Friday, 30 December 2011

Toffee Squares

These are great to make with the kids. Essentially a sponge base, it can be flavoured with fruit and spice before being topped with a delicious toffee sauce.

150g softened butter
150g sugar
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
150g self raising flour
120g sultanas, soaked in orange juice
Juice of one orange, satsuma or clementine

1 - Preheat the oven to 180C/GM4.
2 - In a large mixing bowl, whisk the butter and sugar together until soft, pale and fluffy. Whisk in the eggs and vanilla extract.
3 - Sift in the flour and combine thoroughly with a metal spoon. Finally, stir in the orange soaked sultanas and orange juice.
4 - Line a square baking tin with grease proof baking paper. Pour in and level the cake mixture. Place on the middle shelf and cook for 30 minutes.
5 - Whilst cooking, prepare the toffee sauce. Put the butter and sugar into a pan. Heat up and melt then pour in the cream. Bring to the boil then simmer for 5 minutes or until it has turned light brown. Remove from the heat then allow to cool.
6 - Remove the cake from the oven, remove from the baking tin then allow to cool on a frame. Once cool, cut into squares and spoon on the toffee sauce.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Spiced Clementine Cake

Clementines are beautiful at this time of the year and for me, synonymous with the Festive period.

This is a simple yet impressive cake that is easy to make and just as easy to eat. Your house will be filled with the zesty aroma of this wonderful fruit meaning rumbling tummies for any lucky visitor.

Because there is so much pulp in the cake, it will be incredibly moist and if it lasts that long, will remain so for a good 3-4 days.


3 whole clementines
3 eggs
200g caster sugar
50g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
200g ground almonds
1tsp mixed spice

1 - Put the clementines into a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil then simmer for 20 minutes. Drain then blitz in a food processor to a purée. Preheat the oven to 180C/GM4.
2 - In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy.
3 - Sieve in the flour, baking powder and spice then fold in along with the purée.
4 - Pour into a greased and lined 8" loose bottomed baking tin and bake on the middle shelf for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
5 - To make an optional icing, put 1tbsp marmalade into a saucepan along with a little water. Heat up and melt. Stir in 6-8 tbsp icing sugar and thoroughly combine then drizzle all over the cooled cake.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Beef and Sweet Potato Curry

The slow cooker has been dusted down and brought back out as a permanent fixture of the kitchen for the winter.

It's that time of the year when slow cooking becomes the norm. Get a few ingredients together in the early hours, off to work then on your return, tea awaits. It almost mocks timely preparation and 'cheffy' techniques. Many memorable meals have been produced from my £7 slow cooker and it has easily been the most cost efficient cookware in my collection.

If you are a curry lover and are looking for inspiration to use your slow cooker that has been sitting in its box since purchase last winter, look no further than the following. Packed with flavour and guaranteed to beat the winter sniffles, it's a must for giving a debut to your new best kitchen friend.

Slow Cooked Beef and Sweet Potato Curry
Feeds 4

1kg braising beef cut into large chunks
2tbsp sunflower oil

For the curry paste:
1 onion
A thumb size of fresh ginger, peeled
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 fresh red chilli, unseeded
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tbsp tomato purée

3 sweet potatoes, or normal white potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
Salt and pepper

1 - In a food processor or pestle and mortar, place in the curry paste ingredients and blend to a paste.
2 - In a large frying pan, heat the oil and add the beef. Quickly cook and turn until coloured then remove with a slotted spoon and add to the slow cooker.
3 - Add a little more oil if necessary, then add the paste and cook, stirring all if the time, for 5 minutes until coloured and fragrant.
4 - Add the tomatoes and a little water and combine. Add to the slow cooker along with the potatoes, cinnamon stick and cloves.
5 - Cook on its lowest setting for 6-7 hours. If you are at home, check after a few hours to see if it has gone dry which it should not.
6 - Taste for seasoning then serve with rice, breads and fresh coriander.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Sticky Sweet and Sour Peppers

This recipe is one of those I always keep handy in my little head of culinary delights for when a vegetable accompaniment for anything is required and time is against me. As long as you have some peppers, garlic and a few store cupboard ingredients, you can have some delicious sticky sweet and sour peppers on your plate by the time it takes to look through the Yellow Pages to find a decent takeaway.

These are perfect with a simple piece of fish or chicken, but are an equal delight on a piece of toast for a quick veggie lunch.

Sticky Sweet and Sour Peppers
Serves 2 on toast or as an accompaniment

2 peppers, I use red and yellow, sliced into thin slivers
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tbsp muscovado sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
A pinch of chilli flakes
Salt and pepper

1 - In a non-stick frying pan, preferably with a lid, heat up the oil until very hot. Lower in the pepper slices and cook for 5 minutes with the lid on, removing now and again to give it a good stir. You are looking to get them broken down and caramelised as soon as possible. Don't worry if any begin to look slightly charred, this will just benefit the flavour.
2 - Once caramelised, remove the lid and quickly stir in the garlic.
3 - Stir in the sugar, vinegar, chilli and a good grinding of black pepper and cook for 1-2 minutes until it starts to look nice and sticky and reduced. Taste for seasoning, it may need a pinch of salt.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Hot potato, bacon and nasturtium salad

It's potato-tastic down at the allotment at the moment. We have 5 different varieties blooming and I cannot wait for the shoots to die off so I can get digging for what is easily human being's most popular vegetable.

