Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Cheese & Tomato Pasta Bake

My hubby says he can't cook. Like most men, I think it's often more a case of won't cook. So I asked him about it and he says he gets very stressed trying to follow a recipe and thinks he has to stick rigidly to the instructions or it will all go horribly wrong. This is one of his favourite dinners so, when he was home from work for a few days recently, I helped him make it and he was surprised by how easy it is. He was also very chuffed that he'd cooked a meal and felt confident that he could manage it by himself in the future. 
Be warned though, this is not a low-fat recipe, my lot love anything full of cheese! I often make this in the morning, pop it in the fridge and bake twenty minutes before we're ready to eat, so it's perfect for a busy day.
Please note that this recipe makes more sauce than you really need as I always make enough to pop some in the freezer for another time!
Serves 6 with accompaniments or 4 greedy people like my family...


Approx 4 tomatoes, more if you like
200g grated cheese - I used mature cheddar
300g dried pasta - I used penne
100g butter or margarine
75g Plain flour
Approx 1 pint of milk
Salt & Pepper
Basil - optional


De-seed your tomatoes by quartering and then scooping out with a spoon what I call the "slimy" bit! Roughly chop and put to one side.

Start cooking your pasta according to the pack instructions. My penne takes about 10-12 minutes in a large pan of boiling water.

Add your butter to a large saucepan and melt over a low heat.

Tip in the flour and stir into the butter and cook for a few minutes until it starts to thicken.

Start adding the milk a little at a time, whisking constantly to avoid lumps.

Then tip in the rest of the milk and increase the heat. Keep whisking until the mixture thickens. As I'm preparing the pasta bake ahead, I add a little more milk to make the sauce looser as the pasta will absorb some.

When you're happy with the thickness of your sauce, season well with salt and pepper, then add about ⅔ of your grated cheese and stir in. 

That's the sauce finished. If your pasta is ready, drain in a colander and tip into a large oven-safe dish or tin.

Mix as much sauce as you like into the cooked pasta and tip any leftover sauce into a tub for the freezer.

Nearly done! Chop some herbs if you wish (I used Basil) and add to your tomatoes before scattering over the top of your pasta.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.

Now you can either bung it in the fridge for cooking later or bake straight away in a 200° fan oven for about twenty minutes until the cheese has melted and a nice golden colour.

We like this with some salad, crusty bread or garlic bread.

Happy Cooking

- x -

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Cupcake Bouquet Tutorial - Step by Step

Cupcake Bouquets were one of the most popular items when I had my cake business, especially for Valentine's and Mother's Day (and also the most popular post on my old blog!). It's fairly easy to do and by using different colours and decorations you can create a beautiful bouquet that not only looks lovely but tastes great too! 

You will need:
A suitable container (I like to use metal buckets that are easily available from florist suppliers, they are approx 6" across - you could also use terracotta pots or anything else of a suitable size that takes your fancy)
Plastic disposable cups - mine hold around 200ml
Various coloured tissue paper 
Optional: cellophane, ribbon, sugarpaste, elastic band.

You also, of course, need a batch of cupcakes plus enough buttercream to decorate them! You will only need seven but my recipe makes twelve so plenty to nibble on later ;)
This time I used good old vanilla for both cake and buttercream but you can use any flavour combination you wish.


To start off, you need 7 plastic cups, arrange them into this shape:

Now, at this point, you can either staple them together as they are or you can do as I did and wrap some tissue paper around each cup (sellotape comes in handy here just to keep in place) before stapling for an even lovelier effect, like this:

If you'd like to use cellophane, now is the time to wrap it around your pot as it's much more fiddly to do it later on - cut a big square of cellophane, turn your pot upside down and secure with an elastic band, don't worry that it looks awful, we can pretty it up later!

Next, take a sheet of a different colour tissue paper which will complement your icing colours, cut in half and lay out flat across each other:

Lay the tissue sheets over the top of your container and gently push your cup arrangement downwards pushing the tissue paper with it.

Ok, you're ready to ice your cupcakes! For these ones, I used a Wilton 2D nozzle in a piping bag and painted a stripe of red extra colouring up the seam of the bag before filling with buttercream to get a two tone effect with the icing.

Another optional bit now! To make the cakes a little more special, I rolled out some red sugarpaste and used a plunger cutter to make some simple flowers. Add one to each cake and any other decorations you like.

To assemble your bouquet, carefully pop a cupcake into each cup holder! Then, tie a length of ribbon around the pot to cover up that elastic band.
And there you have it, a gorgeous bouquet of cupcakes! Perfect for a gift :)

There are all kinds of decorations and colour schemes you can do with these, I like to experiment! With the one below I used lots of different colours and wrapped the plastic cups with cut-out paper doilies (much cheaper than specialist cupcake wrappers!).

Happy Baking

- x -

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Speedy Sausage Traybake

I'm lazy and the first to admit it. Some nights I can't be bothered standing at the hob for ages, I just want to sit down with a cuppa and a Marian Keyes book. So this is the perfect meal for lazy people like me as it takes less than ten minutes to prep and then sits in the oven happily cooking away while you relax without any guilt whatsoever. Plus it's very adaptable as I often just see what vegetables I have left in the fridge.


Any veg that's good for roasting - peppers, squash etc - I used carrots, onions, garlic and cherry tomatoes this time. The tomatoes will pretty much disintegrate but they add a lovely sweetness.
Potatoes -  any that are suitable for roasting
Oil - I used olive oil but vegetable/sunflower is fine
Salt and Pepper

I've not specified any amounts as that will depend on how many people you want to serve. As a rough guide, allow 2-3 sausages per person and about 5-6 large chunks of potato each.


