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Top Winter warmer recipes to try this season

This is a guest post by Laura very apt for the cold spell we’re currently having…


When the cold, dark nights start to creep in and stepping out of your door into the blistering winds and soaking wet rain just isn’t worth it anymore, it’s clear the only way to survive the season is to stay in and cook up some delicious winter recipes.


To get you started with warming your cockles, here are some of my top delicious winter dinners and of course, a cheeky dessert:


Hearty chicken casserole with a splash of red wine (serves around 6)

  1. As always preheat your oven (fan 180C/ gas 6)
  2. Take 6 chicken breasts and season with salt and pepper.  Then heat a little oil in a casserole dish and dip your seasoned chicken into the dish until each breast is brown on each side. Put the chicken aside for now.
  3. Tip in 3 peeled onions that have been cut into segments and cook until soft, then add 3 garlic cloves that have been peeled and sliced and cook for around a minute.
  4. This is where it gets delicious! You now need to pour in 300ml of your favourite red wine, 300ml of chicken (or vegetable) stock, 300g of sliced mushrooms and peeled orange zest to taste.
  5. Turn up the heat and return those seasoned chicken breasts back to the casserole dish. Make sure your dish is well covered and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.
  6. As a less healthy addition, serve with homemade dumplings and a glass of rich wine.



Classic Winter veggie soup (serves 4)

  1. Peel and finely slice 2 onions and gently fry them with a little oil in a pan until soft. Whilst they’re cooking, peel and chop 2 carrots, 2 parsnips, 1 medium sized Swede and 3 potatoes into 1 inch cubes.
  2. Add your chopped carrots, parsnips and Swede to the soft onions in the pan and fry all together for about 8 minutes.
  3. Add your chopped potatoes and 1.5 litres of cold water and bring everything to the boil and simmer until the veggies are tender.
  4. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and a little cream and take off the heat. Then blend everything together until you have a creamy soup consistency.


King prawn and coconut curry (serves 4)

  1. Heat 2tbp of your choice of oil in a pan. Fry 1 chopped onion, 2 sliced garlic cloves and half of a green chilli for a few minutes until everything has softened.
  2. Add to the pan 3 tbsp of curry paste (again your choice) and cook for a couple more minutes.
  3. Tip in 200ml of coconut cream, 200ml of vegetable (or chicken) stock and 1tbsp of tomato puree.
  4. Simmer everything for around 10 minutes and then add in around 500g of raw prawns, depending on their size.
  5. Cook for a few minutes and serve hot on top of fluffly white rice.



Cheese and bacon Lasagne (includes a few cheats for those who don’t have time)

  1. Preheat the oven at 190C/gas 5
  2. Fry 3 large sliced onions until soft and golden and add 1 tsp of oregano and 300g of chopped bacon to then fry for around 5 minutes. Then tip in 2 400g of chopped tomatoes and fry for another 5 minutes.
  3. Cheat alert! Whilst your mixture is bubbling away, start on your white sauce. At this point you can choose to purchase a jar of white sauce or find a recipe to create your own. Whichever you choose spoon in some nutmeg and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  4. Spoon a third of the tomato and bacon mixture onto the base of a lasagne dish. Top with a handful of lasagne sheets and then top with some white sauce.
  5. Repeat until the mixture is all used and finally pour over the last of your white sauce and scatter with some cheese. A pinch of nutmeg or cinnamon makes a delicious topping.


Delicious beef and beer pie

  1. Preheat oven to 160c/gas 3.
  2. Using a casserole dish add in 1 chopped onion and 1 chopped celery stick and cook until softened. At the last minute pop in 2 tbsp of flour and stir until it is gone.
  3. Stir in 700g worth of beef stewing steak chunks and 1tbsp of Worcester sauce, then crumble in 2 beef stock cubes between your fingers and 2 sprigs of thyme.
  4. Here’s the naughty bit – Pour in 540ml of your favourite beer and cook everything in your covered dish for 3 hours (2 ½ covered and 30 mins uncovered).
  5. Line your pie dish with short crust pastry (homemade or pre-bought) and spoon your meat into the middle. Then pour some of the sauce over the meat and cover with some more pastry.
  6. Brush the top of your pastry with egg and bake for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden brown.



Sweet cranberry apples in a mulled wine sauce

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350c
  2. Line a casserole dish with a thin layer of butter or margarine and set aside
  3. Peel and core 4 large apples and fill each centre with cranberry sauce.
  4. Stand the apples in your lined dish and pour 1 cup of mulled wine evenly over the apples. Then tip 2 tablespoons of butter chunks, 1 cinnamon stick and 4 whole cloves into the dish.
  5. Sprinkle over 1tbs of sugar and bake uncovered for 50-60 minutes until the apples are tender.
  6. Serve hot with a generous dollop of freshly whipped cream.


