Pick me up Tuscan style

Tiramisu:

My first trip to Tuscany was so eventful, I'm amazed  I ever wanted to go back! Amidst the stress of manoeuvring through the tiny Italian side streets and almost getting locked outside the city walls and having to hitch a lift back in, added to the holidays' charm!

People are often surprised that I haven't spent more time in Italy, and Italy is deep-rooted in my soul but France always seemed to capture my heart. But I think that may be about to change.

The rolling hill landscapes of Tuscany, stunning architecture, churches and piazzas of places like Siena and Lucca are what I recall of my time in Tuscany. But now there is somewhere else I want to visit!

Roughly midway between Siena and Pisa, there is a small town called Volterra. There you will find the oldest shop in town which specializes in perfectly crafted pastries of the region. Lucky for me, I was able to witness their traditional Italian cake being made a couple of weeks by Giancarlo the 2nd generation patissier from the Giovannini family when they visited the UK.

He and his wife Fabiola who set up the shop almost 25 years ago having joined his father in his pastry business when he was 14.  Decades of skill displayed before me, I was mesmerised watching Giancarlo. With dexterity, he assembled his handmade mille-feuille style pastry filled with pastry cream, fresh berries and topped with cream.

Tempting beyond belief....and tasted out of this world!

Dario, his son and daughter in law, Vera work in the family business and demonstrated their skill too as they made their family recipe for Tiramisu. A classic fuss-free Italian dessert that I have made twice since meeting them!

This has unleashed my desire to return to Tuscany and visit the Giovannini family and their stunning villa and land where they also produce their own olive oil too. It turns out they are only 25 miles from the beautiful pinewood coastal town of Cecina which we also came across 15 years ago and will be great for family beach time!

So now I'm off to call Jo from award-winning Bookings for You  (turns out we know each other form 20 years ago as it is!) to find us a villa with a pool so we can bring this vision to reality. All being well for this year too!

Jo founded the company 7 years ago and has over 350 properties in 8 regions of Italy (and has a small portfolio in France now too), so I'm confident our paths crossing again will be the intersection to new holiday adventures!

Tiramisu

This is super simple and fuss free, just follow my top tips along the way! This is easily doubled to make enough for 12.

Serves 6

4 eggs
60g caster sugar
250g mascarpone cheese
250g ladyfingers/boudoir biscuits
5 tsp. coffee
300ml hot water

Dish approx. 20cm by 15 in size with a depth of approx 6cm

1.Separate the eggs into two separate bowls. Making sure that you have as little egg white as possible in with the egg yolk
2. Using a hand mixer, start to whisk the egg whites until it becomes meringue-like. Gradually add 30g of the caster sugar slowly to the mixture whilst whisking until it forms stiff peaks
3. Clean the whisk and start whisking the egg yolks until the yolks go lighter in colour. Then gradually start to add the remaining 30g of sugar to the egg yolks whilst whisking until it grows a little in volume.
4. Add the mascarpone cheese to the egg yolk mixture and continue to whisk until it is smooth
5. Add a spoonful of egg white to the egg yolk mixture, to loosen the mix. Fold in SUPER GENTLY. Add two more spoonfuls and fold in SUPER GENTLY! A figure of 8 folding here is good. Continue until all the egg white is incorporated
6. Add the coffee granules to the hot water. Take a boudoir biscuit and dip it in the coffee, spinning it round in the coffee for about 8 seconds or less if your fingers are burning! Place it on the bottom of the bowl and repeat until you have a complete layer of biscuits on the bottom of the dish
7. Pour over half of the mascarpone/egg mixture over the biscuits. Repeat the dipping in coffee and place on top of the mascarpone mixture to make another layer. This time as the coffee has cooled spin for up to 10 seconds!
8. Once you have another full layer of biscuits, if you have any coffee leftover gently drizzle it over this layer of biscuits until it is all gone
9. Add the final half of the cream over the boudoir biscuits and make a level top without losing the volume of the mixture
10. Leave to set in the fridge overnight and sieve over cocoa powder before serving

If your mixture is loose, don't worry. With my first attempt, this happened, and it just meant it didn't hold its shape as well, but certainly didn't impair the delicious flavour!

If you are concerned about giving raw egg to children, pregnant women or the elderly please read the new advice released last year by the Food Standards Agency.

