Thumbs up for…

April Collage

With only a few days left until Easter, here’s a quick round-up of some of the top products my family have been taste-testing recently, in case you’re on the look out for a few last minute shopping ideas.

M&S Easter Cracking Dessert

MS egg dessertThis ‘Cracking Dessert’ from M&S received a very definite thumbs up from my two girls. It’s a crunchy crumb layered with milk chocolate cheesecake and vanilla mousse, topped with orange and lemon curd.

Usually I find these types of pudding too sickly sweet but this is just the right combination of fruity tang and creamy sweetness.

£1.30 for a 95g single pot.

Hotel Chocolat You Crack Me Up Extra Thick Egg

your-crack-me-up-extra-thick-easter-eggAnother sweet treat that really made my children smile was this luxurious extra thick chocolate egg with its assortment of humorous mini chocolate creations from that wonderful British chocolatier, Hotel Chocolat.

At £28 you might argue this is simply too good for little people but I’d definitely recommend buying them just this one egg and  it’ll keep them going for quite a while. My girls wrote their own review, which you can read here.

thorntons eggThornton’s Masterpiece Easter Egg

If you want good chocolate but Hotel Chocolat is a little out of your price range, then how about this 70% dark chocolate Masterpiece egg from Thornton’s?

The seductively rich and dark chocolate egg comes surrounded by pretty mini masterpieces – chocolate art creations in delicious flavours including toffee, fudge, orange and raspberry. £9.99 for 270g.

Waitrose Ginger Truffle Mini Eggs

ginger eggsGinger and dark chocolate is one of my all-time favourite combinations and when I saw these ginger truffle mini eggs on the shelves at my local Waitrose I couldn’t resist picking up a box. At £3.50 for a 100g they make for an affordable naughty treat.

The truffle centre is gorgeously soft and smooth with a warming hint of soft ginger spice, covered in deep dark chocolate. Perfect as an after dinner chocolate with a cup of strong espresso.

Heston from Waitrose Acacia Honey and Ginger Hot Cross Buns

heston hot cross bunsAnother recent impulse buy from a lunchtime jaunt to Waitrose were these acacia honey and ginger hot cross buns from their Heston Blumenthal range. Beautifully spiced and not too sweet, I think I might be copying this flavour combination the next time I bake my own.

At £1.69 for two, they are much more than I’d normally pay for hot cross buns but they are very good, although possibly more of cake than a tea cake and just fabulous served with thickly spread with butter and a strong cup of tea.

Unearthed Chorizo de Leon

chorizo de leonAuthentically produced in the mountains of northern Spain, with an earthy, spicy and smoky flavour, Chorizo de Leon from Unearthed is great served as part of a selection of Spanish meats and cheeses for cold tapas.

It is also equally good as a cooking ingredient, as in the fantastic chorizo stuffing my husband prepared recently to serve with roast chicken for my Mother’s Day feast.

Available from Waitrose and Ocado, £3.79 for 220g.

Cool Chile Co Mexican Chorizo Seasoning

cool chileThis seasoning pack from the Cool Chile Co is a simple way to create your own wonderfully spicy, tangy Mexican chorizo meat. The kit provides you with chile ancho, chile guajillo, chile chipotle as well as a Mexican chorizo spice mix containing achiote powder, Mexican oregano, thyme, cinnamon, bay leaf and clove. £2.60 for 46g.

I was sent a kit recently to review and was a little dubious as to why I’d bother making my own chorizo meat rather than just buying it ready-made. But I am now completely sold.

I used the seasoning to create a beautifully flavoursome spiced pork mince which I then served as part of a queso fundido – essentially a Mexican take on a cheese fondu – and it was one of the most moreishly delicious dishes I’ve tasted recently.

I’ll bring you the full recipe on the blog very soon, I promise.

Loyd Grossman Lasagne Sauces

grossmanI don’t use packed or jars of sauces very often but this offering from Loyd Grossman is one I think I’ll use again.

My family loves lasagne but while it’s particularly not difficult, it’s not the quickest dish in the world to make either, and so if you’re looking to cut corners but still achieve that proper homemade taste, these sauces are the way to go.

The tomato sauce is rich and full of herbs, while the white sauce is creamy, with a lovely hint of nutmeg, and it isn’t too sweet, which is so often the case with these ready-made sauces. £1.69 per pack.

Bart Mediterranean Mixed Herbs in Sunflower Oil

bart herbsI actually first bought these Bart herbs in oil by accident when I was doing an online supermarket shop. I thought I was buying dried mixed herbs but these arrived instead. And I’ve been a fan ever since.

It’s delicious spooned onto homemade pizzas, stirred into pasta sauces and roast vegetables, and I also rather like mixing it through boiled rice. £1.79 for 85g.

Disclosure: I was sent complimentary samples of Hotel Chocolat and Thornton’s Easter eggs, M&S Easter Cracking Dessert, Unearthed Chorizo de Leon, Cool Chile Co Mexican Chorizo Seasoning and Loyd Grossman’s lasagne sauces for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions expressed are my own.

You Crack Me Up review

Hotel Chocolat Collage

Hotel Chocolat Easter egg review by Jessie age 9 and Mia age 6

When I told my daughters that Hotel Chocolat had offered to send me one of their Easter eggs to review but that I thought I’d have to turn it down because I was just too busy, you can imagine the look of devastating disappointment on their faces. Then it occurred to us, since many of their chocolate eggs are targeted at little ones, why not get the little ones to do the review? And that’s exactly what we did.

