Friday

ACTIONAID #GIVEAFUTURE

ActionAid need our help, now.

This wonderful charity work tirelessly throughout the year to give a better and brighter future to children who need one most around the world. I've worked with them on previous campaigns, and the further we can spread the word the better. This Christmas I have the fortune of being with family and loved ones, in a warm house, with electricity and running water, opening presents we have given each other. A lot of us will think of this as normal but for so many children in the world this is a distant dream of something they've never had. I don't know how much you've spent on presents, but I'm sure it's more than what it costs to sponsor a child in desperate need. With ActionAid you can sponsor one of the world's poorest, most vulnerable children. ActionAid work in over 40 countries with kids who are hungry with no food, sick with no medicine and in danger with no protection. But with your help, for just £15 a month, ActionAid can provide support and help to these children, to give them hope and a better future. You can also give child sponsorship as a gift this year, so if you know someone who has everything, or someone you've yet to buy a present for, why not give them the gift that keeps on giving?

The ActionAid Christmas campaign is focusing on 6 of the 40 countries they work in - Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, The Gambia, Afghanistan and Myanmar - where the children are most in need. You can make sure that a child has enough to eat, a safe place to live and the chance to go to school. So please, please help if you can.

One of the previous ActionAid campaigns I worked on was also supported by actress Fay Ripley. She spoke passionately about her visit to the poorest parts of Africa, where she'd met children who had literally been saved by ActionAid's work. For this year's Action Aid Christmas #giveafuture campaign Fay has put together a recipe to share. So please share this post far and wide, and if you make the recipe, why not make a donation as well?


To make Fay's chocolate tray bake you'll need to do the following, and please make sure you buy fairtrade ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Line the tin with baking paper. In a large bowl, first add the cocoa powder and 4 tablespoons hot water.

Mix together, then add the butter, and caster sugar and cream together with an electric whisk. Once smooth and fluffy, add the eggs, flour, baking powder and milk. Whisk again until completely combined then scrape the mixture into your lined tin and bake for 35-40 minutes till firm to the touch. Cool completely before putting on a plate.

For the topping, spread the jam all over the top of the cooled cake with the back of a spoon. Now melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a pan of gently simmering water along with the icing sugar and 3 tablespoons water. When smooth and glossy, pour it on top of the cake and smooth it all over. Again, the back of a spoon (the same one as before if you’ve washed and dried it) is good here. For a finishing touch sprinkle the top liberally with whatever cake decorations. It looks much better when covered in bits of chocolate/fondant pieces.
 



Recipe taken from Fay Makes It Easy by Fay Ripley (HarperCollins, £20) photo: Maja Smend
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Wednesday

CARDHU GOLD RESERVE at RAMUSAKE

A few weeks ago, just before my holidays, I went along to an evening of whisky tasting at the recently opened Ramusake restaurant in Kensington. Cardhu whisky was new to me so it was fascinating to learn more about the brand and its history. Cardhu is a Speyside distillery near Moray in Scotland, which was set up on a farm by whisky smuggler John Cumming in 1824, and is now run by Diageo, the world's largest spirit producer. The distillery was originally run by John's wife Helen, before being taken over by their daughter-in-law Elizabeth, after it had been moved to a new site. The distillery produced so much whisky that the majority of it was sold to Johnnie Walker and Sons to add to their own blend. And in 1893 the distillery itself was sold to Johnnie Walker and Sons under the promise that the Cumming family would continue to actually run it.

Cardhu produce a range of single malt whiskies that vary between 12 and 21 years old. But we were at Ramusake to try their new product - Cardhu Gold Reserve, a single malt whisky made in hand-picked toasted oak casks. This creates an extra sweet, rich whisky, with notes of red apples, toffee, pear, clotted cream and tropical fig! It finishes on a dry note, and has a very rounded finish, unlike other whiskies I've tried that have a harsher finish. Cardhu Gold Reserve is perfect on the rocks, with or without ice, and is the first whisky I've really appreciated drinking straight.



What I appreciated even more than the straight whisky were both of the amazing cocktails it was served in at the tasting, aptly named "Golden Delicious" and "Honeyed Gold", both created by Andrea Montague, formerly of Calooh Callay, one of my favourite London bars. The "Golden Delicious" was made with a double shot of Cardhu Gold Reserve, equal amounts of pear juice and ginger ale, and a splash of honey water - it was sweet and refreshing and incredibly drinkable!


