Monday, 25 November 2013

Spiced Pumpkin and Chocolate Cupcakes

I am inordinately proud of these squidgy little mounds for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the taste - they're intensely chocolatey and lightly spiced which makes them perfect for this time of year. Secondly, the texture - you think they're going to be quite dense but actually these are celestially light and wonderfully moist. Thirdly, they last really well, indeed they taste even better the day after baking. Finally, they're a cinch to make. Last year I made a chocolate and pumpkin full size cake but made everything from scratch, including the pumpkin puree. Luckily, since then, I've been able to find tinned pumpkin puree in the local supermarket and it not only makes the whole thing so much easier, I actually think it's better because it's not so watery.

Contrary to expectation, I also feel that these little cakes can almost be classed as healthy. That wasn't my intention but as taste has definitely not been compromised, I look on it as an added bonus. There's no butter at all and only a scant amount of sunflower oil. There's a fair bit of sugar I know but come on, these are cakes after all.

In the Italian tradition, these little cakes (or muffins I suppose) are ideal for breakfast and as they're easy to eat (no icing to contend with), perfect for 'breakfast to go', this month's Breakfast Club Challenge, hosted by Utterly Scrummy Food for Families, created by Helen from Fuss Free Flavours.

As these are baked and vegetarian, I'm also entering them into Bake Fest, hosted by Cooks Joy.


They're also off to Family Foodie Challenge, created by Lou at Eat Your Veg and hosted by Vanesther at Bangers and Mash where the theme is lunchbox ideas. I think these would be perfect.


95g plain flour
20g cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
half a teaspoon bicarb of soda
half a teaspoon ground cinnamon
half a teaspoon ground ginger
a pinch of salt
125 ml sunflower oil
2 large eggs
210g pumpkin puree (half a can)
100g granulated sugar
90g light brown sugar

12-bun muffin tin lined with 12 cupcake or muffin papers

 Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Start by sifting the flour, cocoa, baking powder, bicarb of soda, salt and spices into a bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together all the other ingredients (oil, eggs, pumpkin and sugar). Gently fold in the flour mixture until combined. 

Scoop the mixture in to the cases, filling each case as equally as possible (I use an ice cream scoop for this).

Put in the oven and bake for about 20-25 mins or until a cake tester comes out clean. 

Remove from the oven. Take the cakes out of the tin as soon as you can and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Spaghetti with Tomatoes and Swordfish

Spaghetti with Swordfish

For those interested in food and drink, autumn is probably the best time to visit Italy. From Trentino in the north to Sicily in the south, the entire country is filled with festivals and feasting, from September to November. These 'sagre', celebrating fantastic local produce, are usually held over a weekend and the whole town joins in the party atmosphere. The streets are filled with stalls and tables, with everyone cooking and selling typical dishes made with whatever they happen to be celebrating. There's always a glass or two of good wine from the area to accompany the food as well - I mean, you may be eating on the hoof, off paper plates but certain dining rules must be upheld!

If you are visiting Italy in the autumn, it's definitely worth finding out what's going on in the local area as I guarantee you'll be able to find something. There are sagre dedicated to almost everything: some are based around single ingredients such as chestnuts, olive oil, honey, wild boar; others focus on a typical dish like risotto, gnocchi or pesto. One of my favourite is held in September in Asti, Piedmont and it celebrates a variety of local produce so you can try delicious tagliatelle with the famous Alba white truffle, beef braised in Barolo, risotto with porcini... It's a wonderful way of trying excellent food without paying restaurant prices. Another great sagra celebrates the end of the wine harvest in Bardolino on Lake Garda. You pay a few euros at the beginning to buy a glass which you hang around your neck in a specially made box. You then use this glass to sample the different wines from various producers who thoughtfully also prepare some local dishes to accompany the wine. It's all great fun but obviously much better if you can make sure you don't have to drive at the end of the day.

This pasta dish is a recreation of something I tried in the Sagra del Pesce Spada (swordfish), held at the end of August in Gallipoli in Puglia. It's fresh and flavourful from the tomatoes and herbs, with chunks of meaty, succulent swordfish. It's a perfect dish for late summer but I thought I'd sneak it in before the weather gets too cold, using the last of the tomatoes from my parents' greenhouse.

This post is making its way over to the ever popular challenge, Cooking with Herbs. The challenge is created and hosted by Karen from the wonderful Lavender and Lovage.

