Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Italian buffet party menu

It’s the Italian Grand Prix and for Formula 1 Foods this time I’ve got not one Italian recipe, but a whole buffet menu!
We had family over for my boyfriend’s birthday earlier this year and I decided to do a buffet with a mixture of hot and cold food. I wanted to make sure there were a few fairly substantial dishes along with things like sausage rolls and hit upon the idea of giving the whole meal an Italian theme. There are so many things that work well for buffets, from pasta dishes to cold antipasti. Here’s a description of what I made and bought (after all who has the time to do an entire buffet from scratch?). As I was also catering for vegetarians I’ve noted which dishes are suitable with (v)

Cold food – nibbles and starters:
Bread sticks, aka grissini, with sour cream and chive dip which I bought (v)
Caprese salad of sliced mozzarella, tomatoes and basil leaves, drizzled with oil (v)
Antipasti: red peppers from a jar (v); stuffed olives (v); sliced salami and prosciutto
Hot food: nibbles and starters
Mozzarella sticks: mozzarella pieces in breadcrumbs which I bought from Iceland and cooked in the oven (v)
Sausage rolls – not really Italian but my boyfriend wanted them!
Garlic bread (v)
Mini margherita pizzas, which I bought and cooked in the oven (v).
Main dishes
Italian herb chicken mini fillets (from Tesco)
Tomato and mozzarella pasta bake (v)
Meatballs with farfalle pasta and tomato sauce
Tuna, cannellini bean and red onion salad with a mustard dressing (mix olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and garlic to taste). Can also do a portion without tuna for anyone who doesn’t eat fish.
Stuffed peppers, filled with risotto rice and melted mozzarella
Mini Profiteroles from Iceland – these are sometimes known as a French dessert but were apparently invented in Italy
I also served birthday cake, cupcakes and cookies, which you can read about here.
 I'm sharing this with Formula 1 Foods, the blog challenge I host, as the theme this month is Italy.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Restaurant review: Wahaca, St Paul's, London

Before we booked our holiday to Mexico, my boyfriend had never eaten much Mexican food – and I wasn’t much more familiar than the cuisine than him. I’d only been to Mexican restaurants a couple of times and aside from making fajitas and enchiladas at home I don’t really cook Mexican food either.
As we were going to be travelling around as part of a tour group, I knew we often wouldn’t have much – or any – choice of restaurants. It turned out that we had set menus a few times as well, so it was lucky I had introduced my boyfriend to a few dishes in advance.
My birthday was right before our holiday so I took the opportunity to get some of my friends together for a birthday meal at Wahaca. Wahaca is the phonetic spelling of Oaxaca, a state in Mexico that is known for its food; masterchef winner Thomasina Miers set up a restaurant by that name in 2007 focusing on Mexican street food. The chain now has a handful of London locations plus one in Cardiff, but you can’t book a table for dinner in any of the London restaurants apart from St. Paul’s. That suited me as a lot of my friends work in the City so it was central for all of us – the restaurant is actually upstairs in the One New Change shopping centre but it feels like a proper restaurant, not a shopping mall food court.

The street food idea means the bulk of the menu is small plates with the suggestion of ordering a few per person. There are some larger main courses as well, but as we were a large group we decided to share the street food between us. We did a quick calculation and decided to order one of everything – not something you often get the chance to say to a server!

Among the tacos I particularly liked the pork pibil, which is slow-cooked marinaded pork with pink pickled onions, served in a toasted tortilla. The tostadas were open tortillas topped with different things like chicken Caesar or black beans; I loved the sweet potato and feta cheese taquito, which was a rolled-up tortilla. Quesadillas are toasted tortilla sandwiches, filled with things like chicken and cheese. Each dish is priced around £3-£4 and usually contains three of each item so they are easy to share. It was great being able to try different flavours together and to learn the meaning of terms that are usedl I was pleased that the food wasn’t too spicy either. I also sampled a couple of cocktails which were very good!

Monday, 31 August 2015

Schwartz Grill Mates - marinade review

I'm terrible when it comes to marinating meat - I buy the ingredients, mix the marinade - and then usually realise that the recipes says refrigerate overnight, and I wanted to have it for dinner this evening. Also, you sometimes need quite bespoke ingredients for a marinade which means you then have half-used bottles lurking at the back of your cupboard for months if not years.

For both those reasons I really like the idea of these Schwartz Grill Mates. They have 23 different options from marinades to oils to glazes, and some are as quick as brushing on to your meat 15 minutes before the end of cooking. What could be simpler?

I was sent a selection of the sachets, which retail at £1.40; they are enough for the whole family (I marinated two whole packs of chicken thighs for a barbecue and there was plenty in the packet) but you just throw the empty packet away at the end and can try something different next time. Obviously that does work out more expensive in the long run but it is far more convenient and ultimately avoids waste if you do buy different ingredients and then don't use them up.

