29 Dec 2011

Old Amsterdam Cheese

Old Amsterdam is a premium aged Gouda cheese with a smooth texture and rich, robust taste. It isn't comparable to the salty Gouda we all know but has a rich delicious flavour.

The story of Old Amsterdam Cheese is all about passion, dedication and craftsmanship of the Westland family who have a cheese obsession. The cheese is produced using a secret recipe - a family-owned starter culture and a unique ripening process. Master cheesemakers oversee every procedure, ensuring each cheese meets their taste and quality, to determine when each batch of perfectly ripened cheese should be released.

The cheese came with it's own board and cheese slicer. I served my cheese on Christmas Day with grapes, apples, dried apricots, walnuts and plain biscuits. We all agreed, this gourmet cheese was very special and how fortunate we were to have this on our cheeseboard. The cheese can also be melted and used in both sweet and savoury dishes.

Fascinating fact: Astronaut Andre Kuipers received NASA's formal consent to take his favourite cheese - Old Amsterdam - on board his next space mission (December 2011). He will share this on board with his American and Russian colleagues. The Dutch ESA astronaut will step on board the International Space Station for the second time and stay in space for six months. Please click here for more reading....

This wonderful award winning cheese is new to supermarkets in the UK and is well worth looking out for.

Thank you to Old Amsterdam Cheese and Leanne.

21 Dec 2011


A Christmas Cake with all the usual sparkle we can safely get away with at this time of the year.

It was my first visit to Cake International at the NEC Birmingham this year and I have no idea why I have never made the trip before. Fortunately, I have a very understanding husband, who made no comments regarding my purchases, only to say, did I get everything I needed for my Christmas Cakes, bless!

Back soon.

18 Dec 2011

Iced Reindeer Christmas Cake

A Reindeer Christmas Cake for my two small grandchildren and their Mummy and Daddy! I know it's unusual for small children to like fruit cake, but they both really enjoy it.

A very easy cake to decorate using Christmas red icing, two sizes of reindeer cutters, a Christmas tree cutter, red glitter, small red and gold stars, a dusting of snowflake sprinkles, and two different ribbons. Some of the items were purchased on my day out to Cake International in Birmingham last month, and as you can see I used my time well!

Back soon!

16 Dec 2011

Review - The Silver Spoon: The New Edition

A small slice of The Silver Spoon.

Cake with Orange Icing taken from the chapter Dessert Cakes caught my attention, with an easy to follow recipe. The sponge has a moist soft crumb and although I made more icing than specified in the recipe, I felt the liquid measurement was too generous and not enough icing sugar. True to say I didn't make the icing to the recipe, and perhaps next time I make this, I will stay with the recipe!

I was delighted when asked to review the above book - memories of a magnificent display showcasing Phaidon Press in a department store at Westfield Shopping Centre London, came flooding back.

The revised edition has a fabulous new red cover and is the heaviest cookery book I have come across. In total there are 1,504 pages, 400 colour photographs, over 2,000 recipes, and chapters including First Courses, Vegetables, Meat, Fish, Desserts and Baking, just to name a few. Italy's best-selling cookery bible, The Silver Spoon, was first published in English in 2005 by celebrated publishers Phaidon Press, has sold over one million copies worldwide and is also the most successful Italian cookbook of all time. There are chef endorsements from Giorgio Locatelli to Gennaro Contaldo and praise from leading UK newspapers and magazines.

The book promises to set alight the nation's taste buds for authentic, home-cooked Italian food and is fully revised and updated for modern kitchens. The Silver Spoon is the definitive book on Italian cooking and stands alongside other culinary classics such as The Joy of Cooking and Larousse Gastronomique.

Most of the recipes are traditional and regional Italian dishes, whist others are more contemporary additions. For the English edition, the ingredients and cooking times of some recipes were updated in the light of changing tastes and lifestyles. Others have been left virtually untouched to retain their unique characteristics.

The Silver Spoon offers the opportunity to make Italian gastronomy part of your life, whether you are cooking simple family dishes or something for a special celebration.

Eating is a serious matter in Italy and as soon as the temperature falls, everyone is ready for a warming plate of Braised Beef with Barola, which is the recipe I chose to make. The beef topside was placed in a Barola, vegetable and herb marinade for 7 hours, browned all over and cooked on the hob until tender. I kept some of the cooked marinade vegetables back and pureed the remainder with the cooking liquid to make a sauce. A straightforward recipe, easy to make, a photograph to accompany the recipe and a great one pot dish.

