Christmas Fair Cupcakes

Xmas fair cakes

The school Christmas fair is tomorrow and I have baked today 24 Christmas cupcakes for the refreshments stall. I’m hopeful that they will be priced at £1 each but I’ll have to wait and see.

Baking today reminded me of when I offered to run a cupcake stall at the school Christmas fair a few years ago. I meticulously planned for the event as my intention was to bake and decorate 300 cupcakes. This was no easy feat, consideration had to be given to the ingredients, transportation and time required.

After shopping around, getting the best price for the ingredients and buying giant corrugated cupcake boxes, I set to work. Eighteen hours later, covered in icing sugar and most definitely exhausted I had finished all 300 cupcakes. Hooray! I had done it.

On the day of the Christmas Fair my mum helped me on the stall (thanks mum) and thankfully the cakes sold really well raising lots of cash.

This year I’ve used my Amazing Vanilla Sponge Cupcake recipe and topped the buttercream swirl with sugar snowflakes and red, green and white hundreds and thousands.

Xmas fair cakes on display

Xmas fair cakes boxed up

Do share your Christmas fair baking stories with me, I would love to hear them?

Until next time.

Julie

Frugal Soup

Warming soup and soda bread

Warming soup and soda bread

During the last few years I have become acutely aware of how much food gets wasted and how many people go hungry. This world-wide problem is not something I can solve but with this in mind I’m trying to be more creative with the ingredients I have and not waste anything.

This delicious soup is the result of frugal me using up half a butternut squash and five spindly carrots left in the fridge. I’m pleased to say that the soup was quite yummy, mopped up with the very last of the cheese and sun-dried tomato soda bread made a few days ago.

Ingredients (Serves 2)

1/2 butternut squash (285g approx)
5 carrots (175g approx)
1 small onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground mixed spice
1 Kallo organic chicken stock cube
600ml water (reserved from the cooked carrots)
Salt and pepper

Method

1. Peel and chop the carrots and butternut squash into about 1.5cm chunks. Roughly chop the onion and set aside.

2. Pre heat the oven to Fan 200c.

3. Par boil the carrots for about 8-10 minutes, then drain the cooking water into a jug to be used for making up the stock.

4. Place the butternut squash and par boiled carrots into a baking tray.

5. Drizzle with the olive oil, add a pinch of salt and a grinding of black pepper. Then, add the ground mixed spice and toss everything together.

6. Place in the oven and roast for 15 minutes.

7. Remove from the oven and add the chopped onion, stir everything round and then place back in for a further 20 minutes.

8. Meanwhile, make up the stock using 600ml of the carrot cooking water and the stock cube.

9. Remove the roast vegetables from the oven, double-check they are cooked by piercing with a knife, if soft then they are done.

10. Transfer the vegetables to a blender and add half of the stock, then blitz. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary along with more stock. Then blitz in the blender again.

I only used 450ml of the stock but add more if you prefer a runnier soup.

Your soup is now ready to serve. I like to have a little grinding of black pepper on top of mine and eat it with cheese and sun-dried tomato soda bread.

Do you have any frugal soup recipes? I would love to hear about them. Don’t forget you can leave your thoughts in the comments box below.

Until next time.

Julie

Nigel Slater’s Spaghetti with Sausage, Quince and Cranberries

Christmassy Pasta

Christmassy Pasta

I found Nigel’s recipe in the December issue of the Sainsbury’s Magazine (still on sale) and it is inspired by Christmas flavours. The eagle-eyed of you will spot that I’ve not actually used spaghetti but have opted for bucatini pasta instead. It’s a personal favourite of mine and I think it was a great substitution choice.

As you can see from the picture, I have used cocktail sausages as directed in the recipe and they go perfectly with the caramelised onions. The recipe requires quince paste to balance the sharpness of the cranberries and also works well. I’ve never bought quince paste before and fortunately it was easy enough to find in the shops. It’s a bit different from the type of pasta dishes I usually rustle up and made a pleasant change. If you have any leftover cranberries and cocktail sausages after the Christmas festivities maybe give this recipe a try.

