Top 10 Tips and Cheats for Baking Success

Cherry Bakewell buttercream cupcakes

Have you noticed how much I like cake, biscuits and cookies? It really is my weakness. Of course it goes without saying I’m a huge Great British Bake Off fan. As a self-taught home baker I’ve gained confidence in the kitchen and learnt a lot over the years. Although I’m not an expert these tips and cheats have helped improve my baking considerably.

Chocolate and Ginger Cookies

Seeded Wholemeal Soda Bread

Here’s my Top 10 Tips and Cheats for Baking Success.

1. If baking a cake ensure all your ingredients are at room temperature, take eggs and butter out of the fridge the night before or at least 2 hours before you begin baking.

2. To soften butter easily and quickly, put it in the microwave for 10 second blasts. It will probably only need to go in once or twice at the very most.

3. Invest in a silicone spatula, there’s no point baking if you can’t get all the mixture out of the mixing bowl.

4. Baking is a science, carefully weigh and measure your ingredients. Get yourself a set of digital scales with a spare battery, as the scales will not weigh accurately if the battery is low.

5. Always pre heat your oven your oven 10 minutes beforehand. It’s the first thing I do when I walk into the kitchen.

6. Get all your ingredients, mixer, scales, baking tins, cupcakes cases, baking parchment, spatulas, spoons, knife etc out ready, so you’re not hunting around the kitchen looking for stuff.

7. Read through the recipe from start to finish, that way you are less likely to forget something or misunderstand the recipe.

8. Remember basic hygiene practises, especially when handling raw eggs. Make sure the work surfaces are clean, especially if you are kneading bread dough and cutting out biscuits.

9. When baking a cake don’t open the oven door until the cake is at almost done according to the recipe, otherwise it will sink.

10. To test if a cake is cooked insert a metal cake tester into the centre of the cake, if it comes out clean it’s done. Alternatively, use a piece of dry (uncooked) spaghetti instead, it works really well.

Pretty Pink Birthday Cake

I hope those tips and cheats are helpful, do let me know if you have any baking tips and cheats of your own.

Happy Baking.

Julie
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Blackberry and Apple Smoothie

Blackberry and apple smoothie

With such an abundance of blackberries around at the moment I’m planning on using them in lots of recipes this month. I thought this autumnal fruit smoothie might just hit the spot. My girls loved it, I hope you enjoy it too.

Here’s my recipe for Blackberry and Apple Smoothie.

Ingredients (Serves 2)

250g blackberries
300ml pressed apple juice
4 tablespoons 0% fat natural yogurt
1 tablespoon runny honey

Method

1. Carefully wash the blackberries and place in a blender with the apple juice, blitz until as smooth as possible.

2. Sieve the puree into a jug and then discard the seeds.

3. Rinse out the blender and return the puree to the blender, add the yogurt and honey. Blitz until fully combined and smooth. Enjoy!

Blackberry and apple smoothie

If you have a super powerful blender you might not need to sieve the puree at all. I’m not sure I can justify an upgrade at the moment as my kitchen cupboards are bursting with cake tins and kitchen gadgets. So I’m sticking with my trusty old blender for now.

Until next time.

Julie
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My Kitchen Cookbooks: Mary Berry Cooks the Perfect

My kitchen cookbooks

Every year as autumn approaches there always seems to be a flurry of new cookbooks hitting the book shop shelves. So like any true Great British Bake Off fan I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Mary Berry’s new book titled Mary Berry Cooks the Perfect, which features all new recipes. Published officially on 1 September by Dorling Kindersley with a RRP of £25, I pre ordered it online. However, the estimated delivery date was far too long for me to wait so after spotting it in a bookshop ahead of the publication date, I cancelled my online order and bought it straight away.

The book is divided into sections Soups, First Courses, Fish and Shellfish, Poultry and Game, Meat, Pasta and Rice, Vegetables, Salads, Puddings and finally Cakes, Small Bakes and Bread.

I feel this book is probably aimed more at the novice / intermediate cook. However, don’t take that as a criticism or let it put you off if you are more a more experienced cook. Each recipe is accompanied by a large photograph with clear step by step instructions. In addition, there are ‘Keys to perfection’ along side each recipe to help you achieve perfect results. If you are watching the calories you’ll be pleased to see each recipe has a calorie count per serving too.

I’m quite partial to banana cake, so was very keen to try my hand at baking Mary’s Banana Loaf with Honey Icing.

