Last weekend was Jon’s birthday*, and as everyone knows that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and I needed some blog content, I thought I’d make him a TREAT. Thoughtful no?

I’ve never made millionaire’s shortbread before, and I only had one afternoon to do it in, but it’s one of his favourites and so I thought I’d give it a bash. TOP TIP: you really need more than one afternoon if you want to make proper millionaire’s shortbread where the caramel doesn’t ooze out of the sides as soon as you try to cut it.

Still, everyone knows it’s the thought that counts, and I kept some back to give them longer in the fridge so they’d look good in photos, so really it was an incredibly thoughtful gift and Jon should be very impressed with me.

Easy millionaire's shortbread recipe

I’m an absolute catch

Making millionaire’s shortbread isn’t actually that difficult, as long as you pay attention to the caramel, it’s just that it takes ages, because of the layers. Both the caramel and the chocolate took longer than I expected to go properly hard, so even though the caramel was set enough after a couple of hours to take the chocolate on top, the whole lot still wasn’t hard enough to slice five hours after I started. I would suggest making your millionaire’s shortbread the day before you want it, so that it can chill in the fridge overnight.

Otherwise, it’s a piece of cake, quite literally, so let’s get on with it.

Millionaire’s shortbread ingredients

To make this super tasty batch of millionaire’s shortbread you will need:

For the shortbread base:

  • 100g caster sugar
  • 200g soft salted butter
  • 275g flour (I used a mix of plain and self raising because I didn’t have enough of either.)

For the caramel:

  • One tin of condensed milk – they’re are about 400g I think?
  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 80g golden syrup

For the top:

  • 250g milk chocolate. I recommend going with something decent like Dairy Milk rather than a cheap cooking chocolate as you will notice the difference.

That’s it! it’s not really that many ingredients. I needed to buy extra butter but otherwise I had everything in the cupboards. (Yes, I had 250g of Dairy Milk lying around. Don’t judge me.)

How to make millionaire's shortbread

How to make millionaire’s shortbread

First step – shortbread. Preheat the oven to 180 and line a dish with baking paper. I think mine was a 10 x 7 inch tin, but you could use a square one if you prefer.

Beat the butter and sugar together with an electric whisk until light and fluffy, and then whisk in the flour. You’ll get a sort of breadcrumb texture initially, which you could easily smoosh into a dough, but actually it’s easier to keep it as breadcrumbs for now. Tip the shortbread mixture into the lined tin, give it a shake to distribute it evenly, and then press it down into place.

Bake for 20 minutes until it’s started to turn golden brown. Take it out of the oven and leave to cool.

Meanwhile, time to make the caramel. This is the only bit that requires an element of concentration so if you’re just getting to a good bit in the Archers omnibus you might want to press pause.

Put the condensed milk, butter, sugar and golden syrup into a saucepan, (a thick base is best), and very gently heat to start with until the sugar has dissolved and the butter is melted. I stirred mine continuously with a metal whisk to stop it sticking. Would recommend.

Once the mixture is smooth, turn up the heat and bring to the boil for about five minutes until it gets thicker and turns more of a fudgey colour. Keep up the stirring as you go. Once you’re happy that your caramel is the same colour as in my photos and a nice thick pouring consistency, pour it on top of the shortbread and stick it in the fridge.

I’d recommend a good couple of hours now to let the caramel start to set before melting the chocolate, adding this as your final layer and returning your millionaire’s shortbread to the fridge. You can melt your chocolate in a bain marie or in the microwave if you check it VERY often and stir frequently as chocolate can turn all of a sudden in a microwave.

Once the chocolate is completely hard, which will probably be at least another two hours, you can cut your millionaire’s shortbread into chunks and use it to seduce your one true love.

Just call me cupid.

easy millionare's shortbread

*I just casually slipped Jon in there, (that’s what she said), in a bid to not draw too much attention to the fact that he is my new LIFE PARTNER, because I’m shy etc, so if you did a double take and wasn’t sure what was going on for a second then that was why. I expect I will mention him again so make a note.

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brunch club

It was sad timing for me that just when I discovered my true life calling – brunch – the world was overtaken by a deadly pandemic and all of the cafes and restaurants shut down. No sooner had I recreated the banana bread at the Kitchen at Jordan’s Courtyard* than the world went mad and even getting hold of a bag of flour became like completing a room in the Aztec Zone on the Crystal Maze.

Just my luck, as Adrian Mole would say.

There’s something about brunch, as a concept, that means it’s just not the same when you make it at home. At home it becomes more of a ‘blimey it’s 11am and I still haven’t had breakfast’ kind of a meal. It’s not decadent like it is when you go out for brunch, it’s more a symptom of an inefficient morning.

