Monday, December 30, 2013

The Best of 2013

Where did 2013 go?!! I have to admit that for the last 2 months my blogging has taken a serious nose dive! With lots of things going on I unfortunately just haven't had the time to take photos and post new recipes, or even review some cookbooks. I'm hoping however after a break in January I'll be back at it with a renewed sense of inspiration and a little bit of extra time on my hands allowing me to keep posting delicious new delights and updated reviews!

In the meantime here are the Top 5 recipes of 2013 as viewed by you, which I have to say are some of my all time favourite recipes that I cook over and over again - I hope you do too!


Coming in at number 5 is my Homemade Granola.

To be honest my husband would probably put this at number 1 as he loves it and eats it every day but it wasn't your favourite recipe of 2013 (maybe you just missed it!!)......

Monday, December 16, 2013

Broccoli & Boursin Soup

I absolutely love Broccoli Soup (in fact I think my favourite soup of all time is still my Broccoli & Nutmeg) and at this time of year you can't beat Broccoli and Stilton Soup. Only problem in my home is that I'm the only one that likes Stilton! So I came up with this delicious version as a way to keep everyone happy. It has so much comforting flavour and the addition of the Boursin just adds a lovely creaminess to the soup without being too heavy. It is the perfect soup to enjoy piping hot on a cold, snowy Winter's Day.

(If you would prefer a lighter, non-dairy Broccoli Soup then try my Broccoli & Nutmeg soup.)

Serves 4

1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 leek, cleaned and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 large head of Broccoli (approx. 12oz)
750ml Chicken or Vegetable Stock
115g/ 4oz Boursin Cheese, plus extra for garnish
Salt and Pepper

In a large pan heat oil and butter until the butter is melted and sizzling. Add the onion and leek and cook gently for 5 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and the broccoli, stir well then put a tight-fitting lid on and leave to sweat for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes add the stock and some seasoning then partially cover with the lid (just leave slightly askew) and leave to cook for roughly 10 minutes or until the broccoli is tender. Leave to cool slightly then transfer to a blender (or you can use a handheld blender) and blend until smooth. Add the Boursin then blend again until everything is well mixed and the cheese melted into the soup. Return the soup to the pan and gently reheat. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary then serve sprinkled with a little extra Boursin on top and a touch of freshly ground black pepper.

Friday, December 6, 2013

ChefButler Review

I have to admit that when I receive emails asking me to do reviews I normally tend to pass on them because the product just doesn't appeal to me, but when I received an email telling my about a new venture called ChefButler I was genuinely excited.

ChefButler is a new company based in Toronto that provides a monthly subscription box featuring, you guessed it, food! But it's not just any old food, it is a specially designed 3 course meal for 4 people centered around a specific theme that changes from month to month. Included in the box are all of the pantry ingredients required to make the dishes, along with recipe cards, a shopping list for your fresh produce, a game plan to make sure everything runs smoothly and a few fun facts about the meal and cuisine. As mentioned the themes vary but what I really liked about the sound of this product was that the goal of the company is to provide you with hard-to-find ingredients that you generally can't source from your local supermarket and therefore enable you to make meals in the comfort of your own home that you perhaps wouldn't generally get the opportunity to try. Any spices that are included are freshly ground right before they are sealed and sent to you to ensure you get maximum flavour.

To be honest I have seen similar concepts before (where you get the measured out spices for 1 meal), however they have generally always focused on Indian Curries so I love the idea here that it is for a wide variety of cuisines. Thankfully though Indian is on the list because I do love a good curry!

My lovely Silver Box of Delights!
I was absolutely delighted to receive my box which came courtesy of a courier company directly to my door! After opening the initial packaging I was delighted to discover a beautiful silver box inside containing all of the ingredients I needed for a Jamaican meal. Aesthetics wise it is certainly beautifully packaged and presented and for that reason alone it would make a wonderful gift idea. Upon opening my box which felt like unlocking a treasure chest full of wonderful delights, I was instantly met with a fantastic aroma of allspice – an essential Jamaican ingredient! At the top was an envelope inscribed with November on it and inside was my promised recipe cards and instructions, shopping list and a welcome note with all the essential information and a game plan.

