Monthly Archives: April 2010

Fresh From The Oven: Croissants

This month’s Fresh From The Oven challenge was hosted by Corrie at Hot Potato.  She chose croissants from Dan Steven’s River Cottage Bread Handbook which is a book I own. I was incredibly nervous about doing this challenge as the recipe and method seemed very long and complicated. A mixer with a dough hook was also required to make the croissants. I do not own a mixer so I decided to bring in the reinforcements and asked my friend Marie to help me make them, who does have a mixer.

I am very glad I did as I would of given up making them on my own. They are just so complicated to make. You have to fold them this way, then the other way and then back onto itself and so on. It seems never ending. The dough was really sticky and at one point, I was convinced I would never be able to get it off my work surface. I have no idea how French bakers make hundreds of croissants everyday. I nearly lost my patience trying to make 30. Making and rolling them into the croissant shape was the easy bit and we were both very happy when we could put them in the oven. The croissants did turn out quite well in the end. They are slightly thicker than they should as the dough was not rolled thin enough I think, but they still tasted nice with jam and a hot cup of coffee for breakfast. I am not sure if I will ever make this recipe again but both Marie and I now have a new appreciation for the effort that goes into making croissants and we will remember this whenever will see them at a supermarket or bakery.

Thanks to Corrie for hosting this month’s challenge and to Marie for helping me make the croissants. :-)

Happy Cooking! :-)

From River Cottage Bread Handbook by Daniel Stevens

Makes 24-28 croissants

  • 1 kg strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 20 g salt
  • 330 ml warm water
  • 330 ml warm milk
  • 10g powdered dried yeast (instant/bread machine yeast)
  • 140g caster sugar/white sugar
  • 500g unsalted butter

For the glaze:

  • 2 medium egg yolks
  • 50ml milk
  1. It is best to use a food mixer for the first stage as the dough will be soft, sticky and difficult to knead by hand. So, put all the ingredients, except the butter, into the mixer bowl and fit the dough hook. Knead on low to medium speed until the dough is soft, stretchy and satiny – about 10 minutes. Put the dough in a decent sized polythene bag (it needs room to rise), suck out the air, tie a knot in the bag and put it in the fridge to rest over night.
  2. First thing in the morning, get the butter out of he fridge. You need it to warm up a bit so it is workable, but not soft. The idea is that the dough and the butter have a similar degree of firmness.
  3. As soon as it seems ready, lightly flour the butter, lay it between two sheets of cling film and bat it out with a rolling pin to a fairly neat square about 1cm thick. Take your time to get the thickness and shape as even as possible, then put it to one side.
  4. Take your dough out of the fridge, flour it and roll out to a rectangle, a little more than twice the size of the butter (allow a couple of centimeters extra all around). Now lay the butter on one half leaving a border, fold the other half over and press down all the way round to seal the butter in.
  5. Next roll the dough away from you until it is twice its original length, then fold the top and bottom edges in by one sixth. Fold them in again by another sixth, so the folds meet in the middle, then fold one on top of the other.
  6. Give the dough a quarter turn and roll it out again to about the same size as before, fold the top and bottom edges in to meet at the middle, then fold one on top of the other. Roll this out slightly and seal the edges with the rolling pin.
  7. Put the dough back in the plastic bag and return it to the fridge to rest for an hour or so. (You’ve given the gluten a good workout and it must relax now, otherwise it will be resistant and uncooperative later.) *I found the dough extremely resistant after a 2 hour rest and I had to use a herculean effort to roll it out. I did halve the dough and let the second half rest overnight and had a much easier time rolling it out. Unless you’re a body builder I would advise a longer rest than an hour or two.
  8. In the meantime, you need to cut a template from a piece of cardboard (the back of a cereal box or something similar). You want an isosceles triangle, measuring 20cm across the base and 25cm tall. (The easiest way is to draw an upside down capital T and join the points, like a cartoon sail).When your dough has rested, unwrap and roll it out to a neat rectangle, a little larger than 140cm x 50cm. Now trim the rectangle to these measurements leaving perfectly straight edges. Cut the rectangle in two lengthwise, to give two 25cm wide strips. Now using your template as a guide, cute 12-14 triangles from each strip.
  9. Lay each triangle away from you and roll it up from the base. Wet the pointed end and seal it. Curl the tips around to form a crescent and pinch them together to hold them in place; or you can leave them straight if you prefer. (At this point you could freeze some if you like. Space them out on a tray and freeze, then pack into bags. Allow an extra hour for rising when you come to use them).
  10. Lay your croissants with the sealed point underneath, on baking trays lined with greased baking parchment or (better still) silicone mats. Cover with cling film or a bin liner and leave to rise until doubled in side. As the dough is cold, this could take a couple of hours, or longer.
  11. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 200C/400F /Gas Mark 6. Beat the egg yolk and the milk together, then gently brush all over the croissants. Bake for about 10 minutes, then lower the setting to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3 and bake for further 10-15 minutes until they look beautifully golden. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly, while you make coffee.