I blame a lack of brunch, in part at least, for my emotional decline during lockdown, resulting in a rather embarrassing panic attack in the bin liner aisle of Sainsbury’s last week and a worrying obsession with ticks. I’m losing my grip, and so to reconnect with reality, with my One True Purpose, I decided to go all out today on a homemade brunch.

I decided to make Boston Tea Party sweetcorn fritters. View Post

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easy apple cake recipe

Up your pandemic baking game with this easy apple cake recipe

What is it about a global pandemic that means everyone rushes to make banana bread? I keep seeing memes about it on social media and I’m just as guilty of it, although in my defence I make a lot of banana bread virus or no virus, just because I buy bananas with good intentions but have never quite learned the habit of choosing fruit over Wotsits.

Overripe bananas are my nemesis.

I posted my never fail banana bread recipe only a few months ago in fact, before we were all confined to barracks. Good timing probably for all the frantic banana bread recipe Googling.

I thought I’d push myself outside of my pandemic comfort zone this weekend though, and have a go instead at an apple cake. I know right? SHOCK HORROR, talk about living life on the edge, it doesn’t get much more daring than this does it? This apple cake recipe comes from a book called Botanical Baking, which is full of beautiful recipes using edible flowers. It’s very Millenial Instagram user.

I’m confined to the house at the moment – halfway through 14 days of self-isolation – so I can’t exactly go foraging for edible flowers, but we do have a small apple tree in our garden, which grew from a pip that Belle planted when she was about two years old, so I thought I’d try my hand at the apple blossom cake.

apple blossom cake recipe

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It’s safe to say that food is a MASSIVE part of my life and I’m normally thinking about my next meal, even when I’m in the middle of eating the current one. I love browsing through cookery books too and I often pick them up cheaply at charity shops, (always fun for the 1980s food photography), or at discount from places like The Works.

Whenever I travel anywhere, one of the things I love to do is try local foods, especially street food or dishes that are specific to a particular location, so in this post I’ve pulled together a few ideas for street foods to try on your next mini-break. The first couple are things I’ve tried already, to ease me in, but the rest are most definitely on the wish list.

Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon

When I was visiting Lisbon a couple of years ago for my solo birthday treat I took a tram across the city to try one of what was alleged to be the best Pastéis de Nata in Portgual. They did not disappoint. In fact I had three – you can’t go all that way and just have one now can you? Pastéis de Nata are basically custard tarts, but fancier.

portuguese custard tarts View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Darégal

Do you remember last week how I expounded on the virtues of frozen herbs and showed you how to cook a cherry and thyme clafoutis?

(I KNOW! Cherry and THYME! Herbs in a dessert. I’m such a renegade. I should probably write a groundbreaking recipe book right now.)

Gluten free cherry clafoutis with thyme

It was because I’d just been to that Darégal cooking workshop and was all of a flutter about how frozen herbs were going to change my life. I’d basically decided, watching the Darégal chef make those amazing mussels in coconut milk, that from now on I was going to be the ultimate domestic goddess, conjuring up flavourful home cooked meals at least twice a day. It was only because I hadn’t had frozen herbs in my life until that point that I cooked so many chicken dippers. But now… now my freezer was full of chopped garlic and coriander and ginger and the world was my oyster.

CHANGE WAS COMING.

Okay, so I have cooked some chicken dippers since then, but Belle honestly does love them. She’s like a toddler really in many ways – give her a plate of chicken dippers, some ketchup and the TV remote and she’s happy.

I don’t think that you need to necessarily choose though between being a culinary herb wizard and eating chicken dippers. I’m a complex woman after all, I have LAYERS. Some days I’m a chicken dippers kind of a gal, other days I’m cooking myself a prawn and coconut curry for lunch just because I can.

And very nice it was too.

easy prawn and coconut curry recipe View Post

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Do you remember a while back when I had that revelation about frozen chopped onions? At the time I called it a ‘landmark in my culinary life’, which was a bold statement, but then judging by the tone of the rest of the post I was perhaps going through a bit of an intense time – there’s a slight manic quality to the way I try to get Belle involved in the risotto – perhaps frozen onions really did feel life changing?

It had come on the back of me discovering all of those unusual frozen foods I never knew existed, so I was probably still a bit hyped from that. One of the foods that made that list was frozen herbs, which is what I want to talk to you about today, so get comfy.

Picture the scene for a moment, if you will. You’re cooking a new recipe and it has a long list of ingredients – garlic, ginger, coriander maybe. You’re feeling unusually enthusiastic about cooking so you embrace it and buy a packet of fresh coriander. Maybe you get carried away and buy one of the more expensive plants, thinking it’s just what you need to inspire you to cook fresh curries every day.

‘This coriander plant is going to change my life,’ you think to yourself, ‘who knows what kind of person I can be with this on my kitchen windowsill! It will be like the frozen onions all over again!’

Fast forward a week and you’re eating chicken dippers and chucking the dead coriander plant in the bin, or scrapping the coriander mush out of the vegetable drawer of the fridge. Ah well. Next time.

