Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Easy Vegan Banana Bread

My loaf fresh out of the oven

This banana bread is so simple and can be whipped up in a matter of minutes using storecupboard ingredients. I’ve used cups to cut down on washing up for this recipe.
Makes 1 large loaf (2 lb tin)
3 large bananas, mashed
1 1/2 cups plain flour (wheat flour, or 1 1/4 cups gluten free plain flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sunflower oil
1/2 cup light brown soft sugar
1/3 cup milk (you can use soya or rice milk to make this cake vegan)
Optional extra
1/2 cup sultanas, walnuts, chocolate chips or cranberries
  1. Preheat the oven to 160C/ Gas Mark 3
  2. Grease and line a 2lb large loaf tin
  3. Combine the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt in a large bowl
  4. Whisk the oil and sugar together in a separate bowl. Add the mashed bananas and milk and combine evenly
  5. Add the dry ingredients and fold in gently. 
  6. If you are adding any extras such as dried fruit or nuts, add them now and stir to combine evenly
  7. Pour the batter into the loaf tin and place in the oven. Bake for 40 - 45 minutes.

Free From Food Festival

This weekend marked the very first Free From Food Festival in London, held on the South Bank, just a couple of steps away from the Thames.
Organised by the delightful Caroline Aherne, this event brought together some of the best freefrom food prodocers in the UK. Caroline had clearly taken great care in selecting a wide range of food producers, meaning there were all sorts of products on offer, from fish and chips, to cakes, to spices and drinks. There was something there for everyone.
The Free From Festival ran from Friday to Sunday, and due to my impending house move, I didn’t manage to get down there until Sunday.
It was a glorious day, and the square where the festival was held was packed full of people who were really delighted to find so many excellent products on offer, all in one place!
Caroline and Ben
I caught up with Caroline who was just helping Ben from Beppino’s to set up for his cookery demonstration – one of many which took place over the weekend.
The demo tent
People travelled from all over the country to attend, and I hope there will be many more Free From Food Festivals to come!
Delicious looking vegetarian street food
Gorgeous day on the South Bank

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Bite n Write

So, after all the excitement of Let’s Make Christmas in London last friday, I had a very early start last Saturday morning to catch the train up to Birmingham to go to Bite n Write.
I’ve been looking forward to this event for months now, particularly as some of my favourite food bloggers were going, and most of them live up North i.e. a long way away from me, so it was a great opportunity to catch up.
The day started at Birmingham New Street where we had all arranged to meet up. It was a bit surreal all meeting up and putting faces to Twitter names, trying to spot fellow food bloggers waiting on the concourse, too! How do you spot a fellow food blogger? I was going to tweet what I was wearing, but then thought that the brown hair, black coat, jeans, black boots etc would possibly not be the most helpful description...
Having gathered the troops, we headed en masse to the Custard Factory in Birmingham. Fortunately, Louise knew where we were going, as this was my first trip to Birmingham! I’m not sure how I have never been there before, but there you go.
We all had chance to grab a coffee and mingle before the conference started. First up on the agenda was Craig Fraser from Frasershot, a professional photographer who offered some excellent advice on obtaining good quality food photographs at home. This was followed by lunch and chocolate tasting from Artisan du Chocolat. Their chocolates were exceptionally good, and we were lucky enough to try a great number of samples from their chocolate range, including flavoured bars (marsala chai and mole were my personal favourites), and some delicious chocolates and truffles, including the wierd: sage and thyme, and the wonderful: tobacco and jasmine tea.
In the afternoon we were treated to talks from Jeanne from Cook Sister and Ben from the Great British Bake off, and of course, moi.
As most of you know who were there, I attempted to condense my presentation to try and recuperate some time, as we were running very late by this time, so sorry it was rather rushed.
The afternoon rounded off with a Wordpress workshop, and then drinks at a nearby bar. A few of us headed out for dinner and drinks afterwards, which was lots of fun. Here’s hoping there will be another Bite N Write next year. Thank you to Annie for organising the day.
Here are some of my photos of the day

Artisan du Chocolat chocolates
My lovely fellow bloggers
Blogger cupcakes!
Ben Fraser from the Great British Bake Off talking on video blogging
The lovely @comidayvida and @tinnedtoms talking over supper

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Let's Make Christmas

What a crazy couple of days it’s been. In preparation, I decided to clear my diary for the day on Friday. I planned to spend the morning kicking back drinking coffee whilst the cake I planned to enter into the competition was baking away in the oven. Well, that didn’t happen. I ran out of hot water mid shower whilst I was conditioning my hair, ran out of fairy liquid with a mountain of washing up to do and spilt coffee everywhere. The day was not off to a good start. But any bad omens were fortunately only a feature of friday morning, as friday afternoon turned out to be tremendous fun.
Having suffered a few setbacks in the morning, I rushed to get my Christmas gifts ready to take with me and managed a couple of quick photos before I left the house.  I almost took a photo of the kitchen to make you laugh as it really was in such a state but I decided I’d actually be too embarrassed to post the photo in the end, but you can picture the trail of destruction in my wake.