I look forward to sharing more recipes from my day with the Giovannini family and Bookings for You in the future and want to thank them for hosting me on a such a wonderful day.

Confessions of a young Valentine

Fuss free chocolate fondant

I fear I may have put them off Valentine's day for life by being a world class B. It wasn't my intention. This happened a long time ago.

The first scenario was at Primary school. I hadn't realised that this boy had admired me from afar. So part of my response, I think, was shock. However.  He was the most talented artist even at age 10, and he had drawn this beautiful card on a folded piece of white A4 paper. He had drawn the world in pencil with such accuracy, carefully coloured with appropriate blue water and green land and there stood a person. At the top written in angled bubbled writing was 'I think the world of you'.

GULP.

I'm not sure what it said inside the card. But clearly, a lot of time, effort and thought had gone into this personalised card. So what, you may ask was my response to such an overture of love?

This is really hard to write. And I can't believe this was my response. I was 10 and was probably rather embarrassed.

I ripped it up. Yes. I know. How awful. Not straight away. I clearly have this card etched into my brain so I looked at it for a while. But not long after receiving this card. I ripped it up.

If this happened to one of my boys I would be devastated for them after bearing their heart. So Matt K. I am sorry. I loved what you drew. Thank you. Please forgive me.

And there is more.

Whether it is as bad I'm not sure. But I guess if peoples feeling are hurt,  then there is no sliding scale here.

Valentines occasion number two was in middle school. This particular boy had been asking me out and I had not given him the time of day. As Valentine's day drew near, on the quadrangle at school I conceded and said yes.

The next day he arrived at school. Box of chocolates in hands. Roses to be specific. I gladly took the chocolates and shortly after receiving said chocolates, I unceremoniously relinquished him from boyfriend duties. Dumped on Valentine's day.

Ouch.

Chocolate roses were eaten (my bezzie and I were big chocolate fans) and not a second thought for the other side of the story.  If this happened to one of my boys I would be devastated for them for being brave enough to bear their heart. So Adam S. I am sorry. I loved the Roses. Thank you. Please forgive me.

As I sit here and heal the ghosts of Valentine's past, I feel that 30 years is long enough to have held these stories with me. It is time to forgive that young girl who wasn't so aware of peoples feelings and the impact that this could have. I think part of my reason for wanting to have boys was that girls can be so harsh!  And I was that girl on this occasion.

But what I take from it is that I have two boys who's hearts are open and I can readdress the balance by filling them with a little love each day. This goes beyond a prescribed day to show your love.

This year even my husband doesn't need to buy me flowers as I bought some myself when I recorded this recipe video. So maybe that's the biggest learning of all from this week. Not just showing our love to others but to show it to ourselves as well and not wait for someone to do that for us.

However ever you choose to spend this Wednesday. Enjoy. Why not post up what you cook in our FFF Facebook community?

Chocolate fondant

This recipe will make at least 3 pots. If you are doing a double date and need at least 4, follow the quantities in brackets.

    • 125g butter, chopped (167g)
    • 125g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces (167g)
    • 125g caster sugar (167g)
    • 35g plain flour (47g)
    • 3 eggs (4 eggs)
    • Tbsp of cocoa powder
    • 2 dariole moulds 6fl oz (4 moulds)
    • Butter wrapper or parchment for buttering the moulds

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C

  1. Place the butter and chocolate in a bowl and place over a bowl of simmering water and leave to slowly melt
  2. In another bowl break the eggs, add the caster sugar and flour and whisk together to make a smooth mixture
  3. Rub the inside of the moulds with a little of the melted butter and then put the cocoa inside the mould and spin it round so that the mould becomes coated
  4. Once the chocolate and butter mixture is melted add it to the other mixture and whisk until incorporated together
  5. Measure 137g of the mixture into each mould and place in the oven for 13 minutes (If you want to cook them later just set aside until you are ready to cook)
  6. You know the pot is ready when you take it out of the oven and the pot is cooked around the outside and has a sunken uncooked bit in the middle
  7. Turn the chocolate pot out on to a plate, and either drizzle over single cream or a dollop of whipped cream

When you lose your path, don’t seek too hard to get back on track….

Vanilla Panna Cotta

Sometimes lifes detours can reveal the best scenery; So if you lose your path, maybe don't try too hard to get back on track. Often what we THINK is what we need isn't always the case and the universe has a greater plan for us! Revealing far many more gifts and learnings than we could ever even imagine.

