The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Vanilla and Chocolate Button Cookies.

Wednesday 6th December 2017.

Yesterday was full on at work and I came home with a thumping headache. I couldn’t face cooking anything for dinner, so we ended up at the chippy. The sooner I could sit down and switch off last night, the better.

Today was a different story. I was home earlier from work but wanted to try out a new cookie cutter I bought in Lakeland a few weeks back. It was a button shape with four mini holes in the middle. I thought it would be perfect to try out the vanilla and chocolate button cookie recipe in The Great British Bake Off Christmas book. The recipe looked simple enough and as I enjoy baking cookies I thought there wouldn’t be any problems.

How wrong I was! My go to recipe for vanilla or chocolate roll out cookies uses four or five ingredients. This recipe used icing sugar in place of caster which isn’t unusual but just used egg yolks and asked for baking powder.  Now, especially when I’m baking roll out cookies I never use baking powder as it makes the cookies expand and depending on the design can make them lose some of their shape.  I was tempted to leave it out but then if the recipe said so, it must have been put in there for a reason!

Ingredients needed to bake Vanilla and Chocolate Button cookies.
Softened butter, icing sugar, plain flour and baking powder added to the mixing bowl to be rubbed in and turned into a breadcrumb like texture.
Working the dough together. Unfortunately, although my recipe proportions were right, the dough turned out very sticky.

Then I divided the dough into two equal parts.  One half had vanilla added to it and the other cocoa powder to turn it chocolatey.  This did not work out too well as I felt as if I should have made the two doughs separately. The cocoa powder did not work into the dough as well as it should and the result was more of a marbled effect. Well I suppose you do get buttons that looked like that but that wasn’t the effect I wanted on these button cookies!

Then, after chilling the dough in the fridge for half an hour, it was time to get the button cookie cutter out and cut out the biscuits.  I was very disappointed with the cutter and despite the dough being chilled for the right time, the dough just wouldn’t come free from the cutter. The dough stuck to the rim of the cookie cutter and so I gave up. I don’t know whether it was the cutter or the dough so I went to my cookie cutter stash and found two round cutters. I cut out rounds of dough easily and then used a slightly smaller cutter to make the pattern for the rim. This just made an indentation and didn’t go all the way through the biscuit.  Then, to finish, I used a skewer to make four holes in the centre of each biscuit like a button.  Unfortunately due to the horrible nature of the dough used the skewers didn’t do a very good job of making the holes.

Vanilla button cookies on the cooling rack.
Chocolate Button Cookies on the rack.

As expected the cookies expanded in the oven, not a lot admittedly but enough to swell and look slightly out of shape.  I wasn’t impressed with the look of them. But as I love the recipe idea, I’ve decided to try and make them again with my own tried and tested recipe for roll-out cookies. Then I might actually be able to use my button cookie cutter without the dough sticking to it!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

 

The Great British Bake Off Christmas- Advent Cookies.

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It’s been a few weeks since I’ve had the chance to bake anything, let alone blog about it.  It doesn’t help that my laptop isn’t working properly and I just can’t type my posts well on my iPad.  So, I know what I’ll be saving up for once Christmas is out of the way!  I don’t know about you but I’m so glad November is out of the way.  It’s always a really depressing month to me.  Hardly any daylight and you’re travelling to and from work in the dark.  I’m definitely a summer person and all I have wanted to do is to hibernate and eat comfort food.  But yayy, it’s December and finally Christmas month.  No organisation up until here in the SmartCookieSam house, unless you count making your Christmas pudding and soaking your dried fruit for your Christmas cake…

Which brings me to the subject of this month’s blog post themes.  I’ve got out one of my Christmas recipe books (see the rather awful selfie below) and decided to bake from The Great British Bake Off Christmas this month. Not only will it be baking as in cakes and mince pies but there will be a few savoury things, foodie gifts and baked main courses to try out right up until the New Year. I’ll be attempting a recipe a day throughout Advent and in between Christmas and New Year.  So watch this space to see what I try out every day.

Friday December 1st 2017.

It’s the first day of Advent and everyone in the SmartCookieSam house has an Advent Calendar, even the dog and the cat!  Though our Labrador would love to trough the cat’s treats out of the calendar as well as his own!