A Foodie Treasure Trove!
The recipes are clearly printed on little cards that are colour coded to match the ingredients that go with that particular recipe (since there are some duplicates of ingredients for the different courses) - they really have thought of everything! So looks and presentation gets top marks but what about the actual recipes? After-all there is no point in having a monthly subscription if the recipes don't deliver.....

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pear Sorbet

I made this Pear Sorbet for our recent Cook Club as we were celebrating not only two Birthdays(!) but 5 Years of Cook Club! It's quite an achievement considering in those past 5 years we have seen 1 Wedding, 2 New Houses, New Jobs and Promotions and the Birth of 5 babies!! That's a busy 5 years for the 6 of us but we still manage to make Cook Club a regular event and always have such a great time catching up over good food and wine.

I served this Pear Sorbet as a palate cleanser between courses and it was a hit. The flavour of the pear is matched perfectly with vanilla and crisp Sauvignon Blanc, making it so delicate yet really flavourful and elegant. You could serve it as a did or it would make a wonderful light dessert for finishing off a heavy meal over Christmas. It is really simple to make especially if you have an ice cream maker.

This recipe is courtesy of Thomas Keller and his book Bouchon and I honestly wouldn't change a thing! The finishing touch of edible gold and silver leaf isn't in the recipe but for a special occasion (such as an elegant Christmas or New Year Meal) I couldn't resist. If you have some certainly use it but don't go out of your way to buy some especially – unless you are really trying to impress!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cookbook Review ~ Madhouse Cookbook by Jo Pratt

I have always been a fan of Jo Pratt's books. For me they always seemed to echo where I was in my life at the time of reading so they have always appealed that little bit more than usual. Her style of cooking and writing and the food she enjoys resonates so easily with me that I managed to convince myself that of course if I knew her, we would be best friends! (Don't worry Jo – I now live on the other side of the world!) But like a true, trusted friend that you can rely on here we are once again with her third book and surprise surprise it's just what I am looking for!

Her latest book, Madhouse Cookbook, comes from the current time in her life where she is a busy parent juggling work and young children so it is only natural that she deems her home a madhouse! Her latest book is all about trying to balance her work and home life and still have time to cook dinner for family, friends and of course, herself, so this book is all about simple, quick to prepare and easy to shop for meals that cover all eventualities! The book has three main chapters – Monday to Friday Survival, The Busy Weekend and Cling on to Your Social Life. Each chapter is further divided into different categories for even more direction and organisation, such as 'The Need for Speed', 'Quick Prep – Leave to Cook', 'The Family Meal' and 'Saturday Night (Kids are Banned)'.

The book is packed full of recipes as well as ideas for transforming leftovers. In the end I tested 4 recipes plus a leftover recipe.

The Tested Recipes:

Very Special Fried Rice
Simple Beef and Barley Casserole and Beef and Barley Pasties
Leek, Bacon & Brie Pasta
Sticky Toffee and Banana Pudding

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Happy Halloween (& Our Party)

It's only a couple of days until Halloween – are you all ready for some trick or treating or guising? 

We decided to host our Halloween Party last weekend and it was SO much fun. I got a little carried away with decorating but it added to the party and got everyone in the 'spirit'!! Unfortunately I didn't manage/forgot to get photographs of everyone all dressed up and of the food (disaster I know!) but I have included some menu suggestions below and lots of pictures of the decorations.

Happy Halloween – I hope you all have a spooktacular time!!

Menu Ideas

Vampire Juice 
(I use my recipe for Cranberry Fizz and omit the alcohol for a Mocktail version)

Slime Dip
Bat Wings
Trolls Toes
Deviled Eggs (no recipe)
Zombie Fingers (Sausage Rolls - no recipe)

Thai Pumpkin Soup

Witches Hair with Bugs
'Zombie Arm' Meatloaf (no recipe)

Creepy Crawly Mud Pie Cupcakes
Orange Jelly Pumpkins
Pumpkin Cupcakes

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pumpkin Cupcakes

I recently made these Pumpkin Cupcakes and I just had to share them with you! Whether you are a fan of Halloween or not these are the perfect cupcakes for Autumn/Fall although I would be tempted to make them year-round! They are absolutely perfect served with a cup of tea for a decadent little treat to warm you up.

