Destination Barcelona for Tapas

It’s the penultimate stop in my culinary world tour and this week we’re heading to the beautiful Spanish city Barcelona. The Catalan capital is one of the most amazing cities in the world, with its stunning architecture, fantastic restaurants and nightlife, and superb shopping.

I haven’t been back to Barcelona since I was 18, towards the end of a month’s inter-railing with my best friend Ruth after our A-levels, but it remains vivid in my memory. We had thoroughly exhausted ourselves trying to pack as many European cities into our four weeks’ travels as possible and by the time we reached Barcelona in our last week we needed to slow down. Barcelona was the perfect place to put down roots for a little while. While Ruth was ensconced in her first romance, I enjoyed wandering the streets of Barcelona simply breathing in the city.

One day I must return. But for now, I’ll imagine I’m there with my family. And what else would we be eating but tapas?

My sister Lottie lives in Toledo with her boyfriend Jose Luis. His mother Reme is a cook and has worked in a number of restaurants, so Lottie volunteered to ask her for suggestions on typical Catalan tapas for me to try out on my brood. The dishes she recommended I try were Pollo a la Catalana (Catalan style chicken with prunes and apricots) and Habas a la Catalana (broad beans with Jamon Iberica and Morcilla, a Spanish black pudding), both of which were absolutely delicious.

I also added some of my own personal favourites to the menu: Garbanzos con Espinacas (chickpeas with spinach), Albondigas (meatballs in tomato sauce), Gambas al Ajillo (garlic prawns), rosemary almonds, Manchego with Membrillo (quince paste or jelly), all of which were served with olives and bread – quite insanely I decided to go the whole hog and bake my own.

Preparing all the above made for a long, long, hot day in the kitchen. I cleared my husband and kids off for a few hours and cranked the music up loud while I cooked, and although I don’t intend on cooking quite so many dishes for one meal again in a hurry, I really rather enjoyed myself in a crazy kind of way.

So let’s get this recipe show on the road…

Simple Spanish bread rolls

Bread rolls

Makes 4 rolls

500g strong white bread flour
1½tsp salt
½tsp sugar
7g packet fast acting dry yeast
150ml warm water
1 egg, beaten and mixed with a little water

Mix the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Gradually add the water, combining the ingredients until you get a soft dough. Add a little more water if you find you still have flour left at the bottom of the bowl. Likewise, if the dough is too sticky add a little more flour.

Knead the dough for five to ten minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a ball and leave in the mixing bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm, draft-free place for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6.

When the dough has roughly doubled in size, knead again briefly. Divide into four pieces, form into balls and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Allow to rise again for a further 15 minutes.

Bake the rolls for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven and brush the tops with the egg mixture. Return to the oven and bake for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the rolls to cool on a wire rack.

Rosemary almonds

Rosemary almonds

This is a favourite party snack, taken from Leon’s ‘Naturally Fast Food’.

250g whole almonds, with skins
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
25ml olive oil
sea salt

Preheat oven to 170°C/Gas Mark 3.

Spread the almonds on a baking sheet with two of the rosemary sprigs. Remove the leaves from the other sprig and keep to one side.

Toast the almonds in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until just beginning to brown.

Toss in the olive oil and salt while still hot. Remove the rosemary sprigs and add the reserved leaves. Return to the oven for 3 more minutes and then serve.

Chickpeas with spinach

Garbanzos con Espinacas (chickpeas with spinach)

2 tbsp olive oil
½ onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, 1 chopped and 1 left whole
1 tomato, peeled and chopped
1tsp paprika
½tsp ground cumin
¼tsp ground cayenne pepper
¼tsp saffron
4 peppercorns
1 x 410g tin chickpeas, liquid reserved
200g frozen spinach
salt

Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion and chopped garlic and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the tomato and cook until slightly reduced. Stir in the paprika, cumin and cayenne.

Using a pestle and mortar, crush the saffron and peppercorns with the remaining clove of garlic. Dissolve the spices in 3 tablespoons of water and add to the pan with the chickpeas and their liquid from the tin, along with the spinach and salt to taste. Cover and simmer over a low heat for 20 minutes, adding more water if it looks a little dry. The mixture should be saucy, but not sloppy. Serve warm.

Spanish meatballs

Albondigas (Spanish meatballs in tomato sauce)

The meatballs I’ve eaten in Spain are normally a little spicier than this recipe but I wanted to keep it mild for my children. Feel free to add some chilli, paprika or cayenne to the recipe.

3-4 cloves garlic
parsley
white wine, just over half a glass
300g pork mince
2 slices stale bread
milk
1 egg (beaten)
salt and pepper
flour
olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
4 tomatoes, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas 5.