The "Honeyed Gold" was a double of Cardhu Gold Reserve, small amounts of lemon and orange juice and a dash of golden syrup water. This had a sharper note to it than the pear version, but again was refreshing and easy to drink. Of the 2 my favourite was the "Golden Delicious" but there was very little between them.


Another great pairing that I learnt about on the night was Japanese food served with the whisky cocktails, though with the recent Japanese interest in whisky production, it wasn't as surprising a combination as it sounds. Ramusake describe their food as "post-Japanese" on their site, and serve a variety of exciting takes on typical Japanese fare. We had crab inside out rolls with avocado; blackened cod; tuna sashimi with kizami wasabi salsa and yuzu-soy; razor clam and grapefruit ceviche, and scorched cauliflower - an unexpected favourite. Ramusake is dark and elegant, and almost nightclub-like, so excuse the photos, as it was really hard to get a good shot!







Cardhu Gold Reserve is available to buy by the bottle and would make an excellent present for any whisky lovers or even whisky novices, thanks to its sweet, smooth taste. The real test of the whisky was when I got home from the tasting and asked the boy to try it. He definitely knows a thing or two about whisky, his favourite tipple, and he absolutely loved the Cardhu! A really special gift to give someone would be the Cardhu Gold Reserve Golden Moments gift set that has been put together specially to enhance the experience of drinking this whisky. The box includes a bottle of the Cardhu Gold Reserve with two balloon whisky glasses, whisky flavoured chocolates, a black fig candle made by perfumer Angela Flanders that matches the aromas of the whisky and comes in a beautiful box, and a book containing the recipes for both cocktails we tried, as well as a few tongue-in-cheek party hosting tips. The box is great value at £55, as the bottle alone retails for £43.50.


One last whisky fact I want to leave you with is how to spell the word whisky. I hadn't realised before the tasting that if whisky is from Scotland then it's spelt without an "e" but if it's from elsewhere in the world then it's spelt "whiskey". Do you like whisky? What's your favourite way to drink it - if you have any whisky cocktail suggestions I'd love to hear about them so please leave a comment!
 
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Monday

KANADA-YA RAMEN, SOHO

It's not often I go to a restaurant and come out declaring it's the best version of whichever food they're serving that I've tried, so it's a big deal for me to say I've found the BEST ramen that I've ever tasted, especially when it's a no-booking restaurant with food served so fast that you're in and out within 30 minutes. But that restaurant exists and it's Kanada-Ya.

I was invited to visit Kanada-Ya on a cold and rainy Wednesday evening. I arrived with Hugo at 6.30 to see a huge queue outside already, with probably more than 20 people queueing for this 24 seater ramen bar. The restaurant is small and compact with a semi open kitchen - there are bench tables in the centre and a few tables against the windows. The place is buzzing and no sooner has one table been cleared, than the next hungry diners waiting outside are ushered in.

The menu at Kanada-Ya is short and sweet. You choose from 3 options of tonkotsu (which means pork bone) ramen (noodle soup) - all made with the same creamy 18 hour pork bone broth, the toppings alternate slightly between the choices. Their three options of ramen are:

- Original ramen - broth, chashu pork belly, wood ear fungus, noodles, nori and spring onion (£10)
- Moyashi ramen - broth, chashu pork belly, wood ear fungus, noodles, nori and spring onion, topped with blanched bean sprouts (£11)
- Chashu men - broth, deluxe chashu pork collar, wood ear fungus, noodles, nori and spring onion (£12.50)

You can also add extra noodles (£1.50), black garlic sauce (£1), spicy miso (£1.50), Hanjuku egg - a soft boiled egg marinated in soy (£1.80) and extra nori (£0.50). We both went for the Chashu men with spicy miso, and an egg for me. You can also choose how you want your noodles cooked - extra firm, firm, regular or soft. Hugo went for firm and I had regular. The wait between ordering your ramen and it arriving at the table was less than 5 minutes. And when it does arrive you're greeted with a steaming bowl of goodness.



