Friday, 7 September 2012

~ Cocoa Boutique Tasting Box ~

I was lucky enough to be sent a gorgeous box of chocolates by the lovely people at Cocoa Boutique recently. Cocoa Boutique are a new Luxury Artisan Chocolate Club that offer a chocolate subscription service, a box delivered to your door every one, two or three months. Sounds good right?!

Have to admit I was rather excited when the postman turned up with my box, it was so beautifully packaged that I almost couldn't bring myself to open it. They all arrived in one piece as you can see below, so pretty!

It took a while for me to try them, I thought once I start I won't stop! I loved the variety of exotic flavours, cassis-pear ganache (the pretty speckled one in the middle) for example, and there was a real mix of white, dark and milk chocolates. The box comes with a little menu explaining a little about each chocolate, a little introduction to the Cocoa Boutique chocolatiers and a scoring card that you can send back. 

I think my favourite would have to be either the dark chocolate salted caramels (the trio on the bottom row) or the very girly pink champagne truffles (top left corner).  I was most surprised by the dark chocolate coffee beans (bottom right corner), absolutely delicious!

If all this yummy chocolate has got your mouth watering and you fancy the chance to win your own tasting box then click here, or if you would like to try your own introductory box at the special reduced price of £9.95, then click here.

Have a great weekend and enjoy the sunshine! x

Monday, 30 January 2012

Do Something Different - Meat Free Mondays

So we're nearly into February and I'm not doing too bad a job of keeping my New Year's Resolution of being more organised : ) I bring this up because I've been reading the Flylady book (readers from across the pond may know who I'm talking about), and have been trying a couple of the things from it, one of these being menu planning. I've always been all for menu planning, I've just never been organised enough to see it through... so hopefully I can keep it up this year! Roughly following Flylady's guide I decided on a category for each day of the week (Monday - Beef, Tuesday - Pasta etc etc.) and you don't have to do it this way but I tend to find it helps narrow down the choices or I'd be there all week trying to decide what to eat! Then pick a meal that falls under that category and so for a week I have an evening meal planned for every day. It helps me use up what I have in my cupboards already, helps use up the things I know are going to be going off soon and means that I only buy the things that I actually NEED. As a single mum of two that generally spends most of her day doing a headless chicken impression, it's quite helpful to know what I'm going to be making that evening so that I'm not throwing together something completely random at the last minute.

So feeling rather pleased with myself that I've got this menu planning thing in place I went one better and am trying to introduce Meat Free Mondays in our household. It basically is what it says, on a Monday you cook something vegetarian. It does sound quite daunting at first, I'm not gonna lie, I'd never willingly become a vegetarian! But I'd like to think that in some small way I'm 'doing my bit' and no, one meal isn't going to change the world but if we all did it then wouldn't it make a difference : ) And hands up those of us that could do with eating a few more veggies!! When you think about it there are so many everyday staples, that with an omission or two can become vegetarian; pastas, risottos, salads...

Tonight's post is of our first Meat Free Monday meal. It evolved from a back-of-the-packet recipe so I didn't have too high hopes but it was surprisingly delicious (hence the poor quality photo, I hadn't planned on blogging this recipe but it was sooo good!). I didn't miss not having meat and the kids didn't complain too much either! You can find the original recipe here, or see below for my take on it. Please don't worry that my recipe isn't too precise, this dish is so simple that you really can't go wrong so feel free to tweak it to your own tastes. I used about 4 tomatoes and 1 ball of mozzarella but depending on how big you roll out your pastry you may need a few more tomatoes and another ball of mozzarella, or you may indeed find that you have some left over. If you really can't go without the meat, I think some slices of salami or chorizo tucked in between would be just delicious.

