November 21, 2008

Caramelised Nuts


I made these nuts to go into Brie & Pesto tarts which worked out OK, but these nuts are so much better just eaten on their own as a snack!

You will need: medium saucepan

  • 1 cup nuts (I used already toasted and slightly salted cashews*)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  1. To make the caramel: sprinkle the sugar evenly over bottom of your pan.
  2. Cook over a medium heat, without stirring, for about 5 minutes until the sugar is melted and has turned a nice amber colour and has the consistency of syrup. Once the sugar starts to melt you can swirl it around the pan to evenly melt all the sugar. When the sugar has melted then you can stir the caramel (stirring too soon will cause the sugar to recrystallise and create a grainy caramel)
  3. Remove from the heat.
  4. Quickly add the nuts to the pan and return to the heat. Stir until the nuts are evenly coated with the caramel.
  5. Transfer to a plate to cool completely.
There are a variety of things you can do with these nuts:
  • Coarsely chop them on a chopping board or put them in a zip-lock bag and smash it on the counter a few times and then use them in recipes on sprinkle on top of ice cream.
  • Create nut clusters (as shown in the picture) by using 2 teaspoons to make little balls and putting on a plate to cool.
  • You can store them in an airtight container up to 2 weeks - but they really won't last that long as they're very moreish!

* If your nuts aren't already toasted then you will need to cook them in medium frying pan over medium heat for 9 to 12 minutes until light golden brown. Transfer to a small bowl.

November 19, 2008

Chewy Cocoa Brownie Cupcakes

Brownie cupcake


With just one week left in San Francisco and lots of baking ingredients to use up, I was on the hunt for a recipe that could help empty the cupboards.

I had an almost full pack of Nestle Toll House Cocoa and on the back was this recipe. I was a bit dubious about making the brownies as I've never had much success in the past - they've always been either too dry or undercooked with no hope of salvation.

But these are an absolute winner! The top is slightly crisp and chewy and the inside is soft and moist.

The recipe called for a 13x9 inch baking pan (which will make 2 dozen brownies) but I didn't have this, so I made cupcakes instead. I used normal sized paper fairy-cake cases and put them in my silicone muffin pan.

They are quite deep, therefore I needed to cook them for the full 25 minutes. When I inserted the toothpick it came out very sticky, but as they cooled down they continued to cook with the residual heat and the end result was perfect.

  • Makes: about a dozen cupcakes
  • Oven temperature: Gas Mark 4/350°F/180°C
  • You will need: muffin/cake pan lined with paper cases*


  • 1 2/3 cups (330g/11.5oz) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks or 180g/6oz) butter or margarine, melted
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 cups (160g/5.5oz) all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (75g/2.5oz) Nestle Toll House baking cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (110g/4oz) chopped nuts (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/350°F/180°C
  2. Place paper cases in muffin tin.
  3. Combine sugar, butter and water in a large bowl. Stir in eggs and vanilla extract.
  4. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Stir into sugar mixture.
  5. Stir in nuts if using.
  6. Fill paper cases to the top, they don't rise that much so won't overflow.
  7. Bake for 18-25 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted in the centre comes out slightly sticky.
  8. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

* Because I used a silicone pan which is really flexible but not very stable, I put it on a baking sheet when I put it in the oven (just thought this might affect the cooking so thought I'd mention it).

November 18, 2008

Mac 'n' cheese, chilli bake with butternut squash

Pasta bake


I had some leftover chili that Steve had cooked and some roasted butternut squash in the fridge and this is something I threw together. I wasn't going to blog it but Steve insisted it was so nice that I should write about it, so I've done my best to remember the quantities, but really it is a dish you can play around with. The roasted butternut squash on the top is really the concept we want to share as it's a surprisingly good addition because it adds so much natural sweetness.
Credit goes to Steve for the photo - I was too busy eating!

  • Serves: 2 generously
  • You will need: small but deep baking dish (I used a 9 x 5 x 3 inch silicone loaf pan)
  • 225g/8oz macaroni
  • About 1 cup leftover chilli
  • About 3/4 pint cheese sauce
  • About 1 cup of roasted butternut squash
  1. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 7/425°F/220°C.
  2. Cook macaroni until just al dente then drain well.
  3. Mix half of the cooked macaroni with the chilli and spoon into a baking dish.
  4. Mix the other half of the macaroni with the cheese sauce and spoon on top of the meaty pasta.
  5. Scatter the roasted butternut squash over the top.
  6. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the cheese is slightly golden.

November 7, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Choc chip cookies


This is a recipe I got off the back of a bag of flour and they're pretty good cookies, especially straight out of the oven when they're soft and chewy and the chocolate is all melted and gooey!

  • Makes: about 18 cookies
  • You will need: Baking/cookie sheet, greased
  • Oven temperature: Gas Mark 5/375°F/190°C


  • 1/4 cup butter, softened*
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup All purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup (6oz) semisweet chocolate pieces


  1. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 5/375°F/190°C.
  2. Cream butter and both sugars.
  3. Add the egg and the vanilla and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. Sift/mix together flour, salt and baking soda. Stir into creamed mixture and blend well.
  5. Add the chocolate pieces and stir in by hand.
  6. Drop teaspoons of the mixture onto the baking sheet about 2 inches apart.
  7. Bake in oven for 10-12 minutes and remove from the sheet immediately so they stay soft.


At step 5 you can also add to the mixture:

  • 1 cup of peanuts
  • 1/2 cup of peanut butter (a little experiment and although the taste is a bit weird at first, they're still pretty yummy!)
* I have a confession to make: I got the quantity of butter for this recipe wrong and only used 1/4 cup instead of 1/2 cup, but I think the cookies still tasted great and it makes them healthier!

November 6, 2008

Rice Pilaf


This is Alton Brown's method for cooking rice pilaf and it's brilliant! The rice was perfectly cooked, each grain separated and fluffy.

He says you shouldn't use the 1:2 rice to water ratio as there will be too much water. So you will need to remember the following measures:
  • To serve 2 people = 1 cup rice = 1 1/2 cups water
  • To serve 4 people = 2 cups rice = 2 3/4 cups water
  • To serve 6 people = 3 cups rice = 3 1/2 cups water
I cooked 1 cup of rice and I can vouch that his ratio works. Next time I will cook 2 cups of rice as the result was so delicious that Steve wanted more!
'Pilaf' is the cooking method, so you can add whatever extra ingredients to this basic recipe. He recommends using long grain rice.

  • Serves: 2 
  • You will need: 1 medium saucepan with a tight fitting lid, 1 damp tea-towel*
  • Oven temperature: Gas Mark 4/350°F/180°C
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 1 cup rice (I used long grain jasmine rice)
  • 1 1/2 cups stock (I used chicken from a cube)
  1. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/350°F/180°C.
  2. Heat the oil and sweat the onion and garlic until softened over a low heat, don't allow to brown.
  3. Add the rice and gently fry until it smells 'nutty', about 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the stock, stir once and bring to a boil.
  5. Cover the saucepan with the damp tea-towel (it must be damp otherwise you might set it on fire!) and clamp on the lid. Fold up the corners of the tea-towel over the lid so that it's not hanging loose.
  6. Put the saucepan in the preheated oven and cook for 15 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven and leave for 10-15 minutes with the lid still on, as during this time the rice is still cooking and absorbing the liquid.
* The tea-towel will capture any condensation that forms on the lid and prevent it from dropping back into the rice. I was a bit worried about putting the tea-towel in the oven, but absolutely no harm came to it during the making of this recipe.