The broth is rich, smooth and plentiful. The bowl has thin slices of pork collar around the edges, and in the middle is a nest of noodles, mushrooms, spring onions and a soy stained egg. The spicy miso was a red swipe of paste, presented on a spoon to mix into the ramen yourself. The noodles were cooked perfectly for my liking, and the egg was amazing - the white fully cooked, but the yolk as rich and creamy as the broth whilst being soft and almost gel like, in a very good way! Hugo ate his bowl of ramen in less than 5 minutes! I savoured mine for a little longer, enjoying every single mouthful. Kanada-Ya also do extra noodles, so you can eat the contents of your ramen bowl, leaving the soup to add more noodles to for round 2.

Kanada-Ya is a Japanese restaurant, with 3 sites in the Far East, and was set up by Kanada Kazuhiro who used to be a cyclist, but when age got the better of him he turned his hand to ramen. The Soho branch is the only one so far in London, and is run by the very kind and charismatic Ken, who looked after so well and to whom I could've chatted 'ramen' for hours. Though I had to let him get back to dealing with the ever growing queue outside. Not before finding out that the best time to go to Kanada-Ya if you don't want to queue is 14:30 or 21:30, just before they close each shift. They make over 250 bowls of ramen a day, and the broth, noodles, eggs and all their other ingredients are made on site, by hand.

Kanada-Ya are licensed, though we stuck to green tea for our visit, you can get beer or sake to drink with your ramen. So wrap up warm, and go get in that queue! Trust me, it'll be worth it.


 
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Friday

8 INCREDIBLE DAYS IN MAURITIUS

If you follow me on Instagram, you might've seen that I went on the holiday of a lifetime a couple of weeks ago. The boy's mum very kindly took me, the boy, his brother and his brother's lady off to Mauritius for a break. It was the furthest I've ever travelled and my first time in the Southern hemisphere, so I wanted to share some of my photos, experiences and food discoveries with you here.

We took a night flight direct from Heathrow to Mauritius and arrived to be hit by a wall of heat and humidity, all slightly dazed from a sleep-lacking flight! We were picked up by our driver and driven from the airport, on the south-east of the island, to the hotel, on the north-west. Mauritius is in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar, and is about 70km in length, so it only took an hour to reach the hotel. We were staying at the gorgeous Maritim, Balaclava, and were greeted with the most stunning view through the reception foyer, out over the infinity pool to the crystal blue sea. The views were unlike anything I've seen before, as was the heat!



The hotel package was all inclusive so we made the most of our time there. We went horse riding on the ex racehorses that the hotel adopts; we spent a morning kayaking up the creek to the ruins; we took a private boat out to swim with dolphins, which was incredible, and then spent the rest of the day on an uninhabited island in the south of Mauritius, drinking rum punch and eating barbecued food; we spent 4 hours snorkelling on the reef by the hotel one day; we went on a 12km bike ride to the local village and were taken round the back streets to learn about the fruit that grows there; we played ping pong and mini golf; we went sailing on a catamaran; we walked up to the animal sanctuary at the top of the estate to meet giant tortoises and the resident goats; the boys spent hours water-skiing and we also actually relaxed and spent time on the beach loungers reading, snoozing and drinking pina coladas. And of course I spent a lot of time at the dog sanctuary on the beach, where the hotel adopts, feeds and gives medicine to stray island dogs.











The hotel had various restaurants on site. There was a buffet, a beach restaurant (where we ate most of our lunches), a German "pub"(!?) and our favourite, the Banyan, a pan Asian restaurant situated on the veranda area, overlooking a huge banyan tree. We ate there a couple of times and feasted on incredible sushi, dim sum, crispy duck and noodles.






We also ventured out of the hotel on a couple of evenings to local towns. First we went to La Rougaille Creole, in Grand Baie, that we had found via Tripadvisor. It was a small place, with just a roof and no walls in the back streets off the main beachfront. It had great reviews online and the friendliest staff greeted us. The menu looked divine, with loads of seafood and fresh fish, something we were craving after lots of meals at the hotel, that seemed to feature more meat than fish. For starters we chose octopus salad, sashimi, fish gratin and seafood soup, all of which were really delicious, each cost about £4 and they came in huge portions!





Thank you to the boy's family for waiting for me to photo everything before starting!

Mains were whole catch of the day, and seafood skewers, of which 3 came on the plate, and each was ginormous. I didn't get photos of all of these, but they were also fantastic. We finally waddled out of the restaurant after spending about £20 each including lots of booze.

