White Chocolate Cigarello Birthday Cake

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I have a lovely friend who is celebrating a birthday today. She’s one of those rare gems who is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. She spends so much time looking after everybody and is so generous in every sense of the word she definitely deserves to be spoilt on her birthday. I wanted to make her a cake that reflects her: beautiful, elegant and very special. Cue the cigarellos…

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These rolled chocolate straws instantly add a little sophistication to any cake. I used these from the Chocolate Trading Co.

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I like making cakes that have three thin layers of sponge as I think they look lovely when cut, and allow for more filling (which incidently is very forgiving should you accidentally over bake them. The extra filling helps moisten the sponge). I just used a basic Victoria sponge recipe which you can find here, on the BBC Good Food website. If you’re doing three layers I suggest reducing the oven temp to 160oC, and the time to between 12-15 mins.

Once cooled, fill your cake with whatever you want. I used seedless raspberry jam this time.

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Now you’re ready to proceed with the decorating. Make a generous amount of buttercream using a pack of unsalted butter, icing sugar, a couple of tsps of vanilla bean paste and a few splashes of milk to loosen. The consistency should be spreadable, but still fairly stiff. Secure your cake to the cake board using a dollop of buttercream. I find it easiest to pipe the buttercream onto the cake, starting with the gaps around the edges.

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Once you’ve filled the gaps in, continue piping until the entire cake is covered with a thick layer. This doesn’t have to be neat.

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Now take a palette knife and smooth the surfaces down. Again, don’t worry about getting perfect edges as it’s all going to be covered with the cigarellos and fruit.

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Wipe away any stray smears of buttercream off the board. Now you’re ready to start attaching the cigarellos by gently pushing them into the buttercream, which is effectively used as glue to hold them in place. Start at the back of the cake if you’re adding any additional decoration to the front (a name on the board for example). You will end up with something similar to this:

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I decided to top mine with strawberries and raspberries. Wash and hull them and dry well on paper towels. Take the largest strawberry and cut the point off the end. Push a candle in and add a dollop of leftover buttercream to the bottom before securing it to the middle of the cake.

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Now add the rest of the fruit, strawberries first to avoid crushing the delicate raspberries. Crush a couple of cigarellos in your hand and sprinkle over the fruit as a final flurry!

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The birthday girl was happy!

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Baked Sweet Potato Onion Bhaji Kebabs

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A couple of weeks ago a friend shared a Slimming World recipe for sweet potato onion bhajis with me. Baked rather than fried, I thought they were worth having a bash at and I’m so glad I did! Delicious moist, and not dripping in grease, these bhajis will certainly have you coming back for seconds.

I’ve been craving Persian style kebabs; the long, spiced minced meat ones on sticks, but wondered whether the bhajis would make a good vegetarian alternative. They did. Here’s the recipe (I changed it slightly from the original and obviously don’t use the oil if you’re following the Slimming World plan)

Slice 3 large onions and fry until soft with 4 minced cloves of garlic. Once softened add in 1 tablespoon turmeric, 1 tablespoon curry powder (I used hot madras) and a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes. Keep on the heat for another couple of minutes to allow the spices to release their flavour.

Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Whilst it is cooling, peel and grate 2 sweet potatoes. Add them into the onion mixture, and once cooled mix in two beaten eggs, a generous pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper.

Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper, take a large handful of the bhaji mixture and shape into a rough sausage shape on the tray. The mixture will be fairly wet, but don’t worry, just form it as best you can on the sheet. This mixture made 6 decent size kebabs. Bake at 170 fan for 30 minutes until golden and crunchy around the edges.

I served these on chapattis spread with a dollop of mango chutney, shredded iceberg lettuce, cucumber batons, finely diced red onion and chilli, a generous sprinkle of chopped coriander and a cooling drizzle of minty raita. Delicious!

Thai Inspired Crab Noodle Soup

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Having just returned from my parent’s home in beautiful Pembrokeshire, my freezer is now stocked with a plethora of home-caught crustaceans courtesy of my fisherman father. He put the boat to sea for the season while we were there, and P and I were on board for the first lobster pot pull up! Here she is enjoying the ride.

