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Cook Book Corner

If I had to answer the question ‘Do you really need any more cook books?’ I would, of course, say no. I have 4 shelves full of them and although I use them regularly for specific recipes or just for some inspiration, I know that whatever I cannot find at home, I can find online.

However, I just cannot help myself when it comes to cook books. I love food photography and the accompanying writing and stories as much as the recipes themselves.

So when I found myself in WHSmiths recently, I was sucked in, twice, to their till-side items. Both of these books were reduced to a fiver (from £26 and £25) which eases my guilt somewhat as I try and squeeze them on to my already crowded bookshelves.

First up, Save with Jamie.

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Aimed at providing great tasting food on a budget, this is a really great cook book. It starts with a good list of basic items to have in your freezer, fridge and cupboards followed by a list of tips on how to ‘shop smart’. Since I have started meal planning, I have noticed a big reduction in how much I throw away (almost nothing goes in the bin now) so these tips on combining good food with little waste struck a chord with me.

The rest of the book is split into sections on veg and various meats and fish with gorgeous photos too. As an aside, the calories in each dish are also noted which is useful if you have managed to stick to your healthy eating New Year’s resolutions!

I don’t think I have ever tried a Jamie recipe that didn’t turn out great and I am busy bookmarking some new ones to try.

Next, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fruit.

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Apart from the odd inclusion in a pudding, I don’t have any cook books dedicated to fruit in every shape and form. I really like that there is a variety of sweet and savoury dishes with healthy options and others to save as treats.

I can’t see myself using this on a weekly basis like Jamie’s book, but I buy lots of fruit so having some new ideas on how to serve them will come in handy.

Two nice additions to the collection!

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Christmas 2013

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and managed to spend it with your nearest and dearest.

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It was our second year of hosting Christmas at our house, this time for my parents and brother, and I think we are getting pretty good at it now! I find that as long as the fridge and drinks cabinet is fully stocked and you do a bit of delegating that it isn’t really too stressful.

Our Christmas dinner was truly a joint effort with each of us contributing something. My Mum did her infamous cauliflower cheese, I was in charge of the goose fat roast potatoes, Ian handled all the meat (herby chicken and a honey and mustard ham), my brother did the pigs in blankets and the manly job of piping pink vanilla cream into the profiteroles for pudding, and my Dad brought it all together with a lovely gravy…teamwork!

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We had a lovely Christmas Eve with carols at the local village church then a few drinks at the pub in front of a roaring fire.

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I didn’t actually take too many photos on Christmas Day but we had our stockings then a lovely brunch of smoked salmon and scrambled eggs before opening the rest of our presents under the tree.

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I received some amazing gifts this year, lots of beauty and foodie items, but my real treat was a KitchenAid from Ian. I cannot describe how much I have wanted one and for how long and I’m now looking forward to christening it with something delicious!

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On Boxing Day we drove up to stay with Ian’s parents for a few days and have our second Christmas, eat more, drink more and cuddle George, their beautiful Jack Russell.

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Ian and I arrived home a couple of hours ago and, despite being called a Scrooge (thanks Ian!), I blitzed the house and packed up all of our Christmas decorations for another year. As always, the house feels very plain now but I am equally as excited about having a clean and uncluttered house again!

Like most people, we still have a small delicatessen in our fridge so I think Ian and I will be enjoying a few more cheeseboards over the next few days. I bought some running gear in the sales and am determined to shift these festive pounds in the New Year but calories don’t count until January in my opinion!

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How was your Christmas? x

Baking Review – Betty Crocker Cake Mix Part 3

The final post in this three-part series on cake mixes involved baking some muffins!

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A box of Blueberry Muffin Mix was turned into Blueberry and Coconut Muffins with the addition of some desiccated coconut to give another flavour and texture.

The first thing to surprise me was the tin of blueberries I found insidethe box. For some reason, I thought it would include a packet of dried blueberries ready to rehydrate in water or something along those lines but instead there was a tin of lovely little berries in a sweet syrup.

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Like the other two boxes, this mix was no different in terms of ease to make and the batter looked and smelled lovely as I spooned it into the cupcake cases.

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Unfortunately, the paper baking cases I received in this box were really squashed so I binned them and used some of my silicone cases instead to bake the cupcakes.

These rose really well in the oven and were lovely and golden brown when I took them out.

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The little blueberries were lovely and sweet to eat and the coconut flavour was subtle yet it complemented the vanilla-based cupcake.

So that brings me to the end of my Betty Crocker project and I have to say that I really enjoyed all three cake mixes!

Beforehand I was slightly snobby about using these mixes, feeling as though it was almost cheating, but it was refreshing to see that it was still really easy to personalise and put your own twist on the different cakes.

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Overall, I think these cake mixes do serve a purpose. It seems as though it is very hard to get them wrong so they are handy to have in the cupboard if you are an inexperienced baker or you want a quick and easy cake made within minutes!

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Given my cookbook addiction, I will of course continue to try out new recipes from scratch and tweak my own recipes too. There is something very relaxing and satisfying about starting right at the very beginning of a cake recipe, measuring out and creaming butter and sugar, finishing in a lovely cake…with the occasional baking disaster every now and again to keep you on your toes!

Recipe – Lentil and Sweet Potato Dip

Hello and welcome to May! I am hoping the start of this month heralds the beginning of sunnier days, starting with this long weekend we are about to enjoy.

Today’s recipe is for a vegetarian dip but I guess it could be described as a pâté too. I found a packet of red lentils in the cupboard and had a little look through my recipe books for something different to do with it.

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This is lovely served with crisps or vegetable crudités if you are trying to be good like me at the moment!

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This made quite a large bowl of dip with can easily be transformed into little lentil patties with the addition of an egg to bind and a handful of breadcrumbs…I love a good 2-in-1 recipe!

