Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fish and Sweetcorn Chowder

Have you ever eaten chowder? It's essentially a seafood soup. I have eaten chowder on a trip to Boston, and it was delicious! Boston is an amazing place for seafood. There are a lot of different types, and from what I have seen, the way you make them varies from place to place. Essentially it's a type of soup, usually with fish or seafood as a major ingredient. Seafood is on my quite small 'I don't eat it' list, but fish I love!

I made my first attempt using a pack of fish pie mix and it turned out really well. My pack had salmon, haddock and smoked haddock pieces. Loads of flavour. It's very straight forward.

The Improving Cook- Fish and Sweetcorn Chowder

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Chocolate Marble Cupcakes with Fudgy Chocolate Ganache

In honour of National Chocolate Cake day (I think this is a wonderful American invention...), I have been baking!

Marble cake always looks impressive. The swirls look much more complicated than they really are. I wanted to make some chocolate cupcakes and thought marbled ones might be a nice change. I added chocolate chips to the chocolate part of the mixture because I had some knocking around in the cupboard. Mine were dark choc chips, but any type would work. My top tip would be, don't overfill the cupcake cases! The mixture rises well and spills over easily.

I made a chocolate ganache to cover some of the spillage that I had to repair, but it went very well, so I would do it again! It really makes these cupcakes into a bit of a decadent treat. They went down very well with everyone who tried them!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Useful Hashtags and Twitter Tips for New Food Bloggers

Social Media is an essential part of food blogging. There's so much to keep track of, it can be overwhelming, especially if you are a part-timer like me! Pinterest, Faceboook, Google+, Twitter, Yummly. It can be very time-consuming. I personally get the most traffic from Yummly, followed by Pinterest and, as a bonus, I find those two to be the least time-consuming, especially Yummly.  See my blog post here for how that works.

Twitter is where I get the most interactions though, and the few blog comments I have had, have almost all come from there. I find Twitter the most work to keep up with, and so I wanted to make sure I was getting it right. I read several posts from other bloggers  about the best way to use it and learnt a lot. I have also picked up a few good tips specific to food blogging by experimenting as I go along. I thought it would be good to share these twitter tips and useful hashtags with other new food bloggers too.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Spicy Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup

We are loving soup for lunch at the moment. It definitely helps keep the snacking at bay while we're trying to be healthier. We are basically rotating through three soups that I make all the time though, and in danger of getting a bit bored. I really enjoyed the fish chowder I made recently, but my husband's response was "I'd rather just have fish pie!" So I decided to have a go with a tomato based soup. Tomato is always the one I want if I'm buying it tins (which I haven't done for ages, because it's so much cheaper to make your own.) This Spicy Roasted Tomato Soup is much nicer than tinned anyway!

Normally, the idea of two-step cooking puts me off, but this is so straight forward and actually required very little effort. One mistake I made this time, was not cutting the hard green core out of the tomatoes before roasting. I detached it afterwards- lesson learnt! I also used shallots, but an ordinary white onion would do.

I was very pleased with how this tomato soup turned out. It smelt amazing when it was cooking and tasted good too. It was only subtly spicy, so if you like things hot, hot, hot, I would add some more chilli flakes. We're definitely adding it to the lunch list! As it's not big on carbs or protein, I would recommend having it with toast or a bagel.

If you're doing Slimming World, this is a 'syn-free' tomato soup recipe,  if you switch out the oil for low cal spray.

Spicy Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup-  pinnable image

Friday, January 22, 2016

Lime and Ginger Turkey Steaks

Do you eat turkey? Regularly? Just at Christmas? I think it's a bit of misunderstood food! People often say that they don't like it because it's dry, or it's bland.

Actually, it's a really great alternative to red meat, especially if it's minced, and it takes very well to being marinated.  It's also very quick to cook turkey steaks, which always gets my vote!

This recipe was a last minute thought, a way to jazz up a simple dinner, and it turned out really well. The only thing you really need to watch out for is overcooking the steaks. That's what will make them seem dry.

If you're doing Slimming World, this recipe is 2 "syns" (for the honey) if you switch the oil for low fat cooking spray.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Slow Cooker Beef Bourguignon

Winter is officially here this week, with temperatures dropping and talk of the possibility of snow! Can't complain after the warmest December in 100 years though, so bring on the winter warming cooking!