Thai Chook Pie (Chicken Curry)

Thai Chook Pie wide


We first had Thai Chook Pie at the Ben and Jerry's Sundae Festival from the Pieminister stall and instantly fell in love with it. This recipe isn't an exact replica as they use shortcrust pastry and I have only used the pastry to cover the filling (so it's more of a pot pie) but I think it's a pretty good version and makes a nice change from serving Thai curry with rice.

  • Serves: 4
  • You will need: 1 large frying pan, 4 pie dishes/oven proof bowls (or 1 large dish)
  • Oven temperature: Gas Mark 6/400°C/200°C


  • 2 Tbsp corn flour slaked with 2 Tbsp water
  • 4 chicken breast fillets, cut into 2cm cubes
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • A few mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 Tbsp Thai green curry paste
  • 400ml can coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • Squeeze of lime or lemon juice
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
  • Beaten egg or milk to glaze


  1. Season the cornflour paste with salt and pepper. Toss chicken pieces in the paste and leave to rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
  2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over high heat, then cook the chicken, in batches, for 5-6 minutes or until golden brown on all sides. Add the mushrooms and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then add the coconut cream, lime/lemon juice and sugar.
  4. Increase the heat and simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce is nice and thick. Allow to cool.
  5. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 6/400°C/200°C.
  6. Lay pastry out on a work surface and cut two 1cm wide strips from the sides of each sheet so you have 4 pastry strips.
  7. To create the pie tops, place one of the pie dishes upside down on the pastry sheets and use it as a template to cut out 4 circles, 1cm larger than the rim of the dish or bowl.
  8. Divide curry mixture between the pie dishes and sprinkle the frozen peas on top.
  9. Press a pastry strip around each rim and brush with water. Carefully place the pie tops over the filling and rim and press firmly around edges to seal well. Trim edges with a sharp knife.
  10. Brush pie tops with beaten egg or milk.
  11. Bake for 20 minutes or until puffed and golden.

November 1, 2008

Tsukune - Pork Balls on sticks

Pork Balls


I got the inspiration for this recipe by one of my favourite Japanese anime shows, Samurai Champloo, as the 3 main characters are always on the search for food and they seem to eat food on sticks a lot.

So a quick search on Google resulted in Tsukune. I have adapted a recipe I found to add more flavour, but the basic method for making them is the same. They are cooked in two stages but it really isn't that complicated.

I think these would be great on the BBQ as you can prepare and cook them up to step 5 and then finish them over the hot coals.

The original recipe bastes the pork balls with Yakitori sauce but that calls for 1 Tablespoon of Mirin and 5 Tablespoons of Sake, both of which I didn't have as they're quite expensive and I wouldn't be able to use them up during our time in SF. So I substituted the Mirin and Sake with Hoisin Sauce to invent my own sauce!

  • Makes: 12 Pork Balls
  • Cooking Method: grill/broiler or BBQ


For the Pork Balls:

  • 300g/11oz minced/ground pork (or you can use chicken or turkey)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp corn flour/starch
  • 6tbsp dried breadcrumbs (I used panko)
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic, grated (optional)
  • The juice from 1 inch piece fresh grated ginger root


For "Poor Mandy's Yakitori Sauce"

  • 5 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch blended with 5ml/1 teaspoon water
  • 2 Tablespoons Hoisin Sauce

Directions for the Sauce:

  1. In a small pan, mix all the ingredients for the "yakitori sauce", except for the cornstarch liquid. Bring to a gentle boil then reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes or until the sauce has slightly reduced. Add the cornstarch liquid and stir until the sauce is thick.

Directions for the Pork Balls:

  1. Soak 4 bamboo skewers in water for a few hours.
  2. Put all the ingredients the pork balls in a medium bowl and mix until well combined. (You can use a food processor if you have it).
  3. Wet your hands and scoop about a tablespoonful of the mixture into your palm and shape it into a small ball about the size of a golf ball. Make all 12 balls.
  4. Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil. Add the pork balls and boil for about 7 minutes or until the colour of the meat changes and the balls float to the surface.
  5. Remove the balls from the pan and drain well on kitchen paper.
  6. Toss the pork balls in a little bit of oil - this will help them brown.
  7. Thread 3 balls on each skewer and cook under a medium grill/broiler or on a barbecue, keeping the skewer hands away from the fire. Turn them every few minutes until they are evenly browned.
  8. Brush with sauce and return to the heat.
  9. Repeat the brushing process twice, turning the balls to coat evenly so that the sauce caramelises.

NO BAMBOO STICKS? Don't worry, you can just put your balls on a baking sheet and cook under the grill, turning them often and basting with the sauce.

I served the Pork Balls with stir-fried spaghetti with mixed vegetables. My Dad often uses spaghetti/pasta instead of noodles and I think it makes a nice alternative/substitute:

Blanch some broccoli and drain. Saute 1/2 onion and some sliced mushrooms in a large pan. Add thinly sliced carrots and cook for a couple of minutes then add the broccoli. Add enough cooked spaghetti for 2 people and stir-fry for a few minutes. Add about 4 tablespoons of oyster sauce and make sure everything is nicely coated.

October 30, 2008

Arancini (Rice Balls)



I used proper risotto rice for this attempt at Arancini and I'm really pleased with the result. I decided on the conical shape after watching a video on Youtube of someone making arancini and I thought it looked more appealing than just a round ball. I also found that when it came to cooking them, I had more control to get them evenly brown on all sides, rather than them rolling around in the oil.
Making arancini from scratch takes some time and preparation, but it is ideal if you have leftover risotto, which means you can pick up this recipe from step 3.
This amount makes 8 Arancini Balls, so perfect to serve as a starter with a Roasted Red Pepper sauce (recipe to follow). I managed to eat 2 with my dinner, but Steve ate 5 so you may need to double the quantity if you're cooking for people with healthy appetites!
Next time I want to try stuffing them with meaty bolognese - yum!

You will need:

  • Saucepan to cook the risotto
  • 1 small bowl for the beaten egg
  • 1 medium bowl for the breadcrumbs
  • Medium saucepan with about 2 inches of hot oil
  • 1 baking sheet to keep cooked arancini warm in the oven

  • 1.5 cups risotto rice, e.g. arborio
  • 3 cups hot stock (you may need an additional 1 cup stock)
  • 8 mini mozzarella balls or chunks cut about 2cm cube
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • About 1 cup panko breadcrumbs (or normal breadcrumbs)
  • For added flavour you can add 1/2 cup parmesan to the breadcrumbs

  1. Cook the risotto rice until it is nice and tender, but not mushy. I used a Mushroom and Herb flavoured risotto to give it more flavour.
  2. Allow the risotto to completely cool and then put it in the fridge.
  3. When you're ready to make your arancini, remove the cooked rice from the fridge. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/180°C/350°F.
  4. Heat the oil in the saucepan until a few breadcrumbs dropped in the oil sizzle and go brown within a few seconds.
  5. Have the beaten egg ready in a small bowl and the breadcrumbs ready in a medium bowl.
  6. Divide the risotto into 8 portions. Wet your hands and take 1 portion and shape it with both hands into a hollow cone with the pointed end at the bottom. Place a piece of mozzarella in the middle and then seal the hole with the rice, creating a flat bottom. Put your arancini on a plate whilst you shape the rest of the rice.
  7. One by one, dip the arancini into the egg and then the breadcrumbs, making sure they are well coated. I like to put a small amount of breadcrumbs in the bowl and then add more as I complete each arancini. This prevents all your breadcrumbs becoming all glued together as they come into contact with the egg.
  8. When the oil is ready, carefully place 2 to 3 arancini into the oil and cook for about 4-5 minutes, turning so that they are nicely golden brown on all sides.
  9. When they are ready, place them on a baking sheet and pop them into the preheated oven to keep warm whilst you cook the rest.
  10. When ready to serve, rest them on paper towels to soak up any excess oil before plating up.

