Mocha Cupcakes

It's that time of year again at work (parents' evening) where I try to do my bit and provide cake for all the teachers doing a 12-13 hour day. It's amazing how much a little bit of cake can cheer you up when you're exhausted and feel like you've talked the hind leg off a donkey!

So far, over the years, I have made blueberry doughnut muffins, lime and coconut cupcakes, chocolate brownie cupcakes and lemon drizzle cupcakes. I spent a while pondering what flavours to do this time and finally settled on Mocha cupcakes and Victoria Sponge cupcakes (coming in a later post).

I'm a bit of a funny fish with coffee things. I don't really like coffee as a drink. I would choose tea every time, given the chance!  An occasional latte is about my limit. However, when it comes to coffee flavoured things, I'm straight in there! Coffee truffles, coffee ice cream, coffee cake- all winners for me. Part of love of coffee flavour is how well it is complemented by chocolate. Chocolate really adds something to it; takes the harsh edge off. So, mocha cupcakes are right up my street.

These mocha cupcakes have a small shot of strong coffee, tempered by a chocolate hit from cocoa powder and then topped with some chocolate buttercream. Perfect for the coffee-lovers AND the chocolate lovers in your life.

Guide to the Best Pinterest Group Boards for Food Bloggers

This post is a follow up to my earlier Pinterest post- Beginner's Guide to Pinterest for Food Bloggers, so if you're a food blogger starting from scratch with Pinterest, you might want to start with that post first. This post focuses on how Group Pinterest Boards increased traffic to my blog.

Warm Chocolate Orange Brownie Dessert

Warm Chocolate Orange Brownie Dessert

Today's post is a dessert recipe for Warm Chocolate Orange Brownie Dessert. 

I don't often make dessert when we have guests, mainly because I don't feel that inspired about what to make. Don't get me wrong, I love a dessert. It's just that I would always choose a starter over a dessert given the option! If I am having dessert, I often choose some kind of molten chocolate thing, or a chocolate brownie concoction. All that squidgy, delicious chocolatey goodness, topped off with some ice-cream, is right up my street!

So, today, I thought I would give this idea a try with chocolate orange flavours. The essence of a good warm brownie dessert is in the previously mentioned squidginess. To get that, you need lots of moisture- melted butter, melted chocolate and eggs are usually the combo that will get you there. Add orange curd to that and you got chocolate orange yumminess!

Timing is pretty important with this Warm Brownie Dessert; you want it to be just a little runny at the bottom. Cook it too long and you'll get a chocolate sponge, cook it too little and you'll have a lot of raw batter at the bottom. I like it somewhere in between. If you shave a few minutes off my timing, you'll get more sauce at the bottom.

I highly recommend serving Chocolate Orange Brownie Dessert with ice-cream, cream or some creme fraiche- something to cut through the sweetness. Depending on what you call a dessert portion, you can get around 6 servings out of the ingredients, 4 if you like a nice, big bowl!

Warm Chocolate Orange Brownie Dessert pinnable image

Ultimate Mince Pies

Ultimate Mince Pies

Most people fall into one of two categories when it comes to mince pies. You're either beside yourself with excitement when you see the first packet in the shops and you have to buy some straight away, or you can easily wait until Christmas day and you wouldn't be that bothered if you didn't end up having one that year. If you're in the first camp, then it's that special time of year- Mince pies are everywhere you look!

There seem to be a dizzying array of options on the mince pie front these days: standard mince pies, puff pastry mince pies, luxury mince pies, iced mince pies, mini mince pies and so on.You could probably buy a different type every week from now until Christmas! Shop-bought mince pies are really good, but home-made ones always taste that little bit better. If you want the easy version, try making my Cheat's Mince Pies

This year, I decided to make mince pies with a difference. These 'Ultimate Mince Pies' have a shortcrust pastry base with a mincemeat filling which is topped with frangipane and then iced with a lemon icing. Delicious! I prefer them to a standard mince pie, as I often find the mincemeat filling a bit too rich in those. Using frangipane reduces how much mincemeat you need and adds a cake-like element. I topped them with lemon icing, but if you're not a fan, you could swap the lemon juice for water. If you don't want to make your own pastry, you can use a 500g block of shop-bought shortcrust and it will work beautifully.

