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Category Archives: Nostalgia Tastes Like This!

Comfort Food#11: Good Old Rice Pudding!

 

I love rice pudding – immensely! As a small child, I was quite fussy when it came to food and didn’t really eat it then, but I did get through bowlfuls of the stuff when I was in my teens. It got me through GCSEs, A levels, two degrees, heartbreak and hunger pains – especially when I couldn’t be bothered to cook. Unfortunately,  I was hopeless at trying to make it myself; my one attempt was a bit of a disaster so I stuck mainly with Ambrosia’s tinned rice pudding. Or Marks and Spencer’s if I wanted to push the boat out!  And the shop bought stuff is still as equally delightful as the home made variety.

 

And then I don’t know why but rice pudding just disappeared from my life! I mean I still indulged in the odd tin of Ambrosia but it wasn’t like before when I really guzzled the stuff. I can’t quite remember what happened to my rice pudding addiction. I can only assume it was because my sweet tooth which is in serious danger of overdosing on sugar was tempted away from this simple and humble pudding by more fanciful desserts. It just didn’t stand a chance in a world of salted caramel and tropical fruit flavours!

 

It took Les Dennis’ appearance on Celebrity Masterchef to remind me of how much I’d once loved rice pudding. I wondered if it was still as delicious as I remembered it to be. I mentioned it to Hubby who couldn’t remember ever tasting a rice pudding even once. This comes as no surprise as he’s a fussier eater than I ever was!

 

Only one way to find out. So the next day I took myself off to M&S and bought a large tub of it for myself. Forty minutes after taking it out of the oven, I dug in. It was like nutmeg-laced, creamy heaven on a spoon! It was delicious, warm and comforting… everything a rice pudding should be. They don’t call it comfort food for nothing and it really hit the spot. I wondered why and how I’d gone so long without it. And this classic nursery pud is perfect now that the cold, dark nights of winter are drawing closer.

 

 

Everyone remembers rice pudding from their school days. Bland milky slop with a blob of strawberry jam in the middle. the best thing about it was stirring the jam into the rice pudding so that it turned pink. Even then I don’t think I took more than a few mouthfuls before confining the lot to the slop bucket. I’m sure this memory has stayed with many people over the years which explains why it may not be everyone’s favourite. Rice pudding has been around since Victorian times but even then it was considered economical, bland, ordinary fare served to infants and invalids. Another common dislike about rice pudding especially baked rice pudding, is the lovely skin that forms on top. Definitely not a firm favourite with me but I know that for some people, it’s considered to be the best bit.

 

However, skin or no skin, rice pudding these days is anything but bland and boring and has come a long way. Cooks are very inventive these days when it comes to rice pudding. Different varieties of rice can be used instead of the classic pudding rice. It can be cooked on a hob or baked in the oven. Egg yolks can be added to give it a more custard-like flavour and consistency. And then there are the million and one ways in which you can flavour your rice pudding. The traditionalists may prefer to stick to nutmeg although vanilla seems to be quite common as well. Bay leaves, lemon zest, cinnamon, dried fruit, candied peel and brandy are also becoming quite popular. In fact I came across a recipe which contained brandy-soaked raisins and was then topped with a meringue before being baked. Definitely sounds like my kind of rice pudding! And I absolutely love Les Dennis’ idea of using mascarpone which is something I’d never heard of but it sounds delicious. All these different ways  of cooking rice pudding means that no two puddings are the same and should help eradicate the image of gloopy school-dinner rice pudding.

 

And let’s not forget that rice pudding is virtually universal with so many countries having their own version of this dish. My favourite comes from Malaysia and is known as pulut hitam. It is made using a purple variety of rice. It is flavoured with coconut and a fragrant leaf called pandan. Truly scrumptious. I like the fact that countries around the world are very adventurous with their flavourings using rosewater, saffron, pistachios, ginger, anise and date syrup. It all sounds very exotic and inspiring in giving us new ideas for flavourings.

 

I’m so glad I’ve become reacquainted with rice pudding. Now as we’re having cold, wet weather, I like nothing more than curling up in front of a telly with a good movie and a bowl of yummy, hot rice pudding. I think it has something of the cornflake factor – you really do forget how great they taste! So here’s a recipe for rice pudding which sounds scrummy: spiced orange rice pudding. With Christmas fast approaching, I thought it sounded very appropriate. Hopefully after trying this you’ll never suffer the trauma of another school dinner nightmare again!

Spiced Orange Rice Pudding

 

Ingredients

  • 150g basmati rice
  • 1 litre skimmed milk
  • 250ml single cream
  • 75g caster sugar
  • grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 2 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 4 cardamom pods, crushed
  • You will need a lightly buttered oven-proof dish.

Recipe method

Pre-heat your oven to 160C/gas mark 3.

Pop the milk, cream, caster sugar, orange juice and vanilla into a saucepan and gently bring to the boil over a low heat.