Banana cake with honey icing

The banana loaf is moist and the chopped pecans provide a lovely contrast in texture. For me, the special part of the cake is the drizzle of honey icing on top which is delightfully sweet and works perfectly. If you want to bake a cake for a coffee morning with friends then this is the cake to bake, it’s a simple recipe and tastes absolutely delicious.

Banana cake with honey icing

I’ve book marked lots of other recipes to try out including Curried Lentil and Spinach Soup, Quick Haddock with Tomato and Puy Lentils, Steak and Guinness Pie, Greek Lamb Pilaf with Orzo, Spiced Dorset Apple Traybake and Hot Cross Bun Loaf.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this instalment of My Kitchen Cookbooks. Do let me know if you have the book too and if you have tried any of the recipes.

Until next time.

Julie
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Rocky Road Bars

Rocky road bars

To my mind my rocky road bars are not a thing of beauty, well not to to look at anyway. Thankfully they taste good, extremely good. These rocky road bars are full of all the yummy treats I could find, cherries, Turkish delight, marshmallows, dried mango and crunchy amaretti biscuits. All smothered in a mix of milk and dark chocolate, honestly what is there not to like about these.

My daughter helped me make these and had great fun bashing the amaretti biscuits into chunks. Making and of course eating the rocky road bars was a great way to mark the end of the summer holidays. I’ve decided September is going to be a month of home cooking, I’m planning on making warming soups, casseroles, cottage pies and fruit crumbles. Ultimately my aim is to get my youngest to eat more fruit and veg, I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Here’s my recipe for Rocky Road Bars.

Ingredients (makes 16 or 20 depending on how large you want them)

200g dark chocolate
200g milk chocolate
150g unsalted butter
3 tablespoons golden syrup
200g glacé cherries
175g crunchy amaretti biscuits (crumbled)
100g mini pink and white marshmallows
75g assorted Turkish delight (chopped into 1cm chunks)
50g dried mango pieces

Method

1. Grease and line a 30cm x 23cm (12″ x 9″) traybake tin with baking parchment.

2. Melt the butter, golden syrup and chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.

3. Once melted and cooled, stir in the glacé cherries, amaretti biscuits, Turkish delight and mango pieces.

4. Transfer the mixture to the tin and then refrigerate until set.

5. Using a large sharp knife cut into 16 or 20 bars depending on how big you want them. Enjoy!

Rocky road bars

Until next time.

Julie
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High Tea at Fortnum & Mason

I was recently very, very lucky to enjoy high tea in the exquisitely decorated Diamond Jubliee Tea Salon at Fortnum and Mason. Undoubtably my most favourite way to enjoy an afternoon, I couldn’t resist booking a table when I discovered the children ate free, making this special treat for the whole family much more affordable.

The taking of tea between lunch and dinner became a formal ritual amongst the upper classes of English society is credited to the Duchess of Bedford. Afternoon tea is now a pastime enjoyed as a special treat usually including finger sandwiches, scones and fine cakes. High tea includes a slightly more substantial savoury beginning course.

We decided to eat from the high tea menu, I chose a delicious lobster omelette victoria served with lobster bisque and shaved truffle and my husband opted for chicken in butter puff pastry with baby leeks. Then followed by freshly baked warm scones with raspberry preserve, lemon curd and clotted cream. Finishing off with a plate of dainty individual patisserie. Meanwhile, my children had a delightful selection of sandwiches, including corn fed chicken, honey glazed ham, free range egg mayonnaise and cress and of course cucumber sandwiches. The children’s afternoon tea is charming with its character chocolate cakes, jammy dodgers and macarons.

Not forgetting the tea itself, which you choose from a tea menu. I prefer breakfast tea but for true tea connoisseurs there is an exceptional choice of tea blends available. On paying our bill we were given samples of Fortnum & Mason’s afternoon tea blend in mini canisters, which I think is rather lovely.

Fortnum & Mason

We thoroughly enjoyed our high tea, every mouthful tasted amazing. Even with a mischievous toddler the staff were very attentive and helpful. Tea at Fortnum & Mason is truly a wonderful experience, I highly recommend you try it for yourself. Do look out for the children dining free offers that run every so often.

Until next time.

Julie
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Chicken with Rosemary Ravioli served with Tomato, Mushroom and Rosemary Sauce

Chicken and rosemary ravioli

I was travelling home from an amazing day trip to Borough Market, sat on a busy train reading my twitter timeline when I came across a tweet from Foodies 100 about the Giovanni Rana Recipe Challenge. As regular blog readers will know, pasta is a bit of a passion of mine and when I read that the prize was a one to one fresh pasta masterclass with Giovanni Rana, I just had to enter.

