A friend asked me recently what my favourite thing is to do on my blog and I immediately showed her the pictures of the chocolate teacakes I had made the week before.

You know when you start to talk about something and you just kind of glow, and you know it’s something that makes you happy? I felt like that about the chocolate teacakes.

homemade chocolate teacakes

Although I don’t like the tedium of having to cook actual meals day in day out, I do love baking. I find it completely absorbing, I don’t think about anything else, my mind is focused on the weighing and measuring and pouring and mixing. I find I can get into a lovely, relaxed sort of trance state with baking, where I just waft around the kitchen in a cloud of flour, the world shrunk down to the size of a 9 inch cake tin.

It’s not even about eating it afterwards, (although I do eat a lot of mixture as a go – finger fulls of cake batter or melted chocolate and pinches of sweet biscuit dough), I just love the process.

I particularly enjoy recreating things that I know already, like when I made those homemade party rings, do you remember? Blimey, they turned out so much better than I ever thought they would. Or the homemade jammie dodgers? I was really pleased with those. View Post

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A couple of weeks ago, on what seemed liked a perfectly ordinary Friday, a miracle happened in my kitchen.

I got a cake to rise.

Everyone was surprised, not least me when I tried to take it out of the oven and realised it had risen into the shelf above it. I managed to untangle it though, and took it out without dropping it or it collapsing or anything, so we were all good.

I am notoriously bad at getting large cakes to rise. I don’t know why, I follow all the tips, but they just don’t like me. My Victoria sponges come always come out looking more like giant biscuits and for the girls’ birthdays I’ve been known to make several cakes and stack them all on top of each other, just to try and create a normal looking birthday cake.

This rapsberry and dark chocolate ricotta cake though, I don’t know what it was, but wow, it was the height of an ACTUAL cake. A baking miracle.

raspberry and chocolate ricotta cake recipe

Look at that! Proper chunky.

This cake is slightly different to cakes I’ve made before in that it’s made with a tub of ricotta. Not JUST ricotta obviously, we’re not playing sandcastles, just ricotta as an extra. The ricotta does make for a a very soft, moist sponge, so perhaps this helped with the rising? Who knows. I’ll be making it again, that’s for sure.

The lemon zest is only one lemon but it goes a long way and is the perfect balance to the richness and sweetness of the dark chocolate and raspberries, even if I do say so myself. I like the raspberries and the chocolate being on the top of the cake – I think it makes it look fancy. View Post

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Advertisement feature – easy chilli con carne with Simply Cook

easy chilli con carne recipe

Everyone makes their chilli con carne with a branded wooden spoon yes?

I’m a sucker for anything that means I have to spend less time thinking about what to have for dinner because to be quite honest after 25 years of cooking for children I’m done with it.

‘What’s for tea?’

‘I didn’t like my packed lunch.’

‘This cucumber is too spicy.’

No thanks.

I do like the ease of the meal box schemes where all the ingredients arrive at your door, but I’m less keen on the amount of packaging that comes with them, like individual eggs in plastic boxes and masses of ice and insulation just for a couple of chicken breasts. I also find I can end up with a lot of fresh ingredients that need using up way too quickly.

Simply Cook is the perfect compromise.

Simply Cook sends you a selection of carefully chosen and blended spices and seasonings, along with a recipe card, and you buy the fresh ingredients at a time that suits. It means you have the basics of a restaurant quality meal in the cupboard, ready to inspire you when you need it, without masses of plastic packaging or potential food waste.

And it fits through the letterbox. Boom. View Post

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This is a paid advertorial with Tesco

Today I’m putting Tesco Clubcard Plus to the test to see just how easy it is to save money on your supermarket shopping. With Tesco Clubcard Plus you can save up to £40* on your in-store grocery shop and 10% on selected Tesco brands, including clothing and homeware. Read on to find out how it works.

 

There were a lot of things I liked about the early days of lockdown.

I liked not having to GO anywhere and then not feeling like you were missing out because you knew that everyone else was just at home making banana bread and watching reruns of Rosemary and Thyme too. (That wasn’t just me right?)

I liked having a break from work without that feeling of ‘oh but I should really be doing x, y and z’. Although I do love the flexibility of being self-employed and wouldn’t swap it, there’s a lot to be said for the paid holiday that comes with a regular job. I got a lovely tan in the first month of lockdown and read more books than I had in the whole year before that.