Meanwhile pour the rice into the buttered oven dish along with the nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom and orange zest, fold the spices into the rice.

Pour the hot sweet milky mixture over the rice, cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon after 20 minutes.

Remove the foil and continue to cook for a further 20 minutes until most of the liquid has absorbed into the rice.

Leave to cool slightly and serve with a dollop of your favourite preserve. If you like a crispy skin on your rice pudding you can always pop the pudding under a hot grill with a little dusting of icing sugar until it browns.

Serve with your favourite preserve. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2013 in Nostalgia Tastes Like This!, Recipes

 

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Walnut Whips: A Childhood Classic!

I was shocked when a friend revealed that she’d never before  heard of a Walnut Whip! She’s definitely old enough to remember them but even when I described them to her she still didn’t know what I was talking about. Oh dear girl, where have you been all these years????

True, they’re not as common as they once were and from checking out the  forums, I can see that it is a common misconception among Nestlé’s Walnut Whip fans that they no longer exist and have found a place in choccy heaven. Thankfully, this isn’t so as they do still exist but admittedly they are unfortunately not as readily available as they once were. It’s a question of hunting for them – but they can be found. Supermarkets tend to stock up on Nestlé’s Walnut whips around Christmas time where they can be bought in packs of six. If you can’t wait until Christmas – and who could blame you – that other great British institution Marks and Spencer’s have their own brand of Walnut whips which are readily available throughout the year. In fact this year celebrates fifty years since M&S launched the walnut whips in their stores.

 

Walnut whips were definitely a childhood treat when we were growing up in the 1980s and they bring back memories. As business owners, my parents had access to wholesale suppliers and were able to buy Walnut Whips at trade cost – which meant that our fridge was packed full of chocolaty goodness! I really don’t think Mum had space for much else. I dread to think how many my sister and I used to get through each day. You’d think we’d be sick of them by now seeing as we’d had enough to last us a lifetime.

 

Originally launched in 1910 by Duncan’s of Edinburgh, Walnut Whip is now produced by Nestle. It consists of hollow whirl-shaped milk chocolate cone filled with a delicious soft, marshmallow-like, whipped, vanilla fondant cream filling, topped with… a walnut! I’m clearly not as old as I thought I was because apparently there also used to be a walnut actually inside the cone. Eventually the walnut piece inside the chocolate was removed, leaving the one nut that topped the cone – which is the only walnut piece I remember!

 

 

The Whip has undergone a few transformations over the years including the ridging on the surface of the cone; and the texture of the filling which was supposed to have been more dense, and I think I vaguely remember this. Another thing I recall is that the packaging – even though it was still blue – wasn’t the same shiny, metallic wrapper we see today. Furthermore, I’m sure it was a darker shade of blue too. I also remember that the Whip used to be perched on a thin card base inside the blue wrapper – and for reasons I cannot understand why, I was quite taken with the card base! I was a very strange child…

 

 

Over the years, Nestle  have produced a few different flavoured fondant fillings but it is the vanilla one which still prevails today. As part of their fiftieth anniversary celebrations, Marks and Spencer’s have also brought out other flavours such as  mint and an assorted box containing one toffee pecan, one double chocolate and an original flavour. However I really don’t think that anything can ever be as good as the original vanilla flavour… although I do look forward to testing out my theory!

 

 

 

In our house, Christmas is not complete unless we had a few boxes of Nestlé’s Walnut Whips in the cupboard. And it had to be Nestlé’s because of the distinctive blue packaging. Anything else just wouldn’t be the same.

Roll on Christmas!

 

 

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Comfort Food #10: Bread and Butter Pudding

 

Hubby and I were watching a recent episode of our guilty pleasure, Celebrity Masterchef, and we were amazed to see that the lovely Les Dennis totally messed up when it came to making a simple bread and butter pudding. Now I may never qualify as a contestant in any future series’ of Masterchef but I do know how to make a decent bread and butter pudding and have been doing so since I was twelve!

 

Not to be confused with bread pudding, bread and butter pudding is real comfort stodge at it’s best; a delicious combination of sliced, white, buttered bread, raisins and baked egg custard. Crispy on the outside while soft and creamy on the inside, it sounds incredibly basic but it tastes delicious and is one of my father’s favourite puddings. Not only is it inexpensive and easy to prepare but as in bread pudding, it’s a great way of using up leftover bread. It’s a traditional British classic and is usually served with custard, double cream or evaporated or condensed milk. it goes down a treat on a cold winter’s evening!

 

The origins of this great British dessert are believed to date back to around the early seventeenth century, although John Nott wrote down one of the earliest recipes for a bread and butter pudding  in 1723. The poor – not wanting to throw out any leftover bread – would steam it with fruit or even meat. An early form of this pudding was known as a whitepot and could be made using bone marrow (yum!) and sometimes substituted the bread for rice thus initiating the process of another nursery dessert, the rice pudding. However, with the introduction of new foods from abroad, people became more inventive and started adding spices and various types of fruit. Milk, eggs and sugar soon became more accessible and affordable for most people and the pudding as we know it today was beginning to take shape.