I’ve always loved the idea of baking mini cookies to put in pockets of an Advent Calendar but until this year had never got round to it.  I used the very first recipe in the Bake Off Christmas book for the basis for my very own Advent Calendar biscuits.  I baked a vanilla shortbread dough and used four different type of snowflake cookie cutters.  Three were of the same size but different patterns but there was also a larger cutter which would be suitable for number 25. The idea was that the cookies would adorn a tree and you would take one off the tree as each day passes, that’s if the cookies last that long in our house!   Baking cookies and decorating them has always been one of my favourite sorts of baking so it was great to get creative after a busy time at work.

It’s been a while since I’ve baked and decorated cookies.
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For the icing I used roll out fondant icing swirled with some blue food colouring to add a marbled effect.  Some cookies turned out bluer than others but that was the effect I was hoping to achieve.
My piping skils need work and the icing was a bit runny.  Hence the messy numbers.  But then it has been a while since I’ve done any piping.
Number 25 is a big, special shaped snowflake so it will stand out from all the others on the tree.
There was enough cookie dough left to bake five extra cookies.  One was decorated with the year 2017 on it and the other four had the initials of me and my family on them.
All the cookies ready and drying on the wire rack ready to be threaded with ribbon to hang on the Christmas tree.
Christmas 2017.

Baking and decorating cookies definitely did put me in a festive mood. I was nearly finished when my son got in from college and I was able to clear away the mess while enjoying a well earned gin and tonic.  Now I wonder whether any cookies will be left tomorrow?

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Chocolate Orange Star Cookies. 

The other day when I was in WHSmiths I ended up buying a copy of Lorraine Pascale’s new book “Bake”.  I was only meant to go in there to buy some new highlighter pens and a notebook but I came out with them plus Lorraine’s book and a magazine.  I was then meant to be doing my weekly shop so I went across the road and found myself sat in Costa coffee looking through the book. Instead of writing my shopping list I was sat there looking through all the recipes and mentally bookmarking which ones I wanted to try out first.

Now I’m not meant to be baking at home at the moment unless it’s for someone else or when I go to my local Clandestine Cake club event.  But I can’t help it. Baking is part of me.  So I try to make things for others.  I sometimes take bakes into schools I work in or give to other people.  This is what I did with the very first bake I tried from Lorraine Pascale’s “Bake”.

The first recipe I tried from the book was funnily enough also the very first recipe chronologically in the book.  It is an easy recipe to try and also looks effective.  The original recipe was for Chocolate and Vanilla Stars but I adapted this to turn them into Chocolate Orange Stars.  Instead of adding a vanilla pod or some vanilla extract to the dough, I used Sugar and Crumbs’ Chocolate Orange Cocoa Powder instead.

Lorraine’s recipe introduction says “These stars look great and are perfect for making with children. They are also awesome as presents.”  

The first job was to cream together some butter and sugar in a bowl or with a hand mixer. This needed to be done until the mixture was light and fluffy.  After this I added in a beaten egg.  The mixture was then divided carefully into two bowls.  Although I tried to take great care over this and to split the mixture evenly, I still thought there was slightly more chocolate dough than plain dough! To one bowl I added half of the quantity of self raising flour  and some cocoa powder. To the other bowl I just added the remaining amount of flour.

My star cutters looked a bit bigger than the ones featured in the photo next to the recipe but I still had enough mixture.  I rolled out the chocolate dough first and cut out the stars.  Once all the chocolate stars were cut out, they were laid onto two lined baking trays.  I then got a smaller star cutter and cut out the middle of the biscuit leaving a star shaped hole.  The chocolate mini stars were then put to one side to become the centres of the plain cookies.  On another two baking trays I did the same but with the plain dough. When I had cut the stars out of the middle they went into the middle of the chocolate ones and vice versa.

I had to bake the cookies in two batches as I needed four trays and I can only fit two trays in at a time in my oven.  They expanded in the oven and puffed up slightly, maybe because the recipe asked for self raising flour rather than plain flour.  Once cooked in the oven after about 10 minutes I let them cool down on a wire rack then planned to get ready for work.  When I was about to go out of the door I would put them into a box.

