Saturday, July 01, 2017

Feta Cheese Salad with Balsamic Dressing

The Improving Cook- Feta Cheese Salad

With the warmer weather over the last few weeks (and the heatwave that I really wasn't a fan of), all I have wanted to eat is salad. That has encouraged me into looking for a bit more variety in my ingedients. Lettuce, tomato and cucumber on their own gets old fast, and there's really no excuse for a boring salad!

This weekend, I was in the mood for something Greek-style and I had a block of feta cheese in the fridge. I added a few delicious salady bits to contrast with the soft saltiness of the feta, whipped up a garlicky balsamic dressing and hey presto- a simple feta salad. The feta really is the star of the dish. If you can't be bothered to roast the peppers you can either put them in raw, or buy roasted peppers in a jar. It's absolutely delicious served as a starter, or with some crackers for lunch, or as a side dish at a BBQ. 

Strictly speaking, a Greek salad doesn't include any lettuce, but I'm a big fan of the baby leaf kind, so I put it in everything. It would also usually have a lot more olives, but I only used them as a garnish. I did only say Greek-style right...? You can always throw in more if you're a big olive fan.

The balsamic dressing is easy to make in whatever quantity you need and will keep in the fridge until it's finished. It really tops off the dish.

The Improving Cook- Feta Cheese Salad  pinnable image

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Crusted Cod Bites with Garlic and Rosemary New Potatoes

Crusted Cod Bites with Garlic and Rosemary New Potatoes on a plate

The recipe I am going to tempt you with today is Crusted Cod Bites with Garlic and Rosemary New Potatoes. A lovely summer meal that requires only a small amount of prep.

I love fish, really love it. I will happily eat any fish put in front of me. I even still love fish fingers. I have fond memories of sitting in my nana's back garden in Cumbria, in a den she had made out of sunloungers and a picnic blanket, eating fish finger sandwiches with my sister. Happy times!

I usually buy cod and salmon when I fancy some fish, but I am happy with the much cheaper cobbler or pollock as well. Cod is a lovely meaty fish, but it can be a little bland. For this recipe, I added flavour to the cod bites through the chunky breadcrumb crust with garlic and chilli and served it up with some oven roasted new potatoes with yet more garlic and some rosemary. It was light and just perfect for a warm summer's day. I'd venture that the crusted cod bites would be pretty delicious served on their own dipped into tomato sauce or tartare sauce- yum!

These home-made crusted cod bites would be perfect to serve up to kids. If you think the chilli won't go down well, you could switch it for paprika.

Crusted Cod Bites are syn free on Slimming World if you use spray oil on the baking tray and use the bread for your Healthy Extra B.

Crusted Cod Bites with Garlic and Rosemary New Potatoes pinnable image

Friday, June 02, 2017

Mediterranean Summer Salad

Mediterranean Summer Salad pinnable image

I am SO excited about this Summer Mediterranean Salad recipe! It's fresh and so full of summery flavours, I could eat it all day and not get bored. The inspiration for this salad came from a recent visit to a brasserie (The March Hare, Guildford) with my parents. It was a really hot day, and their 'Summer Salad' was the only thing that appealed as a starter in that sort of heat. When it came, I couldn't believe what I was eating because it was so delicious. How excited can you really get about a salad? Pretty excited as it turns out! I left determined to create my own twist on the idea.

After a week of tossing ideas around in my head, I came up with the Mediterranean Salad recipe I wanted to use. It uses the base idea from The March Hare salad of starting with bulgar wheat and lentils and topping the salad off with roasted red peppers, but I have added several other salad ingredients and made my own dressing to twist the flavours towards the more acidic side, rather than sweet. It's choc-full of Mediterranean ingredients.

I'm going to put it out there from the start- this is not a recipe that you can sling together on a Monday morning for your take-to-work lunch. It's perfect as a starter before dinner, or as a side at a BBQ, or when made in bulk on a Sunday ready for work lunches, but it does require around 45 mins of your time to get it all together.

