Hi! Welcome to my blog. I am a major foodie, with a haphazard cooking philosophy, currently making that transition from cooking and baking for friends and family to 'wonder if I could make this my career'. Follow me for recipes, the outcomes of a few experiments, and general lovely foodiness. Opinions, reviews and recommendations are all my own.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

If In Doubt - Make Soup

When I talk about a kick at the pantry door, the absolute essence of the philosophy is that moment when, for any one of a number of reasons, you find yourself in the kitchen, with all your cupboard doors ajar, the fridge door wide open, and you are asking yourself what on earth to make for dinner. Maybe it's not quite payday. Maybe you have neither the time nor energy to get to the shops. Maybe, as often happens in our house, you have a mixture of half used packages and leftovers that don't quite know how to assemble themselves into a proper meal.

Whenever this happens in my house, I make soup. Soup is one of the most under-rated, healthiest, lowest in calories, tastiest, and absolute easiest things in the world to make. It needs no recipe, culinary expertise, little time to make, and its possibilities are endless. I use one simple rule when I make soup - the volume of liquid must slightly outweigh the weight of the solids, normally 500g mixed vegetables to 700ml stock.

Today I made a soup from a bag of sweet potatoes that needed using up. I used a chicken stock cube to make my stock, and added to it the sweet potatoes peeled and chopped, three sweet peppers that were close to their best, and a generous helping of thyme. I left the pan to simmer for an hour whilst I got on with my chores, and returned when the vegetables had softened to the point that they were starting to break up. I added half a bag of spinach that was sitting in the fridge, cooked it through and then blended until smooth.

Gary and I enjoyed big steaming bowlfuls for lunch, with piles of buttered bread, and the remainder has been divided into individual pots and frozen, so that we can defrost and cook a single portion whenever the mood takes. This also makes a cheap and easy healthy lunch option if you work in a place where you have access to a microwave.

Making soup like this, the possibilities are endless, these are some of my favourite options;

Spicy Vegetable
Start by frying a chopped garlic clove and a fresh chilli, then add the stock and vegetables. If you do not have a fresh chilli, 1 tsp of dried chilli flakes could also be used. Butternut Squash or Parsnips are ideal flavours to compliment the spice.
Smoky Bacon and Lentil
Start by frying chopped onions and bacon in a little oil until golden, then add the remaining vegetables, potatoes, and red lentils. Then add the stock.
Chicken and Vegetable
Follow the recipe above, adding 200g cooked chicken. Leftover meat from a Sunday Roast is perfect, alternatively grill 2 chicken breasts, dice and add to the soup before blending.

I would love to hear some of your variations or favourite soup recipes, please post below!

Enjoy! V x

Sunday, 14 October 2012

A (Short) Diary of a Foodie

Ask one hundred people what their idea of a perfect weekend is, and you will get one hundred different answers. This weekend is fast becoming one of my favourite, packed with celebrations, catch ups with old friends, girl time, cosy nights in, brilliant news from long-distance friends, and, underpinning all of the above, food.

Friday night started with a hen party for my lovely Auntie, who is tying the knot with the loveliest man, and making a lot of people very happy. The only slight glitch in the whole evening was that a whole collection of accidents on the M1 meant I had to drive direct to the venue, and therefore had to endure the very surreal experience of being the only person sober at a hen party... It was such a lovely evening, with dinner and dancing on a cruise boat on the River Trent in Nottingham, courtesy of Princess River Cruises. The crew on board were fantastic, and endlessly patient, the carvery was great, and a good time was had by all, (except maybe the young couple that obviously had not expected not one, but two raucous hen parties on their romantic boat trip!!!) If you are interested in knowing more, here is the link to their site http://www.princessrivercruises.co.uk/

Nottingham Trent Bridge at night from the water.

The upshot of not drinking Friday night, was being able to wake up Saturday morning clearheaded and embark on a mammoth baking session. I have trips planned for Sunday and Monday to see very special friends, and wanted to be able to take some treats (in true Stepford wife fashion - remind me to get some wicker baskets to complete the look!) I'm not ashamed to say I spent a solid 12 hours yesterday baking, decorating, experiment and cooking in my kitchen, and loved every minute. Evidence of these toils will be posted soon, but not until certain people have had their surprises!

