MAKE IT: Foccacia


Foccacia (13)

Mmmmm.  Foccacia.  Delicious serves warm with some oil and vinegar for dunking.

I don’t know how authentically Italian this recipe is, but I do know that it tastes jolly good.

Here’s the recipe –

325g Strong white bread flour
150g ’00’ Plain flour (this is more finely milled as gives a really light bread texture but you can use normal plain flour instead)
7g salt (that’s approximately 1 tsp)
5g instant dried yeast (again, approximately  )
1 tbspn Olive oil
250ml warm water


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Nothing complicated here.  Dump all the ingredients into a bowl and mix together until they form a soft dough then knead with youre electric mixer’s dough attachment on low for about 10 mins or knead vigorously by hand until the dough is very smooth and elastic.

It should be quite a damp-ish dough so don’t add any additional flour in the kneading process if you can possibly help it.

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Then cover it with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place like a window sill or airing cupboard for about 40 minutes.  It might take up to an hour in winter temperatures,

Here’s mine (in a different bowl as I needed my mixer bowl for something else.)

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Once warm and nicely risen, plop it into a greased, high-sided baking tray and flatten it out with the palm of your hand.  You could roll it out with a rolling pin to make a tidier job of it but I was feeling lazy.

Leave to rise again for 20 mins or so while the oven gets up to temperature (200 C) then press your fingers into the top to make some deep depressions and sprinkle with olive oil.Foccacia (8)

Foccacia (9) Foccacia (10)

Bake in the oven for about 15mins.

Meanwhile, mix 2 tbsp of olive oil with 1 tbsp of water in a bowl and whisk until emulsified. Add a sprig of torn rosemary and let that steep while the focaccia cooks.

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As soon as the bread’s out of the oven, brush it generously with the oil/water/rosemary mix and sprinkle with a little salt.  (Erm, I was a bit heavy-handed with the salt, oops)

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Leave to cool  little in the tin and serve warm with some oil and balsamic vinegar.

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Try it topped with other herbs or maybe some garlic butter.  Roasted onions, tomatoes or mixed roast vegetable are good too – just pop them on the top before you place the focaccia in the oven.


MAKE IT: Beer Bread

???????????????????????????????Ok, so this is a bit of a weird one but my husband made a batch of homebrew and I wanted to try making bread from the yeast that was left over from the brewing process.

I did some scratching around with the help of Google and didn’t really find much inspiration so I decided to give it a try using a pretty standard bread recipe and substituting the yeast.  Here’s what I came up with:

1 1lb Strong bread flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp honey
4 tbspn’spent’ brewing yeast
1/2 pint warm water


This is what the spent brewing yeast looks like.  It’s the sludgy residue left on the bottom of the container once you’ve siphoned off the beer.  It smells pretty powerful, but in a good way.

I mixed all the ingredients together in the electric mixer with a dough hook attachment on low speed for 10 mins.  The resulting dough was alarmingly batter-like but I left it to rise on the worktop for 24 hours.  I knew this wasn’t going to be a fast-acting rise!


Actually, I wasn’t sure it was going to rise at all but patience pulled through and this was the ‘before and after ‘result.

??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????Not a bad rise at all.

Because this was a wet dough, I decided to cook it using the Dutch oven method which allows for a good spring from the evaporation of the excess water.  It’s this that makes the big holes in the bread.

This is how you do it.

  • Put the dough onto a heavily floured worktop (and I mean heavily floured!)
  • Roughly shape the dough and let to prove for as long as it takes to heat up the oven.  It will be quite a sloppy mix but don’t worry.  I put mine in a basket to stop it spreading sideways too much.

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  • Put the oven on to heat to 220C.
  • Place a cast iron lidded pot in the hot oven for 20 mins to heat up – empty.
  • When the pot is up to temperature, remove the lid and drop the dough into it.  It doesn’t matter if it isn’t central, it will level itself in the oven.
  • Replace the lid and bake for 20 mins


  • Remove the lid or remove the loaf entirely and place on a pre-heated baking tray to bake for a further 15 mins and brown.