So without further ado, I have great pleasure in handing you over to Jessie…

hotel chocolat

When I was told by my mum that Hotel Chocolat had asked me to do a review, I was thrilled. It would mean tasting delicious chocolate. Yum!!!

They sent us an Extra Thick Egg called ‘You Crack Me Up’ which we thought was a funny name. Inside the thick egg were lots of little chocolates in different shapes and sizes.

hotel chocolat

The first thing I tried was a white soldier. Because there was two of everything, my sister had one too. It was delicious white chocolate on the outside with a mouth-watering scoop of chocolate like Nutella inside. It looked a bit like a piece of toast dipped into runny egg yolk. It was simply decorated but looked good. My rating:9/10.

This is what my sister said: “It was really tasty and delicious and nice. I loved the taste of the yellow bit.” Mia’s rating: 7/10.

hotel chocolat

The next thing I tried was the chocolate brownie. Although its name is chocolate brownie, to Mia and I it did not taste a bit like one. It looked amazing, but funny as well because of its sweet face. Also, it is amazingly smooth on the outside and filled with crunchy nut in the inside. This is my idea of a cute piece of chocolate. My rating: 7/10.

This is what Mia said: “It was really crunchy and sweet, I loved the taste. It was really yummy and nice. I liked the look the best.” Mia’s rating: 9/10.

The third thing I tried was an amazing looking chocolate chick. It looked spectacular, but turned out to be very rich. I loved the taste, but wouldn’t be able to eat too many! My rating: 7/10.

Mia thought: “The chick looks fluffy and looks so tasty and yummy. It was so delicious.” Mia’s rating: 7/10.

Next, we had a taste of the thick chocolate shell. I thought it was a gorgeously tasty smooth, hard shell. It tasted spectacular and was amazing. My rating: 10/10! This was my favourite bit!

Mia said:“The shell looks so yummy and delicious. I love it. It’s so scrummy and yummy.” Mia’s rating: 10/10!

Soon we came to eating the white chocolate fried egg. It was nearly as good as the shell. It looks amazing, tastes amazing, is amazing. My rating: 9/10.

Mia said: “Looks very fried, looks very tasty, it is very good to eat. It is yummy!” Rating: 8/10.

Now we were onto the chocolate rabbit. I loved it, especially the detailed decoration. Also it has a beautifully soft layer of chocolate. Yum, yum, yum!!! My rating: 8/10.

My sister adored it even more than me (as much as the egg shell). “It looks yummy and it looks really tasty and is tasty,” Mia said. Rating: 10/10!

your-crack-me-up-extra-thick-easter-eggNow we come to the final piece of chocolate. The crunchy praline – another cute, smiley face very similar to the chocolate brownie. It had a crispy outside and a spoonful of ‘Nutella’ inside. My rating: 9/10.

Here is what Mia thought: “It looks really crunchy and nice. It looks so tasty I loved it. Rating: 11/10!!! As you can see, this was Mia’s overall favourite!

After tasting this spectacular chocolate, Mia and I are pleased to say we thoroughly recommend this as a posh Easter egg. Enjoy!

Final note from Mum

At £28, you might think this is rather on the expensive side for a children’s Easter egg and I must admit I would certainly think twice about spending so much on chocolate. But a little goes a very long way with this egg. My children absolutely loved it (as you can tell from the frequent uses of spectacular and amazing in their review) but it has actually taken them a fortnight to get through it so I would say it represents good value for money.

Since my girls were kind enough to let me try a tiny nibble, I can confirm that the chocolate is ruddy good too and so much more delicious and attractive than those cheap as chips eggs you can buy in bulk in supermarkets.

Disclosure: Hotel Chocolat provided me with a complimentary You Crack Me Up chocolate egg for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions are my own (or my daughters’).




The Spice Trail: your favourite ginger recipes

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Last month’s ginger challenge on The Spice Trail proved to be a real feast for the senses. As the month went on, I found myself in an increasing state of drooliness as your ginger creations piled up in my inbox – each inspiring recipe and stunning photograph had me bookmarking away.

So let’s see how you like to use ginger in your cooking…

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I love fresh ginger in Asian and Oriental broths and soups, and so my eyes definitely lit up when I saw this stunning entry from Tina at The Spicy Pear –  Chicken in Ginger and Spring Onion Sauce (1). You know it is going to do you good as well as tasting good, and don’t those goji berries provide a stunning burst of colour?

Linsy from Home Cook Food offers us a couple of beautifully spiced dishes, both of course featuring ginger and along with a whole host of other Asian spices including methi or fenugreek leaves. Firstly there’s a Methi Vegetable Malai (2) with mixed vegetables served in a creamy, spiced sauce, and then there’s a boldly flavoured Kala Chana Aur Methi Curry (3). 

Next is my quick and easy Baked Sea Bass with Ginger, Garlic & Chilli and Miso Rice (4) which is ready in less than half an hour but absolutely packed full of big fresh flavours.

Another speedy supper comes in the form of this super tasty Chicken & Veggie Chow Mein (5) from Louisa at Eat Your Veg, which takes just minutes to create and is so much healthier than the takeaway version.

This Lettuce Wrapped Pork (6) from Heidi at Mamacook is a gorgeously fresh and fragrant dish, with ginger, garlic, chilli and lime, and is quite simply my idea of foodie heaven.

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Heidi from Mamacook brings us a second dish in the form of this glorious Carrot, Ginger & Pumpkin Soup (7) which she describes as a “zinger of a soup” as the ginger really packs a punch. I love the sound of that.

