Tuesday
Dec312013

Breakfast Scones to start New Year 2014 

I'm a grouchy grump if I don't eat my breakfast. Tiredness hits me like a runaway train and my brain numbs to a heavy fog which means any work I need to do happens but with little enthusiasm.

Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day. I love the combinations of sweet and sour cool fruit, hot watery porridge and toast. Any bread takes on a new life when it's toasted.

However your seeing in the new year, you'll want a good brekkie to kick it off tomorrow.

These scones take moments to make or can be made a head and heated in a warm oven.

I separate the mixture into two bowls and flavour one with cheese & one with the rinds of clementines allowing me to offer sweet & savoury scones at the same time. A great way to offer the same choice to family or friends.

I'd been having elevense with some friends when I first tried clementine scones. The sweet orangey flavour lingered in my memory. There was something refreshing about the zing in a fluffy dough which I wanted to try again.

A few weeks later I found myself chatting with our family friend Anne - a marvellous baker and cook, who taught Home Economics - I told her about these clementine scones. As we talked she mentioned to me how she had been taught to make orange scones, where sugar cubes dipped in fresh orange juice where placed into the centre of the dough, before baking.

These clementine scones are my version, their zesty flavour awakens the senses which is just great at breakfast.

Cheese Scones
Clementine Scones

Makes 12 large scones

Top tip - work quickly with the scone mixture, keep your hands cool and ensure the mixture is firm and sticky. I make the scones using the dough hook on my Kitchen Aid.

Ingredients
1lb 8oz self raising flour
3tsp baking powder
4.5 oz soft butter
3oz caster sugar
3 eggs
3/4 pint of buttermilk (you can use any type of milk)
Rind and juice of two clementines
6 cubes of cheddar cheese about size of 2 centimetres squared
2oz grated cheddar cheese
12 sugar lumps
50-100ml orange juice

Method
1. Line a cookie sheet with baking paper
2. Add the flour, baking powder and rub in the butter until it resembles fine breadcrumbs
3. Add the sugar
4. Whisk the eggs with the milk stir into the buttered flour until it becomes a soft sticky dough
5. Allow the Kitchen Aid to turn/knead the mixture gently about speed (2) for a minute
6. Half the mixture between two bowls
7. Add the grated cheese to one bowl and to the other add the rind and 1/2 the juice of the clementine. Stir each bowl lightly incorporating the ingredients
8. Using a spatula and a spoon make 6 mounds (about the size of a small satsuma) of each mixture onto the lined cookie sheet
9. Into each cheese scone push the cube of cheese into the middle of each scone, brush top of each scone with buttermilk
10. Into each clementine scone add two sugar cubes which you have first dipped into orange juice, brush the top of the scones with the remaining clementine juice
11. Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean at 200'c or on the third set of runners in the Aga roasting oven.
12. When cooked lift off the cookie sheet and set to cool on a wire rack

Enjoy!

Here's to your first breakfast of what I hope will be a happy and sparkle filled 2014 for you and yours.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Tuesday
Dec242013

Merry Christmas

May your Christmas be one filled with laughter, joy & good cheer.

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Monday
Dec232013

Christmas and Cheese with Port from Marks and Spencer

I love the sort of nibbles you can put on the table without any special effort but that are full of trememdous gratification.  That's the thing really: entertaining is simple; you can choose to complicate it, but there's no need to. Even when you're at feeling worn out as many of us our at this time of year food like this, made from good ingredients, is exactly what you need to eat, seated around a table with friends.

LBV ports are made from one year's grape harvest and have a tendency to be lighter than a vintage port.  This Marks and Spencer LBV is drinking particularly well at the moment.

Smooth and robust, with a firm nose and flavour of chocolate, blackberry and a light sweet tartness this Late Bottled Vintage Port can be served at room temperate straight from the bottle, although if you'd like to, its perfectly acceptable to decant it and allow more air for it to breathe, and the flavours to mellow as they warm. 

Serving port at a party feels special.  It can be drunk on its own, or in a port-tonic, which is a large measure of port over ice and lemon, topped up with tonic - or if you like things a little sweeter, lemonade.

This 2008 LBV drinks beautifully with cheese - especially hot runny French Petit Brie, as well as moist succulent Christmas cake.  Its the kind of drink for enjoying with friends, around a table, or snuggling up with a glass by the fire.

This selection of six cheeses comes as a pre-prepared Cheeseboard, all you have to do is unwrap and serve.  There's a very mature Cornish Cheddar with a crumbly texture, a sweet Wensleydale which has pieces of cranberry and a hint of Cointreau, the St Paulin is a smooth mild, buttery cheese made in France, the Brie is understated and light, the Tuxford & Tebbutt Mature Blue Stilton has a sharp but slightly creamy finish and the Mini Roulade is a garlicky, herby and creamy swirl.

Marks and Spencer Chocolate Ruby dessert wine can be sipped over ice, or at room temperature.  We enjoyed it poured over Christmas pudding, and stirred into butter and icing sugar, for a chocolatey take on Brandy Butter.