This recipe was taken from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook – my baking bible!

Makes 12 Cupcakes

120g plain or all-purpose flour
140g caster or fine sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp cinnamon, plus extra for sprinkling
a pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
120ml milk
2 large eggs
200g tinned pumpkin puree

Cream Cheese Icing:*
315g icing sugar sifted
50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g cold cream cheese

To Decorate (optional):
Halloween Sprinkles
Edible Glitter

Preheat your oven to 170C/ 325F/ GM 3 and line a cupcake tin with medium sized paper cases.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and butter into the bowl of a KitchenAid (or other freestanding mixer) and using the paddle attachment mix slowly until everything is combined and you have a sandy consistency (if you don't have a KitchenAid use a hand-held electric beater). While the mixer is running, slowly pour in half of the milk and mix until it's just incorporated. Add the eggs to the remaining milk along and continue beating until it's mixed in. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is properly mixed but be careful not to over beat the mixture. Add the pumpkin puree and mix on a low speed until evenly combined. (The original recipe says to stir the puree by hand, but I found it a lot easier to evenly disperse it using the mixture – just keep it on low speed. If you prefer however just use a spoon or spatula to gently mix it in.)

Evenly spoon the cake mixture into the cupcake cases and bake for 20-25 minutes until the sponge bounces back when touched (the recipe states 20 minutes – mine take 25, perhaps even a couple more but it will depend on your oven and where you live) and a skewer comes out clean with put into the centre of the cake. Leave to cool for a few minutes then transfer the cupcakes onto a wire rack.

While the cupcakes are cooling make the icing. Sift the icing sugar into the bowl of a free-standing mixture or large bowl, then add the butter and beat on a low setting until it comes together. Turn the speed up a little and continue beating until it is well mixed. Add all of the cream cheese and mix until it is well combined and smooth, then turn up to a higher setting and beat for roughly 5 minutes until the icing is light and fluffy. Be careful not to overbeat the mixture though as it can turn runny quickly!

Once the cupcakes are completely cold decorate them with the icing then finish with a light sprinkling of cinnamon or if you are making them for Halloween, some Halloween inspired sprinkles or other decorations.

*I have added a little extra sugar to the cupcakes as we find it needs a touch more sweetness to it. If, however you prefer your cream cheese icing to have a bit of tang to it then use 300g of icing sugar instead.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Creepy Crawly 'Mud Pie' Cupcakes

These are the perfect little treats to make for Halloween that both kids and adults alike will love. They are so easy as really they are just Chocolate Cupcakes but they look so great and are a fun treat to make. If you can't get or don't have the little silicone terracotta pots you can use any little cup or plastic container you can find – they will still look great! For a final touch you could also add a little sprig of greenery (some fresh herbs work great) but for Halloween I like the earthy, dark look! Have fun and make them your own – it's what it's all about!

As always this is my trusty cupcake recipe that I always use which is taken from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook.

Makes 12

For the Chocolate Cupcakes:
100g plain or all-purpose flour
20g cocoa powder
140g caster or berry sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter, softened
½ tsp vanilla extract
120ml milk
1 egg

For the Chocolate Buttercream:
300g icing sugar
40g cocoa powder
100g unsalted butter, softened
40ml milk

To decorate:
8-10 plain chocolate biscuits of your choice, crushed finely (although it's ok to have different sizes)
Edible glitter (optional)
Jelly worms and spiders

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Cookbook Review ~ Simple Dinners by Donna Hay

I am a huge fan of Donna Hay. I have the majority of her books, I always buy her magazine and quite often you can find me looking on her website as well. But it occurred to me that maybe I am just a fan of her simple, clean style and amazing, drool-worthy photographs since I rarely (and I mean rarely!) have cooked from her books. I have no idea why not, especially when I spend so much time staring at the beautifully photographed pictures, so I decided it was time to remedy that and finally put one of her books to the test. In the end I picked the latest book of hers that I have which is Simple Dinners. I picked this book for a couple of reasons (and not just because it's the most recent one to add to my collection) as having just started working part time and my husband away a lot I need easy meals that are quick to prepare, will be liked by whoever is eating them and also don't cost a fortune to make by requiring expensive ingredients. This book seemed like a good fit.

