Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Alternative Christmas 'pudding' ideas

Jamie's Winter Pudding Bombe

My actual bombe

I don't mean as a direct alternative to that dried fruit pudding English people have after Christmas dinner (which I now love, I actually made my own two years ago for the first time and make them a year in advance now). But I mean, something to eat for pudding on or around Christmas Day.

Chocolate Chestnut Rum Roulade

Every Christmas I make this amazing Chocolate Chestnut Rum Roulade. It's an Icelandic recipe that I got from the Waitrose magazine twelve years ago. It is so good. I make it every Christmas and my eldest asked for it for her birthday this year. It's really not that difficult, can be made ahead and put in the fridge.

Another thing I make is Jamie's Winter Pudding Bombe. This is superb made in advance and stuck in the freezer. I do make some changes to this as the clementine he asks for just freezes solid (obviously) and I don't find it very nice to eat. So I do his recipe but instead of the bits he asks for  I add some dark glace cherries, some candied fruits, some sour cherries soaked in marsala (I use marsala instead of vin santo throughout) and then some toasted pistachios and hazelnuts. I think you could easily customize this bit.

I also use home made vanilla ice cream because it's tastier and cheaper.  The quantity in that recipe I've linked to make the perfect, perfect amount for this recipe.

Need I point out that you don't use expensive panettone for this.

You can make it in advance, as I said, and then just turn it out when you want to serve it, and pour the chocolate over the top.

Annie Bell's Blackout cake, as near to chocolate cake perfection as possible.

Lastly, for something that doesn't look as festive but is really, really delicious. Annie Bell's Brooklyn Blackout cake which is as close to chocolate cake perfection as I can take you. I guess you could make it more festive with gold leaf or something. I don't know, up to you. It's sensational however and once people start eating it they won't care if it looks festive or not.

Do feel free to share your Christmas pudding alternatives.

update: mid January 2013. We just at the last of the bombe, which had been nestling in the freezer since I made it on 21st December. I thought you might like to see inside. It was still really really good.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Laptop lunches, the best lunchboxes ever

The Laptop Luncbox. Clockwise from top left: a popping candy chocolate lolly; grapes; fennel; ham sandwiches. Most of these inner boxes also have lids. But we never rarely feel the need to use them as the main lunch box has a lid that closes down on everything.

I need to warn you, immediately, that these lunchboxes are neither cheap, nor easy to get.

But they are worthwhile if you can get hold of one. Let me tell you about them.

Some years ago, in early 2008 to be precise, I was still co-founder, and a very active part of an excellent parenting website called I Want My Mum. It doesn't exist anymore as we shut it down last year. But it was a great place for collective wisdom.

When my eldest was due to start school, I asked the mums and dads on there what lunchboxes they'd recommend and a few of them said Laptop Lunchboxes. Which were, then, available to buy in the UK.

LLBs consist of a main lunch box with a lid, and in this are four other boxes, some with lids, some without. The whole lot sits in an insulated, zip up bag. The beauty of it is that it helps you think outside the box (yes, yes) with what you put in the lunchbox, and also you don't end up with loads of un-eco wrapping or loads of renegade plastic boxes. Of course, despite best intentions, our eldest still goes to school with sandwiches 99% of the time, but she also has crudites, potato salad, orange segments, grapes etc. They all fit beautifully inside and are protected from the disdain that a young child, quite rightly, treats its lunchbox. Her lunchbox (made mostly by her father) is a thing of beauty and the one I've photographed above is my youngest's first lunch made in her lunch box. It was incredibly boring but she wanted something fast to take on a great cycling expedition around the garden and it's the only photo I have. But imagine colourful wonderfulness spilling from every box and beautifully cut sandwiches that perfectly, perfectly fit the boxes and you'll get an idea of the care taken by my partner in making his daughter's lunch.

That first lunchbox cost about £25 as I remember. Not cheap but really good. It was so good I decided to buy us all one, but when I went to reorder, the website no longer did them and instead were offering frankly vastly inferior things that were little more than stacks of plastic boxes. I found LLBs in the States and emailed them. Good news! I could order direct from them! Bad news? With taxes and shipping it came to about £70.

It's a good lunch box, but not that good.

My youngest is due to start school in a year's time. My excellent friend and Godmother to one of my daughters, CC, was in American and due to come home for good. This was an excellent time to ask her if I could buy one and get it shipped to her and she could bring it back for me.

This is what happened and hence the youngest now has her own, and it cost £25-£30.

Of course, in the way of things, my eldest went through a stage of hating her lunch box and wanting one like everyone else. But now has come round to the fact that her lunch box is really cool and looks like new, after four years of continuous school service (she has a packed lunch every day, occasionally she will have soup in a food flask). This is something to remember when you buy something cheap that might not't last. I reckon I'd have spent more than that by now on replacement boxes.

So I know this is a bit of an annoying post, but look, we live in the world of travel and have foreign friends. If you are going to America, or live there or know someone who does and can get it shipped to them and they send it on to you,  this is feasible.

And these are really good lunch boxes.

The selection is a bit mind blowing, you can get just the bag, just the box etc; but the ones I got were in the Bento Kit (bag, box with compartments, knife and fork). And although the colourway we have isn't shown at present, this is identical to ours in all but colour: this one, with the bag with shoulder strap which I think is useful for children.

I had really good service from this company. There was a problem with my payment and a real person answered my emails and tried to help.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Hot chocolate pops

A hot chocolate pop

I cannot lay claim to this. Hot chocolate pops are all over the place. But I'd never tried them before and I gave them a go.

You can melt the marshmallow before hand, but I just don't for ease.

Here's what you need:

Some milk or plain chocolate. I used plain, 70% cocoa
Some white chocolate, I always use Green and Black's
Some marshmallows
Something to make them in, either cake pop moulds or something similar. I do, of course, have a special mould just for these which is just a round chocolate mould but bigger than what you'd use for chocolates.

Put the marshmallows at the bottom.
Melt the dark chocolate (either milk or plain) and pour on, half way up the mould.  Put sticks in, I put mine so they stick out at the side (as seen) not so they come out perfectly at the  centre as I have no way of keeping them upright and I like the off-centeredness. Set in the fridge.
Melt the white chocolate, pour on til it comes to the top. Fridge until set.

When ready to eat, heat some milk and dip in. I can't pretend it's the best hot choccie you'll ever have as the chocolate melts in bits and it's not all homogenised. You could, I guess, whizz it up. But really the fun here is in half licking, half stirring the melting pop.