Berry and Banana Smoothie

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With planned trips to America in the autumn and skiing in France over the New Year, the long summer holiday will largely dedicated to training for a half marathon in October. It will be my 2nd half and my training for the last one was lackadaisical to say the least! And so, this year, I have followed the training programme, included strength exercises to my routine (who knew I yoga ball could be used in so many ways?) and have avidly researched the best food for a speedy recovery.

There are some pretty inspirational blogs and magazines out there with lots of nutritional advice and guidance, and the mantra ‘Strong not Skinny’  resonates strongly – I just hope my good intentions last when the days get shorter and darker…

Here’s a recipe for my favourite post-run smoothie. It works well after a run as it contains both the proteins and carbs needed for muscle repair; it also makes for a delicious and refreshing breakfast on a warm and sunny day.

Happy running! x

Makes 1 smoothie
Calories: 170

Ingredients:

80g of frozen berries (I used raspberries)
1/2 a large banana
Half a 170g pot of Total 0% Greek Yogurt
3 tbsp on porridge oats
1 tsp of runny honey
200ml of semi-skimmed milk
4 fresh blueberries to serve (optional)

Method:

1. Add all ingredients into a blender and blitz until smooth.

2. Pour into a glass and add fresh blueberries and a sprinkling of porridge oats to serve.

3. Sit back and relax!

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Hallowe’en Witches’ Hats

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Despite the recent stormy weather, today has been glorious and has put me into the spirit of all things autumnal. So, with Halloween just two days away, my 4 year old god-daughter and I visited a pumpkin patch this morning and spent the afternoon making Halloween Witches’ Hats ready for Thursday’s delights and horrors.

As with a lot of these recipes, this one is associated with happy memories. We grew up on a street surrounded by children our age and I’m sure I now view it through rose-tinted glasses, but we were incredibly lucky to spend the summers riding our bikes, practicing to walk on stilts and building campsites ‘up the cornfield’. And, each Halloween, our parents took it in turns to host Halloween parties – complete with hanging ghouls and goblins – before 15 of us descended on the street trick or treating. One of the many sugar loaded treats that I still remember today is the Halloween Witches’ Hats . There was something irresistible about the sweet-filled ice-cream cone stuck on a digestive biscuit with chocolate. At the time, I thought it was the cleverest thing my mum had ever made!

So, it was with these memories, some 20 years later, that I found myself filling ice-cream cones with jelly sweets, smothering melted chocolate on digestives and sticking the hats onto the digestives in the hope of creating new memories. There’s still time left until Thursday, so why not have a go too?

Happy Fall, y’all

x

PS. If you do make these and have some melted chocolate left, can I recommend a homemade, warm, melted chocolate digestive biscuit. Yum!

Ingredients:

10 ice-cream cones

150g milk chocolate cooking chocolate,  broken into squares.

10 digestive biscuits (Although not round, Graham Crackers would work well if in the US)

An assortment of small jelly sweets (such as jelly beans)

Milk and White Chocolate Buttons

Method:

1. Place a heat-proof bowl over a pan of boiling water and place broken-up cooking chocolate in to melt (do not allow the water to touch the bowl) stirring occasionally.

2. Fill ice-cream cones with sweets (you’ll probably need more than two hands for this. It is the perfect part for little hands to help with).

3. Smooth the warm melted chocolate onto the flat side of the digestive biscuit. Place the top of the ice-cream cone on the chocolate side of the biscuit.

4. Use left over melted chocolate to stick milk-chocolate buttons and left-over sweets to the witches’ hats.

Serves 10

Note: This can be very messy and end with chocolate covered mouths!

Ginger and Rhubarb Crumble

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Driving home after a parkrun yesterday morning, I caught my first glimpse of golden leaves and realised that the hot summer of 2013 is definitely drawing to a close. It’s been a long summer filled with days out in and around the UK, a very special wedding and spending time with friends and family. And, although it’s sad to say goodbye to summer dresses and endless hours of daylight, I am ready to embrace autumn.

There are many reasons why autumn is my favourite season: the heavy golden sun, warm and cosy knits, the excuse to drink copious amounts of rich red wine, long walks by the sea, evenings spent watching ‘must-see’ TV and, of course, warming and flavoursome food. It’s the ‘season of mist and mellow fruitfulness’ where all fruit is filled ‘with ripeness to its core’. It really is the best season for baking and cooking.

