The Strong Female Lead


As most people could tell from a quick glance at my Facebook photos, I’m no slave to fashion. In fact I’m probably not even a well looked after and healthily remunerated employee to it, yet there is one thing currently in fashion that I can fully support, and that is The Strong Female Lead. Not just in film and TV, but in real life too. I’m very on board with the Katniss Everdeen’s, Leslie Knope’s, Beatrix Kiddo’s and such of film and TV fame (if they’re not pining for a man throughout the entire story and you know, have actual interests and aspirations aside from having the most amazing wedding of all time, like actual real women then I’m all for it) but strong women who haven’t been dreamed up by writers in Hollywood are far more intriguing and inspiring to me. Let’s get the sob story out of the way quick – I’m not a fan of self-pity and I don’t like to dwell on the past, but without the sob story my fascination with strong women makes no sense. My mum passed away when I was young, so when a couple of years on from this I was bought a Janet Jackson CD it was like a light had been switched on. I had my female relatives there for me who were and are brilliant still, but for everyday female inspiration, I had pop stars to rely on. Janet Jackson sang about feminism! Racism! Inequality! SEX! Of course, 10 year old me wasn’t really aware of any of these issues and couldn’t really get her head around what any of it really meant, but here was a woman totally not afraid about speaking her mind, sounding completely bad ass and starting to teach me valuable life lessons that (and this is very important) I could make up awesome dance routines to in my bedroom. I just wanted to be the girl sassy enough to be able to throw out the line “no my first name ain’t baby, it’s Janet, Miss Jackson if you’re nasty” to any boy foolish enough to mess with me. It’s not happened yet, my name isn’t Janet Jackson, I’m betrothed to be wed and mum to a demanding one year old, so the likelihood of me ever saying it grows slimmer by the day but you never know… The Design of a Decade album was a crash course in being a woman, what to believe in and stand for, and my tiny little mind soaked it all up so that I would be ready for when I would be old enough to get my head around it all.


Fast forward twenty years or so and my favourite Real Life Strong Female Lead is of course, Nigella Lawson (and Beyoncé. Always Beyoncé.) If you’re ever feeling like crap and you just can’t face something, google the footage of Nigella arriving in court for the trial of her former assistants. The press were tearing her apart, incredibly private and mortifying details about her home life and marriage were being discussed in court and splashed all over the tabloids, and she was going through a divorce from a man who had publicly humiliated her. Does she look even remotely bothered? No, she looks incredible, confident and her IDGAF face is on point. If that doesn’t inspire you to attend that job interview/go to a terrifying meeting/meet that blind date then there’s no helping you. Team Nigella all the way in my house. Obviously then, I snaffled up her new cookbook Simply Nigella, which I have been cooking recipes from over the past few weeks. It’s a bit of a departure from her usual style in that alongside the heavenly looking baking recipes and savoury comfort food that she’s famous for, she also includes quite a lot of healthy and ‘free from’ recipes. I’ve no beef with that, you can’t constantly eat butter and cream filled foods unless your goal in life is to keel over from a heart attack at 30, and it’s good to have a healthy balance in your kitchen. So far I’ve cooked the chicken shawarma (juicy, spicy chicken that received a rave review from The Boyfriend, so a complete success), Thai cinnamon prawn noodles (warm, savoury and tongue tingling-ly yummy), coconut spiced cod (not bad but not amazing) and split pea soup with ginger, chilli and lime (I wasn’t very enthused about this one, it just didn’t do it for me). A mixed bag so far, although there are loads of recipes I can’t wait to find the time to try, such as Indian spiced shepherd’s pie, chai muffins, sweet potato macaroni cheese, ramen, salted chocolate tart, Asian short ribs and chocolate chip cookie dough pots. There are lots more I’m itching to try but the latter are high up on the ‘to cook’ list. I’m hoping Simply Nigella will be just as trusty a steed as her Express, Kitchen, Bites and Christmas books have ended up being for me.