Happy cooking!


Author bio

Laura writes on behalf of Wild Grapes, who design custom wine cellars and bespoke wine racks. They also supply a wide range of metal wine racks to purchase online.

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5 Home Cooked Vegetable Recipes to combat stress

I have several friends who suffer with different types of stress and anxiety, and I’m sure we all have stressful times in our lives, so knowing foods to eat which can help ease those feelings is a great idea.  Here is a guest post from Ryan Riviera to tell us more…

Home cooked meals are the best comfort food anyone can have. If you want to treat yourself to a superior but homey and healthy meal, here are some easy to prepare Home Cooked Vegetable Recipes which you may incorporate in your daily diet.

Gazpacho Soup (tomato vegetable soup)

Tomatoes contain potassium, lycopene, vitamins E and A.  It is also rich in vitamin C which, if taken in large doses can have a tranquilizing effect that help alleviate anxiety. Here is one special tomato vegetable soup:

Put 1 minced onion, 2 cups of diced tomatoes, 1 cup of minced green pepper, 1 tsp honey, 1 chopped cucumber, lemon and lime juice, 2 tsp vinegar, 1 tsp basil and dried tarragon, ground cumin, ¼ cup of chopped parsley, tobacco sauce, 2 tbsp olive oil and pepper in a food processor or blender. Combine it altogether well but see to it that you do not over process. Blend the finished mixture together with 4 cups of tomato juice in a bowl. Wrap it in a plastic and let it chill for 2 hrs.  It is nice to serve it together with bread.

Simple Hummus Recipe

Garbanzo beans are filled with vitamins A, C, E and K. It also contains vitamin B6 or also known as pyridoxine which has been proven to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. It is also loaded with minerals such as magnesium, iron, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and sodium. Calcium is another mineral that can be found in garbanzo beans which is known to be a natural tranquilizer. Here is your easy recipe for garbanzo beans:

Put 1 can of garbanzo beans, 4 tbsp of lemon juice, 2 cloves of chopped garlic and 2 tbsp tahini in a blender together. Let it blend until it is creamy. Put the finished mixture in a serving bowl. Pour some olive oil on it and serve it with fresh vegetables.

Sweet Potato Balls

Sweet potato ball is another nutritious recipe that kids will surely love. It contains minerals like potassium, copper and iron. Add to that the mineral magnesium which can help reduce tension in the nervous system.  Thus, sufficient intake of magnesium can help a person feel more relaxed.  It can help you become more focused and it will also help reduce your vulnerability to stress and anxiety. This sweet potato balls recipe is a healthy treat for your sweet tooth:

Cut 2 pounds of sweet potatoes into chunks. Let it boil until it becomes tender. Add 2 tbsp of butter, ¼ tsp of salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon, and 1 tbsp of brown sugar along with the boiled sweet potato and mash. Add 1 egg while mixing altogether. Let it chill until it is firm. Form the potatoes into a ball shape and place mini marshmallows on the insides. Roll in 1 cup of gingersnap crumbs. Bake it on a cookie sheet for up to 10-15 minutes.

Cauliflower Purée

Cauliflower is a good source for vitamins such as C, B1, B2, B5, B6, B9, and K. Its vitamin B3 alone is very helpful in the production of serotonin which plays an important role in producing a more balanced and stable mind. It also contains carotenoids, phytonutrients, and manganese.

Boil 1 head of cauliflower in a saucepan until it is tender. Put the boiled cauliflower and cooking liquid in a blender. Blend it until it becomes smooth. Last, add 3 tbsp of sour cream and 1 tbsp butter. Let it blend for a short moment. Season it with pepper and salt.

Asparagus Recipe

Asparagus provides a good source of folate, fiber, vitamins A, B12, E, and K. It also contains vitamin C which not only helps in alleviating anxiety.  It also promotes proper functioning of the adrenal glands and improves brain chemistry. This simple asparagus recipe is so easy to prepare, go ahead have a try:

Boil water in a saucepan, add 1 bunch of asparagus and parboil it for just 2 minutes. Drain away the hot water. Mix the asparagus with 2 tbsp of olive oil, 1 tsp of grated lemon rind and 2 tbsp of grated parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Eating delicious home cooked meals is like experiencing luxury at the comforts of our very own home.

