30 Oct 2011

Review: DK The Slow Cook Book

If you have a slow cooker and use it on a regular basis, or your slow cooker is collecting dust at the back of the cupboard, this book will inspire you to cook some tasty meals with a minimum of ingredients and are low fuss too.

Good things about this book:
Timings and instructions are given for using both a conventional oven and the slow cooker.
Clear photographs and step by step instructions.
There is advice on braising, stewing, poaching, steaming and baking.
Recipes for tagines, curries, chilli, risotto and fish.
Classic recipes from bread and butter pudding to creme caramel, beef stew with Stilton dumplings to Boeuf Bourguignon.
A good mix of recipes from rich and decadent chocolate and prune sponge puddings, fruity lamb shanks, Greek Stifado to North African tagines.

Have you ever considered making risotto in the slow cooker? It is just so easy, and the wonderful thing is you don't have to stand over a pan and stir, stir, stir. Try the Asparagus and Taleggio risotto - it only takes just over an hour to cook on low, for a bowl of the creamiest risotto ever.

I made a huge pot of minestrone soup, it was hearty and flavoursome and took about 8 hours to cook on low. This soup can be frozen, but I don't think it will make the freezer because it is so delicious.

Anyone for pudding? A lemon syrup pudding both light and luscious with a citrus kick. Cook on high for 2-3 hours and hey presto a steamed pudding. The wonderful thing about a slow cooker is you can steam in it and you don't have to keep checking the pan to see if it needs topping up with water, because the water doesn't evaporate and boil dry.

Slow cooking is experiencing a remarkable come-back, with John Lewis seeing the sale of slow cookers rising by 64% in the last two years (independent.co.uk).

The Slow Cook Book, Heather Whinney

Thank you Sophia and DK.

28 Oct 2011

Halloween Baked Toffee Apples

Toffee Apples
Let's not forget about the grownups at Halloween. This recipe is easy to prepare and looks after itself in the oven. The best part though is the rum caramel sauce poured over the apples after they come out of the oven.

Serves: 6

You will need: 25g softened unsalted butter, 25g light muscovado sugar, finely grated zest of 1 lemon plus 1 tbsp lemon juice, 30g currants, 40g raisins, 6 red eating apples, 6tbsp golden syrup, 1tbsp rum, creme fraiche to serve.

1. Beat the butter and muscovado sugar together until creamy, beat in the lemon zest and juice (the mixture will look curdled), fold in the raisins and currants. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/Gas 4.
2. Using the tip of a sharp knife, score a circle around the middle of each apple (I didn't do this and they were still ok). Carefully cut out the apple cores using an apple corer.
3. Loosely stuff the cavities with the dried fruit to within 1cm of the top and place the apples in a baking dish spaced slightly apart. Drizzle 1 tbsp syrup over each one and bake for 45 minutes, basting every 15 minutes.
4. Transfer the apples to plates or a serving dish, spooning any loose dried fruit back inside and reserving the syrupy cooking juices in a small pan. Leave the apples to cool for 10-15 minutes.
5. Simmer the cooking juices until reduced by half and a light caramel colour, then stir in the rum. Pour the caramel sauce over the apples and serve with creme fraiche.

FUEL Chunky Breakfast Granola

FUEL is the UK's first natural energy cereal and comes in two varieties - 70% Cocoa Chunks and Fruit Loaded. It is a blend of both slow release and fast release energy to get your day off to a good start.

FUEL is aimed at time-starved people pursuing busy active lives and contains only natural ingredients, FUEL, whose brand strapline is "One Life - Live It", is rich in Vitamin B and E, high in fibre and contains guarana extract (a tropical energy booster).

Let's see what I like about this product:

First off, I have to admit I have been dipping my hand into the boxes whilst sitting at the computer they are irresistible.

Fruit Loaded Chunky Breakfast Granola - has large chunks of dried apple, peach and strawberry. A colourful and good mix of cranberries, redcurrants and blackberries also grated coconut and pumpkin seeds. It is loaded with dried fruit and is so colourful and tasty I could eat these all day. Good sized chunks of granola clusters and not too sweet, sunshine in a bowl the perfect way to start the day.

