Monday, 2 March 2015

Cookies, Quinoa and a Lighthouse for Fairtrade Fortnight

Today kicks off the second week of Fairtrade Fortnight. I do try to use Fairtrade ingredients when I can but events such as these serve as a timely reminder. As do my children. Both boy and girl have undertaken projects on Fairtrade at school and keep me in check with eagle eyes to seek out the Fairtrade logo in the supermarket. Woe betide me if I buy the wrong bananas. This year’s Fairtrade Fortnight (23rd February to 8th March) is a two-week national campaign that encourages everyone in the UK to “choose products that change lives”. First launched in 1995, the 2015 campaign turns the spotlight on producers who grow some of the British public’s favourite everyday commodities, including cocoa, sugar and tea, to show the difference that Fairtrade makes to their lives. Visit for more information.

Traidcraft, the UK’s leading fair trade organisation have just launched some new and improved cookies and sent us some delicious samples to try. They were devoured by my two, I only got the crumbs. The cookies come in three different flavours, Double Chocolate Chunk, Stem Ginger and Chewy Fruit & Oat and are the first cookies on the market to contain fair trade palm oil. Traidcraft has started working with smallholder palm farmers in Ghana to produce sustainable, ethical palm oil which has a positive impact on both deforestation and the lives of the farmers that produce the oil. That's the way the Fairtrade cookie crumbles.

Fairtrade Foundation sent us a parcel of goodies containing a selection of new Fairtrade products that make a real difference to the lives, and futures, of over 1.4 million farmers and producers in developing countries. Divine 70% Dark Chocolate Hearts, Waitrose Seriously Silky White Chocolate, Pukka Rooibos & Honeybush Tea, Squires Kitchen Sugarpaste (the first in the UK to be Fairtrade Certified) and Quinola Quinoa. I had the Quinoa for lunch and the kids had the chocolate. That doesn't seem a fair trade to me...

I loved the precooked ready-to-eat pearl and black quinoa from Quinola. Sustainable organic, fairly traded and just like Paddington, it hails from Peru. I've had mixed results cooking my own from scratch so ready made is a perfect solution. Fantastically crunchy and made a wonderful salad with a handful of fresh herbs, spring onions and some of my home cured Scottish Salmon. 
Boy and Girl both love working with sugarpaste and quickly staked their claim to the blue and white packs of Squires Kitchen ready to roll sugarpaste. This is the very first sugarpaste in the UK to be Fairtrade certified.

Their plan was to bake and decorate a cake for Foodie Loon's birthday. They scoured Pinterest for blue and white inspiration and came up with the somewhat unlikely offering of a Piñata Lighthouse Cake. I can take no credit for this one at all, bar taking the photos. Perhaps it's not such a random theme for a cake as we did spend A Night at Buchanness Lighthouse.

Mary Berry's 20cm Victoria Sandwich Recipe was used and baked as three separate cakes in 18cm diameter tins. Two layers were sandwiched together with cream and jam with a hole cut out and filled up piñata style with Haribo. The third sponge was cut into ever decreasing circles which were then stacked up with support from jam, cream and a wooden skewer. At this point I did extol the virtues of a naked cake but my words fell on deaf ears

Next came the sugarpaste. They inform me that it was really good to handle with no extra icing sugar required. Not too crumbly and not too sticky. Apparently this is important. I wouldn't know never having tackled this particular beast. I reckon they did a pretty good job with the decoration. Particularly as by this point we were getting a bit pushed for time as we were heading off for a birthday treat of a picnic at Crathes Castle followed by a treetop adventure at Go Ape. Whilst they were most impressed by the marbling effect on their two tone waves, the pièce de résistance as far as I was concerned was definitely the yellow gummi bears and fried egg lights.