The processes you'll need a little time for are: roasting the pepper, cooking the lentils and the bulgar wheat and making the dressing. Don't be put off though. If you're short of time, there are some short cuts you can use, such as buying pre-roasted peppers in a jar and using shop-bought dressing. If you do want to roast your own pepper, there's an excellent guide here: Don't Feed After Midnight

The result of your hard work will be a very tasty, filling salad, packed full of nutrients. Not one of those salads that leaves you feeling hungry half an hour later! Fibre, iron and protein from the lentils, protein and magnesium from the bulgur wheat and Vitamin C, B9 and potassium from the beetroot to name just a few of benefits. If you wanted to make the salad regularly and keep it interesting, you could change it up with a touch of goats cheese, some olives or some chargrilled chicken. The possibilities are endless!

While the sun's shining and the weather's warrm, this is the salad that you need. Try it- you won't be disappointed!

If you're following Slimming World, this is a syn-free salad if you switch the dressing for a syn-free branded one. With my dressing, it would be 6 syns. You could keep it down to 2 if you reduce the olive oil right down to 1 tsp.

Mediterranean Summer Salad pinnable image

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Chocolate Chip Ginger Cake

The Improving Cook- Chocolate Chip Ginger Cake

I love ginger cake. I love ginger in general, but ginger cake really is gorgeous, and dark chocolate accompanies it really well. The slightly bitter chocolate taste complements all that sticky golden syrup and sugar, add some chocolate buttercream and mmmmm, you've got yourself a winner!

A little while back I made a chocolate chip ginger sandwich cake, for one of my husband's colleagues who was leaving. It went down very well, lasted about 5 seconds according to my husband, but I never remembered to take any photos. I had some time spare this weekend, so I decided to have a bit of a baking/cooking day and make it again.

This chocolate chip ginger cake recipe makes a pretty foolproof sandwich cake. The ginger sponge is feather light and just slightly sticky. The only thing you need to watch out for is when you come to turn the cake out. It will stick and crack at any opportunity, so make sure that the tin is well greased and let the cake cool for several minutes before trying to turn it out!

The Improving Cook- Chocolate Chip Ginger Cake pinnable image

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Quick Summer Fruits Crumble

Quick Summer Fruit Crumble pinnable image

I am so ready for Summer to come round the corner, so I can put away my winter wardrobe, plant up up my garden and start carrying my sunglasses wherever I go. I want to eat strawberries, avocados and salad and sit in the garden on sun-loungers. Doesn't seem like much to ask, but summer is being quite contrary...

One of the other great things about summer is all the delicious fruit that comes into season- strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, apricots, blackcurrants, nectarines. I love it all! We're not quite in the season for those fruits yet in the UK, although some early British strawberries are knocking around. I use the BBC Good Food Season Table to keep an eye on when I'll be able to find the fruit I want.

In my determination to bring summer on, I decided to make a Quick Summer Fruit Crumble for dessert, using the fruit that I could find. I mixed raspberries, blackberries and blueberries together in the bottom of a ceramic dish and poured the crumble mixture over the top. No pre-cooking and no peeling required makes it a super-quick crumble to make!

There are some nice summer fruits available now, but from June, you should be able to buy British- even better.

Quick Summer Fruit Crumble pinnable image

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Bruschetta Flatbreads

Bruschetta Flatbread

I tend not to be very imaginative when I order starters in an Italian restaurant. I go for the Bruschetta almost every time. I'm so predictable on this front that I could even rank all the chain restaurants by how good their Bruschettas are (Pizza Express- excellent, Zizzi- terrible).

Bruschetta is a beautifully simple dish- some type of bread, chopped, sweet, fresh tomatoes, red onion, fresh basil and away you go. I like to use different colours of tomato, like the red and yellow cherry tomatoes, because it looks so pretty when it's served. Some people like the bruschetta topping to be warm, almost like pizza, but traditionally it's cold, with the warm bread underneath. That's the way I like it- it makes me think of summer!

Making your own bruschetta is very easy. Take any good bread like French stick or ciabatta and drizzle it with garlic oil or spread it with garlic butter and grill until crisped a little. Then serve straight away with the tomato salad topping and a little salt. Delicious for lunch, starters or a snack.

