Carrot Cake

During half-term the kids and I made this cake. It was, until then, an untouched recipe in a well-used cook book. It was a simple recipe that the kids lead the way with. The result was a delicious and generous cake that lasted some days. It was lovely with a cup of tea, or served with some fruit and creme fraiche for pudding. So if you fancy baking a quick cake for the weekend, with or without little helpers, I urge you to give this one a try.

Carrot Cake

Serves 12- 14

4 medium eggs
150g caster sugar
300ml rapeseed oil
300g wholemeal self-raising flour
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 – 4 large carrots, peeled and grated
150g runny honey

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 23cm springform cake tin andline the base with baking paper.

Put the eggs and suagr in a large bowl and beat together with a hand-held electric beater, or using a freestanding mixer, for about 10 minutes, until pale, foamy and slightly thickened. Add the oil and beat for another minute or two.

Sift the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda together into the mixture. Tip in any bran left in the sieve, too. Fold in gently. Finally, fold in the grated carrot. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in an oven for 45 – 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and stand the tin on a wire rack.

Put the honey into a small saucepan over a low heat and heat gently until it is liquid. Pierce the surface of the hot cake all over with a skewer. Slowly pour on the hot honey so it soaks into the cake. Leave to cool slightly in the tin before turning out. Serve warm or cold.

Recipe taken from River Cottage Every Day by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Aubergine, Lemongrass & Sprout Curry

Over the years I've fallen for and followed an immeasurable number of food blogs. Many have inevitably slipped along the way, but there are a small handful that I have followed for so long that many of their recipes have become regular dishes on my dinner table.

One such blog is Green Kitchen Stories. You don't have to trawl far on this blog to stumble across a recipe of theirs. This one comes from their second cook book Green Kitchen Travels.

Curries are nearly always a good thing. This one is insanely delicious and features brussels sprouts, which I think are a mighty fine vegetable. It's fragrant, full of goodness and so quick and easy to make on a busy week night.

My only word of caution is to eat it with the greatest of attention. Its joyful sunny yellow colour is credit to turmeric. I once ruined a favourite dress of mine when a drop of turmeric juice strayed from my spoon. I am still looking for a replacement dress - it was an old favourite. However, I'm also still regularly making this curry, though eating it with much more care, or while wearing an old top.

Lemongrass, Aubergine & Sprout Curry

Serves 4

3 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2.5 cm fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 stalks lemongrass, crushed and finely chopped
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp mustard seeds, ground in a mortar
1 medium size aubergine, cut in wedges
2 small apples, cut in small dices
240 ml water
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 can (400 ml) coconut milk
300 g brussels sprouts, cut in halves
1-2 tsp sea salt

Serve with:
Rice for 4 persons - I like to use brown rice
A handful fresh  basil and  coriander

Heat oil in a large pot on medium high heat. Add garlic and sauté for about a minute, then add all 5 spices, lower the heat a bit and stir constantly to ensure they do not burn. Add the aubergine wedges one by one. Make sure all wedges get soaked in the spicy oil. Then add the apple and fry everything for a few minutes. Add water and apple cider vinegar, cover with a lid and let cook for about 20 minutes or until the veggies are tender. Meanwhile, cook your rice. Add coconut milk, brussels sprouts and salt to the curry and let simmer for about 10 minutes more. Stir in a generous handful of fresh basil and coriander. Serve with the rice.

Note: the beautiful Terracotta bowl is by Reiko Kaneko

Blood Orange & Rosemary Tart

We did have a party marked for this weekend just gone - and I'm not talking about one of the many kid's parties that seem to be shaping our weekends at the moment - no, this was a birthday party of a friend of ours. It was however cancelled, as unbeknown to her when she sent out her save-the-date, her husband had plans to whisk her away for the weekend - lucky her - we can party anytime.

However, we and our other friends thought it was still worth getting together for a late afternoon tea and a few bottles of wine, so we did - and a lovely time it was too. I made and took along this Blood Orange & Rosemary Tart.

I simply adore blood oranges, and what with their ever-so-short season, I intend to make the most of them. I was looking for a new recipe to try that would really let these ruby oranges steal the show and came to this recipe is from Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose. It's a well-thumbed, flour smeared, recipe book on my kitchen shelf that's full of recipes for healthier, more natural bakes that favour ancient flours like rye, buckwheat and spelt along with fruits, nuts and honey, rather than refined sugars.

