This time last year, we were just beginning to get everything ready for Charlie to go to university. He was delighted to be offered a place at Leicester, and we were slowly ticking off items from the ‘to do’ list, from sorting out a student bank account, to shopping for bedlinen and essentials for his new uni accommodation. Making the leap from living at home is a huge undertaking and can be a really stressful time for even the most confident teenager. Student accommodation provider, Unite Students has recently released The Leap – a report about the challenges involved in making the transition to uni, and providing tips for making the leap to university from a range of experts, parents and students.
Oh. My. Days. Did you love cherryade when you were a kid? I have the most wonderful memories of sitting outside the cricket club on balmy summer evenings with a bottle of Corona and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. I adored it, even if it stained your lips pink, and if we were super lucky in the school holidays, we got to pop a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it and make delicious ice cream floats. I think I’ve probably been fantasising about cherryade since about 1980-something, so imagine how flipping chuffed I was when these little beauties arrived in the most lovely packaging from craft soda firm Dalston’s. And it tastes like the best cherryade in the world.
12 years, though. 12 whole years! I can’t actually believe it’s been that long since I sat at my enormous, clunky computer in that little house down a long drive in County Dublin and listened to it making that weird, warbly dial-up sound connecting to our bloody awful internet connection. They say the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and for me, my journey really began when I started writing down my thoughts about moving our young family to Ireland. This led on to being a part of the very early blogging community in Ireland, and from there – well, you know the rest! And what better way to celebrate with you than with cake and sprinkles, and to give you, dearest reader, the most precious of gifts: the best vanilla cupcake recipe I own!
I love to travel, but it’s also really lovely to get home and do a bit of nesting. I miss being in our kitchen, cooking for everyone while we all chat, catch up and have a giggle – there’s nothing quite like a house full of people (and quite a bit of mess at the moment – I need to do some decluttering). Charlie is home from uni and Sam has finished uni (I’m so old!) so doing a bit of part time stuff until he can get something more permanent, so often there’ll be all of us – plus girlfriends and often the odd friend too. I love it. The more the merrier, and these easy spiced lamb kofta meatballs are perfect for feeding a crowd. I guess you wouldn’t really look at meatballs as sunny day food, but, if you’re anything like me, there’s only so many salads you can eat when the weather is warm.
I’ve been trying SO hard to be healthy recently. I’m trying to cut down on the booze, eating healthily and I’m still running three times a week – I’ve completed the NHS Couch to 5k app now, but I now just replay one of the later weeks (anything from around week 6 really) every time I run. I find it much more motivating to be told how I’m doing and I genuinely just like having Jo Whiley in my ear. I whack on a bit of The Greatest showman, pop my headphones in and plod along for half an hour or so. I’m not the fastest runner, and I don’t really enjoy it that much, but I like the feeling of achievement when Jo finally says ‘and that’s it, you’ve done it!’ and I know it’s keeping me healthy. I tend to run before breakfast, so I like to make something healthy to come back to, and these vanilla, coconut and cashew overnight oats with frozen berries are my current favourite.
I think finding something delicious to cook for dinner midweek is one of my biggest challenges. I love these coconut chilli prawn noodles because the basic recipe can be adapted to suit so many different tastes. If you’re a meat eater, you can swap the prawns for chicken, and if you’re a veggie you can leave them out and add things like mushrooms, sliced peppers and sliced green beans (of course, you can still do that anyway). That’s the beauty of this dish. It’s also fab for using up leftovers as you can basically bung any old thing in and it will still taste delicious. It’s also one of those recipes where most of the ingredients can be kept in the cupboard and/or freezer for when you’ve got nothing in. When I buy red chillis, I’ll often freeze any that I think I won’t use and you can basically grate them straight into the dish. The same goes for ginger too. Here’s the basic recipe:
One of the things I’ve really enjoyed since becoming pescatarian is that it’s made me a lot more creative when it comes to choosing what’s for dinner. No more shoving chicken breasts in the oven (which I was guilty of – albeit with different coatings – at least twice a week). I’ve been enjoying reading cookery books and blogs and getting loads of inspiration, and as I’m a pie lover, I thought I would have a go at a more summery version using some smoked haddock I had in the freezer. I’m not usually a cheese with fish fan (I have a long standing debate with a friend about a particularly noxious prawn and feta dish that he loves but I think smells like vomit – sorry), but this haddock and cheddar tart is an exception: the sharp cheese works well with the smoky fish.
It’s no secret that this time of year is my favourite. Wandering through the Chiltern Hills with Lyra, the bees are buzzing, the grass is emerald green and the air has finally warmed up enough for me to discard my parka. We always look out for the first elderflowers: for me, they’re a firm favourite – the scent reminds me of early summer weekends at the cricket club, making elderflower crowns with the clusters of tiny, star-shaped creamy yellow flowers. We’ve spotted some over the last couple of weekends, and Mr E and I are dying to make elderflower tempura with the new blooms. To celebrate elderflower season, I’ve teamed up with Belvoir Fruit Farms to create some delicious elderflower recipes using their lovely range of delicious cordials: some pillowy soft elderflower marshmallows, fragrant elderflower scones and an indulgent elderflower and ginger cheesecake. Read on for the recipes!
