Wednesday, 28 December 2011

When cakes go wrong - Happy New Year

At this time of year when most of us spend the holidays shattered and hungover yet still try to host parties and get-togethers for friends and families, at some point something is probably going to go wrong, especially in the kitchen.

Sometimes recipes and dishes you’ve created time and time again just don’t work out because you’ve taken your eye off the ball for one minute while you check Aunty Mary’s sherry is topped up, or you’ve had one too many Buck’s Fizz.

For me, Christmas was a haze as I celebrated a surprise engagement with Paul. So this afternoon, as I came back down to earth and realised I still hadn’t made cakes for my friends as planned, I decided to bash together a round of cupcakes and put them in the oven.

They looked fine as they went in and I bragged to Paul about how fast I was getting at turning them out. But when I pulled them out of the oven they sunk.

I would love to blame it on our rubbish appliance (which is most definitely being replaced in the sales!!) but I just wasn’t concentrating, and now I can show you that things do go wrong, even my cupcakes which I’ve made countless times.

Tip: Usually when cakes sink it is because they’re not cooked properly so put them back in the oven and turn it down slightly. Mine had browned on top which means my oven was too high.

I’m afraid this week’s post doesn’t include a recipe as I’ve been lucky enough to escape the responsibility of Christmas dinner and since then we’ve been dining on takeaways and leftovers. Although Paul is currently making a turkey and chorizo risotto and I will post the recipe soon as it’s really easy and really yummy.

Anyway, I’m too happy to let a few sunken cakes get me down and on Christmas Eve I produced around 40 beautiful Christmas themed ones which you can see by going to my gallery page (I made all the Christmas trees by hand by the way – no stencils involved!!)

So now all that is left is to wish you a very happy New Year and here’s to 2012.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Spicy meatballs in tomato sauce with pasta - Merry Christmas

Now it’s only days away, we can scream and shout about the fact that it’s Christmas! Although many of us, okay me, have been secretly bursting with excitement since August, we can now officially get out the Santa hats and put on the Xmas tunes without the guilt.

It’s only Wednesday and I’ve already watched enough Christmas food programmes this week to get me through the next five Christmases, currently sitting on the sofa with a mug of mulled wine watching Nigel Slater (ooooh, naughty).

If you've managed to escape this array of festive food programmes you clearly don’t own a TV, but you can pick up some great festive ideas, a favourite of mine being The Hairy Bikers’ Christmas pudding vodka.

This week my recipe isn’t exactly Christmasy I admit, but when do spicy meatballs in tomato sauce not go down well, whatever the time of year?

There is a tenuous festive link however, as the recipe was originally given to me by a friend Jill, who I will see this weekend for the first time in ages while she’s home for the Christmas period.

It’s a really easy recipe and fun to make with the kids (not that I have any, but I am one at times) because you can get your hands in. Add the chilli sauce to suit your taste, serve with spaghetti and parmesan and you will not be disappointed.

And apparently, according to my personal on-call taste-tester, it tastes even better heated up the next day when the flavours have intensified.

If you get fed up of turkey this Christmas and want something stodgy and warming to cure a hangover, give this a go and you will thank me, I'm sure.

Merry Christmas everyone!!!


For the meatballs
Standard pack of minced meat (about 500g)
1 small onion
2 garlic gloves
1 beef stock cube
1 tsp hot chilli power (or more if you like it extra hot)
1 tsp paprika
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
Twist of salt and pepper
Fresh parsley
1 egg
Squeeze of chilli sauce (to taste)

For the sauce
1 glove of garlic
450g can of chopped tomatoes
Pinch of oregano
Salt and pepper


1) Mix the meatball ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and combine with your hands. Add chilli sauce to combine or use ketchup if you like it milder.
2) Mould the mix into small balls and fry lightly in a frying pan with a little oil for a few minutes until sealed and slightly browned. Set aside and keep warm.
3) Meanwhile, make a tomato sauce by lightly frying a crushed garlic glove in a pan and adding the tomatoes along with some seasoning and a pinch of oregano.
4) Bring to the boil and leave to simmer for a few minutes, then add the sealed meatballs.
5) Cover and leave to simmer for about 45 minutes to one hour on a very low heat, stirring partway through.
6) Serve with spaghetti and parmesan.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

The sacrilege of food waste and an easy recipe to use up left-over bananas

Light and moist banana loaf cake
One of my pet hates is food waste. According to the BBC, figures released in November suggest that the average UK family wastes £680-worth of food every year – shocking really.