70% Cocoa Chunks Breakfast Granola - granola clusters in both chocolate and toasted oats, 70% cocoa chocolate chunks, grated coconut and pumpkin seeds. Is this the first breakfast granola with 70% cocoa chocolate chunks? I bet you will fill the bowl and then pick out all of the chocolate chunks and eat these first! There is a recipe on the side of the pack for a Power Packed Fuel Bar, I would have made this but alas, there has been too much dipping of the hand into the box and not enough left to make the recipe! The 70% cocoa is for taste, the guarana extract for energy and it is packed with vitamins for an active lifestyle.

The breakfast granola is described as the chunkiest, crunchiest most delicious baked muesli granola on earth and they certainly get my vote.

When these two granola's are tipped out from packet to dish you can immediately see a lot of research has gone into getting the product exactly right. These granola's are a feast for the eyes. For breakfast, pour over your usual milk and top with yogurt (that's how I like to eat mine) or put some into a bag for Pocket Rocket Fuel to snack on.

The aspirational packaging tells customer's to: "Throw off the shackles, sail away from the safe harbour, climb to the peak of your ambitions. Whoever you are and whatever you choose to do in life, be it jumping for joy, trekking the Amazon or chasing that business dream, you need the right FUEL to give you the boost that will get your day off to a great start."

FUEL retails at £3.69 and comes in 400g packs and has launched exclusively in 459 Tesco stores. It's launch comes at a time when sales of granola are booming in the UK with all sales up by more than 6% and Tesco seeing an increase of more than 20% year-on-year.

Thank you Lucy and FUEL.

25 Oct 2011

Air Wick Freshmatic Odour Detect Automatic Spray

With all the cooking that takes place in my kitchen, and the occasional lingering cooking odours from strong smelling foods, I opened up yet another freshener, but would this one temporarily mask the odours or get rid of those unpleasant cooking smells for good!

I placed the Air Wick Odour Detect freshener in the hall because for some unknown reason this is where my cooking odours seem to accumulate and one of life's pleasures is opening the front door and being greeted with a fragranced hall.

Fresh coffee always lingers and so this was a good test - good news my hallway was wonderfully fragranced but perhaps a little too much, I needed to turn the product down on intensity.

Chilli con Carne was a good test too because it leaves a pungent smell in the house, lovely whilst it is cooking and you are eating it, but not great afterwards - anyway now for the test, the hallway had no traces of lingering odours, even the next day, but just beautifully fragranced.

Mine came with a Sicilian Lemon & Ginseng fragrance, the product comes supplied with batteries and is set up and ready to go in a minute or so. There is an automatic sensor and three levels of fragrance intensity. The device is streamlined and will look good anywhere in the house although my preferred place is in the hallway.

This product is the first air freshener that can actually detect if there is a bad odour in the home and will automatically release the air freshener leaving your home smelling fresh and clean. Air Wick Odour detect has been created after 5 years of research and development and uses the same odour detect technology found in luxury cars.

The Air Wick Odour Detect is available at all major supermarkets.

Thank you Sophiya.

20 Oct 2011

Roast Pears with Star Anise, Blackberries and Lemon

Pears stained by blackberries look so pretty, but add to them a few bay leaves, star anise and cinnamon we know autumn is here. If you have any blackberries in the freezer to use up or a glut of pears, this dessert is perfect.

The recipe calls for maple syrup but at the time I made this there wasn't any in the store cupboard and so I used honey instead, the dessert was still delicious. This dessert is best eaten at room temperature.

Serves: 6

You will need: 6 ripe but firm pears, 1 small lemon, 3 tablespoons maple syrup or runny honey, 2 or 3 fresh bay leaves, 2 star anise, 1 cinnamon stick, 150g blackberries.

