(Wo)man cannot survive on writing alone | beetroot & fennel purée


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Vegetable purée

You know you’ve been away too long when WordPress doesn’t remember your password and asks if you want to create a blog. No thank you WP I’ve already got one.

It has been a sorry few months for the ol’ blog and all things related: camera has lain redundant, recipes have remained un-noted and perhaps a drop in interest on my part has resulted in less interesting culinary creations. The only thing that has been well serviced are my hands at the keyboard as I have been writing like a maniac … but not for the blog: my mind has been a-whirring with stories and poems galore while food making and writing have taken a very far back seat. As in “Uh, heLLO? Is anyone THERE?”

But man (or woman) cannot survive on writing alone and whilst over the last weeks the edible matter has become a mere accomplice to my whimsical escritorial creations, serving only to fuel my mind and certainly not my blog, I have known all along that it would sometime return to centre stage. After all, I have a food blog don’t I?

So, let’s restart with something simple. Beetroot, fennel & onion purée It forms part of a special meal I made a few weeks back, so by posting it I’m only gonna have to post the rest of the meal as well. But I’ll take it easy on you (and me) by doing the thing in stages – far less daunting!

Beetroot purée


1 large onion (100g)

25g butter

1/2 medium fennel (about 100g)

 2 large cooked, skinned beetroot (not in vinegar) (250g)

Small bunch of dill

Salt and pepper

Beetroot fennel purée

Peel and dice the onion. In a small pan melt the butter then add the onion. Place the lid on the pan and sweat on a gentle heat for about 5 minutes.

Fennel purée

Meanwhile remove the roots from the fennel, peel off the layers and rinse them before chopping into rough dice (as a fennel ingénue some years back I didn’t know what parts you could eat. Good news: you can eat it all! My kind of veg.) Add this to the onion pan, give it all a stir then sweat again for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until everything is soft. Leave to cool.

Fennel purée

Roughly chop the beetroot and the dill, reserving a few sprigs for garnish.

Place all of the ingredients except the reserved dill a blender or liquidizer and whizz until all is puréed to a smooth mixture (or use a hand blender although the effect may not be quite so smooth). Season to taste and serve.

Try this as a dip for breadsticks or as a base for a hefty beef and horseradish sandwich. It’s also great with fish.

 Beetroot and fennel recipe

One would like tea. One requires Fondant Fancies.


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Home made french fancies

…  OK. So my mum doesn’t talk like the Queen. But for Mothering Sunday last weekend I decided that I couldn’t let it pass without treating her like one.

Mothering Sunday 2013 saw my first attempts at making Fondant Fancies. Unfortunately it also saw my phone die … along with all the “Fancy” photos. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise: the past 12 months have proved long enough to recover from the ordeal and this time round I have approached the recipe with new energy, not to mention a little experience under my belt. I now know some of the pitfalls and in this second attempt I aspired to greater heights. They would be better, even if I had a fondant meltdown in the process.

My sister recently called me in a disheartened state: not a regular baker, she had attempted a cake for her husband’s birthday and it hadn’t gone to plan. I tried to console and reassure her, wishing I could transport myself to her house to take charge of either the cake or the screaming baby. The problem is, when you don’t cook something very often you want it to be perfect when you do but lack the experience of someone who does it regularly. Vicious circle really. It’s also partly the reason that I always research at least 5 versions for one recipe before making it for the first time, just to reassure myself that I will be on the right track. The problems start when my research pulls up 5 completely different recipes …

Mr Kipling French Fancies

I did my research for these Fancies but was lucky in that the principles are fairly straight forward: you need a firm but moist sponge, a pourable but not too thin icing, and some buttercream. The most complicated thing is assembling the little darlings without getting pink fondant all over your hands, apron, the other Fancies and pretty much everywhere else in the kitchen. The other important thing is not to cut the sponge squares too big: with buttercream and then fondant icing, the cakes quickly grow, and a dainty Fancy is preferable to a colossal rock of pink squaring up to you and your fork across the table.

So these cakelets take some care in the finishing – be patient, don’t rush, and you’ll end up with a product to be proud of. But the reassuring thing with baking is that, unless you mistake salt for sugar, or incinerate your creation by “slow cooking” it on 220 C degrees, it will usually taste delicious and the recipients won’t mind if its sides are a little wonky or its top sinks. I bet my sister’s husband was delighted with his cake and didn’t notice anything was wrong (especially if she plied him with brandy first, as she suggested she might …)

Note 1: This makes a lot of cakes (I made 49) so halve the mix if desired. 

