24 Dec 2012

Catch A Falling Star Christmas Cake

This years Christmas Cake is perhaps one of my easiest.  I used a large star shape to cut through to the marzipan layer, carefully lifted out the fondant star and filled with small silver dragees.  The silver beads around the base of the cake and the rope of silver stars I used as a cake topper are Christmas tree decorations.

Why Catch A Falling Star?  The silver star cake topper wouldn't stay on top of the cake whilst I was trying to arrange them and I had to keep catching the falling stars!

Happy Christmas!

22 Dec 2012

Chocolate and Redcurrant Christmas Cupcakes

The sharpness of redcurrants and the richness from chocolate go beautifully together. I made chocolate cupcakes and added some redcurrants to the batter. After baking and cooling they were topped with my favourite cupcake chocolate fudge icing.

To make the frosted redcurrants all you have to do is whisk an egg very lightly and brush the fruit with the egg white, dip the fruit into sugar and leave to dry overnight on baking paper - frosted redcurrants are delicious.

18 Dec 2012

Sage Sausage Rolls - Recipe

These well dressed little beauties are filled with good quality sausage meat from my trusted butcher, I then add a grated apple, a few breadcrumbs, chopped sage and parsley.  Decorate with fresh sage leaves.  The recipe is from Delicious Magazine and because I have never found a recipe to upstage this one, I use this time and again!  I use my Stellar Eazistore trays because the sausage rolls don't stick whilst cooking.

Open freeze the uncooked sausage rolls on trays and when frozen pop into ziplock freezer bags ready for cooking - easy!

16 Dec 2012

Chocolate Truffles

Home made chocolate truffles are fun to make and I just love getting into a chocolaty mess. I'm not sure how it's possible to make truffles without getting sieved cocoa powder and icing sugar everywhere, most things in my kitchen were coated with a fine dusting of both, including me.

I find the best way to deal with edible gold lustre spray is to place the rolled truffles onto cling wrap and carefully spray directly onto the truffle,  also spray the clingwrap surrounding the truffle.  Take the cling wrap and wrap around the truffle and roll the truffle back and forth until totally coated - this also prevents lustre spray coating all of your kitchen gold, which is fine for Christmas, but not such a bright idea when the New Year arrives.

Despite the mess they are well worth making, they can be flavoured to your own taste with Baileys, Cointreau, Brandy to name a few ideas. The chocolate truffles can be rolled in a variety of coatings - I coated mine with icing sugar, cocoa powder and sprayed some of the truffles with edible gold lustre - they can be coated with toasted desiccated coconut, chopped pistachios or dipped into melted chocolate. After you have made them place into gold petit fours cases. They will make a lovely Christmas gift too.

Keep in the fridge or they can be frozen.  They taste fabulous chilled......

The recipe is from the BBC GoodFood website.

9 Dec 2012

Chocolate and Vanilla Berry Pavlova - Recipe

The cream filling is softly whipped double cream mixed with natural yogurt - this lightens the cream and also gives a subtle tang.  The fruit is a pack of good quality frozen summer berries mixed with a few frozen redcurrants from my garden.  Tip the frozen berries, with the exception of the raspberries, into a sieve and allow the berries to thaw and release some of their juices, otherwise the cream will become stained with fruit juice.  I used the reserved frozen raspberries to decorate the top, this enables them to keep their shape for longer.

The adapted Nigella Lawson  pavlova recipe is one I have used many, many times and always works.

You will need:  large oven tray - draw a 20cm diameter circle on a sheet of baking paper (I use a plate). Turn the baking paper over and place onto the oven tray. TIP: Take some of the vanilla meringue and place blobs at each corner of the tray, place the baking paper on top, the meringue will secure the baking paper.


4 large egg whites
250g caster sugar
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tbsp sifted cocoa powder
300ml double cream
150ml natural yogurt


1.   Preheat the oven to 180ºC
2.   Whisk the egg whites and a pinch of salt until they reach the stiff peak stage.
3.   Gradually add the caster sugar a teaspoon at a time, whisking well in between.  Keep on whisking until the mixture is stiff and glossy.
4.   Whisk in the cornflour, vanilla extract and white wine vinegar.
5.   Remove a third of the meringue mixture to a bowl.  Add the sieved cocoa powder and stir in to combine.
6.   Take alternate blobs of vanilla meringue and chocolate meringue and place onto the marked out circle on the baking paper.  Swirl the two together.
7.   Turn the oven temperature down to 150ºC and cook for one hour.
8.   Leave the pavlova in the oven overnight.
9.   Remove the pavlova and place onto a large plate.
10. Whip the cream into soft folds and gently fold in the natural yogurt.
11. Decorate.

1 Dec 2012

Christmas Mini Mince Pies

I love a good mince pie, made with a buttery flaky pastry and lots of mincemeat inside. The filling can't have any peel, nuts of any description and definitely not a fresh cranberry in sight. My mince pie has to look home made too, I don't want it to look as though it came off a production line. The mincemeat must have lots of Brandy added to it - this is essential because I need to eat lots of mince pies in the run up to Christmas.

