Chicken and Sweetcorn Pasta Bake

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Well, well, well! It's snowing here, and not just an ickle bit of snow dusting the pavement. It's a full on deluge (well, by British standards anyway) of 12+ cms!

It's seems timely then (and almost like I planned it) that I am posting a lovely, warm, comforting pasta bake recipe today. A good pasta bake is just the thing on a cold winter's day. It's easy, pretty low cost and it can be made in bulk, all persuasive arguments for having several yummy pasta bake recipes up your sleeve.

This chicken and sweetcorn pasta bake is essentially a chicken twist on tuna pasta bake. Pasta, chicken and sweetcorn smothered in cheesy, creamy sauce. It's great for using up leftover roast chicken. If you don't have any, stick a couple of chicken breasts in the oven to roast and you've got everything you need.

If you are looking for more pasta bake recipes try these:

Bolognese Bake (my favourite!)
Macaroni Cheese with Bacon

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Puff Pastry Mince Pies with Whipped Cream

Pinnable image of puff pastry mince pies with whipped cream

Prepare yourselves for the wonder that is puff pastry mince pies with whipped cream. They are something special and I am really excited to share the recipe with you. It's so simple- anyone can make them!

It's now officially mince pie season. I know they've been in the shops since late September, but for me, all things Christmas really begin on December 1st. There's such an array of mince pies these days, that trying to choose which ones to buy can be a bit of a challenge.  I thought that my husband, top mince pie-lover that he is, had tried every different type available. Then my mother-in-law bought him a kind of mince pie that I have never seen before- puff pastry mince pies with whipped cream inside. They were an absolute revelation and we spent the next couple of weeks trying to find them again! (Morrisons in case you don't fancy making them yourself).

Home-made mince pies will always top anything you can buy and until I made these puff pastry ones filled with whipped cream, I loved to make mince pies with a frangipane topping, most of all- recipe here: Ultimate Mince Pies Sorry, Ultimate Mince Pies, but I have a new love! The soft, flaky puff pastry, with the sweetness of the mincemeat, cut through by the whipped cream... Mmmmm!

Puff Pastry mince pies look pretty impressive, especially when they have the whipped cream inside, but they are really very simple to make, especially if you use ready-made pastry, as I tend to do. Give them a whirl and become addicted like I am!

Pinnable image of mince pies filled with whipped cream

Asian Salmon with Noodles

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I have been trying to share this recipe for a simple Asian marinaded salmon for about three weeks now. In the meantime we have eaten it at least 3 more times and I have enjoyed it more each time.

It's a very simple salmon marinade with some classic Asian flavours- soy, ginger, garlic, honey. It's delicious when used to top off noodles, but if you're more of a rice fan that works too. I choose to pan fry it because crispy skin is delicious! 

It's a great meal for packing in some veggies- peppers, onion, broccoli, beansprouts, cabbage, whatever you fancy will add some lovely crunch against the soft salmon and noodles.

If you have sesame oil, or can get some, then it's worth using for both the salmon and the noodles because it gives a more authentic flavour overall. If you can't, don't worry, your usual oil will be fine.

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Spiced Pumpkin Cake

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It's that time of year again, in the build up to Halloween and Thanksgiving, that we all start searching for 'pumpkin recipes' and 'things to make with pumpkin'. There's always the stand-by classics of Pumpkin Pie and Pumpkin Soup, but if you're bored of those, or looking for something different, then this Spiced Pumpkin Cake might do the trick. It's traybake style, so it's perfect for sharing at a Halloween or Thanksgiving party.

You might have bought a pumpkin this year, for carving, and are wondering whether you can use the flesh from inside to bake with. The answer is- not usually. The pumpkins that are sold for carving, tend to be the types with thinner skins, which makes them easier to carve. They are not known for having good flavour and texture for cooking or baking with. You can usually tell as they will be labelled with 'Carving Pumpkin' or something similar.

