Cream cheese, spinach & tomato elicoidali

It’s Meat Free Week from the 23 – 29 March, which means all vegetarians and vegans out there like myself are making full use of this time to encourage meat eaters to eat less of it, really enjoy fresh produce, get cooking and trying alternatives to meat and poultry. This year’s campaign is also supported by various charities including Beating Bowl Cancer and World Land Trust. It’s a great way to raise awareness about animals and the environment, as well as highlighting the many health benefits of cutting out/down on meat in general. And let’s face it, our bodies always need a good detox once in a while – myself included.

After giving up red meat a year ago, I slowly made the full transition and I’ve been veggie for around three months now and I have to say, it’s been fantastic. I’ve never had so much energy and I generally feel brighter, lighter and happier. I’m also saving money, now that’s no bad thing! Eating a vegetarian or vegan diet is a lot more fun and rewarding than you may anticipate if you just put some time and effort into it. It’s not for everyone though, and I’m well aware many people simply won’t give up meat and poultry out of choice, but one week for a worthy cause like this is a challenge I think everyone should get involved with!

This vegetarian recipe is so simple, and has only a handful of ingredients that together are classic flavours. I use elicoidali pasta – a ridged tube shape pasta – for this dish which is one of my favourites because it looks a little more special than regular penne or spaghetti. It also has a larger surface area so really holds the sauce and all the flavours quite well.

I hope you enjoy it; it takes almost no time at all to make and will keep in the fridge for a day or two. Use as much garlic as you like – I recommend two cloves here but you can amp up the intensity for a stronger flavour.

Serves 2 | Cooking: 15 mins

For the dish: 

  • 200g dry elicoidali pasta
  • 90g full fat cream cheese
  • 1 small white onion
  • Large handful of fresh baby spinach
  • 7 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Olive oil or extra virgin
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 fresh red chilli
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried mixed herbs

Step one: Boil the pasta for 10 minutes in enough water to cover on a medium heat, with a pinch of salt and tablespoon of oil.

Step two: While the pasta cooks, chop the onion and tomatoes. Fry the onion in a deep nonstick saucepan with some oil for two minutes. Crush and add the garlic cloves, half a chopped chilli, seasoning and mixed herbs.

Step three: Add the cream cheese and stir in well with a wooden spoon. Add the tomatoes and spinach then turn off the heat. You want the veggies to remain fresh with some bite so the remaining heat will warm them through and wilt the spinach.

Step four: Finally, drain the cooked pasta and add to the saucepan with a small amount of cooking water. Mix well and serve hot.

new-7

Salted caramel sauce

So I mentioned on Wednesday that I’d be sharing my recipe for the salted caramel sauce featured in my last post (cue the salivating tongue). Chocolate and caramel just seem like the obvious marriage for me. I’m not sure about elsewhere, but in the UK (especially London), this was the craze that seemed to come unannounced and became the foodie obsession. Everything from cakes, brownies and pies, to ice cream, doughnuts and milkshakes have had the salted caramel ‘makeover’ and I’ll admit, I’m in with the crowd.

It’s no easy task when it comes to working and cooking with sugar at high temperatures – it can easily go wrong but don’t let that put you off. This method doesn’t use a thermometer as I don’t think it’s necessary (just watch the pan continually!) It’s a simple four-ingredient recipe: brown sugar, salted butter, sea salt and single cream. It’s heavenly.

I recommend this with (pretty much everything) and if you don’t use the whole batch up in one day which is likely, it’ll last a week in the fridge. It’ll get thicker when it cools into a fudge-like texture, perfect for drizzling over ice cream, pancakes or on my favourite dark chocolate and hazelnut brownies.

For the sauce:

  • 3 tbsp softened salted butter
  • 140ml double cream
  • 160g soft dark or light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp good quality flaked sea salt

Makes one small jar full (as pictured) Cooking: 15 mins

Step one: Melt the sugar on a low heat for five minutes until it has dissolved and starts to become caramelised. At this stage, add the butter.

Step two: The butter will begin to bubble in the pan – just keep the pan moving for a minute and stir to avoid burning.

Step three: Slowly pour in the cream and continue to stir. Turn up the heat to a medium heat, add the salt and stir for a few more minutes as the sauce thickens and becomes glossy. Allow to cool.

