Advent Calendar 2: Beef and Apple Slowcooker Stew

This recipe is a simple winter warmer that anyone who is old enough to operate a frying pan and use a kitchen knife can make. And if you fall into the younger brackets of that age group, I think you should make it. Here’s why.

Christmas is the time of year that children have oodles of time on their hands, and weary students trundle home for a break from their studies. It’s the time of year that parents break the bank to spoil their loved ones, and also pick back up the full time care of their children, no questions asked. To have one of their own offer to take over the cooking, even for just one meal, would be a huge help to them and greatly appreciated.

All you will need to make this delicious and hearty stew (beyond the ingredients) is a frying pan, a knife and a slow cooker, or an ovenproof lidded saucepan. The measurements below are for a slow cooked meal. If you don’t have access to a slow cooker, reduce the cooking time to two hours, and add at least an extra litre of water.

Beef and Apple Stew

  • 400g stewing beef (shin is excellent in this dish, but any tougher cut will work fine)
  • 1 onion
  • 3 large carrots
  • 1 eating apple
  • ½ tbsp mixed herbs or a bouquet garni
  • 2 stock cubes (beef or vegetable)
  • 500ml cider
  • 1tbsp cornflour

If your beef isn’t already in bitesize chunks, cut it up. Then, brown it in a frying pan, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. You want nice caramel colouration on all sides of the pieces. Once browned, pop the cooked beef into the pot of your slow cooker.



Core the apple, and chop it and the other veg into bite size pieces. Add them to the pot and mix them into the beef pieces.

Sprinkle over the herbs, crumble in the stock cubes and add plenty of salt and pepper.

Pour over the cider and mix the ingredients together. This may seem like a rather small amount of liquid, but so long as the liquid is about half as deep as the whole mixture, you should be fine.

Pop the lid on the slow cooker and turn it on to ‘high’. Cook for 3 hours.


Mix the cornflour with a drizzle of water until a paste is formed. Add this to your stew and mix through thoroughly. Recover the pot and cook for a further two hours. (It bears mentioning that this would be very early to add a thickener like cornflour in most recipes, but in slowcooking so little moisture is lost that its fine to add the flour now. It won’t thicken the sauce too much- it’ll just help it become more gravy-like.)

Serve with mashed potatoes, braised leeks and any other veg you fancy.

This recipe is pretty flexible- it would work very well with pork or rose veal, and you can replace the cider with beer or water if you like. You can also feel free to add other vegetables, or reduce the beef and up the veg content.

The final product, after barely half an hour of actual labour, is aromatic and flavoursome. The cider gives tart fruitiness, while the beef makes it intensely savoury and satisfying. The apple will likely melt away to thicken the gravy, leave the inoffensive peel to blend in with the other veg. If you want to be pedantic and peel your apples, then do, but it really isnt necesscary.

So there you have it- an incredibly easy and tasty meal to warm your cockles this winter.



Lush Christmas review: Shower products

Hello kittens!

Today, I’ll be looking at the shower goodies Lush have put out for us this Christmas.

Beyond their ever popular shower gels, Lush have an array of innovative shower products to make you feel clean, fresh and adored. For Christmas they’ve released a bunch of these, including two Fun products, which directly help the children still affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Gold Fun

Rich in honey-caramel sweetness and pretty golden lustre, Gold Fun is as beautiful and decadent as it is, well, fun. Like all Fun products, this doughy soap can be used to wash your body, hair, as bubblebath and as a toy. The sweet and skin kind honey notes in this product are popular with kids of all ages, and this makes a great gift for someone who is young at heart.


Snowman Fun Kit

Looking for a Secret Santa gift that comes in at £5? The Snowman Fun kit is perfect. Sweet and fruity smelling but compliments moisturising carrot oil in this three coloured Fun set- black, orange and white. This kit can also make penguins! This is an awesome stocking filler for anyone who enjoys a bath (or a shower- fun works well in both). Also, you can make a beautiful inky black bath if you use just the black part of the product.


Snowman Shower Jelly


Shower jellies are just shower gels with their water removed, and seaweed added to set them. They’re vegan, long lasting and tons of fun. This snowman has the same scent as the Snowman Fun Kit (which is the same scent as Carrot Soap, from 2014’s easter range) and the same ingredients- skin softening carrot oil and lovely fruity buchu. With all that seaweed, he’s extra moisturising too, and pretty darn robust. Either use him whole like a wobbly bar of soap, and allow to dry in his pot or on a soap dish, or break a piece off and scrub him inside a shower lily.


