Picking Our Own

For the last few weeks we have been meaning to get out and enjoy the Pick Your Own season – it’s just been a matter of finding the time. Yesterday we found ourselves with the morning free before heading to a birthday BBQ in the afternoon so we headed out to Stanhill Farm which was bursting with blackberries & raspberries along with a slightly smaller crop of strawberries (still coming through) and gooseberries. I have never picked gooseberries and the plant itself is pretty protective of the berries so I have a fair few scratches on my hands to show for my efforts! However we came away with a good stash of summer berries that will be / have been put to good use – jams, crumble, summer pudding, cupcakes, smoothies …and my personal favourite – just a simple bowl of summer berries with some natural yoghurt – yum!

When we got home I decided to try out a Martha Stewart recipe for Strawberry cupcakes – James was a willing helper and so it became a joint effort. My friend Mer made these for her daughter Isobel’s birthday last year and they were delicious so thought these would be nice to take over to Tina’s birthday BBQ. These would also help make a dent in our bowl of freshly picked strawberries!

Our PYO stash!

Strawberry Cupcakes (courtesy of Martha Stewart Cupcakes)


2 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup cake flour (I have no idea what this is and what to substitute so I just used plain, not self raising, flour)

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (1 stick = 113g)

2 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

3 large  whole eggs, plus 1 egg white

1 cup milk

2 cups finely chopped strawberries (about 20) plus about 10 more for garnish

Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter, sugar and vanilla until pale and fluffy. Add whole eggs and the white, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated , scraping down the side of bowl, as needed.  Reduce speed to ow. Ad flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk, and beating until well combined. Fold in chopped strawberries by hand.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until golden and a cake tester inserted in centres comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 15 minutes, turn out cupcakes and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored up to 1 day at room temperature in airtight containers.

To finish, fill a pastry bag with a large open-star tip with buttercream. Pipe buttercream onto each cupcake, swirling tip and releasing as you pull up to form a peak. Just before serving, thinly slice remaining strawberries, and tuck a few pieces into buttercream.

Strawberry Meringue Buttercream


1 1/2 cups fresh strawberries (8 oz) rinsed, hulled and coarsely chopped

4 large egg whites

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into Tbsp, room temperature

Puree strawberries in a food processor (oops missed this part – so that would explain why my small bits of strawberry kept blocking up the piping nozzle!)

Combine egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl of a standing electric mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).

Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, mix until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy, and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes.

With mixer on low-medium speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula and switch to the paddle attachment, continue beating on a low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Add strawberries and beat until combined . Stir with a flexible spatula until the frosting is smooth. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Before using bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.

I really liked the meringue icing – the absence of the icing sugar took away alot of the sugar sweetness that can be quite full on with cupcakes. The recipe states that it makes 34 but I found that it made 24 standard size and 12 mini size which are perfect for little people!

Happy Birthday Tina!

Browsing The Book People I came across a bargain – Weber’s Complete Barbecue Book for £6 and it has quickly become a summer favourite. So many rubs, marinades, sauces and ideas for outdoor eating – no more plain sausages and boring burgers!!

One of the first recipes I stumbled across was the Layered Mexican Salad and it turned out to be so easy – perfect for throwing together when you have a last minute get together.  I love it! I have amended the dressing slightly as instead of using a poblano chilli I have been using up the Chipotle in Adobo in the fridge, just adding to taste.  Works a treat!

Layered Mexican Chicken Salad (courtesy of Weber’s Complete Barbecue Book)



4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried marjoram

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs


1 large poblano chilli

125ml soured cream

25g coriander leaves, and tender stems

1 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 large garlic clove

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper


250g Cos lettuce, thinly sliced or shredded

175g yellow, or blue corn tortilla chips, crushed

175g ripe tomato, diced

2 Haas avocados, diced

1 can pinto or black beans, rinsed

Whisk the marinade ingredients together in a medium bowl. Add the chicken thighs, turning several times to coat them evenly, then cover and refrigerate for 30 mins to 1 hr.

Prepare the barbecue for direct cooking over a medium heat. Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the chilli over direct medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, with the lid closed as much as possible but turning occasionally, until the skin is blackened and blistered. Transfer the chilli to a small bowl, cover with clingfilm and let steam for about 10 minutes. Gently peel the skin from the chilli and remove the seeds. Put the chilli in a blender with the remaining dressing ingredients and process until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve,

Arrange a bed of lettuce on a large platter and then add the chips, tomato, avocado and beans in separate sections on top.

