SIMNEL CAKE WITH CRYSTALLIZED SPRING FLOWERS

 

 

Traditional Simnel cake with crystallized flowers

 

This is a (fairly) traditional Simnel cake with the addition of pretty crystallized flowers. These cakes were traditionally made by girls working in service and they took them home to their mother’s on Mothers day. It was probably the one day in the year they could go and see their family so it must have been very special. The cakes were topped with 11 marzipan balls to represent the true disciples and I have added the pretty frosted flowers. I’ve managed to ‘convert’ many ‘marzipan haters’ to homemade marzipan so give it a go, it has a much more nutty taste without the chemical aftertaste of the marzipan flavourings used in bought varieties.  If you want to use it for an Easter Cake instead of a Simnel Cake just leave off the marzipan balls and decorate with the crystallised flowers, fresh flowers or little eggs and chicks and finish it off with a  ribbon.

NB re-reference to washing dried fruit -it used to be what you had to do years ago (and perhaps some ‘proper’ bakers still do). I remember seeing all the dirt & sludge that came off the fruit nowadays the fruit is of better quality….and then there were the trays of the fruit drying before it could be used (so it didn’t all sink to the bottom). The soaking did plump up the fruit, I suppose that the farthest I would go down this line, nowadays is to soak the fruit in brandy or whisky.  She would also cut up each sultana with scissors so that the fruit was also of equal size. Apologies for my shortcomings mum x

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SPECIAL MINCE PIES WITH SWEET ORANGE PASTRY & HOMEMADE MINCE MEAT

 

Homemade Fruity Mincemeat

This recipe for my special mince pies with orange pastry is my most requested recipe ever so I’m happy to share it again with you all! They are made with homemade mincemeat in a rich crumbly, orange flavoured pastry. The mincemeat is delicious, not oversweet and juicy with apples & nuts, it is nothing like many bought varieties which for me are too sweet & ‘pasty’ if you see what I mean. It’s very easy to make. It’s just an assembly job really, not really a recipe,  so the most time-consuming thing is buying the ingredients.

If I can’t persuade you to make your own then buy a good quality one & add some chopped apple & nuts plus dash more brandy and it will improve it no end.! 

Here is the  mincemeat recipe from a previous post:

LUSCIOUS FRUITY MINCEMEAT

 

Mince pies with orange pastry

EXTRA SPECIAL MINCE PIES WITH ORANGE PASTRY

To make the mince pies I’m using a  special Sweet Orange Pastry which is lovely and crumbly & rich with the addition of egg yolk and zest of orange.  For the best pastry, you need to keep everything cool and don’t over-process or over mix. Cold hands help, mine are always on the cold side so that’s an advantage. I’m sure that I go with the ‘I can’t make pastry’ idea like everything else it is practice (and a good recipe), if you don’t have time or don’t enjoy making it then that’s different -ready-made ones are fine and readily available. (I don’t think you can  get an orange flavoured one though!)

I love the smell of mince pies baking in the oven not just because I know they will be delicious to eat but it calls to mind all the happy memories of my childhood Christmas and memories that we have made of family Christmases over the years. I think if I said I was going  ‘to do something different this year’ there would be ructions!

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SALMON, ASPARAGUS & DILL TARTLETS

 

 

Salmon, Asparagus & Dill Tartlet

My fresh Salmon, Asparagus tartlets use my favourite fresh herb has to be dill and my vegetable garden is full of it and I’m always looking for ways to use it (you can search for Marinated Courgette with Dill -another favourite recipe). Fresh herbs make such a fab difference to your cooking and I try to fresh herbs when they are in season. Dried herbs just don’t taste like the real thing and I’d much rather cook something different & seasonal. I know that you can get basil in a supermarket in December but it just isn’t the same. All is not lost however if you can’t do this, some fresh herbs freeze very well including dill (hoorah), parsley and coriander. Just chop them up and put in a plastic bag ( a zip lock bag is good as you are going to dip in and out of it). Pat it out so the herbs are just in a thin layer and freeze. After that, a  quick scrunch means that they aren’t frozen in a block and easy to use as you want.