The mincemeat recipe is by Delia Smith and I make this every year without fail, I exclude the nuts and peel. The pastry recipe is from Women's Institute Complete Christmas.

Makes 18-20

225g plain flour, 115g butter, 50g lard, 25g icing sugar, 1 egg, 2 teaspoons iced water, 450g luxury mincemeat.

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Sift flour into a bowl and the butter and lard. Rub fat into flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in icing sugar and then the beaten egg and water. Bring together to form a smooth dough. Place in plastic bag and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Roll out just over half the pastry to 3mm thickness and cut out circles large enough to fit the base of tart tins.
3. Fill with mincemeat.
4. Roll out the remaining pastry and cut out the tops. Brush the tops with water and place on top of the mincemeat, lightly press the tops onto the base pastry.
5. Bake in oven for 15-20 mins.
6. Cool in tin for a few minutes then transfer to wire rack to completely cold.
7. To serve dust with icing sugar.
8. The cooked and cooled mince pies can be frozen and defrost at room temperature.

25 Nov 2012

Christmas Crumble Muffins

Christmas Crumble Muffins - Christmas - crumble - muffins all rolled into one, perfect.  The muffins are filled with dried cranberries, sultanas, raisins, and black spiced rum, the buttery crumble is perfumed with cinnamon.

These are go large and there was far too much batter for the recommended 12 and will make 16 smaller cupcakes by half filling the cupcake cases.  There's a very generous amount of crumble topping too, I'm going to make 16 muffins next time.

I'm not too sure who the recipe belongs to but I've adapted it. Maybe the recipe is written by Annie Bell, I seem to be making quite a lot of her recipes recently.  I have now found the original recipe - I thought so, it's another great recipe by one of our best cookery writers Annie Bell.

This is a fabulous bake and ticked all the boxes - hope you have a go at making these.

They freeze perfectly and can be refreshed and gently warmed in the microwave, if you use foil cases remove them before refreshing.

Listening to Chris Evans on Radio 2 this week, he made the comment that all lovely Christmas foods should be for Christmas Day and two weeks after that.  I feel really guilty now..........

Crumble Topping

35g dark brown muscovado sugar
35g light brown sugar
70g chilled and diced unsalted butter
100g plain flour
⅓ tsp cinnamon powder

Whiz the above in the food processor until it takes on the look of breadcrumbs, put to one side.


180g diced unsalted butter
180g light brown sugar
3 eggs + 1 egg yolk
50ml dark rum - I used a black spiced rum
80g sultanas
40g raisins
40g dried cranberries
180g plain flour
¾ tsp baking powder
icing sugar to decorate

1.  Line a cupcake tin with either 12 or 16 cupcakes.
2.  Preheat the oven to 190ºC.
3.  Put the butter and sugar in a food processor and whiz until fluffy, add the eggs one at a time whilst      still whizzing, add the egg yolk.  Now add the rum, it will look curdled but no worries.
4.  Toss the sultanas, raisins and dried cranberries in some of the plain flour.
5.  Pour the batter into a large bowl.  Sieve over the flour and baking powder, fold into the batter.
6.  Fold in the fruit.
7.  Half fill 16 cupcake cases or use all the batter mix in 12 large cupcake cases.
8.  Sprinkle the crumble mix over the top of the batter.
9.  Bake for 25 minutes or until cooked.
10.Once cool dust with icing sugar.

17 Nov 2012

Mincemeat Bites with Five Seed Topping - Recipe

The crunchy toasted seeds are very, very, delicious
There are so many fabulous Christmas recipes in cookery books and magazines I find it difficult to throw any of them away.  Unfortunately there isn't enough time to either cook or eat the majority of them. This year I thought why not start cooking and eating my Christmas bakes early.  I am already thinking my waistline may regret this decision but as I don't have any weight issues, as yet,  hopefully I will get away with it.......I'll let you know after Christmas if I have any makes and bakes regret.

Quick and easy Christmas recipes that work are a priority, and this little number from a Waitrose recipe card is a winner - think sausage rolls but with a sweet mincemeat filling. Ready rolled puff pastry, add a handful of dried cranberries or dried sour cherries to either a home made mincemeat or a quality bought one and a few seeds scattered over for crunch - I used pumpkin, sunflower, poppy seeds, sesame and linseeds.

Adapted Recipe

You will need:  Greased baking tray

375g pack ready rolled puff pastry, 300g good quality mincemeat, handful dried cranberries, lightly beaten egg, 50g mixed seeds, 2 tbsp sifted icing sugar.

1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC.
2. Cut the pastry in half lengthways. Put half the mincemeat down the centre of the pastry strips and scatter over a few dried cranberries.
3. Brush the beaten egg along the edges of the pastry.  Roll over to make two long rolls. Seal the edges together.
4. Place the rolls onto the baking tray cut side down, brush with egg, sprinkle over the seeds.
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cooked. Cool, cut into mincemeat bites, dust with icing sugar.