So, this week I told you about all the thoughts swirling around in my head about eating meat and why I’m pondering becoming a pescatarian (I haven’t eaten any meat since then, but I still feel that I could forget and go into a restaurant and say ‘I’ll have the steak please’ without even thinking twice). The upside of all this angst is that I’ve been searching around for delicious meat-free recipes to share with the family and I have to say, this one is delicious. In fact, Charlie made my day by saying ‘wow, this is the first time in my whole life I’ve wanted to ask for more cauliflower’! All I did was dip cauliflower in egg and roll in flavoured breadcrumbs, exactly as I would chicken, and then served it with our favourite barbecue sauce (if you can’t be bothered to make the sauce, you could just serve it with bottled sweet chilli) but honestly, whichever way you serve it, it’s a life changer.
Last week, I was on board Celestyal Olympia cruising the Greek islands on assignment for Cruise International. You’ll be able to read my article shortly in the magazine (when I’ve actually finished and submitted it), but one of the things I was really impressed with was the food. We all know that the Mediterranean diet is super healthy, with the emphasis on good fats, fresh vegetables, beans and pulses and of course, all that fabulous fish, and I was bowled over by Greek food. I spend the week eating huge Greek salads, fat olives, fresh fish and vegetables and actually came home 2lb lighter without even trying. I was also fascinated by an article by Sali Hughes that recently appeared in The Pool about her decision to turn vegetarian in her forties. Many of Sali’s reasons echo my own feelings, so as a little experiment, I decided to give up meat while I was on the cruise. And honestly, now I’m really pondering becoming a pescatarian full time.
This is my favourite chocolate cake by far. The sponge is chocolatey and squidgy, and the ganache is really light and fluffy, the combination of which makes for a light, non-sickly but still indulgent dessert, perfect for a celebration. When I made this cake for Sam’s birthday a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by how many people that said ‘wow, there’s no way I could make that’, and ‘you’re so clever’ (I’m really not – if things go wrong, I just smother them in chocolate and nobody complains – I dropped a block of cheese on this one getting it out of the fridge, but I covered it up with more ganache), so I thought I’d write this easy chocolate cake recipe up in a step by step way so you can see just how simple it is to make. And then you’ll all be making it for everyone’s birthday from now on, and everyone will think you’re really clever too. Here goes!
We tend to go through different little food fads in our house. A while ago it was home made pizzas, then it was a gazillion iterations of coconut based curries, and now we’re addicted to empanadas. Think of empanadas as delicious little spiced Cornish pasties. You’ll find them all over Latin America and Spain, stuffed with all sorts of delicious fillings. I tend to fill mine with a dry-ish version of my normal chilli mixture. If you want to go all technical and make proper Chilean empanadas de pino, you’ll need to add raisins, chopped boiled eggs and olives, which, as you can imagine is a stretch too far for the fussier ones in my family, so I stick to a spicy minced beef filling. The dough for these deliciously simple empanadas is fab: really easy to work with and really forgiving – no resting necessary.
I had some pastry left over after wildly overestimating the amount I was going to need for an apple tart, and decided to try my hand making some mini Bakewell tarts. I kid you not, these babies are delicious and were completely demolished in less than five minutes. If you want to go all Mr Kipling, feel free to slather them in really thick icing. I prefer just a drizzle and – of course – a cherry!
Breakfast on a weekday can be a bit of a rushed affair. I don’t generally even bother with breakfast, but if we do anything it will be a quick piece of toast or bowl of cereal. On the weekends, though, we really like to take our time and do a proper family late breakfast/brunch. Often this will be bacon and eggs or pancakes and syrup, but my absolute favourite is our vanilla French toast. The lovely chaps at Prestige sent me one of their fab Dura Forge square grill pans, so I thought it was about time I shared my recipe (it’s not a difficult one, but I have a certain way of doing it) and tried out my swanky new pan at the same time.
I love it when my birthday comes round and I get to make exactly the cake I want. I’ve been planning this chocolate fudge cake with salted caramel icing for a while as I’m a bit obsessed with everything salted caramel at the moment and knew I wanted to make this frosting (icing? I never know what to call it). You can buy the tins of caramel ready made now, which saves you boiling a tin of condensed milk for three hours the old fashioned way and risking first degree burns into the bargain. Take it easy when you’re salting the caramel icing. Start off with a little bit of salt and keep tasting until you get the required balance of sweet/savoury. Too little and it’s just caramel icing, but then too much and the whole cake will taste salty and yucky. This chocolate fudge cake recipe is SO easy – I’m not claiming it as my own, sadly, as I’m pretty sure I copied it down from a magazine years ago, but it’s one I make a lot and it always comes out soft, moist and delicious. I recommend using muscovado sugar as it has the proper, fudgy taste, but use whatever you have.
As the parents of two young lads, one of the charities very close to our hearts is Centre Point, the UK’s leading youth homelessness charity. Centre Point has recently launched a new fundraising initiative, The Big Broth. It’s a competition to find a new and exciting soup recipe. The winning recipe will be put into production by Yorkshire Provender this autumn with 20p from every pot sold going straight back into funding Centre Point’s work with the young homeless in London and other major UK cities. The competition closes very soon (end of this month) and they’re keen to get as many entries in as possible, so if you have a favourite soup recipe, please please take five minutes to enter the competition. It’s such a worthy cause. I’ve entered our new favourite, a slow cooked chicken leg soup which is deliciously warm and tasty, perfect for chilly days or to perk up anyone feeling under the weather.
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