A section in the book includes 23 Silver Spoon Celebrated International Guest chefs from around the world and their menus, including contributions from Theo Randall, Ruth Rogers and Georgio Locatelli here in the UK, Paolo Lopriore (Italy), Mario Batali (United States) and Robert Marchetti (Australia).

How did I fair in a domestic kitchen, located on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border and where to begin with a book such as this! My overall experience using the book was excellent, although to date I have only cooked two of the recipes, this is a very exciting book for lovers of Italian cuisine (and this includes me). The recipe selection is from easy, to recipes for the keen cook and gourmet. I'm not sure if I would recommend this book for a beginner because it assumes a level of cooking ability and confidence. Interestingly, I always presumed this book would be beyond my capabilities and now after studying the book, albeit over the last two weeks, it has proven me wrong.

More photographs have been added to this revised edition, but a photograph speaks a thousand words and even more photographs would be appreciated. To do justice to The Silver Spoon, I will revisit this again next year and make a few recipes, post them on the blog and give an account of how I get on.

Hopefully, the Fresh Pasta Chapter will encourage me to dust off my pasta machine, there are so many delicious recipes....maybe, next year!

Thank you to Phaidon Press and Lucy for the review copy.

11 Dec 2011

Nigel Slater's Coffee and Walnut Cake

Do you think Nigel will approve of the way I have decorated the cake? I am guessing not, but I fell in love with these little coffee cup chocolates and decorated my coffee and walnut cake with them instead of the usual walnuts. Well, it is coming up to Christmas...........and if it looks good and tastes good, then that's ok with me.

These coffee cups were made especially for me (well perhaps not!). Here we have cappuccino, caramel macchiato, hazelnut latte and espresso.

The cake is light and fluffy, the buttercream can be made stronger with the addition of more coffee to counteract some of the sweetness, the tiny coffee cups are perfect......it's good enough to make you forget Christmas is on the horizon!

The cake keeps well and here is the recipe:

You will need: 2 x 21cm greased sponge tins.

For the cake: 175g softened butter, 175g unrefined golden caster sugar, 65g chopped walnut pieces, 3 large eggs, 175g self-raising flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 2 tsp instant coffee granules dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water.

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas Mark 4. Beat the butter and sugar until light, pale and fluffy. Add the eggs a little at a time to the butter and sugar, beating well after each addition.
2. Mix the flour and baking powder together and mix gently into the cake batter. Stir the dissolved coffee into the cake mix, followed by the chopped walnuts.
3. Divide the cake mixture between the two cake tins, smooth lightly and bake for 20-25 minutes.

For the buttercream: 200g softened butter, 400g icing sugar, 2 tsp instant coffee granules, 60g walnut halves.

To make the buttercream:

1. Beat the softened butter until soft and pale, add the icing sugar and beat until soft and fluffy. Dissolve the coffee granules in 1 tbsp boiling water and then mix into the buttercream. Fold in the walnut pieces.
2. Spread one of the cakes with a third of the buttercream, then place the second sponge on top, and spread the remaining buttercream on the top, and around the sides if you wish.

9 Dec 2011

BBC GoodFood Show Birmingham - Winter 2011

I was invited to a blogger's lunch at the BBC GoodFood Show Birmingham courtesy of Sainsbury's. The Try team served us a wonderful buffet lunch showcasing their latest goodies for Christmas and the New Year. We were spoilt for choice and came away with loads of inspiration and new ideas.

Just some of the delicious food we were able to sample!

The Sainsbury's Try Me team gave demonstrations throughout the day.

A selection of Sainsbury's Taste the Difference goodies for Christmas and New Year there was also opportunity to taste party food, indulgent desserts, cheese and wine.

New to the show this year was the Sainsbury's Village. Here you could meet some of the producers who bring us some fantastic products. I was guided through a flavoured sea salt tasting with the Cornish Sea Salt Company including garlic, onion, chilli, smoked, salt and pepper and the original Cornish Sea Salt. These products can be purchased in Sainsbury's supermarkets.

Beautifully decorated frying pans.

Vibrant Fruit Twist Drinks.

Wharfe Valley Flavoured Rapeseed Oil.

Liquorice in so many colours and flavours it was difficult to make a choice.

Olive fans were spoilt for choice there were just so many to choose from.

Spice Boys - one of my favourite stands.

