Wednesday, 17 February 2016

No Can Opener Required

I’ve always loved spaghetti hoops, I developed a strong dislike for baked beans during my primary school days, where eating everything served to you each lunch time was not a choice, neither was packed lunch. The force-feeding put me off them entirely and so the hoops in a can became my go-to toast topper. Served mouth scalding hot with black pepper and lots of grated cheese the humble tin of hoops has got me through many a hangover or broken heart. I’d sometimes go for alphabetti instead, just to mix things up a bit, in fact there’s probably a can or two in my cupboards now. When I saw alphabet pasta on a recent trip to Sainsbury I just couldn’t walk on by. Memories of my childhood, teens and later hungover university days rushed before my eyes and I grabbed a bag with glee. There’s something about that heady combination of carbs on carbs that I long for when having a bad day and hoops on toast was perfect for scratching that itch. It could also be on the table in less than 10 minutes, another point in its favour.

I definitely wanted to have a go at a homemade version of the classic Heinz alphabetti. A quick read through the ingredients was reassuring, the main ingredients were in fact pasta and tomatoes – this was promising. I think my version is pretty damn good, they even smelt like the real thing as I was simmering the sauce. The colour was good and from start to finish they were done in less than 15 minutes, plus no can opener required! They’d make a great packed lunch for kids (or adults) in thermos flask. Give them a try.

My second foray into the world of alphabetical food was an adaption of something I make regularly. I’m really fond of making a big batch of soup at the start of the week to keep me in lunches and the odd dinner through the week. It really takes the pressure out of meal prep and means I eat healthily even when I’m really busy. The soup uses up all my odds and ends from the fridge plus I’d buy some protein to add, usually from chicken or turkey, with stock and some small pasta shapes too. This way I was getting a good balance of veg, protein, fat and carbs in my meal, covering all bases. I decided to give my soup an alphabetical twist this week and here is the recipe for you to try. It’s as easy as A, B, C…Sorry I couldn’t resist.

It’s such a convenient way to consume most of your vegetables each day and a lot tastier than chewing through piles of plain veg. Adding the pasta is great for eating post training and thickens the broth a bit too. You could add rice, barley or quinoa as well to vary the flavours or make it gluten free. I've calculated the macros for you so you can make it fit your daily needs. 

Homemade tinned alphabetti
Makes 4-6 small servings
Prep 5 mins Cook 10 mins

2 tsp butter
1 tsp onion powder
3/4’s tsp paprika (sweet if you have it)
500g tomato passata
3 tbsp milk
3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp agave, soft brown sugar or Sukrin gold
150g alphabet pasta shapes

1 Heat the butter in a small pan, once foaming add the onion powder, paprika, sugar or agave and some sea salt (if not giving to children about 1 tsp). Stir until the mixture resembles a paste and tip in the pasatta, milk and Parmesan. Simmer for 5 minutes.

2 Heat a pan of salted water and once boiling cook the pasta for 5-6 minutes until tender, drain in a sieve or colander with small holes. Add to the sauce and serve.

Mega Macro Soup
Makes 6-8 portions  (Macros based on 6)
282 Kcals, 5.8g Fat, 27.8g Carbs, 24.7g Protein
Can be frozen

1 tbsp coconut or olive oil
½ bag diced frozen onions (I always use these now instead of chopping my own, why? I’m lazy, my mascara stays in tact, there cheap and convenient and the water means they don’t stick to the pan as they cook)
3 sticks celery, diced
2 large carrots, no need to peel, diced
1 large leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 courgettes, diced
150g mushrooms, diced
2 tsp garlic puree (again, this is due to laziness, I hate crushing garlic plus it’s so hard to get rid of the smell)
1 heaped tbsp. tomato puree & basil pesto
splash white wine
400g can chopped tomatoes
2 chicken (or veg) stock pots
a few bay leaves
450g chicken breasts or use a mixture of thighs and legs if you like the meat on the bone more, NB the broth will be a bit more fatty if you do this.
150g baby spinach
150g alphabet pasta or small pasta shapes
Parmesan rind (if you have one in the fridge) plus grated Parmesan or mozzarella to serve
1 tsp grated nutmeg
fresh basil, to serve

1 Heat the oil and a good pinch of salt in your biggest saucepan and add the onions, carrots, celery and leeks. Cook gently on a low heat until really soft, adding a splash of the wine or some water if they start to stick. This will take about 20 minutes.

2 Add the mushrooms, courgettes, garlic, pesto and tomato puree with some black pepper and cook for a few minutes more. Tip In the wine and simmer until almost evaporated then add the stock pots, bay, Parmesan rind if using, tinned tomatoes and 1200ml of water. Bring to a simmer then carefully add the chicken, use tongs to help you. Simmer gently for 20-25 minutes, depending on how big the breasts are, then remove them with the tongs and leave until cool enough to handle. Keep the soup simmering gently while you do this.

