Saturday, December 31, 2016

Most popular recipes of 2016

Happy new Year! 

The blog has been going for 15 months now and I'm pleased with how far it has come. I can't devote my full-time attention to it and I haven't monetized it, so I am pretty happy with what I have managed to do in the last 12 months.

If I am not monetizing it, why am I doing it you might be wondering? Well, it was originally born from wanting to get back into cooking and expanding my recipe repetoire and it still serves that purpose for me. There also does seem to be a market for easy-to-follow recipes and my page visitors are increasing, so, if people are interested in reading, then it's worth carrying on. That's not to say that I have ruled out monetizing it at some point...

As 2016 is over, I thought I would do a round up of how things have gone for The Improving Cook Blog- social media followers, popular recipes etc.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top Food News Stories of 2016

Well, that was 2016! Gone in a flash and memorable for many reasons. There were plenty of good, bad and very, very bad things that happened in the world this year, but as this is a recipe blog, let's focus on food!

2016- the bad

* The Great British Bake Off- I don't think I was alone in being devastated about the end of GBBO as we know it. I am sure Channel 4 will throw everything at the re-boot, but it won't ever be the same again without the BBC, Mary, Mel and Sue. There was something so quintessentially British about it and it inspired so many of us, including me, to get back in the kitchen and bake from scratch. I will miss it terribly. Oh well, there are always the repeats!

BBC- Mary Berry leaves Bake Off

* Crumpets- We found out that some crumpets contain as much salt as 3, yes 3, bags of crisps. Given that many people regularly use crumpets as a breakfast or after-school snack option for their children- this was shocking news. Household name Warburtons was named as one of the worst offenders, despite having reduced its salt content by 25%.

Telegraph- Crumpets contain as much salt as crisps

* Chocolate- They kept messing about with our chocolate! There were many chocolate crimes committed this year. It all seemed to happen in the build up to Christmas- maybe they thought we would be distracted and wouldn't notice? First, in October, Terry's Chocolate Orange crept out onto the supermarket shelves 10g lighter than they were before and, in most places, selling at the same price. Then in November, the makers of Toblerone reduced the weight of their bars by 20g and changed the shape. Instead of the shape we know and love, with lovely thick triangles of Swiss chocolate, they stretched out the spaces between the triangles, leaving it resembling a toast rack/bicycle stand/not a proper Toblerone. Of course, it was another cost-cutting measure. Again, selling at the same price. Then, just to top off the year, Quality Street announced that the beloved Toffee Deluxe was being retired and replaced with the Honeycomb Crunch. Honeycomb Crunch- sounds pretty yummy, but can't we have both?

Metro- New Toblerone Bar

2016- the good

* The Sugar Tax- The Sugar tax, or the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, as the government would prefer that we call it, was announced in the 2016 budget. I've put this in good news because the intention behind it is good. Whether a 6-8p tax on certain soft drinks will have an impact on the consumption of sugar, and the linked obsesity in childhood, remains to be seen, especially when fruit-based drinks and milk-based drinks are not included. It certainly has made Jamie Oliver happy anyway!

* Healthy Pins- the top ten pins on Pinterest this year were healthy (in the main). Fruit Smoothies, Broccoli Tots, Pesto Salmon were all pinned and pinned and pinned again. You've probably seen them in your Pinterest feed, or even have them on one of your boards; inspiration for your new year health kick. Healthy has never been so delicious!

* No-bake desserts- No-bake is one of the most-searched terms on Pinterest. No-bake cheesecake, cookies, granola bars, chocolate cake and many more. What's not to love about desserts and treats that require no cooking? Wow everyone at dinner or at parties with your amazing dessert making skills, and you've not even switched your oven on! Here's a good one to get you started with the no-bake trend.

Personal 'goods' for 2016

My own personal foodie 'goods' would be:

* A massive upswing in my blog traffic thanks to a better Pinterest strategy
* Taking part in the #GBBOTwitterBakeAlong with other GBBO fans on Twitter
* Sailing through 50k page views in my first year was a highlight too, may there be many more!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Real Hot Chocolate

Real Hot Chocolate

When I think of cosy winters, sitting snuggled under a blanket on the sofa watching Christmas films, I also think of hot chocolate. There's just no other drink that adds to the cosiness like hot chocolate. Don't get me wrong, I live for tea, especially on a work day. I do believe it solves most problems and I power through the day on 3-4 cups. But, because I drink it most of the time, it just doesn't have that cosy factor. It's just not indulgent enough. Only hot chocolate fits the bill! 

