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.

beef and stilton pie - mother's day

 

I’m sure it must be written somewhere that as the first autumn rain falls and the grey skies replace the blue it is time to enjoy a good old British pie.

For my second attempt at the #GreatBloggersBakeOff the theme is pies following the Great British Bake Off on BBC2, I have chosen a classic favourite of mine – Beef and Stilton pie with a few personal tweaks to the original recipe and I’ve also made it busy mum friendly aka ‘ready made puff pastry’. The flavours combine to give you a delicious burst in every mouthful. Enjoy!

I used my slow cooker to prepare the meat but it can be cooked on the stove in a casserole following the same method, just stir frequently and simmer for 1 and 1/2 to 2 hours until the beef is tender.

beef and stilton pie

Beef and Stilton Pie | perfect comfort food
 
A housewives recipe for beef and Stilton pie with truly scrumptious results, easy, quick and good for the whole family
Author:
Recipe type: dinner
Cuisine: British
Ingredients
  • 3 tbsp seasoned flour, (salt, pepper, mustard powder, mixed herbs, paprika)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 kg braising steak, cut into chunks
  • 2 onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 100 g chestnut mushrooms
  • 1 handful of fresh thyme
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 can of beer – (I used Leffe this time)
  • 500 ml beef stock
  • 75 g stilton cheese, crumbled
  • 500 g frozen puff pastry, defrosted if frozen
  • flour, for dusting
  • 1 egg, for glazing
Instructions
  1. Place your seasoned flour in a large bowl, add the cubed beef and coat on all sides
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the beef until browned all over. Add the meat to your slow cooker turned on high or casserole
  3. Return the frying pan to the heat and sweat the onions, garlic and mushrooms until soft. Add to the slow cooker or casserole.
  4. Add a generous handful of thyme and peppercorns to the slow cooker, add 1 can of beer and the beef stock, cover and cook on high for 2 hours followed by low for 3 hours or if using a casserole, simmer for 1 and ½ to 2 hours until the beef is tender.
  5. Strain off half of the cooking liquid and keep to one side to make a gravy for serving. Crumble the stilton onto the meat mix and stir until melted. Check the seasoning and set to one side to cool.
  6. Grease your pie dish ready. Dust your surface and rolling pin with flour. Using ⅔ of the pack for the base and the other ⅓ for the lid, roll out the base. Using the rolling pin to pick up the pastry base, transfer to the greased pie dish, make sure the pastry is not pulled but fits the dish well. Once satisfied, cut around the dish to tidy up making sure to leave a slight excess leaning over to account for any shrinkage.
  7. Fill the base with the beef and stilton mixture. Brush around the top of the pastry with beaten egg ready to seal the lid on. Roll out the top on a dusted surface and transfer to the pie using your rolling pin. Pinch along the edge to ensure the pie is sealed. Make a slit in the centre for the steam to escape and slash the top lightly to decorate.
  8. Brush the top of the pastry with the remaining beaten egg. Bake in a pre-heated oven set to 200°C for about 25 mins until pastry is golden brown and filling is piping hot.
  9. Serve with mash, vegetables and gravy – using the remainder of your cooking sauce.

beef and stilton pie

#GBBO so far

1. Bejeweled Brownies – a real hit in our house

Saffron tea breadLet them eat cake! apparently said Marie Antoinette and my thoughts precisely dear, at this cold time of year there’s nothing more welcoming than a piece of homemade cake when the girls get in from school so I’m bringing you lots of  cookies and cakes this autumn (I hope!)

Whitworths sent me loads of different kinds of sugar if you remember and this time I used some more Whitworths for Baking Caster Sugar in my cake or tea bread if you prefer. What I love most about this cake is the beautiful sunny colour and the orange sweetness.

Saffron tea bread

Ingredients
150 ml hot milk
good pinch of saffron threads
350g self raising flour
175g butter
100g ground almonds
140g caster sugar
2 eggs beaten
grated zest of 1 orange, plus 6 tbsps juice
50g mixed peel
1 – 2 tbsps clear honey to glaze

How to make Saffron tea bread

Put the hot milk and saffron in a bowl, stir well, cover and leave to soak for about an hour

saffron threads

Heat oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas mark 3

Butter and line the base of a loaf tin (25 x 13 x 6 cms)

Sift the flour into a bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips, add the ground almonds and sugar and stir well

flour and butter mix

Add the beaten eggs, zest, juice and mixed peel to the saffron milk, mix well and pour onto the flour mixture. Mix well.

zest and juice of orange

Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and level the surface.

saffron tea bread - uncooked

Bake for 1 – 1 1/2 hours until a skewer inserted in the cake comes out clean

Leave the tea bread in the tin for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and brush the top with honey.

Saffron tea bread

I forgot to brush the top with honey – hence no shine :)

When completely cold slice and if you like you can spread with butter to serve.

Disclosure: I’m working with Whitworths Sugar, whose www.whitworths-sugar.co.uk site includes ideas and recipes for baking with sugar. Follow the conversation on Twitter with the #bakingS0S hash tag and @WhitworthsSugar

Pavlova strawberry and blueberry

 

You should know by now that when I give you a recipe it’s going to be simple, I’m going to make you look like a domestic goddess with this easy Pavlova recipe.

It’s been a long time that I wanted to try my hand at a Pavlova recipe but I will admit to being scared, after all my mum used to make The Best One Ever every summer in my childhood, could I make one like that too?

I phoned her, I had my recipe in front of me from a very reputable cook book and I wanted to run it past her to make sure it was a good one.

She listened as I reeled off the ingredients and then broke in ‘Oh no, I don’t do it like that. I have Aunty Margaret’s traditional New Zealand recipe that’s a cinch to make. It has NEVER failed me once in the past 20 years I’ve been using it.

Aunty Margaret lives in New Zealand. When my great grandfather left Hungary with his children early 1900’s, one of his sons Tebor remained in NZ and lived all of his life there as a respected architect, I have a branch of family tree out there which I hope to visit one day.

vegemitemix tweet

 

In fact it wasn’t until Vegemitemix replying to my Tweet above that I realised Pavlova is an New Zealand dish! Why was I thinking Russian then? Maybe that’s Pavlova’s dogs?

Anyway allow me to give you my easy Pavlova recipe

Strawberry and Blueberry Pavolva

4 egg whites
500g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp white vinegar
5 tbsps boiling water
 
Topping
1 large carton of double or whipping cream
Strawberries
Blueberries

First preheat the oven to 220C then mark a NON STICK piece of baking parchment with a circle about 20 – 25 cms in diameter and place on a baking sheet

Place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk

whisking egg whites for pavlova

and whisk

 whisking egg whites

and whisk

whisking egg whites

and whisk for about 10 minutes

whisking egg whites

until you have peaks in your mixture

pavlova egg white peaks

Spread your mixture inside the circle, use a spatula to clean out the bowl and then lick your fingers

Pavlova ready for the oven

Place your pavlova in the heated oven and TURN THE OVEN OFF

pavlova ready to decorate

If you want a marshmallowy centre take out of the turned off oven after 1 and 1/2 hours. If you want a crunchier centre leave in for 2 hours.

Once ready peel off the parchment paper and place on your serving dish

Strawberry and blueberry pavlova

For the topping, whisk the cream and place on top and then sprinkle with the fruit of your choice here strawberries and blueberries

Pavlova close up

Tips

I know my oven has a hot point at the back, I discovered it has a cooler point at the front as my pavlova after 1 and half hours was still slightly uncooked in that corner so I whacked the oven back on 150C and let it dry out a bit. It was perfect, don’t be afraid to do this

Resolution – possibly a new oven but definitely trying this again