Dinner for David

My friend from choir, David, who lives in Cornwall was up in Nottingham visiting friends, so I planned a dinner for a few of us. Our choir is from all over the UK and a bit further afield, so having a few of us together in one place is unusual except of course during choir week. One of my guests had alcohol- and gluten-free dietary requirements which meant no poached pears, no pastry, no pasta…

Dinner for David

We had…

The mulled apple juice that I always do. For those that were drinking there was the offer of crab apple vodka to enliven it. I left out any ground spice, so it was just roasted apples, cardamom, star anise, cloves and a cinnamon stick, no mace or nutmeg, and it was much easier to serve with no grittiness.

Then smoked mackerel pâté – essentially this BBC recipe but no horseradish and wholegrain instead of Dijon mustard, because that’s what was in the fridge. Served in espresso cups with oat cakes and crispbreads that were naturally gluten free, and with an antipasti jar of roasted peppers and some almond stuffed olives.

Dinner for David

Nigella’s chicken shawarma, that I wrote about recently here. I forgot to buy yoghurt, although I went out of my way to get pomegranate seeds. I asked my guests to pick up yoghurt on their way and then forgot to do anything with it. Served with salad, cucumbers and tomatoes, and hasselback potatoes.

Dinner for David

For pudding was vanilla crème brûlée – a trial run in the week had shown me that you need to leave them in the oven for almost double the time in the recipe to get a set custard rather than a liquid vanilla cream. A garnish of a slice of kiwi and a fanned strawberry – the strawberries were so unseasonal they crunched like carrots when sliced. This is a very simple thing to make, just four ingredients. The only faff is owning a blow torch. I brought them to the table and let my guests brûlée their own crème, which all seemed to enjoy.

With coffee I made white chocolate salami again. This time it came out really well. Such a simple thing to make, looks really impressive. In it, I put a half a bag of shelled pistachios, some chopped glacé cherries and some chopped dried apricots.

Dinner for David

I did boast at one point that no individual dish took more than about 10 minutes to make – some of them longer to cook and marinate etc, but only a few minutes of my time. Cleaning and tidying the house, however…

 

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Into the coop

Just over a year after coming home, one of the rescue ladies from the battery farm died, so this has necessitated more birds for the hen house.

I went back to  Hens4Pets to get two hybrid birds, a Magpie (black) and an Amber (white).  When they asked what I was looking for, I just said “not brown.” It’s good to have birds you can easily disambiguate.

They’ve been with me a couple of weeks now, settling in. The pecking order is very clear and the old ex battery Attila the Hen is not letting the new birds eat from the feeders, just the corn on the ground. This is when I’m standing there, anyway. Given that all of the food is going, the new birds must be able to manage to eat some of it when Attila is not looking.

The new ladies in the coop reminded me of some common chicken behaviour that the battery birds have never learnt to do. They dig through the ground. They fly up to the perches. They dust-bathe. Attila just doesn’t do those things. I’d forgotten that was odd.

On the whole the ex-battery hens have not been great. They haven’t laid well. The eggs they have provided have had extremely thin shells. Towards the end I’d resorted to paying for eggs and chicken feed, and that’s not how it’s supposed to work.

Attila is not laying, but the new black chicken is very consistent and provides a tiny egg every day.

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(eating leftover pomegranate from pudding club.)

Look how overgrown the coop is now compared to when it was built five years ago!

New chicken palace constructed

 

Three pudding club eats

 

 

Three recipes cooked for pudding club so far in 2018, none of them blogged! #thehorror

At the start of the year, I was very taken with the new  Mary Berry TV series and there were a few things I wanted to cook. Her truffle chocolate pots looked super – a chocolate mousse with some of the mousse reserved and magicked into truffles to put on top. The recipe and her photos are here.

The mousse component was fine.  I mean, sure, it’s a faffy way of getting a food processor dirty to make a mousse – previously I have whisked the egg whites and folded into melted chocolate + yolks instead, but that’s not entirely safe if you might be feeding the immunosuppressed.

But the recipe for the truffles on top just didn’t work.

For starters the centres were incredibly sticky and refused to be rolled without extreme fridging and adding in extra icing sugar and cocoa.

