Summer Pavlova

There’s no dessert which screams summer louder than a strawberry Pavlova, and I had to make one at the very first opportunity I had this year with some left over egg whites, having been experimenting with mayonnaise as part of a practical session at uni. Squeezing in this recipe between making three different kinds of pastry recipes was no mean feat but we managed to pull it off.

For this recipe you will need:

  • Four egg whites
  • 250g caster sugar
  • A tea spoon of white wine vinegar
  • A tea spoon of vanilla essence
  • A tea spoon of cornflour
  • Vegetable oil

For the cream

  • A tub of cream
  • 50g of icing sugar
  • Vanilla essence

For the topping

  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Kiwi fruit

There’s a couple of steps when it comes to making the meringue base that are absolutely vital. First things first Pre heat the oven to a low heat around gas mark two. Then whisk the egg whites until the mixture forms “peaks” – you’ll notice you go to a white fluffy stage where the eggs look bubbly and you have to go beyond this so that it almost looks like a creamy shaving foam consistency.

Then you need to whisk and add in the sugar, and take this very slowly, one spoonful at a time to ensure that the consistency remains constant. You’ll notice that the mixture changes and becomes shiny but should still be light and fluffy, and you can mix in the vinegar, vanilla and cornflour at this stage.

Line a flat sheet with baking paper and then brush it with a light coating of vegetable oil and gently spoon your mixture in a round shape, making a dip in the centre to form a natural bowl for your cream and fruits. Then bake this in the centre of the oven for an hour. Once the hour has come to an end turn the oven off but leave the meringue until it is cooled down completely. If the oven starts to develop condensation on the inside of the glass then open the door slightly.

During this time you can prepare your fruits and cream.

Whip up a whole tub of cream with a couple of heaped spoonfuls of icing sugar and then add in your vanilla essence. You’re looking for a rich and thick consistency.

Slice up your fruits and then leave these in the fridge until you’re ready to serve the pavlova. Spoon the cream in to the well in the centre of the meringue and then pile it high with your fruits before serving immediately for a fabulous summer dessert.

Home made Tomato Ketchup recipe

When summer arrives the best thing to do is take eating outdoors, and fire up the barbecue. Of course you just have to have all manner of marinades and sauces to pack in the flavour and ketchup is probably the priority for burgers and hotdogs. I’ve got my own tomato plant growing nicely but for this batch I visited Birmingham Markets and picked up a huge bag of sweet cherry tomatoes, amongst other things.

You will need:

  • Tomatoes – lots of them, about a kilogram
  • Cooking apples – two
  • Red onion – one
  • Garlic – 2/3 cloves
  • Celery – a stick
  • Extra virgin Olive oil – splash
  • Red wine vinegar – about 200ml
  • Brown sugar 50-70g (to taste)
  • Bay leaf
  • Fresh Basil
  • Garlic
  • Pickling spices
  • Seasoning
  • Water (amount varies)

The first thing to do is to pop red onion in a sauce pan on a low heat and leave to cook over a low heat, before adding the garlic, apple, celery and tomato and seasoning with salt and pepper. Letting everything smush down but not burning.

In the meantime prepare your pickling spices. You can buy this ready made, or come up with your own blend to create your specific flavours. I added cloves, cinnamon sticks, all spice , peppercorns, star anise, bay leaves, coriander seeds and chilli to a small saucepan with the red wine vinegar and let this bubble away for a little while for the flavours to infuse before straining it through a Muslin cloth. I had no mustard seeds so added whole grain mustard to my tomato pan instead.

Adding the infused vinegar to the tomato pan with a bay leaf and squishing the tomatoes down with my spoon was quite satisfying. Keep the mixture on a low heat for about an hour with no lid stirring occasionally before removing the bay leaf and going in with a stick blender. To create your sauce. At this stage if the consistency is too thick add a little water or if it’s too thin and runny then put it back on the hob to reduce down.

Taste as you go to add seasoning and adjust the flavours if you think it needs anything extra – more sugar etc. I chose to strain my ketchup through a sieve, rubbing it through with the back of a ladle to remove the seeds and any skin residue which makes for a smoother sauce. Then I used a funnel to pour it in to my sterilised bottles and storing in the fridge.

If stored correctly this can last for months, however if you’re anything like us then a bottle or two will not last long.

How to make dandelion honey

This is a really simple way to enter in to the world of preserve making and is made from foraged dandelions, offering a vegan version of honey. The finished result is sweet and has a fragrant flavour, useful to use as a honey substitute in baking recipes and in things like salad dressings and marinades or added to toast and porridge. The applications are endless.