About the Author:

Ryan Rivera used to suffer from anxiety attacks for seven years.  He now advocates healthy living as the best weapon against anxiety and depression.  You can read more of his articles at Calm Clinic

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Dairy free carbonara

I’m sure most people are like me and get bored of cooking the same dishes over and over again. So I took a look through our numerous cooking books (so numerous that the kitchen shelf tends to bend a bit in the middle – I’m trying to ignore this!). I always see carbonara and I love creamy pasta dishes, but I can’t eat cheese and my husband can’t eat any dairy (poor thing), so I thought it was a bit of a no no. Then I thought I might as well give it a try using soya cream and no cheese.

I had roast chicken left over from the Sunday roast (all the lovely juicy leg and wing parts) and a pack of bacon medallions (no fatty bits on them). I cut the bacon into strips and fried it until it was cooked, then added the chicken to the pan to heat that up too.

I also had a courgette that had seen better days so chopped off the bad part and then finely diced that up with an onion and 3 garlic cloves, and fried them in olive oil.

Then mixed all the meat and vegetables into the same pan and tipped 1.5 cartons of soya cream onto them and mixed together.

I added some dried savoury herbs and dried sage to the sauce, and some black pepper (didn’t need salt thanks to the bacon).

Left it to simmer while I cooked tagliatelle and garlic bread (a must!!).

I am very bad and never taste my food while I’m cooking it – I wait until it’s on the plate when it’s rather too late if anything tastes wrong! But this time I was very lucky and it tasted amazing 🙂 My 2 year old loved the bacon, chicken and garlic bread! My husband was on a course in London so was a bit late home so his portion had had time to truly infuse the flavours and he thought it was really delicious.

So there’s a new dish for me to relieve the boredom I’d fallen into 🙂

Tonight I cooked pork loins in a nice marinade, so I’ll have to write a post about them too soon.


It’s been a while … hope this cake was worth the wait

I’ve been very slack lately and my blogging seems to have fallen by the wayside… tut tut, bad blogger!

I haven’t been as slack with the cake-baking though, so I’ve got some catching up to do on here.

So I’ll start with the latest one as it’s my biggest achievement so far – a two-tiered cake for my best friend’s baby shower this weekend.

It was chocolate cake – I used buttermilk and bicarbonate of soda for the first time in this one.  And the recipe also had boiling water in it…very strange, but worked very well and they were the tallest cakes I’d ever made.

I forgot to take a picture before the icing went on, but there was a heck of a lot of butter cream between the 7 layers (there were meant to be 8 layers but the top cake was so tall I left one off!).

Here’s the bottom section:


I am still not very good at getting the icing to go straight at the bottom – I always end up with creases, lumps and bumps.  Also the cake is never perfectly smooth, as you’ll see when I put the lines on the bottom, they are a bit ‘in and out’!

The next layer’s on and the stripes are going on too…


I tried to cover up the creases at the bottom with thick stripes!

I used colours to match the paper plates/napkins I’d bought for the shower – and turquoise is my best friend’s favourite colour so I just had to use this of course!

Here’s the finished article with a pretty bow on top, and my best friend’s name imprinted too:

and on the back, another imprint just to finish it off…


My friend loved the cake – as did the guests.  It was maybe a bit too rich for the hottest day of the year so far in the UK!!  I think strawberries and cream might have been a better option, but it was delicious nevertheless!

I’ll post more cakes again soon…sooner than it’s been since my last post that’s for sure 🙂




My first award

A lovely blogger friend of mine at Lorna’s Tearoom Delights has very kindly nominated my blog for the Sisterhood of World Bloggers Award.

This is the first award I’ve been given and am feeling very honoured to be chosen by Lorna.  I love reading her blog about Scottish tea rooms with her delightful assistants!  She also has a book available on ebay.

The rules of the award are that I have to pass the award onto 5 deserving bloggers and impart 7 facts about myself that you may not know.

So, I would like to give the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers award to:






and here are some facts about me… I’ll try to make them as interesting as possible!

1) If I eat chocolate, cheese or alcohol I come out in an itchy rash

2) I can play songs on the piano from just listening to a song (great for playing nursery rhymes to my 2 year old!)

3) I have a degree in English and French (and can therefore speak fluent French)

4) I am not scared of mice (but my husband is – as we found out a couple of weeks’ ago when there was a field mouse in our lounge!)

5) I have been to the Isle of Man TT motorbike races twice and my Grannie lives pretty much on the track

6) I don’t like mushrooms, but I wish I did as they feature in so many dishes!

7) I love zumba!


For my nephew who loves farms

My nephew is quite a live wire and has certain things he really loves with a passion – fire engines for one, and farms (mainly pigs!) are another.  