Dark chocolate & roasted hazelnut brownies

Who can resist a warm, squishy brownie? Throw in some added extras like crunchy hazelnuts and salted caramel sauce into the mix and they’re a surefire winner for me. This is a simple recipe but with this it’s all about timing – too long in the oven and you’ll miss the beauty of a soft centered brownie. It’s a serious deal.

As usual, only a good quality 70% dark chocolate will do for this recipe (best for cooking with), and some bitter cocoa powder too for an all round richer taste. I also roast the hazelnuts for a few minutes beforehand to really enhance the nutty flavour of the brownies – simple touches make all the difference and they’re seriously good!

Check back in on Sunday and I’ll share my recipe for this delicious salted caramel sauce. It’s rich, buttery and savoury sweet. It also lasts a week in the fridge, so I guess it’s completely fine that I indulge in this everyday for the next week.

Completely.

For the brownies:

  • 200g 70% dark chocolate
  • 75g bitter cocoa power
  • 175g softened salted butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 100g whole blanched hazelnuts
  • 150g soft dark muscovado sugar
  • 160g self raising flour
  • 1 vanilla pod (extract will do)

Makes 10 brownies | Prep: 15 mins, Cooking: 40 mins

Step one: Preheat your oven to 180 degrees and line a medium baking dish with greaseproof paper. On a baking tray put all of the nuts and dry roast for 5 mins until browned.

Step two: Meanwhile, in a heat proof dish place the broken chocolate pieces and butter and simmer over a bain-marie for 10 mins until melted through. The water shouldn’t touch the bottom of the bowl, just steam.

Step three: Once cooled slightly, add the eggs one by one, the vanilla seeds and sugar then combine well.

Step four: The dry ingredients are next. Sift the flour, add the cocoa powder and the cooled nuts. Mix together well and pour into the dish evenly.

Step five: Bake for approx 40 mins, keeping an eye not to overcook it. The top should be crackling and dark, but the centre should be fudgey when a knife runs through it. Allow to cool slightly and cut into 10 large squares.

Quinoa superfood salad

So I’ve been taking time out recipe planning, testing and playing with my new toy – my Canon 700D dslr. I have no words to share my excitement, I’m definitely loving it. As a recent vegetarian convert (it was a long time coming because I rarely ate meat and is one of the best decisions I’ve made), there’s definitely more of a need for me to prioritise my diet even more and get as much nutrients and goodness from non meat sources so for me, Quinoa was the obvious choice to start implementing. It’s a complete protein and lends itself to being gluten-free and easy to digest, so it’s a great alternative to standard brown rice or wholewheat pasta. Good carbs, hello!

Quinoa is one of those grains I’ve been meaning to cook with for a long time so coming up with this recipe was quite a fun task. I love vegetables (no, really) so I’ve thrown in a super delicious mix of superfoods to bulk this salad out so its nutrient rich and substantial for a main meal or light lunch. I even have this warm; just be sure to put the avocado and goats cheese on after you’ve heated it up! If you need a pick-me-up come mid week, definitely try this one! Your body will thank you later.

For the salad:

  • 150g dry quinoa – black and red varieties also work well
  • Half a butternut squash, de-seeded
  • 1 small red onion
  • 10-12 small broccoli florets
  • 1 small Romano pepper
  • Handful of mange tout
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 lemon
  • Crumbled goats cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 50g of almonds
  • 1 red birdseye chilli
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • Olive oil and vegetable oil
  • Salt and black pepper

Serves 3-4 | Prep: 5 mins, Cooking: 25 mins

Step one: Simmer 150g of quinoa on a medium heat for 15 mins. Two parts salted water to one part grain.

Step two: Heat up the vegetable oil in a wok or large deep pan then chop the butternut squash into small cubes, skin on. Fry them first for 5 mins til browned and softened.

Step three: Chop the remaining veg into even small pieces; red onion, red pepper, chilli and broccoli florets. Leave the mange tout whole. Crush the garlic cloves too. All veg prepped!

Step four: Add the garlic and chilli to the pan, along with the seasoning and soy sauce. Then add the vegetables and a splash of water and cook rapidly for 5 mins.

Step five: The quinoa will have soaked up all the water and be fluffy but still with defined texture. Pour into the pan and stir til well mixed. Add the whole almonds and drizzle everything with olive oil and lemon juice to taste. Turn off the heat.

Step six: Peel, de-stone and chop the avocado into small chunks and crumble the goats cheese over the salad to serve.