Great British Bake Off - I looked forward to watching this on TV every week.

World Cheese Awards 2011 with over 2,500 cheeses on display!

We were also treated to seats in the Sainsbury's Supertheatre to see the MasterChef Champions League starring Mat Follas vs Tim Anderson, compered by John Torode and Gregg Wallace which was great fun.

A snapshot of my very enjoyable day at the Birmingham Winter 2011 BBC GoodFood Show. There was also a drinks area but I must admit to favouring food.

Thank you to Sainsbury's for a great day out.

5 Dec 2011

Montezuma's Real Chocolate Club - Gourmet Chocolate by Post!

The Real Chocolate Club has just been launched by Montezuma's and is a great way to get award winning British chocolates delivered to your door. There is a very generous 600g of chocolates which includes three chocolate tablets and a selection of truffles. The club costs £19.99 per month which includes P&P. You can join for a month or as many months as you wish and this will make the best chocolate gift ever. The chocolate box is designed to slip through the letterbox and doesn't require a signature, so there is no waiting around for them to be delivered.

Can I Tempt You?

I was totally overwhelmed by these chocolates with both taste and presentation. Novembers box have a 'pudding' theme, they are a winner with me, especially as I have a love of desserts and puddings. Lemon Meringue Truffles, Eton Mess Truffles, Apple Crumble Truffles...........all are British favourites.

I had no idea a chocolate tablet was hiding underneath the top row of chocolates! Such a wonderful surprise - I hadn't read the notes carefully enough that came with the chocolates. My box of chocolates were handmade by Gill who says to enjoy before February 2011 - they won't last that long Gill.

The first chocolate I tried was a dark chocolate 73% cocoa solids, lemon meringue truffle - the dark chocolate is silky smooth and underneath is a crunchy meringue layer and a thick layer of smooth creamy lemon truffle. The chocolate has just the right amount of sweetness and the lemon meringue truffle is pure heaven. A very carefully chosen milk chocolate bar with salted peanuts and butterscotch to follow... Oh my goodness!

Eton Mess Truffles are made from dark chocolate 73% cocoa solids, I love Eton Mess and these are made with small pieces of freeze dried strawberry and meringue pieces. The balance of chocolate, cream, dried strawberry and meringue is perfect - they melt in the mouth effortlessly. Milk Chocolate Treacle Tart Bar (how beautifully descriptive), we love treacle tart and this again was chocolate tasting heaven.

Milk Chocolate Apple Crumble Truffles these are milk chocolate 43% cocoa solids with pieces of biscuit, dried apple and nibbed hazelnuts. Yes, it really did taste like apple crumble. To follow Dark Chocolate 73% cocoa Orange & Hazelnuts Bar - chocolate and orange is a classic, added to this are whole hazelnuts to please us even more.

The chocolate box when you open it up and before you break the seal to reveal the contents.
Ex-lawyers turned chocolate entrepreneurs, Helen and Simon Pattinson, founded Montezuma's in 2000 hand making their chocolate with one little machine and one shop in Brighton.

Thank you Montezuma's and Abi.

4 Dec 2011

How Not to Barbecue a Turkey

I am sure readers of blogs assume bloggers are all perfect and that disaster never strikes, but there isn't much point putting a disaster on a blog unless it is spectacular, funny and worthwhile, and this one is!

Yep, I am going back in time here because I have never been brave enough to put this on the blog. The scenario is Christmas morning 2009 - my turkey was buttered, baconed and stuffed to within an inch of its life.

We had a power cut, my husband said ok let's cook it on our newly acquired gas barbeque, which unfortunately neither of us had much experience in using.

He heated up the barbeque to the required temperature, ah yes, the power has come back on again. I heated up the kitchen oven, the power went off yet again. Only one thing for it now, put the turkey on the barbeque.

The turkey was placed on the barbeque and because of all of the butter, bacon and stuffing it immediately went up in flames. Not to be deterred my husband said very calmly, it's only a flare-up it will be ok in a minute. He then put the lid down and the amount of smoke coming from the barbeque had to be seen to be believed.

Panic, panic, panic (that's me, not my husband). He still insisted the turkey was ok, I was now not at all happy, after all you only get one go at cooking the turkey and mine was about to be incinerated before my very eyes. By now I am shouting, take it off, take it off..............At last he did, but still insisted the flare-up would subside.

