Jessie’s chocolate orange chess cake

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My oldest daughter has a thing for making the teeny-tiniest models out of Plasticine. She loves to create tiny food items, like burgers and cakes, and she recently made miniatures of the Blue Peter characters in order to try and win herself another BP badge.

blue peter

For her current homework assignment, Jessie decided to bring two of her favourite activities, model-making and baking, together in the form of this ambitious chocolate chess cake, inspired by the Great British Bake Off and now Junior Bake Off.

New Horizons is the theme of her homework project and over the course of a month, she has to  try her hand at a number of new things and write them up as a special report. As well as this monumental show-stopper of a bake, she’s also tried her hand at SLR photography, stop motion videos and is having a squash lesson from her dad at the weekend.

To be totally honest, I wasn’t entirely sure she’d make this baking experiment work. Why not start with flapjacks or a fridge cake? But work it most certainly did. Not only did it look suitably impressive, it was also extremely delicious too. Continue reading “Jessie’s chocolate orange chess cake”

Beetroot, orange, carrot and ginger juice

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My health kick continues to go well. As well as feeling so much better in myself, I’m thrilled to report that I’m finally back to my pre-children weight and dress-size – my oldest is nearly 10, so it’s been some time coming. This feeling is really rather addictive and I can see how the changes I’m making to my lifestyle and eating habits will stay with me for the long-term.

In addition to doing the 5:2 diet and generally eating more healthily, I’ve also set myself targets of walking 10,000 steps a day, getting a good night’s sleep every night (I’m aiming for at least seven hours), and fitting in a short workout most days (even if it’s only 10 minutes of Pilates or cross-training), plus a least one run a week.

And I am really feeling the benefits. I have so much more energy, my brain feels more focussed and productive, my clothes fit well (the muffin top has been banished!) and I just feel good in my own skin. Continue reading “Beetroot, orange, carrot and ginger juice”

Quick salmon salad for lunch on the go

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As a working mother, it can be difficult to get the balance right between family life and work life. I can’t say I always get it 100% right. All too often when I’m with the kids, for example, I’ll be thinking about work stuff, and I constantly find myself worrying about the house or the family when my head should really be in work mode.

I’ve got pretty good, I think, at making sure the family eats well. Meal planning, combined with cooking way more than we need at weekends to stock the freezer with homemade ready meals, has been my saving grace. However I’m not always so great at feeding myself on the days when I’m in the office. I am making a conscious effort to put that right though. Continue reading “Quick salmon salad for lunch on the go”

Spiced orange bread and butter pudding

Here’s my slightly seasonal take on the humble but very delicious bread and butter pudding. What could be a more festive combination than oranges and spices? The orange in this pud comes in the form of marmalade and zest, while the spices are ginger, cinnamon and mixed spice.

I wish I could share with you fond memories of eating this as a child but, to be honest, the first time I ate bread and butter pudding was only a few years ago when I tried Nigella Lawson’s ginger-jam version from her Nigella Bites cookery book. It was a pudding that never really appealed to me when I was younger. It sounds, well, a bit boring really. I mean, bread? In a pudding? And butter. Who’s going to get excited about that?

But oh! Now I’ve tried it, I can safely say it is delicious and now one of my favourites. Crunchy and slightly chewy on top, soft and gooey underneath. It might not have been one of my nursery food memories, but it will be one of my children’s. Plus it’s so simple to make and comes with its own ready-made custard. What’s not to like?

This recipe is loosely based on the one in Nigella Bites.

Spiced orange bread and butter pudding

75g butter
75g sultanas
3 tbsp apple juice
1 tsp ground ginger
10 slices thick white bread
half a jar of orange marmalade
4 egg yolks
1 egg
5 tbsp demerara sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
500ml double cream
200ml milk
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp runny honey

Preheat the oven to 190°C/gas mark 5.

Grease a medium-sized pudding dish with some of the butter.

