Mango and blueberry cranachan

mango and blueberry cranachan

This mango and blueberry cranachan is a new twist on an old Scottish recipe. The fruit is layered with whisky flavoured cream and topped with oats coated in honey.

I love exploring new foods from new places. Before coming to live in Scotland I knew about haggis. My Dad had lived in Edinburgh in the sixties and enjoyed haggis. He loved cooking it for the family when we were young. I had no idea, however, what cranachan, Macaroni pies, or butteries were to name some of the foods I now know.

mango and blueberry cranachan

 

mango and blueberry cranachan

 

mango and blueberry cranachan

 

mango and blueberry cranachan

To me, cranachan is a delight. An easy pudding that feels smart. Purists will contradict me but it consists of fruit, whisky flavoured whipped cream and a scattering of toasted oats. Raspberries are the traditional fruit, but I have made cranachan with stewed pear and rhubarb and it was delicious. My mango and blueberry cranachan is a fresh and vibrant variation on the theme. Enjoy.

mango and blueberry cranachan

P.S. Please Dave, excuse me for using some super expensive whiskey I found in the company. Scots please excuse me for using a bourbon which was all I could find surprisingly.

 

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Mango and blueberry cranachan

mango and blueberry cranachan

The amount of icing sugar used in the cream is tiny, it’s just to bring out the sweetness of the whisky.  I have made this with vegan double cream and it worked well. If you are watching the calories use fat free Greek style yoghurt in place of the cream.

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 10
  • Cook Time: 20
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 50g oats
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 350ml double or whipping cream
  • 2-3 tbsp whisky, to taste
  • 6g icing sugar
  • 1 largo mangos, peeled and cubed
  • 200g blueberries
  • mint, a few leaves to decorate, optional

Instructions

  1. Lay a piece of baking paper on the work surface. Gently melt the honey in a pan and when it starts to bubble add the oats. Mix well and pour onto the baking paper spreading out thinly. Leave to cool.
  2. Beat the cream until it is just holding it’s shape. Stir in the whisky.
  3. Take four glasses or bowls. Divide a third of the fruit between the glasses. Take half of the cream and split that between the glasses. Add another layer of fruit and cream and then a final layer of fruit. Top with the honey coated oats and mint leaves. Chill for 15 minutes and then serve.

Notes

Alternatives
Raspberries or kiwi could be substituted for the mango or blueberries.

Can you freeze flapjack? How to make flapjack chewy or crunchy. Pistachio, almond and cranberry flapjack recipe

Can you freeze flapjack? How to make flapjack chewy or crunchy.

Can you freeze flapjack?

Having tried it out, I can tell you, yes you can freeze flapjack. Wrap them in cling film and then pop them in a sandwich bag and they will be great when you defrost them. How long do flapjacks last in an airtight container? For two weeks – assuming you can keep hungry hands off them for that long.

How to make flapjack chewy or crunchy?

Rose Elliot says jumbo oats will give a chewy whilst rolled oats give a crunchy texture. With the recipe below I tried both, she is spot on.  I prefer chewy so I used jumbo, or old fashioned oats.  Andrew Hardwick suggests cooking flapjack at 175C to make them chewy and 190C if you prefer crunchy ones, I have yet to try this.

Here is an interesting article if you want to know more about oats themselves.

Now to the recipe I’m loving. These pistachio, almond and cranberry flapjack, or breakfast bars, are filled to the brim with nuts, seeds and fruit. Creamy, chunky whole almonds, bright green pistachios, buttery sunflower seeds and tart yet sweet ruby cranberries. All these goodies are combined with oats and then with a buttery, sweet, syrupy goo before being baked to make these moreish flapjacks.

Can you freeze flapjack? How to make flapjack chewy or crunchy.

Can you freeze flapjack? How to make flapjack chewy or crunchy.

Can you freeze flapjack? How to make flapjack chewy or crunchy.

Can you freeze flapjack? How to make flapjack chewy or crunchy.

I have decided that this combination of nuts, seeds and fruit means these flapjack are seriously healthy. The nuts are packed with protein, sunflower seeds are a fantastic source of vitamin E while cranberries are full of antioxidants. The weight of nuts, seeds and fruit is greater than the butter, sugar and syrup so they must be healthy, right?!

Can you freeze flapjack? How to make flapjack chewy or crunchy.Something these pistachio, almond and cranberry flapjacks are not anything like are those stodgy flapjacks you buy it their little plastic casings. Forget those crumbly disappointing tasteless bars. Treat yourself and make these instead. They take just 15 minutes to prep and 20 minutes later from the oven they emerge in all their glory.

The only similarity with the plastic cased cousins is their ultimate transportability and snackability. They are perfect to eat at your desk, on a picnic or walk, or just in the kitchen with a cup of coffee.

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Pistachio, almond and cranberry flapjack

Can you freeze flapjack? How to make flapjack chewy or crunchy.

To make these flapjacks vegan, substitute the butter for a vegan margarine.

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 12 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 32 minutes
  • Yield: 15 flapjacks

Ingredients

  • 125g/4½oz salted butter
  • 125g/4½oz muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 175g/6oz jumbo oats
  • 100g whole almonds, roughly chopped
  • 100g pistachios
  • 100g dried cranberries
  • 50g sunflower seeds

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/170C/375F/Gas mark 5. Line a 20cm/8” x 30cm/12” baking tray with baking paper.
  2. In a saucepan melt the sugar, butter and golden syrup. Ensure all the sugar crystals have melted. Then add the oats, nuts, cranberries and seeds and stir until everything is coated with the syrup.
  3. Spread the mixture onto the baking tray and press down with the back of a spoon. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
  4. Let them cool for 5 minutes and then mark into squares but leave in the tin. When they are still just warm remove to a cooling rack.

Notes

Alternatives
Pecans could be used instead of pistachios or almonds
Chopped apricots could replace the cranberries.

Left over ingredients? Have a look at these other recipes:

Pistachios
Apricot, raspberry, and pistachio cake

Cranberries
Maple, cranberry and pecan muesli bars

8 Stunning Spring Scones Recipes

I have scoured the internet to bring you these 8 stunning spring scone recipes.  Sweet, savoury, healthy, treaty, whatever type of scone you fancy you’ll find it here. What could be better for brunch, lunch, or a sweet treat than a freshly baked scone.

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These 8 stunning spring scones recipes are teaming with flavour – choosing your favourite may prove tricky.  If you are a scone novice, or want to refresh your skills then here are top tips on baking scones.

1. Hungry Couple’s Strawberry and Honey Oat Scones

If you were lucky enough to be invited by Anita from Hungry Couple to her home for a late brunch there would be scones.  Anita says “My mother was the scone lover in the family and she passed it down to me.

8 Stunning Spring Scone Recipes - Holly Cooks

2. Marsha’s Baking Addiction’s Lemon Drizzle Scones

Marsha describes these scones as “deliciously soft and fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside, infused with lemon and drizzled with a sweet lemon glaze!  

8 Stunning Spring Scone Recipes - Holly Cooks

 

3. Pickles N Honey’s Vegan Blueberry Scones

Amanda from Pickles N Honey has been making these scones for years.  As her tastes have evolved so have her recipes.   “They started as kumquat scones, then became gluten-free orange scones (similar but less tart), next were Irish soda bread scones, followed by lavender peach-stuffed scones, and now I’m putting a plant-based spin on one of my favorite classics: blueberry scones.

8 Stunning Spring Scone Recipes - Holly Cooks

 

4. Kevin is Cooking’s Savory Ham and Cheese Scones

Kevin came up with this recipe in case you have any left over ham from Easter.  “Warm, tender and flakey, these Ham and Cheese Scones make the most of any leftover holiday ham in a good way. Cheddar cheese and green onions complete a killer flavor profile in these scones that are perfect for any breakfast brunch.”

8 Stunning Spring Scone Recipes - Holly Cooks

5. Home Grown Provision’s Gluten-Free Pistachio and Chocolate Chip Scones

“Light and tender, gluten-free pistachio and chocolate chip scones are the stuff breakfast, brunch and fika dreams are made of.”  Shannon of Home Grown Provisions then goes onto tell us what fika is.  It’s “a Swedish tradition which roughly translates as a time to gather with friends, eat lovely homemade baked goods and drink great coffee or tea, is a must amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life.”  These scones would be ideal for fika.

Holly Cooks 8 Stunning Spring Scones

6. Vanilla and Bean’s Blood Orange Chocolate Chunk Scones

Traci from Vanilla and Bean says “Crunchy on the outside while tender on the inside. Blood Orange Chocolate Chunk Scones are easy to make and a delight during citrus season. Make ahead and freeze for the ultimate convenience!”

Holly Cooks 8 Stunning Spring Scones

7. Thyme to Mango’s Rum and Raisin Scones

James from Thyme to Mango felt that plain fruit scones with cream and jam were a bit too quaint.  So he decided to “lace these scones with rum and plenty of raisins to produce a scone that will surely satisfy all your afternoon sweet-tooth cravings.

Holly Cooks 8 Stunning Spring Scones

8. Holly Cooks’ Raspberry and Pecan scones

Lastly here are my own scones.  They are packed with raspberry, pecans and maple syrup.  They take just 10 minutes to prep and are so good straight from the oven; crunchy on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside.  For a double treat slice these scones open and serve with clotted cream or creme faiche and raspberry jam.  That is AMAZING!!!

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Raspberry and pecan scones

These raspberry and pecan scones aren’t your normal British scones. They take inspiration from America where scones are seldom plain. These ones come packed with pecans, maple syrup and raspberries. A British scone normally has caster sugar in it but these have demerara, both in the mixture and then scattered on top. The demerara sugar brings it’s molasses flavour and crunch to the top of the scone.

Holly-Cooks Raspberry and pecan scones 550v3

Raspberry and pecan scones are bigger than your normal British scone, less neat, more rustic looking. This all means that my Mum doubted they were scones at all. She was right, they aren’t British scones, but that didn’t stop her wolfing one down. “Wow, what a rich raspberry flavour and I love that crunchy top” she said.

Sitting here writing about these raspberry and pecan beauties makes me want to get my apron out again. They are just that good – comforting and homey, they feel healthy too. (I’m not sure about the health bit, but hey they have lots of fruit and nuts in them. We’ll gloss over the sugar and maple syrup!) If you are feeling like a super treat beyond what I have described, then open up your scone and smother with clotted cream (créme faîche works well too) and raspberry jam. Now that is AMAZING!

For help on the mysteries of successful baking, see my post “Eight tips for baking perfect scones.”

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Raspberry and pecan scones

Holly-Cooks Raspberry and pecan scones TR
  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 8 scones

Ingredients

  • 275g/9¾oz self-raising flour, plus more for dusting
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1¼ tsp baking powder
  • 75g/2½oz ground almonds
  • 85g/3oz butter, cut into cubes
  • 100g/3½oz demerara sugar
  • 100g/3½oz pecans, roughly chopped
  • 150g/5¼oz fresh or frozen raspberries
  • 50ml maple syrup
  • 125ml milk
  • ⅛ tsp lemon juice
  • beaten egg, to glaze
  • demerara sugar to decorate

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/ 200C fan /428F/Gas mark 7, putting a baking tray in the oven to preheat as well.
  2. Sieve the flour, salt, baking powder into a large bowl and mix in the ground almonds. Add the butter and rub it in until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Alternatively, use a food processor and mix until the butter has disappeared.
  3. Mix in the sugar, pecans and raspberries. Add the lemon juice to the milk and then add this and the maple syrup to the flour mixture. Stir quickly with a knife and then use your hands to make a dough ball. Scatter a little flour over a work surface and shape the dough with your hands or a rolling pin so that it is 2.5cm/1” thick. To make triangular scones, make a circle with the dough and cut it into 1/8th like a cake. Or use a floured 5cm/2” wide smooth cutter to cut out circular scones.   Brush the tops of the scones with the beaten egg and then finish with demerara sugar.
  4. Place the dough scones directly on the preheated baking tray and immediately return to the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Leave for a few minutes on the baking tray before transferring to a cooling rack. Serve by themselves or with clotted cream, créme faîche and jam.

Notes

Honey could replace the maple syrup.


Left over ingredients? Have a look at these other recipes:

Raspberries
Raspberry and orange jellies with vanilla ice cream
Apricot, raspberry and pistachio cake – the perfect gift for Mother’s day
Chocolate, raspberry and blackberry tart
Summer fruits amaretti and Greek yoghurt
Raspberry, walnut and chocolate brownies
Spectacular trifle
Clementine, raspberry and caramel pudding

Pecans
Chocolate, pecan, and chocolate and pecan French meringue
Maple, cranberry and pecan muesli bars
Cherry and pecan clafoutis

Maple syrup
Maple, cranberry and pecan muesli bars

Ground almonds
Rosemary shortbread
Grown up jam tarts
Madeira cake
Rhubarb and orange cake
Apple, prune and almond cake

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Parmesan and ras el hanout scones

Dave and I have been tasting a lot of scones this week. When I handed him one of these parmesan and ras el hanout scones and told him what it was called he replied “Ras what?”. I reminded him of a chicken dish we sometimes have with ras el hanout. His comment told me that while I loved the combination of spices in this mix, both a little spicy and sweet, I didn’t know much more about the spice itself.

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Ras el hanout I now know is a spice mix that is used a lot in north Africa. There is no standard recipe and different shops and brands will have different recipes for their ras el hanout. It can contain up to 100 different spices. The name means ‘head of the shop’ in Arabic, which reflects it’s expensive ingredients. Luckily for us it’s now so common that my local big supermarket stocks two different varieties. Here is a recipe if you want to make your own.

Or if you want to make these scones now and don’t have ras el hanout or the ingredients, then www.pepperscale.com suggest making a reasonable substitute with just the following:

● 1 part cumin
● ½ part ground coriander
● ½ part ginger powder
● ½ part cayenne (or paprika if you like it milder)

For 2 tbsp of ‘ras el hanout’ as required for these scones I would use
5½ tsp ground cumin
2¾ tsp ground coriander
2¾ tsp ground ginger
2¾ tsp cayenne pepper or paprika

I like sweet scones, but savoury ones have a place in my heart. When I was on my first lot of maternity leave, pennies were tight. I used to get vouchers from John Lewis for a free hot drink and cake. These vouchers would perk a day up no end. I would go into John Lewis with JP, look at lots of lovely things and then have lunch. He would suckle away and I would savour my pot of tea and one of their enormous cheese scones.

These parmesan and ras el hanout scones have real flavour. They are cheesy and then the spice kicks in – it doesn’t overwhelm but it’s definitely there. It lingers a little in your mouth too. I have enjoyed these scones with butter and a salad for a light lunch. You could eat them alongside a bowl of soup, or just on their own. Ideally they would be still warm from the oven. I’ve made scones for lunch when I suddenly realise we are out of bread and these parmesan and ras el hanout scones would be ideal.

See my post on eight tips for baking perfect scones.

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Parmesan and ras el hanout scones

Holly-Cooks-parmesan-and-ras-el-hanout-scones-TR

Any other strong hard cheese will work in place of parmesan

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 8 scones

Ingredients

  • 350g/12¼oz self-raising flour, plus more for dusting
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp ras el hanout
  • 85g/3oz butter cut into cubes
  • 150g/5¼oz grated parmesan plus a little more for the top of the scones
  • 175ml milk
  • ⅛ tsp lemon juice
  • beaten egg for glazing

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/ 200C fan /428F/Gas mark 7, putting a baking tray in the oven to preheat as well.
  2. Sieve the flour, salt, baking powder and ras el hanout into a large bowl and mix well. Add the butter and rub it in until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Alternatively, use a food processor and mix until the butter has disappeared.
  3. Mix in the cheese. Add the lemon juice to the milk and then add this to the flour mixture. Stir quickly with a knife and then use your hands to make a dough ball. Knead a few times just until the dough becomes smooth. Scatter a little flour over a work surface and shape the dough with your hands or a rolling pin so that it is 2.5cm/1” thick. To make triangular scones, make a circle with the dough and cut it into 1/8th like a cake.  Or use a floured 5cm/2” wide smooth cutter to cut out circular scones.   You may need to reform some of the dough to cut out the last few scones. Brush the tops of the scones with the beaten egg and then finish with grated parmesan.
  4. Place the dough scones directly on the preheated baking tray and immediately return to the oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly golden on top. Leave for a few minutes on the baking tray before transferring to a cooling rack. Serve with butter.

Sources
http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/ras-el-hanout
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ras_el_hanout
https://www.pepperscale.com/ras-el-hanout-substitute/

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THE PERFECT SCONE: 8 tips to make the best, plus my favourite recipe.

THE PERFECT SCONE: 8 tips to make the best, plus my favourite recipe.

Some years ago I became obsessed with baking perfect scones. Light, airy scones topped with clotted cream and jam were my idea of a great afternoon treat, and still are. I’ve spent some time perfecting my technique and here are eight tips I’ve collected over the years from different sources.

● If your recipe calls for milk rather than buttermilk, then add an 1/8 teaspoon of lemon juice to the milk before adding it to the rest of the scone mixture. This acid reacts with the raising agents to help the scones rise.

● Don’t overwork the mixture as this will make it tough. Knead the dough a couple of times so it becomes smooth and then roll or pat it to the desired thickness.

● Delia Smith is clear on what that thickness should be – at least 3cm/just over 1”. I find 2.5cm/1” is enough but it certainly shouldn’t be thinner than that.

● Beaten egg or milk are commonly painted on top of scones to give them a light brown, cooked appearance. Beaten egg is best. Paul Hollywood mentions that any glaze shouldn’t dribble down the sides of the scone as this will inhibit an even rise.

● Preheat the oven and the baking tray together so that the shaped dough scone is dropped straight onto a hot surface.

● Once you’ve made your dough, aim to get it into the oven as soon as possible. This is because the raising process starts the moment the ingredients are combined and you want this process to happen in a hot oven.

● Scones are wonderful eaten while still just warm from the oven. My God-mother produces great scones that she bakes in large batches, stores in her freezer and warms just before serving.

● Finally, the Leith’s Techniques Bible says you should only cut downwards when shaping the dough mix. A twisting action results in uneven rising and therefore uneven baking of the scone.

Now you know how to make the perfect scones, have a look at my go to scone recipe which comes from BBC Good Food – an amazing resource. Then you just need to decide which goes on first – clotted cream or jam!

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Scones – my favourite recipe

8 tips to make the perfect scones and my go to recipe
  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 12 minutes
  • Total Time: 22 minutes
  • Yield: 8 scones

Ingredients

  • 350g/12¼oz self-raising flour and a little extra for rolling out
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 85g/3oz butter at room temperature
  • 45g/2oz caster sugar
  • 175ml milk
  • 1/8 tsp lemon juice
  • Beaten egg for glazing

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/ 200C fan /428F/Gas mark 7, putting a baking tray in the oven to preheat as well.
  2. Sieve the flour, salt and baking powder into a large bowl and mix well. Add the butter and rub it in until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Alternatively, use a food processor and mix until the butter has disappeared.
  3. Mix in the sugar. Add the lemon juice to the milk and then add this to the flour mixture. Stir quickly with a knife and then use your hands to make a dough ball. Knead a few times just until the dough becomes smooth. Scatter a little flour over a work surface and shape the dough with your hands or a rolling pin so that it is 2.5cm/1” thick. Use a floured 5cm/2” wide smooth cutter to cut out 8 scones.   You may need to reform some of the dough to cut out the last few scones. Brush the tops of the scones with the beaten egg.
  4. Place the dough scones directly on the preheated baking tray and immediately return to the oven. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes until lightly golden on top. Leave for a few minutes on the baking tray before transferring to a cooling rack. Serve with clotted cream and jam.

Sources
Delia Smith – The Complete Cookery Course
Leiths Techniques Bible – Susan Spaull and Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne
http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/paul_hollywoods_scones_70005
https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/4622/classic-scones-with-jam-and-clotted-cream

Peanut, chocolate and caramel cookies

This recipe is my fifth attempt to make these peanut chocolate and caramel cookies. I have made it! Here there are in all their peanutty, chocolate and gooey caramel beauty. I have to stand back and admire them, it’s been some journey creating them. Earlier this week I posted my various attempts at these cookies on Facebook.

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Holly Cooks Peanut Chocolate and Caramel Cookies on FB Day 1

Holly Cooks Peanut Chocolate and Caramel Cookies on FB Day 2

Holly Cooks Peanut Chocolate and Caramel Cookies on FB Day 3

Day 4 on FB

I had two breakthrough moments. The first was learning that I could control how much the cookies spread and what their texture was by changing the type of sugar I was using. I explain more here in my post about sugar. In a nutshell if you want crunchy cookies use white sugar only. The white sugar will mean the cookies will spread a lot. You can reduce the spreading by chilling the mixture before you put it in the oven. Using some proportion of brown sugar gives a softer, chewier texture.

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My second breakthrough was realising that using Cadbury’s caramel would answer my caramel needs. I tried dairy toffees both whole and chopped up into small bits. But these were too hard once the cookie had cooled. A whole toffee made the cookie tricky to eat. I was trying to bite through something hard in the middle of a soft cookie. Then I tried caramel ice cream sauce encased in cookie dough but this just split everywhere on the baking sheet when heated in the oven. Then I tried fudge chopped up into small pieces, this was good, it was an even consistency after being cooked. But I felt I was cheating, it wasn’t caramel it was fudge. So finally, I made up two trial cookies using, what I hoped would be, the winning cookie mixture. I put a piece of Cadbury’s caramel in one cookie and a Rolo in the other.

The cookie mixture was spot on, more details about that below. The Cadbury’s caramel easily won over the Rolo. The caramel inside the Cadbury’s caramel is much gooier than the Rolo and that was what was needed.

The only way to improve on the outcome was to use two pieces of Cadbury’s caramel rather than one. Now we are talking!!

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Holly-Cooks-Peanut-chocolate-and-caramel-cookies-ready-for-the-oven

Here are the other adjustments I made to the final recipe.
• Changed from plain flour to self raising flour, to give the cookies some rise which holds the piece of caramel.
• Increased the amount of chocolate chunks by 50%
• Reduced the amount of butter so the cookies weren’t greasy
• Changed the sugar from 100% caster to 50% caster and 50% light muscovado. This reduced the spreading and produced a chewier texture.
• Changed crunchy to smooth peanut butter. This reduced the crumbly nature of cookie
• Added salted peanuts to the top.
• Added salt to boost the flavour
• Added cocoa to increase chocolate flavour and colour contrast on the top.

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Peanut, chocolate and caramel cookies

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I use dark chocolate for the chunks and the melted chocolate on the top, milk chocolate would also work, it will produce a sweeter cookie.

If you can’t get hold of Cadbury’s caramel any other soft caramel encased in chocolate should work.