 

The basic recipe remained the same until the latter part of the twentieth century when the popularity of this dessert was beginning to fade. However, many celebrity chefs who have a real love for British cuisine have revamped the humble bread and butter pudding, adding their own spin on a classic showing that many variations of this traditional pudding are possible.

 

Bread and butter pudding is still fairly popular today, although I have yet to see a classic version of this dessert in a restaurant menu. I have come across the brioche version which I suppose is a little more sophisticated and updated. Here’s a recipe for a delicious, classic, bread and butter pudding by Elaine Lemm. It’s so easy and tastes soooo good!

 

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Serves 4
Heat the oven 355°F/180°C/Gas 4.

Ingredients:

  • 50g / 2 oz soft butter
  • 10 slices soft white bread, cut diagonally across or any of the other breads mentioned above
  • 50g / 2 oz golden raisins/sultanas
  • ¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 350 ml / 12 fl oz milk
  • 50 ml / 2 fl oz double / heavy cream
  • 2 large free range eggs
  • 25g / 1 oz white sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or paste (see note below)

Preparation:

  • Grease a 2 pint/1 litre pie dish with a little of the butter. Spread each of the bread triangles with butter.

  • Cover the base of the pie dish with overlapping triangles of bread, butter side up. Sprinkle half the golden raisins/sultanas evenly over the bread, then lightly sprinkle with a little nutmeg and cinnamon. Repeat this layer one more time or until the dish is filled, finishing with the raisins on top.
  • In a saucepan gently heat the milk and cream – DO NOT BOIL.
  • In a large baking bowl beat the eggs with 3/4 sugar and the vanilla extract until light and airy and pale in color. Pour the warm milk over the eggs and continue beating until all the milk is added.
  • Pour the egg mixture slowly and evenly over the bread until all the liquid is added. Gently press the surface with your hand to push the bread into the liquid. Sprinkle the remaining sugar over the surface then leave to one side for 30 mins.
  • Bake the pudding in the hot oven for 40 – 45 mins, until the surface is golden brown and the pudding well risen and the egg is set. Serve hot.

 

VARIATIONS
Another great thing about this pudding is that you can vary the recipe in countless ways so you can have a different version bread and butter every day of the year and never get bored!

 

Try:

  • soaking the dried fruit in brandy or rum overnight.
  • using alternatives to sultanas or raisins. Dried cranberries and prunes work very well. My favourite are dried apricots.
  • substitute the dried fruit for chocolate chips; layer some fresh orange segments between the bread, and add some orange zest to the custard for a yummy chocolate and orange bread and butter pudding.
  • fresh fruit  instead of dried.
  • adding a splash of Baily’s to the custard.
  • adding some cocoa to the custard mix to give your pudding a chocolate flavour.
  • cinnamon-infused milk, vanilla extract or paste or ground nutmeg work well in adding flavour.

 

Who said you can only use sliced, white bread? And why shouldn’t you throw in some kind of fruit conserve or spread for added flavour? The following are examples of great flavour combinations:

  • Brioche and apricot jam.
  • Pannetone and orange marmalade.
  • Granary bread and black cherry jam.
  • Wholemeal bread with peanut butter, chocolate spread and sliced bananas (the Elvis bread and butter pudding!)
  • Croissant and lemon curd.

 

Finally, you can use stale or fresh bread to make this dessert but I find that bread that is slightly stale gives a more pleasant texture.

Happy eating!

 

 

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Greengages Are Back!

 

I recently wrote a post about greengages and gooseberries; two delicious types of fruit we used to grow in our garden when I was a child. The mere mention of either fruit brings back many happy memories of childhood summers spent playing in the garden; outdoor family get-togethers during the sunny season, and gathering bowlfuls of scrumptious fruit. Sadly, both greengages and gooseberries are so scarce that some people have never even heard of them let alone tried them.

 

 

 

So imagine my surprise when on a recent jaunt to Marks and Spencer’s, I came across stacks of yummy looking greengages. I didn’t hesitate to snap up a pack – I would have snapped up more but wanted to try them first to see if they were exactly as I remembered them to be. And they were! the greengages were deliciously sweet with that distinctive, delicate flavour I remembered so well.

The only problem was that they were so scrummy that I scoffed the lot before I could even consider attempting the recipes that were featured in the post!

Good old M&S! Now all I need is for them to bring back gooseberries!

Check out this article in Mail Online going back to September 2011. It appears that Marks and Spencers have been trying to get us reacquainted with this retro fruit for a while. I especially love the comment from the reader who says it’s time to bring back gooseberries – I swear it isn’t me!

