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.