Note 2: I used ready roll icing to cover most of the cakes, thinning it with water. It gave the most “Mr Kipling-esque” appearance (glossy, shiny) but never set properly so remained a little sticky. The alternative is to make a thick glacé icing using icing sugar and water – it gives a less shiny finish, but sets dry. Both options are given in the recipe below, although I’m not certain how much icing sugar you will need – have plenty as backup. Both icings taste equally good.

French fancies recipe


For the cake

200g butter or margarine

250g caster sugar

3 large eggs

75g Greek or natural yoghurt

1 tsp vanilla extract OR zest of 1 large lemon

275g self raising flour

For the filling & buttercream

Fruit jam or jelly (with no pips or bits)

150g butter, at room temperature

250g icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract OR zest of 1 lemon

For the icing & decorating

800g ready roll icing OR 1kg (?) icing sugar

Pink and yellow food colouring

50g each of dark chocolate and white chocolate

Begin by lining a large shallow tin or dish (measuring approx. 27cm x 27cm) with well greased baking paper (or approx. 14cm x 14cm for half the recipe). Set aside.

Next make the cake. In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar until smooth and pale. Add the eggs and beat thoroughly to combine.

Fondant fancies recipefondant fancy recipe

Next stir in the vanilla extract or lemon zest and the yoghurt. finally sift in the flour and fold in with gentle strokes until it is thoroughly combined. Pour the batter into the baking tin/dish and bake on 170 C degrees fan (190 C degrees conventional oven) for 30 minutes.

When the cake is done leave to cool for 10 minutes in the tin before removing and leaving to cool completely on a wire rack.

French Fancy recipe

Whilst the cake cools make the buttercream. In a deep bowl beat the butter until smooth (ideally with electric beaters). Sift in the icing sugar and beat again until all the sugar is incorporated (I put a tea towel over my beaters and bowl as I do this, to prevent icing sugar dust flying everywhere). Once mixed, add the vanilla extract or lemon juice, and a little water if necessary to make a spreadable paste. Set aside.

Once the cake is cold, trim the edges to make a neat square and level the top. Measure the cake and divide into even sized mini-cakes: mine measured 3cm x 3cm x 3cm (divide the cake into 7 x 7). If your cake seems uneven,just carefully measure and divide it up to make squares no bigger than 4cm all round. Confused? Don’t be! You just want small neat squares, and if that means a lot of trimming, then you’ve got some cakey pickings to munch on!

Fondant Fancies recipe

Using a small, sharp knife cut deep holes out of the centre of each square, being careful not to cut right down to the base. Fill a piping bag with the jam or jelly and squirt in enough to fill the hole. Place the buttercream in a clean piping bag and squirt a little dome on top of the jam to cover it and to make a nice rounded lump.

Mini jam buttercream cakes recipe

Spread the remaining buttercream in a thin layer over the sides of each of the cakes. This doesn’t have to be really neat, but make sure you don’t have huge chunks of buttercream sticking out everywhere or it will make the finished cake sides look uneven.

Put the cakes into the freezer for between 30 minutes and 1 hour to firm up the buttercream.

Mini sponge cakes recipe

Whilst the cakes are chilling, make the icing. Either using the ready roll icing method below (1) or the glacé icing method below (2).

(1) Break the ready roll icing into small chunks and drop them into a mixing bowl. Using electric beaters and holding the bowl firmly, beat the icing until it becomes smooth and starts to stick to the beaters. Dribble in about 60ml of water, beating as you go, until the icing becomes a smooth, thick paste. Add a little more water if necessary.

Divide the mixture into two bowls and add a few drops of pink food colouring to one and yellow food colouring to the other. Stir the icings again until the right colour has been achieved.

French Fancies recipe

(2) Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl. Add VERY small amounts of water at a time, whisking until you have created a thick, smooth, spreadable paste and barely pourable.

Divide the mixture into two bowls and add a few drops of pink food colouring to one and yellow food colouring to the other. Stir the icings again until the right colour has been achieved.

Next, take a few cakes out of the freezer at a time to avoid them all thawing whilst you ice them. Skewer the base of a cake with a fork and carefully drizzle the icing over the top. Spread it around the sides until the cake is covered (you don’t need to ice the base) and then lever it off the fork and onto a large tray or board. Repeat until all the cakes have been covered.

