Sunday, 23 October 2011


Since moving home to sleepy Suffolk, I have become a bit of a baking fiend. With no real distractions from my now rather domesticated life (the only ‘real’ club in the area resembling a grimy village hall disco for 14
year olds, and the majority of my friends having flown the countryside nest to the brighter lights of London), the kitchen scales have been getting a real bashing over the past few months. Although this, along with my recent discovery of hobbies such as sewing and scrabble, may mean that I have aged another 40 years since leaving University, I am not by any means complaining about the gradual transformation of my wine-fuelled student life into one that would not look out of place in ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ Other than meaning there is very little distraction from my quest to earn enough money to explore the Americas next year, the major increase in baking has meant that my tummy has been a lot happier. And if I am not careful, a whole lot fatter.

However, irrespective of the damage that may be done to my waistline, the delicious smell of a baking wafting through a warm house is simply too much to resist; particularly now the sharp snap of winter has finally fallen upon us. But, of course, I don’t mean that I am simply content with smelling the treats that are turned out from our oven. Even I, a serial shirker of the gym and anything exercise related, am willing to jump up and down a few times to eat a delicious homemade cake or two. I have even started to go to keep fit classes with my Mum, where she embarrassingly puts me to shame in both the fitness and coordination stakes week upon week, all in the name of letting myself eat (alot) of cake.

Living in Sheffield, on a budget that favoured extra-value rich teas over the many components that are needed to knock out cakes in a kitchen that was only ever intended to facilitate the microwaving of baked beans, home baking is a real novelty. Slowly stirring a big bowl of smooth, vanilla rich cake batter is all it takes for me to unwind after a rubbish day at work, whilst licking the spoon is the best way to make the rapidly advancing winter just a little bit cosier. It really must be good for the soul to eat some of what you fancy every once in a while, and surely even better if you know exactly what has gone into making it. That’s what I’ve been telling myself anyway...

Blueberry, chocolate, banana; muffins are true regulars on the shelves of supermarkets and the cake stands of coffee shops. And the good news is, it is almost as easy to whip up a batch of homemade, wholesome beauties, as it is to rip open the packaging of a shop brought, undoubtedly chemical filled ones. And the sense of pride that you get when you present a plate of homemade muffins to a table of hungry people at teatime (or even breakfast time!) makes them taste even more scrumptious.

Apple and blackberry is a truly classic combination that has been a regular feature on our dinner table since a last minute scramble for the remaining black beauties that still bejewel the Suffolk hedgerow stuffed our freezer full. The archetypal  pairing of sharp apple and sweet berry seems to be eternally tied with the word that spells the perfect end to a roast dinner, the pudding that makes me feel most like home; Crumble. What better, then, than to put this tried and tested combination into a muffin? Delicately spiced with cinnamon and crowned with a crunchy almond crumble, these delicious, blackberry speckled beauties are perfect any time of the day. And with this much fruit, they could almost pass as healthy. Almost...

And for breakfast, why not try these delicious oaty marmalade, carrot and walnut muffins? Glazed with sticky marmalade, they are perfect served slightly warm with a generous smearing of salted butter and a steaming cup of tea. Delicious.

But if you are feeling like you need a bit more of a treat, I have included a recipe for absolutely failsafe double chocolate chip muffins at the end of this post. They are about as far away from your five-a-day as it is possible to be, and would certainly require a few more sessions of the dreaded keep fit than the previous fruit and vegetable crammed ones to work off, but they are definitely worth it. I have avoided the temptation of making any of these this time round, but take my word for it, they are very very yummy and almost always come out the oven looking just like they have come out of a shop...

Blackberry and Apple Crumble Muffins, makes 12

300g plain flour
1 ½ tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
200g caster sugar
200ml milk
100g butter (melted)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 egg, beaten
1 large Bramley apple
1 tbsp lemon juice
75g blackberries
1 tsp ground cinnamon

For the crumble topping
30g butter
50g plain flour
30g flaked almonds
30g Demerara sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 190oc.
Firstly, make the crumble topping. In a small bowl rub the butter into the flour, cinnamon and salt until resembling coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and almonds and put to one side.
Next, cut the apple into small cubes and, in a small bowl, spinkle with the lemon juice to prevent browning.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and sugar.
Mix the melted butter, milk, beaten egg and lemon zest until well combined. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix until just combined. Don’t over mix, it is meant to be lumpy!
Stir in the apples and blackberries, being careful to avoid adding too much spare lemon juice.
Divide the mixture between 12 muffin cases and sprinkle with the crumble mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and well risen. Allow to cool and then enjoy!