October 24, 2008

Potato Galette & Sweetcorn Succotash

Galette & Succotash


I bought some frozen ready-marinated Mahi-Mahi (similar to swordfish) from the supermarket so all I had to do was pop it in the oven to cook. This meant I could turn all my attention to the side dishes.

I knew I wanted to serve potatoes with the fish but I wanted to try something new. I knew I would already have the oven on to cook the fish so that narrowed down my cooking method and I knew I wanted to achieve something with a crispy texture to counter-balance the fish. Somehow the idea of a Potato Galette came into my head even though I've never made it before. After a quick search on Google I discovered there are a variety of ways to make this dish, so I went with what sounded best.

I've been wanting to make Sweetcorn Succotash ever since we went to The Cheesecake Factory (TCF) and I tried it for the first time. To be honest, before that meal I didn't know Succotash was an actual dish, I just thought it was part of a catchphrase by Sylvester The Cat! I couldn't find a definitive recipe on Google, it seems to be one of those dishes which is open to interpretation, so I made up my own recipe based on what I remembered of my TCF experience.

Potato Galette


  • Serves 2
  • Oven Temperature: Gas mark 6/400°F/200°C
  • Cooking Time: 25 minutes
  • You will need: A mandolin or a box grater, small baking pan
  • 2 to 3 white potatoes (Russet or Maris Piper are good for this), peeled
  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Some Italian seasoning or other type of mixed seasoning (optional)
  • 2 handfuls of grated cheese (I used a bag of Quattro Formaggio which had Parmesan, Asiago, Fontina and Mild Provolone)
  1. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 6/400°F/200°C.
  2. Slice your potatoes as thinly as possible, preferably with a mandolin. But if you haven't got one then I found that the wide slicing blade on a box grater works really well. To make it easier, lay the grater flat on a board with the slicing blade facing upwards and then push the potato away from you as you slice them.
  3. Put the tablespoon of olive oil in a large bowl and add salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. Add the sliced potatoes and toss in the olive oil until evenly coated.
  4. Starting from the middle, arrange your potatoes in the dish so that they are overlapping and the bottom is completely covered.
  5. Sprinkle on half of the cheese.
  6. Arrange another layer of potatoes on top and then sprinkle on the rest of the cheese.
  7. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until the potatoes feel tender when you insert a fork.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes (perfect timing for me to cook the fish which takes 12 minutes!)

For convenience I used the 9" round silicone pan that I use to bake cakes. It gave a good result and was very easy to clean afterwards, however next time I would put a disc of foil at the bottom to give it a crispier bottom. Alternatively you could use a metal cake tin or simply arrange your potatoes in a circle shape on a metal baking sheet.
Of course you can use a much smaller dish but you will have more layers and your Galette is going to be much thicker, therefore it may take twice as long to cook.


  • Serves 2
  • Preparation time: 10 minutes
  • Cooking Time: 15 minutes
  • You will need: A medium saucepan
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed, grated or finely chopped
  • 1/2 red pepper (bell pepper), diced
  • Approx. 1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • 1 432g/15.25oz tin whole kernel sweetcorn, drained
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup chicken stock
  1. Heat the oil in your saucepan, add the onion and gently saute until softened and slightly golden.
  2. Add the garlic and cook gently for another minute.
  3. Add the red pepper and cook until softened.
  4. Add the chilli flakes and then stir in the sweetcorn.
  5. Add the chicken stock and simmer until it has reduced and evaporated away.
  6. It is now ready to serve.

October 23, 2008


I think it's great to share recipes, which is one of the main reasons I do this blog. Another reason is so I can take photos of my food and hopefully improve my photography skills.

I have a Nikon digital SLR and two lenses handed down to me from Steve (18-55mm) and my Dad (18-135mm) as they've upgraded theirs. I also sometimes use my old Sony Cybershot DSC-P150 if I want to take a quick snapshot, but it's not very good at close-ups and getting good depth of field.

It is actually quite difficult to photograph food and make it look appetizing. My biggest enemy is the lack of natural light. This is especially true when trying to photograph evening meals or during the winter months when it gets dark so early. So I hope to get a portable soft lighting studio and I've read that the Lowel Ego Light is brilliant. I'd also like to get a tripod as neither of my lenses have VR (Vibration Reduction) which helps to stabilize images so you don't get blurry pictures. But even without all this extra equipment I am still quite pleased with my efforts so far. It has made me look at the photographs in magazines with even more interest and makes me appreciate the effort the food stylists and photographers make to produce such tantalising images! Afterall, we eat with our eyes so it is making me think more about the presentation of my food.

The other problem I have with food photography is my impatience to eat the food! There are a few recipes on my blog which don't have photos because I just couldn't wait to eat my dinner! I also hate lukewarm food so whilst I'm fiddling around with the settings on my camera until I can get a decent shot, my dinner is getting cold! That's why I like baking because you have to let them cool down first! Maybe I should make more salads...

October 21, 2008

Hoi-sin Pork

The marinade for the pork is based on a dish by Ching He-Huang that Steve cooked for me for Valentine's Day. Her recipe uses duck breast but I thought it would go well with pork as hoisin is the main ingredient for char-siu (chinese roast pork).

I had some leftover jasmine rice which I told Steve I was going to serve with the pork. However, I wanted to try something new with the rice so I did a twist on the italian arancini risotto balls. Steve was pleasantly surprised when he cut open the rice balls to find them filled with cheese and he really liked them, however I don't think they were 100% success so I will tweak them and then put up the recipe.

For now here's the Hoi-sin Pork recipe:

To serve 2

1 large boneless pork chop (or 2 smaller ones)
3 tbsp hoi-sin sauce
3 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp (dark) soy sauce
1 tbsp oil (preferably sesame for the flavour)
Ching's recipe calls for ½ tsp Chinese five-spice powder but I didn't have any, however the pork still has lots of flavour.

  1. Put the pork in a plastic zip-lock freezer bag and then add all the marinade ingredients. Seal the bag and massage the meat so that it is fully and evenly coated. Pop it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes but preferably for a few hours.
  2. Take the meat out of fridge about 30 minutes before you're ready to cook to bring it to room temperature.
  3. Heat a large frying/saute pan to medium-high and then put the pork into the pan, reserving the rest of the marinade (if you have a non-stick pan you won't need to add any oil).
  4. Fry the pork for a few minutes on each side until it is fully cooked and no longer pink in the middle. The cooking time will depend on thickness of your meat but you can generally tell when it is done when you press on the meat and it feels firm.
  5. Remove the pork from the pan, keep warm and allow to rest for about 5 minutes.
  6. Add the rest of the marinade to the pan and simmer gently for a few minutes until heated through and slightly thickened.
  7. Slice the pork and drizzle the sauce on top.

Banana and Chocolate Muffins

Banana and choc Muffins-1


I had two reasons for making these muffins:
1) I had two bananas that were quickly going past their prime but I didn't want to throw away.
2) Steve wanted something yummy to eat when he got his mid-morning cakey-pangs at work.

I had a recipe on the back of a bag of flour for banana bread, but I'm not a lover of it as I find it too banana-ry (funny that!) but I like chocolate and muffins are easy to make, so Banana and Chocolate Muffins had to be made! They're not very healthy but as Steve would say "It's got fruit in it so it's OK!"

I have to admit I wasn't that confident about making these as my 3 attempts at baking in SF haven't been that successful. But these were a great success as I've now got the hang of the electric oven, the cup measuring system and using the silicone pans Steve bought me.