Mary Berry chocolate truffle pots

And then just dipping them in molten white chocolate to get a shell…

Mary Berry chocolate truffle pots

Really, you need to temper chocolate to make it do that. And that’s nowhere in the recipe.

The final pot was delicious, but I totally failed to make it pretty. (Story of my cooking!)

Mary Berry chocolate truffle pots

For my next triumph, I made a chocolate cake in a frying pan!

No, I can’t remember why, either, but it was quite nice. The recipe had an interesting frosting and some interesting questions about American recipes. What is “Dutch” cocoa for example? We thought it was probably something to do with the difference between what we in the UK would call cocoa and drinking chocolate. I just used Bourneville. To make matters worse, the frosting calls for quality milk chocolate and I just used Dairy Milk. You could taste that it was Dairy Milk in the finished article and although we all knew that was bad, it turned out to be quite a nostalgic flavour for us all.

I also forgot to take any pictures, apparently…?

For our most recent outing to Pudding Club, my hosts provided this awesome Baked Alaska as the pudding, so I made the main course for a change.

Baked alaska awesomeness

I had previously halved the ingredients and just done the chicken component of Nigella’s Chicken Shawarma as a midweek supper; but this time, I bought everything needed for  the sides as well, including things that didn’t sound like I would especially like them… pomegranate seed bejewelled tahini flavoured yoghurt? But it turned out lovely, actually.

The chicken by itself had garnered a “you can make that again”, and it is fantastic, really delicious. The marinade is not hard, but it does have quite a lot of ingredients, and ideally you need to do it the day before. Getting the seeds out of the pomegranate is fun. Whack! whack!  Now, what to do with the rest of the jar of tahini?!  (Quick google, and these catch my eye: cookies, salmon, lamb, peanut hummus!)

This paprika smells wonderful and I am looking for excuses to cook more with it:

Nigella chicken shawarma

There’s lots of ingredients for the marinade but nothing is actually difficult. I left the coriander out because I don’t like it (tastes soapy to me) and so don’t have any.

Nigella chicken shawarma

Overnight in fridge

Nigella chicken shawarma

Hot oven for 30 minutes, then serve on a bed of lettuce and drizzle over the oily juices.  Unless you are, as Nigella says, for some inexplicable reason, anti-oily-juices.

Nigella chicken shawarma

Serve with salad and a pomegranate/yoghurt/tahini dip.

Nigella chicken shawarma

 

 

Recommended reads

A break with tradition and I’m telling you about some recent books wot I have read, and it’s not the end of the summer holidays.  I hardly manage to read books these days – and what I’m saying with that is that I don’t make it enough of a priority. As a friend said at work: you manage to find hours to spend with your phone. I have a few mental pictures of the life I’d like to lead – in bed by 9.30 and reading for an hour; cooking Sunday lunch every week and sipping sherry to the Food Programme (empty your glass if you hear “Chorley-Wood bread process”).  The only thing stopping any of these things happening is me.

The books below are books recommended to me that I have (mostly) totally enjoyed and want to pass on.

My friends at work were raving about Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I think they were initially reluctant to recommend because it’s not classicly a boy book and it has been pigeonholed a bit as chick lit. I need to read about outside my comfort zone anyway (mostly nothing but crime!) and they did point out it was a short book and would not take me long.  Amazon’s Kindle preview thing lets you download the first chapter and see how you get along, so I read the first few pages on my phone in my classroom before going home one weekend – paid there and then and finished it in a couple of sittings – with kindle and pint in Wetherspoons running up to midnight on Friday night, and then in bed on Saturday morning.  It’s quite unlike anything I’ve ever read and it’s fab.  Eleanor is clearly on the spectrum and is a wonderful, spiky, unique, unreliable narrator.  The story unfolds with some complete bouleversements (hmm… is that not actually an English word?) unexpected changes in direction. It’s very hard to review without giving too much away, so you just have to read it, it’s amazing!