Growing up, we used to have a rhubarb crumble after our roast dinner most weeks and this Ginger and Rhubarb Crumble is a twist on my mum’s classic. It’s warming, delicious and the perfect Sunday treat – especially today with the rain lashing down outside and the wind blowing a hooley. Yep, folks, autumn is definitely here!

Happy Baking x

Ingredients:

5 sticks of rhubarb

2 tbsp water

1 inch piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped

4 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp of powdered ginger

110g butter, softened

110g demerara sugar

200g plain flour

Method:

1. Preheat the over to 180C/300F/Gas 4.

2. Peel and chop the rhubarb into roughly 1 inch pieces. Add rhubarb, water, fresh ginger and caster sugar to a pan and gently cook until rhubarb is soft. Stir occasionally.

3. To make the crumble topping, mix the plain flour, powdered ginger and demerara sugar in a bowl and rub in the butter.

4. Fill an ovenproof dish with the rhubarb mixture and sprinkle the crumble mixture on top. Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes until the crumble topping is crisp and golden brown and the rhubarb filling is bubbling from the sides.

5. Remove and allow to cool slightly. Serve with double cream or vanilla ice-cream.

Serves 4

Note: The filling is also delicious slightly cooled down and served on its own with creme fraiche or double cream.

Squidgy Chocolate and Hazelnut Meringues

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It has been a while since my last post, 3 months in fact, and today I am able to finally post this delicious chocolate and hazelnut meringue recipe. It’s the recipe I mentioned way back here in the early days of spring when we all wondered when winter would end and the great British summer would begin (thank goodness that when it did arrive, it did so in style!). And, the one good thing about waiting so long to post this is that I have had plenty of opportunities to practise these meringues (they went down very well with a glass of Prosecco at a wet and windy Royal Ascot) and refine them – this recipe should be foolproof!

They are the perfect summer treat – light, fluffy and melt in your mouth – and are pretty enough to serve at a picnic or a summer dinner party. And, as if that wasn’t enough, according to one of my very best friends (who has been the guinea pig for many many of my culinary creations), they are the best things I have ever baked! High praise indeed.

I hope you enjoy them too!

Happy Baking x

Ingredients:

40g hazelnuts

3 fresh large egg whites

150g of white caster sugar (50g per egg white if you wish to bake a larger batch)

30g cocoa powder

Method:

To toast the hazelnuts

1. Preheat the over to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

2. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and spread the hazelnuts on evenly.

3. When the oven is hot, place the baking tray in the oven for 5 minutes.

4. When cooked, tip the hazelnuts into a sieve and shake to loosen skins. Remove skins.

To make the meringues

1. When the hazelnuts have been toasted, lower the oven’s temperature to 100C/210F/Gas 1  .

2. Separate the egg whites, one at a time, into a clean bowl (it is important that no yolk is mixed in with the whites).

3. Whisk the egg whites on a low setting for 2 minutes, a medium setting for 1 minute and then the highest setting until the egg whites look foamy and have stiff peaks.

4. Continue to whisk the egg whites on a high speed and add the caster sugar one tablespoon at a time until you have a stiff and glossy mixture.

5. Add the toasted hazelnuts into the meringue mixture and gently fold them in.

6. Add the cocoa powder and stir in 3 or 4 times to ensure that meringues look streaky.

7. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper and spoon the mixture onto it.

8. Bake the meringues for 1 hour and, once baked, turn the oven off and leave the meringues in until the oven is completely cold (or overnight).

Makes 5 large meringues

Just Ducks! by Nicola Davies

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Quack – Quuuack, Quack – Quaack – Quack.

And so begins Just Ducks! with this beautifully onomatopoeic opening.

Just Ducks! written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Salvatore Rubbino is a non-fiction book about a young girl and her encounters with mallard ducks. As her day progresses she, and we, learn all about the mallard duck – why ducks and drakes have different colouring, why it is important to feed bread to ducks in the winter and the difference between ‘dabbling’ and ‘upending’ (it’s all to do with different feeding techniques).

The watercolour illustrations by Salavtore Rubbino realistically a day in the life of ducks and do not overwhelm the page. The layout of each page is simple with large illustrations and evenly placed text; the font of the text is large enough for children to follow, and the font used for the facts does not detract from the illustrations or the main story.

This book, from the Nature Storybook series, has been nominated for the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal and is the perfect introduction to the nature around us for  all inquisitive little minds. It’s a lovely read.

Age Range: Under 5s.