 

 

 

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Comfort Food #9: Summer Pudding

 

It’s summer and the supermarkets are full of seasonal fruit which make an appearance during the brief summer months before they disappear off supermarket shelves. Cherries, raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants… just perfect for a lovely summer pudding.

 

I think I was probably about five when I first came across a photograph of a delicious looking summer pudding in my mum’s The Cookery Year cookbook. At that age I was a very picky eater who wasn’t happy unless I was stuffing my face with an ample supply of chocolate. So how strange that I should be so enthralled by what is essentially a fruit pudding! I think it was the colours that did it. I was fascinated by the shock of magenta and gorgeous berry tones that made this dessert so appealing which contrasted with the crowning glory that was light, fluffy whipped cream.

 

Summer pudding is a popular, traditional British dessert although it’s origins are unclear. The earliest published summer pudding recipe was published in 1902 by S. Beaty-Pownall however this dessert could have existed since the nineteenth century. It is made by lining a deep dish with sliced white bread before being filled with assorted berries. It is then topped off with a final slice of bread, soaked in the juices of the soft fruit and left overnight before being turned out onto a plate.

 

It is unknown exactly who, why, when or where summer pudding was invented. One possibility is that it was a summer substitute for the heavy, stodgy suet puddings that were popular in winter during Victorian England.
It’s also possible that summer pudding could have been served in health farms where people went to be cleansed and aided in weight loss. Then there’s the belief that it was served in hospitals to the old and infirm as it was easy to digest. It’s beginnings may be shrouded in mystery but summer pudding is more than just an invalid’s dessert!

 

It is better to make this dessert with bread that is slightly stale as this helps the bread to retain a good non-mushy texture once the juice has soaked through. It is traditionally made using raspberries, strawberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants though sometimes cherries, blueberries and any other soft fruit that is available can also be used so it’s a great way to take advantage of the fabulous fruit that’s in season – especially as it’s available for such a short time. It is then served with lashings of cream.

 

As with most well known dishes, different variations of this pudding exist. Any variety of soft fruit can be used. Some recipes call for brioche or pannetone to be used instead of white bread. There are recipes which ask for the berries to be stewed while others use raw fruit. There is also an autumnal version of this summer classic which includes pears and plums as well as berries.

 

A summer pudding definitely takes me back to my childhood when I was a kid poring over mum’s cook books – at a time when I could barely read! Unfortunately it wasn’t a dessert Mum ever made for us but we did eat quite a few shop bought ones. Believe me – they’re not as great a good old fashioned homemade pudding whipped up from scratch. And the great thing about a summer pudding is that as impressive looking (and tasting!) as it is, it’s so simple to make. And because it’s packed full of fruit, I don’t even think of it as a pudding but one portion of my five a day!

 

If you fancy whipping up a summer pudding for a new generation to try and making full use of our summer fruits – while we still have them – give this recipe by Gordon Ramsay a go. It tastes amazing!

INDIVIDUAL SUMMER PUDDINGS

 

Makes 8

INGREDIENTS:

1kg mixed berries (raspberries, blueberries, redcurrants, blackberries and strawberries)
50g caster sugar
4 tbsp. Crème de Cassis (or water)
800g(approx.) loaf white bread, sliced
Extra berries to serve

METHOD:

  • Strip berries from their stalks and hull strawberries.
  • Toss berries  in a non-stick saucepan with sugar and Cassis or water.
  • Heat the pan until it starts to sizzle. Cook over a medium heat until the fruits start to bleed and soften.
  • Stir gently, then cool to room temperature.
  • Strain fruit through a plastic sieve into a non-metallic bowl until the juices stop dripping.
  • Have 8 cappuccino or tea cups (about 200ml) ready.
  • Using 2 cutters (approx. 10cm and 6cm, but check against the tops and bottoms of your cups), cut out 8 bread rounds of each size.
  • Cut the crusts off 8 more slices and slice in half. These strips should be approximately the same depth as the cups.
  • Dip the small rounds of bread into the reserved juices and press into the cups.
  • Dip the straight slices in the juice and press around the sides.
  • Spoon in the fruits, pressing down with the back of a spoon to firm.
  • Dip the last of the bread rounds into the juice; press down on top. Chill overnight.
  • When ready to serve, loosen bread tops with the tip of a table knife.
  • Hold a dessert plate over the pudding, then turn upside down, shaking well.
  • The puddings should slip out easily; if not, loosen the sides gently with the knife.
  • Pour any remaining juice over the tops of puddings.
  • Decorate with the remaining fruit; serve with pouring cream, clotted cream or mascarpone.

 

 

 
 

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Comfort Food #8: Gnocchi

 

I never grew up eating gnocchi. I was in my early teens the very first time I’d even heard the word mentioned courtesy of Supermarket Sweep (thank you Dale. I feel another blog post coming along!) and it was probably more than a decade later that I had my first taste of gnocchi. Today’s comfort food blog post has been inspired by my lovely husband and his childhood memories. While watching an episode of Masterchef UK, in which the contestants travelled around Italy in order to learn about the cuisine, we saw gnocchi being made.