12 Nov 2012

Braised Red Cabbage With Apple - Recipe

This Braised Red Cabbage with Apple recipe from Waitrose is one of many red cabbage recipes I use, but I always make this one for Christmas Day, it is so delicious and tasty.

The perfect sweet/sour taste, not too spicy and sweetened with light muscovado sugar and redcurrant jelly - can be made in advance and frozen too.

To freeze: Line a baking tray or similar with clingwrap, place the cooked braised cabbage onto the lined tray, spread over the base, cover with clingwrap, place in the freezer.  When frozen remove and cut into portions.  Wrap each portion in clingwrap, place into a ziplock bag and return to the freezer. To reheat: defrost and reheat in the microwave.

The recipe can also be found in the Waitrose Christmas Harvest 2012 recipe guide.

10 Nov 2012

Quick Portuguese Tarts - Jamie's 30 Minute Meals

A few weeks ago I went on holiday to Madeira, and as usual when I am away from home, I like to experience local cakes and pastries, especially sitting outside a cafe on a fabulous sunny day. Cinnamon is a popular ingredient used in cakes and pastries - apple and cinnamon cake, banana and cinnamon cake and Portuguese Tarts, to name a few.  There were quite a few happy cake and pastry tastings, together with far too many cups of amazing coffee.

Whilst Jamie's Quick Portuguese Tarts aren't the same as we were served in Madeira, the filling is light, the orange caramel topping is superb and I could quite happily have eaten the lot!

I didn't cook these against the clock, I can't do it, won't do it - otherwise we end up with car crash food.

There are plenty of great recipes in the book, although if you wish to cook only one of the suggested meal plans the method layout can be frustrating.

I hope you have a go at making these delicious tarts.

9 Nov 2012

Rosemary Roast Lamb Chops and Potatoes

Whilst lazily reading the newspaper at my local coffee shop the other week, I came across this recipe from BBC GoodFood in the Daily Mail.  I always look forward to seeing which recipe they have chosen from the GoodFood website because I can then buy the ingredients whilst I'm out shopping and cook the suggested recipe.  I don't know whose job it is to choose recipes from the GoodFood website for the Daily Mail readers but they always pick a winner.  I'm mostly grateful to them because it saves me thinking 'what shall I cook for dinner'.

After my disaaahhhster (disaster) with a previous meal, I thought it only fair I cooked something that looked good, tasted wonderful and is very delicious too.

The recipe is very easy to prepare and make, I used King Edward old potatoes because when roasted they are crunchy on the outside and fluffy within.  The balsamic vinegar drizzled over the roasted meal is a must and takes it to another level. I cut off some rosemary which happily grows in my garden and managed to tear off the last sprig of mint too.

The recipe is on the BBC GoodFood website. I found the oven timings suggested on their site too short and cooked the potatoes for another 20 minutes.

3 Nov 2012

Chilli Con Carne Meatballs - Jamie's 15 Minute Meals

I challenged myself to make Chilli Con Carne Meatballs from Jamie's 15 Minute Meals, after seeing him on TV effortlessly produce this recipe.

Jamie has a team who do all the prep - I have just me and distractions. Everything started off well and I thought it would be a doddle, but then the washer finished, more washing to put in, next the tumble dryer to fill. Couldn't find the blender, found the blender, struggled to assemble the blender. Where is the bulgur wheat hiding?  I forgot to buy the preserved lemons. Why are there only a few cumin seeds left in the jar? It was all going wrong.......

I wasn't sure about cooking the meatballs for such a short time and cooked these for longer, I thought the quantity of bulgur wheat might not be enough and then cooked too much - I should have trusted Jamie:)

Would you like to know how long all this took me? - I lost the will, and have absolutely no idea.  The photograph tells the story........

Hubby thought the meal was very tasty and he particularly enjoyed the meatballs. He would have liked less bulgur wheat and more meatballs, not the huge plate of bulgur wheat I gave to him, and as for me, I will always prefer traditional chilli con carne.

I plan to cook a few more recipes from the book, perhaps this time I might manage to cook something without so many distractions.

The book - bursting at the seams with tasty healthy recipes, great food styling and photographs, and each recipe gives calorie, fat, sugar and saturated fat details.

Please Note:  This blog post isn't to be taken seriously - ok!

31 Oct 2012

Coffee, Walnut and Raisin Cake - Recipe

I've always enjoyed coffee and walnut cake, and this recipe by Tana Ramsay from her book I Love to Bake! is perfect.  I particularly liked the addition of raisins and used huge plump raisins. It's best to dust the raisins with flour before stirring into the cake otherwise they may well sink to the bottom, which is exactly what happened to me.  I turned my cake over, and now the raisins are at the top of the cake, and I then happily slathered over the buttercream and sprinkled with chopped walnuts. I wasn't too sure about the coffee, walnut, raisin combo before I made the cake, but it works beautifully.

