Wednesday, 26 January 2011

4. Hazelnut and Chocolate Cupcakes

For the cupcakes
100g plain flour
2 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder
140g caster sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
A pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter
120ml whole milk
1 egg
120g Nutella

1. Preheat the oven to 170C

2. Put the flour, cocoa powder, caster sugar, baking powder, salt and butter into a free-standing mixer with a paddle attachment or use a handheld electric whisk. Beat on a slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined.

3. Slowly pour the milk into the flour mixture, beating well until all ingredients are well mixed.

4. Add the egg and beat well, scraping any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

5. Spoon the mixture into paper cases until two thirds full and bake in the preheated oven for about twenty minutes or until the cake bounces back when touched.

6. Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly in the pan before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

7. When the cupcakes are cold, hollow out a small hole in the centre of each one and fill with Nutella before frosting.

For the hazelnut and chocolate frosting
250g icing sugar, sifted
80g butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons of milk
80g Nutella

1. Beat the icing sugar and butter on a medium to slow speed until the mixture comes together.

2. Turn down to a slower speed and slowluy pour in the milk. Once incorporated turn the mixer up to high speed and beat until light and fluffy, at least five minutes.

3. Stir in the Nutella by hand until evenly mixed and ice the cupcakes.

This recipe comes courtesy of The Hummingbird Bakery's Cupcakes and Muffins cookbook. While making these cupcakes i had a few little alterations, mainly through being short on time or because of what i had to hand! I used semi-skimmed milk which is a marginally healthier change which i imagine didn't change the flavour outcome at all.

When it came to the cases and amount put in i used similar cases to these from Lakeland. To start with i filled them to roughly two thirds as instructed, which was about 64g of mixture. However, these rose far too much and required having their tops chopped off! For the following batches, i only used 40g of mixture which was just about perfect for getting a flat-topped and well-risen cupcake.

I also think i made the holes for the Nutella too big and, in turn, put too much Nutella in...they're quite rich and there only needs to be a bit of Nutella to get the flavour. I'd say a bit less than half a teaspoon is adequate.

Finally, when it came to the frosting i managed to spread out one batch of frosting across two batches of cupcakes. I found that they still had plenty on top, although i guess they lacked the impressive mountain of icing that seems to be the fashion with cupcakes at the moment.

Overall, these cupcakes were fun and quite easy to make. The cupcakes themselves are deliciously light and not too sweet or rich. Then the Nutella and frosting just takes it to the brink, but holds back enough to be a scrumptious treat.

I do need to practice my icing though, i'm a bit sloppy!

Saturday, 22 January 2011


It's been a busy couple of days with various sporting pursuits and general busy-ness, but on Friday i took most of the day out to go and see my mum at home. The day started with some tea and a lovely lunch of double-baked potatoes. Just simply take baked potatoes, scoop out the potato and mix with wholegrain mustard, cheese and egg yolk. Then refill the skins with the mixture and bake. Served with some salad and seeds it was quite a delicious and warming, but light, lunch.

I also had a big treat in the form of Bakewell of my favourites! We couldn't resist digging into the first one while it was warm, so the jam oozed out and had to be dribbled over the top like a sauce. Recipe (and a damn good one at that) to follow below!

After a bit of work we took a break to walk round the trees...

...with the dogs (Truffle)...

...and gave the chickens and ducks some food. Molly wasn't so keen on the walk!

Bakewell Tart
For the pastry:
150g plain flour
pinch of salt
30g butter, cubed
30g lard, cubed
1 tablespoon cold water

1. Sift flour and salt into a bowl and rub in the fats until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.

2. Add some of the water and mix until the dough clumps. Add the rest and bring together into a smooth ball with your hands as quickly as possible.

3. Wrap in clingfilm and put in the fridge to cool for at least 30 minutes before use.

For the Tart:
4 tablespoons jam of choice
3 eggs
150g golden caster sugar
150g ground almonds
Half a teaspoon almond extract/essence
150g butter
25g flaked almonds

1. Preheat oven to 190C and butter a deep 20cm pie dish or tin and line with pastry. Spread the jam over the base.

2. Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a bowl until thick and paler. Stir in the groung almonds and extract with a metal spoon.

3. Melt the butter, pour into the almond mixture and mix well.

4. Pour over the pasty and spread the flaked almonds over the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes until golden.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

3. Double almond, lemon and blueberry picnic loaf

225g soft unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
4 large eggs
zest of 2 lemons, juice of 1
225g plain flour
100g ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
200g blueberries

1. Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly butter a 28cm loaf tin and line the bottom with greaseproof paper.