As for me, I’m certainly no Janet Jackson, Beyonce or Nigella, but I’d like to consider myself a Strong Female Lead in my own life. Maybe not physically (although carrying around a baby for the last year has certainly done my arms a few favours) but in other ways, definitely. I like to think of myself as a cotton ball with a hidden rod of metal running through it. I’ll cry at the series finale of New Girl, sure, and watching the news is risky business these days for my mascara, plus don’t get me started on how mushy I can get when my baby boy breaks out into laughter, but when push comes to shove I am made of tougher stuff. When my son was much smaller and my significant other wasn’t working away, I didn’t think I would be able to manage at all with looking after a baby once my other half went back to working away for weeks at a time, and yet I’ve managed to do it without losing my mind. Plus I’ve managed to work full time whilst doing so. I know, single parents do it all the time and I have nothing but respect for them, but for me, Miss Anxiety, Miss I Have An Itinerary For Everything And I Don’t Know How To Fit All Of This Into One, it’s a big deal. I managed to live in a house that was practically a building site for two years and didn’t have a stroke – badass. I got made redundant while on maternity leave, and after 10 months of spending my days singing nursery rhymes and turning pears into mush, I somehow managed to get through my first job interview in five years and miraculously got the job. That’s a straight to video film (showing my age there) in then making right there! I’ve already said I’m not good with self-pity, and I’m really not good at bigging myself up so this blog entry has been excruciating for me to write (thank God for self-deprecation) but it’s definitely time for women to embrace their inner Strong Female Lead, so I’m starting with myself. Nigella has taught me how to cook over the years, but recently she’s also inspired me to keep my head up, pull my shoulders back and just get on with it. She’s also bloody good with a Middle Eastern marinated chicken recipe. The girl’s alright with me.




Not So Clean Eating Chicken

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At the moment there seems to be a big food trend sweeping the country. Unfortunately for me the trend has moved on from one of the best things in the whole entire world– salted caramel – to something that completely repulses me : clean eating. You couldn’t get two trends more unlike each other could you? I’d like to be clear that what repulses me about this trend isn’t the emphasis on eating your greens, lessening the amount of meat you eat or making sure that your sugar intake isn’t stratospheric – these things I can get on board with. What I cannot get on board with is the superiority which ‘clean eaters’ regard themselves with, and the pretentiousness associated with it. There’s a great example of this going round the internet which I recommend you seek out called Pete Evans ‘ My Life on a Plate’. Reading his typical daily food diary makes me want to dive headfirst into a cheeseboard. Cultured vegetables? What on earth are they? Is someone taking carrots to the Tate Modern and then selling them off to people for whom a regular carrot just isn’t nutritious enough? Pete also lists sprouted millet, sorghum, cocoa nibs, emu meatballs, alkalised water and most mysteriously, activated almonds, as part of his daily diet. Kill me now. Water, fruit, vegetables etc are good for you; they don’t need to be ‘alkalised’, cultured’ or ‘activated’. Life is too short to have sprouted millet for breakfast. Eat sensibly and treat yourself once in a while, otherwise what’s the point in clean eating and living until you’re 150 if you turn up to parties but can’t eat anything because the peanuts doing the rounds haven’t been activated and are covered in that delicious but deadly salt. Stop boring everyone and live a little.

Saying all that, I can’t deny that I’ve been pulled in somewhat by the idea of clean eating. Hypocrite? Maybe. Unable to stand by my principles? Perhaps. Woman approaching thirty who’s not yet managed to shift the baby weight nearly a year after giving birth? Most definitely. Normally I find the idea of ‘shifting the baby weight’ morally repugnant due to the pressure put on new mums to miraculously look like Kate Middleton when they’ve just made another human being but I also know when I’m happy myself with my weight and when I’m not comfortable. And right now I’m not comfortable, media pressure or no media pressure. Working full time, looking after a baby, with a fiance who travels away regularly for work means the gym isn’t really an option, so focusing on what I’m eating is the way forward right now.

Diana Henry’s most recent book ‘A Bird in the Hand’ isn’t a clean eating recipe book (it’s actually filled with chicken recipes, and really drool-worthy recipes at that) but the recipe I chose would definitely win big points with the clean eating crew – Mexican chicken with pumpkin and pepita pesto. Pepita pesto, which are two words that just sound beautiful next to each other, is a pesto made with sunflower seeds instead of the usual pine nuts and replaces the basil with coriander, making it a much more viable pairing with Mexican flavours than traditional pesto would ever be. The pesto is simple to make and just involves toasting the seeds in a dry pan, then throwing them and all the other ingredients into a mini processor and whizzing to a paste. The chicken thighs are marinated in citrus juices, spices and herbs for a few hours then baked in the oven in the same tray as the pumpkin (I couldn’t find pumpkin in the shop so substituted with butternut squash). Then once all cooked just throw on a plate, drizzle the pesto over the chicken then scatter with feta cheese, avocado and coriander. Feta is of course a Greek cheese but is very similar to a cheese that Mexicans use regularly (queso fresco) that isn’t easy to find on these shores, which I’m assuming must be the reason for its inclusion here. The chicken skin is crisp (I told you I wasn’t going ‘the full clean eating’) and zingy from the citrus juices while the squash is soft and tender. The pesto had a really unexpected taste to it which I wasn’t quite prepared for but was not unpleasant. I couldn’t tell you what it tasted like because it was over a week ago that I ate it, but even if it had been yesterday I don’t think I’d be able to describe the taste. There were so many flavours going on on my plate that the whole dish together worked really well but I couldn’t pick out any one element of the dish on its own. The dish itself seems very well balanced – I’m no nutritionist but there are two portions of vegetables, some chicken, spices, herbs, cheese and then a pesto sauce containing sunflower seeds and coriander. I think this dish encapsulates the best of both worlds when it comes to what we should be putting in our mouths – it’s full of goodness but you’ve still got a bit of cheese and some cheeky crispy chicken skin in there, and it tastes delicious. It’s full of flavour, something new to try, simple to produce at home, looks gorgeous and colourful on the plate and is a million miles away from the ‘cultured vegetable’/’activated almonds’ drivel.