The cake doesn't need dressing up with a circle of neatly placed walnut halves, a scattering of walnut pieces is the way to go.  After all, the best dressed cake doesn't necessarily mean the cake is a winner.

Fortunately, not an overly sweet cake because the coffee butter cream is only on top, it is best not to be  tempted to cut it in half.  I used half the amount of butter cream suggested in the original recipe and found it was ample, and light brown sugar instead of caster sugar in the recipe, to give the cake more depth of flavour.

I've eaten the good, the bad and the disappointing coffee and walnut cake in coffee shops - this is the perfect coffee shop cake, it is moist, has a tender crumb, not too much topping and keeps well too. I cut mine into slices and popped it into the freezer and then kept going back to the freezer and taking out another slice, it is that good!  Hubby thought this was a great cake too, he isn't very keen on cakes buried beneath a mound of sweet buttercream, and he said the cake/buttercream ratio I used was perfect for him. Phew!

Many of the bakes in I Love to Bake! are cooked at 200ºC or 220ºC which is something to be aware of - the suggested temperature for this cake is 200ºC and the timing is 35 minutes - if I cooked a deep cake at this temperature my cake would burn, peak and the batter would be a horrible volcanic mass.  A few years ago I went on a Patisserie Course at the local college and they cooked everything, including cakes, at almost maximum temperatures. A Victoria Sandwich at college in commercial grade ovens cooked in 10 minutes!

Adapted recipe.

You will need:  a 20cm round cake tin 5cm deep (I used a springform tin), greased , floured and base lined with parchment paper.

For the sponge:

175g softened butter, 175g light brown sugar, 3 large eggs beaten, 3 tbsp room temperature milk, 175g sifted self-raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp instant coffee granules dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water, 80g walnut pieces chopped, 60g plump raisins dusted in flour.

1. Preheat the oven to 160ºC.
2. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and milk gradually whilst continuing to beat. Sift the flour and baking powder over and fold into the mixture. Stir in the dissolved coffee granules.
3. Pour the batter into the baking tin and bake for 30-35 minutes. If it isn't cooked through cover with foil and pop back in the oven for 10 minutes or until cooked. Cool the baked cake for 5 minutes, turn out onto a cooling rack.

For the topping you will need:

125g softened unsalted butter, 150g sifted icing sugar, 4 tsp instant coffee granules dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water(cooled a little), 30g chopped walnuts.

1. Place the butter into a bowl and beat until soft, add the sifted icing sugar and the dissolved coffee granules. Beat with a mixer for 5/10 minutes until light and fluffy.
2. Spread the butter cream over the top of the cake and decorate with the chopped walnut pieces.

26 Oct 2012

Slow Cooker Recipe: Lamb Cooked in Red Wine

Slow cooker love - simply take a half shoulder of lamb or a leg of lamb joint and brown in a large frying pan.  Add to the slow cooker.  Throw a few quartered red onions into the slow cooker, and you needn't even peel them, because you will be straining all those fabulous slow cooker juices afterwards.  Add a few cloves of crushed garlic, bay leaves, sprigs of thyme and rosemary.  This is herb love too - my pots of herbs have been very kind to me and seemed to thrive on a poor summer, well - it's good to know some things like poor summers.

Deglaze the frying pan with red wine, I used Shiraz but any full bodied red wine is ideal, bring to the boil and add to the lamb. Season with freshly ground salt and pepper.  Cook on high for 5 hours or until falling off the bone, this way you don't need to use any butchery skills but can use two spoons to pull the lamb apart into reasonably sized pieces.  Strain the slow cooker juices over a saucepan, add some redcurrant jelly to sweeten and thicken with a a few instant thickening granules, which are available from most supermarkets.

No photograph of the cooked lamb, because it never looks very photogenic when cooked, but what it lacks in looks it makes up for with taste, it is so delicious.  You can use lamb shanks and these are equally delicious.

9 Oct 2012

Chocolate and Pecan Muffins

These muffins are full of chocolatey goodness, they have a great pecan and chocolate crumble topping, but the plain chocolate sponge needs something extra. I wish I had read 'Sweet Surprises' at the end of the recipe, it says to add chopped chocolate, sour cherries or cranberries to the muffin mix, I think raspberries would be good too.

The microwave comes in very handy for refreshing and warming muffins, and I am going to serve mine for dessert topped with a scoop of ice cream.  Or, Gu suggest making their ganache, and serving this as a warm dip for the muffins, this sounds delicious too.

A selection of recipes from the new GU Chocolate Cookbook including these chocolate and pecan muffins, were featured in You Magazine last Sunday and details can be found on the Mail Online website.

This week is Chocolate Week and National Baking Week is 15th to 21st October - I have no idea which 'week' it is after that - I'm looking forward to National Tart Week.......

1 Oct 2012

Apple Muffins

Annie Bell writes for You Magazine which is part of the Sunday Mail.  The first thing I do is to go to the back of the magazine and look for her recipes, the food styling is always wonderful too.  I have always liked Annie Bell, her recipes work, they are always straightforward and her books never disappoint.  I was really pleased to find out that she has a new book coming out this month - Annie Bell's Baking Bible.