These Spicy Chickpeas (8) from Spicy, Quirky and Serendipitous make for a fabulously aromatic dish and feature, as well as ginger, caraway, mint and garlic to really stir the senses.

A wholesomely tasty soup is up next from Manjiri at Slice Off Me with her Tomato & Lentil Soupy Broth (9) from Slice Off Me. Born and bred in Mumbai and now living in London, Manjiri knows a thing or two about balancing her spices and this vibrant soup is a good example of that skill in the kitchen.

Half Costa Rican,half Irish-American and married to her Hyderabadi love, it is little surprise that the cooking of Emily at Cooking for Kishore has an international, fusion feel. Emily’s Goan Shrimp Curry (10) is a stunning dish of plump shrimps in a rich and creamy coconut curry sauce, and it had to be special as it was served to Kishore for his birthday meal. Bet he loved it!

We have a gorgeously fragrant curry next from Janet at The Taste Space. Her Chickpea & Kabocha Squash Lemongrass Curry (11) features sweet kabocha squash, flavoured with aromatics like cardamom and coriander, tempered by ginger, mustard and chilli and a heavenly coconut-infused broth spiked with lemongrass. It sounds heavenly.

Bintu from Recipes From a Pantry serves up a strikingly vibrant Curried Carrot Soup (12). As with all good things in life, it is a very simple soup made with carrots, coconut milk and curry powder with a little ginger thrown in and takes just 10 minutes of effort. Fragrant, warming, quick and easy – just perfect.

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I was delighted Nasifriet from By The Way took part in The Spice Challenge this month. I hadn’t come across her blog before but I get the feeling I might be spending quite some time there. I do like the look of her Malaysian influenced dishes; my mother is Malaysian but I don’t know the food from the region all that well. Nasifriet’s Steamed Crispy Shanghai Bok Choy in Ginger Garlic Sauce (13) looks so good and just the way I like my green vegetables.

Being an Aga owner, I’m rather a fan of slow cooked meats and this Slow Cooked Pork in Tonkatsu Sauce (Japanese Barbecue Sauce) (14) from Corina at Searching for Spice is one I shall be experimenting with very soon. The pork look so so tender and succulent, while I am intrigued by the sweet and sour Japanese inspired sauce. I think the phrase finger licking good most definitely applies here.

This Lamb Kofta Curry (15) is one of Angela from My Golden Pear’s favourite midweek curries and I really like the fact the kofta mixture is so versatile and can be used as meatballs in an appetiser, served with chutney or a yoghurt dip, or moulded on to skewers and char-grill as a starter, or cooked in this curry sauce for a main meal. Genius.

We have two more dishes from Spicy, Quirky and Serendipitous next. There’s a vibrantly healthy  Broccoli Ginger Stir Fry (16) followed by Mushrooms, Tamarind, Ginger and Spice (18), both beautifully flavoured and full of gorgeous fresh vegetables.

If you’re thinking of trying your hand at homemade sushi, then this recipe for Homemade Pickled Ginger for Sushi (17) from Vohn’s Vittles is one for you. It is a perfect way to use up any excess root ginger and I love Vohn’s tip for peeling ginger with a teaspoon. How did I get to the grand age of 39 and not know you could peel ginger with a spoon?

Louisa at Eat Your Veg is my go to source of inspiration when it comes to tasty, fast food the whole family will love and her Soy & Ginger Glazed Salmon & Courgette Kebabs (19) are a brilliant example of her clever way of combining wholesome ingredients and punchy flavours in a way kids (and grown ups) just adore.

In the words of Aneela from The Odd Pantry, you’d better be “clutching your socks” when you take a look at her recipe for Ginger Chutney (20) as it is sure to knock them off! Aneela says this is an authentic South Indian chutney featuring daal, which she explains is sometimes used as a spice in Indian cooking, particularly the urad daal or black lentil. I never knew lentils could be considered a spice – I love the way I am always learning new things about food from my fellow bloggers.

Ginger4 Collage

Ginger is of course a traditional ingredient in so many baked goodies, featuring in cake and biscuit recipes from around the world. I was delighted with Heidi from Mamacook’s baked offering of Gingerbread Men (21)  Ginger Parkin (22)  Sugar Free Date & Ginger Muffins (23) and Quick Ginger Biscuits (25), which would make a brilliant spread for any tea party.

If you’re looking for a healthier alternative to the shop-bought breakfast snack, these Apricot, Ginger & Pecan Breakfast Bars (24) from Jane at The Hedge Combers look ideal, and a very tasty alternative too spiced with gorgeous crystallised ginger. I could eat these any day of the week, although Jane does recommend saving them for high days and holidays.

If you are planning a spot of Easter baking, but don’t fancy a big cake how about trying these dainty Ginger Simnel Cupcakes (26) from Alexandra aka The Lass in the Apron? Just like the traditional Simnel cake, they feature marzipan and lots of dried fruit and spices, and are then dipped in a delicious  orange glaze and decorated with crystallized ginger. They look and sound just lovely.

Despite my personal passion for teacakes, I’ve never thought to make them with one of my favourite ingredients, stem ginger but I certainly will be trying it now after seeing this fantastic recipe for Spiced Teacakes (27) from Sarah at The Garden Deli. Do pop over to her blog to check out her wonderful springtime photos from her garden.

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The sweet, ginger treats continue with these fun Coconut & Ginger Cake Pops (28) from Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog, which she baked using her new Lekue cake pop kit. Her tempting chocolaty treats are made with coconut oil, coconut sugar and a combination of coconut and gluten-free flour, as well as ground ginger and of course the best dark chocolate you can lay your hands on.