That never happened.  Just as I was getting ready to leave my phone rang so I was locking up and getting my things together.  I left the boxful of cookies on the worktop and drove off to work.  Over the next few days they got eaten at home.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Hilton Doubletree Cookies

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My version of Hilton Doubletree Cookies. Soft and chewy and deliciously moreish.

A couple of weeks ago I was in one of those I want to bake moods.  This happens quite a lot as baking takes my mind off everyday worries and is pure escapism from my busy job.  When I have times like these I love to bake cookies. They are quick and simple to make and taste fab too. Not that I’m allowed at the moment. I’m doing Slimming World and I can’t even begin to think about how many Syns are in some of my baking creations.

I was in one of those moods where I wanted to try out something new so I went online and came across these stunners.  Hilton Doubletree Cookies.  Now, if you have ever stayed in a Hilton Doubletree Hotel they give you a fresh and warm cookie when you check in.  I stayed at one in London near Tower Bridge about five years ago with my family and my son for one thought this was amazing to get a cookie.  We had set off early down to London from Yorkshire and were just checking in late in the morning so the cookie staved off the hunger pangs until we could stop for lunch later.

From what I remember of my Hilton Doubletree Cookie, it was soft and chewy inside, just how I like a cookie.  So when I saw the recipe online, I wrote it down and attempted to have a go at making some.  The recipe was in American measurements so I got out my set of baking cups.  I’m always nervous of adapting American recipes as I’m worried they won’t be as accurate because I’m not used to them.  Especially as this recipe called for a cup of butter.  I had to scoop up the butter and put it into the cup which was quite messy.  Usually when I bake cookies you just weigh out the butter!

The cookies also asked for chopped walnuts in the mixture. I added pecans to mine as I didn’t have any walnuts in at home. Of course due to nut allergies, etc. you can omit the nuts.  I used chopped chocolate chunks as well.

It was torture not being able to eat a cookie. Why do I do this to myself? I don’t like cooking Slimming World friendly cookies.  The one time I did this I was not impressed at having to use artificial sweetener and low fat spread in my baking. All those chemicals and the bake felt wrong. So it’s better to abstain and give the baking to someone else who can indulge. And this is exactly what happened here…. until the following day when I’d been so busy I’d not had time for lunch and got home from work. Who wanted a banana or an apple then? Oh no, not me! I ate one and very gorgeous it was too. Now a few months back I would have eaten another and another but guilt stopped me. So I stuck at one!

Now if you want to try baking the DoubleTree Hilton Cookies yourself,  then this is where I found the recipe. Head over to  fabulous The Little Kitchen blog and you will find it there:

http://www.thelittlekitchen.net/doubletree-hotel-copycat-chocolate-chip-cookies-recipe/

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With the addition of chocolate chunks and pecan nuts, these cookies are heaven on a plate.
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These cookies didn’t last long in our house.

 

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

 

Slimming World Low Syn Christmas Star Cookies.

A few weeks ago I had a wake up call.  It came about the time when I was sorting out some clothes and realised that about two thirds of the items in my wardrobe were far too tight for me.  Trousers with zips that wouldn’t do up, buttons that wouldn’t do up and with gaping holes on my work shirts. Not to mention several dresses and skirts that made my stomach look like I was 6 months pregnant.  My baby is 16 years old!  I also saw several unflattering photos of me taken over the summer where I looked like a beached whale.  All I can say is at least I wasn’t in a bikini on them. I’m not classed as obese but well within the overweight category.  I blame my love of baking but if I don’t bake, I’m not tempted. Trouble is, I love baking and if I don’t do it, I feel I’m missing out. After a couple of attempts at Weightwatchers recently and feeling like I’ve not got anywhere, I decided to try Slimming World. I needed something new and with interesting recipes to motivate me and my family to eat what I cook.

So far in the past 3 weeks I have lost 5.5lbs. This, to me who takes ages even to lose a pound was a real motivator for me.  Not only that but I’ve really enjoyed going to my local group, everyone is so friendly and warm.