And that’s it.  It worked!

We had it with cheese and chutney.  It smells amazing and has a bit of a sourdough-like tang to it delicious but not boozy – sorry!

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Spring is trying to surprise us.  It’s the last day of February and the daffodils have all pushed up their flower buds ready to burst into colour.  Of course a few have already been up for a week or two – the odd little bunch here and there as if the daffodil community send out some scouts to check out the conditions and report back before they collectively decide the time is right.


It’s not just the daffs though, oh no, the cherry tree outside my front door has a grand total of three tiny pink flowers.  There are more birds around and the sunlight is beginning to creep further and further down the back wall of our north facing little garden.

The veggie patch has a few die-hard parsnips, beetroot and carrots but really we’re in the realms of leeks, kale and a bit of spinach.  A very sorry selection.  The empty beds have been cleared and dug over and those that are destined for hungry vegetables have been fed with a bumper load of rotted chicken muck and covered over to keep the weeds out and give the worms time to do their thing.

Tomato and pepper seeds have germinated on the window-sill propagator and a few seeds sown in the greenhouse awaiting enough heat and light to spring into action.


This year, I’m trying out some early broad beans peas and carrots in the greenhouse to see if I can get a quick crop before temperatures rise to high for them.  We’ll see what happens.

MAKE IT: Pasta noodles

Pasta14 Pasta is fun to make and, if you have a pasta rolling machine, easy.  If you don’t then you’d better make sure your an expert with a rolling pin and have a good dose of patience. Here are the ingredients for a very simple egg pasta.  I’ve use it to make noodles here but it’s the same recipe if you want to make lasagne, spaghetti, tagiatelle or any of the hand-shaped pastas (if you have the inclination and time). 300g pasta flour (ideally pasta flour but plain flour will do if you don’t have any to hand) 3 eggs 3 tablespoons olive oil pinch of salt. I was making enough only for the two of us so the quantities in my pictures have been pared down to two thirds. Pasta01 Whack this into your mixer or thrash by hand until it clumps together and then form it into a ball.  It sometimes takes a while to come together and if it really doesn’t want to stick, you can try adding a splash more oil.  Once you’ve achieved a ball, let it sit for 20-30 mins. ??????????????????????????????? Pasta03 Then divi it up into four sections and roll out fairly thinly. Pasta04???????????????????????????????(I know the dough looks unfeasibly yellow in the photos but that’s because these are my own eggs – well my hens’ eggs – and the yolks are really bright compared to shop bought ones.  That’s because they get to eat a lot of grass while they free-range.)  Anyway, pop it through the pasta machine at its thickest setting a few times until it comes through smooth with no air pockets or crimply bits.  You might need to fold it a few times while you do this which I generally do in thirds.  ??????????????????????????????? When it’s smooth, you can trim it with a knife to give nice neat edges and pass it through the pasta machine again, this time on progressively smaller settings until it’s the thickness you need for the type of pasta you’re making.  In this case, from setting 0 (the widest) through 1, 2, 3 and finally 4. I normally pop it through twice on each setting before swapping to the next.  I don’t know if that’s really necessary but it’s certainly therapeutic. ???????????????????????????????   Pasta08 Finally, swap the roller for the noodle/spaghetti cutter (or if you’re doing it by hand, take a deep breath, flour the sheets really well, roll them up, pray they don’t stick and then attempt to cut into strips). You’ll need to hang  the noodles up to dry a bit before you cook them or they’ll stick together in the pan.  I have pasta stand now but I used to use a wire coat hanger.  Works just the same. Pasta10 Pasta12 If you’re going to cook them the same day it will only take two to three minutes in a large pan of fast boiling salted water.  If you plan to dry them to use later in the week, you can either transfer them to a long thin pasta jar once fully dried or tangle them into baskets.  I keep the inevitable little broken or short bits in a jar for popping into soups.   Dried pasta will take 8-10 mins to cook depending whether you like if al-dente or soft.Pasta11 I would say, however, if you do want to dry them, you’ll find it better to use proper pasta flour as the pasta dries harder and won’t snap as easily. I used these noodles with a few prawns, some mustard and sesame seeds, onions, ginger, garlic, chilli and coriander for a very simple supper dish for the two of us. Pasta15

MAKE IT: Pancakes


It’s Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, Mardi Gras.
It’s pancake time.  Woo hoo!