Crush 2 of the garlic cloves with the parsley and mix with a dash of white wine. Add this mixture to the minced pork in a large bowl and combine well. Leave to stand for half an hour.

Place the bread in a dish and cover with the milk. Leave to soak for a few minutes and then squeeze out most of the milk.

Add the bread, egg, salt and pepper to the mince and knead until all the ingredients are mixed well together. Roll the mince mixture into small balls and roll each one in flour.

Fry in plenty of hot oil until they turn golden brown, drain and place in a casserole dish.

To make the sauce, heat a little oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and remaining clove of garlic and gently fry until golden.

Add the chopped tomatoes and about half a glass of white wine. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes

Pour the sauce over the meatballs and place in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes. Serve warm.

Catalan style chicken with prunes and apricots

Pollo a la Catalana (Catalan style chicken with prunes and apricots)

handful each of prunes and dried apricots
white wine
olive oil
4 chicken thighs
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
cinnamon stick
2tbsp runny honey
handful of pine nuts
1tbsp corn flour
dash of red wine vinegar
knob of butter

Place the prunes and apricots in a bowl and cover with white wine. Leave to soak overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.

In a frying pan heat the oil and brown the chicken thighs. Remove the chicken to a roasting tin, along with the garlic, bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

While the chicken is roasting, prepare the sauce. Add the honey to the frying pan in which you browned the chicken and heat. Add the fruit, the wine in which they have been soaking and pine nuts.

When the chicken is cooked, remove to a serving plate and keep warm. Place the roasting tin over a medium heat, and stir in the corn flour to absorb the juices. Add a cupful of water and a dash of red wine vinegar to deglaze the tin and stir in the butter. Pour in the fruity sauce, mix together and then pour over the chicken and serve.

Broad beans with Jamon Iberica and black pudding

Habas a la Catalana (broad beans with Jamon Iberica and black pudding)

This is one of the recipes from Reme, my sister Lottie’s boyfriend’s mother. I couldn’t get hold of Morcilla, a Spanish black pudding, so I went with Bury Market black pudding instead!

120g shelled broad beans
3 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
½ onion, chopped
1 bay leaf
olive oil
bunch fresh mint, chopped
½tsp paprika
glass of white wine
100g Jamon Iberica, chopped
100g Morcilla or black pudding
salt and pepper

Blanch the broad beans in boiling, salted water for a few minutes until tender. Double shell the beans to reveal the beautifully bright green innards. It’s a bit of a palaver I know, but it’s really worth it.

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the bacon, garlic, onion and bay leaf for about 5 minutes. Add the mint and paprika, broad beans, white wine and black pudding. Stir and cook for a few minutes before adding the jamon. Season to taste and serve warm.

Garlic prawns

Gambas al Ajillo (garlic prawns)

I based this dish on a simple recipe I found in ‘Tapas’ by Louise Pickford.

12 raw tiger prawns
2 tbsp olive oil
knob of butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp fresh basil, torn
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
aioli (garlic mayonnaise) to serve – again I cheated and bought a jar!

Wash and dry the prawns.

Heat the oil and butter in a frying pan, add the prawns and garlic and fry for 3 to 4 minutes until the prawns are pink.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the basil and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm with a dish of aioli for dipping.

Manchego cheese with quince jelly

Manchego and Membrillo

Manchego is a tasty Spanish cheese made from sheep’s milk, which has a natural affinity with quinces. The idea of making my own membrillo really was a step too far, so I cheated and bought a jar of quince jelly instead. If you wanted to make your own, I reckon this recipe looks rather good.

So there you have it. My Barcelona tapas menu. I made way too much food for my family of four, but the leftovers were all gobbled up over the course of the next few days. The Catalan-style chicken in particular was very popular, and I’ll be making this dish again on its own for dinner, served simply with rice and salad.

I’ve almost completed my Around the World in Six Suppers adventure – can you believe the school holidays are nearing their end already? So where will the last dish come from next week? Watch this space to find out!

Destination Rio de Janeiro for Feijoada – Traditional Brazilian Stew

The fourth stop in my virtual Around the World in Six Suppers culinary tour finds us in Rio de Janeiro, the party capital of Brazil.

Back in my early 20s, when I was working in a PR agency in Bristol, I went on the jammiest press trip ever. I took some local business journalists all the way to Brazil for almost a week, just to see a fleet of new British Airways aircraft on the production line in Sao Jose dos Campos. We only needed to spend half a day in the factory, but due to flight schedules we had to stay for five days. A real shame that.