Gary and I then settled in for a Saturday Night In, complete with bad 'entertainment' TV, snugly blankets, and good winter comfort food - Steak and Dauphinoise Potatoes. Dauphinoise Potatoes is one dish that I never ever cook from a recipe, preferring to utilise whatever is in the house, sometimes onions, sometimes garlic. Last night, I went for a simple option, and layered very thinly sliced potatoes with grated parmesan cheese, and double cream, more potatoes, more cheese, more cream, and so on. I then covered the dish with foil, and baked for two and a half hours on a medium heat (about 180 degrees). The parmesan slowly created a cheesy crust on the bake, and infused the cream and potatoes, and made possibly one of the best Dauphinoise I have made to date. If you do want a recipe however, I have always found this one from the BBC to be fairly foolproof http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/dauphinoisepotatoes_90205

So as the weekend rolls on, today I am making a 200 mile trip to meet a beautiful little boy that came into the world on Friday, before heading on to spend some quality girl time with a far away friend tonight, and the promise of a Sunday Roast. I have a car laden down with goodies, and an especially light heart knowing that my weekend doesnt finish until Tuesday night! Like I said - Best. Weekend. Ever!

V x

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Macarons versus Macaroons

Like so many things, baking has trends and fashions, crazes that take over in a big way - such as the current international taste for cupcakes (or fairy cakes if you prefer). In recent years, macaroons (or macarons to the Parisians) have resurfaced in a big way, something about the bright colours, versatile flavours and fillings and super sweetness has made them not only a culinary delight for bakers, but a fashionable home-made gift.

My interest peaked, as it so often does, by watching endless cookery shows, and reading countless blogs, all of which told me in no uncertain terms that these tasty little treats were horrendously difficult to master, making them the holy grail of baking. For those of you that know me well, this translates directly into a challenge of the highest order... I mean seriously... how hard can they be? ! ?

So I googled. I read. I compared several recipes, and marvelled at how much they varied. Eventually I found one that seemed fairly easy to master, and more importantly I had the ingredients for in the house, and got to work. I'm proud to say that, aside from a sight spacing issue when piping the shells that caused a few mutated double shells, batch one came out pretty damn good! Coloured a pale peach, sweet and almondy, and the correct texture, I sandwiched them with a chocolate buttercream, and smugly presented them to Gary...

The reaction I received was not quite the one I had hoped for, when Gary turned to me and asked "oh, I thought they were supposed to have coconut in them?" Of course, I thought, those are called macaroons as well! So I turned to trusty google, to find out the difference. In essence, the macaroon has existed since the 1500's in various guises, the original being the almond shell version above, and has been adapted over time by various cultures into various different confections, the staple being the meringue base.

Just to compare, I made a second batch last night of the coconut version, which were equally sweet and delicious.

And so I blog tonight slightly more educated in the history of the macaroon, and a little more pleased with myself for completing the challenge of making my first batch, with big plans for new colours and flavours swirling in my mind's eye... watch this space!

V x

Friday, 5 October 2012

Autumnal Inspired Carrot Cake

Since starting a cake decorating and sugar-craft course last week I have been itching to put my new skills to the test, and have been mentally designing cakes in my mind during the long commute to work and back each day. Today, I found my inspiration in the cool crispness of autumn, as I drove through the Derbyshire countryside on my way from Swadlincote to Belper. A watery sun shone on bare hay fields, and the wind whipped up piles of leaves in the hedgerows. 

With a design idea in mind, I needed a cake that matched the seasonal inspiration, and I settled on a wonderfully moist spiced carrot cake, with a luscious cream cheese frosting. In my early baking days, carrot cake was always a trial and error cake for me, usually resulting in a rather dry texture, and a slightly bland flavour. Since then I have found the following recipe, and have used it ever since. The aroma is rich, the cake spongy and moist, and the taste fruity with a warming hint of nutmeg and cinnamon. Stick to this easy recipe, and you will make the perfect carrot cake every time...

  • 175g dark muscavado sugar
  • 175ml sunflower or vegetable oil (I have also successfully used olive oil before)
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 150g carrots, weighed and then grated finely
  • 100g raisins
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1tsp mixed spice
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees, and line a 9 inch round, or 8 inch square cake tin with greaseproof paper.
2. Combine the sugar, eggs and oil together in a large bowl.
3. Add the carrots, raisins and orange zest to the mixture, and mix well.
4. Sift the flour, combine with the bicarbonate of soda and the spices, and fold into the mixture.
5. Transfer the cake mix to the tin, and bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until firm and spongy to the touch.
6. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

Because of the moist nature of the mixture, this carrot cake is absolutely perfect accompanied with nothing more than a hot cup of tea. If however you want to make it a little more special, finish with a cream cheese frosting. Beat 300g cream cheese, 90g butter, and 250g icing sugar together until smooth and creamy, and spread all over the cake. 

And the autumnal inspired design tonight...

Happy baking! V x