Monday, 28 October 2013

Autumnal Pumpkin Soup

Autumn is well and truly here and with it seasonal squashes. The shops are full of pumpkins in anticipation of the forthcoming Halloween celebrations and every year I make this hearty, warming soup. It can also be made with other squashes such as butternut or a combination of them.

Pumpkin, Red Pepper and Bacon Soup
1 medium sized pumpkin
3 red peppers
2 onions
2 sticks of celery
3 pints chicken stock
6 rashers smoked streaky bacon

Remove the flesh from inside the pumpkin. Discard the skin and seeds. Or save the seeds for oven roasting for snacks. Slice the peppers in half and place under a hot grill until the skins blacken. Place the halves in a plastic bag, seal and leave for 10 minutes. The steam will make it easier to peel the skin off.

Chop the pumpkin flesh into 1” squares and add to a large pan. Chop the onions and celery and add to the pan. Remove the peppers from the bag and peel off the skin. Chop and add to the pan. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Once boiling drop to a simmer, put on the lid and leave to simmer for 30 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft. Blend the soup in a food processor or with a hand blender. Chop the bacon into lardons and add to a hot frying pan. Cook until crispy. Add the bacon and the fat to the soup.

Stir and taste. Season as required. Serve with crusty bread. This soup freezes well.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

It's Been A While.

In my last post in May I told you I would be busy writing for a food website, Foodlink NW and I have been. I have had a great time interviewing food producers based in the North West of England. I have been up at dawn to spend the morning in a bakers. I have spent an afternoon with rare breed pigs at a sausage producers. All manner of foodie adventures. If you would like to read the articles to date there are links below.

1. Pig Tales
2. Ten Tins and a Rolling Pin
3. Baked with Love
4. A Stately Food Festival
5. Street Food - The Quiet Revolution
6. An Industrial Food Festival

If anyone abroad, or in this country, for that matter requires an article writing about British food, then please get in touch.

The main purpose of this blog is to share my love of food: sourcing it; preparing it; cooking it and most importantly, eating it.

This summer I have had a glut of luscious, ruby red tomatoes. One of my favourite dishes is sundried tomatoes but they are very expensive to buy so I have made my own version. The recipe took some tweaking because even though they are cooked at a very low temperature the herbs, if put in at the beginning, tended to burn. I tried crushing the garlic but again this tended to burn so instead I used slivers. A slice on each tomato half, then removed after cooking as it tends to become bitter to the taste.

Oven Slow Roasted Tomatoes
A generous glut of tomatoes
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Garlic Cloves, thinly sliced
Black Pepper, freshly ground

Preheat oven to 120°C, Gas Mark ½. Slice the tomatoes in half and put in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle with enough olive oil and balsamic vinegar to coat. Gently mix the tomatoes in the oil and vinegar and then arrange, cut side up on a baking tray. Put the slivers of garlic in a little bowl with a little oil to coat then place a sliver on each upturned tomato. Place the tray in the oven and cook for approx 3 hours (but keep checking after 2 so that they don't catch), until semi dried and shrivelled. Remove from the oven, take off the garlic, sprinkle with chopped basil and season well. Allow to cool and then put in an airtight container. These will keep in the fridge for 2/3days. They are delicious served with hot or cold meats, cheeses and salads.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Exciting Times

I have been a little quiet here recently but I have a good reason. Honest! A few weeks ago I was asked to join the writing team at Foodlink NW. Foodlink is a Lottery funded organisation whose mission is promote North West food. From field to fork. The project's ethos is everything I believe in and I am so excited to be involved.

Here's a link to my very first article.

An Industrial Food Festival

I hope you enjoy it and I'll be back here soon. Promise.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Step Away From The Cookies

I think it’s a woman thing. Particularly a Mum thing. Every now and then you create or stumble across a new recipe which the family love. So you make it again…and again…and again. Until finally, the family plead for something else. I remember as a child, learning not to enthuse too much about one of Mum’s dishes, for fear of being served nothing else for the next month.

We are in the midst of a recipe repetition incident at the moment. I came back from the first Manchester Cake and Bake Show with various ingredients, including Green & Black’s White Cooking Chocolate and Duerr’s Peanut Butter. These said cookies to me. Crumbly, crunchy cookies.