I’d not come across Diana Henry before but after seeing Nigella’s glowing words on the cover and realising I always have chicken in the freezer but can never think of anything interesting to do with it, this felt like a book I needed. I’ve tried a couple of recipes from it so far and they’ve both turned out very well so I think this book could be a future favourite of mine. For delicious chicken recipes mind, not for any of that clean eating crap.

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Posted by on September 17, 2015 in Uncategorized


Britain’s Finest

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There is nothing about a British summer that you can guarantee except one thing: delicious British strawberries. We are not guaranteed beautiful sunny weather, if we are blessed with an hour of sunshine there will be no bronzed glowing skin- the only options are lobster red for the reckless, pasty white for the overly cautious – and if we’re given half a chance on the barbeque we will burn our sausages. These are the rules of being British and I wouldn’t bloody change it. On British strawberries though, we can depend. I can’t really say I’m someone who shops seasonally, that would be a massive fib as one – I’m nowhere near organised enough to check what’s in season before  I do my shopping, and two –  you know what, the heart wants what the heart wants and if that happens to be peaches in November then what are you gonna do? But strawberries are the one thing I eat seasonally. I’ve tried the Spanish ones the supermarkets sell in winter and they don’t even come close so I never buy them and instead just go strawberry mad the minute I see that little Union Jack on the punnets. Get it while it’s hot and all that. The best thing about strawberries is that they actually feel like a genuine treat – I hold them in the same esteemed company as Terry’s Chocolate Orange Mini’s, cheesecake and cookies – but they are actually good for you. You can turn a dull bowl of Weetabix into a delightful breakfast with nothing more than a handful of strawberries thrown into the mix and you can pick up a punnet of them to snack on instead of a chocolate bar and not feel that you are depriving yourself. Of course, you don’t have to use them for good, they are just as wonderful when you take them down the sinful route too. After all, this blog post wouldn’t be that interesting if I told you all about my healthy breakfast of Weetabix and strawberries now would it?

With that justification squeezed then, I present to you Strawberry Cake from The Primrose Bakery Book (a cookbook deserving of the description ‘neglected’). The Boyfriend made the very unexpected move of saying he really fancied a cake and should we bake one together at the weekend? Normally his food cravings revolve around pork scratching’s and cheesy Doritos so this suggestion caught me off guard somewhat. We agreed on strawberry cake straight away so for once deciding what to cook was pain free. The Primrose Bakery book is filled with beautiful cupcakes, layer cakes and biscuits based around items they sell in their bakery. I’ve made the rhubarb cupcakes and Oreo cupcakes from this book and they were everything you’d expect them to be, but over the last couple of years the book has been pushed aside for my favourite baking book, How to Be a Domestic Goddess.

The strawberry cake is a layer cake with chopped strawberries in the cake mixture, sandwiched together with strawberry jam, sliced strawberries and vanilla icing, then topped with a nice thick layer of vanilla icing which has been dyed pink, then decorated with a few whole strawberries. The recipe tells you to put all the cake ingredients into a food processor for an easy way to get a smooth cake mix. The only processor I have is a mini one suitable purely for making curry pastes and blending up baby food so I had to do it the old fashioned way with a wooden spoon and mixing bowl. Creaming butter and sugar together by hand is no easy task. I hated doing it in Home Economics and I hate doing it now. Halfway through doing it I started getting fed up and my arm was getting heavy, and that’s when I remembered my other half suggesting we should bake a cake together and yet he was nowhere to be seen in the kitchen. Hmmm, interesting. Now I don’t like to take advantage of being a member of the so called ‘fairer sex’ (mainly because it’s complete and utter tosh – be pregnant for nine months and then go through labour, then tell me who the fairer sex is. I don’t even want to think about how men would cope with the menstrual cycle) but sometimes you have to make sexism work for you. My poor little arms just can’t take mixing up this batter anymore, I need someone with strength and muscles to finish the job for me, yada yada yada, you know the script and it always works like a charm. So that is how I got us to bake a cake together, and I’m not even sorry.