Heated until it bubbles and served with the top pulled back, a smattering of dried fig and a swirl of fig and pear compote, this French Petit Brie, is deliciously morish.  The warm gooey texture of the cheese is silky and soft on the palate, finishing with a warm depth of flavour, that isn't necessarily identifiable at first taste.

Delactable and delicious you want to just dunk crackers straight into - if your anything like my guests, you'll take a spoon to the box!

Looking for a last minute Christmas gift, that will be enjoyed, and not put on eBay a moment after its been unwrapped - look no further than these thickly waxed small cheese wheels.  One a rich cheddar with onions pickled in Balsamic vinegar and the other white sweet stilton flecked with cranberries.

Want something to dip your leftover Turkey into on Boxing Day (St Stephens Day) this Emmental, Gruyere and Calvados Bake is exactly what you need.  We served it with crackers, grapes and bread and butter pickles, and pieces of cured meat.  The bittersweet Calvados adds a kick to the melted gooy, sharp cheese.

Christmas Cheese and Crackers served with LBV 2008, can Christmas entertaining really get any better?  

All of these cheeses and ports make brilliant Christmas presents.  I believe presents should be enjoyed and not of the flashtastic plastic variety.  There is something very special about getting a good cheese, or a bottle of Port for Christmas, and laying them down to consume with pals at another date.

Stories are my lifeblood, and I like to share with my friends the story of the food or drink they are enjoying, whether, its the fact I have opened a bottle especially for them, or got a piece of cheese from a fantastic producer.

This Christmas may you enjoy having people seated round your table, and may you serve food, that is delicious and enjoyable from kitchen to plate - ie food you don't sweat behind a stove to make.  

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, filled with laughter and joy.

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

 

Disclaimer - these products were gifted from Marks and Spencer

Sunday
Dec222013

Smirnoff Cranberry Max Cocktail

I have a reputation as the cocktail queen among my circle of friends and family.  Anything I can shake, blend, mix, or stir, I've made it.  On Christmas morning we mix up a jug of cranberry laced with vodka to serve at brunch, as we prepare for Christmas Dinner.  Fresh flavours are always best especially as eating at this time of year is heavy and rich.

When we were younger I taught my brother how to make cocktails, and since then together we have made some great drinks.

This year my brother has been experimenting with ginger and using Smirnoff as a base he has created with a little imput from me something refreshing, zingy, and palate cleansing.  Using ginger, mint and cranberry.

To make two cocktails Cranberry Max Cocktails

Muddle a handful of mint leaves, juice of two limes, 1-2 inches of freshly grated ginger, 1 tbsp frozen blueberries & 1 tbsp cranberries, then shake over ice with 3 large measures of Smirnoff.  

Pour into chilled tumblers, add a sprig of mint, a slice of lime and top up with chilled cranberry juice, serve with a straw.

If you'd like to serve this cocktail at a party or make it go further you can make it in a large jug, add some slices of orange, and top it up with a crisp cider, like Magners Pear.  

That's it for now ...

 

Nics

 

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Thursday
Dec192013

A Black Friday thought

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Thursday
Dec192013

Weekend Nibbles - sticky sausages & chocolate popcorn

It's impossible you know to have too many sticky cocktail sausages at a party. They are just so yummy. I was once asked to bring nibbles to a party I showed up with two huge platters of sausages only to discover the party throwers where vegetarians. They didn't mind however as their guests loved the sticky sweet sausages and they didn't have to make them!

Sticky Chilli & Cranberry Sausages
Ingredients
500g cocktail sausages
1 jar of cranberry sauce
1 jar of honey
1/2 cup sweet chilli sauce
1 tsp mustard seeds

Method
1. Cook the sausages according to packet instructions
2. Mix all other ingredients together in a saucepan over a low heat
3. Toss the cooked sausages in the sauce and return to the oven 200'c for 3- 5 minutes
4. Serve with cocktail sticks & a warming that these are very morish!

Chocolate Salted Popcorn

I've been experimenting with popcorn flavours for the past year. I've tried cumin curry spice, and bourbon sugar among others. But the one that is exquisite and I know you'll love is salted chocolate.

I serve this in big bowls at parties or tied up with pretty ribbon in cellophane as Christmas gifts.

Ingredients
120g salted popcorn (I use shop bought but you can make this from scratch)
300g dark chocolate at least 55% coco
100g milk chocolate
Sprinkling of chilli flakes if desired

Method
1. Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a summer pot of water, be careful to let it melt slowly. I do this by melting half the chocolate then adding the rest and stirring until it melts.
DO NOT MELT IN A MICROWAVE

2. Place the popcorn in a large baking tin or high sided bowl pour over 2/3s of the meted chocolate & toss until evenly coated.

3. Turn the chocolate popcorn out onto baking paper lined trays. Then drizzle in zig zagged lines the rest of the melted chocolate over the top.

4. Leave to cool about 20 minutes and serve in large bowls

5. This keeps for up to two days in an airtight tin

Zucchini bruschetta

This looks great in the middle of a buffet table, the bright colours drawing your eye & making you hungry.