I'm not all that confident when it comes to pasty, but this rosemary-flecked shortcrust pasty was quick to make and had a lovely crumbly texture. The orange-custard filling was simple enough too, and although I was a little concerned of its slight wobble when it came out of the oven, it did firm up a little more upon cooling - so don't be tempted to over cook it, have a little faith.

It was delicious with a dollop of creme fraiche on the side, but equally good on its own. I will, without doubt make this again. Regular oranges, can of course replace blood oranges and I strongly steer you towards using organic eggs as their vibrant yellow yolks make all the difference in ensuring your filling really sings.

Blood Orange & Rosemary Tart

grated zest of 3 and juice of 5 blood oranges
2 sprigs of rosemary
120g maple syrup
4 large eggs and 6 yolks
200g unsalted butter, softened
spelt shortcrust rosemary tart case:
250g spelt white flour, sifted
pinch of salt
90g cold unsalted butter, cubed
50g icing sugar
2tbsp finely chopped rosemary
2 large free-range egg yolks

Combine flour salt, and butter in a food processor and pulse until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Add sugar, rosemary and egg yolks and pulse again until combined and comes away from the side of the bowl (I added a tiny bit of cold water to help bring it together).

Remove from bowl, shape gently into flat disk, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 180ºC

Using a box grater, coarsely the pastry into a 25 cm tart tin then press it evenly into the sides and base.  Prick the base of the tart with a fork and then chill again for 10 minutes. 

Line tart with baking paper and fill with baking weights and blind bake for 12 minutes. Remove beans and paper and bake for a further 5 minutes until lightly golden. Remove from oven and cool - leaving in tin.

Put orange juice and rosemary sprigs in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until juice has reduced by almost half. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.

Add the zest, maple syrup, eggs and yolks to the pan. Whisk until the eggs are broken up and everything has become homogenised.

Place the pan over a low heat.  As the mixture starts to cook it with thicken.  Once thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, add the butter and continue whisking until the mixture becomes very thick.  It is very important to continue whisking throughout the cooking process to prevent the mixture from splitting.  Remove from the heat and place the pan on a cold surface and continue to whisk until the mixture has cooled to lukewarm.

Spoon the filling into the tart case and bake in the oven until the top is brown - this should take about 10-15 minutes, but check it after 10.  Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool before removing from the tin.

A Syjunta Gathering

Happy New Year! For my first post of 2016, I am going to share a few images from the recent Syjunta gathering shoot I did for The Simple Things magazine.

A Syjunta for those in the dark, is a traditional Swedish gathering of friends who meet to chat, eat, craft and sew together. For the shoot I designed a simple Scandi lunch menu of Beetroot & Ginger soup, Open Sandwiches and Toscakaka, a Swedish caramel-almond topped sponge cake.

I worked with my favourite photographer, Emma Gutteridge, and some lovely obliging friends who were willing to spend the morning at mine chatting and sewing in return for a Scandi lunch, which meant it turned out to be a really fun and relaxing shoot to do.

You can see further images and all the recipes from the shoot in the January issue of The Simple Things, available from all good newsagents or here.

Images: Emma Gutteridge.

Christmas Table

As Christmas is now just around the corner, I thought I'd share these festive table images with you. They are from a shoot I styled for The Simple Things magazine using only products from their online shop, The Stuff of Life

The images are by the super-lovely photographer, Emma Gutteridge, who I tend to find myself working with more and more these days, which is a joy.

I worked on this shoot a few months back, when the Christmas products hadn't quite reached the shop shelves, so I had to be rather creative - such as using some beautifully patterned paper to make crackers. I guess it goes to show how you can create a festive table with everyday bits that you probably already have. Just add plenty of greenery (eucalyptus smells divine), battery-powered fairy lights and some candles and you'll have capture some of that Christmas magic.

All products are available to buy at The Stuff of Life and instructions on how to make the crackers and place cards are featured in the December issue of The Simple Things, out now and available to buy in all good newsagents or here.

My December Product Picks

I love interior and lifestyle magazines and without doubt the December issues are always my favourite. However this year I actually get to play a part in a December issue, putting my own mark on the page.