P.S. If your work surface isn’t large enough to roll the dough out to a 140 x 50cm rectangle, cut it in half. Roll out one portion at a time to a rectangle a little bigger than 70 x 50cm, then cut the strips as above and cut 6 or 7 triangles from each strip, using your template as a guide.

Review of Ragley and Pure UBU Ale Sausages

Last week, I was contacted by Sundeep from GoughBaileyWright asking if I would like to try some new Ragley Pork and Pure UBU Ale sausages that have just come on sale. I of course said yes as I am a great lover of sausages and always like to try something new. However, I am also very picky with sausages and had high expectations for these. I also got sent a bottle of Pure UBU Ale to try with the sausages.

Ragley Estate Meats are based in Warwickshire, quite near to where I live. They make the sausages with their own rare breed pork with caramelised onions and Pure UBU Ale which is made by the Warwickshire brewer Purity Brewing Co. Pure UBU was chosen as the key ingredient because it made with 100% English Maris Otter Malt with Challenger and Cascade Hops, making it balanced and full of flavour.

Ragley Estate Meats are also donating 10% from the sale of the sausages to Help for Heroes which raises money to support wounded servicemen and women in the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. The sausages went on sale for the first time on Saturday 24th April at the Alcester and Forest of Arden Food Festival.

To try the sausages, I decided to cook one of my favourite quick after work dinners, Sausage and Mash. I grilled the sausages and did the mash in same way I have done for my cottage pie, with a big knob of butter and lots of salt and white pepper. It was served with vegetables and good old Bisto gravy. The sausages were as promised full of flavour and you could really taste the ale. Stuart and I both really enjoyed the sausages and Stuart enjoyed drinking the Pure UBU ale as well!

Thanks to Sundeep for personally delivering the sausages and ale to my work. It was a pleasure to meet you.

Easter Cake Bake

A couple of weeks ago, I entered a cake into Julia Parson’s of A Slice of Cherry Pie blog Easter Cake Bake competition. The competition has now gone to the public vote and I need your help. Please go to the link here and vote for my cake, pictured below. The vote closes tomorrow so please be quick! Many Thanks :-)

Happy Cooking! :-)

Guest Post from Helen: Hazelnut Meringues

Hello everyone. I have decided to take the weekend off and have left you, my lovely readers in the care of Helen from HelenThornber. com I hope you enjoy her guest post and have had a lovely weekend. Thanks Jo :-)

I love cooking and experimenting, often trying out recipes and then making them my own. I have lots of cookery books, regularly pinch my sisters and photocopy my mums. But nothing compares to discovering Jo’s Kitchen. The combination of Jo’s writing style and practical recipes are so lovely that I’ve tried (and repeated) more recipes from here than any cookery book I have ever owned. Last year during a week off work I decided to have a foodie week and three of Jo’s recipes made an appearance! So when Jo mentioned she wanted guest posts for her blog I jumped at the chance. I told her I’d know when the right recipe came along. And now it has…

There is something quite scary about baking with egg whites, so when they are 50% of the recipe then it’s no wonder people find making meringues daunting. But after a few meringue-less years I’ve recently rediscovered just how easy they can be. If you get them right they are absolutely delicious and a fraction of the calories of a slice of cake. One small meringue comes in at 70 calories… you can’t beat something that is simple, decadent and virtually guilt free!

Hazelnut and Chocolate Meringues

(makes 32 small or 16 big meringues)

  • 4 egg whites
  • 170g sugar
  • 3 tbs chopped hazelnuts
  • 250g chocolate (milk or dark, whichever you prefer!)
  • a couple of slices of lemon

The first rule of making egg whites work for you is making sure they don’t come into contact with any grease. The easy way to do this is with a slice or two of lemon. Wipe EVERYTHING you use with it. The inside of bowls, the beaters on your whisk, any spatulas or spoons… everything. It doesn’t affect the taste but does ensure that you kill all grease and end up with the most fluffy meringues you could hope for.