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Thursday, 26 February 2015

Rainbow Cakes & Stamped Biscuits for GBBO Comic Relief

You meet all the best people on the Internet these days. During the last series of The Great British Bake Off a group of Aberdeen based fans of the show started meeting up on a weekly basis at each others houses to watch the programme and indulge in a cuppa, a bit of baking chat and lots of cake. Much fun was had and friendships formed. Now the Bake Off is back and this time its for Comic Relief. Again have a valid excuse to get together on a Wednesday night for hilarity and cake. This week it was my turn to be the hostess with the mostess.
My son had received a Bake Off Cookie Set from his sister at Christmas so stamped biscuits definitely had to be made. I'd never attempted any before so put a shout out on Twitter for a recipe that would work well with them. The lovely Sisley at Sew White was among those who answered my plea and shared her Basic Vanilla Biscuits Recipe. I followed the recipe pretty much to the letter although I did it all in the food processor. Everything in at once and blitz. I would recommend working with only half of the dough at a time and keeping the other half in the fridge as it softens up very quickly. It took a few attempts to get the level of force needed for pressing the imprints quite right. Too much pressure and the dough stuck to the stamp but too little and the imprint wasn't entirely visible. Lots of flour on the stamp is a must. I cooked my biscuits for longer than the specified 8-10 minutes. Even after the 15 minutes I gave them I still felt they were a wee bit underdone when it came to eating. 
Once out of the oven I sprinkled them with Gingerbread Spiced Sugar. I was a bit disappointed that the pattern had disappeared rather a lot on some of the biscuits and I fully admit to picking out the best ones for the above photo. For some reason the "Great Bake" ones seemed to be the worst offenders. 
My second bake was a joint effort with my daughter. We both loved the "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" cupcakes that Abby Clancy made for the signature bake on Comic Relief GBBO Week 2. Here's our attempt at recreating them.

Makes 12

100g Butter - softened
100g Caster Sugar
2 Large Free Range Eggs
100g SR Flour
1 Tsp Baking Powder
Red, Green, Yellow & Blue Gel Colouring

Preheat the oven to 180c Fan and prepare a 12 hole bun tin with paper cases.
Cream together the butter and sugar before adding the flour, baking powder and eggs. 
Divide the mixture between 4 bowls and add gel food colouring to each and mix well.
Put a teaspoonful of each colour of mix into each cake case.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.

We were both somewhat crestfallen when our rainbow cakes came out of the oven. They had looked so fantastically vibrant when they went in but the baked colour was much more subdued. We used Dr Oetker Gel but I have since been recommended to use either Wilton or Sugarflair. The Red Nose Day cake cases and toppers are from Sainsbury's. Once broken/bitten open the cakes were more colourful on the inside, in hindsight they would have worked better with icing or buttercream on top and a surprise rainbow interior.

If you've enjoyed watching The Great Comic Relief Bake Off and would like to donate £5 you can text BAKE to 70005. Texts costs £5 + standard network message rate. T&C

Look good as you cook with a Bake Off Apron, Bake like the best with a Comic Relief Recipe Book and download the Great Comic Relief Bake Off Kit with all the bits, bobs, bunting and recipes you’ll need to host a fundraising bake sale.

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Sunday, 22 February 2015

Lurking at the Reduced to Clear Shelf and a Haggis Toastie Recipe

I love the thrill of finding a real bargain in the reduced to clear section at the supermarket. I always stop for a rummage to see what goodies can be had. A mere 10p or 20p off isn't for me. I'm after a proper substantial reduction. But even then it has to be something that I will actually use. I haven't managed to work out what's the best time for price cuts, sometimes I'm lucky, sometimes I'm not. I haven't got it down to a fine art by any means. Bakery products often provide good pickings and I've got a huge chest freezer in my garage which means I can take full advantage. The haul below on the left cost the grand total of £1.30 for 12 tattie scones, 32 Butteries, 24 pancakes and 36 rolls.
In general I'm on the lookout for something that I have a use for immediately, something that can be frozen or something that I can use to make a dish which can then be frozen or lastly fruit and veg to feed Binky & Bugsy our Guinea Pigs! It's a false economy buying something that you're not going to be able to use no matter how cheap it is. Fruit that's on the turn is great for crumbles, preserving, juicing and smoothies, prepacked and prepared veggies make very short work of soup. Chilli's go straight in the freezer and get used from frozen. Herbs can also be frozen as is, chopped up in ice cubes or made into herb butter. Most things can be frozen or turned in to something that can be frozen. Just double check the labels if there's the possibility that something may previously have been frozen. Even then not all is lost as you can cook it and then freeze it.
I've got lots of bargain smoked salmon in the freezer at the moment. I split the giant packs into smaller portions and they will be perfect for sandwiches, salads, mixed through pasta and in decadent scrambled egg breakfasts. The huge ham has been earmarked to be cooked in Ginger Beer and reduced to clear "keep me" bananas soon turn yellow just like their sticker. 12p Shiitake Mushrooms on toast prove most palatable. 