Fresh Strawberry Victoria Sponge Cake

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On Saturday it was our Nan’s 84th birthday and so 4 generations of the Taylor family gathered to celebrate. This, of course, was the perfect excuse  to bake a cake that I had always wanted to try, but had never quite got around to: the Victoria Sponge. It’s criminal, I know, that I have reached the age of 30-something, claim to love baking, and have never tried this quintessentially English cake, but it is true.

For those of you who are interested, here is a brief history of the Victoria Sponge Cake:

– Traditionally, the cake consists of two sponge cakes sandwiching strawberry jam and freshly whipped cream, and it is served in slices.

– It was first baked for Queen Victoria by her lady-in-waiting, Anna, Duchess of Bedford.

– The Duchess of Bedford introduced the idea of Afternoon Tea to the royal court after their lunches became smaller and she found herself hungry during the afternoon. Once Queen Victoria tried this cake, she adopted the custom of serving cakes alongside afternoon tea.

So there you have it, not only is this cake deliciously morish, it also started the English tradition of Afternoon Tea. Not bad going for a humble sponge cake really, is it?

To make this cake special, I added freshly sliced strawberries on top of the jam. I have also tasted a version where lemon curd replaces the jam – it is equally yummy. I am pleased to report that not a crumb was left on Saturday night.

Happy Baking x

Ingredients: For the cake

200g caster sugar

200g softened butter

4 eggs,beaten

200g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

3 tbsp milk

For the filling

200g strawberry jam

300g double cream, whipped

1 punnet (about 15) of fresh strawberries,

sliced icing sugar, to decorate

Method: 1. Heat the oven to 190C/fan 170C/gas 5. Butter two 20cm sandwich tins and line with non-stick baking paper.

2. In a large bowl, beat all of the cake ingredients together until you they form a smooth, soft better.

3. Divide the mixture between the tins, smoothing the surface with the back of a spoon or a spatula.

4. Bake for about 20 minutes until the cakes are golden and springs back when pressed. Turn onto a rack and leave to cool completely.

5. When cool, spread a thick layer of the jam on the bottom of one of the sponges and add the sliced strawberries on top of the jam. Spread the whipped cream on top of the strawberries and place the second sponge on top. Dust with icing sugar before serving.

This will keep in an airtight container for 2 days

Serves 10 average portions and 8 generous portions.

Courgette, Sundried Tomato and Feta Cheese Muffins

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After a week of frantically chasing GCSE coursework, marking A2 essays and finishing Year 8 reports, Sunday was to be My Official Day Off. A day to spend with friends, visit somewhere new and eat delicious food.

With a sunny day forecast, we packed a picnic of grapes, soft cheese, crusty bread, Co-op Salt and Vinegar crisps (trust me, they are amazing), Courgette, Sundried Tomato and Feta Muffins and home-made chocolate and hazlenut meringues.

We left Kent with the birds singing and the sun-shining. We passed Clacket Lane Sevices with the birds singing and the sun shining. We drove under landing aeroplanes at Heathrow with the birds singing and the sun shining. We arrived at Blenheim Palace , Oxfordshire, with no birds singing and the sun definitely not shining.

Undeterred, we walked around the beautiful grounds of Blenheim Palace; past the lakes and cascades, through the secret gardens and along the great lawns . And, when hunger struck, we shunned the Sunday Lunch in The Orangery, The Pleasure Gardens Deli and Water Terrace Champagne Bar, and, with the car doubling up as a windbreak, we laid out the picnic blanket, embraced the chilly spring afternoon and feasted on cheese, bread, crisps, savory muffins and chocolate and hazelnut meringues. A perfect Official Day Off.

Here is the recipe for the delicious Courgette, Sundried Tomato and Feta Cheese Muffins.

Happy Picnic-ing x

Ingredients:

300g self-raising flour

50g melted butter

180 ml milk

2 eggs

1 courgette (zucchini)

100g sundried tomatoes, chopped

150g feta, roughly chopped, plus 50g for sprinkling

12 torn basil leaves

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, courgette, feta, sundried tomatoes and basil. Season to taste and make a well in the centre.

3. In a large jug, whisk eggs, melted butter and milk together. Pour into the flour mixture and fold gently until just combined.

4. Spoon mixture evenly into muffin cases. Sprinkle the remaining feta cheese on the top of each muffin.

5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until cooked. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes before transferring to an iron rack to completely cool. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 12 good sized muffins.

Terrific Tea Towels

When buying things, I always follow two rules: it should be beautiful or functional, and preferably both.