I suspect a lot of this is down to ‘use by’ dates and people being too careful about eating something that’s a day or too past its best. In truth, most foods will be edible for even weeks past their ‘use by’ dates, but some people aren’t willing to take the risk, and I must admit I'm sometimes culpable of this.

Sometimes, when it comes to meat for example, out-of-date food really isn’t safe and it’s not worth worrying about that. I used to feel really guilty about throwing away food, but I remember reading a Paul McKenna weight-loss book in which he said we won’t stop starvation in Africa alone by not throwing away leftovers.

But whenever I can, I'll freeze or use up what’s in the fridge instead of throwing it away, mainly because I can’t afford to waste food.

One thing that’s always lying around at the end of the week in our house is a handful of over-ripe bananas. These are perfect for a yummy banana loaf so there’s no excuse for binning them. This recipe is really simple, not like when TV chefs show you ‘leftover’ recipes using ingredients that you just would not have lying around.
Perfect with a cup of tea!
It's a recipe I created myself using basic ingredients which you will probably already have in your cupboards.
It takes about ten minutes to prepare, less if you have a mixer, and it lasts for about a week once baked, getting more intense in flavour over the days.

Remember, don’t throw away black bananas - use them in this easy, moist cake which goes perfectly with a cup of tea for breakfast or an afternoon snack.

6oz margarine or butter, softened 
6oz sugar (half caster, half muscovado)
6oz self-raising flour
2 medium, free-range eggs
2 large or 3 small over-ripe bananas, mashed
drop of vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 180c and line a medium loaf tin with baking sheet.
2. Beat the butter and sugars until light and coffee-coloured.
3. Slowly add the eggs to the mixture, then mix in the self-raising flour.
4. Add the mashed bananas and vanilla and mix gently, taking care not to over-mix.
5. Scoop the cake batter into the tin, dust with a little brown sugar.
6. Bake for about an hour or until a skewer comes out clean.  
7. Leave to cool then remove from tin and wrap in foil. Doesn’t need to be refrigerated.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Yummy winter warmer - easy caramelised red onion and brie tarts

As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to cooking, simple and classic flavour combinations work the best.

If you take basic pairings (ie leeks and potatoes; cheese and onion; salmon and dill) and get the seasoning right, an easy dish can be transformed into something extra special.

This evening I wanted something vegetarian and light that I could have with salad, but something really tasty, warming and satisfying.

This week I have the privilege of having a week off as I prepare to start my new job, so I have a little extra time to think about what I’m going to cook and plan ahead. Funnily enough, this dish didn’t take a lot of planning and preparation at all, aside from taking a block of pastry out of the freezer the night before.

I’m not confident enough yet to make my own pastry, and frankly why should I? Even Jamie and Delia are telling us to use shop-bought pastry nowadays.

For my caramelised red onion and brie tarts (if you can call a square a tart?) I used half a pack of puff pastry because that’s what was in, but you could use shortcrust which would need pricking with a fork and blind baking for about ten minutes before adding the topping.

Serve with a salad
I fried a medium red onion along with a garlic glove, white wine vinegar, brown sugar and thyme, and prepared the pastry, before realising that I needed two onions as I’d forgotten how much they reduce when caramelised.

Once the onions were soft and sticky I piled them onto the pastry and topped each piece with a slice of brie. The tarts should take about 15 to 20 minutes in a 200 degree oven.

In my broken oven, however, they took 30 minutes at 250 degrees which has convinced me once and for all that we really need to get a new oven after Christmas.

Once they were done I was so desperate to try one that I burned the roof of my mouth, but it was worth it as they were very delicious, and Paul agreed, polishing off two each.  

So I’m thinking of doing some mini versions as canapés for a party I’m having in a couple of weeks, and I’m going to try different but simple flavour combinations such as cherry tomato, black olives, basil and feta. Yum yum!

Ingredients (Makes four)
2 tbsp olive oil for frying
2 medium-sized red onions
1 garlic glove, sliced
2 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tbsp fresh)
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp soft brown sugar
Ready rolled puff pastry
Large piece of brie

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Roll out pastry and cut into even squares. Score a 2cm border on the inside of each piece with a sharp knife and place onto a baking tray.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan. Fry the onions on a medium heat for a few minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for five minutes.
Stir in the white wine vinegar and sugar, season, and cook for a further five minutes on a low heat until caramelised.
Put the onions onto the pastry, keeping within the borders, and add slices of brie and a few extra sprinkles of thyme. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until the pastry is golden and risen.   