I baked a batch of 24 and those went within 2 days. So I baked another batch. Again, the biscuit tin was empty within an indecently short space of time. Yesterday, I baked a third batch. How much longer it’ll be before the Teen tearfully cries “No more!” I don’t know. But these are really good cookies, so I would recommend giving them a bash as soon as you can.

I dare you to only eat one.

Peanut Butter & White Chocolate Cookies
115g/4oz unsalted butter, left out at room temperature to soften and a little extra to grease your trays.
100g/3½oz peanut butter, chunky is best
150g/5oz caster sugar
80g/2½oz dark brown sugar
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
½ tsp Madagascar vanilla essence
85g/3oz plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
Pinch of salt
100g/3½oz white cooking chocolate, cut with a sharp knife into small chunks
100g/3½oz rolled oats

Preheat your oven to 180°C, 160°C fan assisted or Gas Mark 4. Use the extra butter to grease two baking trays.

Beat together the butter and peanut butter then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, a little at a time and the vanilla essence.

Add the flour, baking powder, salt and combine well. Finally, mix in the oats and chocolate.

Spoon dessertspoonfuls on to your trays. Well spaced to allow for spreading. Squash slightly with a fork.

Bake for between 8/12 minutes until golden.. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Allow to go cold before storing in an airtight container.

Devour! Then bake another batch.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Shortest of Shortcrust

Whilst at The Cake and Bake Show on Sunday, we garnered quite a few money off vouchers. Amongst them was a free pack voucher for Trex, a dairy free alternative to butter, for use in cooking.

I haven’t used Trex for years. In fact, I wasn’t aware that they still made it. I obviously never get far enough along the butter/marg shelf in the supermarket. Along with the voucher, I was given a conversion chart because you need to use 20% less Trex than other fats. Plus a calendar containing some mouth-watering dishes.

The company’s website also told me that the product is:
  • A non hydrogenated vegetable fat.
  • There are no e-numbers, colours or preservatives.
  • It is lower in saturated fat than butter.
  • It has been around since the 1930’s. So has a good heritage.
All positive news in my book but how would it taste? I decided to give it a go and headed off to the shop to get my free 500g pack. As the weather is trying its best to perk up, I thought I’d make a dish that gives a nod towards Summer. Quiche. A cheese, smoked bacon and broccoli quiche.

I’m pretty good at pastry. I have been baking since I was tiny after all. This pastry though was the lightest and shortest I have made in a long time and it tasted good too. I’m definitely a Trex convert and will give it a go in some cake baking too. Even better, I have another voucher for a free block. Win, win.


170g (6oz) plain flour
Pinch of salt
70g (2¼oz) Trex (as opposed to 85g/3oz of butter/marg/lard)
30ml/2 tblsp of cold water to mix

1 small onion, sliced
2 rashers, smoked streaky bacon
1 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets
3 medium eggs
150ml/¼ pt milk
Salt and pepper
100g/4oz cheese, grated


Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5. Grease a 23cm/9” flan dish.
.Sift the flour into a bowl and mix in a pinch of salt. Gently rub in the Trex until a breadcrumb texture is achieved. Use a knife to mix through the cold water until you a form a dough. Add the water a bit at a time as you may not need it all or you may need a little extra. Knead the dough together gently with your hands. Try not to overwork the dough as this will make it tough. Turn the ball of dough out onto a floured surface and roll out to fit the flan dish. Lay the pastry in the dish and trim. Be aware that you pastry will shrink slightly during blind baking so don’t trim too close to the edge of the dish. Ensure there are no holes in the pastry, especially with a loose bottomed flan dish because you will end up with your flan mix seeping out. Any holes can be patched with spare pastry. Line the pastry with greaseproof paper and pour in baking beans. I haven’t got any so I use uncooked rice. Blind bake for 15 minutes.

Whilst the pastry is cooking gently fry the bacon and onion and blanch the broccoli. Drain the broccoli and put to one side. Grate the cheese. Lightly beat the eggs and milk. Season. Take the flan dish out of the oven and put the bacon, onions and broccoli into the pastry case and spread out. Carefully pour the egg and milk mixture in and sprinkle over the cheese.