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 12

Ingredients

  • 175g/6oz unsalted butter
  • 75g/2½oz light muscovado sugar
  • 75g2½oz caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 300g/10½oz self raising flour
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 150g/5¼oz smooth peanut butter
  • 150g/5¼oz chocolate chunks
  • 24 pieces of Cadbury’s caramel
  • 75g2½oz chocolate
  • 55g/2oz of salted peanuts, roughly chopped
  • Flakes of sea salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven 180C/160C fan/355 F/ Gas mark 4. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
  2. Beat the butter and sugar together, until light and fluffy. Mix in the egg. Add in the flour, cocoa, salt, peanut butter and chocolate chunks. Mix well, you may need to get your hands on the mixture to bring it all together into a ball.
  3. Take a 12th of the mixture, and divide it in two. (A 12th should weigh about 70g.) Shape one piece into a disc shape so that it will just hold two pieces of Cadbury’s caramel. Shape the other piece similarly and place it on top, seal the cookie dough round the edges with your fingers so you can’t see what’s inside. These cookies will spread while they cook so space them out on the baking sheet/s.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes, they will continue cooking inside once out of the oven so leave them on the baking sheet for at least 15 minutes. Then transfer them to a cooling rack.
  5. Melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a glass bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Then use a fork to scatter it over the cookies. Top with chopped peanuts and flakes of sea salt. The melted chocolate sticks the peanuts and salt onto the cookies.
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Granulated sugar, caster sugar, icing sugar, muscovado, demerara or light brown sugar: what’s the difference, which is best and what are their properties


I’m making peanut butter, chocolate and caramel cookies. I have so far had four attempts. I’ve been reading about different sugars and the results they give. I want to share with you what I have discovered about different sugars.

White sugars

White sugar has had all the molasses removed from it, hence it’s colour and name.

Preserving sugar

Has the largest crystals and so dissolves the fastest when added to liquid. It is used for jams and jellies.

Granulated sugar

Has medium sized crystals so it’s good for syrups as it dissolves fast. It’s also used in cooking, baking and cups of tea and coffee. Sugar lumps are made from granulated sugar and a little moisture to form the lumps.

Caster sugar/Superfine sugar (USA)

Has small crystals and is used widely in baking. It’s particularly good for making meringues.

Icing sugar/Confectioner’s sugar (USA)

Has been ground down to a powder. Cornflour may have been added to keep the sugar free-flowing. Icing sugar is mainly used for icings and decoration. A food processor will reduce caster or granulated sugar into a powder that is icing sugar.

Brown sugars

Brown sugars contain molasses which give flavour and colour. According to BBC Good Food – Molasses is a thick, dark, heavy syrup which is a by-product of sugar refining. It is far less sweet than syrup or honey and the darker the molasses, the less sugar it contains. Molasses has a slightly bitter flavour that is favoured in traditional North American recipes such as Boston baked beans and it also goes into rich fruit cakes, ginger bread and treacle toffee.

Muscovado (Barbados) sugar

Either dark muscovado or light muscovado. Dark muscovado is the darkest of all the brown sugars. This is due to the high proportion of molasses left in the sugar which gives a strong caramel flavour. Both dark and light muscovado sugar make cakes and biscuits soft and moist. This is because it is hygroscopic which means it absorbs moisture from the air. Use it for gingerbread, toffee sauce, pulled pork, brownies and Christmas cake.

Here is a list of recipes using muscovado sugar.

Demerara sugar

Has large crystals, it is more refined than muscovado sugar. Use it for adding texture to the top of muffins, crumbles or for the top of a creme brulée.

Light brown sugar

Is more refined than demerara sugar. It has far less molasses in it and the crystals are small. This means it will give biscuits, cakes and cookies a moist texture. Unlike muscovado sugar it only has a subtle caramel flavour.

Which sugar should I use?

In cookies and biscuits

Most cookie recipes have a mix of white and brown sugar. White sugar encourages spreading, while brown sugar gives a chewy, soft, thick cookie. For crunchy biscuits white sugar by itself will work well.

In Meringues

Traditionally meringues are made with white caster sugar which dissolves quickly in the egg white. White caster sugar gives the meringue a beautiful cream colour. My meringue recipe is here http://www.hollycooks.co.uk/chocolate-pecan-and-chocolate-and-pecan-french-meringue/. Light muscovado sugar can be used instead and will impart its caramel flavour into the meringue. Try a recipe from BBC Good Food using light muscovado sugar.

For information about the different types of meringue, have a look at this post.

In cheesecakes

Caster sugar is normally used, as it will dissolve easily in the cream cheese mixture. Icing sugar could also be used. My cheesecake recipe is here. Brown sugar will give the cheesecake it’s caramel flavour, here is a cheesecake recipe using brown sugar.

In muffins

Muffins are small cakes which are risen by bicarbonate of soda or baking powder and an acid. This acid could be buttermilk or brown sugar.

Sources
BBCgoodfood.com
Sallysbakingaddiction.com
The Professional Chef – Ninth Edition – Wiley
Leiths Techniques Bible – Susan Spaull and Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne

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Creme Fraiche, Sour Cream, Yoghurt, Buttermilk and All Those Creams – what are the differences and how to use them

Why will single cream curdle if you boil it, but double cream won’t? What’s the difference between crème fraîche and sour cream? How is buttermilk made? I’ve been reading and surfing to answer these questions and here is what I’ve found.

Crème fraîche, sour cream, yoghurt, and buttermilk are all produced by taking milk or cream and adding bacteria that causes fermentation, a process that thickens the milk.

Crème faîche

Crème faîche is a speciality of Normandy. It has a slightly tangy, slightly nutty taste and a consistency of thickened cream. Traditionally, crème fraîche was made from unpasteurised cream that naturally contained the right bacteria to thicken it. Nowadays it is normally made through artificial fermentation. Crème fraîche has two advantages over sour cream: because of its relatively high fat content, it can be whipped like whipping cream and it will not curdle if boiled.

If you want to make your own crème faîche – here’s how to do it.

Here are some recipes using crème faîche
Mushroom, leek and thyme gnocchi
Smoked salmon, watercress and dill gnocchi

Sour cream

Sour cream, or soured cream, has a creamy, tangy taste and is looser than crème faîche. It works well with both savoury and sweet dishes. Traditionally it was made by letting unpasteurised fresh cream sour naturally, but nowadays bacteria or a lactic acid culture is added to single/light cream. The bacteria grows until the desired taste and consistency is reached. The cream is then repasteurised to stop the bacteria growing further. It has less fat than crème faiche and so will curdle even at simmering temperature. But it can be stirred into a dish that is cooked and off the heat.

Yoghurt

To make any yoghurt the starting process is the same. Milk is heated and then cooled before bacterial culture in the form of a small amount of yoghurt is added. The mixture is then kept warm to help the bacteria grow, produce lactic acid and gel the milk. To make low fat yoghurt use low fat milk, or for creamier yoghurt use milk with a higher fat content. Even a creamier yoghurt will curdle if heated as the fat content is never sufficient to prevent this.

If you want to make your own yoghurt, there is a good recipe here.

Here is a recipe using yoghurt:
Rhubarb, almonds and yoghurt

Greek yoghurt

To turn yoghurt into Greek yoghurt, which is thicker and with more fat, regular yoghurt is strained to remove the liquid whey. You can do this yourself by lining a sieve placed on a bowl with a muslin or loosely woven cloth, pouring the yoghurt in then waiting several hours for the whey to drip through and separate to leave you with Greek yoghurt.

Here is a recipe using Greek yoghurt:
Summer fruits, amaretti and Greek yoghurt

Buttermilk

Buttermilk used to be the liquid left over when cream was churned to butter. Nowadays it’s made by introducing bacteria to low fat milk, causing it to thicken and producing a tangy flavour. Buttermilk is used in recipes where bicarbonate of soda is used, for example, soda-bread, pancakes and scones. The acid from the buttermilk combines with the alkaline in the bicarbonate of soda to create pockets of air which cause the baking goods to rise. If you can’t find buttermilk, you can achieve a similar result by adding 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to 290ml/½pt of warmed milk.

Double/Heavy cream

Double or heavy cream has a fat content of 48%. It’s good for pouring, heating and whipping. When whipping double cream, watch it closely once it starts to thicken, as over whipped cream becomes grainy. If it reaches the stiff peak stage, a little milk can be added to soften it; but don’t whip any further or the buttermilk will start to clump together and the whey will separate out.

Whipping cream

Whipping cream has a fat content of 36%. It can also be poured, heated or whipped. It’s not quite as stable as whipped double cream. It is the best cream for ice cream as it gives a lighter, less fatty texture and is less likely to become overworked and too buttery. Double cream can give ice cream a grainy texture if it is overworked.

Single/Light cream

Single or light cream is perfect for pouring. It can’t be boiled without curdling and cannot be whipped as it’s fat content is only 18%.

Half-and-half

Half-and-half cream is a combination of whole milk and cream. With a fat content of around 10.5%, it’s really too light to be considered a real cream.

Clotted cream

Clotted cream is made by heating cream to concentrate it, and then allowing it to stand. The butterfat rises to the top as a thick, creamy crust, and it is this you spread on your scone with a topping of strawberry jam. It’s also pretty good with fruit salad and as a topping on Christmas pudding. It’s at the top the league when it comes to fat content.

Here is a recipe using clotted cream:
Raspberry and pecan scones

Fat content

Clotted cream – 55%
Double/heavy cream – 36% – 48%
Whipping cream – 34% – 40%
Crème faîche – 31%
Sour cream – 18%
Single/light cream – 18%
Half and half – 11%
Greek yoghurt – 10%
Buttermilk – 2%
Yoghurt – 0.5 – 4%

Sources
http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-sour-cream-and-crme-frache-203467
http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-regular-and-greek-yogurt-ingredient-intelligence-204137
http://www.ochef.com/100.htm
www.sainsburys.co.uk
www.waitrose.com
The Professional Chef – Ninth Edition – Wiley
Leiths Techniques Bible – Susan Spaull and Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne

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Rhubarb, almonds and yoghurt

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Last Wednesday our little daughter was born via elective C-section. She was 9lb 6oz and is a little star. She is sleeping on my chest as I type. JP, Dave and other close family came to see us in hospital. JP was keen to give his new sister lots of cuddles. He was then very interested in the presents that G had brought him. We finally came home on Saturday. It felt so good to be home, like a breath of fresh air. But it also took me a little while to realise that I was still recovering from major surgery and couldn’t just continue as normal. I needed to give my tummy time to recover and sitting writing this was much easier than trying to get in and out of the shower.

Both sets of grandparents came over on Easter Sunday and they cooked a wonderful big family meal of tender roast lamb with garlic and rosemary. The community midwife also appeared to check on me and G; by chance she was the same midwife who came to see us on our first full day home with JP, and it was lovely to see such a warm, familiar face. Since then we have been slowly adapting to life with two children. It doesn’t feel anything like as all-consuming as it did the first time. Things like changing a nappy or how to bath a little one are straightforward now compared to the first time. This is great, particularly given JP is so lively and energetic and wants as much input from Dad and Mum as ever. He was asking yesterday when G would be able to come and sleep in his room. I’m looking forward to seeing them both grow up together.

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In light of everything else that is going on, this week’s recipe is a super simple one. It’s fresh rhubarb, gently cooked and served with a good scattering of sugar and toasted almonds. It’s incredibly light, fresh and fruity. This is particularly good when you’re heavily pregnant and have little room in your tummy but nevertheless want something sweet to finish your meal. If you have any left over, it’s great on your cereal the following morning.

We are lucky enough to have a rhubarb plant that we can see from our second floor flat – other than strawberries and loganberries and a tiny bit of swiss chard, it’s the only thing in our veg patch at the moment. Given the seeds that were delivered earlier in the week and that Dave is itching to get outside, I think the bed will soon be full of seeds. Dave loves our veg patch. I like cooking it’s produce, but my attention span is a bit limited when it comes to growing plants.

This is the first place we have lived where we have been able to grown our own veg. But rhubarb is in the supermarkets right now. Eat the Seasons tells me that forced rhubarb season has just come to an end, but field rhubarb started at the beginning of April and will go on to July.

If this recipe gets your rhubarb juices going, then have a look at my other recipes
Toffee rhubarb sticks
Rhubarb and orange cake

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Rhubarb, almonds and yoghurt

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Normally in food and cooking I use caster sugar.  In this recipe I like feeling the grains of sugar and hearing them crunch as I eat, so I use granulated sugar.  If you don’t have granulated sugar, caster will do fine.

You can buy toasted flaked almonds.  If you can be bothered to toast the flaked almonds yourself you end up with hots nuts on your pudding which are delicious.  To toast the almonds put them on a baking tray and place in a preheated oven at 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/Gas mark 4 for 5 – 8 minutes.  I always set a timer as I’ve lost count of the amount of nuts I have burnt while toasting them.

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 5
  • Cook Time: 10
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 6

Ingredients

  • 400g/14oz rhubarb, cut into 2½/1” chunks
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 900g/2lb yoghurt
  • 100g/3½oz toasted flaked almonds
  • Granulated sugar to serve

Instructions

  1. Put the rhubarb, water and 3 tbsp of granulated sugar in a saucepan and heat over a low heat with the lid on for 7 – 10 minutes, until the rhubarb is soft.  Remove from the heat.
  2. Divide the yoghurt between the bowls or glasses, top with the rhubarb.  Put the almonds and granulated sugar on the table so that people can serve themselves.

Notes

If you want a different version of this pudding how about

  • Mixing 85g/3oz of chopped crystallised ginger into the rhubarb as you cook it.
  • Serving it with shortbread
  • Swapping the almonds for chopped toasted pistachios
  • Using ice cream or custard instead of the yoghurt.
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Apple tart with marzipan – perfect for Easter

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Happy Easter! I hope you are all set for a lovely long weekend. For me, Easter is a time for a big family get together or meeting with friends in the hills. Either way, serving large vats of good food at the end of long days will be part of the fun and that brings me to this perfect Easter pudding.
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It’s perfect because it

  • feeds up to 8 hungry mouths,
  • is super simple to put together – the toughest part is rolling out the shop bought puff pastry,
  • takes only 25 minutes to make – leaving you more time to enjoy family and friends,
  • has a pastry crust stuffed with marzipan – this melts in the oven and adds a delicious sweet kick to the crust.
  • does not involve chocolate – so it leaves your taste buds free to enjoy all those Easter eggs!

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Apple tart with marzipan – perfect for Easter

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4 from 1 reviews

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 6-8

Ingredients

  • 400g/14oz puff pastry
  • flour for dusting
  • 100g/3½oz marzipan
  • 25g/1oz chopped ground almonds
  • 4 eating apples peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • 25g/1oz chopped roasted hazelnuts
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp apricot jam

Instructions

  1. Set the oven to 220°C/200°C fan/425°F/Gas mark 7
  2. On a floured work surface roll the pastry out to a 37cm/14½” diameter circle
  3. Slice the marzipan into 1.5cm wide x 4mm thick strips.
  4. Using a pastry brush and water, wet a 4cm/1½” border around the edge of the pastry. Lay the marzipan in a circle 5mm/¼” in from the edge. Fold the pastry and the marzipan over so creating a stuffed and raised edge for your tart. You don’t want the marzipan to escape during baking so use your finger to seal pastry edge onto pastry base. Place on a baking tray lined with baking paper.
  5. Scatter the ground almonds over the tart base.
  6. Cover the tart base with the apple slices and then scatter the caster sugar and hazelnuts over the apple. Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes but check towards the end. The tart is ready when the crust is risen and golden.
  7. Melt the apricot jam until it becomes liquid (I do this in a microwave) and paint over both crust and apple. Serve with cream, yoghurt, ice cream, crème fraîche or custard.

Notes

To prepare the marzipan I take a 100g/3½oz of shop bought marzipan, carve off 4mm slices, then cut each slice lengthways to give 1.5cm wide strips.

 

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Raspberry and orange jellies with vanilla ice cream – great to cook with a child

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Friday for JP is ice cream day which means that for his tea the pudding is ice cream. If lucky, Dave serves, and he gets a lovely amount. He’s less lucky if I serve … it’s a more miserable portion but he still enjoys it. Recently JP suddenly asked for jelly to go with his ice cream. I’ve no idea where he’s learnt about jelly. Perhaps Peppa Pig has been eating jelly, or maybe it was in his Alfie book. Alfie is very popular at the moment. I do know that neither nursery nor Grannie and Grandpa go in for jelly. I love it when JP comes up with something and I’ve no idea where it comes from. It reminds me he is a person in his own right and with experiences and thoughts I have no idea about despite him not yet being two and a half.

The next afternoon we made jelly together. In fact, it was fruit jelly and JP loved stirring away and then popping the raspberries into the glass. We were using frozen raspberries and he liked how cold they were. (Another of JP’s individualisms is eating frozen peas … Dave and I also have no idea where this one comes from. He will kindly offer them to us but leaves us thinking we are missing something when we tell him we prefer ours hot).

I hadn’t put any sugar in that first jelly and it was rather limited in flavour. So after JP was in bed I made a batch with sugar and this time the flavour hit the mark. JP enjoyed one for his pudding the next night and Dave and I enjoyed two each with ice cream for our pudding.
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Whether you use fresh or frozen raspberries, just pop them in the glasses and the hot liquid will do the defrosting. When you add the orange juice mixture the raspberries will float to the top and you’ll be left with a band of orange at the bottom and red at the top of the jelly. Individual jellies in small glasses will take about two hours to set or speed things up by putting them in the freezer – but set a timer so they don’t actually freeze.

I love the bright colours in these jellies. They look as fresh and fruity as they taste. The raspberries add a slightly tart sweet note and stay super juicy. With a ball of vanilla ice cream on top they make a great pudding, and they would also be ideal for a child’s birthday party. You could make them a day or two in advance and keep in the fridge. Making them is a fun rainy day activity.

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Raspberry and orange jellies with vanilla ice cream – great to cook with a child

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As far as I’m aware sheets of gelatine come in the same size roughly 11.5cm x 7.5cm but if in doubt, check the packet – you want enough gelatine to set 1pt or 570ml of liquid. If you are vegetarian you can use Vege-Gel to make these jellies, just make sure you tweak the recipe below so it fits with those on the back of the packet.

The little glasses I use have a capacity of 180ml when filled right to the very top. They are sturdy little glasses. However you could use delicate glasses, the orange juice mixture only needs to be heated to melt the sugar and gelatine. Which isn’t too hot, you should still be able to taste some comfortably. No fear of cracking your delicate glasses here.

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 4 sheets of gelatine
  • 200ml water
  • 370ml orange juice, with bits if you like
  • 75g/2½oz caster sugar
  • 115g/4oz frozen or fresh raspberries
  • 350ml vanilla ice cream

8 Little glasses

Instructions

Step 1: Adult – Before you start cooking measure everything out.

Step 2: Adult – Give your child a bowl of cold water and the gelatine.

Child – Put the gelatine in the cold water, ensure it’s all covered.

Adult – The gelatine needs soaking for 5 minutes, so I put a timer on.

Step 3: Child – Put the water, caster sugar and orange juice into a saucepan.

Adult and child – Heat the saucepan over a medium heat, stirring well to dissolve all the sugar in the liquid. The liquid shouldn’t boil, this will inhibit the work of the gelatine.

Step 4: Child – When the five minutes is up, use your hand to take the gelatine out of the water, shake off as much water as possible and then put the gelatine into the saucepan.

Adult and child – Stir the orange juice mixture until all the sugar and gelatine are dissolved. Turn off the heat.

Adult – Pour the orange juice mixture into a jug.

Step 5: Child – Divide the raspberries between the glasses.

Step 6: Adult and child – Divide the orange juice mixture between the glasses.

Step 7: Adult – Put the glasses on a tray and place in the fridge. The jellies will take at least 2 hours to set. Serve with a ball of vanilla ice cream on top.

Nutrition

  • Carbohydrates: 22g

Changing the baking tin shape in recipe – round to square/rectangle – square/rectangle to round

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How many times have you opened a baking recipe book and found the recipe you want to cook, to then open your cooking tin draw and discover you don’t have the right sized cooking tin?  You have a round tin and the recipe demands a square tin.  It seems to have to me all the time. I have to get out my high school level maths and figure out what tin I can use. This page is the answer to that problem. Just pop the tin dimensions specified by the recipe into one of the forms below and hey presto it will tell you what size of tin you can use instead.

Changing the tin shape shouldn’t affect the temperature at which you cook the cake. But it may take longer or shorter to cook. Square cakes tend to take longer to cook than round cakes. In square cakes the corners will cook more quickly than the middle so near the end of the cooking time – after about 80% of the time has passed, turn the cake around. Ideally don’t open the oven before then as this will impact on the temperature in the oven.

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A Food Blog as a Side Project

There isn’t a recipe this week. It has been my last week of work before my maternity leave started. There is nothing like a hard deadline to make me realise how much there still is left to do. Having finished the week finally and finished work, I’m feeling good. Being heavily pregnant with a toddler at home is surprisingly hard work compared to just being pregnant. With JP we ended up with an emergency c-section, so this time we have chosen an elective c-section. All being well she will be delivered on 12 April. We can’t wait to meet her. Sleep is high on my priority list before then.

Recently Dave Jarman, an old friend, interviewed me about Holly Cooks and how it came to be.
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He did this interview as part of his series on Side Projects – which you can read more about here. I wanted to share with you his post about Holly Cooks. It was an interesting experiencing spending an hour reflecting on how this blog came into being. I learnt more than I thought I would about myself as he questioned me.

Roasted carrot and hazelnut tart

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Roasting does such good things to flavours. It condenses and concentrates and that’s very much the case in this tart. The carrots ribbons become sweet and full of flavour; the pastry rich and flaky and crunchy around the tart. The pesto and feta bring guts and depth of flavour. The chopped hazelnuts offer their subtle flavour along with great texture. The chopped coriander gives another splash of colour.
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Dave and I enjoy eating half the tart in this recipe and then finish it later in the week – it reheats really well. I serve it with a green salad; Dave likes a jacket potato as well.

This tart speaks to me of spring. I think it is the bright orange colour with the green and the flakes of white feta. It doesn’t feel right in the dull grey of winter but Spring is officially here now – although you wouldn’t have known it from the thick snow we had on Tuesday, actually the first day of Spring. I drew back the curtains hoping for a sunny day but outside was a white snowy scene. Of course, JP was desperate to be outside when he saw the garden and after a quick breakfast, he jumped into his snow suit and we headed downstairs. We were running late to get to Grannie and Grandpa’s but he was very keen to build a ball of snow to take on the journey over and he was then mortified when we reached their house 15 minutes later and the snow had disappeared. But we picked up another few handfuls, headed upstairs and his gramps we’re only too delighted to receive JP’s snow in their flat!