Until next time.

Julie

Tomato, Pepper and Rocket Penne Pasta

Tasty bowl of pasta

Tasty bowl of tomato, pepper and rocket penne pasta

I love the colours in this bowl of pasta, so vibrant and rich. This really is so simple and makes a lovely lunch. I have used jars of roasted peppers and semi dried cherry tomatoes in oil, I bought mine from Marks & Spencer. You won’t need lots, so what’s left is ideal for topping a pizza, adding to pasta sauces or incorporating in soda bread. See my cheese and sun dried tomato soda bread for inspiration.

Ingredients (Serves 1 easily doubled)

100g whole wheat penne pasta
40g semi dried cherry tomatoes (in oil)
60g roast peppers (in oil and chopped)
A handful of rocket leaves
Parmesan cheese (grated)

Method

1. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente, then drain.

2. In a bowl toss together the pasta, tomatoes, peppers and rocket, so the residue flavoured oil from the tomatoes and peppers coats the pasta.

3. Top with grated Parmesan.

This lunch time pasta is super quick to make. I hope you enjoy it.

Julie

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Cherry and Spice Mince Pies

A Christmas treat of mince pies and a mug of tea

A Christmas treat of Cherry and Spice mince pies and a mug of tea

These are mince pies with a cherry and spice twist. Although, this recipe requires shop bought mincemeat (feel free to make your own), I think adding glacé cherries to the mincemeat makes it really fruity. Plus, I have spiced things up by adding ground mixed spice to my pastry. Try to buy a good quality mincemeat if you can as it will make all the difference, mine was laced with brandy.

Ingredients (Makes 12)

300g plain flour
150g unsalted butter (chilled and cubed)
2 tablespoons icing sugar
1 teaspoon ground mixed spice
3 tablespoons ice cold water
411g jar mincemeat
24 glacé cherry halves
Milk to glaze
Granulated sugar

12 hole muffin tin
9cm fluted round cutter
6cm round cutter

Method

1. Place the flour in a bowl and stir in the ground mixed spice and icing sugar. Then, add the cubed butter and toss the butter cubes in the flour mixture to coat.

2. Rub the butter in the flour until it resembles bread crumbs.

3. Add 3 tablespoons of cold water, using a blunt blade knife bring the dough together by cutting through the water and dough ‘breadcrumbs’.

4. Finally, bring the dough together with you hands and then knead for a moment.

5. Place the dough in a plastic food bag and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

6. Pre heat the oven to Fan 180c and dust your work surface with flour.

7. Roll out your dough to to a thickness of 2-3mm. Using the fluted 9cm cutter cut out 12 rounds for the bases and then using the 6cm cutter cut out 12 rounds for the lids.

8. Place the larger pastry rounds into the holes of your muffin tin to make the bottom of your pies.

9. Then, line each pie with 2 cherry halves. Top with 1 to 2 teaspoons of mincemeat.

10. Moisten the pie rims with water and place the pastry lids on top.

11. Brush the pies with milk and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Pierce the centre of each pie lid with a knife so the steam can escape.

12. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until golden.

Cherry and spice mince pies

If you like this recipe you may also be interested in my Festive Christmas Bark and the Women’s Weekly Spiced Fruit Christmas Cake recipe too.

Like always, I love to hear from you. Please leave your comments in the form below.

Until next time.

Julie

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Festive Chocolate Bark

Pistachio and Cranberry Milk Chocolate Bark

Festive Pistachio and Cranberry Milk Chocolate Bark

When I found a Christmas chocolate bark mould in Lakeland, I instantly thought it would be great for making edible Christmas gifts. I’ve topped the chocolate barks with pistachios and cranberries, as I think they look Christmassy but feel free to choose other dried fruits and nuts. The chocolate barks are absolutely lovely gift wrapped in cellophane bags tied with a festive ribbon. They are ideal for popping in your child’s Christmas stocking, or giving to the class teacher or even as a token present for a work colleague. Whoever you make them for, I’m sure the lucky recipient will be very grateful indeed. After all, who doesn’t like chocolate really.