Tomato, Mozzarella & Pesto Tart

Serves 4

1 500g block of puff pastry (or to save time, a ready rolled sheet)
4 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp pesto
4-6 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 125g ball of mozzarella cheese, sliced
A pinch of dried oregano
Salt and black pepper
Balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze

Preheat your oven to 220c/ Fan 200c. Roll out your pastry into a rectangle (or square or circle!) and transfer onto a baking sheet with a rim, so you don't ruin your nice clean oven when tomato juice leaks everywhere (I learnt the hard way!). Mix the tomato paste and the pesto together and spread over your pastry base, leaving a border round the edges to allow the pastry to rise. Simply arrange your tomato and mozzarella slices over the base, I did a row of tomatoes and then a row of mozzarella slightly overlapping the previous layer and repeated this until I used all my ingredients up. Once you've done this, sprinkle over a little dried oregano and a pinch of salt, a good grinding of black pepper and drizzle with a little bit of balsamic vinegar. Roast in the oven for about 25 minutes or until golden brown around the edges and the cheese is bubbling. Serve with dressed salad leaves and garlic bread.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Julia Child's Reine De Saba (Chocolate And Almond Cake)

Reine de Saba is the moist and fudgy chocolate and almond cake that stars in Julie and Julia. I decided to bake this cake when I had some leftover chocolate buttercream that needed using up. I'd started to mix the cake batter when I realised that the 'Tidy Fairy' had thrown away my buttercream... so from icing and no cake to cake and no icing : ( I almost didn't finish baking it as I didn't have the ingredients to make more chocolate icing but I'm really glad that I did. It wasn't until I baked it that I realised why it was chosen to take centre stage in the film, delicious is an understatement!

Although it doesn't look as spectacular as some this cake is a real showstopper and would make a fabulous dessert for a Valentine's Day dinner. You can find the recipe here... Bon appetit!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Larger-Than-Life, Chunky-Bulky Bittersweet Chocolate Praline Cookies

Happy New Year! Seems a bit daft saying it now, feels like ages ago! Well I've started the year with the best of intentions and (as always!) my New Year's resolution is to be more organised and hopefully free up some time to blog more. Feeling really inspired by the great foodie programs on telly at the moment and by the wonderful cookbooks I got from Santa for Christmas : ) These cookies come from the fabulously pink baking encyclopedia 'Baking Style' by Lisa Yockelson. If you're still sticking to your New Year diet... Well done you! (And look away now!) And if you've given up or didn't start one then whip up a batch, they're delicious ; )

Larger-Than-Life, Chunky-Bulky Bittersweet Chocolate Praline Cookies

Makes approx 20 large cookies (The amount in this recipe is half of that in the book, don't get me wrong I LOVE cookies but I couldn't eat 3 1/2 dozen in one go!)

2 cups unsifted plain flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
(I added an egg to the batter before mixing in the flour as the dough seemed a bit too dry but I'll leave it up to you to decide whether to add one or not)
12 ounces bittersweet (dark) chocolate, cut into rough chunks
1 cup pecan halves, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180c). Line several baking sheets with baking paper. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt onto a sheet of baking paper or into a bowl.

Cream the butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer for 3 minutes, add the light brown sugar and beat for 1 minute and finally add the granulated sugar and beat for 1 minute longer. Stir in the vanilla extract.

On low speed, mix in the sifted ingredients in 2 additions, beating just until the flour particles are absorbed. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl frequently with a rubber spatula to keep the dough even-textured. Work in the chocolate chunks and pecans.

Use an ice-cream scoop or a 1/3 cup measure to mound the dough onto your baking sheet. Space the mounds about 3 inches apart. Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 16 to 18 minutes until set and lightly golden. Let them stand for a minute before transferring to cooling racks. Let cool completely and store in an airtight tin.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Tasting The New Menu At ASK Italian

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited up to ASK Italian in Spring Street, London to sample their newly revamped menu. All 123 of their restaurants are currently undergoing complete transformation in order to bring a 'fresh, bold and authentic dining experience to the high street.' The new decor is inspired by Italy's fashion capital Milan and as you can see from the pictures below, is refreshingly colourful and vibrant.

ASK Italian have also been working closely with experts Theo Randall and Adrian Garforth

Adrian Garforth is the Master of Wine (Mow) at ASK Italian, one of only 300 MoWs in the world, he developed a passion for Italian wines during his time working with vineyards and wineries in Italy. He has worked with ASK Italian to create a wine list that complements the flavours of their new dishes. The all Italian wine list is currently on trial in 11 restaurants and due to launch nationally in March.

Theo Randall is one of the UK's most celebrated chefs, he spent ten years working as Head Chef at River Cafe and is passionate about Italian food. He is helping to inspire the team at ASK to create a truly authentic seasonal Italian menu.

