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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013: A Foodie Review

Tonight another year comes to an end.   I started this blog in April and therefore I have decided to review from that point, this time next year I will be covering the whole lot, but since this is my first review I am treating it as a practice.  Sitting here with my iPad calendar open as a reminder of what I did I hope to summarise the last 9 months and set a few goals for the new year.  Apologies, this post does not contain a recipe, instead its more like a diary entry.  Skip it if you like, next post will be back to normal.


Sunday, 29 December 2013

Coca Cola Ham


This month is always the most challenging and soon it will be over bringing with it the close of yet another year.

Stressing as it can be I actually enjoy the process of putting up the tree, reading through cook books and planning menus. The demands of the Christmas rush and the excitement of getting new things and of course giving things to others.

Foodie wise this has been a month of three new gadgets, more on them later, and a number of new recipes.  I have a couple of things put to one side to blog about over the next few weeks so hopefully next years resolution (to post more) will be achievable.  I feel more inspired to post now since good things seem to be happening with my blog.  Let me summarise...

First thing to happen was an email from 'Foodista.com' to inform me that my blog has been selected for their blog of the day.  This was great timing as it happend to fall on a Saturday and I noted a sudden jump in viewers and a couple more followers.  I can now proudly display their 'featured blog' logo on my site and if look carefully I am sure you will spot it.  Hopefully this won't be the first time my blog is featured!

Second bit of good news was this my blog finally made it in to the 'Foodies 500' ranking system.  Still a long way to go before I get in the top 100 and that would be amazing but for the time being simply seeing that my work is slowly making its way up the charts is brilliant!


And finally I have noticed an increase in daily traffic, not that high, but it finally feels like I am writing to readers not simply to myself.  Thank you!!


I am rather lucky to have slowly built up a collection of expensive gadgets.   There is no chance I could simply go out and buy them all, instead I have to collect them one by one, saving up or waiting for Christmas before I can finally get my hands on that piece of kitchen  equipment that all those TV cooks have.  This year my collection of Kitchenaid gadgets increased to a snazzy new kettle that allows you to select the correct water temperature for your needs and the fab Kitchenaid Two slice toaster.  Now this isn't just any toaster...this toaster has a gadget lovers feature that beats all other toasters...simply placing the bread, bagel or whatever in the slots and watch as the toaster automatically lowers the item and toasts to perfection before raising it again.  Forget to take it out or not quite ready for it yet? No problem this clever device will automatically lower the toast and keep it warm for you until your ready.  Gadget perfection.   


I also received a kitchen blow torch as a present, amazing!  I have already brunt many a thing for the sake of burning it just to see how it works.  More to follow about this gadget as I am sure I will find many uses for it and it wont be long until a few recipes appear on here that requires its use.


It is my intention to write one more post before the year is out - a retrospective on my first year of writing a foodie blog.  But todays post is a recipe I have tired before but without much sucess.  Coca Cola ham is a recipe by Nigella Lawson and is one of those recipes that make you think 'really?'.  However I am very happy to say that it works, its fab and its very easy.  The first time I made it, a year ago actually, I made the error of purchasing a smoked gammon joint and the resulting ham was far to smokey to be enjoyed. This year I made sure that I brought a simple plain 2kg gammon joint.  Simmered for over two hours in one bottle of coke and simply glazed and charred in the oven for 10 minutes this ham was perfect for the Boxing Day buffet and to stash away in the fridge to be picked at all week.




Saturday, 7 December 2013

Nutella Cheesecake

Yet again I have been lazy in posting recipes.  Oh well, maybe I just need to set myself a goal of at least 4 posts a month and not worry to much about 1 a week.  My aim over Christmas is to cook a range of items and create a backlog of recipes that I can post over regular intervals.  On my list to bake is a Christmas ham, plenty of desserts, biscuits and buffet items. 
Today's posting is a favourite of mine, Nutella Cheesecake, by Nigella Lawson.  I have made this receipe a few times and friends have asked for the recipe (place cookbook on photocopier...)   Finally I have made it for my blog and hope that everyone else likes it as much.  It is a very easy recipe to follow and 'cheapish' if you happen to get the cream cheese on offer and buy ready chopped hazelnuts.  

As usual I mixed everything together in my machine, but you don't have to.  Just make sure, whichever method you use, that the cream cheese is at room temperature as this allows the chocolate to combine fully without any lumpy bits.  You may notice that in my biscuit base mix I have pecans instead of hazelnuts, this was not a mistake, instead I could not fine hazelnuts anywhere when I needed to buy them and nipping down to the local supermarket was out of the question.  Instead I opted for pecans but typically when I got home I found that I already had a packet of skinned hazelnuts in the baking cupboard (this was of course after I had made the base!).  A quick toast in a pan and chop in the processor and my nutty topping was ready.  Best to leave to rest in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight, and serve fridge cold as the mixture seems to cut and serve better.

This recipe is so quick and easy and if you like a well known chocolate ("you are spoiling us Ambassador...") you will love this.  I think it may be part of my Boxing Day dessert selection this year.



Monday, 25 November 2013

Scottish Vanilla Tablet

Well, I failed again to post twice this week.  It all seemed so promising when I posted my recipe for chocolate chip cookies, but that was two weeks ago, and time has flown by. Apologies for those of you that check my blog to see the latest update, I know its a pain when nothing seems to change for a long time. 

