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Monday, 17 June 2013

Strawberry dream cupcakes

Strawberries are bang in season right now, and I have a meeting at work to make cakes for this week. Cue me making 24 strawberry and cream cupcakes!
I had a tub of Flora buttery in the picnic hamper sent to me by Unilever for my Picnic Challenge which I decided to try instead of I salted butter, and I have to say I was really impressed with the resulting cupcakes.

I knocked these up in just under two hours, they're simple but delicious.  


200g caster sugar
200g unsalted butter
200g self raising flour (sifted twice)
4 eggs
1/2 jar strawberry jam
12 strawberries

For the 'Chantilly' cream:
250ml double cream
1/2 tsp chocolate essence
1 tbsp icing sugar


Pre-heat the oven to 180c
Cream the caster sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. This could take 5 minutes or so and is best done with an electric whisk. I used my Russell Hobbs kitchen aid which allowed me to get on with lining the muffin tray with the cake cases and sipping my coffee whilst it did the hard work for me.

When the sugar and butter are creamed together, add the eggs one at a time until all are incorporated. If it looks like the mix is beginning to curdle add some of the flour a tbsp at a time. 

Fold in the remaining flour with a metal spoon until the flour is folded in. Being careful not to over mix and knock all of the air out.

Fill the cupcake cases 3/4 way up and bake for 15-18 minutes until the cake is springy when touched gently or a skewer inserted comes out clean. 

Transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool.

While the cakes are cooling make up the Chantilly cream by whisking the double cream, icing sugar and chocolate essence until whipped cream consistency is reached. 

When cool use either a small spoon or cupcake corer to make a small hole in the centre of the cake and put the small piece to one side. Put a teaspoon of jam into the hole and replace the small piece of cake. 

Spread the Chantilly cream across the top of the cake in a thin layer.

Finally slice a strawberry in half and slice the half lengthways with cutting all the way to the end enabling you to fan the strawberry half out, place this on top of the cupcake. 

Perfect for enjoying whilst watching Wimbledon with a glass of Pimms! 

Friday, 14 June 2013

Total's Big Fat Greek Birthday

For me when I think of Greek cuisine I think about Feta cheese, Olive oil, Aubergine, Olives and of course delicious Greek yoghurt.
Since I began my weight loss journey I have been discovering just how versatile Greek yoghurt is. It can be eaten on its own with a drizzle of honey, used in salad dressings, made into Tzatziki, mixed into cake, or indeed as I have also discovered more recently, used in place of heavy cream in cooking sauces. This is something that I often take advantage of with my home-made chicken tikka. 
I have tried the cheaper Greek style yoghurts, but they just aren't the same as proper Greek (as in actually made in Greece) yoghurt, which is luxuriously thick and creamy and even the 0% fat stuff tastes naughty! Total yoghurt is 100% natural, it has no additives or preservatives and comes in 3 variations 0% fat (the one I always use) 2% and Classic. 

Fage, the makers of Total Greek yoghurt are celebrating 30 years of selling their product in the UK this year and 90 years since Athanassios Filippou the founder opened their first small dairy in Athens. To help celebrate this coming of age Total invited myself along with some other lucky food bloggers to the Ice Tank, London to join in their birthday celebrations. A bit of a double whammy for me as it's also my 30th birthday this month. 

First up for the evening was a baking Master class with spaces allocated just for baking bloggers, so I was doubly lucky to be invited to this part! Presenting the Master class was the very talented Eric Lanlard who talked us through how to make the perfect sponge cake and giving us some very useful tips along the way. Before then demonstrating how to decorate a Show stopper, making it look very easy! 
Master at work!
It was then our turn to decorate the Show stopper, using cakes pre-made by Eric and all of the ingredients laid out for us. 
Luckily we had a cheat sheet provided to prompt us along the way, with Eric moving through the room and helping out a little where required. I even managed to pipe my cream/yoghurt mix onto the layers of my cake without making mess or having any minor disasters! Maybe there is hope for my piping skills yet...
For an extra Greek kick each layer of the cake was brushed with Ouzo syrup, a lovely aniseed-y smell to make the cake even moister. 
Once the layers of the cake were built up, I used white chocolate cigars around the outside before decorating the top with fresh berries and fruit. There were figs, pomegranate, strawberries and raspberries. All of these fruits offer perfect flavours to match the creamy Greek yoghurt and Ouzo in the cake. 
Finally I used some shards of gold leaf caramel to give the cake height and an extra level of luxury. 


