Cheese & Tomato Tart

cheese and tomato tart >> Butcher Baker

I’ve turned in to one of those people who buys food because they are pretty and will look good in photos. These cherry tomatoes on the vine were a bargain in Aldi. While doing a food styling stint in the kitchen for my SheKnows work I was left with some ingredients to play with and no lunch. Voilà cheese & tomato tart.

I use this as a base for a tart quite a lot. It makes a quick warming lunch or dinner and a novelty compared to the good old toastie that seems to be a staple lunch for me at the moment. It’s a wonderful way to get use up those ingredients that are on the turn and when there isn’t enough of one thing to make a whole dish.

Yes I can make puff pastry and have done in the past but frankly life is too short. If Michele Roux Jr even admits to using cheats like this in the kitchen I can’t see anything wrong.

Cheese & Tomato Tart
Serves 2

1/2 packet (375 grams) pre-rolled puff pastry

1 large egg

1 tablespoon of double cream

25g grated mature cheese

couple of torn basil leaves or 1 tsp mixed herbs

pinch of salt and pepper

10 cherry tomatoes

1 tbsp parmesan cheese


  1. Unroll the puff pastry, cut in half then place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment.
  2. Using a sharp knife score a three centimetre border around the pastry. Make sure you do not cut all the way through the pastry. As the tart is cooking this pastry edge will rise and stop contents of the tart spilling out.
  3. In a bowl whisk together the egg, double cream then season with salt and black pepper.
  4. Mix the grated cheese into the egg mixture then pour it over the pastry trying not to cover the border.
  5. Sprinkle the torn basil over the tart then dot the cherry tomatoes on top of the pastry.
  6. Bake at 200 degrees C/Gas Mark 6 for 20 to 25 minutes or until the pastry along the edge of the tart is risen and golden. Can be eaten hot or cold.

cheese and tomato puff pastry tart >> Butcher Baker

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Rich Chocolate Orange Cupcakes

chocolate orange cupcakes

Given I don’t seem to have a particular fondness for cupcakes I seem to be making and blogging  a lot about them at the moment. I’ve been busy teaching recently and cupcakes are the perfect medium to teach basic cake decorating techniques. They are small, quick and easy to make.

There’s something I love about orange and chocolate together’ it works so well. I use Sainsbury’s Valencian Orange Extract for cakes. It is simply rapeseed oil and orange oil and flavour it gives it incredibly intense. Their American peppermint extract is also very good.

These chocolate orange cupcakes are incredibly rich and due to the serious cocoa hit in the buttercream without being too sweet. Think of the most decadent chocolate mousse you’ve eaten and this buttercream is close to that.  These are very much adult cupcakes, I think most children would find the intense chocolate too much.

These cakes contain a small amount of ground almonds which helps keep the sponge moist. It also means the cake doesn’t rise as much as normal sponge which leaves you with a flatter top for icing.

I took this batch to a school I work at where, until I rocked up with these cakes, most of the staff claimed to be on some sort of diet. Not for long. Even some staff who were on playground duty hid a cakes for themselves and one even risked their nut allergy to eat one.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes
Makes 9-12

For the cakes

  • 100g Stork or well softened butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 50g self- raising flour
  • 20g cocoa powder
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp orange extract
  • 2 tsp milk

For the buttercream

  • 250g butter
  • 400g icing sugar
  • 100g cocoa powder
  • 4 tsbp milk (you may need more)
  • 2 tsp orange extract

1) Beat together the Stork and sugar until light and fluffy.

2) Stir in the eggs one at a time. If the mixture begins to look a bit curdled add some of the flour.

3) Mix in the orange extract, flour, cocoa and milk. The mixture should now be of dropping consistency.

4) Place cupcake liners in a tin and fill until liners are 2/3 full.

5) Bake at 160°c for 15 minutes or until cakes are risen and cooked through. Allow to cool on a wire rack while you make the buttercream.