Saturday, 5 November 2011

In memory of my grandpa Lance Taylor

Firstly can I apologise to those who regularly read my blog – it has been an unbelievable few weeks and I have been rather aloof when it comes to the blogging unfortunately.

But I’m back and I’ll start with the good news, I have an exciting new job!!
It wasn’t easy, I spent a good week or so filling in the application in the evenings after work then another week attempting to prepare for the interview, hence not finding time to blog.

But last Sunday, when I was about to start the real hard work, my grandpa passed away. He’d been in hospital for an operation but I never expected he wouldn’t come out again, he was so strong, but his old and fragile body couldn’t take anymore, and I think he wanted to be with grandma so he left us.

It was a shock, and needless to say the job interview was put to the back of my mind for a while. In between all this I organised a charity day at work which involved baking 40 cupcakes and a carrot cake. We raised £230 for local hospices and my cakes went down a storm.

Tough does not explain how these past few weeks have been, but I believe my grandpa was with me during the interview and he'd be really proud. So I hopefully start in four weeks!!

I wanted to show off my cupcakes, but seeing as a good percentage of my recipes are baking related, I thought I’d better find something else. Plus, according to the Daily Mail today, the sweet treats are now as addictive as cocaine, and grandpa wouldn't want me to promote that!!

Here's a recipe which is really easy to make but it requires patience while the pears cook, it’s a baked pear salad with rocket, gorgonzola, walnuts and crispy pancetta.
The tastes of the sweet pears and the strong cheese explode and mix together on your palette and it’s a zingy, fresh flavour which tastes like a restaurant dish.

As a starter this is perfect for a dinner party to impress friends. I decided to have it as a main course salad one night, and to be honest the strong flavours were too much, so whilst the photo shows a main dish, I would stick to a start portion in the future. Once cooked, the pears and their sauce will save covered in the fridge for up to five days.


Four large ripe conference pears
8 tbsp maple syrup
8 tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly milled black pepper
200g gorgonzola, broken up with a fork
50g chopped rocket
75g chopped walnuts
Few strips of pancetta, cooked until crisp
Extra virgin olive oil


Set the oven to 160C/Gas 3. Cut the pears in half lengthways and scoop out the core and pips with spoon.
Drizzle over the maple syrup and olive oil, and a touch of salt and pepper, and bake in the oven for around 2 hours, or until the pears are shrivelled, soft and browned.
Put the rocket on a plate then add the cheese, walnuts and pancetta and drizzle with olive oil, adding a little pepper.
Lay two or three pear halves on top of the salad and sprinkle with a little extra chopped walnuts.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Have your cake and eat it!

My creative cupcake design
The country has gone baking mad!
It seems that since the Great British Bake Off began on BBC2, people up and down the country have been whisking, beating and folding to create their own masterpieces.

Following last week’s final, it was reported that M&S recorded sales increases of up to 20 per cent in baking ingredients, with specialist sugars and cake decorating equipment flying off the shelves.
It was claimed that at John Lewis, customers buying cake tins and muffin trays increased by 15 per cent, while vintage-style tins and stands more than doubled.
It would seem that everyone has caught the baking bug, and I am no exception.

My mini carrot and orange cakes

This weekend I made mini carrot and orange cakes and a lemon drizzle, and still found time for a two-hour cupcake decorating class.

The session was held by Virginia Valentine, who runs her own cupcake company, Angel Cakes, based in Altrincham, Cheshire.

Virginia has been baking cakes for 30 years and she has been a professional cake decorator for around six years.
She makes all kinds of occasion cakes, mainly working with sponge cakes using family recipes handed down to her by her grandmother.

Now she teaches cake decorating courses and I, keen to improve my techniques, went to one of her taster sessions in Sale on Sunday where I learnt everything from the perfect tool kit, to how to make sugar paste roses with my fingers – trickily I discovered!

I was really pleased with the results though and I’m now more passionate than ever before about baking and making pretty cakes!

Cupcake recipe (makes 12)

6oz vegetable margarine
6oz caster sugar
3 eggs
6oz self raising flour

Line a muffin tray with paper cases and pre-heat the oven to180 degrees.
Put all the ingredients into a bowl, starting with the margarine, sugar, then eggs, and flour.
Use a hand mixer on a low speed until all the ingredients are mixed.
Switch to a high speed until the mixture is creamy and a soft dropping consistency.
Spoon into cases until 2/3rds full and bake for around 20 minutes.
When cooled, the cakes will be springy to touch.