Rose Jam


This is my favourite lush fragrance- floral yet heady and involved, grown up and sexy. This shower gel shares its scent with several year round products, but I am thrilled that this shower gel is back. Rich in organ oil, it is very moisturising, and makes a great shampoo as well as a shower gel. The double dose of rose is great for troubled winter skin and the vanilla is likewise very calming and gentle, while lemon brightens.

So White


Crisp and appley, So White is as light as powder snow, and lovely as its name sake fairytale princess. This product was designed by the staff of the Kyoto Lush store, who were invited over to Lush HQ in Poole to work on a product. It shares its scent with the bath bomb of the same name. This is a great product to use in the morning, or any time you need a breath of fresh air. However, with soothing rose and moisturising rice bran oil, this is still a kind and caring product for the harsh winter months.


Hot Toddy


I LOVE spicy scents and flavours, so I was thrilled to see this scent return (it used to be a bubble bar) as a glittery, festively red shower gel. This shower gel is like a big warm Christmas hug- warm and sweet clove, earthy patchouli, warming cinnamon leaf oil, aromatic and bright citrus notes and softening carrageenan seaweed. If you don’t love this product, I’m judging you. It’s like mulled wine, but for your skin!


Snow Fairy


She’s baaaack…

You can hardly have failed to notice that the lady in pink has returned again this Christmas. Sweet and candy scented  and blissfully pink, she has a huge fanbase, and not just kids and teenage girls either. To me, Snow Fairy smells like pear drops. Other people get bubblegum or candy floss. Whatever she smells like, she’s delicious and adorable, and this year the shower gel is enriched with moisturising seaweed and pretty lustre.


The next and final part of the review will be all the other products Lush have brought out for Christmas this year- cleansers, lip and body care products.

See you soon!



Cosy Crumble

Halloween has been and gone. Guy Fawkes’ Night is almost upon us. Christmas is just around the corner. Comfort food season has truly arrived.

When it comes to comfort food, some of the best dishes, whilst simple, take a long time cooking. That’s fine- gives you time to get on with Christmas card lists and catching up on Downton. However, I work pretty much full time, I’m surprisingly lazy, and I want my comfort food done quick. When it comes to main meals, that often means reheating portions, or pasta for me. When it comes to dessert, it means crumble.

You can’t go wrong with an apple crumble- they’re universally popular and extremely versatile. Autumn is apple season, but they are readily available all year round and as such are a kitchen staple, as are the rest of the ingredients in this simple but delicious pudding. Frankly, anyone who doesn’t like crumble is probably a cyborg, anyway, and as such should be cut from your social circle.

Here’s how I make a dessert in minutes, that goes in the oven to cook as soon as the main meal is out. Apologies for imperial measurements- this is how I was taught to make crumble by my mum, and it’s how I remember it.



Cosy Crumble

  • 4oz Butter, cold
  • 4oz Caster sugar
  • 4oz Plain flour, plus an additional 1-2oz as required
  • 1tsp Cinnamon
  • 5 Eating apples (I used Braeburns. You can use cooking apples, but you will probably only need four, and you may wish to add additional sugar
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 4oz Sultanas
  • Demerara Sugar and a further scant tsp Cinnamon to finish


Preheat the oven to 180c, or use a hot oven following cooking a main meal.

Rub the butter, caster sugar and flour together with your fingertips to form a crumbling crumb. If the mix is too soft and wet, add the additional flour an ounce at a time and try to crumble it again. Once the mix is working, don’t be too pedantic about crumb size. You don’t want to overwork the mixture, and I like the rustic look.

Next, peel and core your apples. Chop into bite size pieces- about 12 chunks per apple. Place the apple in your ovenproof dish, and acidulate as you go with the lemon juice.

Scatter over the sultanas, a good pinch of Demerata sugar and some cinnamon (a scant 1/2 tsp should suffice), and briefly mix the contents together. Try to even out the top a little.

Pour over the crumble topping in a thick layer, and sprinkle with another hefty pinch of Demerara and another scant 1/2 tsp of cinnamon to finish.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is crisp and slightly caramelised. Serve with lashings of custard, cream or ice cream, and scoff greedily.


If you really HATE sultanas, of course you can omit them. However, they plump up beautifully, and add a beautiful depth of flavour, and amber jewel tone quality to the dessert.

