Week 7 - Tasty Tarts

The penultimate week, and it's clear that this isn't 'just a bit of fun' anymore – everyone means business! One baker lost sleep worrying about her meringue; another's poor pastry put paid to their entry and a wilting garnish threatened to scupper the chances of high presentation scores for another. The tasters were professionally tight-lipped and poker-faced too – not giving anything away. Serious stuff!

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Sweet tarts and flans are always the popular choice, but there was a good selection of savoury ones too. Ed from Finance presented a beautiful feta, onion and tomato tart garnished with fresh basil – gorgeous fresh flavours; Grace from Merchandising made a delicious onion and pepper quiche which smelt divine; Annelise from Finance gave her onion and tarragon quiche a healthy twist by using wholemeal pastry and Owen from Marketing created a monster sweet onion tart. Thankfully, he spared us any unwanted added ingredients, but only just. He admitted that watching the football whilst chopping onions was perhaps not the best idea and almost ended badly!

There were new takes on old favourites, like Jo from Merchandising's Treacle Tart made to her Mum's recipe of Weetabix instead of breadcrumbs. Some brilliant flavour combinations like passionfruit and lemon; chocolate, ginger and fennel and this week's Star Baker Ruth's taste sensation – chocolate, salted caramel and cookie dough pie topped with meringue. The sleepless night worrying about the meringue certainly paid off Ruth!

Nicola from Reception (who wowed us all with her muffins last week) stepped in at short notice when a fellow baker fell ill. She even managed to bag joint Star Baker for her chocolate and orange tart – impressive effort Nicola!

We really do have a talented bunch of people here and I think everyone is excited about next week's Show Stopper Cakes (no pressure bakers)! But we're also a little sad that it will be the final week – we're going to miss the gastronomic treats we have become accustomed to on a Wednesday.

September 12, 2014

View from the Lighthouse - Sarah Roads

Here at Lands’ End, we’re lucky enough to have an incredibly talented bunch of colleagues; all with amazing experiences, opinions and journeys to share. So in a new, occasional series we thought we’d hand the blog over to them so they could share their stories with you. Here, Sarah Roads from our Marketing Team shares her unique take on life's journey…

Keys: The Real Circle of Life.

The steps throughout our lives, our growing maturity and our responsibility can be counted or measured in keys. From a tiny teething babe we were handed plasticky, chewable keys upon which to soothe, numb or sharpen our fledgling pearly whites. As we grew, we were given bunches of keys to play with, to keep us quiet and amused, while our responsible adult carers got on with their mysterious and important tasks. Keys became central to our play and imagination. 

From finding keys while raiding Lara's Tomb, to the symbolic and imaginary treasure chests containing everything Pandora could imagine. From squirrelling away the key to our own much shaken and sadly empty piggy banks, to the joy of discovering the hiding place of the teeny tiny key to our big sister's five year lockable diary. And talking of big sisters, didn't we all spy and secretly desire another type of tiny silvery key on her much coveted charm bracelet? 

So, what is this thing with keys? Are they a symbol of success and maturity, or of control? Who can forget the striking images of those industrial style bunches hanging beside a dark uniform during the opening credits of every TV show containing the word Cell, Prisoner or Porridge. And what about all of those Westerns, where the good guy (white hat), having been criminally locked away by the dastardly bad sheriff (black hat), escapes by hooking that glorious circle of clanking keys off the hapless deputy's belt? 

As we grew, so did our bunch of keys. At first we were let in on the secret that a spare key to the house was under the plant pot, just in case we got out of school unexpectedly early. And, oh the joy of being home alone. The TV and the biscuit tin were both under our control, and we would encourage the dog to join us on the sofa. Until mum got in at least. 

This was then followed by that great coming of age: our own key! No marking of the passage of time is surely as symbolic. Forget the oversized and decorative 'Keys to the Door' received on our 21st birthday. We now had our hands on the real deal. The keys to the kingdom. Of course this came with caveats and threats of what would happen to us, our life and our universe, should anything amiss happen to this two inch piece of metallic treasure.

The keys came in fairly rapid and regular succession then. Bike padlock keys, garage keys, car keys, student accommodation keys, until eventually our own home keys, and then the circle completes when we hand our own squally teething tots a bunch of plasticky, chewy keys. Or does it? 

Somewhere along the way we gave back the keys to our childhood home, the lock on our sister's diary became so flimsy that the key became redundant (there never was anything interesting in there anyway) and the TV shows and spaghetti westerns fell out of favour. We grew up.