Festive Pistachio and Cranberry Milk Chocolate Bark

Ingredients (Makes 2)

200g milk chocolate
25g dried cranberries
15g pistachios (chopped in half)

Method

1. Break up the chocolate and place in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t come into contact with the water. Melt the chocolate over the low heat.

2. Once melted remove from the heat.

3. Place the mould on a chopping board, for stability. Then, pour the melted chocolate into the mould. Use a spatula to ease the chocolate in place. Then bang the chopping board onto the work surface to disperse any air bubbles.

4. Next, scatter the pistachios and cranberries carefully on top of the melted chocolate.

Milk Chocolate, Cranberry and Pistachio a Festive a Bark all prepared

Festive Pistachio and Cranberry Milk Chocolate Bark all prepared

5. Allow to cool completely at room temperature and then refrigerate if necessary before you release the bark from the mould.

6. Place in cellophane bags and tie with a festive ribbon.

Gift wrapped Festive Chocolate Bark

Gift wrapped Festive Chocolate Bark

There you have it, beautiful festive edible gifts that everyone will enjoy. Assuming they like chocolate that is!

Until next time.

Julie

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Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomato Soda Bread

Freshly baked Cheese and Sun Dried Tomato Soda Bread

Freshly baked Cheese and Sun Dried Tomato Soda Bread

The lovely thing about soda bread is that it is so quick to make. You can bake it in the morning and then eat fresh bread for lunch. Different flavours can easily be incorporated into soda bread dough, such as cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. My soda bread is packed full of flavour and is incredibly moreish. I have used Mull of Kintyre cheddar cheese, it has a beautifully creamy but mature taste and marries well with the tomatoes. Although, any strong mature cheddar cheese should work well in this recipe.

Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomato Soda Bread

Ingredients (Makes 1 loaf)

400g plain white flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
284ml pot of buttermilk
150g Mull of Kintyre cheddar cheese or any mature cheddar cheese (grated)
100g sun-dried tomatoes (chopped into 1cm squares)

Method

1. Pre heat your oven to Fan 200c and line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

Soda bread ingredients

Soda bread ingredients

2. Put all the dry ingredients, except 50g of cheese in a bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon, then make a well in the centre and stir in the buttermilk to create a sticky dough. Finally, bring the dough together with your hands.

Soda bread dry ingredients

Soda bread dry ingredients

3. Dust your work surface with flour, put the dough on the floured surface and shape into a flattened ball.

Soda bread dough

Soda bread dough

4. Place the dough onto the lined baking sheet and using a sharp knife cut deeply vertically and then horizontally over the dough to form a cross.

5. Sprinkle the remaining 50g of cheese on top.

Soda bread ready to be baked

Soda bread ready to be baked

6. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, then turn over the soda bread and bake for a further 10 minutes upside down.

7. When fully baked the soda bread should sound hollow when tapped underneath and be beautifully brown.

8. Once cooked allow to cool on a wire rack.

It’s absolutely delicious eaten sliced by itself or with a bowl of warm soup.

Ready for eating, delicious.

Ready for eating, delicious.

It’s lovely with my Spicy Carrot Soup.

I love to hear your comments, do let me know if you give this recipe a try.

Julie

Pizza the ASK Italian way

Homemade Pepperoni Pizza

Homemade Pepperoni Pizza

I am a big fan of the ASK Italian restaurant chain, if you have been following my blog you’ll see that I like pasta and pizza a lot. So after visiting our local restaurant a few times my husband bought me The ASK Italian Cookbook, at the end of our meal. The pleasing thing about this, as well as getting a fab new cookbook, is that £4 of the proceeds go to Great Ormond Street Children’s Charity. How wonderful is that!

The book is a collection of recipes from the Ask Italian restaurants, Italian experts, chef Theo Randall and author Carla Capalbo. It features chapters on starters, pasta, risottos, pizza, fish and meat, salads and vegetables, desserts and a long list of sauces. So far, I have made the Insalata di Rucola (Rocket Salad), Penne con Salsiccia e Porcini (Penne with Italian Sausage, porcini mushrooms and tomato) and now the Basic Pizza Dough.