If you really want to go fully home-made then try out my simple flatbread recipe below and serve freshly cooked with bruschetta topping.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Slow Cooker Vegetable Curry

Slow Cooker Vegetable Curry

This week I have been making vegetable curry in my slow cooker. If you like a really fiery curry, often a vegetable curry is the way to go. The veg absorbs a lot of the heat from the spices and really packs a punch! The advantage of using the slow cooker (apart from the usual bonus of leaving it to do its thing)  is that it keeps the curry very low calorie because no curry paste or oil is needed. Add that to the fact that veg and pulses in themselves are packed full of nutrients and protein, and you're on to a winner all round. This slow cooker vegetable curry has around 160 calories for a pretty big portion. Can't ask for better than that!

I love everything about having a curry. Naan bread in particular is a hot favourite for me. I would rather have curry and Naan than have any rice. I'm hoping one of my friends who are experts in Asian cooking will teach me how to make them myself one day. The shop-bought ones are such a disappointment, but I made do with them!

  For this veg curry, I used butternut squash, potato, chickpeas, orange pepper, onion, coconut milk and plenty of chilli! You could adapt it by adding or swapping out your favourite veg. Cauliflower would be a lovely one to include. I made this version quite spicy by using fresh chillis and chilli powder, but you could swap that out for a mild chilli if you prefer less heat. Make a big batch today and pop some in the freezer for next week.  

Slow Cooker Vegetable Curry

If you are following a calorie controlled diet, like My Fitness Pal, this recipe is around 160 calories per portion. If you are following Slimming World this is a 1 syn vegetable curry if you use Alpro light coconut milk. Other light coconut milks are 3-4 syns per portion.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Easter Chocolate Fridge Cake

Easter Chocolate Fridge Cake

With Easter around the corner, I was tempted to make this Easter Chocolate Fridge Cake, or Chocolate Tiffin. There's no pretending that it's anything but a very indulgent treat, but as Easter is the celebration that seems to involve the most chocolate, I think that's okay! Cadbury's Mini Eggs are my absolute favourite Easter treat, so I added plenty of them to this recipe. If you're more of a Cadbury's Creme Egg fan, you could use the mini ones of those instead. I like those too, but couldn't be faffed with unwrapping them all individually!

Chocolate tiffin usually has biscuit inside, but my Easter version doesn't. I used nuts for the crunch instead- almonds and hazelnuts (which are my favourites at the moment), but if nuts are a problem, you could switch them for the more traditional digestive biscuits or even ginger nuts. If you really want to go renegade, use banana chips!

That's part of why I love this recipe, you can change it in hundreds of different ways. I used mixed dried fruit, but you could switch it for dried apricots, or just raisins, whatever you prefer.

Easter Chocolate Fridge Cake is perfect for a family Easter get-together. I like to have a piece with a cold glass of milk or a nice cuppa, just to cut through the sweetness a little! It will keep for around 2 weeks in the fridge, so you can make it well ahead of when you need it. (Who are we kidding though, it's never going to make it through 2 weeks without disappearing!) It takes about 15 mins to make and then an hour or so in the fridge to set.

Happy Easter and enjoy!

Easter Chocolate Fridge Cake Pinnable image

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Easter Nest Cupcakes

Easter Nest Cupcakes

There are so many cute cupcake ideas to make for Easter, but when you don't have a lot of time, or you want to bake with your children, I find simple is best. I made these Easter Nest cupcakes as a variation on my Chocolate Orange Easter Nest Cake

The sponge I use is a classic yellow sponge that makes an excellent base for any cupcake you want to make. It turns out well every time; moist, buttery and delicious. Top that with real chocolate icing, crumbly Cadbury's Flake and the essential Cadbury's Mini Eggs and you've got yourself a classic Easter treat.

They don't tend to last long once people try them, so make a big batch. There were 16 in the batch that I made for work and they lasted until 1pm!

Easter Nest Cupcakes- pinnable image

Friday, March 24, 2017

Creamy Garlic Ham and Leek Pies

Ham and Leek Pies pinnable image

This week I made a batch of one of my favourite slow cooker dishes- Brown Sugar Gammon.  We had it for dinner, then the next day in sandwiches, but there was still some leftover! It's absolutely delicious, so I couldn't let it go to waste. I decided to make some ham and leek pies to use it up, as I had plenty of leeks ready to make soup.