4oz plain flour
1 egg
1/4 pint milk
pinch of salt


Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and break the egg into the middle.  Using a balloon whisk, mix the egg and as you do so, you’ll see the flour start to incorporate.  Take your time. Add a tiny bit of milk and mix again.  Repeat this until you have used all the milk and the batter is smooth.  (Alternatively, throw everything in together and mix with one of those hand blenders.  Easier but somehow not quite as therapeutic.)

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You should leave the batter to sit for at least 30 minutes to let the gluten do its thing, then stir again and you’re ready to go.

There is nothing difficult about making pancakes – there’s only a problematic pan to deal with.  You can use non-stick (if you must) but I find it just too non-stick – yes, you read that right, too non-stick.  The mixture slides over the pan too quickly and doesn’t set properly.

I like to use a stainless steel, heavy bottomed frying pan.  I know you’re probably freaking out about that but honestly, they don’t stick!  The trick is to prep your pan before you start frying your batter.  It’s really easy and only takes a minute to do.

Heat your pan and add a teaspoon of salt to it.  Remove from the heat and scrub the surface with the salt using a bit of folded kitchen paper.  (Try not to burn your fingers, obviously).  Then, tip the salt away, wipe the pan out with a clean piece of kitchen paper and put back on the heat.

You want the pan to be medium hot.  Not so hot that it’s smoking but hot enough that when you drop a little oil, say half a teaspoon, into it, it goes instantly super-runny and rolls around the pan easily.  It looks hot like it would really hurt if you dropped some of that oil on your hand.  Use a rubber spatula to make sure the whole surface is covered with a thin coating of oil, check again that it’s hot.  Test it with a tiny drop of batter and if it instantly hisses and sets, the pan is ready.  If you don’t have it hot enough or any surface of the pan hasn’t had the oil over it, it will stick.   Be brave and pour a small ladle of your batter mix in and tip the pan until it covers the bottom surface.  Try to avoid tipping it up the sides of the pan.


Put it on the heat and leave it alone until all the wet batter has set.  It should start to shrink slightly from the sides.  Help it along a bit with a spatula to judge whether it will lift easily from the bottom of the pan.  Loosen it gently on all sides, check the bottom for colour then lift out and gently turn it over.

Flipping is fun. Try it at your peril!


Once the other side it done, set aside in a warm casserole dish and make up the others or eat it there and then at the kitchen worktop with lemon and sugar or butter and maple syrup – whatever’s your fancy.  Our family tradition is dark brown sugar.

Flip ’em. roll ’em or fold ’em.  Doesn’t matter.  Just have fun with ’em!

NB.  From the second pancake onwards you won’t need much oil at all, just run a folded bit of kitchen paper soaked in oil around the pan and off you go again.



NEED IT, MAKE IT: Needle Case



This seems like a bit of an obvious requirement for someone who likes a bit of sewing and yet it’s something I simply haven’t got round to making.  I think the last time I made one was in Home Economics at school some….ooh, too many years to count….ago.

I finally became fed up of scratching around in those plastic casings that needles come in (or worse, losing them in the pin cushion and never to be seen again but often ‘felt’.  Ouch!)

So I finally got round to it and here’s my little needle case.

It’s very simple.  Just a piece of scrap fabric or two, a few bits of quilting wadding, a couple of bits of cardboard and a recycled ribbon of unknown origin.


I found the centre point of he fabric and marked out where the spine and needle pad need to be positioned.


Highly technical stuff this!

I then cut out the large oblong where the needle pad needed to poke through leaving probably quarter of an inch allowance and cutting diagonally into the corners so I could fold it back on itself as a kind of hem.  I then sewed round the outside of the case, leaving a gap sufficiently big to turn it inside-out and to get the wadding in.

