You’d be forgiven for thinking I’ve not been doing a lot recently because blogging has taken a bit of a back seat since I moved into my new home. Alongside all the adventures associated with home ownership – like measuring curtains, buying light bulbs and new socket fronts and following visitors around when they visit so you can turn lights off after them in order to keep my electricity bill low and make them feel extra welcome – i’ve also been trying to eat a little more healthily in order to drop a few pounds.

All sounds rather sensible doesn’t it? I must be honest, there’s a semi-constant voice in my head that’s saying things like: “For the love of god woman, where’s the cake? When will we go dancing again? Where’s the meat in this sausage sandwich? What have you done with the booooze?!” So, to quieten the voice in my head I arranged for a few friends to come over for a tea party.

Because throwing the healthy eating plan out of the window altogether seemed a little bit too carpe diem, I searched the internet for some Slimming World friendly treats. As a new homeowner, I have of course thrown myself into Pinterest with all the enthusiasm of someone who spends an inordinate amount of time looking at lighting options despite not being able to afford new lightbulbs and should you want to follow me, you can find my Pinterest profile here (I’m also looking for people to follow, suggestions?)

Slimming World afternoon tea

Mostly slimming-friendly treats

As you can see, I went all out on the food front. The photo is a little blurry but you should be able to see some ham and mustard sandwiches, falafel rolls with homemade salsa, crustless quiches made in silicone moulds, a lovely tea pot of herbal tea and some mismatched but pretty vintage tea plates. And, the all important cake…

Slimming World brownies and not so Slimming World cake

Slimming World brownies and not so Slimming World cake

To settle my sweet tooth, I made a batch of brownies, the recipe for which can be found over at Pretty and Polished. These brownies are lovely and rich and squidgy despite being flour free, though I’m still trying to find a sweetener that doesn’t give them a bit of an aftertaste. I also discovered they freeze fairly well as I stashed some in the freezer. If you’re a Slimming World follwer and wondering about the syns – these will vary depending on how small you cut the brownies but these beauties were about 0.5 syns.

Also on the menu were some faux ferrero rocher, which are made with ryvita and nutella (yes, really) and are salivatingly good and fibrous at the same time (sensible win). You’ll find a number of recipes on the web for them, most of which include golden syrup in the recipe but I managed to reduce the syns in them even further by using agave syrup, which I found in Aldi, These were a real hit at the tea party and with the help of my Kenwood Mixer were ridiculously easy to make.

Finally, you’ll spot some ‘proper cakes’ in the photo, which are some Jammy Dodger cupcakes. These were donated by Ma Berg who was also baking for visitors and has taken to using some of my recipes recently, which is a huge compliment for me as she’s a total boss when it comes to baking!

To work up an appetite we went for a rather bracing walk along the beach and then came back and warmed up with some fresh teas (extra special ones I’d been sent by a foodie penpal, including a lovely, sweet Thai chai) and because I’d planned pretty well, I was able to have a bit of everything (minus the cupcakes). And so the little voice that tries to lead me astray grew quieter for a while. Now however, now it’s saying things like: “It’s about bloody time you made some cocktails. Mixing two lots of fruit squash is not a cocktail!”

All the hoo-ha this week about Starbucks and the duffin (doughnut-muffin, see here if you missed it) reminded me of another baked jam-filled delight that I experimented with a while ago and forgot to post, namely – the Jammy Dodger cupcake.

jammy dodger inspired cupcakes

jammy, sparkly and not at all dodgy

These little beauties have everything – biscuit flavour, amazing buttercream and just enough jam to give you a 20 minute post-tea break sugar rush. I decided to make them to translate my favourite biscuits into cake form and though they look pretty impressive, they are actually very easy to make.