These ham and leek pies are individual portion sizes with a creamy, garlic, ham and leek filling. The creamy sauce is really what separates them from just any old ham pie. It's essentially a classic white sauce but with garlic and double cream added. I used my leftover brown sugar gammon for the ham filling, but you can buy a ready-cooked bacon joint or use leftovers of any type of ham you have cooked recently.

I used ready-made shortcrust pastry but you can, of course make your own. I recommend this recipe: Shortcrust Pastry Recipe from BBC Good Food.

The traditional enamel pie dishes with the blue edges are the ones I use for cooking my pies in. They are incredibly durable and pastry just slides off them. You can buy them in most cook shops and Lakeland sell them too: Lakeland Enamel Pie Dishes I use the 16cm ones for individual pies.

There was a tiny bit of pastry and filling left at the end so I made a handful of  mini pies that I thought might make a nice lunch. I was a bit too over enthusiastic with the filling so they popped their tops and made a bid for freedom! Let's just gloss over that and say that, as long as you don't over-fill them, and you wet the edges enough, you can also use this recipe  to make a big batch of mini ham and leek pies. Perfect for a buffet lunch!

Ham and Leek Pies pinnable image

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Slow Cooker Shoulder of Lamb

Slow Cooker Shoulder of Lamb

Last week, I spotted that Lamb Shoulder was on offer when I was doing my online shopping. I don't cook a lot of lamb but whenever I do eat it I love it, so I ordered some. When it arrived, I laughed because it was such a tiny, wee cut of lamb shoulder. I had made the classic online food shopping error of not checking the weight- 400g! Oh well, it was the perfect size for two.

Lamb shoulder is best slow cooked until it's soft and juicy and can be pulled easily off the bone, so I got my slow cooker out.  Most recipes you find will talk about slow cooking it in the oven, but I always prefer the slow cooker. It's more economical and it means I can use my oven for other things at the same time as cooking the meat, if I want to. I tend not to move away from the classic complimentary flavours for lamb- garlic and rosemary because they just work so beautifully. But I also added thyme, cider vinegar and red wine vinegar. The juices at the end of the cooking made a delicious, sweet, tangy gravy when the meat and veg were lifted out and a few gravy granules were added.

This slow cooker lamb shoulder recipe is suitable for a family. Just make sure you order the right weight! For a family of 4, you ideally need 800g-1kg.

This recipe is syn free on Slimming World if you cut the visible fat from the meat and don't use gravy granules in the gravy. On calorie controlled diets like My Fitness Pal, it's   calories per portion.

Slow Cooker Shoulder of Lamb Pinnable Image

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Hot Cross Bun Loaf

Hot Cross Bun Loaf

I am a big fan of hot cross buns, so when I saw that Marks and Spencers had a sliced, hot cross bun loaf on the shelves, I bought one straight away. It was perfect- just the thing for an afternoon snack. It got me thinking- I'm pretty sure I could make a hot cross bun loaf myself. Even better, I could make one in the breadmaker! 

Generally, I don't like anything with a lot of mixed, dried fruit in it. Christmas cake- ugh! Traditional wedding cake- no thank you. But hot cross buns, I love! I don't mind that they appear in the shops the second that Christmas is over. So much the better!

The very idea of a hot cross bun loaf is brilliant. Pop slices in the toaster without any danger of them getting stuck, burnt and mangled and you get a lot more out of one loaf than you do out of a packet of the traditional style.

Making a hot cross bun loaf in the breadmaker is very easy. You don't need the fancy type with the automatic raisin dispenser, just add the fruit before the final stage of kneading. Most breadmakers have a function for making fruited loaves like a hot cross bun loaf, and they beep at the right moment. A loaf takes around 4 hours in total from adding ingredients to the completed loaf.

If you don't have a breadmaker, you can still make a hot cross bun loaf, once the dough has had it's second rise, bake at 200 for 35-40 minutes.

Enjoy with lashings of butter!

