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

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.
Recipe type: Cake
Cuisine: British
  • 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)
  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.


I love a good cheeseboard, it’s one of those indulgences that go into making a very special Christmas for me. I also don’t stop at cheese but add lots of other ‘picky bits’ to tuck into, like cold meats, dates, fruit and nuts.

We find that after Christmas dinner there’s not an awful lot of room left and we can quite happily sit out the rest of the day without even remotely thinking about food. Then it’s evening and the board games come out and somebody heads into the kitchen looking for something to pick at. They’re not hungry, it’s just a need to pick at something.

An indulgence.

That’s when I start to put lots of ‘bits’ on the table, crackers and crisps and dips. Cold meats, olives, fruit and nuts but it’s my cheeseboard that is the centrepiece and among my favourite cheeses you will always find a damn good Cheddar, like the Davidstow Cheddar seen here. In fact there are two Davidstow Cheddars on this cheeseboard that I want to talk about.

These award winning Cheddars are made on the north Cornish coast which I love as it reminds me of our favourite holidays in Cornwall.

davidstow cheddar cheese

We have a 3 Year Vintage Reserve Cheddar which is matured for a minimum of three years, this is a firm cheese with a crumbly texture, the flavour lasts just long enough to tempt you into the next mouthful.

The second Davidstow cheese is an 18 month Extra mature which has an intense flavour and crunchy crystals that burst in your mouth as you eat it.

Now everyone has their favourite way of eating Cheddar cheese. My husband for example loves cheese on toast, the twins like a toasted cheese sandwich and I love to eat my Cheddar on crackers accompanied by a tomato and chilli jam which adds a tiny burst of heat to each mouthful. This is a family recipe that goes back years to when my grandmother first came across it and it’s been a regular on our Christmas table ever since.


5.0 from 1 reviews
Sweet Chilli Jam - The perfect Christmas cheeseboard accompaniment
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A delicious savoury jam with a burst of heat to be enjoyed with cheese and cold meats.
Recipe type: savoury
Cuisine: British
  • 8 red peppers, deseeded and roughly chopped
  • 10 red chillis roughly chopped
  • finger-sized piece fresh root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 400g can cherry tomatoes
  • 750g golden caster sugar
  • 250ml red wine vinegar
  1. Place the peppers, chillies (with seeds), ginger and garlic into a food processor and whizz until very finely chopped.
  2. Pour into a heavy-bottomed pan with the tomatoes, sugar and vinegar and bring to the boil.
  3. If any scum comes to the surface skim it off, then turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for about 50 mins, stirring occasionally.
  4. Once the jam thickens continue cooking for 10-15 mins more, stirring frequently so that it doesn’t catch and burn.
  5. Cool slightly, transfer to sterilised jars, then leave to cool completely.
  6. Keeps for 3 months in a cool, dark cupboard – refrigerate once opened.
How do you like to eat your Cheddar cheese? Do you have an onion jam or fruit chutney recipe that everyone enjoys at Christmas too?

Davidstow’s 3 Year Vintage Reserve is available exclusively from Ocado and Davidstow 18 Month Extra Mature is available from Tesco Extra, Sainsburys, Asda, Morrisons & Ocado

Disclosure: This post is a collaboration with Davidstow but opinions and recipes are all my own.


meatballs in tomato sauce

The first product I used from my Ciao Gusto hamper was a jar of passata sauce. This is a staple in my kitchen cupboard and can be used in so many recipes. Cirio Passata Rustica is one of the products from the very well known brand in Italy which has been going since 1856 when Cirio, a young boy born to an illiterate family in Sardinia, travelled to Turin and started preserving tomatoes in tin cans. Cirio is all about tomatoes, their brand includes tinned plum tomatoes, chopped plum tomatoes, a variety of passata sauces, a tomato puree and lots more.

I often use the tinned tomatoes as bases for casseroles, soups and pot roasts whereas the passatas are perfect for pasta sauces, like Arrabbiata, Amatriciana and a classical ragú. This time however I had some fresh meatballs and I wanted a recipe that was suitable for all of the family, that means tasty but not too spicy for the little ones.