I also liked not spending money. Some friends have said they actually ended up spending more because of shopping online, but I don’t do so much of that. Most of my spending outside regular bills is going out related – days out, coffees, lunches and dinners in restaurants – and overnight this just stopped. It sucked that my work took such a down turn and that I didn’t qualify for any government support, but once I’d got things like the mortgage payment holiday in place, I found that my drop in spending was enough to mean I could tick over. Hence the tan.

I know that I could just not spend that money, lockdown or not, but it doesn’t really work like that does it? Not for me anyway. It’s a bit like eating and drinking – if the opportunity is there then normally I take it.

Would I like to go out for brunch? Why yes, yes I would.’

Now then, with the country tentatively reopening its doors for brunch fun times, I’ve found a little bit of worry starting to creep in about how my spending is going to increase. I try generally to keep as relaxed an attitude to money as I can muster – you can’t take it with you, it doesn’t buy you love etc etc – but sometimes it will sneak up on me, that feeling of it seeping away, of not being as in control as I might like.

It’s similar to the feeling I get on my sixth Jaffa Cake and it’s not good.

As I don’t want to not go out for brunch – what horror – I’ve had to look for other, easier ways to save money. One of them is Tesco Clubcard Plus.

I already had a regular Tesco Clubcard of course, because I’m a sucker for earning points and feeling like I’m part of a club, (I think it comes from not having many friends at school…), but Tesco Clubcard Plus cranks things up a notch in terms of membership perks. I’m talking actual cash in your pocket, not just a self-laminated certificate. (Definitely never done that.)

How do I set up Tesco Clubcard Plus?

It really couldn’t be easier to start saving money with Tesco Clubcard Plus.

Step one – subscribe to Tesco Clubcard Plus. It costs £7.99 a month but there is no minimum term so you can cancel any time you like. Although honestly, why would you want to voluntary stop saving money every month?

Step two – download the Clubcard app.

Step three – start saving money! Hoorah!

I found the whole process took just a matter of minutes and the app is very intuitive to use. View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Belling

Hulk ice cream sandwiches

Never let it be said that I don’t enjoy a challenge.

When British cooking appliance brand Belling, who’ve been helping families create tasty, nutritious meals since 1912, asked me if I fancied creating a superhero themed recipe as part of their latest campaign to get kids excited about cooking then of course I said yes.

Belling has actually created an entire recipe book of superhero themed recipes, which you can get completely free here. All of the recipes in the Belling campaign are healthy twists on foods linked to superhero films, including treats like rainbow smoothies inspired by Bruce Wayne’s smoothies in Batman Begins and the picnic sandwiches that Billy Batson enjoys in Shazam.

How hard could it be?

‘Not a problem,’ I said.

‘How about some Hulk themed ice cream sandwiches made with Hunka Hulka Burning Fudge ice cream?’ I said.

‘Excellent!’ Belling replied.

And there I was.

If you’re an Avengers fan then you may already have spotted the extra dimension to my challenge – the fact that Hunka Hulka Burning Fudge is actually a completely made up ice cream flavour. Here’s the Hulk tucking into it in Avengers: Endgame: View Post

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Last weekend was Jon’s birthday*, and as everyone knows that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and I needed some blog content, I thought I’d make him a TREAT. Thoughtful no?

I’ve never made millionaire’s shortbread before, and I only had one afternoon to do it in, but it’s one of his favourites and so I thought I’d give it a bash. TOP TIP: you really need more than one afternoon if you want to make proper millionaire’s shortbread where the caramel doesn’t ooze out of the sides as soon as you try to cut it.

Still, everyone knows it’s the thought that counts, and I kept some back to give them longer in the fridge so they’d look good in photos, so really it was an incredibly thoughtful gift and Jon should be very impressed with me.

Easy millionaire's shortbread recipe

I’m an absolute catch

Making millionaire’s shortbread isn’t actually that difficult, as long as you pay attention to the caramel, it’s just that it takes ages, because of the layers. Both the caramel and the chocolate took longer than I expected to go properly hard, so even though the caramel was set enough after a couple of hours to take the chocolate on top, the whole lot still wasn’t hard enough to slice five hours after I started. I would suggest making your millionaire’s shortbread the day before you want it, so that it can chill in the fridge overnight.

