North Northamptonshire based food blogger who is obsessed with good food and proper cooking. I'm part of the Midlands Blogging team for the BBC Good Food Shows. This is where I share my own recipes and carry out recipe development and product reviews for brands, including food and wines. Please contact me using the link below.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Friday, 22 May 2015

My Perfect Barbecue

It's getting to that time of year, when the evenings are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer and we're all realising that we can cook and enjoy the outdoors again.  With this in mind, and in association with the Central England Co-Operative, I've come up with some delicious ideas that you can use to cook yourself a tasty meal to enjoy outdoors with a cheeky glass of wine (or two).



Beef Burgers:
500g Lean minced beef
1 medium red onion
¼ Red pepper
¼ Orange pepper
Bunch coriander
Salt and Pepper to season
30ml Double Cream

1. Finely chop the onion and the peppers.
2. Chop the coriander.
3. Place the mince, chopped onions, pepper and coriander into a large bowl.
4. Add the cream and season with salt and pepper.


5. Mix together thoroughly and shape into 6 burgers.


6. Chill for 10 minutes in the fridge.
7. Cook on the barbecue until thoroughly cooked through.


Sausage Wheel:
1 Pack of Cumberland Sausages
3 long metal skewers (or use wooden ones that you've soaked in water)

1. Untwist the individual sausages and distribute the meat evenly throughout the skin.
2. Roll gently into a spiral.
3. Skewer through from one side, through the centre and back through the other side, evenly using your three skewers.


4. Brush the surfaces with oil and barbecue until cooked through.


Chicken, Pepper & Red Onion Skewers

1 Chicken breast, cubed
1 Red onion
¼ Red pepper
¼ Orange pepper

1. Cut the top and bottom off the onion, then stand it on one of the flat edges.
2. Slice vertically through the onion into 6 wedges.
3. Cut the peppers into pieces the approximate size of your onion wedges.
4. Thread the pieces of chicken, onion and pepper alternately onto the skewers.
5. Brush with a little oil and barbecue until the chicken is cooked.


Pineapple Salsa:
175 Pineapple in natural juice
4 Spring onions
50g Red pepper
15ml Cider vinegar
15ml Dark brown sugar
60ml BBQ sauce
5mm Root Ginger.

1. Chop the pineapple, onions and pepper.
2. Grate the ginger.
3. Place all the ingredients into a saucepan and heat through for 10 minutes.


4. Serve hot or cold with your cooked burgers and sausage wheel.


Soured Cream Mint Dressing:
100ml Soured cream
15ml Concentrated mint sauce

1. Mix the soured cream and the mint sauce together thoroughly.
2. Serve with your cooked meats and salad.

I served my burgers in warmed pitta breads, which I spread with the soured cream mint dressing and stuffed with salad.

I was provided with vouchers from the Central England Co-Operative to purchase ingredients to make my BBQ meal.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Saffron Bakewell Tart

Saffron is a spice from the Crocus genus of flower.  The flowers grow 20-30cm and each bear up to four flowers.  Each flower has three vivid crimson stigmas (strands).  These 'strands' are collected and dried to be used mainly as a seasoning and a colouring in foods.  Saffron is generally sold by weight, which as you can clearly imagine, it takes an awful lot of those stigma strands to produce a single gramme of the saffron we use in the culinary world. This makes it the most expensive spice in the world. Currently Iran produces approximately 90% of the world's production of the saffron that is in use today.  It takes approximately 80,000 saffron flowers to produce just 500 grammes of finished saffron.

Saffron has a hay like fragrance and contains a pigment which gives a golden yellow colour to dishes.  It has also been used to dye fabrics and textiles as far back as the 7th Century and has been traded and used for over 4,000 years.

I was recently sent a sample of saffron to try from the Premier Saffron company who import their hand picked saffron from Iran.