 

My husband laughs at me when I get overly sentimental about reminders from my childhood. Now it was his turn – only I didn’t laugh! Gnocchi is his favourite dish: his best meal ever would consist of Caesar’s salad, gnocchi with meatballs and garlic bread. It’s not just because he thinks gnocchi is ultra yum but because it brings back lots of happy memories of spending time with his family, especially his beloved late grandmother, with whom he used to help prepare gnocchi. It was seeing the chef use a potato ricer that brought the memories flooding back.

 

 

Gnocchi (pronounced nyockey NOT knockey!) are little potato dumplings, typically served as a first course and an alternative to pasta and have been around since Roman times. As with most Italian dishes, there are many variations depending on the region. During their expansion of the empire, the Romans introduced gnocchi into other European countries. The original gnocchi recipe consisted of a semolina dough mixed with eggs. The introduction of potato into the mix occurred after the humble potato was brought to Europe in the 16th century. Gnocchi can be served with a variety of sauces but for Hubby, it’s got to be good old fashioned tomato sauce!

 

 

Hubby comes from an Italian-American family, and as every Italian knows food IS a big deal and mealtimes are the cornerstone of family life. It’s what brings families, friends and neighbours together amid much talking, laughter, sharing and noise! Anyone who’s ever sat around a table with an Italian family, sharing a meal, will tell you that it’s an experience filled with a lot of warmth. Each meal is prepared with a lot of love and it doesn’t matter whether you’re related or not – around the dinner table, everyone’s family!

 

Hubby told me that during the summers, he and his brother would go to visit their grandparents in Arizona. His grandmother would be sure to make gnocchi at some point because she knew how much Hubby loved it. They would start preparations in the morning and it would almost be evening by the time they’d finish. Gnocchi, unfortunately is time consuming, and the more mouths you have to feed, the longer it will take. But Hubby always maintains that it was worth the effort. Gnocchi is notoriously difficult to make, and takes a great deal of skill, patience and practice to get it right. Hubby declares that his grandmother made the best gnocchi ever – no one else’s has ever or will ever come close. He still tucks into a plate of gnocchi of course, and when he does, he’s reminded of summers spent with the family in Arizona.

 

If you fancy having a go at making gnocchi, try this recipe. I can’t guarantee it will be as amazing as Nanna’s but I’m sure it will be pretty, damn good!

HOMEMADE GNOCCHI WITH TOMATO BASIL SAUCE

 

Serves four

INGREDIENTS for gnocchi:
1.5kg potatoes
3 eggs
270g plain flour, plus extra

INGREDIENTS for tomato sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
680g jar tomato passata
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup basil leaves
freshly grated parmesan, to serve

METHOD:

  • Peel potatoes and cut into large chunks. Place in a large saucepan of water, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer until cooked.
  • Drain potatoes well and mash until smooth. Allow potato to cool for 10 minutes.
  • Add eggs and mix well.
  • Add flour a handful at a time and work in with your hands until the potato mixture is a dough-like consistency.
  • Turn potato mixture on to a lightly floured bench and knead until smooth. Add more flour if it is too sticky, but don’t over do it.
  • Divide dough into eight pieces. Dust bench with flour and roll each piece into a sausage 1cm diameter.
  • Cut gnocchi into 2cm long. Leave as is, or press the back of a fork onto each gnocchi (the indentations help the sauce stick to the gnocchi).
  • To make the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium high heat.
  • Cook the onion until soft and starting to colour, add garlic and cook another minute.
  • Add tomato passata, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Collect all the gnocchi onto a tea towel and carefully tip into the pot.
  • Once all the gnocchi have floated to the top, cook for another minute, drain and return to pot. Carefully stir through tomato sauce, add freshly torn basil and serve immediately with parmesan.

Recipe created by Melissa Hughes for Kidspot.

 

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Exotic Gooseberries and Greengages!

Now we’re in summer, it’s all about the strawberries, raspberries and peaches. But when I was a kid, summer was all about different kinds of fruit which I don’t see very much of now. Actually make that, I don’t see at all!

It’s amazing how the mere mention of the word ‘greengage’ can transport me back to my childhood garden but that’s exactly what happened when someone I know brought up this super tasty fruit I haven’t eaten in… well, a very, very long time! This immediately brought gooseberries to mind, as along with strawberries and grapes, this was another fruit that my parents grew in the garden of the first home we ever lived in. As we grew them at home, greengages and gooseberries were in abundance but even back then, I don’t remember seeing them so readily available commercially.