Todays recipe is a little bit of a change from the norm and it all started when my dear friend Kate requested the use of my hob (yes I did say hob...)  Her attempts at making this Scottish favourite have failed due to a malfunctioning cooker hob and when she asked if she could visit this Sunday and make this sweet treat my answer was yes...as long as I can blog about it!



Tablet, or I suppose you could also call it crumbly fudge, is a classic sweet developed in Scotland in the early 18th century.  Normally flavoured with vanilla, whisky or nuts this very sugary treat has a crumbly texture and melts as you eat it.  Ingredient wise its very simple - sugar, condensed milk and butter (with added flavour) but its the technique which is the challenge and without care can result in dangerous burns or as Kate found out liquid that just won't set (or even freeze).   

Make sure you use a large, tall sided, pan.  I used my pasta pot as this has tall sides and very good heat dissipation.  Be-careful when adding the milk as the liquid bubbles up high.  A good quality candy thermometer is a must for this recipe, don't bother without unless you are a dab-hand at making sugar based sweets and know what a hard-boil looks like.

Cut up in to small squares this sweet is perfect for giving away as a present and since Christmas is on the way it may be something I make a number of times.  


Sunday, 10 November 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have decided that its time to start back at the gym.  I did so well before the start of the summer holidays but now I feel like it was all for nothing.  I have turned in to one of those 'gym paying but not going' sort of people.  It seems that every time I visit my gym they have something new and this isn't because my gym is great at getting new things it is because I tend to take a 3 month break between workouts!   My plan of action (ummm, ok) is to get fit now and over Christmas ready for my trip to Thailand in April.  I tend to say this every year but this time I real need to stick to it.  Lets see how long this last for.

It is not my intention to transform this blog in to a collection of healthy recipes.  I will offer the odd healthy replacement but my solution to the problem of 'baking a cake and then eating it all to myself' is to give it all away.  The staffroom at work is a place where anything left on a table will get eaten, whether you want it to or not.  So, on to todays recipe.

I have tried many recipes for 'perfect' chocolate chip cookies and this seems to be the best by far.  This recipe comes direct from Nigella Kitchen and is my go to recipe for cookies.  With 300g of chocolate chips these cookies are both soft in the centre and crisp around the outside, each mouthful guaranteed to contain more than an ample amount of chips per bite.  These cookies are perfect for storing in the freezer, uncooked, shaped and ready to go.  Using an ice cream scoop you get a perfectly sized cookie each time and this mixture makes more than another to cook now and freeze for later.  You could cook them all now, or freeze them all for later, whatever way you decide these are truly perfect.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Classic Leek and Potato Soup

Walking to work Monday morning was bitterly cold, so cold in fact I wished I had my gloves.  Even with the sun shining and the sky blue it still felt like winter had taken hold.  Its far away from the Monday I had a week earlier.  Wondering around the streets of Barcelona in shorts and t-shirt felt like a million miles away.

Todays mid-week post is a classic soup recipe - leek and potato.  Quick and easy to make I had this large batch made up within 30 minutes.  I think it took longer to chop up the potatoes than to actual cook the soup.  Warming and smooth this is a perfect pick-me-up when the weather is cold.  Drank from a mug while watching fireworks outside in the cold this is one of my favourite soups.










Friday, 1 November 2013

Swedish Black Forest Gateau

The past month has flown by.  Soon it will be Christmas ( I have already seen my first Christmas tree) and won't be long until I am breaking up for Easter.  Last month wasn't the best of months for me and is the main reason why I only managed to post one recipe.  Hopefully now things can start to get back to normal and I can continue with my goal of two posts a week!

October is my birthday month, and as a present I received the IKEA cookbook Fika.  Described in the book as "a break for coffee and a bite to eat...a moment's relaxation with friends, family or colleagues'  It is a unique book with regards to layout, each recipe has its own ingredients page where each element is carefully presented in a very IKEA sort of way.  

This recipe is the very last in the book and is my first venture in to cooking Swedish style cakes and food.  I have been lucky enough to visit Sweden and have sampled some of the fantastic, yet overpriced, cakes.  This recipe is far from the German version of Black Forest Gateau - there isn't a cherry to be found - but instead its a light meringue layer cake sandwiched with thick vanilla infused cream and topped with shavings of chocolate and cocoa powder.  Hazelnut, meringue, cream and chocolate, not a bad combination and perfect to eat with friends.  Gluten free too.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Traditional Apple Pie

Autumn is well and truly here now.  The leaves are not only turning but falling to the ground.  The apple tree in my front garden is hanging heavy with this years bounty.  This weekend has been the wettest I can remember in a while, not the sort of weather that makes you want to venture out the house.  Couple this with a slight cold I seem to have  and I am happy to say that I have spent this weekend in my PJs, central heating on, totally chilling out.

Apple pie is something I have always enjoyed, especially with custard (cold custard, hot pie is my rule).   This is my first attempt at making a pie and I have had to bake in a high sided tart tin because I do not yet own a pie dish.  I looked through a number of my recipes books and ended up merging together a recipe by Tamasin Day-Lewis and Martha Stewart.  I decided against adding cinnamon due to not everyone liking it and instead opted for vanilla.  I would have used ground almonds as the thickener but since I was out of them I had to use plain flour instead.  My choice of apple  is simply due to the ones I had in - Pink Lady.  This sort of apple isn't really designed for apple pie but I thought I would give it ago.  Since the apple is already sweet I reduced the amount of sugar to a few tablespoons.  Normally you would use cooking apples but any type of apple would work, just give it a go.  

