Sunday, 14 April 2013

White chocolate brownies - easy recipe

I’ve somehow managed to convince myself that white chocolate is the lesser of the chocolate evils and I can therefore eat as much of it as I like. So cakes made with white chocolate are better for you, especially if they contain some sort of nuts because they’re healthy, right?

I think this rationale stems from my eldest sister who for many years didn’t eat chocolate at all as a rule – accept for white chocolate which she said contained different ingredients that weren’t as addictive. I’ve been through the ‘dark chocolate is good for you’ stage and I do believe there is some truth in this, but it’s just not the same is it?!!

I invited my dad round for a brew this afternoon, which meant only one thing – I had to get baking. He's well known for his sweet tooth and it’s actually quite ridiculous (when he gets offered cream, ice-cream or custard with his sticky toffee pudding he asks for all three – that kind of thing) and I blame him completely for my addition to chocolate and cakes.

It’s become kind of an unwritten rule that when he comes to our house, I will make him cappuccinos and must have cake or biscuits to offer (as the three sugars in his cappuccino aren’t enough to satisfy his sweet cravings.)

These brownies are really easy to make and a nice alternative to the usual chocolate brownies. They’re more ‘cakey’ and less gooey but they’re really good, so much so that my dad ate three in a row and Paul had two (I've been picking at them all afternoon as lost count of how many I've eaten!) 

Pop them in the fridge in a cake tin and they’ll keep for a few days, but I doubt they’ll last that long.

115g unsalted butter, plus a little extra for greasing the tin
115g light soft brown sugar
115g self-raising flour
2 eggs
225g white chocolate
115g walnut pieces

Lightly grease a square cake tin (approx 18cm) with the spare butter and pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.
Roughly chop the walnuts and 175g of the chocolate. Put the rest of the chocolate and the butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water to melt. Set aside to cool slightly.
Whisk the eggs and the sugar together in a large bowl then beat in the chocolate and butter mixture.
Fold in the flour, chopped chocolate and walnuts before placing the mixture into the prepared tin and smoothing down.
Place the tin into the oven for around 30 minutes and leave to cool before slicing into squares. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

Yeast-free pizza with two topping combinations

We all love pizza, don't we?! Anyone who's read my blog before will know that I avoid yeast, which comes with huge sacrifices – pizza sadly being one of them. You just can't beat curling up on the sofa with a pizza and a glass of wine in front of the TV on a Friday night.

Last week I was on call for work during the evenings and I didn't really think much about cooking. So when it came to Friday, I actually spent all day thinking about what I was going to make for tea (sad I know) and I had a craving for pizza that I couldn't shift!

I've tried to make yeast-free pizza dough in the past but it's always turned out scone-like or really hard and crunchy. So I did my research and came up with the perfect measurements for making two large pizzas.
The toppings came to mind quite easily – I absolutely adore goat's cheese and caramelised onion together so I knew this had to make up one of my pizzas and for the other I wanted something with more of a kick and went for chorizo and peppers.

They were both really nice but the goat's cheese one was my favourite.

Ingredients for the base
400g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
150ml water

Passata (I used Tesco passata with garlic and herbs)
A handful of grated cheddar
Splash of olive oil

Mix the flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. Slowly add the water and stir continuously with a wooden spoon until it forms a dough ball.

Knead on a lightly floured surface for a few minutes (I find this very therapeutic!)
Separate into two balls and roll each one out thinly - about as thin as you can without it tearing.
Place onto a pizza stone or large baking tray then brush over each base with a small bit of oil (this is to stop the passata and toppings soaking through.)
Trust me, you need to build the pizza on the tray as you'll struggle to pick it up once of the toppings are on!
Spread two to three tablespoons of the passata onto each base then sprinkle a small handful of cheese over each.
Then add your toppings - my combinations are below.
Spinach, goat's cheese and caramelised onion

One medium-sized red onion, sliced
Tablespoon brown sugar
A splash of balsamic vinegar
One small pack of soft goat's cheese (without rind) - about 75g
100g spinach
Knob of butter
olive oil

Heat the olive oil in a frying or large sauté pan then add the onions and fry on a high heat for a couple of minutes.
Turn down the heat to low, add some of the water and cook for 10 minutes then add the rest of the water, sugar and balsamic vinegar and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until soft and caramelised.
While the onions are cooking, melt the butter in a large pan and add the spinach.
Cook until wilted - this will only take a few minutes. Set aside and cool, then squeeze out the access water.
Layer the cooked spinach, onions and goat's cheese on the pizza.