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Peel, halve and core the pears. Place the pears in a single layer in an ovenproof dish.
2. Using a peeler, remove the skin from the lemon in strips, scatter over the pears. Juice the lemon and drizzle over the pears along with the maple syrup and 200ml of cold water.
3. Tuck the bay leaves, star anise and cinnamon stick among the pear halves and bake for 20 minutes.
4. After 20 minutes, scatter the blackberries over the pear halves and return to the oven for 10 minutes.
5. Take the pear and blackberry mixture out of the oven and turn them in the juices from the blackberries. Leave to cool.

13 Oct 2011

Prestat Truffles - Chocolate Week 10-16th October 2011

Prestat, one of London's oldest chocolate shops, chocolatiers to Her Majesty The Queen, and holders of two Royal Warrants, have come up with a new Praline Truffle to celebrate Chocolate Week. The milk chocolate shells are filled with praline made from the finest hazelnuts and then dusted in pure cocoa. These truffles are guaranteed to make all praline and truffle fans happy and you definitely won't want to stop at eating just one!
Milk Chocolate Marc de Champagne Truffles, Pink Marc de Champagne Truffles - intense dark Marc de Champagne ganache enrobed in white chocolate infused with strawberries and Banoffee Truffles which represent the ultimate banana, caramel and chocolate hit.
Prestat's roots began in 1902, in London, by Chocolatier extraordinaire Antoine Dufour, following his family's creation of the chocolate truffle in Chambery, France, in 1895. Antoine saw an opportunity to bring his skills to London where chocolate cafes and shops known as Refreshment Rooms were growing in popularity. With Antoine's flair for creativity and perfection, Prestat became an instant success.

In 1975 Prestat had the honour of being awarded a Royal Warrant by Her Majesty The Queen. Prestat was awarded a second Royal Warrant by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother in her Centenary year. A fascinating fact: Prestat chocolates are served at every major state banquet.
Prestat chocolates are all hand-crafted, filled and gift wrapped under the same roof in their factory in Park Royal, and more importantly under the same watchful gaze of their qualified and talented chocolatiers. The gift boxes are colourful and elegant and are as beautiful as the chocolates, these gift boxes have been created by an artist friend of Prestat, namely Kitty Arden.

A photograph showing the outside of the shop which I took a couple of months ago, I love the bright window display and also the fabulous chandelier.

The brightly coloured interior of the shop 14 Princes Arcade, Piccadilly, London SW1Y 6DS. The chocolates are taken from the Prestat factory to the shop fresh on a daily basis.

Prestat Chocolates and truffles are available from their online chocolate emporium, or from Harrods, Selfridges, Liberty, John Lewis, Wholefoods Market, and Waitrose.

Thank you Prestat and Emily for the wonderful truffles.

10 Oct 2011

Lucky's Chocolates - National Chocolate Week 10-16 October 2011

Lucky's (a British brand) have created unique luxury cakes fully covered in pure chocolate, as well as indulgent filled chocolates, all are carefully hand-made with the finest natural ingredients. Lucky's use premium Grand Cru Valrhona chocolate from France, acclaimed as one of the best in the world.

Lucky's came from their love of chocolates and cakes and also their wish to create a tasteful and amazing new experience. Inspired by their favourite book ever (and mine), Alice in Wonderland, each collection is based on a character, featured in exclusive luxury gift sets to dazzle any chocolate and cake lover (that's me!). Lucky's hope we will all enjoy their fine chocolates and cakes from Wonderland.

Only last month Lucky's received two prizes from The Great Taste Gold 2011 Awards for the Mad Hatter's Fruity Rhapsody Bar, along with some "Fancy Fudge" Tiny Pieces of Wonderland from their Honey Time Collection.

These are an exclusive product and they have covered these cakes in different kinds of chocolate (dark, milk, white) with an indulgent layer, together with the fillings which has resulted in a wide range of flavours and several layers of textures. Each of the different cakes are fully covered and kept air-tight inside their chocolate case which enables Lucky's to use only natural ingredients and they have a shelf life of 6 to 8 weeks.