So, if you want to make something with pumpkin, your best bet is to find an eating pumpkin (quite tricky here in the UK), or use butternut squash as an alternative, or (my preference) buy the tinned pumpkin. It's available now in the UK from Sainsbury's, Tesco, Ocado and Amazon at around £1 per tin for the 'Baking Buddy' brand. If you do want to make your own puree with butternut squash or an eating pumpkin, there's a very simple method to try here: Make your own pumpkin puree

Whichever puree you use, it will make your Spiced Pumpkin Cake beautifully moist. To spice it, you could use mixed spice, but I personally prefer to use the individual spices of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg so that it tastes more balanced. You can use this as a dessert and serve it warm with custard (absolutely delicious comfort food), or ice it and serve as a cake.

I have used a cream cheese icing because cream cheese and pumpkin is a match made in heaven, but you can easily switch for plain vanilla buttercream. For UK readers- cream cheese is a bit of nightmare due to the UK version having a very high water content.  The general consensus is that full-fat Philly or the Lidl own brand (also full-fat) are the closest to the US version and the least likely to give you runny slop!

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Roasted butternut Squash and Bacon risotto

Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Risotto

I'm continuing my love affair with butternut squash with this recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon risotto; a very comforting dish.

It's perfect for an autumnal risotto as it provides a lovely, smooth, creamy texture without using any indulgent ingredients (like actual cream, for instance!). The sweetness makes a nice contrast to the salty bacon too. As there is a lot of salt from the bacon, I don't recommend cook the risotto in stock, as you normally would, or the salt levels will become overwhelming and you won't taste anything else.

When the risotto is served up, it doesn't look like a very large portion but it's incredibly filling. I was tempted to serve it with a salad, but I don't think I could have fitted it in, to be honest!

This recipe for roasted butternut squash and bacon risotto is syn-free on Slimming World if you use bacon medallions and spray oil. It's around 520 calories if you are managing your calories.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Risotto

Turkey Chilli and Butternut Squash Rice

Turkey chilli with butternut squash rice topped with yoghurt and spring onion

I used to eat a lot of minced turkey back in the day, mainly because I didn't like red meat. Since I started eating red meat again, I have sort of forgotten about it, which is a shame as it's delicious and can be used for pretty much anything that beef mince can.

Turkey chilli was one of my favourite recipes for turkey mince and I remembered why as soon as I tasted it. It has all the flavour of beef chilli but it's lighter, not as rich. Turkey mince is lower in calories than standard beef mince, although not as low as the extra lean mince that's widely available now. It's a great alternative for those who don't like red meat or are trying to cut back on it a little. You can also get lean turkey mince in some supermarkets, which helps to cut back an extra few calories. That's what I have used in this recipe.

Instead of serving it with traditional plain rice, I added roasted butternut squash to make it even more filling and to reduce the amount of rice required. That has the advantage of reducing calories without reducing the bulk of the meal, plus you can't beat the sweet, nutty flavour of butternut squash- gorgeous! If you like a lot of rice, I would advise increasing my suggested 40g to 60g per person. I topped mine off with a tablespoon of fat free greek yoghurt and some spring onion. The greek yogurt is also great for anyone who doesn't like their chilli as spicy as you do, because it cools the spice a little.

Turkey Chilli and butternut squash rice is syn-free on Slimming World if you use spray oil and is around 600 calories for a pretty decent portion if you are using MyFitnessPal.

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Creamy Salmon Pasta

So the summer holidays are nearly over, it's not long until we are back to school, and its definitely time for me to get back on the MyFitnessPal wagon! To try and get things started with a bang, I wanted to make something new. I served up this Creamy Salmon Pasta dish, which is also syn free on Slimming World, and comes in at around 500 calories (less if you're not as big of a pasta monster as I am!) 

The creamy sauce is achieved with fat-free Greek yoghurt, which gives it a really nice tang. I personally like the Liberte brand because I find it thicker and creamier than others, but any plain, fat-free yoghurt would work. Mixed together with stock, veg, salmon and your favourite type of pasta, it makes a quick and delicious dinner. I could easily have eaten a second bowl, but that would have defeated the object! It has definitely earned a place on our regular dinners list.