The book has 13 chapters devoted to recipes and are divided up by ingredients which I happen to like. Included within those chapters are 'Eggs', 'Noodles & Rice', 'Chicken', 'Fish & Seafood' and 'Chocolate'. I tested 4 recipes from this book with many more bookmarked for future meals.

The Tested Recipes:

Pork Meatballs with Chinese Noodles
Cheat's Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Butter
Lamb and Feta Burgers
Spiced Yoghurt Grilled Chicken Skewers

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Curried Sweet Potato & Squash Soup

This recipe came to be because I literally had a sweet potato and squash in the pantry and I wanted a warming Autumnal soup to make for a family Saturday lunch. It is so quick and easy to make and is a really homely, comforting soup that tastes great. I teamed it up with my delicious savoury Cheese and Spring Onion Scones which were warm from the oven and slathered with butter. It was the most perfect lunch for a rainy, grey Saturday spent indoors with my family!

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp curry powder, plus extra for serving
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
½ butternut squash, roughly chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and roughly chopped
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
Salt & pepper

Heat the oil and butter in a large pan then once the butter has melted and is sizzling add the onion. Cook for roughly 5-7 minutes until softened but not coloured then add the garlic and curry powder and cook for about 1 minute before adding the carrot, squash and sweet potato. Stir everything well together then pop on a lid and let the vegetables 'sweat' for around 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. 

After 10 minutes add the stock and some seasoning and cook for a further 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and a knife can cut into them easily. Leave to cool for a bit before blending until super smooth and silky.

When ready to serve gently reheat the soup and taste to check the seasoning, adjusting if necessary. Sprinkle over a touch of curry powder and serve at once.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cheese & Spring Onion Scones

As I've already mentioned (in my last post) right now is one of my favourite seasons ever - Soup Season! Cold days and steaming hot bowls of homely, filling and nourishing soup go hand and hand but when you really want to turn a piping hot bowl of soup into a meal, you can't beat a little something on the side! For me it's almost a necessity to have something to dip into my soup and favourites include things as simple as some thickly sliced fresh bread slathered with butter, an oozing Cheese Toastie or these Cheese and Spring Onion Scones. They are so easy to make and don't take long at all and really are the perfect accompaniment to a hot bowl of soup on a crisp Autumn day. They are also great on their own and would make a perfect accompaniment to an Afternoon Tea Party, Picnic or light lunch, filled with some good mature cheddar, chutney of your choice and some rocket. Either way they won't last long!

450g all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
150g cold butter, cut into cubes
1 tsp chilli flakes (optional)
4-6 spring onions (depending on how big they are), finely sliced
150g strong cheddar cheese, grated
150-175ml milk, plus extra for brushing

Preheat the oven to 400F/ 200C and lightly dust a baking tray with some flour then set aside.

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl then add the cubes of cold butter. Using your finger tips gently rub the butter into the flour until you have coarse crumbs. Stir in half of the chilli flakes (if using), the spring onions and 100g of the cheese. Mix it all together then gradually add 150ml of milk until you have a soft dough. If you need to add the remaining little bit of milk.

Dust a large chopping board or other work surface with flour and turn the scone mixture out onto the surface. Knead the mixture together gently until it just comes together then roll out (or you can gently press it out with the palm of your hand) until it is a thickness of roughly 2.5cm. Using a 6cm (2 ½ inch) round pastry cutter cut out the scones until you have 12 (just re-roll the trimmings until you have 12).

Place the scones on the prepared baking tray and brush each one with a little milk. Sprinkle over a touch of the remaining chilli and the last 50g of cheese then bake in the preheated oven for 12-18 minutes* until golden.

Once ready transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool slightly before splitting and filling as you like (see above) or simply slathering with butter and dipping into a hot bowl of soup!