5p reduced to clear Mincemeat post Christmas was just too good a deal to turn down. It has a Best Before date of Aug '15 but I reckon it will be good years beyond that. I put out an appeal on Twitter for ideas to use it and got plenty. Mincemeat Toasties, Mincemeat Pudding, Mincemeat and Apple Strudel, Stuffed Apples, Fruit Loaf, Mincemeat & Apple Shortcake Slice and how could I forget my own Mincemeat Muffins Recipe. Masterchef finalist Brian McLeish suggested Mincemeat Bread & Butter Pudding and Keep Calm and Fanny On extolled the virtues of Fanny Craddock's Mincemeat Omelette. Clearly it is much more versatile than purely for Christmas Pies. To use up half a jar I went for Dom at Belleau Kitchen's Mince Pie FlapJacks. They were gone in a flash.
I took inspiration from Deeny's to use up one of the bargain post Burns Night Haggis from a yellow sticky haul. We are big Haggis fans and this makes a fab variation from the usual Neeps & Tatties on the side. For further recipes see my Burns Night Recipe Roundup with Haggis Puddocks in the Hole, Haggis Oatcakes and Haggis Tattie Scones. These Toasties are also my entry for this month's Tea Time Treats where the theme is Toast, on Toast or Toasties. 

Serves 4

8 Slices Wholegrain/Granary Bread
454g Haggis
Mature Scottish Cheddar Cheese
English Mustard
Chilli Jam

Pop your Toastie maker on to heat.
Remove the haggis from its casing, roughly chop and warm through in the microwave.
For each toastie spread one slice of bread with English mustard topped with haggis and the other with sliced cheese, chilli jam and a handful of rocket.
Sandwich together and pop them in your toastie maker for a couple of minutes until nicely browned and the cheese is melted.

Are you stalker of the yellow labels? I'd love to hear about any fantastic bargains that you've bagged or any top tips regarding when to grab the best deals and how to make the most of what you find. 

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Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Chinese New Year of the Tunnock's Teacake Sheep

Kung Hei Fat Choy - that's Happy New Year in Chinese. In 2015 it falls on February 19th when the year of the Sheep (goat or ram - depending on where you are in the world) kicks off. I love Chinese food, or perhaps I should say that I love what we in the west consider to be Chinese food. I'm never sure how authentic our version actually is.
Edinburgh based Kwan's Kitchen produce a range of authentic stir fry meal kits. They specialise in restaurant quality without the use of msg, artificial flavours, colours or preservatives. I received all four of their kits to try - Sweet Chilli, Blackbean & Garlic, Aromatic Curry and Spicy Szechuan. Each kit is recommended to serve 2 although I had no problem eeking it out to serve the four of us by increasing the quantity of meat and vegetables. The 1,2,3 step process makes it all very quick and easy. Add seasoning to meat, stir fry and add paste, drizzle over oil or add garnish. I was somewhat wary of the Hot 3 Chilli warning on the Spicy Szechuan kit so passed it to a friend as I'm a bit of a woose however Stephen Kwan, MD at Kwan's Kitchen told me that I could have omitted the use of the Szechuan chilli oil just used a little at the end to customise my heat level. Useful to know. We thoroughly enjoyed both the Curry and the Sweet Chilli and following a recommendation on Instagram I'm going to try the Blackbean & Garlic with Scottish Salmon. Details of stockists can be found here. Delighted to see so many close to me in Aberdeenshire.
I loved the Gok Cooks Chinese series on Channel 4 a couple of years back and duly purchased the book. I've made quite a few of the recipes from it but our absolute favourite and the one I keep coming back to is Poppa Wan’s Simple Soy-Glazed Chicken. It really is simple, quick and very tasty. Its also just occurred to me that the Duck Breast & Plum Salad recipe I blogged last week for Valentine's Day could well be considered Chinese. Duck, plums, star anise, ginger, noodles and soy sauce. Now for one of my own, Chinese Chicken Pie. This is perfect for using up leftover chicken after a Sunday roast.