Grill the chicken over direct medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes, with the lid closed as much as possible but turning once or twice, until the meat is firm and the juices run clear. Transfer the chicken to a chopping board and cut into 1cm strips. Place the chicken on a separate section of the platter. Serve the dressing alongside.

Summer dining

Well it has been a busy time in our house and I can’t believe that over 6 weeks has passed since I last made an entry. I don’t know where the time has gone!

Unfortunately this means there has also been little time for trying out new recipes so we have been resorting to some old favourites. We have also had a lovely spell of sunshine and so there has been plenty of BBQ action alongside some simple salads. Perfect on a summers evening – summer can be so short lived that we have to make the most of it.

So that busy 6 weeks has included……….

A trip to Disneyland Paris to celebrate Izzy & Isobel's' 3rd birthday

Lots of 3 year old birthday parties - Happy Birthday Easton!

Easton & Drey's Christening

Christening cake by yours truly....blog to follow....

A weeks visit from our friends from Abu Dhabi - Izzy with Keira & Kayla

Visiting some of the London sights

Celebrating Izzy's 3rd birthday along with Jenny's 30-something! Another blog to follow!

Let's not forget Bon Jovi summer! 12 nights in residence at the o2 and I made it to 5!

Rocking out at The Wiggles!

Taking part in the Race for Life 2010

Ladies Day Out - starts off civilised......

Karaoke or Constipation?!?!

So, that gives an idea of where the last 6 weeks have gone……

Now there have been a few new recipes so these will follow. Enjoy!

Kiwi Ingenuity

I just had to share as I LOVE these ads!!

Taco Time

Tacos are a perfect Saturday night dinner – quick to prepare and fun to eat. Tacos were responsible for successfully getting Izzy to try lettuce and avocado – and liking them! No luck with tomatoes though – we have tried everything and she is not having a bar of it – just does not like them. I love them and so don’t understand – but then again she loves cucumber and I don’t. She is certainly developing her own tastes.

A box of El Paso Taco Kit, a pack of lean mince, maybe a can of red kidney beans, a shredded iceburg lettuce, grated cheese, chopped tomatoes, salsa, mashed avocado with a squeeze of lime (and chilli if you are so inclined) and there you have it – a fun meal for all the family! Bowls on the table and everyone can serve themselves – I find this a great way to get kids involved with their food.

Last weekend Izzy and I were doing what girls do best – messing about and taking ages to get ready! In the meantime we could hear James crashing about in the kitchen and not long after the smell of fresh baking started wafting up the stairs – that got us to hurry up!

Despite the 200+ cookbooks dotted around the house James turned to the web and came up with a winning recipe for banana muffins. We were very spoilt girls indeed – the resulting muffin was outstanding!!

Banana Crumb Muffins


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 bananas, mashed
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease 10 muffin cups, or line with muffin papers.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat together bananas, sugar, egg and melted butter. Stir the banana mixture into the flour mixture just until moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and cinnamon. Cut in 1 tablespoon butter until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Sprinkle topping over muffins.
  4. Bake in preheated oven for 18 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

Spoilt Girls & Scrummy Muffins

Last Sunday we were spoilt by Mer & Stu with a magnificent Moroccan feast! It was AMAZING!! It felt so unbelievably indulgent to sit down to an exciting, home cooked, 3 course meal on a Sunday afternoon! and the fact that it was utterly delicious was a welcome added bonus!! Even served with freshly squeezed OJ – reminiscent of a morning in the Djemaa el Fna.

Moroccan food tops my favourite cuisine list – fabulous flavours, great combinations & textures, the mix of sweet & savoury – it all combines to make something really special.

Mer, Stu & Isobel recently visited Marrakech (one of my all time favourite places) and came home laden down with the most aromatic spices and kindly unloaded many in our kitchen – awesome! Beats store bought every time!!

Gorgeous Isobel in Marrakech

Mer’s menu for our Sunday feast came from Feast Bazaar by Barry Vera – which graces my bookshelf also and will definitely be put to use over the coming months. Just hope it lives up to Mer’s efforts!!