These Dutch Ginger Cake Squares (29) from Helen at Family–Friends–Food are an old family recipe, passed on to her mum from an elderly aunt in Australia, which looks deliciously moist and chewy. Plus I love those kind of recipes that come with family stories and memories attached. Helen also brings us some Ginger Cookies (32) which recently got a the seal of approval from her daughter Kipper and her little friends, who polished off a plate of them when their parents weren’t looking!

I’m rather taken by all things speculoos at the moment and so I’ve just got to have a go at this scrummy Speculoos Ice Cream (30) from Mel at Edible Things, made with whole spices echoing those found in traditional speculoos spice mix, and of course plenty of ginger. This might just have to be the first ice cream I make to test out my new ice cream maker.

Sarah at The Fig Tree is up next with her fragrantly delicious Fresh Ginger Cake (31) made from homegrown ginger from her friend’s greenhouse. Doesn’t it look and sound amazing? I wonder if I could try growing my own ginger here in Somerset…

I was hoping someone would bring some drinks to our ginger party and Mel from Edible Things came up trumps with lashings of  Gingerade (33) – a gingery take on classic lemonade. I bet it tastes incredible and it looks perfect for drinking on a hot, sunny day in the garden, which I’m confident we’ll be enjoying lots of this summer. Wish, wish…

Lapin d’Or brings us a rather sophisticated dessert of Ginger Wine Zabaglione with Mango (34), which sounds divinely delicious bringing together warm ginger-sweet custard and soft succulent pieces of fresh mango. Heavenly.

To close, there’s one final entry from me with a very easy but very tasty Banana, Ginger and Chocolate Cake (35), a great way to use up ripe bananas and perfect for chocoholics big and small.

And the winner is…

spice tins

If I could I’d award everyone a prize this month, the quality was just so damn good. But as ever there can only be one winner, and so I’m pleased to announce this month’s Spice Trail winner is Corina from Searching for Spice for her fabulous Slow Cooked Pork in Tonkatsu (Japanese Barbecue) Sauce. So many dishes made my mouth water this month, but probably this one most of all and I can’t wait to try that barbecue sauce.

Huge congratulations to Corina, who wins this lovely set of six ‘pantry design’ spice tins courtesy of Dot Com Gift Shophome to delightfully quirky, often kitsch but always stylish gifts. 

Thank you to everyone who took part in the cooking with ginger challenge. April’s Spice Trail challenge is now open and this month we are cooking our favourite Mexican dishes. I can’t wait to see what you bring to share!

Destination Mexico on The Spice Trail

mexican month

This month’s Spice Trail is a little bit different. Instead of celebrating an individual spice, we are celebrating a specific cuisine, and that cuisine is Mexican.

Mexican cookery is well known for its big flavours and exciting use of fresh, vibrant ingredients and bold spices like chilli, cumin, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. The basic staple ingredients of this South American country might be beans, corn and peppers but the food of Mexico is as complex and varied as any of the world’s greatest cuisines. From our old favourite chilli con carne and the classic mole sauce to sensational street foods and hearty, slow-cooked soups and stews.

If you love Mexican food as much as I do, then this month’s challenge is the challenge for you. I wait with eager anticipation to see what delights you bring to our Mexican table.

Win a Gran Luchito gift set

gran luchito gift set

If the sheer joy of sharing your passion for Mexican food wasn’t enough to entice you, I also have a brilliant prize for this month’s winner from the generous folk at Gran Luchito, who happen to know a thing or two about authentic Mexican food.

Gran Luchito offer a taste of Oaxaca rarely tasted outside of Mexico, a smoky deep flavour from the back country hills of the Mixes. Their range includes a smoked chilli paste, a smoked chilli mayo and a smoked chilli honey. One lucky winner, chosen by a guest judge from Gran Luchito, will receive a gift set containing samples of each of these delicious products.

How to enter The Spice Trail

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  • Display the The Spice Trail badge (above and also available here) on your recipe post, and link back to this challenge post.
  • Up to three recipe links accepted per blogger, so long as they each one has a Mexican theme and features at least one spice.
  • Feel free to link up recipe posts from your archive, but please add the information about this challenge to the post and The Spice Trail badge.
  • Send your recipe URL to me at vanesther-at-reescommunications-dot-co-dot-uk, including your own email address and the title of your recipe or post. The closing date this month is Monday 28 April 2014.
  • If you tweet your post, please mention #TheSpiceTrail and me @BangerMashChat in your tweet and I’ll retweet each one I see.
  • As entries come in, links to these will be added to the bottom of this page.
  • At the end of the month a guest judge will choose a winning recipe and the winner this month will receive a gift set from Gran Luchito.
  • The winner will be announced in a monthly round-up of all the entries.
  • Entries from bloggers all around the world are accepted, but unfortunately the prize can only be shipped to a UK address.
  • All entries will be added to The Spice Trail Pinterest Board.

I’m really looking forward to seeing your Mexican dishes. Any questions, please tweet or email me.

And thanks to everyone who entered March’s ginger challenge – I’ll be posting the recipe round-up and winner announcement very soon.