The cake in the book looks really pretty whereas mine on completion looked very homemade. I don’t think I left the cakes long enough to cool before sandwiching them together with the icing so the icing became a little but runny and oozed out of the cake a little bit. It was not a solid foundation to lay a cake on, let’s put it that way. Looks aside though, it tasted pretty, pretty good. The sponge is soft and moist with little strawberry bursts contained within. Jam and vanilla icing can never be a bad combination although if I had one criticism it would be that there is too much icing making it all a little bit too sweet. I’d make this cake again but perhaps instead of covering the cake with icing on top, adhere to the Victoria sponge way of doing things and keep it bare on top, maybe keeping the whole strawberries for aesthetic and flavour. The cake has enough flavour in itself to not need an abundance of icing smothering it, and the cake would then look like a pimped up Victoria sponge covered in Britain’s finest berry. This recipe definitely makes the most of strawberries when they are at their best, although if it’s simplicity you’re after you can’t beat the call of strawberries and cream.

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Posted by on July 14, 2015 in Uncategorized


Dining Out With a Seven Month Old, And Other Lessons Learnt


There are times when your child is perfectly well behaved. There are times when your child is nothing but a complete angel. You will be in a bustling coffee shop on holiday, you will put your baby in a highchair with nothing but some chopped banana to keep him entertained and he will be an absolute gem. You can both eat your lunch with two hands, your coffee will still be hot when you drink it and you will both be super relaxed, albeit with a baby covered in banana gunk (a price I am happy to pay). Pensioners will pass by and comment on how well behaved he is, what lovely blue eyes he has and what a total darling he is. You will beam with pride, fit to burst at the fact that you can take your bambino anywhere and he will behave. You will chuckle at aforementioned pensioners, comment cheerfully that “you should see him at 5am” then stroll away safe in the knowledge that you can now go somewhere a bit nicer for lunch the next day as he has passed the busy coffee shop on holiday test for three whole days in a row now. He is ready for the next stage in his holiday eating education, and you are more than ready for a meal that isn’t fish and chips or a jacket potato. Unfortunately for you, this will also be the time that your child will forget everything they ever knew about being a perfect little angel in a restaurant.

So you can see what’s coming. We decided whilst on holiday in Devon to give The River Cottage Canteen in Axminster a go one day for lunch. Trip Advisor told me it was a relaxed restaurant, family friendly and a more affordable way to experience The River Cottage food and ethos without forking out to go to a River Cottage HQ dining experience. Whilst the restaurant was definitely family friendly, our baby had decided that he was very much not restaurant friendly. I don’t know what his problem was, we gave him soft chunks of artisanal bread to chew on – artisanal! A seven month old who is too good for artisanal bread, what kind of child am I raising? The bread was bloody delicious as well, he really missed out. The crust was crispy with a crunchy coating of salt and rosemary (fear not baby weaning experts, I cut off the salty crust before giving it to the baby) while the inside was chewy and dense. We polished the lot off with some rosemary olive oil; meanwhile the baby threw most of his on the floor then burst into tears all in approximately 1 minute (and I’m being generous with the time). The bread is laid out on a big slab at the front of the restaurant and is enormous, it’s cooked fresh in the restaurant and is similar to focaccia. But a really, really good focaccia, not one you’d pick up from the supermarket in vacuum packed plastic to go with your soup.

Our mains were accompanied by crying and the dulcet tones of VTech’s Singing Alfie Bear who kindly offered several times to teach our baby ‘1,2,3’ and pathetically kept telling him that “I love you” (seriously Alfie, cool it) all while singing ‘delightful’ nursery rhymes to try and placate him. As you can imagine the other diners were thrilled at the unique soundtrack we provided for their meal. We both had the salt beef brisket hash with pickled red cabbage and a fried egg. We both agreed that it was a handsome dish; the beef was shredded and tender, with a salt and mustard flavour. Although there was no sauce, the dish still managed to be moist and the pickled cabbage added some acidity and kept the dish feeling fresh. My fried egg was extra crispy which was good, but on the negative side the yolk was very nearly cooked all the way through. I am super fussy with eggs though, the white has to be completely cooked with no trace in sight of the dreaded ‘snotty egg white’ that you always get around the yolk with fried eggs, and then the yolk has to be really runny. Am I asking the impossible? The Boyfriend happily eats boiled eggs that have loads of undercooked whites in them while I look on in horror whilst eating what he calls burnt eggs. Overcooked they may be but at least I won’t be retching over my breakfast. I can’t perfect boiled and fried eggs myself, they are always slightly overcooked, but I’ve had no professional training so I’ve got a great excuse for consistently messing up my breakfast.