Otherwise, it’s a piece of cake, quite literally, so let’s get on with it. View Post

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brunch club

It was sad timing for me that just when I discovered my true life calling – brunch – the world was overtaken by a deadly pandemic and all of the cafes and restaurants shut down. No sooner had I recreated the banana bread at the Kitchen at Jordan’s Courtyard* than the world went mad and even getting hold of a bag of flour became like completing a room in the Aztec Zone on the Crystal Maze.

Just my luck, as Adrian Mole would say.

There’s something about brunch, as a concept, that means it’s just not the same when you make it at home. At home it becomes more of a ‘blimey it’s 11am and I still haven’t had breakfast’ kind of a meal. It’s not decadent like it is when you go out for brunch, it’s more a symptom of an inefficient morning.

I blame a lack of brunch, in part at least, for my emotional decline during lockdown, resulting in a rather embarrassing panic attack in the bin liner aisle of Sainsbury’s last week and a worrying obsession with ticks. I’m losing my grip, and so to reconnect with reality, with my One True Purpose, I decided to go all out today on a homemade brunch.

I decided to make Boston Tea Party sweetcorn fritters. View Post

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easy apple cake recipe

Up your pandemic baking game with this easy apple cake recipe

What is it about a global pandemic that means everyone rushes to make banana bread? I keep seeing memes about it on social media and I’m just as guilty of it, although in my defence I make a lot of banana bread virus or no virus, just because I buy bananas with good intentions but have never quite learned the habit of choosing fruit over Wotsits.

Overripe bananas are my nemesis.

I posted my never fail banana bread recipe only a few months ago in fact, before we were all confined to barracks. Good timing probably for all the frantic banana bread recipe Googling.

I thought I’d push myself outside of my pandemic comfort zone this weekend though, and have a go instead at an apple cake. I know right? SHOCK HORROR, talk about living life on the edge, it doesn’t get much more daring than this does it? This apple cake recipe comes from a book called Botanical Baking, which is full of beautiful recipes using edible flowers. It’s very Millenial Instagram user.

I’m confined to the house at the moment – halfway through 14 days of self-isolation – so I can’t exactly go foraging for edible flowers, but we do have a small apple tree in our garden, which grew from a pip that Belle planted when she was about two years old, so I thought I’d try my hand at the apple blossom cake.

apple blossom cake recipe

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Advertisement feature

It’s safe to say that food is a MASSIVE part of my life and I’m normally thinking about my next meal, even when I’m in the middle of eating the current one. I love browsing through cookery books too and I often pick them up cheaply at charity shops, (always fun for the 1980s food photography), or at discount from places like The Works.

Whenever I travel anywhere, one of the things I love to do is try local foods, especially street food or dishes that are specific to a particular location, so in this post I’ve pulled together a few ideas for street foods to try on your next mini-break. The first couple are things I’ve tried already, to ease me in, but the rest are most definitely on the wish list.

Pastéis de Nata in Lisbon

When I was visiting Lisbon a couple of years ago for my solo birthday treat I took a tram across the city to try one of what was alleged to be the best Pastéis de Nata in Portgual. They did not disappoint. In fact I had three – you can’t go all that way and just have one now can you? Pastéis de Nata are basically custard tarts, but fancier.

portuguese custard tarts View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Darégal

Do you remember last week how I expounded on the virtues of frozen herbs and showed you how to cook a cherry and thyme clafoutis?

(I KNOW! Cherry and THYME! Herbs in a dessert. I’m such a renegade. I should probably write a groundbreaking recipe book right now.)

Gluten free cherry clafoutis with thyme

It was because I’d just been to that Darégal cooking workshop and was all of a flutter about how frozen herbs were going to change my life. I’d basically decided, watching the Darégal chef make those amazing mussels in coconut milk, that from now on I was going to be the ultimate domestic goddess, conjuring up flavourful home cooked meals at least twice a day. It was only because I hadn’t had frozen herbs in my life until that point that I cooked so many chicken dippers. But now… now my freezer was full of chopped garlic and coriander and ginger and the world was my oyster.