Hot Cross Bun Loaf pinnable image

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Slow Cooker Beef and Butternut Squash Stew

Slow Cooker Beef and Butternut Squash Stew in a bowl

Butternut squash goes with almost everything, and this beef stew is no exception. The butternut squash adds a lovely sweetness to the meatiness of the beef. Definitely one to add to your winter warmers list.

Let's face it you can never have too many 'chuck it all in and leave it to cook' stew recipes. Slow cooking it gives you that rich flavour and the perfect, just falling apart beef that can't be beaten.

Our freezer was looking a bit bare this week and the butternut squash was staring up at me from the potato cupboard, so I started with that and added everything else around it to make this Beef and Butternut Squash Stew. It makes a nice big batch, so you could serve it up to the whole family or freeze some, or use some as a meat pie filling. So many options! You could serve it with potatoes, which is what I do, or throw some pearl barley in with it to add bulk and then serve it as it is.

This beef and butternut squash stew is syn free on Slimming World and it's around 200 calories a portion if you are following a calories controlled diet like My Fitness Pal.

Slow Cooker Beef and Butternut Squash Stew pinnable image

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Apple and Cinnamon Scones

The Improving Cook Apple Cinnamon Scones

Today I made a lovely, big batch of Apple Cinnamon Scones. Apple and cinnamon just belong together don't they? There's something very warm and comforting about the flavours. Adding them to scones makes a winning combination. They are amazing when still warm and served with butter. Seriously, droooool! 

The recipe for my Apple and Cinnamon Scones is based on my Rustic Choc-Chip Scone recipe. Essentially rustic is code for lazy, because you use you hands to mould the dough instead of rolling it out. You can choose to do it the proper way with a rolling pin and get a smoother surface to your scones. If you do choose to be a lazy baker like me, make sure you glaze them well so that they aren't too floury. My only other tip for this recipe is to cut the apple nice and small. Great big chunks make it much harder to shape.

Once you've eaten one apple cinnamon scone, it's very easy to accidentally eat two, three, four! they're not too sweet so it doesn't feel like you're being too naughty. They are very easy to make in big batches and you can freeze them. So you could whip some out at very short notice and wow your guests with what a super host you are. I won't tell if you won't!

The Improving Cook Apple Cinnamon Scones pinnable image

Friday, February 24, 2017

The BEST Chicken Marinade

The Best Chicken Marinade- pinnable image

You're about to read about the BEST chicken marinade (in my humble opinion) and once you try it, I promise you'll keep going back again and again and again.

I'm not usually one to boldly proclaim that my recipes are the 'best ever' because there are so many amazing recipes out there and it really depends on personal preference. That being said- you must try this marinade! 

I keep trying to describe the flavour and just coming up with yummy, delicious, juicy (is juicy a flavour???) er delicious... and other hopeless descriptions. All I can really say is that it's the ultimate chicken marinade and you won't be disappointed if you try it.

I love marinated chicken. I have a couple of marinades on the blog already: Spicy Maple Chicken and Sweet Smoked Paprika Chicken and I quite often have a lot of fun playing about with different ingredients and seeing what kind of marinade comes out of it. One of these experimental marinades was frankly amazing and all those other hopeless descriptions I came up with earlier. The trouble was, as I had just thrown various ingredients into a dish and added chicken, I didn't really know what I had done! I knew what I had used, but I hadn't paid attention to the quantities so I had to try and recreate it. (Note to self- write experiments down!)

I finally cracked it and the recipe is recorded for posterity below. The ingredients are pretty simple. The only item you might not have readily to hand is onion powder. It's widely available in supermarkets though and it's a useful little pot to have in your store cupboard, so you might want to grab some next time you go shopping. The marinade recipe also comes in pretty light on the calories, which is an added bonus.

I tend to chargrill the chicken when I use this marinade because it adds so much to the flavour. I bought a chargrill pan a few years ago and I really love it. If you don't have one, you could could cook the chicken under the grill, or in a frying pan instead. It's perfect with rice or to top off a salad or on the side on a jacket potato. Today I served it with mini rosemary potatoes because I was a bit 'riced out'.

So next time you're staring at some chicken breasts in the fridge and wondering what to do with them- give this a try! You'll be hooked in no time.

If you are following a calorie controlled diet such as My Fitness Pal, this recipe has 260 calories per portion.

The Best Chicken Marinade- pinnable image

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Hazelnut Brownies

Hazelnut Brownies

It was half-term this week and, after a couple of days of enjoying my freedom and visiting family and seeing friends, I got the baking itch. I wanted to make something that would serve as dessert and as an afternoon treat to have with a cuppa. Brownies fit the bill perfectly!

I had a packet of crushed hazelnuts in my baking cupboard that I had been hoping to use for something, and brownies seemed to fit for that too. Chocolate and nuts is never a bad idea, so I threw them in with the mixture to add some extra texture. My husband is not a fan of nuts in any form, so I ended up doubling the mixture and only putting hazlenuts in half.

We were going away for a few days to Canterbury for our anniversary, so I packaged them up to take with us. I thought it might save some pennies if we had our own treats instead of buying cafe treats everyday. Unfortunately, even though we packed very light, there still wasn't room for an enormous tupperware of hazelnut brownies so, at the last minute I popped the tub in the freezer.

I've already defrosted them, ready to have warm with ice cream for dessert. 

I hope you will enjoy making a batch for your family too! You might also want to try my Cappuccino Brownies.

Hazelnut Brownies pinnable image

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Mini Cheese and Onion Quiches

The Improving Cook- Mini Cheese and Onion Quiches pinnable image

When me and my sister were young, and my mum first went back to work, one of our standard after-school dinners was cheese and onion quiche with jacket potato and salad. It was also one of our first food technology lessons at secondary school- how to make cheese and onion quiche. I vividly recall a girl in my class dropping hers on the way to the oven and spending the whole rest of the lesson mopping up the eggy mess! We took our quiches home and had them for dinner. Mine wasn't half bad, but I probably didn't really eat quiche again until I was first teaching. That was when I first ate the (frankly amazing) quiche that the school caretaker makes for the staff training day lunches.

So, when someone asked me if I would make them a quiche last week, I wondered, why haven't I made one since school? Maybe it's trickier than I remembered? Well, I can tell you that it really isn't difficult at all and, if you use shop-bought pastry, it's even easier!  I made batch of mini cheese and onion quiches with this recipe and then one whole full-sized cheese and onion quiche. The mini ones are bite-sized quiches filled with cheese and onion deliciousness; little mouthfuls of melt-in-your-mouth heaven! If you do want to make a full sized cheese and onion quiche, all you need to do is double the quantities that I've given you and then increase the cooking time to around 25 minutes.

The mini cheese and onion quiches would be perfect for lunch boxes. Add some carrot and cucumber sticks and a yoghurt and you've got one delicious lunch! They would also make great savoury nibbles for an afternoon tea or a party.

The Improving Cook- Mini Cheese and Onion Quiches pinnable image

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Valentine's Choc-Chip Shortbread Biscuits

Valentine's Choc Chip Shortbread Biscuits

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, so get ready to see hearts and flowers everywhere (if you haven't already!) This year, I am doing a Valentine's Day collaborative post with Danielle from Welcome 2 My Jungle with a focus on Valentine's baking for kids.

One of the easiest baking ideas to do with children is shortbread. It's very simple, only has 3 main ingedients, lends itself to small hands joining in and always turns out well. More importantly, shortbread is buttery and delicious! All the best biscuits come from the UK, in my totally unbiased opinion, and shortbread is number one.

For this Valentine's version of shortbread biscuits, I added chocolate chips and then dipped the tops of the biscuits in dark chocolate. I finished them off with pink and white sprinkles because, for kids, sprinkles are essential, right? They're the best bit! The biscuits look great when they are finished and would be perfect as little Valentine's gifts (if you can get them in a gift bag fast enough- they lasted one day in my house!) 

I used both a heart cutter and a standard round biscuit cutter, just to show you that they look great both ways. If you don't have heart cutters, you could make yourself a template with greaseproof paper or pop out and get  a set from M&S or Wilkinsons, who are both stocking them.

If you want another Valentine's recipe to make with your kids, pop over to see Danielle's Valentine's Day Cake with Buttercream Frosting. Great fun- get them involved in the decorating!