Pairing perfectly with almonds, I re-created the traditional Bakewell Tart to include some saffron, thereby adding a slightly different, but subtly delicious tasted.  Here's how I did it:

Pastry
225g Plain flour
50g Lard
50g Butter
25g Caster sugar
30ml (approx.) cold water

Filling
5-6 strands Saffron
15ml Milk
125g Butter
125g Caster sugar
150g Ground almonds
75g Ground Rice
2 Eggs
2.5ml Almond essence
45ml Raspberry jam
Flaked almonds to decorate

1. To make the pastry, cut the lard and butter into small cubes and add them to a large bowl containing the flour and sugar.  (I use half lard and half butter to give a 'short' crisp pastry, as taught to me by my nan and my mum).
2. Rub them together with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine bread crumbs (it helps to keep the pastry cool and the butter and lard not to melt if you only use your finger tips).
3. Add the cold water, a little at a time, until the mixture comes together to form a dough.
4. Wrap in cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
5. Heat the oven to 190℃, and place an upturned rectangular baking tin in to heat up (this will help prevent your tart from getting a 'soggy bottom'.
6. Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll out to an even thickness to line a 20cm square tin.
7. Retain the pastry trimmings for decoration.
8. Return the pastry lined tin to the fridge to chill whilst you prepare the filling.
9. Place the saffron strands onto an oven proof plate and heat in the oven for 4-5 minutes until warmed (this helps the flavour and colour release from the strands).
10. Warm the milk gently then add the warm saffron strands.  Stir and leave to infuse for a few minutes. The milk will turn a summery pale yellow colour.
11. In a large bowl, place the butter, caster sugar, ground almonds, ground rice, eggs and almond essence.
12. Add the milk and saffron mixture and beat until well incorporated.
13. Remove the pastry case from the fridge and spread the jam evenly over the base.
14. Pour the filling mixture into the pastry case, over the top of the jam.
15. Re-roll the pastry trimmings and use to decorate the top of the Bakewell Tart.
16. Sprinkle with flaked almonds to decorate.


17. Place in the oven on top of the upturned baking tin and bake for 35-40 minutes until the top is golden brown and the pastry is cooked.
18. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove the tart from the tin on to a wire cooling rack and leave until cold.


19. Slice and serve with custard or simply on its own with a cup of tea.


The saffron adds a very subtle flavour to the Bakewell Tart and marries perfectly with the almonds.

I was sent a pack of the saffron strands from Premier Saffron to try.  I was under no obligation to create a recipe or to link to their website as a result of receiving the sample.



Sunday, 10 May 2015

George Foreman Evolve Grill - Cactus Kitchens London

I was recently invited to go to the Cactus Kitchens in Clapham which is co-owned by Michel Roux Jr and is the film studio for Saturday Kitchen as part of a small band of Food Bloggers for the launch of the new George Foreman Evolve Grill.

On arrival at the event, we were taken upstairs to the Cookery School which is on the top floor of this converted church and which has an incredible space and light as well as beautiful original feature beams where we were welcomed with glasses of Prosecco and canapés of cream cheese and smoked salmon served on savoury cheese waffles.


We were introduced to the lovely team from George Foreman and the members of the PR company before being shown to our work stations where we each had an Evolve Grill to use to create our dishes that we'd eat that evening.


To start, we created a tasty dish of sesame crusted tuna steak served on an light and fresh Asian salad base.  Using the sear function of the George Foreman ensured a perfectly cooked crust to the tuna steak.


Following on from our starters, we changed the bottom grill plate to the deep baking pan and created a fresh tasting beetroot and broccoli pizza.  The base of the pizza was perfectly cooked and crispy whilst the top of the pizza, under the heat of the top grill plate ensured that the cheese was melted beautifully.


To follow we created light and fresh yellow plums skewered with rosemary sprigs, over which we poured a delicious honey, orange and liqueur syrup.




We were also treated to a taster of an incredibly tasty sirloin steak with a Hollandaise sauce as well as the some American style waffles and fruit.

To top off the evening, we were each given the George Foreman Evolve grill that we'd been using to take home and were invited to have a look around the Saturday Kitchen film studio, where we duly posed for our 'Omelette Challenge' photo.


Spurred on by the versatility of this amazing machine (my first ever George Foreman), I then ordered a set of the waffle plates (£14.99) for collection from my local Argos.  Needless to say, Sunday saw us eating waffles and fresh fruit for breakfast!




