My family and I love travelling (money and time permitting, of course). So when Ingham Lakes and Mountains asked me if I would like to create a recipe inspired by one of their holiday destinations for their #InghamsFoodieFindscampaign, I jumped at the chance.
Nearly five years ago Mr SmartCookieSam took me to Italy for my 40th birthday. He kept the trip a surprise until a week or so before the trip. We went to Venice, Lake Garda, Lake Como and up into the Italian Alps. One day we had a memorable and breathtaking road trip up along the Stelvio Pass and stopped for lunch at a roadside hotel called La Fontanella. It was near the town of Madonna de Campiglio. In the winter it was a ski resort but as this was July we sat outside on the terrace enjoying the stunning views of the Dolomites. Our lunch was delicious and I remember the starter we had to this day. I’ve recreated it and adapted it at home many times and is a perfect summer weekend lunch. Preferably sat outside with a huge glass of wine on the side (here’s hoping!)
The starter was a very filling Walnut and Gorgonzola Fusilli. Mr SmartCookieSam is not a big pasta fan but he loves this. I sometimes add pancetta to mine at home to appease the carnivores in my house. It is very quick to make and makes a perfect weekday supper if time is short. Not an everyday treat though as there is a lot of butter, cream and cheese in the recipe!
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter.
WALNUT, GORGONZOLA AND PANCETTA FUSILLI
200g fusilli fresh or dried (whatever you prefer)
125g creamy Gorzonzola
100g walnut halves
150ml single cream
1 packet of cubed pancetta
First you need to cook the pancetta in a frying pan. I dry fry it as it contains enough fat. Preheat your oven to 180oC/ Gas 4 ready for toasting the walnuts.
While you have the pancetta frying, cook the fusilli in a large saucepan of boiling water according to the packet instructions. Or if you are like me who was in a rush, you’ll end up chucking the pasta in the cold water and hoping for the best!
When the pancetta is crisp, remove from the frying pan and put to one side. Chop the walnuts up into bite size pieces and lay on a baking tray. Toast them in the oven for about 5-8 minutes checking them regularly so they don’t burn.
Next, melt the butter in the frying pan.
Then add the cubed Gorgonzola to the melted butter.
Add the pancetta and the toasted walnuts into the pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste. When the pasta is ready, drain carefully and toss with the sauce. Serve immediately.
My family love this dish with chunks of toasted ciabatta bread to dip in olive oil and balsamic vinegar or with a side of mixed salad leaves.
It’s been a busy few weeks leading up to Christmas. Even though sometimes you feel as if you’re meeting yourself coming backwards and life is a whirlwind, I do love all the exciting lead up and all the baking I do. I’ve put my Sam’s Smart Cookies and Cupcakes business on hold for the moment until my son leaves school but baking is very much in my blood and I couldn’t imagine not doing it. It would be like losing a part of me. Instead, I turned to baking for friends and family making foodie presents as well as donating mince pies and other goodies to Christmas events at work.
I made several batches of these mince pies during December. In previous years I’ve used various recipes, including Nigella’s Domestic Goddess recipe and the one featured in the very first Great British Bake Off cookbook. Compared with shop bought mince pies they are smaller and the mincemeat is sweeter but they are how I imagine homemade mince pies to taste. I baked some mince pies to serve after our school Nativity performance and also for a grandparents’ Christmas tea party. Sadly, when I was baking for the first event I was carrying a rack of two dozen pies from the oven over to the worktop and knocked them all onto the floor. Oh dear! It didn’t help that my greedy but gorgeous Labrador ran in while I was getting the brush out and “hoovered” them up! We only had half the mince pies on that night! I can see the funny side of it now!
I love baking cupcakes at Christmas and although I don’t have much spare time to make my own toppers and decorations I was pleased that my local Sainsburys could help me out. I got the gingerbread men and Christmas pudding toppers in special packs and the snowmen came from somewhere else. I was also pleased to find TKMaxx selling sprinkles and found some great crushed peppermint pieces in a tub.
For our school Grandparents’ Christmas Party during the last week of term I wanted to serve Christmas Cake but hadn’t left enough time to bake a traditional cake. I found this ideal alternative in Mary Berry’s Christmas Collection, a light fruit cake baked as a traybake. You then ice the top with marzipan and sugarpaste and cut it into small squares. I thought this was a brilliant idea and the cakes went down well even though some people don’t like the sweet icing, it was easily peeled off. I decorated the tops with snowflakes, trees, stars and other Christmassy motifs.
When baking for Sam’s Smart Cookies and Cupcakes I made these gingerbread Christmas Trees to order. Each one I made was unique and I loved putting them together. This year I only made one which I donated as a raffle prize. I originally bought the cutters from Selfridges as a set from Wilton when I was in London a few years back. Now Lakeland Limited sell them and they are very popular. For the recipe I use 2 batches of a gingerbread cookie recipe and bake two of each size of cookie. Once these have been baked and cooled they are covered in roll out icing. I used the white Renshaw icing for this project and added Skittles and Toffee bon-bons.