  • Makes: 12 muffins
  • Oven shelf position: middle
  • Oven temperature: 350F/180C/Gas mark 4
  • Baking time: 20 - 25 minutes
  • You will need: muffin pan and cases if appropriate


  • 1¾ cups (245g/9oz) all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup (30g/1oz) cocoa powder
  • 1 cup (200g/7oz) granulated white sugar
  • 1 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (85g/30z) chocolate chips
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 stick (113g/4oz) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 large ripe bananas, mashed (approximately 225g/8oz/about 1 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    Optional: ½ cup (55g/2oz) toasted walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 350F/180C/Gas mark 4 and place oven rack to middle position.
  2. If using a normal muffin tin prepare it by greasing/placing paper cases inside.
  3. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a medium-sized bowl combine the mashed bananas, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla.
  5. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, lightly fold the wet ingredients (banana mixture) into the dry ingredients until just combined and batter is thick and chunky.
  6. Fold in the chocolate chips (and nuts if using them).
  7. Spoon heaped tablespoons of the mixture into your muffin pan until they are pretty full so you get a nice muffin top shape (the only type you'll want!).
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Mine only took 20 minutes as I used a silicone pan.
  9. Place on a wire rack to cool and then remove from the pan.

You can freeze your baked muffins by allowing them to completely cool, then wrapping them in foil and then popping them in freezer bags. To reheat, just take out of the freezer, unwrap and put them back in your muffin pan and pop into a 350F/180C oven until heated through.
You can also freeze the raw muffin batter by spooning into your muffin pan and then putting the whole thing in the freezer until the batter is solid. You then put these discs into freezer bags. To cook, just put the discs into your muffin pan and cook for about 5 minutes longer than usual.


As my muffin pan is only for 6 muffins I had to cook 2 batches. I was a bit worried that the second batch wouldn't rise as much as the first, because I always thought you had to bake things ASAP so that the baking agents (powder and soda) didn't lose their potency. However, as you can see from these pictures, the muffin from the second batch on the right rose even higher than the first!

Banana muffins compare

October 15, 2008

Double Chocolate Cookies



These cookies are really good as they taste like brownies and have the similar squidgy texture. In its raw state the texture is just like the cookie dough you get in Ben & Jerry's ice cream - yum! Might try crumbling it up into some homemade ice cream.

However they are pretty bad for you at just under 200 calories each, however you could reduce the amount of sugar and leave out the milk chocolate pieces but where's the fun in that?!

  • Makes: about 20 cookies
  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 3/325°F/170°C
  • Cook time: 12-18 mins
  • You will need: a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or greased tin foil


  • 150g/5oz dark chocolate broken into chunks
  • 50g/2oz butter
  • 150g/5oz demerara sugar*
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 25g/4oz Plain flour
  • 25g/1 oz cocoa
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 50g/2oz milk chocolate chopped finely (I used a crumbled up flake)


  1. Put the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl and sit the bowl over a pan of simmering water until the chocolate has melted, taking care not to let the bowl touch the water. Stir until smooth and put aside to cool slightly (Or nuke in the microwave for about 60 seconds on half power)
  2. In a mixer beat the butter and sugar until creamy (you can do this by hand but the mixture is quite stiff so you can burn a few calories mixing before devouring these cookies!)
  3. Add the egg with a little bit of the flour to prevent it from curdling.
  4. Beat in the rest of the flour, cocoa and bicarbonate of soda, then add the cooled chocolate.
  5. Stir until well combined and then add the milk chocolate pieces.
  6. Put the mixture in the fridge to rest for 20 mins. You can preheat the oven to Gas mark 3/325°F/170°C whilst you're waiting.
  7. Using a teaspoon form the mixture into balls about the size of a walnut, then lightly press onto the baking sheet, leaving space for them to spread a little.
  8. Bake in batches for about 12 minutes for softer cookies and up to 18 minutes for firmer ones (I normally go for 15 minutes), until they've spread and slightly risen They will crack along the top which is supposed to happen.
  9. Leave to cool for 5 mins on the baking sheets before transferring to a wire rack.


  • You can really use any kind of brown sugar, but I wouldn't substitute brown for white sugar as you won't get the lovely caramel flavour that you get from brown unrefined sugar. In the past I have used a mixture of demerara and muscovado as I didn't have enough of one kind. I have also used all soft brown sugar and the results are pretty much the same.
  • When they come out of the oven (even after 18 minutes) they will still feel very soft. Don’t worry, they will harden up as they cool down.
  • You can freeze the raw dough after you’ve made them into balls and flattened slightly. Just bag them and tag them. Cook from frozen at the same temperature, you’ll probably need to cook for around 18 minutes.

I made these in America and used the cup measurement method so here's the quantities:

  • Approx 1 cup dark chocolate broken into chunks (but as most chocolate bars are sold in 100g, just use 1 and 1/2 bars)
  • 1/2 stick or 3.5 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup demerara sugar*
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 cup All purpose/Plain flour
  • 1 Tablespoon cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • Instead of the chopped milk chocolate I added a handful of Nestle Butterscotch chips (photo shows result of original recipe)

Lazy Sunday Roast Dinner with Roasted Broccoli

Back in the UK Steve's mum always cooks us a lovely roast dinner on Sundays and then we usually spend the rest of the day being complete coach potatoes. So even though the food out in SF is great and special ingredients are easily obtainable, nothing quite beats a Roast Dinner for pure comfort food (although I could quite happily sit and eat a big bowl of mashed potatoes!).

The first time I made Roast Dinner in the apartment it was a bit stressful because we only have 1 shelf in the oven, so I had to juggle a few different baking trays to get everything to be ready at the same time. But I now have this great new method which is so much easier and I can sit back and relax whilst it cooks away in the hotbox.

Also, here is a fantastic recipe for Roasted Broccoli (yes really!) by Alton Brown. It's perfect to serve with roast dinner as you've already got the oven on, you just need to crank it up once everything else is cooked. Being Chinese I've grown up with my parents cooking vegetables perfectly al dente in stir fries etc, so I find nothing worse than overcooked broccoli which has no flavour and the texture of a soggy sponge. This method of roasting broccoli ensures you have perfectly cooked broccoli and none of the vitamins are lost through boiling - bonus! OK so dumping a load of cheese on top probably negates any of the health benefits, but trust me the cheese really makes this so good! I haven't tried it with the panko breadcrumbs yet so will let you know if it's any good!
  • Serves 2
  • Oven temperature: Gas 6/200C/400F
  • You will need: Large baking dish/tray about 13 x 9 inches and a baking sheet
  • Prep time: 10-15 minutes
  • Cooking time: 45-50 minutes plus 8-10 minutes for the broccoli
  • 2 large Chicken Thighs, bone in and skin on
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into sticks
  • 2 or 3 large floury potatoes, peeled and cut into walnut-sized pieces (Russets or Maris Pipers are good)
  • 5 or 6 garlic cloves, peeled and slightly smashed
  • Salt and pepper
  • Herbs & spices of your choice (I used a ready-made Italian Seasoning mix grinder)
  • Some olive or vegetable oil
  • 2 small heads of broccoli, florets cut into bitesize pieces and stalks cut into batons
  • A large handful of grated cheese (I used Monterey)


  1. Preheat oven to Gas 6/200C/400F.
  2. Season the chicken and arrange in the baking dish skin side up.
  3. Mix the oil and your seasoning in a large bowl, add the potatoes and thoroughly coat. Add the potatoes to the baking dish in their own section. Do the same for the carrots.
  4. Evenly distribute the garlic around the chicken, potatoes and carrots.
  5. Put the dish in the hot oven and roast for 45-50 minutes, occasionally turning the potatoes and carrots, until the chicken is completely cooked. About halfway through cooking you might have a pool of oil in the dish as the chicken skin renders the fat, so collect this and save it to use on the broccoli.
  6. Remove from the oven and cover with foil to keep warm.
  7. Now crank up the oven to Gas 7/220C/425F to cook the broccoli.
  8. Place the broccoli into a mixing bowl and toss with your reserved oil from the baking dish (or drizzle with some olive oil and seasoning) and then spread the broccoli out on a baking sheet.
  9. Roast in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until just tender. (Whilst this is cooking you can make your gravy). Sprinkle the cheese on the broccoli and melt under the grill/broiler (I usually turn this on so I can make the chicken skin and roast potatoes even crispier!).
Serve up the garlic! Even though it has imparted a lot of flavour to the chicken, carrots and potatoes during cooking, it has a lovely flavour when eaten whole and isn't too strong - trust me I ate some thinking it was potato and was pleasantly surprised!