Yesterday in group was the launch of Countdown To Christmas and we were asked to bring Syn Free or low Syn Christmas nibbles for a taster session to our group.  I looked on the Slimming World Website for inspiration and came across some ideas for biscuits including a star shaped almond cookie. I was sceptical about baking cookies from a Slimming World recipe as I can’t stand using artificial sweeteners and low fat spreads in baking.  Not only is the taste different, the texture is strange and it’s just not what my baking is all about.  So I tried baking these biscuits with trepidation…eeeeekkk!

Yesterday afternoon I was in a rush after getting in from work late.  Thankfully there were no distractions so I got all the ingredients out and started on the cookies.  I mixed all the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, Canderel, Flora Cuisine and eggs all together to form a smooth dough.  The dough felt more like bread dough than a cookie dough and was a bit springy and like elastic.  It felt strange.  I don’t tend to put raising agents in my roll out cookies, unless it’s gingerbread and I felt as if I couldn’t get the dough thin enough. Also I didn’t want it rising up like pastry or a cake in the oven.

As the cookies were meant to be bite size ones I couldn’t use the normal star shape I use for cookies. Instead I used the second smallest one out of a 3D gingerbread tree set, which gave the perfect size for a nibble.  The recipe said I could get 48 biscuits, I lost count but there were definitely more than 48 there.

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I kept a close watch on the oven as the cookies would bake quickly.  I gave them about 8-10 minutes at about 160oC in my fan oven.  They did expand and rise quite a bit.

To decorate, I mixed up a little bit of glace icing. If I hadn’t made them Slimming World friendly I would have spent ages decorating the stars covering the whole of the top with a flood and fill royal icing and lots of glitter and sprinkles.  Instead I snipped a tiny hole off the bottom of a disposable piping bag and drizzled the icing on here and there, suppose Mary Berry would have said they were “informal”! I found a few bits left in different sprinkles tubs in my baking stash which needed using up. I chucked them altogether into one big jar, shook it up and sprinkled them on the cookies. Most of the sprinkles went on the floor and not on the cookies though!

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My son tasted a couple and said they didn’t taste like normal cookies and tasted bland.  I tried one and thought they were ok. I took them along to group and they went down well. I think, though for a tiny bite they are still 3 syns. That’s still quite a lot for a little biscuit.

Will I bake them again? I’m not sure.  I would rather bake biscuits with butter and caster sugar instead of fake sweeteners and low fat spreads full of chemicals.

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Cheesy Feet

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Cheesy Feet: a favourite recipe baked with children in the school I used to work with and also with my own kids.

Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I’m a primary school teacher.  I do supply now as it fits in much better around my family and home life but I’ve always loved teaching and working with young children.  Although the teaching profession isn’t what it used to be, I feel I have the best of it doing supply.  I don’t get all the stresses that permanent teachers have.

Before I did supply teaching full time I worked in a local primary school for eight years.  I did a lot of supply there but also worked as a teaching assistant in the KS1 class.  I loved that job, but sadly TA’s are very poorly paid for what they do.  The money didn’t bother me, what I got out of it was a lot more than a pay cheque.  I got job satisfaction and a lot of laughs, giggles and happy memories to treasure along the way.

I had only been working at the school a couple of weeks when the class teacher asked me if  I wanted to cook with the children.  I was so excited when I got asked to do this and we thought about a recipe we could use which fitted around the topic of Ourselves.  I thought about some recipes we had and apart from the obvious, making gingerbread men I remembered a great recipe I had in one of my Nigella Lawson books.  In Feast, there is a recipe called Cheesy Feet!  This gave us all a big laugh because I said to the children, sometimes cheese can be smelly and so can people’s feet if they are hot and sweaty.  This started the children laughing and saying their Dad’s feet smelled!  I told them they hadn’t smelt Mr SmartCookieSam’s feet after he’d been wearing trainers!

I had a foot shaped biscuit cutter but we couldn’t make pairs of feet as you couldn’t turn it the other way round.  So all of our cheesy feet biscuits were left feet!

Although it was ten years ago that I baked the Cheesy Feet with the children I worked with, we regularly cooked or baked in school.  I also ran an after school Cookery Club for three years as I am passionate about getting kids cooking and learning life skills. Sadly the same school has just closed down and I was reminiscing about activities we had done in the classroom.  Several former pupils remembered my cookery club and said they loved my cheesy feet!  In fact it had been such a hit, several parents asked for the recipe!