Ingredients

1 small red onion, or half of a normal sized one, chopped

A good glug of olive oil

1 teaspoon of smoked paprika

1 sweet potato, peeled and diced

150g of red lentils

1 teaspoon of dried thyme

500ml of vegetable stock

Salt and pepper

How to make it

  • Begin by softly frying the red onion in olive oil on a low heat until soft
  • Add the paprika and mix well in the panlentil2
  • Now add the sweet potato, lentils, thyme, pour over the stock and season welllentil5
  • Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the potatoes are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed
  • Allow the mixture to cool slightly then roughly mash using a fork until the dip is at a consistency you are happy with. You could always use a blender if you prefer a completely smooth dip…I prefer a chunky one!lentil8
  • Allow to chill and then servelentil9

Recipe – Salted Date Caramel

I have a bit of treat for you today…a healthy twist on one of my favourite things in the world – salted caramel!

I used some dates in a flapjack recipe recently and had a few left over and I was wondering what to do with them. I saw a similar recipe to this on a vegan blog I follow where they made a caramel using dates and almond milk. Clearly being non-vegan (a life without good cheese is not worth living!), I decided to adapt this to a dairy version with a pinch of salt to bring out the flavours.

I also added some maple syrup and vanilla extract to the caramel to add some depth and it turned out to be very tasty. It definitely isn’t as smooth as a proper caramel – the dates give quite a grainy finish but it is sweet and toffee-like and we enjoyed it as a topping over some ice-cream for pudding and mixed in to some Greek yogurt for breakfast.

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This makes enough to fill a 100ml jug (pictured)

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Ingredients

8 dried dates, roughly chopped

130ml of milk (you may want to add more later)

2 teaspoons of maple syrup (my Mum got me some proper stuff from Canada!)

Half a teaspoon of vanilla extract

A pinch of sea salt

How to make it

  • Begin by heating your dates and milk in a saucepan on a medium to low heatdate2
  • Simmer for 10 minutes, in which time the dates will have softened and the milk will have been absorbeddate4
  • Remove from the heat and allow to cool
  • In a blender, whizz together the cooled date mixture and add the maple syrup, vanilla and salt. I recommend adding the salt carefully as once you add too much it is hard to get the flavours right again!date6
  • If the mixture is too thick, you can add another dash of milk and blend it again to your preferred consistency
  • Serve warm or allow to cool and keep for a few days in the fridgedate8

Recipe – Double Chocolate Brownies

As I mentioned in a recent post, I spent every evening last week baking something different. I went through several packs of butter and created lots of extra washing-up but I loved it!

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Today’s recipe is for a tray of chocolate brownies. As all good chefs know, it is vital to taste your final product and I have to admit that when I had a small slice of these brownies a few hours after they had come out of the oven I was slightly disappointed. They seemed quite dry and not that lovely, squishy brownie texture. However, something magical seemed to happen to them overnight and the next day they were moist, chewy and gooey…exactly how a chocolate brownie should be!

So my advice with this recipe is to resist them until the next day – difficult, I know but trust me on this one!

Ingredients

100g of butter

200g of dark chocolate (I used a bar of coconut and cherry flavoured dark chocolate because it was all I had in my baking drawers but plain dark chocolate is fine)

4 eggs

250g of golden caster sugar

100g of plain flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

30g of cocoa

Another 100g of chopped chocolate (you can use dark, white or milk chocolate here)

How to make it

  • Begin by preheating your oven to 180°C, Gas Mark 4
  • Grease a baking tray with butter
  • Place a bowl over a pan of simmering water (making sure the bottom of the bowl isn’t in the water) and add your butter and 200g of chocolatebrownie7
  • Stir continuously until melted, and then leave to cool to room temperature
  • In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar then add the cooled chocolate mixturebrownie9
  • Next, mix in the flour, baking powder and cocoa until combinedbrownie6
  • Finally, add your chopped chocolatebrownie5
  • Pour this thick batter into your baking tray and bake for about 25 minutesbrownie3
  • Leave to cool then dust with icing sugarbrownie1

Cookbook Corner – The Primrose Bakery Book

This has been my first ‘Cookbook Corner’ post for a little while which probably reflects the fact that I am trying to curb my cookbook habit! I am also finding foodie inspiration in different places, such as all the lovely food blogs I follow as well as continuing to experiment with new ingredients and products I see on the shelves and online.

So, it has to be quite a special recipe book to make me want to squeeze it on to my already-full recipe book shelves (yes, that is shelves in the plural!) and I am happy to say that The Primrose Bakery Book made the cut!

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Currently available at a bargain prie of just £7 from The Book People (who visit lots of schools and other businesses with a variety of different books to browse through before buying), I couldn’t resist this pretty offering.

There are two Primrose Bakeries in London, to be found in Covent Garden and Primrose Hill (it is on my list to visit during a trip to London next month!), and they are renowned for their lovely cupcakes. However, this book is following on from the first recipe book, ‘Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery’, aiming to show that there is more to this brand than just good cupcakes…and let’s be frank; if you haven’t mastered a good cupcake by now then don’t bother!

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The book does start with some new cupcake recipes, such as Violet, Green Tea and Raspberry Coconut Ice. All sound delicious and are beautifully photographed.

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Next up are chapters on Breakfasts, Layer Cakes, Loaves and Slices and Biscuits, which include the cutest sausage dog biscuits! The book finishes up with some Wedding Cake ideas and some useful Tips and Techniques.

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On the whole, it is a really inspiring book, not simply sticking to cupcakes. Everything looks absolutely delicious and not too difficult to make. I also think they have got the balance right between classic recipes and more modern, inventive ones.

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The hardest thing for me is going to be picking which cake to make first!