Recipe for jammy dodger cupcakes

I used the Hummingbird bakery vanilla cupcake recipe as the base for these cakes as they are light and fluffy. Since I don’t totally agree with typing recipes out without paying the people what invented them, you can find the recipe here. I did however make some alterations – adding about a tablespoon of Horlicks to the mix to give it a slightly biscuity taste. I did the same thing when it came to the buttercream too, which I made using my usual vanilla buttercream with a twist, which always gets lots of compliments because of it’s smooth consistency and hints of caramel. You can find the recipe here in my post about rolo cupcakes.

Extra ingredients required on top of this were: smooth strawberry jam (I chose the Hartley’s squeezable version for ease of assembly), some edible red glitter for decoration and a couple of packets of mini Jammy Dodgers. The Jammy Dodger minis seem to be on offer regularly, so these needn’t be very expensive to make either!

Method for Jammy Dodger cupcakes

jammy dodger cupcake construction

jammy middles

These are really easy to assemble – bake the cakes following the Hummingbird recipe then leave to cool, before coring a little of the cake middle out with an apple corer. Squeeze the Hartley’s jam into the middle (you could use other jam but I found the squeezable variety make this less messy and more accurate). Finally, pipe the buttercream and decorate with a pinch or edible red glitter and a mini Jammy Dodger.

These need stored in an air-tight container to stop the biscuit decorations going soft, though I found to my cost that they don’t last long once people have tasted them!

Deciding on a winning cupcake batter is no easy task, but this chocolate rolo recipe will definitely help you make friends and influence people….

I make no secret of the fact I love cake, it’s a longstanding relationship that I don’t see breaking down anytime soon. My ability to make fairly good cake is something I’ve used to my advantage over the years; it’s surprising how well a promise to regularly bring cake into the office goes down in a job interview.

Though I’m a fairly confident baker I’ve always been a little bit nervous when it comes to icing and decorating and that’s because my mother has always excelled in this department. For years I’ve been in constant awe of her ability to sugarcraft everything from carefully tinted roses to lawnmower pushing gardeners and it’s put me off going beyond piping.

I’d decided to tackle this fear head on by starting small and making lots of cupcakes over the coming months, so when I heard about the World’s Biggest Coffee Morning I thought it was the perfect excuse to get practising. I got the cake-loving fraternity at work on board and several other people agreed to bake sweet and savoury goods for the event, which was set to be a day of cake.

I wanted to be sure the cakes I made would be good (just in case my decoration wasn’t so hot) and so I chose to use my favourite chocolate fudge cake recipe (courtesy of good food) into something a little different. The cakes I made contained a chewy rolo centre and were decorated with a vanilla frosting with a hint of caramel. Some of the cakes were topped with a second rolo and others mimicked a 99 by addition of a stick of Crunchie (I wanted the cakes to sell well and everyone knows variety is the spice of life.

They turned out really well (phew) and I was rather pleased with their appearance too, which won such vocal praise as: “They look shop bought”. Brill. I was slightly disappointed the rolo sank to the bottom in a few of the cakes, though this probably occurred because it’s such a light cake batter. To prevent this in future I’m going to try dropping them into the top of the batter in future and covering any indents with icing.

If you want to make your own and you should because they are light, fluffy and sugartastic, this is what you need to know:

The ultimate chocolate cupcake batter (makes 12)

175g self raising flour

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1 tsp bicarbonate soda

150g golden caster sugar

2 eggs beaten

2tbsp golden syrup

150ml sunflower oil

150ml semi skimmed milk

1 packet of rolos (frozen)

Gorgeous golden frosting

225g icing sugar

100g unsalted butter

Good squeeze of golden syrup (about 2.5 tbsp)

Vanilla essence 1 tsp

Décor

Rolos

Crunchie bar

Golden sugar balls (Dr Oetker)

Chocolate or caramel sauce

Baking method

Preheat the oven to 180C then roll up your sleeves, put on your apron and get measuring. This can be a messy affair if you aren’t careful as the light fluffy cakes come from a very runny batter! First up, measure all of the dry cake ingredients into a bowl and mix. Next, beat your eggs in one bowl and measure your oil and mil, into a jug, measure to mix together.