We have all experienced being diverted from an outcome, whether its day to day or a long-term goal or dream. And as frustrating as it can be, the reality is, it's not always easy to come from a place of gratitude and thanks when it happens!! A period of adjustment, acceptance, grieving or just plain old getting angry may be needed to shift first in order to move into this space. Without pulling out all the cliches, life IS about the journey and not just the destination. If we can arrive at that place of acceptance and allow things to unfold, we may be able to actually see the beauty in this new, less travelled path.

Maybe the deviated journey we will learn something....a new skill, meet a new person who will inspire us in our endeavours or discover something about ourselves that we hadn't realised. Yet had we tried to get back onto the original route we would never have had the chance to experience those things that would help us grow. As long as we are kind to ourselves along the way, and seek to approach the journey in a way that is true to ourselves, the experience and outcome is more likely to be positive.

I heard a saying 20 years ago that "what you will someday be you are now becoming." I understood what it meant back then, but now with a reflective eye over those decades gone by and my own deviations and digressions, I understand the meaning more fully.

There is no point wishing that if I knew then what I know now that I would be further along in my endeavours or realised my passion sooner. It's because of the exploits I went through that I have arrived at this point; I'm sure this isn't THE arrival point, it is a beautiful stop off on the journey!

This week for me was quite different, as I have experienced the sheer beauty of the journey on one side and conversely the scariest of sheer drops on the other. I guess sometimes some of us are lucky enough to be shown both at once.  So I will be focusing my learning this week to help me navigate my way!

This weeks recipe, out of the pure fuss-free simplicity is a Panna cotta. Being led by a 14-year-olds enthusiasm for wanting to turn his hand to make it, I experienced this for the first time this week as well. Enjoyed by him, my kids.....and myself too! It is the easiest of desserts and great to make ahead for a party.

Let me know in the Fuss Free Foodie FB community what you think of Panna cotta and what you serve yours with, or just remember to give a share to add it to your timeline or share some FFF love with your foodie friends! Lisa xx

Vanilla Pannacotta

Serves 6

6 silver dariole moulds or rectangle loaf tin or ice cream tub, lightly oiled

10g leaf gelatin (5 1/2 sheets) (1-11/2 tsp Agar agar powder for vegetarians)
100ml milk
500ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, cut in half to expose the seeds or 1 tsp of vanilla extract
100g caster sugar

1. Fill a bowl with water and add the gelatin leaves to the water and leave
Pour the milk into a saucepan and bring to just below simmering point, then remove from the heat. Do not boil
2. Squeeze all the water out of the gelatin and add to the milk. Set aside.
**If using agar agar, add to the milk, stir and you can allow to boil until it melts, which should be 5 minutes
3. Pour the cream into another pan, add the vanilla extract OR the vanilla pod (scrape all the seeds out, add to the cream and then add the pod as well)
4. Bring to the boil over a low heat, stirring regularly. Remove from the heat as soon as boiling point is reached. Remove the vanilla pod
Add the milk mixture to the cream and stir
5. Gently pour into the molds, and once cooled leave in the fridge to set (around 2 hours)
6. To turn out, run warm water around the mould to release the Pannacotta
Serve simply with fruit, with or figs baked with honey. For a flourish and bit of crunch, make a tuile or biscuit! Enjoy!

**I have not yet tried this recipe using agar agar, but based on the equivalents, 1-1 1/2 tsp should bring a nice wobble!

Remember to keep liking, loving and sharing to keep the FFF in your feed, and to spread the fuss-free word!

Seasonal delights: Rhubarb and blood oranges

Rhubarb and blood orange cake

One of the things I love about food and cooking is its seasonality. Just as you are ready for a shakeup, something new seems to come in and changes what you are doing in the kitchen. Now I know that not everyone has time to be influenced down at the veg shop or chat to the fishmonger for 20 minutes, but that is the whole spirit in which I started the fuss free foodie: I am here to be the voice to steer you in the right direction!

January can be a bleak time in the growing stakes, so by the end of the month, like glowing ruby red jewels, we get rhubarb! At this time it's forced (grown in the dark), usually from Yorkshire, so a great British product! It's more slender, and tender than its field counterpart that grows outside in April, although the late season rhubarb can have more flavour. However, grateful for something new I was excited to see it, along with blood oranges, and funnily enough they work together beautifully!