After our stint at the factory, our host Embraer put us up at fantastic hotels, firstly in Sao Paulo and then Rio de Janeiro, to make sure we got a really good impression of Brazil. It was incredible. We were wined and dined like royalty. I got to see football in Sao Paulo, sunbathe on Copacabana and Ipanema, hang glide close to Corcovado, take a cable car up Sugar Loaf Mountain (imagining I was in a Bond film), dance to Bossa Nova beats in the clubs and drink way too many caipirinhas. I’ve been on many a press trip since but none has ever come close.

And so, to take me back to those days of luxury in Rio and Sao Paulo, I’ve ironically cooked up what actually started out something of a peasant meal, and is now seen by many as Brazil’s national dish. It’s similar to a French cassoulet and is thought to originate from the slaves in Brazil who would cook up big pots of stew from black beans and the parts of the pig the landowners discarded.

It isn’t the prettiest dish in the world, stews rarely are, but it tastes so good. It’s rich and earthy, smoky and very, very satisfying.

Feijoada – Traditional Brazilian Stew

Serves 6

500g dried black beans
2tbsp olive oil
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
130g smoked sausage – I used kabanos
600g pork ribs, cut into chunks
200g smoked gammon, cut into chunks
5 bay leaves
salt and pepper

Cover the black beans completely in cold water and soak overnight.

Preheat the oven to 150C/Gas 2.

In a large casserole, heat the olive oil and sweat the onions and red pepper until soft. Add the garlic and fry for a minute or so before adding the drained black beans, smoked sausage, pork ribs, gammon, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Stir briefly before covering with cold water and bringing to a gentle simmer.

Cover the casserole with a lid and place in the oven to cook slowly for around two hours, until the meat falls off the bone.

Serve with boiled white rice and sliced spring greens fried with a little chopped onion and garlic. It’s also traditional to serve with slices of orange, but I completely forgot this bit – I can’t say I missed them.

Care to Cook: The Winner is Announced!

When I put out a call a month or so ago for people to send in their favourite family recipes for the Care to Cook recipe challenge I had absolutely no idea what kind of response to expect. Care to Cook is a challenge I set up with a fostering and adoption charity I work with called TACT in order to promote their cookbook, which they’re selling to support adopted children and their families.

But I had nothing to worry about. You lot rose to the challenge splendidly, supplying a fantastic assortment of family favourites, both savoury and sweet. The task set was to suggest a dish you would cook to welcome someone into your family home. For many children in care, family meals are simply something they are not used to. Each and every dish submitted into the challenge is one I know would make a vulnerable child or young person feel special, valued and welcomed.

Before I announce the winner, here are each of those delicious entries in turn. Warning – this list is guaranteed to make you hungry!

First in was this tasty little number from Under The Blue Gum Tree, which looks far superior to its McDonald’s namesake: Homemade Fillet O’ Fish and “Chips”.  The fillet is served in lovingly prepared carrot and cumin bread rolls, with potato skins covered in paprika and cayenne pepper, and some salsa and soured cream on the side. Now, who could resist that?

Homemade Fillet O’ Fish and “Chips” from Under The Blue Gum Tree

Next we have French Madeleines from Crêpes Suzettes. These pretty little cakes look so tempting and perfect for goûter, the snack French kids have at around 4pm. I think my children must be a bit French as they are always starving when they come home from school too!

French Madeleines from Crepes Suzette

For Reluctant Housedad, what to cook for this challenge was a bit of a no-brainer. It had to be his Peanut Butter and Salted Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake. Doesn’t it look incredible? I love puddings that combine sweet and salty and absolutely anything that contains peanut butter, so this is going straight to the top of my must-bake list.

Peanut Butter and Salted Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake from Reluctant Housedad

My fabulous mother Cheryl suggested this next dish Hokkien Mee, which she remembers eating as a girl growing up on the Malaysian island of Penang. It’s a hot and spicy noodle dish, featuring both meat and seafood, common in many South East Asian dishes. It’s a little different to the Singapore version but, as my Mum would tell you, much more delicious!

Penang Hokkien Mee from Cheryl Leembruggen (photo via vkeon.com)

Karen from Lavender & Lovage offers up these ‘frugal but comforting’ Stuffed Tomatoes with Herbs and Oats, which I think look incredibly tasty and very satisfying. It’s a real family-favourite in Karen’s house; her daughter loved eating this when she was little, and still does now she is all grown up!

Stuffed Tomatoes with Herbs and Oats from Lavender & Lovage

My little sister Elly surprised me with her cooking skills with this next entry, her Nonya Chicken Curry from Malaysia. I just assumed she would submit a recipe for something sweet and sticky – she’s a great baker you see. But no, this is her curry dish that got a big thumbs up from her boyfriend’s dad. He’s from Malaysia himself and apparently not an easy man to impress!