At the beginning of 2015, I took on the position of Shopping Editor for The Simple Things magazine, for who I produce a monthly Wishlist; six pages of products to want and wish for. I'm truly fussy about what I feature, only sharing products I like on a personal level - it's all very much my own taste. Here's a few of my festive favourites from the issue ....

(above) One, Two Tree DIY poster from One Must Dash - a print with sticky baubles to create your own tree. Guaranteed to have no needle drop.

(above) Christmas Crackers from Katie Leamon - monochrome crackers for stylish table settings.

(above) Welcoming festive decorations from Tesco - purse friendly wreaths, lanterns and all for adorning your porch and front door.

To see my full Wishlist, pick up a copy of the December issue of The Simple Things, available now at all good newsagents or online here.

 

Christmas Countdown

The countdown has begun. It's the 1st of December, the start to my favourite month of the year. As a child I always loved having an advent calendar to count away the days of this magical month. The early morning ceremonial act of opening each little door to find a festive image full of promise of what was to come. These were the days before character-based chocolate filled calendars - just a Christmassy scene, maybe with a dusting of silver glitter if it was a posh one.

Every year I set myself a task of tracking down calendars for my two that are a bit different, and some years I've hit jackpot with some beautiful ones. This year however I decided to have a go at making them. 

I hung them on their bedroom doors for them to find when they got home from school yesterday - hoping that mum's homemade ones would be the right side of OK, even though they weren't bright yellow Minion ones.

They both absolutely loved them and are are so excited about opening their daily envelopes. Most are filled with small chocolate coins and christmas foil-wrapped chocolates, but there are a few other bits such as badges, stickers, mini honeycomb-paper decorations and a voucher for a dvd rental from the local library.

They were pretty easy to make. The wooden ring is the inner ring of an embroidery hoop. I secured some green foliage (which smells so Christmassy) with some florist wire and added a few wire-strung baubles. The deer is an inexpensive tree decoration that I stuck on with hot glue. I placed the daily treasures into brown paper envelopes onto which I had stamped the numbers 1 to 24, hole-punched and strung to the hoop with bakers twine.

Let the countdown begin ....

Red Cabbage Pie

This is an old recipe cooked in a new pot. This casserole dish is the latest addition in my kitchen and from the minute it arrived it was asking to have something comforting made in it. The freezing weather this last week saw me call upon an old recipe - one on a splattered and wrinkled piece of paper that I've had for probably 10 years.

A potato topped pie never fails to satisfy. A comforting golden fluffy crust that covers a seasonal mix of red cabbage, carrot and apple bound in a rich fragrant sauce. It's very moreish. To the mash I added some cavolo nero as I had some leftover from a previous meal in the fridge drawer and some caraway and nigella seeds which take it to another level in a subtle kind of way.

Any leftovers are good the next day. If a little on the small side your leftover portion could be elevated with a poached or fried egg or a generous smoothing of cheddar cheese and a quick blast under the grill.

I've a feeling this casserole will become my best friend this winter. It's a robust pot that can be used on the stove and in the oven. It's an Italian design, the Sapori range, which sells through Forma House in the UK. You can view the full range here.

Red Cabbage Pie

Serves 4

1 tbsp sunflower or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
350g carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
350g red cabbage, cored and cut into chunks
200g celery, thickly sliced
1 medium cooking apple, peeled, cored and sliced
2 tsp paprika
2 tbsp plain flour
600ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
For the topping:
675g potatoes, peeled and quartered
150g cavolo nero, kale or green cabbage shredded
25g butter
3 tbsp soured cream
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp nigella seeds
pinch of paprika
a sprinkling of finely grated parmesan cheese
seasoning

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / Gas 4. Heat the oil in a 2.25 litre flameproof casserole dish. Add the onion and fry for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.

Add the carrots, red cabbage, celery and apple and fry for 3 minutes stir in the paprika and flour, then add the stock, tomato puree, sugar, vinegar and seasoning. Bring to the boil. Cover, transfer to the oven and bake for 45 minutes to1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the topping. Cook the potatoes in boiling water for 20 minutes until tender. Add the cavolo nero and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Drain, return to the pan and mash with half he butter, the soured cream, caraway seeds and seasoning. Spoon the mashed potato over the red cabbage, dot with the remaining butter a fine grating of parmesan, a dusting of paprika and the nigella seeds. Bake, uncovered, for 25 – 30 minutes until golden.

