Eton Mess in 5 mins

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Ah, Eton Mess. The creamy and delicious summer dessert combination of strawberries, crushed meringues and cream.

Eton Mess is believed to have originated from Eton School, who served it during cricket matches. One theory of how the recipe came to be is that the ingredients were accidentally mixed together when they were dropped on the floor, hence it being called ‘Eton Mess’! Another theory is that a cheeky labrador dog sat on a picnic basket containing the ingredients during a picnic, crushing them together. Either way, the dessert really is wonderful with a sprig of mint on top and a little vanilla added to the cream.

Eton Mess can be made in 5 minutes if you buy the meringues from the shop.  Or if you want a challenge you could make them from scratch. I tried it for the first time when making this and it was really straightforward. I used an electric whisk but if you put some welly in to it then a regular whisk is fine.  Whatever meringues you use, the kids might enjoy helping crush them up.

Although Eton Mess is traditionally made with strawberries you could try other fruit too, such as raspberries, blackberries or mango. There is even a similar dessert made with bananas called Lancing Mess. Lemon zest, liquor, elderflower cordial or ginger would work well as alternative flavours in the cream.

Eton Mess (serves 4)
400ml double cream, whisked until thick
1 tsp vanilla essence

8 ready made meringues, crushed

20 strawberries, hulled and cut smallish
Sprigs of mint, for decoration

Add the vanilla essence to the cream and mix.  Mix in most of the strawberries and the crushed meringues.  Spoon equal amounts of the mixture in to four glasses (any are fine) or glass ramekins.  Serve garnished with the remaining strawberries and a sprig of mint.

 

Vaguely Viennese Whirls

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Vienesse Whirls are a British treat thought to be inspired by Austrian pastries.  The biscuit is normally piped in a pretty swirly shape (as seen on Mr Kipling packets) and then filled with buttercream and jam.  My piping went completely wrong, so I used a cookie cutter to make little shortbread biscuits with the mixture instead (hence renaming them Vaguely Viennese Whirls!)  This was much easier and the result was still absolutely delicious – sweet, creamy and crumbly.

If you have never made shortbread before it really is straightforward, and if you don’t have cookie cutters you can use the top of a glass to cut out the biscuit shape instead.  Try and eat the Vienesse Whirls when they are still slightly warm as not much beats that.  If there are any left then keep them at room temperature as the fridge ruins them!

Thank you to Mary Berry for the recipe.

Vaguely Vienesse Whirls (tricky to say how many this makes – around 16 small ones)

For the biscuits

250g unsalted butter, softened (I do this in 20 second spurts in the microwave)

50g icing sugar

250g plain flour

For the filling

100g unsalted butter, softened

200g icing sugar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract/essence

Raspberry or strawberry jam (1/2 a jar is more than enough – with pips in is best but not essential)

For the biscuit dough, preheat the oven to 190C/170C Fan/Gas Mark 5. Line 3 baking sheets with baking/greaseproof paper.  Measure the butter and icing sugar into a bowl and beat until pale and fluffy ( a couple of minutes should do). Gradually add the flour and beat a little more, until thoroughly mixed.  Put in the fridge for at least 15 minutes until the mixture is still soft but firm enough to roll out.  With a rolling pin start to roll out the dough until it is about as thick as a £1 coin.  It helps to press lightly and ensure both the surface and rolling pin are floured to prevent sticking.  You can use your hands to help press it out too if you like.  Use a cookie cutter or top of a glass/cup to cut the dough in to circle shapes (any size you like as long as they are all the same size – but not too big).  Carefully place the biscuits on the lined baking trays, ensuring about 2 inches between them so they don’t expand in to each other.

