The food of love

love cupcake

After being together for 11 years and married for 6 we don’t really need to celebrate Valentine’s Day however that does not stop me insisting we have to make a token gesture on the day. Previous years we’ve dined on oysters at River Cottage (ok I lie, Hubs downed oysters while I downed the Camel Valley Brut) and gone Michelin starred at Northcote but we haven’t really gone out of the way to celebrate it. It just so happens Valentine’s Day falls in half term which makes mini breaks easier for me.

The most memorable Valentines has to be a few years ago. We were students at the time and went to Wales for a family party and stay overnight. We checked in to a faded, chinzy B&B where the owner gave us that kind of look of disgust because we weren’t married. After smartening up for dinner we headed down to the dining room that looked like it hadn’t been decorated since the 1970s. I was half expecting to be served up Duck a l’orange and Arctic Roll.

As we sat down to peruse the menu a spotty waiter asked if we had booked a table. We hadn’t. Unbeknown to us when we booked the room we had to also book a table in the restaurant. We were quickly shuffled out and told there were no tables left. Looking at the miserable diners I think we had a lucky escape.

After being turned away from all the other pubs and restaurants in the village we had us only one option: The BP garage opposite the B&B. Garages are hardly renowned for their large selection of fine fayre. After much deliberation we settled on Dairylea Dippers (starter), cold Ginsters pasty (Main), Lunchable (cheeseboard) and Cadbury Flake Twin Pot (dessert) along with a screw-top bottle of wine that we served in the retro glass cups from the tea tray. Who said we don’t have a bit of class? It was hardly refined, but certainly memorable.

This year we’ve pushed the boat out. Maximum budget is £1 and this doesn’t have to include a card. If you do buy a card it has to be the worst one you can find. Surprisingly it’s easier to find a naff card than a classy and affordable one.  I’ve got Hubs a selection of sweets from Asda, you know the 3 for a £1 type.

So come on, confession time. How are you celebrating Valentine’s Day this year? What’s your most memorable Valentine’s experience? Can you beat the gourmet Dairylea Dunkers & Ginsters.

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The Great British Staycation

Blue Reef Cottages - Isle of Harris

Blue Reef Cottages – Isle of Harris honeymoon

This evening something appeared on my Facebook that made me smile and took me back 6 years. One of our honeymoon destinations is on Facebook, but they rarely update. Tonight Blue Reef Cottages posted a video of their cottages and it reminded me of the amazing time we had travelling the highlands and islands of Scotland. Even the non-stop 5 hour car journey from Skye to Loch Lomond sped by thanks to the amazing scenery.

We’re a big fan of the UK and most years we have our main holiday here. We like places that are different, quirky. Places that will bring magical memories. Part of it is cost. We can have a 4*/5* holiday in the UK or 3* abroad. We like a bit of luxury now and then. Words cannot express the beauty of the barren Isle of Harris. The colour of the turquoise sea is incredible and I can understand why Ben Fogle fell in love with the place all those years ago when he was on neighbouring Taransay. It’s a place where life is slow and beautiful. One of my strongest memories from Harris was sitting on a deserted Scarista beach on a sunny June afternoon drinking champagne and eating fresh Scottish strawberries.

Over the years we’ve covered many corners of the UK mainland. This year we may be heading Norfolk/Suffolk way. We’ve been members of the National Trust for a good few years now as in Derbyshire and Staffordshire we’re surrounded by properties and they make cheap days out. They also make cracking service stations. You can always guarantee good facilities, cake and no fighting for car parking spaces.

Woodland Tipi and Yurts - Hereford 2010

Woodland Tipi and Yurts – Hereford 2010

Summer 2010 was the turn of Herefordshire and Woodland Tipi & Yurts. We had been recommended this place by a good friend. The weather was fabulous and a lot of the time was spent discovering cider orchards , lying on the lawns of Berrington Hall watching the swallows and swifts swoop overhead, switching off with a book on the hammock and not forgetting the log fired pizza oven. One night while watching a stunning sunset with friends a Tawny Owl came to join us around the campfire.

Dapper Camping Club - Brecon Beacons 2011

Dapper Camping Club – Brecon Beacons 2011

In 2011 we headed in to Wales and while it did seem to rain lots the decanter of sherry at Dapper Camping Club kept us warm at night and I was in bookshop heaven in Hay-on-Wye. We dined at the fabulous Felin Fach Griffin, had a tour around the Penderyn distillery, ate afternoon tea at Gliffaes, played at Steinway at Dinefwr and got lost in the beauty of National Botanic Garden of Wales. One some of the few sunny evenings we had we even managed to fit in a BBQ.