I digress, these Salmon and Asparagus & Dill tartlets are delicious and look so pretty. They do take a bit of effort but you can’t always be a slouch and if you want to impress then give these a go. You can use all different sorts of fillings as long as it is previously cooked and bind it with the ‘basic tart mix’ and away you go. The cases can be made well ahead and frozen. If I have some leftover pastry I often use it for a tart or two (it’s surprising how little pastry they take), freeze it and then I can use them when I want. You can also do the same with sweet pastry (with fillings such as strawberries, raspberries or my favourite lemon tart). Lable them carefully, I have to admit that whilst testing this recipe I mixed them up and my son got a very strange tasting tart! It was a lucky dip 3 were with sweet pastry and three with ordinary pastry. Hmmm…

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SIMPLE PINK & CREAMY RHUBARB FOOL

 

 

This simple pink & creamy rhubarb fool is made with the first picking of the most tender and pink rhubarb. These beautiful stems are a fleeting delight and are just starting to appear around now in my vegetable garden. Later in the season the stems will be tougher & not so pinky (although still delicious to eat) so you only have a short window of opportunity to pick it. Remember to pull the stems away from the plant (gently) rather than cutting them off. Take care also when cooking it as it needs a gentle touch or you will end up with a mush and you will lose the lovely pink colour- you have been warned. I have used Greek yoghurt for a  lighter version of the pudding but you can use whipped double cream if you prefer.

Serve with some little homemade shortbread biscuits.  Search for my recipe for Lavender shortbread thins and instead of the lavender substitute a small amount of finely ground, edible rose petals to make the prettiest biscuits to serve with this pretty dessert -is that pretty enough for you?

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LIGHTLY SPICED MOROCCAN LENTIL PIE

Easy meet free dish
Moroccan Filo Pie

 

This lightly spiced Moroccan pie but it can easily be made spicier by adding something like mango chutney or a hotter sauce. Pulses can be bland & usually need more additional flavourings than you think. It’s a good dish to make for those that don’t like meat and you can freeze it ahead of time. Handling the filo can be tricky but don’t worry if it all goes pear-shaped you can just use it scrunched up as long as you try to brush the butter between the layers.

I like to serve it as part of a vaguely inspired ‘Moroccan’ meal with grated carrot & cumin salad, cooked beetroot in yoghurt, flatbreads (sweet with honey & fennel seeds or savoury with seas salt & rosemary) etc. Lovely, easily  prepared food to share.

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CEDAR MANOR A LUXURY HOTEL WINDERMERE

CEDAR MANOR A LUXURY HOTEL WINDERMERE

Cedar Manor Hotel
Cedar Manor Hotel

Like lots of good things in life I stumbled across this small, luxury hotel by chance.

Set in the heart of the lakes Cedar Manor Hotel is, appropriately, a most romantic place to rest your head. We loved the friendly, intimate feel of the hotel and the very warm welcome we were given by owners Jonathan and Caroline Kaye. Caroline enthusiastically manages to effortlessly  combine the hotel management with running marathons (in her ‘spare’ time) raising money for the charity Lupus UK. Jonathon, a charming host (ex Raffles night club manager in Chelsea) appears to have all the time in the world to chat about his love of walking, photography and his adopted Lakeland whilst not appearing to be frazzled by the work involved running a hotel

The food was my sort of food, unpretentious, not at all ‘cheffy’ and cooked with care. I loved some of the imaginative combinations-a delicate cock a leekie terrine with celeriac & a prune puree followed by a delicious cod with clams & chorizo served with saffron rice or honey & Masala glazed pork with a pancetta rosti. For desert we had lemon & tamarind crème brulee with greengage compote and vanilla shortbread and a rather wonderful beer ice cream. Now, chef, I have been trying to recreate this myself with some success but not as nice as yours! Other homemade ice creams included Caraway, rhubarb or pink peppercorn a wakeup call for your taste buds. We loved the poached pear with orange polenta cake with juniper & honey mascarpone. It goes without saying that everything was homemade from the breads served with dinner to the jams and marmalades served with breakfast. We were looked after by the lovely Spanish waitress Patricia who made us laugh and impressed us with her charming English.

I would visit the hotel again just for the food and beautiful rooms alone but what makes it even more special is the  lovely interior design to die for.  This was designed by local Fidget Design of Windermere and carefully overseen by Caroline. The lounges are as cosily welcoming as a hug especially on a cold and grey Lake District day. They are so comfortable you need to take care not to drop off.

One of the lounge areas
One of the lounge areas
Book wall paper in the snug
Book wall paper in the snug

 

Look in the snug to find the unique ‘book’ wallpaper  with witty Lakeland references such as ‘The lady in the lake by Lily Pad’ and ‘How to catch a char by A Fisher’ and (using the shepherds traditional way of counting sheep) –‘Yan, Tan, Tethera by Dick Methera ..1, 2, 3 and 4. All the rooms are carefully designed and you can pick out your favourite bed room from the photos on the website.

