Recipe: Coffee & Walnut Cupcakes

Over summer I had a *massive* craving for coffee ice-cream. It’s a flavour I absolutely love, but avoid making or buying as W doesn’t react well to caffeine – and believe me nor do I when he keeps me up all night after having some! When I finally got round to grabbing some coffee, we had the classic British problem of ‘it went cold’ and so ice-cream went out of the window and these cupcakes were born.

 photo Coffee Walnut Cupcakes_zpstohzuo5f.jpg photo Coffee Walnut Cupcakes 15_zpsde4gi9re.jpgCoffee and Walnut is a classic sandwich cake combination, but I wanted to keep these a little daintier. I find cupcakes are far easier for sharing at the office too! These cupcakes are light, fluffy, full of coffee flavour, topped off with a delicious vanilla buttercream – giving a really creamy finish that reminds me of fancy coffee drinks. They are quite strong on the coffee front, as I used plenty of coffee grounds (Illy is my brand of choice, gifted as part of my Degustabox collaboration) – however keeping the topping coffee-free ensures, for me at least, they aren’t too strong. A perfect coffee hit, but not bitter or overpowering. Perfect as an afternoon snack!

 photo Coffee Walnut Cupcakes 9_zpsmhb8dmtv.jpgRecipe (makes 9 cupcakes)

  • 100g soft butter, at room temperature
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tsp instant coffee, mixed with 100ml/3½fl oz boiling water, then cooled
  • 25g walnuts, chopped, plus more for topping
  • For the frosting – 200g mascarpone, 2 tbsp golden caster sugar, 2 tsp vanilla extract

Line a  bun tin with 9 fairy cake cases. Beat the butter and sugar together, then add the egg in gradually, beating well. Add the flour and fold in, followed by around 4 tsp of the coffee and a pinch of salt until creamy. Stir through the chopped walnuts, then evenly spoon the mix into the cases. Bake for at 180C for around 20 minutes, then allow to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, pop the mascarpone, vanilla and the sugar into a large bowl, then beat together. Spread a dollop of the frosting onto the top of each cake, then finish with some more walnuts. Enjoy – though don’t do as I did and enjoy as an evening snack at gone 10pm!
 photo Coffee Walnut Cupcakes 7_zps2asjutb4.jpg photo Coffee Walnut Cupcakes 14_zpsr2997ttr.jpg

Are you a fan of cupcakes, or do you prefer a slice of a larger cake? 

Recipe: Dips for a Dinner Party

One of my favourite things to do, although admittedly we don’t do it nearly as often as I’d like, is to have friends round for dinner. Our dream is to actually one day host a supper club for charity, although I think we’re a way off doing that right now. I love it all – the meal-planning, conversation-starter planning, the enforced cleaning of the flat. I’m also a feeder, so filling people up with food I’ve prepared just makes me happy!

 photo Dinner Party Dips_zpsmeqryxh2.jpg photo Vegetarian Dips for a Dinner Party 3_zpsrpgij66k.jpgI’m a fan of trying to keep things as relaxed as possible (whilst W is good at the fancy stuff – egg yolk ravioli being a memorable starter he once made – I like to keep things simple). My ideal starter is a mix of bits and bobs for guests to pick at, and this post is all about my go-to options right now. These recipes came about when we had another couple round for a Thursday night dinner. It was in the middle of the heatwave so I wanted to avoid having another hot thing to eat, but I wanted something to go vaguely with our Middle Eastern main (a roasted carrot dish). A trio of dips and various breads did just the job.

I think if you’re doing something like this, you do need at least three dips. Keep them different (no point doing three variations on hummus, no matter how tasty it is!), keep them interesting. Add in some spice, some creaminess, some zing, some freshness. Keep it exciting. Here’s three of my favourites…

 photo Vegetarian Dips for a Dinner Party 11_zpsmg5uchoc.jpg photo Vegetarian Dips for a Dinner Party 8_zpsznmkpicg.jpgRoasted Courgette & Tahini

  • 1 large courgette
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • juice and zest of ½ a lemon
  • 1 tbsp Greek yogurt
  • handful of mint, leaves only, chopped

Wrap the whole courgette in foil, then put in the oven and roast for 30 minutes at 220C, or until soft when pricked with a fork. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely – I did this in the morning, then just left them to cool whilst I was at work during the day.