Raisins are mixed into the muffin batter and the apples used are Cox's. I gave the recipe my own twist by using Cawston Press Still Apple and Ginger Juice instead of the apple juice suggested in the original recipe,  the apple and ginger came through perfectly.  A sprinkle of demerara sugar gives a crunchy topping. I find Lakeland muffin cases stay white after cooking, whereas some makes look greasy after a batch of muffins have been made.

I hope you will have a go at making these delicious muffins and any that are left over should freeze perfectly.  To warm through, simply pop into the microwave.

29 Sept 2012

Stilton, Leek and Walnut Quiche

I was brought up in Stilton Cheese and pork pie country, there never seemed to be a day when either Stilton Cheese or pork pies didn't get a mention.  The 'grown ups' ate their Stilton Cheese with  Lincolnshire celery, and pork pies were eaten with home made piccalilli.  None of these appealed to me, and I would sooner have eaten mud, than eat these strange foods. It wasn't until I became a 'grown up' I began eating and appreciating Stilton Cheese.  I'm never going to be a pork pie fan, but I love the hot water pastry they are made from.  I ask hubby to let me eat the pastry from his pork pie but for some reason he always tells me it is an unreasonable request.......

Stilton Cheese, leeks and walnuts are a match made in heaven.  This quiche was really good other than one or two niggles.  There isn't much of a custard layer and the amount of walnuts used in the original recipe needed to be halved, perhaps it should be called Walnut, Leek and Stilton Quiche.

British Cheese Week is 22-30 September 2012.

Adapted recipe taken from British Baking in 2012 - BakingMad.com

You will need:  23cm loose bottom tart tin lightly greased.

Pastry:  250g plain flour, 60g cubed chilled butter, 60g lard cubed, 3 tbsp cold water.

Filling:  40g butter, 2 leeks washed and chopped, 1 tbsp chopped Thyme leaves, 3 large eggs lightly beaten, 100ml Creme Fraiche, 100ml milk, ¼ tsp grated nutmeg, 3 tbsp finely grated Parmesan, 30g lightly toasted and finely chopped walnuts, 125g crumbled Stilton, ground black pepper.

1.  Put flour, butter and lard into a bowl, rub in until it looks like breadcrumbs add 3 tablespoons cold water, bind to make a dough.
2.  Shape into a round disc, wrap in clingwrap and pop in the fridge for 30 minutes.
3.  Remove pastry from fridge.
4.  Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place a large baking tray in the oven to preheat.
5.  Roll the pastry and line the tart tin.  Prick the base and put in the fridge for 30 minutes.  Line the pastry case with crumpled baking parchment, fill with baking beans.  Place the tin on the preheated baking tray and put in the oven for 15 minutes.  Remove the parchment paper and baking beans.
6.  Brush the base of the tart with some of the beaten egg from the filling and return to the oven for another 10 minutes.
7.  Set the oven temperature to 180°C .
8.  Take a large frying pan and melt the butter.  Add the leeks and cook until softened.  Stir in the thyme, grind over black pepper, cool.
9.  Add the creme fraiche to the beaten eggs and milk.  Add the Parmesan and nutmeg, season with black pepper.
10. Spread the leeks over the base of the cooked tart, sprinkle over half of the walnuts.  Scatter over the  crumbled Stilton cheese.  Pour the egg mixture over.  Sprinkle over the remaining walnuts.
11. Bake 35-40 minutes until the filling is set and golden brown.

23 Sept 2012

Plum Sorbet Recipe

Jamie Oliver has a regular food column in the Daily Mail Weekend Magazine, and last weekend he featured a few fabulous plum recipes. His plum sorbet caught my eye purely because the colour looks so beautiful.  The sorbet is a mixture of sweet and tart and is the perfect end to a meal. I love plums and it doesn't matter how they are prepared I am still a huge fan.

The recipe is easy to make, you only need a few ingredients and it tastes sublime.  He gives instructions to make the sorbet either with an ice cream maker or by hand, but it is far easier to make if you have an ice cream machine.

I am entering the plum sorbet as part of the Simple and in Season September Challenge hosted by Ren Behan of Fabulicious Food, this month the guest host is Katie from Feeding Boys and a Firefighter.

Septembers challenge is P for Alpha Bakes. Hosted by Caroline of Caroline Makes and Ros of The More Than Occasional Baker.

20 Sept 2012

Mushroom Risotto with Parmesan and Truffle Oil

Risotto is so versatile it can be taken from an everyday dish to a stylish dinner. Michelin starred chef Paul Heathcote has an amazing mushroom risotto recipe on the Great British Chefs website. Follow the recipe by Paul Heathcote and you will be able to give your risotto that professional finish. Paul uses store cupboard ingredients for the base, and a selection of fresh mushrooms, grated Parmesan and truffle oil.