Bake the biscuits in the oven for 10—15 minutes, until a pale golden-brown, very carefully turning over halfway through.  Leave to cool a little on the baking sheets (it’s okay if they are still a little warm but not too much or the buttercream filling will melt).
For the filling, measure the butter into a bowl and add the icing sugar. Add the vanilla extract and beat with a fork or whisk until slightly lighter (about 1  minute). Spoon the buttercream on top of a cooled biscuit then spoon a little jam onto that, then sandwich it together with another biscuit.  Repeat this until all the biscuits have been used.  Eat alongside a cup of tea!

Mince pies of course!

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This was my first attempt at mince pies, and they turned out really well, in a chunky homemade sort of way! The recipe uses homemade pastry (which, if you have never made before, is surprisingly simple), shop-bought mincemeat and a sprinkle of orange zest. The pastry lids are finished off with a pinch of sugar, as suggested by my oldest son. He also suggested we use chopped pecan nuts as an alternative topping for a couple of them, which was a rather excellent idea.

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My oldest felt his sugar and pecan suggestions were enough input, so my youngest actually helped with the making. He rolled out some of the pastry, cut the lid shapes with cookie cutters and put them on top. Hence the interesting array of shapes! Don’t worry if you don’t have cookie cutters – use the rim of a glass or a bowl instead (make sure they are slightly bigger than the muffin tray holes to allow for covering the sides too).
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If you want more sophisticated mince pies then aim for thinner pastry, as since the pies are quite small it is easy to end up with more pastry than filling. Don’t worry if you have some leftover pastry, just make sure it is rolled out flat, put it in a freezer bag and freeze. You could use it to make something else another day (I made cornish pasties!)
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For the mince pies you will need a muffin tray, cookie cutters or glasses and a straw.

Mince pies (makes 12)

For the pastry

125g butter, melted (I do this in the microwave for 20 second bursts – takes about 1 min)
250g plain flour
2-3 tbsp water

For the filling

Approx 1/2 jar (220g) mincemeat
Zest of 1 orange
Optional – white/light brown sugar for sprinkling

To make the pastry, mix the butter and flour together with a spoon and your hands if necessary, add the water and squeeze in to a ball. It shouldn’t be too sticky. Flour a surface and lightly flour a rolling pin. Roll the pastry out (in two lots if short on space) until it is about 5mm (1/4 inch thick). Don’t press too hard with the rolling pin as it may stick, and use more flour on the surface and rolling pin to avoid it sticking if necessary.

Use a large cookie cutter (around 10cm) or the rim of a similar sized glass or bowl to cut circles out, and gently place them in the muffin tray holes, ensuring they cover the sides too. Add around 1 tsp mincemeat and a sprinkle of orange zest to each pie (avoid overfilling or it might overflow in the oven). Cut smaller circles/cookie cutter shapes for the pie lids, pierce a hole in the middle with a straw and place on top of each pie. Sprinkle each pie with a pinch of sugar if you like.

Bake the pies on gas mark 5/190 degrees for 15-30 minutes (this will depend on your oven), until lightly browned. Check every few mins after 10 mins to avoid burning. Once cooked leave to cool a little – they are nicest when still warm! Will last a couple of days in a sealed container.

David’s 1950’s Style Berry Sundae

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This tasty and fun 1950’s Berry Sundae recipe was passed on by David, my ‘pensioner cooking for one’ friend and fellow food enthusiast.  We often exchange recipes, and he has some great waste saving tips.  This is his version of a 1950’s favourite and it is an indulgent treat.  All of the ingredients here come from cans so if you stock up, then you can whip it up with no notice needed!

You could always make smaller portions if you wanted to.  And feel free to experiment with the ingredients, as detailed in the recipe below.  Some crushed meringues and a sprinkle of toasted flaked almonds on top would work well too.  You could even get the kids to choose what to put in and help make it.