6) Place the softened butter, icing sugar, orange extract, cocoa and milk in a bowl. Using an electric whisk beat the mixture until light and fluffy. Due to the cocoa the mixture can be very stiff. If this is the case add more milk 1 tbsp at a time.

7) Put the buttercream in to a piping bag with 1M tip and pipe on to the cooled cakes.

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Crispy Pancake Bake

crispy pancake ingredients

This weekend I’ve been busy submitting pitches for April & May articles in the freelance writing I do. I’m slowly getting used to editorial calendars. For one of the months I’ve concentrated on retro dishes with a modern twist. Big thanks to all of you on twitter and Facebook who submitted your favourite retro dishes. There was a definite liking for Battenberg Cake, Prawn Cocktail and Black Forest Gateaux.

I’m very glad I never did submit this particular recipe to my editor because frankly it’s impossible to make it not have that unappetising 70s cookbook mustard hue in photographs. All it’s missing is an orange tartan table cloth and retro Pyrex dish.

uncooked crispy pancake bake

I can’t remember being fed Crispy Pancakes as a child but Hubs certainly liked them, especially ones filled with minced beef. Come to think of it we may have been served them occasionally in our catered uni halls alongside frozen omelettes, curly fries and unidentified fried objects. Oh the Student Stone was alive and well there.

So this dish is essentially the components of a crispy pancake but with nicer, fresher ingredients, no horse, and no frying in sight. It can even be made in advance. The yellow breadcrumbs in this dish are thanks to turmeric and paprika mixed in with some panko breadcrumbs. I buy panko breadcrumbs at one of the big Chinese supermarkets in Birmingham but have begun to spot them in supermarkets too. They work so well in many dishes and give a great crunchy coating in dishes. Normal dried breadcrumbs will work just as well.

crispy pancake bake

Confession: I used ready made pancakes. They were giving them away for cheaper than it would be for me to make them in Morrisons. Never again. They don’t taste or have the texture anything like pancakes, more like Staffordshire Oatcakes. No, that’s an insult to Staffordshire Oatcakes.

I promise this dish is far tastier than the photos will suggest.

Crispy Pancake Bake
Meat sauce based on Jamie Oliver’s Pregnant Jools Pasta recipe.

Serves 4-6

  • 115g plain flour
  • 300ml milk
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg
  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 red pepper
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 x 6-pack of good-quality sausages (approx. 400g)
  • 1 heaped tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 125g button mushrooms
  • 4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 390g passata
  • 150g creme fraiche
  • 30g panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika

1) Sift the flour for the pancakes and salt into a bowl. Crack egg into well then gradually whisk in pancake milk. Beat until smooth. Refrigerate batter for 1 hour (optional).

2) Heat non-stick frying pan to med-hot. Pour a ladle of batter into the frying pan, enough to cover the bottom of the pan. As bubbles begin to appear under the batter flip the pancake over. Once cooked pile on a plate with a piece of greaseproof paper between each pancake. They can be made in advance.

3) In a blender finely chop the spring onions, carrot, celery, garlic and red pepper. Skin the sausages and add the sausage meat along with the fennel and oregano to the blender and briefly pulse to bring the ingredients together.

4) Heat the rapeseed oil in a saucepan or deep frying pan. Fry the sausage meat mixture until it has begun to cook then pour the balsamic vinegar and passata in to the pan. Simmer for 10 minutes.

5) While the meat sauce is cooking preheat the oven to 200°c.

6) Take one of your pancakes, place 4 tablespoons of the meat sauce in the middle then roll up. Place the pancake in an oven proof dish. Repeat with the remaining pancakes.

7) It’s likely you’ll have a bit of sauce left. Pour this over the pancakes then dot spoonfuls of the creme fraiche over the top.

8) Mix together the breadcrumbs, turmeric and paprika then sprinkle over the filled pancakes. Bake for 25min until the crispy pancake bake is browned and bubbling.