Apple, Almond & Buckwheat Muffins

It has been two months since I last wrote a post - that has to be the longest post break since I started writing this blog. Life is generally getting busier and finding the time to create and write posts isn't as easy as it once was.

I'm getting far more work as a stylist working on food shoots - many of which are time consuming projects, that eats up so much of my time. I'm not complaining; it the sort of work that has been on my wish list for the last few years, but ultimately the blog is the first things that gets pushed to the side. But this sort of work comes in peaks and troughs, so it won't always be this way.

I took these images a couple of weeks ago at the start of autumn. I was keen to cook something autumnal and healthy, so tried my hand at this recipe from the wonderful Green Kitchen Stories blog. They're delicious and utterly guilt free - perfect for breakfast or as a snack. This batch didn't hang around for long!

The original ingredients list for this recipe included homemade apple sauce. This is obviously the best option – the shop bought varieties are full of sugar. But without a glut of apples to hand, or indeed time to make the sauce, I used an organic sugar-free apple puree – the pouch varieties that you feed to babies. It worked a treat.

Apple, Almond & Buckwheat Muffins

Makes 12 muffins

Dry ingredients:
100 g almond flour
100 g rolled oats
75 g buckwheat flour
2 tbsp arrowroot
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp sea salt

Wet ingredients:
160 ml plain unsweetened yogurt
80 ml olive oil
10 fresh soft dates, pitted and mashed
3 large eggs
120 ml apple sauce or puree, unsweetened (see my tip above)
3 apples

Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C. Grease a muffin pan with oil or butter or line it with muffin tins.

Add all the dry ingredients to a food processor or blender and process on high speed so the oats turn into coarse flour and all ingredients are mixed. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Add eggs, yogurt, oil, dates and 80 ml of the apple sauce / puree (save the rest for later) to the food processor or blender and mix until smooth, and then transfer to the mixing bowl with the dry ingredients. Grate two of the apples and add them to the batter.

Divide the batter into the muffin tins, filling them only half way up. Drop a heaping teaspoon of apple sauce / puree in the middle of each muffin and then cover with the remaining batter. Slice the last apple thinly, brush the slices with oil and place one or a few slices on top of each muffin, pressing them down slightly. Dust with cinnamon.

Bake for about 18-20 minutes. Let cool for a bit before taking them out of their tins and they will release easier. Enjoy!

Seeded Halloumi & Harissa Rainbow Bowl

This weekend we're packing our bags and heading to Spain to see out the rest of the month bathed in some much-needed sunshine. The UK summer never really got started - maybe it's still to come. It doesn't hurt to be hopeful does it? This will be my last post for a couple of weeks, so I'm leaving you with not only a recipe, but a book recommendation too.

A recently purchased a new cook book a few weeks ago and I can't get enough of it. It is good - really good. A Modern Way to Cook by Anna Jones, is a vegetarian cook book that echo's the way I like to cook: creating balanced, vegetable-focused meals that are nutritious, satisfying and incredibly tasty.

I've made several recipes from the book, but as so often happens, I never think to photograph the results until scrapping the last morsels from the bowl. I did however take a few quick photographs of this lovely bowl of food, the result from one of the 150-plus recipes in the book. I made a few adaptions to the original recipe owing to what I had in the kitchen cupboard. 

While in Spain, we will be self-catering. We have just a 4-ring hob and a BBQ, but with the bountiful, local, seasonal produce on offer, we will I'm sure, eat like Kings. I will try to remember to make a few notes of the meals I make and hopefully share them with you here once I return.

Until then .... x

Seeded Halloumi & Harissa Rainbow Bowl

Serves 4

250g ready to eat Quinoa
coconut oil
the juice of half a lemon
a small bunch of mint
a small bunch of dill
300g cherry tomatoes
4 raw beetroots
200g rainbow chard
1 lime
1 ripe avocado
200g block of halloumi cheese
2 tbsp mixed seeds

For the dressing:
a bunch of spring onions
1 tsp runny honey
1 tbsp harissa
2 tbsp  extra virgin olive oil
the juice of half a lemon

Empty the quinoa into a bowl and dress with the lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Chop the mint and dill and mix through the quinoa.