Put the cooled courgette in a food processor (no need to peel), with the garlic and blend. Add the tahini and lemon juice and season, then blitz again. Transfer to a bowl, then stir through the yogurt and a little of the mint. Season to taste, and scatter over the remaining mint to serve.

 photo Vegetarian Dips for a Dinner Party 9_zps6czpge6c.jpg photo Vegetarian Dips for a Dinner Party 16_zpsbfmjyqvw.jpgTurmeric Spiced Hummus

  • 400g tin of chickpeas
  • 1 lemon, juice and zest
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground chilli
  • 2 cloves of peeled garlic
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp tahini

Drain and rinse the chickpeas, then add to a small saucepan and heat over a low heat until warm. Tip into a food processor and add the spices, lemon zest and juice, tahini and garlic. Blend whilst the chickpeas are still hot, then gradually add the oil and water until you have the consistency you want. Season to taste, then serve drizzled with a little extra olive oil.

 photo Vegetarian Dips for a Dinner Party 19_zpsblrpn8mk.jpg photo Vegetarian Dips for a Dinner Party 7_zpsc31viznm.jpgWhipped Feta

  • 200g feta cheese
  • 200g plain Greek yoghurt
  • Half a lemon, juiced
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp ground sumac

Crumble the feta into a bowl, then add the yoghurt and whisk until the cheese is completely broken up and becomes creamy. You can do this in a blender, but I find the texture best if done by hand. Add the lemon juice and mix again. Put the ​dip in a serving bowl and dress the surface with the olive oil and then sprinkle over some sumac.

I tried to keep these varied – different colours, different flavours, which worked really well. Each had something different to bring to the party. The Roasted Courgette dip brings some freshness, whilst the Turmeric Hummus was full of flavour and subtle spice. The Whipped Feta – well, it brings cheese which makes everything better! Served with some pitta bread, some crispy baked pitta chips and some breadsticks I could have eaten this for hours!

 photo Vegetarian Dips for a Dinner Party 10_zpshi9dblhc.jpg photo Vegetarian Dips for a Dinner Party 15_zps4kwk2ksx.jpgI warn you, though. Dips and breads are dangerous if you’re like me – I ate far too much of these and couldn’t finish the rest of my meal!

Are you a fan of dips and breads? Which one of these would be your favourite? I’m in love with the Whipped Feta!

Recipe: Cheesy Courgette & Spinach Muffins

Yet another courgette recipe from me! I just can’t get enough of this vegetable, so versatile and great for bulking out dishes and adding a little bit more towards your five-a-day.

 photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins_zpsjhp3wsfg.jpgThese muffins are the perfect rainy day snack. Best served warm (I zap in the microwave at work), they’re delicious split in half and spread with salted butter, or perfect alongside some soup. Having said that they do work quite nicely at room temperature along with a platter of cured meat, more cheese and some salad, so they’d be great for a picnic. I can imagine them being a hit with children too, just maybe grate the courgette finely and chop the spinach really well if they’re particularly veg-phobic!

 photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins 5_zpsdeuqun4z.jpg photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins 17_zpswy7jwulf.jpgUnfortunately this recipe doesn’t use a *huge* amount of courgette so it won’t be that great if you’ve got a glut of it in your garden, but it does use around 1 small one and the muffins freeze well for a couple of months which helps!

 photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins 21_zps0hog0daz.jpg photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins 27_zpssqnywgbp.jpg photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins 19_zps2kp3vbat.jpgRecipe – makes 12 muffins

  • 125g courgette
  • 50g feta cheese
  • 75g cheddar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 75g baby spinach
  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 250ml milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp dried herbs, I used a mix of basil and oregano
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds, for sprinkling

Coarsely grate the courgette into a large mixing bowl. Crumble the feta into the bowl and sprinkle over 75g grated cheddar. Roughly chop the spinach, and add along with the flour, baking powder, salt, herbs and plenty of black pepper. Beat the milk and eggs together then stir into the bowl; lightly mix until everything is just combined. Spoon into the muffin cases (around 2 tbsp in each) and sprinkle over the pumpkin seeds and extra cheese.

Bake for around 30 minutes at 180C until firm, golden and a skewer comes out cleanly. Allow to cool for 10 minutes;  then remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

 photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins 20_zpsna12sqkc.jpg photo Cheesy Courgette Muffins 18_zpsdo0qnr9e.jpgI reckon you could easily switch these up. Add some extra hints of summer with some dried-tomatoes, add some finely chopped crispy bacon. I also think you could use this recipe to make a riff on cornbread – add some spices, stir through some corn and bake as normal. Yum!