When we were very young, my sister and I loved picking greengages and gooseberries and scoffing them. We were the kind of kids who definitely preferred chocolates and toffees to fruit – but we loved these and would happily eat them. As this was the first place we’d ever set eyes on either fruit, the mere mention or sight of a greengage or gooseberry soon brings back memories of summers at our old house and our happy childhood… as well as our rather untidy garden!

As the years have gone by, I’ve noticed how increasingly rare these fruits are becoming. I bet most people now would have forgotten what they look and taste like. it’s not sold in the shops and I don’t know anyone who grows them – even though many grow lots of other kinds of fruit. It’s amazing because walk into any supermarket and you’ll have no problem in finding imported exotic fruit such as pineapple, mango, papaya and even dragon fruit. But you’re hardly likely to find greengages or gooseberries. In some ways, I think these have become the exotic fruits!

For those of you haven’t been lucky enough to try greengages, they are a yummy cultivated fruit from the plum family and are green/yellowish-green in colour. Greengages are slightly smaller in size to regular plums and they originated from France (where greengages are known as la bonne reine or Claude reine) and they get their English name from Sir William Gage, who was the first person to import them into England from France. Greengages soon found their way to the American colonies and were grown on plantations belonging to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, although since the eighteenth century, there has been a decline in their cultivation in North America and greengages may be even more scarce there than they are here.

The gooseberry is native to Europe, Africa and Asia, and although you can get smooth-skinned varieties of the fruit, the wild variety – the kind we grew in our garden – tend to have a fuzzy skin. These small, grape sized fruit are related to the blackcurrant and are yellowy-green in colour with a veined effect on the skin, although it is also possible to get reddish coloured gooseberries. The hard and tart variety are best used in cooking especially in making pies, jams and fools – one of my favourite desserts. They had been popular in England since Elizabethan times.

I do hope these fruits make a comeback because they really were delicious and so versatile. I have included recipes for each fruit, which I hope to make… providing I can find the chief ingredients!

GREENGAGE AND HONEY COMPOTE
(recipe from Sainsbury’s magazine)

 

INGREDIENTS:
(makes 3-4 servings):

500g greengages, ripe yet firm
4 tbsp runny honey (any variety)
1 vanilla pod

METHOD:

  • Halve the greengages and remove the stones.
  • Place in a saucepan with the honey, then heat gently until the honey is liquid.
  • Run a knife down the centre of the vanilla pod and add to the fruit, then simmer gently until the fruit starts to release a lot of liquid, and is on the point of collapse. This should take only a couple of minutes.
  • Remove from the heat.
  •  Serve hot or cold, with cream, crème fraiche, ice cream. Also delicious served with cheesecake.


GOOSEBERRY FOOL

 

(recipe from bbcgoodfood.com June 2012)

INGREDIENTS:

250g gooseberries, topped and tailed
3 tbsp caster sugar
200g Greek yogurt
1-2 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
200ml double cream

METHOD:

  • Put the gooseberries and sugar in a pan with a splash of water.
  • Heat gently while stirring, then bring to a simmer and cook until the fruit starts to burst.
  • Squash the gooseberries with a potato masher or fork until pulpy. Cool then chill until cold in the fridge.
  • Put the yoghurt in a bowl and beat with the icing sugar and vanilla until smooth.
  • Gently whisk in the cream (it will thicken as you whisk so don’t overdo it).
  • Ripple through the gooseberry pulp then spoon into pretty glasses or bowls to serve.

 

 
 

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Comfort Food #7: French Toast

 

You wouldn’t believe how something so inexpensive and so simple to make could be so tasty!

Even now when I bite into a warm slice of just-out-of-the-pan French toast, it brings back such wonderfully comforting memories. We never grew up calling this delicious snack eggy bread like most people did; instead it was the more fanciful French toast. And until today, I didn’t realise that it was also called Gypsy toast!

Mmm... Yummy French toast!

Mmm… Yummy French toast!

 

I think I might have been about five when Mum first made this for me and my sister. I was a very fussy eater and it was very difficult for my mum to get me to eat anything. I’d never finish meals and would only ever pick at my food. However, when I first tried French toast it was definitely love at first bite! I couldn’t get enough of this yummy fried bread. It was quite good for my parents because growing up, we didn’t really have a great deal of money, so Mum must have been thrilled that the one thing I wanted to stuff my face with was as cheap as… well, a loaf of bread! French toast was very much a firm favourite in our house when I was growing up, not just with me but with all of us.

French toast: my first attempt in as long time

French toast: my first attempt in as long time

 

That’s hardly a surprise considering that French toast is eaten practically all over the world, so it really is a very popular dish. It’s unclear where or when this dish was created and by whom. It may not even have originated in France!

The basic ingredients for French toast: eggs, milk, bread, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon

The basic ingredients for French toast: eggs, milk, bread, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon

 

The earliest form of French toast is believed to have originated as far back as the fourth century, when it was found in a collection of Latin recipes. In Sweden, Finland and Norway, French Toast is known as ‘poor knights’ after the fourteenth century German name for this dish Arme Ritter.