1. Preheat your oven: Fan Oven – 140 °C (280°F), Conventional Oven – 160°C (320°F), Gas Mark 3

2. Prepare two baking trays with greaseproof paper greased with olive oil (my mum swears by baking parchment/paper sold in Tesco but my way seems to work as well)

Before you carry on make sure that all oil and grease is out of the way!

3. Put your eggs into a large mixing bowl. The mixture will expand so a big bowl is essential.

4. Whisk until they are light and fluffy with stiff peaks. The test is if you can hold the bowl upside down without the whites falling out, if they start slipping as you tip then keep whisking for a while longer.

5. Add the sugar gradually over about 8 minutes and keep whisking throughout this time. The mixture should look glossy and continue to expand slightly as you do this.

6. Add the hazelnuts and fold very gently.

7. Get a couple of teaspoons (or dessertspoons if you want to make large meringues) and your baking trays. Spoon out small amounts of the mixture onto the tray leaving a bit of space as they will expand slightly as they cook*

8. Put in your pre-heated oven and bake for 60-75 minutes (60 minutes will make them more chewy, the following 15 mins makes them gradually more crunchy)

9. Turn the oven off and open the door. Leave the meringues to cool in the oven for 60 minutes.

10. Melt your chocolate in a bowl over boiling water (or whatever your usual method for melting chocolate)

11. Spread out a piece of greaseproof paper big enough for all your meringues to fit on

12. Dip the bottom of each meringue in chocolate and place on the greaseproof paper

13. Leave the chocolate to set (at least four hours or overnight)

14. Enjoy…

*some people use a piping bag and nozzles but this tends to create meringues that are quite dense unless you’re experienced at doing it this way. I go for flavour and texture over appearance every time (and I think they still look nice when they’re naturally formed!)

Severn Hospice Mad Hatters Tweet Up

Photo taken by Jim Hawkins

I am an active member of the Twitter community and always love a chance to meet the people I chat to on-line in person. Therefore, I was very grateful when Sarah (@Sazchik) and Teresa (@TheDinnerLady) organised a tweet up (a Twitter meet up) at the Severn Hospice (@SevernHospice) in Telford for an afternoon of fun, chat and fund-raising.

The lovely people at Severn Hospice provided us with a fantastic buffet and lots of tea and coffee. To help them out a bit, cake donations were requested and I was happy to oblige. Using my new found cupcake making and decorating skills, I made 24 cupcakes for everyone. It was my first time making them since my cupcake making course and I was really happy when they turned out well.

Along with the lovely food, there was a raffle to raise money, a Mad Hatters hat competition, storytelling by Val (@Valdary) and you could even support Seven Hospice by buying a cookbook. (I did!) Mar (@MarDixon) who helps run a Rainbow unit also brought along some toys that the children could play with outside. Kath (@TelfordVolServe and @FacingKath) made twitter birds that sold to make money for the hospice.

Photo taken by Jim Hawkins

The event was also supported by local celebrity and BBC Radio Shropshire DJ, Jim Hawkins (@Jiminthemorning) who took some of fantastic photos you see on this post. He is a lovely guy, always willing to support and help and I was very happy when he agreed to have his photo taken with me. Thanks Jim!

In total, the event raised over £300 for Severn Hospice which is an amazing achievement. Thanks to everyone who attended and a very big thank you to Sarah and Teresa for organising it, Severn Hospice for hosting, Kath for making the Twitter birds and  Mar for bringing the toys for the children to play with. I really enjoyed it and hope we can arrange another meet up soon.

Until next time,

Happy Cooking! :-)

Easter Cake Bake 2010


Happy Easter everyone. I hope you have had a lovely long weekend. I relaxed all day on Friday and most of the day on Saturday, cooked Easter lunch for six yesterday and baked a cake. Today I am relaxing again and tomorrow (I have another day off), I am going meet Louise at Cirencester Cupcakes and see her new shop, that opened last week. 

Today I would like to share with you the Easter cake I baked yesterday which is especially for Julia Parson’s, from A slice of Cherry Pie and author of a soon to be released cookbook in the same name,  Easter Cake Bake Competition. I saw the competition last year and wanted to enter it but I hadn’t been blogging very long and didn’t quite have the confidence to do it. This year I have and I decided to use my new-found cake decorating skills and have a go. 