Oaty Carrot & Marmalade Breakfast Muffins, makes 12.

300g plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g oats
125g soft brown sugar
125g butter, melted
125ml milk
350g carrot, finely grated
Zest of 1 orange
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs, beaten
100g walnuts, chopped
200g marmalade, plus some extra for glazing

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and sugar. Stir in the oats.
Mix the melted butter, milk, beaten egg and orange zest until well combined. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix until just combined. Don’t over mix, it is meant to be lumpy!
Gently stir in the carrot, walnuts and marmalade until just combined. Divide between muffin cases and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden and well risen. Leave to cool.
Heat a couple of tablespoons of marmalade until melted. Brush over the muffins and serve either plain or with lashings of butter!

Naughty Double Chocolate Chip Muffins, makes 12

175g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
100g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
100g chocolate chips
1 egg
250ml milk
120ml oil
½ tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 200oc.
Mix the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, salt and chocolate chips.
In a jug, beat the egg, milk, oil and vanilla together until well mixed.
Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the egg mixture. Stir until just combined, not worrying about any lumps!
Spoon evenly into muffin cases and bake for 20-25 minutes or until well risen and firm.
Cool and eat!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Share the Love...

It was whilst visiting my boyfriend in Granada, the spiritual home of tapas and thus the birthplace of the sharing platter, that I came to realise when it comes to food, the world is split into two clear camps. No, not those who love Marmite and those who hate it, but those for whom a desert with two spoons is a sight greeted with happiness, and those for whom it is the stuff of nightmares. Side by side around almost every dinner table sit those who relish in sharing, and those who really could think of nothing worse than an attack of invading forks inflicted upon their plate. 

Incurably indecisive, and just a little bit greedy, I am definitely part of the sharing brigade. It is quite impossible for me to sit opposite another's plate of food without craving a bite to see exactly what I am missing. But its more than just the mortal fear of food envy that draws me to the sharing platter on a menu, I absolutely love the interactivity and fun that a flurry of forks directed at a big bowl of pasta or a huge cake at the centre of a table brings to a meal, particularly when twinned with a nice bottle of wine...

But, as became frighteningly clear when confronted with a plate of tapas whilst in Spain, the allegiance of my boyfriend most definitely lies on the other side. A self-proclaimed hater of the communal plate, he, like many boys, guards his precious dinner with his life; a tirade of evil glares directed towards anyone who dares to utter the inevitable question, 'Can I have a taste of that?' One arm curled protectively around his meal, and the other manically shovelling down mouthful upon mouthful, desperate to finish before the unavoidable question arrises, the eating habits in Spain, and particularly tapas, were a nightmare waiting to happen.

However, after 6 months of plate upon plate placed in front of a group of hungry people, with, shock horror, no clear rules on who eats what; to my amazement, and obvious glee, even Robin has come round to the merits of all tucking in to one plate. And although he will probably always have at least a little bit of contempt for anyone who dares to steal a chip from his plate, even he would agree that without people to share our kitchen creations with, there would be little point in making any more effort than boiling a kettle to pour onto a pot noodle at dinnertime. 

And these burgers are sharing food with bells on. With everyone gathered around bowls piled high with all the toppings imaginable and a huge platter of golden chips, I would defy any of your eating companions to bear even the slightest likeness to Ebeneezer Scrooge when faced with a delicious sight like these juicy burgers. Delicious and, essentially, quick to prepare, they are the ideal dish to ensure that the maximum amount of time is spent relaxing with your friends and family, and the minimum chained between the oven and the kitchen sink. 

The Mexican burgers, laced with smoky paprika and a tang of chilli, are delicious with citrus sharp tomato salsa and gorgeous guacamole. Go as mad as you like; mature cheddar cheese, soured cream, rings of red onion, fresh tomato slices, crisp bacon; whatever you can think of! Make it interactive by piling all the different toppings into un-matching bowls, a move that encourages everyone to get stuck in, mixing and matching to build their very own perfect burger. 

And, not forgetting any veggies out there, cumin spiced haloumi burgers, topped with grilled green peppers and a large helping of earthy houmous are simply delicious. I would wager that even the most loyal of meat-eaters will enjoy these...