We each took it in turns to attempt one handed eating while rocking the baby or taking him for a walk around the restaurant to distract him from his very successful attempts to stop us eating hot food together as a family. Even though part of me was desperate to get out of there and walk him around in his buggy like he likes to do so he can have a good stare at everything, I was also determined to see the meal through to the bitter end and not give him the satisfaction of us abandoning dinner, so glutton for punishment (and also food) that I am, I ordered dessert. There were plenty of tasty sounding desserts on offer but I managed to pick parsnip and butterscotch pudding with vanilla ice cream. As a carrot cake lover the idea of a parsnip pudding didn’t seem too out there, especially when you consider how sweet parsnips can be and how often they are paired up with maple syrup or honey when roasted. I have to say, as good as the parsnip and butterscotch pudding was, it was nothing remarkable or memorable. The sponge was light, the sweet flavour of the parsnip shone through and there was also a touch of spice nestled in there, possibly cinnamon or ginger which really brought out the flavour of the parsnip. The butterscotch sauce ticked all the boxes, sugary and deeply sweet and the ice cream was smooth and creamy. Can’t fault the pudding in that respect, but rather than being a restaurant dessert it felt like a dish anyone could easily whip up at home for pudding after a Sunday roast. Satisfying, comforting and sweet, but not a revelation. I would happily make this dessert myself one day, or one similar to it, on a cold winters day. Whilst I was eating my pudding, the baby decided he’d push all his toys onto the floor, cry when they were no longer within his grasp, then when he got them back he’d start the cycle all over again. Delightful.

So Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage Canteen gets a big thumbs up from me, but a big thumbs down from the baby. Good, honest food without bucket loads of pretension that makes you feel happy and contented, and (bonus) not stupidly full. The next day we had lunch at a service station on the way home, but despite the fact that services are the most miserable places to have lunch ever and I’d have totally shared in his misery had he been a grump, he behaved perfectly in his high chair while we ate flavourless noodles and drank from that ubiquitous coffee chain whose coffee is pretty dull (but this one does pay their taxes, so I suppose that’s something). Luckily back at home the two/three of us have lovely little lunches together as a family, where he sits in his highchair picking at fruit and crumpets while us grown-ups eat cheese on toast and dance like idiots to the radio to get him to laugh.  This behaviour is frowned upon in restaurants though. Moral of the story: if you want a happy lunch with your baby, have it at home. Save the good stuff for when you’ve got babysitters.

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Posted by on May 14, 2015 in Uncategorized


Upside Down You’re Turning Me

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In my opinion there’s nothing quite like coming home from a disappointing or stressful day to find a treat of some sort from your other half waiting for you. My treat of choice would always be a big bag of Cadburys Giant Buttons, because obviously any treat made from Dairy Milk chocolate that’s been turned into perfectly sized little mouthfuls is absolute heaven (duh), and also because they remind me of when I was 18. Over the weekend I would do some work in a shop, and occasionally during my lunch break The Boyfriend (who I’d known for a mere few months back then) would swing by the shop and deliver unto me a bag of Giant Buttons which I’d then pop in my pocket and nibble on throughout the afternoon to keep me energised and on my feet (this was before I’d discovered the joys of coffee). Whenever I have them now they remind me of those exciting early days of our relationship, and even though 11 years have passed since the days of Button deliveries, they’re still the chocolate he’ll grab for me when I’m in dire need of chocolate. Of course, our relationship is still exciting, although more in a ‘pajamas on by 7pm, Netflix on the telly and hot chocolate in hand’ kind of exciting, which is totally the best kind.

Last week then it was my turn to deliver the goods. He’d trekked down to Wembley only to watch his football team lose, and after keeping an eye on the score on Twitter I knew he’d need a pick me up on his return home. Cakes containing banana are his favourite, and after paying a lot of money to end up miserable and then being thoroughly rained on, I felt there was really only one kind of cake that might possibly lift his heavy heart. Banana and chocolate upside down cake sounded right up his street, and I certainly wouldn’t kick it out of bed myself. I found this recipe while browsing through the Delicious magazine website – it’s a brilliant food magazine but I’ve so many cookbooks that I can’t really justify buying it anymore, so the website will have to suffice – and knew straight away that this was just the cake for my disappointed love. Once the baby was tucked up in bed I set to work, starting with making the sugary syrup that sits at the bottom of the cake tin caramelising the bananas. The syrup was simply sugar, butter and maple syrup melted down over a gentle heat and then poured into a springform cake tin. Halve some bananas, place in the syrup and then pour over the cake batter (which is made in one bowl, bonus, and contains mashed up banana and plenty of chocolate chips) then bake in the oven. The tricky bit is upturning the tin once the cake is cooked without getting cake all over your kitchen, but I managed to do it and I’m the least dextrous person there is, so you really have no excuse.

