Happy New Year! I’m back. I’ve indulged in a long break. In fact, the longer I took, the harder it became to throw myself back into blogging and recipe creating. This year I’ve buried my head in the sand a bit too when it comes to ‘diet’ food or New Year’s resolutions. I make resolutions throughout the year. I constantly try and stick to things, and I fail, so I set new goals and targets and start again. It’s never just a January thing. Besides which, it’s far too grey and cold outside to think about salads or healthy things or fresh starts. I still want to hibernate and eat pancakes and wrap myself up in a big blanket. The funny thing is that the two most popular recipes on my blog so far this year have been my Healthy Hot Chocolate Breakfast Smoothies and my Nutella Bread Pudding with Leftover Christmas Panettone. So I’m thinking, that whilst half of you are searching for the good stuff to help you along with diets and food resolutions, half of you (like me) want to prolong the festive sweet-fest, invoking the excuse of finding ways of using up all the tempting treats lurking in our cupboards….
At the bottom of our garden, we have an imposing Bramley apple tree, planted during the ‘Dig for Britain’ campaign during the second world war. Last year, British crops suffered and there were hardly any apples at all. This year, and following a good prune, we seem to have our apples back – big and shiny and rosy on the edge receiving sunlight. Since we also had an apple tree in our back garden growing up at home, apples conjure up comforting memories of cinnamon-spiked apple pies, cakes and crumbles. Apples can also be useful loot to swap for other homegrown produce. Since it’s Bonfire Night tonight, we’ve made some Toffee Apple Tarts and if time allows, a Spiced Toffee Apple Cake will also await lashings of custard. I’ve also written a post over at JamieOliver.com highlighting some other Bonfire Night treats you might like to try.
My blog has had a little refresh and you’ll have probably noticed a few changes. The main change is the installation of a new WordPress theme called Foodie, cleverly designed by Shay Bocks, offering some very neat features, such as updated coding and a customised home & recipe page with improved plugins and features. I still have quite a big job to do with my post categories, so over the next week or so, there may be a little maintenance going on. I have also had a refreshed header installed, which I think is fun – I love my bowl of seasonal plums. My existing logo and old header, designed by Miss Foodwise and husband Bruno, have been updated and will get an upgrade to Ren Behan Food – a new site (also under construction) which will become home to some examples of my freelance work.
3 Years of Blogging
I almost missed my blogging anniversary! As I began to type this post, I remembered that I published my first post, Hello World, on 2nd November 2010 – back then, my blog was called Fabulicious Food! Starting a blog and hitting publish placed me on the path of a great adventure. I’ve made so many friends as a consequence of starting this little food blog. I’ve also had opportunities to cook with and receive help, advice and words of wisdom from some of the people I most admire in the world of food. Perhaps as a result of sticking at something I love doing very much, I’m now settling into a freelance writing and recipe development career.
Things I’ve learnt along the way
I have learnt that it takes time to build a community and to build up new skills. Although I always loved to cook, I had no idea how to translate a love of food into recipe writing and I had only ever used a camera to take holiday and family shots. I’ve read lots of books and other blogs – including It Starts With Food by Diane Jacob and The Recipe Writer’s Handbook by Barbaba Gibbs Ostmann. I have also studied food magazines, taken courses, and have developed my own way of describing how to cook something or bake something.