Once you have mastered the base recipe it is easy to add fresh ingredients such as leeks, spinach, mushrooms or fish. Half an hour to spare - Arborio risotto rice, a shallot or an onion, a glass of white wine or Vermouth, vegetable stock, mushrooms, a little Parmesan to grate over - you've just made a fabulous meal and saved money too.

Risotto is a dish I turn to again and again, especially when time is short or I have a day when I'm struggling for dinner inspiration.  A fabulous creamy risotto made with care is one of my top ten favourite meals.

This is a sponsored post.

18 Sept 2012

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes - National Cupcake Week 2012

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes or lemon meringue pie? My favourite is lemon meringue pie - I almost forgot National Cupcake Week and these cupcakes were made at lightening speed. So quick, that when I browned the meringue with the blow torch I set fire to a couple of the cupcake cases. You wanted to see the photographic evidence, now that's just mean.....

Until late today I had no idea that I was going to make these, the lemon curd is from a jar I had in the fridge, nothing wrong with that provided you use a good one. Home made lemon curd is always fabulous and these cupcakes would have been on another level of loveliness if I had planned ahead.

The meringue wasn't easy to pipe onto the puddle of lemon curd and kept on moving around, other than that, they were a breeze to make.

Makes: 9 cupcakes

You will need: 12 hole muffin tin lined with 9 cupcake cases

115g softened butter, 115g caster sugar, 2 eggs, 115g self raising flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla essence.

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
2. Place all the ingredients into a bowl and beat together with an electric mixer for two minutes.
3. Spoon into 9 cupcake cases and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool.

For the Meringue

2 egg whites, 50g caster sugar, a very large pinch cream of tartar

1. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar together until soft peaks form. Add the sugar a little at a time and beat until stiff and glossy.
2. Place the meringue into an icing bag fitted with a star tube.

To Decorate

1. Dollop a spoon of lemon curd on top of the cupcakes and swirl round to make a puddle.
2. Pipe the meringue onto the puddle of lemon curd.
3. Either place the cupcakes back into the oven 230ºC for 5 minutes until golden, or use a blow torch and brown the meringue taking care not to set fire to the cupcake cases!

This is my entry for the Calendar Cakes Challenge and this month is of course cupcakes. Hosted by Laura Loves Cakes and Dolly Bakes -  Rachel from Dolly Bakes is this months host.

15 Sept 2012

Raspberry Tiramisu - Recipe

Raspberry Tiramisu is always delicious and very easy to make. A handful of raspberries are sprinkled over the coffee and brandy soaked sponge fingers and then hidden under a blanket of mascarpone cheese.

It's always best to make a Tiramisu the day before because it gives the flavours a chance to blend and get to know each other. The sponge fingers will have a chance to soften up too.

Finely grated dark chocolate is used instead of the usual dusting of cocoa powder.
Serves:  4

4 tablespoons very strong espresso coffee, 2 tablespoons brandy, 10 sponge fingers, 125g raspberries (either fresh or frozen), 175g mascarpone cheese, 2 separated eggs, 50g icing sugar, 25g finely grated plain chocolate

1. Mix together the coffee and brandy.  Dip the sponge fingers into the liquid to coat. Arrange in a small dish.  Pour over any liquid left in the dish.  Sprinkle the raspberries over the soaked sponge fingers.
2. Whisk together the mascarpone, egg yolks and icing sugar until smooth.
3. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and glossy, fold into the mascarpone mixture.
4. Spoon over the sponge fingers. Finely grate the chocolate over the top. Chill to set.

8 Sept 2012

Smoked Haddock with Bacon and Leeks

I remember going to a 'posh' restaurant and being served undyed smoked haddock. They served the fish on top of a mound of mashed potato.....I've never forgotten how dull that meal looked.  It's definitely dyed smoked haddock for me every time!

There are a lot of buttery juices after the fish has cooked, I placed my cooked new potatoes and leeks in the tray and turned them in those fabulous juices.  This is a quick and tasty fish dish with only a few ingredients, it was really delicious too.

You will need:

Serves: 4

50g softened butter, 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, few rashers streaky bacon, 4 smoked haddock fillets, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly ground pepper, 2 chopped leeks.

1. Place the butter into a bowl, add the chopped herbs, mix together.
2. Grill the bacon until crispy, drain and set aside.
3. Put the fish fillets onto a foil lined baking tray, grease the foil and spread the herb butter over the fillets.
4. Sprinkle the lemon juice over and season with black pepper.
5. Grill for 6 minutes or until the fish is cooked.
6. Cook the leeks in boiling water, drain. Add to the tray in which the fish has cooked and coat with the buttery juices.
7. Crumble over the reserved bacon.

3 Sept 2012

Strawberry Friands

Friands are popular in Australia and New Zealand, unfortunately you won't see them in many coffee shops here in the UK. Kaffeine in Fitzrovia, London sell the best strawberry friands and it is well worth making a trip to their coffee shop for these alone, better still, if accompanied by a fabulous coffee. See my previous posting here.