*The time needed will vary on your oven and where you live but for me it takes longer. Start checking after 12 minutes and go from there until they are raised, golden and covered in melted cheese!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Year-Round Creamy Tomato Soup

Temperatures and leaves both start to drop, days are shorter and nights cooler. All of these are the first signs that Summer is over and it's time for a new season, but for me the arrival of Autumn and Fall is all also the welcoming start of Soup Season. Don't get me wrong there are the occasional times in the Summer when I will want a bowl of soup but they are generally light soups saved for cooler days. Autumn however, marks the start of piping hot bowls of really comforting, homemade soup that will warm you up and satisfy you in an instant.

Tomato Soup may seem more of a Summer Soup but for me it really is a year-round soup to enjoy. When I was pregnant with my son and finally over my morning (or rather 'all-day' sickness!) Tomato Soup with Cheese Toasties was my staple lunch and I don't know where I would have been without it! In the height of Summer when tomatoes are in abundance I love to use fresh vine-ripened tomatoes such as in my Fresh Tomato Soup recipe, but for the rest of the year it has to be tinned tomatoes. This recipe was taken from the book Pretty Delicious by Candice Kumai (read my review of the book here) and as far as I am concerned is the most fantastic Tomato Soup ever. I make it all the time because not only does it taste fabulous, but it takes no time to make at all and despite it being a 'creamy' tomato soup, there is actually no cream in it so it's healthy too!

I changed a few things in the recipe to suit our tastes but the core of the recipe is courtesy of Candice Kumai. If you like Tomato Soup, try this and I promise you will never buy tinned tomato soup again!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Spicy Tomato & Mozzarella Gnocchi

One of my favourite things about going on holiday is the food you get to enjoy. In my opinion one of the absolutely best ways to experience and understand a country is by trying the food and eating what locals eat. This dish is one I make over and over and is inspired not by a dish I had (unfortunately!), but one my Dad had 4 years ago. We were all in Rome on the last day of our holiday after flying to Italy for my Brother's wedding. I was 27 weeks pregnant and we were spending the day experiencing as much of Rome as we could in the short time we had left. We managed to see most of the magnificent historical sites (beautifully breathtaking) but of course as important as that was so was sampling some delicious Italian food(!), so we stopped off at a lovely little restaurant and sat out on the terrace with awnings protecting us from the bright sun. I chose this simple Gnocchi dish which arrived at the table still bubbling and simmering in the terracotta dish it was baked in. A light, fresh tomato sauce coated each little pillow of potato gnocchi and in amongst it all were small pieces of mozzarella that had formed molten pools of creamy, silken mozzarella goodness!

The dish was light, simple and so flavourful that it really stuck with me, and as I said I have been making my own version ever since. Since I am such a lover of spicy food I couldn't help to add a little touch of fresh chilli to the dish, but you could easily miss that out if you prefer. This to me is classic Italian cooking – simple to make, using good ingredients and absolutely delicious to eat. Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cookbook Review ~ Homemade Summer by Yvette van Boven

I love it when you get a new book that perhaps you would have maybe overlooked or missed out on. Whenever I manage to go to my favourite book shop ever – Books for Cooks in Notting Hill – I always find such a book, which is the beauty of that shop (and of course any other good book shops!). Homemade Summer by Yvette van Boven is one of those books and this one came courtesy of my Sister-in-law and Brother which they got for me from Books for Cooks as my Birthday present. Having never heard of the book, the author and her other published books (Homemade and Homemade Winter) I was over the moon to get this book and to be introduced to her.

Yvette van Boven is not only an acclaimed cookbook author, but a freelance food stylist, recipe developer and an illustrator (as well as the recipes she also did all of the illustrations for the book!). On top of that she also runs a restaurant and catering service in Amsterdam and spends her time living between Paris and Amsterdam. Talk about a busy lady!

The book is packed with 250 pages of recipes, photographs, drawings and lovely little personal stories. There are 6 chapters in total devoted to recipes including 'Breakfast, Brunch & Lunch', 'Cakes & Sweet Things for Tea Time' and 'Main Courses'.