Are you a fan of savoury muffins?

Recipe: Pork, Lemon & Dill Casserole with Parmesan Dumplings

This was one of my favourite recipes that I developed last winter. Originally inspired by this recipe in Delicious Magazine (seriously the best foodie magazine – we’ve loved every issue we’ve read), it’s both rich and indulgent whilst still feeling fairly fresh thanks to the lemon and dill.

 photo Slow Cooked Pork with Lemon Dill and Parmesan 11_zpscxgnpqez.jpgSlow cooking pork is something I rarely do, however I know I’ll be hunting down more recipes this Autumn as it was impossibly tender, full of flavour and a bit of a bargain. Even splurging out and picking up the meat at the butchers gave us plenty of change from a tenner (and the big pot easily made six servings, and would have served more had we managed to be more self-restrained). It does, I think, require a bit more care than beef as the browning is crucial to the colour and flavour of the final dish, but it’s well worth it.

The rest of the casserole is filled wih veggies – carrots, shallots, leeks and celery. It’s braised in a combination of chicken stock, sherry and lemon juice, with a small amount of dream stirred in near the end of the cooking time along with a handful of dill. The dill sounds unusual, but trust me on this – it totally works. And the dumplings are a revelation. I usually make mine with suet, but these are lighter – yoghurt, flour, parmesan and more dill combine to more pillowy dumplings and when scattered with more Parmesan crisp up beautifully (even if you forget to take the lid off the pot and turn the oven up – hence my slightly pale looking ones!). Whilst I’ll never abandon my belowed suet toppings for a good old beef stew, these are definitely good. And if you don’t fancy them? This stew is equally as delicious with mashed potato (ideally with mustard) or some good bread.

 photo Slow Cooked Pork with Lemon Dill and Parmesan 5_zpsngmgvi1e.jpgRecipe (serves at least 6, freezes well without the dumplings)

  • Olive oil for frying
  • 
1.5kg diced pork shoulder, tossed 
in 3 tbsp plain flour mixed with 1 tsp mustard powder and plenty of black pepper
  • 6 banana shallots, halved lengthways
  • 5 large carrots, halved, sliced diagonally into 1cm pieces
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 3 celery sticks, sliced into 1cm pieces
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 150ml dry sherry
  • 750ml chicken stock
  • 
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 
40g plain flour
  • Zest and juice 1 lemon
  • 
60ml single cream
  • 
Small bunch fresh dill
  • 30g parmesan, grated
  • For the parmesan dumplings – 
150g self-raising flour, 
150g full-fat greek yogurt, 
25g parmesan, grated, 1/2 bunch fresh dill (reserve the rest for scattering over when serving)

Heat a glug of oil in a casserole pan and try the pork in batched until browned all over. Transfer to a bowl using 
a slotted spoon, before adding a little more oil to the casserole along with the vegetables. Fry for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the 
vegetables are starting to soften. Add the garlic and fennel seeds and fry for 1 minute, then return 
the pork to the casserole with 
any resting juices. Add the sherry and bubble for 5 minutes until slightly reduced, then add the 
stock and wholegrain mustard. Put the lid on the casserole and transfer to the oven, cooking for 2 hours at 160C.

When the two hours is nearly done, mix the 40g plain flour with the lemon zest and juice, then add a little water to form a smooth, creamy paste. Stir the paste into 
the casserole when the 
2 hours’ cooking time is up, then allow to cook for 10 or so more minutes whilst you make the dumplings.

Put the 150g self-raising flour and yogurt in a mixing bowl with the parmesan and chopped dill, then season with salt and pepper. Using your hands, bring the mixture together to form a soft dough, then shape into 8 dumplings. Remove the casserole and turn the oven up to 220C. Stir the cream into the casserole along with most of the chopped dill, then top with the dumplings. Sprinkle the 30g parmesan over the top, then return to the oven for 20 minutes (without the lid) until the dumplings are puffed and golden. Serve scattered with the extra dill fronds and some green veg – it’s delicious with kale or cavelo nero.

 photo Slow Cooked Pork with Lemon Dill and Parmesan 2_zpssg7d2pz7.jpg photo Slow Cooked Pork with Lemon Dill and Parmesan 10_zps35uy0u9d.jpgAnd that’s it – it may be slightly more involved than my usual beef stew recipe, but it’s absolutely delicious. I imagine it would work perfectly well in a slow cooker, then you’d just need to transfer to the oven for the dumplings – or just serve with mash. I also quite like it with buttery jacket potatoes…

Are you a fan of slow cooked stews and casseroles? What’s your go-to recipe?