Nonya Chicken Curry from Elly Rowe

Pasta and Pesto Sauce is our next entry which comes from A Trifle Rushed. Pesto is always a favourite in our house but I must admit it’s normally a meal-in-a-hurry using dried pasta and jarred sauce. Here Jude and her daughter lovingly make fresh pasta by hand and blend their own pesto in a pestle and mortar. I bet it tastes incredible; it certainly looks wonderful.

Pasta and Pesto Sauce from A Trifle Rushed

Louisa at Chez Foti now lives in the French Pyrenees and likes to cook classic French dishes whenever friends and family come to visit. This Boeuf en Daube is a particular favourite and I can see why; it looks so sumptuously satisfying! It’s one of those meals you can prepare in advance and leave to slow cook in the oven, so that your visitors arrive to the most glorious aromas emanating from the kitchen. Yum!

Boeuf en Daube from Chez Foti

When I received this next entry from Lavender & Lovage for Yorkshire Season Pudding with Herbs I had to try it straight away. We had it for brunch one Sunday morning, and it was perfect with our bacon, eggs and beans. I like the fact this is a traditional family recipe, and one that Karen’s grandmother used to make. I think it might just become a tradition for our family too.

Yorkshire Season Pudding with Herbs from Lavender & Lovage

Spinach and Bacon Macaroni Cheese from Sian at Fishfingers for Tea is next up. Macaroni cheese is the ultimate in satisfying comfort food and I do love this version, beefed up with tasty bacon and spinach and finished with slices of tomato and crunchy cheesy breadcrumbs on top. Another great dish for preparing in advance and popping in the oven just before your visitors arrive.

Spinach and Bacon Macaroni Cheese from Fishfingers for Tea

My Nana Barbara sent in two dishes for her entry: Courgette Bake followed by Vanilla Cream Terrine. She says the courgette bake works well both as a starter and as main course served with large hunks of crusty bread. My Nana is fantastic in the kitchen and as a kid I would love staying with her and Grandad as it always meant getting to eat lots of lovely cakes and pies.

Barbara’s Courgette Bake – perfect for anyone with a glut of courgettes on their hands

Chicken Basquaise is the delicious entry from Helene at French Foodie Baby. She warns that it might differ from traditional recipes but that’s what she likes so much about her mother’s cooking; she cooks from the gut. I love the way Helene relives her food memories through her blog and brings them into the present day as she cooks for her little boy Pablo.

Chicken Basquaise from French Foodie Baby

This Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake comes from my step-mum Sue and is the cake she bakes every June to celebrate my twin sisters’ birthday. I’ve always been very jealous of them having a summer birthday when strawberries are in season! Now wouldn’t you like this for your birthday cake each year?

Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake from Sue Hamer

The final entry is one of mine: Hainanese Chicken Rice. It’s a dish I loved to eat when I was a little girl on trips to Penang with my mum and little sister. I had no idea how to make it so I turned to members of my Chinese-Malaysian family for a helping hand, and my Aunty Lorene and Cousin Sisi did the honours by providing this recipe. How would I ever survive without Facebook?!

Hainanese Chicken Rice from Bangers & Mash

There you have it – a fine collection of family recipes if ever I saw one! But there can only be one winner in the Care to Cook challenge, and the unenviable task of selecting a winner was given to 15-year-old Josh, who lives with one of TACT’s foster carers in the South West of England.

Josh says it was a very difficult decision to make and he sat deliberating – and salivating! – over the list for quite some time and really struggled to choose just one winner. He really liked the look of both the Penang Hokkien Mee and the Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake, but in the end it was the Peanut Butter and Salted Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake from the Reluctant Housedad that won his vote.

So a huge congratulations to Keith at the Reluctant Housedad for your fabulous entry, which Josh found he simply couldn’t resist! As winner of the Care to Cook family recipe challenge he will receive a copy of TACT’s Care to Cook recipe book, signed by the charity’s celebrity patron Lorraine Pascale.

Choosing one winner wasn’t easy but in the end our judge Josh couldn’t resist this Peanut Butter and Salted Caramel Chocolate Cheesecake from the Reluctant Housedad

And thank you to everyone who has taken the time to share their favourite family recipes, helping to raise awareness of this very worthwhile charity, which is working so hard to improve the lives of children and young people across the UK who haven’t had the best starts in life. More information of the work of TACT is available on their website.

Fusilli with Broad Beans and Mint

This is a quick and easy pasta dish for summer days when you don’t want to spend hours slaving over a hot stove. Flavoured with fresh mint and zingy lemon, it’s ideal for using up the last of those broad beans on the veggie patch.