Roughly chop your veg. I don't bother peeling anything (apart from the onions & garlic as, like I said, I'm lazy). Place into a large roasting tin.

Add your sausages and season well with salt and pepper. Drizzle over some oil, about 1-2 tbsp, you don't need much as the sausages will release some fat too. Now get your hands in (or use a spoon if you don't like getting mucky!) and move it all around to get everything coated in the oil.

Easy. Now you just bung it in the oven at 200° fan for about an hour to an hour and a half (depending on the size of your potatoes) while you read your book or watch telly. It's ready when the potatoes are tender and the sausages are browned. The kids love this one - although my two always pick out the onions - what is it with kids and onions? Serve on it's own or with some gravy and yorkie puds.

Happy Cooking

- x -

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Golden Vegetable Rice - Microwave Recipe

I make this all the time and we have it with all kinds of meals - cold with salad and leftover chicken or hot with a curry or tonight's meal of salmon fillets. It's very quick and easy - no real measuring required, as long as you have a mug/cup you'll be fine!
The kids like it too and there are plenty of ways to jazz it up a little if you want. Maybe a couple of teaspoons of curry powder (which is lovely) or different herbs and spices, and of course you can adapt the recipe to add any veg your family likes.
This amount makes enough for a generous side dish for my family of four so feel free to scale up or down accordingly - the cooking time should remain roughly the same. A good tip for rice is to always use twice the amount of water to your rice and it should be perfect.

P.S. I bought one of those microwaveable pouches of savoury rice the other day just to compare, and hubby and I both agreed it was tasteless and stodgy, won't be buying one of those again! Plus it had a suspicious ingredient simply called "Flavouring"....


1 mug/cup Basmati Rice (you can use long-grain but it will take longer to cook)
Any vegetables you like, roughly chopped - I used onion, carrot and frozen peas.
1 Stock Cube - any flavour you like, here I've used Chicken Oxo. You can replace the water with fresh stock if you prefer
Salt & Black Pepper
Herbs & Spices (optional) - This time I used Turmeric (for the lovely golden colour), Garlic Granules and Paprika but you can use anything you like, experiment and see what happens!
2 mugs/cups Boiling Water.


Put all your chopped vegetables in a microwave safe bowl that holds about 2 pints of liquid.

Add your mug/cup of rice.

Next, using the same mug, add two mugfuls of hot water from the kettle.

Now add a generous shake of any herbs or spices you want to use, plus your stock cube, and give your mixture a good stir.

And that's nearly it! Cover your bowl in cling film and poke a little hole in the top to let steam escape.

Cook in the microwave for ten minutes on full power (you may need to adjust slightly according to your microwave, mine is 800W). Then, peel away the cling film - very carefully as there will be lots of steam! - and stir well. At this stage it should still be fairly wet but the rice will be nearly cooked. Place back in the microwave uncovered and cook on full power for another 4-5 minutes. Fluff up with a fork and you're ready to serve. Easy :)

Happy Cooking

- x -

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Simple Shortbread Biscuits

Ok. These aren't perfect pretty circles. I just can't be bothered. What I care about is that they're buttery and melt-in-the-mouth and with only three ingredients, very quick and easy to make. A batch of these disappears very quickly in our house. My method might seem a bit odd at first but I much prefer it to faffing about rolling out dough :) 


Makes approx 24
I use ounces (oz) for a lot of recipes as it's how I learnt to bake (showing my age now!) but it's very easy to convert to grams (g) if you wish - 1oz is approx 25g

8oz Butter - you must use real butter for this one, I prefer slightly salted
4oz Caster Sugar plus a little more for sprinkling
12oz Plain Flour


I use a stand mixer for this recipe.
Weigh out your sugar and add to your mixer bowl.

Cube the butter and soften in the microwave for around 20-30 seconds - you want it very soft but not melted, your microwave may take less or more time than mine. Don't forget to use a plastic container for the microwave. (I keep an old weighing scales bowl for this as my new scales have a metal bowl)

Cream together the butter and sugar for a few minutes until well combined and looking fluffy and then, with the mixer still running, start tipping in the flour a little at a time. It should start coming together in a very soft dough.

Now lay a large piece of cling film onto your work surface and tip on the dough. Use your hands to mould the dough into a thick sausage shape.

Roll the cling film up around your dough, bit like a Christmas cracker! Place in the freezer for about half an hour until it's firmed up enough to slice easily.

Unwrap your dough and use a sharp knife (I use a serrated knife) to cut slices, they can be any thickness you like but I do mine to roughly 1cm. The amount you get will depend in how thin your slices are and how thick your sausage was in the first place. That sounds a bit rude doesn't it?!

Place your slices on baking trays lined with greaseproof/baking paper. Don't worry if they look a bit raggedy or crumbly at the edges, it will magically melt away in the oven!

Bake at 180° (fan) for around 15-20 minutes. You need them to be just golden at the edges.

Sprinkle immediately with caster sugar and leave to cool. Best stored in an air-tight container to keep them crisp.The beauty of these biscuits is that you can make the dough any time you like and just leave it wrapped in the freezer until you're ready to bake. Just leave out for a while to thaw a bit before slicing.

This recipe is so adaptable too, you could swap some of the flour for ground almonds or cocoa, add some chocolate chips, nuts, stem ginger or anything else that takes your fancy. That's what I love about baking, the possibilities are endless!

Happy Baking

- x -