The chocolate recipe is from Rachel Allen’s Bake book and you can find the recipe here on the Good Food Channel website. It is a recipe that I have used before that I knew would turn out well. The icing is chocolate buttercream which I used 250g butter, 400g icing sugar and 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder. I had hoped to pipe the icing on and decorate it properly but I made the icing too runny to pipe and had no more icing sugar to thicken it, so I just put it all over and in the middle of the cake. I used the flakes to made the nest and look like twigs. I think I should broken all the flakes instead of leaving some whole, and others broken. You do get an idea of the effect though. I made the chicks using ready-made coloured icing and rolling it into balls for the body and head. The feet were more balls of icing squashed flat. I used writing icing to stick everything together and make the eyes. Mini eggs were used to fill in the gaps. 

What do you think of my first Easter Cake Bake attempt? I think I can do better next year. I was cooking dinner for six at the time so I did not give all my attention to the cake, which I should have. I am keeping everything crossed and hoping I win the competition.

Comments and feedback are very welcome as always.


Happy Easter. See you again soon 

Happy Cooking! :-)

Very Lazy Cooking!

A little while ago, I was contacted by Alex at Gabba and asked if I would like free samples of Very Lazy Garlic and Ginger made by the English Provender Company. I was given the free samples in exchange for some feedback about what I thought of the products and some recipes that they could be used in. Therefore, over the last few weeks I have exchanged my normal garlic and ginger for the lazy versions.

Truth be told, I have always been a bit sceptical about products like this. I always think fresh is best and I mean, come on, it doesn’t take that long to peel and chop garlic and ginger! However, I have used them in emergencies in the past. I was very impressed with the overall quality of the very lazy garlic and ginger. They taste virtually the same as fresh garlic and ginger.  My only complaint is that the garlic jar is too full so that when you take your first spoonful out, garlic ends up being thrown everywhere. I used the very lazy garlic and ginger in a few dishes, including my curry and chili con carne as well as designing a couple of new recipes to try them out. These recipes are below.

Mushroom Risotto

Ingredients (serves 1 hungry person or two not very hungry people)

  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp Very Lazy garlic (or 1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped)
  • 3 field mushrooms, peeled and chopped
  • Half a packet of Merchant Gourmet dried wild mushrooms selection, rehydrated in hot water and finely chopped
  • 125g risotto rice
  • 250-300ml chicken stock
  • Sea salt and pepper
  • Small handful of parsley, chopped
  • Small glass of white wine
  • Small knob of butter
  • Parmesan, grated
  • Olive oil


  1. Put olive oil in a heavy based frying pan or saucepan, and fry the onions and field mushrooms until softened. Add the garlic and fry for a minute. Add the rice and let it absorb the juices from the onions and mushrooms. Add the dried mushrooms, without the water they have been soaking in.
  2. Add the wine and let all the alcohol evaporate before you start adding the stock. Add the stock a ladleful at a time until the ladleful l is absorbed and then add the next. Keep stirring throughout.
  3. Once the rice is cooked but still has a bite to it, turn off the heat and add the butter and parmesan with parsley and stir it all into the risotto. Put a lid onto the risotto for 2 mins and let it sit without touching it. Serve and Enjoy!

Chicken with ginger and spring onions (Jo’s version, not an authentic Chinese version)

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 2 chicken breasts, skinned and cut into chunks
  • Bunch of spring onions, chopped finely
  • 4 tsp very lazy ginger, drained off (or fresh ginger, chopped finely)
  • 2 tsp very lazy garlic (or 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped)
  • 250ml of chicken stock
  • 1tsp oyster sauce
  • ½ tsp Chinese five spice
  • ½ tsp dried ginger
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • Oil


  1. Put oil into a wok and allow to heat through. Add the chicken and fry until it is white all over. All the spring onions and fry for a minute or two.
  2. Add in the garlic and ginger and fry for 30 seconds. Pour in the stock and allow it to simmer until thickened into a sauce and the chicken is cooked through. While this is happening, add the oyster sauce, Chinese five spice, dried ginger and salt. Once everything is cooked through, serve and enjoy with rice.

That’s it for me today. Hope you all have a lovely long Easter weekend. I am cooking Easter lunch for six on Sunday and baking an Easter cake. I will be back early next week with another post.

Happy Cooking! :-)

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