Since then, I've grilled chicken, steaks, bacon and toasted sandwiches on the grill plates, made a sweet & sour chicken in the deep baking pan and have had waffles most weekends for breakfast!  I think I'm in love with my George Foreman Evolve and how clean and versatile this piece of kitchen equipment is.  No more cleaning fat splashes from the tiles at the back of the hob when preparing chicken or steaks, or from the top of the grill when making bacon in the oven.

The Evolve is a 5 portion, family sized, grill with removable plates which you can easily place in your dishwasher to clean after use.  It comes with a pair of non stick grilling plates which are angled to allow fats and juices to run off and which are caught in the trough that you place at the front of the machine.  What's different about this grill though is that you can easily, with the twist of a lever, adjust the foot so that the grill is horizontal, making it perfect for toasting sandwiches and for grilling vegetables or fish.  Not only this, but the bottom grill plate is easily and quickly changed for a deep baking pan, in which you can cook omelettes, pizza and tray bakes.  Ordinarily the George Foreman grills heat up to 220℃, but this new Evolve machine has a digitally variable temperature selection which includes a 90 second, 260℃, sear function allowing you to quickly sear your steaks to lock in that all important flavour.  An additional feature is the digital 20 minute timer which you can set and leave until it reminds you when your food is cooked.


An optional extra purchase available for this grill is a pair of non stick waffle plates, allowing you to make an incredible, quick and easy, tasty breakfast in no time at all. These also go into your dishwasher for easy clean up after breakfast.  Of course, waffles aren't just sweet treats, but can be made into a savoury base for canapés or teatime snacks.

I attended the event as a guest of the PR company for George Foreman Grills.  As part of the event we were each given the George Foreman Grill that we had been cooking on that evening, free of charge.  The waffle plates I purchased personally.


Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Chocolate Cake for Easter

The most indulgent chocolate cake to grace my table is this one that I made in collaboration with the Central England Co-Operative.  Unlike most chocolate cakes, it's not dry as it has evaporated milk in the recipe.  It's slathered in a rich and creamy chocolate ganache and is decorated with rather a lot of chocolate mini eggs along with some decadent praline animals.


It's certainly not a cake you'd make every week, but for special occasions and a little indulgent treat, this is the cake sure to be a hit with any chocolate lover.

All of my ingredients were sourced from my local Co-Operative, and where possible, FairTrade ingredients were used.


Cake:
300g Self raising flour
340g Caster sugar
40g Cocoa
150g Butter (room temp)
3 Large eggs
110g Evaporated Milk
80g Water
5ml Vanilla extract
Ganache:
200g Dark chocolate
100g Milk chocolate
250ml Double cream
Decoration:
Cadbury Mini eggs (my cake took 9 bags)
Box of Co-Operative Spring praline chocolates

1. Heat the oven to 180℃.
2. Grease and line two 20cm/8" cake tins.
3. In a large bowl place all the cake ingredients.
4. Mix together for 4-5 minutes until light and fluffy.


5. Divide equally between the two cake tins.
6. Bake for 35-40 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
7. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes, then turn out into a wire rack to cool completely.

Whilst the cakes are cooling, now is the time to get your ganache ready. 

8. In a saucepan, break the chocolate into squares and add the cream.
9. Heat very gently until the chocolate has melted, stirring frequently.
10. Remove from the heat and pour into a large bowl, then set aside to cool and set.
11. When the cakes are cold and the ganache has set, use ¼ of the ganache to sandwich the cakes together.
12. Place the cakes onto a serving plate and use the other ¾ of the ganache to thickly coat the sides and top of the cake. Don't worry about it being perfectly smooth and pretty as you're going to decorate the sides and top with lots and lots of mini eggs.
13. Starting at the bottom, place a row of mini eggs all around the cake, adding extra layers until you either run out of mini eggs, or you've covered the sides completely. 


14. Decorate the top of the cakes with the spring praline chocolates.


You won't want a large slice of this cake unless you're a raving chocoholic with the sweetest tooth known to man, so this cake will certainly go a very, very long way indeed!  You could even (perish the thought!) share it with friends and neighbours, as I did!