Fusilli with Broad Beans and Mint

Serves 3 to 4

200g dried fusilli
100g shelled broad beans
3tbsp creme fraiche
juice of half a lemon
large handful of fresh mint, chopped
125g grated Cheddar cheese
glug extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.

Meanwhile boil or steam the broad beans for a few minutes until just cooked, with a little bite, and drain. Refresh in cold water.

When the pasta is tender, drain – reserving a little of the pasta water, and return the pasta to the hot pan.

Add the broad beans, creme fraiche, lemon juice, mint, cheese and olive oil to the pasta and mix thoroughly until the pasta is well coated. Stir in a little of the pasta water to loosen the sauce if required. Season to taste and serve.

There you go – told you it was easy!

As this dish features lots of lovely broad beans, I’m entering it into August’s Simple and in Season – a wonderful blog challenge hosted by Ren Behan at Fabulicious Food, celebrating the best in seasonal produce.

And as mint is another star of this dish, I’m also entering it into August’s Herbs on Saturday challenge, hosted by Karen Burns Booth at Lavender & Lovage.

Destination Penang for Hainanese Chicken Rice

We’re at the end of the third week of the school summer holidays. Can you believe we’re already halfway through? And this week we have travelled, by virtue of our imaginations, to the idyllic island of Penang in Malaysia for the next of our Around the World in Six Suppers.

Hainanese Chicken Rice is a dish I’ve been meaning to make for years. It’s a very simple poached chicken served with rice and chicken broth, which I remember devouring as a child during our holidays in Penang.  Mum would take us down to the hawker stalls, away from the more touristy restaurants, and we would eat proper Chinese-Malaysian food with the locals. My Mum was born and grew up in Penang and would always refer to it as ‘home’. Whenever she talked about Penang, the stories would invariably touch on the food at some point!

I haven’t been back to Penang since my early twenties, and hopefully I’ll be taking my own family back there next year. But in the meantime, we’ll have to make do with my favourite Penang meal.

To make sure I got an authentic recipe, I turned to members of my Chinese-Malaysian family and my Auntie Lorene and Cousin Sisi came up trumps. Lorene now lives in America, while Sisi is in Australia – so you can see, we are a truly global family! So a big thank you to them for their help with the recipe and all the tips and advice.

It’s a wonderful dish and it transported me straight back to the days of eating it as young girl in Penang, along with the smell of frangipani flowers and calomine lotion, being taught to use chopsticks, picking fresh rambutans and mangoes from the tree, being morbidly fascinated by dead snakes in jam jars, falling off to sleep at night to the comforting whirring of the ceiling fan, and running away from my Mum, her sisters and cousins as they gourged themselves silly on stinky durian fruit sold by the hot, sticky roadside.

Hainanese Chicken Rice

A whole chicken, around 1.5kg
Kosher or sea salt
2 pieces ginger, around 3cm each
2 spring onions
3 cloves garlic, peeled and bashed
3 tbsp sesame oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 piece ginger, around 3cm, peeled and chopped
1 litre chicken stock (from poaching the chicken)
600g rice
salt and pepper

To serve:

bunch of fresh coriander, chopped
two or three spring onions, chopped
cucumber slices
tomato slices
soy sauce
chilli sauce or oil

Start by giving your chicken a really thorough scrub with coarse sea salt or kosher salt. Rub hard to get rid of all the yucky stuff on the skin of the chicken to give you a good clear broth later on. Don’t rush this job. A little effort now makes all the difference later on. Once you’ve finished scrubbing, give the chicken a good rinse with cold water.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Rub the chicken inside and out with salt. Insert into the cavity the spring onions, bashed garlic and ginger, and carefully place the chicken breast-side down into the water. Bring the water back to the boil, skim off any foam while cooking, and turn off the heat.

Let the chicken sit in the pot, covered, for around 40 minutes. To check if it’s cooked, poke the thigh with a skewer or fork. If the juices run clear, it is done. If not, leave for another five to ten minutes.

When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan and place in iced water to tighten the skin. Reserve the stock for cooking the rice and for the soup to accompany the meal. Rub a couple of tablespoons of sesame oil into the skin, before chopping through the bone into serving pieces.

In a large pan, heat the vegetable oil and a tablespoon of sesame oil over a medium heat. Fry the shallots, garlic and ginger until fragrant. Add the rice and stir until lightly toasted and the oil has been absorbed. Pour in a litre of chicken stock and season with salt to taste. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the rice is tender – about 20 minutes.