This last weekend I was feeling in a very nostalgic mood.  My daughter has just gone off to uni for the first time and my son has started college. I wanted to bake something and thought back to the Cheesy Feet.  I just had to bake them again for old time’s sake!

The Cheesy Feet are simply like savoury biscuits and they taste just like cheese straws.  You can make them in a food processor or by hand.  I can’t give the recipe here as it’s not my own, it’s Nigella’s but I can give you a link to it.

Nigella Lawson’s Cheesy Feet Recipe

I didn’t use a food processor as mine has broken and I still haven’t got round to replacing it. I’m trying to find one that juices as well, maybe it might have to go on my Christmas list? So instead I rubbed in the butter, baking powder and plain flour together until the mixture looked like breadcrumbs.  After that I combined this with some grated cheese and formed it into a ball.  Nigella said the recipe makes about 16 feet but her cutter must have been slightly smaller than mine. I only got 11 biscuits.

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The Cheesy Feet didn’t last very long in our house.

I baked the Cheesy Feet on a Saturday afternoon and put them on the cooling rack in my kitchen.  I went upstairs to get ready as Mr SmartCookieSam and I were going out that night. When I came back downstairs I noticed there were only 6 feet left! Mr SmartCookieSam had been eating them! He said they were moreish and reminded him of cheese straws, which he also loves!

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Our greedy Labradot wanted a Cheesy Foot as well!
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“I want one of those!”
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Yesterday we had had our lunch outside in the gorgeous September sunshine and then Mr SmartCookieSam asked for a cheesy foot to go with his cup of tea. One cheesy foot turned into the rest of the box apart from one which I ate with the dog sat there drooling at me.

A recipe which is easily adaptable, you could add herbs, or maybe some cayenne pepper or paprika to the dough or even some finely chopped garlic and onion! Now that would make your cheesy feet smell even more!

Happy Baking!

Love Sam xx

Annabel Karmel’s Busy Mum’s Cookbook- A Review.

The Busy Mum’s Cookbook is the latest publication from food writer Annabel Karmel and was published a couple of months ago. My family have grown up with Annabel’s recipes right from when I started weaning my daughter back in 1998 using purees from the Baby and Toddler Meal Planner. I’ve bought several of her books over the years from her Family Meal Planner, to her Kids In The Kitchen inspired books, to her party recipe one. I’ve kept all the books though I don’t think my kids would appreciate butternut squash purees now! Having said that, I regularly go back to recipes from the Family Meal Planner, which has been my lifesaver in the kitchen for the past 16 years.

So, when Annabel brings out a new book which isn’t directed at babies and toddlers, I’m always keen to buy it. I was very impressed with the Busy Mum’s Cookbook as it fits into my lifestyle. I work most days as a supply teacher, a job I love but I’m always shattered when I get in from school.  All the recipes I have tried out of the book so far have fitted into the slot of being suitable for busy parents and not just Mums!

The introduction states: “Many of us stick with what we know and trust when it comes to cooking, especially when our lives are busier than ever! Yet the result is often a collection of six or seven failsafe recipes that families rely upon week in week out!” 

I have easily fallen into that trap. I think I’ve cooked chilli con carne or chicken curry every week for the past year but I do it because I know my son will eat it. Annabel Karmel’s own children have always been a massive part of her cookery career, she tests recipes out on them and there used to be photos of them in her earlier books. Now they are grown up but they still influence her recipes, just like I do when I try to recreate my own dishes at home. 

The Busy Mum’s Cookbook is split up into seven sections each featuring a stack of recipes to suit all lifestyles. 

Roasted Tomato and Pesto Pasta.
Chapter One is called “20 Minute Recipes” and features plenty of recipes which can be cooked in a very short time. Last Monday evening I tried out the Penne with Roasted Tomatoes and Pesto on my family. It says the cooking time is 10 mins and the preparation time, 8 minutes. I had to roast the cherry tomatoes in the oven with garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar which took all of 10 minutes. While the tomatoes were roasting the pasta was cooking on the hob. When it had cooked I added pesto sauce to the pasta and mixed it with the tomatoes and mozzarella pieces. Ideal for a a quick weeknight supper.