Rhubarb and blood orange cake Mark 2
So after many attempts to make something tasty and fuss free, I am really happy with this final recipe, which is a beautiful Victoria style sponge with sharp rhubarb and sweet orange drizzle. I made 3 different cakes to be precise; The cake picture is mark 2 and this final recipe has the fruit inside the cake, but I gave it away and forgot to picture it! I was so over cake!!

It's a quick cake to make and one that children could help with too. I keep it fast by throwing all the cake ingredients into my blender and just whizzing it up until they are just mixed together. If you have all your ingredients to room temperature (especially the butter), the batter can be ready within a few mins, and then it cooks for 30 minutes.....pretty fuss free! I chose to do a little blood orange drizzle just to infuse a little more sweetness to the sponge, and build the orange flavour.

If a cake isn't your thing, but you still fancy a bit of rhubarb and orange to have with some yoghurt, weekend pancakes or porridge (like my eldest) why not try making this fuss-free rhubarb and blood orange compote. This will also freeze really well, so if you divide it up into portions you could pull it out as and when you need some.... any time of year!!

As always please let me know what you make in the Fuss Free Facebook group or drop a comment below. Happy cooking! Lisa.

Rhubarb and blood orange cake

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees, 23cm springform cake tin, buttered and lined

225g unsalted butter, soft
225g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour, save 2 tbsp to one side
4 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
300g rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces
Zest of 3 blood oranges
Juice of 2-3 blood oranges
100g icing sugar sieved

    1. Have your oven preheated at the right temperature, and cake tin ready, as this comes together very quickly!
    2. Place the butter, caster sugar, self-raising flour, baking powder, eggs, orange zest and 5 tablespoons of blood orange juice into a blender or food mixer.
    3. Mix all the ingredients until they are just incorporated. Dust the rhubarb in the remaining flour, and then fold through the cake batter. Place the batter into the lined tin and cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes, until a skewer/cocktail stick comes out clean.
    4. Whilst the cake is cooling slightly, mix 40ml of blood orange juice with the icing sugar until smooth.
    5. Once cooled for 5 minutes, turn out the cake on your cake stand (the right way round; I turn mine onto a plate and then onto my cake stand)
    6. Prick the cake with a cocktail stick, and pour over the orange drizzle to soak into the cake. Serve however you like...just enjoy!

Forget the fuss...

  1. Mixture curdled? Don't worry, your cake will be fine
  2. Butter not soft? Chop it into cubes and place in a bowl in the oven (or top oven if you have one) to warm slightly.....just don't forget about it!
  3. No blood oranges? Just use clementines, or whatever oranges you can find
  4. Cake browning too quickly? Always wait 20 minutes before you open the oven, but if it is browning on the top too fast cover with a piece of tin foil
  5. No blender or food mixture? Go old school: Cream together the butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time with a spoon of flour, fold in the rest of the flour, zest and juice and leave out the baking powder. Bake as above

Rhubarb and blood orange compote

400g rhubarb, cut into chunks
100g granulated or light brown sugar
100ml blood orange juice

  1. Place the rhubarb chunks in a saucepan. Add the sugar and orange juice.
  2. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 25-30 minutes until the rhubarb has reduced. Stir occasionally to avoid it sticking.
  3. When most of the juice has reduced, cool and then refrigerate. Separate into individual portions and freeze if you want to store for another day!

Tis the season….

Christmas pudding making....

In sub-zero temperatures at the end of November; armed with an apron, bowl and wooden spoon, I bravely left my toasty warm house to embark on my first steps towards Christmas 2016. For me it's as symbolic as the lighting of the first candle of Advent, marking the start of the new festive season. Arriving inside the beautiful City Church in Redland, you are hit by warmth (physically and metaphorically speaking!), Christmas carols, fairy lights and the heady smell of spices, dried fruit, mince pies and mulled wine all mixed together! This amazingly well run event, of which this is my third year of attending, makes for a wonderful evening, but with the best gift at the end...a handmade Christmas pudding, made with love!

It really is child's play. 8 tables full of catering sized quantities of ingredients with cups and spoons with marks on, so you don't even have to weigh anything. Just scoop, pour, mix and keep on adding and mixing as you go around like a classroom carousel! Simple!