I grew a few salad potatoes in a couple of large pots so that we had a few easy to hand. These were eagerly dug out by my daughter and then quickly boiled up ready for a quick and simple supper.

I fried up a little bacon in a pan then added the potatoes, crushed by hand, into the bacon fat and cooked until golden. A few spinach leaves and olives were tossed amongst the hot potatoes and plated up. Some pretty nasturtiums and a simple vinaigrette completed the dish making our humble little potatoes growing out of a cheap plastic tub into a thing of beauty.

If you like this recipe, please vote for me here - thanks in advance!

Hot potato, bacon and nasturtium salad
Feeds 4

2 tbsp olive oil
6 slices of bacon, roughly chopped
A medium pan of small waxy salad potatoes, boiled
A few handfuls of spinach and olives
Nasturtium petals, washed

For the vinaigrette

1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper

1 - Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add the bacon and cook until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep aside.
2 - Crush the potatoes by hand straight into the hot oil and cook, turning regularly, until golden brown.
3 - Return the bacon to the pan along with the olives and spinach.
4 - To make the vinaigrette, thoroughly combine the ingredients.
5 - To serve, plate up the salad, scatter over nasturtium petals and drizzle over a little dressing.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Hail the blackcurrant

A welcome view in the allotment today was a bush stuffed full of fat blackcurrants almost dropping off with the weight of their heady juice.

I set my daughter and her friend straight off picking and within 30 minutes we had a pan full of them.

Blackcurrants are a strange thing raw straight from the plant. You expect that unique flavour that you associate with this fine currant to whack you in the mouth but instead, you are left with a slightly earthy and sour fruit taste. Perhaps they should have been left slightly longer but then that would run the risk of them being pinched by our feathered friends.

Instead, I washed and picked them through, poured on honey and brought to the boil. Switch off the heat and allow to cool and you are left with heaven in a pan ready for a multitude of things to use them with.

I've stirred some through a tub of Greek yoghurt and left in the freezer for a delicious blackcurrant ripple ice cream of sorts. I crunched a few meringues through whipped cream and drizzled over the fruit for an alternative to the Eton Mess. The rest will be kept for breakfast to be stirred through porridge or muesli, yoghurt and honey. And if I'm lucky, there still may be left to make a little cassis for those winter months. Hail the blackcurrant.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Simnel Cake

With Easter comes much indulgence and on this most holy of days, there is one indulgence I can't do without - Simnel cake.

Simnel cake is one of those traditional British foods that probably change recipe in every town. Eaten since medieval times, it is simply a spiced fruit cake layered with marzipan and topped with 11 little marzipan balls that represent the true disciples of Jesus.

My version is as simple as can be and one that has become an annual tradition for my daughter and I to make. Sticky and soft from a layer of molten marzipan, it is difficult for me to explain in words just how wonderful this cake is. So go ahead and make one for yourself. Easter or not Easter, it is a sure-fire crowd pleaser. And if you do make an Easter related cake, make sure that you enter into the Easter Cake Bake competition over at the superb Julia Parsons 'A Slice of Cherry Pie' blog.

Simnel Cake

150g butter
150g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2 tsp mixed spice
50g ground almonds
150g self raising flour
300g mixed fruit
Zest and juice of 1 orange
500g ready-made marzipan

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 160C/GM3. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin with a removable base.
2 - In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Quickly beat in the eggs, pour in the almonds and sieve in the flour. Tip in the remaining ingredients (except for the marzipan) then combine thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
3 - Pour half of the mixture into the cake tin. Half the marzipan and roll out on a piece of cling-film (to prevent it sticking to the bench) until roughly the same size as the cake tin. Press the cake tin on top to make a line then roughly cut out. Fit into the cake tin and press down. Pour over the remaining cake mixture.
4 - Bake on the middle shelf for 1 hour 30 minutes. If it begins to brown too quickly, loosely cover with a piece of baking paper.
5 - Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin.
6 - To finish, roll out the remaining marzipan and do exactly the same as with the middle section, cutting out the left overs to roll into 11 little balls. Top with the marzipan and decorate the edges with the balls. If you have a small blow torch, lightly toast the marzipan in places. Alternatively, flash under a hot grill.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Voice of the Beehive

This weekend was a hark back to my old life as a cook and what a special day it was. For it wasn't just any old cooking job. Yesterday I was helping out fellow Masterchef finalist Stacie Stewart, cooking in the wonderful Durham Town Hall for a wedding party.