Unfortunately for JP, the snowy landscape soon cleared to be replaced by howling winds and rain which have been with us on and off for the rest of the week. But the daffodils are out with their bright trumpet yellow faces and this tart is my way of reaffirming that Spring is very much with us, even if the weather suggests otherwise.
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Roasted carrot and hazelnut tart

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  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 20
  • Cook Time: 30
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 4 - 6

Ingredients

  • 660g/1lb7oz or 5 carrots, topped, tailed and peeled
  • 1½ tbsp honey
  • 4 tbsp oil
  • 1/8 tsp salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 375g/13oz ready made pre-rolled puff pastry, unrolled and lying on the baking paper it came with
  • 3 tbsp pesto
  • 100g/3½oz feta, crumbled
  • 35g/1¼oz chopped roasted hazelnuts
  • a small handful of coriander, chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 C/180 C fan/ 400 F/ Gas mark 6.
  2. Peel the carrots into ribbons with a vegetable peeler. Put the carrots into a steamer and steam for 3 minutes or until tender. Turn the carrots over half way through so that they all cook evenly. Once cooked put into a large bowl and add the honey, oil, salt and pepper. Mix well.
  3. Cut a 1 cm strip off each side of the pastry and lay on top of the remaining edge so forming a ridge. Cover the base of the tart with the pesto. Top with the carrots but leave any liquid in the bowl, and keep. Scatter the feta and hazelnuts over the carrots. Put the tart in the oven for 30 minutes until lightly browned.
  4. Drizzle over some of the oil and honey mixture that the carrots were mixed in. Scatter with the chopped coriander and serve.

Nutrition

  • Carbohydrates: 40g per 1/4

Apricot, Raspberry and Pistachio Cake, the Perfect Gift for Mother’s Day

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Our weekly shop is now delivered. In exchange for some clicking online, a helpful man lugs our weekly shop up two flights of stairs to our flat and at a time convenient to me. What could be better? I just love it and but it does mean you miss the supermarket-early-warning system. What do I mean? Well, this year I nearly missed Valentine’s Day because I hadn’t seen the display, usually a sea of eye-catching red, and with every card you could want (and maybe a few you wouldn’t!) clearly reminding you. Luckily, this week I happened to wander into my local Sainsburys in time to be reminded that Mother’s Day was coming up fast – gone were the reds of Valentines Day, replaced by pinks, whites and lots of flowers.

Mother’s Day, Mother’s Day – what to do for Mother’s Day? As I walked round the shop picking up items I’d missed off the online shop, ideas for a cake formed in my head. What could be better than a proper homemade cake? I picked up some extra ingredients and headed home.

That night when the flat was quiet, I began. There is something so calming and relaxing about making a cake when that’s all you need to be doing. I creamed the butter and sugar, mixed in the eggs, added the flour and baking powder and then folded in the apricots and pistachios (aren’t they beautiful).

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Now here’s a tip. In the baking aisle that day, I had found 7″ cake-tin liners. These aren’t necessary and previously I have lined my cake-tins with baking paper cut to size. But liners make cake making just that bit easier and quicker and so all I had to do now was divide the mixture between the two lined cake tins and put straight into the preheated oven.

When the cakes were baked, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to top with whipped cream or buttercream icing. So I did half and half. With lots of raspberries between the two layers and on top, Dave and enjoyed a tasting. The cake felt full of the promise of spring – it was light and fruity with the gentle pistachio flavour lingering longest in the mouth. In fact, I’d call it a triumph! The only issue was that Dave thought the buttercream icing was best whereas I preferred the whipped cream. Both worked well, it was just that the cream appealed to me because it was less sweet. I have given both as options in the recipe so you can decide depending on how sweet your Mum’s tooth is.
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If you are interested in the technique behind making a Victoria Sponge cake, which is what this cake is based on, click here.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

Apricot, Raspberry and Pistachio Cake, the Perfect Gift for Mother’s Day

140g/5oz soften butter, extra for greasing the baking tins
140g/5oz caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
140g/5oz self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
180g/ 6 1/3 tinned apricots, drained weight, quartered
55g/2oz roasted pistachios, roughly chopped

Buttercream icing
150g/5¼oz soften butter
300g icing sugar
1 tbsp milk
OR
Whipped cream as icing
250ml double cream

225g/8oz fresh raspberries
freeze dried raspberry pieces, a small handful, you will find these in the baking aisle

2 x 18cm/7” cake tins

Serving 8-10

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/355°F/Gas mark 4. Grease and line the two baking tins.
2. In a large bowl beat the butter and sugar together with an electric whisk or a strong arm and a wooden spoon! Beat until the mixture is creamy and then beat for another minute. This gets air into the mix and means your cake will be light.
3. Beat in one egg at a time.
4. Mix the flour and baking powder together in a separate bowl. Using a large metal spoon, gently fold the flour into the butter mixture until it is all combined. Fold in the apricots and pistachio nuts and divide between the two tins.
5. Put in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.
6. If you have chosen whipped cream icing, whip the double cream now. You need it firm but still a little floppy. If you prefer buttercream, then beat the butter until it’s very soft in a bowl, sift in the icing sugar and keep beating until they are both combined. Add the milk to loosen the icing a little.
7. The cakes will be baked when they are lightly browned and a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool for 10 minutes in their tins and then turn out onto a cooling rack.
8. Place the bottom cake on a serving plate or dish and smooth on half of your icing. Cover with broken up raspberries so that they lie flattish. Top with the second cake and cover with the remaining icing. Decorate with the rest of the fresh raspberries and the freeze dried raspberry pieces.
9. Present to your Mum.

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Roast chicken with watercress and coriander

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I was so excited when I came up with this dish. It tastes so good and, needless to say, we have been eating it a lot recently. The first step is to roast chicken thighs in lemon juice, lemon rind, capers and garlic. Then you cook the couscous in the juices produced in the roasting plus some added chicken stock. Once the couscous is ready and fluffed up, it is topped with chopped watercress and coriander, the roasted chicken is placed back on top and the dish is served immediately. Another option is to strip the chicken from the bones as the couscous cooks and then serve as a fork meal. Ideal for parties.
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It’s an all-in-one dish – which I love – the preparation time is about 25 minutes and the oven does everything else. It’s also a big meal – lots of chicken and lots of couscous and greens – so if you are feeding people with small appetites it will easily serve 6 or you’ll have great left overs.
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I love the ease of couscous – 5 minutes with some hot liquid and it’s cooked. But I find it similar to tofu in that it needs flavouring to taste really good. Cooking it in the chicken juices with chicken stock is the perfect solution.

When the chicken is roasting, a whole garlic bulb, cut in half, is roasted at the same time. It becomes sweet and sticky, with the cloves just popping out.
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I love eating the fresh watercress and coriander with the hot roast chicken. They bring their bright green colour and wonderful freshness to this meal. They also mean that you don’t need additional veg on the side.

I make sure most of the salt is sprinkled over the chicken thigh skin. This helps it crisp up and gives it a great flavour. I also pop the lemon rind under the chicken thighs as this stops them from burning.

Roasted chicken with watercress and coriander

8 chicken thighs, excess skin
2 lemons, juice and rind
2 tbsp capers
1/8 tsp salt and freshly ground pepper
1 garlic bulb, optional

400g cous cous
540ml chicken stock
80g watercress, chopped
30g fresh coriander, stalks removed and leaves chopped

Serves 4 – 6
Preparation time – 25 minutes
Cooking time – 40 – 50 minutes

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/395°F/Gas mark 6.
2. Take each thigh and cut away excess skin and fat but leave a good covering of skin on the outer side. Put into a large oven dish.
3. Pour over the lemon juice and scatter the lemon rind, capers, salt and pepper over the chicken thighs. Cut the garlic bulb in half and place in the oven dish. Put in the oven for 35 – 45 minutes until the chicken is lightly browned
4. Remove the chicken thighs from the dish and put somewhere to keep warm. Pour the couscous into the oven dish and pour over the chicken stock. Cover the dish with a clean tea towel for 5 minutes so the couscous can absorb the stock. Then fluff up with a fork and scatter over the watercress and coriander. Put the chicken thighs on top and serve. Delicious and simple.

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Pear and pecan strudel

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When the weather gets a bit warmer Dave, JP, our soon-to-be-born daughter and I will head to the beach. There is a good beach nearby at Portobello – ideal for sand castles and with a friendly cafe selling delicious ice creams – and we go there quite a lot. But if we’ve a bit more time we treat ourselves and head further along the coast to Dave’s dream beach at Gullane.
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This is not a beach to build sandcastles on because it’s usually far too windy. But it’s stunning. The beach has white sand, dunes and blue waters that stretch on as far as the eye can see. When we drive out and walk along that beach we know it will leave us feeling good; the wind blows all cobwebs away and leaves us knowing we have left the city and come to a beautiful place. Gullane has some seriously famous golf links and that sweep of green abutting the white sands is very much part of the areas charm. But it’s not golf that Dave and I are interested in, it’s what we refer to as the German Bakery. Falko is it’s name and it’s sits quietly on the main street. This cafe-come-eatery is a wonderful find and serves lunches and teas. It has few tables but we have always managed to squeeze in. Falko lunches are different and that’s part of the point. For instance, my favourite involves a lot of spam, which is something I thought I would never be keen on. And Falko cakes are different too – think slices of large tarts crammed full of layers of deliciousness. Each serving of cake is enough for two, but why share when you can have one to yourself.
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And then there’s the apple strudel. This is in a class apart – fruity, homely and oh so big! I’ve almost got stuck thinking about the Falko apple strudel recently and this has finally inspired me to make this Pear and Pecan Strudel. Falko’s strudel is based on apple and a lovely pastry that I suspect they make themselves and I’m sure they wouldn’t approve of nuts, peel, and lemon zest, but I wanted to create my own strudel in celebration of theirs, rather than just a straight copy.
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The smell when all the ingredients are in the bowl before they go onto the pastry is one to savour. There is the pear and the apple, but the lemon zest and the peel and the sugar bring it all together. The breadcrumbs are a trick borrowed from a Leith’s recipe. They absorb moisture from the fruit meaning the strudel isn’t soggy.
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Pear and pecan strudel

2 eating apples and 3 conference pears – peeled and chopped to cubes slightly larger than raisins.
110g/4oz pecan nuts, chopped
3 tbsp breadcrumbs
55g/2oz crystalised ginger finely chopped or candid peel
82g/3oz raisins
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 lemon, zest of
6 sheets of filo pastry
55g/2oz butter, melted
icing sugar

To serve – cream, custard, ice cream or yoghurt, whatever you fancy

Serves 6 – 8

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/Gas mark 6. Put all the ingredients except for the pastry, butter and icing sugar into a large bowl and mix well.
2. Take a large baking sheet and place on one sheet of filo pastry so it covers the top left part of the baking sheet. Ensure at least a third of it hangs off the baking sheet. Paint a 2.5cm/1” length of melted butter on the sides of the pastry which are on the baking sheet. Then put another sheet of pastry to the top right part of the baking sheet, overlapping the first sheet. The melted butter will help the pastry sheets stick together. Paint melted butter on the bottom side of this second sheet of pastry. Now add a third and fourth sheet of pastry on the bottom of the baking sheet again using the butter as glue.
3. Spoon the pear mixture onto the filo pastry making a long sausage shape in the middle of the pastry. Keep the pear mixture as tight as possible. Bring up the sides of the overhanging pastry to cover the pear mixture. Then use the top remaining sheets of pastry to top the strudel. Paint the strudel with the remaining melted butter and place in the preheated oven.
4. Cook for 30 – 40 minutes in the oven until lightly browned on top. Let the strudel cool a little before dusting with icing sugar. You can cut off the ends of the strudel to make it more attractive before serving. I don’t tend to bother with this.

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The things they don’t tell you about parenthood

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I have some news. I’m 31 weeks pregnant. So this week, instead of a recipe, I’m going to share some thoughts on parenthood the second time around. (If you would prefer a recipe, then have a look here – I can’t believe I now have over 100 recipes listed).

My tummy is getting bigger and I am just beginning to waddle. Our daughter is due on 19 April. It looks like I’ll be having a c-section and the planned date will probably be some days earlier. I’m so looking forward to having a daughter, a sister for JP. I also can’t wait to get to know our second child and see how different and similar she is to JP at her milestones. At the same time I have a better idea of the hard work involved in parenting a new born and yet I have no idea what it’s going to be like with JP charging around at the same time.

These past few months have been a rollercoaster of emotions. Since JP was born, a number of friends and acquaintances have had miscarriages or lost babies. Having had JP I know what joy he brings and so I Dave have approached this pregnancy more cautiously. We were aware that things might not go as planned or as hoped. This time far more than last time, we had some idea of what we would miss if that were to happen. For that reason I think I have waited until now to share the news that I am pregnant. I can’t wait to be holding our daughter and to know that everything is OK.

The rollercoaster hasn’t just been around the pregnancy. It’s also about managing life in general and here’s an example of what I mean. Recently we needed to go to John Lewis to buy some fabric. We arrived early and, knowing that JP wasn’t going to exactly enjoy fabric shopping, Dave had downloaded some Postman Pat before we left the house. And so with JP’s attention glued on Dave’s mobile, we started our fabric search knowing we had exactly 12 minutes. Before having JP I might have walked through John Lewis and when I saw a child in his buggy watching something on a phone, I probably would have judged those parents! I would have thought, is that the best thing for your child? Is that the best you can do as parents? Why have you brought your child to John Lewis if only to put them in front of a TV? Oh how sanctimonious I would have been in my head. That pre JP me, DIDN’T HAVE A CLUE. She didn’t know about all being awake since 5.45a.m., about then working our hardest to keep everyone happy, while also trying to achieve all those non-child things that had to be done that weekend – and that sometimes a Postman Pat episode keeps everything feeling manageable.

We didn’t quite make the 12 minute fabric choosing challenge as we hadn’t realised we then needed to order the fabric and that required some more joint thinking. So JP enjoyed two episodes of Postman Pat. After that we felt like we had really achieved something and therefore deserved a treat. So we went up to the café on the fourth floor. On our way up Dave saw a shirt in the men’s department that he liked. We all enjoyed a drink in the café and then JP and I stayed while Dave went down to try the shirt on. We had our normal conversation before he went – basically a negotiation about how long he had, and agreed on 20 minutes. Did I open a story book at that point in the café? No, of course I didn’t, because I didn’t have a story book as I hadn’t thought that far ahead as we were leaving home. I’m simply not that organised, so this time my phone came out and I tried to engage JP in conversation about what he was watching to make myself feel less bad that again he was watching TV. The problem is that Peppa Pig is so entrancing, no one wants to speak to their Mum while watching it!

When 18 minutes were up we walked through the women’s clothing to get to the men’s department. The women’s clothing looked so beautiful and clean hanging on it’s racks. I gazed at the women feeling the clothes, picking up some to try on. I couldn’t remember when I had last been clothes shopping by myself or with a friend. I looked at my watch – it was near lunch time and we needed to find Dave and get out of here so that JP slept at home rather than in the car on the way home. This would mean Dave and I could sleep while JP slept. I told myself I didn’t want to look at the clothes and that I didn’t really like clothes anyway! We got to the men’s department; Dave had only just found the shirt and was in the changing room. Dave quickly made his choice, paid for the shirt and a jumper and we walked backed through the women’s department where I tried to ignore the lovely clothes and placed my concentration on the top of the buggy. We reached the lift and Dave asked if I thought the shirt was the right size.

I hope as a parent my ability to be a generous partner hasn’t disappeared completely. I’m sometimes aware that I snap at Dave only to turn to JP and speak to him in a normal voice. So I said ‘It’s horrible to get the wrong sized shirt, why don’t we go back and you can try on the other size and see what you think’. We walked back through the women’s department to the men’s, again my full concentration was on the buggy and this time I was taking deep lungs full of air trying to hold back the tears. It’s not that I’m pining for clothes, or even have much cash that I want to spend on clothes. I would just like not to rush everywhere and to have some time and space to stop and look and just have some me-time that didn’t involve catching up on sleep.

Dave found the right shirt and I was pleased because it does look much better. We get back to the lift having walked past all those gorgeous clothes yet again. I have lost the inner battle now and tears are dripping off my nose. In the lift I stand facing the corner hoping that the other women in the lift aren’t aware of my silent tears. I feel Dave’s hand grasping mine as the lift travels down, he squeezes it, a hang in there squeeze, an it will be alright squeeze. And of course it is. We get back to the car and that revives me a little. Dave drives home and, brilliantly, Joe wants to play in the garden for a little bit, which enables me to go upstairs and quietly sort lunch before Dave and JP come up to the flat. JP had a good lunch and then said that he was feeling ‘a little tired’. Music to our ears. I take JP off for a story and nap time while Dave tidies the lunch things. I come back into the kitchen and we hug but the rollercoaster is back, again I’m in tears. I feel pathetic as I say ‘I was so jealous of those women in John Lewis who could stop and looks at clothes’. Dave replies telling me that the day before someone at work had asked him to go to the cinema with them and he hated the fact that his response was ‘I need to check with Holly’. I tell him through the tears and the nose that is now running ‘And we are pregnant again, things are only going to get harder; when oh when do they get easier?’ He tells me ‘He doesn’t know.’ We make a cup of tea and head off to bed, knowing that sleep will make things feel more manageable.

We wake an hour later and we have a good afternoon as a family with no more tears. When I look back on the John Lewis morning I know sleep was a big part of it. That knowledge makes me feel less guilty about things. I sometimes have to go away with work for a few days. I secretly look forward to these breaks, I mean work trips! A night in a hotel with someone else cooking and my alarm clock as the only thing to wake me, is pure luxury. I now feel less guilty about looking forward to these trips, especially as Dave has similar trips with his work. They give me some crucial me- time, even if they don’t involve shopping.

Since JP arrived in my world, my standard response time to a personal email has become about two weeks. I feel guilty about this. At work I try and reply to emails in a day. But given when I’m not at work I’m looking after JP, it isn’t so surprising to me that two weeks can elapse before I get round to replying to an email. While this isn’t brilliant for those emailing me, I do understand it and so hope I can feel less guilty about it.

I’m looking forward to meeting our daughter and I can’t wait for JP to meet her to. He has been putting bean bags up his t-shirt at nursery so he has a big tummy like Mummy. Some unfortunate child managed to get hold of the bean bag and he raced after them shouting “That’s my sister!” I also now know what hard work it will be and I’m hoping I can manage it without too many tears over clothes I wouldn’t normally give two hoots about anyway.

Hot cross bun and apricot bread and butter pudding

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Hot cross bun bread and butter pudding was one of the first recipes I published on Holly Cooks. It is everything a proper pudding should be – comforting, sweet and looking every bit as good as it tastes. And it is easy to make with all the ingredients already in most kitchens.
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When we go and stay with Dave’s parents, his Mum sometimes serves apricot crumble. It makes for a brilliant desert and it’s trick is that the fruit is tinned. They work brilliantly in the crumble bringing their sweet and fruity taste and requiring absolutely no prep other than draining a tin! Oh yes, this is my sort of pudding. Open tins of apricots, make a crumble topping and there you have it, a proper pudding.
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Today’s pudding combines hot cross bun bread and butter pudding and the apricots from Dave’s Mum’s crumble. There are two layers of hot cross bun between which lie the tinned apricots. You might like to add a handful of raisins, because you can never have too many in a bread and butter pudding. Your sandwich of hot cross bun and tinned apricot is then drenched in a rich custard of egg, milk, sugar and lemon peel. Wow. It’s a proper pudding on the next level and it takes so little preparation.
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I like to eat this pudding with double cream. Dave prefers his with peanut and salted caramel ice cream. Dave is never one for half measures. JP likes it simply by itself.
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I don’t like my puddings tooth achingly sweet, but if you do, add another 25g/1oz of sugar to the milk and eggs. Another thing to note is bread and butter pudding is traditionally made with stale bread. We get through bread and hot cross buns at such a rate at home that things don’t seem to get stale. If you do have stale hot cross buns, they will work well in this.

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Apricot and hot cross bun bread and butter pudding

85g/3oz butter
8 hot cross buns
2 x 400g tins of apricots, drained
55g/2oz raisins
4 large eggs, beaten
400ml milk
55g/2oz sugar
lemon, zest only

cream, yoghurt, ice cream or custard to serve

Ovenproof dish 25 x 30 cm / 10 x 12″
Serves 6 – 8

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/355°F/ Gas mark 4.
2. Using some of the butter, grease the oven dish. Butter the hot cross buns with the remaining butter. Lie the bottoms of the hot cross buns in the dish.
3. Top with apricots and half the raisins. Then place the tops of the hot cross buns on top of the apricots
4. In a jug combine the eggs, milk, sugar and lemon zest and then pour over the hot cross buns making sure each one is covered and that no sugar is left at the bottom of the jug.
5. Cook in the oven for 35 – 45 minutes until lightly browned on top and the custard has set.

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Sweet potato, cherry tomato and coconut soup

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I’m not going to lie that this past week has been pretty miserable. JP got a temperature over the weekend, Dave then got a horrible cold. I thought I was doing well until I did a return trip to London in a day for work and ended up with a cold of my own. Dave was ill at home in bed, I was shivering at my desk in our sitting room trying to work. We made a fine pair. I am happy to say goodbye to this week.
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I’m not ill very often and as a result it surprises me how miserable life is when I don’t feel well. We have had some lovely frosty mornings this week which normally I would enjoy as I take JP down to nursery, but this week they just feel like another thing to deal with. Right now I just want some warmth and for things to feel easy.
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This soup hits that spot. It is comforting. It doesn’t demand too much of the cook or the consumer, it just gives.

The tang of the roasted cherry tomatoes cut through the creaminess of the sweet potato and coconut. It’s a thick soup which I like, but if you prefer something thinner, just add some more stock and or water. Or you could use coconut milk rather than creamed coconut, which will give a thinner soup.
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In my local supermarket I can buy a mixed packed of roasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds, so this mixture is less complicated than it sounds. But the seeds and the coriander are optional, I like the colour, flavour and texture they bring, but it’s still a good soup with out them.

Sweet potato, cherry tomato and coconut soup

650g cherry tomatoes
1 onion, finely sliced
750g sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2.5cm/1” cubes
50g ginger, peeled and finely diced or grated
3 tbsp oil
200ml hot water
500ml chicken stock
200g creamed coconut, grated
salt and pepper

to serve – optional
fresh coriander, chopped
roasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds

Serves 4-6

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C/390°F/Gas mark 6. Put the cherry tomatoes in a roasting tin with 1 tbsp oil drizzled over them and a sprinkling of salt. Put the tomatoes in the oven.
2. Heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan and when hot add the onion, stir well and put the lid on. Sweat for 3 minutes and then add the sweet potato and ginger. Cook for 5 minutes.
3. Add the hot water, stock and grated creamed coconut and bring to the boil. When the sweet potato is tender or after 25 minutes roasting in the oven takes the cherry tomatoes out and add them to the soup. Stir well and cook for another minute or two. Then turn the heat off.
4. Using a stick blender blend the soup to your preferred consistency. Check the season and adjust to your palate. Serve with coriander and seeds.