Step forward the humble tea towel. Not only do they tick these two boxes, but they are inexpensive, brighten up the kitchen and there’s a design for everyone. Who can resist? There are quirky designs, poignant designs, funny designs, personalised designs, simple designs, artistic designs. Tea towels filled with puns, quotes, idioms, poems, novels, animals, teacups, recipes, flowers, boats, castles… the possibilities are endless.

I think my obsession fondness first began when I was given a tea towel as a a gift before moving to Georgia, USA. This London-inspired Cath Kidston tea towel hung over the oven in mykitchen for the entire year and was a much loved reminder of home. It was in Georgia where my love for the tea towel blossomed upon the discovery of Kitchen on the Square, in Savannah. It seems they too had an obsession with tea towels. I wasn’t alone. I bought many.

Returning home last summer, having missed the entire Jubilee and half of the Olympics, I wanted to showmy patriotism so I bought a Diamond Jubilee tea towel complete with two screen printed Corgis on it. It combined functionality, beauty and patriotism. What more could a girl ask for?

Since then, I’ve discovered scores of websites dedicated to the humble tea towel – my favourite so far is To Dry For. Here are a few on my current wish list:

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Storm in a Teacup

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British Gastronomy Map

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Thornback and Peel Stag

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Lemons
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Bee Friendly

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Kookaburra Tea Towel Set

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Goat’s Cheese Tart

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With the sun shining today and the feeling that spring might (finally) be here, I’ve decided the time has come to shun winter’s comfort food and turn to lighter fare. With this in mind, I made this delicious and light Goat’s Cheese Tart recipe. It’s elegant enough for dinner with friends, makes the perfect addition to any picnic basket and the the leftovers are ideal for lunch the next day.

I hope you enjoy it x

Pastry

You can either make my shortcrust pastry or use an chilled premade pastry from the supermarket.

If you buy premade pastry, please pre-bake it. It can be pre-baked in the same way as seen in the shortcrust pastry recipe.

Filling

Ingredients:

180g goat’s cheese

2 eggs

3 egg yolks

300 ml single cream

black pepper

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180C

2. Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix with an electric whisk.

3. Place cooled pre-baked pastry tart pan into the oven and pull the shelf out as far as it will come without toppling over. Pour the mixture into the pastry case and carefully push the shelf back into the oven.

4. Bake for 30 minutes.

Serve with rocket (arugula) and oven roasted tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, salt and white wine vinegar.

Shortcrust Pastry

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My nan likes to tell stories. Stories about being sent to Wales during the war. About my grandad who, at Christmas, was invited into every house on his milk rounds to have a festive tipple and would eventually stagger home 5 hours later than usual. About swimming in the sea in the summer in her knickers and bra with her sister, our Auntie Rose. And, about the day her mum taught her to make pastry. She was newly married, just 20, and her pastry was rock-hard. In a fit of frustration and anger, she tearfully threw it across the room, exclaiming, ‘I can’t do it!!’. Her mother, a no-nonsense woman, replied ‘Well you won’t be able to if you chuck it across the room!’. In my nan’s words, ‘I did learn how to do it eventually’.

As I’ve thought about this blog this week and the recipes I wanted to include, I’ve realised so many of them will come from my loved ones. So, with this particular story in mind, and knowing I wanted to make a Goats Cheese Tart, I decided to take the brave step, shun the oh so convenient ready made pastry in the supermarket, and make my very first home-made shortcrust pastry. I visited my nan for recipes, was told it was the easiest thing to make (did I mention she also has a very selective memory?!) and that I was being silly not attempting it, and left armed with her cookbooks from the 1950s.

Here are my results. It’s a lot less convenient than buying from the supermarket but, I must admit, there’s a real pleasure in making the entire dish from scratch – and it really wasn’t that hard after all!

Happy cooking : ) x

Note: I have converted the measurements from imperial to metric and have included the imperial measurements in brackets.

Ingredients:

200g (8oz) self-raising flour

pinch of salt

100g (4oz) butter, chilled

2tbsp water, chilled

A chilled tart 25cm pan

Method:

1. Sift the flour and salt.

2. Rub in the butter until the flour and butter mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

3. Add the chilled water and mix to form a stiff but not too dry dough.

4. Wrap dough in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly grease tart pan and remove dough from the fridge. Roll the dough on a floured surface, starting from the centre of the dough and pushing out, until dough is thin. Place dough in tart pan.

6. Prick the pastry, line it with baking paper and fill with ceramic baking beans (rice works just as well). Bake the case for 10-15 minutes, or until pastry looks dry. Remove ceramic baking beans and leave to cool.