My friends at pudding club were raving about Magpie Murders. So much so they didn’t let me leave without pushing it into my hands and saying you must read this!  I took it to France over Easter but didn’t have a chance to read it before returning, so took a day on bed after to do nothing but read and again polished this off in super quick time. It’s a return to crime fiction but again it’s a book that gives you unexpected twists. It’s a book within a book – most of the story is a crime novel by a character within the wider text – so just by flicking through it you see two different typefaces. The metatext has all sorts of fun games to play with the story within, and you get two crime narratives for the price of one. Again, highly recommended and puts me in mind of reading more Anthony Horowitz – I might even borrow some Alex Rider from the school library.

Finally one of my friends from the language teachers who lunch collective recommended Holy Island by LJ Ross, and I’m sorry to say this is not something I would recommend at all. It’s the first in a series of crime fic / police procedural with a lead character with a back story, DCI Ryan. I found the writing overblown and clunky and there’s an obvious, heavily signposted romance between the detective and a female cult expert bussed in from a nearby university which is completely at odds with common sense and lead me to some heavy eye rolling. Then, guess what, the woman finds herself in peril with the police officer battling the odds, the weather and the antagonist(s) in the heavy-handed dénouement. I’m not in any hurry to read any more, didn’t read the “first chapter in next book” that I got free with this one and I was very happy finally to finish this story after months of it clogging up my kindle.

Coming up next – I moved straight from Holy Island to a welcome return to P D James – A Certain Justice, and will hopefully finish this afternoon, then I have been preparing some free sample chapters to see where we move next. Stephen Tall raved about Kate Atkinson so I’ve a chapter from one of her books. I heard a radio review of The Power and have been intrigued by the premise for months – “Suddenly – tomorrow or the day after – teenage girls find that with a flick of their fingers, they can inflict agonizing pain and even death.” – how different would the world be if no-one could argue with or abuse teenage girls!? An interview in the Guardian with David Sedaris has a throwaway recommendation for a book by Rebecca Front – he doesn’t appear to know who she is!  Someone – I now can’t remember who – recommended Mythago Wood, but it’s set in Herefordshire, so that’s reason enough to read it too.

A quick trip to Brittany

Popped across to France during the Easter holidays for slightly less than a week at HPB Manoir du Hilguy in the outskirts of Quimper, the capital of Brittany on the west coast of France.

Booked at short notice, we were due to stay Wednesday to Wednesday, so the first surprise of the holiday was that there are no night sailings into Roscoff or St Malo on Wednesdays with Brittany Ferries – of all their long channel crossings, only Portsmouth-Caen runs on Wednesday nights. So the crossing out was nearly fully booked and we could only get reclining seats, not a cabin; and there was a long drive across the top of France to get to digs on the first day.

Travelling in through Normandy had its advantages too – my companion had never been to this part of the world before so it opened up opportunities for me to revisit some of the treasures of Normandy again. On the way from Caen to Quimper, we stopped off at the Bayeux tapestry. I have seen this before but could remember nothing of it, so was very happy to troll around the embroidery again. I had completely forgotten the cause of the Norman invasion in the years running up to it – Harald swearing and reneging on an oath – and all the filthy rude pictures around the edges were entertaining too.

A bit of a running theme throughout the visit was value for money. We felt many things of equivalent cultural importance in the UK would cost an awful lot more to visit. The thousand-year-old treasure of the first cost us under a tenner to see.

A second running theme though is opening hours and availability. Lots of the things we were interested in were not yet open for the season. Of all the HPB properties, only Hilguy is shut down for the winter, because not enough people visit to make it viable to keep open. But you can kinda see why – the weather forecast was terrible for our visit and many of the attractions in that part of the world are only open June-September.

On our way from Bayeux to Quimper, I took T to see the Château de Balleroy, Normandy home of the Forbes magnate. We could only glimpse through the gates as the castle doesn’t start doing visits until April.

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Long drive onwards, arrived at Hilguy early afternoon. Quick nap, evening meal in the bistro onsite, long sleep.

First full day, after a lie in, leisurely breakfast and first experience with the Hilguy bread delivery (it’s awesome tasty bread, but you have to get to reception early enough in the afternoon to order it!) out to Quimper, a beautiful city with tricky parking. We found a space immediately in a car park across the river from the cathedral, but could only stop there for a few hours, on threat of high fines if you overstay your time by only a minute. We had better than expected weather which allowed us to walk the streets, including the Rue des Gentilhommes …

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…and Place au Beurre (Butter Square) – where there were at least 5 crêperies all doing good business.