Well, yes it is....but not without its rookie errors! On my first year, I think the mulled wine hit me as I arrived at the 'alcohol' table. The smell of brandy and stout got me a little excited and whilst chatting poured in my cup of mulled wine instead of the brandy, that I had duly measured out! At least I didn't neck the brandy I suppose! The extra alcohol certainly didn't impair the taste or flavour that year, in fact, the more senior end of the Christmas table (all who were in-laws of my in-laws!) hailed it as the best Christmas pudding they had had since childhood. After such high praise, and as we had Christmas in Bristol on our own last year, I felt duty bound to send them last years offering as it had evoked such strong memories.

This year, I am in the driving seat and hosting Christmas here for the first time. Eeeeek! I felt this evening was symbolic at the start of advent to spend time with friends, chatting and making our puddings that were to be enjoyed around the table in 24 days time with my husbands family. I look forward to hearing their thoughts....my 7-year-old son is a big Christmas pud fan, I wonder what he will think of this year's efforts!

SO ....do you fancy having a go?! Look...I know we can buy Christmas puddings quite easily and they will taste good and Christmas is a busy time. But why not gather a few friends, multiply the recipe quantities by the number of friends that are coming/how many puds you want to make. One person could buy all the ingredients or divide them out and everyone brings a few ingredients and make an evening of it! If you all weighed out the big ingredients ahead of time, it will be quicker.....but maybe some mulled wine and a leisurely evening is what you need! You can get 3 x 1.2 litre steamed pudding bowl from Lakeland for just £5.99! And the difference will be amazing...homemade is always the tastiest...and this is my most fuss-free way! If that's not for you, whizz to the bottom to find out how you could win an extra one that I made!!!

Ingredients you will need to make a 1 litre/2 pint Christmas Pudding.

110g Vegetarian Suet
110g Wholemeal breadcrumbs
50g Wholemeal self-raising flour
1/2 tsp Mixed spice
1/4 tsp Ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp Ground cinnamon
160g Muscovado sugar
225g Sultanas
225g Raisins
75g Glace cherries, chopped in half
(or leave them out if you don't like them!)
160ml Stout
30ml Brandy or Rum
2 Eggs
1/2 Orange-grated rind
1/2 Lemon-grated rind
1/2 Apple-remove core and grate

1. Place the measured suet, breadcrumbs and flour into a large mixing bowl.
2. Add the spice, nutmeg, cinnamon and sugar in the bowl, and mix together thoroughly.
3. Add the dried fruit and stir.
4. Measure the brandy and stout and add into the bowl and mix in.
5. Add the 2 eggs. Stir and combine.
6. Add the grated half apple, and zest of lemon and orange.
7. Now mix, stir, stir and mix. It should be a 'dropping' consistency.
8. Thoroughly grease your pudding bowl with butter (or it won't come out on Xmas day!)
9. Pour your mixture into the bowl, leaving about a 1-inch gap from the top. Cover with a disc of greaseproof paper (just cut it 1cm bigger than the diameter of the bowl) and on top of the pudding.
10. Get a piece of tin foil with 2 inches bigger than the diameter of the bowl. Fold a pleat across the middle of the foil. Place over the top of the pudding and secure with string tightly. Do not use the lid of the pudding bowl until the pudding is cooked and cooled and ready for storing.

So once you have made your pud, you need to steam it within 48 hours. You can do this either in a slow cooker or just in a saucepan. Whichever method you use, make sure you remove the plastic lid, you will need this to store the pud once its cooked. Leave the foil in place for steaming and ensure its a tight fit!

In the slow cooker, place the pudding on an upturned saucer in the bottom of the slow cooker. Pour boiling water 2/3 of the way up the side of the basin. Switch your slow cooker to high and leave on for 13 hours. For peace of mind, check the water level on the odd occasion throughout the process. Best to be safe than sorry!

Similarly, in a saucepan, put the pudding on an upturned saucer in a deep saucepan, and fill the pan almost to the top of the pudding basin. Bring the water to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Leave to simmer for 8 hours. Make sure the water is just simmering.....this can take a little bit of tinkering with to get the bubbling right! Check the pudding every hour to make sure the water doesn't boil away and top it up with boiling water from the kettle if it does.

If that's all a bit too much, click on this link to be entered into my Christmas pud giveaway, as a thank you for reading my blog!

I'm happy to post the pud out before Christmas, so be sure to share my posts with your friends too around the UK too! Good Luck....and Merry Christmas! X