3 Tip the pasta into the soup and simmer for 6 minutes. Turn off the heat, stir and add the spinach, basil the nutmeg. Taste and adjust the seasoning now. Shred or slice the chicken and stir through the soup. Allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving with the fresh basil and grated Parmesan or mozzarella on top.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Chocolate, Popcorn & Honeycomb Drizzle Cake

When you’re looking for a cake with the ultimate WOW factor then this is it! I made this bad boy for both of my brothers Birthday celebrations last week and it went down a treat. We took the cake out for dinner and it got so many great comments (and longing looks). Although on first glance the recipe looks pretty complex if you take each stage slowly and read through all the steps before you begin then it is really achievable, just don’t try to decorate it after a few glasses of Prosecco, I made this mistake and practically had to re-cover the whole thing the next day, massive FAIL. 

This cake has got quite a lot of elements, if you spread out the work over a few days it makes this easier to deal with. Bake the cakes up to 2 days in advance, cool then wrap well in cling film or freeze for up to a month. Make the honeycomb and popcorn the day before. It’s best to make the icing just before you use it as it makes it easier to spread. If you want to cheat a bit then buy ready made honeycomb and a bag of toffee popcorn! No one will know any difference and it takes the pressure off a little bit. 

I used my trusty, fool-proof chocolate sponge recipe and adapted the icing and the honeycomb from a BBC Good Food recipe for their Chocolate Honeycomb cake. I added the popcorn for an extra treat and it really did compliment the rest of the flavours so is well worth doing! Happy Baking.

Chocolate Drizzle Cake with White Malteser Frosting, Caramel Popcorn & Honeycomb.
Serves 20
Prep 1 hour 30 plus cooling Cook 50 mins

250g butter
250g light brown soft sugar
4 eggs
175g self-raising flour
75g cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
4 tbsp milk
pinch salt
250g pack slightly salted butter, softened
750g icing sugar
3 tbsp white maltesers hot chocolate powder (chocolate lumps sieved out)
1 tsp vanilla extract
280g tub full-fat cream cheese
100g dark chocolate, finely chopped
75ml double cream
100g granulated sugar
15g salty popcorn
100g golden caster sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp bicarb
37g pack Maltesers

1 Heat the oven to gas 4, 180°C, fan 160°C. Line the bases and the sides of 3 x 18cm (7in) loose-bottomed cake tins. In a stand mixer, or using a hand-held mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, then the milk and lastly mix in the flour, cocoa and baking powder.

2 Divide the batter between the prepared cakes tins (if you want to be precise weigh it, it was about 330g per tin) and bake for 25 minutes, or until risen and springy to the touch. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

3 Make the icing. In your largest mixing bowl, beat the butter with half the icing sugar, the maltesers powder (make sure you sieve it first to remove the white chocolate chunks) and vanilla until smooth. Add the remaining icing sugar and the cream cheese, and beat again until well combined – don’t over mix or the icing may become runny. I always cover my entire kitchen and self (and dogs) with a cloud of icing sugar when I do this, I try to avoid it but it never works out. Just embrace and clean after. 

4 For the caramel popcorn, melt the sugar in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Once you start to see pools of melted sugar, gently swirl the pan to encourage the rest of the sugar to melt. Using a wooden spoon, stir together and heat until all the sugar crystals have dissolved and the colour looks like runny honey. Take off the heat, stir in 2 tbsp water then put the pan back onto the heat to melt any clumps that have formed. Stir in the popcorn and pour onto a lined baking tray to cool.

5 Make the honeycomb. Grease a baking tray with a little oil. Put the sugar and golden syrup in a large pan. Warm over a medium heat and leave to bubble to a liquid caramel, but don’t stir. When you have a deep amber colour add the bicarbonate of soda and quickly stir into the syrup. Pour onto your oiled baking tray and leave to set for at least 30 minutes, or overnight.

6 Now for the fun part, building the beast. Remember guys; no Prosecco until after the cake is done!! Stick one of the sponges on a cake stand with a little of the icing. Use 1/3 of the icing to stack the cakes and choose your neatest one for the top, placing it flat side up. Next use a palette knife to roughly cover the entire cake with a thin layer. Don’t worry too much at this stage this is called a crumb coat and ensures that your final layer is crumb-free. Chill the cake for at least 30 minutes to firm up the icing.

7 Once the icing is chilled, use the remaining icing to completely cover the cake. This is easiest if you pile the icing on top of the cake, then use a palette knife to ease it over the edge and down the sides. Chill for another 30 minutes.