Finely slice and fry the onions in a little coconut oil until just starting to brown, the scoop them into a jug and add all the other dressing ingredients. Season with salt and pepper and mix well.

Cut the tomatoes in half. Peel the beetroot and use a mandolin or some careful knife skills to slice them very finely. Remove the stalks from the chard and chop finely then shred the leaves. Put the leaves into a bowl with the lime juice and a pinch of salt and scrunch with your hands for a minute to soften them.

Cut the avocado in half and remove the stone, then, with the skin still on, use a small knife to make incisions lengthways along the avocado to form slices.

Put a frying pan on the heat and add a drop of coconut oil. Fry the chard stalk for a minute before spooning them onto a saucer and setting aside. Wipe the pan clean with a piece of kitchen paper. 

Place the frying pan back on the stove and heat. Slice the halloumi thinly. Have your seeds standing by. Put the halloumi into the hot dry pan and cook until brown on one side, which will take about a minute, then flip it over and brown the other side. Scatter over the seeds and turn the halloumi in the pan until it is coated with them. Take off the heat.

Serve the quinoa in bowls, topped with all the rainbow vegetables, the seeded halloumi and generous spoonfuls of the harissa dressing.


Blueberry, Blackcurrant, Kiwi & Basil Smoothie

The house is unusually quiet (and tidy) this week as my two little people are enjoying a five day stretch at nanny and grandads: days of sandy beaches and having both ice creams and hot chocolate with marshmallows in the same afternoon - no questions asked. They're living the high life, that's for sure.

I miss them both like mad, but it is great to have some much needed time to get some work done before our holiday later this month. And then there are those child-free evenings to fill with dinners for two, after work drinks down the local and catching up with friends. However, one day in and I'm stuck down ill with a sore throat and all. Typical!

Determined to shake this off, I decided to make myself a vitamin packed smoothie yesterday. I had a couple of over-ripe kiwi's in the fruit bowl and some blueberries in the fridge and there was that punnet of new season blackcurrants (packed with vitamin C) that won me over at the shops. These formed the base of my smoothie along with other smoothie-friendly ingredients that I had to hand. It's the perfect pick-me-up for those a little under the weather.

Blueberry, Blackcurrant, Kiwi & Basil Smoothie

1 handful of blueberries
1 handful of blackcurrants
2 kiwi fruits, peeled and roughly chopped
1 ripe banana, sliced
4 basil leaves
2 heaped tsp of nut butter (I used cashew)
1 tsp honey
a large glassful of almond milk (or milk of your choice)

Place all the ingredients in a blender and whizz until smooth. Pour into a chilled glass, pop in a straw and enjoy.







Courgette & Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake

The school holidays started this week. I've been working hard lately to meet many of my work deadlines early, so that I can spend time with the kids without being linked to my emails 24/7. We're eager to start spending our days on the beach and in the parks, but the weather has other ideas at the moment. It's grey and wet, but it won't last forever. We just need to put these stay-at-home-days to good use.

Days like these cry out for cake, so I baked this Courgette & Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake. We've lots of courgette in our fridge drawer from the allotment so this recipe was a good way to use some of them up.

It's a simple cake and one that I'm happy to give the kids for their morning snack with a glass of milk. The recipe is adapted from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall loaf cake that contains squash and raisins - the latter being something 50% of my household firmly can't abide. Plain chocolate chips are my go-to substitute in such recipes.

Courgette & Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake

Makes 12 generous slices

A little butter or sunflower oil, for greasing
200g light muscovado sugar
200g courgette grated on the coarse side of a box grater
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
100g plain chocolate chips
100g ground almonds
200g self-raising flour
A pinch of fine sea salt
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
A generous grating of nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 170C. Lightly grease a loaf tin, about 20 x 10 cm, and line with baking paper.

Using an electric whisk, beat the sugar and egg yolks together for 2 - 3 minutes until it is pale and creamy. Lightly stir in the grated courgette, lemon zest and juice, chocolate chips and ground almonds. Sift the flour, salt and spices together over the mixture and then fold then in, using a large metal spoon.