The boy and I went out a few nights later to a place called Souvenir in Trou au Biches, where we had more of the same - sashimi, octopus salad and catch of the day, and extremely strong rum cocktails!!

Mauritius was incredible. I had the best 8 days, and made some wonderful memories. It was so much fun, relaxing and exciting and just magical. Huge thank you to the boy's mum for treating us all to such an amazing holiday.
 
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Wednesday

PACHAMAMA LONDON

Peruvian food seems to be the new thing in London. Lima recently won a Michelin star and a handful of Peruvian influenced places have sprung up since then, including Pachamama in Marylebone which I visited a few weeks ago. You find Pachamama through a missable door off Thayer St, at the south end of Marylebone High St, and head downstairs into the light, bright, and really quite large space that Pachamama have created. The walls are decorated with flowers and a full size horse figure, and the tables by the bar sweep round the corner into a larger dining room, which has smaller, private, lounge type rooms coming off it. They serve fresh and delicious sharing dishes for lunch, and something a bit more substantial for dinner, when the lights go down and the music turns up.



We went for lunch on a Saturday and the restaurant was about half full, meaning the service was impeccable and we were very well looked after. I took the boy with me, so the restaurant also had to work around his chilli allergy, something they looked a little scared by to begin with but accommodated well - there was the odd chilli doused dish which made its way to our table, but a non chilli version was brought out each time they realised too, so the boy could enjoy the same dishes as me. As it's a sharing menu we chose 9 dishes between us. Not of course before a cocktail - the Mama's Pisco, a blend of Pisco (South American brandy), fresh raspberry, mint and orange juice. It was refreshing but punchy and certainly shook our hangovers off!

But the food was the main event! We started with what turned out to be my 3 favourite dishes. The first 2 were ceviche dishes - sea bass, samphire, radish, sweet potato and chilli-free tiger's milk, and portobello, king oyster mushroom, corn and truffle chilli-free tiger's milk. I was expecting to love the raw sea bass and I did. I'm a massive fan of raw fish, and particularly love it with tangy tiger's milk, so this went down a treat. It tasted so clean and fresh. The veggie version was the one I was unsure about before I tried it, I couldn't imagine how it was going to work, but it was great! The mushrooms were soft from their marinating, and the tiger's milk brought the whole dish together. They were also both very pretty dishes to look at (not that they were on the plate long enough for that!)



Next up was veal anticuchos (grilled meat on a skewer) with celeriac puree. This had been marinated in chilli before cooking so I got to eat it all to myself, and it was incredible. The veal was soft and tender, and the sauce so smokey and fiery, I could've eaten about 10 skewers of it. I really like celeriac puree with red meat and here it was the perfect vehicle to mop up all the juices that dripped off the skewers.



We followed this with a selection of dishes - quinoa, avocado, Granny Smith, tomato and coriander vinaigrette was a lovely light dish, with a delicate flavour. I liked the texture of the soft avocado with the grains of quinoa.


Then we had sweet plantain, feta and English malt, with a hot yellow sauce - I didn't mind this dish, but plantain isn't my favourite thing, I'm not sure if it's the taste or the texture or just that it reminds me of bananas but I could live without it. We also had the purple potatoes, mint, peanuts and crispy onions. Again, I wouldn't go for this dish next time. It wasn't bad, I just preferred the meat and fish offerings at Pachamama. Like the chicken anticuchos with charred corn - succulent, juicy chicken that disappeared from the plate in seconds. The boy tried it first and told me how good it was - he's not normally a massive chicken fan so this was quite the compliment. We fought each other for the rest of it! The last dish we had was the mackerel fillet with criolla sauce - another spicy, hot sauce, so this one was for me. I liked the way they kept it simple, all a fillet of good mackerel needs is a little, punchy sauce, so it was perfect to end the meal. All the dishes on the lunch menu are priced at £6 each.

Though we didn't quite end the meal there. We had our rubber arms twisted into ordering pudding, and went for the chocolate fondant, brittle, salted peanut ice cream and the almond milk pana cotta with passion fruit and white chocolate. Both were fantastic. The fondant was oozy and decadent, balanced wonderfully with the salty, nutty accompaniments. But our favourite was definitely the pana cotta. It was wobbly and creamy, and was lifted by the fresh fruit on the plate. The white chocolate covered brittle was just delicious. After a little mix up with salt in my coffee instead of sugar, and a lovely chat with the restaurant's manager we headed on our merry way, back into tourist-filled central London.