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I decided to dress one of the edible crabs as well as a spider crab to use some of the white meat in this humble yet incredibly satisfying crab noodle soup.

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Firstly, dress the crabs. If you’re unsure how to do this Delia’s step by step photographic instructions will guide you through it. The most important thing to remember is don’t eat the gills, or dead man’s fingers as they’re more commonly known. Although not actually poisonous, they’re very tough and hard to digest.

Once you have a bowl of nice white flakes of meat in front of you you’re ready to proceed with the soup.

Firstly, I boiled the shells in a pan of water for a good hour to give me a nice light stock.

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I drained the boiling stock, through a sieve and into a jug which had a bundle of flat rice noodles in it. The reason for soaking the noodles in stock rather than plain water is because, in my opinion, it allows them to absorb extra flavour as they soften.

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While the noodles were soaking I fried off some finely minced lemongrass, galangal, garlic and shallots in a little coconut oil.

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Once softened I added a couple of minced Thai chillis (don’t go overboard as you don’t want to drown out sweet and subtle flavour of the crab).  Once the noodles were soft, I fished them out of the stock and put them in a bowl before pouring the stock into the pan. At this point I added a tablespoon each of fish sauce, rice wine vinegar and light soy sauce, some lime leaves, a small chunk of rock sugar and about 100ml coconut milk. Simmer to allow the flavours to get to know each other before seasoning further with lime juice, salt and pepper. For extra protein I threw in a handful of frozen prawns (fresh would be best in this instance, but unfortunately I only had cooked in) and some of the crab meat.

Once I’d ladelled the broth over the noodles, Thai basil, chopped coriander, spring onions and a sprinkling of red chilli finished it off nicely. Delicious! Even our 5 year old enjoyed it!

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Foolproof Potato Rosti

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Soggy rosti. Rosti that falls apart. Worst of all: grey rosti! I’ve had them all. Finally I’ve figured out a foolproof way which seems to work a treat. Boil the potatoes in their skins first.

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Grate (the skins will come off as you grate them) and season well with whatever herbs/spices you fancy. I kept it simple work just salt, pepper and garlic.

Shape into little patties and they can be fried, as is traditional, or baked, which is what I did, until golden and crispy.

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I served ours on wilted spinach and leeks, with salmon, crispy skin, a poached egg and garlic and lemon mayo made from whisking a large egg yolk with half a teaspoon of dijon mustard, and drizzling in rapeseed oil a little at a time until you have a creamy mayonnaise consistency. I then added a crushed clove of garlic, lemon juice to taste and salt and pepper. Delicious!

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Spaghetti Soup

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Firstly, apologies it has been so long since I last posted. Life has been hectic! But, today after a great walk with the family, in the freezing British February sunshine, I was feeling refreshed and inspired, and in need of something simple, warm and hearty for supper.

We all have our own versions of chicken noodle soup, and this is mine. Warming and satisfying, my four year old always comes back for seconds and it’s a great way of cramming in extra veg.

Because we eat so little meat, I tend to buy packs of organic chicken legs, cook them in the slow cooker on high for about 3/4 hours and the meat just falls off the bone. I don’t add anything to the raw meat initially. Literally throw the legs in the slow cooker, put the lid on and turn it on. The meat will produce it’s own liquid. Once cooked, I take the legs out, remove the skin and shred the meat, putting it in a container in the fridge to use throughout the week in salads, summer rolls or sandwiches. I put the bones back in the slow cooker, top up with boiling water and cook overnight to make a delicious stock.

For this soup, sauté a finely chopped leek, carrot and stick of celery, with 4 minced cloves of garlic until soft. Stir in half a teaspoon of turmeric, a pinch of saffron and a good grind of black pepper. Now add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Of course, if you don’t have homemade stock use shop bought, or boiling water and a stock cube will be fine too. I also stirred in a teaspoon of vegetable buillion for extra flavour. While the soup is coming to a boil, snap 150g spaghetti into one inch pieces, then add to the pan. Boil until the spaghetti is tender, then throw in a large handful of chopped baby spinach, and the shredded chicken. Check the seasoning, adjust as needed and serve. Simple, but oh so delicious.