Many bloggers expect to start blogging, generate attention and become a success overnight. I’d say, don’t expect readership to happen overnight. A blog will grown over time. Keep going and crucially, if you begin to value your time and your worth, you can turn blogging for fun into something more than a hobby. My best advice is to keep moving forward – don’t be afraid of change or of trying something new. Set yourself some targets, don’t just accept every offer that comes your way – analyse what you are being asked to do, to create, to write and then decide if it is worth it. If you decide to work with brands, be aware when commercial companies (who pay PR’s to contact you!) are trying to get something for nothing and don’t sell yourself short. Learn how to negotiate and very importantly, make an effort to understand some of the legal aspects of blogging. For example, always be honest and disclose to your readers whether you have received something for free or as an incentive to write about a certain topic or product. State clearly if you have been paid to feature a brand, a product, a recipe, a video, or have been asked to include links to specific pages. Blogging, both as a means of communication and an extension of social media is changing rapidly – make sure you keep up with any significant changes and always be aware that as a blogger you are ultimately an ‘influencer’ – tread carefully. That being said, the best and most successful blogs (in my view) are the ones written by people who truly love writing and communicating and who see blogging and tending to a blog as a creative process rather than a money-making scheme.
Toffee Apple Tarts
Easy to bake toffee apple tartlets using British Bramley apples
- 375g sweet shortcrust pastry (ready to roll is fine)
- 4 large cooking apples
- 50g butter
- 125g light soft brown sugar (plus extra for sprinkling)
- 2 tablespoons golden syrup
- 1 tablespoon double cream (optional)
- A little butter for greasing the tin
- A sprinkle of flour for the pastry board
- Grease a 12-hole muffin tin with a small amount of butter. Sprinkle some flour onto a board and roll out the pastry. Cut out 12 circles of pastry and carefully place each disc into a hole in the tin and press down gently. Place the pastry-lined tin in the fridge whilst you make the apples.
- Peel, core and dice the apples. Place them into a large pan. Add the butter, sugar and golden syrup cook for five minutes. Take off the heat and add the double cream, if using. Pour any excess toffee sauce into a cup so that the apples are just coated.
- Take the pastry-lined tin out of the fridge and spoon some toffee coated apples into each tart. Sprinkle the apples with a little extra sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and bubbling. Remove from the tin and serve whilst warm.
What do you think makes a successful blog? I’d love to know your thoughts…
If you are lucky enough to have apples in your garden this year, this is the perfect recipe to have up your sleeve. This year has been a bad year for our Bramley apple tree, but I managed to collect a few small apples and we’ve had the tree pruned so finger’s crossed for a better crop next year. Anyway, cooking apples are usually on offer at this time of year and make for a good cake, so there’s no excuse not to make this. It’s homely, perfect as an after-school treat or for visitors with a nice cup of tea…
The smell of apples stewing with cinnamon instantly brings memories of my mother making apple cake using the apples from our garden at home. It would usually be a tray bake and she would use a glass to measure out the ingredients instead of scales. The apple cake would always be large enough to feed the whole family and any visitors. I call it a hidden apple cake, as you can gently push the apples down into the batter and pour any remaining batter over the top.
I’ve made this cake to the same recipe, using a round tin instead of a tray. I’ve also added golden honey to the apples and a touch to the cake batter to give a little extra comfort.
Hidden Apple, Cinnamon and Honey Cake
A simple but very tasty apple cake, with cinnamon and honey.
- For the apples
- 4-5 medium-sized cooking apples
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon soft brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon runny honey
- For the cake batter
- A small knob of butter to grease the tin
- 110g/ 1/2 cup caster sugar
- 125ml/ 1/2 cup runny honey
- 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 240ml/one cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract
- 240g/2 cups self-raising flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- Icing sugar to dust
- Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius/gas mark 4. Grease and line a 23cm spring form tin.
- Peel and core the apples and slice into thin slices. Put them in a pan with the cinnamon, brown sugar and honey and cook very gently for around five minutes. Leave them to one side to cool.
- In a clean bowl bowl (or stand mixer) add the caster sugar, honey, eggs, vegetable oil, cinnamon and vanilla and beat for around three to four minutes until pale.
- Sift in the flour and baking powder and gently fold or mix the flour in with a metal spoon.
- Pour 2/3 of the cake batter into the lined tin. Take a slotted spoon and spoon over the apples (drain away and juice and drink it!) Push the apples down a bit, then pour the rest of the cake batter over the top to cover the apples.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the centre of the cake. Keep an eye on the cake, if it starts to look too golden, place a piece of foil over the top half way through cooking.