Great news for you my culinary friend! You don’t have to be that person any more. You don’t have to skip over the herbs in recipes because of the shame of that moment in the future – you CAN have your coriander and eat it! You just need to buy FROZEN HERBS.

I had this frozen onion style moment of inspiration at a cooking even I went to last week with a French company called Darégal, who are the world experts in culinary herbs. You probably won’t have heard of them, and you don’t need to look out for them in the freezer section as in the UK they provide herbs to restaurants, manufacturers and supermarkets to use in their own meals and products, rather than being their own consumer brand. Go into pretty much any supermarket – Iceland, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda or M&S – and their frozen herbs with have come from Darégal.

They also make frozen garlic, chilli and ginger – all things that I end up either skipping in recipes because I can’t be faffed, or chucking away loads of a week later.

where to buy frozen herbs View Post

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One of my favourite times of the week is a weekend morning, when Belle is still asleep and I’m alone with the cats, pottering.

Pottering is great isn’t it? I get the Archers omnibus on and I potter about doing all the crappy jobs I’ve been putting off for weeks like recharging the hoover battery and finally dealing with the Christmas tree on the back patio. (This one is currently aspirational.)

This weekend I potted up the avocado stone I’ve FINALLY managed to get to sprout after about eight failed attempts over the course of several years, which was very satisfying, and then to balance it out I threw away two other dead plants. That’s the circle of life for you, right there.

I also like to do a bit of light cooking when I’m pottering – something that I can nibble while I do my jobs. One of my favourite things to make is my ‘whatever’s in the fridge frittatas‘, partly because they’re tasty but also because it’s a useful way to clean out the fridge, which is another one of my favourite pottering pastimes.

This weekend, once the avocado stone was settled in, I thought I’d make some frittatas as a way to use up the cauliflower I’d had in the fridge for ages. I bought it with good intentions but you know, sometimes it’s hard to get around to eating a whole cauliflower, however positive you may feel about it at the time. I had a similar situation going on with a bag of spinach, which I’d bought to stir into a sweet potato curry that never happened, so that went in too.

cauliflower cheese mini frittatas

On reflection, I think they needed something sweeter to balance the flavours a bit better, (I dipped them in BBQ sauce, which wasn’t ideal), so in the recipe I’ve added the option of peas or cherry tomatoes, which I think would lift the frittatas nicely. View Post

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brunch club

A few weeks ago I had brunch with my friend Nicky at The Weir in French Weir Park. It was one of those beautiful January mornings where little droplets of cold snot form on the end of your nose as you walk and you can’t feel your feet but it’s worth it for the way the winter sun hangs low in the sky and the crisp air fills your lungs and lifts your spirits.

French Weir park Taunton

I’ve been to The Weir a few times before for coffee but never for food and I’ve been wanting to go ever since I saw that they do homemade baked beans on toast.

I have a bit of a soft spot for baked beans as it was pretty much impossible to visit my Gran and Grandad for any length of time and not be served them with slightly burnt toast and salty butter. If you got really lucky you’d get tinned beans and sausages with homemade crinkle cut chips. I don’t remember my Gran ever eating, just serving them to me and my Grandad, one tin between us, the eight sausages always divided out equally, never left to chance. View Post

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Reduced sugar bread pudding recipe

If you ever find yourself wanting to impress a group of new friends I can recommend doing it through the medium of bread pudding.

I first made a variant of this bread pudding recipe on a writing course about a year and a half ago and I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I said that for most people it was the highlight of the week. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it was VERY good. The bread soaks up the custard and something happens that I think must be actual magic – it’s moist and sweet and tastes of heaven.

The original version doesn’t have any fruit, and goes in a lot heavier on the sugar and butter topping, but as I was trying to create a reduced sugar bread pudding I cut back on this and added peaches and raspberries for sweetness instead. I think it’s better than the original, if that’s even possible. View Post

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brunch club

A couple of weekends ago I took Belle for brunch at Kitchen at Jordans Courtyard. We ate banana bread, we played cards, we secretly watched a little boy with an adorable bowl cut eat pizza – it was a good day.

I’m a big fan of the original Kitchen at The Wharf in Langport, not least because if I get lucky I can sit at my old kitchen table, which found a new home there after I realised I couldn’t open my back door properly with it in my own house. (It’s a round one with white painted legs and a bare wooden top, should you fancy visiting it.) To be honest I prefer the eclectic, mismatched decor and the cosy atmosphere of Kitchen in Langport, but Belle likes it when things are a bit more in order, and so she prefers the new version of Kitchen at Jordans Kitchen.

They’re essentially both nice though.

(Year 5 level review for you there. Honestly, I should consider writing for a living.)