Herbs on Saturday for June: Cooking with Herbs Challenge - Win a Pot of Culinary Lavender Grains

I'm also sending it to Javelin Warrior's wonderful weekly challenge which encourages everyone to cook from scratch, Made with Love Mondays.


350g spaghetti
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
300g swordfish
1 garlic clove
half a glass dry white wine
250g cherry tomatoes, roughly chopped
a bunch of parsley, chopped
a teaspoon dried thyme
a pinch of dried chilli flakes

salt and freshly ground pepper

Remove any skin from the swordfish with a sharp knife and cut into chunky strips, about 2cm x 1cm. Lightly squash the garlic clove, making sure it stays intact and heat with the olive oil in a large frying pan. When it just starts to colour, discard the garlic and add the swordfish. Fry quickly for 2 minutes, then add the wine and let it evaporate for a minute or so. Add the cherry tomatoes and some salt and pepper and cook together for a further 2-3 minutes. Finally, add the parsley, thyme and chilli flakes.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in salted water according to instructions.

When the pasta is al dente, drain quickly and mix all together with the swordfish sauce.

Spaghetti with tomatoes and swordfish

Monday, 16 September 2013

Halloumi and Roasted Peppers

Roasted Peppers and Halloumi

I suppose I have to face the fact that it's over. Linens and sandals have been relegated to the back of the wardrobe, the tan has faded, suitcases are once again gathering dust in the attic and memories of lazy, sun-filled lunches, sipping rosé, overlooking a startlingly blue Mediterranean have been firmly pushed to the back of my mind. Summer has gone and it doesn't look as though it will be back any time soon. Of course, I love autumn so my mourning won't last long, it's just that it seems to have arrived very quickly, leaving me feeling as though I haven't had a chance to properly say goodbye to summer.

This dish then is my farewell to summertime. It works well as a light lunch or as a starter. The brightly-hued, sweet-tasting peppers seem to retain the warmth of the sun that is sadly lacking at the moment and are a perfect foil for the salty halloumi; the citrussy dressing, fresh with herbs, complements both ingredients perfectly.

Go on, put those flip-flops away but make sure you've got this ready to eat afterwards. It would even go well with a glass of rosé or two...

This post is making its way over to the ever popular challenge, Cooking with Herbs. The challenge is created and hosted by Karen from the wonderful Lavender and Lovage.

Herbs on Saturday for June: Cooking with Herbs Challenge - Win a Pot of Culinary Lavender Grains

I'm also sending it to Javelin Warrior's wonderful weekly challenge which encourages everyone to cook from scratch, Made with Love Mondays.


RECIPE - serves 2 as a light lunch or starter

1 x 250g pack of halloumi
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper

For the herb dressing
150ml extra virgin olive oil
a large handful of  fresh flatleaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tbsp capers, drained
juice and zest of half a lemon

The dish works best when the peppers and dressing are at room temperature and the halloumi is hot so you can prepare the peppers and dressing in advance and finish the dish by grilling the halloumi just before eating. 

Start by roasting the peppers. Preheat the oven to its maximum temperature and put the peppers in whole, on a greased baking tray. Leave for about 25 mins, turning occasionally. The skins should be blackened and starting to peel away. Remove from the oven and put them in a plastic bag to cool before peeling them and eliminating the seeds and core. Slice each pepper lengthways into quarters or thirds.

For the dressing, start by roughly chopping the parsley and capers. Add to the olive oil along with the oregano, the lemon zest and the lemon juice. Shake (or whisk) everything together well. 

When you're ready to eat, heat a griddle pan until very hot. Drain the halloumi and cut into about 8 slices, brush each slice with a little olive oil and griddle for about 1-2 mins each side, until the cheese is lightly charred and beginning to soften.

Arrange the peppers and halloumi on the plates (making sure each plate has both red and yellow peppers) and spoon over the dressing.

Serve with lots of crusty bread. 

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Lavender Scented Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta

I loathe the sort of panna cotta that you get in most restaurants, that over-sweetened, very firm, almost rubbery white sphere. For me, it should be soft and very wobbly, with only just enough gelatine to hold it together. I find the all-cream versions too heavy; the perfect ratio for me is half milk (full-fat of course) and half double cream. However, if you prefer a creamier version, just up the cream to 300 ml and reduce the milk to 200 ml. See the recipe for a note about the sugar too.