Heat the remainder of the stock for your soup, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkling with chopped spring onions.

To serve, arrange the chicken on a serving platter, and garnish with fresh coriander, spring onions, cucumber and tomato – although Sisi says her son and husband hate coriander, so she leaves it out! Serve with the rice and soup, and small bowls of soy and chilli sauce.

So simple and so delicious.

As this is another wonderful family recipe, I’m entering it into TACT’s Care to Cook family recipe challenge – which aims to raise awareness of this amazing fostering and adoption charity working with some of the UK’s most vulnerable children and young people.

Sue’s Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake

With my step-mum Sue in Epping Forest in the 1980s

I clearly remember my Dad telling me one summer holidays when I was staying with him in London that he wanted to introduce me to someone special: his girlfriend, Sue. I was about seven or eight years old. I remember being taken completely by surprise but I couldn’t wait to meet her. Particularly because she had hand-sewn me the most exquisite little doll. When I met her, I thought she was a bit like a princess with her long brown hair and her beautiful dresses. Rather like her doll!

For some reason, it wasn’t until I had my first child that it dawned on me how significant a role Sue had played in my childhood. It’s quite common I think for women not to acknowledge what their mothers have done for them until they have their own children. The same was true for me. I saw both my Mum and Sue in new lights.

Whenever I came to stay in London with my Dad during the school holidays, Sue would always make a huge effort with me. We baked together, she helped me make my own dresses, she taught me to play the recorder, she’d take me into the Chelsea Playground where she worked, and we’d play endless games – picture consequences was a particular favourite of mine.

I was 12-years-old when I came to live permanently with my Dad and Sue in London. My twin sisters were just a year old. For me it was all a big adventure; moving to London, getting a new bedroom, starting a new school and meeting new friends. I really never thought about what a massive impact this must have had on Sue’s life: bringing a near-teenager into your home when your hands are already very much full with two little babies. I can’t imagine many people would put themselves forward for that. I’m not sure if I’ve ever said a proper thank you to Sue for this. So, thank you. I’ll say it properly in person when I next see you!

And all this is why I’m so pleased Sue has entered this cake into TACT’s Care to Cook family recipe challenge. Because Sue knows a thing or two about family and welcoming young people into her home.

Over to Sue for her very special Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake…

Since I first made this cake one June to celebrate my twin daughters’ birthday – or should that be birthdays? – I’ve made it almost every year. Often we waited for their birthday to have the first strawberries of the year – all the better for the waiting! When they were away at university it was something to have when they returned home.

We may not have it quite so often these days but this year – when Lottie returned from Spain and met up with her sister, Maura in London – we shared it again. Cakes are often part of getting together as a family and seem to signify special times or celebrations often becoming a bit of a family tradition. Cranberry muffins on Christmas morning whilst we open the presents is another one in our house.

But as it’s summer and strawberries are still good here goes.

(The Victoria sandwich recipe here is based on one of Mary Berry’s. My mother gave me a copy of book of her cake recipes and it’s one of the most used in the house – much splattered and stained to prove it!)

Strawberries and Cream Birthday Cake

4 free-range medium eggs
225g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
225g baking spread, margarine or soft butter at room temperature (or a combination of the two to make the same amount) plus a little extra to grease the tins

For the filling and topping:

At least one punnet of ripe strawberries – some sliced in half (for between the layers), the rest left whole
300ml whipped double cream
450g strained Greek yogurt and whipped cream (see below)
mint leaves for decoration

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.

If using tins rather than silicone cake moulds, grease and line two 20cm sandwich tins: use a piece of baking or silicone paper to rub a little baking spread or butter around the inside of the tins until the sides and base are lightly coated. Line the bottom of the tins with a circle of baking or silicone paper; to do this, draw around the base of the tin onto the paper and cut out.

Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl, then add the sugar, flour, baking powder and baking spread.

Mix everything together until well combined. The easiest way to do this is with an electric hand mixer, but you can use a wooden spoon. Put a damp cloth under your bowl when you’re mixing to stop it moving around. Be careful not to over-mix – as soon as everything is blended you should stop. The finished mixture should be of a soft ‘dropping’ consistency – it should fall off a spoon easily.

Divide the mixture evenly between the tins: this doesn’t need to be exact, but you can weigh the filled tins if you want to check. Use a spatula to remove all of the mixture from the bowl and gently smooth the surface of the cakes.

Place the tins on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Don’t be tempted to open the door while they’re cooking, but after 20 minutes do look through the door to check them.

The cakes are done when they’re golden-brown and coming away from the edge of the tins. Press them gently to check – they should be springy to the touch. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool in their tins for five minutes. Then run a palette or rounded butter knife around the inside edge of the tin and carefully turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack.