Dry chocolate cupcake ingredients

Dry chocolate cupcake ingredients

Next, pour the wet ingredients and the beaten eggs into a well in the middle of your flour/cocoa/sugar/bicarb mix and mix.

 

Chocolate cupcake batter. Yummy and runny!

You should get a lovely silky mixture like that above, which you need to try to transfer into muffin cases in a deep muffin tray. Warning: this is the tricky bit!

 

Rolos nestling in chocolate cupcake batter

Rolos nestling in chocolate cupcake batter

Fill the cases about two thirds full, before dropping a frozen rolo into the centre of each one and top with a little batter .

Golden chocolate cupcakes

Golden chocolate cupcakes, looking nice and light and fluffy

Bake the cupcakes for about 20 minutes (they may be ready slightly earlier depending on your oven). When they are ready they should be spongey to the touch and a lovely golden brown colour.

The ultimate rolo chocolate cupcakes

Rolo and crunchie chocolate cupcakes oozing with chocolate sauce

Once cooled it’s time for decoration. I chose to make mine look a little ice cream like by piping the caramel coloured frosting and topping with a rolo or crunchie chunk. I finished the cakes off with golden sugar balls for extra crunch and a delicious drizzle of chocolate sauce, though if you want to go all out for a rolo theme a caramel sauce would work well.

I’m not sure what type of cupcake I want to tackle next, I was thinking of perhaps going traditional and experimenting with red velvet cupcakes and going to town with a Halloween themed decoration. Any suggestions folks?

If there’s one foodstuff that has helped mould my identity it’s cheese (there’s a pun in there) I’m a true turophile – hard, crumbly, soft, veiny, spreadable, blue, melted, any way it comes  – I LOVE CHEESE. However, in a cruel twist of fate I’m also intolerant of cow’s milk – something that’s gotten worse again as I’ve gotten older and seems to be particularly triggered by the good stuff, namely nice cool glasses of milk, sauces made with cream, and, my enduring first love, CHEESE.

Never to be defeated I indulge my habit when I can by concentrating my cheese munching efforts on goat and ewe varieties, which have the added bonus of tending to be lower in fat. Unfortunately, most people who are allergic to cow’s milk will also be allergic to goat and sheep milk, however, I do seem to tolerate them better. And, when I’m feeling really naughty and just can’t help myself, I go a bit wild and eat some mature cheddar and brace myself for the consequences. Cheese is a very beautiful thing and is without a doubt my favourite food and not being able to eat mass amounts of the most common kind has forced me to be more creative in the kitchen. This recipe was borne out of a deep and unquieting yearning to indulge in an old food favourite – macaroni cheese. The photo’s really don’t do justice to this cheesy carborific treat,. I included a small amount of the hard ewe’s cheese pecorino in both the sauce and topping of my mac and cheese to intensify the flavour, but you can leave it out if you want to keep things soft and creamy.

 

Recipe (serves 6)

500g pasta (I used a mix of wholewheat and white conchigle)

six thick rashers of bacon

two cloves of garlic

two teaspoons dried thyme

wholewheat dried breadcrumbs

one beef tomato

sauce

300g goat’s cheese log

100g pecorino (grated)

700 ml soya milk

lump of sunflower margarine

two level tablespoons flour

salt and pepper to season

two tablespoons dijon mustard

Mac that!

Stage one: Pasta perfect

There’s no pretending this recipe is good for you, but throwing some wholewheat pasta into the mix made me feel like I was at least trying to compromise. I boiled up 250g of white and brown pasta shells with a pinch of salt and drained before tipping into a ceramic lasagne dish. I chose conchigle instead of macaroni as it’s easier to get hold of the wholewheat variety of the former and the shells keep lots of lovely cheesy sauce inside them once baked.

 

Stage two: Garlic+Bacon=Barlic or Gacon?

This meal was a real treat so I used a whole packet of thick bacon roughly chopped and cooked with the two cloves of garlic sliced. This made the bacon nice and garlicky and the garlic nice and salty (yuuuum!) I didn’t add fat to fry my bacon and drained off the fat in the pan afterwards (again doing my best to be good).