Hilguy hol panoramas

(I had been in this square 9 years previously but had no recollection of it.) We stopped in a delightful pancake shop which was very busy, full of French patrons, and had a delicious lunch. I was expecting to order a galette but the slightly frosty menu explained that this is a Norman thing – in Brittany, you have a crêpe au blé noir. I went for a “complète” and added creamy mushrooms – egg, ham, cheese, mushrooms.

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I also wanted a pudding so went for a pancake “au froment” – I wrongly assumed this meant fermented, but it’s just the French for wheat. They made their own caramels, so I had a coffee flavoured caramel pancake and it was da bomb.

Hilguy hol 2018

As we arrived the cathedral had been closed, but the doors were open after our lunch, so we went in for a visit. It’s dedicated to St Corentin of Quimper, a hermit who lived in the woods. He was blessed with a miraculous salmon that jumped out of a fountain at his prayer, and miraculously replaced any flesh that was sliced off it.  The wikipedia page for the cathedral is incredibly detailed and helps as a guided tour.

The cathedral has a kink in the middle, because they found they couldn’t put footings in the swamp when they were building it.

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We visited on Good Friday, so the statues were veiled.

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There was a fab bay with an interesting story of a pilgrim who had entrusted his fortune to a friend whilst off gallivanting. On his return, his friend had pretended not to know where the money was and refused to give it back. There was a tribunal when his friend continued his lies in front of lay judges. At this point a statue of the crucifix began bleeding, and the friend gave the money back. The bay had a stained glass window depicting this, as well as a reliquary holding the head of the mediaeval statue which bled, and the cloth it bled onto.

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Out of the cathedral, with the parking clock ticking, we had a choice between a fine art museum and a museum of Breton life, and chose the latter, in the Bishop’s Palace right next door. Lots of lovely furniture, ceramics and costumes, including lots of information about Breton women’s headdresses. An exhibition of a female illustrator of children’s books and her other paintings.

Hilguy hol 2018

Back to car, supermarket trip, home, dinner.  It was Good Friday and the TV ads had been banging on about lamb for weeks, so I bought a leg of lamb with the intention of roasting it one night and using the leftovers for shepherd’s pie on another occasion.

Hilguy hol 2018

Hilguy hol 2018

The second day, we were in pursuit of a nice castle, but were hampered in that a lot of the obvious places to try were not yet open for the season, or closed because of Easter. One in particular was Keriolet, “a Russian princess’s dream” but we didn’t get to go there at all. At reception, they explained that Brittany was a poorer region, not many châteaux, many more manors.

We eventually set out for the Domaine du Trévarez – I didn’t know much about it on the way. We arrived before it opened for the afternoon, so went for a bit of a drive, and walked around what felt like a ghost town of Châteauneuf du Faou, a town on a hill overlooking a bend in the river. We peeked around two churches and got back in the car.

Trévarez felt like it was ready for a huge number of visitors – vast carparks – but we were the first to arrive and it felt like we had the place to ourselves.  It was built in the 1850s – at much the same time as the houses of Parliament and St Pancras, and had a similar sort of vibe. The architecture looked back to the 1700s but more modern techniques of construction were used, such as iron frames, and this was an early example of electricity (powered from a steam generator in the stable block), central heating, and fully indoor plumbing. The exterior of the castle had been perfectly restored, but the interior was very limited, and showed the damage done as the Allies bombed it in 1944, to try and remove the Nazis who had set up shop there.

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The gardens were amazing, with heather and camellias in abundance.

Hilguy hol panoramas

There was a nice caff with some trad Breton cakes and biscuits.

We snacked on cheese and salad, and delicious pots à la crème which I always look out for in France.

 

April 1st, Easter Sunday, was the worst of the weather, so we set a course for Brest, and the largely indoor Océanopolis, a massive aquarium. I had been there before, before I became a teacher, and was hugely struck to find “bassin de requins” – shark pool – a phrase I use in my teaching. I must have internalised it last time I was there.