Put the flan back in the oven and cook for approx 40 minutes until golden and firm.

The finished Quiche

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Cake and Bake Show - Manchester

This weekend it was food heaven in Manchester. It was the first Cake and Bake Show held at Manchester Central, (formerly G-Mex), in conjunction with It promised to be a cornucopia of all things baking and I bought our tickets weeks ago.

Salted Caramel Whoopie Pies

The recent resurgence in popularity of household crafts, particularly baking, saw the first ever Cake and Bake Show, held in London last year, sell out really quickly. It had over 21,000 visitors, so it was obvious that a regional venue would also be a popular choice. After all, baking is big business at the moment.

The website promised demonstrations, bake offs, a plethora of baking stars, book signings and tons of stands to peruse. There were to be areas dedicated to kids’ baking, cake decorating competitions and sugar craft.

We were genuinely excited as we entered the hall and immediately had mini pots of Bonne Maman jam and Green & Black's  white cooking chocolate thrust into our hands. That was a great start. We picked up our show programme and a bag that contained tubs of cake decorations. We went first to the Dr Oetker stand to browse their huge range of baking essentials and to pick up the first of many free bags, containing recipe cards, money off vouchers and cake decorations.

One of my favourite bakers, Stacie Stewart, The Beehive Baker was due to do a demonstration on Sainsbury's Competition Stage, so we made our way over and grabbed a seat. The area was tented and hung with bunting, giving the impression of being in The Great British Bake Off marquee. It was packed and once all the seats were taken people simply sat on the floor.

The Teen meets The Beehive Baker, Stacie Stewart

Wendi Peters, the former star of Coronation Street and Celebrity Masterchef contestant, bounced on to the stage and introduced Stacie. She appeared with her trademark beehive perfectly coiffured by her own fair hand and wearing a gorgeous pale blue 60‘s shift dress of her own design. As well as being a top notch baker, she is also a Northern Soul DJ and had been at an all-nighter until 5am that morning but she looked as fresh as a daisy. Stacie is a Mackem, a resident of Sunderland and is very proud of her North Eastern roots. So whilst she made a perfect Tarte Tatin, she kept us entertained with comic stories of her upbringing and her beloved Nanna, whom she attributes with having taught her to cook.

Me and fellow baking enthusiast Wendi Peters

At the end of her demo, Stacie made time to talk people, sign programmes and have her photo taken. The Teen and I were at the front of the queue and were not disappointed. She is a very normal, down-to-earth girl, who just happens to have found a career in television.

Wandering the stands we found tiny artisan bakers, local pie makers, baking supplies, cooking focused magazines and all manner of baking related products. I could have spent a fortune but knowing my fondness for shopping I had set myself a budget, which I managed to stick to…just.

There was a stand being manned by a team from The Bakewell Baking Festival. This vintage themed event is to be held in the home of the venerated Bakewell pudding. In their words it will be “the world’s first Baking Festival entirely devoted to all things Baking with a Vintage twist! Held on 8th-9th June 2013.” Being vintage fans and bakers the Teen and I hastily noted this in our diaries.

Then it was back to the Sainsbury’s tent to watch Brendan Lynch and Cathryn Dresser, former competitors in The Great British Bake Off, guide members of the audience in a bake off competition. They had to bake Chocolate Chip cookies and it was hilarious. Cathryn decided that the amount of flour they had been given was too much and used only half. Once the cookies were baking she realised her mistake and then had everyone in stitches with her funny, self-deprecating comments. Brendan’s precision approach to baking was obvious when his perfect cookies came out of the oven. A team of children were chosen from the audience to come and judge the bake off and children being children chose Cathryn’s less than perfect cookies. Declaring them to be, “soft and crunchy at the same time,” “chocolately,” and “squidgy.” What more could you want?

Me and the lovely Brendan Lynch

When the demo finished The Teen and I went over to talk to Brendan and Cathryn. They were both very warm and friendly and happy to chat. It’s always a relief to encounter people who have found ‘fame’ but haven’t let it go to their heads.