Then came the time when we once more needed the key to our parents pad - just to keep an eye on them, drop off some groceries, make supper, to put things straight. But I guess the real full circle comes along when we once more hand our front door key to our own offspring, while theirs looks on, chewing and dribbling on something remarkably familiar and plasticky. Keys; the real circle of life.

September 11, 2014

Marvellous Muffins

Week 6 of the competition and it was with a slight sinking feeling that competitors realised that just two subsequent weeks remain – how will we get through Wednesdays without our weekly sugar fix? With this in mind, this week's bakers certainly pulled out all the stops to impress the tasters.

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And the tasters were definitely a mixed bunch, with ever-professional Donna arriving with a palate-cleansing glass of water only to discover that standards had improved so much since she'd tasted the scones in week two that she found it almost impossible to choose between them. Things got off to a slightly more shaky start with Michael from Facilities who asked for a bin after he took his first bite as he "couldn't eat very much at this time of the morning" – it's a tough job but someone's gotta do it!

Despite much of the fare being super-sweet and sinful, our conscientious bakers were still keen to ensure the tasters got some of their 5-a-day. Andy in Marketing baked some impressive-looking pineapple & coconut muffins topped with almonds whilst Neil from Finance produced traditional fruity blueberry versions. The girls also made sure they were watching our waistlines with Lui's heart-shaped apple and cinnamon muffins and Nicola's super-healthy yet super-tasty contribution - beautiful banana and sultana muffins.

The unofficial 'Teacher's Pet' award went to Amy from the Merch and Planning team who represented the global ethos of Lands' End with her American cheesecake, English strawberry and German streusel muffins; all presented in a beautiful wooden box with hand painted signs.

Owen from Marketing continued the international theme with his chorizo and manchego cheese drop muffins made to an authentic Spanish recipe (via a kitchen in Northampton). Proving that looks aren't everything, the muffins were declared a resounding success and were the first ones to disappear once the tables were opened up. Magnifico!

Almost buckling under the pressure to change the fortunes of the beleaguered Copy & Web team, Rebecca made her second batch of muffins without one vital ingredient. Despite this 'flour pas', her savoury courgette & feta muffins and marvellous lemon meringues saw her storm to victory as one half of the week's joint Star Baking team alongside Shani who scooped the top spot for her brandy-infused prune, armagnac and chocolate muffins – hitting the bottle at 6am in the morning certainly seemed to pay off.  

So with the scores now in, Marketing have slipped down into joint 3rd place with Finance; whilst ES, IS, Facilities & Engineering have jumped ahead into position number 2. But with Merch & Planning celebrating their 6th week at the top of the table and 24 points ahead of their closest rival, it seems the remaining teams will have to do battle for the silver medal… check back next week to find out whose flans fall flat and whose pies reign supreme. 

September 04, 2014

Week 5 – Baked to perfection?

Traybake week and the boys did themselves proud with an all-male contingency bagging the best scores.

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Unsurprisingly, Millionaires' Shortbread and variations on the traditional brownie recipe were out in force; but perhaps more surprisingly, raspberries were the theme of the day and seemed to feature in nearly every recipe or for decorative purposes. Were they on BOGOF in the local supermarket?

The figures from Finance were certainly adding up with Ed producing a wonderfully gooey chocolate, raspberry and almond traybake whilst Rocky's road to success was ensured with his raspberry and pecan blondie (a sugar-based version of a brownie, don't you know.)

Two new bakers to the competition added a touch of sparkle to proceedings – literally in Chris' case with his gold glitter speckled Millionaires' Shortbread presented on a tiered cake plate covered in fake £20 notes (and despite the fact his mum is known for her delicious cakes, we were assured they were all his own work - impressive!) Competition newbie number 2 - Andy, from Marketing, produced delicious maltester and pistachio squares which ended up netting him joint Star Baker Award (with Chris) – no mean feat for a first-time appearance.

Maltesers also featured in Raj's 'sublime' traybake for the Merch and Planning team whilst the little red fruit made a welcome return in Stuart's brownie cheesecake topped with raspberry cream and fresh raspberries – a great effort which saw Marketing win the top Baking Team of the Week award.

But all of this was not without some kitchen nightmares. Elisabet's baked cheesecake traybake didn't make it to the judging table for the Marketing team and in true 'Bake Off' style went straight into the bin due to not setting properly in the crucial cool down phase. And with amazing baker Shani stepping down for the week for the Copy team, the pressure was on: resulting in a rather-frazzled Catherine almost abandoning her chocolate orange brownies which looked 'decidedly dodgy' when they emerged from the oven. Fortunately she had second thoughts and got some great comments for taste - 'nil points' for presentation though…

So where does all of this leave the all-important league table? Merch and Planning are STILL topping the table and with just 3 weeks to go, other teams are going to have to consider sabotage to make a difference. Muffins are notoriously difficult to master though so maybe Week 6 will see the tables turn in someone else's favour…

August 29, 2014

Week 4 – Bread Wars!