What was I to do, no electricity and a turkey about to be cremated..............at last our electricity was restored and the partly incinerated turkey put into the oven to continue cooking. My turkey had already had it's initial blast of high heat on the barbeque and now only required some short cooking time.

The good news, the turkey was delicious and had a very distinct barbeque flavour. Funny thing is, my daughter said it was the best turkey she had ever eaten!

Hopefully, this Christmas everything will be ok...................but you never know, do you?

28 Nov 2011

Jamie Oliver's Chocolate Love Cake with Cherries and Booze

Does the special person in your life like brownies? If so, you could make this Love Cake, a recipe from Jamie Oliver, especially for them. It has a squidgy brownie consistency, is dotted with cherries and has a boozy chocolate sauce poured over. The original recipe has crushed hazelnuts added but I like this dessert without.

Men often leave present buying until the last minute, and find it really difficult choosing presents. Why not be kind to him this Christmas and leave a list of ideas, this way at least you should get something you like. If you have a dish like mine, you can attach a craft label onto the handle with a list of your Christmas wishes!

You are possibly wondering if I have done this - the answer is no, I'm just trying to help!

The dessert is quite rich and very similar to a brownie in taste and texture. I served mine with some of the reserved chocolate sauce, and a dollop of creme fraiche, which cuts through the richness.

You will need: 9 or 10 inches ovenproof dish greased.

For the cake: 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, 100g softened butter, 100g caster sugar, 1 egg, 100g self-raising flour, ½ tsp baking powder, ½ tin black cherries drained.

For the chocolate sauce: 25g butter, 142ml double cream, 75g dark chocolate broken into pieces, a splash of either brandy, rum, Amaretto or Baileys.

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4.
2. Mix the cocoa powder with a few tablespoons of boiling water and stir until the mixture is smooth.
3. In another bowl beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then add the cooled cocoa mixture, egg, flour and baking flour. Mix all together and pour into the ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over the cherries and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.
4. To check if the cake is ready, make sure it doesn't wobble too much then it's done, if not give it some more time in the oven.
5. To make the chocolate sauce: Place the butter in a small pan with the cream and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and add the chocolate pieces to the pan. Give it all a good stir and leave for 5 minutes so the hot cream can melt the chocolate. Add a splash of either brandy, rum, Amaretto or Baileys and stir until thoroughly combined.
6. Once the cake is ready, pour over the warm chocolate sauce. Any sauce that is left will reheat in the microwave.

Good Luck!

23 Nov 2011

Gordon Ramsay's Apple & Pear Crumble Tart

A perfect tart for Christmas! With notes of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg - apples, pears, a delicious layer of almond frangipane, crisp pastry and a crumble topping.

I'm not too happy about sweet pastry when you have lot's of sweetness in a recipe, it's just too much and sugar overload. A well made shortcrust pastry base, baked blind until crisp is my preferred method.

I can't see any reason why this tart shouldn't freeze successfully, it can be sliced into portions when it is fridge cold and then put in the freezer. It also heats up successfully in the microwave. The tart is a real winner and will feed a crowd too. Simply serve with ice cream or pouring cream.

Gordon Ramsay has given us some fabulous recipes for desserts and this apple, pear and almond frangipane tart with a crumble topping is amazing.

The recipe is what I call high faff but it can be made in stages to lighten the faff element. I used my dicing gadget to make perfect dice of apples and pears because my knife skills are too clumsy to do this and I would probably end up in A&E!

Serves: 8

You will need: 34cm x 11cm oblong tin greased.

Filling: 4 Braeburn apples peeled and diced, 4 pears peeled and diced, a large pinch of ground ginger and cinnamon, a grating of nutmeg, 25g butter, juice of half a lemon.

Crumble: 160g unsalted butter, 2tbsp soft brown sugar, 150g plain flour, 80g demerara sugar, 25g roasted chopped hazelnuts.

Almond Frangipane: 50g butter, 50g icing sugar, 1 egg, 10g flour, 50g ground almonds.