 What a cake! So much easier to decorate than I'd have thought, and the possibilities for different flavours and designs are limited only to your imagination, I'm already thinking of recreating this for my 30th in a few weeks, maybe in a chocolate version drizzled with Baileys instead of Ouzo. Either way it will almost certainly have an element of some Total Greek yoghurt in the cream frosting and in the cake. 

Eric's birthday cake for Total

Thanks for the inspiration Fage and Total, and a very Happy 30th Birthday to you! 

Pictures courtesy of satureyes photography

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Great British picnic

The summery weather has finally arrived in England and in true Brits style we all pile outdoors to local parks with the family and the odd dog in tow for a lazy day spent lounging in the sun, playing football with the kids, letting the dogs jump in the lakes chasing the ducks; and of course eating a picnic.

I don't think there's anything much more British than a summers day spent on a picnic blanket soaking up the rays discussing the weather and eating from a picnic basket. Which is where I came up with the theme for the recipe I needed to conjure up for my post in aid of National picnic week which is 17th-23rd June. 
When you think of traditional British food you think of Strawberries and Cream, Roast beef, Scones with jam and clotted cream and of course the classic Fish and Chips! 
I really wanted to find a way of bringing Fish and Chips into my picnic recipe, the ultimate transportable food, lovingly wrapped in yesterday's newspaper sprinkled with salt and vinegar and eaten al fresco with a plastic fork. Anyone could batter a piece of Cod or Haddock, and put it next to some chips and say there you go, so I needed to put my thinking cap on and came up with this...
Bitter lemon battered River Cobbler with Polenta chips, steamed Samphire and Samphire sauce.

Ingredients for the fish:

3 x River cobbler fillets (skinless and boneless)
160ml bitter lemon drink (very cold)
110g self raising flour
Pinch of salt

Extra flour for coating the fish before dipping in the batter.

For the Polenta chips:

500g pack of Polenta
1 cal cooking spray 

Steamed Samphire and Samphire sauce:

500g pack of Samphire 
Juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp light Mayo
1 tbsp olive oil

Begin by cutting the River Cobbler fillets into bite size chunks.
Then mix up the batter by sifting the flour and pinch of salt together and mixing in the bitter lemon drink until a smooth consistency is reached. 
Coat the bite size chunks of fish in flour and dip into the batter until they are well coated.
Fry the chunks in either a small frying pan with around 1/2 an inch of hot vegetable oil or if you have one a deep fat fryer. Be sure not to over crowd the pan or fryer as this will make the fish stick together and lower the temp of the oil making it take longer to cook. I did mine in several batches. The fish is done when it floats in the oil and the batter is golden brown.

Whilst the fish is cooking, cut the Polenta into chip size strips and coat in the 1 cal cooking spray. I cooked mine in batches in the Airfryer for around 10 minutes each batch at 200c. Though you could do them in a conventional oven at 200c, they will just take a bit longer. The chips are cooked when crisp on the outside.

The Samphire is simply steamed over a pan of boiling water for around 3 minutes until tender. Hold a handful back from steaming and chop up finely before blitzing in a food processor (or use a pestle and mortar like me) to make into a paste. Mix this with the lemon juice, olive oil and light Mayo. This makes a delicious creamy sauce to accompany many types of fish dish. 

