Wintry blackberry pavlova

IMG_2833I think of pavlova as a summery thing, with cream and raspberries or strawberries. But after cold turkey this wintry pavlova provides a refreshing and clear contrast to the richness of traditional Christmas fayre of Christmas pud, mincemeat and Christmas cake. My neighbour, Fran, lent me a Scottish book from which I took this recipe which will be attributed when I discover what the book was.

4 egg whites 8 oz caster sugar 1 tsp ginger 1 tsp vinegar 1 tsp corn flour A pinch of cream of tartar 1) Whisk eggs whites until stiff 2) Add sugar slowly until well combined 3) Add the vinegar 4) Sieve the cornflour over the meringue and combine Spread the mixture and bake at 180C for 5 minutes then 130C for 1 1/4 hours. Remove and cool. Then top with whipped organic double cream and blackberries with a few raspberries, blueberries and mint for aesthetic value.


The proof of the Christmas Pudding


I was very pleased with my Christmas pudding this year. Not being able to find my favourite Scots recipe with its rugged whisky and apple character, I ended up concocting this one with a subtle feel of cranberry and orange. I was grateful for the help of May Smart who advised to ensure that it was nut-free and the alcohol content was sufficient for the pudding to keep and mature for six weeks but, at the same time, not too alcoholic for children.  I have based my creation based on various Irish recipes I found on the internet.  Grand Marnier or Cointreau would be good substitutes for the rum, if the alcohol content is similar.

5 oz sultanas
1 oz natural colour glacé cherries, halved
8 oz raisins
7 oz currants
3 oz good quality mixed peel
Grated zest half organic orange
100 ml dark rum
50ml sieved fresh organic orange juice
225g (6oz) cold grated butter
225g (8oz) fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs
225g (6oz) dark or light muscovado sugar
75g (3oz) plain unbleached white flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1.25ml (¼ level tsp) salt
3 large eggs
100ml (4fl oz) milk

1) Mix the alcohol and the fruit and leave for 12 hours.

2) Combine the remaining ingredients.

3) Steam for 3 hours and on Christmas day a further 3 hours.  Serve with whipped or pouring organic double cream.


Riz au lait (French rice pudding)

You will find with English cooking that there is almost always a French equivalent, and it’s almost always better.

And so it was with rice pudding, which did surprise me, despite what I’ve just written. I really thought the French were too sophisticated for rice pudding! Anyhow, I’ve no picture of mine and that’s well and good – despite its wonders rice pudding is not the most photogenic of dishes and, as with curry or casserole, I struggle to present it in a way which reveals its true splendour. Discrete tiny objects, like sushi or strawberries seem to photograph the best when it comes to food, in my opinion.

I used this recipe by Raymond le Blanc from his website. I reduced the milk to 1500 ml and added 25 ml double cream as I was using semi-skimmed not full fat. It also seemed a little sweet but maybe that’s right. You can play around with these. I didn’t do the caramelising either. You can make the first stage earlier in the day and finish the other stage while you eat dinner. The dish can be served on its own (when you might want to caramelise) or with poached pear or peaches in vanilla. I’ve reproduced the original below.


1700ml Full fat milk
100g Caster sugar
2 tbsp Best Vanilla extract
150g Short grain/pudding rice, washed in cold water and drained
To finish
2 tbsp Icing sugar (for dusting)
50g Caster sugar to caramelise the top (optional)


Prepare ahead
Make the rice pudding an hour or two in advance.

For the initial cooking

Put the milk, sugar, vanilla and rice into a large saucepan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. During the last 5 minutes, stir slowly and continuously to prevent the rice from sticking. At this stage it will be three-quarters cooked.

To finish cooking in the oven

While the rice is simmering, preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas 2. Pour the rice into the baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Leave to stand in a warm place for 1–2 hours. Sprinkle with icing sugar to serve. Or to caramelise and serve cold Allow the baked pudding to cool completely. Preheat the grill to high and sprinkle the caster sugar evenly over the surface of the pudding, using a sieve. Place under the grill for 2–3 minutes to caramelise, then leave to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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Nigella’s crepes

I’ve not been completely happy with either the Nigel Slater recipe for pancakes nor Delia’s. So today I tried Nigella’s and was pleased.

I substituted some of the milk for soda water (or use sparkling mineral water), added a few drops vanilla extract, pinch of salt and 1 tbs icing sugar. I reduced the butter a little.

IMG_2224150g plain flour

1 large egg

Few drops vanilla essence

1 tbs icing sugar

Pinch salt

250 ml milk

75 ml sparkling water.

25g melted butter plus more for frying

Sieve the flour, make a well and add the egg and a little of the milk. Incorporate the vanilla essence, salt and icing sugar.  Gradually beat in the milk and then the water.

Cook the pancakes on a high heat turning once. Remember to get the pan really hot, drop the mixture from above into the middle and swirl around quickly.  Delia’s advice on the right technique remains helpful in this respect.

