Sunday, August 28, 2016

Chocolate Orange Drizzle Cake

This week I have made a Chocolate Orange Drizzle Cake in honour of the Great British Bake Off and as part of the #GBBOTwitterBakeAlong.

The new series started this week with a whole set of new bakers and new challenges for us baking addicts to soak up. The first episode had the bakers taking on drizzle cakes, jaffa cakes and mirror cakes. I  was pleased to see that they were going back to some basics that we might at least have heard of!  One of the things that I love about Bake Off is how it manages to have me on the edge of my seat gasping about buttercream disasters and unrisen cakes, and there was plenty of that in the first episode!

Given the choice of the three rounds from week 1, I decided against making a mirror cake (too scary) and thought I would combine the other two rounds of drizzle cake and jaffa cakes into one. So I made a Chocolate Orange Drizzle cake. It's a moist chocolate orange cake with orange curd running through it and orange sugar drizzle poured over the top. It really does taste quite like a jaffa cake!

A lot of orange cakes can be quite disappointing on the flavour front, perhaps because oranges have a more subtle flavour than say lemon or lime. So, for a really good orange flavour running through the cake, you need to use the large oranges that you buy individually at the supermarket. I used Valencia oranges as they have a nice tangy flavour. The zest flavours the cake and the juice is used for the drizzle. Then there's extra 'orangeness' from the orange curd.

I always used to dread recipes that needed zest, but since I bought a very swish zester from Lakeland, I can have a large orange zested evenly in about 15 seconds. It was well worth the money! 

Once you've made the cake, you'll have one zested orange left  over- I juiced mine and drank it, but you could use it to make a smoothie or freeze it as an ice lolly too.

Chocolate Orange Drizzle Cake

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Chocolate Banana Caramel Cupcakes

This was originally a guest post for Andrew in the Kitchen.

Chocolate Banana Caramel Cupcakes

These Chocolate Banana Caramel Cupcakes are pretty indulgent, which makes them perfect cupcakes for a children's party or a birthday. The bonus is that you can also use up over-ripe bananas to make the recipe. It's a win-win!

Chocolate Banana Caramel Cupcakes are exactly what they say on the tin- chocolate and banana cupcakes with caramel hidden inside and a rich, fudgy chocolate ganache topping. For the caramel, you can make your own if you're a caramel whizz, but to save time I used a tin of Carnation Caramel, which is available in all the big supermarkets (home baking aisle).

I decorated my cupcakes with mini smarties for a party feel, but you could use sprinkles, chopped nuts, white chocolate chips or anything else that takes your fancy.  The fudgy topping is so rich and delicious that I would advise limiting how much you use on each cupcake to avoid overwhelming the cake, especially if you are adding other toppings as well. For young children, you might want to leave the topping off altogether! 

Give Chocolate Banana  Caramel Cupcakes a try the next time you you have any bananas to use up- you won't be disappointed!

Chocolate Banana Caramel Cupcakes collage

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Bacon Spaghetti Bake

Tonight for dinner we had Bacon Spaghetti Bake, which was yummy but not what we were originally hoping to have... 

We finally got round to ordering a little BBQ for our little garden; the Weber Smokey Joe Premium. It was designed really with the camping market in mind because it's small and portable, but it also works for us because space is limited and there's no way I want to store a great big BBQ for 10 months of the year! It arrived this morning and it's so perfect. It takes up no space and has a grill big enough to cook for 4. In anticipation, my husband bought charcoal and matches and I got the burgers out of the freezer- our first back garden BBQ! I was pretty excited until I realised we had no firelighters... So the BBQ has had to be put off until tomorrow, when it's due to be pouring with torrential rain. Excellent. 

So, at short notice, the only thing in the freezer that would defrost in time was bacon. I wanted a quick, easy dinner, because I had planned not be slaving in the kitchen! So I made Bacon Spaghetti Bake. It's simple and delicious, plus all you need is red pepper, garlic, onion, tomatoes, bacon, spaghetti and some cheese and away you go. If you don't have spaghetti, any other pasta would work, and if you are veggie, skip the bacon and add extra veg like mushrooms and it will be just as delicious. Add a little side salad and you've got yourself a yummy dinner in less than half an hour.

