Thursday, 26 January 2017

A John Deere Birthday Party

My tractor-mad boy had his 4th birthday 7 months ago now, but I have had it in mind to blog about his party for ages.  He insisted that he wanted a John Deere theme...  'No problem' I thought and started scouring Pinterest for ideas.  There *were* lots of ideas, but I found myself searching through countless blogs and websites to collate them all, so I thought it could be useful to write a blogpost with them all in one place.  So if you're planning a tractor or farm-themed party, I hope you find this useful.

Firstly, I think a themed table-setting really gets you off to a flying start.  I browsed Amazon and found this brilliant 'grass' tablecloth for less than 3 pounds, bargain!  It'll definitely be usable again for future parties.  The tractor napkins were also from Amazon, as were the plain yellow paper plates.  Cheap and simple.  The spotty cups and plain blue paper plates on which I served some of the food were from Tesco.  I dotted the table with various toy tractors and farm animals.

I decided to make all of the food fit in with the theme, but wanted to keep this as simple as possible as well as making foods that your average child will actually eat!

Well, OK, the kids mostly ignore the crudites!  But it makes me feel better to put some out.  😉

Just breadsticks.

Tesco own-brand crisps.  I love those bacon ones, and enjoyed the humour of displaying them next to the toy pig!

Obviously you could make your own of all the above hot foods, and if I'd been in a 'Supermum' kind of mood I definitely would have done so.  However, my husband was away and my son and I were going out on the morning of the party (in a fabulous co-incidence, it was 'Open Farm Sunday' so we popped over to the local dairy farm to ogle at the awesome machinery!) so I just bought everything from the supermarket.  

I did however make some 'Cheesy Chicks', just cheese biscuits using Nigella's 'Cheesy Feet' recipe:

And now the puddings:

I had these cute little foil cases in the cupboard which I'd bought *years* ago from the Dollarstore when we lived in Canada!  Great to find a use for them.  This was just green jelly with green grapes cut up in it.  If I was catering for more children I'd have done some yellow ones too.

I was quite proud of these as I made up the 'recipe' and my son really enjoyed helping me make them.  I simply melted a mixture of milk and dark chocolate and threw in raisins and chopped nuts (none of the guests have allergies), then plopped it onto a lined baking tray in suitable 'dollops'.

A genius idea from Pinterest was making rice-crispie cakes into hay bales.  I displayed these in a trailer.

Lastly, my son's favourite popcorn (Coconut and Vanilla 'Propercorn').

I may not have made all the food myself, but I did manage to create the cake!  I had seen some amazing John Deere cakes on Pinterest, but this was one I designed myself; extremely simple but I thought it was effective and Ted loved it.

Judging from the carnage left after the tea, all the guests enjoyed the meal.  I did too (thankfully the mums of Ted's friends are a brilliant bunch) - but obviously I collapsed in a state of exhaustion, glass of wine in hand, as soon as everyone had left!

Monday, 26 October 2015

The Apple Diaries 2015 - Bramley Lemon Curd

Apologies for not adding to this blog for ages; I have been doing a bit more apple cooking, but I'm now totally out of jars so can't manage any more preserving for now, and we are feeling rather puddinged-out, so no more appley puds...  for a little while anyway!  Both of Delia's Pork and Apple dishes (blogged about earlier this Autumn) have made a reappearance recently, and I have stewed pans full of apples, nothing added, simply to use as apple sauce with roast pork meals in the coming months.  These are frozen, awaiting a time when we can no longer simply pop outside to grab an apple or two from the tree.  I also keep a bowl of unsweetened stewed apple in the fridge which I am eating for breakfast with granola and Greek Yoghurt.

Having said that I have now run out of jars, I used my final few for a slightly unusual preserve that I have been dying to try ever since I saw it in one of my favourite books ,the wonderful 'Preserves'  by Pam Corbin (a River Cottage Handbook):  Bramley Lemon Curd.  You might think nothing could beat a traditional lemon curd, but I agree with Pam Corbin that this is actually even nicer - she describes it as 'like eating apples and custard: softly sweet, tangy and quite, quite delicious'.  Irresistable.

Bramley Lemon Curd

450g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons (you need 100ml juice)
125g unsalted butter
450g granulated sugar
4-5 large eggs (you need 200ml beaten egg)

Put the chopped apple into a  pan with 100ml water and the lemon zest.  Cook gently  until soft and fluffy, then either beat to a smooth puree with a wooden spoon or rub through a nylon sieve (I went with the beating option, and didn't worry that it wasn't perfectly smooth).

Put the butter, sugar, lemon juice and apple puree into a double boiler or heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water (I like to live dangerously so just threw them all into a saucepan over a low heat and made sure to stir constantly!).

As soon as the butter is melted and the mixture is hot and glossy, pour in the eggs through a sieve (or don't bother with sieving them; I don't) and whisk with a balloon whisk.  If the fruit puree is too hot when the beaten eggs is added the egg will 'split'.   If you want to guard against this you can use a sugar thermometer - the mix should be no hotter than 55-60C when the egg is added.  If the curd does split, take the pan off the heat and whisk  vigorously until smooth.