Friands are quite sweet and I think next time I will try and cut down on the amount of sugar.  I tried mixing some pureed strawberries into the buttercream but unfortunately I was left with a curdled mess. Topping friands with buttercream isn't the norm, but I can say they tasted wonderful.  Perhaps mixing some strawberry puree with either mascarpone or whipped double cream would be a better option, here again, after looking at images of friands they don't appear to be topped with any type of cream! 
Fresh strawberries, blueberries or raspberries would cut through some of the sweetness, all you have to do is pour the batter into the tin, scatter over a few berries and you can then poke some down into the mixture or leave a few on top. After they have cooled dust with icing sugar.

You will need:  6 hole friand tin well greased.

100g butter, 140g icing sugar, 25g plain flour, 85g ground almonds, 3 medium egg whites

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Melt the butter and use some of it to grease the friand tin. Allow the butter to cool.
3. Sift the icing sugar and sifted flour into a bowl. Add the ground almonds and mix all together.
4. Whisk the egg whites lightly until they resemble a froth, and then fold into the dried ingredients.  Mix in the cooled melted butter lightly.
5. Fill the tins with the cake mix.  Bake for 20 minutes until firm.  Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, run a knife around the edges, turn out and cool on a wire rack.
6. They will keep well, without the cream, in an airtight tin for a few days.

29 Aug 2012

Chicken Pesto Parcels

Served with a few crushed new potatoes garnished with chopped chives.
After eating out on numerous occasions recently, it's always great to get back to normality and eat home cooked food.  Hubby always says he prefers my meals, but then like most men, he has learnt the art of saying the right things.........

Tasty, quick, simple with just one ready made ingredient and all cooked together in a tray.

My ready made ingredient is fresh pesto from Waitrose, it's amazing and you can even see whole pieces of pine nuts in the pesto sauce. This is one of my finds that is nearly as good as home made.  I buy a pot and pour some into an ice cube tray and freeze for a rainy day.

The slightly adapted recipe is from The New Dairy Cookbook.

Serves: 4

You will need: 2 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons pesto, 25g grated mature Cheddar cheese, 4 boneless chicken breasts, 2 red and 2 yellow deseeded peppers, 4 tomatoes cut into wedges, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 15g butter

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C.
2. Mix together, pesto, Cheddar and breadcrumbs.
3. Cut a pocket into each chicken breast and fill with the pesto mixture. Use cocktail sticks to close the pocket.
4. Arrange the peppers and chicken in a baking dish and drizzle over the olive oil and dot with butter.
5. Roast for 25 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked and the vegetables are charred at the edges.
6. After serving up drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil and the pan juices.

8 Aug 2012

White Cob Loaf by Paul Hollywood

Soft textured bread with a crisp crust and tender crumb.
I'm in bread making mode again. Sometimes this obsession only lasts for as long as it takes to make a loaf of bread. I really enjoy making bread in my food mixer, I can't say that I'm one for all that kneading by hand. I'm also a huge bread machine fan, simply throw everything into the bread pan and out comes either a perfect baked loaf of bread or a piece of ready-to-go dough, all ready to shape. 

I'm waiting to be sliced!

I thought the bread was a little on the salty side but maybe this is because we gave up being heavy handed with salt many, many years ago.  The instructions say to line the baking tray with silicone paper but if you do this the base of the bread won't crisp up - my preferred options are to either grease or flour the base of the baking tray, both of these methods will ensure a crisp bottom! Better still put a pizza stone in the oven to heat up and then put your baking tray on top of this, you will definitely have a cooked bottom then! I'm curious, why would you line a baking tray with silicone or baking paper when you need the base of the bread to be crisp and brown?

Everything all mixed and now ready for the first rise.

Now doubled in size and waiting to be knocked back.

The shaped dough waiting to be covered for a second rise until doubled in size.

After the second rise, I have been dusted with flour and I'm waiting to go into the oven.

I'm not great when it comes to cutting into bread dough, a very large sharp knife is required and you have to be quick and precise otherwise the bread dough will deflate.  In fact, this happened to me, that is why I am hiding the right hand third of the bread!  I was sent a fab product to sharpen my knives and I only wish I had used this prior to cutting the dough.  Great recipe from How to Bake by Paul Hollywood.

28 Jul 2012

Recipe: British Cherry Cupcakes and British Strawberry Cupcakes

Going for Gold! Two British fruits to adorn the top of my cupcakes, strawberries are nearing the end of the season and British cherries are in the shops, both are more fabulous than fabulous this year.

It is possibly a crime to spray cherries gold but I think I can get away with it at the moment.  To be fair, I did decide not to spray the strawberries as well......

The cupcakes are the usual chocolate sponge mix, although I splashed the cash and used a very good cocoa powder, good cocoa powder really does make a difference to the chocolate sponge.

Makes:  12 cupcakes

You will need:  a twelve hole muffin tin lined with muffin cases.