For the frosting, mix 10oz of soft vegetable margarine and 16oz of icing sugar in food processor, mixing gently at first then increasing the speed.

My carrot cake and orange muffins

150g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
150g caster sugar
250g grated carrots
100g finely chopped walnuts
150g corn oil
2 small beaten eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
zest of an orange

Line a muffin tray with paper cases and pre-heat the oven to180 degrees.
Sieve the flour, bicarb, baking powder and cinnamon into a mixing bowl then stir in the caster sugar, carrots and walnuts.
Pour in the corn oil, eggs, vanilla and orange zest and stir. Beat for about one minute until the mixture is a batter-like consistency.
Pour into cases and bake for around 25 minutes or until springy to touch. 

For the frosting, beat together 200g full-fat cheese, 3oz icing sugar and the zest of half an orange.
When the cakes are cooled, dollop a teaspoon of frosting onto each cake and spread around. Top with walnuts. Yum yum!!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Two simple and zingy sides to transform a meal

This week’s post may seem like a bit of a cheat as neither dish involves any cooking, but these basic recipes completely transform a simple meal and give a dish a fresh, light and zingy taste.

The recipes - homemade guacamole and a chickpea salad - are easy to make in just a couple of minutes and because they use nutritious ingredients, they make perfect healthy lunches, snacks, or sides to an evening meal.

Guacamole is something I’ve always enjoyed as a dip with nachos or pitta breads, or dolloped on top of a bowl of either meat or veggie chilli. I love the creaminess of avocados and I know they are good for me so I put them in almost everything these days.

According to, avocados provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including fibre, potassium, Vitamin E, B-vitamins and folic acid. They also act as a "nutrient booster" by enabling the body to absorb more fat-soluble nutrients, such as alpha, beta-carotene and lutein in other foods eaten alongside the avocado.

You will need two large, ripe avocados to make a decent guacamole dip or to serve two or three people.
Top tip: when buying avocados, check that the little round tip of the fruit is still attached at the top, if it has fallen off then the avocado is likely to be bad inside.

Slice the avocados in half and remove the stone then scoop out the flesh using a spoon. Chop into small squares and put into a bowl.
Add one chopped or crushed garlic clove, half a teaspoon of chilli flakes (more if you like it hotter), a teaspoon of lemon juice, a tablespoon or two of olive oil and a dollop of soured cream.
Season and mash together with a fork for a chunky guacamole, or whiz in a food processor for a smooth version.

For the second recipe the ingredients are even more basic. I made this a couple of weeks ago when it was sunny and I wanted a salad for lunch, but fancied something more substantial than just leaves and raw veg.

I turned to one of my favourite blogs - - for inspiration. The writer of the blog, Molly Wizenberg, is a restaurant owner living in Seattle who started blogging in 2004, back when I was still at university and didn’t even know what a blog was.

One of her most popular recipes is a chickpea and parmesan salad. We always have chickpeas in the cupboard at home so I decided to give it a go.
As Paul was a vegan for ten years, he used chickpeas a lot in his cooking and now we put them in all sorts including tagines, goulashes and veggie chillis.

This salad is fresh, satisfying and delicious served with a green salad, chopped sundried tomatoes, fresh basil and toasted pine nuts which are just my additions, but the whole thing works really well together.

Chickpea salad

1 can organic chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 dessert spoon of extra virgin olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Sprinkling of crushed sea salt and black pepper
Good handful of grated parmesan

Simply mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and adjust seasonings to suit your taste. Serve with a greean salad as above. This will save, covered in the fridge, for a couple of days.


2 large, ripe avocados
1 garlic clove, crushed or chopped
½ teaspoon of chilli flakes
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
2 tablespoon of olive oil
A dollop of soured cream
Salt and pepper

Slice the avocados in half and remove the stones using a knife. Be careful.
Scoop out the flesh using a spoon and chop into small squares, about 1cm x 1cm, then put into a mixing bowl.
Add the garlic, chilli flakes, lemon juice, olive oil and soured cream and mash together with a fork. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve as a dip, with warm bread or chilli con carne.   