Cirio vintage postcard


Linguine with meatballs in tomato and sweet pepper sauce

Linguine with meatballs in tomato and sweet pepper sauce
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A simple and delicious tomato and sweet pepper sauce to accompany tasty meatballs. Great for dinner, suitable for all of the family
Recipe type: Main meal
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
  • 1 tray of 12 meatballs
  • olive oil for frying
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 2 peppers diced
  • 1 jar of Cirio Passata Rustica
  • salt and pepper
  1. Heat some olive oil in a pan and lightly fry the meatballs until they are browed all over, scoop out the meatballs and place to one side.
  2. Add the onions, garlic and sweet peppers to the pan and gently fry until softened. Add the jar of Cirio Passata Rustica and stir the ingredients together.
  3. Return the meatballs to the pan, correct the seasoning, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes until the meat is cooked through.
  4. In the meantime, bring to the boil a pan of salted water. Add the linguine and cook until al dente.
  5. Once cooked, drain and add to the meatballs sauce, mix well and serve.
  6. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top and cracked black pepper
A simple recipe to prepare and ready to serve in no time at all. All of the family enjoyed this and dad added extra freshly ground black pepper to add a little kick to it.

We served a glass of Santa Margherita’s Pinto Grigio with our meal

meatballs in tomato and sweet pepper sauce


chefs in the kitchen

When I heard that most of my favourite brands were coming over to present themselves to the UK market, I knew I HAD to be part of the debut. These were brands that accompanied my daily cooking for 18 years whilst I lived in Folgaria, brands that were regularly on my shopping list for my Italian recipes and ones that I have missed dearly since living back in the UK.

giovanni rana

I was invited by Ciao Gusto to a dinner at a very special restaurant, that of Giovanni Rana, the man who makes the most delicious tortellini and who, until that evening, I had only spotted on Italian television. I knew with all of the products that were to be present the meal was going to be fabulous.

I was right, the restaurant is beautiful and well worth a visit, I loved being able to watch the chefs through the windows as they rushed around the kitchen getting all of the preparations in order.

We started our evening with Bocconi & Bollicine – mouthwatering bruschette with Medusa octopus and another with a tuna and sun dried tomato topping, there were two brands of prosecco that I know well from my time in Italy, Zonin and Santa Margherita, both of home do a lovely range of wines too.bruschette

It was a traditional Italian meal and that means lots of courses, the portions are small to allow for a taste and not designed to fill you up, however you do fill up as it’s all so delicious.

For starters we had Giovanni Rana’s tortellini and Fritters made from polenta with Aurichio cheese, all accompanied with Barilla Arrabbiata sauce which is a lovely tomato sauce with a kick to it.

fried ravioli polenta fritters

The next course to be served was a tagliere, this is a board of cheeses, salami and Italian cured meats. This is served with fresh breads including focaccia and Misura rosemary crackers.

Then it was on to the Pasta & Rice after all, what Italian meal would it be if these two dishes weren’t included? Giovanni Rana served some exquisite Ravioli with Amalfi lemon and Ricotta. We had a risotto with sausage and Tastasal and the showstopper Barilla Cannelloni with asparagus, aurichio and beschamel sauce.

Desserts were a delicious panna cotta with cherry jam and Fabbri Cherry Fruit, a tiramisu and a Dairy free gelato with biscuits.

After dinner wasn’t forgotten and true Italian tradition coffee, herbal teas and the maestro, Vecchia Romagna Brandy in it’s wonderful triangular bottle was served.

All of the Ciao Gusto products can be found at Ocado online shopping

ciao gusto products

I had a ball and was even more delighted when a few weeks later I received a hamper full of all of the wonderful products! I’ve been cooking with them and will be showcasing my recipes one at a time but as a sneak preview, look what I’ve been up to.

cannelloini ricotta, spinach and ham

Cannelloni with ricotta, spinach and ham

meatballs in tomato sauce

Meatballs in a tomato and sweet pepper sauce

Disclosure: I was invited to an evening of degustazione by Ciao Gusto and sent through a hamper of the products to try. All opinions are my own.