BakeOff4.jpgThis week was the halfway point of the Great Lands' End Bake Off and the teams are certainly rising to the occasion. 

With fewer entries than previous weeks, it was clear that successful bread-making was a decidedly harder art to master. Despite this, the plucky few who accepted the challenge rivalled any professional bakery for taste, appearance and presentation – and without any of the melodramatic meltdowns of their television contestant counterparts.

The male contingency continued to impress with a Sundried tomato, passata and olive bread contribution from Stuart Hill in the IS team which had retained its beautiful red colour through baking, whilst Gareth from the victorious Merch and Planning team served his Cheese and Chilli Cornbread with chunks of cheddar and chutney. 'Amazing' was the general consensus – and really no need for any of this week's tasters to buy themselves lunch! 

'Dessert' added a European flavour to proceedings with a stunning Stollen from Shani in Copy & Web and a French Couronne from Stuart Adamson in Marketing which was filled with apricots and walnuts & lightly glazed with icing and flaked almonds.

With so many high scores from our effusive tasters, this week saw a bit of balance return in the form of Toby from Finance who declared the various contributions as "actually quite edible" and "not bad at all".  Maybe a career as a Masterchef presenter beckons?

Discussions about what makes the perfect loaf abounded: "No soggy bottoms" declared Sarah, whilst it was also decided that a perfect crust and moist centre could make all the difference too. Jane's wholemeal loaf hit the mark for all of these reasons and had the added bonus of being made with organic stoneground flour from a local windmill whilst Lui's Mary Berry-inspired Rosemary & Garlic Foccacia was the first loaf to be devoured once the hordes descended – high praise indeed.

But were any of these creations enough to knock Merch and Planning off the top spot? Aniko made a determined effort for the Finance team and achieved the coveted Star Baker Award for her Chilli and sundried tomato bread – but only managed to squeeze into second place behind the Master Bakers. Maybe next week's traybakes will tip the balance…

August 24, 2014

More than one use for a tennis ball!

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With this year's Wimbledon failing to make an impression on the UK's sporting history, tennis enthusiasts can console themselves with the start of the US Open on Monday.

However, non-sports enthusiasts might be interested to know there are far more practical uses for a tennis ball than being simply part of the kit used to win major sporting tournaments! 

Take, for example the role of these handy little balls in the maintenance of our down outerwear. The filling of some of our most popular winter coats and jackets is a luxurious combination of 80% duck down and 20% feather insulation, designed for maximum warmth and minimum weight. Fabulously lofty and bouncy when dry – but what happens when you need to pop said jacket in the washing machine to freshen it up?

Unsurprisingly, the unique properties of down mean that once machine washed, the feathers clump together and it will come out as flat as a pancake. But don't panic, this is where our trusty tennis balls come into play: 

Down jackets should be tumble dried at a low heat (don't set the drier too high as you don't want to risk melting the seams and outer shell fabric).  Remember to always check the label of your garment for exact care details.

Add clean tennis balls into the drier (not those that the dog has chewed) to reduce drying time and 're-fluff' the down. I usually add about 3 and take the jacket out periodically to shake it and redistribute the down. Hey presto! Your jacket is restored to its former glory and will keep you warm and dry for many seasons to come. Just remember to put the tennis balls out of reach so the kids and family pets can't get hold of them!

August 21, 2014

The Great Biscuit Battle

Week 3 – and the temperature is rising in the Lands' End baking competition. This week's stunning batch of biscuits and cookies transformed our meeting space into a traditional tea room with all entries looking almost as good as they tasted. Gone were the paper plates and plastic tubs from Week 1; replaced with beautiful heart-shaped wicker baskets, tiered cake stands, fresh flowers and even a stuffed patchwork bird as decoration!

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Keen to move her team from the bottom of the results table, Shani from Copy & Web followed last week's scone success with an incredible four entries – Lavender shortbread, Chocolate crackle cookies, Pecan and Belgium chocolate chunk biscuits and Pistachio macaroons. Surely worthy of some extra 'brownie' points for staying up past midnight to finish them? 

However, the other teams had also upped their game with Fran from Finance providing a truly delectable basket of heart shaped & traditional chocolate cookies whilst week 1's Star Baker Heather, provided a kids' confectionary delight with her piñata donkeys sandwiched with smarties, skittles and confetti sprinkles. Fabulous taste aside, these were serious works of art.

