Food

Recipes I try and love and that above all are easy and not time consuming – great for family meals.

Is there someone in your life who is difficult to buy for?

Are you always on the lookout for a new recipe book, something a little bit different from the usual?

Have you been thinking about reducing the amount of meat you eat, maybe even stepping into the world of vegetarians but you’re not quite sure how to start?

I have three cook books to show you that can tick all of those boxes, not only will they amplify your recipe base but also will make the most wonderful gifts. We are talking about the Soulful Baker by Julie Jones, The Flexible Vegetarian by Jo Pratt and Cook Yourself Happy by Caroline Fleming.

Soulful Baker

cook books

Probably one of the most beautiful books you will see on the shelf this autumn. The Soulful Baker is a delight to look through searching for that special sweet recipe. This book truly was a labour of love as Julie Jones put it together when her mother, who taught her to cook, was diagnosed with dementia. They would spend time baking together and Julie started an Instagram feed which then led to this book.

The astonishing beauty of her creations will take your breath away and the method is written in such an easy format that your creations cannot fail.

I have been flicking through trying to decide which recipe to try first but there are so many good ones to choose from, I can’t wait to get started.

For me, baking has always been associated with emotion. Those precious hours set aside to unwind and spend quality time preparing something with love and care. I was first introduced to baking when I was very small, stood upon a stool working alongside my Mother, her oversized apron folded in half and tied around my waist. I often think of her encouraging instructions and advice with affection, ‘beat really fast – otherwise the batter will curdle’. No fancy or expensive equipment was used then, just a big ceramic bowl and a wooden spoon. Such happy days. Days I recreate with my own children now. — Julie Jones

The Flexible Vegetarian

cook books the flexible vegetarian

The more I look around me, the more vegetarians I see and when I weigh up how much meat we consume I want to start reducing the quantity but not losing out on wholesome tasty meals. I have a few of Jo Pratt’s books, like In the Mood for Entertaining and Healthy Eating. I even met and cooked with Jo last year at a work event which was a wonderful experience plus I got to see first-hand just how clever her recipes are. Clever but simple, tasty and healthy.

cook books The Flexible Vegetarian

The Flexible Vegetarian is filled with delicious and practical recipes for every lifestyle and if you do have a stubborn meat eater to cook for the recipes offer a neat solution – just add meat or fish as they can be served either way.

There is a huge variety of ingredients that I have never cooked with before but aren’t difficult to find, so I am looking forward to trying my hand at some and venturing into a whole new culinary world.

Cook Yourself Happy

cook books

Have you heard of Hygge? I have a whole Pinterest board on it. It’s not so easy to translate as it refers to a state of mind, a sense of being rather than an object. Hygge is all about cosy, wholesome lifestyle and I think Cook Yourself Happy The Danish Way falls into this sense of being.

Caroline Fleming draws on old family recipes that boost your wellbeing both inside and out. Warm smoked salmon with pickled cucumber, fried pork belly and baked apples with marzipan are amongst some of the favourites but as she says herself, “Cooking and the results are (for me) ‘love’ that you can taste, smell and touch – all a big part, I think, of making us the happiest people.” See more of Caroline on her Instagram @carolineflemingofficial

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of each book for the purpose of this review.

lunchbox jelly pots

Two weeks under the belt of the Back to School routine and we seem to be doing fairly well…so far so good I’d say. We lost a cardigan but quickly retrieved it, we even found last term’s water bottle in the lost property whilst hunting it down! #winwin

As far as lunch is concerned, this term we have decided on 5 days a week lunchbox meals; the girls seem to think they get a longer lunch and they are constantly asking me to put less in as they don’t want to ‘waste all their time‘ eating.

Lunchboxes are a saviour but also a bit of a headache trying to keep them nutritious with food you know will be eaten.

Hartley’s have come up with an excellent idea – a wibbly, wobbly jelly in a cute little pot, perfectly sized for lunchboxes!

As previously mentioned, the girls are in that awkward stage between being little girls and big girls. A kind of no man’s land where they are trying their best to be grown up but there is a huge secret part of them that actually likes still being young. Like when we walk past a Build A Bear store for example.