Here’s a photo of the ingredients I used as I got started (and before the kitchen was trashed). Some of you have been asking which chestnuts I used, and here are the ones I used, which I think are by Clément Faugier - they were from Waitrose. I usually buy Merchant Gourmet chestnuts, simply as they are often the only ones I can find on sale, but this brand worked fine. Another question I have been asked, is if you can use chestnut puree. My answer to this would be yes, but you probably need more than a can, as I whizzed the chestnuts up into a puree with the milk too. I reckon you would need around a can and 1/3 to 1/2 extra. But this is just an estimate.
I actually found it really hard to find anywhere stocking chestnuts at the moment, so I suggest that if you see some, snap them up for your larder. I got mine in Waitrose at Westfield, which seemed like the only place I could find in London which had them in!

Here’s a photo of the finished cake before I headed out to Fortnum and Mason. I topped it with some finely grated 74% chocolate (the same as I used in the cake) and some fresh chestnuts. I did buy a very nice gold ribbon from John Lewis to go around the cake, but sadly, it clashed with the cake base, so I left it off.
The mulled cider was very simple to put together. I just had to zest the fruit and slice the ginger and that was all the hard work required for this. Same for the dulce de leche. The washing up is more of a faff than making it. Here are the cider and dulce de leche ready to go.

Sadly, the cake didn’t withstand the journey in from Brixton. A fellow passenger very helpfully slammed themselves into my whilst I was getting off the train at Green Park. Sadly, my cake was damaged... I knew I should have driven!
The event itself was excellent and a really wonderful chance to meet some lovely people and catch up with familiar faces. Here’s hoping there will be another Let’s Make event soon. Thank you to Vanessa for organising it and Dan for judging.
See my previous post on Let’s Make Christmas with my recipes here
If you would like to read more, take a look at Vanessa and Sarah’s excellent blog posts.

Free From Food Festival

This weekend marks the first Free From Food Festival, held on the Southbank Centre Square in London. 
It will be a great opportunity to come on down and meet free from food producers and watch cookery demonstrations. For more information on when and where, just have a look at this.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Bite n Write

Just a very quick post as I am absolutely snowed under, but I wanted to let you know that I will be speaking at Bite n Write in Birmingham this weekend. This promises to be a really great day, and I know that so many of my favourite bloggers are going to be there, which is incredibly exciting to all be able to get together again and meet new faces.

It should be a really exciting and informative day. I'm looking forward to picking up lots of tips on how I can improve things here too. For more information on what's going on and how to get tickets, take a look at the Bite n Write website.

Thank you to the wonderful Annie Ko for all her hard work in putting together this event.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Let's make Christmas

I have to confess, my thoughts have already started to turn to Christmas. This happens every year in my attempt to get organized. I emphasize the word attempt here.
Last year, I made some chocolate truffles for friends and family. I really enjoyed the experience of making my own gifts, which were, thankfully, very well received.
So, I was absolutely delighted to be asked to participate in Let's make Christmas by the fabulous Vanessa Kimbell. I’m really looking forward to attending this event at Fortnum and Mason next Friday and catching up with some of my favourite food bloggers.

My thoughts quickly turned to what I shall make. I have to confess that I am not a huge fan of dried fruit (with the exception of glacé cherries), so anything I make for Christmas tends to use as little dried fruit as possible. I really don’t like Christmas pudding or most Christmas cakes (I can, however, make an exception for a very good mince pie), so I wanted to try something different.
I have tried and tested all recipes and given them to my friends, family and colleagues, who enjoyed all of them, and have said they will be trying them at home, so I hope that bodes well given that one of my foodie heroes, Dan Lepard is judging after all. No pressure!
So, as per the rules of the competition, here is what I will be entering.
First up, as you would expect, is a cake, and it is my alternative Christmas cake. It’s a Chocolate and Chestnut cake. Seasonal, yet different and perfect for Christmas entertaining. Next up is one of my favourite festive drinks: mulled cider. I recently discovered this at our favourite pub in Oxfordshire, the Trout in Wolvercote. It’s a little bit different, but totally delicious. And finally, in the jar-based products category, is actually my favourite preserve of all time; dulce de leche. Yes, it’s not festive per sé, but I think it makes a sensational gift, and a real change from jams and chutneys. I discovered dulce de leche when I spent a month travelling around Argentina after University. My friends and I decided to take the budget option and stay in youth hostels the length and breadth of the country. The only option for breakfast at every hostel we visited, from La Pampa in the north to Ushuaia, at the tip of the country (and the southernmost city on Earth) was bread and dulce de leche. I was actually genuinely upset when my suitcase-smuggled supplies ran out upon my return to Blightly, having become thoroughly addicted throughout the course of the month, with dulce de leche ice creams every day, alfajores and dulce de leche on bread every morning. On reflection, it is a wonder I didn’t need a seatbelt extension for the return journey given how much delicious yet wickedly unhealthy food I had consumed during my travels.
I digress. My recipes are below, with some cheeky preview photos of my trials. I will update this post after friday’s event.
Chocolate & Chestnut cake