Recipe: Courgette & Orange Loaf Cake

I promised a recipe for this Courgette & Orange Loaf Cake a few weeks ago (when I spoke about my favourite ways to use up a courgette glut) – and here it is. In fact this is probably perfectly timed, as courgettes are still coming through, but I have noticed them starting to be a little more bitter, more ‘woolly’ and not their best. This recipe will certainly transform below-par courgettes into something delicious.

 photo Courgette Orange Loaf Cake_zps789aalfg.jpgPacked with citrus flavours (I added lemon zest as well as orange for a real zingy hit) you’d never guess this is filled with a vegetable. I mean, it’s still not a healthy cake by any means, but it is slightly less guilt-inducing! The courgette doesn’t really impact much flavour, but what it does bring to the party is an amazing texture. The loaf cake is moist and tender, but still has a good ‘cake’ feel. It’s not mushy by any means! And it also seems to taste really well, in fact it was almost even beter after a day in the fridge (I wouldn’t usually keep cakes in the fridge, but cream cheese frosting and the UK heatwave wasn’t a combination I wanted to try out!).

 photo Courgette amp Orange Loaf Cake 5_zpsn5m9gfsz.jpg photo Courgette amp Orange Loaf Cake 18_zps8bqddjvz.jpg photo Courgette amp Orange Loaf Cake 15_zpsuhv0k6uw.jpgRecipe (makes a large 900g loaf tin- though I made mine in mini-loaf tins for ease of portioning out to various offices – based on a BBC Good Food recipe)

  • 350g courgettes
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 125ml sunflower oil
  • 3 eggs
  • grated zest 2 oranges
  • grated zest 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp orange extract (we used Dr Oetker*)
  • 300g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Frosting – I wasn’t too impressed with my attempt at the frosting and so won’t give the recipe, but next time I’d try this recipe

Lightly oil and line a 900g loaf tin. Finely grate the courgettes (no need to peel unless the skin is particular though), then squeeze out as much liquid as you can with your hands. I also let the grated courgettes sit in a sieve, weighted with a bowl filled with baking beans, whilst I weighed everything else out.

Stir the courgettes with the sugar, oil, eggs, zest, and orange extract, then fold in the flour and baking powder. Like with banana bread it’s really important not to overmix or the texture will be doughy and not particularly cake-like. I found the mix was particularly dry and stiff, but don’t worry as the courgettes release a lot of water as the cake cooks.

Scrape the mixture into the tin and bake for 50 minutes at 180C, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean (mine needed an extra ten minutes). Remove from the tin after a few minutes, and the cool on a wire rack. Make sure the cake is completely cool before icing with your chosen frosting.

 photo Courgette amp Orange Loaf Cake 12_zpshmh8ruae.jpg photo Courgette amp Orange Loaf Cake 3_zpscup8eypb.jpgThis Courgette & Orange Loaf went down a storm when I took it into the office – it’s actually been my most popular bake and disappeared before lunch. I was very glad I’d left a slice at home for me to enjoy later or I wouldn’t have got a look in…

Are you a fan of vegetable cakes? Would you choose to bake with courgette?

Recipe: Chipotle Chicken Tacos with Sweetcorn & Avocado Salsa (+ 5 Favourite Ways to Use up Roast Chicken)

Bad Millennial alert, but I hated avo until a couple of months ago. Now I can’t get enough of the stuff, and this is the recipe which converted me!

 photo Chicken Tacos with Sweetcorn amp Avocado Salsa 3_zpslaqquyzd.jpgMost Sundays in our house involve a roast of some sort, even if it’s just the two of us eating. In fact, especially if it’s just the two of us eating – purely because we get yummy leftovers for a few days. A whole chicken is invariably our meat of choice, it’s generally the cheapest option and the leftovers are SO versatile. From a large bird we tend to get our Sunday dinner out of one, plus two more dinners, some stock and a couple of lunches (or another dinner) too. Bargain!