Little White Alice - Cornwall 2012

Little White Alice – Cornwall 2012

2012 was the turn of Cornwall, in particular Little White Alice. The long drive was made up by the beautiful colours of Cornwall. It was very much how much Cornwall could we fit in a week. The wonderful St Ives, fish & chips at Falmouth, swimming in the natural swimming pool followed by hot tub, a trip to Camel Valley Vineyard and stumbling across the stunning Glendurgan gardens and Durgan beach. On the way home I even managed to visit the costume collection at Killerton.

Yes the British weather can be awful but as the saying goes there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. In all the years we’ve holidayed in the UK I can honestly say there hasn’t been one week that has been a total washout. So give the UK a try, you may be surprised what you find.

So what fabulous, different, beautiful places have you visited in the UK?

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Giveaway: Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook

Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook by Lynn Hill

I’ve been involved with Clandestine Cake Club (CCC) for a few years now and can remember when Lynn Hill, the founder, ran her first club in Leeds. Unfortunately I couldn’t make the first meeting, but I still loved the concept.  About a year ago Lynn contacted me to see if I wanted to submit a recipe for the Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook and I’m really pleased to see a variation of my Beetle Forest Gateau made it in to the book. I’ve now attended over 5 CCC meetings in Derby and Loughborough where I’ve made various cakes including Gluhwein Bundt, Damien Hurst Battenberg, Lime & Blueberry Cake and my macarbe beetle creation.

The book is finally published on 14th February and I was lucky to get my hands on a copy a few weeks ago. Yes I may be biased because I have recipe in it, but I do love the book and so does everyone I’ve shown it to. Hubs has already gone through the book and declared he wants Nelly’s caramel cake for his next Birthday cake. It a book full of pure cake. Just like the strict CCC rules, no cupcakes, no tarts, no brownies, Just big fat cakes perfect for sharing.

DollyBakes has written a great review of the book with a sneaky peek of some of the images inside.

Now, I have spare copy of the book and want to give you a chance to win it and I’m going to run the competition for just 5 days so you can have your copy before publication date.

Win copy of Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook by Lynn Hill

To enter:

  1. Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter (If you’re reading this via email you will need to click through to blog)
  2. There is one main way to enter the competition and other ways to get bonus entries.
  3. Open to UK entrants aged 18 and over.
  4. Competition closes on 10th February 2013
  5. Please follow the Rafflecopter instructions and read the terms and conditions below. Entries will be verified. If an entry cannot be verified they will be disqualified.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Planetary Cupcakes

planetary cupcakes

There’s no denying we’re a bunch of science geeks here. Hubs does the physics & engineering and me the biology. We’ll gloss over who does the chemistry because unless it is about baking I’m rubbish at it. I have no shame in saying Alice Roberts in my idol. You can never take the geek out of the girl.

I’m always fascinated by the natural patterns and colours in nature be it the good old Fibonacci, cloud formations or Aurora Borealis. While playing around with some sugarpaste earlier this week I realised that if you mixed and pulled it in a certain way you could get patterns not unlike planets from a distance, or at least that is how I see it, but I’m no Brian Cox.

The original plan was to make the solar system. However even missing out demoted Pluto I only had 6 cupcakes left from a demo I did on Wednesday to decorate; plus a solar system where all the planets were the same size was bound to bug someone.

How to make marbled planetary supgarpaste

To get this kind of effect in your sugarpaste get your base colour, flatten it out then dot the secondary colours on top. Think about how you want the colours to show if you want them in a certain order. For example my base colour was light blue followed by dark blue (sea), green (land) then white (clouds). Roll up your sugarpaste so the base colour is on the inside then pull the sugarpaste in one direction. When it breaks put the pieces on top of each other and pull again. Make sure you pull and place in the same direction so you get the lines. When it is mixed sufficiently roll out on to an icing sugar coated surface. Remember the more you pull and roll the sugarpaste the more the colours will blend together and you will lose the lines.

covering cupcake in buttercream before sugarpaste

Once the sugarpaste is rolled and ready, using your palm lightly polish the sugarpaste. This will give it a nice shine and get rid of any icing sugar marks. Get a cutter slightly bigger than your cake and cut out rounds.