I used the Mediterranean BBQ glaze on my chicken which was really tasty and I can't wait to try the other flavours!

Thanks to Schwartz for sending me the sachets to review.

Premier Inn Purple Sauce review

When I was a child, Saturday lunch was always a version of a fry-up or beans on toast (macaroni cheese on toast for me as I don’t like baked beans) – accompanied by red sauce, or brown sauce. We never called it ketchup, and I can’t even remember the proper name of brown sauce (HP sauce?) – it was always red sauce, brown sauce. Well, now there’s a new one: purple sauce.

Created by Premier Inn with the help of a chef called Ed Baines, Purple Sauce is designed to go with the traditional English cooked breakfast, served at Premier Inns. It has a blackberry base, with other ingredients including crushed chillies, toasted cumin, smoked salt and cider vinegar. It has no artificial colours, flavourings or additives, which is always good to know.


They sent me a bottle to try out – luckily my parents were visiting and I was planning a full English breakfast (it’s not something my boyfriend and I often have, as I’m not keen on most elements – I’d rather just have a sausage sandwich!). I made sausages, bacon, eggs, hash browns, toast and baked beans, and put this bottle of sauce on the table next to the ketchup. I didn’t have any brown sauce so I waited to see which one my dad would reach for first.

Everyone was quite willing to try it and the reaction was a positive one- unusual, but in a good way. My parents said they weren't sure they would buy a whole bottle of it if it was sold in the supermarket but would definitely have it if they were staying in a Premier Inn.
It has got a slightly smoky flavour, which goes well with sausages; I can see this working nicely with pulled pork too. I even wondered about using it in a sweet dish, such as the filling for a pastry tart, but I didn't have time to try this idea out before going on holiday!

Thanks to Premier Inn for sending the sauce to review.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Alphabakes Roundup - Z

Z is quite a fun letter for Alphabakes. It’s not as difficult as it first looks and you can be really creative with zebra and even zombies coming into the mix last time. If you take Z to stand for zest, you can make any recipe using lemon, orange, lime – you get the idea.
Our first entry this month was this novel take on Eton mess with chocolate and orange, from Dom at Belleau Kitchen. As well as orange zest it uses marmalade and Dom says the sharpness of those flavours cuts beautifully through the sweet chocolate meringue and chocolate cream. It definitely looks good enough to eat!
Ages and ages ago I made a zebra cake but hadn’t gotten around to blogging it. It was actually from a packet cake mix (for shame!) which I wanted to try as it was from America and the Duff Goldman brand (him off Ace of Cakes). The cake was tooth-achingly sweet but this is a useful blog post to explain the technique behind how to make a zebra cake. Plus, it looks cool!

My mum Jacqueline made her first ever zebra cake as well, using more of a swirling technique; it results in the same effect and her colours - chocolate and vanilla - are rather more realistic than mine!

Fiona at Peanut Butter and Spice has sent us this Coconut and Lime Crème Brulee which she has been able to make even though she is lactose-intolerant. This is a lovely summery combination o flavours.

Z can stand for zucchini which of course is the American name for courgette (I wonder why it is so different, when we call most things by the same name?). Elizabeth at the Law Students Cookbook made baked zucchini with parsley and oregano, which she said was really easy and tasty. You could have this as a main course or a side dish so it seems very versatile.


More zucchini now, this time with cherry tomato in a quiche from Shaheen at Allotment 2 Kitchen. She has grown her own courgettes and these cute little mini quiches would be perfect for a picnic.

Making another appearance but this time in a sweet dessert, we have chocolate courgette (zucchini) loaf with nutella and cranberries. Ros at The More Than Occasional Baker is my co-host for Alphabakes and great at coming up with new recipes and flavour combinations so I'm sure this cake tastes good! She warns that you do need to squeeze the water out of the courgette though.

I ought to know what Zwetschgendarschi is as I used to live in Germany, but Suelle from Mainly Baking had me stumped! To put it more simply, this is a plum tart. It has a layer of marzipan on top of the dough which sounds good and the yeast dough Suelle used contains less fat than regular pastry.

Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker has got some more courgette to use up, so made these brie, courgette and red pepper muffins. She says these vegetarian ones tasted even better than a version she made with bacon!

I got a spiralizer for my birthday and it's really fun to use - I finally plucked up the courage to try making courgetti or zucchini noodles from a recipe by Deliciously Ella. The sauce is also home made from red pepper and tomato and it tasted much better than I was expecting given I don't actually like courgettes!

Now back to something that doesn't use courgettes - we have lemon zest as the Z ingredient here, in this lemon tiramisu from Jean at Baking in Franglais. It's a refreshing take on an old favourite and would make a lovely dessert for a barbecue.

lemon tiramisu

Laura from I'd Much Rather Bake Than made this chocolate chip yogurt courgette bundt cake and managed to convince her brother and his children that the green flecks were sprinkles! The grated courgette (sorry, I mean sprinkles) make the cake really moist and I would think the chocolate would hide the flavour!