The sweet egg and milk mixture

The sweet egg and milk mixture

 

My love for French toast took on another dimension when I met my husband and began my frequent trips to visit him in the States. As an American, he’d been eating French toast his entire life – well since he was old enough to eat anyway! But there were two major differences: in America, French toast is eaten as a breakfast food rather than an anytime snack, accompanying bacon and eggs, and served with lots of maple syrup. Furthermore, French toast in the States is always a sweet dish whereas Mum’s French toast was always savoury. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone other than Mum who made the savoury version.

French toast cooking away!

French toast cooking away!

 

My love for French toast took on another dimension when I met my husband and began my frequent trips to visit him in the States. As an American, he’d been eating French toast his entire life – well since he was old enough to eat anyway! But there were two major differences: in America, French toast is eaten as a breakfast food rather than an anytime snack, accompanying bacon and eggs, and served with lots of maple syrup. Furthermore, French toast in the States is always a sweet dish whereas Mum’s French toast was always savoury. In fact, I don’t think I know anyone other than Mum who made the savoury version.

And into the pan they go!

And into the pan they go!

 

I saw an episode of Nigella Express where she made jam doughnut-flavoured French toast. I didnt even know such a thing existed! It sounded like a fried piece of heaven and I cannot wait to get stuck into that. French toast may be quite a simple concept but with so many variations it has become something quite spectacular. I’ve heard that there are even French toast cupcakes! I’ve never seen one before nor eaten one but I plan on rectifying that situation!

With a good bit of Butter! Image from pixabay.com courtesy of s_masako

With a good bit of Butter! Image from pixabay.com courtesy of s_masako

 

I suppose it sounds as though I’m more geared towards sweet French toast but I do think both the sweet and savoury versions are equally tasty. I couldn’t choose between the two types. And neither could I choose between Mum’s savoury French toast and my brother-in-law Dizzy’s yummy sweet cinnamon version. So I’ve included the recipes for both. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

MUM’S SAVOURY FRENCH TOAST

Serves 1-2 people

INGREDIENTS:
2 slices of sliced white bread, cut in half, crusts on.
1 large egg
1 tbsp. semi skimmed milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for frying

METHOD:

  • Heat a little oil in a frying pan. just enough to stop the bread sticking to the pan.

  • Mix together egg, milk, salt and pepper in a bowl.

  • Plunge each piece of bread into the egg mixture so that it is well coated on both sides.

  • When pan is hot, add bread.

  • Cook until side is golden brown then flip over and cook the other side.

  • Eat!

Simple yet delicious!

Dizzy’s Cinnamon French Toast

French toast and syrup. Image from pixabay.com courtesy of annaj

French toast and syrup. Image from pixabay.com courtesy of annaj

 

Serves 1-2 people

INGREDIENTS:

2 slices cinnamon bread or cinnamon raisin bread

1 large egg

1 tsp. sugar

A dash of vanilla extract

Oil for frying

Butter and maple syrup to serve

METHOD:

  • Heat oil in pan.

  • Mix together egg, sugar and vanilla in a bowl.

  • Coat each side of the bread with the egg mixture.

  • Brown each side.

  • Serve with butter and maple syrup

Note: If you cannot find cinnamon bread, you can add a 1/4 tsp. of ground cinnamon to the egg mixture. Butter can be used instead of oil for frying, and the French toast can even be deep fried in very hot oil. All depends on how health conscious you want to be!

 
 

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Sweet Music With Whistle Pops

Whoever came up with the idea for Whistle Pops took the concept of making sweet music a little too literally – not that we’re complaining!

Whistle Pops were hugely popular in the 1980s although I believe that they have been around since the mid 1970s. These take me right back to when I was a child. Sis and I couldn’t walk past a sweet shop without dragging in whoever it was who had the misfortune of taking us out for the day and making them buy us one of these ingenious lollipops that were moulded into the shape of a whistle. This differed greatly in shape to regular lollipops – and kids love anything that’s a bit of a novelty! They came in a range of fruit flavours as well as cola, and my favourite, chocolate and vanilla.

 

However, it wasn’t just the shape that was clever. It was an actual instrument. OK, so you were never going to find music teachers listed in the Yellow Pages offering lessons in how to play a Whistle Pop. But instead of being a one note whistle, the lollies had a hollow straw for the stick and there was a thin, sliding plunger that enabled you to change the pitch of the whistle. Furthermore, the wrapper had sheet music on the inside so you could play something really simple like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or Old MacDonald. Sadly though, manufacturers never thought to include the musical notation for Bohemian Rhapsody or Hotel California. Funny that!

 

Apparently they worked really well but for reasons I cannot understand, Sis and I were never able to complete a whole tune because we would always break our whistles! Other people remember the whistle effect naturally diminishing as the top of the lolly started to dissolve. Others remember how much saliva used to collect in the whistle. Lovely!