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I pushed some wadding into one side and then packed a couple of bit of wadding on top of the cardboard backing for the needle pad and slotted it in the gap I’d made for it and tucked the raw edges of the hole underneath. In truth, it could probably have done with a little more so I could have used it as a pin cushion too but hey ho.  I did the same for the spine. and tacked everything in place so it wouldn’t move when I stitched it up.

??????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????I used the zipper foot to try to get nice and close to the edges.


Then I decided to do a quick bit of free-motion quilting swirls on the  other side for a bit of interest.


If you haven’t tried that yet, give it a go – it’s great fun.

Then it was just a case of sewing up the gap…


and sewing on a piece of ribbon (rather coarsely) to tie it together.


Any that was it – done.  Now everything’s neat and tidy which inspired me to sort out my notions box too.

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MAKE IT: Porridge


OK, so I get the whole porridge vibe.  I really do.  I appreciate that it’s slow-release, it’s super healthy and fills you up ’til lunch time…but why does it have to be so damn gross?

Any Scot will delight in telling you that porridge must be made with water and salt and left in a pot for days until you can cut it off in slabs.  They’re well ‘ard them Scots.  But part of me is suspicious that just like to make you squirm.  I mean really? I need more love in my breakfast.

So I went on a mission to re-discover porridge as, frankly, I’d only ever really eaten it as ReadyBrek when I was a kid and it was pretty tasteless mush even then.

I tried a few brands – the trust-worthy Marks and Spencer and the authentic-looking Stoats Oats.  Lovely and grim respectively and both stupidly expensive for what it essentially an extremely cheap product. I trawled the internet and came accross various intriguing overnight oats recipes.  Bleurgh!  ‘Creamy’ was the promise and ‘powdery’ was the result.  Slow cooker recipes either weld the oats to the pot or a return a sad, sludgy mess.  Pinhead oats are gritty, steel cut oats seem to be a bit of a marketing ploy and jumbo oats are only fit for flapjack.

After all that, I think the problem for me is texture. I can’t abide the snotty, glutenous slime so I needed to find a method that worked for me.  Thick, quick and ashamedly sweet.

Turns out, that’s the old-fashioned Southern Softie’s method.

I could kick myself.

  • 1 cup porridge oats
  • 2 cups semi-skimmed milk (really, I prefer whole milk but something’s gotta give)
  • pinch of salt (a tribute to the Scots)
  • 1 tbsp sugar (don’t judge me too harshly but you could choose honey instead)

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I add the milk and the oats to the saucepan, bring the contents slowly to the boil and then simmer while stirring for about 10 mins until all the milk has been absorbed and a spoon leaves a clean trail on the bottom of the pan.  No snot to be seen.

Then I add the sugar and serve it plain or with a choice of fruit, nuts, spices, cream, maple syrup etc.

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I found the dogs love it so I make a bit more, let it go cold and stuff it into their Kongs.   (Sans sucre of course).

Why chase the trend?   Stick to the old ways and keep it simple.


MAKE IT: Pea and Ham Soup


Pea and ham soup03

In the aftermath of Christmas, there’s always a surplus of gammon joints on special offer in the supermarkets.  I bought one and cooked it up with some roast potatoes and a good dollop of parsley sauce.

So now to the left-overs – a big hunk of cooked gammon sitting in the fridge waiting for something more interesting than a sandwich filling.


1 cup green split peas (soaked overnight)
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
500ml chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of fresh thyme
1 tsp sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
A good-sized hunk of cooked gammon or ham roughly chopped.

I usually soak the peas overnight but you can pour boiling water over them with a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda and leave them to soak for an hour or two if that helps speed things up.
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Discard the soaking water and rinse the peas in fresh cold water to rid of any slimy mushy bits.

Chop the onion and sweat gently in a glug of sunflower or light olive oil.
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Pea and ham soup07

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Add the peas, stir and then pour in the chicken stock. Add the bay leaf and thyme, a teaspoon of sugar and a good grinding of black pepper. Don’t add the salt just yet or the peas might not soften up properly.

Bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 40 mins or so after which time the peas should be soft and some of them will have broken down a bit. Watch the water and top it up if things start to get a bit thick – it can catch really easily if you’re not careful.

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Add the ham and add to the pan to warm through. Add the salt once the ham’s had a chance to warm.

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Sometimes I add a dash of cream if there’s some kicking about in the fridge.

Serve with some crusty bread.

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NEED IT: Cold remedies


Nope. It doesn’t matter how much internet trawling I do, I just can’t accept the whole ‘there’s no cure for the common cold’ thing.  My personal plea to medical science is to please, please get a move on and sort this out!

If, like me, you have problems with your sinuses, having a cold is not a trifling inconvenience to be shrugged off like some, it’s having someone pour concrete into your head, punch you in the back of the nose and then repeatedly scrape your throat with sandpaper.

So, having tried numerous miracle medical products and plently of old wives’ remedies over the years, this is my ‘Hall of Fame’ – those items that help get me through the whole uncomfortable experience.


Gotta be the ultra-balm type or I’m gonna rip my nose to shreds.  I get two boxes so that one is always in easy reach and be sure to throw used tissues in the bin.  However tempting it is to blow like a trumpet player, I have to remember to blow gently or those nasal passages will quickly get inflamed.  Keeping those passages calm and chilled-out is the name of the game here.

Staying hydrated…

Staying hydrated helps to stop mucus thickening up and thick mucus leads to blocked sinuses and encourages bacterial growth.

Apparently, viruses set up home in your nose and throat and they don’t like changes in temperature so I alternate between hot and ice cold drinks, avoiding dairy products as they are mucus-forming (which is a shame because I love a cup of milk tea!)

Hot drinks

Hot honey, lemon and thyme.


Simple and effective.  I throw a couple of slices of lemon and a sprig of thyme into a cup, fill with hot water and let steep for three to five minutes.  I generally pull out all the bits (or use a tea infuser if I can find one) and stir in a heaped teaspoon of honey.  I add some cinnamon or grated ginger or sometimes, in extreme and desperate circumstances, some grated garlic. (Ah mais oui!)

I mix it up a bit with some other herbal teas.  Most of them smell nice but taste of practically nothing so I only bother with peppermint or hibiscus, both sweetened with honey.

Cold drinks

Iced water, iced water and iced water.  Forgetting all sugary, carbonated, caffeinated stuff, cordials or fruit juice.  I need to limit the sugar intake to offset the vast quantities of honey in those hot drinks!


Using salt water or a couple of drops of tea tree or lemon oil added to a glass of water, (stirring between each mouthful to keep the oil suspended), and spit, swallow, repeat.  This keeps those pesky viruses jumping through hoops.

(Hot cold, hot cold, hot cold.  Ha!  Take that you little villains!)

If my throat is really sore, I gargle with dispersible aspirin in water but again, spitting not swallowing.

Keeping the nose clear..

It’s swollen passages that block your nose, not snot, so I do everything in my power to stop them swelling up.

Saline rinses Colds17If I were to give you one big tip it would be this:  Get thyself a neti pot or a saline rinse kit!  (Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, of course).  It’s flushes out your sinuses and takes only some pre-boiled cooled water and some buffered salt sachets.  No chemicals and no nasties.  This was a absolute revelation for me.  Keep that nose clear!

Call in the anti-inflammatories…

Colds18Paracetamol is best; it’s cheap and reduces fever, helps with headache and sinus pain and is gentle on the stomach. Take it as Lemsip if you can tolerate the decongestant ingredients. I try to avoid them as I find after the initial relief, they make the snots last much longer for me in the long run.

Chicken soup

Proven to be anti-inflammatory (although who knows quite why). I make my own if I can drag myself out of bed or press my lovely husband into picking up some up at the supermarket.  Fresh is better than tinned.

Ice pack ???????????????????????????????Whenever my nose feels like it might be blocking up, I place an ice pack wrapped in a flannel on the bridge of my nose.  Ahhh, that’s soooo nice.