To take your cakes out of the tins without leaving a wire rack mark on the top, put the clean tea towel over the tin, put your hand onto the tea towel and turn the tin upside-down. The cake should come out onto your hand and the tea towel – then you can turn it from your hand onto the wire rack.

Set aside to cool completely.

Whip the double cream until thick and stiff. At this point I fold some thick, strained Greek yogurt into the cream; it takes away a little of the richness and makes for a lighter cake. I usually use two-parts cream and one-part yogurt but you can decide on what proportions you prefer.

To assemble the cake, place one cake upside down onto a plate and spread with about half of the cream mixture. Then arrange the halved strawberries on top – you want to cover the entire surface. Place the next layer of sponge on top – add a little more of the cream if the top layer won’t stick to the bottom one.

Spread the rest of the cream mixture on top and crown with the whole strawberries to cover. Arrange them so that they look pretty.

Finally, decorate with a few mint leaves.

Barbara’s Courgette Bake and Vanilla Cream Terrine for the Care to Cook Challenge

Knitting with my Nana Barbara back in the 1980s

My parents split up when I was very little. I can barely remember them being together. So much so, I’m not totally sure how old I was when they went their separate ways. Two perhaps, or three?

But despite that, my dad’s parents, my Nana Barbara and Grandad Peter, ensured they remained constant factors in my life – through my childhood and teens, my university days and when I started my own family and they became great-grandparents. My mum moved around the UK quite a bit as I was growing up, but no matter where we went, Nana Barbara and Grandad Peter would trek across the country to come and visit me. Because family is important. I grew up knowing that and knowing how much I was loved. And that is so important.

I am so pleased my Nana Barbara has entered these recipes into the Care to Cook recipe challenge to raise awareness of the fostering and adoption charity TACT. I always associated visits from my grandparents and then later, when I was old enough to go and stay with them in Lancashire and then the Lake District, with food. Homebaked cakes, pies, tarts, casseroles and puddings. Dinner round the table. Proper family food.

My Grandad Peter and my Nana Barbara with me and my daughter Jessie a few years ago

The two dishes Nana has entered are actually new ones on me, and I can’t wait to try them out…

Courgette Bake

In one bowl mix:

2 grated courgettes
1 grated carrot
1 chopped onion
5 rashers of chopped up crispy bacon
1 cup grated tasty cheese
1 cup self-raising flour

In a second bowl mix:

5 eggs, beaten
½ cup olive oil
salt and pepper
crushed clove of garlic
1tsp paprika

You’ll also need:

Parmesan or cheddar for sprinkling on top
Chopped fresh parsley to finish

Stir bowls one and two together, then spread into a lasagne dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan or Cheddar cheese.

Cook at 200°c for 30 to 40 minutes. Serve hot or cold, garnished with fresh parsley. Will serve six people.

Vanilla Cream Terrine

2 tsp vanilla extract
425ml whipping cream
11g sachet powder gelatine
85g caster sugar
425g Greek yoghurt
Mint leaves and raspberries to garnish
raspberry couli

Begin by placing the gelatine in a cup together with three tablespoons of the cream and leave to soak for 10mins.

Meanwhile place the rest of the cream in a saucepan with the sugar and heat gently until sugar has dissolved. It is important not to overheat the cream. Next, add the soaked gelatine to the warmed cream and whisk everything over the heat for a few seconds. Now remove the cream mixture from the heat.

In a mixing bowl, stir the yoghurt & vanilla together, then pour the gelatine cream mixture through a sieve. Mix very thoroughly and pour the whole lot into a plastic box (I use an old ice cream container). Allow to cool, cover and chill in the fridge for at least 4-6 hours or overnight.

Serve sliced, with fresh raspberries and mint springs, with a pouring of raspberry coulis.

Thanks Nana!

Save the Children’s Recipe Challenge eBook

Back in March, along with many other food bloggers, I entered my recipe for Roast Vegetable Lasagne into the Save the Children Recipe Challenge organised by Ruth Clemens at The Pink Whisk.

The aim of the challenge was to raise awareness of Save the Children’s Race Against Hunger campaign. It is a shocking fact that we live in a world with enough food for everyone, yet hunger is still able to kill 7,000 children every day.  Save the Children is calling on governments to put an end to this hidden hunger.

All the recipes gathered have been collated and published in a beautiful Save the Children Recipe Challenge e-book, which is available online for an optional donation of £2 to raise awareness and funds for the campaign. I am absolutely thrilled to have a recipe included in this wonderful collection.