Ps. Although  these burgers look summery, they are honestly just as tasty dished out in front of  roaring fire as eaten in the garden on a glorious sunny day. But, if the thought of cold guacamole and sour cream leave you quaking in your fur lined slippers, try more weather appropriate toppings; maybe bacon, brie and cranberry, or how about blue cheese and some homemade spiced pear chutney? 

Mexican Beef burgers, Serves 6.

Inspired by my idol, Jamie Oliver, these burgers are as moist as they are tasty. Leave out the paprika and coriander for a more classic burger, maybe to be served with mature cheddar and crispy bacon, or even mozzarella, juicy tomatoes and a smattering of pesto. I love to serve the Mexican burgers with potato wedges, sprinkled with a little smoked paprika and sea salt.

500g minced beef
1 egg
12 cream crackers
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
A handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped.
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Fry the onion and garlic until soft and slightly translucent and leave to one side to cool.
Put the crackers into a sealed freezer bag, or wrap in a tea towel, and whack with a rolling pin until smashed to a fine powder.
Put the bashed up crackers into a large mixing bowl with the mince, fried onions, egg and remaining flavourings. Making sure your hands are clean, scrunch all the ingredients together until well combined and the mixture can be moulded into patties.
Divide into 6 and shape into burger shapes about 1 inch thick.
Place on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and place in the fridge until your guests have arrived and you are ready to get frying.
When the moment arrives, fry or grill the burgers for around 5 minutes on each side (for a chargrilled effect that looks as good as it tastes, use a griddle pan if you have one!) If the burgers are still  little underdone for your liking, transfer to the oven with the wedges for a few minutes.

To serve:

2 ripe avocados
1 red onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, chopped
½ - 1 red or green chilli, chopped
2 limes
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Halve and peel the avocado before mashing to your desired texture with a fork or in a pestle and mortar.
Squeeze in the juice of the limes, add a glug of olive oil and stir in the chopped onion, chilli and garlic. Season well and the guacamole is ready to adorn your delicious burgers.

Tomato salsa
A couple of handfuls of ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Olive oil
1 lemon
Salt and pepper
Handful coriander
½ tsp sugar

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, adding as much of the juice of the lemon as your tastebuds enjoy, a good glug of olive oil and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Stack in your burger!

Tomatoes, sliced.
Coss lettuce, washed and pulled apart
1 red onion, sliced
Soured cream
Grated cheddar cheese.
6 ciabatta rolls or sesame burger buns

Pile all the toppings and burgers in mismatched bowls or platters and allow your guests to dig in and share the love!

Middle Eastern Halloumi Burgers, with Houmous and Green Peppers, Serves 6.

2 packets halloumi cheese (about 500g)
2 tbsp flour
2 tsp cumin seeds

400g can chickpeas, washed and drained
2 tbsp tahini paste (or peanut butter works just as well!)
1 garlic clove, crushed
Juice ½ lemon
2 tbsp olive oil

To serve.
2 green peppers
2 tomatoes, sliced
Chilli jam
Cos lettuce
6 ciabatta rolls or sesame burger buns

Combine the flour and cumin seeds in a wide dish and season well with salt and pepper.
Slice the halloumi to around ½ cm thick and cover each side of the cheese with the seasoned flour.
Now make the houmous. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Season to taste and adjust the levels of lemon and oil according to how you like it, and it’s as easy as that!
In a large griddle pan, heat a splash of olive oil on a medium heat. Lay the slices of halloumi, and quarters of the green peppers, into the pan and fry until they are lightly singed with golden brown lines, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Meanwhile, lightly toast the halved rolls.
To serve, stack all the toppings in bowls, allowing everyone to build their veggie burger just how they like it!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Cookies for Sarah...

Not so recently, I received my first ever recipe request. The Perfect Cookie. Easy enough to say, but, as I have come to discover over the past few weeks, much more difficult to achieve. In fact, the quest for the best biscuit has become, contrary to my expectations, one of the most frustrating projects I have been tasked with since writing a 3000 word essay on French feminist policies (if a lot more enjoyable).

On the road towards the ideal cookie, the last few weeks have gone by in a cloud of sifted flour and chocolate chips. One batch too cakey, the next too greasy; at one point, after the realisation that licking the bowl of uncooked dough was a lot more enjoyable than the cookie itself, I rather dramatically declared that I would never make a biscuit again. But, of course, the temptation of finding the perfect recipe, and obviously the thought of yet another sweet, buttery treat to go with my cuppa, was much too much to resist. So, approximately 50 beaten eggs and 100 hours of mixing later (and a bit of a shock when I stepped on the scales after sampling my wares), I think I have finally cracked it.