The Tested Recipes:

Banana Crumble Muffins
Quinoa Patties with Feta, Zucchini and Corn
Yogurt Dip with Mint
Buttery Corn Risotto
Cake with Raspberries, Blueberries and Coconut
Italian Chicken Stew
Grilled Goat Cheese Polenta

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ultimate Granola

I've had this recipe tucked away for a long time. Stashing it away for another project or at the least a 'reserve' when I hadn't managed to photograph a new recipe. But then it occurred to me that I really should post it (and not just because I have nothing else to post this week!!) because it is incredibly popular in our house and I feel like I am always making up a fresh batch!

When my husband is in town during the week this is his favourite breakfast to have. He can either have a bowl with milk at home before heading to work, or if in a rush he grabs some and takes it with some yogurt to enjoy as soon as he has some time!

The recipe was adapted from one I read in The Meat Free Monday Cookbook but after doing quite a bit of research on Granola recipes, I found that honestly they are all pretty similar, and really it's just about finding a combination that you like then if need be, adapting things slightly. I'm not going to lie, this isn't a cheap version of Granola but in my opinion it is worth every penny! This version really has a little bit of everything in it so it's a big hit in our family and the touch of cinnamon adds a delicious warmth to it. It makes a lot which I like as it lasts a little longer but if you prefer you can easily half the recipe.

Enjoy it with milk, to snack on by itself, or my favourite way – sprinkled over yogurt.

{I like to use cups for this recipe rather than measuring everything out as I find it a lot easier. If you don't have specific measuring cups just find a small mug or coffee cup and use that – the main thing is just to keep the quantities the same once you find your cup of choice!}

Makes approx. 12 cups of Granola

½ cup almonds, roughly chopped
½ cup pecans, roughly chopped
½ cup brazil nuts or other nuts of your choice, roughly chopped
4 cups porridge oats
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup pumpkin seeds
½ cup flax seeds
½ cup flaked coconut
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
½ cup grape seed or sunflower oil
½ cup honey or agave syrup
1 cup dried fruit of your choice – I like a combination of sour cherries, goji berries and sweet cranberries but you could add raisins, dried blueberries or dried apricots, chopped up

Preheat the oven to 350F/ 180C and line a large baking sheet (or 2 smaller ones) with baking parchment - trust me, this will help with clean up!

In a large bowl mix together the almonds, pecans, brazil buts, oats, all of the seeds, coconut and the cinnamon. Mix well then add the oil and honey. Stir well so that everything is evenly coated with the oil and honey, mix then transfer to the baking tray (or trays). Spread the granola out evenly over the tray and press down slightly with the back of a large spoon or spatula, then bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, turning half way through cooking so that it gets evenly browned.

Once the granola is golden and crisp, remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes then add the dried fruit. Transfer to an airtight container and enjoy however you like.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fish & Corn Chowder

Although I refuse to accept that Summer is almost over it has certainly cooled down in the last week and the forecast unfortunately predicts grey, rainy days for the next few days. Not my idea of Summer, however this Fish and Corn Chowder is. It is so full of bright, fresh seasonal flavours and although hearty enough to enjoy on a cooler evening for dinner, it is a lovely light chowder with only a little cream added at the end. Being a chilli lover I love the addition of the fresh, spiky hot chilli at the end to cut through the creaminess but if you aren't a fan you can easily miss it out. Try it though – I guarantee you will love it! Served with some hot, garlicky crostini this is the most perfect late Summer meal.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Cookbook Review ~ Fired Up by Ross Dobson

Who doesn't love a barbecue in the Summer? In fact to me, Summer is all about barbecues and nothing beats the smell of barbecued food rising up and enticing us by wafting gently from garden to garden and grill to grill. At the same time though a lot of us need a bit of help when it comes to the gold old barbecue and this primitive form of cooking. Let's be honest I'm sure at one point or other we have all been to a BBQ where the burgers are a little too charred (ok black!) and the chicken a little too pink! Thankfully for me my husband is what I can only call “King of the Grill” (and he has the apron to prove it!). He has been barbecuing since he was 16 so has gotten pretty darn good at it over the years. Needless to say whenever anything needs barbecued he is the one who jumps to it. I do the 'inside cooking', he does anything involving 'outside cooking'. Now that being said I have cooked a few things on the BBQ over the years, especially when he is working away from home so he has taught me pretty well but admittedly I could do with a little more confidence, especially when it comes to cooking poultry so I was really excited to put Fired Up: No Nonsense Barbecuing to the test and see how my skills would match hubby's! But in order to really put the book through the ringers I wanted hubby to try out some of the recipes as well and see what his opinion was.