The pastry is whizzed up in the food processor (or by hand if you like) and it is very important to leave it to rest for at least 2 hours in the fridge.  On removal it may be tough to roll out and the result my be some slight cracking but if you keep working with it the cracks vanish. When baked the  pastry transforms in to a light crisp buttery shell and the apples soften and infuse with the vanilla.  All this fills your kitchen and house with the homely scent of cooking.

It is best to allow this pie to fully cool after cooking, this way the fruit sets and the filling becomes thicker.  If you like your pie hot simply warm it in a low oven until the desired temperature is reached.  Serve with custard, cream, ice cream or leave just as it is.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Sticky Toffee Pudding

My winter checklist: 

Trees turning? Check.  
Occasional central heating required? Check.  
Cats staying in longer? Check.
Craving for stodgy food? Check.
Shower dial turned another notch towards hot? Check.
Winter coat out of loft? Check.

These are my signs that winter is on its way.  

Although spring and summer are my favourite times of year, winter does mean my birthday, bonfire night and of course Christmas.  It is also the time of year for warming stews, midweek roasts and stodgy puddings - and weight gain if your not careful.



Sticky toffee pudding is one of my all time favourite winter treats.  I have never attempted to make one before, normally happy to just purchase a good quality one from a supermarket, but I came across this recipe by Simon Hopkinson and I had to try it. 

Whizzed up in the food processor and baked in the oven this treat is perfect to eat after a Sunday roast, simply put it in the oven while you are eating the main.  I found molasses sugar in the supermarket and demerara is very easy to get hold of.  Although sticky and sweet the sponge is especially light and delicate, served with simple vanilla ice cream I could very happily get fat on this.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Go Get 'Em Smoothie

Quick post today...its a busy week!  Breakfast was never a big deal for me, when I was younger I never really bothered.  It wasn't that I could not have breakfast, it was just that I wasn't hungry in the morning.  Since growing up though I often find that missing breakfast results in hunger pains by lunch.  I now make every effort to eat something before heading out for work.  Normally its a bowl of something with milk, or crumpets with butter, or even porridge with Nutella spread mixed in.  Some days however I am in such a rush I don't get chance to eat anything and normally turn to my favourite breakfast smoothie by Nigella Lawson.

Go Get 'Em contains everything to set you up for the morning and more importantly they are ingredients you can keep in all the time.   I always have a bag of chopped up bananas in the freezer - saves on using ice!  Nigella uses instant espresso powder but you won't find that in my house, especially since I have my trusty Gaggia bean to cup.  If possible, reduce the speed of you blender after the first initial whizz, a slower speed will result in a smoother mix as large lumps tend to avoid the blades at full speed.

Quick and easy to make this smoothie does not really taste much of banana, instead think malteasers.  

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Chocolate cake in a mug!

Ok, so this isn't a classy recipe, but it is a super fast 'chocolate fantastic' hit when you need one.  Cake made in a microwave?  How tacky, how horrible, how wrong.  Let me just stop you there, this cake is soft, chocolately, warm and rich.  Served with a scoop of ice cream and drizzled with toffee sauce this is the perfect mid week pick me up when you are in the mood for cake but do not have the time or energy to make anything complex.  The fact it serves one means no waste and 2 to 3 minutes in the microwave this cake is as express as it gets.  Please don't be expecting the best cake in the world, after all this is made in a mug in the microwave, but do expect dense fudge like chocolate cake.  Make sure you top with ice cream and some sauce.

There are many recipes online for this strange idea.  I have looked over a number, tried a couple, and put this one together.  You could sub the chocolate chips for white, or add in some coconut, or zest in some orange for a chocorange cake.  Experiment and see what you find.  

Cooking times are rather difficult to suggest.  My microwave is 800watts so I cooked for 2 minutes and found this to be just about right.  My first attempt (2.30mins) resulted in a rubbery cake.  Undercooking isn't much of an issue for this type of cake, if it needs more just continue cooking or see it as a 'fondant' style cake.  The quantities are so small if you mess it up it does not matter that much - ok so you wasted an egg - just tip it out and try again.

See what you think...give it a go!


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Asian Chilli Jam

I am a big fan of Asian food.  I am lucky to visit Thailand quite often and have travelled around to different areas experiencing a wide range of different things.  Travelling to Singapore and Malaysia has opened up taste buds to a range of strange and interesting items.  Even eating plane food is an experience when traveling via India.

I love the sweet and sour mixes, the simplicity and the wide range of different courses available.   I am happy to wonder through a Thai market and sample anything that comes my way - somethings are great, somethings are bad and somethings I have no idea what it is.

Recently, while channel hopping, I came across Lorraine Pascale's Asian Chilli Jam recipe.  It seemed very easy to make and ingredient wise contained everything I like.  It did require a quick trip to John Lewis to purchase jam jars and a funnel, but apart from that tomatoes and bottle of balsamic vinegar where the only other things I needed to pick up, the rest I had in the cupboard.

After whizzing everything up all you need to do is bring to the boil and reduce for 30 minutes.  I did find that some had burnt to the bottom of the pan therefore next time I think I would reduce the boil to a strong simmer.  I only managed to get one jar full, maybe the boil was too high and resulted in too much evaporation of the liquid.  She managed two small jars - one as a gift and the other for the fridge.  