Whether you’re roasting your own chicken or buying one of the pre-cooking rotisserie ones from the supermarket (love the garlicky ones!) you can do SO much with the leftovers. Such, have chicken sandwiches for the rest of the week, but you could also get inventive. And these chicken tacos are my all-time favourite…

The Corn & Avocado salsa recipe is based on this one from Chelsea’s Messy Apron, and it’s bladdddyyyy delish! I’ve simplified it down as I prefer to bulk out the chicken filling with onion, I’ve ditched any tomato and kept it really simple and just tossed the veggies in some lime juice and a spot of seasoning. I don’t think it needs anything else as the flavours are so light and fresh!

 photo Chicken Tacos with Sweetcorn amp Avocado Salsa 3_zpslaqquyzd.jpgRecipe – serves 2

  • 2 servings leftover roast chicken, shredded – around 2 medium handfuls
  • 1 onion, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp chipotle paste
  • Zest and juice of 1 lime (half the juice goes into the chicken, half in the salsa)
  • 2 avocados, diced
  • 150g sweetcorn
  • 1 pack fresh coriander, chopped
  • 6 soft tacos
  • Soured cream and/or feta, to serve

First up, prep your sweetcorn by popping it into a dry frying pan over a high heat until it’s a little charred. We actually use frozen sweetcorn and defrost it in the pan this way – if you’re using tinned you may want to rinse it as I find the water can sometimes make the salsa over-sweet. Allow the corn to cool in the pan.

Meanwhile, take another pan and heat over a medium heat. Add a little oil and a pinch of salt, then fry the onion until beginning to soft. Add in the chipotle paste and stir to combine – you could also add in other spices such as cumin, paprika and coriander just here, or a little extra chilli. Throw in your chicken and stir-fry until piping hot, before squeezing in the juice of half a lime.

Prep your avo at the last minute, dicing it and then adding to a pop with the lime zest, remaining juice and a little salt. Toss in the cooled sweetcorn and plenty of coriander, then serve alongside the chicken with some taco wraps, soured cream and feta. And that’s it! My current favourite Monday-night supper of super-easy Chipotle Chicken Tacos with Corn and Avocado Salsa!

 photo Roast Chicken and Leftovers1_zpsrqiaohag.jpg photo Roast Chicken and Leftovers3_zps5xnu8rm4.jpg And if you don’t fancy tacos? Here are another five of my favourite ways to use up leftover roast chicken:

  • Pie, ideally one combining Chicken, Ham & Leek. I’ll be posting an updated version of this recipe soon!
  • French-style salad – heated chicken combined with lentils, green beans, salad leaves and a soft-boiled egg in a vinaigrette dressing. So, so good!
  • Pasta bakes – mushroomy if possible!
  • Stir-fries. You just can’t go wrong with adding shredded chicken into noodles.
  • Sweetcorn Bacon and Chicken Chowder. This is one of my favourite recipes, and I always like to have a tub leftover to freeze as it’s just so comforting.

Are you a fan of cooking a roast and using up the leftovers? What’s your go-to use for roast chicken?

Recipe: Cheat’s Chocolate Mousse

One of my all-time favourite desserts is a chocolate mouse. My go-to recipe involves Mars Bars, but the one I’m writing about today is super-simple, super-quick and a total cheat. There’s no separating and whisking of eggs. There’s no melting chocolate. It doesn’t have to be left to set for hours, though does benefit from a session chillin’ in the fridge.

 photo Cheats Chocolate Mousse_zpstugauofq.jpgBasically, grab a pot of cream from the corner shop and you can make an impromptu chocolate mousse providing you, like me, keep some hot chocolate powder in the house. I favour a Swiss brand, Caotina Original (this isn’t a sponsored post btw!) as it’s ridiculously chocolately and indulgent without being over rich. We bulk by it each time we visit Switzerland, or get friends who visit to grab us a pack.

 photo Cheats Chocolate Mousse 8_zpsizvmvvki.jpgRecipe – generously serves 2-3

  • 300ml double cream
  • 6 heaped tsp of hot chocolate powder, or more to taste

First up, whip your cream into soft peaks. I find the best texture is achieved by hand, but you could use a stand mixer or electric hand whisk if you want. Once whipped, sift over the hot chocolate powder and gently fold through to combine, being careful not to knock any air out. Chill until ready to serve.

And that’s it! This cheat’s chocolate mousse, made with no-eggs and just hot chocolate powder, is so ridiculously easy. In fact, it’s dangerously easy as it’s all too quick and simple to make if you fancy a treat!
 photo Cheats Chocolate Mousse 1_zpsbfx7jyi0.jpg

What’s your go-to dessert?