Happy Easter, enjoy my recipe xx

I was sent a voucher from the Central England Co-Operative to buy ingredients with which to create a recipe for them.
    

Monday, 30 March 2015

Wine Review - Central England Co-Operative - Pic Saint Loup

My wine review this month for the Central England Co-Operative is a beautiful, peach coloured, Pic Saint Loup 2013 rosé from the Languedoc region of Southern France, close to Montpelier.


This wine is part of the Co-Operative's Truly Irresistable range of wines and is in the Top 100 wines produced from the South of France. It has 'appellation d'origine protégée' or 'protected designation of origin' which means that this wine can only be produced from grapes grown in this area (much as Champagne can only be grown from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France). It's produced from a blend of the Syrah and Grenache grapes.

This light, crisp dry rosé wine is perfect when served chilled to accompany light pasta dishes, such as my Fusilli Al Vegetali, pizzas, salads and charcuterie. Simply in a glass on it's own is a wonderfully pleasant drink too.

I can imagine sipping a glass (or two) of this, whilst sitting in the setting summer sun, eating some fabulous food and chatting to friends.  Cheers! 



I was sent a voucher to purchase a bottle of wine of my choice from the range available in the Co-Operative.  The review above is my personal opinion of the bottled wine that I chose.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Lamb steaks with Friars Farm Middle Eastern Marmalade and Potatoes

Being based in Northamptonshire, Friars Farm, one of the local producers of jams, chutneys and sauces approached me and asked if I'd like to sample some of their products.  Of course being a foodie, and wanting to support local producers, I said yes and I'm thoroughly glad I did too!  They have a fab range of products; the first of which, their Middle Eastern Marmalade, I'm reviewing here. I also used this in a batch of flapjacks that I made, but for that recipe you'll have to wait a short while...!

1 Red onion
4 Lamb leg steaks
4 tsp Friars Farm Middle Eastern Marmalade
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Sweet potato, peeled
2 Large potatoes, washed but not peeled
1 Knorr chicken stock pot, dissolved in:
280ml Boiling water
145ml Orange juice
2 tsp Mint sauce concentrate
1 Knorr rich beef gravy pot
100ml Double Cream

1. Heat the oven to 150℃.
2. Lay the lamb leg steaks in a single layer on the bottom of a rectangular dish.
3. Spread 1 teaspoon of the Friars Farm Middle Eastern Marmalade over each of the lamb steaks.
4. Season with ground black pepper.
5. Slice the sweet potatoes on setting 3 of a Oxo Hand Held Mandoline and layer on top of the lamb steaks.
6. Slice the potatoes on setting 3 of the mandoline then layer these over the sweet potato and lamb.


7. Mix the chicken stock, orange juice and mint sauce concentrate together.
8. Gently pour this over the lamb and potatoes.
9. Cover the dish with foil.  I run my finger gently around the inside of the dish after covering it which creates a low point, thereby enabling the evaporated juices to drip back down into the dish and retaining the moisture.

10. Place in the centre of the oven and cook for 3 hours.


11.  When cooked, remove from the oven and gently drain the juices into a saucepan.
12. Re-cover and keep warm whilst you make the gravy.


13. Add the beef gravy pot to the saucepan and quickly bring to the boil, whisking to distribute the gravy pot.
14. Add the double cream and gently heat through.
15. Serve a lamb steak with the potato topping on a bed of peas with the gravy poured on top.


I was given a range of products from Friars Farm to try.  I was under no obligation to develop or publish a recipe using their products.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Aldi's best budget bake - Tiramisu cupcakes

Having been invited to take part in a food blogger challenge to celebrate Aldi Specialbuys Home Baking range which are on sale from Sunday 15th March 2015, we each received a hamper containing some of the range of kitchenware that would be on sale in store, along with a voucher with which to buy our ingredients.