Chorizo, pepper and mozzarella
1/2 chorizo ring, sliced into circles
1/4 red pepper and 1/4 yellow pepper, sliced
1/2 mozzarella ball, sliced (the ones in the packed with brine from the supermarkets)
Add the passata and cheddar as above then simply add the ingredients to the top of the pizza.
Both will cook in a pre-heated oven at 190 degrees in 20-30 minutes, depending on whether you like it crispy or not. Enjoy!

I'd love to hear what you think of my blog and recipes. Were they easy to follow? Do you a suggestion to improve any of my recipes? Have you learned something from reading my posts?

Please leave a comment below or share your photos with me - you can also do this on Twitter if you can't on here.

Thanks! x 

Friday, 22 March 2013

Calling all chocoholics! Ramsbottom will be transformed into chocolate wonderland this weekend!

IF you’ve got a sweet tooth, there’s only one place to be this weekend – Ramsbottom in Lancashire will be transformed into a mouth-watering chocoholic’s heaven for the town’s fifth annual Chocolate Festival.

The two-day event will bring together the UK’s best chocolate-makers and high-quality cocoa products with a huge variety of sweet treats to sample and buy, and a host of activities to keep the children entertained.

Unfortunately I won’t be going this year as I’m elsewhere on a family break – but having been before (and taken part in a Ferrero Rocher World Record attempt!) I can highly recommend a visit on Saturday and Sunday, March 23 and 24.

Since the event was launched in 2009, it’s grown from a few stalls in the town centre to a hugely popular national event, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year and last year scooped a Manchester Tourism Award.

I reported on the first-ever festival for the local rag where I worked as a journalist back in 2009.

A self-confessed chocoholic, I thought I’d landed a dream job when I suggested to my editor that I spent the day at the event sampling lots of lovely chocolate and taking part in a Guinness World Record attempt for the most amount of Ferrero Rocher eaten in one minute! (You can read the article here)

It was a little embarrassing and I lost miserably (ironically to a firefighter I now work with!) – but it was a fantastic day and I’m really pleased that the event has got bigger and better every year.

This year’s event will feature a chocolate market on Bridge Street with big names including Slattery, The Chocolate Café and Divine Chocolate.

There’ll be alfresco dining including Tibetan and Thai cuisine, wood-fired pizza, pulled pork, Brazilian street food, Spanish paella, homemade ice-cream and prize-winning ostrich and venison.

Cafes, restaurants and shops in the town will have chocolate specials on their menus and there will be a beer tent, unplugged acoustic music sets, children’s craft sessions and a mini farm.

I won’t be there in person this year but I’ll be there in spirit as I stuff my face with chocolate, eat nice food and drink nice wine in a country lodge in Lincolnshire – not a bad compromise eh?!

Follow @ChocFestival for Twitter updates.

Pictures of previous events taken from

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Mary and Paul are back for food and drink fest 2013!!

IT’S still a good five months away – but excitement is already building as the line-up for this year’s Bolton Food and Drink Festival is revealed.
King and Queen of baking Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, from the hit TV show Great British Bake Off, are back by popular demand after selling out their live demonstrations at last year’s record-breaking event.
The couple will join firm festival favourites Michael Caines and James Martin at this year’s foodie extravaganza which takes place over the August Bank Holiday weekend, from Friday, August 23 to Monday, August 26.
A new addition to this year’s line-up is top Italian chef and restaurateur Aldo Zilli who specialises in Italian and vegetarian cuisine and has appeared on numerous TV shows.
Mary and Paul will perform their demos together on Saturday, August 24 in a dedicated marquee on Victoria Square.
Mary said: “I received such a warm welcome from the people of Bolton last year that I was only too happy to return to the food and drink festival in August.
“Everyone was so friendly and it was heartening to see so much interest in the art of baking.”
Paul added: “I was very impressed with Bolton and in particular their award-winning market.
“There was an abundance of fresh, local produce on offer and I am thrilled to be making a return visit. I look forward to seeing people at our demos.”
The festival, which attracted more than 102,000 visitors last year, will be launched by the two-Michelin starred chef Michael Caines on the Friday, followed by Aldo Zilli on the Sunday and Saturday Kitchen presenter and chef James Martin on the Monday.
Aldo said: “I’m really looking forward to coming to the Bolton Food and Drink Festival and cooking up some delicious Italian food. I’m passionate about fresh and local produce, so I can’t wait to see what Bolton has to offer.”
Tickets go on sale in May. To keep up-to-date with the latest festival news, visit the website or follow the hashtag #boltonfoodfest on Twitter.
You can also follow me on Twitter @SarahLPoole for festival and more foodie updates!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Herb-crusted rack of lamb with red wine sauce and mustard mash

Last week I thought spring was well and truly on the way and I found myself day-dreaming about beer gardens, Sunday walks with ice-cream and ditching the winter boots. Then as the week progressed, it got colder and windier and now it’s forecast to snow again!