25g Butter
1 Leek
150g Shitake Mushrooms
2 tsp Grated or Lazy Ginger
25g Plain Flour
300g Chicken Stock
100g Frozen Petit Pois
500g Cooked Chicken
1 tsp Chinese Five Spice Powder
142ml Single Cream
1 Sheet Ready Rolled Puff Pastry
1 Beaten Egg
1 tsp Sesame Seed
1 tsp Black Onion Seeds

Preheat your oven to 180c and grease a 1.5 litre ovenproof dish.
Melt the butter in a pan, add the finely chopped leek and cook for 5 minute. Add the sliced mushrooms and ginger and cook for a further couple of minutes until the mushrooms are softened.
Stir in the flour and cook for a minute before slowly adding the chicken stock, stirring all the time, until thickened.
Mix through the peas and chopped cooked chicken. Season with salt and pepper and the Chinese five spice. Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly and mix in the cream.
Pour the filling into the prepared dish and top with the puff pastry, any extra pastry can be used for decoration.
Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame and black onion seeds.
Cook for 30-40 minutes until the filling is bubbling and pastry is golden.

Lastly somewhat of a novelty item for the year of the Sheep. These have been re-purposed from when they were originally created for Aberdeen FC's 2014 Scottish League Cup win and will no doubt also be putting in an appearance as Easter lambs.

Tunnock's Teacakes
Mini Marshmallows
Giant Chocolate Buttons
Milk Chocolate
Royal Icing Sugar or Ready made White Icing or White Chocolate

Melt your chocolate and brush it on to completely cover the teacake. Stick on the mini marshmallows in a single layer all the way round the bottom of the teacake. Continue in layers until the whole teacake is covered. Pop your sheep body in the fridge to set.
Make up icing, melt white chocolate or use ready made icing to draw sheepy faces onto the giant chocolate buttons. I used black nonpareils to give them pupils. Attach the faces to the marshmallowed bodies with either chocolate or icing. Herd them back in the fridge to set.

Enjoy Chinese New Year however you spend it and whatever you eat. Remember that it's traditional to ensure that your house is cleaned from top to bottom before the celebrations start. A thorough cleanse of the house will ensure that all bad luck that has gathered in the previous year is removed. I fear I may have failed on that part. However I did pay a visit to our local Chinese Supermarket last week and came back with loads of goodies, some of which I actually know what they are! Tomorrow may be somewhat of a lucky dip.

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Sunday, 15 February 2015

Pancakes are for life, not just for Shrove Tuesday

I LOVE pancakes of all shapes and sizes. I vividly recall the excitement of coming home from school to find my Mum making a batch. The special treat was always the teeny tiny final pancake made with the very last dribble of batter. Bannocks, Scotch Pancakes, Crepes, Blinis, American Pancakes, Drop Scones. Lots of different names and variations in taste, texture and proportions, way too good to save just for Shrove Tuesday.

My basic pancake recipe is my Grandmothers (she of the famous Grandma Monearn's Shortbread) hence the imperial measurements. I've #SpreadTheMoose on them in the photo above. Alas Moose Maple Butter is not generally available yet but will be launching soon. Keep an eye on their Facebook Page for developments. I can confirm that it is as awesome as you would imagine it to be. The smell and taste is irresistible.


4oz Plain Flour

1 Tbsp Sugar

1 tsp Cream of Tartar

1/2 tsp Bicarb of Soda

Pinch of salt

1 beaten egg


Sieve together all the dry ingredients and make a well. Add beaten egg and mix. Gradually add milk whisking well until you reach a dropping consistency. 
Preheat a buttered griddle or frying pan on the hob. 
Spoon on the batter to the desired size.
Once the pancake starts to bubble turn over with a palette knife to cook the other side. 
Put in between a folded tea towel on a cooling rack to keep warm.
Eat and enjoy!