To enter the competition I was required to create an original recipe using a product from the Giovanni Rana Italian Indulgence pasta range. I opted to use the succulent chicken and rosemary ravioli, as I really liked the sound of the flavours. To accompany the ravioli I made a tasty tomato, mushroom and rosemary sauce.

Chicken and rosemary ravioli

Chicken and rosemary ravioli

The fresh ravioli filling was delicious and moist. My tomato sauce, with earthy mushrooms and fresh rosemary from my garden complemented the ravioli well. I was delighted with the overall finished dish and my family enjoyed it too.

Here’s my recipe for Chicken with Rosemary Ravioli with Tomato, Mushroom and Rosemary Sauce.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

2 x 250g packs Giovanni Rana Italian Indulgence succulent chicken with rosemary large ravioli

Tomato, Mushroom and Rosemary Sauce.

1 small onion (finely chopped)
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 medium mushrooms (peeled and sliced)
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary (finely chopped)
400g chopped tinned tomatoes
Sea salt
Black pepper

Serve with grated Parmesan cheese (optional), garlic ciabatta and salad.

Method

1. Heat the olive oil in a large lidded saucepan and then sauté the onion in the oil until beginning to soften.

2. Add the mushrooms and rosemary, sauté until the mushrooms begin to reduce.

3. Add the tinned tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil then simmer with the lid partially on for 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, cook the ravioli in a large saucepan of salted boiling water for 4 minutes.

5. Carefully drain and arrange the ravioli in pasta bowls. Spoon over the sauce and finish off with grated Parmesan cheese if you like. Serve with garlic ciabatta and salad. Enjoy!

Chicken and rosemary ravioli

Wish me luck, until next time.

Julie
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Disclosure: I received vouchers for Giovanni Rana Pasta to create my own recipe, which I’m entering into a competition with Giovanni Rana and Foodies 100. The prize is a fresh pasta master class with Giovanni Rana.

Yogurt Fruit Salad

Yoghurt Fruit Salad

When Sainsbury’s recently asked food bloggers to try out their salad sprinkles, I thought it would be a great opportunity to try something new. I was sent four different sprinkles to try, crispy onion, savoury oat, Italian style and dried fruit and honey seed.

Salad sprinkles

I love the serving suggestion tip on the packet of the dried fruit and honey seed sprinkle, which inspired my Yogurt Fruit Salad recipe. This colourful sprinkle is a mix of dried apricots, orange flavoured cranberries, toasted pumpkin seeds and honey coated sunflower seeds. I used some of my favourite fruits for the recipe but it really doesn’t matter which fruits you use, just choose your favourites. To boost the flavour of the 0% fat yogurt I added a little vanilla and honey for extra sweetness.

Here’s the recipe for Yogurt Fruit Salad.

Ingredients (Serves 2)

1 medium banana
8 small strawberries
12 red grapes
24 blueberries
6 tablespoons natural 0% fat yogurt
1/2 tablespoon runny honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
30g Sainsbury’s dried fruit and honey seed sprinkle

Method

1. Hull the strawberries and slice the banana, then distribute all the fruit equally between two bowls.

2. In another bowl mix the yogurt, honey and vanilla extract together. Then drizzle the flavoured yogurt over the fruit.

3. Add the sprinkles on top. Serve immediately and enjoy.

Yoghurt Fruit Salad

For the other sprinkles I made a simple salad with a mix of watercress, rocket and spinach leaves, with pomodorino tomatoes and cucumber all tossed in a balsamic vinegar. I put the sprinkles in small serving bowls and we all helped ourselves to the ones we fancied. The Italian style sprinkle, a mix of toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds, toasted pine nuts, dried onion, dried sundried tomato and dried tomato was most definitely the favourite. It really jazzed up the salad and I’m sure I’ll use it again.

We also really enjoyed the crispy onion sprinkle which is a mix of dried red onion, toasted sunflower seeds, dried red proper and dried green pepper. I think it would make a tasty alternative to croutons if served with a bowl of warming tomato soup. The savoury oat sprinkle flavoured with rosemary was lovely, I think it would make an excellent topping for oven roasted fish.

Salad sprinkles

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Until next time.

Julie
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Disclosure: Sainsbury’s sponsored me to write this post. All opinions are honest and my own. The recipes are my own.

Tomato and Basil Salad

Tomato Salad

During a recent trip to London’s Borough Market I bought some amazing tomatoes from an organic veg stall. As you can see from the pictures there was a fantastic selection of tomatoes in varying colours and sizes. Seeing such an impressive display prompted me to buy some with the idea of making a simple tomato and basil salad when I returned home.