Please, please, please visit the Save the Children website to download a copy, and make a small donation if you can. The book features mouthwatering mains, such as Easy Braised Lamb Shank, Guacamole Bean Salad and Easy Baked Chicken Biryani, plus lots of tempting cakes and puds like Raspberry and Almond Mini Macaroons and Fresh Orange Cake with Citrus Buttercream.

Over the next two years Save the Children aim to help at least two million children get the kind of healthy food they need to grow up strong and healthy. The kind of food we’d all expect for our own kids.

But they can’t do it alone. Add your voice to the Race Against Hunger campaign and with your help they will:

  • persuade governments to invest in getting help to the children and families who need it
  • encourage companies to make sure millions more children get food fortified with the right vitamins – just like our breakfast cereals
  • give poor mothers vouchers or money so they can buy the food they need before things get desperate – a form of aid that stimulates local markets so they can keep on supplying local communities for the long term.

Together we can give children a life free from hunger.

Destination Northumberland for Stottie Cakes with Ham & Peasepudding

The next leg of our Around the World in Six Suppers summer tour takes us from New York to Newcastle upon Tyne, gateway to the ruggedly beautiful county of Northumberland.

Yes, it’s the second week of the school holidays and for my second dish, inspired by a ‘virtual’ holiday destination, I’ve chosen the simple but oh so tasty stottie cake filled with succulent home-baked ham and good old-fashioned peasepudding.

I lived in the North East of England from the age of five until I was twelve, so many of my early memories are firmly lodged in this part of the world.

Trips to the Roman forts along Hadrian’s Wall, bike rides along the disused railway to Wylam, days spent on the long sandy beaches at Cullercoats and Whitley Bay, boat trips from Seahouses to see the puffins and seals of the Farne Islands, exploring the castles at Alnwick and Bamburgh, listening to the pipers at the Ovington Goose Fair…

It all sounds like a rather idyllic, Enid Blyton style childhood. Admittedly, these were also rather difficult years for my family for a number of reasons, but all in all, my memories of Newcastle and Northumberland are very, very fond ones. And I can’t wait to some day soon take my own family there for a proper holiday so I can properly show it off to them.

While Northumberland might not have an international reputation for its cuisine, one of my most vivid memories as a child is sharing a lovely soft stottie cake with my Mum, generously filled with ham and salty, stodgy peasepudding. And so this is the dish I have made this week to transport us to our second holiday destination.

Stottie Cakes

For those unfamiliar with the stottie I should explain it is not actually a cake. Rather it is a large, round, flattish bread roll, not normally seen outside of the North East. It is quite a heavy, doughy bread but I really like its heavy, chewiness. It is a very satisfying bread and when filled with the traditional ham and peasepudding it makes for a rather substantial meal.

Stottie cakes are easy to bake. I followed this recipe from the Ocado website and have used it again subsequently to bake bread buns for barbecued burgers, achieving perfect buns on both occasions.

My Mum used to buy stottie cakes for us from the butcher in the Grainger Market in the centre of Newcastle. I have no idea if you could get other fillings; ours always came stuffed with ham and peasepudding. Bizarrely I would normally refuse to eat peasepudding. I couldn’t stand the stuff. But in a stottie it was, somehow, transformed.

Home baked ham

There is nothing more delicious than a joint of home cooked ham. What’s more it is so easy to do. I simply took a 1.5kg gammon and soaked in cold water overnight. In the morning I gently brought the joint to a simmer in a large pan of fresh water, covered with a lid and put in the oven (preheated to 160°C/Gas Mark 2) for an hour and a half. You can tell if it’s cooked by sticking in a skewer; if it goes into the meat easily and the juices run clear, then it’s done.

Leave to cool a little and remove any string and skin. You can press the fatty surface of the joint with sugar and mustard powder if you like before baking, but I prefer to smother with a thin layer of sweet chilli sauce. I’m not sure what Geordie purists would make of that but I think it works well. Cover the lean meat with tin foil and place in a roasting tin. Bake in the oven (200°C/Gas Mark 6) for 10 to 20 minutes, until you get a good colour on top.

Peasepudding

For the peasepudding, I turned to this easy recipe from The British Food Trust. You’ll end up with leftovers, which apparently you can fry up, but I still can’t bring myself to eat it any other way except for in a stottie! I can’t wax lyrical about how wonderfully delicious peasepudding is, because I’m afraid it’s not. But it is the perfect slightly salty, slighty herby, stodgy accompaniment for ham, giving you the most amazing sandwich ever.

Now my kids can’t wait to visit Northumberland so they can try an authentic stottie cake. But I think I also sold it to them when I mentioned that the first few Harry Potter films were filmed in Alnwick Castle…