Jelly, however, has no age limitations – ask Dad!

That means I can easily add a jelly pot to the lunchbox knowing they won’t be ridiculed at school, actually they may even get some street cred, I mean jelly is associated with the best parties, right?

hartleys jelly pot

The jelly pots come in six flavours, strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant, orange, apple and tropical.

They have no added sugar in them, all of the sugar is naturally occurring and no artificial colours or flavours have been added. They are also perfect for vegetarians too.

 

Hartley’s are giving away the bright yellow lunchboxes, all you need to do is collect 12 Jelly pot lids and fill in the online form. A Hartley’s lunchbox will be on its way to you and let’s face it, it won’t take too much time to collect 12 lids, will it?

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post with Hartley’s who are promoting their no added sugar jelly pots for lunchboxes. All opinions are my own.

Black Forest ice cream with Fabbri

As ice creams go I think Black Forest ice cream sums up a delectable combination of chocolate, ice cream and of course cherries. But what if I said Amarena? Would you know what I was talking about?

Allow me to indulge for a moment.

Amarena are the most exquisitely delicious cherries in a thick syrupy sauce that are used widely in Italy in desserts but also in many other recipes like, bruschetta with gorgonzola and amarena Fabbri drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Now that idea to me sounds heavenly and one I shall certainly try sooner or later.

But let’s get back to amarena. When I first moved out to Italy I was 19 and had lived a relatively normal life in Kent with the annual holiday to my grandparent’s apartment in Mallorca. I was wet behind the ears but with a great passion to learn and understand. My boyfriend Enrico, lived in the mountains and together with his family he ran a hotel; a hotel that had been in the family for almost 100 years (we celebrated the centenary in 2002).

I used to wait in the bar of the hotel in the evening whilst he was working, I would speak with his friends and slowly, slowly I learnt to speak Italian and they became my friends too. In that time I also had a glimpse into this new life and, whilst spending my evenings in the bar talking and playing cards, my eyes would always be drawn towards one very prominent vase on the shelf in the ice cream area. It was white with blue swirls on it and the word Fabbri.

My curiosity got the better of me (always a good idea) and I discovered it contained cherries in syrup called amarena so, me being me, I was curious to see what they tasted like….

Oh boy! Shall we say first taste and I was hooked.

More recently I was asked to a wonderful evening by Ciao Gusto where all of my favourite Italian brands were displayed and used for the meal we were invited to eat. I was sent a Ciao Gusto hamper later and amongst all of the wonderful products, I found a vase of Fabbri amarena. Can you imagine my delight?

Oh how I enjoyed them and when I learnt I could buy them from the Ciao Gusto shop at Ocado, it was like a dream come true.

If only to have a pretty blue and white vase on your kitchen shelf – which will soon be empty, trust me – I would highly recommend you buy some Fabbri amarena and taste these special cherries for yourself

Black Forest Ice Cream

Black Forest ice cream mix

Mixing the chocolate cake with the Fabbri amarena

Black Forest ice cream mix

The Sage ice cream maker working its magic on the ingredients…

5.0 from 1 reviews
Black Forest Ice Cream
 
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Black Forest Ice cream takes the traditional ingredients for the world famous cake and presents them in a delicious ice cream suitable for all of the family.
Author:
Recipe type: ice cream
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 1 litre
Ingredients
  • ½ pint of double cream
  • 1 x 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • 50g Fabbri amarena cherries
  • 90g chocolate cake crumbled
Instructions
  1. Mix the condensed milk, cream and vanilla essence in a jug and place in the fridge to cool.
  2. Place the mixture in the Sage ice cream maker and start to churn.
  3. Tip the cherries into a bowl and smash with a spoon, add the crumbled chocolate cake and mix well.
  4. When the ice cream maker signals to add the mix ins add the cherry mixture.
  5. Once completed, it's ready to eat or place in the freezer for later.

The Ciao Gusto shop on Ocado is the easiest way to order your authentic Italian products all in one place. With an amazing selection of products; some famous names and some new gems to discover. Find out more here: Italian Shop. Or, visit the Ciao Gusto website where you’ll also find more information and history behind all of their brands and a host of wonderful, season recipes too.