April’s entries

  1. Chicken Villa-jitas from Spurs Cook
  2. Easy Homemade Nacho Chips from Drizzling Delicacies
  3. Bean Enchiladas from My Kitchen Odyssey
  4. Sweet Potato, Zucchini and Olive Quesadillas from Green Gourmet Giraffe
  5. Home Made Red Enchiladas Sauce with Roasted Tomatoes from Home Cook Food
  6. Soy Chorizo and Vegetables Enchiladas from Home Cook Food
  7. 15 Beans Vegetarian Chili from Home Cook Food
  8. Holy Mole! from The Fig Tree
  9. Partridge with Chilli and Chocolate Sauce from Pebble Soup
  10. Guacomole with a Twist for the Umpteenth Time from Nasifriet
  11. Cheater Tlacoyos with Nopales (Cactus) from The Taste Space
  12. Mexican Spiced Chocolate Orange Cake from Cakes From Kim
  13. Chilli con Carne from Julie’s Family Kitchen

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Nettle soup

nettle soup

Usually when I take my children out foraging with me, they like to muck in and tend to eat half our booty before we get anywhere near home.woods

But not this time. No, the idea of harvesting stinging nettles from the woods near our home last weekend really did not appeal to my little ones, who preferred instead to build a den and climb trees. Quite sensible really. So their eccentric mother was left on her own to gather the nettles, protected of course by a pair of thick gloves.


This was the first time I’ve attempted nettle soup. The idea of making a meal from a free and plentiful plant, almost as abundant in the town as it is in the country and generally considered a weed, has always appealed. And this is the time of year to bag your nettles, early spring. The fresh, young growth is the crop you want. By the end of April, nettles start to get a bit tough and are definitely best eaten before they flower in May. Aim for the young shoots and tips of the plants.

As I was harvesting my nettles, with the welcome and much-needed rays of spring sunshine on my back, I was surprised at just how fragrant the plant is, quite floral and herb-like. If it weren’t for that pesky sting, I’m sure nettles would be insanely popular.

I must admit though, their smell does alter a little on cooking. As I dished up, my husband frowned and sniffed, and asked whether there was anything fishy in the soup. I shook my head and told him he must be imagining things; I didn’t want to put him off more than he already was. But I must admit there was the slightest fishy whiff. Please don’t let that put you off. The soup is delicious, with a deep flavour similar to spinach, but more earthy and greener somehow. And there is not the slightest hint of a sting, I promise. As soon as the spinach hits hot liquid, the sting disappears.

I was pleasantly surprised my lot took to nettle soup so well; definitely one to make again.

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Nettle Soup

half a carrier bag of nettle tops
1 tbsp olive oil
knob of butter
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 leeks, washed and sliced
1 large potato, peeled and diced
2 celery sticks, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 litre vegetable stock
salt and pepper
yoghurt or double cream to serve

Fill your sink with water and, wearing rubber gloves, thoroughly wash the nettles and get rid of any tougher stalks and unwanted creepy crawlies.

Gently heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan and add the onion, leeks, potato and celery. Cook for around 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to soften the vegetables.

Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes before pouring in the stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until the potato is tender.

Add the nettles to the pan and stir into the soup as they wilt. Simmer for a few minutes and then blend in a food processor or with a hand blender.

Season with salt and pepper and serve in bowls topped with a dollop of yoghurt of a drizzle of cream.


I’m entering my nettle soup into No Croutons Required, the monthly vegetarian soup and salad challenge hosted jointly between Jacqueline from Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa from Lisa’s Kitchen.


And as it’s very much a springtime soup, I’m also entering it into Ren Behan’s Simple and in Season challenge, which this month is being guest hosted by Michelle at Utterly Scrummy.

Family Foodies: the fab fast food round-up

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If you are looking for fresh ideas for tasty, healthy food to cook when time is tight, you’ve come to the right place. Our latest Family Foodies challenge has attracted a brilliant array of fab fast food recipes for feeding your hectic, hungry family and I have to say I’m really looking forward to working (and eating) my way through this little lot over the coming weeks.

So let’s crack on and take a look through those enticing entries…

Julie Collage

Pasta and Gnocchi from Julie’s Farmhouse Kitchen

Julie gets things rolling with a tempting trio of Italian-inspired dishes from her Farmhouse Kitchen. She made a hearty bowlful of Gnocchi with Chorizo, Spinach and Tomato Sauce, a quick and easy Creamy Pesto Pancetta, Peas and Mushrooms with Spirali Pasta, and Spaghetti with Mushroom, Spinach & Pancetta Sauce. I made this last dish, the spaghetti, for supper the other week and I can confirm it really is very good.

Salmon and potato salad

Pan Fried Salmon & Syrian Potato Salad from Farmersgirl Kitchen

This beautiful dish of simply cooked salmon served with a fresh and zingy potato salad from Janice at Farmersgirl Kitchen has springtime written all over it, and what’s more it is so quick to rustle up too. It looks so inviting, doesn’t it?

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Fast & Spicy from Home Cook Food

Linsy from Home Cook Food brought an exciting assortment of dishes to our Fab Fast Food buffet. There’s a beautifully spiced Methi Vegetable Malai, a protein-packed Kala Chana Aur Methi Curry (black chickpeas with fenugreek leaves), fragrant Mint and Coriander Leaves Paratha (flatbread), a robustly flavoured Bruschetta Pasta and last, but not least, this very tasty Eggplant Rice. I’m so inspired by Linsy’s use of spices in these dishes and I look forward to trying them out on my brood.

stir fry on a budget

Stir-Fry on a Budget from Happiness is Homemade

Sylvia’s photographs on her blog Happiness is Homemade are always utterly gorgeous, and these pictures of her simple take on a stir-fry live up to her usual stunning standard. Don’t you just want to dive straight into this image of whole wheat spaghetti with vegetables? You just know it’s going to taste every bit as good as it looks.

beef broccoli pasta

Beef and Broccoli Pasta from Elizabeth’s Kitchen

Another blog where I always wish I could climb into the screen to sample the food is Elizabeth’s Kitchen. Elizabeth can invite me around any night of the week to eat pasta as attractive as this! Quick, healthy and delicious – just perfect.