Classic winter food, Beef Bourguignon, is on my agenda today. It's like a hug on a plate when it's cold outside and you need warming up. That fall-apart slow cooked beef and the red wine and garlic are so full of flavour! I've made one for the freezer as well, ready for any late nights at work in the next couple of weeks. I used shallots, because I had them to hand and I like the long strings you get from them, as well as the sweetness that they bring,  but a white onion would do, if that's all you have. You could also throw a few potato chunks in, if you wanted it to be a complete meal. Otherwise, serve with roasted potatoes and some green veggies.

If you're doing Slimming World, this recipe is 3.5 "syns" (for the wine).

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Chicken Enchiladas

Chicken enchiladas pinnable image

Another Mexican food post! Chicken enchiladas this time. I have wanted to make them for ages, but when I was researching different types of recipes, they all started with "Get a jar of enchilada  sauce...". So I didn't want to post a recipe until I had played about with making my own sauce. The end result was really good, if I do say so myself! I could have eaten the whole thing again straight away.

Enchiladas, if you haven't had them before, are delicious flour tortilla parcels, filled with a spicy chicken or beef or veggie mix and baked in a spicy tomato sauce and covered in cheese. I have included simple instructions on how to make the sauce yourself, as part of the recipe, below.

You could make a really big batch of the sauce and freeze it ready for whenever you need it, as it's quite handy for a lot of Mexican style recipes. Many Enchilada sauce recipes advise adding brown sugar, but my opinion is that the tomatoes are plenty sweet enough.

Chicken enchiladas pinnable image

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Fruit Custard Tarts

Today I am sharing a very simple Fruit Custard Tart recipe. I was inspired to make these tarts when I was watching a programme called "What we bought in 2015" the other day. It was all about the most popular products of the year. Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of food related items being talked about; spiralizers, cookery books etc. The thing that did surprise me though, was the huge upsurge in people buying frozen fruit. Apparently it's due to the popularity of the Nutri-bullet, which makes sense when I think about it. I'm not that big on smoothies myself though. I'd rather eat the fruit whole.

The major supermarkets have quite a selection in their frozen section: blueberries, strawberries, cherries, mango, forest fruits and so on. As well as using them to make smoothies, I can see how handy they would be for all sorts of things: adding to cereal or yoghurt, adding to apple to make a mixed fruit crumble or pie, blending for sauces and many more things. You wouldn't have to buy the flavourless out-of-season summer fruits. The downsides are that you would need to remember to get them out the night before, so they defrost (unless its for a smoothie), and they are too mushy for using as fruit salad or anything like that.

I bought a couple of frozen fruit bags from Sainsbury's a while ago but hadn't got around to using them. Some leftover custard and an extra pack of puff pastry gave me the idea of using it all for Fruit Custard tarts. (This was a pre-health kick decision!) They are quick to make and make nice little treats. I used the frozen strawberry and blueberry, but most frozen fruit or soft fresh fruit would work.

A top tip- when you're defrosting the fruit for these Fruit Custard tarts, put them in a sieve and put it over a bowl to catch the excess water and juice. Otherwise it will make the pastry too soggy! For using with yoghurt or anything else, you don't need to worry.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

8 Top Tips for Using Your Slow Cooker

A slow cooker, or Crock Pot if you're American, is a wonderful thing. They are incredibly cheap to buy compared to other electrical kitchen gadgets and very cheap to run, especially when compared to traditional ovens. They are also fantastic for cooking cheaper cuts of meat and a great timesaver for busy people.

Most slow cookers come with their own little cookbook. I don't know about you, but I have never used mine, preferring to find other recipes and experiment with my own. Along the way, I have learnt from other cooks, and discovered myself that there are some great tips to help you with slow cooking.

So, if your slow cooker is gathering dust in a cupboard somewhere or you just got one and don't know where to start, have a read of my 8 top tips for using your slow cooker and see if they inspire you!