You can get some pretty decent hot chocolate in some of the coffee shops these days and you can buy the packet mixes for home, but nothing beats real hot chocolate. It has a much deeper, creamier flavour (probably due to all the chocolate and the cream...)

Making your own hot chocolate is very easy and totally worth the small amount of effort required. Once you try it, it's pretty hard to go back to the alternatives! Don't believe all the recipes that tell you that you need a double broiler, or to melt the chocolate over hot water. That's a right faff and you honestly don't need to do it. 

When I make real hot chocolate I prefer to use a decent dark chocolate, as I find milk choc just a bit too sweet. Melted together with milk and cream and a couple of secret ingredients, it tastes divine. My secret ingredients, the things that I think elevate it beyond just ordinary hot chocolate, are vanilla essence and a touch of cinnamon. They add a little bit of pizazz!

So why don't you treat you and yours to some real, hom-made hot chocolate this Christmas Eve? Get under that blanket, put on Elf, Love Actually or whatever Christmas film floats your boat, and drink up!

Real Hot Chocolate pinnable image

Monday, December 12, 2016

Orange and Almond Cookies

Orange and Almond Cookies

I have been trying to expand my biscuit repertoire for some time, instead of always making Chocolate Chip Cookies

I had some flaked almonds left over from making a bakewell tart but I wasn't sure what flavour to put them with in a biscuit. After a bit of pondering, I decided orange would be a good match, as long as it wasn't too sharp. I used orange curd to get a more mellow flavour and it was a lovely combination, just enough orange flavour without drowning out the almonds. Plus, orange is just a little bit Christmassy, so Orange and Almond Cookies are lovely for this time of year.

These are the soft, chewy cookie type of biscuit but you do get a bit of crunch from the almond flakes. If you wanted even more crunch, you could use whole almonds chopped up instead.

Orange and Almond Cookies Pinnable image

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Spicy Maple Chicken

We visited family in Canada earlier this year; beautiful place, lovely people. At the end of our holiday, I carefully transported some genuine Canadian maple syrup back in my suitcase, wrapped in ziplock bags and a layer of socks! it was the good stuff, A-grade, and tasted absolutely a world away from the nasty slop from the bottom of the barrel that they export to Europe. Wise people, keeping the good stuff for themselves! 

The bottle's half-empty now, and I know I won't be able to go back to the low-grade syrup that we used to buy. So, in celebration of of the delicious maple syrup we have left, I used some to make a sweet and spicy marinade for chicken, and served up this Spicy Maple Chicken with rice.

It was quick and delicious and the sharp spice of the cayenne pepper was a good contrast to the sweetness of the maple syrup. If you made the marinade in the morning and put the chicken in before you went off to work, Spicy Maple Chicken would make a very quick and convenient dinner in the evening.

Spicy Maple Chicken Pinnable image

Monday, December 05, 2016

Chocolate Sandwich Cake with Whipped Cream

Chocolate Sandwich Cake

At the weekend, I made a chocolate sandwich cake. It's one of those soft, fluffy cakes that's so light it melts in your mouth. Essentially, it's a chocolate version of a Victoria Sponge!

This type of cake is the perfect cake to whip up quickly when you've got visitors coming round. There's no fuss, no fancy techniques, no icing to pipe, and it's sure to be a winner with anyone you give it to.

I normally say that you can make cakes by hand just as well as you can with a fancy mixer or a hand mixer, but Victoria Sponge style cakes are where the gadgets come into their own. If you have one, you can incorporate a lot more air into the sponge and really get that light texture.

I prefer to make Chocolate Sandwich Cake with a sweetened whipped cream filling, but if cream's not your thing, you could make a chocolate or vanilla buttercream. You could also leave the cream unsweetened. I personally like to add a little icing sugar because I think the slightly sweetened cream is a nice contrast to the dark chocolate taste of the sponge.

Hold on to this recipe for the next time you have people popping round for a cuppa. You can make it the day before. If you use the cream filling, make sure you keep it in the fridge. It will keep for 3-4 days if chilled.

Chocolate Sandwich Cake Pinnable image

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