Go make this. RIGHT NOW.

Love and cuddles!


Mincemeat Crumble : Recipe Advent Calendar 19th

I love a good crumble. My mother taught me how to make it when I was younger. As she worked full time when I was growing up (and she worked bloody hard: the woman is my hero) we didn’t often get homemade desserts. But when we did, they were always splendid. And they were often Apple Crumble.

Over the years I’ve enjoyed many a Crumble, and many a Plumble, but the warming and charming simplicity of this dessert never goes out of fashion. I could eat it all day long and not get bored.

Apples are often a primary component of mincemeat, and since mincemeat is basically fruit and spice they go exceedingly well together. Pears also love all that spice, and the hint of almond in the crust of my festive addition to the repertoire.

This recipe can be easily doubled, quadrupled etc for bigger crowds, and reheats fairly well. It is, however, best enjoyed fresh from the oven with a glug of double cream.

Mincemeat Crumble

Serves 2

  • 60g Butter, cold and cubed
  • 60g Caster sugar
  • 60g Plain flour
  • 30g Ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 apples or pears (eating, cooking, either will work)
  • 4 hearty tbsp mincemeat
  • A little demerara sugar

To make the crumble, put all the dry ingredients and the butter into a mixing bowl, and rub together into a fine crumb. The odd lump or bump never hurt anyone, so try not to over rub the mixture.

Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 15.00.46

For your filling, peel and core your fruit, and roughly chop into bite size chunks. You shouldn’t need to add any sugar to this, but if you are using exclusively Bramley apples, sprinkle over a couple of pinches of brown sugar when you add them to the pie dish.

Pop your fruit into a shallow oven proof dish, and dollop your mincemeat in. I prefer to have it arranged throughout the dish, rather than mixed through, but either works.

Spread the crumble topping into an even crust over the filling, and sprinkle the demerara all over. Pop into a preheated oven at 180-190 c and bake for 20-35 minutes until the crumb is golden and crisp.

Why not try this beauty with either the Cranberry Mincemeat or Traditional Mincemeat recipes from earlier in the advent calendar?

Later Days!


All warmed up inside!

There’s nothing better on a chilly winter’s evening than curling up under a blanket on the sofa with a cup of something warming. While out and about it’s easy to give in to the Glühwein and Hot Toddy vendors that magically appear at this time of year. I love a bit of mulled wine, don’t get me wrong, and I love a bit of mulled cider even more; but sometimes, it’s a ‘school night’, and you can’t be getting tiddly if you have to be up early in the morning. Well, I can’t, anyway.

The solution for me, when it comes to seasonal winter warmers, is mulled or spiced apple juice. You can get this on the street sometimes; there’s a wonderful vendor in Borough Market, Chegworth Valley who are worth a visit, in person or online, for their seasonal offerings. I find it perfectly warming; healthy, full of delicious winter spices and piping hot to chase the chill from your hands around the cup and your heart as you drink.

This year I’m unlikely to make it to the market before Christmas, woe is me, so I thought I’d knock a similar version up at home. The beauty of this, of course, is you can mix and match with your preferred spices to create your perfect blend. Rummaging online, all of the recipes I saw called for litres upon litres of juice and whole cinnamon sticks and peels… lovely for a party, not so great for a five minute pick me up you can make with your basic cupboard supplies. So here’s my ‘cheat’ version, which worked a treat.

Spiced Apple Juice

Serves 1-2, depending on your thirst!

  • 2 servings of Apple Juice (any will do- I chose a nice pressed juice for tartness and the lovely cloudy look)
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves, or 2 whole ones
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 3 drops orange extract
  • 3 drops lemon extract

Pour your juice into a small saucepan. Add the spices and extract and stir well.

Whilst stirring gently, heat up the juice until steaming hot, not boiling. This should take approximately 5 minutes.

Pour out, through a sieve if you like, and serve.

Simple, family friendly and delicious, and it goes very well with seasonal gingerbread cookies. Check out the photoset on Tumblr!

Crumble; Two ways

Autumn is a wonderful time of the year. Yes, the weather is abysmal and never knows if it’s coming or going, making it nigh impossible to dress adequately, nor to sort your wardrobe for the coming week, let alone the season. Yes, it’s dark out more and more, and yes, all the light, fluffy, cooling dream desserts of summer are now truly out of season. However, the night air smells like woodsmoke and crisp coldness, and there’s the promise of magic on the chilling wind. The trees become a raucous chorus of colour, matched only by the splashing golds and reds of fireworks. Now is the season for being warm inside, literally and emotionally. Now is the season of spooks and ghouls and All Hallows. Now is the season for a well earned extra hour in bed, now the clocks have gone back.