The basic recipe above can be adapted to make the awesomeness that is Bacon IN Pancakes. These proved a huge hit when I blogged about them earlier this year as part of breakfast week. Much discussion ensued about what they could be named. Suggestions included: Bacakes, Pancon, Pigs in Pancakes, Pigs in Blancakes, Pigcakes, Hamcakes, Smoky Pancakes, Bacon Slippers and Oinkcakes. Another variation on the basic recipe is Pancake Pops. For these simply place a lolly stick on the pancake as it cooks. I'm now pondering the concept of combining both. Pigs in Pancake Pops?!

A new community led food interest group has recently been set up in Aberdeen. The Mixing Bowl was launched in June 2014 but due to date clashes I only managed to get along for the first time last month. Part of the evening was a demonstration of Russian Blinis from Olga Yudina. I fully expected these to be the small buckwheat yeasted versions found in the chilled section at supermarkets for canapes. How wrong was I? They were much more crepe like in shape and size. The real trick seemed to be spreading each one with butter once they were cooked, this enhanced the flavour and stopped them sticking together when stacked. Olga's recipe is available here. I tried my hand at cooking them on the night but definitely want to give them a try at home.They tasted amazing served with berries, jam, mint and creme fraiche. Much like our Shrove Tuesday they are traditionally made for Maslenitsa which is a Russian Festival preceding Lent. It is a celebration of the end of the winter chills and the start of Spring, of warmth, of hope, of growth. 

Given the choice I would tend to opt for savoury over sweet when it comes to crepes. Olga suggested mince and onion topped with creme fraiche, stir fried wild mushrooms, cheese, ham, smoked salmon and traditionally red caviar. I've got a delicious recipe courtesy of Marks & Spenser to share with you which would made a fantastic main meal on pancake day. I wouldn't have thought of using Camembert in a crepe but it worked really well. Just make sure you leave enough room for some sweet pancakes for desert.

Crepes with Ham, Baked Leeks and Tallegio

Ready in 45 minutes, Serves 4

Reproduced with permission of Marks & Spencer


For the crêpes:

125g plain flour

1 large egg
250ml milk
50g butter, melted and cooled

For the filling:
16 baby leeks, trimmed and washed
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp thyme leaves, chopped
8 slices Wiltshire ham
250g Taleggio or Camembert, cut into 8 pieces
4 tbsp fresh pesto

1 Put the flour and a pinch of salt in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Break the egg into the well and whisk, gradually adding the milk as you do so. The batter should be smooth and about the thickness of double cream. Set aside for 20 minutes.
2 Heat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas 5. Put the leeks in a roasting tin. Scatter over the garlic, oil and thyme. Add a splash of water and cover with foil. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until tender.
3 Stir half the melted butter into the crêpe batter. Heat a non-stick 22cm diameter frying pan, and add a little of the remaining melted butter. Pour in a ladleful of the batter and swirl around to coat the base of the pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until golden, then flip the crêpe over and cook for another minute. Transfer to a plate and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining batter to make 8 crêpes.
4 Place a slice of ham, a piece of cheese and 2 leeks on each crêpe, then roll up to enclose. Transfer to a baking sheet and place in the oven for 5 minutes to warm through. Drizzle over the pesto before serving.

Per serving:
665 calories, 38.8g fat (16.8g saturated), 43.8g carbohydrates, 10.7g sugar, 11.5g fibre, 37.8g protein, 2.48g salt

If more proof is required that pancakes are for life, not just for Shrove Tuesday, surely it comes from my Reindeer Pancakes?! Now to get to work on a birthday pancake creation as this year Pancake Day coincides with Foodie Loon's Birthday. It's going to have to be an enormous pancake to fit all those candles on.

Disclaimer : M&S provided me with recipe ingredients and pancake sauces. Maple Moose provided Maple Butter. All views expressed are my own.

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