Buy a large piece of ginger, chop off what you need and stash the rest in the freezer until you need it again.  I used chilli flakes because I couldn't get red chilli from my local greengrocer. 

To sterilise my  jars and lids I ran them through the 'pots and pans' setting, this is the hottest setting my dishwasher can do.  Although you could wash and dry them and then place in a hot oven for 10 minutes to remove any germs that may spoil your jam.

Unopened this jam will last for months in a dark cupboard, once opened I think its best used up as soon as possible and store in the fridge.


Saturday, 7 September 2013

Frasier Torte (Strawberry mousse cake)

It seems like the weather has finally turned.  Goodbye mild warm summer and hello cold wet autumn.   I love it when the air is cold but the sun is shining, the leafs turning and cosy nights are drawing in.  This recipe takes me back to the end of my summer holidays.  Strawberries where being sold off cheap at a local market stall and I was in the mood to try something technical and new.  Frasier torte, or simply strawberry cake, is a delicious summer dessert.  The mousse is light and the sponge delicate with lemon and vanilla.  Although it may look difficult to make, actually I found it very easy.  Just be prepared and stick to the recipe.  Also, do not be in a rush, this recipe takes time to set.

There are two versions of this cake - American and French.  I have decided to make the American version as it is by one of my favourite pasty chefs Anna Olson.  I have had success with her Chocolate Tart recipe therefore I trusted that this one would turn out well.  The only change I made was adding the strawberry jelly to the top.  

The main difference between the two versions is the American one has strawberry mousse and the French, rich custard.  I would be very happy to eat both and one day I may attempt the custard version.  Today, however, its American all the way.


Friday, 30 August 2013

Express Lemon Cupcakes & Chocorange Biscuits

If they say never work with animals or small children today I broke a rule.  Actually, it wasn't that bad.  I just had to accept the following:

1. Children will lick spoons and put them back in the bowl - even when you have not finished mixing.

2. Expect things to end up on the floor.  Don't try and fight it.

3. You can't have it neat and organised.  No matter how much you plan and tidy around them, things will get messy.

4. Everything taste 'yum', even if its just sugar and butter licked of the beater of your mixer.

5. And finally, don't expect the end product to look like the picture in the book (and certainly the vision in your head)



Once I came to terms with those areas I started to enjoy myself and learnt the following:

1. It does not matter if what you end up with looks nothing like the picture in the book.

2. Children will sit quietly for ages rolling out dough, cutting them in to biscuits and then rolling out the leftover bits.

3. A bit of mess can be wiped away - worktop, floor or even ceiling, it will come off!

4. Always buy more eggs then you think you need (or keep your kitchen floor clean enough to scoop them back up and use if necessary)

5. And finally, family members will ALWAYS eat what is given to them without question and the reply is ALWAYS 'yum', or 'did you make these?' or 'wow, aren't you clever'.

Today I looked after my cousins two young daughters.  I say look after, they are both as good as gold and caused me no problems so looking after was more 'entertain' and have fun.  8:30am till 12:30pm.  I decided baking would use up the time quickly and thought about two simple recipes that they could make together.  Express lemon cupcakes, express because the mix is whizzed up in the food processor and chocolate-orange biscuits.

Rolling out the dough for the cookies seemed to be the best part of the morning.  Me trying to keep everywhere neat and tidy was the worst.  


Thursday, 29 August 2013

Sachertorte

A real foodie must be open to try pretty much anything.  I consider myself a foodie and will give almost anything a go.  There are only a few things on my 'yuck' list and these include liver, kidney, olives and anything with an exoskeleton.  I am happy to taste anything, even if it contains something I don't think I would like, and I am not afraid to  retry something I have not liked before - only recently I tried a couple of olives, still don't like them.

When travelling I have always tired to taste well known dishes from that area.  Green/red curries in Thailand, pizza in Rome,  Singapore Slings at Raffles,  Kebabs in Berlin and pastries in Denmark.  One place I have not been to yet is Vienna, famous for its Sachertorte, but it is on my list of places to visit.

Hunting around the internet, and plenty of research later, brought me to two versions of the 'traditional' Sachertorte.  However, the absolute original recipe comes from the hotel of the same name - Hotel Sacher, Vienna.   Invented in 1832 this dense chocolate cake is sandwiched together with apricot jam and rich dark chocolate icing.  I came across two versions while hunting for a suitable recipe - two layer and single layer.  The two layer version is the one made at the Hotel Sacher therefore it is the recipe I have decide to make.

The icing for this torte is rather strange.  You bring water and sugar up to a boil and then add the dark chocolate.  When I first read this I wondered if the chocolate would simply burn, however careful boiling (if there is such a thing) and constant stirring reduces the risk of burning.  I was worried that my icing was starting to burn and I didn't quite make it to the suggested 116C on the thermometer but the resulting icing turned out ok.  My attempt at writing the famous 'Sacher' wording on top was a total disaster - hence not really seeing in the photo.  I wouldn't really bother and the actual cake in Vienna only contains a chocolate stamp instead of the words.

I feel I overcooked the sponge slightly.  My recipe stated 1 hour 15 minutes.  However other recipes call for 40 to 50 minutes.  I have reduced the cooking time in this version to 50 minutes, but its important to check for that the middle is springy when gently pressed before taking out.