Over 20 recipes were bookmarked, taken from every chapter the book had to offer which includes 'Bird'; 'Beast'; 'Fish' and 'Sides' (unfortunately no desserts chapter). In the end we tried 6 recipes.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cooking the Books ~ August

Yesterday I stopped by a shop to buy some wine. While there the local radio was playing with the weather forecast so I stopped to and showers was the forecast for the next week. I told the cashier that I was hoping for better weather as I had family visiting from Scotland and was hoping they would have sun for the last few days. We chatted for a bit while the transaction went through and then as I thanked her and went to leave she said to me "Enjoy your time with your family - it is precious time" to which I responded "I couldn't agree more, it really is". We said good bye and I left......

That is why I haven't really been on my blog and while I am so late on posting my cookbook review choice for August (and still have to post one from July)! That being said I got Homemade Summer by Yvette Van Boven as a Birthday present from my Brother and Sister-in-law and having never heard of it I'm so excited to cook from it and review it before Summer comes to an end.

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing I hope you are all having a great Summer. I'll get this review up as soon as I've stopped having so much fun with my family ;)

*You can now read this review! To read it click here.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Cookbook Review ~ Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson

Although Forever Summer is one of Nigella's older books (first published in 2003), I pull it off the bookshelf ever year at the first sign of Summer, so this year I thought it was the perfect time to review it and really put the recipes to the test.

To be fair although this is a book full of bright Summery recipes it's sole intention is not just to be cooked from in those balmy Summer months, but rather year-round to remind you in the darkest, coldest days of Winter about those blue skies that seem at that point like a distant memory. In all honesty however, I don't think I have ever cooked from it in Winter as the majority of ingredients are Summer based and although I'm not a super strict follower of using what's in season I do try my best so it's extremely unlikely that you would ever find me making her recipe for Watermelon, Feta and Black Olive Salad in the middle of our Winter (unless of course I was sunning myself in a hot tropical location!).

The book is divided up into 'First Course', 'Second Course', 'Dessert' and 'Drinks' but within each main chapter are plenty more categories such as Starters, Salad, Pasta, Fish and so on, so every area is covered. Having bookmarked lots of recipes in the end 5 recipes were put to the test.... 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Nigella's Happiness Soup for Random Recipes

I love Random Recipes but for the past few months (probably more, I just don't want to count) for various reasons I haven't been able to take part. This month however I had no excuses because to celebrate 30 months of Random Recipes the lovely Dom decided we had to pick book number 30 from our collections and turn to page 30 to find out our fate for this month. By sheer coincidence book number 30 from my list of books in my Cookbook Room was none other than Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson, which I just happen to be reviewing this month anyway! Total bonus. Unfortunately though page 30 turned out to be the title page for the chapter on Pasta so since we all at times like to turn back the clock a bit I went to pages 28 & 29 which was her recipe for “Happiness Soup”.

I know what you are probably thinking, what on earth is “Happiness Soup” and even I myself thought she may have overstepped the mark just a touch with this one, however the first line of the recipe is asking us to forgive her for the tweeness of the title. Ok Nigella, you are forgiven, especially because after making the soup I can kind of see where she was coming from as this soup is so incredibly bright and summery it would cheer up anyone on even the dreariest of days! The recipe is incredibly simple and straightforward and the end result delicious. It's very light and the lemon juice gives it a lovely bright, refreshing taste, but the addition of the rice makes it heartier.