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Intriguing Inspiration from Spicy, Quirky and Serendipitous

Sudha from Spicy, Quirky and Serendipitous likes to surprise and delight her blog readers with intriguing and inspiring recipes and her four entries for the Fab Fast Food challenge are perfect examples of her cooking style. There are Spicy ChickpeasGluten Free PancakesQuirky Quinoa Patties and Naked Egg Inspired Pasta. The big question for me is which one to try first…

coco banana freeze bites

Coco-Banana Freeze Bites from The Gluten Free Alchemist

These gluten-free coco-banana bites were the brilliant result of an “over-ripe banana fest” in the kitchen of Kate aka The Gluten Free Alchemist. These little morsels of fruity, frozen deliciousness are ever so healthy, particularly if you opt for carob, although to be honest I think I’ll quite happily stick with chocolate. Not only are they made in minutes but they keep in the freezer for ages, perfect for a handy snack when life gets manic.

Eat Your Veg Collage

Fast & Healthy from Eat Your Veg

My Family Foodies partner-in-crime, Lou from Eat Your Veg is up next and she really is a pro when it comes to healthy fast food. Just take a look at this little lot – there’s a super speedy Chicken & Veggie Chow Mein, a Healthier Tuna Mayo and these simply wonderful Bread Tarts, which I so wish I’d thought of myself and intend to try out on my kids very, very soon.

FFF Collage

A Delicious Duo from Family-Friends-Food

Helen from Family-Friends-Food knows a thing or two about creating child-friendly food, and these two offerings to our Fab Fast Food table demonstrate how just easy it can be to rustle up delicious food in a matter of minutes. Her Zesty Tuna Pasta has a wonderfully Mediterranean feel to it and is great eaten either warm or cold, while I reckon these French Toast Pizza Rolls are simply ingenious.

BM Collage

Fast and Wholesome from Bangers & Mash

Next are three dishes from yours truly, each of which are super quick and super easy. Oh and super tasty too. Firstly, there’s my Baked Rice with Spinach, Cannellini Beans and Eggs using basic store cupboard ingredients. Then there’s a Chicken Soup with Rice, perfect for feeding little (and big) people when they’re poorly. And finally, how about Baked Sea Bass with Ginger, Garlic & Chilli and Miso Rice – an incredible combination of fresh, zesty flavours and all cooked in a foil parcel, keeping washing up to a minimum. Result.

chicken chow mein Lancashire  Food

Chicken Chow Mein from Lancashire Food

Linzi from Lancashire Food brings us her gorgeous chicken chow mein, on the table within just 30 minutes. It’s always a hit with her own family. Linzi’s recipe features Chinese five spice, one of my favourite spice blends, and is perfect for using up whatever veggies you happen to have in.

hot dog pasta
Speedy Hot Dog Pasta from JibberJabberUK

Another quick and easy recipe making the most of store cupboard ingredients is this satisfying hot dog pasta from Ness at JibberJabberUK. My children adore hot dog sausages so I know they’d be first in line for this dish, plus I like Ness’ top tip about throwing in some finely chopped broccoli stalk too – a great way to reduce your food waste.


Beef Noodle Soup from Searching for Spice

Another way to reduce food waste of course is to make the most of  your leftovers, which is what this tasty noodle soup from Corina at Searching for Spice calls for – leftover beef brisket to be exact. Packed with vegetables and flavoured with chillies, garlic, lime and ginger, this is definitely my kind of soup.


Zesty Salmon Goujons from Feeding Boys

These salmon goujons from Katie at Feeding Boys look just so tempting, I really can’t imagine any child refusing these. Katie promises they only take 10 minutes to prepare and 15 minutes to bake and in her words “you’ll be rewarded with luxurious chunky goujons instead of the skinny minnie versions that come out of a packet when you’re knackered on a Thursday evening.” That’s it. I’m sold!

potato quinoa tikki

Potato Quinoa Tikki from My Receipes

I must admit, I had to Google the work ‘tikki’. I discovered from Wikipedia (where would I be without Wikipedia?) that it means “a small cutlet or croquette” and hails from North India. Normally made from potato (aloo tikki), Vidhya from My Receipes has come up with her own take which also uses quinoa and frozen peas. Flavoured with a whole host of spices, these tikki sound absolutely delicious.

bok choy and edamame miso stir fry

Bok Choy and Edamame Miso Stir Fry from The Taste Space

Nasifriet from The Taste Space is midway through a 30 different vegetables in 30 days challenge. She needed to come up with some not-so-common vegetables and so headed straight for her local Asian grocer and came home with baby bok choy, which she turned into this wonderfully healthy and attractive stir fry with shiitake mushrooms, snow peas, edamame and miso. It sounds incredible to me – divinely simply temple food that you know is going to do you so much good.

Mincemeat Muffins

Banana & Mincemeat Buns from Chocolate Log Blog

Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog promises these scrummy banana and mincemeat buns can be rustled up in under half an hour, so long as your butter is soft and your ingredients handy. I’m ready for that challenge! We always seem to have ripe bananas in our house, so this recipe is definitely one for me to bookmark.