So, here it is, 'original' Sachertorte....serve with thick cream and keep away from the fridge.  Better after a few days resting, or so my recipes says.


Monday, 19 August 2013

Old-Fashioned Cherry Cake

This post is based on ingredients I happened to have in already and required using up.  Glace Cherries that I brought by error and some left over ground almonds from an old recipe.  I have always been a fan of simple cake, cake to eat with coffee, or just to cut off a chunk when a sugar hit is needed.  

I was flipping through 'Delia's Cakes' and came across her recipe for Old-fashioned cherry cake.  A quick read through the ingredients and method and I was ready to go (a big tip for any baker, read it completely first!).  

She states that  recipes for cherry cake often end up with sunken cherries however her tip is to reserve some and scatter on top after you have transferred the mix to the baking tin.  Poking them in just before cooking means some will sink but those on top will stay where they are.  Another technique I know that is suppose to keep fruit, chocolate chips or any 'added' ingredient comes from Ina Garten - she recommends coating whatever it is you are adding in some flour.   I decided to follow Delia's instruction this time but next time I will give Ina's ago.

This cake is very traditional - the same amount of flour, sugar and butter to three eggs.  Basic creaming method - mixer highly recommend.  I tip I often read and does make a huge difference is making sure the butter is at room temp.  There is a big difference between butter taken out the fridge an hour before you want it and one that has been left over night to totally soften.  I often think ahead when baking and remove things from the fridge the night before I need it.  Sometimes I forget and a quick blast in the microwave helps, but remembering to leave it out is the best.  I always keep eggs at room temp in the cupboard - they do not need to be stored in the fridge. 

When making this cake it is very important to over-line the cake tin.  It raises a lot and you without the extra lining your either going to get a messy oven or a flat cake -  or both.  Over lining is easy, and so is lining the base.  I have included in the start of this recipe my method for quickly lining a tin.

So, here is a quick tip to line a cake tin, and Delia's fab recipe for Cherry Cake.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Coconut and Lime Ice Cream

I think it was wishful thinking that the hot sunny weather we had a few weeks ago wound continue throughout my summer holidays.  Well, it hasn't.  I can't complain, I enjoyed the hot weather while it lasted (thanks to the newly installed air con in my classroom) and have recently come back from two very hot weeks in Tunisia.  I am still very hopeful that it will return , there is plenty of time left.  Hot weather or not, everyone likes ice cream, and this post is about a new recipe that I thought about while cleaning out my kitchen cupboards.  After coming across a half used bag of coconut I wondered how I could use it, then after accidentally ordering two limes instead of four lemons in the shopping I wondered what I could do with them.  Then I thought about combining the two and making some ice cream.  A quick search on the net reviled that this isn't new - I didn't expect it to be.  But it didn't take long to locate a few different recipes and combine them together to create my version.  I also got to use my ice cream maker....

A quick word about my ice cream maker.  As with a number of my gadgets this was brought a few years ago in impulse while looking around Lakeland.  I always wanted to make homemade ice cream and on this particular day they had them on offer.  So, after buying it and bringing it back home, then nipping out again to fetch the necessary ingredients to make a basic vanilla ice cream, I attempted my first batch.   It wasn't that successful, well, it was, but its me, not the ice creams fault.  As people may know that most ice cream is made using a custard base.  Custard is made from eggs.  However, strangely, whenever I tasted my ice cream I could only thinking about how it tasted of egg.  The strange bit is that actually it didn't, but I just could not stop myself my tasting it.   So, to the back of the cupboard this gadget went.  A few months later I had another go, by now it was October time and the cold was starting to settle.  I noticed that the freezing disc had started to leak.  Back in the cupboard it with the intention that when I next saw it I would throw it in the bin.

Recently, a year later, I came across it and instead of throwing out I decided to look on the net for a replacement disc, found one and purchased it.  So, I now have a working ice cream maker again.  Never one for giving up I decided to give it another go and I am glad I did.

Here is my recipe for lime and coconut ice cream, adapted from a range of different recipes that I came across on the net.  It is a little bit time consuming, however most of the time it takes to make is simply waiting time.  I would recommend using an ice cream machine to get the perfect smooth consistency.  If you don't have one I would suggest going to the shops and buying some good quality ice cream and skip the recipe for now.   

Smooth and creamy, sharp with lime and just a gentle smoothness of coconut this ice cream may bring out the sun...who knows.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Delia's Ultimate Carrot Cake

Sorry for the lack of posts.  I have recently returned from a two week holiday in Tunisia and I did have all intention of posting while I was away, however I only managed one post and I don't consider it my finest work.  Tunisia was great, the sites I saw and the activities I did where all brilliant, the food however, was nothing special.  I have decided to scrap my ideas of writing foodie articles about various Tunisian dishes and instead concentrate on one post about the various exports of Tunisia - that post comes soon, first is this one.

Carrot cake was never a favourite, I would eat it, but it would never be my first choice of cake.  I was always put off by the idea of having something I consider savoury in something else I consider sweet.  Carrots, beetroot, squash and all those other vegetables that people make in to sweet cakes never really appealed to me.  However over the years I have become more accustomed to the spicy flavour of this cake and eating some with a nice cup of coffee is something I enjoy.