I'm really looking forward to going back to Pachamama one evening when it's a bit more lively as I think it'll make a great place for cocktails, food and some Latin American music - I've already got my eye on the Josper oven-cooked crispy lamb belly, miso, green aji sauce and the flamed octopus, purple potatoes, capers and crispy shallots from their evening menu. Full details of the restaurant, and their menus can be found HERE.
 
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Monday

DECORATED - by APRIL CARTER

A couple of years ago I did a food writing course at Leith's cookery school. There were about 15 of us on the course, from all walks of life, each with our own food writing ambitions. Mine was to improve my blog, learn some writing techniques and brush up my skills in the hope of one day writing my own cookbook. 2 years down the line and I still hope to publish my own book, part of which is written, part of which is safely stored in my head!!!! But something exciting popped up on my facebook feed a few weeks ago - one of the ladies on the course, April Carter, has now written her 3rd book (!!), which has been published by Hardie Grant and is now on sale! Her name emblazoned across her book, full of her own recipes - that has to be the dream come true? I was thrilled when April said yes to me previewing one of her recipes from the book for my blog, in the hope that you might want to buy the book yourselves, either to further your own baking, or as a perfect Christmas present for a loved one.

April Carter's 'Decorated - Sublimely crafted cakes for every occasion' book is absolutely beautiful. A collection of recipes for cakes and sweet treats for all occasions and skill levels, the book finishes with a chapter dedicated to how to decorate your own cakes, going into great detail about icing techniques, how to melt chocolate and tips for that extra special finishing touch, all shown via gorgeous photos, taken by Danielle Wood. I know already that April's book is going to be my go-to book for cake making and decorating, and as I'm known as the world's worst cake decorator I can see myself learning a LOT from the last chapter of 'Decorated'. So when an email came into my inbox at work last week asking if I'd bake a cake for a bake sale in aid of Children with Cancer and St John's Hospice (for who they ended up raising over £400), I thought it the ideal time to give one of April's recipes a go, though as you'll see later, I've still got a way to go on the decorating side of things!! Looks aside, it was one of the most delicious cakes I've ever eaten, and April's recipes are a dream to follow - step by step, absolutely perfect instructions.


CHESTNUT & PEAR CHEESECAKE

I did adapt the recipe slightly, so I will give you my version, and for April's you'll need to buy her book! The main change I made is that I didn't actually use any chestnut as I couldn't get hold of it for when I needed it - I replaced the chestnut puree with some homemade salted caramel.

For the pears:
7 small, firm pears
500g caster sugar

For the base:
180g hobnobs (April specifies digestive biscuits, hobnobs worked well too)
90g unsalted butter
2 tbsp fairtrade cocoa powder

For the layers:
100g fairtrade dark chocolate (I used Green and Blacks)
250g cream cheese (always use Philadelphia - supermarket own brands lack creaminess)
150g soft light brown sugar
450ml double (heavy) cream
150g salted caramel sauce (this is meant to be chestnut spread and would've made the cake taste even more sublime, and Christmassy!)

For the chocolate glaze:
100g fairtrade dark chocolate (I used Green and Blacks)
50g unsalted butter

Start by making the base of the cake. Melt the butter. Magimix the biscuits into crumbs, and stir into the melted butter with the cocoa. Line your 8" springform cake tin with cling film, and press the base into the bottom, leaving it a little higher at the edges. Refrigerate to firm up the biscuit base. When I made this cake I found all 3 of my spring form frames, and none of the base pieces, so ended up making it in an oblong bread tin instead!

Poach the pears by boiling 1 litre of water with the caster sugar. Once the sugar has melted add the pears, cover with greaseproof, put a lid on and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the pears are soft. Remove from the syrup and leave to cool.

To make the filling start by melting the chocolate. Break the chocolate into small chunks and put in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn't touch the water. Leave to melt and remove from the heat once it's nearly all melted. Stir to melt the remaining lumps. Whisk the brown sugar into the cream cheese by hand. Put to one side. Whisk the double cream until soft peaks form. Fold the cream cheese mixture into the double cream. Split the mixture into 2 equal amounts.