Chocolate Chip Yoghurt Courgette Bundt Cake - with chocolate ganache drizzle

The last time we had this letter for Alphabakes I came across za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend, and was wondering if someone would use it this time. Shaheen from Allotment 2 Kitchen has done so, in this oven-baked za'atar tomato and potato frittata. She said it's good for picnics, barbecues and buffets.

Finally another entry from my Alphabakes co-host Ros of the More Than Occasional Baker. She made these zucchini and orange marmalade muffins with cranberry and pecan which she enjoyed for breakfast.

That's an impressive selection of dishes for what is undoubtedly a difficult letter. Thanks to everyone who took part - visit The More Than Occasional Baker on Sept 1st to find out which letter we are baking with next month! Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get ready for my engagement party...

Saturday, 29 August 2015

F1 Foods: Belgium roundup and the next challenge: Italy

The Belgian Grand Prix gave me a great excuse to make a Belgian chocolate cake! Actually I was going to make it anyway and realised afterwards I could enter it into Formula 1 Foods - it was a practice run for making a wedding cake! I'd never made a 12 inch cake before so had no idea how long it would take in the oven so wanted a run through, and that weekend was pretty much the only one I had free before the wedding of Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker, who is getting married in only a short number of weeks! I'm glad I made it when I did as I will now have even less free time.... as I have to start wedding planning myself. I got engaged last weekend!

So here's the chocolate wedding cake I made - you're not going to see it in all it's glory as I don't want anyone to see how it is going to be decorated yet!

Suelle from Mainly Baking made these Belgian-inspired chocolate, peanut and biscuit spread cookie bars which I'm getting hungry just thinking about! She used Speculoos biscuit spread, peanut butter and chopped roasted peanuts. Suelle said she doesn't think they were entirely successful but they look pretty good to me!

I've never heard of Carbonnades Flamandes so thanks to Jane from Onions and Paper for introducing me to it. From the name I expected it to be a sweet dish for some reason but it's actually a beef and ale stew - a great idea to use Belgian beer. And just the thing for a cold day which we have unfortunately had rather too many of in August!

Funnily enough the final entry was also a Belgian Carbonnade, this time from Elizabeth at the Law Student's Cookbook.  She served it with bread and apple sauce which sounds like a nice combination.

The next Formula 1 Grand Prix is in Italy, over 4-6 September. I'm giving you until Weds 16th to get your Italian recipes in (as I will be away and can't do the roundup any earlier) so that's plenty of time!

Friday, 28 August 2015

How to have a Vegan Barbecue

A few years ago a friend went to a summer event at the company he worked for at the time where a manager announced the barbecue was ready, allegedly saying: "There are burgers in bread rolls, sausages in bread rolls, and for the vegetarians: bread rolls." I'm sure he was joking but when I invited a vegan friend to a barbecue at my house recently I did have a moment of "aargh, what can I cook?".

So I thought I'd share with you some top tips for hosting a vegan barbecue - vegetarian recipes often seem to include halloumi as it barbecues really well, but that's not much good for vegans.

Firstly, burgers and sausages. Some vegans don't like the texture of meat but for those who do, it's not fair for them to miss out. There are loads of veggie burgers and bangers (sausages) available, but not all of them are vegan.

First of all Quorn - my go-to veggie choice which is great for meat-eaters too as it's low in fat - is not actually vegan as it contains meat. Some other brands of burgers and sausages that are suitable for vegetarians  - and sometimes different products within the same brand can be vegan or not. I'm afraid you're just going to have to read the labels (luckily this info is also provided if you shop online). STOP PRESS I learned recently that Quorn are launching a vegan range later this year which is great news!

Look out for Fry's in Waitrose (all Fry's products are vegan), Grassington's and Goodlife and one that is particularly easy to get hold of is Linda McCartney. But be careful - the sausages are vegan but burgers are not. For my recent barbecue I bought Linda McCartney vegetarian sausages (pack of 6, chilled) and mushroom and spinach burgers (frozen pack of 2) which my friend said were particularly good. Don't forget to either cook these first and put in a low oven wrapped in foil to keep warm or have a separate side of your barbecue for vegetarian/vegan food.

Home-made kebabs are good at barbecues as you can thread whatever you want onto skewers (soak wooden skewers first to stop them from burning). For vegans, you can use any veg that you can cut into chunky pieces, eg courgette, button mushrooms, red, yellow or green pepper, red onions or pieces of new potato. To give my kebabs extra flavour I dipped each veg piece into a little bowl of oil mixed with paprika; this ensures the kebabs get an even coating of oil and don't stick on your grill.