Wheat and gluten free
Serves 8-10
  • 250g dark chocolate, broken up into in chunks
  • 250g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 200g pack of peeled and cooked chestnuts (I use Merchant Gourmet)
  • 250ml whole milk
  • 80g vanilla sugar (I use homemade, recipe from Prepped)
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 125g caster sugar (again, I use homemade vanilla sugar as above)
1. Preheat the oven to 170°c/Gas Mark 3 and grease and line a 9” diameter springform  cake tin.
  1. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a pan over a very gentle heat or alternatively in the microwave for a minute or two. 
  2. In another pan, heat the chestnuts with the milk sugar for around 30 minutes. I keep a lid on to stop the milk from evaporating. When the chestnuts are soft, I blitz them in the food processor.
  3. Put the egg yolks in a bowl and mix with the caster sugar. I use an electric whisk or the Kitchen Aid for this. Stir in the melted chocolate mixture and the chestnut purée until you have a smooth mixture. 
  4. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold them carefully into the chocolate and chestnut mixture.
  5. Transfer the mixture to the greased, lined tin and bake for around 45- 50
Festive Mulled Cider

  • Around 2 bottles of good quality dry English Cider
  • 500ml apple juice
  • 50g Vanilla sugar (again, I use homemade)
  • 50g Cardamom sugar (ditto homemade from Prepped)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 few cloves
  • 4 Star anise
  • 1” root ginger, sliced
  • 100ml good quality Brandy
  1. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. 
  2. Bring to just under a boil and leave for at least twenty minutes before serving. 
  3. Make sure the cider does not boil
  4. Serve in glasses whilst hot.
Dulce de Leche
Makes one 450g jar
  • 1x 450g (appx) jar of sweetened condensed milk
  • A little sea salt (I use Maldon or Cornish Sea Salt)
  1. Preheat the oven to 220° C
  2. Pour the jar of sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk) into a Pyrex dish and stir in the sea salt
  3. Place the Pyrex dish within a larger Pyrex dish, and add hot water to the larger dish (I use water from a recently boiled kettle) until it reaches halfway up the side of the Pyrex dish which contains the condensed milk
  4. Cover the Pyrex dish containing the condensed milk snugly with foil and bake for 1¼ hours. 
  5. Once the Dulce de Leche is nicely browned and caramelized, remove from the oven and let cool. Once cool, whisk until smooth. I do this with an electric whisk or Kitchen Aid, and place into jars immediately.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

South West Food Bloggers

For some time now, I've wanted to meet up with fellow food bloggers in South West England. Although my company is based in Dorset, I am going to be spending much more time in the area soon, and wanted to get together with my follow foodies to meet up.

Having looked for various groups to join, I couldn't find any, so I decided to set about creating one. I will be organising meet ups and exciting fun-filled foodie events in the region over the coming months, so please do get in touch and say hi, and watch this space.

I will be in touch with more information as soon as possible, but I hope to hear from some of you soon.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Making Christmas

I will be participating in Let's make Christmas, hosted by Vanessa Kimbell. I will be posting later today on what I will be cooking, so please check back here soon for the recipes!

For more information, see Vanessa's blog.

Autumnal delights - using up the last of the quinces

Seize the opportunity to cook with these beautiful, exotic, mysterious fruits while you can. Most good greengrocers and supermarkets are selling them at the moment. This is a lovely, autumnal recipe, which fills the kitchen with gorgeous aromas of roses and pears whilst cooking. The flesh of the quince is surprisingly rock-hard, so as you can see from the photo, I left the woody cores in whilst cooking the fruit. Feel free to cut them out if you are feeling more dexterous than I was! Serve the baked quinces as a dessert with yoghurt or crème fraîche, or with cooked meats for a main course. A couple of cold slices of bakes quince make a delicious accompaniment to cheese and biscuits too.
I’ve decided to get a quince tree for the garden. Having looked into varieties, I am thinking the Serbian Gold might be good. Do, please, let me know if you have any recommendations (@gofreecakes on Twitter)
Baked quince with honey and spices
Serves 4
3 large quinces
5 heaped tablespoons brown sugar
450 ml water
5 tbsp honey
5 cloves
2 star anise
Juice from 1 lemon
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4
  2. Cut the quinces in half. I like to leave the peel on, but you can peel the fruit. They do brown very quickly though, so work quickly at this stage of the recipe
  3. Pour the water into the pan, and add the sugar, honey, lemon juice and spices.
  4. Place the quince into the water as soon as they are cut (and peeled, if you are peeling them)
  5. Poach for around 10 minutes until they give a little when you inset a knife
  6. Place the poached quince into a large baking dish and cover them with a little of the cooking water (around 1/3 of liquid works well)
  7. Bake for 20 - 30 minutes until soft
  8. I core the fruit once it is cooked, by scooping the core out with a spoon as I find it easier to do this once the fruit is cooked