Tuesday, 27 September 2011

I get by with a little help from my friends

Yummy lemon drizzle cake
My friend Helen has become a proper little baker recently, she's been baking more than me and I'm very envious that she's found the time to spend in the kitchen.
I've tasted her cooking myself and she's pretty darn good at it. I loved the feta and spinach pie she did from Jamie Oliver's 30-minute (or an hour if you're normal) meals book. 

Her two latest creations were a moist lemon drizzle cake, which looks amazing (although she didn't save me any - Helen you need to make this up to me), and a bacon and cheese bread loaf from Rachel Allen's cook book.
I think the lemon cake is a Nigella Lawson recipe and the details are below. I'm going to try it very soon, when we hold a charity cake sale at work for two local hospices. 
Don't forget that it's National Baking Week from Monday, October 17 to Sunday, October 23, so get baking and send me your recipes!

Lemon drizzle cake

Ingredients for the cake
125g butter
175g caster sugar
2 beaten eggs
Zest of one lemon
175g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons of milk

Ingredients for the syrup

Juice of one-and-half lemons
100g icing sugar

Ingedients for the glaze

Juice of half a lemon
150g icing sugar


1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees or gas mark 4, butter and line a tin (Helen used a loaf tin)
2. Cream together the butter and suagr, add eggs and zest
3. Fold in sifted flour and salt, add milk
4. Bake it for 45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean
5. Heat together the juice and sugar for the syrup, and once the cake is cooked and still hot, pour it over (Helen poked some holes in the top with a knife so the syrup soaked through the cake - good tip Hells Bells!)
6. Mix together the glaze ingredients until white and smooth, and drizzle over the cooled cake.

Monday, 19 September 2011

There's always time to make cup cakes

Well it’s been a busy few weeks and I’ve barley found the time to cook at all, let alone write about it.
We’ve just got back (me and Paul) from a lovely weekend in Ambleside in the Lake District where we completely overindulged in food and drink.
I know it’s a bold statement, but I have to say I ate what I think was the best meal I’ve ever had in this country at Dodd’s (

The food was stunning and amazingly enough, three courses each and a bottle of wine came to less than £70. Just enough change left for a cheeky Mojito at Lucy 4 Wine Bar. I cannot wait to go again!

So back to reality and to work and life is less exciting, but tonight I wanted to take ten minutes out of trying to complete my busy list of ‘things to do’ to write about my hugely successful cup cakes.
To be honest, and I know pride is one of the seven deadly sins, I want to scream and shout about these cakes, I’m very proud of them, although my decorating skills leave something to be desired.

I baked a batch for a gathering of 14 women at my house last week and they went down a storm. I won’t pretend I made them off the top of my head, I used chef Dan Lepard’s recipe from the BBC Food website.
Cup cakes, a modern take on fairy cakes, are extremely popular these days and with The Great British Bake Off currently showing on BBC2, everyone is talking about them.

Dan Lepard is an award-winning baker and food writer who was born in Australia but uses simple and traditional ingredients to produce classic British recipes.
These cup cakes were totally scrummy and it was impossible not to eat one as soon as they were ready, even after eating the buttercream out of the bowl with a teaspoon.

My tip is, don't think about how many calories are in them (thousands!) or you’ll spend the rest of the day feeling guilty. Just indulge, or make them as a gift and share the guilt – it is well worth it, I assure you.

Cake ingredients
100g unsalted butter
250g caster or brown sugar
50ml/2fl oz sunflower oil
25g arrowroot or cornflour
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 medium free-range eggs
80ml/2½fl oz milk
100ml/3½fl oz double cream
300g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder

Buttercream ingredients
300g icing sugar
25g liquid glucose
50g condensed milk
2 tsp vanilla extract or other flavouring
200g unsalted butter, softened
100g baking margarine, softened
200g icing sugar
100ml/3¾fl oz double cream
few drops food colouring or flavouring
sprinkles to decorate

Preheat the oven to180C/350F/Gas 4 and line a muffin tin with cases.
Melt the butter over a low heat in a small pan, pour it into a bowl with the sugar, oil, cornflour and vanilla. Beat well until smooth, then whisk in the eggs followed by the milk and cream.
Sift and beat the flour and baking powder into the butter mixture until smooth.
Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until about two-thirds full, then bake for 20-25 minute, until the top is springy to the touch. Remove the cupcakes from the oven and cool.