The White Rabbit sent to me a selection of chocolates and cakes from his Honey Time Gift Set these are spiced honey cakes covered in premium Valrhona chocolate. The honey cakes are soft and rich with creamy fillings and covered in pure Valrhona chocolate. Each cake serves two people. They are presented in the most beautiful box with a row of metallic rabbits running across the outside of the base of the box. The individually wrapped treats are placed with care into a soft white fur fabric.

The White Rabbit and Alice were my two favourite characters and I always loved the waistcoated White Rabbit looking at his pocket watch and saying "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!".

From the Honey Time Collection I received: Lazy Rabbit - I love Baileys and The Lazy Rabbit is a spiced honey cake with the most divine Bailey's ganache and a layer of walnut brittle, fully covered in Valrhona 40% milk chocolate - heaven! Nutty Delay, Hurry Bunny, Coco Rush and Fancy Fudge are glorious too.

The Mad Hatter sent to me the Mad Hatter Bar Collection these are 70% cacao brownies and are 100% hand made and covered in either 40% cacao milk Valrhona chocolate, 35% white Valrhona chocolate or 60% cacao dark Valrhona chocolate. Each cake is hand packed and serves two people.

From this collection I was sent: Chunky Nutter, Salty Insanity, Mocha Madness, Looney Raspberry, Fruity Rhapsody - Brownies, chocolate and dried cranberries - Fruity Rhapsody is an exclusive 70% cacao brownie with a gentle touch of whole dried cranberries and fully covered in Valrhona 60% cacao dark chocolate - divine!

All of these stunning chocolates and cakes are posh, very, very posh, and sitting around in denims and trainers just won't do, so get your posh frock on, and indulge in the finest chocolates and cakes ever to touch your lips. Have you ever before eaten chocolates and cake that have rendered you speechless, well these will do exactly that! Or at best you will keep saying, oh my goodness, oh my goodness me!

These chocolates and cakes are designed to excite the senses, touch the chocolate casings, cut into the cakes and smell, look at all the fabulous layers, taste the textures of each layer and listen to the silence whilst you are eating them. The chocolates cut cleanly into two for sharing, or they can easily be sliced into four, but this may result in drawing straws to see who gets the end pieces.

I couldn't choose a favourite because they are all more fabulous than fabulous and each have their own unique character. All of the chocolates and cake have a lingering aftertaste too. There are full descriptions for all of these chocolates and cake on Lucky's website.

Lucky's cakes and chocolate will make the most incredible wedding favours, special occasion treats, pre-marriage proposal or simply to lift the spirits.

Thank you to Lucky's of London.

8 Oct 2011

Individual Lemon Meringues

These individual lemon meringues are a perfect dessert, especially if you are in a hurry and haven't time to make a pastry case.

There were two lemons in the fridge and I decided to put them to good use, and for the two of us today, these were perfect. The dessert is luscious and lemony, the meringue is crisp on the outside and squashy within.

Serves 4: You will need: 12cm creme brulee dishes.

For the lemon curd:

Grated zest and juice of 2 large lemons, 300ml water, 30g cornflour, 50g caster sugar, 2 large egg yolks

For the meringue:

4 large egg whites, 200g caster sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C.
2. To make the lemon curd: Put the cornflour and sugar into a medium saucepan and gradually stir in the water. Mix to a smooth paste and then into a cloudy liquid, add the lemon zest. Bring to the boil, stirring all the time, simmer for two minutes. Add the lemon juice and stir well.
3. Put the egg yolks into a mixing bowl. Gradually pour the lemon mixture over them, stirring all the time. divide the lemon mixture between the creme brulee dishes.
4. To make the meringue: whisk the egg whites until stiff, add the sugar a tablespoon at a time until thick and glossy.
5. Using a palatte knife spread the meringue over the lemon bases. Make peaks over the top. Place in the oven for 45 minutes until golden and crisp.
6. Serve either warm at room temperature.

