Christmas hamper: apple chutney

Well, the festive period has already got the better of me. I’m two Christmas get togethers down and still have another three (or maybe it’s four – I’ve lost count!) to go before the day itself.

Not that it’s an excuse, but I just haven’t got round to posting as regularly as I’d hoped to this month…something I hope to rectify over the next few days. Especially as I’ll be making some more hamper bits!

First batch 🍏

A post shared by Sian Julian (@sianjulian) on

This apple chutney couldn’t be simpler to make and the ingredients only cost about £10 in total. It made 9 jars worth (280ml size), so just over £1 per jar!

I used this recipe on the BBC website – I also added a grating of nutmeg, 1tsp of ground cinnamon and 1tsp of cumin.

I’ll be giving this chutney out as gifts – some will go in hampers and the rest will go to friends who enjoy food as much as I do!

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Upside down apple cake

Upside down apple cake

If you hadn’t guessed by now, I’m quite a fan of cakes and baking. One of my favourite writers is John Whaite, winner of the third Great British Bake Off. I loved his creations during the show and knew I’d want his book John Whaite Bakes as soon as it came out. It doesn’t disappoint – every recipe is beautiful and personal. You feel like John is talking to you over a cuppa, which is somewhat of a rarity.

Upside down apple cake

I’m clearly incapable of taking non-wonky pictures…

I’ve had my eye on this recipe – which has the lovely name ‘Golden heart cake’ – for a while now, but simply hadn’t got round to making it. Standardly, I started without checking I had everything required and took my typical approach of modifying the recipe to suit what I did have (I left out the cranberries)!

I also didn’t attempt to make the caramel lattice to go on the top; I’m not a huge fan of that kind of caramel, and after bodging the first lot which goes in the bottom of the baking tin, I frankly ran of patience. Butterscotch / caramel sauce is definitely more my domain – and I think next time I make this cake, I’ll make a separate sauce to pour on.

apple cake from above

you can see the caramel disaster as not all the apples are coated – still tasted divine though!

The essential things you need for this cake are: a heart-shaped baking tin and patience when making the caramel sauce. Otherwise, it’s a pretty foolproof recipe with delicious results. If you’re a fan of apple cake, then I highly recommend this.

Ingredients

For the fruit and caramel
200g caster sugar plus 2 tbsp water for the caramel
3 apples, peeled – slice two and dice one
Zest of 1 orange – 1/3 (the rest goes in the sponge mix)

For the sponge mixture
170g salted butter, softened
170g golden caster sugar
170g self raising flour3 eggs – important that your eggs are at room temperature
50ml milk
1tsp good quality vanilla extract
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
Zest of 1 orange – 2/3 (see above!)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp lemon juice

upside down apple cake close up

Method

1) Pre-heat your oven to 180 (mines a powerful fan oven so you may need to adjust accordingly!). Slice 2/3 of your apples and dice the rest to stir through your batter.

2) Make the caramel – a sugar thermometor might help you avoid a disaster! I think next time, I will stick to my normal tactic of scattering demerara sugar over the base of buttered tin before adding the slice fruit.

3) You could follow the recipe itself, or you could employ Mary Berry’s all-in-one approach which is what I did because I was in a rush. To do this, put all the ingredients bar the diced apple in a big mixing bowl and beat till combined using an electric hand mixer.

4) Pour the caramel into the buttered cake tin. Place the sliced apples on top, ensuring you cover the whole area (as you can see, I’m not the neatest at this!). Pour the batter over the top and pop in the oven.

5) Bake for 25-30 mins, check and cover if necessary with a piece of foil. Continue baking until a skewer or cake tester comes out clean. Leave to call in the tine for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Serve yourself a piece at once, if you like (I did, it’s delicious warm!) – it would be lovely with cream, ice cream etc. too.

Ginger Mincemeat in jars

Christmas baking: ginger mincemeat

I’ve been a bit slack lately with blogging, life has simply got in the way. Rather than beat myself up about it, I decided its okay to take a rest sometimes – especially as my wrists have been hurting a lot lately. Anyway, I’m not one to moan so enough about that.

ginger mincemeat ingredients

All the things you need – I tried to get organic dried fruits where poss, but it’s not essential!

The festive period is a time of year I always look forward to. Seeing friends and family you haven’t seen in a while – and those you have. Making and sharing delicious food; going out for meals; drinking festive drinks (did someone say mulled wine?!); and of course, the main event itself. I love everything about it, from the smell of the Christmas tree to the delicious dinner, crackers and giving gifts. I can’t wait till I have my own house so I can start my own traditions too (FYI – this will involve a LOT of mulled drinks, pastry goods and ridiculous decorations).

Anyway, on to the point in hand. Last year, I wrote about my ‘marvellous mincemeat’ as I like to call it – it’s an adaptation of a Mary Berry recipe, so you simply can’t go wrong.

Ginger Mincemeat in jars

Note – you don’t need to buy/use fancy jars, keep old jam and chutney ones. Just clean and sterilise before you use them!