8 Make the drizzle. Finely chop or grate the dark chocolate and pop into a bowl and heat the cream in a small pan until just steaming. Pour the cream over the chocolate and leave to melt for 5-10 mins. Stir to make a glossy ganache, and then set aside to firm up a little. Pour into a piping bag.

9 Remove the cake from the fridge, snip the end of the piping bag, you want a thin controllable stream so don’t cut off too much. Pipe ganache over the edges of the cake, so it drizzles down the side, start at the back of the cake to get the hang of it. Fill in the middle of the top of the cake with chocolate too. Top with the popcorn, broken shards of honeycomb and malteasters, get creative here and just keep layering up, SERVE!

You can be rough with the icing at this point as the next layer will be for neatening! 

THIS was attempt number one...after Prosecco and with very old chocolate that had been in my cupboard for over a year, don't do it kids!! 

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Go Bananas

People often ask me “Don’t you ever just get sick of cooking”
My answer is always the same "nope!" If I’m particularly busy with work I can end up cooking around 10-12 different recipes in one day, when you take into account my own meals as well, but I never get tired or stressed with the cooking itself, maybe just with the cleaning up! In fact, I really miss it when I have less on my to do list, like today for example. Today is one of those rare days where I have small a break between the end of one project and the start of another. Instead of relishing the thought of a lazy day I found myself desperate for a project this morning. So on inspection of the fruit bowl and a quick glance in the fridge I decided to tackle a recipe for 'no refined sugar' banana bread.

I got introduced to Sukrin gold when my other half started doing the Body Coach 90 days shift, shape and sustain plan. The brown sugar alternative was used in a granola recipe included in the pack and I was really impressed with the results. It got me thinking about what else it could be used in, and I was keen to try it out in some baking recipes. I thought it would be ideal for a version of the highly popular banana bread. The over ripe bananas are deliciously sweet anyway so I thought it would be a perfect base to begin my exploration with. I’m using coconut oil instead of butter, adding some whey protein and flax seed in place of some of the flour and switching to wholemeal flour. All in all a pretty healthy bake!

I’ve been sticking to my healthy diet quite religiously of late and in the last couple of days I’ve been craving something sweet. I’m not someone who usually has a sweet tooth but who am I to argue with what my body clearly wants. Although I have to draw the line somewhere as if I listened to it too much I’d end up eating pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner some days. I thought this recipe could kill two birds with one stone; satisfy my stomach and my cooking itch.

The best thing about this banana bread? Other than the taste of course, it actually gets better as it gets older, so makes a great breakfast or afternoon tea for a good few days after you’ve baked it. However this removes any excuses you might make just to eat it all in one go…bugger!! 

I’ve even worked out the macros for you too, so you can easily incorporate a slice or three into your daily food intake….I know - there’s no end to my kindness is there.

If you cut the loaf into 10 slices then each one (un-iced) contains:

19.4g Carbs 10.7g Fat 9.1g Protein 207 Calories

Protein Banana Bread with Lime & Yogurt Icing
Cuts into 10 slices

150g plain wholemeal flour
2 scoops banana whey protein
1 tbsp chai and flax seed mix
1 tsp each bicarbonate or soda and baking powder
½ tsp salt
90g coconut oil, melted
140g Sukrin gold brown sugar substitute (get it from Amazon, Tesco or Holland & Barrat)
3 large or 4 small really ripe (black) bananas – the riper the better here. I tend to store them in the freezer until I have enough black ones, and then defrost them for an hour before using them
80g full fat Fage Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 medium eggs
90g full fat Fage Greek yogurt
Zest and juice from ½ lime
1 tbsp Sukrin gold brown sugar substitute
about 10 dried banana chips

1 Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Line a 2lb loaf tin with a loaf tin liner or long strip of baking parchment. Put the flour, flax seed, salt, whey protein, baking powder, bicarb and sugar into a medium bowl.

2 Using a stick blender blitz half of the bananas, the eggs, vanilla and yogurt until smooth. Mash the other half of the bananas and add to the mix with the melted coconut oil. Whisk to combine. Tip into the dry ingredients and quickly fold together using a large metal spoon. Don’t over work the mixture, work quickly using as few folds as you can or the bread will become tough.

3 Pour into your lined tin and bake for 45-55 minutes, until golden brown and a skewer inserted comes out clean, cook for a further 5 mins if the skewer comes out sticky. Cool on a wire rack. Meanwhile beat the yogurt, lime juice, zest and sugar until combined. Once the cake is fully cooled spread over the topping then cut into slices to serve with extra yogurt and blueberries, if you like.