Begin by harvesting your dandelions on a sunny day when they’re in full bloom. You will need at least two cups full. Make sure to only take what you need and leave some for the bees and bugs. Head to the middle of a field and have a wander off the beaten track to avoid any pollutants.

The recipe

Ingredients:

  • A litre jug of water
  • A litre jug of dandelions
  • Half a lemon
  • Vanilla
  • 500g sugar

Method:

Give all your dandelions a good shake to remove bugs and trim away any stem and leaves before adding them to a saucepan of water. Do not soak in water as this removes the pollen and that’s where the flavour is.

Add your slices of lemon and vanilla pods and slowly bring to the boil before simmering for 20 – 30 minutes. Then you have to leave this mixture to infuse – cover and put aside overnight, or for at least eight hours in a cool place.

Strain your mixture through a sieve and then again through a Muslin cloth and throw away all the bits as these are no longer needed. Then add the liquid back to a saucepan and slowly bring up to a boil.

Add in your sugar and stir constantly until it all dissolves, let it simmer for a while to reduce down, it should still be quite runny in texture. I drip a little on to a cold plate and let it set to decide when I’m ready, and then I add to a sterilised jar, cool it down and then store in the fridge.

Dandelion honey is runnier than traditional honey and has a unique flavour. You can vary the flavour by omitting vanilla, or infuse with different citrus fruits and home grown herbs. I’ve been adding this to my salad dressings and also in to plain yoghurts for a delicious summery essence.

The crunchiest Snack Ever – Love Corn review

We received this awesome PR package from Love Corn, inviting us to try out their range of corn kernel snacks. Arlo was delighted to open the box which was full of all sorts of fun little treats but was most excited about trying out the different flavours. He is a little snack monster (no idea where he gets that from). I have always been passionate about making sure he has a balanced and healthy diet but it’s getting harder now to find treats for him which aren’t full of rubbish.

“Our ingredients are as simple as they get, just corn that’s been roasted then seasoned – no need to overcomplicate something so crunchin’ good!” – Love Corn

These little packs of corn kernels make the ideal treat to pop in to our back pack for days out and will be awesome when he starts school. A great alternative to crisps, especially with the range of flavours available. They also offer different sized pouches including a sharer size for movie night snacks. I have to admit that my favourite flavour is the Habanero Chilli – they really pack a punch.

Arlo liked the smoked BBQ flavour the most, and the first time we had a little garden soirée I found myself sharing these snacks with guests, just like you would usually offer pretzels or nuts and they went down a storm. I’ve been munching on these ever since they first arrived and I’ve even been using them as a salad topper to provide extra texture and flavour.

You can get your hands of a FREE sample pack by just paying for postage (£1.99) over at the Love Corn website and 20% off the entire website using the code CRUNCH20! Keep an eye out on our socials for a cheeky little competition too!

Whatever the question, chocolate is the answer

You might know that I’m a little bit of a chocoholic – and that’s because it runs in the bloodstream. My mum (in the pic above) is a chocolatier and so we get lots of chocolatey treats all year round, and especially at Easter. There’s just something about Easter Egg chocolate that fills me with delight. As soon as mini eggs appear in the shops (which is pretty much Boxing Day) I have to buy a pack and munch the whole lot. Then I have a spare pack for baking – and my mini egg cheesecake is unrivalled.

There’s just something about that crispy shell of a mini egg, or maybe it’s because they’re not always available and it’s a clever marketing ploy.

I’m not fussy about chocolate

I don’t often eat white chocolate on its own as I find it incredibly sweet and it has a very creamy texture to me but I do like to include it in recipes, if anything adding it to my recipes helps my cheesecake hold its texture. I also love colouring it and using it to make cake decorations and contrasting it with milk or dark chocolate to give a different appearance.

I think there’s a time and a place for all chocolate – no matter what the question, chocolate is always the answer! I’ve always loved that scene in the movie Chocolat where the shop owner played by Juliette Binoche spins a Mayan wheel – and chooses the perfect chocolate for each client based on the visions that they see.

Well you know me, I have a creative and somewhat restless mind which changes with the wind. I can’t even decide wether I prefer white, dark or milk chocolate. I think I’d see a new picture every time I was asked to look at the wheel. I must say that every time I’ve been away on holiday I’ve found myself craving dairy milk because chocolate abroad just doesn’t taste the same, and it’s usually the first thing I buy for myself on the route home from the air port.

I don’t know the exact science but there’s something about the sugar/milk/chocolate ratio which is unique to British chocolate and it makes it different. I forget all about the educational aspects of visiting Cadbury World as soon as I discover the samples – they give you a pot of liquid chocolate to dive in to.