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Chocolate, raspberry and blackberry tart

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This recipe evolved in my head over Christmas. I wanted a tart that combined chocolate, cream and fruit. I wanted it to be utterly irresistible while also quick to make. The key feature would be a ganache made with equal amounts of double cream and chocolate to be served on a sweet pastry base and topped with raspberries.
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It was the base that changed first. Pastry is slow to make compared to a biscuit base which would also add more flavour, more texture and wouldn’t require baking. So one less job and a real time-saver. Secondly, I added blackberries to the raspberries to give more colour but also to add a subtle addition to that chocolate and fruit taste combination.
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Sometimes my new recipes for Holly Cooks need changing three or four times. That’s a lot of cooking and a lot of tasting and it’s definitely all part of the fun I have from writing the blog. But this recipe was one of those that when tasted I thought, yes that’s it, that’s what I want. The fruit brings it’s juiciness and sharpness of taste. The ganache is heavy and seriously rich. The biscuit base has good flavour and a complimentary texture. By the way, I have used dark chocolate with a 70% coco content, but you could absolutely use milk chocolate if you prefer. Try one of each?
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Actually, there was one more change. I had just finished putting the blackberries randomly among the raspberries when Dave looked at the tart and said he couldn’t wait to try it. He then asked if he could reposition the blackberries and, given his demonstrable skills when it comes to icing children’s birthday cakes, I gave him free reign to do his artistic best. Well, he simply rearranged the blackberries in diagonal lines and instantly the tart looked truly professional like something from a smart patisserie. Artistic talent will out.
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Making this tart takes about twenty five minutes but you also need to allow for cooling time before you serve.

Chocolate, raspberry and blackberry tart

210g ginger nuts (ginger biscuits)

140g unsalted butter, melted

284ml double cream
284g dark chocolate, broken up
300g raspberries

150g blackberries
icing sugar
pouring cream to serve – optional

Serves 6
Preparation time – 25 minutes
Cooling time – 30 minutes

11cm x 34cm rectangular tin/ 23cm round tin, with a removable base

1. Bash up the biscuits in a food processor, or in a sandwich bag using a rolling pin. Pour into a bowl and stir in the melted butter. Keep stirring until combined and then spoon into the tin and flatten out to form a base of even depth. Leave in the fridge to chill.
2. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until hot but not boiling. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate to melt and blend completely, thus forming your ganache. Remove the biscuit base from the fridge and pour on. Don’t worry if the ganache fills to the top of the tin.
3. Place the raspberries and blackberries on top. Leave the ganache to cool and set for at least 30 minutes. Dust with icing sugar and serve with pouring cream.

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Lemon & coconut drizzle and prune & apple cupcakes

Holly-cooks-coconut-and-lemon-drizzle-and-apple-and-prune-cupcakes-open-apple-and-prune-cupcake550Sweet things are really hitting the mark for me at the moment, particularly cupcakes. It’s probably just a reaction to the cold days and long dark evenings and my body needing that extra fuel. But also, we live on the third floor of an old house and insulation wasn’t something anyone thought about when converting our flat. So when it’s freezing outside, doing some baking inside feels like a real treat too.
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These cupcakes started life one cold afternoon when JP and I were planning a baking session. Another mum and her similar aged son were on their way over and so we were going to need lots of mixing. Some of you have questioned how baking with a two year old can be fun? For me it works best if I have weighed and prepared ingredients in separate bowls all beforehand, say, when JP is having his midday nap. So on this particular day, he awoke just as the friends arrived and we were all ready to mix. According to JP mixing is the best bit, almost as good as eating the finished cakes. We mixed everything together and then we put the mixture into cupcake cases lining the muffin tin.
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The four of us made Victoria sponge cupcakes with desiccated coconut and lemon rind in the mix. We later topped them with a simple icing-sugar and lemon juice icing. Simple yet well able to hit that sweet note.
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Cupcakes are ideal for trying new flavours and the next time we were baking, JP and I made them with prune and apple, topped with a dusting of icing sugar. This version of the recipe is great for parents as you can persuade yourself your child is getting some of their five-a-day while eating cake! I loved the tackiness and sweetness of the prunes with the tart fruitiness of the apples. If cupcakes aren’t for you, here is a recipe I published last year of a bigger prune and apple cake.
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Thinking ahead to a tea party with other friends, JP and I made up one lot of mixture sufficient for 12 cupcakes. Half were to become prune and apple and half lemon and coconut. I played around with some different versions of the lemon ones and finally came up with this version which I’m really happy with.
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I added more coconut and lemon rind to the cake mixture. The icing was replaced with lemon drizzle cake topping (crunchy granulated sugar mixed with lemon juice). Lastly, I injected lemon curd into the middle of the cupcakes. (I used an icing writing tool to do this, but a piping bag or a sandwich bag with a hole cut in the corner or even a Calpol syringe will do). By the way, it’s important to add the self raising flour and baking powder to the egg and margarine just before the mix goes in the oven. The active ingredients start working as soon as they come together and you want this process to happen while baking and not while the mixture is sat on the side. For more tips, have a look at this blog post of mine.

Lemon & coconut drizzle and prune & apple cupcakes

4oz margarine, softened
4oz caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten

72g/2½oz desiccated coconut
2 lemons, zest of

1 apple, peeled and chopped into 1½cm chunks
60g prunes, roughly chopped

4oz self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder

72g/2½oz granulated sugar
1 lemon, juice of (4 tbsp lemon juice)
60g lemon curd

icing sugar

12 cupcake or fairy cake cases

Makes 12 cupcakes
Preparation time – 25 minutes
Cooking time – 20 minutes

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/355°F/Gas mark 4.
2. In a large bowl beat the margarine and caster sugar together for at least a minute, until the mixture has turned light yellow. I used an electric whisk to do this. Beat in the eggs a little at a time. Split the mixture between two bowls.
3. To one bowl add the desiccated coconut and the lemon zest. To the other bowl add the apple and prunes.
4. Mix the flour and baking powder together and then add half of it to each
bowl.
5. Divide each bowl of mixture between 6 cupcake cases, lining a 12 cake muffin tray. Put the muffin tray in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes until lightly browned. Mix together the lemon juice and granulated sugar.
6. Let the cupcakes cool a little and then put them on cooling rack. Using a skewer punch holes in the top of the Lemon and coconut drizzle cupcakes. Spoon over the lemon drizzle icing.
7. When the prune and apple cupcakes are completely cool dust with icing sugar. When the lemon and coconut drizzle cupcakes are cool inject with a teaspoonful of lemon.

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Spicy vegetarian cassoulet with pistachio and coconut couscous

spicy vegetarian cassoulet couscous
Last week we were eating slow cooked beef stew with sweet potato and thyme. It’s the time of year for heart warming food and if dishes like this can fill the freezer at the same time, so much the better. Both the stew and this dish can easily be doubled or tripled in quantity and then frozen for a later date. This spicy vegetarian cassoulet is packed full of flavour and yet has no meat. I love it’s apricots and coriander and the pistachio and coconut lift the couscous from rather boring carb into something fitting a celebration. They taste like a mid week treat. Both the cassoulet and couscous keep well in the fridge, so we might often have these beans on Monday and then again on Thursday. There is a lot of pleasure in finishing work after a long day only to find this sitting in the fridge ready for your evening meal.
spicy vegetarian cassoulet couscous
JP has been having rather a lot of Weetabix for his supper recently. It’s a bit disheartening preparing a meal for your child only to have it rejected and rejected with angry tears. Weetabix is our solution to these highly charged moments. At least he has something in his tummy that will hopefully ensure we all get a good night’s sleep. I was blown away therefore when he dug into these beans quite happily. I had added some yoghurt to ensure the spice was tempered and he happily ate away. He studiously avoided the coriander, but loved the pistachios in the couscous.
spicy vegetarian cassoulet couscous
The inspiration for this cassoulet comes from across the world. The mustard and cumin seeds are straight from Indian vegetarian cooking. The haricot beans are as per French cassoulet, that warm and comforting peasant dish so perfect after a day on the hills. Lastly, a Middle Eastern influence sees the addition of the dried fruit and cinnamon to give sweetness to the beans. If you can’t find haricot beans, you could use three tins of any beans. I like a mixture of dried apricots, sultanas and dates with the rest of the cassoulet, but the make up of this mixture can be changed to suit your tastes. The chilli powder is there for a background spicy kick, nothing more. Chilli powders vary massively in their heat. The one I use is properly spicy, so just 1/8 teaspoon is all that is needed. But add more or less depending on your need for spice.
spicy vegetarian cassoulet couscous
To make the pistachio and coconut couscous, I put the couscous in a bowl and cover with hot vegetable stock. Put a plate over to contain the steam and five minutes later the stock will have been completely absorbed. Fluff up with a fork, add the remaining ingredients and it’s ready to eat. I use stock to enhance the flavour of the couscous rather than just plain hot water.
spicy vegetarian cassoulet couscous

Spicy vegetarian cassoulet

2 onions, roughly chopped
3 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
4 garlic cloves, crushed
4cm/1½” ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp chilli powder (optional)
salt
2 x 400g/14oz tins of tomatoes
1 x 400g/14oz tin of chickpeas, drained and washed
2 x 400g/14oz tins of haricot beans, drained and washed
150g/5oz mix of dried apricots, sultanas, dates
350ml/12½ fl oz vegetable stock
30g/1oz fresh coriander

Pistachio and coconut couscous

200g/7oz couscous
240ml/8½ fl oz vegetable stock
80g/3oz pistachios
40g/1½oz toasted almond flakes
50g/2oz desiccated coconut
30g/1oz fresh coriander

Serves 4

1. Heat up the oil in a large pan with a lid. When hot (but not smoking) add the mustard and cumin seeds. The seeds will soon start to pop, so put the lid on and cook until most of the popping has stopped.
2. Add the onion, stir well and replace the lid. Cook the onions until they are translucent. Add the garlic and ginger and continue cooking for a further three minutes before you add the ground cumin, cinnamon, chilli powder (optional) and salt. Add enough salt for your palate; for me a ¼ teaspoon is just right.
3. Add the tins of tomatoes, stir well and then simmer for ten minutes with the lid off, stirring occasionally.
4. Stir the beans and chickpeas into the tomato mixture. Add the stock and simmer again for five minutes with the lid off.
5. Roughly chop the leaves of the coriander and finely chop the stalks. Keep some of the leaves back to scatter over the top just as you serve, but stir in the rest and simmer for a further five minutes.

Slow cooker beef stew with sweet potato and thyme

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The nights are officially becoming shorter. Spring is getting closer and daffodils will be here. As far as I am concerned though it’s still dark, cold and wet right now. I just want to hibernate away, particularly now Christmas is over. JP has other ideas however, much preferring to be out in the cold than cooped up indoors. He wants to be charging around on his bike, or spinning on a roundabout in a cold playground. When we’re back inside the house, smelling this slow cooker beef stew puttering away it puts a quiet smile on my face.

It gets better. This stew takes 20 minutes to prepare. By ‘prepare’ I mean chop the meat and vegetables, make up some stock and then put everything in a slow cooker. It doesn’t really get simpler than this stew recipe. It putters away for 3 ½ hours on a high heat, I add in the sweet potato and then another hour later it’s ready to eat. If I cook it while we are out for the day I put it on for 7½ hours on a low heat in the morning, before adding the sweet potato and then cooking it for another 1½ hours when we are back home. It’s a warming, tasty stew, perfect on cold evenings.
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JP likes this stew, or rather he likes the chunks of beef that are only just still holding themselves together. He is still highly suspicious of gravy and would prefer his carrots raw, but the meat he loves.

Because I cook this stew in a slow cooker the onions don’t need frying and the meat doesn’t need searing. I just put the ingredients in and let the cooker do the work. When I cook a stew in the oven most of the liquid evaporates away and so I add sufficient to cover the meat and vegetables. In a slow cooker, the liquid tends to condense back into the stew, so I need much less.

I serve this stew with mashed potato and green vegetables.

Slow cooker beef stew with sweet potato and thyme

900g stewing beef, cubed into 3cm/1¼” chunks
300g/14 rashers of streaky unsmoked bacon, roughly chopped
6 carrots, peeled and chopped into 4cm/1½” chunks
300g mushrooms
15g thyme
3 bay leaves
350 ml beef stock
2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
⅛ tsp salt
⅛ tsp freshly ground pepper
4 sweet potato, peeled and cut into large chunks

Serves 6
Preparation time – 20 minutes
Cooking time – 4½ hrs

1. Put the beef, bacon, carrots and mushrooms in the slow cooker.
2. Using string, tie the thyme and the bay leaves together in a little bundle and add to the slow cooker along with all remaining ingredients except the sweet potato. Stir well and turn the cooker on high for 3 ½ hours.
3. Add the sweet potato, stir well and cook for another hour. Serve.

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Sweet potato, goats cheese, ginger and spinach canapes

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Wow, I can’t believe Christmas is over, all done for another year. To me Christmas always feels a bit like your wedding ceremony – you have this long build up, then an amazing day (hopefully) but when you wake up the next morning it’s all over. At least with Christmas the fridge is stuffed with cold turkey and left over goodies. Those after-Christmas turkey sandwiches with all the trimmings are simply the best. Bread sauce is a key ingredient, along with cranberry of course. If there are left over roast parsnips I feel really lucky, but that is a rare occurrence in my house.

We had a lovely Christmas and I hope you did too. Lots of good food, enough but not too much church, and JP loved opening all his presents. He is now enjoying playing with them. In a few days we go south to spend time with Dave’s family and it will be great to see them and for JP to be with some of his cousins. Dave is off to the Lake District to do some wild camping with friends, but we will all get back together in time for New Year’s Eve.
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Christmas and New Year always make me think of delicious canapés served at glittery parties. In fact, there hasn’t been too much glitter this year, more a fun get together with family and friends, age range 26 months to 82-years. I served these sweet potato based canapés and they went down a treat.

These canapés involve roasting sweet potato and then the rest is just construction. Place a piece of sweet potato in a spinach leaf and add a spoonful of goats’ cheese that is just smaller than the potato. Add a small piece of pickled ginger and a pinch of lemon zest. Wrap the spinach leaf around and secure your canapé with a cocktail stick. Quick, simple and delicious. The first flavour is the cheese, with it’s creaminess. Then the sweetness of the potato kicks in, before the tang of the pickled ginger and the lemon zest. The spinach leaf holds it all together and adds it’s lovely colour.
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These canapés are gluten free and vegetarian. If you would prefer a version involving meat have a look here. Or if you don’t want to miss out on smoked salmon, then have a look at my gravlax canapé here.
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Lastly, any goats cheese will do, but don’t include any rind.

Sweet potato, goats cheese, ginger and spinach canapés

2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into chunks no larger than 2cm/ ¾” cubes
1 tbsp oil
a large pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
32 small spinach leaves
250g goats cheese
6 slices of pickled ginger, normally sold for sushi, sliced into 6 equal pieces
2 lemons, rind of
32 cocktail sticks

Makes 32 canapés
Preparation time – 20 minutes
Cooking time – 20 minutes

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/395°F/Gas mark 6. Put the sweet potato into a small roasting tin and cover with the oil and salt and pepper, mix well with your hands. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes or until cooked.
2. Let the sweet potato cool for 10 minutes or so, until it’s warm but not hot.
3. Take a spinach leaf and place a chunk of sweet potato in it, add a similar sized piece of goats cheese. Top with a small piece of pickled ginger and a little sprinkling of lemon rind. Use a cocktail stick to hold the canapé together as shown in the photos.

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Roasted brussels sprouts with beetroot, chilli and honey

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Two shopping days are left before Christmas. This could be, I hope, the first year I’m not in the shops still buying presents on the 24 December. I have a bit more wrapping up to do, but I think I’m nearly there. The Christmas tree is twinkling. JP and I have made paper chains to hang about the house and it’s all looking festive. The food for Christmas Day is mainly sorted but that’s because Mum is doing 80% of it.

We are going to be at home on Christmas morning itself. JP will open his first ever stocking and then we have a lovely neighbour downstairs we will call on. Then off to Mum and Dad’s. Dad is hoping for a sandwich toaster as a Christmas present and he’s keen to use it for our lunch! Christmas toasties. My aunt arrives later in the day and we’ll have our Christmas meal with her.
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We’ll start with smoked salmon on buttered bread with a squeeze of lemon juice, all accompanied with bubbles. For the main event we will be tucking into turkey and ham, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, sausages, prunes wrapped in bacon, bread sauce and cranberry sauce and brussel sprouts. There will also be an amazing gravy.
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Traditional boiled brussel sprouts aren’t my favourite Christmas meal vegetable. My Dad loves them and will happily eat ten or more whilst I will suffer no more than three. But roast a brussel and to my taste they are transformed. They now become something truly delicious and I will enjoy eating many more than my normal three. This recipe combines roasted brussels with roasted beetroot which is super sweet. Before roasting the vegetables I pour over a mixture of oil, honey and chilli flakes. This dish gives an added kick to the Festive meal, while sticking with the tradition of brussel sprouts at Christmas.
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Roasted brussel sprouts with beetroot, chilli and honey

500g raw beetroot, peeled and chopped into large chunks
500g brussel sprouts, trimmed and cut in half if large
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp runny honey
1/8 tsp salt and freshly ground pepper
½ – 1 tsp chilli flakes, depending on taste

Serves 6
Preparation time – 15 minutes
Cooking time – 40 minutes

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/395°F/Gas mark 6. Put the beetroot into a large roasting tin. Mix together the oil, honey, salt and pepper and chilli flakes in a small bowl. Pour half of this mixture over the beetroot and mix well (I use my fingers). Put in the oven for 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, pour the remaining oil mixture onto the brussels in another bowl and mix well. Then combine the sprouts in the roasting tin with the now half-roasted beetroot and return to the oven for a further 15 – 20 minutes. The exact timing will depend on the size of the sprouts. Then serve with the rest of your Christmas meal.

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Mince pies

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Recently I discovered that a warm home made mince pie bares no relation to it’s shop bought cousins. This is an easy recipe, which can be made even easier by buying ready made pastry. Making mince pies is also a lovely activity with a toddler, a fun way to get ready for Christmas together.

Every Christmas Dave sets himself a challenge to see how many mince pies he can eat. He eats them as a pudding after most suppers, finds them as a nice sweet finish to a lunch, or pops down another one as a mid afternoon snack. You can imagine he consumes a lot of mince pies. He doesn’t bother counting it’s not about numbers, it’s about enjoying lots of mince pies.

To be honest I’ve always just bought mince pies, they are so cheap and there always seems so much else to do at Christmas. But JP recently came back from nursery chatting about the mixing of biscuits he had done that done. He had clearly loved it, the biscuits had been so good that none came home. I was having a think of what I could cook with him. Then Dave announced that he thought we should have a Christmas mince pie do in the December with all our neighbours. I then knew what I was going to make with JP.
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The first time we made the pastry in the food processor, so that JP could press the buttons as we watched the pastry come together. I put the flour in the food processor, JP added the butter and then he turned it on until a breadcrumb like mixture was formed. Then we poured in a little water, adding more until when with the blades whirring it the mixture formed last lumps. We poured it all onto a work surface and made it into a ball. Then we wrapped it in cling film and put it in the fridge to rest. Resting the pastry in the fridge means the gluten in the flour can ‘relax’ and makes the pastry less lightly to shrink while cooking. After it rested JP had fun throwing some flour on the work surface before we rolled it out. We then cut out the bottoms for the mince pies and lined the mine pie tin tray with them. JP enjoyed this, he was less fussed about putting mincemeat in the pastry cases. We then cut out stars of pastry, which again he loved and then I put them ontop of the filled cases. We painted the stars with a little milk. I put them into the oven and 25 minutes later they were done. I took them out of the oven and let them cool a little in the tin before putting them on a cooling rack. We then had fun dusting them with icing sugar.
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The first batches of mince pies came out well. The second time, I made the pastry by hand while JP was snoozing. But you could also just buy ready made shortcrust pastry to keep things super easy. When I rolled out the pastry, I tried to get it as thin as possible, 1mm thick is ideal. This was easier said than done with JP helping to roll out the pastry!
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The other thing to note is I don’t overfill the pastry cases. I filled them no more than two thirds full. Otherwise it all spills out in the oven and sticks the pie to the tin.
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Dave was rather suspicious of having stars on the top, rather than proper lids. But he has since decided that the stars mean that the mincemeat which isn’t covered with pastry takes on a lovely tacky quality. He has declared these the best mince pies he has had.
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12 Mince pies

255g/9oz plain flour
126g/4½ butter
water
OR 375g/13oz ready made shortcrust pastry

400g/14oz mincemeat
milk
icing sugar

Makes 12 mince pies

1. Put the flour in a large bowl and then run in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Use enough cold water to combine the mixture into one lump of pastry. Wrap it in cling film and put in the fridge for 20 – 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/390°F/6 Gas Mark.
3. Dust a work surface with more flour and then roll out the pastry. Cut 12 discs, which will fit in your tin. I use a cutter 88mm/3 7/8” wide. Then cut out 12 tops, I like to use stars.
4. Put each disc into the tin and press down well with your finger. Fill 2/3 of the case with mincemeat and then top with a star. Repeat until the whole tin is complete. Brush the stars with a little milk. Put in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes.
5. Once the pastry is lightly browned leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes. Then put the pies onto a cooling rack and dust with icing sugar and serve while still warm.

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Madagascan vanilla and lemon cheesecake

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Dave’s folks recently came to stay for the weekend. It’s was JP’s second birthday party on the Sunday. On the Saturday night we invited Dave’s brother and his husband over for supper. We had a three pound steak pie in the freezer to enjoy.

Dave decided a cheesecake would be the ideal way to finish that meal. Dave considered several different recipes and finally decided to make Jamie Oliver’s baked New York cheesecake. With its vanilla and lemon strongly complementing each other Dave was pleased with the result and we all enjoyed it. In fact, it left me wondering about cheesecakes and their different recipes and the next week I decided to make one that isn’t baked. There is a freshness, a coolness that comes with a non-baked cheesecake that I really like and they are also simpler to prepare. There is no faffing with an oven and it all just goes in the fridge to chill.

I looked at different recipes. Some used gelatine to fix the topping, others raw whipped egg. I would be happy with either, but ordinary gelatine is a meat by-product and would preclude vegetarians from enjoying my cheesecake. Raw eggs on the other hand mean it’s no go for anyone pregnant. Was it possible to make a cheesecake without either? I decided to try.

First I greased and lined a 23cm tin with a removable base. (Confession time: I must have first greased and lined a baking tin over twenty years ago but I chose to line the tin and then grease the paper! I guess this was because I thought the fat needed to be next to the food. But lining a tin is tricky. The paper doesn’t sit still and does exactly what it wants to do and now I know to grease the tin first so the paper sticks in place perfectly and the end result is just the same. Who knew!).

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If I didn’t have a 23cm tin, I would use a larger or smaller one. The cheesecake will be a different size either thinner or thicker, but equally delicious. If I was making a cake this isn’t the sort of change I could easily make but with a cheesecake it’s not a problem.