Stir the mixture over a gentle heat, scraping down the sides of the bowl every few minutes, until thick and creamy.  This will take 9-10 minutes (in my experience this is a conservative estimate, mine takes at least 15, so don't panic!); the temperature should reach 82-84C on a sugar thermometer.  Immediately pour into warm sterilised jars and seal.  Use within 4 weeks (again, a conservative figure, I think it's OK for a  bit longer than this, but your call); once opened, keep in the fridge.

The recipe says this makes  5 225g jars, but I used jars of a variety of sizes and got 3 jars of the size pictured below (a Bonne Maman jar) and 1 slightly smaller one.  2 have been given as gifts and the other 2 are mine, all mine!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Apple Diaries 2015 - Quantock Pudding

Yet another pud from this amazing book:

Photo courtesy of this blogger - who also adores this book!
This is another recipe that hails from the West Country, that great apple-producing area of the UK.  It's a batter pudding similar to the French Clafoutis, which is I believe usually made with cherries.  This Quantock or Somerset version actually uses blackberries, but the recipe states that any soft fruit is suitable, as well as apples, pears, rhubarb, apricots and goodberries.  So apples it was!

Quantock Pudding

50g butter
55g plain flour
4 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
150ml whipping cream
150ml full cream milk
450g fruit (I used peeled, cored and chopped apple)
(Optional) 1 tsp cinnamon (if using apples)
Icing sugar to dust

Preheat the oven to 200C/44F/gas 6.
Using half the butter liberally grease a shallow gratin, ovenproof baking dish with a 1.2l (2 pint) capacity.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, eggs, sugar, cinammon if using, and vanilla, then stir in the cream and milk. 
Place the fruit into the dish then pour over the batter.  Dot the remaining batter over the surface, then bake for 30 minutes or until puffed and golden brown (test by inserting a skewer and seeing if it comes out clean).

Leave for at least 20 minutes before serving warm and dusted with icing sugar.  Eat with cream.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

The Apple Diaries 2015 - Apple Dappy

This comically-named pudding hails from the West Country and is a traditional Victorian recipe found in 'Good Old Fashioned Puddings' by Sara Paston-Williams.  It involves making a dough which you then roll into a square, cover with apple, sugar and spice, then roll up rather like a Swiss Roll.  It's then sliced thickly and the slices are laid in a baking dish.  A lemony syrup is poured over before the dish is put into the oven.  Reading the recipe, this sounded fun to try and delicious to eat, and I'm pleased to say that I was correct on both counts. 

Apple Dappy

- Lemon Syrup
1 large lemon
1 tbsp golden syrup
15g butter
115g sugar
200ml water

- Pudding
225g self-raising flour
1 level tbsp baking powder
55g butter, cut into small pieces
150ml milk
450g cooking apples
1 tbsp demerara sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5.

To make the lemon syrup, peel the lemon as thinly as possible and squeeze out the juice.  Place the lemon rind, juice and all the other syrup ingredients into a pan and heat gently, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  Leave to stand until needed.

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large mixing bowl and run in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Mix to a dough with the milk, then roll out onto a floured surface to about 20cm square, approximately 5mm thick.

Peel, core and chop the apples, then spread over the pastry.  Sprinkle with the sugar and spice and roll up like a Swiss Roll.

Cut into 2.5 cm thick slices and arrange in a buttered 1.2l/2 pint ovenproof dish.

Remove the lemon rind from the syrup and pour over the pudding.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until puffed up and golden.

Serve hot with cream, custard or ice-cream.

As you can see, the tips of the apple caught a little in the oven, but the rolls of dough did puff up and expand nicely.  The lemony syrup reduced slightly to give an amazing sweet stickiness around the edge of the pudding, as well as a tart sauce below the doughy rolls.  Absolutely lovely!

The Apple Diaries 2015 - Apple Charlotte

Apple Charlotte is a dish first found in recipe books from the beginning of the 19th century.  It consists of buttery bread which lines a basin or dish which is then filled with stewed fruit.  A bread 'lid' is popped on top and the whole thing is baked until the bread is golden and crispy.  The Charlotte is then turned out of the basin to be admired by all before tucking in.  

The idea of trying this dish really appealed to me as I love the combination of crispy bread with fruit (as in the Betty I made recently).  The recipe in my Good Old Fashioned Puddings book however was for Apple and Marmalade Charlotte which I didn't like the sound of, so I adapted it slightly and will give my own version below.

As you can see,when I turned the Charlotte out the bread casing gradually began to splay out, slightly spoiling the overall effect.  Luckily it certainly didn't spoil the overall taste, and I wasn't trying to impress any dinner-party guests!  I think next time however I would arrange the bread slices so they slightly overlapped in order to avoid this 'slump'.  But you can learn from my mistake.