The Samphire is a delicious edition and well worth looking for in the supermarket to include in your picnic. It is perfectly in season right in time for National picnic week and has a lovely saltiness which works perfectly with most fish.
I chose to use River cobbler as I try hard to use sustainable sources for my food, I want my daughter and future grandchildren to grow up having Cod and Haddock in the oceans.  It's also pretty similar to both of those and a whole lot cheaper, the three fillets cost me £3.50 and easily feed 4 people with this recipe. 
The Polenta chips were a first for me and I was really pleasantly surprised at the ease of making and also, this being a picnic recipe they will be eaten cold, which I think will work better than cold potato chips. 

All that's left is to wrap the components into your newspaper, pop them into your picnic basket and get outdoors enjoying yourself. This recipe with the saltiness of the Samphire, lemony-ness of the fish and scrummy chips will transport you to the Sea Side on a hot day even in your local park!

Thanks to Unilever for throwing down the gauntlet for me, and for the lovely hamper!

Monday, 3 June 2013

Philips Airfyer - review

When I first saw these Airfryers appear on the market a while go I must admit I was a bit sceptical that you could get 'fried' food without any odour and cooked with just 1 tablespoon of oil. I paid no attention to them until recently when I began my weight loss journey and started making my own chips, roast potatoes etc... from scratch without using a fryer or lots of oil.
I have always been of the persuasion that healthy food needn't be boring, flavourless or mean missing out on things that you enjoy.  I still eat chips made from scratch and they taste just as good (better in my humble opinion) but they can take well over an hour, nothing quick about them with peeling, slicing, par boiling then baking in the oven for 40+ mins.

I was lucky enough to be allowed an Airfryer from Philips to review. First up I made a batch of chips, the instruction manual says for chips to soak the sliced potato for 30 minutes before baking, if I'm honest which I feel I should be, I asked around some people who have Airfryers and they said they don't soak their potato at all... I did soak mine as I wanted to give the Airfryer a fair chance with it's first use. Though in place of the oil recommended for non frozen chips cooked in there I used a 1 cal cooking spray to coat the potato before  cooking and it worked just as well. Imagine, a nice chip sandwich with non of the guilt!

After the success of the chips I got a bit adventurous with my cooking and made a chicken breast stuffed with half of a babybel, wrapped in bacon for myself and littlest baker (Hubby was off walking London2Brighton for Charity, well done hubby!) I served them up with veg and cous cous for myself and to test the Airfryer some more some baked potato stars for Littlest baker. I must say how pleasantly surprised I was at how quickly the chicken cooked, it was done in 10 minutes at 200C, the bacon had crisped up and the chicken was moist and cooked through. The potato stars were equally as quick to cook, just 6-7 minutes  at 190C. 

Something else I like to have is roasted veg such as aubergine, but aubergine tends to take a long time and need a lot of oil to roast in the oven. I wasn't entirely convinced it would work well in the Airfryer but gave it a go non the less. I used my 1 cal cooking spray on aubergine that I'd sliced into 1/2 inch thick slices and baked them for just under 15 minutes at 180C. The aubergine came out soft and nicely browned. A much healthier alternative to roasting with lots of oil. It can be made as a very quick accompaniment to a meal or to be used in something such as Moussaka.

The booklet included with the machine gives plenty of recipe and meal ideas, mainly veg/potato based as you would expect but also some which you probably wouldn't expect such as brownies! Though, I'm still happy playing with my new oven and perfecting my sweet bakes in there so I've not had a go at that yet, maybe one day though, out of curiosity if nothing else.

The machine itself takes up no more space than something such as a deep fat fryer. It does not leave that awful greasy smell lingering for days after use in the way a deep fat fryer does (one of the reasons I used my old fryer just three times before getting rid of it!) and runs quietly.
All in all I'm very pleased with my new kitchen gadget and I'm sure it will be put to good use, I look forward to experimenting some more and enjoying more healthy quick meals produced in it.