However, in the crack of the cookie lies another problem. As I rolled out greased tray upon greased tray of every shape, texture and flavour biscuit imaginable, I have come to understand that the notion of the perfect cookie is an entirely subjective one. Some love the crunch whilst others simply adore a good chewy biscuit. Personally, I think that perfection is somewhere between the two. I dream of a cookie with a good crunchy edge that melts to a gorgeously chewy centre, like those you see piled in jars on cafe counters.

However, unfortunately, big, chewy American style cookies are extremely difficult to perfect. I experimented with everything but eventually, following the advice of my sous-chef (aka my sister Briony), the best results were achieved using melted butter or oil and a squeeze of honey or golden syrup. This gives the cookies my long sought-after chewy texture, contrasted with just the right amount of crunch, and, as a bonus, they look just like the big, cracked surface beauties that I was after. Thank goodness.

Mix the flavourings up however you like. Think date, cinnamon and walnut; dried pear and dark chocolate; raspberry and white chocolate. Tickle your fancy? Give them a go and let me know if they are your perfect cookie too!

Ginger and almond honey cookies.

125ml oil
250g white sugar
1 egg
100g honey                                                  
2 tsp baking soda
50g whole blanched almonds, chopped
75g crystalised ginger, chopped
½ tsp salt
260g plain flour
25 g almonds (chopped) extra, for rolling.

Preheat the oven to 180oc
 Mix the oil, sugar, egg, honey, baking soda and the salt in a large bowl, until nicely combined.
Add the almonds (50g) and the ginger and mix thoroughly.
Stir in the flour until just combined, and the dough is just dry enough to quickly roll into balls. Do not be tempted to add too much flour, as a cakey cookie is not what you want!
Roll the dough into balls about 1 inch wide. Drop into chopped almonds and place on greased and lined baking trays, leaving at least 2 inches between each little ball as they will spread!
Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies are golden.

My favourite chocolate chip cookies.

125 g butter, melted and cooled.
250 g soft light brown sugar
1 egg
2 tsp baking powder
100g golden syrup
½ tsp salt
150g-200g chocolate chips (dark or milk chocolate, or a mixture!)
100g chopped nuts (hazelnuts are delicious, but any you like!)
325g plain flour

Mix the butter, sugar, egg, syrup, baking soda and the salt in a large bowl, until nicely combined.
Add the chocolate and nuts, and mix until combined.
Stir in the flour until just combined, and the dough resembles a sticky cake mix.
Place spoonfuls of mixture on lined baking trays, leaving a space of about 2 inches between each to allow for some serious spreading.
Sprinkle with a few extra nuts and bake for about 15 minutes or until nicely golden. Don't worry if they still look a little soft, this is where the chewiness comes from!
Allow to cool, transfer to cooling racks and, if you are a serious chocoholic, drizzle with some extra chocolate!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Cooking my Way through Summer...

So, after four years and approximately four hundred bottles of very cheap wine, I have officially graduated from the education system. Thrown into the real world with little more to keep me warm than an extremely expensive certificate, a massive chunk of debt and a variety of cardboard boxes crammed with broken mugs and cutlery; the unavoidable truth is, my life has changed beyond all recognition.

I mean, what is it about being a student? For a few years it is perfectly acceptable to drink yourself silly on whichever night of the week you please, falling into bed as those only a couple of years older are returning from a long day at the office.  It is quite normal for the iron to wallow in the darkness of the kitchen cupboard, never to witness the light of day, let alone to touch a garment of clothing. And that sinking feeling when the only clean pair of underwear is of the bikini variety is oh-so familiar. But, when they are in supply, it is the only time that you would even consider going out in public in a pair of said knickers. All be it for fancy dress and under the cover of darkness, but I still feel that away from the madness of the student union this would be considered just plain mad.

So, now, after four years of dodging library fines, playing pub golf, and cooking in a kitchen that, despite containing a ridiculous amount of food, left a lot to be desired, I am no longer a student. This, after giving myself an internal high five for actually gaining a degree, and signalling the start of a time when I can spend even more of my hard earned dollar on food, I was extremely worried at the prospect of my precious Topshop discount being ripped from my grasp, along with 50p bus fares and the chance of a nice lie-in 4 days a week.

However, despite my fears, finishing University did not come with anything near the bump I was imagining. Far from lying in my bed at night pining over the loss of my youth, in the weeks following my departure from Sheffield, I have skidded my way around a very muddy Glastonbury, spent a lovely weekend camping in Wales and sunned myself in the South of France.