This recipe comes from the queen of cooking herself, Delia Smith, and is taken from her recently republished book 'Delia's Cakes'.  Titled 'The Ultimate Carrot Cake' I knew I had to give it a try.  Made with wholemeal self-raising flour, something I had to go out and buy, is unique to me.  I was tempted to use plain and add baking powder but I decided to follow her recipe otherwise I could not blame it if it didn't work.  

A tip I once read said you should always peel the carrots before grating - not peeling would not effect the taste of the cake but will result in a darker sponge.  Delia says to peel - I peeled.  I used my machines to make this cake - food processor to grate the carrot (Yes I am lazy) and mixer to combine it all.  Delia would just throw it all in a bowl and mix, as you should know by now, I like my gadgets.  

So, here is Delia's carrot cake, ultimate or not, its a very nice recipe!

Friday, 26 July 2013

Food of Tunisia

I am enjoying this years summer holiday sunny Tunisia.  This is not the first time I have visited North Africa - trips to Cairo, Luxor and Sharm el Shake have already introduced me to the wide range of foods from this area and the odd tummy bugs that comes with them.  My hotel is only half board but this means I get to enjoy a wide range of breakfast and dinner food items.  Being mostly buffet style I am excited that this will give me maximin opportunity to try a range of different things.  Since my hotel has WIFI I am able to sample, report back and post articles while I am here.  This is the first of who knows how many mini blog posts about the range of food I have eaten while I am here.  I will write about the food I try at the hotel, local area and when on day trips, further afield.

Early drafts of my posts my be limited with terminology - I am not sure how much time I will give to researching posts against sunbathing by the pool, but I intend to 'jazz' up my posts on return so it will just depend on if you are reading this while I am there or a few months after I get back.

I should point out that my trip overlaps with the religious holiday of Ramadan and therefor 98% of the Tunisian  population (the muslim percentage) are fasting during the day and only eating/drinking/smoking and 'all the rest' when the sun sets at night until it raises in the morning.   At first this has made me feel strange - ordering food and consuming it in front of people who are not allowed to eat themselves. But over time I soon became accustomed to their ways and it has not restricted what I am eating and doing.  It is interesting to see though, as soon as the sun sets, around 7:45pm everyone - taxis, hotel staff and general public stop what they are doing to rush off somewhere eat and drink.  I watched as the waiter serving us nipped off to sit down with the other waiters to eat or the hotel reception staff eating in the back even though there are people waiting.  It must be extremely challenging to last the whole day in this heat without eating or drinking a thing.  I might be able to manage with no food but no water would be very difficult to do.

My hope is I will be inspired to recreate some items I have sampled here when I get back home - thats the plan anyway.

So, here is mini post number 1....  the first few days.


Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Italian Chocolate Hazelnut Cake



I think hazelnuts are my favourite nut.  They are great on their own, mixed with chocolate, chopped on top of ice cream and flavoured in coffee - if you have never tried a hazelnut latte I highly recommend you do.

This cake is taken from Rachel Allen BAKE and was a recipe I intended to make a few weeks ago although the lack of hazelnuts in my local supermarket put a stop to it.  This is a relatively simple cake with regards to ingredients but it has a slightly more time consuming element to the bake.  Having to whisk both the egg yolks and whites separately and combine later  this is definitely one of those cakes that will produce more washing up than normal.

Flour free, and therefor gluten free (if you also adapt the baking powder), this cake can be eaten by anyone - assuming of course you must like nuts.  

The recipe has a footnote that suggests swapping cinnamon for chocolate.  I have decide to include both chocolate and cinnamon in my cake.  The quantity of cinnamon to chocolate is so small I am sure it wont corrupt the overall flavour.  Anyway, I often sprinkle cinnamon over my hot chocolate so I am sure this cake will taste fine.

This cake is light to eat with a delicate flavour of hazelnuts and chocolate.  Make sure you process as much as possible and double check you have not escaped pieces - you don't want to find a nut chunk.  Due to the high nut contain this cake keeps well for a few days in a airtight container.  Enjoy with coffee - maybe a hazelnut latte.



Saturday, 13 July 2013

Goat's Cheese, Red Onion and Pepper Tart

Well, so much for publishing two posts a week.  I had all intentions of posting on Tuesday but time just escaped me.  This week has been a long one - work, meetings, training courses and late nights.  It is also the week I finally upgraded my 6 year old mac to the latest 27inch iMac.  Having only just managed to transfer all my old files, music and other important data today I am now ready to just get on and start using it.

Today's post is based on a recipe I tried at a local 'posh' cafe called the Bottle Kiln in West Hallam, Derbyshire.  They are well known for their tasty, yet expensive, pies, tarts and quiches.  This recipe is loosely based on something I tried there recently and contains two of my favourite ingredients - goats cheese and red onion.

This is a light delicate tart with flavours that don't overpower each other.  The pastry contains dried thyme that adds a gentle hint without too much fragrance.  You could add fresh thyme if you have it in the garden but I feel that thyme is one of the few herbs that work well dried.  Served with a simple salad this dish is perfect for outdoor eating.   

Call it a quiche if you like, I have decided to name this a tart due to its thinner appearance.  I am not a vegetarian, I love all food, this tart is perfect for all.  