solar system cupcakes

To get the smoothest surface on your cake level off with buttercream before covering with the sugarpaste. Place the round on top of the buttercream then using your hands smooth the sugarpase down and round almost sealing it to the cake case. With these cakes the world truly is your oyster.

close up of planet cupcake


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Confessions of a cookbook addict

collection of cookbooks

Today I was back on BBC Radio Derby talking about cookbooks and how certain celeb cookbooks can sit there untouched because the recipes can seem daunting. I know the amount of cookbooks here run in to triple figures. Some are husband’s, some I’ve brought, some have been given to me and some have been sent to me by publishers. I’m not the kind of person that the survey mentions who finds cookbooks daunting, if anything I find them a challenge. Come on I’m married to a man who has built a pizza oven and tandoor in the back garden out of junk. The hurdle of having to make a vacuum chamber so he can make Heston’s Black Forest Gateaux from In Search of Perfection is not going to faze him.

However I do understand how people can find recipe books daunting. There is a particular cookbook *cough* Jamie’s 30-min Dinners *cough* of which I find the recipes superb, but very difficult to follow. There is almost too much information in the recipe meaning that the most important information can easily be missed. Too often recipes for those who don’t have the confidence to cook are long-winded when they could be significantly shorter, or is it because certain cookery skills we take for granted are not common to everyone and need to be spelled out.

In interview I was also asked if technical terms can be confusing to the uninitiated and if you really needed to know these fancy words to cook well. At this point thank goodness it was radio. My face was a picture when asked if I knew what a ballotine was. I do but had a total mental block and all I could see in my head was a certain Dragon from the Den and yes I also forgot that chiffonade was relating to thinly cut flat herbs and vegetables and not related to fluffy chiffon cakes. I think I redeemed myself with the umami and cartouche explanation.

I would guess about 1/3 of the cookbooks I own have ‘celeb chefs’ as their authors. Some of these cookbooks are big favourites of mine. Nigella gets mixed press, but I do love her recipes as they always work for me and are down to earth. Mr Ramsay however… I was given about 4 of his books a few years ago and I don’t think I’ve cooked from any of them. Next time you’re near a charity shop look at the cookbooks. I would bet your bottom dollar there is an untouched cookbook there by Gordon Ramsay and most likely one by Ainsley Harriot.

So which celeb chef cookbooks do you love and which cookbooks are sitting on the shelf gathering dust?

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Raspberry & Lime Cheesecake

raspberry and lime no-bake cheesecake

Why you may ask am I writing such a summery recipe when there is a good few inches of snow causing chaos on the roads outside. Welcome to the life of someone who writes & talks about food for a living. I often appear on local radio doing cookery demos and talk about national food issues. I’ve cooked in the BBC Radio Derby kitchen before so know it has to be quick & easy to put together with minimal equipment and not having to touch the ancient hob they have there. Think Blue Peter without the TV cameras, I even have one I’ve prepared earlier.

This morning I should have returned to the BBC Radio Derby studios to make unbaked cheesecake live on air and talk about the nation’s love of cookbooks but the rather inclement weather put a temporary hold on this. The day started at 6am shifting snow on the drive with my husband and neighbour, then having to push husband up the private road we live down followed by the only accessible road across the Trent to Derby closing due to the fact it had turned in to one giant ice rink.

Tomorrow I’m teaching a class of Primary pupils how to make bread & butter pudding. If Tuesday is declared a snow day I’ll be selling my buttery wares to passing drivers because frankly there is only so much bread & butter pudding two people can eat.

One advantage of this wintry weather is that is produces fantastic light for photography in the house. It’s only taken me 6 years to realise this. It casts the perfect bright white light without harsh shadows. Yesterday I had a big photography session taking pictures of any food I could get my hands on in an effort to build up an ingredient image bank.

The demo cheesecake was made in a 400ml foil container. The type fried rice usually comes in from the Chinese. Hence why you have photos of the ingredients (ignore the lemon) rather than the finished product because I like to think I have a bit of class. I usually have a stock of these foil containers to hand, you can pick them up in poundshops and the like. They are good for portioning up food and have the advantage of being able to be put in the oven for heating through if needs be.

As this is a very basic cheesecake it is quite soft so may not turn out of a tin too well. This is even more of the case if you use lower fat cream cheese. Either way it is sure to help any cheesecake craving. I have to admit imported raspberries taste particularly tart at this time of year, nothing like the beautiful British sweet beauties we get late summer. This recipe is great for these out of season raspberries as it mellows the tartness but still letting the raspberry taste shine though. You could also use frozen raspberries.