Now I can happily indulge with a large bar all to myself whilst watching a movie, but I couldn’t finish a small pot of it melted down, although Arlo didn’t have any trouble. Maybe it’s the comfort of having something familiar which I’ve grown up with which makes milk chocolate the type of bar I most commonly reach for – Can nostalgia make chocolate more comforting I wonder?

I’ll never forget visiting Paris for the first time and experiencing the chocolatiers in the bustling capital city. Did you know there are more chocolate shops in Paris than any other city in the world? I found myself taking my time choosing one of two rich treats from the huge variety available in every shop I passed by. I felt really grown up at the time and I chose darker pieces just because it seemed like that was the done thing, even though when I was younger I wasn’t much of a fan. I think this is when I discovered that I was in fact a dark chocolate lover. I have to say when I’m choosing from a selection of chocolate I am often drawn to the darker pieces now.

They seem to have a shine which is just unrivalled. I couldn’t demolish a whole bar of dark chocolate, just a small piece or two is rich enough for me. Whenever I have a new box of chocolates I reach for the leaflet and have to read the details for every single chocolate in the box before making my mind up, whereas everyone else in the family seems to pick one at random and try their luck – one thing I can’t stand in chocolate is anything coffee flavoured or fruit flavoured. I’d be gutted if I bit into a strawberry cream – I can give or take coconut and cherry but that’s the extent of it. I like to know what I’m about to dive in to.

I think darker chocolate has a greater depth of flavour and when I’m baking I usually use dark chocolate in cake mixes. Our (not so secret) family recipe for chocolate cakes actually involves melting some dark chocolate with water and adding this in to the mix. I also love using dark chocolate to make a ganache.

You don’t get the same texture when you try to do this with milk or white chocolate – in fact adding water is a big No-no. Again I don’t know why but there’s a lot of science behind what goes in to forming the textures of chocolate – Baking Quality Analyser creates machinery which looks at chocolate at a cellular level to affirm qualities in aerated chocolate.

There’s got to be a definitive ranking for the most popular chocolate bars out there, but I’m not brand loyal at all. There’s just so much variety out there it’s impossible to stick to one single option. There’s something so wonderful these days about all of the different toppings and fillings people are experimenting with. I’m a fan of honeycomb and of butterscotch pieces and caramel, and I even think there’s a difference in taste between a Flake and a Wispa even though they’re technically both made from Cadbury’s they just feel different to eat – and that’s without mentioning a twirl.

I don’t know how they do it, or what would make my perfect chocolate bar – in fact I think I’d like to see a bar which was like a little selection box all fused together so that I could snap off each piece, bit by bit as the mood suited. I wonder if that kind of bar has ever existed? One things for sure I’d keep it in the fridge as I like my bars to be cold and to snap – that a whole other debate for discussion.

Michelin meals at home

I like to think of myself as a dab hand in the kitchen but I’m under no illusions that my meals are no where near “gourmet” standard. I’m really missing dining out and celebrating special occasions with beautiful meals. I’m no stranger to meal kits now and have been using the time in lockdown to broaden my horizons and what better way to complete a year of lockdown with fine dining at home?
I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to try out Haworth@home – from the renowned chef Nigel Haworth winner and judge from the Great British menu.
“Each week a new five course menu for two of draws on Nigel’s 20 years holding a Michelin Star and his passion for the finest, ethically produced ingredients, packaged and delivered nationwide for you to finish and plate at home
The box arrived packed full of fresh ingredients, insulated and chilled for delivery and complete with a handwritten note and an instruction booklet. At first glance I have to admit I was overwhelmed with the descriptions of the meals. How on earth would I be able to create a citrus sauce? Then I realised that all of the hard work had been done. The meat, fish, vegetables had been prepared already using a “sous vide” cooking method.
So all I had to do was follow the instructions.
Each week a new menu is created and you can register to be alerted as to when order slots are open – only a limited number are available on a first come first served basis and these are delivered on a Friday by courier. I have to say that the packaging for these is second to none in terms of quality and everything was very clearly labelled – I popped everything in to the fridge ready for when I was ready to start cooking.
The bread and hummus eased me in gently. All I had to do was pop the bread in the oven for six minutes before we could dive in. The bread was fluffy with the butter melting in to the air pockets. I spread copious amounts of the lightest hummus ever on top of my torn off chunks and was delighted with the slight hint of heat lingering. The best thing about preparing all of this at home was that I could space out the preparation and so I didn’t mind that full up bread feeling, and waited a little while before preparing the fish dish.
The Dorset Char was roasted in the oven with the fennel it’s balanced on and served with wild garlic Mayo, I couldn’t resist taste testing this first of all and it was incredible. The flavours of each individual component really shine in this dish and the quality of the ingredients is second to none. I began delicately trying each part separately. Putting it all together for a “fork-full” however is a bit of a taste sensation, the citrus sauce was a delight.
Then it came to preparing the main course, I followed the instructions to the letter, carefully basting the beef as it sizzled in the pan. I have to say I usually shy away from cooking beef at home like this as I’m no expert but after preparing and tasting the Char I found my new found culinary confidence, and I was delighted to slice the meat apart and reveal a perfectly cooked pink interior. The attention to detail with the preparation of the carrots didn’t go unnoticed. There’s absolutely no shortcuts taken here. It really is gourmet quality food.
Arranging everything on the plate is an art form in itself and so I was pleased to have the instructions available to give me step by step guidance. I only wish I knew how to replicate the bordelaise sauce. I’ve never tasted anything so beautifully rich in all my life. At this stage we were feeling quite full and so we paused and decided to come back to our dessert. That’s the best thing about preparing these meals at home, in a relaxed environment you can take your time.
The caramel sauce nearly didn’t make it on to the plate – I had to take a little sample again as later on I began preparing the final course and oh my gosh I just wasn’t expecting it to be so good. Carefully balancing all of the components together again following the guide and creating this beautiful dish was quite literally the icing on the cake. The coffee flavour in the sponge and the texture of the aero chocolate and the juices flowing from the pear were a delight.
I really enjoyed the entire process, from opening the parcel as it arrived to plating the food – never mind devouring it all. This is the ideal meal kit to order for a special occasion or as a gift for another couple. I almost forgot that the box also included artisan chocolates, as I had put these to one side. I opened the little box to find four chocolates with the most beautiful shine on them. I popped one in to my mouth, crunched down and let the caramel ooze out.
Perfect.
The meal kit was kindly gifted for the purposes of the review however all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