CHANGE WAS COMING.

Okay, so I have cooked some chicken dippers since then, but Belle honestly does love them. She’s like a toddler really in many ways – give her a plate of chicken dippers, some ketchup and the TV remote and she’s happy.

I don’t think that you need to necessarily choose though between being a culinary herb wizard and eating chicken dippers. I’m a complex woman after all, I have LAYERS. Some days I’m a chicken dippers kind of a gal, other days I’m cooking myself a prawn and coconut curry for lunch just because I can.

And very nice it was too.

easy prawn and coconut curry recipe View Post

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Advertisement feature in association with Darégal.

Do you remember a while back when I had that revelation about frozen chopped onions? At the time I called it a ‘landmark in my culinary life’, which was a bold statement, but then judging by the tone of the rest of the post I was perhaps going through a bit of an intense time – there’s a slight manic quality to the way I try to get Belle involved in the risotto – perhaps frozen onions really did feel life changing?

It had come on the back of me discovering all of those unusual frozen foods I never knew existed, so I was probably still a bit hyped from that. One of the foods that made that list was frozen herbs, which is what I want to talk to you about today, so get comfy.

Picture the scene for a moment, if you will. You’re cooking a new recipe and it has a long list of ingredients – garlic, ginger, coriander maybe. You’re feeling unusually enthusiastic about cooking so you embrace it and buy a packet of fresh coriander. Maybe you get carried away and buy one of the more expensive plants, thinking it’s just what you need to inspire you to cook fresh curries every day.

‘This coriander plant is going to change my life,’ you think to yourself, ‘who knows what kind of person I can be with this on my kitchen windowsill! It will be like the frozen onions all over again!’

Fast forward a week and you’re eating chicken dippers and chucking the dead coriander plant in the bin, or scrapping the coriander mush out of the vegetable drawer of the fridge. Ah well. Next time.

Great news for you my culinary friend! You don’t have to be that person any more. You don’t have to skip over the herbs in recipes because of the shame of that moment in the future – you CAN have your coriander and eat it! You just need to buy FROZEN HERBS.

I had this frozen onion style moment of inspiration at a cooking even I went to last week with a French company called Darégal, who are the world experts in culinary herbs. You probably won’t have heard of them, and you don’t need to look out for them in the freezer section as in the UK they provide herbs to restaurants, manufacturers and supermarkets to use in their own meals and products, rather than being their own consumer brand. Go into pretty much any supermarket – Iceland, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda or M&S – and their frozen herbs with have come from Darégal.

They also make frozen garlic, chilli and ginger – all things that I end up either skipping in recipes because I can’t be faffed, or chucking away loads of a week later.

where to buy frozen herbs View Post

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One of my favourite times of the week is a weekend morning, when Belle is still asleep and I’m alone with the cats, pottering.

Pottering is great isn’t it? I get the Archers omnibus on and I potter about doing all the crappy jobs I’ve been putting off for weeks like recharging the hoover battery and finally dealing with the Christmas tree on the back patio. (This one is currently aspirational.)

This weekend I potted up the avocado stone I’ve FINALLY managed to get to sprout after about eight failed attempts over the course of several years, which was very satisfying, and then to balance it out I threw away two other dead plants. That’s the circle of life for you, right there.

I also like to do a bit of light cooking when I’m pottering – something that I can nibble while I do my jobs. One of my favourite things to make is my ‘whatever’s in the fridge frittatas‘, partly because they’re tasty but also because it’s a useful way to clean out the fridge, which is another one of my favourite pottering pastimes.

This weekend, once the avocado stone was settled in, I thought I’d make some frittatas as a way to use up the cauliflower I’d had in the fridge for ages. I bought it with good intentions but you know, sometimes it’s hard to get around to eating a whole cauliflower, however positive you may feel about it at the time. I had a similar situation going on with a bag of spinach, which I’d bought to stir into a sweet potato curry that never happened, so that went in too.

cauliflower cheese mini frittatas

On reflection, I think they needed something sweeter to balance the flavours a bit better, (I dipped them in BBQ sauce, which wasn’t ideal), so in the recipe I’ve added the option of peas or cherry tomatoes, which I think would lift the frittatas nicely. View Post

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