Apple (and Blackberry) Charlotte

225g butter
115g caster sugar
4 or 5 slices of day-old white bread
600g cooking apples (or a mix of apples and blackberries)
1 tbsp water

Melt the butter and brush the inside of your chosen mould.  I used the basin in which I cook a medium-sized Christmas Pudding, but you can also use a round cake tin or a loaf tin.  Remove the crusts, then cutting and jigsawing your bread, gradually line the basin by dipping pieces of bread into the melted butter and then pressing the bread around the basin.  I used a round cutter to create a circle of bread for the bottom of the basin, then strips of bread for the sides (see note above about overlapping). 

Peel, core and slice the apples and gently stew in a pan with the sugar and water (and blackberries if using).  Fill the bread-lined basin with the fruit mixture and then place a whole crustless slice of bread dipped in the last of the butter on top of the apples.

Bake in a preheated oven at 220C/425F/gas 7 for 30-40 minutes until brown.

Slide a knife around inside the basin to loosen the Charlotte, then carefully turn out onto a plate.  Serve with cream, custard or vanilla ice-cream.

The Apple Diaries 2015 - Normandy Pork

Much as we love the classic Delia dish of Pork with Apples and Cider, it does require a) quite a lot of preparation by way of chopping ingredients, and  b) a fair amount of forward planning as it has to cook for 3 hours.  The previous recipe in the book  (Delia's Complete Cookery Course) is just as nice (possibly even nicer?), but much simpler and quicker to cook.  Once again, as you can see in the photo below it's no beauty in terms of looks, but it's rich and delicious, hearty and warming for an Autumnal evening.   We like it with rice a green veg, but it would also be lovely with some crusty bread to mop up the cidery juices.

Normandy Pork with Cream and Apples

4 medium sized pork chops or steaks
50g butter
1 medium cooking apple and 1 large Cox's apple (I just use 2 medium Bramleys)
1 large onion, cut into rings
1 clove garlic, crushed
3/4 tsp dried thyme (I actually prefer to substitute a tsp of fennel seeds here)
1/2 pint dry cider (or a whole can  - we buy cans of cider just for cooking)
3 tbsp double cream
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5.

Melt half the butter in a frying pan and fry the pork on both sides to a nice crusty golden colour.  Then transfer them to a lidded casserole dish and sprinkle with the thyme (or fennel if using).

Add the remaining butter to the pan and fry the onion and garlic for a few minutes to soften.  Meanwhile core the apples and slice them into rings (or chunks), leaving on the peel as this gives extra flavour.  Transfer the onion and garlic to the casserole with the pork, then fry the apple in the same fat just for a few seconds on each side then put them in the casserole too, sprinkling on the tsp of sugar.

Spoon off any fat still left in the pan (although if you use lean pork steaks you won't need to do this) then pour in the cider. Bring it up to simmering  point, stirring to loosen any tasty bits stuck to the pan, then pour into the casserole and season with salt and pepper.

Put the lid on and place the casserole into the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes until the meat is cooked (I often leave it for up to an hour, it doesn't hurt and makes the meat even more tender).  Then to finish off stir in the cream.  Serve immediately.

Monday, 14 September 2015

The Apple Diaries 2015 - Apple Betty

Another lovely pudding from my cookbook of the moment, 'Good Old Fashioned Puddings' by Sara Paston-Williams.  This is actually in the book as Rhubarb and Orange Betty, but as with most of these fruit puddings substitutions are easily made. 

A Betty is a 19th century pudding invented, I assume, to help people use up stale bread.  It consists of layers of fruit and crispy breadcrumbs, and has been a revelatory discovery for me - I just adore the crunchy breadcrumb topping, made rich and luxurious with the addition of a large amount of butter!

Melt 85g/3oz of butter in a heavy frying pan, then add 115g/4oz of white breadcrumbs.  In reality my bag of breadcrumbs, kept in the freezer, is made up of all manner of types of bread as I can't bear to throw anything away, so I can say with confidence that any breadcrumbs will be fine!  Fry until golden brown and crispy.  At this point you could also add some spices as flavourings.  I added nutmeg, plus a tablespoon of demerara sugar as I felt this would add a pleasing crunch.

As this pudding will have 45 minutes in the oven you don't really need to pre-stew the fruit.  The recipe says to use raw rhubarb when you start layering the pudding, so I just cut the apples (about 450g/1lb) into fairly thin slices (also peeled and cored), before mixing them with 85g of soft brown sugar (you may need more for tarter fruit).

Layer fruit in the bottom of an ovenproof dish, top with crispy breadcrumbs, then another layer of fruit.  Finish with more breadcrumbs, then cover with foil.  Bake in a preheated oven at 180C/350F/gas 4 for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and continue cooking for a further 20 5-30 minutes until the top is brown and crisp and the fruit soft.

We served this with vanilla ice-cream. 

Definitely my favourite apple pudding so far this year!