What’s especially nice about them both is the food. Their menus change with the seasons and they source as much of their fresh produce as possible from local suppliers. They also run their own artisan bakery in Langport, so they really are all about quality ingredients and cooking from scratch.

I browsed the menu at Jordans Courtyard while Belle practiced shuffling cards. She was trying to master the thing where you split the pack and sort of flick the two halves together, whilst trying to look casual and cool. A well-shuffled pack is very important for a serious game of Go Fish.

It took me a long time to decide because basically I wanted everything. I was especially drawn to the toasted banana bread with granola and yogurt because that’s not something I’ve ever seen on a brunch menu before, but also I wanted the big breakfast because FRIED POTATO ROSTI. Any kind of fried potato item on a brunch menu is normally a clincher for me. I think it’s because fried potatoes always remind me of my Dad, being small and dipping bits of crispy potato in tomato ketchup. They’re such a treat aren’t they?

We decided to go with a bit of a joint effort and get the full breakfast to share, with homemade baked beans and sourdough toast, and then the banana bread as a joint pudding. The breakfast would actually have been enough between us as it was really filling. A split breakfast works well for us as I don’t really like bacon and Belle doesn’t like sausage or black pudding. (I bloody love black pudding.)

Brunch at Kitchen at Jordans Courtyard review View Post

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brunch club

 

I was questioned earlier this week about my PURPOSE.

Not like in a police station, I’d not been brought in for loitering, more in a ‘what drives you?’ kind of way. I wasn’t sure how to answer because what with the midlife unravelling I’m not sure I have one at the moment.

‘Does brunch count?’ I asked hopefully. ‘I really like going out for brunch.’

Apparently brunch does not count, not as a life calling at least, but the more I thought about it the more I realised how much I really do love brunch. You remember when I moved back to Taunton and cried in the street because there was nowhere good to get eggs florentine?*

Brunch matters.

Brunch matters not just because of the toasty muffins and runny yolks, but because of what it represents. Brunch is a lifestyle – I wanted to create a way of working that gave me flexibility in my life to do more of the things I enjoy and to not have to show up for a job every single day that felt like it was sucking at my soul. And I did, which I should probably acknowledge more, and now I can have brunch any goddam day I want and no one can tell me otherwise.

Hoorah!

Brunch is also about people. Working on my own for ten years hasn’t always been easy, but brunch is a way to get that much needed human contact. ‘Do you fancy brunch?’ you can say to someone, and they’ll say yes, and off you’ll go, knowing that as well as the joy of a smashed avocado you’re going to get an hour with a person who adds something to your life and, in return, you can add something to theirs.

And so, new for 2020, I’m introducing my new regular feature – BRUNCH CLUB!

A couple of times a month I’m going to go out for brunch and then tell you about it. It might be in the style of a proper food review, but more likely I’ll get distracted and tell you a story about the time I once tried to make my own baked beans or had an awful brunch related date. I might use it as an excuse to show you how to make the perfect poached egg, or maybe I’ll have brunch with someone incredibly interesting or important and share their story with you. View Post

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Kashmiri chilli powder

Welcome to National Curry week! That’s right, this week – October 7th – 13th – is National Curry Week and great timing too given the turn in the weather. This week is the week to get comfy on the sofa with a big bowl of homemade lamb rogan josh and some good autumn TV. (Personal current favourites being the new series of The Apprentice and the first ever series of Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK.)

What’s sad though is that despite it feeling sometimes like the UK is becoming one big cafe/restaurant, British curry houses and Indian dining is in decline in the UK. A third of the UK’s estimated 17,000 curry houses could face closure over the next decade, which would be a huge shame. Partly it’s due to changing tastes and demographics, but also the misconception that Indian restaurant food is ‘unhealthy’ or that the foods associated with Indian cuisine, such as lamb curry, are eaten more by older generations.

As you know I’ve been working on a campaign this year called ‘Lamb. Try it, love it‘, encouraging people to eat more lamb, and so I wanted to use National Curry Week as an opportunity to champion the use of lamb in curries. Lamb is brilliant for curries as it carries the spicy flavours really well, but without getting lost. (If you want proof of this then try out my Thai massaman lamb curry – now one of my favourite ever curries.) I also wanted to challenge the stereotype of curry houses being a bit old-fashioned and so I went to Birmingham, possibly the most well-known destination for curry in the UK, for a meal at the multi-award winning Asha’s.

Asha’s is where the cool kids go for curry. They serve amazing food but they also appreciate that nowadays people expect more from a restaurant. (I’m looking at you Millennials.) Asha’s has created a dining experience to reflect that, blending authentic Indian cooking with more contemporary flavours and a sophisticated ambience. Asha’s even has its own cocktail menu, inspired by Indian cuisine, featuring treats such as the Maharaja’s Mistress, made with rose jam, curry leaves infused arrack, spiced rum and champagne, garnished with Turkish delight. View Post

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