Keen to prove that the men are just as adept in the kitchen, Dom from Merch and Planning baked an impressive looking 3D gingerbread man and woman filled with marshmallows and rolos, whilst ES Director Mark Harris surprised us all with his sumptuously soft Choc Chip cookies. 

After ploughing their way through no less than 14 different entries, tasters started to look slightly green around the gills with Jane (this week's nominated taster from the Marketing team) realising rather belatedly that this was surely doing her weekly weigh-in no good at all! 

So, which of these crumbly creations were enough to win the day? The award for Baking Team of the week went to Marketing for their joint effort of Double Chocolate chunk cookies by Charlene and Melting Moments (jam and cream-filled Viennese Whirls) by Sarah who used a recipe from the queen of tarts herself, Mary Berry. Shani's Lavender shortbread earned her the accolade of Star Baker but it wasn't enough to stop Merch and Planning topping the table for the 3rd week in a row with a clear 10 point lead. 

Check back for next week's update when we get our bread (and buns) in the oven!

August 14, 2014

The Great Scone Off

After an impressive start to our Great Lands' End Bake Off last week with a delicious array of homemade cupcakes (well, most of them were homemade anyway!), we were amazed to have an even bigger contribution this week. Are there many variations on the classic scone? Well apparently, yes.

It was a full meal for our tasters with a choice of three savoury entries to start with. Employee Services' contribution of cheese and chive scones went down particularly well as they had been warmed and served with butter – yum! Then it was onto the sweet varieties which included mixed berry (Matt in Merchandising), chocolate chip (Finance) and several served the traditional way with jam and cream. The debate about whether the jam or the cream went on first rumbled on well past the judging! Copy & Web redeemed themselves with not one but two offerings courtesy of Shani - date scones with red berry jam and cherry scones with cherry jam, all homemade.

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The scores on the doors kept Merch and Planning firmly in the lead. Jane from Marketing was crowned Star Baker for her enormous scones, filled with strawberries and cream. They really did taste as good as they looked. Helen from our Kids' team was only one point behind though with her beautiful heart-shaped scones.

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A mention must also be made at this point to the level of dedication (or is it just competitiveness?) shown this week – some of our bakers had their ovens fired up at 5am this morning and presentation was impressive. The bar has been set high for biscuits next week!

August 07, 2014

The Great Lands' End Bake Off

Being an avid bunch of foodies here at Lands' End HQ, we were ever so slightly excited at the start of the new series of The Great British Bake Off on Wednesday night. And also being somewhat competitive (and a little bit greedy) we thought we'd stage our very own baking competition. So we decided on different themes for the next 8 weeks and set about coercing the best bakers in the business to be part of our respective teams. Here's our bite-sized guide to the competition: 

Week 1                 Cupcakes

Week 2                 Scones

Week 3                 Biscuits

Week 4                 Bread

Week 5                 Tray bake

Week 6                 Muffins

Week 7                 Pies/Tarts/Flan

Week 8                 Showstopper cake

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As you can tell from the photos, the first week was a resounding success. We had fabulous entries from finance (lemon curd cupcakes), irresistible ice-cream cone cakes from the Merch and Planning team plus sugary & sweet pink flower cupcakes (just like their creator); Charlotte from Marketing. 

Tasters were appointed in each team and they had to award marks out of 10 for taste and appearance. Once the judging was complete, the rest of the office descended on the leftover goodies with such gusto that there wasn't a crumb to be seen. 

So the all-important Week 1 scores saw the Merch and Planning team storm into the lead with an impressive 83 points (out of a potential 100) thanks to our Star Baker, Heather who got top marks for taste with her Oreo cupcakes and the most marks for presentation with her ice cream cone cakes. 

So which team's efforts failed to rise to the occasion? The Copy and Web team are currently languishing at the bottom of the results table with their contribution of peanut butter cupcakes – which unbeknown to our tasters, turned out to be bought from a well-known national supermarket by a team member who had only remembered about the competition at the last minute! 

Just goes to show – home-baked cakes are always better (and cheating never pays!) Look out for next week's blog when the teams attempt their take on that Great British classic, scones. 

August 01, 2014

ClassMate® backpacks

Our fabulous ClassMate® backpacks have been put to the test by the little people that matter most…the kids who will be carrying them throughout the school year. Our US colleagues hosted a sports day with a difference where the backpacks were put through their paces in events such as the tug-o-war, backpack throw, 3-legged race and the relay! Who came out on top? See for yourself…

 

Check out our Back to School Range for the Boys and the Girls!