I then bashed digestive biscuits into crumbs. If Dave wasn’t around I would use ginger nuts, as I like their flavour, but he isn’t keen on ginger, so digestives it is. I have sinced tried this recipe with ginger nuts and to me they improve the flavour. I can crush the biscuits in a food processor, but to save on washing up, I put the biscuits in a large sandwich or freezer bag and held it shut at one end while bashing with a rolling pin. Into the biscuit crumbs I stirred the melted butter. The butter took 1 minute 5 seconds to melt in my microwave. I then put the biscuit mixture into the lined baking tin and pushed it down with the back of a spoon to create the cheesecake base. I then put the tin in the fridge.

In a large bowl I mixed the cream cheese with lemon zest, sugar and the seeds from a vanilla pod. I cut the seed pod in half lengthways and then used my finger to run down the inside of the pod removing the seeds as I go. Keep on mixing until you have an equal distribution of vanilla seeds.

Here’s another confession: I always thought using vanilla essence or extract was absolutely fine. But the moment I used a vanilla pod, I realised I had been wrong. The flavour from the pods is far superior with a gentle, authentic vanilla taste. The seeds also give that lovely look telling you that what you are going to eat will be delicious.

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Once the cream cheese mixture has been fully mixed I spooned it on the biscuit base and smoothed the top over. That’s it done and I then popped it into the fridge to set. It needs about an hour to set in the fridge, but longer works too. Remove it from the fridge and transfer to a serving plate half an hour before serving.

Madagascan vanilla and lemon cheesecake

250g digestive or ginger nut biscuits
150g unsalted butter, melted
900g full fat cream cheese
1 lemon, zest
1 vanilla pod, seeds
100g caster sugar
Serves 10

Preparation time – 20 minutes
Chilling time – 1 hour

Carbohydrate per serving – 29g

1. Grease and line a 23cm round tin with a removable base.
2. Bash the biscuits up in a food processor, or in a sandwich bag using a rolling pin. Pour into a bowl and stir in the melted butter. Keep stirring until this is all combined and then spoon into the lined tin and flattened with the back of your spoon so the whole base is equally covered and put in the fridge.
3. In a large bowl mix the cream cheese with the lemon zest and the vanilla seeds and caster sugar. Cut the vanilla pod in half lengthways and use your finger to remove the seeds. Mix the cream cheese until you can see an equal distribution of vanilla seeds.
4. Spoon on top of the biscuit base and level off. Put in the fridge to firm up for one hour. Remove from the tin and put on a plate to serve.

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Leek, pesto and olive tart

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We eat this tart a lot. It basically involves frying up some leeks and thyme and then piling the leeks with pesto, grated cheese, and olives on top of ready made puff pastry and popping it into the oven. We have eaten it so much I could probably make it blindfolded, it’s one of our real staples. I’ve served it with a salad, or when we are hungry with jacket potatoes too. It looks good enough to serve with friends. But if it’s just Dave and me it’s great reheated the following night – just cover it with foil and put it in the oven at 200 C for 20 minutes to heat through. If you are starving and can’t wait for the oven you can heat it in the microwave and although you’ll end up with soggy pastry, it’s still very edible. I love recipes that feed Dave and I for two nights.

The first thing I do is to take the pastry out of the fridge and out of the box so it can come up to room temperature which makes it less lightly to tear. Then I get the leeks frying away, they take about ten minutes to become sweet and silky. I fry them in butter for the taste and a drizzle of oil to help stop the butter from burning. While they are cooking I unroll the pastry and lay it out. I always use the ready rolled pastry in baking paper which makes it easy to place the paper and pastry straight onto a large baking sheet. I cut the sides of the pastry to make a little ridge.

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Then I coat the pastry inside the ridge in the pesto. Dave isn’t a fan of green pesto, so I always use red and generally sun dried tomato pesto, but it would work well with green, or with whatever pesto you have in the cupboard. The cooked leeks go on top of the pesto. Then I top with the olives and grated cheese and pop in a preheated oven. That’s it!

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Once cooked, I give it ten minutes on the side to cool a little before serving as this enables the full flavour to develop.

Leek, pesto and olive tart

1kg or 8 smallish leeks – cleaned and top and tailed and sliced into 0.5cm coins
25g butter
A drizzle of oil
10g fresh thyme, remove the leaves from the stalks
⅛ tsp salt
Black pepper
375g ready made pre-rolled puff pastry, unrolled and lying on the baking paper that it came with
4 tbsp your favourite pesto. I like sun dried tomato
100g olives
100g mature cheddar, finely grated

Serves 4
Carbohydrate per serving – 40g
Preparation time – 25 minutes
Cooking time – 30 minutes

1. Preheat the oven to 200 C/180 C fan/ 400 F/ Gas mark 6 and take the pastry out of the fridge.
2. Heat the butter and oil in a saucepan with a lid and when hot add the leeks and the thyme, salt and black pepper, stir well and put the lid on. Fry the leeks for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they will become soft and silky.
3. Cut a 1 cm strip off each edge of the pastry and lay this strip on top of the edge to make a ridge. Cover the base of the tart with the pesto. Top with the leeks leaving any liquid in the saucepan. Put the olives on top of the leeks and scatter the grated cheese over the top of the leeks and olives. Put the tart in the oven for 30 minutes until lightly browned.

Crepes with ham, cheese and cherry tomatoes

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We returned a few weeks ago from a family trip staying with French friends in Marseille. We had a great time being shown the wonderful sights of Marseille and getting some good family time on the beach. The food was great too. Our friends went for quality home French cooking that was simple and delicious and one night they served crêpes. If you’ve never had one, a crêpe is really a large pancake but traditionally served as both a savoury as well as a sweet dish. So for our main course our hosts fried the crêpe and then added ham, grated cheese, tomato passata and a fried egg before folding and serving. They tasted so good. This felt like real French comfort food to me as it hit all the right comfort food spots – hot ham and cheese topped with a fried egg need I say more? And it gets better. If you take your time, a crêpe takes perhaps ten minutes to prepare, but subsequent ones become quicker because you are in the swing of it. To be honest this dish is more about ‘assembling’ than ‘cooking’. If you can fry an egg, you can make this dish.

To the recipe I’ve added fresh cherry tomatoes and wilted spinach but you can innovate yourself. JP nailed his crêpe and his version didn’t have the spinach or cherry tomato. Cheese has always been high on his list of favourite foods along with ham. When he saw I had eggs out he started saying “Egg, egg, egg, egg”, which translates as “Mum, you realise it would be sheer child cruelty not to give me an egg”. So yep, a toddler approved meal.
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You can serve the crêpes by themselves, or with salad and bread in true French style. They are rich though, be warned. In Marseilles I stuffed down one-and-a-half but back in the UK I only managed one. Dave on the other hand was clear two were needed.

A word about the crêpes themselves, I mean the actual unfilled pancake. In France you can easily buy savoury crêpes ready to take home and fill. So far, back home I’ve only been able to find ready made pancakes and these have some sugar added in their mix. Well, I’ve used these English pancakes to serve my French crêpes and it seems the slight sweetness is easily disguised by the savoury filling you will be adding. But you could make your own French crêpe by using a pancake recipe but leaving out the sugar.

Crepes with ham, cheese and cherry tomatoes

1/2 tbsp oil
4 cherry tomatoes, sliced (optional)
1 pancake or crêpe, ready made
1 slice of good quality ham
1 egg
Spinach, a small handful (optional)
30g extra mature cheddar cheese, grated
Green salad and or bread to serve

Preparation time – 1 minute
Cooking time – 5 minutes
Serves 1

  1. Heat half the oil in a small frying pan and fry the slices of cherry tomato over a medium heat for 2 minutes
  2. In a separate larger frying pan heat a little oil and add the pancake, let it heat up and then add the ham and top the ham with the spinach, it will wilt slowly, now add and tomato.
  3. In the pan used for the tomatoes now fry the egg – you may need to add a little more oil.
  4. Add the cheese to the pancake, top with the egg, then fold the pancake over and serve with the green salad and bread.

 

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Sausage and tomato pasta

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I’ve taken my normal set of photos for this dish, the good lighting, the studio set up photos, but to be honest this is the real photo for this dish.

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For me this dish is the perfect camping dish. Why? Well ……

  • Pans – as far as I’m concerned a camping dish has to be made in no more than two saucepans. That’s the number our camping stove takes, and camping isn’t about faffy cooking to me.
  • Time – it’s a relatively quick dish to cook – it takes about twenty minutes. If I have time for it to sit puttering away on the stove, fantastic, but if I need to eat then it will be ready for me.
  • Ingredients – it has six main ingredients, there are a few others which are optional, but just six critical ones. No one needs a long list of ingredients on a campsite. Sometimes when we are camping we are limited to a pretty small village shop which has a smaller selection of ingredients. The critical ingredients for this dish are pretty likely to be in that shop. Of course if there is a butchers you are in luck, but even with very standard sausages this dish tastes good.
  • Warming and comforting – this has to be high on the ‘important’ list for a camping meal. After a long day on the hills, or a long day outside you need a warm and comforting meal and this dish meets that need.
  • Good for the whole family – JP loves this dish, he particularly loves the chunks of sausage, definitely choosing to eat all of those first if he can.
  • Rain – you can see from the photo that when I last cooked this dish on a campsite, it was raining. It was raining so hard I was the only one outside and as I leaned over the cooker, rain was dripping from the hood of my waterproof onto the cooker and no doubt into the food. I’m sure this only improved the flavour. Thank goodness for serious waterproofs.

As I laid out the ingredients of this recipe for the ingredient shot I was reminded of the lovely smells the ingredients for this dish create. The bunch of basil, the tomato sauce, even the tin of tomatoes smelt so good as I was positioning them and then clicking away, trying to get the best shot how delicious the meal tasted.

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I don’t season this dish, I find that with the sausages and the jar of tomato sauce it has enough seasoning. If I’m cooking this dish for the whole family I use a jar of tomato sauce that has just tomato and herbs. If it’s just adults eating this meal, I’ll go for something a bit punchier, anchovies, olives, or chilli maybe. So choose whatever tomato sauce you particularly like. Similarly, there are now loads of different types of sausages. For this dish I used pork and herb sausages, but have also tried pork and apple, caramelised onion, and Cumberland sausages – whatever took my particular fancy that day. All have worked well.

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The last thing to mention is the pasta, I’ve made this dish with conchiglie or shells, rigatoni, penne, all are good. You just want something that likes holding lots of sauce.

2 tbsp oil or a dollop of butter if you have that instead
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed (optional)
6 sausages, skin removed
1 x 350g tomato pasta sauce
400g can of chopped tomato
400g pasta, conchiglie
a large bunch of basil, torn up (optional)
parmesan, grated (optional)

Serves 4

1. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. While it cooks heat the oil or butter in a separate saucepan and fry the garlic and onions until the onions are translucent. Add the sausages and break them up with a wooden spoon in the pan. Cook until the sausages are no longer pink.
2. Add the pasta sauce and can of tomatoes and simmer for a few minutes before adding the basil. Serve with the pasta and parmesan.

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Recipes for little ones plus the rest of the family

On Monday and Thursday JP goes to nursery. Dave or I pick him up around 5.30 and in the precious 90 minutes before he’s asleep at 7.00, we feed him, bath him and then have multiple stories and nursery rhymes.

JP will be two years old any minute and in recent months we’ve taken to all eating together. Apart from being less work than preparing two meals, we’ve found that JP actually eats more when he joins with us and so that’s a real plus. But choosing meals we all want isn’t always easy and so here are some recipes from Holly Cooks I have found we can happily share. I can’t claim that JP will eat every component of each dish; he loves putting cherry tomatoes in his mouth but not actually eating them and then the watercress has to come out of the smoked salmon, watercress and dill gnocchi. But overall there is enough in each dish to make for satisfying family eating and some have become family treats. Raspberry and walnut chocolate brownies – yep, he will eat all of that. So here are my suggestions that you might like to try:

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PUMPKIN, PARSNIP AND APPLE SOUP

I first made a big vat of this soup for JP’s first birthday party. It’s a perfect autumnal soup, full of flavour. I think the sweetness of the apple helps make it a winner for little ones.

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LEEK, BACON AND THYME TART

This is a recipe that takes time, particularly if you make your own pastry. But the tart rewards you for the time you have spent on it. The flavours are straightforward, but the leek, bacon, cheese and thyme work beautifully together.

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CHORIZO, CHERRY TOMATO AND ROSEMARY RISOTTO

We have eaten a lot of this risotto. The chorizo and cherry tomatoes roast in the oven while the risotto cooks and then you mix all the components together. It’s a great week night meal, because it’s done in around half an hour.

CHEESY POTATO CAKES WITH BACON, TOMATOES AND SPINACH
CHEESY POTATO CAKES WITH BACON, TOMATOES AND SPINACH

We rarely have left over mash potato in our house. So for this recipe I purposefully make too much the night before. You could make the mash from scratch and then make these cakes but if you use leftover mash you’ll get that satisfying ‘I am super organised’ feeling.

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SMOKED SALMON, WATERCRESS AND DILL GNOCCHI

From start to finish this dish takes 15 minutes. Once you have cooked the gnocchi, the rest is just mixing really. It’s super simple and terribly quick but seriously comforting too, this is a great meal when the day has been one you want to forget.

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BRITISH TARTIFLETTE

This needs to putter away in the oven for two and a half hours. When I was growing up Mum would put it in the oven and then we would go off to the cinema only to return home to this comforting meal. It’s great too, for feeding a crowd.

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CARIBBEAN SWEET POTATO AND COCONUT FISH PIE

I’ve never given JP this meal, but a friend tells me her little one loves it. It’s a great twist on a traditional fish pie. The sweet potato and the coconut work so well with the fish.

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WINTER SAUSAGE ROAST

This recipe is really Dave’s. You chop everything up and put it into a roasting dish and then place it in the oven. 45 minutes later you are eating a tasty super. I like to serve it with wilted spinach, something JP has yet to acquire a taste for.

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CHORIZO, BUTTERNUT SQAUSH AND THYME RISOTTO

This is another easy risotto. It’s full of great colours. JP loves the chorizo and rice. I like those too but also enjoy the butternut squash and spinach.

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LEMON, OLIVE AND WALNUT MUFFINS

These muffins are easy to make and would probably be great to make with a little one too. They freeze well and you can reheat them easily in the oven or microwave. There are great for packed lunches.

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COCONUT AND CARDAMON RICE PUDDING

This is a brilliant pudding when you suddenly realize you have people coming for supper but no idea what to give them to finish the meal. (That has happened to me too many times!) Open your store cupboard and there you’ll find all you need for this rice pudding.

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RASPBERRY AND WALNUT CHOCOLATE BROWNIES

This recipe is based on Jamie Oliver amazing brownies. For me the addition of raspberries and walnuts improves already great brownies. JP loves to put raspberries on the ends of his fingers, so I make sure there are some spare raspberries when I serve these brownies.

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Chestnut, bean and bacon soup

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We woke up earlier this week to thick thick mist. It’s been a super hot week in London I think, but not here in Edinburgh, here autumn feels like it has arrived. I’ve written before about how soups in the UK aren’t just winter things, we eat them all year round, but there is something about thick mist that gets me thinking of soup.

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I discovered the magic of making soups when I was 19 and away from home. A friend and I lived together in China. We ate a lot of risotto because I enjoyed making them, I think my friend got seriously bored of risotto, night after night after night (if you fancy some risotto you could have a look at my chorizo, butternut squash, and lemon risotto, or Italian crab, leek and pea risotto, or chorizo, cherry tomato and rosemary risotto). We didn’t have an oven, just a two-ring hob, so that limited us a bit and forced us to only cook certain foods. We also ate out a lot, which was fabulous. This sounds crazy but I think I probably emailed Mum and asked her how I made a soup and she said something like chop up vegetables and add water, then boil it and you have soup. It was like magic! I couldn’t believe how good it tasted given it was so simple and so delicious and easy. We then started eating a lot of soup, so it’s likely my friend then got bored of soup. The only issue was that the bread available was white and seriously pappy and with soup you want good bread. But my memories of that soup are top notch.

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So this soup is similar to those I made in China, in that you just chop stuff up and add water, or stock and cook it a little and then you get a delicious soup. I came up with this recipe last year sometime, but now with mist arriving, it feels like the time to share it with you.

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2 tbsp oil
2 clove of garlic, crushed and finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
200g smoked bacon, roughly chopped
a small handful of thyme leaves, removed the stalks
180g cooked and peeled chestnuts, roughly chopped
2 tins (440g) of haricot beans or cannellini beans, thoroughly rinsed
500ml of ham stock
250ml of hot water
1/8 tsp of salt
lots of freshly ground black pepper

Serves 4
1. In a large saucepan heat the oil over a medium heat and fry the garlic and onion for three minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid and add the bacon and thyme and fry until the bacon is cooked, then add the beans and the chestnuts and cook for two minutes.
2. Add the stock and hot water and bring to the boil. Taste and then season and then you are ready to serve.

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It’s OK to think about throwing the baby out of the window – 6 pieces of pregnancy advice I would give the pregnant me

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This is my first ever non-food post. I hope you will indulge me in going rather off-piste. We have been meeting up with lots of pregnant friends recently. Some friends on their first pregnancy are all buoyed up with the excitement of their first child. Others are on their second pregnancy, they are similarly excited, but quickly mention the anticipated challenges of having two children. The large bumps on show left me thinking back to my pregnancy and the first months of JP’s life. What advice would I give myself as that new Mum?

First of all, in case you haven’t had the joy of experiencing advice on parenting, let me tell you it’s a mixed bag. Everyone has thoughts and ideas on the best way of doing things, and if only every child were the same it would be easy. But where would the fun be in that? Far better to offer up extreme views and watch as the parents struggle to respond. For example here are two bits of seriously useful advice that I have been given

“Whatever you do don’t use a dummy/pacifier, it will ruin your child’s mouth and s/he won’t be able to speak properly.”
and
“What! You haven’t given your child a dummy, no wonder he’s are clinging to your breast for hours on end. Give him a dummy and that will end instantly.”

Offering advice to pregnant friends is therefore something I try hard not to do, however tempting it can be! But what advice would I give myself if I was expecting again?

1. It’s OK to think about throwing the baby out of the window, just don’t do it.

This is a bit of a cheat because it was the best piece of advice I was given while pregnant with JP. It’s brilliant because it tells you so much. It tells you it’s going to be tough and you’re going to feel like doing crazy stuff as a new parent. It also tells you that it’s completely normal to think about doing ridiculous things, you just have to stop yourself doing them. Most importantly though it tells you that you aren’t the only one who is having horrendous thoughts, it’s completely normal.

The day after we got home from hospital a midwife came to see us. We hadn’t met her before, but in the hour that she was with us she gave us so much confidence and knowledge that it was going to be OK. She told us if you feel yourself losing it, if you can’t stop the baby crying for instance, leave the baby in a safe place, their cot for example, close the door and going and give yourself a break. Go and make a cup of tea, have a biscuit, go to the loo, or do whatever you need to do to make yourself feel better and then go back to your baby and you’ll be able to help them, or at least try to help them more effectively because you yourself feel better. To hear that from a trained professional and a Mum to boot on the first full day at home from hospital, was just brilliant.

2. If it’s a choice between house work and sleep, then sleep.

I think it was the woman in our antenatal classes who told us this. In those early days with JP I used this one liberally. I changed the word ‘sleep’ to anything that would make me feel good, – eating, showering, chatting, reading and sometimes sleeping. When JP slept it was my super precious time. I would do anything that left me feeling better. This was never going to be housework. Though it might have involved some tidying when the house felt like a complete bombsite.

I wasn’t very good at catching up on sleep, I would choose instead to do something that was more enjoyable, that I couldn’t do with JP. But then near the end of the week, when I was trying not to cry at even the slightest provocation, I would turn to sleeping while JP slept. The joy of waking up even if I had only slept for 20 minutes and feeling so much better than before was immense.

It was a shock to me though when JP started sleeping more, perhaps going through most of the night and I was getting so much more sleep than I previously I felt much more tired than I had before. It was like my body suddenly remembered how good sleep was and how much I had missed over the preceding months and it suddenly decided it was super tired all over again.

3. Remember on an airplane who gets the oxygen mask first.

When you are on an airplane and the air hostess does the safety run through before you take off; s/he tells you that if the oxygen masks appear you should put your own on first and then help your child to put on theirs.

This was something that I used to remember when I was figuring out what we were going to do each day. I knew that I needed to meet my own needs in order to be able to be a good Mum to JP. This blog was part of meeting my needs. It gave me some mental stimulation while on maternity leave.

The oxygen mask analogy was helpful when an invite came through from a friend or relative, was it going to meet my needs and or JP’s? Were we going to enjoy it together? If yes, brilliant we are there, if not, if it’s going to stress me out, then I’d just go back saying we weren’t free but thanks for the invitation. Being on maternity leave is hard work and by prioritizing my needs and JP’s needs, it was more bearable, than when I was trying to meet everyone else’s needs, to the extent that my own got forgotten.

4. Get out the flat everyday.

It’s wet and cold for the fourth day in a row and it feels like so much effort to get out of the flat. Particularly when it’s warm and cosy inside and the biscuits and coffee are near to hand. But staying inside day after day was dangerous for me. There is something magical about fresh air in my face, even if it’s very cold fresh air.

The fresh air left me feeling so much better and less trapped. On the bad days getting out of the flat also took up time. There were days when I was just waiting for 5.30, waiting for Dave to come home, so that he could help out and I could have a break. Staying inside on a bad day is tempting, it feels like the easiest thing to do. But it makes a day far longer than if you have spent event thirty minutes outside.

Getting out of the flat would without a doubt improve my mood. JP was a star too once we got outside, I think he would get bored inside and the moment we were out he would be fascinated by what was around him and I could zone out a little bit and just enough the fresh air as I pushed or carried him along.

5. He doesn’t have it so easy either!

When JP was seven months we met some friends for brunch in a café. One of the waitresses was being sweet to JP and so we got talking. It turned out she had two little ones at home and had just come back to work after her second period of maternity leave. She told me ‘coming to work feels like going on holiday, compared with being at home.’ I smiled back at her, but in my head I was screaming I KNEW IT!! I KNEW IT, all these months, Dave has been having a holiday at work, while day in day out I have been doing the hard job of caring for our son. I knew he had been having it easier and now I have the hard evidence.

Now reading this, while not having woken up three times during the night to feed JP, I can see how crazy this sounds. Dave was a complete trooper. In the early days we both got little sleep each night. All I had to do during the day was feed, entertain and change JP. Dave had to function properly in an adult environment, with people demanding complex stuff of him. Dave would come home for 5.30 and normally there would be a happy JP waiting to see his Daddy. Me, though, that was a far more mixed bag, did I start crying the moment he walked in the door, or was I raging about how unfair things were feeling? At 5.30 I had the relief that there were now two of us to do what needed to be done. Dave was probably looking forward to sitting down with a cup of tea and some food and just recoup after a full on day at work after little sleep the night before. No chance!