For his 4th birthday we went up to Braintree, Essex, to Boydells Dairy Farm for a thoroughly entertaining tour with some of his little friends, around this well-loved and very much working farm.  The family who own it use the milk and eggs themselves and eat the poultry too.  The owner gave us the tour and really got the children involved in every aspect – feeding the sheep and goats, bottle feeding the lambs, milking the cow, collecting the eggs, petting the chicks, goslings and ducklings, finishing with a pony-and-cart ride.  My daughter, being half my nephew’s age, was not so keen on the pony cart ride – in the photo we have of her on board, she is desperately reaching to my husband for him to carry her off!!

Being a little boy, I knew my nephew would like chocolate cake, so I made a chocolate victoria sponge with chocolate butter icing.  I then covered the cake in light green regal icing for a ‘field’ effect.  I did this part of the cake at home (we live 2 hours from my brother’s family), and I carried this very protectively on my lap on the journey.

Once we arrived at my parents’ (where we were staying the night before the farm trip – they live close by my brother), I set to work on making the farm animals.  I had found a picture on google of fondant animals so I copied these.  I am no good at working from my imagination – I need to copy something I am afraid!  I’m not bad at copying cartoon images so I hoped I would be ok at copying something 3D.

I was using the 99p food colouring you get from the supermarkets, which didn’t help!  To make black (rather than grey) I ended up with a liquid!  So I had to paint the black onto the cow and the eyes onto the other animals.  I have now bought some gel paste colouring which is soooooo much easier – you only use a small amount.

I loved making the sheep – took a while rolling all the little white balls, but I think he’s very cute!

Here is the whole gang of farm animals on the cake:


I tested my skills on my daughter by asking her to name the different animals – she got them all right.  So I figured if a 2 year old can tell what they are then they can’t be too bad at all!

My nephew and his brother and parents loved it – and I’m very pleased I showed them the cake before we went into the farm!

When we came out, the sun had been shining on our car where the cake had been waiting, but it looked fine so that was a lrelief.  However, we completely forgot to put it on my husband’s lap while we drove back into town to get some lunch and do the whole “Happy birthday” sing-song with candles.  As you can imagine, coming from a country farm the roads were very winding with lots of sharp turns.  By the time we remembered the cake was on the back seat, brown molten chocolate was seeping through the lovely light green grassy regal icing, the cling film had been pulled so the cow and pig’s ears were squished against their heads 😦

I managed to make it look marginally better, but my 4 year old nephew didn’t mind at all – all he cared about was blowing the candles!!

It tasted lovely by all accounts and they appreciated my efforts – which made me happy!

I now need some more little people to have birthdays so I can make some more little creatures as I really enjoyed it 🙂


A cake fit for the Queen

Following on from my jubilee cupcakes which weren’t as royal a blue as I’d hoped for … I had a lot more success with my union jack lemon cake.

A friend at work is obsessed with everything ‘British’ at the moment – he is a volunteer to help at the Olympics over the next few months, wears union jack t-shirts most days and is having a union jack birthday party in July also.  As he knows I am on a cake baking mission in 2012 he asked me if I’d make him a union jack cake for his party.  I jumped at the chance!  

So with it being the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee at the beginning of this month I decided to take the opportunity to make a trial run for our Jubilee BBQ (as mentioned in my previous post).  It was lemon cake (as per my colleague’s request) and Asda had a brilliant promotion on jubilee icing – the perfect amount of red white and blue for the cake.

Here is the trial run:


There are a few changes I’ll make when I make the birthday cake next month.  I don’t think I’ll tuck the icing under the cake – I will bring it straight down onto the board for a cleaner edge.  And I won’t lay one white stripe over the other, but cut them so they line up next to each other where they meet.  But overall I was pretty pleased and it was good fun to make.  Especially as I was in a very jubilee-ish mood!

I’ll be in a Team GB Olympic mood in July so will enjoy making this again then 🙂


Perfecting cupcakes – it’s all in the nozzle!

Over the last few weeks I’ve made many a cupcake.  I love making them (and eating them!).