Below are some of the dishes from the new menu that we sampled:

Antipasti: Olive Marinati

From the front: Gamberoni, Insalata Caprese & Prosciutto e Rucola

Primi, From the front: Spaghetti al Pomodoro, Fettucine Con Verdure, Lasagne della Casa

Secondi, From the Front: Panino Pollo, Panino Portobello, Spigola al Forno & Risotto Gamberoni

Pizza: Prima Pizza Gamberetti e Zucchine

Insalata dello Chef & Prima Pizza Caprina

Prima Pizza Natale, ASK's festive special - 'featuring tomato, mozzarella, chicken, smoked prosciutto, sautéed mixed mushrooms and Grana Padano cheese. Served with a side-mix of sautéed chestnut, red onion and pancetta for you to add the finishing touches.'

With added Christmas sparkle of course!

And finally, Dolce: From their selection of Gelato, Espresso flavour & Gelato Con Frutta

With Chef Theo Randall

I have to admit that I hadn't been to ASK for a very long time but was pleasantly surprised by how different the restaurant was. The decor is bold in a kind of either love-it or hate-it way but I was won over with their funky touches. It's also really nice to see that they go the extra mile for genuine ingredients, the little extras like their Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Puglia. From speaking to the Marketing Manager and Marketing Director of ASK Italian I can see that they're very passionate about Italian food and more importantly about getting it right. I really enjoyed their new menu, a wide variety of Italian classics, done simply, but done very well.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

Ever do something that seemed like a really good idea at the time but in hindsight was probably best left well alone?! Well readers, allow me to introduce to you the Martha Stewart Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake... Our local newsagents has started selling Martha Stewart Living magazine and I picked up a copy for Thanksgiving dinner inspiration only to be seduced by this picture:

Image from

So I saw this picture and thought 'Hey! I'll make this cake!' No real occasion... just because! I do really love Salted Caramel, I love the whole 'Urgh salt really shouldn't be in there... but Ooo it works really well!' reaction to it. So I just really wanted to make this cake and more to point to prove to myself that I could actually make it.

The recipe is in 3 parts, the sponge, the caramel and the frosting. I warn you now, this cake is not for the faint-hearted... The amount of butter, cream, sugar and chocolate in this is unreal!

So I started the cake on Wednesday night, I thought if I broke it down then it'd be a bit less scary to make. The sponge went absolutely fine, as it was quite late I just left the tins on the side to cool and figured that I'd unmould them in the morning. And that's where it all started to go wrong. I refrigerated the cakes in the morning, as recommended, so they firm up a bit and are easier to frost. Except now I couldn't get them out the tins... After a little gentle persuasion (and by gentle persuasion I mean stabbing with a palette knife and banging the tins violently on the worktop) I managed to get them out.

I'd also, quite unbelievably, managed to make the caramel for the filling. I really struggle with caramel, I'm very aware that the golden rule is that you let it do it's thing, no stirring, no touching. But I'm terribly impatient and somehow I just can't seem to LEAVE IT ALONE! The thought of burning sugar gives me actual anxiety. But I was very restrained and had actually managed to make this caramel, painfully stirred in a whole block of butter, one... tablespoon... at... a ... time, and had left it on the side to cool. Being the tidy baker that I'm really not, I thought it'd be best to try and tidy up as I went along so I went to soak the pans the caramel had been in, only to find that I'd managed to glue my Le Creuset casserole to my glass oven top with caramel. So I'm pulling away at this dish and it's really not going anywhere, in fact I probably had more of a chance of lifting my whole oven off the floor than I did getting this dish off the hob. So then I tried to prise it off with a spatula, and I'm huffing and puffing and thinking 'I bet this never happens to Martha...'. So there's only one thing left for it, and in the hope that it's gonna make it better and not worse I turn on the hob to try and melt the thing off. Success!

Fortunately I managed to whip up the frosting without a hitch so now for the tricky part, putting the whole thing together. Now because I'm so impatient I may have not waited for the caramel to 'cool completely' as advised... So I'm sure you can imagine what's going to happen next. I layer up the cakes, put it in the fridge to set and all of a sudden it's really starting to resemble the Tower of Pisa. So regular adjustments are required to make sure the Tower of Pisa is still standing... until wait... it slides over in the fridge. Great. So I stack it all up again and insert two metal skewers as a kind of makeshift scaffolding until it sets. Except my whole fridge now needs to be rearranged to make space for the cake to fit in with it's skewers sticking out the top. At this point I'm just really glad I didn't decide to cut the cake layers in two to make a six layer cake. Could quite easily see myself in a ball on the kitchen floor rocking back and forth haha!