Beef Stroganoff

I had lots of sour cream to use up so I thought a stroganoff would be perfect. I found this recipe on the foodnetwork website and it's by Rachael Ray which is one of the cooks I liked to watch when we had a TV in our hotel in SF! Click on the recipe title to go to see Rachael Ray's original recipe.

I have tweaked her ingredients to suit our taste and I've altered her method so you only need one frying pan! Although her recipe says it feeds 4 people, Steve and I like a lot of sauce so it comfortably fed us 2. Delicious served over fluffy white rice.

Serves 2 who like it saucy!

Enough steak to feed 2 (I used 3 small thin frying steak pieces, but use better quality if you can)
Salt and pepper
1/2 small onion, sliced
4-5 mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup sour cream, eyeball it
1 tablespoon extra-virgin or vegetable oil

  1. Heat a large frying pan or skillet until smoking hot, then add a little oil. Season your meat with salt and pepper. Add the meat to the pan and quickly sear on both sides, then remove from the pan and set aside on a plate. Don't worry that the meat is still undercooked at this point as you will add it back to the pan later. When the meat is cool enough to handle, slice it in thin strips.
  2. Next saute the onion and mushrooms for 3-4 minutes in the same pan you seared the steak in. You want the onions to become a nice golden colour and the mushrooms to be cooked through. Remove from the pan onto the same plate as the steak.
  3. Now make the sauce in the same pan - you will get all the nice flavours from the meat and veggies. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and add the flour and cook for 1 minute stirring constantly to make a roux. Whisk in your chicken stock and simmer for 1 minute until nicely thickened. Stir in the mustard and sour cream and continue to simmer for 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. When your sauce is ready add the steak, onions and mushrooms back to the pan. Simmer for another couple of minutes until the meat and veggies are heated through (I'd say 1 minute max to keep your steak rare)
  5. Remove from heat and season sauce with salt and pepper.

October 1, 2008

Panko Chicken Nuggets


It's been a while since I've blogged on here because I've only recently had a kitchen to do any proper cooking! The hotel we stayed at for our first month in San Francisco only had a microwave and toaster so creating culinary delights was pretty limited. Two staple meals were Jacket Potato with Canned Chilli and Packet Rice with chopped up Frankfurters.

So here is the first recipe I've made in our new apartment which is worth blogging. I'm a big fan of Panko breadcrumbs which are impossible to get hold of in the UK unless you visit an Asian supermarket, but they're everywhere in the US so I might stock up and take some home with me! They're really worth getting as they give a really crunchy coating - if you've ever had Chicken Katsu Curry at Wagamamas then you'll know what I mean.

This recipe also calls for buttermilk which is used in a lot of American recipes but also difficult to find in the UK. However after watching a programme over here called Good Eats (a new favourite!) I learned you can make your own buttermilk. Just add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to every 1 cup of milk, mix and leave to stand for 15 mins until slightly thickened and then use.

I have also made this recipe without buttermilk by simply coating the chicken pieces in a little bit of oil (I used olive oil for flavour) so that the breadcrumbs stick to the chicken.

I know I said before that I hated the cup measurement system, but that was before I had measuring cups! Now I really like using this method as it's so much quicker and easier than using scales. I do have a conversion page on my blog but it's not very comprehensive so I'll try and add to it. However if you see some measuring cups then I recommend you get some - I saw some in Sainsburys for about £3 before I came to the US.

Serves 2 greedy people (served with potato wedges and veg)

  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 pound (that's 3 small) boneless skinless chicken thighs (or breast), cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 -1.5 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil

  1. Whisk the egg and buttermilk in a medium bowl. Soak chicken pieces in egg mixture while you gather remaining ingredients.
  2. Meanwhile, in another shallow bowl combine panko with paprika, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper, to taste.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Lift chicken from buttermilk, letting excess liquid drain back into the bowl, then dip into panko and turn to coat on all sides.
  4. Carefully place chicken in oil and cook until they are golden and crispy and cooked through, about for 5-10 minutes per side.
  5. If you have the oven on to make potato wedges then you can transfer the chicken onto a baking sheet and pop them in the oven to keep warm/finish cooking whilst you cook your veg.
The buttermilk and egg mixture is enough for 1 pound of chicken. Adjust amount of breadcrumbs accordingly.

September 13, 2008

Yasai korroke (Japanese vegetable cakes)

Yasai Korroke - Final


This is a recipe from the Wagamama cookbook which I've made before but not actually tried in the restaurant.

In San Francisco it's easy to find ingredients like Panko Breadcrumbs, I got mine in Safeway so I didn't have to make a special trip to Japantown for them.

  • Makes: 6 cakes


  • Vegetable oil, for deep frying
  • 1 large potato, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
  • salt and white pepper
  • 25g (1oz) frozen peas
  • 25g (1oz) canned sweetcorn, drained
  • 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped (or use spring onion and skip step 4)
  • 1 red chilli, trimmed and finely chopped (or some chilli flakes
  • 3-4 tablespoons plain flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 50g (2oz) panko breadcrumbs


  1. Put the potato and sweet potato in a pan of boiling water and cook for 10-12 minutes until tender. Add the peas for the last 2 minutes.
  2. Drain, return to the pan, then crush slightly with a wooden spoon to create a lumpy mash.
  3. Stir in the sweetcorn.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a frying pan and cook the onion and chilli over a low heat for 6-8 minutes until soft.
  5. Combine the onion and chilli with the mash in a large bowl, season and mix evenly.
  6. Allow to cool slightly, then divide into 6 equal portions and shape into flat cakes.
  7. Place the flour in a bowl, the beaten egg in another and the breadcrumbs in a third.
  8. Dip each cake first into the flour, then in the egg and finally in the breadcrumbs.
  9. Fill a pan two-thirds full with oil and heat to 180C/350F or until a cube of bread added to the oil browns in 30 seconds.
  10. Deep fry the cakes for 2-3 minutes until golden brown and crisp, then drain on kitchen paper. Alternatively you can shallow fry them, carefully turning them on all sides until golden brown - takes a bit longer but just as tasty!

August 19, 2008

One-pot Spicy Rice

My friend Kim cooked this for me when I went to visit her and it was so delicious I had to have the recipe so I could make it for Steve. However, he was a bit dubious about trying it because it had raisins/sultanas and chickpeas in it and it's vegetarian! So he looked a bit worried when I dished it up but after the first few mouthfuls he did an Oliver Twist and asked for seconds but unfortunately there was no more, as I'd only cooked enough for 2. So next time I'll cook more by doubling the quantities.

The recipe here has a couple of tweaks as I had half a butternut squash to use up and didn't have any spinach so I used peas, but you can use whatever's going. I really like the different textures and tastes that the sultanas and cashews bring to the dish, they really compliment the curry flavour - a fruit and nut sensation!

I made this for the second time here in San Francisco and I used the cup measurement method and the rice came out perfectly! It's basically 1 part rice to 2 parts liquid. So I used 2 cups of rice and 4 cups of stock (to serve 4 people). I didn't have any peas or spinach but it still tasted great!