And I have cooked. A lot. Predictably, aside from the usual excitements that holidays bring (inspecting tan lines, feeling smug when you hear of rain at home...) the food is always one of the things that I look forward to the most. And the last couple of months have been a foodies dream. At Glastonbury, whatever nosh we wanted to nibble on could be found at the stalls surrounding the mud bath that was the Other Stage. In Wales, we conjured up steak and chips and full English breakfast on a tiny disposable barbeque, protected in Blue Peter type fashion from the extremely summery Welsh rain. And, in France, food was the central point at which each sun soaked day revolved.

On our holidays food is taken almost as seriously as it is by Greg Wallace and John Torrode in front of the MasterChef cameras. Although, far from cooking ‘not getting tougher than this’, the fresh, sun drenched French ingredients made cooking delicious food easier than ever. Huge, fragrant, juicy peaches, the freshest and meatiest prawns and amazing fish were the true flavours of our holiday. The peaches roasted on the Barbeque with rosé and bay leaves, or steeped in orange scented syrup and served with light and fluffy brioche French toast and creamy fromage blanc. The prawns thrown quickly onto the barbeque and then served bejewelling rich and spicy paella or with a fresh and zingy chicory and radish salad, tossed in a rich and fiery mustard dressing. Salmon cooked in parcels with gorgeous tomatoes, lemon and garlic. And even a rich and creamy dish of the French alpine classic, Tartiflette, served up for summer with roasted chicken and a crisp salad.

C’était magnifique. And that is the most French I have spoken since I finished my degree...


Although probably a dish more suited to a fireside table in the Alps than a scorching patio in near Perpignan, this is still one of my absolute favourite French dishes. Not one for those on a diet, although if you are attempting to squeeze into a bikini of your own the cream could be swapped for the same quantity of crème fraiche.

4 medium waxy potatoes
2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
1 large onion, sliced
300g smoked streaky bacon or pancetta (cubed)
100 ml double cream
2tbsp crème fraiche
A handful of reblochon cheese, grated. (If you cannot find Reblochon, a light sprinkling of parmesan will do!)

Before you begin, preheat the oven to 220oc and lightly grease a large pie dish or tin.

 Peel and slice the potatoes to about 1cm thick, before cooking in a pan of boiling, salted water for around 5 minutes or until they are just tender. Drain, being careful not to break the slices and return to the pan.

In a large frying pan fry the bacon in a little olive oil, until just beginning to turn golden. Add the sliced onion and garlic and fry until the onion is soft and the bacon is crispy.

Gently mix the potatoes, onion and bacon mixture, cream and crème fraiche in the saucepan until just combined, being careful not to turn the mixture into mashed potato!

Season well and transfer to the greased dish.

Cover with the cheese and bake in the preheated oven for around 35-40 minutes or until the top is bubbling and lightly browned.

Serve with roast chicken and a green salad, dressed with a sharp mustard dressing. Delicious.

My very favourite Paella

Again , this is a dish not entirely at home deep in the mountains of Southern France. However, the rich smokiness of this one pan wonder, bursting with exciting flavours and textures of prawns, chorizo, muscles and pretty much whatever else can be found in the fridge, means it is an absolute treat of a summer dish. And, bringing back memories of a glorious 6 months spent in the home of Paella last year, Valencia, I make absolutely no apology for its inclusion here. Perfect for sharing in the sun, it can even be cooked atop a barbeque, if you are lucky enough to have a pan large (and heatproof) enough!

Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 chorizo sausage, cubed
2 red peppers, deseeded and chopped
2-3 chicken breasts, diced
400g seafood mix (mussels, clams, squid, or whatever you fancy!)
Around 1.5 litre chicken or vegetable stock
300g paella rice
1 tbsp smoked paprika
A pinch of saffron (Or, if you are a little strapped for cash like me, a sprinkle more paprika.)
A small bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
2 lemons
12 large shell-on prawns, barbequed for a few minutes

In a large heavy-based saucepan, fry the onions in a big glug of olive oil until soft. Add the garlic and chorizo, and fry for about 10 minutes, or until the rich fiery oil is seeping out of the chorizo and everything is beginning to colour slightly.

Add the chicken, peppers and spices and fry for another 10 minutes, or until the vegetables have begun to soften.

Add the rice and toss around the pan until it is coated in all the delicious spices and oils.