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The big fat horsemeat debate

hunk of beef

A few days ago I did my latest stint on radio. I was debating topical issues and the current news is a god send for anyone who has an interest in food and the debates surrounding it. One of the topics touched on the horsemeat scandal, though due to time constraints I felt I didn’t do the topic justice. There’s a good reason why my business goal is to make enough to fund a MSc in Food Policy & Nutrition, I’m fascinated by it.

The whole horsemeat scandal is a complicated one. Some will blame consumers, some will blame the supermarket, some will blame another country. The biggest issue is trust. As a food producer I put my trust in the Spanish chorizo producer that the product I’ve bought to use in my products only contains what is on the label and not a cheeky bit of another species. Just like the customers who buy my product trust me to be honest about what ingredients I’ve used.

The only way you can be sure that the meat you are eating is 100% pure is to raise and slaughter the meat yourself. There are strict laws regarding animal welfare & slaughterhouses in the UK and very few animals you can slaughter yourself at home (yes I know there is a whole debate about this alone). Even by taking other countries out of the equation doesn’t solve food fraud. In every industry there will always be someone willing to cut ethical and moral corners to make extra profit. I know I’ve been missold meat by local butchers more than once before and it’s not as if I use the fallen-off-the-back-of-the-lorry “butcher” at the dodgy weekend market.

Biologically our bodies have evolved to be meat eaters, our canine teeth are proof of this and meat is a major protein source for the majority of the UK population. However have we come too accustomed to cheap meat? Should it be seen as a luxury? I know here it is. We have a roast on Sunday that provides meat for a few other meals & lunches, one other meal of meat and the rest of the time it’s fish or vegetarian. I suppose you could say we’re carnivores with vegetarian tendencies.

In reality it’s not the fact horsemeat has appeared in burgers that’s the issue. Horsemeat is a lean, tasty meat that is openly eaten on the continent. It’s because an undeclared ingredient that has appeared in the food production process through greed and unethical practices.

Have we as a nation become detached from food processes? When money is tight food becomes fuel not pleasure, just pure and simple fuel. Food poverty is an increasing issue here in the UK and the horsemeat debate has shown some people to be huge food snobs detached from the real world. This isn’t happening in a far-flung country, this is happening on our doorstep. Consequently the twitter unfollow button has been very busy here recently.

Imagine this: you have a family to support, you work every hour under the sun to put food on the table. You can’t shop at the butchers as they are only open when you are at work (my local butcher only opens 10-3 Monday –  Friday). You don’t own a car due to rising petrol prices so the supermarket a short walk away is only option. With the cost of domestic fuel rising dinner needs to be quick to cook, you can’t afford to have the oven on for an hour or two cooking a delicious home-cooked meal from a frugal yet tough piece of meat. At the supermarket you have a choice: 4 x £1 value lasagna that cooks quickly in the microwave or £6 worth of ingredients that means you are 90min away from a meal. You know you are compromising on taste and quality but remember food is now fuel.

Don’t believe the Daily Fail hype that people living like this don’t exist. They do. I work with children and families who are just like this. They are not scroungers or people wasting money on frivolous things like Sky and XBox, they are struggling to make ends meet let alone eat. What it boils down to is whoever you are and whatever food choices you make, you deserve to be given the product you expect when you buy it. Miss South from North/South Food has written a superb post about the reality of food poverty.

Avoiding supermarkets, like some people suggest, isn’t going to help; they are so ingrained in our busy lives and for some unavoidable. Having a choice where you shop is a luxury. Here we don’t have greengrocer or fishmonger only a butcher who is stuck in the 1950s with their limited opening hours.

The horsemeat scandal is far from over and I have a hunch where it is going to appear next. There is not one big answer but it certainly has raised interesting debates about food security, food provenance and trust. Is it about time we gave meat the respect it deserves?

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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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