Walnut, Gorgonzola and Pancetta Fusilli.

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 #InghamsFoodieFinds campaign, I jumped at the chance.

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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

Ingredients:

200g fusilli fresh or dried (whatever you prefer)

125g creamy Gorzonzola

100g walnut halves

50g butter

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.

 

Christmas Baking 2013.

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.

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Mince Pies- these were made with a zesty orange pastry. I used Mary Berry’s mince pie recipe from her latest recipe book: They were filled with my homemade mincemeat from Delia Smith’s Christmas book. My late mother in law always used the recipe to make her mince pies and they always tasted delicious. She recommended the recipe and I have used it ever since.

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!

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A festive version of the Mocha Marble Cake as featured in The Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook. I baked this as a pudding for after Sunday lunch.
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I baked a lot of cupcakes for foodie presents this year.

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.

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Christmas Pudding Cupcake- all the flavours of a Christmas pudding within a sponge cupcake, including a dash of brandy in the frosting! Recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book.
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Another recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book. This time it’s the Candy Cane Cupcake recipe. I decorated the top slightly differently as I couldn’t find my two tone icing bag.
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These are the EggNog cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book. They were flavoured with rum!
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Finally, here are some gingerbread cupcakes. They provided a great spicy hit without being too overpowering and were topped with a lemon cream cheese icing. Another recipe from the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days cookbook.

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.

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The Christmas Cake Bites from Mary Berry’s Christmas Collection.
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The remaining gingerbread men and the snowmen sugar toppers got used on these fondant topped vanilla sponge cupcakes made for the children in the school where I work. I love baking them cupcakes or cookies at the end of term.

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.

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The 3D Gingerbread Christmas Tree.
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After baking the star shapes for the tree I had enough dough left to bake some gingerbread men. I added 4 cheeky gingerbread men to look like they were sitting on the branches of the Christmas tree.
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This is our family Christmas Cake this year. Usually I love to make my own decorations but I fell in love with all these pretty cake toppers and cake band when I was in John Lewis in Liverpool back in October. I just HAD to have them for my cake. What’s more as they’re not edible I’ve got them again for next year!
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Mary Berry’s Tunis Cake as featured on The Great British Bake Off Christmas Special
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More cupcake foodie presents. This time I made chocolate orange and chocolate mint cupcakes. The boxes were ones I found in Lakeland last year and kept them for this Christmas.
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My children helped me to decorate their Christmas pudding alternative- a chocolate Yule Log. I treated myself to the Nordicware Yule Log Bundt pan on sale in Lakeland. They covered the chocolate cake in ganache and piped royal icing on the top of it.
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I made gift bags of cookies for my step-nephews and nieces from a cutter set I bought from TKMaxx. The colours aren’t that Christmassy but it did spell out ho-ho!
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Two Mint Chocolate Cupcakes left over from all the baking. I was looking forward to trying one out but the kids got there before me!

Here’s hoping you all had a great 2013, fantastic Christmas and that you’re looking forward to what 2014 may bring.

Love Sam xx

Kids’ Cookery Club- Breakfast Smoothies

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.

150g raspberries,

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.

Raspberry and Banana Smoothie.  I had this for my breakfast one morning and it was very filling!
Raspberry and Banana Smoothie. I had this for my breakfast one morning and it was very filling!

What smoothie flavours do you enjoy best?  My favourite smoothie is the Innocent Smoothie’s Pineapple, Banana and Coconut flavour. If I buy it though, it has always disappeared by the time I get round to drinking some!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Saturday Suppers- The Hairy Dieters’ Beachside Paella

 

 

 

 

The Seafood Paella all ready to serve.
Paella.

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!

Moraira Harbour on the Costa Blanca in Spain
Moraira Harbour on the Costa Blanca in Spain

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.

A 500g bag of authentic Arroz for paella and a jar of pimenton.
A 500g bag of authentic Arroz for paella and a jar of pimenton.
I chopped two chicken breasts up into bite sized chunks.
I chopped two chicken breasts up into bite sized chunks.
The chicken breasts were fried gently in a pan with a spoonful of olive oil.
The chicken breasts were fried gently in a pan with a spoonful of olive oil.
I chopped two onions, a red pepper, a yellow pepper and 4 cloves garlic to go in the paella.
I chopped two onions, a red pepper, a yellow pepper and 4 cloves garlic to go in the paella.
The onions and garlic were gently fried in the pan.  The chicken had been removed once it had been browned.
The onions and garlic were gently fried in the pan. The chicken had been removed once it had been browned.
Then the peppers and a tin of green beans (drained) in water were added to the onions and garlic. These were cooked for a few more minutes.
Then the peppers and a tin of green beans (drained) in water were added to the onions and garlic. These were cooked for a few more minutes.
I made up a litre of hot chicken stock. It was made with a Knorr Stock cube.
I made up a litre of hot chicken stock. It was made with a Knorr Stock cube.
A couple of pinches of saffron and some pimenton were added to the pan to cook in the veg.
A couple of pinches of saffron and some pimenton were added to the pan to cook in the veg.
Then the rice was added until it was coated well in the oil and started to shine.
Then the rice was added until it was coated well in the oil and started to shine.
Chicken and Chorizo was added to one pan.
Chicken and Chorizo was added to one pan.
Both my frying pans are small ones so I had to make two paellas!
Both my frying pans are small ones so I had to make two paellas!

Chicken and Chorizo was added to one pan.
Chicken and Chorizo was added to one pan. This would also have some prawns added towards the end of the cooking time.
The paella begins to thicken up as the rice grains swell. Every now and again I ladelled in some more chicken stock.
The paella begins to thicken up as the rice grains swell. Every now and again I ladelled in some more chicken stock.
To the other paella I added seafood from a pack bought in Morrisons. This was for my hubby as he loves squid and mussels. I can't stand them!
To the other paella I added seafood from a pack bought in Morrisons. This was for my hubby as he loves squid and mussels. I can’t stand them!
A crafty Mojito to drink while I was cooking- cooks' perks!  I felt like Keith Floyd glugging down the wine!
A crafty Mojito to drink while I was cooking- cooks’ perks! I felt like Keith Floyd glugging down the wine!
The Seafood Paella all ready to serve.
The Seafood Paella all ready to serve.

 

I used the recipe from The Hairy Bikers’ Diet Book, (the first one with a white front cover) which is a huge favourite in our house.I cook a lot of meals out of it although I had not attempted their paella recipe. Their recipe is called Beachside Paella and serves 6. There was only 4 of us so we had far too much left over.  My children picked out bits they did not like. For me and my hubby we had two large Mojitos and shared a bottle of red wine.  I was rather sloshed after it so it defeated the object of being a “diet” meal! Get a grip, Sam!  I will definitely make this again but will save it for when we have visitors or friends over, it’s quite time consuming when you’re cooking it but it’s worth it!

Happy Cooking!

Love Sam xx