I’ve been at it again this year. Only this time, I put it into smaller jars with the intention of sharing the love; one jar has gone to my boyfriend’s lovely mum, who has as sweeter tooth as I do, and another will go to one of my best friends who also appreciates the deliciousness of ginger.

The recipe and method hasn’t changed at all, except I doubled the amount of stem ginger simply because I love it, and in my opinion it can take it. if you don’t like ginger, just leave it out and replace with another dried fruit e.g. cranberries, or some chopped nuts (I imagine almonds would work well).

Preparation of mincemeat

I’m making a fair few other edible gifts and bits of bobs for the festive period this year, so I’ll post up the rest of my endeavours in due course. Expect to see chutney, fudge, truffles and biscuits. If anyone has any tips or tricks, or favourite festive recipes I’d love to hear them! And if you make my mincemeat, I hope you enjoy it.

Second hand plates from a local charity shop

Charity shopping for crockery

Second hand plates from a local charity shop

They were only 50p each – how could I resist!

There’s something about charity shopping which gives me quite a thrill. Sometimes I’ll come away with nothing, but other times I’ll find a real treat like my vintage sequin Frank Usher top in perfect condition.

As I mentioned in my previous post about Soho’s Secret Tea Room, I love old crockery – and it being mismatched does not bother me. So today I was really happy to stumble upon a whole box of mismatched plates and saucers, mostly in perfect condition at a local charity shop (Farleigh Hospice one – it’s a good’un).

charity shop plates

It’s quite amazing I only came away with five…at 50p a pop, the temptation to buy them all was overwhelming. I’m happy with the ones I picked up though; think they’ll look lovely with a piece of cake on them!

I’m always amazed when I get bargains like this, and it reminds me why it’s worth being a bit patient to have a rummage in charity shops, markets, vintage shops etc. If you have the time and patience, and labels/brands etc. don’t bother you, then it can be a real winner.

You’ll be seeing these plates in the near future, complete with cake – or maybe some mince pies!

Butternut risotto above view

Roasted butternut squash risotto

Butternut risotto above view

This is my Grandma’s dish – a ‘pie plate’, but I also like using it for dinner sometimes.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: risotto is a treat to cook.

It couldn’t be easier to make and requires minimal ingredients. I’m lucky enough to have some amazing rice – a variety called baldo, straight from the growing region. My step-dad went on a business trip and the people he met out there gave him loads as a gift. Whether you can get or find baldo or not (I’m sure in delis and some supermarkets they’ll have it), the way you cook the rice is important. My top tips are use lots of butter / oil, stir often (but not constantly) and hot stock – I keep my stock hot in a separate pan on the hob. I find you end up with a creamier risotto, yet the individual grains remain more intact.

This one, with sweet roasted cubes of butternut squash, meaty mushrooms and creamy dolcelatte, is an absolute delight. It’s perfect for a ‘Meat-free Monday’ or any day you fancy something a bit lighter – I personally don’t subscribe to one day of the week, sometimes I’ll have multiple veggie meals a week, sometimes not. Anyway, that aside, I absolutely love this risotto – perfect flavour and textural combo.

I purposefully made extra as it tastes even better the next day – great for a filling, warming packed lunch!

Butternut risotto side view

Ingredients

300g risotto rice
1 x stock cube (I use Kallo organic) dissolved in 500ml boiling water
1 x medium white onion, diced
1 x garlic clove
Fresh or dried thyme
Salt and pepper
Butter and oil for cooking the onions and rice

1 x box of chestnut mushrooms (about 250-300g), sliced
1 tsp dried herbs
1 x garlic clove

1 x medium butternut squash, cubed
1 tsp dried thyme
1tsp dried oregano
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper
Sunflower / vegetable oil for roasting

Dolcelatte, cubed for serving
Parmesan, grated for serving
Fresh herbs – optional, for serving

Method

Butternut risotto cooking stages

1) Preheat the oven to 180. While it’s heating, prepare your squash. I peel it first, cut the top and bottom off – slice the top section, then cut the rounder bottom bit in half. Scoop out the seeds (reserve for roasting, if you like), then diced up into 2-3cm cubes.
2) Put the cubed squash onto a roasting tray with about 1-2tbsp oil, plus all the herbs and spices listed underneath it. Mix up with your hands. Then put in the oven to roast. They should take about 40 minutes.
3) Dice your onion, sauté it in a heavy bottomed pan with butter, olive oil, seasoning and thyme, for about 8-10 minutes until they’re softened but not browned. Meanwhile prepare your stock and put it in a separate pan on a low heat. Once the onions are done, add your rice. Stir until coated in butter/oil, and cook for about two minutes until translucent.
4) Begin adding your stock gradually, ladel by ladel – stir intermittently and don’t add the next ladel until the previous is fully absorbed. You should see the starch start to release straight away.
5) Slice your mushrooms, cook in a large frying pan (with the ingredients listed underneath it) over a medium-high heat until nicely browned. Set aside.
6) After about 20 minutes, check your rice. If it is still too crunchy, continue with the process of adding more stock and stirring. Once you’re happy with the rice, stir in your mushrooms and cubes of butternut. Taste and check the season, adjust as necessary.
7) Serve in bowls with dolcelatte, parmesan and fresh herbs, if you like – rocket would also be nice too. Enjoy!