Meanwhile, for the buttercream mix the icing sugar, glucose, condensed milk, flavouring and butter with an electric mixer in a bowl until smooth and light, and beat in the margarine until smooth.
In a jug, stir the icing sugar into the cream until dissolved, then add any colouring or flavouring or leave plain. Beat this mixture gradually into the butter mixture until light and fluffy. (You can prepare the buttercream in advance and keep covered in the fridge for two to three days.)

To decorate the cupcakes, use a piping bag to ice a swirl of the buttercream on top when fully cooled and decorate with sprinkles or your choice.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

When recipes don't always go to plan, there's always a man around to eat it all up!

The first rule of baking club is to never speak about baking club. The second rule is to never try and bake whilst doing something else. The whole thing about women being able to multi-task goes out of the window when it comes to baking.

The no-so-perfect result, or what was left of it!
I recently learned the importance of rule number two when attempting to make caramel shortcakes after work on a Wednesday evening.
At the same time I was making tea, washing the dishes and there was a plumber in the kitchen assessing our boiler. It doesn’t work. Baking must be done in a private, peaceful and quiet environment and with full concentration.
I got this recipe from the side of a tin of condensed milk which was knocking around in the fridge.
It seemed pretty straight-forward and I had most of the ingredients in the cupboard so I thought I’d give it a go with the intention of taking the finished treats to my friend Cherry’s house the next night.
Basically this needs to be done in three stages and each stage requires focus.
Stage one is making the biscuit, which is easy. It comes out as quite a crumbly texture but it moulds together into a ball once to get your hands in.
Once this is cooked and cooled you can move onto the next stage which is making the caramel.
This is where it went wrong for me as I left the pan on the hob whilst I went to do something else and the caramel burnt.
But I persevered and figured that the whole thing would be so sweet anyway once covered in chocolate that nobody would notice a few burnt bits.
Once the caramel is set on the biscuit base you can melt the chocolate on top.
The key here is to slice the cake into squares before the chocolate fully sets, not fall asleep on the sofa and leave it in the fridge over night like I did.
What I woke up to on Thursday morning was a huge solid slab that was impossible to break without creating a gooey mess. I decided it wasn’t fit to show to anybody else so I left it in the fridge.
But when I came home that night, Paul had eaten half of it, hence why what you see in the photograph are the few reaming chunks, oozing with gooey caramel.
I can see why he couldn’t resist because it was totally delicious and very naughty. It proved that it’s not always about looks; the proof is in the pudding. Literally!

Biscuit ingredients
85g soft, unsalted butter
45g caster sugar
150g plain flour, sifted

Filling ingredients
120g soft, unsalted butter
2 tbsp honey
75g brown sugar
1 small tin condensed milk
 225g milk chocolate for covering

Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
For the base, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the flour.
Press together to form a dough and roll onto a lightly floured surface.
Knead for about a minute. Press into a greased, shallow tin and bake for about 25 minutes. Leave to cool.
For the filling, put all the ingredients (except the chocolate) into a pan and bring to a boil.
Keep stirring, turn down the heat and simmer for about three minutes until think.
Pour over the base and cool for several hours in the fridge.
When set, melt the chocolate and pour over the caramel. Leave at room temperature and after about half an hour, slice into squares then chill in the fridge for several hours.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Chicken and leek pie with accompaniments

After a week of working late shifts and pesto pasta for tea each night, I finally got around to some home-cooking on Monday.
On the recommendation of my friend Helen, I decided to go for a pie from the reliable Jamie Oliver’s 30-Minute Meals book.
This book is like a bible in our house at the moment; we cook something from it at least once a week. Although I refuse to believe the dishes can be done in 30 minutes.
But when I have time, I pick something I’ve not done before and usually end up adapting it slightly to suit my preferences.

With the summer seemingly at an end (I’m actually wrapped in my blanket as I write this), I opted for a heart-warming and traditional chicken pie, with minted peas and baby gem lettuce, and a carrot and sweet potato mash.
I swapped the mushrooms (which I like to refer to as the devil’s food) for leeks which I know work perfectly with this type of pie.

While I went to work, I sent Paul to the supermarket with a list of ingredients, and they're all pretty simple, most of which you’ll probably already have in the fridge.
I raced home from work and put on my kitchen scruffs, plugged in the Ipod and put on an album (Them Crooked Vultures to be precise).

Once it’s in the oven you can crack on with the accompaniments and wash up before it’s ready.
As with everything I make and eat, my perfectionism kicked in and I wasn’t 100 % happy as the sauce was slightly on the thin side and the pastry was slightly thick.
But it was tasty and satisfying, and as usual with Paul, it barley touched the sides. He liked it so I’m happy, and there was enough for leftovers tonight!