I could distract JP from something that was frustrating him, by a song, or a different toy, or a cracker. Dave’s boss wasn’t so easily placated. Now being back at work I find a joy in being part of the adult world that work provides but it definitely has its own stresses and frustrations that are just as tough as being on maternity leave.

6. It’s get better and better.

At a recent wedding in a stunning set of tipis, JP was charging around. I couldn’t really concentrate on the speeches because he wanted to run to the hedge at the bottom of the field. Joe was entranced by the gorgeous 4 month old daughter of some friends. A friend asked which I had preferred JP at 4 months or JP now at 22 months?

Without a second thought, I told her that now was much better. This makes it sound like it was awful when he was younger and it wasn’t. I loved the closeness I felt when feeding him, the joy of his first smiles, of seeing him discover new toys, and his first sounds that now have become words.

But with every passing day things have become more exciting and interesting for me. I love the conversations that we have now, I still do most of the talking, but his comprehension is awesome. I love the cuddles I now get. I love seeing his delight in new foods. Most of all I love the interaction and yes of course I love the fact that sleep is no longer the issue it once was. I can’t wait until he can teach me new things. I look forward to the adventures we will have as a family and the joy that I know he will continue to bring us.

So even in the darkest days of no sleep and all the other issues a tiny baby can bring I would remind myself that it just gets better and better. It won’t always be like this, the future will bring new challenges of course, but it will also bring new happiness and fun.

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Icing a cake with fondant icing

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A friend was asking Dave recently about tips on making her toddler a birthday cake. She wanted to make one that would look like her daughter’s favourite TV character. As they talked about creating novelty cakes, cutting, shaping, mixing colours, rolling out and customising fillings and toppings, I realised that between us, Dave and I have amassed a good bit of know-how on icing. And so this post is about using fondant icing (the thick icing that a Christmas or wedding cake is normally covered in) to create the scene or character that you want. I’ve also thrown in ideas for fillings and choice of cake, specifically with youngsters’ birthdays in mind, but you can adapt for any celebration – we made an owl cake for my dad’s 70th birthday and he was dead chuffed.

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Image
The first thing you need is a good picture of what sort of cake you are making. Our niece was all about Peppa Pig so that usefully narrowed the field for her cake! I typed ‘Peppa Pig’ into google and clicked on Images to find some different images:

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You could also try searching ‘Peppa Pig Cake’ and see what other types of cake have been created. But we finally found this image and thought it was a winner:

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To make our cake creating just that bit easier we went on and found the same image but in outline only.

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We knew we wanted the finished cake to fit on a 12″ x 12” cake board, so we adjusted the image on the computer until it was just under 12” in length … you could do the same thing on a photocopier. This process also helped us to realise that Peppa would need to be made up of two separate but identical cakes, one for her head and the second for her body, as well as visualising the sizes of cake needed, in Peppa’s case 2 x 6″ square cakes.  We added in the square, on which we where going to put the number 3 on.

Cake
We normally use a fruit cake and you can see my Birthday fruit cake recipe here. But good alternatives are a Madeira or chocolate Madeira cake. (Read my blog here to learn more about the differences between Victoria sponge and Madeira cake and to understand why a Victoria sponge isn’t ideal for royal icing). As Peppa was for our niece’s third birthday, we decided on chocolate Madeira.

We baked two 6″ square chocolate madeira cakes. When cooled, we trimmed their tops until we were left with two matching squares of cake, each with an identical height of approximately 4″. Dave then cut out Peppa’s profile separating her head from her body and removing her ears, arms, tail and feet – this may seem a bit drastic but these features were added back later! Using cocktail sticks, he secured Peppa’s outlined head to the top of one cake and her outlined body to the second. Using a bread knife (any sharp serrated edged knife would do) he cut vertically around the outline – delicate work but easier than you might think. Once each cake was head and body shaped, he cut them width ways and equally into three thus creating two layers ready for a generous coating of buttercream icing. (Because you want the cakes to be of identical height for the final icing, you may need to do some adjusting of the buttercream filling).

Apricot jam
We are now reaching the actual icing stage in our work, but first here’s an important trick. Marzipan or icing stick better when a thin layer of apricot jam coats a cake. So heat some jam in your microwave until it is warm but not boiling and then use a paintbrush to cover your cakes top and sides.

Marzipan
On most of our cakes we put a layer of 4mm/ 3/16” thick marzipan on first and then cover this in a layer of 4mm/ 3/16” icing. The advantage of marzipan, other than it’s taste, is that it hides any slightly uneven surfaces that the cake might have – particularly useful when wanting two cakes to appear as one, as in our Peppa Pig creation. If you are covering a round cake then you can buy pre-rolled marzipan, but if you are covering any other shape of cake I would just buy a rectangle of marzipan and roll it out to the desired shape.

After all this about marzipan, we didn’t use it for our niece’s cake because she doesn’t like it! We just had to be extra careful with our icing technique and make sure we’d covered dips and holes sufficiently.

Icing
When we first started icing cakes we would buy white icing and food colouring and mix. Big mistake. Adding liquid dye to white icing is time consuming and has the added disadvantage of making the icing too sloppy to then work with. We now order online or buy pre-coloured ready-to-roll icing. If we can’t find the colour we want, say a light pink, then we mix white and red pre-coloured icing to get the desired pink and this seems to work well. Most supermarkets now do their own brand of royal icing, but you can also buy it online – we have used lots of Renshaw icing which is good to work with.

When you roll out the pre-rolled icing sugar, dust the work surface with white icing sugar. You can then roll to get the thickness you require – we normally go for about 4mm – without the icing sticking to the table. The white icing sugar magically melts away so you don’t see it.

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Here are Peppa Pig’s body and head and the rectangle we were going to put the number three on.  Once you have finished the icing, you are just left with the task of creating and attaching those features you had to remove for the initial shaping – in this case, Peppa’s tail, feet, ears and arms as well as adding eye and mouth detail. This sort of thing opens the door to being positively creative and to help, I’ve added these other tips

  • Get creative – we used ear bud sticks with the cotton wool removed for the top of BB8. Use whatever you can find … butcher’s string for the tail, etc.
  • To stick different bits of icing together, roughen the surfaces to dull the sheen and then use a tiny amount of water to stick the icing together.
  • You can also use a dab of water to smooth out slightly rough icing and overlaps.
  • We use cocktail sticks to hold different bits of the cake in place. I’m sure the purists wouldn’t do this, Mary Berry wouldn’t approve, but it works for us.
  • If you need to stop icing mid way through, don’t worry, just cover with greaseproof paper to protect the cake from dust, flies etc. and it will be fine. If you wrap the icing you have yet to shape in cling film it won’t set hard and you’ll be able to continue the following day.
  • Don’t put the cake in the fridge mid-way through icing or once you have finished – fondant icing doesn’t like being cold.

Here is the finished cake.  We covered the silver cake board in white icing.  We got rid of the rectangle which was going to have the number three on it, there didn’t feel like there was room on the board after Dave have added Peppa’s arms.  So instead we put the number 3 on Peppa’s body.

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Lastly if you want to make life really easy buy some icing smoothers, they help create a smooth polished surface with clean edges. Here is one option – a Cake Smoother. (This link is an affiliate link which means that if you purchase the Cake Smoother I receive c.4% of the cost of the item from Amazon.)

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Food Photography Training with William Reveall Level 1

Holly Cooks Cake-final

I recently flew to London to be a student for a day on a William Reveall Food Photography course level 1. Since creating this blog, I’ve become increasingly hooked on food photography and that combination of presenting dishes I have created through the best possible pictures. To date I have improved my technique by reading specialist books, talking to other photographers and accruing better equipment. But I still struggle to get that perfect picture. And so I have been really looking forward to this course knowing that Will was going to help me achieve those dreamed-of shots.

Six of us turned up for the Saturday course. Will was welcoming and put us all at ease straight away. We started the day sat in his kitchen with coffee and croissant while he went through the basics. The atmosphere he created left us able to check our understanding, ask questions, seek clarifications. Shutter-speed, aperture, ISO – I work with these and thought I had an OK understanding of their essential interrelationship, but there is nothing like a professional explaining them and going through the detail. As the session developed, Will watched us all working and helped us achieve some fine tuning. A particular highlight for me was moving my camera from automatic to manual with, I suddenly realised, a new sense of confidence that I was getting the light, speed and focus where they needed to be for the shot to be right. This was very exciting.

Part of the course was Will taking us through the history of food photography. He used great examples of photographs from the 1980’s to modern times. I’ve struggled to come up with a relevant style of food photography, but the 80’s shots contrasted with contemporary styles showed me just how different food photos can be and helped me to think what I want as ‘my style’. Here’s an abbreviated summary of just how things have changed:

1980s
Lots of studio lights with a golden tinge
Crowded images
Formal layout

2010s
Natural light
Less food and props in each image
Relaxed layout
Sometimes almost messy

We moved into the studio next door and Will set up three areas where we could practice food styling and taking the shots we wanted. We talked about light source, positioning the food in relation to the light and our cameras in relation to the food and light. We looked through the props (crockery, fabric, paper, cutlery, other bits) that Will had in the studio. Will’s assistant Jo, of Paleo Crust, then produced roasted vegetables out of the oven and we were ready to plan our main food shoot. Working in pairs, the six of us built scenes which had a story and which matched the food layout and props we had chosen. Then we started to take photos.

What’s a food story?
I’ve read about this concept in food photography before, but I hadn’t really understood it. Will’s course helped me understand it better. These two photos were taken side by side on the same table with the same light. But the food and the props create two completely different ‘stories’ with each having a different ‘feel’.

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Photo 1
Black and gold paper background
Square plate
Precise, layout or styling of food

These 3 components lead to a contemporary feel to the shot. The food story could be that we are in a smart restaurant and this plate of food has just arrived on the table.

Holly Cooks Food-story-back-from-the-market-final

Photo 2
White painted table background
Kitchen tea towel
Relaxed positioning of food
Glass of water with lemon

These four components combine to create a relaxed kitchen feel. The sun is shining in on the tomatoes. The food story might be that we have just returned from a visit to the market. It’s a hot day, so we have a glass of water and the lemon cut for the water is also in the shot. Perhaps the tomatoes are a little wet from the market, hence they are on a tea towel on the table.

As the day went on I think there were two things that really stood out for me that I learnt.
1. Attention to detail is all important
2. Take your time

I can be a person who is keen to do the thing and get it done, if you see what I mean. So I’m moving on to the next bit before I’ve perhaps properly finished the preceding bit! For me the implicit part of Will’s course was that photography doesn’t really work with that approach. You have to take the time to look at each piece of the scene. There’s a lot of detail to be considered both with the naked eye as well as through the lens and with continuous experimentation to produce that perfect shot.

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With Will’s help we, Emma, who I was working with and I had created this scene. Will then came over and looked at what we had created critically.

• The lemon is at position nine o’clock on a clock face. Will changed this to eleven o’clock.
• There is a ruffle in the fabric by the fork. Will opened up the fabric, so this ruffle was hidden.
• We moved the parsley from the top of the scene to the side, so we could see more of it and it balanced the shot.
• The light is coming from the left hand side. Will put up a black screen so that there was less light in the corner of the water bottle; this gave it a slightly moody, more interesting feel.
• He then used a white foam board on the left hand side near the fabric to bounce light from the window onto the pasta itself, so highlighting the food in particular.

Holly Cooks Altered-pasta-veg-composition-with-shadow-board-final

It’s all small stuff but important stuff, and the overall result is a more interesting photo, that makes me want to pick up the fork and get eating!

Here are two more shots, the first one is our attempt and the second is Will’s improvement. Again it’s all little tweaks, but the overall effect is clear.

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Holly Cooks Re-jigged-med-veg-final

After lunch it was back to food styling. Jo appeared with a tempting layered-sponge and together we created a scene to show it off to it’s best. As I said, getting the right shot takes time and here are some of things considered in this cake shoot:

• choose the right table for this shot,
• find one fabric only to decide it wasn’t quite right, so chose another and then find it was creased so Jo kindly ironed it,
• check the cake for it’s most photogenic side,
• work with direct as well as reflected light,
• find the best (i.e. the most photogenic, not necessarily the best tasting) strawberries in the punnet and positioned them carefully
• position the background, so you can’t see the rest of the studio,
• add or remove props as needed e.g. a chair was added for the second shot.

Then we took some photos!

Holly Cooks Cake-final

Then to give us an experience of an action shot Will sprinkled icing sugar while we took turns to get our best shot.

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The course has left me with a whole new lot of confidence to take the photos I want.  I’m looking forward to getting back into the kitchen and then getting my camera out.

Brazilian chicken with shallots and cherry tomatoes

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We have some friends who organize the only Cycle Touring Festival in the UK. If cycle touring is your thing – awesome – be sure to check it out. It’s a great weekend of useful information from those who know their stuff, meeting with like minded individuals and getting properly inspired for the next trip. The dates for next year are 26 – 29 May 2017.

Dave was asked to give a talk at the Festival this year and so headed south. I was working that weekend.
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Roland of The Unchartered Spice Co. attended the Festival and had heard that I enjoy food. He kindly gave Dave some of his delicious spice mixes for us to enjoy. The Unchartered Spice Co. make their own all natural ingredients spice blends. They make great spice mixes, so you don’t have to. Just rub, scatter or mix the spices in with your food and bingo a mouth watering meal is all ready for you.

The Brazilian Spice Rub is my current favourite. In this recipe I mixed the chicken thighs, potatoes and shallots together with 4 tsp of Brazilian Spice Rub and popped it all into a preheated oven for 25 minutes. Then I added a load of cherry tomatoes and 20 minutes later I served it up with a green veg. That’s it, it’s quick and easy and the spice rub does all the work.
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You won’t need any oil. The moment this mixture gets into the oven the chicken skin will produce its own delicious oil, enough for the vegetables.
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The Unchartered Spice Co. is currently selling 40g of their Brazilian Spice Rub for £2.30, a complete steal in my view!

Brazilian chicken with shallots and cherry tomatoes

4 chicken thighs
360g/12oz charlotte potatoes, in 2.5cm/1” chunks – or as many potatoes as the two of you will eat
6 shallots, peeled
4 tsps of Brazilian spice rub from The Unchartered Spice Co.
10 cherry tomatoes

Serve with you favourite green vegetable

Serves 2
Preparation time – 10 minutes
Cooking time – 45 minutes

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180° fan/395°F/Gas mark 6. Take each thigh and cut away any excess skin and fat but leave a good covering of skin on the outer side. On the outer side, make two deep cuts almost to the bone and at right angles to the bone. Place in a bowl.
2. Add to the bowl the potatoes, shallots and Brazilian spice rub and mix well. Make sure the spice mix thoroughly coats everything. Then place in a large roasting tin and cook in the oven for 25 mins.
3. Remove the roasting tin from the oven and baste the chicken, potatoes and shallots, using the juices from the chicken. Now add the tomatoes, shake a little to coat in the juices and then put back into the oven. Roast for another 15 – 20 minutes until the dish is lightly browned. No serve with your favourite green vegetable.

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Hot halloumi and roast potato salad

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Last week I posted a recipe with Summer berries, Amaretti biscuits and Greek yoghurt. I think it is a great summer recipe, because it takes minimal time to make, avoiding slaving over a hot stove while the sun is beating down. The sun hasn’t been beating down this week. It’s been wet, grey and overcast, with only a hint of sun. For some other reason I haven’t wanted to be in the kitchen. Perhaps it’s because of the football, the second week of Wimbledon and the tour de France have been calling? Whatever the reason, I wanted something quick and easy to make. This salad is absolutely that. You pop the ingredients in the oven and fry up the halloumi at the end. Other than that there is very little to do, especially if you have dressing ready to go. It’s a salty, hot, fresh, delicious salad and it leaves you feeling that you have had a full meal.

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So what’s it all about? The hot roast potatoes fill you up and the cherry tomatoes are warm and sweet, they are slightly caramelized from being roasted in the oven. I’ve added Kalamata olives with their smooth, meaty texture but any olives will do. The hot halloumi, pan fried right at the last moment, is popped on top of the salad. All these ingredients sit surrounded by fresh spinach leaves with the salad dressing enveloping it all. I’ve detailed my salad dressing recipe below, but if you have some already made, or some in a bottle go for that, this salad isn’t a fussy one.

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This salad is similar to my Hot mackerel and roast potato salad. I particularly like Charlotte or Jersey Royals but you can use any potato.

Hot halloumi and roast potato salad

Salad recipe
360g/12oz Charlotte potatoes, in 2.5cm/1” chunks
1 tbsp oil
18 cherry tomatoes
80g fresh spinach
80g/3oz or 20 pitted Kalamata olives, halved
160g/5½oz halloumi, sliced into 5mm slices
60 ml of dressing

Dressing recipe
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper
3 tbsp olive oil

Serves 2
Preparation time – 10 minutes
Cooking time – 45 minutes

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/395°F/Gas mark 6. Put the potatoes into a large roasting tin and drizzle over 1 tbsp of oil over the top. Roll the potatoes around to coat them in the oil and then put them into a hot the oven.
2. After the 20 minutes, toss the potatoes and add the cherry tomatoes, rolling them around to coat them in oil in the pan. Put the tin back in the oven for another 20 mins.
3. Divide the spinach between plates. If you are making your own dressing – in a mug mix together the vinegar, mustard and sugar with freshly ground pepper and a pinch of salt until the salt and sugar is dissolved. Then add in the oil and mix well.
4. Three mins before the roast potatoes and cherry tomatoes are finished, heat a frying pan. When hot add the slices of halloumi, fry for a minute or two on each size until lightly browned. You don’t need any oil in the pan to fry halloumi.
5. While the halloumi fries divide the potatoes, cherry tomatoes and olives onto the plates of spinach. Dress the salad with the dressing, and mix the salad well. Top with the halloumi and serve.

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Summer fruits with Amaretti and Greek yoghurt

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It’s feeling hot here today in Edinburgh. The sky is blue with little puffy clouds sailing by and as I walked to nursery with JP on my shoulders I realised I had far too many clothes on. No need for my winter fleece anymore. I checked the temperature and, sadly, it’s actually only 17°C/63°F, so I don’t know why it’s feeling so hot. Perhaps it’s because I’m still pretty much in the clothes I’ve worn all winter, or perhaps the humidity is just high? But, whatever, it left me thinking about summer food.

This pudding is ideal for a hot summer’s day. It’s similar to Eton Mess, but I’ve replaced the cream with Greek yogurt, meringue with Amaretti biscuits and I’ve chosen blueberries and raspberries instead of the more usual strawberries.

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Other than having a vague connection to Eton Mess, this pudding is ideal because
• It takes about ten minutes to prepare – no slaving in the kitchen when the sun is out.
• It features summer fruits and although I’ve chosen blueberries and raspberries, you could add chopped cherries, strawberries, loganberries, red currents, in fact just about any fruit. Think of all that vitamin C you’ll be eating! If you google “are summer berries good for me?”, you’ll find these fruits help prevent heart disease, memory loss and wrinkling. I’m not sure on any of these claims … crows feet gone – seriously? … but they taste good and they combine to make a cracking pudding.
• If you want low fat you could use fat free Greek yoghurt.
• You can easily make more if unexpected guests turn up.
• Amaretti biscuits contribute their almondy flavour plus crunch and tackiness.

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Holly-cooks-Biscuits-in-glass

Holly-Cooks-Fruit-in-glass

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As Amaretti biscuits will soak up any moisture and soften, I find it best to put the individual portions together not more than 30-mins before you serve.

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Summer fruits with Amaretti and Greek yoghurt

280g/10oz blueberries
280g/10oz raspberries
500g/1lb1½oz Greek yoghurt
80g/3oz or 16 Amaretti biscuits

Serves 4
Carbohydrate per serving – 34g
Preparation time – 10 minutes
Cooking time – 0 minutes

1. Take four glasses – I use 170ml. martini glasses – or ramekins, and put a spoonful of fruit in each. Add a layer of yoghurt and then a handful of the biscuits.
2. Now divide the remaining fruit between the four servings. Add another layer of yoghurt, then more Amoretti biscuits and serve.

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How much do eggs weigh?

Holly-cooks-eggs
If I’m making a Victoria sponge, a Madeira cake or even a fruit cake, I find it useful to know exactly how much eggs weigh. I searched high and low on the internet for this information but I couldn’t find it anywhere. So I have weighed individually the contents of three of each of the common UK size of egg – extra large, large and medium – and here are the results:

How much do eggs weigh

Extra large eggs Large eggs Medium eggs
66g/2⅓oz 62g/2¼oz 54g/1 7/8oz
66g/2⅓oz 58g/2 1/25oz 48g/1¾oz
70g/2½oz 56g/2oz 46g/1 2/3oz

Whilst thinking about eggs, I also realised I would find it useful to know:
How to check if eggs are fresh (my friend’s delicious home-produced eggs are not date stamped)?
How long can I store whole eggs?
How long can those separated yolks last following a meringue making session?

And here is what I have discovered: with the egg shell on and in one piece, as an egg gets older the white will begin to produce carbon dioxide. Amazingly, this passes through the egg shell and is replaced by air. And so, if you put a new egg in a bowl of water it will lie on it’s side. But if you put an older egg in water it will stand up as there is more air inside.

As an egg gets older, the yolk and white begin to break down within it. This means that if you break open a new egg you’ll see the yolk is domed and stands firmly above the white; the white will sit neatly around the yolk on the plate. If you break open an older egg the white will spread more and will appear watery. The yolk will be thin and flatter than in a young egg. An older egg won’t hold together well when being fried or poached, but is still good for scrambled eggs, meringues, cakes or a soufflé.

What about storing whites and yolks?

Egg whites contain a natural bactericide and will keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. Or they can be frozen for up to 3 months. Egg yolks should be covered with water and cling film, which stops a hard layer forming on top, and will then safely store in your fridge for up to 3 days.

Leek, bacon and thyme tart

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Tarts, quiches or flans, whatever you like to call them, were a part of my childhood. I have a distinct memory of Mum coming home after a full day and making a bacon, onion and cheese quiche. She made the pastry from scratch. Then she scattered cheese over the bottom of the pastry case, (I now know this helps get a consistent flavour throughout the filling). Then in would go the cooked bacon and onion, the remainder of the cheese and an egg and cream custard finishing the quiche. While it baked away, she would make coleslaw, again from scratch and I think there were also jacket potatoes in the oven too. I remember her in a skirt – she always wore skirts to work – and it must have been summer, because it was a light cotton skirt and she had bare legs.

Mum made all this look effortless, easy and enjoyable. I think for her it was also a way of unwinding after a long day at work while creating something delicious and wholesome for her family.

Aged 8, watching my Mum cook all this just seemed normal. It’s only now that I know the tiredness after a day’s work and of trying to keep on top of everything that I look back on this memory in a different light. I love that she had the energy to do this as there is nothing particularly quick about cooking a tart.