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Moroccan Chicken with Rice

Like thousands of other people, we're trying to eat healthier and lose weight in 2016. In the past I have done well with Weight Watchers, but this time I want to keep it simple. I like WW but it starts to fill my head and dominate my thoughts, so I want to do something more sustainable this time (hopefully the last time!).

 We're going to use My Fitness Pal and see how we get on. What I like about it, is that as well as recording calories eaten, it also links up with the Fitbit app and Apple Health and takes account of calories earned as well as those eaten. At the end of each day when you submit all the data, you get a motivating little message saying "If every day was like this, you could weigh xxx by the end of this month." I'll let you know how we get on!

Our first meal in this health kick was Moroccan style chicken and rice, and I was very pleased with it. Tasty and filling. I used brown rice, but white would be fine. I also used roasted peppers from a jar out of pure laziness, but roasting your own is even better! We enjoyed it so much, I can see it being a regular dinner. It's very filling and pretty good on the calorie front, clocking in at around 600 calories according to My Fitness Pal.

If you're If you're doing Slimming World, and you swap the harissa paste  for powder and the oil for spray, this recipe is 2 "syns".

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Pesto Chicken Tart

It has been 'back to work' week for me this week, so my focus is very much on quick dinners and dinners that can be made ahead and frozen.

I had two packs of puff pastry left over from Xmas baking that I wanted to use so I thought I would experiment with a savoury tart using pesto chicken. I served it with little roasted potatoes, but I can imagine eating this in the summer with salad as well. It's a handy way to use of left over chicken too. It will serve 4 if you serve it with something. If it's being served alone, I'd say more like 2 or 3 portions are available. It was absolutely delicious and took about 40 mins in total!

I didn't mix the peas into the mixture, but I would definitely do that in future to bring it all together a little more. You could make small versions of this as little party nibbles too.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Lemon and Lime Drizzle Cake

Lemon Lime Drizzle Cake pinnable image

Happy New Year! Hope you're recovering nicely. My first post of the year is for Lemon and Lime  Drizzle Cake.

Do you have a favourite cake? I like most cake, except Battenburg, bleurgh! When the Good Housekeeping Institute surveyed UK adults, the top 3 cakes of choice were: 1) Chocolate, 2) Victoria Sponge, 3) Lemon Drizzle. Just shows what excellent taste we have in this country! I love all three of those options, but of the three, I would choose Lemon Drizzle as my favourite. It's also the first cake I ever made for my husband. He loves it so much that, at one point, I started saying "What cake shall I make? Don't say Drizzle!" It was also one of our top choices for our wedding cake, but our lovely wedding cake lady gave us a sample of lime drizzle to try. We were totally won over and ended up having that and chocolate truffle cake. Yum!

This week was my Dad's 70th birthday. My Dad claims not to like cake, or anything sweet and yet, whenever my mum or I get baking, the cakes disappear. Mysterious! I decided to make him something simple, as he didn't want a lot of fuss, so I went for a lemon and lime drizzle cake. The lime really adds tang to it. It's a rich, buttery cake with a hint of citrus from the zest and then a good punch of citrus from the lemon and lime drizzle. It slices perfectly.

 When we came back from Dad's birthday dinner, we sat straight down with a nice thick slice of lemon and lime drizzle cake and a hot cuppa. Perfect!

Lemon Lime Drizzle Cake pinnable image

Friday, January 01, 2016

Best of 2015

2016 is here! Time to think about resolutions and how to make them last beyond January... I've some personal resolutions, but only one for the blog. I will try to use my proper camera for the photos from now on. It's too easy to whip out my iPhone and, although it can be pretty good, I can do better. You'll see some of the pics in this post could definitely be improved! I think the key will be keeping the camera and the charger in the kitchen, easy to hand.

Bloggy things I have learnt in 2015: stagger posts so you don't have hundreds one month and a few the next, make good use of Yummly as it brings more blog traffic than Pinterest, keep using the slow cooker as those recipes are very popular and finally,  keep experimenting! I'm not a full-time blogger and it's not my intention to try and make money from the blog  or to make it my job. It's a hobby, something that keeps me sane and stops me from being lazy about cooking!

To wrap up the year, and the 5 months the blog has been running, here's a round up of the most popular recipes of 2015.

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