Ingredients
1 garlic flatbread
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley chopped
300g cherry tomatoes halved
100g button mushrooms
5 baby zucchinis sliced in rounds
3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
Salt and pepper
50g salted butter
3-4 gulgs olive oil

Method
1. Heat the oil and the butter until bubbling, turn down the heat, add the garlic & fry for 1 minute
2. Add the mushrooms fry for 1 minute, followed by the tomatoes, and the zucchini, fry together until hot
3. Add the rest of the chopped parsley and salt and pepper to taste (you can also add some chilli flakes)
5. Toast the flat bread under the grill until warm
4. Pour mixture over toasted bread, run a pizza cutter through until it's in small squares then serve

Hope y'all are having a very Happy Christmas season. Have a wonderful weekend.

That's if for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Wednesday
Dec182013

Feed the Birds a guest post from Judith Carville at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Northern Ireland

The crusts of the bread were cut into tiny squares, then set into the coconut shell bird feeder that nudged beside the nets of nuts hanging on the line.  We'd walk back to the porch and wait.  Then they'd come, they always came.  The birds, to feast on the food we had left out for them.  I remember watching them come, and learning to look at their feathers to distinguish the different types of birds.

Wherever I am in the world I like to watch and feed the birds, so I am absolutely delighted to today welcome my friend Judith Carville from the Royal Society of the Protection of Birds Northern Ireland as our guest blogger.

RSPB logo

I love the winter. I know it’s cold, and usually wet and dark and pretty miserable, but it’s also one of the most beautiful times of year and for wildlife, it’s a time of arrivals, departures and bedding down for a sleep.

There are some spectacular sights to be seen in the winter. My favourite is a starling murmuration. Tens of thousands of starlings gather and zip around the sky in perfectly coordinated formations before heading in to roost for the night. In Belfast, there is a great one at the Albert Bridge that delights many a commuter stuck in traffic in the evening. There are murmurations all over Northern Ireland though, so you won’t have to travel far to find one! 

Starling murmuration photo credit (David Kjear, rspb-images.com)

Here in this part of the world, we also get some fantastic migrating birds at this time of year who (amazingly) come here for some warmer weather! You’ll see lots of swans, geese and if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a waxwing or two. These funky looking birds live on winter berries, so you might get a few visiting your bushes!

Waxwing (Andy Hay, rspb-images.com)

Closer to home, you may have noticed a shortage of birds in your garden. Thanks to a great summer and a very mild autumn, many familiar birds are taking longer to come into gardens than usual, but this is good news as it means that they’re still finding food out in the countryside on bushes full of berries, or from insects that have flourished in the warm weather. As the weather gets colder over the next few weeks though, you’ll start to notice your feeders getting busier as food in the countryside becomes more scarce and birds move back into our towns and cities in search of food.

I work for the RSPB, and our current campaign urges everyone to “give nature a home” where they live. This is so important in the winter as birds especially rely on the food sources and the shelter that we can provide in our homes. We should never underestimate how much these little creatures depend on our help, so whether you have a yard, a garden or even a balcony, you can help some wildlife make it through the winter, with minimal effort – I promise!

Here are some really simple steps you can take to look after your winter visitors:

 

  •  Feed the birds!

 

Although they’ve gorged themselves on fruits and berries over the last few weeks they will now be facing a food shortage.  You can fill your feeders with shop-bought food, or you can do it yourself by making fat balls and treats for your feathered friends.  Try using up excess apples to create a treat for the birds by sticking sunflower seeds all over them and hang it up or pop it on the bird table.  You’ll find more advice on our website.

The most likely visitors to your garden are starlings, house sparrows, blackbirds, blue and great tits, robins, greenfinches and collared doves – all of which have their own fascinating behaviours, amusing antics and individual characters that you can get to know.

It’s important to be hygienic with feeders, so if food has gone untouched for a few days, clear it and put out fresh food. This will help to keep away rodents and unwanted visitors as well. Also, make sure you clean your feeders every few weeks to prevent infection.

 

  • Provide water 

 

In the winter months, birds’ usual water sources can freeze over, so leave a dish of water for them to drink and bathe in. It’s important to change the water often though to prevent disease. Oh, and to stop your water freezing over – pop a ping pong ball in it. It works! 

Blackbird bathing (Ray Kennedy, rspb-images.com

 

  • Make a woodpile

 

It isn’t only birds that can benefit from some help in the winter. Woodpiles make a perfect home for hedgehogs or even frogs to hibernate for the winter. Use firewood or gather old branches and leaves and pile up in a quiet area in the garden.  It will also provide an ideal habitat for slugs, snails, millipedes, woodlice and spiders that can provide food for birds in the summer months!

 

Hedgehog (Ben Hall, rspb-images.com)

 

 

RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch takes place at the end of January and helps us understand how wildlife is faring across the UK. For one hour over the weekend of 25-26 January, we ask you to count the birds and wildlife in your garden and send us the results. This activity is fun for all the family and helps children get excited about nature! More information on how you can take part is on our website.

Robin at feeder (Nigel Blake, rspb-images.com)

That’s just a small sample of what you can do to help nature during the winter. For more tips, visit our website, rspb.org.uk/homes, or follow us on Facebook (/rspbni) or Twitter (@rspbni).

....

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable