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One of my favourite cakes is a lemon drizzle cake as I just love the flavours and taste of it. The batter can also be used to make into cupcakes instead of making it into a loaf which is something that I do a lot as the flavours work great as cupcakes.
225g self-raising flour
225g unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
Zest of a large lemon
For the lemon drizzle:
The juice of 3 lemons
100g of caster sugar
Unlike with cooking you really need to stick rigidly with the measurements for baking and this is the most fool proof recipe for lemon drizzle cupcakes that I have found.
Pre heat the oven to 180c and while it is heating beat together the butter and sugar until it is really light and fluffy. Make sure the butter is at room temperature because it makes it easier and makes the batter lighter. Once the butter and sugar has been beaten and is pale and creamy add the eggs to the mix one at a time mixing them slowly through. Add the lemon zest and then sift in the flour and mix it through until it has combined but make sure to not over beat it as it takes out the lightness and makes the cakes denser and less light if you do.
Add the mixture to some cupcake cases and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until they are cooked.
When the cupcakes are cooked take them out and allow to cool a little bit and then it is time for the drizzle.
Mix together the lemon juice and the sugar and then get a skewer and prick the cupcakes all over and pour the drizzle over them. The juice will soak into the holes and make the cupcakes really moist and the lemon flavour really contrasts well with the sweetness of the cakes giving them a tartness.
This is a great batter for lemon drizzle cupcakes as they taste amazing and if you can manage to resist not eating them all in one go they store well for a few days and can even be frozen to be eaten later.
I have a Tagine that I love and like to use a lot when I have friends over for dinner as it is a great way to cook and it looks great when you take it from the oven and put it on the table and as an added bonus you can serve straight from the Tagine instead of having to use more dishes.
I tend to nearly always cook Moroccan lamb in the tagine as I love the flavours and it is the perfect dish for the tagine as it cooks the lamb perfectly. There are quite a lot of spices involved but it is very easy to make and once it is in the tagine you can just put it in the oven and forget about it for a few hours until it is ready.
Tinned chopped tomatoes
Place all the spices into a bowl and mix them together. I use 1 and a half tsp of each so it is easy to remember how much to use. Dice the lamb into quite large chunks and then use half the spice mix to rub over the lamb and leave to marinate for at least a couple of hours though overnight would be best.
Once the lamb has marinated in the spices for enough time fry it off in a little olive oil to brown it and put it in the tagine or an oven proof casserole dish along with the juices. Sautee some chopped onion with the rest of the spices that was left over along with the garlic until they are softened but not brown and add to the meat in the tagine or casserole dish.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the lamb and onion and mix together. Then just place the lid on the tagine and put it in the oven for about 3 hours by which time all the flavours will have melded together perfectly and the lamb will be succulent and tender.
I am not the biggest fan of vegetables but of course I try and eat as many as I can to get the nutrients and vitamins from them. Probably the only vegetable that I actually really enjoy is mushrooms and it is certainly the only vegetable that I eat purely for the taste.
I love them cooked in any way but one of my favourite mushroom recipes is for Mediterranean stuffed mushrooms as they can be eaten as a meal themselves without the need for meat though they also make a fantastic side dish.
Roasted red peppers
Chopped black olives
Dried Italian herbs
These stuffed mushrooms are seriously easy to make. All you have to do is clean the mushrooms and remove the stalk. Chop the tomatoes, roasted red peppers, black olives and feta into small pieces and then add a little lemon juice, olive oil, the herbs and salt and pepper to season and mix everything all together and spoon onto the mushrooms.
Put the stuffed mushrooms onto a baking tray and cook in a preheated oven at 180c for about 20 minutes until the mushrooms are cooked and the filling is soft and browned. You can garnish them with a bit of chopped basil or parsley if you like.
They are surprisingly filling and hearty and a couple of them served with a salad make a delicious meal by themselves but having one as a side dish with some meal makes a really nice and special looking side dish. They have become something that I make a lot as I not only enjoy the mushrooms but the filling is really tasty and the Mediterranean taste of it makes a nice choice when you are in the mood for something a little bit different.
If there is one thing that I always in the freezer it is home-made pasta sauce as I make a big pan of it and then freeze it in batches so that I can come in on an evening and just put a portion in the microwave and cook a pan of dried pasta and have a quick and easy meal without having to cook anything labour intensive or anything that requires thinking.
It does involve a little bit of forward thinking but having some bathes of this in the freezer really does equal quick and speedy suppers to me.
To make the pasta sauce you will need:
4 tins of chopped tomatoes
6 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
Finely chop a large bunch of fresh basil stalks along with the garlic which has been minced and cook in a little olive oil for a minute or so making sure not to brown them. Add the tomato puree and stir the ingredients together to infuse the flavours.
Add the tins of chopped tomatoes and about a table spoon of sugar just to counter balance the acidity of the tomatoes and then simmer them all together for about 15 minutes to really thicken and intensify the flavours of the sauce. Once the sauce has thickened add the remaining chopped basil leaves and allow to cool before portioning it out and freezing it.
This makes a big batch of pasta sauce and as well as being a speedy meal idea on its own it makes a really versatile sauce. You can use it with some roasted vegetables to make a home made ratatouille or else you can add mascarpone to it to make a creamy tomato sauce. It also goes great with meatballs and even as a salsa on top of fish.
Having a few batches of this in the freezer will ensure you can always have something in for a quick and easy meal anytime.
This is a recipe for Christmas Punch which is a fantastic drink to serve at Christmas for family and friends. Because it is served warm it also makes a great warming winter cocktail to serve on a cold night when you have friends over such as on Halloween or any autumn or winter night really. I have served this while having a barbecue in winter (seemed like a good idea at the time) and everyone really appreciated a warm alcoholic drink.
Ingredients that you will need:
1 litre of red wine
1 cinnamon stick
4 tbsp of sugar
400ml boiling water
Heat the wine the sugar and the cinnamon stick in a pan over a low heat so as to not burn all the alcohol away. When the sugar has dissolved take the wine off the heat and then add the remaining alcohol and the water along with the orange and apple making sure that you have cored and quartered them.
This makes a nice alternative to mulled wine and is really delicious. It sounds like it is going to be a hassle to make but it only takes a few minutes really and is totally worth it and your guests will really appreciate this on a cold night. It looks and tastes like you have went to a lot of effort when you know it only took minutes and as a bonus everyone can have large mugs or glasses of this as it makes quite a decent sized pot of punch.
Spaghetti bolognaise is one of those stand by meals that I always end up making because it is so simple and can be made in bulk and froze for a speedy supper whenever the mood takes me. I make a low fat version packed with vegetables as it not only makes it healthier but it also bulks it out making a huge portion that can be divided and froze for later.
This is such an easy meal to make. Just brown the mince in a non-stick pan. I don’t even use oil for this as even lean mince has enough fat in it that you don’t need to add any more. If you have a lot of mince brown it in batches.
Once browned add it to a pan and then use some fry light or a little olive oil to soften some onions and then add them to the pan with the mince. Depending on what veg you are using add this to the mince and onions too. I like to grate some carrot into my spag bol because although I don’t really like carrot I can’t taste it in the spag bol and it also helps to thicken the sauce. Mushrooms are a must for me as they are one of the few vegetables that I actually really like the taste of. I also like to slice a pepper up really thinly and add that too.
When all the ingredients are in the pan add the tinned tomatoes and a couple of tablespoons of the tomato puree and then simmer it for at least an hour to thicken the sauce and intensify the flavours. Once it is cooked just pour some on top of some spaghetti and you have a filling, low fat and tasty meal.
It freezes fantastically and you don’t even need to have it with pasta all the time as it also goes really well on baked potato.
When I lived in Spain one of my favourite things to eat was a potato tortilla which were easily available in all the supermarkets. Unfortunately when I got back to the UK it wasn’t so easy to find them so I decided to make my own following a Spanish recipe. It is a little bit time consuming but I think the results are really worth it.
Salt and pepper
The amount of potatoes and eggs that you need will vary depending on how large of a tortilla you want. You can pretty much just go by eye though. Peel some potatoes and onions and then heat up 2 or 3 table spoons of olive oil in a heavy based frying pan until it is really hot. Chop the potatoes and onion and then add to the oil and stir them around for a couple of minutes until they are well coated in the oil. The size of your pan determines how much potato to use as you want there to be enough potato to layer the bottom of the pan.
Once you have sautéed the potatoes and onions for a couple of minutes add salt and pepper and turn the heat right down to the lowest possible setting and then add a lid to them and allow them to cook for about 20 minutes. The idea is that they don’t so much fry but stew in the oil as this softens them and adds flavour.
While they are cooking put some eggs in a large bowl and give them a quick whisk with a fork. Once the potatoes and onion are cooked add them to the eggs and stir them through. Transfer them back into the frying pan and allow to cook on the lowest setting. This will take anywhere from 20 to 25 minutes. Once the tortilla is set and the top is just ever so slightly unset you need to turn it over to finish cooking. This is pretty easy as you just get a plate and put it on top of the tortilla and then flip it over and then slide it back in the pan. It should then only take another 5 minutes of cooking to be perfectly cooked.
Perfect hot or cold and keeps in the fridge for a few days.
It is that time of year again where stews and soups start making an appearance on the dinner table. I often make stews in my slow cooker and here is a really easy recipe for a hearty and healthy beef stew.
Ingredients you will need
450 grams of stewing steak
4 large carrots
2 large onions
2 celery sticks
1 red bell pepper
Pack of mushrooms
4 cloves of garlic
Tin of chopped tomatoes
2 beef stock cubes or stock pots
100ml red wine
Tablespoon of flour
Salt and pepper
This is a really simple stew to make. You just rub the stewing steak with the flour and then brown it. Chop up all the vegetables and add them to the slow cooker along with the stewing steak. Pour in the tin of chopped tomatoes and red wine and then fill up with some beef stock until it is just covering the meat and vegetables. Add some salt, pepper and mixed herbs and then just leave it in the slow cooker for at least 6 hours until all the meat and veg is cooked and the sauce has thickened.
This makes such a tasty stew and cooking it in the slow cooker makes the meat incredibly tender and the veg is always cooked perfectly. I add mushrooms and a red bell pepper to the stew because I love the taste of them and also because it helps bulk it up the stew without having to add more meat. It makes a huge portion of stew and is more than enough for at least 4 people. The red wine makes a huge difference. It is only a small amount but it really makes a difference to the taste. You can just buy a small bottle and then freeze the rest for the next time you make it. Once you make this for the first time it will become a staple as it is really good.
It is coming up for that time of year again when the nights are getting dark and the need for jumpers is here. I personally love this time of year when it is chilly but not quite winter yet. It is the time of year when my soup pan comes out of the cupboard and I start making loads of different soups.
One of my favourite soups is roasted red pepper as it is so easy but it is packed full of flavour and really satisfying and filling too.
For the ingredients you will need
4 red peppers
2 smallish carrots
2 sticks of celery
2 smallish onions
2 garlic cloves
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
Vegetable stock cube or stockpot
Salt and pepper to taste
To make the soup just cut the peppers in half and remove the seeds. Then place them in a baking tray and drizzle them with olive oil and some salt and pepper and roast in a hot oven (200C) for 6 to 8 minutes until the skins have started to char. You can actually let the skins really blaken as this will just intensify the flavour.
Whilst the peppers are roasting chop the carrots, celery, onions and garlic and place in a pan of water with the stock pot. About 2 pints of water should be enough. Bring the vegetables to the boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes until they have become tender. When the peppers have charred take them from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Once cooled a little bit the skins should be easy to peel off. If they are difficult you can place them in a freezer bag and the steam in the bag whilst they are cooling should make it easier. Once peeled chop into smaller pieces and add them to the vegetables in the pot along with the tomatoes and simmer them all together for another 10 minutes or so.
Once everything has cooked remove from the heat and use a hand blender to whizz it all together to make a nice thick soup. Just before blending this is the time to add the basil. I use frozen basil and find that it tastes just as good as fresh. Of course you don’t have to add the basil but I really think it makes a huge difference to the taste. Once blended add salt and pepper to taste.
My dog seems to know instinctively when I am eating chocolate and spends the whole time begging me for some though of course I don’t because I am absolutely fanatical about not giving him chocolate as I know it is poisonous to him. Now he obviously doesn’t know this so spends his time looking at me as though I am the worst owner in the world and obviously don’t love him.
I know I shouldn’t but when I am eating I always give him some so I bought him some doggie chocolate drops so that we could both enjoy some chocolate together with me knowing that what he is eating is safe for him and not going to poison him.
The chocolate drops are from Armitage’s Good Boy range and are 100% doggie safe and are made from Carob which is a chocolate substitute. They basically just look exactly like human chocolate drops and even smell quite inviting with a sweet aroma to them. I have tasted them (purely in the name of research) and they do not taste nice at all and taste nothing like human chocolate.
The fact that they don’t taste like human chocolate obviously isn’t a problem to my dog as he wolves them down. The only problem is because they are so small I spend ages having to keep handing him more and he looks at me with sad eyes when I tell him that he has had enough.
You can buy them in a normal and sugar free version and I usually always go for the sugar free version as even though my dog is active and a perfectly normal weight he does get a lot of treats so I think that they should be as healthy as is possible for him. He doesn’t seem to care if they are sugar free or not so I just think I should go for the slightly healthier version for him. They also have added vitamins so are actually more healthy than normal chocolate is for us humans.