- Leave to cool before serving and dust with icing sugar. The cake will keep for up to five days in a tin.
Do you have an apple tree laden with apples this year? What’s your favourite recipe to use them all up?
How have we got to Friday already?! This week, for Family Friendly Friday, I am sharing a recipe by Marco Pierre White for Knorr for a very fruity Christmas Turkey Curry, which is perfect for the whole family, or for entertaining, or for Boxing Day as long as everyone wears a silly jumper.
It took a huge leap of faith for me to add two apples, a banana and half a pineapple into a savoury dish, but it does work. I used the leftovers of a wonderful Kelly Bronze Turkey, very kindly sent to me by Forman and Field and also threw in some leftover roast potatoes and you can even see some of the bacon bits in there too from the trimmings. It hardly needs rice, but of course, if you are feeding a crowd, it will stretch even further served with rice and perhaps some naan bread.
I actually made double the quantity of the sauce and used it again the next day for a king prawn curry (I always have a bag in the freezer) and it was just as good. Chicken would work well too, just remember to blitz the sauce before adding the turkey or whatever you want to add to it. You could also use coconut milk instead of the dessicated coconut and double cream, I think it would give the same flavour but the sauce would be even smoother. I also like a good dollop of natural yoghurt over the top too.
Marco’s Christmas Curry
Recipe courtesy of Knorr and Marco Pierre White
Prep time: 40 mins
Cook time: 45 mins
- 25g plain flour
- 2 Knorr chicken stock pots
- 25g unsalted butter
- ½ a large pineapple, peeled and chopped into chunks
- 2 Cox apples, peeled, roughly chopped
- 1 banana
- 1 small onion, finely chopped onion
- 3 tbsps mild or medium curry powder
- 25g unsweetened desiccated coconut
- 75ml double cream (optional)
- 1kg leftover cold roast turkey, taken off the bone and chopped into chunks (you can also add in chunks of cooked ham or leftover veg like roast potatoes, parsnips or carrots, chopped into chunks).
- Pre-heat the oven to 220˚C/ 425˚F/ Gas Mark 7. Sprinkle the flour in an even layer in an ovenproof frying pan and place it in the oven for 12–15 minutes until lightly browned.
- Meanwhile, as the flour browns, begin cooking the curry. First, take the 2 Knorr Chicken Stock Pots and mix them with a litre of boiling water, stirring until thoroughly dissolved. Set aside.
- Now, heat a large, heavy-based casserole dish on the hob. Add in the butter. Once melted, add in the pineapple and sliced apple. Peel and slice in the banana. Add in the chopped onion.
- Fry stirring with a spatula over a low heat for around 10 minutes until the fruit begins to break down.
- Add in the curry powder, mixing it in well. Cook, stirring, for 2–3 minutes over a low heat. Add in the desiccated coconut and mix in.
- Remove the lightly browned flour from the oven and add it into the curry paste mixture, mixing it in thoroughly.
- Pour in 250ml of the Knorr Chicken Stock, stirring it so that the paste dissolves into the stock.
- Gradually add in the remaining stock, 250ml at a time, stirring in thoroughly after each addition to make sure the sauce is free from any lumps.
- Bring to the boil, simmer for 8–10 minutes, stir in the double cream if using.
- Use a stick blender or a food blender to blitz the sauce or use the back of a ladle to press it down and pass the curry sauce through a fine sieve.
- Return the sieved or liquidised curry sauce to the casserole dish. Add in the cooked turkey chunks, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes until the turkey is heated through.
- Serve and enjoy!
I hope you do try this curry at home, if not over Christmas then perhaps in the New Year. We love it and it is this week’s Family Friendly Friday recipe.
Note: The ingredients for the curry were sent to me by Knorr and Foreman and Field. Many thanks again.