From what I understand, Whistle Pops are still being produced and sold in the UK although I cannot recall the last time I saw one of these. I know that they can be purchased over the internet but I can’t remember seeing them on shop shelves in recent times. I’m sure if they were as readily available as they were when I was a kid then I would have heard them even if I hadn’t seen them as there would definitely be a new generation of kids determined to drive as many adults up the wall as we tried to do with our ever so tuneful playing!

 

 

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Comfort Food #6: Perfect Full English

 

I usually include scrummy sweet desserts and puddings as part of my comfort food recipes for Nostalgia Pie and my incredibly sweet tooth is to blame for that! If ever I need a dose of good old fashioned comfort, sugar hits the spot remarkably well and as I’ve overindulged my sweet tooth over the years, most sugary things make me feel quite nostalgic.

 

However, for the first time, I’m including a savoury dish: The full English. Also known as a fry up or heart attack on a plate! the full English is thankfully not a thing of the past. It is very much alive and kicking and served in cafes, pubs and restaurants up and down the country and due to it’s ever increasing popularity – even now when we are constantly reminded of healthy eating concepts – it will be for years to come. Fry ups are an iconic part of any English menu and are as synonymous with England as fish and chips or Yorkshire pudding. Tourists visit England hoping to sample this dish as part of their British experience.

 

A traditional full English consists of bacon, eggs, sausages, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding, fried bread or toast, and quite often a potato component such as bubble and squeak or hash browns. It is served with a hot drink such as tea or coffee. Fry ups vary slightly depending on which region in the United Kingdom it is being served.

 

A full English breakfast was always a firm favourite in our household, especially with my dad. As we were a family of six, there obviously wasn’t time for such a major blow out during the week, so it would be saved for Sunday brunch instead. Also, along with a cappuccino and an effervescent berroca tablet, I found it to be the perfect hangover cure!

 

And I really missed it during the time I spent in the States. Don’t get me wrong, American breakfasts are amazing and I loved tucking into them but there were times when only a full English would do and even though Americans are aware of our super greasy delight, it was very hard to come by in the cafes and restaurants in health conscious Portland, Oregon. Of course, I could have just made it myself at home but the ingredients tasted a lot different in the States than they did at home. Even though there were what seemed like fifty seven varieties of bacon and sausage, it wasn’t the same as what we got at home, so I much preferred to serve them with waffles or pancakes for breakfast as it seemed to accompany them much better.

However, a fry up isn’t just a breakfast food. It’s way too delicious to only be served at one time of the day. It makes a great lunch or dinner, especially if served with chips. Cafes in the United Kingdom often include it on their menus as an ‘all day breakfast.’ Fry ups often have a reputation for being calorie-laden; artery clogging and extremely unhealthy so naturally it’s not something you would want to serve up everyday.

 

But there are ways in which you can cook a full English so that it a lot healthier but still as yummy. It depends on the quality of the ingredients used and also despite its name, ‘fry ups’ don’t have to be fried! The recipe I’m going to use is my own and it’s always been a hit with everyone – even if I say so myself! The majority of components in this dish are grilled or oven cooked so it’s much better for you. The egg could also be poached if you wish to further reduce the amount of fried components you have on your plate. Any variety of bacon, sausage and bread can be used although I recommend cutting a slice of bread from an unsliced loaf as I find the slices in most pre-cut loaves too thin.

 

So whether it’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner, I hope you enjoying cooking Dark Angel’s healthy(ish) Full English!

Dark Angel’s Full English

For one person

INGREDIENTS:

2 bacon rashers
1 sausage
1 egg
1 slice black pudding
1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 tomato, halved
1 handful of button mushrooms, sliced thickly
1 thick slice of bread
Baked Beans
Butter
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Dried herbs of your choice
Salt and pepper (optional)
Ketchup and/or brown sauce

METHOD:

  1. Add a splash of lemon juice, some salt and pepper to the sliced mushrooms.
  2. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius/ 390 degrees Fahrenheit.
  3. Lightly grease an ovenproof dish with some olive oil. Season potatoes with salt, pepper and dried herbs. Add a splash of olive oil and place in oven.
  4. Preheat grill, and after about 10 minutes, start grilling bacon, sausages and black pudding.
  5. Butter both sides of bread.
  6. After 10 minutes, place tomato halves under grill.
  7. Cook egg as preferred.
  8. Place sliced mushrooms under the grill.
  9. In a heated pan, start frying slice of bread so it is lightly brown on both sides.
  10. Heat baked beans,
  11. When all components are ready, take off heat and put on plate.
  12. Serve with ketchup and/or brown sauce and EAT!!!

REMEMBER:

A full English might appear easy enough to implement but timing is the key to delivering a successful dish. With so many components, all of which have different cooking times, it can be tricky. Always keep an eye on each component as it is being cooked.

 

 

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