Baked Chocolate Orange Cheesecake

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A very happy belated New Year to you all! If you’ve re-boarded the proverbial healthy eating/weight loss train after the festive indulgences, you might want to chug on past this post. Biscuits, cheese, chocolate, butter… Deliciously naughty! I hasten to add that the only reason this is adorning my table is that we have family visiting from New Zealand this weekend. I wanted a show stopper and a friend had given me a spare chocolate orange (who has spare chocolate oranges?!). I had a look at a few recipes, but couldn’t find one specific one I liked, so I’ve pinched bits from various sources and come up with this.

Preheat the oven to 150oC and put a baking tin with some water in it at the bottom. The steam will help prevent the cheesecake from cracking.

Firstly melt 100g good quality orange flavoured dark chocolate in a bain marie. Once melted set aside to cool a little.

For the base, whiz up 300g chocolate digestives with approximately 50g melted butter (more if it doesn’t clump together enough) and the zest of half an orange (you’ll need the other half for decoration later). Press into a springform tin as so:

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Now, beat 600g full fat cream cheese together until smooth. Add in 150g light brown sugar, four eggs, the zest of two oranges, the juice of one orange, 2tsp orange extract and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Once combined fold in the melted chocolate gently and pour in top of the base.

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Bake on the middle shelf for about 40 minutes until it’s slightly risen around the edges and has a slight wobble in the middle. Open the oven door, leaving the cheesecake there to cool slowly. Once cool remove from the tin.

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Mix two tablespoons of sieved icing sugar and 1 tsp orange extract into 150ml soured cream. Spread on top.

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Gently melt three segment of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange and drizzle on top.

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Use a skewer to marble it by gently dragging it through the chocolate.

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Decorate with the remaining chocolate orange segments and the zest. Chill for at least 5 hours, preferably overnight. Enjoy!

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Chia & Weetabix salmon fingers

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Yes, I hold my hands up. I am one of those mothers. One of those irritating, slightly OCD mothers who makes her own fish fingers. With chia seeds no less.

Right, now that I’ve lost half my audience I’ll show you how. It really isn’t as time consuming as you might think.

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Firstly grab two or three wheat breakfast cereal buscuits, we use Aldi’s cheapo ones and really can’t tell any difference to the leading brand. Put in a large bowl with three tablespoons chia seeds, pepper, any fresh herbs you want and some garlic salt. Scrunch the biscuits up until they resemble breadcrumbs. Of course you could just use breadcrumbs if you prefer, but I like the fact I don’t have to get the food processor out with the wheat biscuits.

Now, skin your salmon if it’s not already skinned, using a very sharp knife. If your family is anything like mine, you’ll need to save the skin to bake with the fish fingers to make crispy skin.

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Slice the salmon into fingers a couple of centimetres wide. Lightly whisk a couple of eggs, dip the fingers in the egg, then into the crumbs.

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Put them on a lined baking tray, with the skin, which is delicious when lightly sprinkled with salt.

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Bake at 190oC for 10-12 minutes. Serve with tartare sauce. We enjoyed ours with roasted flower sprouts, broccoli and sweet potato, and peas sautéed with leeks. Delicious and healthy midweek meal.

Meringue Christmas Trees

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We had a text from school today asking for cake donations for the kids Christmas party in two days time! There’s nothing like a bit of notice is there?! Anyway, it was our day off, and I happened to be at home, so I had time to rustle something up. I wanted something easy, and straightforward, which didn’t require many ingredients, but at the same time, something the kids would love, and that looked festive. These simple little meringues were just the ticket.

When making meringue my general rule of thumb is 1 egg white to 50g caster sugar. I whisked 2 egg whites until frothy before adding in 100g caster sugar a dessertspoon full at a time. Halfway through adding the sugar I added a couple of blobs of green food gel.

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Once the meringue was stiff and glossy I put it into a piping bag with a large nozzle and piped little Christmas tree shapes on a lined baking tray. I got 17 out of this batch.

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I put them on the middle shelf of the oven, which I’d preheated to 100oC. The key to these meringues is to cook them low and slow. That way they’re crispy and light all the way through. I cooked these for two and a half hours, then turned the oven off leaving the door shut until they were completely cool.