Beetroot & Yoghurt Dip


500g beetroot

500g plain yoghurt

1 Tbsp tahini

1 garlic clove, crushed

1/2 tsp ground cumin

Finely grated zest of  1 lemon

2 Tbsp lemon juice

sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

20 mint leaves, tinly sliced (optional)

EVOO, for drizzling

Peel the beetroot and trim the ends. Cut into chunks and place in a saucepan of boiling salted water. Cook for 30-45 minutes, or until tender. Use the point of a sharp knife to test of the beetroot is cooked – the knife should slide through, but the beetroot should still be firm. remove from the heat, drain and refresh under cold running water, then drain again.

When cool enough to handle, coarsely grate the beetroot into a mixing bowl, then fold in the yoghurt, tahini, garlic, cumin, lemon zest and juice. Season to taste, cover, and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours until chilled.

To serve, fold in the sliced mint, if desired, and adjust the seasoning, to taste. Place in a serving bowl, drizzle with a little EVOO and serve with warm bread.

Served with Pitta Bread and Grilled Trout with Chermoula

Olive, Orange & Onion Salad


5 oranges

20 black olives

1 red onion, sliced into rings

2 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice

3 Tbsp argan oil or olive oil

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp paprika

pinch of ground chilli powder

1 handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Peel the oranges and make sure you remove any pith, then cut each orange into eight wedges. Lay the oranges on a large flat plate, then scatter over the olives and red onion.

To make the dressing, mix the lemon juice, oil, cumin, paprika, chilli powder and parsley. Season, to taste, and drizzle over the salad to serve.

Main Course - Duck & Peach Tagine with Couscous

And finally, when we could barely move let along eat another bite Mer presented the piece de resistance – Apple & Fig Bastilla. Somehow we found room to devour it and it was perfect!

Apple & Fig Bastilla


9 granny smith apples, peeled & thinly sliced

30g butter

60g caster sugar

12 dried figs, soaked in warm water until plump, drained and thinly sliced

20 sheets filo pastry

1 egg, lightly beaten

Icing sugar, to garnish

Ground cinnamon, to garnish

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Put the butter, apples and sugar in a large frying pan over medium heat. Cook for 5 mins, or until the apples are tender. remove from th heat, drain off any juice and dscard. Set aside and allow to cool.

Place 5 sheets of pastry in the bottom of a bowl with a 20cm diameter and about 5 cm deep. Leave the pastry to overhang the edge – this will later be used to wrap and cover the bastilla.

Spread a thin layer of apple over the patry base, followed by a layer of fig. Press down gently and cover with 2 layers of filo which have been cut to fit snugly inside the bowl.

Repeat this layering with the apple, figs and pastry four more times, finishing with 5 sheets of pastry that have ben cut to fit the bowl. Finally, fold over the overhanging pastry from the original base layer and seal. Turn out the bastilla and invert onto the prepared tray so the base is now the top.

Brush all over with the beaten egg. Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 mins, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven, dust liberally with icing sugar and cinnamon and serve immediately.


Apparently Whoopie Pies are the new cupcake……don’t know who is spreading this rumor but it’s out there! I love making (& eating!) cupcakes and so the whoopie pie has big shoes to fill….

Back in March when we finally visited the Hummingbird Bakery we purchased a whoopie pie and then proceeded to leave in Aunty Amy’s bag – Gggrrr……

Now, the first thing I wondered was ‘where the heck did they come up with the name Whoopie Pie?’ – a quick google search revealed an interesting story….

The recipe for whoopie pies has its origins with the Amish, and in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, it is not uncommon to find roadside farm stands offering these desserts. Amish cooking is about old recipes that have fed families for generations, with no trendy or cross-cultural fusions or mixtures. These cake-like whoopie pies were considered a special treat because they were originally made from leftover batter. According to Amish legend, when children would find these treats in their lunch bags, they would shout “Whoopie!”

I found this recent Times article online  – not sure that I agree but it’s a good read. I like the decadence and cuteness of a cupcake and I don’t think that a whoopie pie can match that. Cupcake or Whoopie Pie – I don’t think either is particularly manly but that certainly wouldn’t stop James eating them!

So when this months Sainsburys magazine featured WP’s on the front cover I decided it was time to give them a go…..

The verdict? Easy to make & fun to eat! We will definitely be looking forward to trying out different flavours and varieties. James and I both took a batch to work – they were fairly well received – not on par with cupcakes and muffins with my colleagues though! This batch we tried out Raspberry & Coconut and Passionfruit.  I think I need to work on producing a nice fluffy marshmallow cream and if making the raspberry ones again I would prefer to use fresh raspberries rather than raspberry jam.

As for Izzy? It’s cake – she loves it!