I find Autumn terribly romantic in its own way. Even breath can be seen in the air, and everyone wants to be a little closer to the nearest source of warmth, whether that’s the hearth and fire, or someone bundled up in heavy layers as thick as their own. Men put on their fitted coats, and instantly become more attractive, well at least to me. We express our fashion now not through bangles and baubles and printed tees, but kitchly matched knitwear, gloves, boots, tights. Yeah, we’re probably going to get rained on, but we’ll look fabulous doing it. There’s a reason so many Hollywood romances are shot in the cooler months, you know.

Meanwhile, it the kitchen, the time of stodge has arrived. It’s bloody nippy out, and we all need something hearty to power our internal furnace. We’re also in the season of harvest, and though now it is November most of the best british fruit, particularly soft, is passed, we still have apples fresh. If your larder is anything like mine, it’s stuffed to the gills with ingredients crying out for cinnamon and spice and all things nice, and what better way to celebrate the season, warm up and finish a delicious hearty meal, than with a crumble?

My mother, who is a wonderful cook, taught me how to make crumble a few years ago, and really, there’s no art to it- it is sinfully simple and good eating. I think everyone has their favourite way of doing things, no doubt passed to them by their granny or parent or favourite cookbook. Some are advocates of the bramley and spoonfuls of sugar, some of eating apples, some of mixing in blackberries, and some, like me, rather fond of a few plums. I’ve baked all of the above, played with fillings and spices, but this is the basic crumble I make to top them all.

Mum’s Crumble

  • 4oz/115g plain flour
  • 4oz/115g butter, cold (not margarine for this one)
  • 4oz/115g caster sugar
  • 1tsp cinnamon

Add all the ingredients to a bowl and rub together with your fingers to form a crumbly texture. Add more flour if the mixture seems too doughy until the preferred consistency is reached. Try not to overwork the crumble if you can.

The amount of fruit you will need will depend on the size of your overproof dish. 4-6 regular sized apples or 3 bramleys usually suffices, or two punnets of plums, or three tins of peaches… the choice is yours. Bake at 180 for 30-35 minutes, and voíla.

My last crumble was a mixed fruit concoction I threw together for the afore mentioned Jo; peaches, mixed berries and plums. Scrumptious.

The title does claim that I’m here to show you crumble; two ways, and it’s not wrong. A couple of weeks ago I made a batch of cupcakes for my friend Mat. He requested something fruity, so I decided to ‘cupcake-ify’ one of my favourite desserts, and this is what I came up with.

Cheeky Plumble Cupcakes

Makes 12

For the cakes:

  • 120g butter or baking margarine
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 120g self raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 2 free range eggs
  • Plum jam at room temperature

For the topping:

  • 250g icing sugar
  • 75g butter or baking margarine
  • 1tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • baked crumble crumb

Preheat your own to 180-200 degrees. This will depend on your oven, as they all behave differently. Line a muffin pan with cake cases.

Cream the butter and the sugar together until fluffy.

Beat in the eggs one at a time until mixture is uniform.

Mix in the flour and spices until you have a uniform, well aerated creamy batter.

Divide the mixture between the cases.

If your jam is quite well jellied, beat it a little until it becomes more syrupy. Dollop half a teaspoon or so into the middle of each case full of batter.

Bake the cupcakes for 18-25 minutes until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Sit in pan for a few minutes before setting out to cool on a wire rack.

Once your cakes are cooked, bake your crumble for 5-10 minutes in the hot oven.

While your cakes are cooling, make your buttercream; sift your icing sugar and spice together.

Beat the icing sugar with the butter with an electric whisk or processor, adding the vanilla while the beaters are moving. You want to achieve a uniform, smooth buttercream; not too firm so that it won’t pipe or spread easily, but not too loose, so that it will run and melt. Add water a teaspoon at a time to achieve the correct consistency if required.

Spread or pipe on the cooled cupcakes as desired, and finish with a generous sprinkling of crumble. Enjoy as a dessert, or with a cup of tea. My preference would be a milky chai- delicious.

Photoset is available on tumblr. Enjoy!