In the first cream cheese/cream mixture add the cooled melted chocolate and fold until combined. Spread this mixture over the biscuit base. Push the cooled pears down into the chocolate layer and put the cake-so-far back into the fridge.

Fold the salted caramel into the remaining cream cheese/cream mixture, and once the layer of chocolate cream has set a little, spread the salted caramel layer on top. I found this a little tricky with the pears in the way, so I actually piped this layer on and smoothed it out with a palette knife. Put the cake in the fridge and leave for at least 2 hours, or overnight.

I left the cake overnight so I could decorate it before work in the morning. This meant I was rushed to do the decorating in the morning, which goes a little way to explain the photo below! To decorate the cake, melt the chocolate and butter in the same way as before. Once melted, remove from the heat and leave to cool. When it has cool spread the chocolate over the chestnut/caramel layer and leave it to drip down the sides. Here is what my cake looked like, and below is April's stunning creation! I think a good way to get really defined layers would be to freeze the cake in between layers, and leave to defrost in the fridge before topping with the chocolate mix.

My version:


April's version:

 
'Decorated' is one of the prettiest books I've seen, printed on gorgeous, thick, matt paper, and filled with stunning photos. Style does not give way to substance though, and it's packed with tempting recipes, that even the most nervous of bakers could easily make, following April's excellent instructions. At £20 it would make a fabulous Christmas present, and a cake baked from the book would be an even lovelier accompaniment.
 
Massive congratulations to April on your 3rd book - please keep them coming, I adore your recipes and books!
 
Decorated by April Carter published by Hardie Grant (£20.00) Photography: Danielle Wood 
 

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Friday

CHRISTMAS PRESENT IDEAS & RECIPES

I'm normally pretty good at Christmas shopping. I find things I know my nearest and dearest would love, and I either buy them and squirrel them away or keep a list of links to the items in my inbox and purchase a few weeks before Christmas to avoid that nail biting "will it arrive in time" last minute dash. This also means I can avoid Christmas shopping on the high street, which really is my idea of hell. However this year I feel a bit like I've lost my present buying mojo!! I hadn't had any brainwave ideas, and to be honest, I was struggling a bit to come up with any. So I've sat down, and I've done my research, and finally I've got a list together that I thought I'd share with you in case you too are struggling. Some of my ideas, naturally, are food orientated, whilst others are just great gifts I think most people would be happy to receive. I've also popped a couple of recipe ideas below of things you can make for your loved ones that will keep beyond the Christmas period so they can enjoy once the over indulgence period has stopped! The truffle recipe makes THE most delicious boozy truffles, and are from an excellent Christmas baking day I recently did in the Miele showroom, whilst the salted caramel recipe is my own, but also inspired by the Miele day where we made their version of the caramel - though I still think mine's better, and is already something I put in Kilner jars and give to people for birthdays. In fact, the last person I gave it to ended up using it to make a sticky toffee pudding, which they said was the best they'd ever tasted.

Anyway, on to the gifts....

For the foodies/kitchen lovers in your life, I've recently become obsessed with crockery (I know, I'm old!!) and found a wonderful website called Amara where I've been buying plates, cups, jugs and lots more from over the past few months, including these absolute beauties that I don't think any kitchen is complete without - Pols potten plates. I've also got the matching bowls, but if you order those beware that they are quite small!


Another thing I've totally fallen for from Amara is this beautiful teapot - how cute is the little handle?! I can't get the picture to work, so click on the link to see it for yourself!!

And while we're on food, here's the recipe for those truffles I mentioned. It's super easy, and as long as they're kept cool, the truffles will keep for a couple of weeks.

Makes 24 truffles

115g dark chocolate (I like to use Green and Blacks), chopped as small as possible
40g butter
55g ground almonds
30g raisins, roughly chopped
6 glacier cherries, roughly chopped
3 tbsp rum
55g icing sugar
2 tbsp chopped hazelnuts
2 tbsp desiccated coconut

Put a saucepan on the hob, and melt the butter in it. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate, stir until all melted. Once melted add the ground almonds, raisins, cherries, rum and icing sugar. Stir and put the pan in the fridge until cool.

Once cool take a teaspoon's worth of mixture and roll into a ball with your hands. Drop into a bowl of either chopped hazelnuts or desiccated coconut and stir until the ball is coated. Put on a plate and put back into the fridge until needed. You can then put all the truffles into a cellophane bag, tie with a ribbon and they're good to go as a lovely, edible gift!