Fresh Herb and Tapenade Flatbreads from How to Cook Good Food

As Laura from How to Cook Good Food says, you can never have too many flatbread recipes up your sleeve. As well as offering us her herb and tapenade flatbreads, she also shares a fantastic list of her favourite flatbread recipes from other blogs. So if you’re in need of flatbread inspiration, you know where to head! Laura’s version looks fantastic – it looks delightfully light and crispy and I love the use of fresh herbs and dukkah, a fabulous Middle Eastern spice mix.

mad house cookbook

And the winner is…

Thanks to everyone for sharing their fabulous fast food ideas in this month’s Family Foodies challenge. Each and every one was a real winner in its own right, but as ever only one of you can take home the prize of Jo Pratt’s inspirational Madhouse Cookbook.

I’m pleased to announce the winner of the Fab Fast Food challenge is Elizabeth from Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary for her very tasty beef and broccoli pasta. Well done Elizabeth! Your prize will be in the post to you very soon.

Louisa at Eat Your Veg will be revealing April’s theme for Family Foodies very soon, so do keep an eye out for that – I promise, you’re going to love it! I can’t wait to see what you come up with…



Banana, ginger and chocolate cake

banana ginger chocolate cake

I realise there’s been a rather manic, end-of-month flurry of activity on the blog but here’s another last minute recipe, which I just had to squeeze in just in time to make the deadline for this month’s Spice Trail challenge.

The theme for March has been ginger and I’ve received a brilliant selection of ginger goodies; the round-up promises to be a real treat.

This last entry from me is a very easy-to-make banana sponge, featuring delightful chunks of chewy, crystallised ginger and dark chocolate chips, lavishly topped with a gorgeously decadent chocolate buttercream. It’s certainly not one for the weight-watchers I’m afraid, but my family made light work of getting through it, and as the cake does contain three bananas there is a little goodness in there as well as the naughty stuff. Life is all about balance, after all.

banana ginger chocolate

Banana, ginger and chocolate cake

Serves 12

120g soft butter, plus a little more for the tins
250g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp ground ginger
160g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
3 ripe bananas, mashed
75g dark chocolate chips
30 crystallised ginger, chopped into small chunks

For the chocolate buttercream

150g good quality chocolate (dark or milk, you decide)
225g butter, softened
300g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla extract

I also used Dr Oetker chocolate hearts to decorate.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.

Butter and line a 20cm square cake tin with baking parchment.

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and ground ginger into a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs, vanilla and milk. Fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture, and then fold in the mashed banana, chocolate chips and crystallised ginger.

Pour the cake batter into the tin and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until golden and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool for a few minutes before turning the cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the chocolate buttercream, melt the chocolate in a microwave on a low setting or in a bowl over a pan of just-simmering water. Leave to cool a little. Beat the butter in another bowl until pale, and then beat in the icing sugar and vanilla. Add the chocolate and mix well.

Spread the chocolate buttercream generously over the cake and, if you like, decorate with chocolate hearts or something similar.


banana ginger chocolate cake


spice trail badge square


Tray-baked pork chops with rosemary and pears

pork pear rosemary

I’ve been making this dish for years. It’s a perfect meal for Saturday lunch when you want to get on with the weekend and not spend the day in the kitchen.

I regularly make this on Saturdays once the girls’ ballet lessons are out of the way (why, oh why did I go for dance lessons on a Saturday morning?) and it’s simply a case of throwing everything in a roasting tray, tossing in olive oil and bunging in the oven. Easy as. It doesn’t really warrant a recipe, but I thought I’d write it down anyway. It is actually based loosely on an early Jamie Oliver recipe, from his Naked Chef days, but even easier – if that’s possible.

So, simple and tasty and the kind of food I have to stop my children picking up and eating with their fingers, until I give in and join them.

pork pear rosemary

Tray-baked pork chops with rosemary and pears

Serves 2 adults and 2 children

3 or 4 pork chops – I used to share one between my two kids, but now they’re getting bigger they demand one each
several sprigs of fresh rosemary
6 large carrots, scrubbed and chopped into large chunks or quartered lengthways
3 pears, cored and quartered
4 large potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
6 garlic cloves
salt and pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 220°C / gas mark 7.

Arrange the pork chops, rosemary sprigs, carrots, pears, potatoes and garlic in a large roasting tray.

Season well with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and toss to make sure all the ingredients are lightly covered.

Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour, until everything is nicely browned and turning the chops and vegetables once or twice during the cooking time. The pears will be squishy and the garlic oozy, while the pork chops will be sticky and the carrots will have that lovely caramelised thing going on. The kitchen will smell incredible.

Serve with a big dollop of mayonnaise, homemade preferably, or the best shop-bought you can afford.



As rosemary is used in abundance in this dish, I’m entering it into Cooking with Herbs hosted by Karen at Lavender & Lovage where the themed herb this month is rosemary.

Sticky toffee pudding

sticky toffee pudding

When I was little, I really enjoyed school dinners. Strange I know, as most people seem to have terrible memories of the stuff dished up in the school canteen. In particular, I enjoyed the puddings, with the exception of school rice pudding which was truly ghastly and has succeeded in putting me off for life. But I did love the old fashioned sponge puddings, served up with thick custard, especially when it was the pink variety.

My children go to a small village school where they only have hot school dinners twice a week as they have to be brought in from a neighbouring school. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I find myself interrogating the kids to find out what they ate that day and am always very jealous when I hear they had a hot pudding with custard.

We didn’t really eat those kinds of puddings at home when I was a child, although occasionally I’d be treated to one of those sponge puddings that came in a large tin. That’s why I really appreciated visits to my grandparents in Lancashire, as my Nana Barbara makes the best puddings ever.