In a large, clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Stir a heaped tablespoon of the egg white into the cake mixture to loosen it a little, then fold in the rest as lightly as you can.

Tip the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and gently level the surface. Bake for 45 minutes - 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.



Grape, Lemon & Thyme Cake

This is the cake that I baked for the school summer fete last weekend. The offerings for the cake stall have to be nut-free, which automatically cuts my options in half. Then, what with the warm weather, anything chocolate based was really out of the question too.

It also needed to be a cake that was easy to eat on the hoof, just served on a napkin. A school fete cake has much to consider. I ended up taking a punt on this recipe from the wonderful Twigg Studios blog. 

I made a couple of changes to the original recipe to use a few bits I had to hand in the kitchen, such as swapping the original black grapes for red and replacing the greek yoghurt with greek yoghurt with honey - the result of which was subtle. It would be nice served with a little greek yoghurt on the side, drizzled with honey. It's super quick and easy to make and, I'm relieved to stay it sold out in no time at all. I will, without doubt, be making this again, again and again.

Grape, Lemon & Thyme Cake

220g butter
220g caster sugar
220g plain flour
4 eggs
zest and juice of 1 lemon
few sprigs of fresh thyme
20 red seedless grapes
125ml greek yoghurt with honey.
pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 180 C 

In a bowl cream together the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy then add the eggs one at a time making sure each one is properly combined before adding the next. Next add the lemon juice and zest and pick the leaves off two sprigs of thyme and add that too.

Sift in the flour and salt and fold in, then add the yoghurt. Roll the grapes in flour and fold them through out the cake batter (this helps stop them from sinking)

Pour into a greased and floured 23cm ring tin and bake for about 45 minutes. Allow the cake to cool, remove from the tin and dust with a little icing sugar. Fill the centre ring with grapes and thyme sprigs should you so wish.


White Chocolate & Mascarpone Tarts

A few weeks ago I posted my recipe for Parmesan & Poppy Seed Shortbread that was featured in last month's issue of The Simple Things. Today I am sharing the second recipe from the feature, incase you missed it when it was in print. 

A midsummer gathering of friends for cocktails and snacks was the theme and these tiny tarts were my sweet snack offering. They're a bit of a cheat, as the pastry cases are shop bought. The filling takes no time to make and assembling them is a doddle. 

p.s. dainty food need dainty tableware - these individual ceramic petal vessels are from Reiko Kaneko.

White Chocolate & Mascarpone Tarts

Makes 18

250g white chocolate
125g mascarpone
50ml double cream
250g raspberries
18 small rose petals (organically grown and unsprayed)
18 good quality shop-bought mini sweet pastry cases

Gently melt the chocolate in a bain-marie, and allow to cool a little. Place the mascarpone, double cream and melted chocolate into a bowl and whisk steadily. You don't want it too thick, go slowly.

Fill the pastry cases with the mixture and top with a raspberry and a rose petal or two. Chill until required.


Sweet Potato Salad

This isn't so much a recipe, more inspiration of what can be pulled together when you think you have nothing in for supper.

When I made this I hadn't intended to feature it here on the blog - well, not until just before plating it up and grabbing my camera to take a couple of quick shots in the dwindling evening light. The recipe is an exercise in using up those odds and ends that would have otherwise ended up in the bin - such a waste. I find it one of the most satisfying ways to cook. It saves good food, money and, with a bit of luck, you end up with a unique and tasty plate of food. The quantities given in the recipe below are by no means set in stone. Use your judgement as you go and change as you fill fit. It's only a potato salad - not much can go wrong.

Sweet Potato Salad

Serves 4

2 - 3 sweet potatoes
olive oil
small bunch radishes, finely sliced
2 - 3 spring onions
2 tbsp capers
small handful of freshly podded peas, a few reserved to garnish
small bunch of fresh parsley, chopped
small bunch of fresh dill, chopped, a little reserved to garnish
2 tbsp mayonnaise
4 tbsp crème fraiche
zest and juice of half a lemon
1 tsp nigella seeds
sea salt & coarse ground black pepper

Peel and chop the potatoes into bite-sized chunks. Put into a saucepan, cover with water and bring ti the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 5  - 10 minutes, until a sharp knife can easily be inserted. Drain, drizzle with a little oil and leave to cool at little.