Lavender adds a delicate, flowery note that works well with the rich creaminess of the panna cotta and is ideal for summer. A more traditional one can be made by replacing the lavender with a teaspoon of good vanilla extract. I urge you to try making this. It takes just minutes to prepare and it's perfect for entertaining as it has to be made the day before and left in the fridge to chill. Also, everyone loves it, even those (like myself) who don't usually like panna cotta.

I'm entering this into the Tea Time Treats Challenge, with the theme of Ice-Creams, Jellies and Chilled Desserts, run by Karen of Lavender and Lovage  and Kate (this month's host) from What Kate Baked. 

As it uses lavender, I'm also sending this over to Karen from the wonderful Lavender and Lovage for her extremely popular challenge, Cooking with Herbs (formerly known as Herbs on Saturday).

Herbs on Saturday for June: Cooking with Herbs Challenge - Win a Pot of Culinary Lavender Grains


250ml double cream
250ml full-fat milk
60-70g caster sugar (I use 60g as I don't like it too sweet but you can increase the amount of sugar if you prefer)
4g gelatine leaves
1 teaspoon of dried lavender (usually labelled 'for culinary use')

Put the gelatine sheets in cold water to soak.

Put the milk, cream, lavender and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. When it's just about to boil, remove from the heat and leave for a few minutes for the lavender to infuse. Stir in the squeezed-out gelatine, then strain the mixture through a sieve to remove the lavender.

Pour into small moulds and leave to set in the fridge overnight. 

To serve, run a knife around the panna cotta before inverting onto a plate. Sprinkle some dried lavender over the top if you wish. 

Lavender Scented Panna Cotta

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Eisteddfod is coming to town...

Image result for eisteddfod

There's a very festive feel here this week as the National Eisteddfod, an annual cultural celebration of poetry, music and literature, is being held just down the road from my house. The whole area seems to be participating, with bunting and flags flying from almost every building. 

Image result for eisteddfod Over 160,000 visitors are expected to descend on the Maes this week and the famous pink pavilion, Europe’s largest festival of competitive poetry and music, will welcome over 6,000 participants from across Wales. As well as the events on the main stage, there are also over 300 stalls and activities to explore, including a food hall with exhibitors from all over north Wales. This is what has inspired today's post - rather than a recipe, I've chosen three of my local food heroes to write about, all produced within an 8 mile radius from where I live. I haven't been asked to write about them, I've decided to showcase these products because their taste and quality mean that I use and buy them regularly. (See disclaimer below.)

Image result for eisteddfod

Patchwork Pâté 

Chicken Liver, Cointreau & Orange PâtéThis company was established by Margaret Carter in 1982 when she began selling her homemade pâté to pubs near her home. After five years, the number of customers had grown considerably and the business moved to a purpose-equipped factory in Ruthin. Despite the commercial scale today, everything is still hand-made in small batches, without artificial colouring, additives or preservatives, to Margaret’s original recipes.
Paté Iau Cyw Iar Afalau a Seidr Cymraeg - Chicken Liver Paté with Apple and Welsh CiderThe product is quite unlike any other commercially-produced pâté. The first difference is in the texture; Patchwork is soft and smooth, with no hint of the rubberiness that sometimes characterises other pâtés. The second difference can be seen in the variety and combination of flavours available. Purely personally, I like my pâté to have some alcohol in it, to contrast with the rich, meaty taste and Patchwork obligingly produces a vast range to choose from. My absolute favourite is the one seen in the photo above: Cointreau and Orange Chicken Liver Pâté. Beautifully balanced, the zesty orange tastes fresh and subtle against the savoury chicken livers. Other delicious flavours include Chicken Liver, Marmalade and Whisky; Welsh Dragon's Pâté (Venison Liver with Chilli); vegetarian Sun Dried Tomato Pâté with Welsh Mead and new this year, a pâté using local cider and apples, Paté Iau Cyw Iar Afalau a Seidr Cymraeg - Chicken Liver Paté with Apple and Welsh Cider. 

Llaeth y Llan - Village Dairy 

Plain and simpleThis family-run business has been producing probiotic yoghurt using local Welsh milk since the 1980s, from a farm nestling in the beautiful hills not far from Denbigh. The recipe has been perfected over the years and the beautifully thick and creamy yoghurt has won various awards including Gold Winner at the True Taste of Wales awards and a gold again at the 2013 Royal Welsh Show last month. There are thirteen flavours to choose from; Rhubarb, Gooseberry and Mandarin are personal favourites while their natural yoghurt is perfect for using in cooking. 