After an hour the cake showed signs of behaving itself so I attempted to frost it. If you ever make this cake I'd really recommend making double the amount of frosting. I know, just pretend you don't know how much chocolate is in it! I found that I had just enough to coat the cake. It also sets pretty quickly too so you have to work fast to get a smooth layer. I have to say this was my favourite part, because even the biggest of flaws can be masked with a thick glossy layer of frosting : )

Ta-Da! Was really quite chuffed with the end result and it tastes really good, though you only need a tiny slice as it's sooooo rich! Definitely pleased that I made it but next time I get the urge to make an extravagant cake I think I'll leave it for a special occasion!

If you do fancy making this cake then just click on the hyperlink at the top of this post, it'll take you to the recipe : )

Monday, 14 November 2011

Vanilla Whoopie Pies

For those of you that don't know, A whoopie pie is apparently 'not quite a sandwich cookie, not quite a cake'. They seem to have become incredibly trendy recently, popping up in supermarkets everywhere and already there are boxed cake mixes to make them. I find them quite intriguing, whoopie pies are the one thing I get asked most about. I made some for the first time the other day and they were surprisingly easy to bake. I've seen specialty tins and recommendations for using a piping bag to create a perfectly round cake but I just dropped tablespoons of mixture onto a baking sheet and was pretty pleased with the result. As for all the fuss, I'm kind of a bit on the fence about the whoopie, maybe I'm just a die-hard cupcake fan... Don't get me wrong they were delicious, but I kind of didn't think they were anything special. Have you tried making Whoopie Pies? What do you think?

Vanilla Whoopie Pies

Makes 48 two-inch cakes

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tbsp vegetable shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375F (190c). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Beat together the butter, shortening, and both sugars until light and creamy. Add the eggs and the buttermilk and beat until combined. In a measuring jug, combine the milk, baking soda, and vinegar. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the milk mixture to the batter along with the flour mixture and beat on low until just combined. Add the vanilla and beat on medium for about 2 minutes until completely combined.

Using a spoon, drop about 1tbsp of batter onto one of the prepared baking sheets and repeat, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Bake one sheet at a time for about 10 minutes each, or until cakes begin to brown. Remove from the oven and let the cakes cool for at least 5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.


Once cool you can sandwich the cakes together with whatever filling you like. I used some leftover cream cheese frosting but you could try whipped cream, chocolate ganache, jam or buttercream icing. You can also play around with the flavour of the cakes to make whatever flavour combinations you fancy.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Caramelised Banana Bread & Butter Pudding With Toasted Pecans

There's nothing I love more than making a fabulous dish out of what would otherwise be odds and ends destined for the bin. This recipe, from Lorraine Pascale's Home Cooking Made Easy, has fast become my favourite for using up blackened bananas. It's a scrummy alternative to the usual banana bread or muffins.

I'm terrible for not being able to throw anything away and managed to whip this up from various bits and pieces lurking in the back of my fridge. I like to keep the end crusts of loaves of bread in my freezer, though they usually get kept for breadcrumbs they worked really well in this, left out on the side for a while beforehand to go slightly stale they soaked up the custard beautifully. I also replaced the creme fraiche with half a tin of evaporated milk and I had 4 eggs whites that got thrown in instead of whole eggs. I was a bit worried when I mixed it all together, mainly that the custard wouldn't set properly, but I put it in the oven with fingers crossed and it emerged a wonderful golden brown and really exceeded my expectations. I've never really been a bread pudding fan but this was delicious. I served it with a little more (extra thick!) double cream and some maple syrup but I'd definitely love to try it again with a little vanilla ice cream.

Perfect now it's getting chilly : )


75g butter, at room temperature
1 medium loaf of crusty white bread, cut into 8-10 slices
400ml double cream
300ml creme fraiche
75g soft light brown sugar, plus 25g extra sprinkling
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1tsp vanilla extract
1tsp cinnamon
4 eggs
2 bananas, peeled and cut into slices
100g pecan nuts

Preheat the oven to 180c (350F), Gas Mark 4. Grease your ovenproof dish with a little of the butter.