2. Put all of the ingredients (exlucing the blueberries) into a large bowl with a pinch of salt and beat together with an electric hand whisk until smooth and combinedd.

3. Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and push the blueberries gently in. Smooth over the top. Bake for 50-60 mins or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the loaf. Cool in the tin before turning out.

This recipe is from a pre-christmas issue of Sainsbury's magazine and i managed to use up quite a few bits that i had around the kitchen. Alongside a rather old looking lemon and some leftover ground almonds, i used blueberries from the freezer which i let defrost first.

Because it's a 'put-everything-in-together-and-blitz-it' recipe, it's really quick and simple. I didn't have a 28cm loaf tin so used a 20cm and made one mini loaf. The mini loaf obviously didn't take as long (about 25 minutes) while the big loaf took more like 70-80 minutes with being a bit deeper. Also, after about 40 minutes i covered it with some foil to prevent too much browning.

It's nice and fresh with the juice from the blueberries to help wash the mouth and the slight lemony touch cuts through to prevent too much sugary or buttery-ness. It's quite a light sponge too, so isn't too dense or heavy to eat.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011


Today is my nephew's second birthday and on Sunday the family all got together for a party. Alongside some great food, my sister made this birthday cake and birthday biscuits. Apparently between us all we scoffed 60 of these delicious biscuits from Nigella's 'How to be a Domestic Goddess'! They were fab and, as Nigella describes in her book, able to hold their shape during cooking while having a melting, buttery texture.

Butter cut-out biscuits
175g soft unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
400g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
300g icing sugar
Food colouring

1. Preheat oven to 180C

2. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale then beat in the eggs and butter.

3. In another bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt then mix together the wet and dry ingredients.

4. If the mixture is too sticky to roll out, add a little flour at a time until it's the right consistency.

5. Rest the mixture in the fridge for an hour.

6. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1/2cm and cut into the required shapes.

7. Bake for 8-12 minutes or until lightly golden around the edges. Cool on a rack.

8. Put a couple of tablespoons of just-not-boiling water into a large bowl, add the sieved icing sugar and mix together. Add more water if necessary to form a thick paste and colour as desired.

I think my nephew had a great day and enjoyed opening his presents. And there was only one mini strop!

A bit later this afternoon i'm going to get started on tea for later- chickpea, chorizo, tomato and spinach stew from Rick Stein's Mediterranean Escapes.

In other news, the icing for the chocolate forest cloud cake finally set to the right consistency, so the final quarter can look rather nice while it waits to be eaten!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

2. Cloud Forest Chocolate Cake

For the cake:
180g cacao, finely grated
250g unsalted butter
6 eggs
50g light muscavado sugar
125g golden caster sugar
100g ground almonds

For the icing:
250ml double cream
75g golden caster sugar
90g cacao

1. Preheat oven to 170C. Line a 25cm springform cake tin with baking paper.

2. For the cake, melt the cacao and butter by placing them in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.

3. Meanwhile, beat the eggs with the muscavado and caster sugar until pale and doubled in volume.

4. Stir the cacao mixture into the eggs. Fold in the ground almonds, then top the cake mix into the prepared tin. Bake for 35 minutes, or until slightly but evenly risen all over and a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

5. Prepare the icing by gently heating the cream and sugar until almost boiling. Remove from the heat then stir in the cacao until it has melted. Leave to cool then spread over the cake.

This recipe comes from Willie Harcourt-Cooze's 'Willie's Chocolate Factory Cookbook'. Bursting with recipes and the story of how he came to build his own chocolate factory, this book is fab! I got some of his Venezuelan Black Caranero Superior a while back as a present and it's been difficult to use it because it's one of those things that you end up never wanting to use, if that makes sense?!

Anyway, so i finally decided to use it on this recipe. Overall, pretty simple and satisfying to make, although grating the cacao was a bit of a chore! I did use a smaller tin (about 20cm) which meant that i added about 30 minutes cooking time during which i lowered the temperature and covered it with some foil.

Also for the icing, having used up my only cacao in the cake, i substituted some odds and ends of chocolate we had around- some Hotel Chocolat dark chilli easter egg, Green and Blacks 70% dark and Sainsbury's Basics dark. I don't think my icing set as much as it perhaps should have, so i didn't put it on as thick and the top smoothed over, rather than having nice rough sweeps through it, and started to dribble down a bit! Still as yummy though and, given the richness of the cake, perhaps a good thing to not have so much pure chocolate and cream around it!

The cake itself feels quite substantial to cut through and looks quite dense or truffle-ey almost. But to eat it is surprisingly light and soft in the mouth (i guess that's where the name comes from!). It is, as mentioned before, very rich and not too sweet...definitely a grown up cake!

Saturday, 15 January 2011

1. Sweet potato and spinach bake

300ml single cream (can be swapped with double cream for more richness)
1 garlic clove
2 sprigs of rosemary or thyme
250g spinach (frozen or fresh)
Freshly grated nutmeg
Butter, for greasing
850g sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (about 3mm)
25g grated hard cheese (parmesan, cheddar...)

1. Heat oven to 200C. Put the cream, garlic and herb sprigs into a saucepan and slowly bring to just below boiling. Turn off hob and leave to infuse.

2. Wilt the spinach or thaw it with boiling water and leave to drain in a colander. Squeeze out as much water as possible and then season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

3. Grease an ovenproof dish and spread half of the sweet potato slices across the bottom. Top with a layer of spinach then the remaining potato. Pour over the cream mixture, through a sieve to remove the garlic and herbs, then sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 45-55 mins until golden and tender.

This recipe comes from the BBC Good Food magazine, February 2011 issue. I quite enjoyed making this and it was quite simple and healthy. Overall, i wasn't the biggest fan of the final product, but i am new to sweet potato and adjusting to it's flavour and texture.

Thursday, 13 January 2011


This was my dinner last night...jerk chicken with rice and beans, mmmhhmmmm! It's a bit of cheats recipe really, which i should get round to making properly from scratch one day, but it's so easy, quick and tasty that i can't resist! I just use Walkerswood Jerk Seasoning mixed with some natural yoghurt to marinade the chicken in before grilling it; that way you get the nice browned (or blackened!) bits and it's slightly healthier. Then just cook the brown rice until it's nearly done and add in kidney beans. When it's all ready, drain and add a mix of water, chicken stock cube and coconut powder to help bring the rice together and give it some flavour.

Tonight i'm trying something completely new and different as the first step in the 52 recipe challenge. Inspired by Colour it green, i'm going to try and cook 52 new recipes through the year, or one every week. I'm a couple of weeks behind but i think i'll catch up ok as i've got a few i want to try out already! I'm going to try and do one out of each cookbook we own as well, to get a bit of variety in there. I'll post about each one with the recipe and how it, quite literally, went down. Can't wait!

I always get a Sainsbury's magazine when there's a new one in and i think they're brilliant food mags. I love the recipes and articles they have in them and how everything's presented to the reader. One of my new favourite regular pieces is the thing above- a selection of 7 recipes starting with one basic recipe. I like the idea of taking one thing and simply changing it slighty to give a variety of different outcomes. Plus they look really interesting and appealing. I'm looking forward to trying some of them out!

Note to self: Ecclefechans are amazing!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Looking Back: Italy

In April last year, me and Pin went to Italy and travelled up from Rome, through Florence and Bologna, to Venice. It was truly amazing and hopefully the start of many exciting trips. I've finally got round to writing about it and with having so much to possibly talk about have decided to give an attempted brief round-up of the places we feel are definitely worth a visit. They are, in true fashion of this blog, mostly food related except...

The Beehive, Rome

Coming highly recommended, this was our accommodation of choice in Rome. It was very affordable, very close to the train station, clean, modern and an all-round sanctuary for the evenings in a busy city. Everything about this place was loveable- the rooms, the art in the halls, the people who worked there, the breakfasts (oh my gosh, the breakfasts), the family photo laden sofa and computer room...just everything. The perfect place to find for a home away from home on your travels

Mondo Arancina, Rome

One of the big highlights of going to Italy is, of course, the pizza. I love pizza. Even more so I love pizza in Italy. And even more than that, I love pizza from Mondo Arancina. Everything we got from here was pure heaven, especially the Pizza Bufala and Pizza Patate; both without tomato sauce, the first simply just with some garlicy buttery stuff and ripped pieces of mozzarella on top while the latter was topped with this delicious rosemaryish potato stuff. Words cannot describe, not even my own made up ones. And not wanting to stop there, they make the best Arancina i found in Italy. A filled riceball coated in breadcrumbs and fried. My personal favourite was mozzarella and spinach.