Soho Secret Tea Room - Cream tea stand

Soho’s Secret Tea Room

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”- The Portrait of a Lady

Well, Henry James, I couldn’t agree more. Afternoon tea  – or cream tea, or just tea and cake – is something I am positively obsessed with. I put it down to my Cornish roots; and the fact I grew up having ‘elevenses’ with my Welsh grandparents (and afternoonses).

Soho Secret Tea Room - Cream tea stand

I’m always up for trying out new places for Afternoon tea. A couple of weeks ago, after a very exciting (and somewhat drunken) bridal accessories appointment in Knightsbridge for my best friend, we all (bridesmaids, sisters and her lovely Mum), trundled off to Soho to try out Soho’s Secret Tea Room.

Soho Secret Tea Room menu cover

Like to logo but think the menu could have been a bit nicer!

I’m all for quirky, but there’s a line, which this place just about managed to stay on the right side of. Having read up on it afterwards, the Coach and Horses itself is apparently a well-loved boozer that does a cracking Sunday roast. Anyway, back to the point in hand. We didn’t spot the sign straight away outside the Coach and Horses, yet Google Maps’ blue dot insisted we were there. To enter, you go into the pub itself, walk behind the bar and up the stairs. All a bit strange.

It was the day before Hallowe’en, so the upstairs room, which is the Secret Tea Room, was decked out accordingly. As a lover of antiques and old things, I was very taken with the crockery selection. Not so with the toilet, which had a shower in – but swiftly overcame this, thanks to the copious amount of bubbles we’d consumed (it was only 3pm, FYI).

Tea cup Soho Secret Tea Room

Lovely cup and saucer

We all opted for the Cream Tea option. You can’t really go wrong with scones, clotted cream, jam and a pot of tea; we were momentarily worried that it would be whipped cream, but thankfully it was clotted as is required! My only complaint was, the scones were heated up before serving – something I normally love, but not when it’s still cold in the middle. I understand they have a lot of people coming in a day, but scones don’t keep that well in the fridge. Anyway, it was still lovely – especially liked the blackcurrant jam. And a special mention must go to the bubbles, which were divine and apparently from the actual Prosecco region in Italy. Win, win.

Teapot at Soho's Secret Tea Room

Just some of the lovely china – I absolutely LOVE vintage floral crockery!

All in all, a nice experience – but if you’re after a decadent / luxurious experience, then this isn’t for you. If you don’t mind quirky, random mismatched crockery and are into old buildings (not in the castle sense), then yep this will probably be for you. Just don’t expect high-end patisserie.

Fudgey Brownie with Berry Compote

Fudgey chocolate brownies with berry compote

Fudgey Brownie with Berry Compote

Okay, so does anybody not like brownies? I thought as much. I’m yet to meet someone who won’t eat one, and I’m not entirely sure I’d trust anyone who could shun such a delightful thing.

To me it’s quite self-explanatory why everyone loves brownies…chocolate, check; oozy, check; indulgent, check. What’s not to love? Did I mention I LOVE brownies. I can always squeeze one in at the end of a meal, even if I am really full. And, probably best of all, out of all the baked goods, brownies are so easy to make, it’s actually ridiculous.

My only stipulation is use good chocolate; my preference is Green and Black’s 70% dark (it’s Fairtrade and organic), you could opt for the 85% or Divine or a nice cooking chocolate too.

brownie without compote chocolate hearts

These little chocolate hearts are by Dr Oetker – can get them in most shops! I thought they looked cute.

I’ve made a lot of brownies, but a little while ago Good Food Magazine had a chocolate and raspberry brownie as its cover recipe. Ever since trying this bad boy, I’ve never looked back. It’s perfect: super fudgey, dense and gooey – and very chocolatey.

brownie batter stages

1. Melt the chocolate butter and sugar in the pan. 2. Beat in eggs, one at a time. 3. Fold in flour. 4. Pour batter into greased and lined pan!

It works well even without the raspberries in it, which is what I did here. This was simply as a matter of necessity cos raspberries aren’t in season anymore, but I did have some frozen mixed berries from a local farm that make a lovely compote.

Berry compote cooking

It only takes a few minutes to make the compote – sorry there’s no precise recipe from me. I love the tartness of berries so only add about 1-2 tbsp of sugar and a dash of water or fruity booze.

Personally, I love having a berry in some form with my brownie, it really cuts through the richness. Of course, cream or anything cream-based is very welcome, what you choose is up to you; my poison is typically cream, preferably double or clotted cream to be precise.

You can find the full recipe on the BBC Good Food website here – they’re not called Best-ever Brownies for nothing.