Serves 2

1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cut into bitesize pieces (optional)
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 or 2 crushed garlic cloves
1 tbsp medium curry paste (I used Madras)
125g/4.5oz [1 cup] basmati rice (or brown rice - see note below)
225ml/8fl oz [2 cups] hot vegetable stock
1 can of chick peas (241g), drained
1 or 2 handfuls of frozen peas (replaced 2 or 3 handfuls of spinach)
A handful of raisins or sultanas
A handful of cashew nuts
Dash of double cream (optional)

Directions - If using the butternut squash:
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4
  2. Put the butternut squash pieces in a baking tray and drizzle with little bit of oil and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast in the oven on the top shelf for 45 minutes or until tender but not mushy.
Directions - Normal:
  1. Heat the oil in a large non-stick pan that has a lid, then fry garlic and curry paste until it smells toasty.
  2. Tip the rice into the pan along with the stock, chick peas, raisins/sultanas and squash. Stir well and season with salt and pepper (stock is quite salty so go easy on the salt), then cover and bring to the boil.
  3. Reduce to a medium heat and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed. If it’s taking a long time for the liquid to reduce, just take the lid off the pan for a few minutes. Add the frozen peas 10 minutes before end of cooking time.
  4. Stir in the cashew nuts (and spinach and let it wilt).
  5. Stir in the dash of cream just before serving, this will take off the spicy edge of the curry paste.

Note – if using brown rice, cook the rice in plenty of boiling water for 20 minutes first, and then add to the pan as normal in step 2.

August 11, 2008

Sweetcorn cakes

Just made these for lunch as had some leftover tinned sweetcorn. I used Bill Granger's recipe and added some extra ingredients for flavour.

Makes: 8 mini cakes to serve 2 for lunch/snack
You will need: mini chopper/food processor

Small tin sweetcorn (198g)
2 tablespoons plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg

Added extras:
1/2 spring onion roughly chopped
1 small orange pepper roughly chopped
small pinch chilli flakes
dash worcester sauce
salt and pepper to taste

  1. Put the chopped spring onion, 3/4 of the sweetcorn and 1/2 the pepper into a mini chopper/food processor and whizz for a few seconds.
  2. Add the flour, baking powder, chilli and worcester sauce and whizz again.
  3. Add the egg and whizz until combined.
  4. Stir in the remaining sweetcorn and pepper and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan or wok and drop in tablespoons of the mixture.
  6. Fry for a couple of minutes on each side until nicely golden brown.

July 31, 2008

Grow your own Tomatoes 2008

Week commencing 28 July 2008:
The Plum tomatoes are doing pretty well, still got a while to go before they're big and ripe enough to pick.

Spotted a bad one and looked up the problem in my book and it's called Blossom End Rot which is caused by the soil drying out, so have to make sure they get lots of water!

Week commencing 23 June 2008:
The plant seems to be doing really well and now has quite a few flowers. I've been feeding it with tomato food about once a week and keeping it watered with a water bottle spike. However it looks like it needs some attention, so being the inexperienced gardener I am (you could say I'm green!), I've read my Vegetable and Herb Expert book and searched online for advice on what I should do next.
Here's what I've learnt:
  • If growing a cordon type plant (grows upwards) pinch out (remove) the sideshoots regularly when they are about 2.5cm long. Those grown as bush or hanging basket types do not need to have sideshoots removed.
  • When the plant has 4 trusses (branches of flowers) pinch out the growing point of the main stem at two leaves above the top truss. By this stage you should have plenty of fruits forming that need to grow and ripen. Let the plant put all its energy into these potentially succulent fruits.
  • Remove yellowing leaves below developing fruit trusses.
I found this video which was really helpful in explaining what to do:

Week commencing 28 April 2008:
Last year we grew cherry tomatoes which were a bit disappointing taste-wise so we only used them in cooking. This time we bought a Plum tomato plant so hopefully we can use them to make some nice tomato sauces.

Grow your own Chilies 2008

Week commencing 28 July 2008:
Good news and bad news.

The good news is the Cheyenne chillies are growing thick and fast and we'll be able to harvest the little beauties soon.
 The bad news is the Apache plant is pretty much dead, the most likely culprit being over-watering - Steve's mum waters the plants too and sometimes she does it when I've already done it! Nevermind, we're going to have more Cheyenne chillies than we can handle so I'll have to make some chilli flakes to store them.

Week commencing 23 June 2008:
There are loads of little fruits now and still some flowers. The fruits have started to transform into chillies so hopefully it won't be long until they're red and ripe.

I've read that I should mist the foliage regularly with tepid water to discourage red spider mite and to help flower set and subsequently cropping, so that's the next job to do!

Week commencing 26 May 2008:
The first fruit has grown! This is on the Cheyenne plant which is doing better than the Apache. We think I might have stunted the Apache's growth with my home-made plastic bottle cloche! I only used it for a few days but took it off as it didn't seem to be doing the plant any favours.

Week commencing 28 April 2008:
This week we bought some new chilli plants, an Apache and a Cheyenne. We grew a load of different chillies last year (Jalapenos, Hungarian Hot, Anaheim) but only the Apache's were successful and we got a bumper crop of small fiery red and green chillies. After picking them I left them to naturally dry out for a few days before properly drying them in the oven on the lowest temperature and whizzing up in a mini-chopper to make chilli flakes. I've kept them stored in an old jam jar since late last year and used them alot to spice up stir-fries and anything else that could use a kick!
The Cheyenne should yield medium-sized orange chillies and is apparently a good companion to the Apache (I'll admit I didn't know that when we bought them, it was just good luck!).

July 12, 2008

Butterscotch Brownies

When I first looked at this recipe I thought that the cocoa powder was missing as I'd always associated brownies with a chocolate flavour. However these brownies aren't supposed to have cocoa, as the main flavour is the butterscotch which comes from the brown sugar turning into a lovely caramel. This recipe is very easy to make and unlike a lot of brownie recipes I've tried, this one really works and results in moist and chewy brownies!

  • Makes: 16 squares
  • Oven shelf position: middle
  • Oven temperature: 350°F/180°C/Gas Mark 4
  • Baking time: 18-20 mins
  • You will need: 8x8 inch baking tin lined with baking paper & a medium saucepan
  • 1/3 cup (80g/3oz) butter
  • 1 cup (220g/7.5oz) brown sugar (I used Dark Muscovado for a really deep treacle flavour & darker colour)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt (omit if your butter is already salted)
  • 1 cup (125g/4oz) plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup (75g/2.5oz) nuts or chocolate chips (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven.
  2. Melt the butter and sugar in a medium saucepan until it is a syrupy consistency but do not boil.
  3. Stir in (do not beat) the egg, vanilla and salt.
  4. Sift in the flour and baking powder.
  5. Add nuts or chocolate chips, if you’re using them, reserving some for the top.
  6. Spread the brownie mixture into your tin and sprinkle the reserved nuts or chocolate on top.
  7. Bake until lightly browned, approximately 18-20 minutes. Do not overcook, or the squares will not be moist and chewy.
  8. Cool before cutting into squares.

July 9, 2008

Sainsbury’s Christmas Press Show

Today Steve and I went to 3 Press Shows in London, but the only one that is worth writing about is the Sainsbury's one - mainly because of all the fantastic food we got to sample!

The organisers had made a big effort with an "Enchanted Forest" theme - lots of different trees arranged indoors with bark underfoot so you really felt far removed from an office block building in the middle of London. We were assured many times that the trees would be recycled and turned into mulch.



