needed considerably longer. I think the book probably should have said an hour and 30 to 40 minutes so have amended the recipe below to what I think the correct time should be.

Oh, and I found I needed bigger dishes than suggested too. The first dishes I used measured exactly 150ml as specified by the recipe but were full to overflowing when everything was added so I switched to larger ones with a capacity of about 250ml.

It was all worth in the end though. While the absence of the cream and full fat milk you usually find in rice pudding meant that these weren't quite as rich as the traditional recipe, they were still delicious. The children loved them too and the small portion sizes made them easy to assemble for tea (assuming you allow enough time!).

Chocolate Rice Pudding
(adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson)

a knob of butter
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon boiling water (ie 4 teaspoons)
250ml milk
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
2 tablespoons pudding or arborio rice
2 tablespoons caster sugar

1) Preheat the oven to gas mark 2/150c, slipping in a baking sheet as you do so. Butter two small pudding dishes (see comment above).

2) Put the cocoa into a small measuring jug and dissolve with the boiling water then, stirring, pour in the milk. Add the vanilla extract and divide between the buttered dishes.

3) Add 1 tablespoon of rice and the sugar to each dish, stir then put them on the hot baking sheet in the oven and cook for one hour and 30-40 minutes. Let stand for a while before eating.

Serves 2 children or 1 hungry adult

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Hungry? - A Recipe Book Review

A couple of weeks ago I was offered a copy of Hungry?, a book by the people who make Innocent Smoothies, to try out and review and, not being a girl to turn down the offer of a free cookbook, I accepted.

The premise of the book is simple - a cookbook providing recipes for healthy, tasty, no-fuss food that all the family will enjoy. It contains over 100 different recipes, from family favourites to posher dinners, together with lots of quick ideas and suggestions.

This book appealed to me right from the start. The presentation is bright and colourful but without that "perfect family" vibe you can find in some other books. The emphasis is very heavily on getting your five-a-day with most of the recipes containing at least one portion of fruit or veg and, helpfully, the number of portions are also included in each recipe.

I also really liked the different hints and tips hidden among the pages. One page, for example, provides information on which fish come from sustainable sources, and which you should eat less often. Another is devoted to pesto and the different combinations you can use. Other subjects include when different fruit and vegetables are in season, types of pasta and recycling.

The book is divided into 10 chapters - breakfast, lunch, snacks, veggie, fish, meat, sides, pudding, makes and bakes and drinks - and each contains a number of recipes plus, as I mentioned above, lots of quick suggestions and alternatives. There are lots of family favourites included, such as macaroni cheese, cottage pie, fish pie etc, but in each case they have been adapted slightly to be make them just that little bit healthier or to sneak in an extra portion of veg. So, for example, the cottage pie is topped with a mix of carrots, potato and sweet potato and the macaroni cheese has added butternut squash and tomatoes, and is topped with a crunchy topping of broccoli and breadcrumbs.

We've already tried several recipes and I'm happy to report that they've all gone down very well with the whole family. These included...

Fruit Mess (recipe below) - A lovely take on a fruit salad that makes great use of the autumnal fruit around at the moment.

Chocolate Bran Flake Cakes - everyone's favourite chocolate crispy cakes but with a healthy twist. They also used more cocoa powder than my usual recipe which resulted in a darker chocolatey taste that I really liked.

Surfers' Pancakes - These are a great way to start the day. Light fluffy pancakes with sliced bananas and added oats. Guaranteed to keep you going until lunchtime!

We also tried the Veggie Burgers, Spaghetti Bolognese, Chicken & Bacon Pie and Banana Ice Cream but these all disappeared before I could take any photographs!

So, as promised, here's the recipe for the Fruit Mess. You'll also find three videos (which unfortunately don't quite fit on the page!) at the bottom of the post showing how easy this and two other recipes are to make and how they're a great way to get your children involved in kitchen.

Fruit Mess

4 ripe pears, cored and cut into chunks
8 victoria plums, stoned and cut into chunks
runny honey, for drizzling
a couple of handfuls of blackberries
8 tablespoons of plain yoghurt or creme fraiche
1 teaspoon natural vanilla extract, or the seeds from 1 vanilla pod
1 good-quality shop-bought one-person meringue

1) Put the pears and plums into a pan with a squeeze of honey and a splash of water and simmer for a couple of minutes until slightly softened. Allow to cool, then stir in the blackberries.