Indulgent no bake mini egg cheese cake

This weekend marked the Spring Equinox and so we decided to start with the Easter bakes. This indulgent mini egg cheesecake is a fun one for little ones to make because it involves lots of bashing with a rolling pin.

You will need:

For the base

  • Digestive biscuits – 300g
  • Ground almonds – 50g
  • Honey 2tbsp
  • Crushed hazelnuts 50g
  • Mini eggs – a handful
  • Butter 200g

For the filling

  • Nutella 3tbsp
  • Double cream 300ml
  • Icing sugar 120g
  • Full fat cream cheese 700g (two packs)
  • Vanilla essence 5 drops
  • White chocolate – 70g

For the topping

  • Sprinkles
  • Mini eggs
  • Chocolate shavings

When it comes to quantities it’s almost impossible to be accurate with a toddler – I try my best to stick to easy proportions so to begin we smashed up an entire pack of digestives give or take two and a pack of mini eggs too.

This amount was enough to fill the base of a large spring form tin and three ramekins – so in total 15 portions. You might want to scale this back if you’re not feeding the five thousand this Easter but for us “more is more.”

Add the mini eggs, biscuits, nuts and honey and mix well to distribute. Melt the butter in short bursts in the microwave and then mix this in – it quickly creates a nice ball which is cookie dough like in consistency. I cut a grease proofpaper circle in to size and add this to the base of my spring form tin before piling the mixture in and patting it down with a spoon.

We had lots left so used the extra in ramekins to make some individual portions. Then we popped this in the fridge whilst me mixed up the filling.

This is done in two stages. Melt the white chocolate in short bursts in the microwave and leave this to cool slightly. I whip the cream up with vanilla and icing sugar using an electric whisk until it forms nice peaks and then I leave that to the side whilst I mix up the cream cheese. It’s best to work with this at room temperature as it mixes in nicely. (If it’s cold then it goes lumpy). Pour the white chocolate in with the cream cheese and then a handful of crushed mini eggs too. I then combine the cream and the cream cheese together by folding them gently and taste testing at this stage. You want it to still form peaks and this is how you know it will set nicely.

For added indulgence we spread Nutella over our biscuit base before topping up with the filling. This is Arlo’s second favourite thing to do, and then it’s simply a case of leaving this all in the fridge to set overnight before decorating. This is where the little ramekins come in handy….. no one likes to wait for a taste and so if you’re impatient like us, you can dig in to these straight away.

We decorated our cheesecakes with more mini eggs, chocolate shavings and then some extra sprinkles for good measure. The result was a super rich and indulgent cake which has us all excited to dig in. I leave the spring form collar around until just before serving.

Here’s a slice profile for you too. I can’t even explain how delicious this is. Now that spring has arrived we are going to use the base of this recipe and adapt it with some different flavours – I’m thinking lemon and raspberry next!