Essential oils Colds16I use a couple of drops of Olbas Oil on a tissue and inhale or mix three drops each of eucalyptus, lavender and peppermint oil into two teaspoons of coconut or olive oil and use it as a chest rub.



Hot showers twice a day.  It’s easier than the ‘towel over your head’ thing.

Getting some sleep…

Easier said than done but I find these give me the best chance.

Combatting that dry air 

Colds12I try to get some moisture in the air at night.  A humidifier is the best bet but a wet towel on a warm radiator helps too.

Sleep on your back

Hmmm.  Not an easy one.

I set up my pillows so that I can sleep on my back with my head higher than my chest.  Not exactly so I’m sitting upright but rather that I’m propped up without getting a horrible crick in my neck.  Keeping your head in this position is supposed to help drain your sinuses and stop mucus ‘pooling’ (eek!).  If you suffer from blocked ears after a cold, (grumble, grumble, grunt, what was that you said?) this helps avoid that really unpleasant after-effect.

Opening the airways 

Colds08My second top tip would be to buy some nasal strips baby!  Honestly these little fellas are amazing!  They actually work and keep my nose clear while I sleep.  This has stopped me from having to use those bloody awful nasal decongestants that work for a bit then leave you with sticky glue-like nastiness in your head for weeks and weeks after the virus has gone.  Did I mention the blocked ears thing?

Don’t pass it on…

A plea.

Please stay away from work.   We,  your cold-prone-stuffy-headed colleagues would much rather cover you for a day or two than have you infect us with the evil lurgy.   Don’t be a hero.  Please.

A word on supplements…

Now I know people swear by them but they just don’t cut it for me.  Taking Vitamin C, Zinc or Echinacea supplements only relieves the pressure in my wallet, not my nose and until someone comes up with some proper scientific evidence to prove their effectiveness, I’m going to save my pennies and stick to what I know definitely helps.

Visiting the Quack…

If things get really bad or last longer than a few days, I get myself to the doctor in case there’s an infection that needs medical attention.  There are some pretty horrible complications out there and I’d rather let the doc decide whether or not I need antibiotics.

Best of luck with the cold season!

(Any of your top tips gratefully received.)





MAKE IT: Slow Cooker Rice Pudding


Christmas is very nearly round the corner and I finally have all my Christmas shopping bought, wrapped (very, very, nearly wrapped) and stowed away under the tree.

I’ve re-discovered a simple little trick to ease the wrapping nightmare – flat paper sheets.  I hate wrestling with the rolls of wrapping paper, smoothing the paper flat, pinning it down with paperweights and trying to cut off the right sized piece only to find it rolling back on itself again and a wonky cut.   This year, I unrolled all the paper from the rolls, folded it two or three times and cut the folds with a knife to produce beautiful flat sheets of paper! Yee ha!

Once wrapped, I sorted all the presents into sensible piles under the tree to avoid that ‘under-the-Christmas-tree-on-all-fours-shuffle’ thing that happens two minutes before you need to be out the door and you just can’t find Uncle Bob’s gift.

Now that everything’s ready and the day job is over until New Year, I can potter about the house to my heart’s content in anticipation of the big day…..and so on to my first winter warmer – Rice Pudding. So simple, so good and today it’s being prepared in the slow cooker so I can keep the main oven busy with other things.

Here she goes –

???????????????????????????????4oz pudding rice (short grain)
1 oz caster sugar
1 pint milk (preferably full fat)
1 tsp corn flour (loosened in a little of the milk)
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt – don’t leave this out as it really does make a difference

Butter for greasing
Nutmeg and double cream or a good dollop of jam to serve.


  • Butter the slow cooker dish and set to high.


  • Once hot, add all the ingredients to the pan and mix together.

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  • Pop the lid on a leave on high for one and a half hours.  (Give it a quick stir after 15 mins though to break up the rice a bit.)


  •  When the cooking time is up, stir in a little double cream and grate some nutmeg over the top.  Serve there and then or cover over and leave on low until you’re ready.

Heart-warming and very quick to prepare.