While, you're there, have a look through some of her other posts.  She blogs about parenting, DIY and the occasional recipe too. You can also catch her on Pinterest and Instagram.

Valentine's Choc Chip Shortbread Biscuits pinnable image

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Apple Cake

Apple Cake

I am usually really good at finding interesting ways to use up any bananas that are on the turn (see here for my banana recipes). But, when it comes to apples, I don't have that many recipes at my fingertips. You can make crumble with leftover apples but it's much better with cooking apples than eaters.

When I remembered that a few eating apples were lurking under a big bunch of bananas in our fruit bowl, and that they were a bit past their best, I wasn't sure quite what to do with them. I decided to make an apple cake to use them up, rather than let them go to waste. I was very pleased as the apple cake turned out beautifully, all golden brown with little pieces of apple peeking out of the top. It has a lovely, soft texture and the apple pieces make it very moist.

This apple cake works very well with slightly softened, eating apples (ours were Galas). If you wanted to use cooking apples, you would need to chop them quite small and cook them down a bit with a little sugar.

I was originally intending it to be a cake, cake,  the kind of cake that you eat a slice of with a cup of tea. It's actually even better as a dessert cake, the kind you have warm with a big slosh of cream or a jug of custard. We have tried it with both, just to be thorough in our testing! It's a perfect, simple, winter dessert.

Apple Cake Pinnable image

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Seeded Wholemeal Bread Rolls

Seeded Wholemeal Rolls

Do you ever make your own bread? I first made some when I was at university and I remember being very proud of it! It was a lovely white crusty loaf.  The only problem was that the crust was quite salty and I suspect that I hadn't followed the recipe I was given correctly. I was a bit slap-dash in those days!

I didn't make bread all that often after that day but, when I was getting married, I took the opportunity to put a breadmaker on my wedding gift list. My lovely sister and brother-in-law were kind enough to buy it for me (ahem, I mean us!). It was one of my most favourite gifts and it made me so happy when my sister was pregnant and craving cinnamon, that I could make her a home-made cinnamon raisin loaf.

It took me a little while to brave making bread rolls, because I was a bit scared of trying things that weren't baked in the breadmaker, particularly getting the second rise of the dough right. It's actually not that scary, you just need to tackle the kneading with confidence and find a suitably warm place for the bread to rise again (not my freezing cold kitchen, then!) 

This weekend I made some seeded wholemeal rolls. I wasn't perhaps as careful as I could have been when making the roll shapes, so some of them are a bit rustic looking! I used various seeds that I like in the mixture, but you could switch any of them for a different seed that you personally prefer. We really enjoyed them this week for our work lunches, filled with Very Garlicky Slow Cooker Lemon and Rosemary Chicken, a little mayo and some cherry tomatoes. So delicious!

Don't be scared, have a go- you can do it!

Seeded Wholemeal Rolls Pinnable image

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Slow Cooker Lamb Madras

Slow Cooker Lamb Madras

You just can't have enough curry recipes in my opinion, especially slow cooker ones. They help to get the absolute best out of those cheap cuts of meat which absorb all the delicious spices. So with that in mind, I was inspired by a pack of diced lamb that I got on special offer, to do a slow cooked lamb madras.

Madras comes in many styles and originates from South India. The name madras for the curry however, is a British invention, like most of the curry names that we know and love.  Madras is a red curry with plenty of chilli used to make it hot. It usually has a sour element included such as lime juice or vinegar, and sometimes will have yoghurt added to cool the heat.

I used both fresh chillies and chilli powder to make this slow cooker lamb madras and add lime juice for the sour flavour. It thickens up beautifully and packs a decent punch in the spice department! 

It will freeze well too, so it's well worth making a nice big batch. Don't forget that if it's been left over night or frozen, the heat will increase.

An added bonus is that is a great deal lower in calories than your average curry take away. I had to check the calories 3 times, because I didn't believe the number at first!

This slow cooker lamb madras is syn-free on Slimming World (if you ensure to trim all visible fat from the lamb). This recipe is approximately 180 calories per person (plus the calories for rice).