If I had to criticise it I would say that there wasn't any need for the 3 tablespoons of oil (2 would be more than plenty) and the turmeric again could be cut down as it didn't do anything other than turn the soup an insanely bright luminescent yellow! Next time I make this (which I will) I'll definitely use less olive oil and half the amount of turmeric. I also have to say that this soup rather unusually for soups was better the day it was made. When I had some the following day I had to add more stock as the rice had absorbed the majority of it but the lemon flavour was a little overpowering. All in all though if you can get beautiful yellow courgettes/zucchini's then I definitely recommend giving this soup a try and see if it turns your frown upside down!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Warm Tomato & Chorizo Salad with Olives

Whenever my husband is away for work I always try to eat as many tomatoes as possible! It means I get my full-on tomato fix without having to listen to any complaints, change recipes or make him something else, and he's happy as he doesn't have to eat it!! Tomato Pasta is always high on the list as well as many different Tomato Salads including this one with Chorizo and Black Olives.

I'm not sure if this should really be called a Salad but in all honesty I couldn't think of a better way to describe it! It's a perfect meal for a warm Summer evening when you want something full of punchy flavours but still light enough not to leave you sluggish and overly full. I like to eat it with lots of fresh, crusty French bread to mop up all the sauces but it is also delicious served as part of a Tapas menu or for something a little more filling spooned through some hot pasta and for an extra special treat I have it with a few slices of mozzarella on the side. As far as I am concerned it doesn't get any better than this, especially when enjoyed outside in the sun with a cold glass of white wine. Bliss.

Since this is a dish I save as a treat just for myself this recipe only serves 1 but it can easily be adapted to feed many more.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Flatbread Pizza

This has got to be one of my favourite things to eat for lunch. It's so super quick and easy but so unbelievably delicious. All you need is some bought flatbreads (for example pita bread), some cheese and tomato and in less than 10 minutes you have an amazing lunch. Of course just like any pizza you can change the toppings to whatever you like. In the middle of Summer I will quite often add some thin ribbons of Zucchini but for the most part I can't resist the classic and very simple Tomato and Mozzarella.

Quantities make 1 pizza

1 flatbread of your choice ( I use wholemeal pita's that are thin)
Extra virgin olive oil
½ tomato, roughly chopped
Fresh mozzarella, roughly chopped or torn apart
4 Kalamata olives, pitted and cut in half
½ fresh chilli, finely chopped (optional)
scattering of fresh basil leaves
Maldon sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

To make the pizza simply brush a little extra virgin olive oil over one side of the flatbread. Scatter over the chopped tomato, mozzarella, olives and chilli and then pop onto a baking tray and cook under a hot grill for a couple of minutes until the cheese has melted and is bubbling and the edges of the flat bread starting to crisp.

Sprinkle over a little Maldon salt, some cracked black pepper and the fresh basil leaves then if you like finish with a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and if you want to take it up another notch some really good quality balsamic vinegar. So easy but so good!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mint Chocolate Cupcakes

Both my husband and Wee One absolutely love Mint Choc Chip Ice Cream and every weekend (more or less!) for a special treat after dinner that is exactly what Wee One asks for (complete with Chocolate Sauce and Sprinkles!), so I decided for a change to make some Mint Chocolate Cupcakes instead. Light and moist chocolate cupcakes are topped with a lovely fresh tasting mint buttercream creating the perfect popular flavour combination! It is my basic cupcake recipe and is so simple to make that even Wee One helped out, both with the cupcakes and decorating (unfortunately his finished cupcakes didn't quite make the photography session!!).

If you are a fan of Mint Chocolate you will love these and they are special enough that they would make a delicious fun dessert to offer at your next dinner party.....the only problem I had was that they didn't even last until the weekend!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Cooking the Books ~ July

I am so delighted as it seems that Summer has arrived for us here in Canada (and hopefully for you too wherever you are!), so to celebrate my favourite season of the year for this month's Cooking the Books I am reviewing not one but two books! 

First up and how could I resist Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson. An older book perhaps but a true classic guaranteed to inspire when the sun is shining! Secondly I had to put a Barbecue book to the test so I chose Ross Dobson's Fired Up: No Nonsense Barbecuing. I can't wait - let's just hope the sun stays around!

As usual if you have either of these books why not take them off the bookshelf and try a recipe or two from them. Or if you have a favourite recipe that you love to make from these books let me know! So in a lazy, hot sun induced manner let's start Cooking the Books!
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