Add around 1 litre of the stock and stir until all the flavours are nicely incorporated. Bring to the boil and then stir continually for about 15 minutes, adding more stock if it is starting to look a bit dry. Add the seafood and stir to ensure that every corner of the dish benefits from all of their beautiful flavour.

Reduce the heat and leave the paella to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the edges of the dish are browned and crusty (being careful not to go part browned to burnt!) Don’t be afraid of this prospect, this is my absolute favourite part of the paella and the crunch is an amazing contrast to the softness of rice and meat.

Season very well with salt and pepper and stir in the parsley. Add a large squeeze of lemon.
Decorate with lemon wedges and the large prawns, before allowing everyone to dig in!

Salmon parcels with tomatoes, lemon and olives.

Simple and truly delicious, these easy envelopes of tin foil (or, when in France “papillotes”!) are bursting with the freshest summer flavours you can get. Go mad, mix it up a bit and replace the tomatoes and olives with anything from fennel, par-cooked new potatoes and fennel seeds, to an oriental feast of lime, ginger, chilli and pak choi. And, as a good way to counteract the rich cream and bacon in the tartiflette, on top of all manner of other holiday sins, the parcels are super healthy to boot.

4 salmon fillets
4 tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
2 lemons
Small glass white wine
Olive oil
100g green olives
4 Bay leaves
Salt and pepper

Slice the tomatoes and lay in the centre of a large square of tin foil, before seasoning well and sprinkling with a little olive oil.

Layer on a few slices of lemon and a sprinkling of the olives. Season once more and sprinkle over a splash more of olive oil and white wine and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Lay the salmon on top of this delicious, flavour making bed and season the fillet well. Add the bay leaf and fold the tin foil to make a tight parcel around the salmon.

Bake in the oven or throw on the barbeque for about 20 minutes, or until the salmon is the palest pink and flaky.

The peaches in the South of France are simply to die for. Still warm for the baking sun and bursting with sweet and aromatic juices, they are the perfect poolside treat. Baked with rose and bay the aromatic flavours are intensified, whilst they are the perfect companion to the lightest French toast. Gorgeous.

Peaches baked in Rosé and Bay

5 ripe peaches
5 bay leaves
1 small glass rose
5 Tbsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 200oc.

Halve and stone the peaches and lay in a large square of tin foil.

Sprinkle over a large splash over rose and a tablespoon of sugar. Add the bay leaf and fold the parcel to conceal the peaches. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the peaches are tender

Brioche French Toast with Peaches and Plums in Orange Syrup

6 brioche rolls, or thick slices of brioche loaf
3 eggs
6 tbsp milk
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract, or even better, vanilla paste
3 ripe peaches
5 ripe plums
1 orange
Small glass of rosé
2 tbsp sugar
Natural yoghurt or crème fraîche to serve.

Preheat the oven to 180oc.

 To make the peach and plum compote, place the stoned and halved fruit into a roasting tin (the peaches may 
need cutting a little smaller, just make sure all the fruit is roughly the same size!).

Sprinkle with the sugar a few strips of the zest of the orange (Do this with a vegetable peeler, being sure not to peel the bitter white pith.) Squeeze in the juice of the orange; add a few tablespoons of the wine and cover 
the dish with tin foil.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes.

For the fluffiest French toast; whisk the eggs, milk and vanilla in a large bowl before soaking the halved brioche rolls or slices in the mixture.

Fry in a little butter for around 3 minutes on each side, or until the toast is crisp and golden. Sprinkle with a little sugar if wished and serve with the compote and a spoonful of yoghurt.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

A Lovely Day For a Royal Wedding

Firstly, I feel that a word of apology is in order. It seems that in the whirlwind that is final exams; blogging has well and truly fallen into the shadows of manically revising the French imperfect subjunctive and desperately trying to cram as many Spanish verbs into my rapidly shrinking brain as possible.
But, the neglect has gone on long enough, and with my student life ending once and for all yesterday, and it being, rather fittingly, the Queen’s birthday today, what better than to lose oneself in all things baking and all things Royal... 

 The 29th of April saw a few of my very favourite things collide. Having been concerned for quite some time that I am in fact a 65 year old woman in a 22 year olds body, the Royal Wedding day lived up to my every expectation. As William and Kate became the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, they also provided the perfect excuse for my love of cake, champagne and the Royal Family to come in an explosion of red, white and blue. Glued to the television from the early hours (well as early as it gets during the holidays...) wearing a homemade fascinator and sipping tea from my commemorative mug, the whole day made me feel incredibly proud to be British.