Food: Why Buy a Degustabox Subscription?

Recently I’ve been gifted an ongoing monthly subscription to Degustabox* in exchange for some honest reviews – and whilst I’ve not yet reviewed a full box (you can see an overview of July’s box here, as well as in my Instagram Story highlights on my profile) today I’m going to talk about whether the boxes are worth it.

 photo Degustabox August 4_zpszzgwe8gs.jpgSo, what is a Degustabox?

It’s a monthly box containing new releases or loved favourites from trusted big brands, smaller more independent suppliers and upcoming foodie start-ups. At a cost of £12.99 a month you get a fairly hefty box containing a good selection of items (10-15 according to their site). I do get a combination of the alcohol and non-alcohol box, but even so I’ve been pretty impressed with the quantity of items I’ve received. In the latest box (received at the end of August) we received a box of Dorset Cereals granola, some hemp milk from Good Hemp, some Illy instant coffee, 2 Gunna drinks, some Crooked alcholic soda, 2 packs of Maggi noodles (including a delicious Sticky Duck flavour), a tin of tuna fillets, some LioBites dried fruit snacks and some *delicious* cereal bars from Boka. Not bad if you ask me!

But why exactly do I love receiving my box? Read on to find out…

Discovering New Brands

I’m really quite bad at sticking to what I know. If I was buying coffee I’d rarely stray away from brands that I’ve grown up with (despite knowing it’s not the best coffee). If I was looking for an alcoholic treat I’d generally avoid ‘cans’ as it reminds me too much of being a teenager. However Degustabox has introduced me to some fab brands which I’d never have tried otherwise – both the Crooked alcoholic soda in the August box and the Rosie’s Pig Rhubarb Cider in the July box are going to become firm favourites.

By far and away, however, my favourite brand I’ve discovered is Capsicana. We had a packet of their
Brazilian Smoked Paprika & Spices in the July box – we used it to marinate some yellow-sticker steaks before serving with a black bean and sweet potato salad. It was delicious – a tad too spicy given we used the whole of the packet between two, but we really enjoyed the more unusual flavour profile. We’ll be checking out more of their products for sure!

 photo Degustabox August 1_zpsvrzusd6r.jpgForcing Me To Try New Things

Similar to the point above, I know what I like. I stick to the usual cornflakes and weetabix when buying cereal, if I buy non-dairy milk it’s always hazelnut. The Dorset Cereals has opened my eyes to the world of granola possibilities (I mean, raspberries, toasted spelt and popped buckwheat?! Yum!), whilst trying Hemp Milk has been interesting – it might not be something I’d jump at buying again, but it wasn’t too bad.

Trying Exclusive Products

Whether they are new releases not available in shops yet, or products only generally available for retailers to buy in bulk, there’s been a couple of exciting things pop up in my boxes. As a child I LOVED mixing ribena with lemonade, so the bottles of sparkling Ribena in the July box made me smile. Likewise we’ve also received some lower-sugar Rowntree sweets which I’ve not spotted on the shelves yet…

Rediscovering Old Favourites

It’s not all new and exciting products in the boxes – some are old and exciting too! Whilst a pot of Cadbury’s Instant Hot Chocolate certainly isn’t ground-breaking, having a tub on my desk at work is perfect for when a sweet-tooth hits mid-afternoon. In fact given I’ve been exclusively drinking a rather more calorific Swiss hot chocolate for the last year, I’d forgotten how much I enjoy this lighter version…

The Surprise Factor

Generally our meals are planned with military precision to avoid food waste and minimise our shopping bill – Degustabox gives us a bit of a surprise and allows us to experiment a bit more. Whether it’s a bag of fancy crisps we would never have otherwise picked up (the London Crisp salt’n’vinegar is lush!) or random spice mixes, we know we’ll have something new and exciting to try.
 photo Degustabox August 3_zpscdejk0e9.jpg

*I received a monthly Degustabox in return for some honest reviews and social media posts, but as always all thoughts and opinions are my own. If you wanted to give them a try you can use the code N63R7 to get a cheeky discount!

Are you a fan of trying out new brands and products? Would you subscribe to Degustabox?