What’s revealed is a golden brown sugary topping with soft sweet bananas topping a delicious cake. The syrup is obviously sweet, with a strong taste of maple which is an absolute classic of a pairing with bananas. Much as I would have liked to use the real stuff, proper Canadian maple syrup is crazily expensive for the small jar you get, so I used maple flavoured syrup by the same people who make golden syrup, and let’s be honest, when you’re cooking with it in a cake you really don’t notice the difference. I had some proper maple syrup which I brought back from New York a couple of years ago, and when served on top of pancakes you know you’re getting the real deal, but for baking it really isn’t worth the expense. I know from bitter experience after I made pear and maple syrup muffins that weren’t very good, and all I could think was “well that was one expensive batch of crappy muffins”. It still hurts to think of the waste of that amber gold – lesson well and truly learned.

Underneath all that syrupy banana goodness was a moist cake flecked with milk and dark chocolate chips and bursting with banana flavour. I served it warm with a scoop of good quality vanilla ice cream (Haagen Dazs – I really try not to be too big of a food snob but when it comes to vanilla ice cream I just can’t go cheap. The good stuff is just the best thing ever, once you’ve had it the soft scoop ice cream of your childhood is completely ruined. I’m an ice cream snob, and I am absolutely OK with that) which is the perfect pairing for this cake. Although a really thick Jersey cream would be ace too. The Boyfriend isn’t normally much of a cake fan, but throw a banana into the mix and that changes everything. It might not have erased the memory of the game but it certainly eased the pain.

I’m pleased to report also that this cake is still very good for the next couple of days after being baked. It retains its moistness whilst the syrup at the edge of the cake gets a little bit chewy, and goes pretty darn well with a cup of coffee after you’ve finally got your baby down for a nap and you’ve got a good book to hand.

If you’d like to give this cake a go and know someone who needs cheering up, then here’s the recipe, although be warned, once you see some of Delicious’ other cake recipes you might have a hard time choosing what you’ll make: . Happy Baking!

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Posted by on March 8, 2015 in Uncategorized


Proper Lush

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In the first few weeks and months after having a baby, the idea that life will ever return to some kind of normality seems utterly ridiculous. It’s as if some teeny tiny person has put your former life in a snow globe, shaken it up good and proper, and there you are standing at the base of the globe catching glimpses of the things you love – sleep, eating dinner at the same time as your other half, sleep, drinking hot coffee, sleep, cooking, sleep, reading, sleep – swirling about above you and waiting desperately and impatiently for them to settle and for there to be calm again. You adore your baby, couldn’t imagine life without them, but at the same time you’re also mourning the life that you once had and all that precious sleep you foolishly took for granted. In the early days of having a baby, when you’re up every 2 hours at night feeding and then desperately trying to get them to sleep anywhere that isn’t on your chest, you’ll hear many well-meaning people tell you that “it does get better”. After 6 weeks of surviving on 2 hours sleep a night the most civil you can get is uttering “does it?” through gritted teeth while in your head cursing them for not offering to pay for you to go on all inclusive tropical holiday while they take on the night feeds for the next six months. People are just so bloody selfish, and sleep deprivation does indeed send you temporarily insane as well as leave you with unreasonable expectations of your friends and family.

So as you can imagine, I am pleased to say that the snow in our globe has now settled. We actually now get real sleep and hallelujah, I’ve got some time in the evening to cook again. Yay me! This combined with the fact that we’ve recently had our new kitchen installed and it’s bloody amazing means I’m now cooking with fire baby (or if it’s accuracy you’re after, an induction hob). After cooking in a dire kitchen for two years and sticking to the same old recipes, I’m now feeling ambitious in the kitchen again and have been delving back into my cookbooks. The Boyfriend bought me Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food book a couple of years ago for Christmas but the recipes involved too many steps and needed lots of equipment which would have been an absolute nightmare to even attempt in our old kitchen, so the book sat quietly in a box until this very week. The Boyfriend sped off to Paris today for work, so I wanted to cook him something very British before entering the city of croissants, steak frites, moules mariniere and escargot. Tom Kerridge’s book of pub food seemed just the ticket, so I went for smoked haddock fishcakes with cheese sauce and fried eggs, which just reeks of Britishness. If you have this book and haven’t cooked this recipe yet, I urge, implore and beg you to do so. It is so unbelievably good. So good in fact that my biggest food critic The Boyfriend could only gush about how amazing the dish was and how it was the best fishcake he had ever had. I even got a text this morning from him while in St Pancras waiting for the train saying how jealous he was that I got to have the leftovers for dinner tonight. The man was on his way to PARIS for goodness sake, the centre of the good food universe, so take from that what you will about this recipe.