Use the remaining butter to butter the bread slices on one side. Cut the slices in half diagonally and arrange them in the prepared baking dish.

Next put the cream, creme fraiche, the 75g sugar, lemon zest, vanilla, cinnamon and eggs in a large jug and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and well mixed.

Now put the banana slices and pecans between the slices of bread. Pour the liquid over the bread and allow it to soak in for a few seconds, then use the back of a spoon to squidge everything down into the liquid. Finally scatter the remaining sugar evenly over the top. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the mixture has just set and looks nicely caramelised. Serve at once.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Spanish... Erm Well Quiche?!

I'm not entirely sure where the inspiration for this came from, I think it's all this sunshine and the fact that I'm craving a holiday! For the moment it's only my cooking that seems to be transporting me to far flung places : (

I was originally going to make a Quiche Lorraine as I had a block of pastry in the freezer that needed using up. But I thought I'd spice things up a bit and instead use some chorizo that I had lying around and the rest of the ingredients kind of fell into place. The recipe is adapted from a Quiche Lorraine recipe by Rachel Allen, I'm not entirely sure of the exact amounts of each ingredient that I used so feel free to tweak it and add more or less of what you do or don't like. I had wanted to use some sliced cooked potato but ran out of room, but it kind of led me to thinking that if you're a vegetarian you could omit the chorizo and use potato and maybe some olives instead?

And please, feel free to leave a comment if you can think of anything more exotic to call this than Spanish Quiche!

Spanish Quiche

A block of shortcrust pastry, or of course you can make your own (or use a pre-baked pastry case!)
1 tbsp olive oil (I used a little of the oil from my jar of roasted peppers)
100g chorizo, diced
a red onion, finely chopped
50g roasted red peppers (from a jar is absolutely fine)
1 tsp dried thyme
2 eggs plus 2 yolks
250ml double cream (milk will do if you don't have any to hand)
salt and pepper
one tomato, thinly sliced
100g cheddar, half cubed for in the quiche, half grated for the top

1. Leave your pastry to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180c (350F)/ Gas Mark 4. Line your tart tin and bake blind for 15-20 minutes.

2. Whilst the pastry is baking, fry the chorizo, onion, red peppers and thyme in a pan with the oil until softened, about 10 minutes, then leave to one side to cool.

3. Whisk the eggs in a bowl (a pyrex jug is useful for ease of pouring into the case), add the cream/ milk and season well with the salt and pepper.

4. When the pastry case is done spread your chorizo mix evenly over it, dotting the cubed cheddar around it. Lay your tomato slices over the top in a decorative pattern and then pour your cream mixture over the top. (It is best to pour in just a little of the cream mixture, then return the tin to the oven and top it up, this helps to avoid any spillages as you put it in the oven.*) I also found that I didn't need all of the cream mixture but this will vary depending on the depth and diameter of your tart tin. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar over the top and bake for 30-40 minutes or until the centre has set.

*You would also think that I listen to my own advice... my pastry case shrunk after blind baking and I poured in too much of the mixture, resulting in major leakage out the sides of the case, through the bottom of the tin and onto the bottom of my oven whilst cooking : ( Sometimes, we never learn!

Monday, 27 June 2011

Ben & Jerry's Superfudge Brownies

After making these I remembered why I don't make brownies more often... So addictive! I'm a bit of a brownie perfectionist, in my eyes the perfect brownie has to have just the right amount of squidge and these most certainly have that, along with a slightly crisp top, Yum! This recipe is from the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream & Dessert Book and I have (just about) managed to hold back a few squares for their Brownie ice cream recipe which I hope to make tomorrow, perfect for this gorgeous weather we've been having :-D Watch this space!

Superfudge Brownies

4oz plain chocolate
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup plain flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (180c). Butter and lightly flour a 13x9 inch baking pan. (I used a 20cm square silicone pan)

2. Melt the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler (bain-marie) over simmering water. Let cool in the pan to room temperature.

3. Beat the eggs and salt in a mixing bowl until very fluffy. Gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Fold in the cooled chocolate mixture. Add the flour and fold just until blended.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake 25 to 30 minutes (45minutes if using a square pan). Let cool in the pan completely before cutting.