Recipe: Indulgent Cauliflower Cheese Risotto

Interestingly, when I first posted this on Instagram describing it as a Cauliflower Risotto I got lots of comments assuming I’d replaced the rice with cauliflower. Whilst that did give me the idea for my Low-Carb Mushroom Risotto, this  recipe is far from as virtuous.

 photo Cauliflower Cheese Risotto_zpsuubwk5mw.jpgInstead, this dish combines the creamy, luxurious texture of a perfectly cooked risotto, with the decadent flavours of the gooiest cauliflower cheese. It’s not low-carb, it’s far from low-fat, and it’s also my least authentic risotto recipe. But this dish is bloody delicious. The perfect comfort food on a cold night, the risotto flavour that almost replaced mushroom as my all-time favourite.

It starts off as a pretty standard risotto, albeit there is finely chopped cauliflower stalks sautéed in with the onion and celery. Cauliflower florets (alongside any smaller leaves) are roasted, then tossed in butter. Some are stirred into the risotto, others are left as a garnish. To add to the cauliflower cheese elements of this risotto, cheddar is added alongside parmesan – Italians would be horrified, but I do feel it works well here.

Cauliflower Cheese Risotto. I dreamt it up on a rainy commute home from work, but it’s become a favourite.

 photo Cauliflower Risotto 5_zpsbs1kse1p.jpgRecipe (serves 2 generously)

  • 50g butter
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, or a pinch of dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf, dried or fresh
  • 1 onion
  • 1 stick celery
  • 1 small cauliflower, or half a larger one – stalk finely chopped, florets broken into small-medium pieces and the smaller leaves retained
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 150g risotto rice
  • 1 litre of vegetable stock
  • 1 handful each of parmesan and cheddar, finely grated, plus extra parmesan to serve

Melt half of the butter in a large saucepan, then fry the onion, celery and chopped cauliflower stalk along with the thyme and bay leaf over a low heat for around 10 minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic and fry for 2-3 minutes, then increase the heat and add the risotto rice. Toast, stirring constantly, for 1 minute then add around 100ml of the stock. Stir continually until absorbed, add more stock – then continue adding stock gradually and stirring until the rice is cooked – around 20 minutes. You may not need all of the stock, or you may need to use a little additional hot water.

Meanwhile, toss the cauliflower florets in a little oil and lots of salt and black pepper. Spread out on a baking tray and roast at 180C for 10 minutes. Add the smaller leaves, stir and continue to roast for another 10 minutes, or until tender and golden (if some of the smaller florets and browner and crispier this is fine). Once done, toss the cauliflower with the remaining butter. Add most of the cauliflower to the cooked risotto, retaining the leaves and a few florets for garnish.

Once cooked, remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the cheddar and parmesan. Cover with a lid and leave to stand for 5 minutes, then serve with extra parmesan.

 photo Cauliflower Risotto 7_zpsvljtjfzs.jpgThat’s it, Cauliflower Cheese Risotto. It combines two of my favourite foods in the most spectacular way, resulting in an indulgent, creamy, cheesy dish. My idea of heaven.

Are you a risotto or cauliflower cheese fan?

Food: All The Courgette Recipes (including a Courgette, Mint & Feta Puff Pastry Tart)

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll probably have gotten the impression that I love courgette (or zucchini if you’re over the pond!) – and you’d be right! My all-time favourite summer veg, it’s got a weekly place on our shopping list, and I nearly bit my boss’ arm off when he offered me some homegrown in his garden. It’s the perfect vegetable to cram into risottos or pasta dishes, it’s great used to bulk out sauces, it makes delicious chutney and it’s even good in cake. What more could you want in a vegetable?!

 photo Courgette Recipes_zpswmcoregu.jpgA lot of people don’t quite understand my love for courgettes, and when quizzed they’ve only had them boiled (ick!) or roasted, with little flavour added and care taken. Treated nicely a courgette is tender, almost sweet and has the most beautiful subtle flavour. I honestly love them – and this post includes just a few of my favourite ways to use them!

 photo Courgette Fritters 1_zpsttnvfkrw.jpgCourgette Fritters

I blogged about courgette fritters a few years ago, and it’s a recipe I still use to this day. Sometimes I’ll add feta, sometimes I’ll throw in a spring onion. I love adding mint (courgette and mint goes SO well together!), sometimes I’ll spice them up a little. Yum! I also love these cold as a little lunchbox filler…

 photo Courgette Risotto 2_zpslzqwzso4.jpgCourgette Risotto

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know that my all-time favourite comfort food is, without question, a risotto. I love the creaminess, the carb overload, the cheesiness. The fact that I can thrown whatever I have in the fridge in and it will always taste good. My Courgette Risotto is subtle but combines lemon and basil along with plenty of Parmesan – lush!