Get a large bowl and into it place the radishes, spring onions, capers, peas, and herbs. Add in the cooled potatoes, followed by the mayonnaise, crème fraiche, lemon zest and juice. Season well with salt and pepper and gently combine everything. Taste and adjust with a little more seasoning, lemon juice or crème fraiche if desired. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl or plate and sprinkle over the reserved peas, dill and the Nigella seeds.


Breakfast Muffins

When I'm being really organised I like to prep a little something for a few tasty and healthy mid week breakfasts. I can't skip breakfast: I wake ready for food. 

The I made these Breakfast Muffins recently after coming across the recipe on the wonderful Dutch food blog by Renée Kemps. They are super quick to make and perfect with that cup of morning coffee, and with no butter or sugar pretty guilt free too. 

Breakfast Muffins 

Makes 6

1/2 cup oats, plus 4 tbs extra for topping
2 ripe banana
2 tbs spelt flour
2 tbs chopped nuts (I used hazelnuts), plus 2 tsp extra for topping
4 tbs almond milk
2 eggs
2 tsp flaxseeds
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
drop of vanilla paste
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbs honey, plus 1 tbs extra for topping
1 tbs coconut oil, melted, plus 2 tsp extra for topping
1/2 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 200 C and line a muffin tin with paper cases.
Blend the oats in a food processor or grinder until you have flour. Combine oat flour, spelt flour, baking powder, cinnamon, flaxseeds and salt and set aside.

Mash your banana and add the vanilla, egg, milk, coconut oil and honey. Mix until combined.
Combine the two together and fold in the nuts. 

Transfer it to your muffin cases filling each case by two thirds.Sprinkle some of the blueberries on top and press them a bit into the mixture. Combine the oats, nuts, honey and coconut oil for the topping. Sprinkle this on top. Finish with some more blueberries and bake them for about 25-30 minutes until golden brown and fully cooked through.

Parmesan & Poppy Seed Shortbread

The Simple Things recently commissioned me to create and photograph a couple of cocktail snack recipes: one savoury and one sweet. This is the savoury one for Parmesan & Poppy Seed Shortbread along with a few photographs from the cutting room floor.

The feature, in the June issue of the magazine, has five tempting summer cocktail recipes - perfect for a summer gathering - so go and grab yourself a copy while it's still on the shelves. By the way, the beautiful terracotta ceramics in this shoot are by Reiko Kaneko.

Parmesan & Poppy Seed Shortbread

Makes approx 24 biscuits

150g plain flour
75g finely grated parmesan 
100g unsalted butter, soft
1 egg yolk
2-3 tsp poppy seeds

Place all the ingredients together in a large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon, electric mixer or food processor, until a dough forms.

Turn the dough out onto a surface and knead for about 30 seconds until smooth. Flatten the dough down a little to form a disc shape, wrap with cling film and place in the fridge for 45 minutes.

Remove the dough from the fridge and allow to soften a little before rolling. Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan 160/350F.

Place a sheet of baking paper on a work surface, put the dough on top and cover with another sheet. Roll out the dough to about 1cm thick and remove the top sheet.

Using a 5cm circular biscuit cutter, stamp out as many biscuits from the dough as you can, and place on a baking sheet lined with baking paper.

Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, when they should be just tinged gold at the edges.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Store in an airtight container.



The Kitchen Cupboard {Kitchenalia Collections}

My dad collects model buses (he also has bundles of old Brentford FC programmes in his loft that go back decades), my husband, David has a huge collection of records that dominates our living room – even Lily has the collector bug. If there is a series of something – whether books or magnets that come free with a box of cereal she really has her eye on completing the whole collection. Arthur collects football cards – I find ‘swaps’ lying around all over the house. Are you a collector?

I wouldn’t say I’m a collector – at least no in a conscious, obsessive way. But I do like to see collections of certain things displayed together – there is something rather pleasing at it all. I’ve accumulated a number of cake tins over the years and now display them on a shelf above my kitchen door. I love these collections of kitchenalia – far too beautiful when displayed together to hide away in the kitchen cupboard, don’t you think?