The chocolate drops cost around about 1.79 for a 250 gram bag which makes them ok value for money. You can certainly get bigger bags of other treats but it is nice to be able to give him chocolate as a treat since it is one of the human foods he just won’t even be allowed.
I have always liked fantasy novels but one of the things that always puts me off is the absolutely massive size of some of them. It can be a bit daunting when faced with a book that looks as though it will weigh more than a small child. Luckily now with having a kindle this isn’t such a problem for me. The Shadow of the Wind is one of those books that looks huge as a hardback and put me off reading it as I had thought it would be too long and just too confusing trying to remember what characters were what but I decided to give it a try after hearing so many good things about it and I am glad that I did as it has now become one of my favourite books of all time.
The book follows an innkeeper named Kote who is in fact a famous hero named Kvothe Kingkiller who has been tracked down by a chronicler who wants Kote to recount his story. Kvothe agrees and we are then treated to the story of his life from his humble beginnings as a street child to his time at the great university.
With most of the story being told in flashback to Kvothe’s youth I expected the book to plod somewhat but I was mistaken as from the first few pages I was absolutely hooked on his story and fascinated with the level of detail that Patrick Rothfuss has managed to include. The book could so easily have become mundane but the way Rothfuss has written it makes it jump off the page. Kvothe is a fantastic character and although later in life he has an almost mythical reputation here he explains just how he managed to achieve the things that he has.
As this is the first book in a planned series it only follows his life for a certain amount of time but there is a lot packed into the book and even though the paperback comes in at 672 pages it felt like it wasn’t nearly long enough which is the sign of a great book. Patrick Rothfuss has managed to create a world and characters who inhabit it which are absolutely spellbinding. Although to be honest there isn’t a huge amount of epic adventures in this book the retelling of even the mundane parts of Kvothe’s life are fascinating in their own right and it was one of those books that I just couldn’t put down and found myself reading into the early hours.
This is the first book in a series though there have only been two books released so far (with the sequel being every bit as good as this one) so I need to hope that Mr Rothfuss is writing quickly as I can’t wait to read the next one and continue the adventures of Kvothe. Until then this book has become my favourite fantasy book of all time and has great re-readability.
I got suckered into the Timeriders books by a recommendation from a friend. They didn’t sound like my sort of books at all from the description but he insisted I try them and within a few chapters I was hooked and lucky for me I was late to the party so there were already several books in the series that had already been released so I could devour them all without having to wait too long for the next one.
The story follows the basic premise that three teenagers from different eras of time all being rescued just moments from their death by a mysterious man. There is Liam O’Connor who should have died aboard the Titanic in 1912, Maddy Carter who should have died on a plane in 2010 and Sal Vikram who should have died in a fire in 2029.
The three teenagers are recruited to a secret agency that is dedicated to saving and preserving history because time travel is real and there are people who would change the course of history wiping out everyone that ever lived if there is no one there to stop them.
It all sounds a bit corny and they are aimed at the young adult market but they are so well written that within a few chapters of reading this I was hooked and fascinated by the premise of a group protecting the rest of the world from the dangers of time travel.
Although they are young adult it doesn’t matter in the slightest as the characters are so well written that you soon forget that they are teenagers. There is also a lot of darkness to the books especially in the later ones in the series. The group are sent to New York as a base on the eve of the Worl Trade Centre disaster so every day they have to experience the disaster over again. There is a lot of thought about death in the book and it does actually get you thinking especially about the (ok not something I think we have to actually worry about) the dangers that time travel could pose.
The first book doesn’t take long with the set up and it isn’t long before the group have to stop the world changing as someone has went back to Nazi Germany and has changed the future to something that is unrecognisable and they need to go back and fix it before the change can become permanent.
One of the things that I liked best about the book and the others in the series is the fact that each one spends time in a different period of history so it is fascinating to read about them all. The main thing about it that I liked though was it was just a really well written and enjoyable book for both adults and children alike and can be enjoyed by both.
Shakespeare’s Champion is the second book in the Lily Bard series of mystery books from author Charlaine Harris. I starting reading these books as I was a massive fan of her Southern Vampire books which the TV show True Blood is based upon.
Unlike the Southern Vampire books this series has nothing supernatural about it as it is a good old fashioned murder mystery but what it does share is the small town setting and the same easy writing style.
Shakespeare’s Champion is the second book featuring Lily Bard the tough as nails cleaning lady who moved to the town of Shakespeare to escape some traumatic incident in her past. In this book Lily is visiting the gym early one morning and discovers the body of a local builder which looks like a tragic accident but when other incidents start happening around the town it soon becomes apparent that it is no accident.