My daughter’s birthday ones were a fail in regards to the swirls, as the weather was too hot and the butter cream too runny.  As I use dairy free margarine it just doesn’t work as well as full blown butter sometimes! And I didn’t have the correct nozzle   I still believe it’s just as tasty though.  Luckily I rescued the cupcakes with some pretty butterfly, flower and edible crystal decorations.  The rescue must have been good because one of my (male – therefore won’t lie to save my feelings!) friends thought we’d bought them from a shop.  Ultimate praise I thought 🙂  Here they are:


Next it was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee so I decided to make some blue coloured cupcakes.  This time, my friend at Canterbury Cakes had advised me to buy a Wilton 1M nozzle for the optimum swirl, so I was all set!  Now, I wanted a real ‘royal’ blue as it was for the jubilee BBQ we were having – I’m guessing it’s given that name for a reason.  However, I couldn’t get my blue colouring to get anywhere near a dark blue, so I was left with some very lovely looking turquoise cupcakes!!


They tasted lovely and the children at the BBQ all had turquoise faces by the end!  I hope you’ll agree the swirls worked really well this time – how I love the Wilton 1M nozzle 🙂

I made some gluten and dairy free chocolate cupcakes to take to my team meeting for work as one of my colleagues has a strict diet – however I could not make the meeting in the end so took them to a Pampered Chef event instead.  They were very well received and no one could tell they were free of so many things!

My husband was keen to take some cakes into work this week for his colleagues, so I also made chocolate cupcakes for him – just dairy free this time.  He took them in today and there are only 2 left (out of 18) for a friend who was off today and another one for himself tomorrow!  Cheeky!  The recipe for these was the Hummingbird recipe from a previous post: Party Cupcakes.  It’s a very dense cupcake with lovely smooth butter icing.  And of course my new best friend Mr Wilton 1M was close at hand!

I’m going on another cake decorating course in July to learn other cupcake swirl techniques at Sweetie Darling near Canterbury.  I wish I could afford to do every course there!


What cake do you make for a 2 year old who loves ‘puss cats’?

A cat cake of course!

It was my daughter’s 2nd birthday last month and she LOVES cats.  Only from afar – when she gets close enough to touch them she’s not so sure about them!

I really wanted to make a realistic looking cat cake rather than a ‘Hello Kitty’ style flat cake.  So I had a good look online but still couldn’t find anything that didn’t look a little bit freaky or unrealistic.

Then I remembered I had a lovely book where I found last year’s cake idea.  It’s called ’50 Easy Party Cakes’ by Debbie Brown and has so many great designs – I wouldn’t exactly say they are ‘easy’ so the title is a little misleading, but then again I am a novice at this apart from a one day course!

The cat cake in this book was a cute black cat sitting on top of a huge ball of wool.  This is why I used the pyrex bowl for my last cake – in practice for creating this ball shape.  I made 2 ball shapes then cut them down to have 2 flat edges together with butter icing between to form the large ball.  I also covered the whole ball in butter icing.  In hindsight I think I put too much butter icing between the shapes as the ball kept sliding, and I ended up with a not so ball shape once the weight of the icing was brought into the equation!! Oh well!  As my husband said – a ball of wool isn’t perfectly round anyway!  Here it is:

I covered the ball shape with a layer of pink regal icing, then created lots of spaghetti strings with the same icing to form the wool.  This part took HOURS!!! I had to glue each string onto the cake.

The cat itself was quite simple to make after the wool – and I found I really enjoyed creating him – it felt like he had a character all of his own!  My daughter and her little friends really enjoyed eating him so he didn’t last long!

Look out fore more animals made from icing coming soon …



Cake making 2012 challenge continues…

Juggling cake baking and looking after a toddler has left me with very little time to blog lately, so I’m sorry for my disappearing act!  However, I now hope to update you on what creations I’ve been working on … during my lunch break at work!

My 2012 challenge of making cakes for every family member/friend’s birthday or special occasion has kept me busy these past few weeks.

First, it was my husband’s cousin’s birthday (who is also a good friend) so I wanted to try out the skills I learnt at the course (see last post) as well as preparation for my daughter’s 2nd birthday cake.  So, I baked my first ball-shaped cake in a pyrex 1 litre glass bowl.  It felt very strange not using a tin for the first time!  And the first time I made a madeira cake.

Then I used butter icing for the centre and to create a coating all over the cake ready to drape the regal icing over the ‘ball’ shape.  I put the bow on top.

The night before I had made butterflies and flowers from regal icing and they were nice and solid ready to glue (edible glue!) onto the cake.

Here is the finished cake:


The recipient was very pleased, and her family liked it so much that her son asked: “Do you think Leanne knows it’s my birthday in July?”!!!  Well I do now and already have a plan of what to make for his birthday!

Keep an eye out for more cakes soon as I’ve made quite a lot recently.  I really should have called this blog ‘leanne baking for the family’ rather than ‘cooking’ as I’ve not done much creative cookery lately.  Ah well.  There’s always time for that when I’m bored of cakes!