Six

We had the most fantastic day last month celebrating Arthur's birthday. For the second year running we set up base at Stanmer Park in Brighton a threw a birthday picnic for Arthur, his friends, and their lovely families. The theme: Cowboys and Indians.

I made the Red Indian headdresses and added a bit of detail to some cowboy hats - On arrival the party goers got to pick their tribe and then take their headwear home with them at the end of the afternoon. We made a Wild West Prop Photobooth and a Tin Can Bow and Arrow Range for those who wished to polish their shootin' skills. We also had sack races and water pistols.

Foe the picnic, I made up each child a picnic bag containing a roll, crisps, carrot sticks, yoghurt and homemade Jammie biscuits. For us adults it was vegi sausage & caraway seed rolls or salmon and beetroot rolls (both the pastry kind), salt n' shake crisps along with a help-yourself basket of fresh peas to pod.

It was Chocolate BIrthday Cake all round for pudding. For party decorations and paper tableware, I went to My LIttle Day - my one-stop-shop for the loveliest of those finishing touches. Since using their pretty designs for Lily's birthday tea back in March, I've been hooked.

For the fifth year running we got the weather too! The days running up to the party were cold and wet, and I was starting to worry that I had no plan B to fall back on. However, the sun came out and it was like a true summer's day. the next day it had clouded over again - we got so lucky! Like last year's Kite party, the celebrations ran on into the late afternoon due to nobody wanting to leave. It was a happy chilled-out party that everyone enjoyed - one I hope Arthur will remember.

Finally there was the party bags. As organised as I am it's always a last minute rush at the end, so sadly I had no time to take any photographic evidence of the bags. I used simple red and white striped paper sweet bags, named with a luggage style tag. The contents were simple (and importantly for me, fitted the theme): a wagon wheel biscuit, a milky bar and Arthur's Wild West Party Compilation CD. 

The CD track list, should you be intrigued was: 1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly | Film Title, 2. Wild West Hero | Electric Light Orchestra, 3. Cotton Eye Joe | Rednex, 4. Dueling Banjos | from 'Deliverance', 5. Misty | Ray Stevens, 6. Wanted Dead or Alive | Bon Jovi, 7. Everybody's Talkin' | Harry Nilsson, 8. Swamp Thing | The Grid, 9. Midnight Cowboy | John Barry, 10. El Condor Pasa (If I Could) | Simon & Garfunkel, 11. A Horse With No Name | America, 12. Let Your Love Flow | The Bellamy Brothers, 13. Eagle | ABBA, 14. You've Got a Friend in Me (Toy Story) | Randy Newman.


20% off Leith's School of Food & Wine Food Photography Course

I am delighted to be able to offer any of my budding food photographer readers a 20% discount off the new Saturday's Food Photography course, at Leith's School of Food and Wine in London, that runs for three consecutive Saturdays starting on 13th June.

I can't rate Leith's courses high enough. I undertook one last summer and learnt so much. When I started my blog some four years ago I didn't even own a camera (other than a really dated camera phone). Then a few years in a bought myself a second hand Canon EOS D400. I barely knew how to turn it on, let alone shoot properly with it. I took a days crash course with a friend who introduced me to the 50mm F/1.8 ll lens and mysteries such as shutter speed and white balance. I then just shot everything on a white background. it was an improvement, but still not there by a long shot. 

It was then that I signed up to do a Food Photography & Styling course at Leith's, which was run by London-based, food photographer William Reavell. William’s photographs have been used in cookbooks by Mary Berry, Rick Stein and Gizzi Erskine, and by leading supermarkets and food companies. Under William's watchful eye, this hands-on learning experience saw our class photograph ingredients and recipes prepared by the talented chefs at Leiths. 

So what did I get out of my course? Well,  much was demystified and I picked up some useful tips and furthered my enthusiasm. I still have a lot to learn from a technical point of view, but the course, and William's encouragement gave me that bit of know-how coupled with the confidence to move away from my comfort blanket (that boring white background) and go forward.

 I still consider myself very much an amateur, but I have gone on to receive photography commissions from national magazines and leading supermarkets. If anyone is in the same position I was in a year ago, I whole heartedly recommend you book yourself onto this course. 

To get 20% off the course fee simply quote 'buttercup days' when booking. For more information click here.