Allow about 15 mins to make 3 Berry Sundaes, and use any glasses you like – wine glasses and tumblers work fine, as long as you can see the layers of deliciousness!   Check out the photo of my son below.  I think he liked it…

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David’s 1950’s Style Berry Sundae (serves 3)

8 ginger nut biscuits (or any biscuits you like – amaretti biscuits would be nice too)

Tin of mixed berries in syrup/juice (or fresh fruit is fine e.g. berries/chopped peach/chopped banana)

Vanilla ice cream (or any ice cream you like)

Tin of evaporated or condensed milk/custard

Jelly (either set or straight from the packet)

Roughly crush the biscuits in to small bits and divide them between the three glasses.  Divide the packet of jelly in to three portions, keeping the marked cube shapes, or put a heaped tbsp of set jelly in to each glass.  Drain the syrup/juice from the berries and put the berries to one side.  Pour 2 dessertspoons of syrup in to each glass over the biscuits and jelly.  Put 3 dessertspoons of ice cream in to each glass.  Then 2 dessert spoons of berries in to each and finally top with a tbsp of the evaporated or condensed milk.  Eat!

Lilla’s Raspberry Mousse

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Lilla’s Raspberry Mousse is a rather special recipe.  It was shared with me by David, who I have enjoyed delightful food chat with over email for several months now.  David’s late wife, Lilla (a wonderful cook), used to make this mousse as a treat for Sunday lunch, and he describes it as ‘a taste of heaven’.  It uses just three ingredients – jelly, evaporated milk and raspberries, but you could vary what flavour jelly and what fruit you use (blackcurrant jelly with prunes is lovely too apparently).  It tastes great, especially with the tart raspberries dolloped in to the light and sweet mixture.  You could make it ahead if need be.

On top of this, David and I have been swapping other recipes, and he has shared with me stories of growing up in post-war Britain during rationing, when his aunt would be creative with what they had and fry bread in butter before sprinkling it with sugar.  He has never forgotten the donuty taste of it. My kids love this too!

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When making the mousse, if you blitz the evaporated milk in a food processor for 7 minutes it will aerate and give it a light, consistent texture.  If not the jelly and milk will separate a bit when setting – still delicious but not faithful to the original recipe!  Thanks David for sharing Lilla’s recipe.

Lilla’s Raspberry Mousse (makes around 7 small mousses)

One packet raspberry jelly

Small tin evaporated milk

Small tub fresh raspberries or a tin of raspberries

Put tin of milk in fridge for 2 hours.  Put the broken up jelly in to a saucepan with 1/2 pint of hot water (or if using tinned raspberries, mix water with the drained syrup up to 1/2 pint and use this).   Dissolve the jelly on a low heat, stirring well, then put aside to cool.

Take the tin of evaporated milk from the fridge, put in a food processor and run for 7 minutes – it won’t get thicker but will get aerated to give the mousse a lightness.  Then pour the cooled jelly liquid in and blitz further until the colour runs deep.  Pour into either a large dish or individual dishes (recycled ramekins or small glasses are perfect), then just drop the raspberries in (we put six in each ramekin).  Put the mousses in the fridge to set for at least 2 hours (or overnight).

You can substitute the raspberries with either strawberries or oranges, with the appropriate jelly. Or blackcurrant jelly with prunes.

 

Fuss-free Easter eggs

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Yesterday I tried out this little Easter egg recipe from http://www.carnation.co.uk.  You just blitz (or grate) shop-bought Madeira cake, mix with Carnation tinned chocolate sauce, make the mixture in to balls, roll them in sprinkles and refrigerate for 30 mins (or overnight). Hello Easter eggs!

 

You could push lolly sticks in to the Easter eggs if you fancy, but they are perfectly fine without.  Don’t expect perfect balls – expect slightly clumsy looking homemade charm!   This is a nice recipe to make with kids, although mine were too comfortable on the sofa…

Happy Easter!

Fuss-free Easter eggs (makes approx 25 smallish eggs )

300g Carnation chocolate filling and topping

400g Madeira cake

Sprinkles

Break up the Madeira cake and tip into a food processor. Blend until you have fine crumbs, or grate the cake on a fine grater. Tip into a large bowl, then spoon in the Carnation Chocolate filling and topping gradually and mix with a spoon until combined.