So the lovely Sally Pepper at BBC Derby will have to wait another week for the cheesecake I’d promised her.

Raspberry & Lime Cheesecake
Serves 4

4 digestive biscuits

40g butter,melted

300g cream cheese

80g icing sugar, sifted

Juice of 1 lime

60g raspberries, mashed

1) Crush the biscuits until you have no big lumps. I usually do this in the blender.

2) In a bowl pour the melted butter over the crushed digestive biscuits and stir until the biscuits are completely coated with the butter.

3) Pour the buttery biscuit base (sorry couldn’t help myself) into the bottom of a 400ml container. Using the back of a spoon press the biscuits down until you have a even base. Put in the fridge and allow to set for 1 hour.

4) In a large bowl beat the cream cheese until it has softened then stir in the sifted icing sugar and lime juice until well combined.

5) Mash the raspberries then fold in to the cream cheese mix. Don’t mix completely, you want the mixture to have swirls in it.

6) Pour the mixture on top of the set biscuit base and return to the fridge to chill for a further 3 hours and allow it to set.

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Store cupboard staples


Life has been crazy here since Christmas in both a work and personal sense, hence lack of blog updates. There are big, exciting changes afoot and it means our cupboards are beginning to run low. All intentional you’ll understand. It’s made me realise what I class as staples in the cupboard and wonder where on earth that tin on chickpeas came from. I can’t stand the things.

sweet storecupboard

As the snow settles thick outside what you have in your cupboards seems even more important, especially if you can’t make it to the shops. We will however try to avoid the end-of-term concoction of pasta with baked beans we may have eaten once or twice at university.

Heinz baked beans

Ok, I have a weakness for these haricot beauties. There always has to be a tin in the cupboard, oh and they have to be Heinz. Don’t try to pass off any other brand, I can tell and I think they don’t taste the same. Hot buttered toast or a Full English isn’t the same without a spoonful of beans. Did you realise that they also class as one of your 5-a-day? Yes they do contain sugar and salt, but I think the fibre content makes up for it.

Custard powder

Bird’s custard powder was invented by Mr Bird so his wife, who was allergic to eggs, could eat custard. Come on, can you imagine apple crumble without custard? It’s not worth thinking about. Custard powder is essentially yellow vanilla flavoured cornflour (with a couple of other minor ingredients). You don’t have to just make custard with this powder. Replace 1-2 tbsp of flour in cakes with custard powder to give a lovely taste and extra fluffiness to the sponge.


We always have spaghetti and basics pasta in, but at the moment we also have orzo, macaroni and a giant couscous. Yes couscous is classed as a pasta. All types essential in my book for making a quick dinner, salad or bulking out soup.

Vanilla paste & extract

Unsurprisingly given my job I’m never short of vanilla in the house. I rarely buy the pods any more, though you may spot one in the photo, as they work out quite expensive and prefer to buy the vanilla paste. If you haven’t tried the paste I wholeheartedly recommend you do. It gives wonderful flavour to proper custard and biscuits. But don’t stop at sweet dishes, it also works well in marinades for meat.

Sugar – lots of

Granulated, caster, icing, muscovado, soft light, Demerara, you name it I can probably find a bag of it somewhere. Some sugars are interchangeable but some can make a significant difference to the taste and texture of a recipe. If you’ve run out of caster sugar for a recipe briefly blitz some granulated sugar in a blender.

Worcestershire sauce

This pungent sauce has the ability to turn a run-of-the-mill dish in to something far better. Hubs insists on sprinkling it on cheese on toast and I add it to most meat sauces. Forget umami paste, just use this sauce.


I used to be a huge fan of chopped tomatoes, until I realised passata gives better taste and texture to dishes. It makes a wonderful pizza sauce, but also makes a fabulous quick tomato soup. Only in the last year have supermarkets begun to sell their own brand passata and it is now as cheap (if not cheaper) than decent tinned tomatoes.

In reality I could go of for ever with all the ingredients I think a kitchen cupboard shouldn’t be without.

What do you see as store cupboard staples?

Disclaimer: The lighting in my kitchen makes it nigh on impossible to take good photos of the contents of my kitchen cupboards. Normal blogging and photography will resume soon.

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