Side dishes: I love potato salad at barbecues and you can easily make it without salad cream or mayonnaise. I mixed oil with Dijon mustard and white wine vinegar to drizzle over some new potatoes which were delicious.

It's nice to have a few dips you can serve with fresh crusty bread; guacamole is made from avocado and works for vegans, and I previously made a white bean dip from a Slimming World recipe which you can spread on bruschetta.

Most barbecues seem to involve a big bowl of pasta salad as it can be made in advance at fairly low cost. Again it's easy to make one that is vegan.

Similar ideas are couscous salad with roasted veg chunks. And of course a big bowl of green salad (just don't add parmesan).

You can also grill lettuce - little gem works best - or artichoke hearts.

Whole flat mushrooms can be grilled and eaten in place of a burger. Grilled corn on the cob are great for barbecues too, as are jacket potatoes and sweet potatoes.

And don't forget dessert! Most fruit barbecues really well - everything from bananas with plain chocolate (if it doesn't contain milk solids it should be vegan, some brands are and some aren't), to grilled peaches or even fruit kebabs. And I have plenty of recipes on my site for vegan cakes and other desserts including cheesecake and pavlova so have a look around my blog!


Thursday, 27 August 2015

WIN: Bake In Black Review, Giveaway & Chocolate Cream Marshmallow Pie

It's not often I look at a cookery book and think 'that's genius'. I mean sure, I'm impressed by people who have been able to start a whole new cookery craze or style of eating like Deliciously Ella, but for me to actually flick through the book and smile at each and every recipe is quite unusual.

This week I was sent a recipe book called Bake In Black - Music Inspired Baking. Eve and David O'Sullivan are a food writer and musician who decided to combine their two loves, taking a song or album by a band they love and creating a recipe inspired by it. It's not just a play on words on the title (though the name of the book itself references Amy Winehouse) but they soak up what the music is about and infuse that into the food.

That results in recipes including:
Sex Pistols: God save the cream (angel cake with minted whipped cream, strawberries and blueberries)
Guns 'n' Roses: Sweet tooth o'mine (three-tier honey, molasses and maple cake with cream cheese icing)
Megadeath: Megadeath by Chocolate (chocolate and meringue layer cake)
Deep Purple: Smoke on the Rosewater (gluten free chocolate, almond and beetroot cakes with rosewater icing)
Meatloaf: Battenberg out of hell (chocolate and raspberry Battenberg)
Led Zeppelin: Glazed and confused (lavender-infused ring doughnuts with milk chocolate glaze)
and so on, and so on.

I hadn't heard of a lot of the songs or even some of the bands - this book has more of a heavy metal than a pop slant (but maybe there's an idea for a follow-up).

The book is really well presented with colour pictures for every recipe, and some interesting props in the photos, such as doughnuts resting on a guitar. The instructions are carefully thought through and easy to follow and I think this book would make a great gift for someone who loves music and baking.

I made a recipe from it called Faith No S'More - based on Faith No More of course, but also s'mores which are an American campfire snack. They have given me permission to reproduce the recipe here.

Serves 8
you need:
375g sweet shortcrust pastry
flour for rolling
200g dark chocolate, chopped
100g milk chocolate, chopped
300ml double cream
2 eggs
pinch of salt
small bag of marshmallows

Preheat oven to 180C/375F/Gas 4. Roll out the pastry to 1/2 cm thickness and use to line a 23cm pastry case [I used a loose-bottomed cake tin]. Chill while you make the filling.

Put the 2 chopped chocolates in separate bowls then bring the cream to the boil. Once boiling, pour into a measuring jug, then add 200ml cream to the dark chocolate and 100ml to the milk chocolate. Let stand for a minute or so, then stir each chocolate, separately, to combine.

Whisk the eggs into the dark chocolate, then pour into the pastry case. Add blobs of the milk chocolate mixture to the tin, then swirl gently to achieve a marbled effect [I found this quite difficult and ended up just pouring most of the milk chocolate on top of the dark chocolate].

Bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden an the mixture is almost firm. Allow to cool a little then chill in the fridge until set.

To make the topping, heat the grill to high, then top the pie with marshmallows so they cover the surface evenly. Put small pieces of foil around the pastry edges to stop them burning then put the pie under the grill and cook until the marshmallows are scorched, campfire style, around 2 minutes [from the picture in the book I thought the marshmallows were supposed to melt which they didn't really do, so I left them under the grill too long and the tops burnt! I managed to lift the burnt parts off and then it did look much better].

This was a gorgeous dessert, really indulgent and the melted marshmallow on top really took it to another level. I think it might actually have been nicer with a biscuit base rather than pastry but my other half very much enjoyed it, helping himself to two slices!

Now that I've whetted your appetite you can enter to win a copy of the book for yourself! UK addresses only though please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway