Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Ten Delicious Ways to Use Up Ripe Bananas


Now you know that I always have an over-ripe banana hanging around in my kitchen, begging to be made into something delicious, mainly because I am so fussy about exactly when to eat them, and neither too early, nor too late will do! This has made me something of an expert in how to use up ripe bananas and has not only prompted me to dream up loads of banana recipes of my own, but has also given me a collection of great banana recipes from around the web.


So, if you are stood in your kitchen staring at your fruit bowl, with a slightly brown, over-ripe banana staring back at you, one of these ripe banana recipes is bound to take your fancy! Try one- you won't be disappointed!


10 best recipes for using up ripe bananas


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Cappuccino Brownies

The improving cook- Cappuccino brownie


These cappuccino brownies were made for my dad, the biggest coffee-lover that I know!

On Father's Day weekend, I went to stay with my dad so we could meet up with my sister and her family for brunch at Giraffe. During the day, he was busy gardening in between watching the Euros, and, not being much of a football fan, I got the baking itch. I wanted to make something for him that he would really like. He always denies that he has a sweet tooth, which everyone in the family knows is a lie, but there are some flavours he particularly does like. Ginger, lemon and coffee would always be winners. 


I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with coffee. I don't mind the occasional latte, I love coffee flavoured baked goods, and espresso ice cream is just gorgeous. But I hate instant coffee as a drink. I hate the after-taste. I don't even really like 'proper' coffee for the same reason. Give me a nice cup of strong tea any time! My Dad on the other hand, loves swish coffee. He has the fancy machine and the different types of coffee beans and all of that. So, for that reason, I decided to bake something with a coffee flavour for him, and cappuccino brownies seemed perfect.


These cappuccino brownies are not too squidgy and they have that lovely shiny crackled top that you always hope for with a good brownie. They turned out beautifully, and my dad enjoyed eating them, which is the important thing! I left him the whole batch, and he froze some for another time. 


So next time you need something for the coffee-lover in your life, give these a whirl. I promise you won't be disappointed!




Thursday, June 23, 2016

Potato Salad with Bacon

Potato Salad with Bacon


I love potato salad, really love it, especially if it's a delicious home-made one with new potatoes. The first time I ever had potato salad it was a packaged one from a supermarket. Inside were little cubes of almost hard potato, pieces of white onion and a very runny, acidic sauce, which I am guessing was supposed to be mayonnaise. Needless to say, I didn't like it. I was quite young at the time and it was only a few years later, in a Home Economics lesson, when I made a real potato salad for the first time, that I realised it wasn't supposed to taste like that!

Last weekend I was making a buffet lunch and I wanted to pep up the side dishes a bit. I started with the Lemon and Garlic Giant Couscous Salad and then moved onto the potato salad. New potatoes, check. Spring onions, check. Mayonnaise, check. But what else? I didn't want to put more salad vegetables in as that was covered with the couscous salad. Bacon seemed like a good idea because, let's face it, bacon is good with everything!


I used baby new potatoes when I made this, but my sister swears by Anya potatoes (funny looking knobbly ones- they taste good though) whereas Jersey potatoes are generally considered the gold standard when they are in season.


It worked beautifully, salty chunks of bacon, creamy mayonnaise, crunchy spring onions and soft new potatoes. I couldn't get enough of it!


Next time you're having a BBQ or a summer lunch, give this very simple recipe a whirl!



This recipe is Slimming World Friendly if you use bacon medallions and light or extra light mayo. If you are following a calorie controlled plan like My Fitness Pal this recipe is around 210 calories per portion, if you use light mayo.





Monday, June 20, 2016

Very Lemony Cupcakes

Not everyone likes chocolate cake. I know, those people are just weird! Only teasing, my Dad is one of them. So, whenever I am baking for a crowd, I always try to have an alternative for the 'no-chocolate' folks, and lemon is my go-to flavour. I made a lemon and lime drizzle cake for my Dad's 70th, which he loved, but for my husband's birthday tea, I wanted to go really lemony with these 'Very Lemony Cupcakes'.

'Very Lemony Cupcakes' have lemon zest, lemon drizzle and lemon curd all happening in one cupcake, and they are just little bundles of citrus deliciousness. If you don't like lemon, you won't get on with these!

When making citrus cakes, I always used to do battle with the finest side of a grater for zesting fruit, and quite a battle it was! As I seem to need to zest quite a lot, eventually I treated myself to a zester. It was quite pricey for a single utensil, but it's worth its weight in gold. It glides over the fruit so easily, zesting a lemon in a matter of seconds. My favourite part is the plastic well that slots onto the back and catches all the zest. I highly recommend it!

The lemon cupcakes went down very well with our family guests and tasted even better when we ate the leftovers in the following days! This seemed to be because the lemon curd soaked fully into the sponge, which not only kept it moist but also boosted the lemony flavour. On the first day, when they were completely fresh, biting into them revealed the curd, but by the third day, no curd to be found. I loved them both ways!


Hope you enjoy- let me know how you got on if you make them.




Sunday, June 19, 2016

Home-made Houmous

Home-made houmous


There's something about houmous... or hummus? I'm going with the British spelling, houmous. There's something about houmous that really makes me feel like summer has arrived. The first time I had houmous, I was totally wowed by the taste. It probably seems strange now, but houmous wasn't readily available in the 80s when I was growing up. It started to appear in it's plain form in the early 90s and over the coming years began to have whole sections of the "dips" section in the supermarket devoted to it. My first experience was of the plain kind with carrot sticks- gorgeous. Now, you could choose from lemon and coriander, roasted red pepper, piri piri and many others for your houmous fix.

At university, I had a flat mate who made her own houmous and swore by it for warding off colds and minor illnesses. I don't know if there's any truth to that, but if it's an excuse to eat more of it, I'm game! We eat 12, 000 tonnes of houmous a year in the UK. 12,000!

There are lots of different houmous recipes around, but I wanted to go with a really simple one, no additional flavours. It was incredibly easy to make on the day before I needed it and was perfect with lots of crunchy crudite. It went down very well with my family too!

Give it a try- you might never buy a supermarket version again!

If you are following a calorie controlled plan like My Fitness Pal, this recipe is around 160 calories per portion (out of 6 portions).


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Chocolate Brownie and Cheesecake Cupcakes

Chocolate Brownie and Cheesecake Cupcakes


I asked my husband what birthday cakes he would like for his family birthday tea, and he replied with- chocolate.  That's it, just chocolate. With that rather flexible license to bake, I played around with a few ideas and settled on some kind of chocolate cake/cheesecake combo.

These Chocolate Brownie Cheesecake Cupcakes have a lovely, soft, chocolatey sponge with patches of baked cheesecake distributed through them.  They are, in one word, delicious! 


I had a fair bit of trouble with the cheesecake mixture, namely that it was very runny. I have had this recently with cream cheese icing as well. Quite frustrated, I googled around and discovered that this is an issue with British cream cheese. Even the full fat varieties have quite a lot of liquid in them compared to US versions, which are much more dense. When cooked, it tastes the same. It's the consistency during the process that's the issue. I have explained as best I can in the method, how to handle it.


Cream cheese issues aside, these cakes turn out beautifully and they look very inviting. Make sure you use good quality dark chocolate for the chocolate brownie batter, or you'll lose that deep chocolate flavour. 


Next time you have a party, put Chocolate Brownie and Cheesecake Cupcakes on the menu!




Monday, June 13, 2016

Lemon and Garlic Giant Couscous Salad

Lemon and Garlic Giant Couscous Salad


This giant couscous salad was one of my offerings at a family party. This weekend was supposed to be my husband's birthday lunch at a local restaurant. After all the organising to get everyone in one place at one time, at the last moment we realised it was the local regatta. Chances of finding a parking space for the booking we had made, were very slim, so on Saturday we cancelled and I started a bake/cook-a-thon to make  lunch for everyone at home!

I made home-made bread rolls with various fillings, mini meat pies using this recipe: Easy Meat Pie, lemon cakes (recipe coming soon) chocolate cheesecake brownies (recipe coming soon), home-made hummus (you've guessed it- coming soon) and potato salad (I won't keep saying it!).


I was looking for something that would be suitable as a side dish and would double as a suitable dish for people watching their weight, as we had a couple of guests who were in that mode and I know it's difficult. I love side dishes. I am always attracted to them at BBQs, possibly more than the meat! This time I wanted something fresh and full of veggies to counter-balance the mini meat pies, sandwiches and cake!


This giant couscous  salad is just that- fresh, zesty and the perfect dish to have 'on the side'. It's a lovely combination, with the softness of the couscous pearls and the crunch of salad veggies. I got a bit carried away with the catering for the birthday tea, so I have half of the salad left over. I am really looking forward to having it for my work lunch tomorrow. 


I'm a big fan of couscous salads so, if you are looking for more, there's another one here: Giant Couscous with feta and roasted vegetables.


This recipe is Slimming World Friendly if you leave out the oil- in which case don't make it too far ahead as it will become 'claggy' without the oil.


The Improving Cook- Lemon and Garlic Couscous Salad


Saturday, June 11, 2016

Slow Cooker Italian Chicken Pasta Sauce

As it's summer, you'd think I would be putting the slow cooker away. Nope, still using it for new recipes. This week it's Slow Cooker Italian Chicken Pasta Sauce, which is a bit more summery than a stew, I guess!  Essentially, this was a twist on my Very Garlicky Slow Cooker Lemon and Rosemary Chicken (longest recipe name ever!). You can find the original recipe here: Very Garlicky Slow Cooker Lemon and Rosemary Chicken Recipe  I highly recommend it. It's useful for so many things! I'm obsessed with it, using it in salads, sandwiches, jacket potatoes and so on.

But back to this pasta sauce recipe. It's a simple slow cooked pasta sauce recipe with shredded chicken, garlic and rosemary in a pasta sauce. Spoon it over some pasta, sprinkle it with a bit a cheese and you've got a delicious lunch or dinner. If you're going for the Full Monty, serve with garlic bread and a side salad.

It's great for making ahead in a big batch and freezing. If you are going to be freezing it, my advice would be- don't shred the chicken as it could go a bit grainy when it defrosts. Instead, shred it after defrosting and then stir through in the sauce and reheat. I think it could also be used for layering in lasagne instead of the traditional bolognese sauce. Let me know if you try that!

Buon appetito!



Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Slow Cooker Beef Goulash

I'm always looking for good freezer meals to have ready for lazy days and days where there's no time to cook. Slow cooker meals are perfect for this, and today's is Slow Cooker Beef Goulash. 

Goulash is a Hungarian dish; most people know that, but what you may not know is that there are several varieties of it eaten in Hungary and even more adaptations across the world from Albania to the USA. It was traditionally a simple, humble dish eaten by shepherds but it has changed over the years with some varieties including red wine, for example. What doesn't change though, is the use of paprika, the signature of any good goulash.

I had hoped to be eating lots of summery foods by now, but unfortunately the summer has been slow in coming, and we had the heating on the other day. So the slow cooker is still in action and this recipe is a new addition to my slow cooking repertoire.

For this slow cooked beef goulash recipe, I have kept it simple- beef, onion, red pepper, tomatoes and spices. Lots of good flavour. I used beef rib trim, but braising steak or beef shin would work too. If you wanted to freeze it as a whole meal, you could add chunks of potato to it. Otherwise, it's nice with rice!



Monday, June 06, 2016

Chocolate Banana Caramel Cupcakes

I'm guest posting today on the Andrew in the Kitchen Blog. Andrew's busy with exams, so as part of his new #fdbloggerfriends series I have written a post with a brand new recipe for Chocolate Banana Caramel Cupcakes. These cupcakes are perfect for family BBQs, birthday parties and baking with the kids, so pop over to Andrew's blog and take a look! The Improving Cook on Andrew in the Kitchen 

You can also  now find the full recipe on my blog here: Chocolate Banana Caramel Cupcakes


Chocolate Banana Caramel Cupcakes



Thursday, June 02, 2016

The Ultimate Cheat's Banoffee Pie

Are you one of the many people, like me, who thought that Banoffee Pie was an American thing? I was quite surprised when I found out that it was British. Banoffee just sounds American. Maybe it's because they are so good with inventing insanely deliciously desserts, that all the yummy involved in a Banoffee Pie seems like it must have been designed by them.

It was actually invented by two British men called Nigel McKenzie and Ian Dowding at a restaurant in East Sussex called The Hungry Monk in the 1970s. The original recipe had a pastry base and coffee in the whipped cream. It was also spelt 'Banoffi' at the time.

I have always liked Banoffee Pie, and the fact that my husband had never tried it seemed like a good excuse to make one. I made it my mission to make this recipe as simple as possible because a quick dessert is a wonderful thing, especially if you have visitors coming round.  So, no boiling condensed milk, no grating chocolate and definitely no pastry! I have also included as many tips as I can, to make it even easier for you to make.  One thing to remember is that it's not one of those 'use up your brown bananas' recipes- you need ripe but firm bananas or it will just be mush once it has cream and caramel involved as well!

I bought a flan dish from Wilkinsons purely for this pie, as I didn't have one. It's a plain, white, 24cm one and it was the perfect size for this recipe. The only downside to using a flan dish, rather than a loose bottomed flan/tart tin,  is that the first piece you cut is going to be pretty messy as you can't get your cake slice or knife all the way down at the edge of the pie. See my pictures below the recipe for evidence! The upside is that it's really easy to store in the fridge, no transferral to a plate needed.

You can make this dessert the day before you need it, if you keep it in the fridge, and it will then last a couple of days (if there's any left!). It's not suitable for freezing.

The Improving Cook Ultimate Cheat's Banoffee Pie


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