Guinness Cake easy recipe

For 2017 the company where I work, James Villas, have chosen a new charity to support throughout the year and we’ve gone local with our choice of Porchlight a charity that looks out for those who have nowhere to go, our local homeless people. This is a charity that has touched my heart and made me realise how fragile we all are and how lucky I am to be in the privileged position of having a roof over my head with hot water and heating, plus a full fridge!

Friday saw the first charity event organised at work and we had a Bake Off. Everyone was invited to bring something into work, the directors would judge and three prizes would be given out, two tickets to see Legally Blonde, a half day’s holiday and a bottle of prosecco. I had my eyes fixed firmly on the half day’s holiday as all working parents will understand the difficulties of covering 13 weeks school holidays with a measly 21 days!

I had a good think about what I would be preparing, something savoury from Italy or something sweet?

I scoured the Pinterest boards and came across a recipe on Love SWAH that I have been wanting to try for a long time now, a Guinness cake. I had heard that it works and is exceptionally delicious.

Guinness Cake

My plan was to have a go the weekend before at home so I had the chance to try it and improve it if necessary. I got all the ingredients in and like the best laid plans I ran out of time. This meant I would have to enter the competition without a trial, Mary Berry would not be impressed but hey ho, needs must.

Tommy was at home on the Thursday because it was half term and so, we set to together in the kitchen, after dinner and made the cake, the Whiskey ganache and the Baileys Icing, all ready for assembling later.

Whilst the cake was in the oven I had a go at making some bunting, the theme given was Love as it was close to Valentine’s Day and I am rather partial to hearts and flowers.

I managed to get all of my preparation sorted before bedtime and left my cake in the fridge over night.

Guinness Layer Cake with Whiskey Ganache and Baileys Icing
 
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A rich and delicious dark chocolate cake using Guinness in the cake, whiskey in the ganache and Baileys in the icing.
Author:
Recipe type: Cake
Cuisine: British
Ingredients
  • Dark Chocolate Guinness Cake
  • 250ml Guinness beer (1 cup)
  • 250g butter (1 cup + 1 tbsp)
  • 100g cup cocoa powder (2/3 cup)
  • 400g caster/superfine sugar (1¾ cups)
  • 140ml sour cream (2/3 cup)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 250g plain flour (2 cups)
  • 2½ tsp bicarbonate of soda/baking soda
  • Irish Whiskey Ganache
  • 225g dark chocolate (8 ounces)
  • 140ml heavy cream (2/3 cup)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tsp Irish whiskey
  • Baileys Cream Cheese Icing
  • 500-600g sifted icing sugar/powdered sugar (4-5 cups)
  • 100g butter at room temperature (1/2 cup)
  • 250g cream cheese at room temperature (8oz)
Instructions
  1. Dark Chocolate Guinness Cake
  2. Preheat oven 180°C/350°F and butter and line 2 x 23cm (9") springform tins.
  3. Melt the butter into the Guinness in a saucepan over low heat.
  4. Whisk in the cocoa and sugar and take the saucepan off the heat.
  5. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl until combined, than add to the beer mixture.
  6. Whisk in the flour and bicarb until combined.
  7. Divide the cake batter between the two tins and bake for 35-45 minutes. The middle of the cake may still be slightly wet when you take the cake out, but it will firm up as it cools down.
  8. Leave to cool completely in the tin as it is quite a damp cake and could collapse.
  9. Since these cakes need to be sliced horizontally, I wrap both cakes in cling wrap and store in the fridge for a few hours to firm up. It makes slicing the cakes easier.
  10. Irish Whiskey Ganache
  11. Heat cream up into the microwave until warm (not boiling) and then add finely chopped chocolate, stirring until melted and combined.
  12. Add in the butter and whiskey and stir until combined. Let the ganache cool until thick and spreadable.
  13. Baileys Cream Cheese Icing
  14. Cream the butter and icing sugar together until well mixed.
  15. Add the cream cheese in cubes slowly until incorporated.
  16. Add in Baileys. Continue mixing for 5 minutes until the icing is light and fluffy.
  17. To assemble
  18. Slice both cakes horizontally using a serrated knife so you have 4 layers of cake.
  19. Place your first layer on the cake stand and spread around 2 tablespoons worth of ganache over the top of the cake.
  20. Dollop on a generous portion of Baileys icing and spread out evenly with an offset spatula.
  21. Place the next layer of cake on top and repeat this process. Remember to take the ganache and icing right to the edges so it peaks out the sides of the cake when assembled.
  22. Top the final layer of cake with the ganache and Baileys icing and voila!