Pastry: 220g plain flour, 50g lard, 50g butter, 3tbsp cold water

1. For the pastry: Put the flour, lard and butter in a food processor, blitz until breadcrumbs, add the cold water and process until the mixture comes together. Tip onto cling film, form into a flattened circle. Cover with clingwrap and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
2. Roll out the pastry, line the tin and bake blind using Delia's method.
3. To make the frangipane: Cream the butter and icing sugar together, slowly mix in the egg, flour and ground almonds. Chill for 2 hours before using.
4. To make the filling: toss the diced fruit in lemon juice to stop them browning. Take the fruit and mix with the spices. Heat a knob of the butter until foaming, then add the fruit and toss for about 30 seconds. Add the soft brown sugar and cook until the fruit is soft, but not broken down. Cool.
5. To make the crumble: Rub the remaining butter into the flour and stir in the demerara sugar and hazelnuts. Fill the tart with the frangipane, then fruit, and top with the crumble mix.
6. Heat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°F/Gas 4. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

20 Nov 2011

SodaStream - Get Busy with the Fizzy and Have Yourself a Fizzy Little Christmas!

My Genesis Limited Edition Pearl SodaStream is streamlined, looks good, takes up only a small amount of room, is assembled in just a few minutes and gets busy with the fizzy without any effort whatsoever. I'm a SodaStream fan, I bought one in the 1980's, and we had fizzy flavoured drinks and sparkling water whenever we wanted it. I have yearned for a new one ever since I saw a huge display in a superstore in London. Mine came with a gas cylinder, two bottles of concentrate and a litre bottle to make my fizzy.

Christmas will soon be here and the SodaStream is the perfect kitchen accessory and also the ideal solution to gift dilemmas this year. For girls and women the Pink Fizz is the best Christmas gadget this year or how about a sleek and stylish Crystal machine.

I was sent a Kids Natural Orange and Peach and also a Kids Natural Apple Syrup - these are only made from naturally sourced ingredients and are 100% free from artificial flavours, artificial colours and artificial sweeteners and do not contain any preservatives. The concentrate comes in a handy 750ml size bottle and will make 6 litres of sparkling drinks.

The apple syrup drink after it has been fizzed!

There are flavours to suit everyone, they come in regular, diet, natural, fruity flavours, ice tea, energy drinks, sport drinks, tonic and many more. A Flavour Selection Box is a great way to sample more flavours too. Looking back I can only remember buying lemonade and cola, the choice now is amazing.

A World Without Bottles Campaign

British supermodel and environmentalist Eric O'Connor teamed up with SodaStream to launch 'A World Without Bottles', a campaign to raise awareness of plastic bottle waste and it's devastating effects on the environment. Erin's involvement follows new research that reveals a shocking 63% of British adults do not know how the 13.1 billion plastic bottles - 500 per household - used annually by UK households could damage the environment. We hugely underestimate the amount of bottle waste we generate; with 42% of adults believing we use between 1-5 bottles a week in our household when the actual figure is double that.

Fascinating facts: SodaStream is a brand born in the UK in 1903 when Guy Gilbey (of the London Gin dynasty) invented the first machine. The large machine was used by butlers in the country houses of British aristocrats.

Every year they provide over 600 million litres of carbonated beverages to more than 10 million households, making it one of the largest beverage companies in the world.

To find your nearest SodaStream stockist click here.

Genesis RRP £69.99

Thank you SodaStream and Hannah.

19 Nov 2011

Chocolate Cupcakes - Menier Cooking Chocolate

Menier sent me a brochure with some wonderful ideas for using their chocolate including a recipe for Braised Venison with Autumn Vegetables and Chocolate Sauce, Curried Lamb Stew with Bitter Chocolate and White Chocolate Raspberry and Lime Drizzle Cake. They are encouraging us to be more experimental and creative with chocolate in our home cooking but I was drawn like a magnet to my gold foil cupcake cases and edible glitter!

The chocolate melted easily, my method is to put the chocolate into a basin, place over a pan of gently simmering water. Remove the pan from the heat and let the chocolate melt over the residual heat. This ensures the chocolate melts without overheating.

Cooking chocolate doesn't necessarily mean good eating chocolate but these bars of chocolate are very impressive. My husband particularly liked the white chocolate which surprised me because usually he prefers either dark or milk chocolate. I now wish I had put a thicker layer of chocolate on top of the cupcakes because it tasted so good.

A few fascinating facts regarding the brand: Menier was founded in 1816, making it the oldest brand in the world. Their expertise guarantees its chocolate has the best flavour, as it has been ground for longer than standard cooking chocolate to make the texture smoother and the taste better.

They were the first company to introduce blocks of chocolate and prides itself on being the number one dark chocolate brand in the cooking chocolate market. The dark chocolate contains 70% cocoa.

Menier chocolate is available in major supermarkets nationwide with a RRP of £1.19.

Thank you Emma.