Food. Travel. Recipes.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Red Velvet Cupcakes (Nigella Lawson)

As you may have realised if you read my blog, I'm not someone who tends to make cakes and sweet things that much. I used to but I generally prefer cooking savoury recipes now, there's so much more choice and with cakes, there's not always that many recipes I want to try. Nevertheless, I occasionally attempt cake like recipes just to give them a go, try something different and see how they turn out (I usually stick to the old faithfuls of banana bread and chocolate brownies though...) Red Velvet Cupcakes however have always been something that have caught my eye when I've been flicking through recipe books, they really are showstoppers with the lovely deep red spongy insides that you aren't expecting.

Red Velvet Cupcakes are featured in many a recipe book however the one I chose was from Nigella Lawson's Kitchen, her latest cookery book which is a massive all-encompassing cookery bible, with a plethora of various recipes, savoury and sweet. There's so much I want to try from that book! The way she decorated these cupcakes and displayed them really drew me to the recipe.

Makes 24 cupcakes (I halved these and made 6 large muffin sized cupcakes!)


250g plain flour

2 x 15ml tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

100g unsalted butter

200g caster sugar

1 x heaped 15ml tablespoon Christmas-red paste food colouring (I couldn't get hold of any paste, even though I reckon it would be better, I just used regular food colouring instead - around 1-2 tablespoons should suffice)

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs

175ml buttermilk (I used milk instead)

1 teaspoon cider vinegar or other vinegar

2 x 12 bun muffin tins

Preheat the oven to 170C and line the muffin tins with paper cases.

Combine the powdery ingredients in a bowl to start with; flour, cocoa, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda.

In another bowl (yes you will have a lot of washing up to do after this!) cream the butter and sugar, mix well and when it is soft and blended together, add the food colouring/paste and the vanilla extract.

Continue beating the red mixture, whilst you're doing this, add 1 tablespoon of the dried ingredients, then 1 egg, followed by another tablespoon of dried ingredients, followed by the other egg, then add the rest of the dried ingredients.

Finally, when the red mixture has been combined with the dried ingredients, add the (butter)milk and vinegar and stir well.

Divide this gorgeous red mixture between the 24 (or however many you have decided to make) cases.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes by which time the colour should have mellowed slightly and the cakes should be of a lovely sponge consistency.

Leave to cool COMPLETELY before icing.

Buttery cream cheese frosting.

Now...onto the fun but slightly messy part!


500g icing sugar

125g cream cheese (full fat preferably, no point scrimping on calories here!)

125g unsalted butter

1 teaspoon cider vinegar or lemon juice

Chocolate sprinkles and red sugar for decoration, or whatever funky sprinkles you can get your hands on! I used some pink sugar sprinkles, choc chips and silver balls.

Nigella advises using a food processor to whiz the icing sugar free of lumps, however I just mixed all of the ingredients together (it's the avoiding washing up method whilst also building your guns with all the mixing!)

So mix the icing sugar, cream cheese and butter in a bowl. Then pour in the cider vinegar/lemon juice and mix/process again to make a smooth icing.

Ice each cupcake, using a small teaspoon and have fun decorating!

Monday, 26 September 2011

My Favourite Snack of the Moment

This is a bit of a random post, not a usual long one but just wanted to do a mini post as I felt like writing something!

I usually go through phases with food as most people probably do and right now my favourite snack or sometimes meal substitute (if I'm not very hungry) is cheese and crackers, but a slightly spruced up version! I don't have it that often as cheese isn't great for you but it's definitely something I turn to when I'm completely stuck.

Salt and black pepper crackers and onion chutney with French brie and strong cheddar cheese. Amazing.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Graze Box - Review

This post is a little different from the rest, the reason I'm doing a review on this and the product itself all comes courtesy of a colleague at work, who told me all about this and thought it would be a good idea to write about it on here! I am so happy he suggested this as the product itself is such an interesting concept!

So the product itself is called a Graze Box, you can check out the website here. The whole concept of it is to provide a healthy snack box delivered to your home/desk. At a time when everyone is always so busy, this is just pure convenience and trying to approach the typical office snacking in a nutritious way, so when you're absent-mindedly popping biscuits and chocolate into your mouth, you could have this box on your desk with healthy little goodies to help you get through the day.

Now in terms of the prices and delivery schedule, I do think it's a little on the pricey side coming in at £3.49. If this was a full lunch, I think it would be relatively good value considering what you can spend in the supermarket buying a sandwich/salad etc but seeing as this is only snack food then it is a little overpriced. The plus point on the delivery side is that you can "push back" deliveries, it is booked in weekly but you can re-arrange on the website and decide when you want it. You are not required to set up a direct debit, only to input your account details and the money is only taken before receiving a box and not weekly.