Guinness Cake Verdict

Guinness Cake

We all stood around and watched the directors sample tiny bits of cake and as the Director tasted mine he made all the right noises of someone who was really enjoying his cake, he even came out of the judging discussion with the other directors and said quite clearly the Guinness Cake was his favourite BUT I wasn’t placed in the top three and stood and watched my half day holiday go to the maker of samosas which, by the way were superb.

Disappointed? Yes, of course I was.

I tasted my cake and I must admit I was really, really pleased with it. I brought the remainder of the cake home and the family all agreed it was delicious. If anything was lacking it was my presentation skills.

Never mind, I really enjoyed making the cake and I can confirm it is super delicious should you wish to have a go yourself. There are various recipes on the internet, I have gone with Love SWAH’s and there is a link further up or you can find the recipe on my Valentine’s Pinterest Board

rice dream milk

What if there was a really good alternative to cow’s milk to use in your daily cuppa, a dairy free milk?

That is what Rice Dream set out to convince me when they sent along a couple of cartons recently to try at home and report back my findings.

I must admit, I was sceptical at first, after all I am a great lover of a good builder’s brew and I like my tea just so, like many other tea drinkers I know.

I like to add my milk to the cup first with the teabag and then I add the hot water. I have the amount of milk used down to a T (see what I did there) and after letting the tea bag brew a bit I squeeze it, lift it out and my cuppa is ready to be enjoyed.

Every day starts and ends with a mug of tea and is broken regularly throughout as tea is my fuel and I have no intention of changing that.

Dairy free milk

Rice dream milk

However, milk is another matter.

Once upon a time I used full fat milk, then I switched to semi skimmed. I have also had tea with skimmed milk and not noticed the difference so how different could rice milk be?

  • Rice Dream is the original rice drink – first introduced more than 30 years ago.
  • Rice milk is allergy free: free from dairy, lactose, soy, gluten, wheat and nut. Rice milk offers a great taste alternative for those unable to tolerate dairy products or other milk alternatives.
  • It has no added sugars and contains only naturally occurring sugars from the rice fermentation.

Rice Dream milk comes in a carton and keeps in the fridge, it has a screw tap and is white in colour. It has no strong smell and retains all familiar features of milk. It has a subtle milk like taste, if anything I would say a tiny bit sweeter.

Using Rice Dream milk in tea

The first thing I noticed was Rice Dream is thinner than semi skimmed milk and could be likened to skimmed milk for consistency. I tried making my tea in the normal way by adding the milk to the cup with the tea bag and I found I had to add a lot more Rice Dream in order to obtain the colour of tea I like.

I did notice a different taste and it is a taste that I could easily get used to. It didn’t ‘ruin’ my tea but like when I stopped adding sugar, it took a while to get used to it, I think it would be similar changing to Rice Dream.

I am impressed and I like the idea of making a healthy change to my diet by using Rice Dream, in fact I’m going to try it on my porridge now and see how I get on with that.

Want to try Rice Dream?

Rice Dream are launching an on-shelf ‘try me for free’ campaign, inviting shoppers to discover the great taste of rice milk. The promotion will only be available on 120,000 packs and allows shoppers to get their money back if they don’t enjoy the taste of Rice Dream. 

Rice Dream is RRP: £1.50 from Tesco and Asda 

The Dream range includes a variety of plant-based drinks and ice cream, including oat, almond, coconut and cashew based milk alternatives.  Perfect to use in recipes or to be enjoyed in tea and coffee, just like you would enjoy dairy milk.

Disclosure: This post is written in collaboration with Rice Dream, all opinions are my own.