But with Easter round the corner and lighter nights on the way, I wanted to embrace the new season and make a real spring-time meal that I could share with you.

This herb-crusted rack of lamb with red wine sauce is perfect for Mother’s Day if you’re making dinner tonight and haven’t yet decided what to cook. (Above photo taken from Gordon Ramsay's recipe)

It’ll also make a nice Easter meal if you need more time to prepare and get hold of some top quality lamb from the butchers.
Cooking the lamb on the rack keeps it succulent and the topping is just delicious and really easy to make. I got the basic idea for both the crust and the gravy from Gordon Ramsay’s recipes but have adapted them along the way to make them lighter and perfect for the time of year. (I must say, before my fiancé reads this, that he in fact made the gravy on this occasion!)

Ingredients (Serves 4)
For the lamb:
2 large racks of lamb
Olive oil
4 slices of stale bread, teared into chunks – I use ciabatta
7 tbsp grated parmesan
A few sprigs of fresh parsley, thyme, coriander and rosemary
Handfull of toasted pine nuts (optional)
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

For the red wine sauce:
2 banana shallots, finely chopped
1 large garlic glove, finely chopped
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
150ml red wine
500ml chicken stock (if making this gravy for beef, use a rich beef stock instead)
A few sprigs of rosemary and thyme

Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Place the lamb on plastic cutting board fat side up. Lightly score the fat layer with a sharp knife then sprinkle the lamb with salt, pepper and a little olive oil then rub all over.

Put on your potatoes to boil for the mash and chop your shallots and garlic for the gravy.

Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and seal the lamb by holding each side in the oil long enough to develop a brown colour (be careful you don’t burn your hands). Remove from the pan and set aside while you prepare the crust. Firstly, toast off the pine nuts if using.

Place the bread, parmesan, herbs, pine nuts, a splash of olive oil and seasoning into a blender and pulse several times until it looks nice and green and fully mixed into fine crumbs.

Brush the lamb generously with the mustard and coat with the crust mixture. Place into a roasting tin and put in the oven for around 20 minutes. Note: the lamb needs to be pink inside and it will continue to cook as it rests so be careful not to over cook.

While the lamb is in the oven you can make the gravy. Fry off the shallots and garlic in a splash of olive oil and add salt and pepper. Fry for about five minutes until the shallots soften then add the flour and stir for a few more minutes.

Pour in the vinegar and red wine and bring to the boil. Add the stock and simmer for about 15 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the wine has cooked off. Add the herbs for a few more minutes then strain the gravy through a sieve.

Remove the lamb from the oven and leave to rest for ten minutes while you get everything else ready.

Slice the lamb into cutlets and serve approximately three pieces per person.

Serve with mashed potato (mixed with a tbsp of mustard and lots of butter) seasonal vegetables and the red wine gravy. Yum!

Let me know how you get on and please send me your photos!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Two ways with butternut squash

I seem to spend the entire of my weekends in the kitchen at the moment – not that I’m complaining, but if you saw the size of my kitchen you’d wonder how I hadn’t developed severe claustrophobia yet.

This weekend has been no different – although I haven’t been suffering from a hangover which is a little out of the ordinary.

Today I made one butternut squash go a very long way in prepping for the week ahead.

The week’s are so busy and go so fast – if I don’t plan ahead (lunches in particular) I end up snacking on rubbish or not eating at all.

This butternut squash and harissa hummous is so easy to make – it takes a little patience but it’s perfect to do on a Sunday afternoon and have in the fridge ready and waiting. It’s so much nicer than the pre-made stuff in the supermarkets.

It’s yummy on crackers or crispbread for lunch or on a wrap with falafels and salad. I made some a couple of weeks ago as part of a Moroccan tapas-style tea and took some into work – everyone wanted some and luckily the recipe makes a substantial batch so there was plenty to go around.

It only uses half a butternut squash and with the other half you can either roast if off and freeze it for next time or make a satisfying soup.