Once cool, I melted 50g each of milk and dark chocolate in a bain marie and dipped the bottoms of the trees in. Now, had I had any rolos in the house, I would spooned a little melted chocolate on top of an upturned rolo, and stuck the tree on top to give the effect of a trunk. But, I didn’t have rolos, so dipping had to suffice.

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I put the remaining choc in a pipping bag and used it as glue stick on little decorations. Edible glitter and dust gave them a final flourish.

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No doubt the kids will love them…not sure the same could be said for the parents come bedtime!

Cinnamon and Nutmeg shortcrust pastry mince tarts

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We all love a mince pie at Christmas, but what I don’t understand is why people would buy generic shop varieties when they are so simple to make. Homemade pastry has a reputation for being tricky, but really it’s not rocket science. I like to spike mine with cinnamon and freshly ground nutmeg to  bolster the festive flavours.

You’ll need:
200g plain flour
2 tablespoons icing sugar
100g cubed cold butter (I used salted)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 a grated nutmeg
Two or three tablespoons of iced water.

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Pulse all the dry ingredients together in a food processor until breadcrumbs are formed. Now while the processor is running dribble in a tablespoon of iced water at a time until the dough clumps together. This will only require 2-3 tablespoons of water (a tablespoon is 15ml).

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Tip it out into a piece of clingfilm, and quickly bring it together to form a disc without over working it or handling it too much.

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Refrigerate the disc of dough for at least half an hour.

After it has chilled roll it out to the thickness of a pound coin, cut out discs and line a muffin tin with them. Refrigerate again whilst you cut out some shapes to top your tarts.

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Fill your cases with a teaspoon of mincemeat. I used some which was homemade by a friend, but you could use shop bought too.

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Brush with an egg wash and bake at 160oC for about 12-15 minutes, or until they are golden. Pop them out of the tin and leave on a wire rack to cool.

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See, that was easy wasn’t it?! Enjoy!

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Ginger and Fennel Syrup

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A couple of weeks ago my friend, and fellow blogger Sam (from Me and my Second Self), and I, had a little jaunt out to Silverdale to do a recce on a campsite we’re thinking about booking for a church camping trip in the spring.

We chose the wettest, windiest day of the year to do this. It could not have been wetter!H

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Here we are soaked to the bone, dripping hair plastered on our faces and waterproof jackets anhilated…

So, after we’d succumbed to the wrath of the Great British weather, we called in at the Wolfhouse Kitchen for a spot of lunch, and to warm up and dry out. The food there is fantastic and I really couldn’t fault my celeriac rosti with wilted greens, poached duck egg, chilli and peanuts. It was a taste sensation. Sam and I both enjoyed a ginger and fennel hot chocolate too. I’d never experienced ginger, fennel and chocolate together before but the flavours really work. It inspired me to have a go at making my own ginger and fennel syrup and I finally got around to doing it today.

I’ve made a large batch with the intention of giving it away as Christmas presents, so, if you want to, quarter the recipe to give a smaller batch. I used:
1200g sugar
800ml water
A large chunk of ginger root
4 tablespoons fennel seed
1 tablespoon of ground ginger

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Scrub the ginger (but there’s no need to peel) and slice thinly. Put the fennel in a dry pan and toast lightly until you get a whiff of that distinctive aroma. Bash the seeds up a bit with a mortar and pestle to realease the flavour, but don’t grind them to a powder.

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Put all the ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for about ten minutes until the syrup starts to thicken. Your kitchen will smell divine!

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While the syrup is thickening sterilise a large jar or bottle. I use my daughter’s old bottle steriliser to do this, but there are various methods, just have a look online if you’re unsure. Poor into the jar/bottle, seal and leave to cool.

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Once cooled I opened the jar and strained the ginger slices and fennel seeds out, re-boiled the syrup and re-sterilsed the jar before decanting the syrup back into the freshly sterilised jar. At this point you could decant into smaller bottles (which is what I would have done had I been organised enough to buy some!).

You can use this syrup however you wish. The initial distinctive aniseed flavour of the fennel, is followed by deep warming ginger tones and it works well as a cordial, over ice cream, to add a wintery touch to a fruit salad, in coffee, or best of all in a hot cocoa, served with whipped cream and a sprinkling of ground fennel, ginger and cocoa.

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