That dress, THAT bridesmaid, the whole day was the perfect occasion to celebrate. And, as celebrating is certain synonym of eating in my house, the food planning for the big day began at about the same time as preparations started at the Palace and the shop shelves  were filled with Union Jack paper chains and Wills and Kate mugs. Which of course I amply stocked up upon.

So, as the happy couple were feasting on canapés and sipping their champagne, and my Grandma had cried her way through an entire box of tissues; an extravagant afternoon tea was laid out in the summerhouse of a Suffolk garden. Listening carefully for the sound of the flyover that we were sure was to pass overhead, and after rushing to stare at the sky multiple times only to be greeted by the sound of a particularly aggressive lawnmower, the cake stands and vintage plates were piled with all manner of delicious treats.

Rhubarb and custard whoopie pies, Bakewell tarts, bejewelled Florentines and rose pink macaroons were seated alongside jugs of pink ginger cordial, homemade scotch eggs, lemon curd and strawberry cream tartlets, vanilla scones, and cheese straws made by the lovely Milly. And of course a Victoria Sponge, which no
English tea would be without and is rather my speciality after winning the Wickham Market Victoria sponge competition three years in a row. What did I say about being old before my time..?

Pink Ginger Cordial.

200g root ginger, grated.
2 lemons, sliced thinly
500g sugar
A handful of raspberries or blackberries
2tsp citric acid

Put the lemons, sugar, ginger, citric acid and berries into a large bowl.

Pour over 1 litre of boiling water, stir and leave covered overnight to get really tasty.

Drink in the sunshine, slightly diluted and with lots of ice!

 More recipes to follow or leave me a comment if you want to hear anything in particular!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Perfect Time for a Picnic...

Whether it’s a Picnic, a barbeque, or a big bowl of strawberries and cream, there is just something about the sunshine that makes me want to eat. Although I am unsure whether the weather can be entirely to blame for my enormous and unfaltering appetite, there is nothing better than good food whilst topping up the fading remnants of last year’s tan.

So, with the beautiful spring weather warming my shoulders and rendering the well-used cardigan useless for a change, the only thing to do is eat. And with so much gorgeously local and delicious produce right on my sun-warmed doorstep, it would be a crime not to make the most of it.

Snape Famers Market, located, perhaps unsurprisingly at Snape Maltings in Suffolk, is a real treat for a home-visiting student and the perfect place to collect the makings of a good old fashioned picnic. So, seeing as eating outside is a luxury reserved for summertime trips back to Suffolk (Al-fresco dining somewhat prohibited in Sheffield by the unattractiveness of the concrete stairway that serves as our only outside space) what better to feast upon than good, local food.

With almost too many goodies to choose between, and a yummy cookery demonstration from The British Larder proving to be a real distraction, it is no surprise that we came away with far too much food. Smoked English stilton from the Artisan Smokehouse, homemade duck liver and truffle pate, local soda bread and crispy cos lettuces from Newbourne, made a very tempting platter, which, duly topped off with mum’s homemade pickle, chutney and Scotch egg, was a real treat.

Food from my doorstep, eaten in the sun with lovely people; what could be better?

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Happy Easter!

  Just one more sleep and many of us will be too full of chocolate to move. Although, sadly, not in my house. We have all reached that miserable age where, along with being struck off the visiting list of the tooth fairy, we are all deemed too old for a gift from the Easter Bunny.  So, taking into account the lack of chocolate that will be brightening up my Sunday morning, and my Granny’s rather depressing comparison of her Simnel cake to a brick, I think it is about time I stop sunbathing in the garden and get busy in the kitchen.

Having already taken the rather predictable step of making chocolate nests (see below...) I feel in need of a new recipe that tastes wonderful and allows me to fulfil my springtime desire for pastel icing and mini-eggs.  Simnel cake, decorated with exactly 11 marzipan balls representing each of the disciples and bursting full of raisins and zesty lemon, is a very traditional Easter treat that unfortunately involves spending a lot more time in the kitchen than such a sunny day deserves.

These little biscuits on the other hand, are extremely quick and easy and a lot lighter than the rich Simnel cake, perfect for the hottest Easter weekend in history. Decorate them any way you fancy, although I think they look just perfect drizzled with pale pink and yellow icing and topped with chocolate eggs, as long as the Easter Bunny has not stripped the shops of all available chocolate already...