Pour your decorating sprinkles in to a small bowl.  Roll the cake mixture into round balls and then roll in the sprinkles until evenly covered.

Press a lolly pop stick or skewer into each coated ball if you fancy.  Refrigerate the balls/lollies for 30 minutes or until they are firm to touch (overnight is fine).  Enjoy over Easter!

Cooking with kids – Prawn toasts

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I recently took the kids to a Chinese cafe to try out some Chinese food – the only thing they ate was rice and prawn toasts, which they LOVED.  We simplified an already straightforward sounding BBC recipe and tried making them at home: using a food processor you blitz prawns, cornflour, an egg white, garlic and spring onion, spread the mixture on bread, press on to sesame seeds then fry.  They are crunchy, delicious and authentic tasting!

My kids were ‘busy playing batpowder’ (whatever that means) so only helped a little – cutting bread in to (vague) triangle shapes and operating the food processor.

 

I strongly believe every second counts when ‘cooking with kids’ – somedays they might want to get really involved, other days they give just 10 seconds of their time and other days completely refuse.  But it is all experience and it is good for them to see the process!

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You could prepare the prawn paste in advance if you want to save time later, and store any leftovers in the fridge.  Allow around 25 minutes to make the prawn toasts, depending on how much the kids get involved (or not!)  The toasts are great with sweet chilli sauce, for dipping.  We ate them with strawberries, a bit of an odd combination but we like both so why not.

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Prawn toasts (serves 4 as a snack or part of a meal)

4 pieces of bread, crusts removed

1/2 cup of cooked prawns i.e. pink!

2 spring onions (white bit only)

1/2 clove garlic

1/2 white of an egg

Dessert spoon of cornflour

Sesame seeds

For frying – vegetable or sunflower oil

Put all the ingredients apart from the sesame seeds and oil in a food processor and blend until they are a paste.  Cut each piece of bread in to four triangles.  Spread the prawn mixture on to one side of each of the bread triangles and press down.  Fill a wide bowl or plate with sesame seeds and press each triangle in to it, so a layer of sesame seeds stick to the prawn paste.

Fill a saucepan with around 1/2 inch of sunflower or vegetable oil and once hot (but not smoking) plop in the breads for about 30 seconds on the plain side and around 1 minute on the prawn and sesame side until deep golden (this will vary a little so use your own judgement).  Use a slotted spoon to turn them over if you have one, otherwise a tablespoon will work (just make sure any excess oil drips off after they are cooked!)  Eat.

 

Marshmallow crispy squares

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These marshmallow crispy squares are a great kids treat, contain four ingredients and are really easy to make.  You mix melted marshmallows with rice crispies, vanilla essence and butter then put the mixture in the fridge to harden.  I found the recipe on http://www.allrecipes.co.uk when I was looking for very low effort school fair recipes!  The school fair organiser said anything topped with a chocolate button or sweet sells instantly, hence the smarties.

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Marshmallow crispy squares (makes around 12)

50g butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200g marshmallows
100g rice crispies (or similar)

Grease a smallish baking tray with butter or margarine, or line it with greaseproof paper.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the vanilla. Melt the marshmallows into the butter, stirring. Add the rice crispies when the marshmallows have melted and stir until they are coated. Quickly pour into the prepared tin and press down tightly and evenly. Top with chocolate buttons if you like!
Let set for 2 to 3 hours. Cut into squares.

Veggie mince cups

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I was recently given a brilliant ‘mince cup’ recipe by a lady called Claire.  She said that she makes a dry veggie mince, lines muffin tray holes with circles cut out of tortilla wraps, fills them with the mince, tops with cheese, and cooks them briefly in the oven. Out come crispy mince cups!  I tried these with my family and WE ALL LOVED THEM.  The kids were even talking about them the next day.