When Nana came down to visit at Christmas, she brought some of her wonderful sticky toffee pudding with her, and I was in seventh heaven. Nana presented me with a large tray of the dark brown sponge cake to go in the freezer, with a jar full of toffee sauce. It’s been such a treat to be able to warm some up in the microwave at the end of a busy day at work and enjoy a bowl of blissful, homemade sticky stodginess.

Nana was kind enough to let me have her recipe, and because I’m a generous soul, I’d like to share it with you too. Enjoy!

sticky toffee pudding

Sticky toffee pudding

Feeds 8

200g dried dates, stoned and chopped
300ml water
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
175g dark brown sugar
80g butter, softened
2 large eggs
vanilla extract
175g self raising flour

For the toffee sauce

150g butter
220ml double cream
150g dark brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas mark 4.

Put the chopped dates and water into a saucepan and simmer over a low heat for 10 to 15 minutes until gorgeously thick and sticky. Stir in the bicarbonate of soda and leave to cool.

Place the sugar and butter in a large bowl and cream together until pale and fluffy. Break in the eggs and add a few drops of vanilla extract, and beat it all together well. Carefully fold in the flour, followed by the gooey dates.

Grease a baking tin (20cm square) and line with greaseproof paper. Spoon in the mixture and bake for around 40 minutes until the sponge is firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a board and slice into 8 portions.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat and then stir in the cream and sugar. Cook gently until the sauce has thickened and turned a glossy, dark caramel colour.

Serve the warm sponge cake in bowls and pour over the toffee sauce. It’s very good as it is but, if you want to push the boat out, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream or perhaps a drizzle of cream.

This article was first published in the Wells Journal on 20 March 2014.

Thumbs up for…

Thumbs Up March Collage

It’s high time I brought you another selection of thumbs ups - my regular round up of favourite food and drink products I’ve either discovered myself or been sent to try out. In case any PRs are reading this, it’s probably worth pointing out that only products I really like are featured here; simply sending free samples doesn’t lead to automatic inclusion.

Sally’s Sizzling Sausages

sallys sizzling sausagesWith my family’s love of bangers, you can imagine how excited we all were to be sent a large box of sausages and burgers from Sally’s Sizzling Sausage Co the other week. And even more excited on serving up the Cumberland sausages with lots of lovely mashed potato to discover they are as delicious and gorgeously meaty as I’d been promised. We tried their 100% beefburgers a few days later and were equally impressed.

All products from Sally’s Sizzling Sausages are ideal for those with food intolerances as they are free from wheat, soya, dairy, egg, yeast, gluten and lactose. The company is based at Smithfield Meat Market in London and was set up by Tim Hixson, who himself has food allergies.

“Over the years I have been dismayed at the quality of some foods to the point where I decided to do something about it,” Hixson explains.

Sally’s range includes a wide variety of pork and chicken sausages, meatballs, burgers, continental meats, and kebabs. Vegetarians will be pleased to hear that they plan to introduce a vegetarian range in June 2014. Find out more at

Cornish Sea Salt

cornish sea saltThis Cornish Sea Salt is so tasty you could almost eat it on its own, although a much better idea would be to sprinkle it over a fresh tomato salad. I’m also rather taken by the idea of trying it in chocolate brownies or some salted chocolate pretzels.

Cornish Sea Salt began trading in 2008 and was set up by Tony Fraser who discovered there had once been an Iron Age salt works near Porthkerris on the Lizard Peninsula, and his idea for a new business took hold.

Sadly, Fraser passed away in 2012, but the company continues to go from strength to strength and their delicious salt appears on the tables of some top restaurants and hotels.

If you haven’t tried it already, I’d definitely recommend you get hold of some. It’s available in most supermarkets and you can also buy online at

Laimon Fresh

laimon freshAvailable in most supermarkets, Laimon Fresh is a new lightly carbonated lemon, lime and mint flavoured drink which got the thumbs up in our house when we received samples the other week to try.

I did expect it to taste a little synthetic but it’s actually a very refreshing and natural-tasting drink.

Jessie drank hers as it came and wanted more, but alas the grown ups in the house had already turned the rest into super easy mojito cocktails by mixing with white rum and pouring over crushed ice. The mojitos could probably have benefited from a little more fresh mint, but we enjoyed them nonetheless.

Oh, and Jennifer Lopez has been spotted drinking it too, so it’s clearly a hit with the uber cool set too.

La Rochelle Salad Croutons

rochelle salad croutonsThese Meditteranean style herb croutons from La Rochelle are so good you can enjoy them as a snack on their own, rather than tossing into a salad, although that’s how I like to use mine.

I adore croutons in a fresh green salad but generally can’t be bothered to make my own, so these are very handy to have in the cupboard on standby.

Flavoured with oregano, basil, parsley and thyme, these light and crunchy croutons are deliciously moreish and completely ungreasy as so many shop-bought croutons quite often are.

Dr Oetker Chocolate Hearts

dr oetker chocolate heartsWe received some sweet tiny chocolate hearts in milk and white chocolate from Dr Oetker. They were a big hit with my daughters, who chose to use them to decorate the banana, chocolate and ginger tray bake we made last weekend.

As well as looking ever so pretty, they also taste good and chocolatey, and I had to work quite hard to stop my girls from eating the remainder of the packet.

And if you like the look of the cake, I plan to post the recipe in the coming days. My aim is to get it up in time for this month’s Spice Trail challenge, as the theme is ginger. But I’ve got a mad week ahead, so I’m not promising anything.

Disclosure: I was sent complimentary samples of Dr Oetker’s Chocolate Hearts, Laimon Fresh and Sally’s Sizzling Sausages for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions expressed are my own.