Frankie and the very sweet Cat Dresser

My only criticism of the show was the advertised Tea Room. The website stated, “Visitors at the show will be able to take a break and join us for tea in our Tea Room, where an array of delicious cakes, scones, and sandwiches will be available…” and was accompanied by photos of tablecloths, china tea cups and scones oozing jam and cream. This conjured up images of a quaint, cosy, vintage style tea room created especially for the show. In reality, it was the usual, uninviting, impersonal, roped off area supplied by Manchester Central. All aluminium garden chairs and tables, mass catering and tea in a paper cup. It didn’t particularly spoil our enjoyment but it was definitely mis-sold. Maybe next year will be nearer the mark.

Over the three days, lots of baking stars appeared at the show, including three that I admire greatly and would have dearly loved to meet. A mix of restaurateurs‘, TV presenters and writers: Simon RimmerAndrew Nutter and Paul Hollywood. Sadly, these guys had been at the show one or the other of the two previous days.

Next year we shall have to book for all three days and we shall definitely be back. If you have a love of baking I would recommend it as a bake-tastic day out.



Saturday, 30 March 2013

Easter Offerings

I haven’t been out of the house since last Wednesday, due to my Fibro flaring up. So today I beat a path to the local supermarket, to purchase an Easter Egg for the Teen and some Easter treats for the family. Well, blow me, there wasn’t a single egg, chick or daffodil to be found. It was the same everywhere, so other shoppers informed me. Have the supermarket Easter purchasing teams under ordered this year, due to the current economic downturn? Had the masses bulk bought to put away for next year in case, financially, we are even worse off? Is there a world shortage of cocoa solids that we are not being told about? Whatever the reason, me and several other similarly bewildered shoppers, were left scratching our heads.

Tomorrow is another traditional family gathering. Earlier in the week, Pater text me from his new iPad, (he is a techno wunderkind) to ask if we would be attending. If we were, he said he would try and tempt some poor, shivering lamb in to warm itself in his oven, with a blanket of rosemary and garlic. He’s so thoughtful.

I digress. Tribal gatherings mean one has to present oneself with offerings for the hosts. Not compulsory, just polite. But what to take now? I hit the recipe books. Of course, the traditional Easter Simnel cake. Pater and I are both suckers for anything with marzipan anyway. A quick root through the cupboards showed I didn’t have enough currents, raisins and sultanas for the recipe. However, I did have other ingredients and so, as is my want, I adapted the BBC Food recipe to what I had in.

Because these cakes were for presents I baked in two 4” tins as opposed to one 7”. It’s always a bit hit and miss at the best of times with my oven so I baked them for 45 minutes at 140°C, (130°C Fan, 275°F or Gas Mark 1). Then turned it down to 120°C for 20 minutes.

175g/6oz butter
175g/6oz soft brown sugar
3 free-range eggs, beaten
175g/6oz plain flour
Pinch of salt
½ tsp ground mixed spice
85g/3oz sultanas
85g/3oz ready to eat prunes, chopped
85g/3oz ready to eat apricots, chopped
85g/3oz chopped almonds
½ lemon, grated zest only
Marzipan, shop bought or make your own
1-2 tbsp apricot jam
1 free-range egg, beaten for glazing

For the cake, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs until well incorporated and then sift in the flour, salt and mixed spice (if using) a little at a time. Finally, add the mixed dried fruit, peel and grated lemon zest and stir into the mixture.

Put the mixture into a greased and lined 18cm/7in cake tin. Smooth the top leaving a slight dip in the centre to allow for the cake to rise. Bake in the preheated oven for 1¾ hours. Test by inserting a skewer in the middle - if it comes out clean, it is ready. Once baked, remove from the oven and set aside to cool on a wire rack.

Brush the top of the cooled cake with the apricot jam. Divide the remainder of the almond paste in half; roll out a circle to cover the top of the cake with one half and form 11 small balls with the other half.

Place the circle of paste on the jam glaze and set the balls round the edge. Brush the cake topping with a little beaten egg.

Preheat the grill to high. Place the cake onto a baking tray and grill for 1-2 minutes, or until the top of the marzipan begins to brown. Alternatively, lightly heat the cake topping using a cook's blow torch, until the marzipan is golden-brown.