Pizzeria Da Baffetto, Rome

In very stark contrast to Mondo Arancina’s quite plump pizza slices cut to measure and takeaway are Pizzeria Da Baffetto’s family run sit-down pizzeria solely specialising in their roman style pizza. Right from the off, this place is an amazing experience. Queuing to get in is almost guaranteed until it is your turn to be beckoned in according to how many seats are free. And that is quite literally just the seats- we were a group of two sat down on a table of four, so had two lovely teachers on a school trip to chat to over dinner! While some people might find this a bit odd, i though it just added to the charm of the place. Then came the food. Pizza here is taken seriously, and the chaps who were making them were churning out perfect pizza after pizza tirelessly for hours on end and were experts. We were lucky to be sat right next to the pizza making area and could watch the process in its full glory. The precision of it was just phenomenal, and being able to watch my pizza come from creation to the plate in front of me and then dig in to it was amazing. Pin went for zucchini and i went for quattro formaggi. And it was a damn good pizza.

Forno, Rome

We found this place by accident while strolling around a bit lost and it was quite the treasure. They make all things doughy from breads to panettone and pizza to cakes. We had some delicious pizza (another potato, a ham and possibly margherita) cut to the length you want and priced by the weight, as well as a scrumptious custard-rice tart. What was really nice too was the fact it was a local haunt; a beautiful building from the 1800’s located alongside a market and full of Romans. A wonderful experience for anyone who wants to get a feel of the real Rome.

Grom, Florence and Bologna

This particular photo is of Grom in Florence, but we found one in Bologna and one was soon opening in Venice. The setting was modern and clean with the servers being trained to serve and present the ice cream in a particular Grom way. Plus, there were some nice unique and different flavours which all just divine. Between the two shops we tried such things as caramello al sale, pompelmo, torroncino, fior di latte and crema di grom. I hope they one day branch out to England!

Gelateria Dei Neri, Florence

Gelateria Dei Neri was a lovely little place packed with delicious treats. Gelato, sorbetti and semi-freddo lined a few freezers while there were cannoli stacked high and cones of various sizes and types lined along the counter. As with all the best ice cream in Italy, everything was homemade and i fell in love with their cioccolato messicano- chocolate, pistachio and chilli ice cream. YUM.

Vestri, Florence

Vestri was another little gem- part gelateria, part shop where they sell their homemade chocolates. I very nearly came away with some gorgeous looking chilli hot chocolate (still wish i had!). What i particularly loved was how snug it was. Cramped isn’t the right word, mainly because it has negative connotation, but as you go in to the ice cream serving area there is just about enough room for two people to pass each other. There are shelves up to the roof stacked with little sweet delights and something to see everywhere. Then the shop next door is quite a contrast; glass shelving lines just the walls while the back wall is completely mirror and the front is completely glass, giving an open and airy feeling. And, of course, the ice cream was delish!

L’Osteria Di Giovanni, Florence

We ate her on our final night in Florence and it was quite the treat. Our waiter was fabulous and appreciated our attempts at Italian, as well as giving us recommendations and bringing us little tasters. All of the food was fabulous, fresh and very filling but the highlight was their starter; Giovanni’s Antipasto. It consisted of proscuittio, artisanal salami’s, crostini with liver pate, lard from colonnata, ricotta and a spelt salad. With bread, of course! The setting was sleek while being quite traditional and felt quite sophisticated. All in all, a lovely find.

Venchi, Bologna

Entering Venchi felt like walking into a high end chocolate shop, very glamourous, stylish and somewhat sexy! With a theme of chocolate browns running throughout you immediately feel peckish, so it’s a good job they’ve got their range of chocolates and ice cream to choose from right in front of you! Similarly to Grom, they had some of their own unique flavours such as ‘brutto ma buono latte’ and ‘unico caramel’. Naughty and moreish, these ice creams are proper scrummy.

La Sorbetteria Castiglione, Bologna

This is the god amongst men of gelaterias. It is mind-blowingly good. The old cliché ‘better than sex’ comes to mind. Alongside the more ‘normal’ flavours are their trademark named flavours:
Crema Michelangelo – almond with toasted almonds
Cremino Ludovico – praline with cocoa butter
Dolce Karin – white chocolate with caramelised nuts
Crema Edoardo –mascarpone with pine kernels
Dolce Emma – ricotta with dried figs and honey
Cremino Guglielmo – mascarpone with coffee and cocoa nibs
Dolce Contagio – pine nut and caramelised walnut
Dolce Mu – Dulce De leche
Alongside a few of the other flavours we tried all of these in the space of two days. Some twice. Easily the best ice cream we had in Italy and, while we didn’t go to relatively many places, we did try close to 90 flavours! Just AMAZING. And i haven’t even talked about the chocolate chip brioche bun that they used to house four scoops of ice cream...