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There are three pavilions – tropical and coral, arctic and local – with long exhibitions around each of these themes. It’s not perfect for a wet weather day as there are still uncovered walks from the car park to the tanks and between each various bit but it was the best way to spend a day with really atrocious rain.

We came back via the bakery Paul just outside the aquarium for a late lunch, and in the evening availed ourselves of the wood-fired pizza van which visited site.

Monday we visited Concarneau, an extremely picturesque fishing town. The Old Port is a walled fortress with ramparts, and the sun came out while we were there.

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The Old Port itself is a real tourist trap with lots of ice-cream and sweet shops, and the last word in knick-knackery and Breton tourist tat.

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We took a slow route home via Pont l’Abbé where we visited a brocante, a statue and a looked at the strange tower on the church.

Hilguy hol 2018

Also a statue of five ages of women all mourning dead sailor fishermen fathers and husbands.

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We also took in a classic Breton beach with impressive kite surfers, and tried to imagine how nice it would be at the height of summer.

 

We drove over a huge viaduct over an inlet and stopped to walk back over it to take photos.

Hilguy hol 2018

Tuesday we started at Audierne for a bit of a wander – churches, graveyards, marinas, delicious crêpes where I was a bit more adventurous with ingredients.

Then on to the Pointe du Raz – not quite the most westerly point of France, but very close. Very picturesque coastal walk.

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Statue of Our Lady of the Shipwrecked

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Down the road from the Pointe du Raz is the most gorgeous Baie des trépassés – we came down to sunshine, shelter from the wind at the cliff top, but huge green waves and surfer dudes taking advantage.

Baie des trépassés surfers pano

Hilguy hol 2018

Then to a flying visit to Dournanez. Another place I could not remember, but on return, found I had taken almost identical photos. We arrived too late, but there is a shipping museum here where you can walk around the boats, based on the town’s vital sardine industry.

Our final day was the long drive back to Caen for the overnight ferry, but with 12 hours to kill between being kicked out of digs near Quimper and checking in at Ouistreham.

Before we left we took some final pics of the manor.

Hilguy hol panoramas

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Four hours driving was split up with a visit to Mont St Michel. Again, I place I have visited before but have little memory of. I think in my mind I was muddling the abbey at the top with another city… Prague perhaps? as what we saw up there rang no bells at all for me.  The ramparts and the tourist shops on the way up were familiar, but since the last time I went they have built some serious infrastructure – distant car parks and free shuttle busses were all new.  As with the Bayeux tapestry, visiting this world class, UNESCO monument, was actually not very expensive at all.

We had had patchy weather on the drive, but the sun came out as we arrived so we got some fabulous photos.

Hilguy hol 2018

It started to rain as we were there but that more or less coincided with arriving at the abbey for the indoor part of the tour.

The worst of rain was happening as they practised an evacuation drill – we were taken out of the Salle des Chevaliers down a staircase only used in emergencies and swept out of the building by women with “evac” armbands. Getting out of the building was the hardest part because people were extremely reluctant to leave given how hard it was raining.

Hilguy hol 2018

Our timetable allowed us a really brief visit to central Caen. I set the satnav for the Abbaye aux Hommes and we dove into the Hôtel de Ville car park with a plan for a quick walk and a nice bistro, but as we were leaving I saw a sign saying the car park closed at 8, so take your parking ticket with you. Unsure if that meant we would get the car trapped and be unable to catch the ferry, we ended up with a whistlestop tour around some of the monuments before heading out of town to Flunch for our last dinner in France.

Hilguy hol 2018

Something Olympic was going on at the Hôtel de Ville.

Hilguy hol 2018

Since I had not been able to get a cabin on the outward trip, I sprang for a luxury cabin – with a window! – for the return, and after a day of driving with another in prospect, it was a bit of a relief to be able to board the ferry, go the cabin, and just stay there all night!

 

Reconstruct a paragraph (MFL)

A colleague I share a class with set this task for one of my lessons with younger students. They seemed to enjoy it a lot and I have subsequently used it with KS4 students – and added a twist.

It starts with a model answer to a 90 word GCSE question. You can either write your own, or I heartily recommend Kate Jones’s resources – her writing booklets have questions for every AQA theme and sub-topic, every style of question, and a full set of model answers.