For the cupcakes:

100g self raising flour, 125g Stork SB, 125g caster sugar, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons warm milk, 3 level tablespoons cocoa powder.

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Sift the self raising flour and cocoa into a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix all together for 2 minutes.
3. Divide the mixture between the cases and bake in the centre of the oven for 20-25 minutes until cooked.
4. Cool in the tin.
5. Decorate.

The July Calendar Cakes Challenge is hosted by Laura Loves Cakes and Dolly Bakes.  The host this month is Laura and the challenge is The Olympics - I chose to use gold cherries and a Union Jack box.

The Simple and in Season challenge is hosted by Fabulicious Food.

25 Jul 2012

Chocolate and Blackcurrant Cupcakes

Chocolate and Blackcurrant Cupcakes are a surprising combination of flavours and seem to work really well together.

My cupcakes are a chocolate sponge mix with a handful of blackcurrants stirred in gently. I frosted some of the blackcurrants for decoration and they are so delicious it was a few for me and a few to decorate the cupcakes. 

The pretty cupcake stand is by Tala, I made twelve cupcakes but unfortunately I was clumsy and three were knocked over. I think I did quite well,  it could have been nine knocked over and three left to decorate the stand! 

We Should Cocoa is hosted by Chele of the Chocolate Teapot and Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog - Choclette is the host for this months challenge Chocolate and Blackcurrants.

Tea Time Treats is hosted by Kate of WhatKateBaked and Karen of Lavender and Lovage - Karen is this months host and the challenge is Cake Stall Cakes.

Thank you Tala for the pretty cake stand.

14 Jul 2012

Pizza Bianca

I'm always looking for that extra special pizza recipe and now I've found it. I've tried numerous recipes, had struggles rolling out pizza dough, I have cooked my base on a pizza stone/pizza tin/baking tin for that ultimate crisp base. I have had pizza bases that refuse to cook because they are loaded with toppings ......and more problems besides those already mentioned, such as crispy edges that you can't even get a knife through! Until now I've thought it a complete waste of time that I have a pizza stone, I've tried throwing my pizza onto the stone but somehow my pizza stone seems to have lost the point, anyway how do you transfer rolled out dough onto a hot pizza stone, it defeats me!  With this recipe you don't put the mix directly on the stone but you heat the stone up for an hour and then put your baking tray on top of the pizza stone.

I've got a new past time, brought on by hurting my back playing football with small children, I'm now watching America's Test Kitchen on PBS, I record every episode and then have the task of finding time to watch them. The presenters do seem to use a lot of salt though, they are either brining something with it, smothering something with it, putting it inside something, wiping it off or throwing it in a pot!  I'm just not sure about all that salt.....

My finished Pizza Bianca waiting for me to cut a slice!

Back to the pizza, it's the best pizza I have ever eaten. If you search for Pizza Bianca you will see lots of discussions regarding this recipe on food bloggers websites in America - it's that good. They have also given adapted recipes for the base and toppings. The recipe was apparently first printed in Cook's Illustrated and is now on America's Test Kitchen website, the problem is you need to pay to access their recipes.

This is the first stage and I added plain flour (not strong flour), salt and water to the bowl and mixed with the dough hook on low for 3 minutes.  Next stage is to add the easy blend yeast and sugar to the above mixture, now mix on low for a couple of minutes.  With the dough hook still attached to the machine mix until smooth and glossy for approximately 10 minutes.  The yeast batter should be coming away from the sides of the bowl.

Oil a bowl with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, also oil a spatula, now pour the batter mix from your mixer into the oiled bowl.  Turn the yeast batter mix over to coat the batter in extra virgin olive oil. 

Cover with cling wrap and leave at room temperature for 2 hours until it has tripled in volume.  Preheat your oven to 450 degrees, set your shelf on the middle rung, put a pizza stone on to heat up and if possible heat the stone for an hour.

Take a sturdy baking tray and pour over 2 tablespoons of extra olive oil and with your hands spread it out over the tray.  Turn the dough into the pan and spread over the pan with your fingertips. Leave to rest for 5 minutes and now with your fingertips spread the dough out into the corners of the pan.  Leave the tray uncovered for 10 minutes until the dough is bubbly.  Dock the dough with a fork 40 times to prevent it rising too much.  Cook until brown about 15 minutes.

The topping is made from drained tinned chopped and smashed tomatoes, olive oil, salt and grated mozzarella cheese.  The pizza is then cooked for 10 minutes more until the cheese browns.

What's different about this recipe?  Firstly, there is a huge amount of water mixed into the flour, and a mixer with a dough hook is required otherwise I'm not sure this recipe is achievable.  Secondly, it is best described as a batter, you definitely can't roll this out!  The finished result is crisp, light, airy and chewy, the base can also be used as a flat bread instead of a pizza base.

You will need a good baking tray that withstands high temperatures and one that you know won't warp, mine was non-stick and gave an excellent result.  Also, a good pair of oven gloves because that tray gets very, very hot!