Like her, in this recipe, I have chosen to make the pastry from scratch. But there is good pastry to be bought in the supermarket chiller cabinet, which you could use instead (260g should be enough). I let my pastry rest in the fridge for 30 minutes before working with it as this allows the gluten in the flour to ‘relax’ and makes it less lightly to shrink while cooking. I also blind bake the pastry: roll it out, line the baking tin with it, cover with baking paper, ‘pour’ on a layer of ceramic baking beans and bake until the pastry is cooked (8 – 10 minutes). Blind baking helps prevent soggy pastry in the finished tart.

Once the pastry has been baked, I paint it with beaten egg and bake for three more minutes. This process seals the pastry and prevents the filling leaking out which would also risk making the pastry soggy. (If you don’t have ceramic baking beans, 450g/1lb of rice would do just as well.)

case-with-cheese

I scatter grated cheddar over the cooked and sealed pastry just as my Mum taught me too. Cooking the leeks and the bacon creates moisture and I find it best to use a colander to get rid of as much moisture as possible before adding them to the pastry case.

case-with-filling

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Leek, bacon and thyme tart

170g/6oz plain flour
1 large pinch of salt
85g/3oz butter in small cubes at room temperature
water
1 tbsp oil
3 leeks, trimmed and chopped into thin coins
225g/8oz bacon, sliced into thin strips
3 eggs, beaten
110g/4oz cheddar cheese, grated
100ml/3fl oz double or heavy cream
14g/½oz fresh thyme

23 cm / 9” flan tin

Serves 6
Total carbohydrate per portion – 21 g
Preparation time – 45 minutes
Cooking time – 30 minutes

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180°C fan / 395°F / Gas mark 6.
2. In a large bowl, mix the flour and then salt. Then rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add a little water to bring the whole mixture into one ball. Put the pastry in a plastic bag or wrap it in cling film and put in the fridge for half an hour.
3. Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat and fry the leeks and thyme until there are nearly soft. Then add in the bacon and continue to cook until the leeks are soft and the bacon cooked. Place in a colander over the sink to drain any liquid away.
4. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface, so until it’s large enough to fit the tin and then carefully line the tin with it. Cover with a large piece of baking paper, fill with baking beans and put in the oven for 8 – 10 minutes, until the pastry is cooked.
5. Using some of the egg mixture paint the inside of the pastry case and then put back in the oven for another 3 minutes.
6. Scatter a handful of cheese over pastry, then add the leeks and bacon. Top with the rest of the cheddar.
7. Add the cream to the eggs and mix well and then pour over the leeks and bacon mixture.
8. Bake in the oven for 25 – 30 minutes. I turn the tart around five minutes from the end to ensure it is lightly browned all over.
9. Leave in the tin for ten minutes to cool a little and then serve.

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Toffee rhubarb sticks

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Sometime last year Dave decided to grow our own veg and that we needed a raised bed for this venture. (I should explain that the otherwise formal garden to the old house where we have a flat, includes a rough patch in a sunny corner which Dave intended to utilise). Mum came over one October weekend and, with some neighbours, we marked out the raised bed area, took off the turf, and then bordered our plot with planks. We unloaded bag after bag of compost, digging it into the existing soil. Around tea-time we were able to stand back, admire our new raised bed and feel pretty chuffed with ourselves.

Green-lawn

 

Dug-bed

A week later, on Mum’s advice I bought a rhubarb root and dug it in at one end of our raised bed. I also bought a logan berry bush because I have happy memories of this fruit but, hey, that’s another story.

In March we harvested the first two stalks from our rhubarb and, yes, we were so pleased with them. They looked too beautiful to chop up and cook in the traditional way, so we kept them as two long stalks, sprinkled on dark brown sugar and baked them instead. The sugar crystalised as the rhubarb cooked and what came out of the oven was terribly simple but so delicious. It let the young rhubarb very much speak for itself.

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We have discovered another rhubarb plant in the garden, which no one seems keen to own, and last week we had rhubarb crumble using very large stalks from this unloved plant. Although tough in places, they stewed up well for the crumble but left us realising the huge difference between new and old rhubarb. The older, thicker ones were so not right for toffee rhubarb sticks.

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Toffee rhubarb sticks take less than ten minutes to prepare and cook. It’s a simple but delicious pudding which you could serve with ice cream, crème faîche, yoghurt, or even custard.

The recipe below is loose. You’ll need two rhubarb stalks and one tablespoon of sugar per person.

Toffee rhubarb sticks

Slim rhubarb stalks, top and tailed
Dark brown sugar
Ice cream, crème faiche, yoghurt or custard to serve

Preparation time – 5 minutes
Cooking time – 8 minutes

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/395°F/Gas mark 6.
2. Chop the rhubarb into 10cm lengths and place in a non stick oven tray.
3. Sprinkle over some brown sugar and press some of it into the sticks. Place in the oven for 6 – 8 minutes until the sticks are soft. Serve with ice cream, crème fraîche, yoghurt or custard.

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Chorizo, cherry tomato and rosemary risotto

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This is an easily made one pot meal and I’ve added rosemary to give it a different character from my other risottos.  The oven does a lot of the work roasting the chorizo and cherry tomatoes which means you just have to focus on the onion and rice mixture (and, by the way, if you like roasted cherry tomatoes, have a look at my pasta dish here).
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Some cooks describe risotto as a dish that can’t be left for a moment because it requires constant stirring. This is real over kill. While you can’t disappear off to sort the washing, you can absolutely be in the kitchen doing other things while you cook a risotto. It needs stirring each time you add stock, a little at a time, but you can then leave it on a low heat while the rice absorbs that stock.  You have to repeat this adding and stirring process a few times until all the stock is absorbed but between times you can fix a salad and do some emails.  Once the rice is cooked, you add in the cherry tomatoes and chorizo from the oven, and the rosemary.  Then stir to combine but go gently so as to avoid breaking-up too many tomatoes.  Check the seasoning and serve.
Chorizo-cherry-tomato-and-rosemary-risotto
If I have persuaded you to give a risotto a try for the first time, here and here are some other recipes you might enjoy.

Chorizo, cherry tomato and rosemary risotto recipe

650g cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp oil
large pinch of salt
1 tbsp oil
1 large onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
225g chorizo, cut into 1 cm square chunks
400g Arborio (risotto) rice
1.3 litres vegetable stock
1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary
black pepper

Serves 4

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/395°F/Gas mark 6. Put the cherry tomatoes in a roasting tin and cover with the oil and pinch of salt and toss well. Put in the oven for 25 minutes.
2. While the tomatoes cook, heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large pan and fry the onion and garlic until soft and translucent.
3. Add the rice and stir to coat with the oil. Add a little stock and stir.
4. Put the chorizo in a small roasting tin and then put in the oven for 8 minutes until the oil is released from the chorizo.
5. While the chorizo and tomatoes roast, continue to add a little stock at a time to the rice, stirring well. Only add more stock when the liquid in the pan has already been absorbed. Keep going until all the rice is cooked.
6. Stir in the chorizo, rosemary and cherry tomatoes to the risotto, being careful not to bash too many tomatoes as you stir. Season with black pepper and serve.

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Celeriac, sage and walnut soup

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Our French friends recently commented that hot soup features on British menus all year round whereas in France it is considered a winter dish. Who wants soup on a hot summers day, they asked? I had never noticed before but it’s true – regardless of the month or weather you can always order soup. Perhaps we British just love our soup more than the French, or maybe it rarely gets so hot here that soup would be too much?
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Either way, I’ve recently been enjoying this celeriac, sage and walnut soup. Although Dave has decided that celeriac is not for him, I love it and JP is also a fan. It’s smoky almost meaty taste is different from other vegetables and combines so well with bacon. If you want that something extra for dinner guests, add butter-fried sage and serve with a sprinkling of chopped walnuts.
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Celeriac, sage and walnut soup

2 tbsp oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1kg celeriac, peeled and chopped into 2 ½cm/1” cubes
220g bacon – 6 rashers, chopped
1 litre of vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

Optional
60g chopped walnuts
8g sage leaves
25g butter

Serves 5
Preparation time – 10 minutes
Cooking time – 25 minutes

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, when the oil is hot fry the onion with the lid on for five minutes. Add the bacon and continue to cook until the onion is soft and translucent and the bacon is cooked. Add the celeriac and cook for another three minutes.
2. Add the stock and simmer until the celeriac is tender, about ten minutes.
3. Once the celeriac is cooked take the soup off the heat and blend it. (I tend to let the soup cool before I blend it, so I don’t have boiling hot soup potentially flying about, but this isn’t necessary.) Once blended add more hot water to the soup if you want a thinner soup and then season well.
4. Dry fry the walnuts in a small frying pan. Remove the nuts from the pan and melt the butter in the same pan. Add the sage leaves and swirl the butter around in the pan covering all the leaves. Fry until fragrant. Pour the leaves and butter onto some kitchen roll to absorb the excess butter. Put the soup into bowls and scatter the sage leaves and walnuts over the top.

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Roasted cherry tomato pasta

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Work had been crazy for weeks. The pressure was on, my hours were long, my inbox just seemed to get bigger and bigger regardless of what I did. I finally got home from an overnight stay with work, I’d missed bath time, but was just in time to read JP three stories. He sat on my lap as we read his story books. He wanted Dave to put him to sleep, so we swapped over and I went into the kitchen to finish getting supper ready.

We were all set for Dave’s favourite supper, jacket potatoes and everything he can find in the fridge that might be tasty. He had already put on the table ham, cheese, salad leaves, gerkins, and pepperdew peppers. I got the jackets out of the oven and realised he had also roasted a load of cherry tomatoes, which were also ready to come out of the oven.
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Roasted cherry tomatoes take me back to the first time Dave and I had them. It was years and years ago at my godmother’s house. She has a large garden with lots of veg patches and a big greenhouse. She served up a delicious fish pie with lots of home grown roasted cherry tomatoes. The tomatoes get slightly blistered and become very sweet. Dave and I now eat roasted cherry tomatoes quite often, and find them to be a delicious and a super easy veg side dish.

I popped the jackets and the cherry tomatoes on the table, Dave returned and super began. His phone then went and he left the kitchen to take the call, I was sat there eating the hot, sweet cherry tomatoes and I began to wonder what they would be like zussed up into a sauce.
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The next night I roasted 650g of cherry tomatoes for twenty five minutes and then put them in the food processor and blitzed them. (I have since done this with a stick blender, which works well too.) They were so good, so tasty and so easy. I poured this sauce over a pan of hot pasta, it was a triumph, the simplest triumph ever, but a triumph none the less.
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I have since tried mixing in crème fraiche, which works well, and would be particularly good for little ones. I’ve tried it with pesto and it didn’t really work for me, the tomato sauce by itself is the best. You can add anything to this dish, olives, parmesan, fresh basil, mozzarella, spinach… It’s a brilliant sauce for any pasta and requires almost no input from you.

ROASTED CHERRY TOMATO PASTA

650g cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 good pinch of salt
freshly ground pepper
200g pasta

Serves 2
Preparation time – 2 minutes
Cooking time – 25 minutes

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F and 6 Gas mark. Put the cherry tomatoes in a roasting tin and cover with the oil and salt and pepper and then rolled the tomatoes round a bit to cover more of them in the oil. Roast for 25 minutes.
2. While the tomatoes roast, cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet.
3. Once the tomatoes are lightly browned in places put them into a food processor or container you can use the stick blender with and then blitz the tomatoes. Pour over the pasta and mix well. Add anything else you would like and serve.

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Sweet potato and celeriac gratin

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Since posting my recipe for sweet potato and parsnip gratin, I’ve become even more enthusiastic about such easy oven-based cooking. The beauty of being able to prep everything in advance knowing such a tasty dish will be ready when you need it, makes it perfect both for entertaining as well as working-week suppers.

In this gratin I’ve replaced parsnip with celeriac and this readily available root vegetable brings a smoky almost meaty taste. I’ve also added bacon and walnuts but, with or without, it will be a whole meal – just serve some greens on the side.
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To prepare, thinly slice the celeriac and sweet potato. Using an oven-proof dish, layer your slices interspersed with crushed garlic, walnuts and bacon. Seal with foil and bake until all contents are tender. Remove foil, pour over the cream and pop back in the oven until lightly browned. Done! It’s that easy.

Sweet potato and celeriac gratin

1kg sweet potato
1kg celeriac
8 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
225g bacon, sliced into 1 cm slices
110g roughly chopped walnuts
15g fresh thyme, taken off the stalk
¾ tsp salt and lots of freshly ground pepper
284ml double cream

Ovenproof dish 25 x 30 cm / 10 x 12″

Serves 6
Preparation time – 15 minutes
Cooking time – 1 hour 45 minutes

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/ gas mark 6.
2. Peel and thinly slice the vegetables (I do this in my food processor to save time).
3. Scatter a third of the vegetables in the ovenproof dish. Top with a third of the garlic and thyme, ¼ tsp salt and lots of freshly ground pepper. Then add half the bacon and half the walnuts.
4. Repeat step 3. Then top with the remaining vegetables, garlic, thyme, ¼ tsp salt and lots of freshly ground pepper and then cover the dish in foil. Bake for an 1¼ hour or until all the vegetables are tender.
5. Remove the foil and pour the cream over the top of the gratin. Put back in the oven for 30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.

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Raspberry and walnut chocolate brownies

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The sweet, dark hit of chocolate and the tart fruity tang of raspberries gives these brownies a flavour that is hard to beat. And you can also add chopped walnuts to give texture as well as an added nutty taste. Cooking raw fruit in a cake bake is not always easy as the fruit will leak moisture and interfere with the necessarily exact measurements of flour, sugar, eggs, etc. I therefore approached this recipe with caution. I tried it first with blueberries but this fruit tended to disappear in the cooking process, along with its flavour. Raspberries proved to be the answer as this berry survives baking, retains its beautiful colour and its tangy taste remains strong enough for the chocolate. What’s more, cooking with raspberries does not upset the essential mix.

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This is essentially Jamie Oliver’s recipe for chocolate brownies, but with me adding raspberries and walnuts. Jamie’s recipe is spot on, not least because the brownies leave the oven slightly undercooked and, after cooling in the tin, they remain squidgy in the middle. Perfection. The brownies also store well, particularly if separated and layered on baking paper and kept in an air tight container.

My Mum serves Jamie’s brownies with fresh blueberries on the side and icing sugar on the top and they are always a big hit as a pudding.

Raspberry and walnut chocolate brownies

250g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate
80g cocoa powder, sifted
65g plain flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
250g fresh raspberries
100g walnuts, roughly chopped
360g caster sugar
4 large eggs, beaten

22cm/9” x 27½cm/11” baking tin
baking paper

Serves 8 or more

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/gas mark 4. Line the baking tin with baking paper. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a glass bowl placed on a pan of simmering water.
2. In a separate bowl, mix together the cocoa, flour, baking powder and sugar. Add the melted butter and chocolate and stir this combination well. Then fold in the raspberries and chopped nuts. Finally add the eggs and gently fold again until everything is fully mixed.
3. Pour into the lined baking tray and place in the oven. Remove after 25-minutes and the inside of the brownie should still be a little gooey – don’t expect a skewer to come out clean like it must in sponge cake baking.
4. Leave in the tray to cool and then cut up and serve.

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Mushroom, leek and thyme gnocchi

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After Dave and I got together, there was a time when his work and my uni course meant we lived in different cities. So we spent weekends together and usually at his place in Bristol where he shared a house with two lovely guys. Those were glorious weekends – mini holidays in between long weeks. Dave was actually the least foodie of his housemates, but I remember him cooking good unfussy food. One night he fried up a load of mushrooms and leeks and then added what seemed to me an enormous amount of Boursin, all as a side dish to something else. His mushroom, leek, Boursin dish was delicious – creamy and garlicky. I think I realised then that I didn’t really cook with large amounts of cheese, as I’d always been bought up thinking it wasn’t healthy. Which indeed it isn’t, but as a treat, it makes super delicious food!
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This gnocchi recipe takes it’s inspiration from Dave’s side dish. I’ve replaced the Boursin with crème fraîche to give a slightly lighter taste and you will find it still works well with half-fat crème fraîche. So choose whichever. This is an easy and quick supper dish and is perfect for the end of a long day. You fry the garlic, mushrooms and leeks with the thyme, add crème fraîche, grated cheese and cooked gnocchi, season and serve.

Another plus is that this dish keeps and reheats. In preparation for this post, I made it one morning in order to catch midday light for the photo-shoot. I then assumed it would not be too brilliant for our supper later, but it reheated really well.

Mushroom, leek and thyme gnocchi

1 tbsp oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
300g/10½oz white mushrooms, thickly sliced
15g/½oz thyme, remove the leaves from the stalks
½ tbsp oil
2 leeks, sliced into round coins about 5mm thick
500g/1lb1½oz fresh gnocchi
30g/1oz mature cheddar, finely grated
½ tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
300 ml crème fraîche – full or half fat

Serves 2
Carbohydrate per serving – 85g
Preparation time – 5 minutes
Cooking time – 10 minutes

1. In a large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and fry the mushrooms, garlic and thyme until the mushrooms are dark brown and cooked. In a separate saucepan, heat half a tablespoon of oil and, keeping the lid on, gently fry and steam the leaks until they are silky and cooked.
2. When the mushrooms and leeks are nearly ready, cook the gnocchi according to the packet’s instructions.
3. Add the leeks to the mushrooms and then the cheddar, salt and pepper. Stir in the crème fraîche. Finally, add the cooked gnocchi and stir once more to combine everything well. Check the seasoning, adjust if necessary and serve.

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Sweet potato and parsnip gratin

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Is this dish a gratin, a dauphinois, or a bake? I’m not sure. I could happily spend time pontificating on the differences between the three and I would enjoy the subtle distinctions. But right now I’ll call it a gratin so I can get on with this week’s recipe.

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This is a brilliant dish to prepare in advance and have waiting ready for the oven. You can half cook it in the morning and then finish in the evening ready for that mid-week dinner party. It’s the perfect make-ahead-and-feel-sorted vegetable dish and a few weeks ago this was just what I needed for a mid-week dinner party with Dave’s brother and cousin plus their partners. They were due at 19.00. I was working from home that day and wouldn’t finish until 18.00. Dave and our son, JP, would arrive home at 17.45-ish. So that left about an hour to bath and settle JP, cook dinner and make the kitchen look vaguely presentable (ours is a kitchen/diner plus toy store and it needs a bit of tidying when folk come). I actually enjoy this sort of challenge but it’s an enormous help when supper is already half done before you start. In fact, I’d prepared it the night before and then half-baked it that morning when I had a coffee break. To give you the total picture, the planned meal was this gratin served alongside pulled lamb, with my leeks and peas. To follow, I served chocolate brownie with fresh blueberries.

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My gratin actually started life as an Ottolenghi sweet potato gratin. I’ve mixed in lots of parsnip because I love the variety in colour they bring plus a slightly less intense sweetness. Ottolenghi’s beautiful dish has the sliced sweet potatoes packed tightly and standing on their sides. For ease, I just layer the sliced sweet potatoes and parsnips. Both dishes are creamy, sweet, comforting and seriously tasty.

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Last week I wrote about my complete failure to get JP interested in making cookies, or even in mixing ingredients in a bowl. And this was despite Dave making a safety-frame which, when screwed to our wooden stool, enables JP to stand safely and work with us at worktop height. Some of you asked for a photo of the stool so I’ve put one on the Sultana, apricot and walnut cookies recipe from last week. On Sunday, JP and Dave joined me in the kitchen just as I was layering the sliced vegetables into a baking dish – JP headed straight for his stool and the next second we were layering the parsnip and sweet potato together. This was great; he was helping create a meal. Well, he was until he then started to take the parsnips back out of the dish, but we won’t dwell on that!

1kg sweet potato
1kg parsnips
8 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
15g fresh thyme, taken off the stalk
¾ tsp salt and lots of freshly ground pepper
284ml double cream

Ovenproof dish 25 x 30 cm / 10 x 12″
Preparation time – 15 minutes
Cooking time – 1 hour 30 minutes

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/ gas mark 6.
2. Peel and thinly slice the vegetables, I do this in my food processor to save time.
3. Scatter a third of the vegetables in the ovenproof dish. Top with a third of the garlic and thyme, ¼ tsp salt and lots of freshly ground pepper.
4. Repeat step 3 twice and then cover the dish in foil. Bake in the oven for an hour or until all the vegetables are tender.
5. Remove the foil and pour the cream over the top of the gratin. Put back in the oven for 30 minutes or until lightly browned on top.

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Sultana, apricot and walnut cookies

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Last weekend I planned to bake cookies with my son. This was going to be the first of many cooking sessions we would enjoy together. I mixed the dry components in one bowl and in another I beat the butter and sugar together, then adding the egg. I found a baking tray. I was all ready. I nearly dug out the matching aprons I’d made a few years back, one for me and one for him, but I decided that was too much. We were going to have fun mixing the dry and wet mixtures together, producing flattened lumps of mix all ready for the oven, to be followed by the joy of eating our own baked cookies.

Some friends had helpfully come in on the plan by suggesting we buy a two step stool from IKEA. This is a pretty solid wooden job and Dave had lovingly added a frame so that our son could safely stand and join me at the kitchen work surface. Dave had sawn and drilled, assembled and sanded for three evenings and the result was beautiful.

I should tell you that our son is eighteen months old. Can you now guess where this is going?

I dug out of the kitchen drawer two wooden spoons and two spatulas. Dave showed our son how to climb up onto his stool – so far so good. I showed our little one his wooden spoon and his spatula. Then I showed him the two bowls of mixture. He looked vaguely in the right direction and then started to head down, down the stool he had just been helped to climb up.

 

JP legs

He walked over to a cupboard where we store our plastic bowls and plates and which double as his crockery and our picnic set. He started to get the bowls and plates out of the cupboard. I picked him up and told him he could do that another time – it was the third time that day he had emptied that cupboard, before repacking it with my help. I popped him back on the stool and started to mix the bowls of ingredients together. He started heading down the stool again and now with Dave’s help, he got out of the stool. He was straight back to the cupboard. His eyes lit up as the plastic cups went crashing to the floor. Dave and I looked at each other and realised that we hadn’t a clue when children might start enjoying cooking or helping out in the kitchen. Our three year old niece enjoys it, but I couldn’t imagine her little brother, who is older than our son, having the patience. The dream of a lovely half-hour spent cooking together faded as another stack of plastic cups went crashing. Clearly that was far better fun.

These cookies have sultanas, roughly chopped apricots and walnuts, together with mixed spices. The batter or dough is a sponge cake mixture. They are super easy to make. Dave and I have enjoyed them a lot this week – even though our son picked a solitary sultana out of one and decided that was all he wanted! They are perfect with coffee mid-morning, or a cup of tea in the afternoon. They are wonderful still warm from the oven, or will keep perfectly for a day or two in an air tight container.
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As with all sponge based recipes, make sure you beat the sugar and butter together until it is creamy, soft and light yellow – I use an electric mixer for this job. Also, only mix the dry and wet ingredients together when your oven is warmed to the correct temperature and you are absolutely ready to start baking. You want the raising agents in the flour and baking powder to do their job in the oven and not when sat on top of the kitchen counter.