How to make the perfect fondant fancy

Leave the cakes for 1 hour for the icing to firm up (the ready roll icing version will remain quite sticky).

To decorate, melt the chocolates in two separate bowls (either in the microwave or over a pan of gently simmering water). Dip a fork into the dark chocolate and flick it back and forth over the tops of the yellow cakes. Repeat with the white chocolate on the pink cakes. Leave to set then enjoy!

How to make Fondant FanciesTea time treats recipeJammy French Fancies recipe

The Best Carrot Cake


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Healthy home made carrot cake recipe

A few days ago it was my dad’s birthday. It was also my birthday. Yey! It’s lovely having a joint event as it makes it doubly special AND I get the chance to give some presents (which I love) as well as receiving them (which I also love, wink wink). But despite sharing the celebrations, we don’t have to share a cake and that means two cakes in one day! Whoop whoop! My dad chooses the same one every year – a fruity, chocolatey, sugary temptation of a cake - and I usually opt for some little chocolate number with fudgy buttercream and lots of it. But this year I went for something a little different – it’s a carrot cake, but not just any carrot cake: it is a very special carrot cake …

This is the carrot cake that my mum picked up when she was travelling around America one summer during her University holiday. The one she cooked for a friend’s tea party in Oxford at which she met my dad for the first time. The one she bakes for him every Valentine’s day and wedding anniversary. And until a few years ago, I had never even thought about tasting it: carrot cake? But it’s not chocolate cake!

Healthy carrot cake recipe

Thankfully, my love for all things carrot knows no bounds these days and I don’t possess the youthful notion that chocolate trumps everything, nor that vegetables are the unfortunate understudies to some greater act. Since discovering carrot cakes, more than a few have passed my lips and – though some are quite delicious – none are a touch on this one. Loaded with a multitude of fruits and nuts which create a wonderful flavour and texture this cake is, simply put, to die for. And it’s healthy to boot.

With all this in mind – and the fact that I have never had this recipe made just for me – how could I not request it now? I have to thank my mum for allowing me to publish this super-special recipe, for letting me bake it myself (after all, baking is a birthday present in itself) and for putting up with me (and my dad!) for so long.

Carrot coconut banana pineapple cake recipe

Note 1: The original recipe was given in cups so I have put these down, but I noted the weights of items as I made the cakes and have also included these. If you do use cups a standard 250ml cup is perfect.

Note 2: Having heard so much about coconut oil recently, I decided to use it here instead of the vegetable oil and to leave out the desiccated coconut too. As it is solid at room temperature I melted it before adding to the batter, but once cooked the finished result was a very firm cake. I actually LOVED it this way, but if you want something lighter simply use vegetable oil and add the desiccated coconut, as in the original recipe.

Recipe using coconut oil

This recipe makes 2 x fat 18-20cm (7-8 inch) sandwich cakes. 


2 cups (250g) light soft brown sugar

3 cups (340g) wholemeal flour

1/2 cup (60g) desiccated coconut

2 tsps baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup (250ml) vegetable oil OR coconut oil, melted

4 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup (2 large) mashed banana

3 cups (300g) grated carrot

1/2 cup (60g) walnuts, roughly chopped

1/2 cup (90g) raisins OR sultanas – although I added more!

1/2 cup (80g with pits) dates, pits removed and roughly chopped

1 cup (200g) tinned pineapple, roughly chopped

1 quantity of frosting (see below)

Carrot cake recipe

Line 2 fairly deep 18-20cm sandwich tins with greased baking paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, blend together the sugar, flour, desiccated coconut, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

Healthy cake recipe

In a separate bowl, beat together the oil, eggs and vanilla extract then mix them into the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined.

Healthy carrot cake recipeCarrot banana coconut walnut date cake

Mix the banana and carrot into the cake mix, then add the remaining ingredients and stir thoroughly again.

Divide between the two tins and bake in a preheated oven at 160 C degrees fan (180 C degrees conventional oven) for 50-60 minutes, until risen and a skewer comes out clean.

Healthy carrot cake recipeCoconut carrot cake recipe

Remove the cakes from their tins and place on a wire rack to cool completely before peeling off the baking paper.