Thank you to everyone who left comments for myself and my sister Wanda on my first Blogoversary! Wanda was greatly encouraged and (I hope) enjoyed writing her first post and sharing her wonderful recipes from Italy.
Today, I wanted to tell you about a cake I made recently, which was a big hit both with my family and at the BBC Three Counties Studio where Nick (My Daddy Cooks) introduced me to the iconic Becky Wiggins (English Mum), foodie and new blogger Christian Carden-Maund (Big Mad Cookery Dad) and wine expert Charles Bennet. I had made a big tray of cake the night before and so took some of it into the studio, but it’s also perfect for Bonfire Night so I will definitely be making it again. Everyone was very kind and said that the cake was yummy. I had a blast listening to the show and meeting English Mum, and I was able to do my weekly ‘Ren Reccommends’ slot live which is always fun! The theme was ‘frugal food’ – Becky’s lamb meatballs and gooey chocolate fudge brownies were to die for and Christian made a great family supper made from leftover roast chicken, mushrooms, sherry and a cream sauce served with a mashed potato gratin. You can find the recipes on the fact sheet here (half way down the page on a red link) and English Mum’s fab write-up of her experience here. A happy day all around!
Anyway, back to the cake. I had spotted it from a mile away on the November cover of BBC Good Food Magazine and was pleased to see that it was, of course, one of Sarah Cook’s recipes. Sarah has also been a great guest on Nick’s show in the past and though I missed her in the studio, I was looking forward to meeting her on a Food Styling Course at Leiths School of Food and Wine . Sarah is the Deputy Food Editor at BBC Good Food there really isn’t much that she doesn’t know about food. What I don’t think I really appreciated is that it is the Food Stylist on a shoot who shops for, prepares and then cooks all the food. They are usually helped by a Props Stylist and perhaps an assistant and they work together with the Food Photographer to create the shoot. Sarah is also a Leiths Diploma graduate and as such, now runs her Food Styling courses there.
This week we had the opportunity of styling our own Greek Salad in the kitchen at Leiths under Sarah’s watchful eye. It was pretty amazing to see how twenty students can come up with twenty very different and unique ideas with a basic selection of fresh ingredients. We’re now half way through the course and at the end we get to style our own food and have Stuart Ovenden, a BBC Good Food photographer, take a professional photo of our food for our portfolio. Eek!
Anyway, at the risk of looking like teacher’s pet, here’s my take on Sarah’s wonderful Spiced Toffee Apple Cake. It’s so good that I have made it twice now and I’m making it again this weekend for Bonfire Night. You make the cake batter, which involves softening a few pitted dates in milk before pureeing them and mixing them with the rest of the cake ingredients. After that, you place finely sliced red apples over the top of the batter. When the cakes cooks, the apples cook too but keep their lovely shape and colour when baked.
Once the cake is cooked, you can drizzle it with Sarah’s quick toffee sauce, which you make by melting toffees in a pan with a splash of milk or, do as I did, and buy one! I actually spotted a sea salted caramel sauce at the shops that I quite fancied, so I just warmed that up and poured it over the top.
Sarah’s Spiced Toffee Apple Cake recipe can be found here on the BBC Good Food Website. It’s a great way of using seasonal autumnal red apples and I just made one other minor change which was that I used cinnamon in place of the mixed spice. I think it’s the clove aspect of mixed spice I’m not fond of, so next time I will be taking Karen up on her idea of blending my own mixed spice.
As this cake makes a perfect tea time treat, I’m sending this post across to an exciting new blog event, jointly hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Kate at What Kate Baked called the Tea Time Treats event – to which we are all cordially invited! The theme this month is Ginger or Bonfire Treats. There’s plenty of time to join in and don’t forget to look out for the round-up which this month will be posted by Karen. As I used autumnal apples, I’ll also be linking it up to Simple and in Season here at Fabulicious Food!