I made the soup using sweet potato, stock, onion, garlic, herbs and the other half of the butternut squash then froze it in batches so that when I need to grab a quick lunch, I can just take it out of the freezer and it’ll be defrosted by lunch time.

Butternut squash and harissa hummous


½ butternut squash, cut into 2cm chunks
3 garlic cloves
olive oil
3 tbsp tahini paste
2 tbsp harissa
400g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed


Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Put the squash and whole garlic cloves in a roasting tray with a good drizzle of oil then season with salt and pepper.
Cover with foil to stop the edges burning then put in the oven for around 45 minutes – until the squash is really soft. Leave to cool.
Put the contents of the tin into a food processor including any juices, squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins and add.
Add the rest of the ingredients with a touch more salt and pepper and whiz until smooth. Drizzle with extra olive oil and serve.

Tip: I served mine with toasted pittas and a pistachio and feta salad (Paul had his with a big juicy Moroccan spiced steak!

Butternut squash and sweet potato soup


½ butternut squash, cut into 2cm chunks
500ml chicken or veg stock
1 medium-sized sweet potato, cut into 2cm chunks
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 red onion, roughly chopped
olive oil
tsp dried thyme
tsp dried rosemary
splash of milk or cream 

Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Put the squash and sweet potato into a pan of boiling water and part-boil for about ten minutes. Prepare your stock.
Tip into a roasting tray and drizzle with oil. Scatter over the onion, garlic and herbs, drizzle over some more oil and season with salt and pepper.
Roast in the oven for around 20 minutes until the squash and potato is soft (keep checking to make sure the onion and garlic doesn’t catch and burn. Leave to cool slightly.
Use a hand blender to blend the mixture, adding the stock a little bit at a time. Finally blend in a dash of milk (or cream if you want it to be richer).
Serve immediately or freeze until needed. Defrost before re-heating.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Spicy sweet potato and chickpea stew

Today I’m sharing a comforting and good-for-you spicy stew, as the girls at work and me have started a healthy living club in the office.

With January in full swing and having all over-indulged over Christmas, we decided that only way to become healthier and resist temptation was to do it together – seeing as we spend most of our time at work!

There’s almost always chocolate, sweets, cakes or biscuits going around the office and when it’s there we can’t walk past it. If we’re having a busy or stressful day then we all agree that we’ve earned a treat. And on those days when we’re tired or not feeling our best, it becomes a case of NEED not want. Sound familiar?

Now I’m not for a second saying that we’ll be cutting out all guilty pleasures – as I said in my last blog, I just can’t live like that. But I’m definitely convinced that smaller portions, lots of fresh and healthy foods, more veggie alternatives, regular snacking on healthy foods such as nuts and dried fruits, and regular exercise are the key to a healthy lifestyle.

I’m no expert, but I’ve had my fair share of difficult relationships with food and I now know that what we eat massively affects not only our weight, but our mind, concentration, sleep patterns and mood.

So we’ll see how the new healthy living goes! There are no rules at the moment – it’s more a case of making our own lunches instead of buying chips in the canteen, having healthy snakes on our desks, and supporting each other at the gym.

We all have different goals – whether it be tone up or lose weight – but our common aim is to generally feel more energised and better about ourselves.

At this time of year I crave comforting, warming food and this vegetable stew is perfect for satisfying hunger while helping you stay on the right track to healthier living.

Top Tip: Cayenne pepper contains thermogenic properties which raise metabolism and can help you lose weight.

Olive oil for frying
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 garlic gloves, crushed
500ml water
1 sweet potato cut into 2cm chunks
5 large vine tomatoes (could use a tin of chopped tomatoes instead)
3 bay leaves
1 red chilli, finely chopped, seeds removed
1 tsp cumin
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (or ½ tsp chilli power instead)
1 courgette, diced into 2cm chunks
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Optional: Quinoa or brown rice to serve (I use Pedon bulgar and quinoa – just cook like you would rice.)

Heat the oil in a large pan on a medium heat. Add the onion and fry for a couple of minutes. As the onions start to brown, add the garlic and cook until the onions are soft.
Add 50ml of the water and stir in the sweet potato. Then crush the tomatoes into the pan and add the bay leaves. Cook for five minutes.
Stir in the spices and add another 300ml of the water. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the courgette, chickpeas and the rest of the water and simmer for around 10 minutes until the sweet potato and courgette is tender.

Note: If you make this the night before, it also makes a tasty lunch and because it contains protein from the chickpeas and substance in the sweet potatoes, you really don’t need anything with it.