Making a meal of it – the roast beef version

I previously wrote about how I like to make the most out of a roast chicken by stretching out the leftovers to make additional meals and I had so many questions and requests to showcase what I would do with other meats.

This week we had a Sunday roast with beef and so I had a little think about things and decided to plan ahead for this one. First things first, we don’t eat beef too often, I like to wait for a decent price joint with not too much fat and every so often a fabulous offer comes along – this joint was £6/kilogram and I picked up a decent size for £7.

I prepared our roast by searing the meat on all sides and then roasting it – my top tip here is to prepare your roast with the beef cooked more on the rare side. This means that when you use the meat for leftovers it’s not going to end up getting too tough. Obviously this is down to personal taste too – I tend to cook the beef for twenty minutes per half a kilo and then add an extra twenty minutes.

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I added a selection of veg to the same tray as the beef and prepared some potatoes and stuffing whilst this was cooking away nicely. Once the beef is ready I take it out to rest and and also remove the bulk of the veg out and then add some stock to the oven tray placed over the hob to make my gravy, using all the juices and leaving nothing to waste.

We were well and truly stuffed after this meal, and there was over half a joint left over, so plenty for us to be getting some fab meals from. The first thing I’ve been wanting to do for ages is make some steak bakes in the style of a popular high street bakery. On Sunday I made sure to cut up the beef in to slices and chunks to cool it down before storing it safely in the fridge.

I took out a roll of ready made puff pastry from the fridge and cut out rectangles – piling each with cuts of beef and some bits of leftover veg too. Like I said the beef is very pink but I knew this would be going back in to the oven. Our leftover gravy was also saved and so I added some of those before crimping the sides together and scoring them to make our pastries.

These were popped in to a medium hot over and baked for thirty minutes until golden brown …. I made four of these with the intention of having them as an evening meal with some extra veg but as soon as they were cooked both Arlo and I tucked in so they became our lunch – we were going to have chunky beef sandwiches with red onion and rocket but plans often change when there’s a three year old dictator involved.

I still had a fair amount of beef left and so I decided to split up what we had – I was needing a new evening meal option for the evening and so whilst I decided what to do with that I put all the remaining veg and half of the beef in to the stock pot – I love making soup with leftover chicken but when it comes to beef I prefer more of a stew – and for anyone wondering, the main difference is the amount of water you add in to the mix.

I like to keep my stews chunky and so this is where all the leftovers went – I think 3 carrots and a parsnip, some onions plus lovely big chunks of beef and the last remaining gravy. I topped this up with a small amount of stock and left it to simmer. Tomorrow this will be topped up with dumplings and then I’ll portion it out and freeze what we don’t eat to save for another day.

With my last remaining beef I decided to go for something completely different – with our chicken I often do a pasta or stir fry and so with this I opted for chilli beef broth with noodles- a fairly light option given the steak bakes were so filling but a fabulous way to create a completely different flavour profile using the meat and adding in some veggies to bulk out the meal.

So there we have it – this week I managed to get another 17 portions out of our Sunday roast leftovers.

Sunday dinner – x3 portions

Steak bakes x 4 portions

Beef stew x6 portions

Chilli beef noodles x4 portions

I think I’m going to try this challenge out with pork and lamb over the next few weeks and see how I get along.

Love bug cookies

These love bug cookies are a twist on our super simple sugar cookie recipe which is the basis for all of our fun themed biscuit bases.

You will need:

  • 200g butter
  • 100g sugar
  • 300g flour
  • Vanilla essence
  • Red food colouring
  • Choc chips
  • Chocolate
  • Edible eyes
  • Heart cookie cutter

You begin by combining the sugar, flour and butter in a bowl with the red food colouring. At this stage you can add vanilla essence or another flavouring of choice. Then roll out the red dough and sprinkle your chocolate chips on randomly before cutting out heart shaped pieces.

Lay all your hearts out on a baking sheet covered with grease proof paper and bake in the oven for about 12 mins at gas mark 6. This varies from oven to oven. Whilst the cookies are baking melt down some chocolate in a bowl and leave it to one side to cool down slightly and then fetch the cookies from the oven to cool down too.

Once the cookies are cool enough to handle dip the top half in to your melted chocolate before carefully placing them down on fresh grease proof paper. Add your edible eyes to the chocolate whilst still wet. If you have any chocolate left then you can carefully use the back of a spoon to draw a line down the centre.

This mixture makes about twenty heart shaped cookies. We popped a couple each in to bags for nanny and grandad and delivered these with a hand made clay ornament as their surprise valentines gift and the rest have gone down a great here.