Saturday, 6 July 2013

Dutch Pear Cake

I was recently flicking through the pages of Rachel Allen's BAKE and I came across her recipe for Dutch Apple Cake.  A family favourite she says.  Unfortunately I did not have any apples so I was about to turn the page when I noticed the footnote - variation: Raspberry and Pear.  Now I didn't have any raspberries but I did have some pears so I thought I would give this recipe a go and see what it turned out like.

The batter is very liquid and foamy.  Made in a strange way to normal cakes - maybe this is the Dutch part of the cake?  After whisking the eggs and sugar you pour in the melted butter and milk.  Then fold in the flour.  I ended up with a runny airy mix and wondered if it was suppose to be like that?  Rachel seems to say it is, there was no picture in the book, so I had to take her word.

This is truly one of the lightest gentlest sponge cake I have ever made.  I was surprised how the pears floating on top sunk to the bottom during cooking.  The house filled with the gentle scent of pear and orange.  On removing from the oven I noted the shiny cracked top, dusted with sugar, and the very bubbly sponge around the edges.  Removing was easy with the over hang from the parchment paper.  Served warm this cake is lovely.  Light orange scented sponge covering perfectly baked sweet pears.  I can see how this has become a family favourite in the Allen household.  The next day this cake became less crumbly and easier to handle.  

Warm or cold, served with coffee, this is a cake I will be making again.






Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Behind the Cupboard Door (A Kitchen Tour)

I have decided to write a different type of post today, not a recipe, but a tour of my kitchen.  This is the place I spend a lot of time, obsess over and clean like mad.  My kitchen is my  tiny haven.   I would love one day to have a large space just like those celebrity cooks but for now I have to make due with this tiny, yet practical, room.

Four years ago I had the old kitchen ripped out and replaced with the closest thing I could get to my 'dream' kitchen.  A design based on space allowance and unfortunately limited  budget.  This post takes you behind the scenes, behind the cupboard doors, in the drawers and under the sink.  Full exposure.

For readers that don't know me - this is me!  For friends and family I feel you are about to get an insight in to my slightly OCD ways.

NOTE: The photos you are about to see have not been stage...yes...I am this obsessive... 


Saturday, 29 June 2013

Eggs Benedict

Sunday starts rather late for me.  I hate to admit it but I often don't get out of bed till way past 10am.  My weekend routine normally involves fresh coffee, morning TV and catching up on the weeks news on my iPad while thinking about what to do for the day.  Midweek breakfast usually consists of something in a bowl with milk, coffee, followed by another coffee when I get to work.  At the weekends I can spend more time doing what I love - cooking.   

Eggs Benedict is a recipe I first tired Christmas morning.  I wanted to test out my newest gadget straight away and one of the first things I thought of  was warm hollandaise sauce poured over softly poached eggs.  Replacing the normal muffin with more fancy and softer brioche and serving it with salty thick cut smoked bacon makes this a perfect breakfast/brunch dish.  

Making hollandaise can be complicated and if not careful you can end up with buttery scrambled eggs.   I came across Delia Smith's blender version when hunting through my collection of books for a recipe.  Delia recommends using a blender or food processor (I have tired both with the blender being the better option).   This is pretty much fool proof and has worked every time.  My recipe below makes enough for two people - double the amount if you like for four (2 eggs yolks).  The only issue you may have is keeping the sauce warm while you prepare everything else.  It is so quick to make I would leave it until you have cooked the bacon.

I cook my bacon in the oven, its easier and allows time to get on with other things.  Keep an eye on the brioche as it browns very quickly while it toasts due to the high butter content.    This is a very rich breakfast and isn't something you want everyday.  Butter sauce, eggs, brioche and salty bacon is the most perfect combination.  If your a veggie simply replace the bacon with asparagus.  Served Christmas morning or any morning this is a real treat.



Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Fudge Chocolate Brownies

Chocolate, butter, eggs, flour and sugar...such a simple mix creates one of the best and easiest chocolate hits.  I have struggled to find a chocolate brownie recipe that works for me. What I mean by works is a brownie that is dense, fudgy and as far from a cake as possible.  A brownie should be dense, but not under-cooked, sweet, but not sickly and have a real chocolate hit.  Get it right and you should end up with a shiny crisp top that hides a rich dense cake.  This recipe, I believe, is the one.  Taken from Edd Kimber 'The Boy who Bakes' I have found these brownies work perfectly.  Although relatively cheap to make these brownies do contain 300g of chocolate and if your buying the good stuff (I wouldn't even bother if not) it will be the most expensive part of the recipe.  I tend to collect chocolate, adding a bar or two with the fortnightly shopping order and then stashing it away (well away) for days when I fancy something sweet.  All the other ingredients will be things you have in the store cupboard.



Brownies, a dessert developed in the United States, are flat baked squares that due to the lack of baking powder stays dense and fudge like.  There are many variations - plain, with nuts, with frosting, with extra chocolate chips, with cream, with ice cream (yum) and not forgetting no chocolate at all (the blondie)

Not overworking the flour is the key to the perfect dense brownie.  If you mix to hard during the flour stage you will develop the gluten and the result with be more of a cake instead of the dense 'almost, yet not' uncooked dessert seen above.

Quick and easy to make I think Edd's recipe is my favourite brownie so far.  Try it and see what you think.