Gelateria il Sogno di Walter, Bologna

Compared to the grandeur of Castiglione, this place is quite small and simple. However, the flavour packed into their ice cream doesn’t fall far below. With not being quite so big, the chap who runs the place was really happy to talk to us and explain a few things about the flavours and give us recommendations. A really friendly place to sit and enjoy a great tasting ice cream. Or two. Or three. Of particular deliciousness was their signature flavour ‘Sogno Di Walter’.

Osteria Ae Sconte, Venice

We found this place while haplessly walking around the small back streets of Venice, which i was useless at navigating. A charming place, again, with great service. We had the choice to sit inside or out in the small square that it fronted onto; we chose the latter. Quite magical, really. The food was local, fresh, delicious and reasonable. Plus the wine was perfect, which i put down to their good selection and our good taste!

Suso, Venice

For us, Suso was our saving grace for ice cream in Venice. We tried a few places and compared what we’d become accustom to in terms of quality, we just couldn’t find it in Venice. Then, after our meal at Osteria Ae Sconte (and having quaffed a fair bit of wine) we were once again walking around the streets of Venice, somewhat lost, when we found Suso. Not the best we’d found through Italy but certainly the best in Venice (maybe that is until Grom opens though). With some really refreshing flavours, like green tea, and a couple of real winners in both their self-named creation and ‘noce e fico’, I’d recommend heading here if you’re going to Venice.


The kitchen was a hive of activity last night. Meatballs were going on the hob made from pork and beef from the freezer for tomorrow night's post-hockey tea. The sauce has also been made and i've cooked my pasta for lunch tomorrow. I made a Nando's 'sauce' (soured cream and Nando's sauce, nothing too technical!) to go with it along with some salad and jalapenos. Just can't get enough of spicy things at the moment!

Dinner was delicious and, i'm sure, far too simple for something so tasty.

Sausage and Bean Casserole

6 good quality sausges, preferably flavoured (chili and coriander, toulouse...etc)
1 tin of plum tomatoes
1 tin of haricot beans
1 onion
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon fennel, crushed
pinch of salt and pepper
pinch of soft brown sugar
a couple of dashes of tabasco (optional!)

Preheat oven to 150 celcius and brown off the sausages in an oven proof pan. Add the chopped onion and crushed garlic and allow to cook off a bit with the sausages. Then pour in the tomatoes and beans with the fennel, salt, pepper, sugar and tabasco. Place in the oven, with a lid on, and leave for 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours...overall, the cooking time can be quite flexible to what you need it to be.

A lot of the flavour will come from the sausages which is why it's important to get decent ones and, if you choose to, a flavour that you will like to have in your dish!

Saturday, 8 January 2011


Today is one of the last free saturdays before things get manic with hockey again, so i made the most of it and had a rather proper brunch. Dippy egg and soldiers with tea, yum!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011


In a bid to maintain the healthy heating i'm trying to make my meals a bit fresher and lighter with the fat coming from healthier sources. I've had these two over the past couple of nights and they've been really lovely.

Also, i've been trying to have more fresh stuff for breakfasts and i had a smoothie for breakfast and a salad for lunch. I'm so obsessed with the flavour of jalapenos at the moment that my salad was literally just salad leaves, chopped up jalapenos and a bit of homemade dressing and was so delicious despite it's simplicity.

The dressing was just some olive oil, cider vinegar, small amounts of wholegrain and dijon mustards with pinches of salt, pepper and sugar all shaken up in a jar. YUM. I'm going to clean up a jar and put pen markings on it for the amounts of vinegar and oil so me (being a heavy handed monster) can easily make up a batch to keep in the fridge. And i can reuse the little bottles that i got Nando's peri-peri drizzle in to take it to work with me for a freshly drizzled salad!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

New Year

This was the first thing i ate in 2011! And i don't think i could have asked for anything better...bacon sandwich with brown sauce and vinegar, yum! This year i'm not really going for the resolutions thing, but i guess there are some things i want to aim for which i should just be doing more of anyway. I want to carry on eating healthier which kind of ties in with doing more cooking and baking.

Using some bits from the freezer and christmas left-overs i put together a yummy and simple three course dinner. A bacon and blue cheese (cheshire blue to be precise, yummy) salad with a splash of homemade dressing followed by steak and chips. Then i chucked together a monster of an ice cream sundae...Ben and Jerry's Phish Food frozen yoghurt with layers of crumbled Oreo and warm salted caramel topped with cream and a Gu chocolate truffle hidden at the bottom. YUM YUM YUM.

Happy 2011.