Simnel Biscuits (makes about 15)

175g butter
115g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 egg yolks
225g plain flour
50g currants
400g marzipan
200g icing sugar
Food colouring
Mini eggs

Preheat the oven to 180oc

Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest together until light and fluffy

Beat in the egg yolks and then the flour and currants

Mix until fully incorporated and firm. If it is a bit soft, add a sprinkling more flour and put into the fridge for at least an hour

Roll out on a sheet of greaseproof paper (or they will stick..) to about 5mm and cut into medium sized rounds. Transfer to a greased baking tray

Roll out the marzipan to the same thickness and cut into rounds of about half the size of the biscuit. Place on top of the dough and press down the edges to stick

Bake for about 12 minutes or until just golden, remove from the oven and transfer to cool on baking sheets

Put the icing sugar into a bowl and add a small amount of water to make a reasonably stiff paste.

Divide between 3 bowls and add a tiny dot of food colouring to each one.

Drizzle over the biscuits (when cool) and stick on the eggs, EAT!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Home Sweet Home...

Thank heavens for the holidays. Or so I thought. Perhaps I should be a little more careful what I wish for in future, considering the mountain of work that is threatening to ruin my fun and the ever advancing menace that is final exams...But c’est la vie (French revision never ends) and home is the place where cooking can happen without worrying about which pan has been washed up or the lack of ingredients that are lurking in the cupboard.

So, at home and not so fresh after a four hour train journey and seemingly endless amounts of time spent dragging around an enormous suitcase filled with at least fifteen books and far too many clothes; my first port of call is, as always, the fridge. I (and certainly my Mum) would be nervous to learn how many hours I have spent staring into that food-filled, sparklingly clean, gloriously white treasure chest, searching for new additions and wondering how much cooking I can fit in before the holidays are over. A very welcome novelty after a week of obsessively avoiding the temptations of the supermarket and using up the remains of my last food-shop in ever less appetizing combinations.

Faced with more food than I can handle and in desperate need of distraction from the books that have still not ventured out of the suitcase, the kitchen is a true haven and cupcakes are the perfect remedy. Stirring away the stresses of the day, the end result sweetens the thought of
everything you have yet to do, in addition to being the ideal treat when your only company seems to be your laptop.

And if you’re going to make cupcakes, why not go all out? Red Velvet cakes are certainly not for the fainthearted. Any cake that involves this much food colouring requires a certain amount of nerve, and a steady hand to prevent the kitchen table looking scarily like a crime scene. If you are as clumsy as I am, definitely avoid wearing a white t-shirt. But most importantly, don’t be shy; the cakes really lose their vampy red appeal if you go too easy on the colouring, turning a vaguely pink sludge colour that is significantly less attractive. The bright red, cocoa flavoured sponge looks incredibly chic topped with silky cream cheese frosting, and despite looking extremely festive, they are certainly not just for Christmas...

But, if you don’t fancy a cake that is sure to stain your lips a similar colour to those of a well fed vampire, cupcakes are the perfect vehicles for any of your favourite flavourings. Lemon, almond, chocolate, coffee, whatever you fancy, just be creative. Place a few pieces of strawberry in the bottom of the case before the mixture, cook, smear with cream cheese icing , sprinkle over some crumbled biscuit and hey presto, strawberry cheesecake cupcakes. My lovely sisters also triumphed with an extremely pretty and truly delicious rose and pistachio cake, with a dash of rose syrup in the batter and topped with petal coloured butter-cream and pistachios. I wish I could have taken credit for these...

Red Velvet Cupcakes (Makes 24)

250g plain flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
100g butter
200g caster sugar
1 tsp red food colouring paste, or 4-5 tbsp red food colouring (wow)
2tsp vanilla extract
150ml milk
1tsp cider vingar

Cream cheese icing

500g icing sugar
125g full-fat cream cheese
125g butter
1tsp lemon juice/cider vinegar

Preheat the oven to 170oc

Combine the flour, cocoa and baking powder in a bowl.

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy and then add the vanilla extract and all of the food colouring (be brave!)

To this post-box red mixture, add one spoonful the dry ingredients, followed by one egg, then a few more spoonfuls, followed by the other egg, until smooth and fully combined.

Finally, beat in the milk and vinegar until silky. Divide between your bun cases (the prettier the better!) and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.

For the icing, beat together the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixture until fully combined.
Add the icing sugar slowly, until you have made a smooth icing.

 Add the lemon juice and mix again

Smear the icing onto the cakes and decorate any way you fancy! EAT!