The Vanilla Whoopie (courtesy of The Sainsburys Magazine – June 2010)


75g unsalted butter

1 large egg

150g caster sugar

125g soured cream

25ml cold milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

275g plain flour

200g icing sugar

sugar balls or sprinkles, to decorate

For the marshmallow cream:-

100g mini or regular white marshmallows

50ml milk

125g very soft unsalted butter

Line a large baking tray with non stick baking paper and preheat the oven to 180C, fan 160C.

Melt the 75g of butter and set aside. Using an electric hand mixer whisk the egg until light and fluffy. Beat in the sugar a third at a time until thick and glossy.

Beat in the melted butter, soured cream, milk and vanilla. Sift the bicarbonate of soda and flour into the bowl and beat until smooth. Using a wide piping nozzle or spoon, pipe or spoon the mixture on to the try in small walnut- sized balls, 3-4cm apart. you’ll need to bake in batches.

Bake for 13-14 minutes until almost evenly golden on top. Leave to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack and bake the remaining mixture.

For the cream, heat the marshmallows and milk in a saucepan over a low heat, stirring until smooth, then cool. Beat the butter until creamy and soft then gradually beat into the marshmallow until smooth.

Sandwich two whoopie cakes together with the marshmallow cream.

For the icing, mix the icing sugar with 2-3 Tbsp of cold water. Spread a little on each whoopie and decorate.

Raspberry Ruffle – add 100g desiccated coconut and 2 Tbsp extra milk into the mixture and sprinkle extra coconut over the top before baking. Beat 2 Tbsp raspbery preserve into the marshmallow cream.

Passionfruit – scoop out the pulp of 4 passionfruit and beat into the marshmallow cream. Add pulp of 2 passionfruit with the icing sugar and 1/2 Tbsp cold water.


I love a bit of 42 below Vodka – it’s the Feijoa flavour that takes me immediately back to childhood summers in NZ (more the feijoa bit….not the vodka!).  The 42 below marketing is by no means PC but I don’t think you could deny that it is original…..and I think pretty clever!

I have just come across the version for the Brits…….

One Pot Wonder

You may have gathered by now that we do like one pot dishes – it saves on the washing up!! One pot dishes are definitely back in vogue – especially with the slow cooking phenomenon. Throughout the winter my colleague Phil would regale us with tales about what his slow cooker had produced the night before – that is if he had remembered to turn it on!

There are so many variations on one pot dishes that you can find something to fit anyones taste. It’s also a great way of adding extra veg & pulses.

James was in charge of dinner tonight and took on Thomasina Miers ‘Mexican Food’………can’t go wrong in my eyes! This recipe uses Chipotle puree and so although not very hot it does leave a tingle in the mouth and so probably not one for Izzy. I am not sure that I would leave this out to adapt to Izzy’s taste buds as it’s the chipotle that gives the dish it’s smokiness which makes it special.

One-pot Bacon, Beans & Pumpkin (courtesy of Thomasina Miers – Mexican Food)

Serves 4


160g dried pinto beans

2 Tbsp olive oil

200g pancetta, diced

1 white onion, sliced

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1/2 tsp ground cumin

500g pumpkin, peeled and diced

2 red peppers, deseeded and sliced

2 tsp Chipotle puree

2 bay leaves

5 sprigs of oregano

200g baby tomatoes

500ml chicken stock

To serve:

100ml sour cream

40g pumpkin seeds, tossed

a small handful chopped coriander ( we leave this out as we are not coriander fans!)

Soak the pinto beans in cold water overnight.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, add the pancetta and cook until slightly golden.

Add the onion, garlic and cumin and cook for a further 5 minutes before adding the pumpkin, pepper, chipotle, herbs and baby tomatoes.

Cook until everything has slightly softened, then add the beans and the stock.

Cover with baking parchment and a lid and place in the oven or carry on cooking on the stove for about 45 minutes until the beans are soft.

Serve with sour cream, pumpkin seeds, and the fresh coriander.

Thanks James!!

On another note I had a delivery today…….YAY!! When it comes to Cookbooks I feel like a junkie looking for the next hit. I get such a thrill when a new one arrives……

I have had the Ottolenghi book in my Amazon basket for ages and with the second book – Plenty – just released I decided to order them both. My boss is a keen cook and he loves this book and so I hope it lives up to his recommendation. As I type this James is sitting next to me flicking through them – there have been lots of oohs aahs and plenty of ‘look at this’ …….. it’s looking good! Watch this space!!