Stage three: Bulletproof goat’s cheese sauce (made with La Roux)

I used a hefty amount of flour in my roux as I was afraid the soya milk wouldn’t thicken well and I knew the goat’s cheese would mask any flour flavour. After adding my soya milk gradually to the pan I stirred in the mustard and melted in my 300g of goat’s cheese, which I chopped into chunks.

I cut some (but not all) of the rind off, which is why there are a few visible chunks in the photo on the right. The rind itself melted away once the mac went into the oven to bake. I also added to the sauce around a third of the pecorino, some salt and a good hard dose of cracked black pepper.

Stage four: Crusty crumb

After mixing the bacon and sauce through the pasta (above) it was time to assemble for baking.  I sliced the beef tomato and laid it flat across the top of the mac and cheese (extra vitamins right there) and coated the top in a mix from the remaining pecorino, dried thyme and breadcrumbs. I then baked for 20 minutes at 200C and voila!

I made this when a few friends were over to stop me going on a huge cheese binge all at once, but it’s so deliciously rich (as mac n cheese should be) just a small portion with a green salad is seriously satisfying!

 

When it comes to chocolate spread I’ve always felt a bit of an outsider – not only do get a bit of a bad tum if I have milk, which means I really shouldn’t have chocolate spread at all but I’m not really a fan of nuts either (gasp, not very foodie of me I  know). It was from this Nutella-ostracised starting point that I came across Sainsbury’s Popping Candy Chocolate Spread. One day, casually browsing food porn on Twitter, I came across a tweet from Sainsburys featuring the aforementioned spread and I decided I had to have it and so the experimental quest began

After a nice chat with the PR folk over at Sainsburys, I managed to secure myself a sample jar (yes!) even though the product has been on the shelves for over a year now, I’d somehow missed it – probably because I generally only linger next to the honey in the conserve section. I sat tight for a few weeks and eventually the jar arrived. Because I really couldn’t resist cracking it open, I sat at my desk rather uncouthly spooning in a couple of tablespoons into my mouth as I sipped on my cup of afternoon tea. FYI, this meant I digested far less calories than if I’d picked up a chocolate bar and the second option wouldn’t have been nearly as fun. My instant thoughts were that the flavour was pleasantly chocolaty, but at first I was somewhat underwhelmed – where was that crackle, pop? After about 20 seconds it kicked in on the back of my tongue and I knew then the jar was not going to last long.

Over the coming two weeks I made it my mission to slap the chocolaty crackle pop on as many nearly appropriate foods as possible (rather than simply eating it from the jar with a spoon) and this immediate mass consumption unfortunately resulted in me not taking a photo of the jar itself. Recording what the product looked like became an afterthought that I only hit upon as I scraped out the bottom of the empty vessel.

Now, let’s be clear, a quick read of the ingredients list and a nod to the the fact this spread’s key selling point is the use of a novelty kid’s confectionary, lets us know it’s not a gourmet product. That said, in combination with the food stuffs I tested it with, it was a sinful snack of the gods.

First I slapped the spread on some toast – it was the obvious thing to do, but far from the best use I came across. Somehow the warm bread seemed to dissuade the candy from being so poptastic and I felt less satisfied as a result and reached for my spoon once more. Next I tried the chocolaty -goodness on crumpets and though it was tasty, I felt like I was somehow subverting English tradition too far. However, I did stumble upon a breakfast choice winner when I used the spread on some fresh pancakes. I cannot begin to explain how nice the melted spread tasted on curled crepes, which seemed to act as a catalyst for optimum pop levels (snap, crackle, yummm!).

In all honesty, a lot of the spread did end up being eaten directly from the jar, though an equal measure was probably consumed via my now favourite tea accompaniment – popping candy chocolate spread on hobknobs. Thought you couldn’t improve the best biscuit ever? slap on some of this and you’ll realise you can always take indulgence up a notch, even if you shouldn’t!