I'm sure these 'Ultimate Mince Pies'  could win over some of the hardened 'don't care about mince pies' people of the world!
Ultimate Mince Pies

Sausage Casserole

Sausage Casserole

There's nothing better than casserole to warm you up on a winter's evening. All that beautiful meat and veg falling apart in a rich sauce is very comforting somehow. It doensn't hurt that casserole is so easy to make. The trouble is that it take time, either in a slow cooker on in an oven to get those cheaper cuts of meat falling apart so perfectly.

If you're looking for a quicker casserole with ingredients that you will usually already have to hand, then a sausage casserole is worth a try. It doesn't require such long cooking; you can usually have it ready in under an hour.

It doesn't matter which sausages you use, just grab your favourites. I sometimes use chipolatas, if that's what I have to hand. For the veg, I usually use carrots, but you can also add mushrooms, or switch the carrots out for butternut squash or sweet potato, whatever takes your fancy! Sausage Casserole freezes well, so it's a good recipe for making in a big batch.

Sausage Casserole- pinnable image

Traditional Jam and Coconut Sponge

Jam and Coconut Sponge slices

If you ask people what they remember about school dinners from their childhood, the traditional jam and coconut sponge is usually one of the first things that they say. Great big pieces, usually served with custard and often one of the few things that people liked too!

I love a traditional jam and coconut sponge. It's a really simple sponge cake, but with really soft buttery sponge, fruity strawberry jam and dessicated coconut. It's so perfect for afternoon tea, the kind of cake that you can have ready in a tin to whip out for guests. It will last  3-4 days (if you can hold out that long!)

I tend to make it as a loafcake, so that it's easy to cut slices, but if you are thinking of having it as dessert with hot custard, then it's better to make it as a traybake. That way you will get more surface area for jam and you can cut the cake in the more traditional cubes of sponge. Either way, it's good!

The Improving Cook- Traditional Jam and Coconut Sponge pinnable image

Slow Cooker Broccoli Cheese Soup

Slow Cooker Broccoli Cheese Soup in a bowl

Just in the last few days, the temperature has really dropped here in the wintery UK. I've gone very quickly from half-heartedly taking my coat with me 'just in case', to having it on plus scarf.  This, coupled with the rather temperamental central heating in my day-job workplace, means one thing; it's time for home-made soup lunches again!

Today, I'm going for a childhood favourite, broccoli cheese soup.  It's the only soup I remember my mum making on a regular basis- enormous saucepans full of broccoli boiling away on the hob with cheddar cheese stirred through.

As you know, I am a big fan of making soup in the slow cooker, so I don't have to stand over it, or even check on it regularly. In fact, I can even confidently go out leaving something cooking, which I would never do with a pan on the hob.

Brocolli cheese soup works beautifully in the slow cooker. Brocolli, carrot and onion are pretty standard in a brocolli cheese soup, but I also use potato to add some creamy thickness. Many recipes will ask you to make a traditional cheese sauce to add to the soup, but my feeling is that my slow cooker is supposed to save me time and effort, so why would I want to faff about with a cheese sauce? Some other recipes replace this by adding a tin of condensed soup. With that idea, I think if I'm buying a tin of soup, why not just eat the tin of soup...? No- I want home-made brocolli soup, so I use potato and cheddar to get the thick, cheesiness that I am after. The bonus is that it makes it more filling too! I have suggested 100g of grated cheese for the soup, but go ahead and use more if you love cheese! The more mature the cheese, the less you'll need, because it will have a stronger flavour.

You can make nice big batches of this soup, and it will freeze well. Like most soups, it will need a really good stir when it's defrosted and re-heated, and it will be delicious.

Slow Cooker Broccoli Cheese Soup pinnable image