I found the pizza dough incredibly wet and sticky but I persevered with the recipe and resisted adding any extra flour. Eventually the dough came together, relief! After the dough had been divided into 4 (making 4 pizzas) and proved, I was ready to make my pizzas.

Pizza Dough

Pizza Dough

I stretched and then rolled the dough into large circles, as best I could. Then I topped the pizza dough with passata, grated mozzarella, pepperoni and peppers. The pizzas then went in a really hot oven until the dough began to crisp.

Pizza ready for the oven

Pizza ready for the oven

The baked pizzas tasted like real pizzas should, with a beautifully thin crisp base. I’ve made pizza from scratch before but had forgotten how easy it is, I’ll definitely be making pizza again soon.

Buon Appetito.

Julie

Spicy Carrot Soup

Delicious carrot soup

Delicious carrot soup

Warming and comforting, there is nothing better than a bowl of delicious soup. A bowl of my spicy carrot soup will definitely keep out the chills this Bonfire Night. Be careful with the chilli flakes, you don’t want it too hot.

Spicy Carrot Soup

Ingredients (Serves 3)

450g carrots, sliced in rounds
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1 Kallo organic chicken stock cube
600ml boiling water
Salt and pepper

Method

1. Heat the olive oil in a large lidded casserole pan and sauté the onions for a couple of minutes.

2. Then add the carrots and chilli flakes. Cook in the pan for a further 5 minutes.

3. Make up the chicken stock using the stock cube and boiling water, then add to the pan.

4. Bring to the boil and simmer with the lid partially on for about 20 minutes, until the carrots are cooked.

5. Remove the carrots and onion with a slotted spoon and place in a blender, along with half of the stock.

6. Blitz in the blender, then add more of the stock and blitz again until you get the desired consistency. I use all the stock but that’s up to you.

7. Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper if necessary. Blitz again in the blender for a moment.

8. Serve immediately with crusty bread or reheat later when needed. I like to grind a little black pepper on top of my soup when I serve it.

The soup goes perfectly with my Cheese and Sun-dried Tomato Soda Bread.

Simple, easy and tasty. I hope you enjoy.

Until next time.

Julie

Sausage and Spinach with Fettucine Pasta

Child's portion of Sausage and Spinach with Fettucine

Child’s portion of Sausage and Spinach with Fettucine

Sometimes getting children to eat their greens can be an arduous task. Here I have combined spinach, with kids all time favourite, sausages and pasta, resulting in a tasty and easy dinner that can be rustled up after school in no time at all.

There were clean plates all round when I made this, so I thought I would share my success with you. Of course, it doesn’t have to be just for the children I suggest adding 1/4 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes to the sauce if you like things a bit spicy.

Sausage and Spinach with Fettucine Pasta

Ingredients (Serves 2 adults or 4 children)

3 organic pork sausages
1 very small onion (finely chopped)
50g frozen spinach
400g chopped tinned tomatoes
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
pinch of salt and pepper
200g fettucine pasta
Parmesan cheese or cheddar cheese grated

Method

1. Heat the olive oil in a lidded casserole pan and sauté the onions.

2. Squeeze the meat out of the sausage skins and add to the pan, breaking up the sausagemeat with a spatula.

3. Cook until the onions are soft and the sausagemeat is cooked through.

4. Add the tinned tomatoes, mixed herbs, frozen spinach and season with salt and pepper.

Sausage and Spinach sauce

Sausage and Spinach sauce

5. Bring to the boil and then simmer with the lid partially on for about 20 minutes. Stirring every now and again.

6. Meanwhile cook the fettucine in a large saucepan of salted boiling water.

7. Once the fettucine is cooked reserve a little of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce.

8. Stir the sauce and pasta together whilst still on the heat and add a little of the reserved pasta cooking water to help emulsify the sauce.

9. Serve with a little grated cheese on top.

This delicious pasta is ready within 30 minutes. I hope you and your children like it. Like always let me know your thoughts.

Best wishes
Julie