Spurred on by the contents of my hamper, I chose to make some Italian Tiramisu inspired cupcakes and duly nipped out to Aldi to buy my ingredients: Eggs, self raising flour, caster sugar, butter, ground almonds, icing sugar, soft cheese, Amaretto, chocolate sprinkles and cupcake cakes. From my store cupboard I added almond extract and a splash of milk along with some coffee.  Here is how I made them:

For the Cakes (Makes 12):
4 Large free range eggs
140g Self raising flour
200g Caster sugar
200g Butter, softened to room temperature
80g Ground almonds
5ml almond extract
30ml milk
For the icing:
50g Butter, softened to room temperature
50g Soft cheese
250g Icing sugar
20ml Espresso (or very strong) coffee
15ml Amaretto
1 tub Chocolate sprinkles

1. Preheat the oven to 190℃.
2. Line a 12 hole cupcake tin with cupcake cases.


3. Place a large bowl onto your scales and add your eggs, reset the display to zero, then weigh in the flour, caster sugar, butter, ground almonds, almond extract and milk.


4. Using an electric mixer, thoroughly mix your ingredients together until light and fluffy.
5. Divide the mixture between your cupcake cases, making sure not to overfill the cases more than ¾ full.
6. Bake on the centre shelf of your oven for 15-18 minutes until lightly brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cupcake comes out clean.
7. Remove the cupcakes to a cooling rack and leave until cold.


To make the icing:
8. Place a large bowl on to your scales and weigh in the butter and soft cheese.
9. Remove the bowl from the scales, and using your electric mixer, beat these two ingredients together until fully combined.
10. Place the bowl back on your kitchen scales (reset the display to zero) and weigh in the icing sugar.
11. Measure in the espresso coffee and the Amaretto.


12. Starting slowly to prevent a huge dust storm of icing sugar, combine the icing ingredients together.
13. When the icing sugar is fully combined into the butter, soft cheese, coffee and Amaretto mixture, increase the speed then beat for 5 minutes until pale in colour, and light and airy in texture.


14. Spoon this into a disposable icing bag fitted with a star shaped nozzle (I used a Wilton 1M nozzle).
15. Pipe the icing onto the top in spiral pattern.
16. Sprinkle generously with the chocolate sprinkles.


17. Put the kettle on. Make yourself a coffee. Grab yourself a cupcake and enjoy your creations!

From my hamper I chose to use:
12 hole cupcake tin £1.99 This is a lovely and deep, teflon coated, non stick tin. What makes it even better is that you can put it in the dishwasher after you've used it! Always a bonus in my eyes being someone who hates washing up and tries to avoid it/delegate the task at all costs!

Slimline Electronic Kitchen Scales £6.99 These have an easy clean, stainless steel finish, are lightweight, slim and have an LED display.  They're powered by an easily available CR2032 battery (which is included). Not only do they weigh in both imperial and metric weights, but they have the added feature of being able to weigh fluid ounces or millilitres of both milk or water at the touch of a button; truly functional and cook friendly.  With the added 'tare' function, you simply weigh your ingredient out, press the button to return the scales to zero and weigh out each additional ingredient in the same way.  Again, this really does appeal to me as I can weigh all my ingredients out in one go and into one bowl; saving washing up!

Double Oven Gloves £2.99 Part of a co-ordinated range of matching products, these are 100% cotton with a 100% polyester filling.  They're a generous 18x92cm in size and more than big enough for the largest of hands whilst not being too large for little hands like mine. The hanging hook allows you to keep them handy near you oven and they're washable too.

Party Butler cake container £4.99 The ideal solution to storing and transporting your cakes, snacks or pizzas.  It's make from temperature resistant plastic which means you can easily clean this in the dishwasher (bonus!) It's the perfect size to store 24 decorated cupcakes, whilst the two integrated, fold down handles, mean that you can easily carry your bakes to share with friends and family.


I also received but haven't yet used:
Train silicone baking case £3.49
Measuring Jug Digital Kitchen Scale £6.99

The hamper and contents were provided to me free of charge from Aldi UK.  I was also provided with a gift voucher with which to purchase my ingredients to create my #BestBudgetBake recipe.


Monday, 23 February 2015

Wine Review - Central England Co-Operative - Fair-trade Pinot Grigio

One of two wines I've chosen to review for Central England Co-Op We Like Wine blog is from their Fairtrade range which comes from the Famatina Valley in Argentina.  The Famatina Valley is situated from the Velazco mountain ranges in the East to the Andes in the West and is produced by the La Riojana Wine Co-operative.  This Co-Operative helps ensure that farmers receive a better deal for their grapes, thus improving their standards of living.