These beautiful, coloured, free range eggs have a deep orange yolk that I haven't found anywhere else. The farm, situated in the Vale of Clwyd, has been in the family since 1739 and all their eggs come from a variety of traditional breed hens who happily roam around the fields, truly free-range. Visitors are always welcome on the farm, to see first-hand how the hens are looked after. As you can see from the photos, you get seven, multi-hued eggs in every gorgeous box. 

Disclaimer: I was not sent any of these products, I have not been contacted by any of these companies and I have not been asked to write a review. I buy these things regularly and I simply chose to share my views and opinions here as I think that their products are excellent and I like the service standards and ethos of the companies. 

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

'Caffe Shakerato' - Iced Italian Coffee

Apart from the more obvious benefits of this beautiful summer weather, it's also given me the opportunity to dust off some all-but-forgotten favourites we used to enjoy in Italy. One of these is the 'Caffe Shakerato', pronounced as you would expect. It seems incredible that simply shaking strong sweet espresso with ice can produce such a dense, creamy foam but it does. Just look at the photo - there is no milk or cream there, only espresso, sugar and ice.

Normally, I loathe coffee with sugar in, to my mind it's like drinking hot, liquid coffee cake. My usual espresso is strictly unadulterated - no milk, no sugar and certainly no flavoured syrups. However, I make an exception in this case - you really do need a touch of sweetness when drinking coffee at these icy temperatures.

It goes without saying really that the quality of your caffe shakerato depends on the quality of your espresso.

RECIPE - enough for 2

3 small cups of freshly made espresso
2-4 teaspoons of sugar (depending on taste)

Add the sugar to the espresso while it's still hot so it dissolves completely. 

Half fill a cocktail shaker with ice, pour in the sweetened espresso and shake vigorously for a minute or two until you have a rich, creamy foam. Serve in chilled martini glasses or champagne flutes.

A perfect ending to an al fresco lunch or dinner.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Chocolate and Pistachio Macaroons

Chocolate and Pistachio Macaroons

I do realise that macaroons are no longer at the apex of food fashion. Luckily for me, I am not a slavish follower of trends; I mean, just think of how many things I would have had to deny myself over the years simply because they were no longer 'fashionable' - prawn cocktail, black forest gateau, goat's cheese salad, chicken kiev...

Macaroons may have had their day but I stay true. Their small size and intense sweetness, coupled with the chewy yet soft texture make them an ideal way to finish a meal. They're also perfect with an espresso at any time of the day.

This particular version has been inspired by Nigella - indeed, it is a reworking of her chocolate macaroons sandwiched together with the filling from her pistachio ones. I'm including the recipe for the chocolate macaroons here because I've adapted it and you can find the recipe for the pistachio filling in Nigella's book, How to be a Domestic Goddess.

There are some fellow bloggers who make very impressive macaroons - have a look at Corner Cottage Bakery's stunningly beautiful white-on-white ones here, Blue Kitchen Bakes' delicious sounding raspberry filled ones here and Supergolden Bakes' incredibly professional ones here.

As these are perfect for parties, I'm sending them over to A Kick at the Pantry Door for July's Forever Nigella challenge, started by Sarah at Maison Cupcake.

As they are completely made from scratch, they're going to Javelin Warrior's wonderful weekly challenge too, Made with Love Mondays

125g icing sugar
60g ground almonds
15g cocoa
2 egg whites
15g caster sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Line 2 baking sheets with greaseproof paper

Sift the icing sugar, ground almonds and cocoa powder together. Whisk the egg whites until fairly stiff then sprinkle over the caster sugar. Continue whisking until the egg whites become very stiff then gently fold in the sifted ingredients. 

If you have an icing bag (I use the disposable ones), fit with a plain nozzle and fill with the macaroon mixture. It's a little bit fiddly and the mixture is really sticky so try to get it all in the bag! Pipe out small rounds onto the prepared baking sheets. If you're not bothered about having perfect discs, you can just put small teaspoons of the mixture onto the lined sheets instead of messing about with an icing bag. 

Leave to stand for 15 mins and then bake in the pre-heated oven for about 12-15 mins. Using a palate knife, remove to a wire rack to cool and then sandwich with the pistachio buttercream. 

Chocolate Macaroons