The next item is actually something I've asked for for myself. I absolutely love having blankets and throws round the house - I use them to make the bed, I add them to bedding when it's cold, wrap them round me when I pop out to the garden for sneaky cigarette, and I love snuggling up under a blanket on the sofa to watch the latest David Attenborough - I'd rather a snuggly blanket than a hot room! This looks like it's just the cosiest knitted quilt, and as it's from The White Company you know it's going to be great quality.  









To go with the snuggly blanket, here are some snuggly slippers. Made from real sheepskin these come in women's and men's styles/sizes so you can grab a pair for anyone. They look lovely and I bet they're super cosy too. I seem to get through a pair of slippers a year, because as soon as I get home off come the trainers/ballet shoes/biker boots and on go the slippers. I'd love to slip my feet into a pair of these.  

I don't know about you, but we have a ridiculous number of cables and plugs and chargers lying round our house but despite that my phone and the iPad seem to always be running out of battery. This next item is brilliant - it's an iPad cover with as many pockets and pouches as you could ever need and an inbuilt battery pack to charge your devices on the go. It's also really hardy and sleek enough to fit in a handbag/briefcase without being too bulky.


This is another techie item that I actually bought as an early present for the boy before we went to Mauritius last week. It's a lifeproof phone cover that not only protects your phone if you drop it, but it's completely waterproof! We took it with us to Mauritius and it was such a hit - the boy filmed hours and hours of snorkelling and even got footage of us swimming with dolphins. I'd really recommend this is there's a traveller you want to give something special to.

Another really special gift would be this wonderful whisky gift box. It's from Cardhu and includes a bottle of their delicious Cardhu Gold Reserve whisky, 2 whisky glasses, some whisky chocolate and a really nice fig scented Angela Flanders candle, the aromas of which match the taste of the whisky. I will be posting a blog next week with more information about Cardhu, as I went to a tasting with them recently and really enjoyed learning more about their whisky.


If gift boxes are what you're after there's another great option from Bill's. They've got Christmas hampers, which include jam, coffee, tea, biscuits, chocolates, olive oil, wine, bubbly, marc de champagne truffles and lots more, depending on which wicker hamper you choose - they range from £50-100. They're also doing Christmas gift boxes, which include teapots, afternoon treats, truffles and Panettone.


Last on my list are a couple of great foodie items. The first is a discounted Tastecard. If you don't know about Tastecard then you should definitely find out about them, especially if you eat out a lot. They offer up to 50% off 1000s of restaurants - both chains and independents, and they're doing a December offer on annual membership for £30!! You could get that back after using it just once. The perfect gift for those who like to eat out. Use code JINGLE14 to get yours.

Finally the best treat you could give someone - vouchers for Grub Club! Gift someone these and they can pick a night out, dining in someone's home, in a clocktower or eating food created by a Michelin star chef. You can choose the amount you want to give here.

I can't wait for Christmas now, and more than anything I'm looking forward to spending some quality time with my family, the boy and his family, relaxing, eating lots and warming up by the fireplace. Presence is even better than presents. And  almost as good as salted caramel - here's the recipe for my version of this heavenly, sweet and salty sauce...

Makes enough for 4 small-ish kilner jars:

200g salted butter
400g dark brown sugar
450ml heavy/thick double cream (this has to be the thick version, normal double cream won't make it as good as it should be!)
4 teaspoons sea salt flakes
4 teaspoons vanilla extract

Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low-medium heat. Once melted add the dark brown sugar, 2 teaspoons of sea salt and the heavy/thick double cream Whisk until all combined and increase the heat to medium. Let it gently bubble for 5 minutes, whisking it once a minute.

Remove from the heat, add the vanilla extract and 2 more teaspoons of salt, whisking vigorously. Check the taste and add more salt if needed. The sauce will thicken while it cools so don't worry if it looks a little runny at this stage. Leave to cool slightly, then pour in to sterilised kilner jars and seal. [To sterilise your kilner jars wash them in the dishwasher]. You can add pretty labels to the jars and give to your nearest and dearest. Eat on toast, add to puddings, stir into crème fraiche, dollop on ice cream or get a spoon and tuck in!

Happy Christmas and thank you for reading my blog :) !!
 
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