For the pie…

4 skinned chicken breasts
knob of butter
bunch of washed and sliced spring onions
150g washed and sliced leeks (Jamie’s  recipe uses the devil’s food)
1 heaped tbsp plain flour (make sure it’s heaped – I think that’s why my sauce was thin) plus extra for dusting
2 tsp English mustard
1 heaped tbsp crème fraíche
300ml organic chicken stock
few sprigs fresh thyme
1/3 of nutmeg, grated
1 sheet pre-rolled puff pastry
1 beaten egg

For the extras…

3 medium-sized, peeled and sliced sweet potatoes (not in Jamie’s recipe, but I love sweet potatoes so use them wherever I can)
3 large carrots, peeled and sliced
2 baby gem lettuces, washed and sliced
I tbsp plain flour
300ml organic chicken stock
few sprigs fresh mint
450g frozen peas
½ lemon


Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C. Fill up the kettle, get out a pie dish and put a large wide pan on a medium heat.
Slice the chicken into chunks and fry in the pan, along with a splash of olive oil and butter, for about three minutes.
Add the spring onions and leeks with the flour and stir. Add the mustard, crème fraíche and stock and stir well. Pick the thyme leaves and add to the pan with the nutmeg and salt and pepper, then leave to simmer for around five minutes.
Transfer into the pie dish and roll out the pastry onto a surface lightly dusted with flour. Put the pastry (approx. 30x25cm) over the filling and tuck in the edges.
Lightly brush the pastry with the egg and stab a couple of holes in the pastry.
Put on the top shelf of the oven for around 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, put the sweet potatoes and carrots in a pan of salted boiling water, cover and simmer for around 15 minutes.
Return the empty chicken pan to the heat and add the butter and flour. Add the stock and a few mint leaves and whisk into a smooth sauce, then add the peas and sliced lettuce.
Squeeze over the lemon juice (beware of pips), add a splash of water and season, then put the lid on and leave to simmer for a few minutes.
When the peas are tender they are ready. When the carrots and potatoes are tender, drain and mash with a knob of butter, the thyme leaves, salt and pepper.
When the pastry is golden and crisp and the sauce is bubbling around the edges, it’s ready!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

I chat to Michael Caines at Bolton Food & Drink Festival

On Friday I had the pleasure of visiting Bolton Food and Drink Festival.

My excitement has been building for weeks as organisers set out to make it the biggest event ever.
And big it is, with extra stalls, cookery demos, and even more goodies to sample.
(I tasted chicken and pepper paella from the traditional market stall, and a Manchester Tart chocolate bar from The Ramsbottom Chocolate Café.)

Now in its sixth year, it’s a four-day event showcasing the best in food and drink.
Celebrity chefs are making appearances over the weekend, including star of I’m A Celebrity... Gino D’Acampo; the Hairy Bikers, aka David Myers and Simon King; and Saturday Kitchen presenter and top chef James Martin.

Yesterday, I spoke to two Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines, of Abode in Manchester, about where his love of food came from and how he copes with cooking under pressure.

“I was one of six children,” he said, “and my passion grew from growing up in a large family, sitting around the table at meal times and eating and drinking together, that’s what it’s all about. We used to grow our own vegetables and get involved with food and cooking.
“A lot of people say they don’t have time to cook, but if you prepare things the day before it can be a joy to cook, I find it very therapeutic.
“But when you do live TV, like Saturday Kitchen, you only have eight minutes, it’s live so you can’t swear and you can’t go over time.”

The chef cooked three dishes at the festival: vegetable and herb soup; roasted curried monkfish with mussel and saffron sauce; and honey-glazed duck with mushroom sauce.

He added: “The demos are a bit hectic but I want to make them fun and engaging, and hopefully people will go away and buy some ingredients and have a go at the recipes themselves.

“I’m so impressed with the festival this year, it’s just phenomenal. There are lots of regional producers and it’s a great location in the heart of the town. And as always you get a warm welcome when you come to Bolton and I haven’t stopped smiling since I got here.

“These events are important because they support the local economy and keep producers and farmers in business and they provide an event in the community for everybody to engage.

“At a time when some communities have been questioning the social fabric of society and times are tough, events like this give people the chance to celebrate life through food and drink.”

For details of events, visit