In terms of your food choices, you really do have a great range of snacks to choose from. Their food is separated into various sections and you decide what to "bin" (which means they will never send you it), to "try" or "like" which just means you wouldn't mind if you received and "love" which indicates that you would be happy to receive it and then there's a "send me now" button, which means there's a high chance you will receive that snack. They also divide the snack box up so you won't receive 2 items from the same category.

My first box was free as my colleague received 4 vouchers which entitles friends to a free first box and kindly gave one to me. However as I have now made an account with the website, I have a code so please click here and use the code - 43TBJ3G to try out a Graze Box for free!

Overall, I think it's a great idea. You might notice from the website and if you receive a box that they are taking a marketing approach that is very similar to what has been coined as 'the Innocent approach', a strategy where they market the brand in a fun and engaging way, to involve you in the [healthy snacking] concept and to give you the freedom to choose what you'd like and the convenience of working around you in terms of delivery.

It is a clever concept and I would definitely recommend trying it out if you're a lover of healthy foods and brands similar to this. It doesn't take long to register, the only lengthy part is deciding what you do and don't want in the box. The upside is definitely the thought behind it, the offer of trying the first box for free, the food itself and the easiness of it all. The downside would be the price of it and perhaps a lack of availability of some of the products (including whole ranges, such as the bread.)

A closer peek at my box -

I received black pepper rice crackers, yin and yang (a selection of dried cherries, dark chocolate buttons, dried jumbo raisins and blanched almonds), 3 mini fruit and seed flapjacks and kalamata olives with herbs. All of these snacks were delicious, it does show that at least the money has been well spent on sourcing what I hope are natural and nutritious ingredients!

You also receive this cute little mini leaflet with the box detailing all of the nutrition information and 4 vouchers for free boxes for your family and friends.

Let me know what you think of the Graze box if you decide to order a free one!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Spaghetti and Aubergine Involtini (Gino D'Acampo)

I borrowed Gino D'Acampo's Fantastico cookbook from my dad as him and my step mum always make such delicious food from it. As I was flicking through, a good number of recipes caught my eye and the other night I was stuck for what to make for dinner, and this particular recipe came to mind. I thought it would be fairly easy (albeit a little bit faffy) and quite filling for something that is supposed to be a starter.

Serves 2-4 depending on how you use the recipe... I halved the ingredients below and ate half of it one night and half the next! There was more than enough!


2 whole aubergines
5 tablespoons olive oil
(1 garlic clove, chopped
500g tinned chopped tomatoes - I didn't have any tinned tomatoes in the house, oops! But luckily we had a pre-made sauce, not usually my preference but it was a tomato and basil sauce and I added a drop of garlic oil and lemon juice)
10 fresh basil leaves
350g spaghetti (I ended up using spaghettini - even thinner spaghetti! That actually worked really well, but any would do!)
2 mozzarella balls, sliced
100g parmesan, grated
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Start by slicing the aubergine(s), about 1cm thick. Place in a large sieve, sprinkle with salt and leave for around 30 minutes to let the excess water drain. I was naughty (well as naughty as you can be regarding aubergines and salt...) but only left it for around 5 minutes, I was hungry and short of time!

Heat a griddle/frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil and fry the aubergine slices on each side until slightly browned, then set aside and leave to cool.

Get a saucepan on and fill with slightly salted boiling water. Get the spaghetti cooking until al dente.

Meanwhile, get the heat on a frying pan and either -
Fry the chopped garlic until golden, then add chopped tinned tomatoes, season and leave to simmer. Add the basil leaves.
Or...(my lazy way!)
Empty half the contents of a pre made tomato sauce into a frying pan, add a drizzle of garlic oil, a splash of lemon juice, season and leave to simmer. Add the basil leaves.

When the sauce is cooked through, take off the heat, add the spaghetti and mix well so it is all coated in a lovely fragrant sauce.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Place an aubergine slice on an oven tray, spoon some of the tomato dressed spaghetti in the middle and add a slice of mozzarella to the top of it, then roll up and secure with a toothpick. (I actually found that the aubergines held well without a toothpick, they sort of just bound together in a way!) Prepare yourselves for the messy photos...

Repeat the process until all of the aubergines are rolled up, then grate over some parmesan cheese and pop in the oven for 10 minutes until the cheese is melty and bubbling. Serve with a simple spinach and tomato salad.


Sunday, 11 September 2011

Courgette Carbonara (Jamie Oliver)

I seem to be making a lot of recipes with courgettes lately! No idea why... just a lot of yummy sounding recipes involve them! And this is another one, taken from Jamie Oliver's website. Carbonara is already so delicious, then add some roasted courgettes to it and it's even better (and with 1 of your 5 a day hopefully!) I feel that this recipe is also very summery, so what better way to say goodbye to our almost non-existent summer than with this dish and nice cold glass of white wine!