Start with your model answer. Remove sentences so that it only answers 3 bullet points.  Add in sentences that are not relevant. Print it big (eg big enough to fit 3 A4 sheets landscape) and cut it into strips*. Get kids to sort back into paragraph order.

My most recent iteration of this task had a double sided worksheet with the mark scheme for a 90 word question on the back, and on the front, the question (in the target language, like in the exam) and a translation of the text they are aiming to build. Most students used this, and recognised at least one word per strip, which they could use to get their bearings through the paragraph, but the most able could hide this support and try to rebuild the sentences without it.

The worksheet also had these tasks:

  1. What do the 4 bullet points mean ?
  2. Reconstruct the text from the strips to form an answer to this question.  (You can use the English translation for support, or hide it if you prefer.)
  3. Assess the response using the markscheme on the back. Are all bullet points answered? What does this mean for the score it can get? Are all sentences relevant to the task?
  4. Redraft an answer to the question, based on the paragraph you have reconstructed. Eliminate anything irrelevant. Add in some sentences to cover any bullet points not already answered.
  5. Higher students – what super structures and fancy phrases could you add to this to improve it to the point where it would be an answer to the 150 word question?
  6. What topic specific vocab is there in this text that you didn’t know? What structures can you find that could be used in lots of different topics?

* To speed up the cutting, you can prep the photocopier with a pile of coloured sheets in the bypass tray, eg 3 yellow, 3 blue, 3 pink, 3 orange. Copy onto those sheets then cut up all 12 in one go and separate  out by colour.

Ringers’ dinner II

Last weekend I threw the house open to the lovely people in my tower for our now annual Christmas social. We initially decided we ought to have a Christmas social but that everyone’s diary in December is too hectic, so we have ours in February instead.

I like cooking for people and having people in my house but I actually don’t do it very often, so it’s nice to have an excuse.

Ringers' supper 2018

(Laid the table before counting properly AGAIN! and had to put an extra place setting in at the last minute.)

I thought that the menu had not evolved much from last year, but looking back it seems I did simplify quite a bit.  I did the mulled apple juice again and offered some of the crab apple vodka to those who were both not driving and suitably aged.

Ringers' supper 2018

It’s been cold this year, so I didn’t want to do cold starters and desserts again, and so went for a slightly ambitious three cooked courses.  Crudités were still the main feature of the starter, then I was initially thinking fondue… but it would be hard to put the pot where everyone could reach it, so went for two separate baked camemberts so that each half of the table could reach. I was planning for 8 but one of us was ill on the night and we were 7 instead.  Two vegetarians amongst our numbers and I was conscious that anything properly called camembert is by AOC definition not vegetarian, so there was some hummus available instead.

The mains as last year were baked potatoes with beans, cheese (veggie cheddar), sausages and Quorn sausages and homemade coleslaw.

I actually took hardly any photos this year, but I did take quite a lot of the dessert. I was making Simon Hopkinson’s sticky toffee pudding – I blogged about it before in 2013 and the recipe is still on the BBC, and it’s still decadent and delicious. The basic recipe says serves 4, and the only way that is true is if you don’t eat anything else for an entire weekend.  I still doubled it and cooked it in a disposable foil roasting tin for a dessert that fed 7 people on the night, did doggy bags to take for absent partners, fed my neighbours who liked the photo on Facebook, and did me and T the following day.  I still have spare ingredients and I’m making it again today for half term pudding club tomorrow 🙂

In its doubled up form you end up needing to buy over a litre of cream!

Ringers' supper 2018

The basic date sponge cooked the night before.

Ringers' supper 2018

With the first sticky toffee sauce poured over the top then put back under the grill.

Ringers' supper 2018

Loads of leftovers!

I also made fudge – this Nigella recipe ish. There weren’t shelled pistachios available when I went shopping and I didn’t fancy shelling 150 grams myself, so I just used chopped hazelnuts. And glacé cherries, because why not?  And then, having made fudge, and having been given two boxes of After Eights… I forgot to bring either of them out with the tea and coffee! So there were loads leftover which made nice end of term gifts at school for colleagues instead as well as satisfying my own chocolate craving whenever I walk past the fridge.

Ringers' supper 2018