6 Oct 2011

Review: Zizzi Restaurant Cichetti Menu - The Mailbox, Birmingham

I went along to Zizzi Restaurant, The Mailbox, Birmingham last Sunday and was treated to a wonderful afternoon tasting the new Cichetti menu, together with an enjoyable glass of Prosecco. The staff will explain the menu when they come to your table and these little plates can be enjoyed by all.

Cichetti(Chee-Ket-Tee) are little bites from Italy and are for sharing (or not sharing!). Three to four dishes are about the size of a main dish, but far more fun. Zizzi recommend 3-4 dishes per person. You can choose 3 dishes for £12 or 5 for £18.

Gamberi - tender King prawns cooked in a fish and wine stock with a pinch of chilli, served with freshly baked dough sticks.
Ravioli Crocanti - crispy goats' cheese and spinach ravioli served with a pomodoro and basis dip.
Insalata Caprese - fresh creamy buffalo mozzarella with baby plum tomatoes, basil and freshly baked dough sticks.

Bruschetta ai Funghi - succulent mushrooms in a rich mascarpone, wine and thyme sauce, served on top of mini ciabatta bread.
Polenta Croccante - crunchy polenta chips with a sprinkle of grana padano cheese on top and a garlic mayonnaise aioli dip.
Polpette al Pomodro - mini meatballs in a rich tomato sauce with onion and mushrooms.
Saccottini - two mini calzone: one with spicy n'Duja sausage and rocket and one with pesto and aubergine.
Salsiccia al Pepe Nero - Peppery rustic Pepe Nero sausage served with a mini lentil and cannellini bean stew.
Spiedini di Pollo - oven baked chicken skewers with roasted red and yellow peppers, rosemary and lemon.

Gelato Con Frittelle - A scoop of delicious pistachio, cioccolata and a strawberry sorbet, created by Master Ice Cream Maker Kitty Travers, served on top of freshly made mini doughnuts. This isn't included in the offer - the serving is large enough for two people to share.

Zizzi is part of the Mailbox shopping centre - the Zizzi restaurant interior is funky and contemporary with a wall mural depicting the canal side area . There is a fabulous coffee machine in the bar area which glistened in the late summer sunshine, on the other side of the restaurant is a huge red pizza oven and a cooking area where you can watch the chef's at work. Zizzi is child friendly and there was a good mix of couples and families on the day of my visit.

I visited Zizzi with my husband and the standard of food was excellent and thoroughly enjoyed by both of us. The manager and staff were friendly and a big thank you for making us so welcome.

Thank you Kate and Zizzi.

3 Oct 2011

Review: MasterChef Kitchen Bible and a Recipe Goat's Cheese and Red Onion Tart

The recipes in the MasterChef Kitchen Bible are from easy to advanced, and this is a book brimming with achievable recipes in both the Modern Classics section and Favourite Recipes from the MasterChef Series. There is a wealth of information regarding ingredients, hints, tips, technical know-how and excellent step-by-step photographs with detailed instructions.

A record audience of 9 million viewers tuned into the final of the latest series of the popular MasterChef final on BBC television and the MasterChef Kitchen Bible is the ultimate cooking companion to help you become an expert in your home.

The first section of the book takes us through a collection of 100 Modern Classics all good cooks should know, with a photograph to accompany the majority of the recipes. Recipes include eggs Benedict and smoked haddock risotto, to lemon tart and indulgent red velvet cupcakes.

The following section gives 30 Recipes from the MasterChef Series including a recipe from the MasterChef 2010 Champion Dhruv Baker - Spiced Battered Fish and Chips, Exploding Lemon Macaroons by Tim Kinnaird Finalist 2010, White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry and Elderflower Jelly by Claire Lara - Professionals Champion 2010. Fellow food blogger, Celebrity Finalist 2009 Wendi Peters Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe will be adored by fans of 'proper puddings'.

Baked Lime Cheesecake with Rum Cream - Dennice Russell Semi-finalist 2009.