We ate the mince cups hot with some peas for dinner, then cold as an after school snack. My youngest son helped fill the tortilla circles with the mince and sprinkled over the cheese. We used half of the mixture to make the mince cups, then the next evening added tinned chopped tomatoes to the remaining mixture to eat with pasta. That’s two different meals!

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Claire says the mince cups are lovely with olives on top. I think adding some fresh chopped chilli and then spooning some sour cream on when cooked would be tasty too. I think you could play around with the ingredients a lot as long as any filling is not too wet! Allow about 25 mins preparation and 12 minutes baking.

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Veggie mince cups (makes 16 small cups using half the mixture, then just add chopped tinned tomatoes to the remaining half to make spaghetti bolognaise the next day!)

2 large tortilla wraps

200g quorn mince

1 small carrot, chopped small

4 mushrooms, chopped small

1/2 onion, chopped small

1/2 red pepper, chopped small

Shake dried mixed herbs

1 large clove garlic, crushed

1 vegetable stock cube

Large handful grated cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees/gas mark 6.

First find a cup/glass that is a bit bigger than the holes in your muffin tray, then use the cup and a knife to cut out circles and put them in to the muffin holes. Then heat some oil in a pan and add the quorn mince, stirring regularly for about 5 minutes. Add the vegetables, dried herbs, garlic and crumble in the stock cube. Gently cook for another 10 mins or so, stirring regularly, and adding a little more oil if necessary. Don’t let the mixture get too wet.

Spoon half the mixture (or more if needed!) in to the muffin tray lined with tortillas, until full, then top with the grated cheese. Cook in the oven for around 12 mins, until the cups are slightly crispy and the cheese has melted. Eat with hands!

Ginger creams with pistachio brittle

This fancy ginger cream with pistachio brittle dessert is thankfully much easier to make than it sounds.  The result is a delicious and creamy sort of creme brûlée with subtle ginger flavour.  The pistachio brittle adds crunch and class.   You can make the ginger creams up to four days in advance and the pistachio brittle will keep for weeks.   The whole thing looks well impressive!

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Top tip – don’t be overwhelmed by the state of your saucepan after making the brittle!  I panicked but then found out you just soak the pan in very warm water, then the stickiness dissolves and you can wash it.   Also don’t worry if you use a mismatch of containers.  I used a combination of recycled ramekins and silicone muffin cases.

The recipe is from a great new cookbook called ‘Make It Easy’ by Jane Lovett (full review coming soon)!  Allow about 50 mins preparation time plus overnight setting in the fridge.  Oh, and I reckon the pistachio brittle would work great with ice cream too.

Ginger creams with pistachio brittle (makes 8)

6 tbsp ginger preserve (available at supermarkets)

6 egg yolks

450ml double cream

175g granulated sugar

3 tbsp water

100g pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees/gas mark 4.  Put 8 ramekins (or any small container which can go in the oven) in to a deep roasting tin.  Boil a kettle of water.

Whisk the ginger preserve and egg yolks together in a mixing bowl until pale (I am lazy so did this for 2 mins max).  Bring the cream to just below boiling point and pour over the egg mixture, whisking all the time.  Transfer to a jug and pour in to the dishes.  Put the dishes in to the roasting tin then carefully pour enough hot water from the boiled kettle in to the tin, to come about halfway up the sides of the dishes.  Cook for 20-25 mins (or longer if necessary) until just set with a slight wobble in the middle (they will harden more after cooking).  Remove the dishes from the water, cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.

While the creams are cooking make the brittle.  Lightly oil a baking sheet or greaseproof paper.  Put the sugar and water in to a saucepan (keep kids away!) and cook over a low heat, giving the odd gentle stir, until the sugar has dissolved.  Turn up the heat and boil fast until the sugar caramelises in to a deep golden colour (this may take several minutes).  Quickly add the pistachios, stir and tip out immediately on to the baking sheet or greaseproof paper, spreading the mixture thinly.  Leave to cool.

Serve the creams straight from the fridge with the snapped brittle on top.