If you really want to treat yourself or celebrate a (very) special occasion then the award winning ‘Coach House is for you-an oasis of loveliness. This is the ultimate in luxury.  Edgy design, beautiful rich fabrics and stand out contemporary pieces such as lights and mirrors. There is a separate dining room and lounge area as well as the ensuite ground floor bedroom. You can adjust the surround sound within the suite including in the bathroom. THE bathroom has to be seen, gently changing coloured lights, spa roll top bath backed with a glass feature wall and…TV. I know………. how good is that, I’ve never seen anything like it before- ‘Aqua vision’ of course!

The fabulous bathroom in the Coach House suite!
The fabulous bathroom in the Coach House suite!

I was not surprised to see the fistful of awards for this beautiful hotel including Trip Advisors Travellers choice for 2015 and Cumbrian Tourism award 2014.

Go there you will love it, I’m sure.

Have a look at the website www.cedarmanor.co.uk

LEARNING TO COOK!

My girls ready for the off!
My girls ready for the off!

LEARNING TO COOK, SKILLS FOR LIFE AND LOTS OF FUN!

Running a 6 week course for 4 young students has been very rewarding for me. We all had fun and they produced lots of really GOOD food which they and their families really enjoyed. The cooking classes were part of the ‘learning a new skill’ section required as part of their Duke of Edinburgh challenge.

I wanted to teach them a range of skills and recipes that would give them the basics and the confidence to keep on cooking and develop their own style. Cooking gives me lots of pleasure and seeing others enjoying my food even more pleasure and I wanted to pass this on. Cooking is a great life skill and especially so for young people heading out into the big, wide world away from mum’s kitchen.

Busy in the kitchen-It's all about being organised!
Busy in the kitchen-It’s all about being organised!

So we made bread, fresh pasta, short crust pastry, cakes, practised safe knife skills, muffins, turnovers, icing skills, making sauces and using chocolate….I’m exhausted just thinking about it. Incidental skills such as reading a recipe, getting organised to cook, washing up (!) and importantly what to do when things don’t go to plan were learnt along the way.

Lucy & Amelia taking time off between chats to make fresh pasta!
Lucy & Amelia taking time off between chats to make fresh pasta!

Of course we had a few dramas; an uncooked tart was dropped-and we scooped it back in and added more cheese on top, scales weren’t put back to zero between ingredients, recipes weren’t read properly, ingredients weren’t added, some pasta got really overworked and paper cases over or under filled. At times some of the girls had to be hurried along or told to slow down. All to be expected in a busy kitchen!

But  they turned their skills into bacon & egg tarts, savoury mince into shepherd’s pie and mince & dumplings, made American style blueberry, lemon muffins and banoffee muffins,  tomato & basil pasta sauce, macaroni cheese with sweet corn, terrific homemade bread in plaits, cottage loafs and baps, beautiful iced cupcakes, jam and chocolate puff pastries….and more

The final week I set them a GBBO type challenge-6 small cakes, flavoured, filled, iced and decorated by hand with flair and imagination and presented in 2 hours. Some forward planning was required and ideas discussed in advance.

 

Amelia looking chuffed
Amelia

They made some impressive cakes: Amelia’s were red velvet with a hidden filling and decorated with raspberries.

Lucy
Lucy

Lucy’s were vanilla sponge and icing, decorated with handmade red roses.

Emma
Emma

Emma’s frosty iced cakes were decorated with delicate snowflakes.

Ashton
Ashton

Ashton made pretty cakes to look like Christmas trees complete with baubles .

They should be very proud of themselves and I was very proud of them and now they can cook!

Ashton's cakes
Ashton’s cakes
Emma's cakes
Emma’s cakes
Lucy's cakes
Lucy’s cakes
Amelia's cakes
Amelia’s cakes

MR VIKKI IS HOT HOT IN CUMBRIA!

Mr Vikkis' Chutneys & sauces
Some of my favourite Mr Vikki chutneys and sauces

 

MR VIKKIS

Stepping into the Mr Vikki’s shop at High Heskett, Carlisle….on a rainy, cold Lake District day was like stepping into another, much, warmer world. Every product here is packed full of spices and flavour and to varying degrees the ….heat of chillies.

These Indian fusion pickles and chilli products blend only fresh natural ingredients and freshly milled spices. They range from the spicy and fragrant Mango chutney and Lime pickle, to the hotter Coriander sauce, the very hot Fiery Lemon Harissa to the inexplicably hot…. Queen Naga.

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