Here’s hoping you all had a great 2013, fantastic Christmas and that you’re looking forward to what 2014 may bring.
I love making smoothies but don’t always have the time to make them, especially during term time when I’m rushing off to work on a morning. My kids love them too, especially when they can create their own. A few years ago I bought a Kenwood Smoothie Maker which was worth it’s weight in gold. It got used so much it wore out. Eventually it was replaced by another blender and my children were pleased that they could make smoothies again. If only their enthusiasm extended to them actually washing the jug out at the end without being asked to!
I also enjoyed making Smoothies a couple of times when I ran a Cookery Club at the school where I work as a teaching assistant. One session was a smoothie making session, where we made three different smoothies, the other was part of a special breakfast session. Both went down extremely well with the children and they enjoyed tasting the different flavours.
Here is a recipe for a Smoothie I make regularly at home and made for those Cookery Club sessions. It is adapted from Annabel Karmel’s book 100 Family Meals from the My Kitchen Table series. It is a fab book for children learning to cook with their parents as well as being very useful for ideas to cook for family friendly meals. I use the recipes from it a lot at home.
Here is my version of Annabel’s Peach and Banana Smoothie. Instead mine became a Raspberry and Banana one as I didn’t have peaches.
Serves 1 in a tall glass or two small child portions in a small tumbler glass.
I large banana chopped into chunks
1 small pot of strawberry or raspberry yoghurt (I used a strawberry Mullerlight one as that was all I had in the fridge)
1 tsp runny honey
100ml milk (for the children at school I used whole milk, but for us at home we only have skimmed!)
Prepare the fruit by just washing the raspberries in a colander and peeling the banana. Chop the banana into big chunks and put the fruit into the smoothie blender.
Measure out the milk into a jug, pour into the blender and then add all the other ingredients. Whizz the ingredients together until the lumps have come out of the smoothie.
Pour into a glass and enjoy! Drink it straightaway for the best flavour.
On Saturday night I TRY to cook something a little bit more special if we have time. We have been back from our holiday in Spain for two weeks now and the time has gone so fast. The weather has been up or down and on Friday and Saturday I began to wonder what had happened to our summer. I began to think back to the hot, sunny climate of Spain and how every meal was sat outside. The rest of the time being spent in the pool trying to cool down. Last Saturday I looked out of the window, seeing the rain lash down and felt a sudden need for something Spanish and holidaylike!
So what better than Paella? My hubby and kids never seemed to want to try the paella when we were away so I couldn’t have it unless we were somewhere that did individual portions! Last year on holiday in Ibiza I saw two blokes tucking in to a huge paella dish which was the side of a Sky Satellite dish!
At Alicante airport I went mad buying things in the Duty Free shop. Usually if I try to buy it in the supermarket with hubby watching I get the “What do you want that for?” but I wanted to buy some Turron to keep for Christmas. I spotted some paella rice and some pimenton so that was sneaked into the basket quickly.
At half term week we had a holiday in Ceredigion, West Wales where we stayed in a lovely holiday cottage in New Quay.
We stayed in Forget Me Not Cottage which we rented from West Wales Cottages, a traditional cottage which was beautifully decorated and well equipped.
This was our fourth visit to Wales in five years as we love the area. My hubby lived near Cardigan from being a toddler until he was 11 so it is a place very close to his heart. He grew up on a farm and loved the area. His family moved to Norfolk when he started secondary school. Since I have been going to Ceredigion on holiday I can see exactly why he loved it so much and I now feel the same.
I have lots of connections with Wales, especially North Wales. I have family in the Colwyn Bay and Llandudno area and spent four years living in Bangor and Menai Bridge when I was at the teacher training college there in the early 1990’s. As I am such a greedy girl and a foodie whenever we go away anywhere I love trying all the local delicacies, especially the cakes.
Welsh cakes are very popular all over Wales. In Welsh they are called Pice Ar Y Maen or Teisen Gri. I saw these delicious specialities being cooked on a griddle in the window of a bakery on Cardigan High Street. The bakery was called Y Popty (which I think translates as The Bakery) In previous years my sister in law and I used to buy loads of them still warm off the griddle which was heaven. This year I bought them ready sealed from Y Popty in a packet of 8, took them back to the cottage and reheated them in a frying pan to warm them through. Slathered in butter and eaten warm, you just can’t beat them!