For the frosting

Honey and cream cheese icing recipe

Several notes on the frosting:

1. The original recipe used a combination of mashed banana, cream cheese, soft brown sugar and a dash of lemon juice. It was delicious, very runny and had a tendency to go brown. This one is equally delicious, not quite as runny and it stays a glorious golden colour. Due to the soft consistency, you may prefer to spread it over a single layer of cake, or replace some of the ricotta with butter for a firmer texture – try beating 150g softened butter, add 350g ricotta then continue as per recipe.     2. I thought that using set honey, melting it and adding it to the ricotta would mean it would firm up in the fridge. It didn’t – it simply didn’t reset. So you could use runny honey here if you’d prefer.

500g Ricotta (or, for a richer icing, full fat cream cheese)

150g honey (set or runny, see note above)

Healthy ricotta icing frosting recipe

Begin by beating the ricotta in a large bowl. Separately, melt the set honey in the microwave or carefully in a pan, being careful not to let it burn.

Pour the melted honey into the ricotta and beat thoroughly to combine. Chill to firm up slightly (it’s also delicious frozen).

Spread the frosting onto your cake (the sponge is quite heavy so oozing will occur between layers if you choose to layer it – see note for frosting above).

Dig in.Healthy wholemeal carrot cake

No Bake Peanut Butter & Chocolate Balls


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chocolate honey oats recipe

I recently received a little request from Mia at Shari’s Berries. They’re working on a project called “Fit for Fitness” and are looking for ways to incorporate chocolate into a healthy lifestyle.* (see below)

I have to reveal to you that where chocolate is concerned, I don’t always go for the most wholesome option: I don’t stick to 80% cocoa solids dark chocolate. I don’t nibble on a square and feel satisfied. I don’t resist chocolate cake and buttery brownies. But I do like to eat healthily and chocolate is normally a guilty pleasure on the side, not something integral to the healthy side of my diet. So I was delighted to have the challenge of creating a recipe that incorporated chocolate in a way that meant I could eat it without it just being a treat, but so that it was actually something beneficial.

Cocoa of course has extraordinary health properties: it helps prevent cardiovascular disease, improves blood flow and the transmission of oxygen to the brain, thus improving mental processing and it possesses powerful antioxidants – even more than green tea. But the problem is that chocolate is not cocoa, and your average chocolate bar contains so many nasties – refined sugars, trans fats, E-numbers, emulsifiers … and not to mention the severe deficiency of cocoa.

I can’t preach about this as I like the taste of milk and white chocolate too much to give them up. But I also enjoy dark chocolate with a high cocoa content (ideally 70% or above) and the really nice thing about it is that you know it’s doing you good. Unsweetened cocoa powder is another wonderful thing: try adding some natural sweetener like honey or maple syrup, or enjoy it in savoury stews to add another level of flavour (and to get those antioxidants inside of you!).

Weetabix chocolate recipe

This recipe is a way to incorporate your chocolate into a healthy snack, so you can have that chocolatey flavour but don’t have to demolish a whole bar to get it. Ideally you would use dark chocolate, but the point here is that any will do as it’s about incorporating it and enjoying it, but not overdoing. Alongside oats, peanut butter and – who knew it?? – WEETABIX (!!) a little chocolate is a very lovely thing.


100g crunchy peanut butter

100g runny honey or maple syrup

2 weetabix (about 35g), crushed

30g oats


Try adding chopped dried apricots, sunflower seeds, sultanas, chopped walnuts etc – about 50-100g in total

A small spoonful or unsweetened cocoa powder


40g of dark chocolate, or milk/white if you prefer

healthy chocolate recipe

Place the peanut butter and the honey/syrup into a microwaveable bowl. Heat on full power for about 30 seconds.

Add the Weetabix, oats and any other optional ingredients that you want. Stir well to mix completely.

Sultana oat no bake ballsHealthy oat and honey recipe

Take teaspoons of the mixture, roll between your palms and place on tray or board. You should get about 15 small balls.

healthy sweet recipes

Next, melt your chocolate. Place in a bowl over a pan of just simmering water and stir until melted. Alternatively, heat in short blasts in the microwave, stirring every 5-10 seconds to prevent burning.

chocolate coated peanut butter balls

Using a teaspoon, drizzle the chocolate back and forth over the peanut butter balls. Leave to set firm.

Store uneaten any balls in the fridge.

healthy snack peanut honey weetabix oats recipe

Note: You could increase the quantity of this mix and press it into a clingfilm-lined tin. Drizzle with chocolate, chill and then cut into bars.

* Disclaimer: Whilst I was asked to do this by Shari’s Berries, I have never tried their products and this link cannot be taken as a recommendation for them.


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