We ate our salad with my other Borough Market purchases which included some focaccia from the Bread Ahead Bakery and a wedge of Montgomery Cheddar from Neal’s Yard Diary. The tomato and basil salad is hardly a recipe at all but I wanted to share it with you as it really was rather good especially with the focaccia and cheese.

Borough market

Borough market

Here’s my recipe for Tomato and Basil Salad.

A selection of different tomatoes
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper

Method

1. Slice the larger tomatoes, cut the smaller ones in half or quarters depending on their size.

2. Arrange the tomatoes and basil leaves on a plate. Drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil, season with sea salt and black pepper. Serve at room temperature and enjoy.

Tomato Salad

Sometimes simple unfussy food is the best.

If you haven’t seen it yet, do take a look at my review of London’s Borough Market which includes lots of photos of my day there.

Until next time.

Julie
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London’s Iconic Borough Market

Borough market

I recently spent a day at London’s iconic Borough Market. Located near London Bridge it’s undoubtably one of London’s best food markets. There’s a fantastic variety of fruit, vegetables, hot food, chocolate, cakes, breads, cheeses, cured meats, olive oils and drinks available to buy. In fact, I can’t think of anything you can’t buy there. There’s a real buzz about the place, the enticing smells and the friendly people make it a brilliant place to visit. Borough Market is steeped in history so I strongly recommend you pick up a market guide to learn more about it.

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I’m so pleased I found Konditor & Cook a fabulous cake shop, selling a delicious selection of cakes and brownies. I bought 4 of their regular brownies and they were the most fudgey chocolate brownies ever. On display in the shop were the most exquisite tiered cakes, with a really colourful show stopper in the shop window. I just could resist taking lots of photos.

The Olive Oil Company sells a vast selection of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Although, I didn’t buy any I did buy two cute olive oil dipping bowls.

I visited Neal’s Yard Diary a wonderful cheese shop located on Park Street, after sampling lots of different cheeses I bought a wedge of Montgomery Cheddar.

At the end of our day my husband and children treated me to some gorgeous chocolates from Rabot 1745, Hotel Chocolat’s restaurant and bar selling cocoa inspired cuisine and chocolates. It’s most definitely a restaurant I’d like to eat in.

If you’re ever in London make sure you spare a few hours or ideally a day to browse the food stalls and shops of Borough Market. I think you’ll love it. I’m hoping I can go back around Christmas time to see what festive goodies I can buy.

Here’s a few more pics of my day.

Do look out for my next blog post which features a recipe using some of the ingredients I bought at Borough Market.

Until next then.

Julie
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Harissa Spiced Giant Couscous

Harissa Spiced Giant Cous Cous

Having a barbecue on a week night most definitely means it’s the summer holidays. Oh, I do love the holidays, we all needed a break from the usual crazy rushing around routine. For us having a family barbecue is a lovely way to relax and enjoy our favourite foods.

When Sainsbury’s asked food bloggers to try their giant couscous I thought our barbecue would be the perfect time to experiment. Giant couscous is much larger than regular couscous and is made from wheat flour. It’s quite similar to small pasta in texture. For this recipe I’ve teamed the giant couscous with spicy harissa paste and sweet roasted peppers resulting in this super tasty side dish which we enjoyed with our barbecue feast. It’s a really simple recipe and tasted great with our burgers, sausages and salad. I know I’ll be making it again and again.

Here’s my recipe for Harissa Spiced Giant Couscous.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
Olive oil
100g giant couscous
1/2 tablespoon harissa paste
1 spring onion (sliced)
Small bunch of curly leaf parsley (chopped)
Salt and black pepper

Method

1. Pre heat your oven to Fan 200c.

2. Cut the peppers in half, remove the stalk, seeds and pith. Brush the outside with a little oil and place on a non stick roasting tray skin side up. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes.

3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

4. Meanwhile, place the giant couscous in a medium size saucepan. Cover with cold water and then bring to the boil. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes until cooked through, then drain.

5. Peel the skin off the peppers and then chop into 1cm square pieces.

6. Place the giant couscous in a bowl, add the chopped peppers, harissa paste, spring onion and parsley. Season generously with salt and black pepper, then mix well. Serve at room temperature.

Harissa Spiced Giant Cous Cous

Have you ever tried giant couscous? I’d love to know if you have a special way to cook it.

Until next time.

Julie
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Disclosure: Sainsbury’s sponsored me to write this post. All opinions are honest and my own. The recipe is my own.