Creamy salmon pasta is around 500 cals (depending on how much of a pasta fan you are) and is syn-free on Slimming World if you use spray oil.

Easy Chocolate Fudge Cake

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Chocolate fudge cake is a classic indulgent cake and a popular choice is for dessert or an afternoon treat in restaurants and cafes everywhere. It's a very rich chocolate cake which is made with real chocolate rather than cocoa powder and it is filled and topped with an even richer, thick chocolate ganache. What's not to like?

If I'm not sure what to order for dessert, I will usually plump for the chocolate fudge cake because it's reliably delicious. Unless you're not a chocolate lover, it's pretty hard to resist all the deep chocolate deliciousness that's involved. 

If you want to make a chocolate fudge cake at home, this is an easy recipe and produces a reliably good result. It has a light, almost powdery-soft sponge and the icing is thick and fudgy. There are no tricky techniques or ingredients as it's an all-in-one method. Just throw everything in and whizz it all together. My only recommendations would be to make sure that your butter has been allowed to soften well, before you get started and to make sure that you use good quality dark chocolate. It makes all the difference.

You can have it on its own as a slice of cake with a cuppa, or serve with thick cream, marscapone or ice cream and have it as a restaurant style dessert. You'll want to cut an enormous slice because it looks so delicious, but I'm warning you, even the most avid-chocoholic would struggle to eat a big wedge of this cake. It's really, very rich!

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Bolognese Bake

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You'd think that now we're in the summer holidays, I would have all this spare time for making fancy, elaborate dinners. Doesn't seem to quite work out that way somehow! 

This bolognese bake fitted the bill of a comforting pasta meal on a rather cool summer evening last week, with plenty of leftovers for lunch the next day. Pasta, mixed together with a rich, meaty bolognese sauce and topped with grated mature cheese, makes a very tasy dinner. I find that mature cheese is essential to really complement the flavour of the bolognese. It makes a delicious meal, especially when served with a salad and some garlic bread. Just look at the cheese when it's all melted and crspy around the edges!

Bolognese Bake with cheese melted on the top

I tend to keep my bolognese sauce fairly simple and reasonably close to traditional, but if you're trying to sneak some extra veg in for your children, go ahead! Mushrooms, carrot or peas could easily be added to up the veg factor. 

This recipe is Slimming World Friendly and syn free if you leave out the red wine, use spray oil and save your HEX A for the cheese (reduced fat cheddar). If you use lean mince instead of extra lean, then it will be 2 syns per portion.

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Smoked Paprika Roasted New Potatoes

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The weather is decidedly changeable and unsummery for July  at the moment, but I am determinedly still wearing sandals, still carrying my sunglasses in my bag, and still cooking summery dishes. Maybe I can bring it back by sheer force of will!

I made a big batch of my Very Garlicky Slow Cooker Lemon and Rosemary Chicken this week and was looking for something different to serve with it. I tend to stick to the same old potatoes and veg with dinner, especially during the week, and I just get very bored of them. 

I had new potatoes in the cupboard- the perfect summery accompaniment, but I wanted to add more flavour. The smoked paprika roasted new potatoes that I ended up making were just perfect; crispy on the outside and gorgeously fluffy on the inside, with a bang of flavour from the smoked paprika and the chilli. The best thing is that they are very easy to make, with just 5 basic ingredients and virtually no prep, so you could easily do them on weeknights to jazz up any meal.

If you love easy dishes that you just throw on a baking tray- these are for you!

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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 home-made 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.

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.

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Mediterranean Summer Salad

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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 warm, 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.

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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!

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Quick Summer Fruits Crumble

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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.

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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.

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.

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!

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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!

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Creamy Garlic Ham and Leek Pies

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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!

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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  around 600 calories per portion.

Slow Cooker Shoulder of Lamb Pinnable Image

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!

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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.

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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!

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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