2) Before serving, taste the fruit and cook for a couple more minutes with a little more honey if it still tastes a bit sharp.

3) Mix the yoghurt or creme fraiche with another drizzle of honey and the vanilla.

4) Divide the fruit between 4 bowls, top with the yoghurt and crumble over the meringue.

Serves 4

Fruit Mess

Veggie Burgers

Chop-Chop Salad

Friday, 7 October 2011

Chicken Paprika Casserole

As I mentioned in my previous post this is one of my favourite casseroles mainly, and this will be no surprise, because it's easy to throw together and uses ingredients that I almost always have in the house. If you have trouble finding the Tomato Frito (I have found it in the past near the tomato puree but have had less success more recently) then plain tomato passata is a perfectly good substitute. Any leftover passata freezes well or can be used in a bolognese sauce. The casserole also tastes just fine without the creme fraiche too.

Another plus is that this recipe always generates more sauce than needed which makes for a really nice pasta sauce the next day.

Finally, the method below instructs you to fry the ingredients in a pan before transferring to a casserole. This is purely because I don't possess a stove-top casserole dish (I will get my hands on a Le Creuset one day) but if you have one then the whole thing can be made in the one dish. Just transfer the chicken back to the dish when you add the peppers and garlic.

Chicken Paprika
(Adapted from a recipe found on Delia Smith's website -

1 medium onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 chicken thighs (or a combination of thighs and drumsticks)
6oz/175g roasted red peppers from a jar
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 x 560g jar Heinz Tomato Frito
5 fl oz/150ml dry white wine
1 level dessertspoon hot paprika or 1 level tablespoon ground paprika
2 rounded tablespoons creme fraiche
salt and pepper

1) Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4. Heat the oil in a largeish saucepan or frying and fry on all sides until golden brown all over then transfer to a casserole dish.

2) Turn the heat down and add the onions to the pan and cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes until softened and browned at the edges. Add the peppers, garlic to the pan then pour in the tomato sauce, the wine and the paprika. Stir together and bring to a simmer before transferring it to the casserole dish.

3) Cover the dish with a lid and cook in the oven for 1 hour. Remove the dish from the oven and swirl in the creme fraiche. Sprinkle with a little more paprika and serve straight from the casserole.

Serves 2

Monday, 3 October 2011

Meal Planning Monday - 3 October 2011

What a lovely weekend we've had weather wise! Despite all the sunshine though, I'm still feeling in a very autumnal frame of mind when it comes to cooking and menu planning. The risotto and macaroni cheese I made last week are perfect comfort foods for those cooler evenings, as is one of my favourite casseroles, Delia's Chicken Paprika. This casserole also has the added bonus of having lots of sauce so I can get an extra meal out of it by serving the leftovers with pasta the next day. I'm also looking forward to trying the Cheddar Pie as it's a new recipe and sounds like a really simple but hearty dish which will hopefully go down well with the whole family.

So here's my line up...

Tuesday - Pasta with leftover sauce from Monday

Wednesday - Jacket Potatoes

Thursday - Eggy Rice

Friday - Lemon Chicken with Rice

Saturday - Cheddar Pie

Sunday - Breaded Chicken

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Stir-fried Rice with Bacon & Tuna

I originally wrote about this recipe several months ago but annoyingly it somehow got deleted, along with the posts of many other bloggers. So if you think you've seen this before, you probably have!

Here it is again then, a recipe I came across in delicious magazine many years ago and have made many times since. There's nothing intricate or fancy about it, just a great dish for a weeknight dinner that's easy to throw together and tastes great.

Stir-fried Rice with Bacon & Tuna
(adapted from delicious magazine)

175g long grain rice
1 tbsp olive oil
2 rashers unsmoked back bacon, diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
80g frozen peas
198g can tuna steak in oil, drained
1/2 bunch spring onions, finely sliced
2 tbsp reduced salt soy sauce, plus extra to serve

1) Put the rice into a saucepan, cover with 450ml cold water and add a good pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until just cooked. Drain.

2) Halfway through cooking the rice, heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over a high heat. Add the bacon and fry for 4-5 minutes, until crisp. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

3) Add the cooked rice and garlic to the wok and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the peas, tuna, most of the spring onions, cooked bacon and soy sauce. Stir-fry until the rice is piping hot.

4) Serve sprinkled with the remaining spring onion slices and extra soy sauce.

Serves 2