As we entered the forest and took the first corner we were greeted by 2 women who offered us an Ecclefechan Tart. We must have looked quite bemused as she assured us she wasn't swearing but offering us a traditional Scottish tart which is a combination of treacle tart and mince pie - absolutely delicious! We were told they were a traditional recipe from Ecclefechan in Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland and are now available all year round in Sainsbury's stores.








Then we followed the forest path to a great display of trees adorned with Christmas decorations and little buckets of various chocolates and sweets. We were told to help ourselves so we sampled some lovely decadent chocolates with lovely creamy fillings and I grabbed a few other goodies to take home.


Next we came to a long table heaving with food. Sainsbury's was really pushing the Regional Food message, so almost everything we sampled came with a spiel about its source and the supplier. Thus I was encouraged to try some brie and a cheese made from sheep's milk which I was initially dubious about but pleasantly surprised by.


HamAfter leaving the "Enchanted Forest" we entered more tasting rooms and tried some delicious Slow Cooked Beef and Norfolk Ale crisps and some slow cooked Drury Lane ham,  inspired and named after the first Sainsbury's store.


It was lucky we hadn't eaten lunch before the Show as we were getting pretty full from all these culinary delights! The only section we were hesitant about was the Food and Wine matching, as we're not fans of champagne and wine. However, we soldiered on as the food they had on offer looked too enticing.





Pandoro There were four foods with matched drinks to try and it was set out like a "four-course" meal.


To start we had some lovely cake called Pandoro, a soft, rich Christmas bread from Turin, Italy. Thus it is very similar to Panettone, but a lot lighter and sweeter and without the fruit - in fact it reminds me a lot of brioche. This was matched with Champagne, which I'm not a lover of but I tried it anyway and it was OK.


Next was some goat's cheese which we skipped, but we did try the Parma ham which had been aged for 24 months which is double the usual length of time, thus it melted in the mouth and was full of flavour. The penultimate "course" was a very tasty Chestnut Stuffing Parcel, served with a red wine which wasn't as obnoxious to my taste buds as I usually find with red wine.


Sherry Finally to finish was excellent quality vanilla ice cream with 12-year-old dry Oloroso Sherry simply drizzled on top. It surprised us both how nice this combination was, as we expected the sherry to have a strong alcoholic taste, but instead it tasted like sticky-toffee pudding and all its sweet prune-like glory. This is a very easy way to impress dinner guests and the sherry was £6.99 a bottle which seemed very reasonable as a little goes a long way.


I have to say that with all these new ingredients and strange combinations my taste buds have never been so tantalised. I'm pleased that I did try things which I thought I wouldn't like, such as the Red cabbage with Port and Blueberries. It was like a chutney and would make a fantastic accompaniment to meats like Turkey or Ham. Another thing I didn't think I would like was the Beetroot Gratin and this was made before our very eyes in the Demo Kitchen. This was served with 21-day aged beef which was cooked to absolute perfection, slightly pink and oh-so-juicy - absolutely heavenly!


As Christmas is party time there was lots of ready-made finger food being showcased, such as Mini Burgers in a sesame seed bun, Mini Pollock Fish Fingers Sarnies and Mini Sicilian Lemon cheesecakes which were especially decadent.


We had an interesting chat with the Innovations Manager about food trends and changes due to the credit crunch and also due to society's changing attitudes. I was pleased to hear that they're going to be introducing Sumac to their stores as I had looked for it a few weeks ago to no avail. They had an interesting way of using it: sprinkled on top of apricots - I thought the aromatic spice complimented the sweetness of the apricot but Steve wasn't a fan. A quirky new product they're introducing is Cashew Nuts Marinated in Soy and Honey which you can squeeze lime juice over for a nice aperitif.


So we left the Show feeling very happy with our stomachs full and our minds buzzing with inspiration and new ideas - or maybe I was just a little tipsy from the few sips of wine I'd had!

July 2, 2008

Chicken and noodles with coconut satay sauce


MUNCH RATING OUT OF 5: pizzapizzapizzapizza

This is a really quick and easy recipe and is a nice twist on the Thai curry we usually make.

Serves 2 greedy people but the sauce could stretch to serve 4.


  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 3 small Chicken Thighs (or 2 large) de-boned and cut into small strips
  • 1 Tbsp Red Thai Curry Paste
  • Your choice of vegetables cut into bitesize pieces (I used half a leek cut into rounds, a few sliced mushrooms and couple of handfuls of spinach)
  • 400ml can Coconut Milk Light/Reduced Fat
  • 3 Tbsp Crunchy Peanut Butter
  • 2 nests of dried Medium egg noodles (1 nest per person)

  1. Cook the noodles as per the pack instructions. Drain and keep warm.
  2. Meanwhile bring the coconut milk to the boil in a small pan and simmer on a medium heat to reduce and thicken.
  3. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan and fry the chicken for about 5 mins, until just coloured.
  4. Stir in the Thai paste, then add the leek and mushrooms and fry until vegetables are starting to soften.
  5. Stir in the peanut butter and then add the coconut milk and the spinach.
  6. Simmer for about 5 mins until the sauce is a nice consistency and the chicken is fully cooked.
  7. To serve: place the warm noodles between 2 serving bowls and ladle the chicken sauce on top.

If you like a thinner sauce you could skip Step 2, but we like ours thick and I find that reducing the coconut in a separate pan speeds up the process without overcooking the vegetables.

June 26, 2008

Fish gratin

We had some half-fat creme fraiche to use up so I found this recipe from a magazine and tweaked it to make it healthier (omitted some of the butter and used semi-skimmed milk instead of full-cream) and use up what we had in the fridge/freezer.

Serves 2

White Sauce:
  • 30g butter
  • 30g plain flour
  • 300ml semi-skimmed milk heated for 1 min in the microwave
  • Handful of mature cheddar cheese
  • 3 tbsp half-fat creme fraiche
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Some cauliflower and broccoli florets cut into bitesize pieces (original recipe used spinach)
  • Knob of butter
  • Some indiscriminate frozen white fish, thawed (original recipe used thick pieces of haddock fillet)

  1. Make a white sauce by melting the butter in a small saucepan, then add the flour and cook over a medium heat for 1 minute until the flour and butter have combined to make a roux.
  2. Gradually pour in the warm milk, little by little, and beat until smooth after each addition.
  3. Bring to the boil, stirring, and simmer very gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Meanwhile, blanch the vegetables in boiling water, drain, set aside and keep warm.
  5. Heat the grill to high. Put the small knob of butter in a gratin dish and melt under the grill.
  6. Add the fish pieces and coat them in the melted butter, then season.
  7. Cook the fish under the grill for 2-4 minutes until half cooked (this will depend on how thick your fish is).
  8. Lift the fish onto a plate and keep the grill on.
  9. Spoon the cooked vegetables over the base of the gratin dish and put the fish on top.
  10. Stir half of the cheese and all of the creme fraiche into the sauce and season to taste with cayenne and/or mustard, salt and pepper.
  11. Pour the sauce over the fish and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and more cayenne.
  12. Slide the dish back under the grill for a further 4-5 mins until the gratin is golden brown and bubbling.

June 2, 2008

Tips & Tricks - Cook It!

  • I come from the school of thought that chicken thighs are far superior to breast as they have far more flavour and are much more tender, thus I tend to use them more in my cooking. However, if I have to use chicken breast for a stir-fry for example, then I will coat the chicken pieces in a mixture of equal parts cornflour and water. I usually slake 1 heaped tablespoon in 1 tablespoon of water. This paste prevents the chicken from being tough and dry when you fry it.
  • Always remove the green sprout from your garlic cloves as this is the part which is bitter.

Tips & Tricks - Substitute It!