Bacon Spaghetti Bake makes great leftovers for lunch. In fact, I think it was even nicer the next day because it had settled a little more and could be cut into a big chunk with a spatula.

Bacon Spaghetti Bake

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sweet Chilli Salmon Fillets

Sweet Chilli Salmon Fillets cooked on a baking tray

This week I made some salmon fillets marinated in a beautifully simple sweet chilli sauce. I got the salmon fillets out for dinner because I had discovered that I seem to have built up a stockpile of salmon fillets in my freezer this month! This prompted me to go for a total reorganisation of my freezer. I absolutely hate food waste and I didn't want to find anything with freezer burn, or beyond the 3 month rule in a few weeks time. I decided to just get everything out and see what was what. Note to self- stop putting things in the freezer with the semi-clear plastic bags still wrapped round them, because you can't see what's in there! There was only one thing that needed throwing away; some tortilla wraps that were past their best. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Coconut Oat Cookies

Coconut Oat Cookies on a plate

It's just a couple of weeks before the Great British Bake Off starts.  I love it and I can't wait! This year I am joining in with the #GBBOTwitterBakeAlong, hosted by @kuskus1 and @Rob_C_Allen where people bake along with the show and tweet their creations. They are starting off with a pre-bake just to get us all warmed up and it was voted that the pre-bake would be biscuits.

I decided to make these Coconut Oat Cookies as my submission. I have been going through a bit of a coconut phase the last few months. Having not eaten it for a very long time for no reason at all, I am back into it and loving it now!

The Coconut Oat Cookies should be that perfect combo of crunchy on the outside and soft in the middle. The key to that is in how long you bake them; too little and they will be a bit floppy and cakey, too long and they will be hard. If you can, it helps if you can spoon out fairly uniform sizes of cookie dough onto the baking sheet. I got a bit over excited about  getting them in the oven so I had one or two that had to come out earlier than the others, as they were smaller! It's a fairly firm dough, due to the inclusion of the dry ingredients of oats and coconut, so it doesn't spread an enormous amount like many American style cookies. That means that it's better not to leave the dough as golf-ball shaped lumps. Try to flatten the dough down so you get more of a cookie-like shape when they're cooked.

Coconut Oat Cookie dough

I hope you enjoy these Coconut Oat Cookies, as much as I did. They remind me so much of having a glass of milk and a biscuit in the evenings when my sister and I were staying with our nana and grandad. Delicious!

The Improving Cook- Coconut Oat Cookies

Baked Banana Coconut Porridge

The Improving Cook- Baked Banana and Coconut Porridge

If you're a regular Twitter user you have probably seen the #Teacher5aday tweets that trend regularly. It was borne out of this blog post by Martyn Reah- #teacher5aday which was a call to action to teachers to take better care of themselves and each other, so that they don't burn out, give up the job that they love and contribute to a predicted recruitment crisis. Sadly, the crisis is upon us 18 months later, so it's more important than ever that we look after each other.

The hashtag has spawned further related hashtags that you might have seen: #teacher5adayread (encouraging reading for pleasure, not work) #teacher5adaysew, #teacher5adaycook and so on. Then Vicki Vincent (@MissVicki_V) wrote a great blog post about #teacher5adaybreakfast. It was about the importance of us 1) actually making time to have breakfast and 2) trying to make it a healthy one, instead of the usual teacher practice of racing round on an empty stomach and grabbing a biscuit as you fly past the staffroom. Reading her post made me look at the breakfast recipes I have on my blog and I tweeted her to say- yikes, not really a healthy one amongst them! She suggested I could do one especially for the #teacher5adaybreakfast and so here we are- Baked Banana Coconut Porridge!

When I was thinking about what to make, I had in my mind 2 things- rushed mornings and a healthy breakfast but with lots of flavour. If you look at most baked porridge recipes they contain 2 things- double cream and either heaps of sugar or sugar AND maple syrup. I decided there had to be a healthier way to get flavour than that! So, in this Banana Coconut Porridge I used ripe mashed banana to get the sweetness and coconut, nutmeg and cinnamon to add more flavour. I also used ground almonds to add even more long-lasting energy along with the oats. There's also the bonus that the recipe uses up ripe bananas, instead of letting them go to waste.