Golden Syrup and Ginger Loaf Cake
Annabel’s baking recipes are just divine and I must admit I always looked at the baking and dessert chapters first when I bought her earlier books. For every special occasion dinner I must have made Annabel’s naughty but nice version of Tiramisu and baked a lot of her cakes and cookies  for children’s parties. I know sweets and desserts get a bad press but to be honest I can’t see the problem in having the odd treat here or there. So it was great to see a handful of delicious recipes at the back of the book in the Sweets chapter.  Last Sunday I tried out the Golden Syrup Ginger Cake which is described as a “deliciously moist, gently spiced cake (which is) perfect for an afternoon tea treat.” 

 To me it sounded like McVities Jamaican Ginger Cake which I used to eat as a child for tea at my Nana Margaret’s house. I’ve not had it for years. So I was tempted to try baking the cake to see if it was the same. I used my Nordicware Gingerbread Man Loaf Bundt pan which has only been used once before, great to give it another outing. I greased the pan well with Wilton Cake Release.  Flour, caster sugar, cinnamon and ginger were combined in one bowl. In another in went eggs, sunflower oil and golden syrup. They were then mixed together and the batter poured into the tin.  It tasted lovely even though I could have done with more mixture to fill the tin! It looked very small! 

Three Tomato Bruschetta, although only one type was used in my version.
Last Friday night was perfect to sit out and enjoy the gorgeous sunny weather. I had loads of tomatoes to use up and had the idea of making the Three Tomato Bruschettas for my family. Though we only had one type of tomato, this recipe was a lot more fiddly than I thought. I had to peel and de-seed a whole punnet of cherry tomatoes which took a lot of time. The Bruschetta recipe is in the Lunchboxes and Snacks chapter.  Lunchboxes is something I never get right. When my kids were at primary school they had Lunchboxes and I used Annabel’s own Lunchboxes book for ideas when my daughter first started in Reception. Her pasta salads and fruit salads with dips would come back untouched and she used to say “Why can’t I have fruit winders in my lunchbox?” Or “……has Cheesestrings in hers, why can’t I?” I tend to be a bit disorganised with my own lunches, I end up with half a carton of soup or a noodle pot. If I’m feeling really lazy then I buy a sandwich from a local garage with an M&S food shop attached to it. Same goes for my husband, when he’s working in his office, he’s across the road from a fantastic bakery so he nips there for a sandwich or a pasty. The kids follow what their friends are doing in town. So unless I sort myself out, I can’t see myself using the lunch box recipes much!

Chocolate and Oat Cookies

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love baking biscuits, hence my blog name SmartCookieSam. Last Friday I had some spare time and decided to bake some of Annabel’s Chocolate and Oat Cookies. My son is going through his GCSEs at the moment and my daughter has been busy in her college course. What better than a sweet treat to start half term off? The cookies were very simple to make using butter, brown sugar, flour, an egg, some vanilla extract, baking powder, a small amount of ground ginger, porridge oats and dark chocolate cut into chunks.  No sooner than they had been put on the cooling rack, then half of them disappeared! That’s a good sign. If they’re still there in the biscuit tin a few days later that’s when I start getting worried. 

Pasta Arrabiata

My son and husband aren’t massive pasta fans but they liked the Pasta Arrabiata recipe. It was a perfect standby storecupboard supper to knock up after a busy day at work. It went very well washed down with a couple of glasses of wine! I forgot to tell hubby that Arrabiata sauce has chillies in it! 

There was another chapter in the book dedicated to Entertaining. Well I can’t remember the last time I had friends round for dinner. It was probably about 10 years ago. Ever since I went back to work doing dinner parties is the last thing on my mind. Though I have had several parties and get togethers. This usually ends up being buffet food or a BBQ or maybe cakes and lots of drink though! I can’t see me cooking any recipes from the Entertaining chapter soon,  though! 

So, to sum up I was extremely impressed with Annabel’s book. It is going to be well used in the next few years I bet as it was the case with her baby and toddler feeding books. I can wholeheartedly recommend it! 

Happy Cooking!

Love Sam xx