Serve with golden syrup and cream, lemon and sugar, jam or for the French ‘au naturel’ way – simply sprinkled with granulated sugar.

Fat free lemon drizzle cake

So the baking continues and my husband said this was the best lemon cake he’d ever had!


I used the recipe on the packet of the Doves Farm Organic wholemeal self-raising flour which I used in the cake.  However, I have altered it slightly – I used a loaf tin, not two sandwich tins, I cut out the zest as my son seems to react to it (he has food allergies) and I did not use lemon marmalade but instead a drizzle.

So this cake had wholemeal flour and no butter and it tasted great! It was important to whisk the egg whites well, though, and fold in carefully.  I created a lemon drizzle by mixing lemon juice with caster sugar and pricked the cake all over with a fork, poured this over and left the cake in the tin until cold. Delicious!


3 eggs

4 oz caster sugar

4 oz wholemeal SR flour

2 lemons, juice only


75g caster sugar

1 lemon, juice only


1) Separate the eggs and beat the egg yolks together with the sugar until thick and creamy. Beat in the flour.

2) In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff, then fold them into the yolk mixture with a metal spoon. Do this carefully, you don’t want to lose much air!

3) Transfer to a loaf tin and bake for 30 minutes at 180 (turning to 160 if starts to brown).

4) While the cake is warm, prick all over with a fork. Then pour over the drizzle and leave in the tin until cold.

Treacle Pudding

My husband’s friends were coming over and so I made this baked treacle sponge pudding to follow our steak and ale pie. I’ve replaced the one I did this time last year with this one which I adapted from the BBC recipe.  I will let you in to a secret, it tastes fantastic the next day so make ahead! Otherwise you might still taste the lemon.

Baked Treacle Pudding (serves 6)

150g golden syrup

50g black treacle or blackstrap molasses

50g clear honey

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 tsp cinnamon

zest 1 lemon plus juice half a lemon

200g softened butter, plus extra to grease

100g caster or light muscovado sugar

50g dark muscovado sugar

3 eggs, beaten

200g plain wholemeal flour

2 tsp baking powder

5 tbs wholemeal breadcrumbs

5 tbs milk


  1. Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Mix the syrup, black treacle and honey, lemon zest, juice and breadcrumbs and spread over the base of a 1.5 litre baking dish.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, one by one. Stir in the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon and milk and dollop over the syrup. Bake for 35-40 mins until golden and risen, and a skewer poked into the sponge comes out clean-ish. Serve with custard or cream.

Gooseberry Puree

We have a lone gooseberry bush in the garden and the gooseberries are all ready at once. If you are like me, you might not have time to use them there and then.

So you can freeze them and use later.

Or you can make them into a puree and then freeze half of that too.

Weigh the gooseberries and divide by 7 to get the right amount of sugar. e.g. For 500g gooseberries, use 70g sugar.

Gooseberries, topped and tailed
Caster sugar (1/7th of the weight of the gooseberries)

Put the gooseberries in a pan with a tablespoon of water and sugar (if using defrosted gooseberries, don’t add any water). Cook over a medium-low heat, stirring to help the sugar dissolve, until the gooseberries are soft and just a few of them have burst. This should take only  minutes. Puree with a handblender, cool and then use or freeze.

So, what to do with the puree? You can swirl into greek yoghurt, use as a sauce for barbecued mackerel or make Hugh Fernley Whittingstall’s Gooseberry and Ginger Biscuit Layer.

Fruit kebabs

This is a Do Now Dessert as it only takes a few minutes to prepare and in summer is great to barbecue!

8 strawberries

4 slices tinned pineapple

1 tbs sugar

Vanilla ice cream to serve

You will need 2 skewers.

Serves 4 (half a kebab each)

1) Cut the tops of the strawberries and cut each pineapple slice into 6 pieces.

2) Thread onto 2 skewers.

3) Sprinkle 1/2 tbs of sugar over each kebab.

4) Grill for 10 minutes, turning once.

5) Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Healthy Trifle

A great way to get the kids to eat more fruit.

Night before (10 minutes)

8 digestive biscuits, crushed

25g butter or margarine

1) Crush the digestive biscuits by placing in a sealed plastic bag and banging with a rolling pin until they are crumbs or use a food processor.

2) Melt the butter in a saucepan at a low heat.

3) Combine the biscuit crumbs and melted butter and place in ceramic or glass container to form a base. Chill overnight or for half an hour in the freezer.

The Day (10 minutes)

200 ml whipping cream

250g grapes, mixture of green and black

1 apple & 1 banana

1) Chop the fruit and place on the biscuit base conserving some halved grapes of different colours

2) Whip the cream with a hand or electric whisk and spoon over the fruit.

3) Decorate with the conserved grapes.

Cook’s Tip: The quantities can be varied as to whether you want more base, more fruit or more cream. You use different fruits such as strawberries and raspberries. You could also try replacing the cream with low fat Greek yoghurt.