If you are thinking- 'Yuck, I hate coconut!', don't worry because you can substitute it with so many different ingredients. Try raisins or sultanas, chopped fresh apricots or other dried fruit. You could even just leave it as the banana and spices. You could also swap ground almonds for flaked almonds or other chopped nuts if you want.

Why baked porridge? Well, it's a wonderful thing because you can make it the night before in just over half an hour and then heat up with a little milk in the morning. There's enough to either feed your whole family for one breakfast or feed just you for 4 breakfasts in a row. You can even portion it up into tupperware, ready to take to work, if you're one of those teachers that prefers to get in and get on, and then eat brekkie just before the children arrive.

I promise you that you will love this, especially if you are already a fan of porridge. I also promise that it will stop you feeling hungry before lunchtime, so fewer staffroom biscuits required! I made it late last night and just had to have a little taster to see if it was okay, and ended up eating a whole bowl! In my defence, we'd been out for a big lunch, so I hadn't had any dinner...

I hope you'll give Baked Banana Coconut Porridge a try and love it as much as I do. Here's to easier, healthier mornings in September!

The Improving Cook- Baked Banana and Coconut Porridge

Friday, August 05, 2016

Cheese and Jalapeno Scones

Cheese and Jalapeno Scones

Scones are such a British thing aren't they? And so easy to make too. I love them- traditional scones, fruit scones, cheese scones, all the scones! 

Cheese scones are possibly my favourite type of scone. I like them so much because they are versatile; they work for breakfast, a snack or afternoon tea and all you need to have handy is a knife and some butter. I made some mini cheese scones for my nephew's first birthday party recently and they went down very well with the parents and the children. This time I wanted a bit more kick with the cheese. A lot of spicy cheese scone recipes use cayenne pepper, but I find that to be a bit forceful, a bit sharp and I wanted something a bit more subtle against the cheddar, so I made Cheese and Jalapeno Scones. Jalapenos are spicy, but they also have a touch of sweetness to them, which I think is a better match. I use them liberally in Mexican cooking; they are delicious! You can use red or green ones for this recipe- I used both. They give a little, spicy kick, nothing too scary.

Finding fresh jalapenos is pretty difficult in the UK, but jars of pickled slices are freely available in the supermarkets. I used those, rinsed them so they weren't too vinegary and chopped them finely. I also didn't hold back on the cheese. I use double the amount that most recipes suggest, because, come on, they are supposed to be cheese scones! Cheese scones need to be cheesy, right? There's nothing worse than biting into a cheese scone and wondering, where's the cheese?

Cheese and Jalapeno Scones- Pinable image

I am submitting this Cheese and Jalapeno Scone recipe to #TheFoodCalendar for August,as part of Afternoon Tea Week (now that's a week I can get on board with!) It's always nice to have something savoury with your afternoon tea to go alongside all those delicious sweet things! Go along to Charlotte's Lively Kitchen and see what other food bloggers have submitted too.

If you are following a calorie controlled programme such as My Fitness Pal, each full size scone is about 170 calories, when using skimmed milk.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Beginner's Guide to Pinterest for Food Bloggers

So you've started your food blog, and you're whipping up delicious recipes and posting them for the world to read and make at home. You've got a Facebook page, you're tweeting and starting to get some followers and page views from both. You know that Pinterest is the place for foodies but you just don't know how to get started. Maybe you have a personal account that you use a little, or even a lot, but you're wondering how to you use it for promoting your blog? Well if that sounds like you, then I may be able to help a little. I have been where you are, when I started a year ago, and it took me a while to get to grips with Pinterest for my blog, even though I was very confident in using it personally. 

I learnt a lot about Pinterest from other bloggers, getting some good advice and some bad, as well as learning from trial and error along the way. There are a lot of guides out there for Pinterest, but I could have done with one that was directed at food blogging specifically, and one aimed at people new to blogging. Hopefully these tips will save you a lot of time and effort!

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