Courgette Pasta

Adding courgette to pasta dishes is my go-to way of using them. I’ve added a couple of grated ones to my tomato-free Bolognese sauce (they cook down to virtually nothing, bulking out the source with even more veg and adding another subtle layer of flavour). My favourite summer pasta recipe is a copy-cat version of a Bella Italia dish, but I also love roasting courgette strips for barely five minutes, then mixing into pasta along with peas, lemon juice and feta…

My favourite courgette pasta dish though? A take on this recipe by Half Baked Harvest. I fried courgette slices for around 15 minutes over a medium heat, sloshed in some wine and garlic, mashed a little with the back of a spoon, and continued to cook (on a lower heat) whilst I boiled some pasta. Adding the pasta with a good ladle of cooking water, butter and parmesan combined it all into a thick and flavourful sauce. Finished with more cheese and some torn basil it was simple, tasty and just the kind of honest bowl of food I like to eat.

Griddled Courgette Salad

One thing I *don’t* like is raw courgette – I find it a weird texture, a tad bitter and just not that enjoyable. However, grill it, dress it, leave it to cool and then serve in a salad is something I can totally get on board with. I like to throw thin-ish slices on my George Foreman (well, fake cheapy one!), then pop into a bowl when soft. Toss with lemon, olive oil and plenty of seasoning then allow to cool (the courgettes soak up this dressing like a sponge) before tossing with salad leaves. Perfect as a side, but I’ll also add a little feta and maybe some pumpkin seeds to turn this into a lunchtime meal.

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Courgette & Orange Loaf Cake

I feel a bit mean including this one, as I’m not actually going to give you the recipe! What I will say is that courgette cake is absolutely delicious, and the recipe is worth waiting for (I’ll post it soon, I promise!). This loaf cake was like a lighter version of carrot cake, less heavily spiced with cinnamon, but zingier from the orange. I took it into work and there was only two slices left at lunchtime, which says it all!

Courgette, Feta & Mint Tart

This is probably my favourite courgette recipe of 2018 – and it’s super simple too making use of ready-rolled pastry. The mint adds such a nice and fresh flavour, but if you’re not a fan you could leave it out, or even try mixing it up with basil or dill. The key is to not arrange the courgette strips ‘prettily’ but pile them on and just ensure they are reasonably evenly distributed around the tart. Some of them will catch and lightly char in the oven, others will soften and caramelise. The feta adds seasoning, and the base of the tart is lovely and crisp. The perfect picnic treat!

 photo Courgette Feta and Mint Pastry Tart 8_zps2gt7ztlm.jpgRecipe (Serves 4 as a picnic snack or light lunch)

  • 2 small courgettes
  • 1/2 pack ready-rolled puff pastry
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2-3 tbsp creme fraiche, I used low-fat
  • 3 spring onions, finely sliced
  • Some fresh mint, leaves only
  • Some feta, as much or as little as you like
  • Some olive oil, for drizzling

First off, simply peel thecourgettes with a veg peeler so you’ve got lots of long strips. Toss through a pinch of salt, then pop in a sieve, put a bowl on top and weigh it down with something heavy (I used a packet of rice!). Leave the courgettes for around 20 minutes, and preheat a baking tray in the oven. When the courgettes are ready, take the pastry and score an edge around 1cm from the borders. Brush the edges with a little beaten egg yolk, then mix the remaining egg yolk with the creme fraiche, spring onions and a handful of chopped mint. Spread the mixture over the middle of the pastry, and then top with the courgette strips. Sprinkle over some feta, drizzle with a little olive oil, carefully slide onto the hot tray and bake at 200C for around 25 minutes, or until golden and crispy. Serve warm or at room temperature – it’s delish!

 photo Courgette Feta and Mint Pastry Tart 5_zpsfrikxu3a.jpgI’m still going mad for different courgette recipes – next I’m hoping to try this frittata recipe to add to my list of lunchbox fillers, I also want to try adding it to a bean burger. I’ve also seen a couple of dips made from courgette around, which I HAVE to try before summer is out. I imagine it will be perfect with homemade pittas…oh, and I love them stir-fried for a few minutes, then dresses in a soy-garlic-ginger dressing. SO good, it’s a great light lunch option served with a little brown rice.

Are you are courgette/zucchini fan? What’s your favourite way to cook them?