MasterChef Know-How - a section recommending essential tools, 150 MasterChef skills classes, and essential information on buying, storing, preparing and cooking a range of key ingredients. There are recommendations for buying the best knives, pots and pans, and additional equipment must haves. Clear step-by-step instructions showing everything from boning a flat fish to making hollandaise sauce.

GOAT'S CHEESE AND RED ONION TART - Lisa Faulkner Celebrity Champion 2010.

For the Pastry: Small sprig thyme, 100g plain flour, 25g butter, 25g lard.
For the Red Onion Jam: 25g butter, 25g soft brown sugar, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1-2 tbsp cassis, salt and freshly ground black pepper, 2 finely sliced red onions.
For the Goat's Cheese: 175g crumbly Goat's cheese, 1 egg yolk, 1-2 tbsp double cream.
For the Salad: handful of rocket leaves, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp lemon juice.

Serves: 4

1. To make the pastry, strip the thyme leaves into a food processor and add the flour, butter, and lard. Mix on the pulse setting to form crumbs. Gradually add enough water (about 2-3 tbsp) to form a soft dough. Wrap in cling film and chill for 30 minutes.
2. To make the onion jam, melt the butter in a saute pan and add the sugar, vinegar, cassis, and some seasoning. Add the onions, bring to the boil and cook, uncovered, over a very low heat for 30 minutes.
3. Heat the oven to 200°C(400°F/Gas6). Place a sturdy baking sheet in the oven. Divide the pastry into quarters, then roll them out, and use to line four 10cm loose-bottomed
tart tins. Line with greaseproof paper and baking beans. Place on the heated baking sheet and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and lining paper and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Leave to cool for a few minutes.
4. Trim away any rind on the goat's cheese and crumble the cheese into a bowl. Mix with the egg yolk and a splash of cream. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Reserve about a third of the red onion jam to use as garnish, then divide the rest between the tartlets and spoon the goat's cheese mixture on top. Return to the oven for 7-8 minutes, or until the tops are bubbling and tinged with brown.
6. For the salad, rinse the rocket leaves and pat dry. Pour the olive oil and lemon juice into a bowl, and season with plenty of salt and pepper. Add the rocket leaves and toss gently to coat.
7. To serve, place a spoonful of red onion jam on the centre of each plate. Carefully remove the tarts from their tins and sit them on top of the jam. Top with rocket salad and serve.

MasterChef Kitchen Bible Dorling Kindersley £26.

Thank you Sophia for the wonderful book.

DK have just launched their first cookery App: Quick Cook for iPad. The app is based on DK bestselling Cook Express book, which makes choosing recipes, planning menus, shopping for food and the cooking itself, fast, fun and hassle-free. The DK Quick Cook App has over 500 illustrated recipes and is the perfect addition for any cook, helping you to prepare fresh, simple meals with minimal time and effort required.

The DK Quick Cook App is available for £3.99 from the App Store on iPad or from iTunes.


These mini carrot cakes were an excuse to dust off my mini loaf tins which I haven't used for a while. The cakes are deliciously moist with background notes of cinnamon and ground ginger and the lemon cream cheese icing compliments the cake well.

You will need: 20 mini loaf tins lightly greased (5cm x 10cm) or two mini loaf pans.

175g brown sugar, 250ml vegetable oil, 4 large eggs, 200g plain flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 250g grated carrot, 50g chopped pecan nuts plus extra for decoration, 80g sultanas, 125ml crushed pineapple.

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C. Place the greased mini loaf tins onto a baking tray. Beat together the sugar, eggs and oil for 5 minutes until fluffy.
2. Sift the dry ingredients and add to the sugar, oil and egg mixture, together with the grated carrots, nuts, pineapple and sultanas.
3. Mix everything together and pour into the loaf tins.
4. Bake for approximately 30 minutes.

Lemon Cream Cheese Icing

You will need:
60g softened unsalted butter, 250g icing sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 80g cream cheese, grated zest of 1 lemon

Place all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and beat together until the icing is light and fluffy. Spread the icing over the cooled cakes, decorate with extra pecans.