  • If you have a recipe which calls for Buttermilk then you can make your own with normal milk and lemon juice or vinegar. Just mix 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon lemon juice/vinegar and let sit for 10 minutes. The resulting mixture won't be as thick as buttermilk so you will need to reduce the amount, so for buttermilk pancakes which requires 1.5 cups you will only need 1 cup.

Tips & Tricks - Freeze It!

  • Always use freezer bags to store food in the freezer as they will prevent "freezer burn" which is when the food is damaged by ice crystals due to air reaching the food and give it an unpleasant flavour.
  • If you're like me and hate eating over-ripe bananas but haven't got time to make Banana Bread, then don't bin them - freeze them! Simply pop them unpeeled into a freezer bag and freeze for up to 6 months. The skins will go brown/black but don't worry. When you want to use them for Banana Bread/Muffins (see my yummy recipe!) then defrost at room temperature, snip the top off and squeeze out the fruit like a tube of toothpaste!
  • Are you put off from buying fresh root ginger because it always seem to go off before you've used it up? Well you can freeze the whole root and then just use a grater to get the amount you need - no need to thaw it first!
  • You can freeze egg whites, ideally in an ice cube tray to keep them separate.

May 30, 2008

Blueberry cupcakes with orange sugar drizzle

Blueberry Cupcakes with orange sugar drizzle


I had some blueberries to use up (not from our plant unfortunately) so I found this cupcake recipe. The texture of the cakes are between a fairy cake and a muffin, but the drizzle makes them very moist. The recipe for the drizzle says to use caster sugar, but the drizzle didn't go crunchy, so after some Internet research I'm going to try granulated sugar next time. I will definitely make these again and try them with raspberries which is what the original recipe used.

  • Makes: 12 cupcakes
  • Oven shelf position: middle
  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 4/350°F/180°C
  • Baking time: 30-35 minutes (Original recipe said 20-25 mins)
  • You will need: 12-hole muffin tin (or normal cake tin is fine) with paper muffin cases

Cupcakes – Ingredients:

  • 200g Self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp Baking powder
  • 200g Unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 large Eggs
  • 200g Caster sugar
  • 3 tbsp Milk
  • 50g Ground almonds
  • Zest of 1medium Orange
  • 150g punnet Blueberries/Raspberries, washed then lightly crushed

Sugar drizzle – Ingredients:

  • Juice of 1 medium Orange
  • 4 tbsp Caster or Granulated sugar


  1. Preheat the oven and line muffin tin with paper muffin cases.
  2. Tip the first 8 ingredients into a large bowl and beat with electric whisk until smooth.
  3. Fold the crushed fruit through the batter.
  4. Divide the batter between the cases - there is a lot of mixture so they will be almost full to the top.
  5. Gently tap the tray on your work surface to even out the mixture and knock out any excess air which could cause the cakes to sink.
  6. Bake for 30-35 mins or until golden and just firm.
  7. To make the Sugar drizzle: mix together the orange juice and sugar until well blended.
  8. Remove the cupcakes from the oven and allow to cool a little but the cakes should still be hot when you drizzle each with the orange and sugar mix.

Creamy chicken and leek pasta

I wanted to make a healthier version of a cream sauce because I've been making so many cakes recently and thought I should balance out my diet a bit! This recipe produces a lovely smooth sauce and has a lot of flavour. It would also be great piled on top of a Jacket Potato!

I have to admit I didn't take a photo because I was too focused on eating! But I will definitely be making this again so I'll take a photo next time before I wolf it down!

Serves 2

  • Pasta for 2 people (I used Bucatini which is my favourite)
  • 2 rashers of Bacon, cut into small strips
  • 2 Chicken Thighs, cut into small strips
  • 1 medium Leek, washed and cut into rings
  • A few Mushrooms, washed and sliced
  • 1 clove Garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp Plain Flour
  • 300ml Stock (I used Marigold Swiss Vegetable Bouillon Powder)
  • 1 tbsp Wholegrain or French Mustard
  • Pinch Cayenne Pepper
  • 2 tbsp Creme Fraiche or low-fat cream cheese

  1. Cook pasta according to pack instructions whilst you make the sauce.
  2. Fry the bacon in a little olive oil until brown and crispy. Add the chicken and fry until brown as well. Remove meat from the pan and put in a bowl, but retain the oils and juices in the pan.
  3. Fry the mushrooms and leeks for about 5 minutes until softened, then add the garlic.
  4. Return the meat to the pan, then stir in the flour.
  5. Add the stock, mustard and cayenne and simmer until the stock has reduced by half.
  6. Add the creme fraiche or cream cheese and simmer until dissolved and the sauce is smooth and creamy.
  7. Drain the cooked pasta and reserve a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water.
  8. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss until fully coated in the sauce. Add some of the cooking water if necessary to help bind and thicken the sauce.

May 26, 2008

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

I can’t take the credit for this recipe as my friend found it on a website and passed it onto me, but the measurements were all in American cups so I have converted it and tweaked some of the ingredients to make it easier to make.

These cupcakes are really moist due to the sour cream and the icing is really creamy and luxurious. Alternatively you can use Betty Crocker’s Chocolate Fudge icing which is really good.

  • Makes 12 cupcakes if using muffin cases
  • Oven shelf position: upper
  • Oven temperature: preheat oven to Gas mark 4/350°F/180°C
  • Baking time: 18-20 minutes
  • You will need: 1 small bowl, 2 medium bowls, saucepan, 12 hole muffin/fairy cake tin
The Cupcakes - Ingredients:
  • 1 stick (110g/4 oz) Unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup (50g/2 oz) Dark chocolate (I used Bournville), broken into pieces or use chips
  • 1/2 cup (40g/1.5oz) Dark cocoa powder
  • 1 cup (110g/4oz) Plain all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Bicarbonate of soda (Baking soda)
  • 3/4 teaspoon Baking powder
  • 2 large Eggs
  • 3/4 cup (150g/5oz) Caster sugar
  • 1 tsp Vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional but apparently brings out the flavour of the chocolate)
  • 1/2 cup (small 142ml pot) Sour cream
The Cupcakes - Directions
  1. Line baking tin with paper cases (I used muffin cases in a tin used for normal fairy cakes).
  2. Melt the butter, chocolate and cocoa powder in a medium heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan shallow-filled with simmering water (do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water). Whisk until smooth and combined, then set aside to cool, until just warm to the touch.
  3. Combine the flour, baking soda and baking powder in a small bowl.
  4. Whisk the eggs in a medium bowl to combine; add the sugar, vanilla, and salt and whisk until fully incorporated.
  5. Add the cooled chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and whisk until fully combined. Add about 1/3 of the flour mixture into the mixture and whisk until combined. Then add 1/3 of the sour cream and mix in. Alternate adding and mixing in the flour and the sour cream until you end with the remaining flour mixture and whisk until the batter is homogenous and thick (it will be like a thick gooey mousse).
  6. Divide the mixture between the muffin cases - should be about 2/3 full.
  7. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes.
  8. Leave the cakes to cool in the tin on a wire rack.
  9. Cool to room temperature before icing, about 30 minutes.
Vanilla icing - The ingredients
  • 1 stick (110g/4 oz) Unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup (175g/6oz) Icing sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon Double cream
Vanilla icing - Directions
  1. In a medium bowl beat the butter until smooth.
  2. Add the icing sugar and beat until the sugar is incorporated.
  3. Scrape down the bowl and beat until mixture is light and fluffy and a pale yellow.
  4. Add vanilla extract and double cream and beat until light and fluffy.
  5. I have reduced the quantities of the ingredients for the icing just to give round numbers. You can store any leftover icing in the fridge or freezer, just allow it to thaw before attempting to ice your cupcakes.

You might be interested in these: Chocolate Cupcakes with Frosting
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