For 4 people


Sea salt and black pepper
6 medium green and yellow courgettes (I only used green, but the more diverse the colour, the better!)
500g penne
4 large eggs
100ml double cream
2 generous handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Some kind of yummy porky meat - around 12 slices/1 packet (of lardons) - unfortunately I didn't get hold of any for this, but the meaty flavour deepens the flavours of the dish so it is well worth getting. You could use chopped up pancetta slices, the pre chopped up lardons you can get in the supermarket, grilled bacon chopped up or even some grilled parma ham!
A small bunch of fresh thyme

This is slightly different to Jamie's recipe, as I always like to start with the preparation. Put a large saucepan on the boil, and fill with slightly salted boiling water.
Then start preparing the carbonara mixture, you will need to get the eggs, double cream and grated parmesan in a bowl together and mix well. Season and then set to one side.

Halve and quarter the courgettes lengthways, and slice roughly so they are of a similar shape to the penne.

Then chop up the pancetta - or whatever meat you have chosen to use!
The water should by now be boiling, so add the penne to the saucepan.

Get a large frying pan on and add a good amount of olive oil (Jamie says a 'splash'!) and fry the pancetta until crispy. Add the courgette slices and a good sprinkling of black pepper - then my recipe differs slightly from Jamie's here as I wanted my courgettes to have their own flavouring. So I used garlic oil, dried thyme, dried Italian herbs, fresh thyme and gave it a good mix coating the courgettes in the herby garlicky dressing. Fry until golden.

Now here I really did follow Jamie's instructions as he advises to work quickly otherwise the carbonara could end up ruined, as you don't want the eggs to start scrambling!
When the pasta is cooked, drain and keep a bit of the salted water on the side.
Add back to the pan and remove from the heat. Then add a ladleful of the salted water, and then the carbonara sauce and stir together quickly! (Again no scrambly eggs happening here!)

Dish out into four bowls and arrange the courgettes/pancetta on top of the pasta like a garnish. Season and then you're done! Yummy, summery courgette pasta!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Honey mustard chicken, lime and mint cous cous, chilli roasted vegetables and halloumi

A Mediterranean feast! This is a dish I've made many times, adding and taking away different components of it every time I make it, to try something new and get a different taste from the dish! I would recommend that all the ingredients that need to be chopped are done right at the start so they are to hand when you need them!

For 4 people


For the chicken (these are roughly the measurements I used, although I sort of just use what I think, so feel free to change or add different ingredients!)

8 chicken thighs (2 per person)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
2-3 bay leaves (chopped, not including the stalk in the middle of the leaf!)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons wholegrain mustard
2 tablespoons honey

For the cous cous -

250g cous cous (or follow the directions given on the packet)
500ml boiling water with vegetable stock (Around 1 tablespoon/2 cubes)
Lime juice (and zest of 1 lime if possible)
Handful of fresh mint, chopped

For the roasted vegetables -

1 large sweet potato, peeled and roughly chopped
1-2 red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
1 large red onion, roughly chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 courgette, thickly sliced
10 broccoli florets

1 block of halloumi, sliced
Large handful of flaked almonds (to garnish)

You will notice that this recipe is a lot about timing, it's a pretty simple recipe as long as everything is prepared before starting, then it's all about just shoving everything in the oven at the right time and preparing the cous cous pretty much right before serving!

Preheat the oven to 200C

First start off by chopping up all the vegetables, then put to one side.

Then marinate the chicken with all of the ingredients (except for the honey!) and arrange on a baking tray and pop into the oven for 40-45 minutes.

Arrange the chopped sweet potato and chilli on a baking tray and drizzle with oil, pop into the oven.

After about 10 minutes, take the sweet potato tray out of the oven and add the rest of the vegetables and mix around in the chilli oil. Pop back into the oven for a further 30 minutes.

Around 20 minutes later, take the chicken tray out of the oven and drizzle around 2 tablespoons of honey over the thighs, this will make them lovely and sweet and the skin crispy. Pop back into the oven for 10 more minutes.

Whilst the chicken and vegetables are on their last 10 minutes, get a non stick frying pan on a hot heat with a tiny drizzle of (garlic) oil. Then add the sliced halloumi and gently fry until lovely and brown. I usually just shake the frying pan rather than move the halloumi around with a wooden spoon, then quickly turn them over when each side is done. Once cooked, turn the heat off the pan.

Boil the kettle and pour around 500ml of water into a plastic jug, and add 1 tablespoon of vegetable stock. Pour over the cous cous and leave for a couple of minutes to soak up the water.

In the meantime, take the vegetables and chicken out of the oven and plate these both up.

Then mix the cous cous with a fork, until fluffy. Drizzle over the lime juice and scatter on the chopped mint leaves, mix and then plate up with the chicken and veg. Add a few pieces of halloumi on the side then scatter over a garnish of flaked almonds.