I know you’re sitting there wondering how the humble fishcake could be so darn good, but this is no ordinary fishcake. If you don’t know who Tom Kerridge is, he’s the first pub chef to ever win a Michelin star for his pub The Hand and Flowers and he’s on TV a fair bit. He’s a big guy with a proper West Country accent and whenever I see him on the telly he always seems like such a nice guy with no pretensions, he just cooks food that you really want to eat. It goes without saying that I really want to eat at his pub, and that I trust his recipes for British pub food. The fishcakes are packed full of fish, which sounds like an obvious thing to say but so many fishcakes should really be called ‘potato cakes with a sprinkling of fish’ such is the content of them. Tom’s would sail through the trade descriptions act, which is one reason why they are so damn good. There is a small amount of potato in there which holds the cake together, as well as chives, salt and pepper, and sweet baby Jesus, little cubes of mozzarella. This is then coated in flour, eggs and panko breadcrumbs and fried in some oil. The cheese sauce is fairly simple to make too, and this would also breeze through the trade descriptions act with the heart stopping amount of cheese needed to turn a standard white sauce into the cheesiest of all cheese sauces. Peter Andre has nothing on this sauce. Topped with a fried egg (runny yolk, obviously) you have dinner perfection. The fishcakes ooze melted mozzarella and you get that lush effect of the cheese stretching from your fork to the dinner plate when you start tucking in, and then you have big chunky flakes of smoked fish (please buy the undyed haddock if you plan on making this as the yellow stuff doesn’t even compare) and a crunchy coating from the panko breadcrumbs. The cheese sauce is amazing, and well it should be with the crazy amount of parmesan and cheddar (the recipe does call for gruyere instead of cheddar but my fridge was full of cheddar and with this being a British recipe it felt like the patriotic thing to do) contained within. Sure, you could make this healthier by reducing the amount of cheese, and you could remove the mozzarella from proceedings entirely, and I suppose you could poach an egg instead of frying one, but all of this would be hugely detrimental to the dish. Saying all that, I would definitely serve this with plenty of vegetables on the side to assuage your conscience and delude yourself that by having some of your five a day with this that it’s actually a really healthy meal. Tom has turned the fishcake into an absolute masterpiece, and by taking away everything that makes this dish great you’re left with something completely un-special. If all the other recipes in the book are as good as this one then Tom has come up with an amazing book .The flavours in this dish hit you with a massive punch and the devil is in the detail – stringy mozzarella oozing from this fishcake is what made it for me, although the cheese sauce is not to be sniffed at, nor the crispy coating. Food like this shows how far English cooking has come in the last decade or so and that when done right it absolutely can compete with the big boys in France. This recipe has also given me my confidence in the kitchen back and inspired me to keep on trying new things and get me out of my comfort zone. In the words of the West Country boy himself, this dish is proper lush!

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Posted by on February 23, 2015 in Uncategorized


From Foe to Friend

photoI’m not a big fan of being rushed. There’s nothing more irritating (at least for the purposes of this blog post anyway) than walking into a coffee shop and being asked immediately by the barista what you want. I’ll always inevitably order the first drink that pops into my head then seconds later spot some mocha-choca-frappe-salted caramel- insanely delicious sounding thing while my perfectly serviceable but dull cappuccino gets frothed up. I need time when it comes to ordering something as important as a coffee, for goodness sake (not even being sarcastic). As with fully caffeinated hot drinks, so with recipes, and this is why I’ve viewed Jamie Oliver with some suspicion due in full to his 15/30 Minute Meals books. I won’t go into it too much, its well trodden territory, but Superman himself would struggle to knock up a dish comprising of a main, sides and dessert in such short periods of time. If you’ve only got fifteen minutes to cook dinner, don’t stress yourself out trying to make one of Jamie’s recipes, have beans on toast or throw a pizza in the oven – life’s too short. I’m not knocking the flavour of Jamie’s recipes at all, in my experience he’s one of the most reliable cookbook authors out there when it comes to flavour, just the practicality of his ridiculous timescales. This is why I wholeheartedly embrace his newest offering, Comfort Food which is all about the flavour and taking time to build up a perfect meal/pudding that soothes and embraces you in it’s comfort-y goodness, without the pressure of a deadline.