July 31, 2014

View from the Lighthouse - Mat King

Here at Lands’ End, we’re lucky enough to have an incredibly talented bunch of colleagues; all with amazing experiences, opinions and journeys to share. So in a new, occasional series we thought we’d hand the blog over to them so they could share their stories with you. Here, Mat King tells us about the gruelling 69 mile Ultra Marathon he ran in memory of his mum.

‘The Wall’ Ultra Marathon 2014       

20 June 2014

“After six long months of training, five days a week, here I am. My final goal is within reach. I’m off to register for the race that will take me along Hadrian's Wall from Carlisle Castle to the Gateshead Millennium Bridge over a mixed-terrain route, incorporating both on and off-road sections. There are 69 miles to be conquered in one continuous journey – in less than 24 hours. I’m doing it for Cancer Research in memory of my beloved mum; sadly taken too soon, just 18 months ago.

Once checked into the hotel, I ensure I have everything I need for the next day: 1.5 litres of water, 500ml hydration fluid, 500ml electrolyte fluid, a mixture of 16 energy gels and bars, just to get me to the halfway point. Once there, I need to re-stock and do the same thing all over again for the second half. I check that I have remembered all the mandatory stuff too: first aid kit, head torch and reflective clothing for when darkness fall. I’m all set and ready to go and despite setting the alarm for 5.45am, I’m happy. Bring it on!

21 June 2014

Race day: I don’t sleep well but I feel more relaxed, looking forward to the day ahead. At breakfast I see a guy called Alan who I’d met in an event before. He competed in the Wilderness challenge in Scotland in 2011 for The Sailors Society the same year I competed in a team representing Lands’ End. Alan’s team came second that year and he was running this Ultra Marathon to raise money again for The Sailors Society; it was comforting to see a familiar face.

Alan Shand and me

At the start

We got to the start and it was already about 15° - it was clear that it was going to be very hot and sunny.  There were only around 445 of us running the marathon and suddenly it felt like a really small race. Looking around, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us would actually finish; runners really do come in all shapes and sizes! And all at once, we were off; some competitors taking off really fast but I stuck to my plan of running on average 12/13 minute miles. The terrain dictated this: I ran on flats, jogged downhill and power walked up hills.

There were 13 checkpoints and pit stops altogether where my race chip was scanned. I reached the first one at 15 miles and felt good. I pressed on, passing four more and just over 7 and a half hours into the race, arrived at the fifth one: the historic fort of Vindolanda and the halfway point. This was my chance to change clothes, refuel and to top up water and food supplies. By this point I was still confident, fresh and enjoying the moment but it was a very weird feeling knowing that I had run 32 miles and still had 37 to go! 

As I set off for the next stage of the race, I had already climbed 600ft with another 200ft to go. We were like ants following each other up the hill getting smaller and smaller to those below. No chance of running here even if I’d wanted to. Once I got to the brow, I could see the pit stop in the distance but then nothing but green fields and hills. The terrain had changed from tarmac where we started and it was now uneven shale tracks. It was cruel on the ankles and feet. At the next pit stop I asked how far we had gone: the reply was 39 miles. This was the furthest I had ever run; yet I still had 30 more to go.

My mental challenge was beginning and I was in unknown territory. 17 miles on it was really testing and much hillier. I changed tactics to run and walk. The straights were now much longer so I ran for 10 minutes and walked for 5 on and off. The field had really thinned out and it was becoming a far lonelier race.

Finally, I was at the penultimate checkpoint. It was now a case of mental endurance rather than physical and it had started to get dark. I really wanted to be in civilisation before it was pitch black with just my head torch as a friend. I had two huge blisters on my right foot and my ankle was swelling from a minor toe-stubbing incident about a week before the race.  I changed tactic again and ran for 5 minutes and walked for 5 to the end as best I could.

At last, I could see the River Tyne and I thought the finish was just around the corner. I saw two passers by and asked them ‘How far to the bridge?’ The reply was about two miles. As I hit the quayside and bars, people had lined the streets to cheer us on, boosting my morale just when I needed it the most. The bridge was now ahead of me and I knew I was going to finish.  So 16 hours and 37 mins after I started, I ran over the Millennium Bridge to cross the line at HMS Calliope. It was one of the most emotional moments of my life; I was totally emotionally and physically spent with a swollen ankle and two blisters the size of 10p pieces. My adventure was over.

The finish

As I walked towards the stewards to receive my medal, I stopped, overwhelmed and choked.  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. All I could think was ‘I’ve done it’. I did it for you Mum.”

To donate, visit Mat's JustGiving page