Slow Cooker Lamb Madras Pinnable image

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Slow Cooker Rosemary Chicken Stew

Rosemary Chicken stew ingredients in the slow cooker

Well the weather here has certainly turned. Below zero temperatures and even some of the white stuff! The change in temperature had me craving something warm and comforting, so I made a nice big batch of chicken stew in the slow cooker last week. Chicken stew is full of flavour just cooking in its own stock, but I wanted to boost that even more by adding rosemary.

Chicken and rosemary are a classic flavour combination- so delicious together. The smell of the rosemary floating up the stairs, while it was cooking during the evening, was torture. I had to close all the doors to stop us from drooling! When we could finally eat it the following evening, it didn't disappoint and the rosemary flavour totally makes it, if I do say so myself! I'm sure that using the slow cooker really helps the depth of that flavour as well. I had made a great big batch, so the rest was swiftly split between plastic containers ready for lunches.

I used chicken breasts for the Rosemary Chicken Stew because I had some spare. You can see in the pictures that I cut them up into big chunks. It would have been much better to just cut them in half or quarters at the most, so that they don;t shred to easily. That's what I would recommend.  It would also be excellent if you made it with skinless thighs.

The sad thing about stew, is that it's not much of a looker when it's cooked!  You can't get many beauty shots of it. What I really need is some smellovision, so you could smell the deliciousness!

Put this one on your go-to list of winter dinners. It's fantastic for batch cooking ahead of time!

This recipe is syn free and Slimming World Friendly. If you are following a calories controlled diet such as My Fitness Pal, it's around 300 cals per portion (if using chicken breasts).

 Slow Cooker Rosemary Chicken Stew pinnable image

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Oaty Double Chocolate Loafcake

Slice of Oaty Double Chocolate Cake

I had a bit of a dilemma when I was designing this recipe. I wanted to make a double chocolate loaf cake BUT... it's January. I'm trying to be healthier, most people are. Is it really a good time to be posting double chocolate cake?! 

So, I fiddled about with the recipe to try and make it a bit less indulgent and was really pleased with the result when I added porridge oats. The oats in this cake made it a denser, more filling cake, so a single slice is all you need. You still get a delicious chocolate hit from the cocoa and the chocolate chips too! Everything's automatically healthy if it has oats in. I'm pretty sure that's the rule...

I had a slice with a cup of tea, whereas my husband really enjoyed a big thick slice with hot custard (slightly undoing my attempt to up the healthiness of the recipe!) I think it would make a great after school treat. A slice could probably be split between two children and easily keep them going until teatime!

The Improving Cook Oaty Double Chocolate Cake Pinnable image

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Choc-Chip Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding

Choc-Chip Panettone bread and butter Pudding

Did you get a Panettone as a gift this year? It's a pretty popular gift these days at Christmas, but until a couple of years ago, I had never really come across one, never mind eaten one.

This sweet, enriched bread, full of dried fruit, has been made in Italy since the middle ages and has grown in popularity throughout Europe in recent years. Did you know that Panettone are hung upside down when baked, so that their dome shape doesn't get cracked and spoilt? No- me either! 

To enjoy Panettone traditionally, you slice it like a cake and serve with butter and/or jam to spread on top and have with coffee. Alternatively, you can tilt it sideways and slice circles from the end so that they will fit in the toaster. Apparently, it's amazing toasted but I haven't tried that yet.

The only problem with Panettone is that they are quite large, especially if there's just two of you, and if you are lucky enough to be given more than one, they can be quite hard to finish off before they dry out or hit their use by date. So, what to do with some delicious left-over Panettone? Make bread and butter pudding of course! And to make it even more delicious, I have added chocolate chips- mmmmm!

Panettone makes a fantastic bread and butter pudding. It works very well with this recipe which uses full cream but, if you're trying to be a bit less indulgent post-Christmas, you can switch it for a milk of your choice.

If you make my Choc-Chip Panettone pudding, you won't be disappointed; it's rich, chocolatey and delicious. I like it on its own, as it's essentially cooked in its own custard, but my husband likes to add more custard to his. I'm pretty sure it would be fab with ice-cream too!

Choc-Chip Panettone bread and butter Pudding- pinnable image

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