Put the sultanas in a small bowl and mix with the apple juice and ginger. Pop in the microwave and heat on medium power for a minute and then leave to stand. This is Nigella’s trick for plumping up the sultanas. She uses rum but I didn’t think the kids would be too keen on that.

Make up sandwiches with the white bread, spreading the butter and marmalade generously. Cut in quarters into triangles and then arrange in your dish, some pointing up and some pointing downwards. Sprinkle over the sultanas and pour over any remaining gingery apple juice.

Lightly whisk the egg yolks and egg in small bowl and mix in 3 tablespoons of the demerara sugar and mixed spice. Then add the cream and milk and combine. Pour over the marmalade sandwiches and leave for 10 minutes or so to give the custard a chance to soak into the bread.

Dot some butter onto the visible bread. Mix the ground cinnamon with 2 tablespoons of demerara sugar and sprinkle over the top. Finally drizzle the honey over the top too.

Place the dish on a baking tray and cook in the oven for around half an hour until the custard has set and the crusts poking out are browned and caramelised. Leave for 10 minutes before serving. It will be agony waiting that long as it smells so good!

Chocolate orange cupcakes

I am finally growing in confidence as a baker. For a long time I have thought of myself as a good cook but not a good baker. But slowly that is beginning to change.

Until recently I would never experiment with a cake recipe because baking just didn’t come naturally to me.

The world seems to fall into two camps: those who were born to bake and those who weren’t. I’ve always fallen into the second camp. But I’m gradually discovering  that baking can actually be learned. It’s as much about confidence in the kitchen as anything, a bit of practice and not giving up the first time things go pear-shaped.

In recent weeks I’ve come up with my own recipe for pistachio scones and tried my hand at hot cross buns (recipe coming soon). And I’ve also come up with this recipe for chocolate orange cupcakes, which I’m really rather proud of. They’re sticky and gooey and indulgent and satisfying. My little girls asked for seconds. What more can you ask for?

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not inventing recipes from scratch. Far from it. But I’m having fun playing around with other people’s recipes.

My experiments don’t always work out. A few weeks ago I tried making my version of a lemon tart using polenta and caraway. It was truly disgusting. I wasn’t too impressed with my Cheerio crunchies either – my attempt at using up a bulk purchase of a breakfast cereal my kids once loved then decided they no longer like.

Anyway, back to the chocolate orange cupcakes. The idea for these came from the good old Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Well, where else? I’ve used Nigella Lawson’s recipe for chocolate-cherry cupcakes as my starting point and then quite simply swapped the cherry ingredients for orange ones. Perhaps I’m being too honest here? That sounds too easy now I’ve typed it. But it did honestly feel quite inspired to me at the time…

Chocolate orange cupcakes

Makes 12

125g butter
200g plain chocolate
280g orange marmalade
1 orange, zest and juice
150g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
2 eggs, beaten
150g self-raising flour
100ml double cream
25g mixed peel

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/gas mark 4.

Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat and then add 100g of the chocolate. When the chocolate starts to melt, remove from the heat and stir in the marmalade, orange zest and juice, sugar, salt and eggs.

When it’s all mixed together well, stir in the flour.

Place 12 muffin paper cases into your muffin tin and spoon in the cupcake mixture. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes until the cakes have risen and are springy to the touch.

Cool in the muffin tray for 10 minutes or so, and then transfer to a wire rack until they are completely cool.

To make the icing, break up the remaining 100g chocolate into a saucepan and add the double cream. Bring to a gentle boil and then remove from the heat. Stir with a wooden spoon for a few minutes until the icing is smooth and thick. Use a tablespoon to ice the cakes and pop a few pieces of mixed peel in the middle of each one.

I just had a bit of a wobble and almost changed my mind about posting this recipe. Another blogger, a proper baking blogger with tonnes of followers, has just posted their recipe for chocolate orange cake. My confidence in my own food was zapped in a matter of seconds. But do you know what, I am going to press that ‘publish’ button. This isn’t a competition, after all. Is it?