Sultana, apricots and walnut cookies

225g/8oz butter
175g/6oz caster sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
350g/12oz self-raising flour
¼ tsp baking powder
pinch of bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground mixed spice
145g/5oz sultanas
110g/4oz walnuts, roughly chopped
170g/6oz dried apricots, roughly chopped
2 lemons, zest only

Makes 20 cookies
Preparation time – 25 minutes
Cooking time – 15 minutes

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/375°F/Gas mark 5.
2. In a large bowl beat the butter well until it’s soft and then beat the sugar into the butter. Continue to beat the mixture until it’s creamy, soft and light yellow. This may take two minutes with an electric mixer.
3. Beat the eggs in a little at a time, and continue to beat until it’s all combined.
4. In a separate bowl sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and mixed spice. Add in the dried fruit, the nuts, the lemon zest and mix until it’s all combined.
5. Mix the butter mixture with the flour mixture well. Spoon 20 balls of the mixture onto baking trays. Split any remaining mixture between the 20 balls. Flatten the balls a little with the back of a spoon.
6. Bake in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes until they are lightly browned. Leave on the tray for five minutes to firm up a little before you transfer to a cooling rack.

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Sweet potato, courgette and feta tart

We ate this tart for supper on Monday evening and it made a fitting end to the Easter holiday. What with the sunshine and warmth, it feels like spring has really started here in Edinburgh and this is a tart to be eaten in the spring.
east linksWe had great fun over Easter. Our little one joined in feeding horses, lamas and goats as the sun shone down on us. We jumped with delight as the goats’ tongues appeared from their mouths eager for the food we had brought for them. We saw two newly born lambs with their mum looking justifiably proud. We rode long slides with mouths wide with excitement. We went on two Easter-egg hunts and came home laden – despite my best attempts to offload some eggs on the way. We saw banks of daffodils on the cusp of opening their bright shining heads. We shared delicious food with lovely family members. We cycled to the Kelpies from the Falkirk Wheel, had lunch admiring the great beasts and then cycled back. It’s was a good four days.
three cyclingWith its oranges and greens, this tart even has the colour of a spring day. It takes about 50-minutes to prepare and bake. You’ll need puff-pastry and I went for shop-bought as life feels too short for anything else at the moment. Ingredients include sweet potato and courgette, thinly sliced with Feta cheese, kalamata olives, fresh thyme and pesto. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and that’s all the preparation. Don’t forget to preheat your oven.
Holly-Cooks-Sweet-potato-courgette-and-feta-tart-foodgawkerOn Monday I ate a quarter tart for supper with a salad. Dave ate half – but if there had been bread or potatoes I think he would have been happy with a quarter. So depending on appetites, it should feed four.
Holly-Cooks-Sweet-potato-courgette-and-feta-tart-foodgawker-detailFor speed, rather than use a knife, I slice the courgette and sweet potato using my food processor. A mandolin is almost as quick and there is also less to wash-up.

Sweet potato, courgette and feta tart recipe

375g/13oz pre rolled puff pastry 25cm/10” x 40cm/15½”
2 tbsp pesto
1 courgette weighing about 175g/6oz, very thinly sliced
1 sweet potato weighting about 250g/8¾oz, peeled and very thinly sliced
75g/2½oz pitted kalamata olives, halved
100g/3½oz feta, crumbled
a handful of fresh thyme, just the leaves
salt and pepper
drizzle of olive oil

Serves 4
Carbohydrate per serving – 52g

Preparation time – 30 minutes
Cooking time – 18 to 23 minutes

1. Preheat your oven to 220°C/200°C fan/425°F/Gas mark 7.
2. Unroll your puff pastry and cut a 1cm/½” strip off each side which you then place on top of each side to form a raised edge. Line a large baking tray with greaseproof paper. The baking tray needs to be sufficiently large to allow that raised edge of pastry to cook clear of any side of the tray. Transfer the pastry to the baking tray.
3. Cover the pastry base with the pesto and then add your courgette and sweet potato.
4. Scatter the olives, feta and thyme leaves over the top. Season and then drizzle on some olive oil.
5. Place in the oven and bake for about 18-minutes or until the pastry has a good colour. Your finished tart is ideally served with a fresh salad.

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Bacon, spinach, mushroom and pesto pasta

Holly-Cooks-bacon-mushrom-spinach-pesto-pastaThis bacon, mushroom and pesto pasta combination dates back to my student days.  In my final year I shared a flat that had a tiny kitchen.  Although it was the only communal room, this kitchen was too tiny for entertaining.  So I ate, slept and entertained in my bedroom which was also small – in fact, very small.  When a friend needed a place for a week, she joined me in my small room and each night we would get out the single mattress that lived underneath the single I slept on, and make up her bed.  With this wall-to-wall bedding, it was just possible to force the door enough to get to the loo in the middle of the night, but only just!  And it was while my friend was staying that she cooked this dish in the tiny kitchen.
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With student days a distant memory, my living space may be bigger (thank goodness!) but I still cherish this dish.  It combines bacon, pesto and pasta but from time to time I’ve tried it with crème fraîche, aubergine, mushrooms, olives – spinach is especially good – and anything that looks like it would go that happens to be in the fridge.  It’s quick and easy to put together and always leaves me feeling I’ve had a decent meal, which is just what’s needed at the end of a long day.
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I hope you are all set for a wonderful Easter holiday.  We are staying at home, but are off to a friend’s Easter Egg hunt on Saturday – our little one is going to love it.  Then on Sunday we are catching up with special cousins.  Little else is planned but that feels great because sleep is pretty high on my priority list; some long nights of sleep.  At the moment, my voice keeps threatening to disappear and my nose is streaming, and I know sleep will fix me up beautifully.  Have a wonderful Easter!

Bacon, spinach, mushroom and pesto pasta recipe

200g/7oz pasta
½ tbsp oil
4 rashers of bacon, roughly chopped
150g/5¼oz mushrooms, thickly sliced
100g/3½oz fresh spinach
3 tbsp pesto
a handful of basil leaves, torn up
30g/1oz parmesan, grated

Freshly ground pepper

Serves 2
Preparation time – 10 minutes
Cooking time – 12 minutes

Carbohydrate per portion – 70g

1. In a large saucepan cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet.
2. While the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat.  Add the bacon and mushrooms and fry until lightly browned in places, around five minutes.  Then wilt the spinach on top.  Remove from the heat.
3. When cooked, drain off the pasta, stir in the pesto and add the bacon, mushrooms and spinach.  Add the basil leaves, parmesan, and pepper, stir briefly again and then serve.

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Seafood and coconut soupy noodles

Holly Cooks Seafood coconut soupy noodles550A few weeks ago I found myself feeling recharged, replenished and happy despite having just eaten an Asian meal that could best be described as dismal! After work, I’d shot off across the city to spend the evening with an old girlfriend, drinking, eating and chatting – the sort of thing you did in your twenties but is now a rare treat. The waitress came over three times for our order before we’d had a chance to decide. We talked about children, work, future hopes and dreams, relationships at work and news of other friends. The conversation had that fast paced quality that you get with good friends and, in my experience, normally only happens when there are two of you, maybe three – anymore and the conversation just has a different quality.
Holly Cooks Seafood coconut soupy noodlesdetails550
It was the chat that made the evening special and certainly not the food. We started by sharing some gyoza, Chinese dumplings, which turned out to be just OK but certainly not special like they can be. I followed this with a bowl of spicy, soupy noodles topped with fish. The chef had been generous with the fish but it tasted like muddy water. The soup was one dimensional, and the noodles were – well, noodles are noodles and depend on other flavours in the dish, which were sadly lacking in this case. This meal was not good!
Holly Cooks Seafood coconut soupy noodles-550So I arrived home happy and fulfilled but that restaurant’s disappointing soupy noodles began to bug me. Bowls of noodles should of be full of flavour, surprises and treats – that’s the whole point. And so I set about creating a dish that would have pleased me that evening.

It starts with blitzing ginger, lemongrass, chilli and garlic in your food processor. You then fry this mixture up, pour in coconut milk and chicken stock and add this to your
• frozen seafood – I like prawns, mussels and squid rings, but you could have any combination,
• noodles,
• vegetables,
and garnish with Thai fish sauce, coriander and lime juice.

Seafood and coconut soupy noodles

50g/2oz ginger
2 stalks of lemongrass (next to the herbs in the supermarket)
1 red chilli
6 garlic cloves
400 ml coconut milk
1 tbsp sunflower oil
450 ml chicken stock
200g/7oz choi sum or pak choi – slice the stalks in 2½cm/1” chunks and the leaves in 5cm/2” chunks
250g/9oz mixed of frozen seafood – I like squid rings, mussels and king prawns
300g/10½oz udon noodles – straight-to-wok or quick-to-cook kind
1 tbsp Thai fish sauce
25g/½oz fresh coriander
1 lime cut into wedges
no salt – the Thai sauce will contain enough

Serves 2
Carbohydrate per serving – 45g
Preparation time – 15 minutes
Cooking time – 10 minutes

1. Finely chop the ginger, chilli, lemongrass and garlic cloves. I do this in the food processor with a couple of tablespoons of coconut milk. It will form a bulky paste.
2. Heat the oil in a saucepan with a lid. Add in the paste and fry for two minutes.
3. Add the coconut milk, chicken stock and the vegetable stalks and boil for a minute. Then add in the frozen seafood, noodles and the leaves and cook for another minute.
4. Lastly, add the Thai fish sauce and stir in half the coriander. Then serve in two large bowls, with wedges of lime and garnish with the remaining coriander sprinkled on top.

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Smoked salmon, watercress and dill gnocchi

Holly-cooks-smoked-salmon-watercress-and-dill-gnocchi-finished-saucepan-550I enjoy recipes that take time and effort. I love stews that putter away in the oven for hours, dough that needs to rise, salads with ingredients that need to be roasted and then assembled. On a day off or at the weekend, I get serious pleasure from that sort of cooking.

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Work nights are a completely different story. Neither Dave not I are good company when we’re tired and hungry. Scratchy, irritable and short tempered would be a better description. We often say to each other as one of us is cooking and the other laying table or sorting drinks, “let’s eat first and then talk about X”. X could be anything – how our day was, the plan for the weekend, or something far more thrilling such as work that needs to be done on the roof! Talking about X before food won’t be a pleasurable experience; after food it’s completely different. We can joke, laugh and plan as grown-up adults, rather than snipe, bitch and throw sarcastic comments about (the sarcastic comments are all mine). So, needless to say, week night food needs to be quick. Ideally it will also be comforting, wholesome and tasty, but speed is the priority!

Holly-cooks-smoked-salmon-watercress-and-dill-gnocchi-ingredients

This Italy-inspired recipe is all of those things. Gnocchi are little pillows of comfort food; watercress brings wholesomeness, iron and other green goodnesses; smoked salmon provides Omega-3 to assist in good brain function; dill, white wine and lemon give the whole dish a zing. As for speed, you’ll be serving-up in 15-minutes or less – I’ve got it down to less than 11!

Holly Cooks Smoked salmon watercress and dill gnocchi timer

Here’s a note on gnocchi: Italy’s rich culinary heritage means there are always historic and local variations. And so, gnocchi can be made from semolina, or wheat and potato. I like the wheat and potato ones, but experiment and see which you prefer?

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Smoked salmon, watercress and dill gnocchi recipe

500g/1lb1½oz fresh gnocchi (find them next to fresh pasta in the supermarket), or substitute with pasta
300ml crème fraîche, full- or half-fat
75ml of dry white wine
1tbsp or 15ml of lemon juice
1/8tsp salt
zest of one lemon
25g/1oz fresh dill, large stalks removed and roughly chopped
80g/3oz watercress, roughly chopped
150g/5oz smoked salmon

Serves 2
Carbohydrate per serving – 84g
Preparation time – 0 minutes
Cooking time – 15 minutes

1. Cook the gnocchi according to the instructions on the packet.
2. Stir the crème fraîche, wine, lemon juice and salt together in another saucepan and heat.
3. When hot add the watercress, most of the dill and lemon zest, and stir well.
4. Drain the gnocchi, stir in the watercress mixture and 2/3 of the smoked salmon. Divide between two bowls, top with the remaining smoked salmon and scatter on the remaining dill.

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Plum and almond baked custard

Holly-cooks-Plum and almond baked custard-in-dish
On Friday last I received a text from my Mum – “just wondering if you are free tomorrow and would allow us to bring supper over? xxx”. My godfather was staying with my parents and, given our little one is generally in bed around 6.45pm, it’s easier to have people over to ours rather than us ‘de camp’ only to bring him back later and risk interrupting his routine. So mum’s kind offer seemed like a real win, win.

We decided she would bring the main course, beef en croute, whilst I would buy vegetables, potatoes and sort a pudding. When parents and godfather arrived our little one had just finished in the bath and was heading for pyjamas, stories and then bed. Mum joined in as the pyjamas went on and then we read our three most popular books of the moment; ‘Fox’s Socks’ is always chosen as the first book, then ‘Hide and Seek Pig’ and finally ‘Rabbit’s Nap’. Little one moved from my lap to Mum’s depending on the story. He then went down in his cot and we left the room. Normally, that would have been the end of his day, but tonight it wasn’t too be. Some good time later and only after a new nappy and two Weetabix was he able to sleep. Who can sleep when they are still hungry? Not me. But enough of bed time routines.
Holly-cooks-Plum and almond baked custard-complete-in-dish-portrait
I joined the adults in the kitchen. My godfather was pouring wine, my Dad was chopping vegetables and Dave was sorting the potatoes – or maybe it was the other way round. Mum was in charge of the beef en croute. I started to halve plums and then lightly whisked some eggs with cream, milk and sugar. The plums went in an ovenproof dish with flaked almonds sprinkled over, and the egg custard was poured over the top. We ate our delicious main course and talked about different beef en croute we had eaten over the years.

Then my pudding came out of the oven. The plums were soft and tacky and the almonds crunchy on top. Sweet set custard surrounded. Everybody was very complimentary and second helpings were eaten. My godfather started to talk about British puddings and how they take some beating. He went onto talk about British food in general, how it used to get such a bad rap and how this was mainly because the best British food tended to be consumed in homes rather than restaurants. We agreed that for a long time, and perhaps still now, the best Roast, or Toad in the Hole you were ever likely to eat would be at home, your own or someone else’s.
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Dave and I have recently got into the game Sequence after being given it by the dough ball friends, if you read that post. We had played five times and he had beaten me in each and every game. I was keen to play it that night in the hope that Dave might not win. Dad and my godfather teamed up, Mum and I were another team and Dave was the third team by himself. Mum and I were leading for a long time but then Dave pounced and won. Dave and I need to play again soon in the hope that I can begin to start climbing my way to victory. Perhaps we need another plum and custard pudding before we do that?

Plum and almond baked custard

butter for greasing the baking dish
830g/1lb13oz plums – or 10 large plums
75g/2½oz flaked almonds
100 ml milk
150 ml double cream
4 eggs, beaten – the size doesn’t matter
85g/3oz caster sugar
Pinch of salt
14g/½oz caster sugar for decorating the finished pudding

Ovenproof dish 25 x 30 cm / 10 x 12″
Ice cream, cream, yoghurt or crème fraîche to serve.

Serves 6 – 8
Total carbohydrate – 202g
Carbohydrate per 1/6 – 34g
Carbohydrate per 1/8 – 25g

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°C fan / 350°F / Gas mark 4.
2. Butter the ovenproof dish.
3. Stone the plums. I do this by halving them and then and cutting round the stone. Place cut side up in the baking dish and scatter over the flaked almonds.
4. Measure the cream and milk out in a measuring jug, add the eggs, sugar and salt and mix well. Then, while continually stirring to keep the sugar mixed, pour this mixture over the plums and flaked almonds.
5. Put the dish in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes until lightly browned on top.
6. When cooked, remove from the oven and sprinkle over 14g / ½oz sugar before serving.

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Caramelised onion, olive and thyme dough balls

Holly cooks CARAMELISED ONION, OLIVE AND THYME DOUGH BALLS
Old friends came to stay recently with their two beautiful young daughters. Our little one was transfixed – here were two little people just like him, but they could walk confidently and talk. Visits to the park become more fun when there are other people to ride with on the roundabout and take turns down the slide. Even better than that, they showed him tricks like climbing up ropes which he had no idea about. One afternoon, their Dad made dough balls for the children’s tea. Served with melted garlic butter, we all sat round dipping and sharing tea together. Three happy children then went off for bath and bedtime stories. At last it was the adults’ turn for supper and the evening later finished with a wonderfully competitive game of Mahjong.

The dough balls with garlic butter were delicious. Surprisingly so given they were – well, yes – just dough balls! It was all to do with their freshness, their warmth and their inherent flavour. The garlic butter was essential to the whole experience and I was left wondering about other flavours that would be yet another taste adventure.
Holly cooks CARAMELISED ONION, OLIVE AND THYME DOUGH BALLS
So my recipe below adds the sweetness of caramelised onion, the salty taste of kalamata olives and the fragrant touch of thyme. Seriously good, Dave and I have managed to eat them with every supper now for three days and each time he tells me how good they are. They aren’t quick to make, but on a cold, miserable weekend, what could be better than making delicious tasting dough balls.

For me the kalamata olives are important because their dark purple colour and gutsy taste really add. They are the reason no additional salt is added because they bring enough to the mixture. If you can’t find kalamata, just replace them with your favourite olives and you’ll create your own variation of the dish.

Caramelised onion, olive and thyme dough balls

225g/8oz strong white flour
1 tsp salt
15g/½oz fresh yeast or 1½ tsp fast-action yeast or 3 tsp dried yeast
a pinch of caster sugar
170ml/6 fl oz warm water
1 tbsp olive oil
extra flour
extra oil
2 tbsp oil
2 onions, finely sliced
1 tbsp caster sugar
100g/3½oz kalamata olives, roughly chopped
1 tbsp thyme leaves, finely chopped
black pepper
12g/½oz parmesan, grated

Makes 18 dough balls

1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Measure the warm water out. Put the yeast into a small bowl, adding the sugar and 3-tbsp of warm water. Mix until creamy and with a slight foamy head.
2. Add the yeast mixture to the flour and the oil and stir well with a wooden spoon. If you need to, add flour or more water to create a slightly sticky dough. Flour dust your workstation and then knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic.
3. Lightly oil a large baking sheet. Put the dough on top of the baking sheet and cover with a damp clean tea towel, or a large piece of cling film that has been oiled. Place somewhere warm (optimum temperature for yeast to work is 35°C/85°F) for an hour or so until the dough has doubled in size.
4. Heat the 2-tbsp of oil in a frying pan with lid. Add the onions and replace the lid to sweat them until soft and transparent; about 5 – 8 minutes. Stir in the caster sugar, reduce heat and let the onions slowly brown with the lid off for a further 15 – 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.
5. Once the dough has doubled in size remove it from the tray (keep the cling film or tea towel) and roll the dough out a little. Place on top the onions, olives, thyme leaves and black pepper. Fold the dough over and then work the whole with your hands until everything is combined. Then, using your hands again, shape into slightly oversized golf balls, placing each onto the greased baking sheet. Cover again with a wet tea towel, or the cling film, and put somewhere warm for half an hour.
6. Finally, sprinkle parmesan on top of each ball before baking for 15 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 200°C / 180°C fan / 400°F / Gas mark 6. When ready, the dough balls will be lightly browned on top and should have a hallow sound if tapped on the bottom.

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How to make salad dressings

Holly cooks how to make salad dressingsI have my standard salad dressings that are favourites. For instance, I often use this easy salad dressing recipe and then I’ll swop lemon juice for vinegar, reduce or leave out the honey, or use a different mustard depending on the salad I’m serving. But I wanted to understand more about what was going on when you make up dressings and so I did some research and want to share what I found.

The basic rule of thumb for a vinaigrette is:

1 part vinegar/lemon juice
salt
pepper
3 – 4 parts oil
Holly cooks how to make salad dressings-in-potAdd the salt and pepper to the vinegar first, to enable the salt to dissolve. Then add in the oil, mix well and taste. You can mix well by just using a fork. But a good tip is to use a jam-jar – screw the top on firmly and then give the ingredients a thoroughly good shaking. Jar and vinaigrette can go straight into the fridge where the contents will last well for about a week. Also, don’t fill the jam jar with your initial mix as you may need space to add ingredients as you adjust the final taste. Just how much oil you need in order to balance the vinegar will depend on the strength and taste of both the vinegar and the oil. For instance, an extra-virgin olive oil will generally have more flavour than a standard olive oil; balsamic tends to be milder to taste than red-wine vinegar.
Holly cooks how to make salad dressing-on-salad 550As a rule of thumb, if your dressing is lacking in flavour, add salt and possibly more vinegar. To modify a taste that is too strong, add more oil. Use small amounts and keep checking the taste as you go.

Which oil, which vinegar?

Delicately flavoured leaves pair well with delicate oils and vinegars. Strongly flavoured leaves require oil and vinegar which are more robust. Here’s my table:

Salad leaves Oil Vinegar
Delicate flavours
Spinach Delicate extra virgin olive oil  Red wine vinegar
Pea shoots Groundnut oil
Lettuce Sunflower oil
Vegetable oil
Rapeseed oil
Strong flavours
Endive Strong flavoured extra virgin olive oil White wine vinegar
Cos lettuce Vegetable oil Cider vinegar
Chicory
Richer flavours
Watercress Robust extra virgin olive oil  Balsamic vinegar
Rocket Walnut oil  Sherry vinegar
Robust leaves Hazelnut oil
Asian flavours
Sesame seed oil Rice wine vinegar

Other flavourings can then be added such as:

  • garlic – chop finely and let the dressing stand for an hour before serving to allow the garlic to soften a little
  • shallot – as above, chop finely let the dressing stand for an hour
  • fresh herbs – add these at the last minute because the acid in the vinegar will discolour the herbs
  • mustard
  • honey
  • anchovies
  • lemon, lime or orange zest
  • capers

Oil and vinegar will always tend to separate, despite your vigorous shaking if you use the jam-jar method, and you’ll need to shake them together again before dressing your salad. But here are some tips to reduce this separation process:

  • Keep your dressing in the fridge; the cooler the oil the more viscous it becomes and this helps it cling to the vinegar. (Take it out of the fridge ten minutes before serving to give it chance to come up to room temperature).
  • Adding a pinch of dry mustard powder to the dressing will help it stay mixed; the mustard increases the attraction between the oil and vinegar.
  • Or add 1 teaspoon of mustard to the vinegar – Dijon would be my preferred choice. This will do the same job as the mustard powder. But you’ll need to check and maybe adjust other ingredients for the final taste you want.
  • 2 tbsp soured cream or greek yoghurt will work similarly but give a