I got my mitts on Comfort Food for free after subscribing to the  Jamie magazine whilst bored on my pre-baby maternity leave. I was all “yessss, for the price of a cookbook that would inevitably have snuck its way into my collection anyway I also get food porn  and dinner inspiration delivered to me monthly for the next year, get in”. In reality, the first copy came in the post on the very day that we brought our new addition to the family home from the hospital, and I’ve barely had time to read it, let alone cook from it. When you’re in the midst of 2 hourly night feeds and haven’t the time to brush your teeth/make a cup of coffee/get changed out of your pyjamas/care about your dignity, food magazines fall by the wayside somewhat. But, after weeks of well meaning people telling us ‘it does get better’ and me repeatedly fighting the urge to half heartedly slap them with the little energy I had, I can confirm it does indeed get better and we now actually have time to do fun things again! And yes, I do find a good read of a cookbook fun, particularly after a day where all my clothes are covered in baby vomit and the one tune stuck in my head is the melody of ‘Three Blind Mice’. Takes the edge off! The ‘Comfort Food’ book is stuffed with perfect looking recipes, and if you watched the accompanying TV show you’ll know how awesome the recipes look.  I want to cook everything in this book, truly, and have made a start on this goal by cooking two recipes from it.

First off I made Nasi Goreng, which is a spicy rice dish originating from Indonesia. Even though this book is full of recipes that would suit the more ambitious home cook, this dish is fairly straightforward and takes maybe half an hour tops from start to finish. Cooked rice is combined with garlic, chilli, ginger, fish sauce and kecap manis (a thick, sweet Indonesian soy sauce), then topped with a fried egg, spring onions and coriander. This ticks all the boxes for me – spicy,slightly sweet, carbalicious, with a runny yolked egg oozing all over the rice – and was also a hit with The Boyfriend, who it turns out has had plenty of nasi gorengs’ on his work travels. This version apparently wasn’t as good as the ones he had in Asia (words I simply love to hear after spending time in the kitchen trying to get dinner just right  – “yeah, this guacamole’s really nice Hayles, have I mentioned about the one I had in South Africa? That was AMAZING”. That’s wonderful, really, really wonderful darling, but if you could just shut up about the guacamole that would be even more wonderful, cheers. If he ever finds a chilli that he likes better than mine I’m not sure my ego could take it, I fear for the future of our relationship should this catastrophic event ever occur) but he still thoroughly enjoyed it even without any meat. The recipe Jamie gives doesn’t include any meat, but it would be no problem at all to chuck in some chicken or prawns to bulk the dish out and make it feel more like a meal if you’re the type of person that needs meat in your evening meal. I’m one of those people.


So one recipe down and so far so good. What else you got, Jamie? The other recipe I tried this week was his ‘Bonkers Pannetone Bread and Butter Pudding Tart’ which I think you’ll agree sounds incredible. I saw Jamie cooking this dish on This Morning and knew instantly that I had to cook it. This Morning can often be full of filler but it does throw out some good stuff every so often. Sometimes it’s a decent recipe, other times it’s a man who likes to have sex with his cars, either is entertaining! The things you learn on maternity leave eh? We had friends over for dinner and whilst the recipe states the  tart is for 12 people, if I waited until I cooked for that many people to make it, well we’d be waiting for a very long time. I don’t like the pressure of entertaining for a crowd, I’m too nervous and awkward and can never enjoy myself so I just keep the numbers low now. So I cooked this huge dessert for four people and resigned myself to having loads of leftovers to pick at in the fridge for days to come. I know, tough gig. Basically, you line a loose bottomed tart tin with strips of the pannetone crust, pour some homemade custard over it and then soak chunks of the pannetone in the remaining custard, layer up in the tin with spoonful’s of marmalade and chunks of chocolate and then bake for 25 minutes or so. There was a moment of panic when my tin started haemorrhage-ing custard all over my kitchen sides and floor (less panicked about my horrible kitchen getting messy, more panicked about the sweet delicious custard wastage) but I managed to contain it eventually without it affecting the pudding all that much. I don’t know whether this was because of a flaw in the recipe or because I didn’t pack the tin tightly enough with pannetone crust so that it wasn’t watertight, either way it looked more catastrophic than it actually was. The dessert was undeniably very good. A slice of it is a delicious wodge of citrus and raisin sweet bread drenched in vanilla custard with molten melted chocolate pockets and the odd splodge of marmalade. It’s a perfect wintry dessert, summoning up the nostalgia of a bread and butter pudding, only it happens to be even better. It’s Christmassy without being in your face about it, so would be perfect for a Christmas day dessert if the people gathered around your table aren’t big fans of Christmas pudding and lots of dried fruit. I would certainly have a big smile on my face were this to be served to me anytime of the year. If you have the book you  might overlook this recipe as the accompanying photo makes it look a little dry and doesn’t do it justice. It’s also fabulous cold the next day after firming up in the fridge, with the chocolate turning solid again giving you little chunks of cocoa bites to add texture. It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that this should only really be served with more custard (Birds, Ambrosia, homemade, whatever, just make. It. Happen.) – double custard heaven. Jamie’s Comfort Food is definitely a winner in this household.


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Posted by on December 28, 2014 in Uncategorized