Argentinian wines benefit from the grapes being grown in very sunny summers, which allows the grapes to ripen fully, whilst the melting winter snows provide ample water to irrigate the vines.  It's a very reliable region, producing some very consistent wines. Argentina now produces some of the New World's "oldest wines" following investment from the Dutch, the Spanish, the Italians and the Austrians.

This 2013 Pino Grigio is a vibrant and fruity dry white wine with delicate floral aromas, refreshing apple and citrus fruit flavours which goes perfectly well with creamy pasta dishes, grilled fish or even a Thai green curry.


I chose to pair this wine with my potato topped chicken and leek bake, the recipe for which you can find by clicking on the link.  I'm a strong believer that you should only cook with a wine that you'd be prepared to drink on it's own.  So on that note, pour yourself a glass (or two), grab your ingredients and cook yourself a tasty dinner.  Cheers!


I was sent a voucher with which to purchase this bottle of wine, which currently retails at £6.99. (Price as at 08/02/2015).

Potato Topped Chicken and Leek Bake

A delicious meal of chicken and leeks in a white wine and cream sauce topped with thinly sliced potatoes, sprinkled with cheese and baked until golden.  What more can I say?  Except sumptuous!

25g Butter
15ml Rapeseed Oil
2 Leeks, finely sliced
4 Chicken Breasts, cubed into bite sized pieces
15ml Chopped fresh parsley
30ml White Wine
60ml Single Cream
Salt and Pepper to season
4 medium potatoes, thinly sliced (3-4mm)
25g Butter
50g Cheese, grated

1. Preheat the oven to 180℃.
2. Melt the butter and the oil in a large pan.


3. Gently sauté the leeks until softened.
4. Add the diced chicken and cook gently for 5 minutes.
5. Add the chopped parsley, wine and the cream


6. Season to taste.
7. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
8. Meanwhile bring a large pan of water to the boil and drop the sliced potatoes in.
9. Boil for 4-5 minutes until starting to soften.
10. Pour the chicken and leek mixture into a large ovenproof dish.
11. Drain the potato slices and layer on top of the chicken and leek to cover completely.
12. Dot with the butter and sprinkle the grated cheese on top.
13. Cook for 20-25 minutes until browned and bubbling on top.


14. Serve with steamed vegetables.

I cooked and paired this dish with a Central Co-Operative Fairtrade 2013 Pinot Grigio which I reviewed on my post {here}




Wine Review - Central England Co-Operative - Fairtrade Cabernet Sauvignon

One of two wines I've chosen to review for Central England Co-Op We Like Wine blog is from their Fairtrade range which comes from the Famatina Valley in Argentina.  The Famatina Valley is situated from the Velazco mountain ranges in the East to the Andes in the West and is produced by the La Riojana Wine Co-operative.  This Co-Operative helps ensure that farmers receive a better deal for their grapes, thus improving their standards of living.


Argentinian wines benefit from the grapes being grown in very sunny summers, which allows the grapes to ripen fully, whilst the melting winter snows provide ample water to irrigate the vines.  It's a very reliable region, producing some very consistent wines. Argentina now produces some of the New World's "oldest wines" following investment from the Dutch, the Spanish, the Italians and the Austrians.

The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon is a sophisticated wine with oak barrel ageing and a wonderful, full bodied character.  Rich in fruits with slightly spicy overtones and deep with tannins, providing a perfect accompaniment to full flavoured meat dishes.  My husband declared this to be one of the nicest red wines he's tasted in a while; so not only is it good to cook with, but it tastes fabulous to drink too!


For my meal pairing, I chose to cook a recipe from Gino D'Acampo Gino's Pasta - Timballo Alla Torrese (Baked Pasta with Meat Sauce and Parmesan Cheese) which I served with a simple salad of mixed leaves.  The perfect dinner for a cold, blustery and wet evening when the promise of spring being just round the corner still seems a little too far away.  Cheers!





I was sent a voucher with which to purchase this bottle of wine, which currently retails at £6.99. (Price as at 08/02/2015).
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