These books were a nice discovery for me as although I loved Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire books I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of a straight mystery series. It does share a lot of similarities with those books however as you really get to discover the cast of characters that inhabit the town. There is also a really easy flow to the book and a lot of it just involves Lily going about her daily life which some people might not like but I enjoy as it means that you really feel as though you are getting to know her and some of the other characters better.
Although there is something distinctly twee feeling about the writing there is nothing twee about the plot as it is quite dark in places. This one concerns racism and it gets quite dark and nasty in places and it is fascinating to read about things like this that were still happening in America in the late 90’s. For me this was the most difficult to read in the series but also was my favourite so far out of the four that I have read.
Everything isn’t tied up nicely in the end and I was left feeling frustrated with parts of the outcome but I think that is the sign of a good writer that although parts frustrated me I was looking forward to reading the next book in the series to see the story continue.
Lily herself is a fascinating character and one that I felt that I got to know much better in this book than the first. She is still distant with people but you see her open up a little bit more and learn a little bit more about her and her previous life before coming to Shakespeare. She also gets a love interest in this one and although no fan of romances I was curious to see where it would go given all her problems.
This is a first rate murder mystery with a dark edge to it.
I loved Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampires series of books featuring Sookie Stackhouse and all the other weird and wonderful inhabitants of Bon Temps. For those that haven’t read them give them a try as they are vastly superior to the True Blood TV show that is based on them.
After finishing the last book in the series I decided to try out some other Charlaine Harris novels and started with this one which is the first in her Lily Bard Mystery series. It was published in 1996 well before she enjoyed massive success with the Southern Vampire books and is a different kettle of fish entirely from those books.
There is nothing supernatural or urban fantasy about these books and instead are good old murder mysteries though with a darker edge than a lot of these small town set series.
The books follow Lily Bard who has moved to the small town of Shakespeare after a horrific and violent incident in her previous life and is trying to live a quiet and peaceful life as a cleaner. When she discovers the dead body of the landlord of the building she cleans she tries to stay out of it though of course she is soon dragged into the story and the mystery of who would kill him and for what reason.
The synopsis of this book makes it sound like every other murder mystery book around but what makes it different is Charlaine Harris’s ability to create a fascinating and flawed bunch of characters and you really feel as though you get to know them as the book progresses. Lily herself is hugely flawed but all the more relatable for it. She is tough and resourceful but because of what happened to her before she moved to Shakespeare she is vulnerable and keeps herself distant from all the other characters that also inhabit Shakespeare.
The mystery portion of the book works well and I found myself guessing right up until the end who the murderer could be and what were the motives for killing the landlord.
The reason that I think the book works so well is because of the writing of Charlaine Harris. Over the years she has become one of my favourite authors as she has a writing style which is completely her own. All her books have a lovely flow to them and you can just pick them up and read a chapter whenever you want. This one is no exception and although it is a murder mystery one of the joys of it is that it doesn’t spend the majority of the book discussing the murder and a lot of the time is spent just getting to know the characters and exploring the town of Shakespeare.
The mystery does have a satisfying conclusion to it and I was left at the end of the book looking forward to getting stuck into the next book in the series and finding out more about the enigmatic Lily Bard.
I got a few Trek bars in an outdoor clothing and accessory shop as they were selling them off cheaply so they had come down in price from 1.40 to 80p each so I bought a few different flavours to try them out.
The packaging and the description of the bars made them sound interesting and I was curious to see what they would taste like. I usually pack a few cereal bars with me when I go hiking even on short hikes just to keep my energy levels up but usually they aren’t even remotely healthy and are normally full of sugar.
These bars are different as they are made using 100% natural ingredients and full of protein to slowly release energy and keep you fuller for longer. They were advertised as being a good bar to take on hikes but they would also make a decent breakfast bar or just a healthy snack.
This was my least favourite of the flavours that I tried as it was just a bit bland. It tasted ok but it was lacking the flavour that the other bars had. The main taste is peanut but it is subtle and as I said just a bit bland. It is quite a dense and chewy bar and I quite liked the texture as it made it seem quite a substantial snack to have.
Although this might not have been the tastiest bar that I have ever had it was a lot better than a lot of these healthy cereal bars which sometimes have no taste at all. The flavour might be a bit bland but at least you can feel smug whilst eating it knowing that it has all natural ingredients and contains extras such as ginseng and ginko biloba in it. It even counts as one of your five a day apparently.