While we were away we had some delicious meals out but one of the nicest meals we had was at a local honey farm down the road from where we were staying in New Quay. New Quay Honey Farm has a beekeeping/ honey exhibition and a Meadery which we had seen before back in 2009 when we visited. The Honey Farm also had a well stocked gift shop selling their delicious honey, mead, mustard and other delicacies. I bought two varieties of honey, some ginger chutney and some honey wholegrain mustard. My mum treated herself to some walnuts soaked in honey, which also looked gorgeous. My mum said she thought they would taste delicious with Greek Yoghurt.
Another thing I treated myself to was a little book of Welsh Baking, which I thought was a great bargain at only £1.50. It contained unusual and traditional recipes which I am keen to try as well as the more well known of the Welsh bakes such as Bara Brith and Welsh Cakes.
The Honey Farm also had a tearoom which had seating outside in tranquil surroundings. We sat outside to eat our lunch where there was a stream and trees on a pretty patio. It was great to enjoy the warm sun and eat our lunch. I loved my Welsh Rarebit made with local Welsh cheese served with a salad garnish. I tested out the mustard and the ginger chutney in the pots brought to our table. To finish we treated ourselves to some traditional cakes baked with honey from the farm in them. We ordered a honey flapjack, some honey Bara brith and some honey cake baked in a honeycomb shaped tin which we split three ways so my hubby, mum and I could taste each one. The kids missed out as they wanted to go into New Quay on their own for fish and chips and ice cream.
Back at home I tested out my baking book last weekend. I made Bara Brith but added a tablespoon of the runny honey to the mixture.
The other recipe I was keen to try was the Aberffraw biscuits or Teisennau Aberffraw. The introduction to the recipe says: “Named after Aberffraw in Anglesey, once famous as a residence of the Welsh princes, these sweet, biscuit like little cakes are traditionally cut out using a small scallop shell”
Not having a scallop shell I had to use something else. I do have a seashell cookie cutter in my collection of cutters I use for my Sam’s Smart Cookies business so I thought I would use that instead. The biscuits were made with three ingredients: unsalted butter, caster sugar and flour. The recipe book is an old fashioned one and uses imperial measures and farenheit oven temperatures but this didn’t worry me. It didn’t specify which sort of flour to use but I presumed they meant plain flour as that is usually used for biscuits. The recipe did not say how many biscuits you would get from the mixture but I managed 14 cookies. I was careful not to overwork the mixture so it would roll out easily as it was quite crumbly.
The cookies were baked for 10-15 minutes in my oven and once cooled I dusted them with icing sugar. My son ate most of them over the next few days and said they were delicious. I will definitely be baking them again.
There are many more recipes I would like to try from my recipe book. There is a recipe for a Honey and Ginger Cake (Teisen Fel a Sinsir) which I love the sound of. Watch this space!
I have never ever had the courage to make flatbreads. Until today, that is when I decided to take the plunge. I’ve always admired people who can bake different kinds of bread and to be honest I was rather nervous about doing it. More and more recently, though I have been getting disappointed with shop bought bread. It either doesn’t taste of anything or bloats me up. I would love to bake all my own bread for my family but being as I work 3 days a week I don’t always have time to devote to it.
I had been looking through my Jo Wheatley recipe book “A Passion For Baking” which as you will know from my previous posts is a huge favourite of mine. Jo runs a monthly competition on her blog Jo’s Blue Aga and also through her Facebook page. She chooses a recipe from A Passion For Baking and her fans are invited to bake the recipe and submit the photograph to her to be included in a competition. A couple of months ago she set the competition for her Halloumi Cheese and Chilli Flatbreads. Although I have never entered the competition as I know I wouldn’t stand a chance of winning, I thought I would love to try baking the flatbreads myself at home. However, life got in the way and I never got round to making them. The packet of Halloumi cheese stayed unopened in the fridge. Thankfully it had a very long shelf life!
Today though, I decided to try them once and for all. We were having a day catching up at home after I had been out and about yesterday. I wanted to catch up on cleaning, ironing and other tidying up jobs. As the weather hasn’t been brilliant, it didn’t matter that we were inside. I chose not to cook a big roast but to have soup and the flatbreads for lunch, followed by chilli and jacket potatoes for tea.
Here’s how I made them:
Please note: I made two substitutions as I didn’t have the right ingredients in. You are meant to use Greek Yoghurt in the dough but I didn’t have this so I used half fat creme fraiche instead. It seemed to work ok. I noticed my halloumi cheese was a light version, don’t know if that made a difference or not to the recipe although it did look and feel rubbery to touch as I crumbled it up. The oil to brush on the pan was also meant to be a chilli infused one, I didn’t have any of that either so I just used ordinary olive oil.
At first when I brought the flatbreads on a plate to the table, my daughter said “Why have you made pancakes?” but I explained to her that they were a little bit like naan breads. They went down well with all of the family and we are definitely going to make them again. We were thinking of other flavours we could add to them instead of cheese and chilli. My son said “Nutella!” If only!