Sunday, 11 September 2016

I made dinner for a friend of mine recently.  I’d been dying to cook for him for ages as he’s a massive foodie like me. Now I take cooking for someone for the first time very seriously, and as I was hoping to impress him I wanted to make what I like to think of as my signature dish.  The dish itself is pretty straightforward and not at all fancy, but what sets it apart is a ‘secret’ ingredient and of course, I wouldn’t tell him what it was.   After several attempts to get it out of me I jokingly told him that it was ‘Loooove’ (and added several heart emoji’s for good measure).  Luckily for me he gets me, and my weird sense of humour.  I thought about it afterwards and whilst that wasn’t strictly what the ‘secret’ ingredient was in this particular dish, without realising, there was an element of truth in what I said.

There’s a quote that I love: 

‘If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with them.   The people who give you their food give you their heart.’ – Cesar Chavez.

And it’s so true. I love having my friends and family over for dinner.  They don’t really understand why every time we get together I always volunteer to cook, but they never complain. The thing is, nothing makes me quite as happy as having my living room filled with laughter and having the people that I love all squished round my tiny dining table.  I love that mad scramble when you put first put the dishes down and then it all goes quiet except for the sound of cutlery on china.  And the content silence afterwards, when everyone’s eaten so much they can’t move.  “But are you sure you’ve had enough to eat?” I ask for the hundredth time as once again I’ve cooked enough to feed a small army...

I take great pride in my cooking.  I’m by no means a great chef but every time I put a plate down in front of someone there is that element of, “Here, I made this for you and I made it with love.”  For me, that’s what cooking has always been about.  It’s a homemade cake for your kids on their birthday, or a candlelit dinner, or a batch of brownies for your best mate because some guy broke her heart.  That’s why one of my favourite things is when someone cooks for me, be it beans on toast or a fancy dinner, because cooking is an act of love.  

He got it out of me in the end, though only after I swore him to secrecy.  Although I think maybe I was right the first time, maybe that really is what the secret ingredient is after all.   

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 : )

Sunday, 16 November 2008


I'll get straight to the point...


Yes, that's little old me up there with the goddess herself, and it would've been a nicer picture had the stupid woman not taken the picture when I wasn't looking... I HATE having my photo taken!

As I mentioned yesterday I went to the BBC Good Food Show today and I met Nigella :-D And she signed my book so Ner Ner Na Ner Ner!

It was all a bit of a blur, I was so awfully starstruck and that along with the fact that they hurry you along so quickly meant that I can hardly remember it at all. I just remember seeing her smiling at me and my brain kind of went to mush and I grinned and just about managed to say "It's lovely to meet you" before shuffling out of the signing area with my book clutched to my chest.

I had also booked a Food Icons session so I got to watch Nigella before I found out there was going to be a signing. We sat in a small theatre to watch Nigella talk, answer questions from the audience and do a demonstration of her Edible Christmas Tree Decorations.

She's even more stunning in person and I think the camera must definitely add 10lbs as she's tiny! Nigella was so lovely and warm and she was just exactly how I imagined she would be. I feel like a really lucky girl to have met the woman I admire and that has inspired me so much : )

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

We'll Start At The Very Beginning...

Well hello, and welcome to my blog! My name is Hayley and I'm a self confessed cooking disaster. Its mostly a case of mix it together, bung it in the oven and hope for the best! I'm not a great cook but I LOVE to cook. But it hasn't always been like that.

I gave birth to my daughter at 17 and moved out into my own flat shortly after so I had to make do with the simple things that I could cook, just to feed my family. It was usually my 'and chips' special, a stir-in sauce or ready meal. My partner had grown up with huge hearty british dinners and so was quite obviously unimpressed by my efforts. I used to love baking with my mum when I was little and I did 3 years of Food Technology at school which I enjoyed, but I never had a real desire to learn to cook, until a year ago...

It all started when I watched Nigella Express, I was dazzled by the technicolour Le Creuset and fairy lights and I was hooked. There is something truly enchanting about Nigella Lawson and the way she makes cooking so appealing. So I bought Nigella Express and threw myself into learning to cook. Believe me from then on it got pretty ugly, but gradually I've got better and better to the point where I can deservedly call myself a cook (rather than a serial burner!)

So a year on, and I'm constantly cooking, flicking through cookbooks (I have close to 50 now! Yes I know its a lot, but it's like pairs of shoes, a girl can never have too many!) and dreaming up what I'm going to cook next. Believe me I'm no expert and even now it's still hit and miss as to whether it's going to be delicious or disgusting, but I'm passionate and I get a real sense of achievement when I turn out my beautifully risen muffins and find that the bottoms aren't raw : )

So welcome to Away With The Fairycakes, where you can follow my culinary triumphs and disasters, warts (well, burnt disasters) and all!

I hope you'll come back and read again,

Hayley x