Friday, 21 June 2013

Raspberry and Nectarine Crumble Cake

The warm weather has made me think about cakes suitable for eating on sunny days, perhaps by the riverside, most definitely with friends.  A cake that is light and easy to handle yet tasty and filling.  I have always liked the idea of 'tray-bakes' and this recipe could be consider as an American Coffee Cake, although it does not contain any coffee.  Light vanilla scented sponge kept moist by fresh fruits and topped with a slightly crunchy crumble topping.  I have made this cake a number of times because its relatively quick, always works and tastes great with whatever fruit you decide to put in it.  I consider this a good seasonal cake, it works with a variety of fruits - apples, peaches, plums, rhubarb and pear.  

I have made this cake as a tray-bake (this recipe) but it also works perfectly in a 25cm round loose bottom tin.  I find the square tin easier to divide in to sharable portions, it is also easier to pack in to boxes to take outside.  

Making the sponge is far easier with a stand mixer but you could make it by hand.  The large amount of egg will more than likely result in a curdle, even with electric mixer, so making sure all ingredients are at room temperature and adding a spoonful of flour to the mix as you add the eggs with reduce the risk of splitting.   Even if this does happen don't worry too much, the baking powder will support the slightly reduced air from the eggs.  A good point to remember when caking making is to mix hard as you can UNTIL you add the flour, then fold in and try not to over mix.  Working the flour causes gluten to be released resulting in a heavy cake.  As soon as you add the flour in to this mixture switch to a folding action with a large spoon.  I have been known to allow the machine to fold in the flour, and this will more than likely work well, but with cake making I always try a little bit harder.

Originally I wanted to make this cake with fresh peaches, then along came the idea of adding raspberries, but when I went to my local 'fruit & veg shop' they only had nectarines.  A quick search on my iPhone confirmed what I was thinking - nectarines are from the same family as peaches and have a similar flavour, they also make an excellent sub.   This cake is perfect eaten warm from the oven with some double cream or even better served cold at a picnic.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Cupcakes - Cherry Coke & Bounty

I was recently tasked with the job of creating cupcakes for a friends birthday party (I say tasked, it was me who suggested it...)  The party was staged in an old fashioned bowling alley and this lead to the theme of rock' n' roll.  I carefully thought about what flavour cakes to make and then I remembered seeing a recipe for Coca Cola cooked Ham from Nigella Lawson, further research led me to another recipe from the 'Coke Queen' herself called Coca Cola Cupcakes.  Using this recipe as a basis I wondered if I could simply use cherry coke instead of regular and embellish the tops with something cherry flavoured, then top with her coke flavoured icing?  I hunted around the internet (as you do) and came across a number of recipes for cherry coke cupcakes, some looked great, others a little dull.  I was inspired by a recipe I saw on 'Katie Cakes' and with some minor adapting to the frosting my cherry coke cupcake was born.

The second flavour is simply based on me asking my friend what she would like.  Coconut and chocolate is a favourite, so along came the 'Bounty' Cupcake.  For all those not from the UK (possible US??) a Bounty bar is basically a nugget of dense coconut covered in milk chocolate,  very yum - if you like coconut.  I had a number of ideas on how to make this cake.  Idea one, chocolate sponge, topped with coconut frosting.  Idea two, white sponge containing coconut topped with chocolate frosting and a dusting of coconut.  Finally I decided on white sponge with coconut covered in  vanilla frosting dipped in molten chocolate, sprinkled with coconut, inspired by Martha Stewart's 'Hi-Hat Cupcakes'. 

I have tried to balance the complexity of these cupcakes so you would want to make them, what I mean by this is that the coconut sponge takes a second to whizz up while the frosting is the more complex part and the coca cola sponge is a little more technical compared to the easy frosting on top.  

Here are the recipes for both cakes.  Nigella supplies both the recipe for the white coconut cakes and the coke (with various changes made by me).  Martha supplies the hi-top frosting and coating and I invented the cherry frosting myself based on 'Kates' quantities.


Friday, 7 June 2013

Black Bean Chilli with Avocado Salsa

Since I was young I have never been a fan of kidney beans (nor real kidney/liver, yuck!) therefore I never really liked chilli con carne.  Its not that I don't like spicy food, because I do, but it was just something about the texture of the mince, the slight heat of the chilli and those horrible red beans.  However recently a friend of mine invited me round for dinner and she cooked Delia Smiths' Black Bean Chilli with Avocado Salsa.  At first I was worried I would not like it due to the beans, but I gave it a go and have never looked back since.  This is one of the best chilli recipes I have ever eaten.  Gone was the horrible mince and instead replaced with small chunks of beef, as tender as can be, those kidney beans where still there but I actually found I liked them if eaten all together.

What makes this dish so special is the extras...a bowl of plain white rice, topped with an ample serving of chilli, topped with a good spoonful of creme fraîche, finally followed by the cold avocado salsa.  There is something fantastic about the hot chilli mixed with the smooth cool creme fraîche and salsa that makes this dish perfect.

The chilli itself freezes perfectly and I often freeze portions and simply microwave from frozen for 8 minutes.  Of course you can't freeze the salsa but even if you dont have the avocado I often chop up a single tomato, red onion, salt and lime and use that instead. Very worst case, just chop up some fridge cold tomatoes, you basically just need something cool to put on top of the hot chilli.

I have slightly changed some of the ingredients for ease of cooking, feel free to read the actual version here.  All I have done however is speed up the prep time by using tinned kidney beans instead of the black beans and replaced the real chilli with chilli flakes.  Italics are my additions, the rest is totally Delia, I have simply copied it from her website.