Stacie had me whipping up some of her wonderful canape creations such as lemon tarts, rare beef and slow roast tomatoes, king prawns with marie rose sauce, sweetcorn fritters with avocado salsa and mini burgers. I'm still exhausted now but it was worth every minute.

The best part of the day was working alongside and getting to know a lady who is very quickly rising to the top her game in what she loves to do the most - cook. With an energy that puts mine to shame, Stacie has built up a fabulous business in her Beehive Bakery where any occasion is catered for with skill and precision. As well as the business, Stacie has also been cutting herself as a celebrity TV chef and you can see her most weeks on ITV's This Morning with her trademark beehive haircut and charismatic style. Check out her videos and recipes here.

I'm not sure how many cookery events I can squeeze into my busy schedule but I sincerely hope that I can work with Stacie again. She is a pleasure to know and work with and I cannot recommend her business highly enough - give her a go! Cheers Stacie x

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Honey Crème Caramels

There's something a bit 1980s about food at the moment. When once it was considered tired, old hat and completely unacceptable, the likes of prawn cocktails, chicken Kiev and Black Forest Gateau are appearing on menus again and that's completely fine by me.

In this ever-fickle world, it is easy to forget the things that made us what we are. I'm not asking for a nostalgic look at everything that we consumed, wore or listened too 'back in the day', but why get snobbish about things that you once loved? And why always yearn for something new and 'challenging'?

We've been hitting the nostalgia trail today, teaching my daughter one of her new favourite puddings, the long lost crème caramel. We usually buy in those ready-made efforts, all crinkled in their plastic houses with a satisfying puddle of watery caramel at the bottom of every one.

Of course, homemade food - if made correctly - is usually better every time. The key to a successful crème caramel is to keep your oven low, GM1 or 140C, and to keep your little custards in a bath of hot water to ensure slow and gentle cooking to give you that silky smooth set custard. The result is really satisfying as each spoonful gives a resounding 'squelch' sound and the cold smoothness sinks down with ease.

I made an alternative to the caramel as I had a little extra custard left over, so rather than pour in caramel to the remaining mould I put in honey. It was delicious and avoided the risk of the hot caramel curdling the custard or even worse, being stuck in the end. Give them a go and bring back nostalgic grub to your menu.

Honey Crème Caramels
Makes 4-5

4 medium eggs
100g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, deseeded
450ml whole milk
Runny honey

1 - Pre-heat the oven to GM1/140C.
2 - In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, caster sugar and vanilla seeds. Pour in the milk, whisk then pour through a sieve into a jug.
3 - Lightly grease 4-5 moulds. At this stage you can make a simple caramel by slowly heating 150g sugar and a little water in a pan without stirring until it turns golden brown. Or go for my version by pouring in a couple of tablespoons of runny honey into each mould.
4 - Gently pour in the custard to fill the moulds. Place into a baking tray with sides and pour in hot water to fill at least halfway up the moulds.
5 - Place in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the custards have a very slight 'wobble' when shaken.
6 - Remove from the oven, then the water and allow to cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge. Serve cold with or without berries.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Thai Steamed Fish

It's been a while I have to admit. I could come up with a multitude of excuses as to why I haven't posted for so long but they would all be pathetic. So on with the food.

One thing I have had to adapt to since becoming a full-time teacher is simply not spending enough time in the kitchen. We all have to eat of course so rather than spend hours at the stove concocting new recipes like I used to, it comes down to survival on weekdays and just getting on with something quick and tasty.

This recipe ticks all of those boxes. It is Thai food in a bag, put together in minutes, sealed up with all those hot and sour flavours that makes Thai food so great then simply steamed. And it is super healthy too. Great. I insist that you try it this week.

Thanks for all of your support and watch this space for a new website coming very soon...

Thai Steamed Fish
Feeds 4

4 pieces of white fish such as cod, haddock or pollack, approx 100g each
1 large or 2 small chillies, deseeded and finely sliced
1 thumb size of ginger, peeled and cut into thin strips
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thin strips
6 spring onions, sliced thin
Juice of 1 lime
4 tbsp Nam Pla (fish sauce)
100ml coconut milk
Fresh coriander
Sesame seeds

1 – Take a large piece of foil, enough to fold over the fish to form a bag with room at the top for air to circulate and the right size to fit into a steamer.
2 – Put the fish fillets onto the foil.
3 – Top each piece of fish evenly in layers starting with ginger, then garlic, chilli, carrots and spring onions.
4 – Drizzle over evenly the lime juice, fish sauce and coconut milk.
5 – Seal the bag firmly them place into a steamer. Steam for 10 minutes.
6 – Slit the bag and pour over hot noodles or Thai jasmine rice. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve with fresh coriander and fresh lime.

Meatball Marinara

An unnamed high street food provider has a version of this on their menu. Meatball marinara: hot meatballs, tomato sauce and cheese stuffed ...