 

Blueberry, lemon & coconut loaf cake

I’ll admit. I have holiday blues, big time. I’ve had a few weeks off from blogging and life in general with an amazing couple of weeks spent in Jamaica with the family. New Years saw me return to my home town of Birmingham to spend it in good tradition with my best girlfriends (which involved a lot of excited conversations, good food, relentless dancing and minimal sleep) and finally, quality time with my extended family. It was a much anticipated and relaxed Christmas and New Years for me, but now my working life in London is back in full swing. And so is Not Without Cake. I have missed my kitchen!

While I was away enjoying home comforts, I did the age old thing of trying to set myself some realistic resolutions for 2015, many of which were around the whole staying organised, using my (very sophisticated) diary type of thing and continuing to travel the globe. I also said I wanted to get over my dislike of certain foods. I’m all for trying new things in a bid to stay healthy and cultured, but there some things I’ve never enjoyed. This recipe involves blueberries; one of the dreaded fruits I disliked. I researched a few recipes for a light blueberry based cake because I wanted to try something for the blog and with a few adaptations, I made this loaf cake. I have to say, I have done a 360 degree turn around and will definitely make this again.

With the lightest of textures, it’s jam packed with fresh blueberries, coconut and lemon zest which is a dreamy combo. I also added soya yogurt for extra lightness to cut the rich fruitiness and it produced the most wonderful bake. If you don’t like blueberries on their own, try this recipe and you might just be converted too.

Serves 8 | Prep: 10 minutes | Cooking: 40 minutes

For the cake:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 100g soft light brown sugar
  • 150g softened butter
  • 200g self raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 200g fresh blueberries
  • 50g sweetened desiccated coconut
  • 1 whole lemon
  • 1 cup soya yogurt or plain Greek yogurt

Step one:  Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees. Greese and line a 20 cm loaf tin with baking paper.

Step two: In a mixer or bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until combined. Melt the butter for 60 seconds in the microwave or on the hob until there are no lumps. Add this to the eggs and sugar.

Step three: Gradually add the flour and baking powder to the batter until completely smooth.

Step four: Add the washed blueberries whole, along with the coconut and zest of one lemon. The juice is optional but I omit the juice because the yogurt will cut the sweetness.

Step five: Lastly, spoon in the yogurt and combine evenly, without crushing the blueberries. The batter should be smooth and thick enough to cover the back of the spoon.

Step six: Bake for approx 40 minutes or until the top is browned and a knife runs clean from the cake. Leave to cool for 15-20 minutes before eating.

Come with me: BBC Good Food Show

 

Photo credit: Shara J

Picture credit: Shara J

Last weekend I had the pleasure of going to the much anticipated BBC Good Food Show, held annually in my home city of Birmingham. The four day Winter edition at the NEC was as expected, full of festive food and drink, and an energetic buzz as people shuffled around the arena in the Christmas spirit. Anyone looking for gift ideas would have been spoiled for choice this year. On Saturday, a few of my fab friends and bloggers got rather special treatment at the event with access to the press room, personalised press passes, seriously good refreshments and free reign to take as many snaps as we wanted throughout the event – safe to say we had a fun filled day taste testing, filming, chatting with exhibitors and enjoying the live demos by celebrity chefs. It was something different but definitely worth doing, and as Not Without Cake is new off off the ground, it was a great networking experience for me. I’m certainly excited to be involved with more events like these.

With over 400 exhibitors, the venue was full of amazing fresh and locally sourced food and drink, homeware and techy gadgets for the kitchen from brands including Braun, Kenwood and Hotpoint. Everything from homemade beers, cheese and bread, to festive hampers, decadent chocolates and confectionery filled several stands. There was no shortage of hot food either; Moroccan mezzes, Spanish Paella and good old British burgers were on offer in the food courts. The thing I love most about these kinds of events is the variety – smells, colours and flavours. You certainly come away with new food knowledge as well as that empty purse!

Over at the Colgate hub, we enjoyed some amazing mixed berry ice cream after sampling their new Sensitive Pro-Relief toothpaste. It reminded me of a science experiment at school with puffs of smoke and men dressed in white. Another highlight was Heathers Harvest, offering award winning jams, pickles and preserves handmade in Shropshire. I’m a huge fan of homemade preserves so their sweet and spicy carrot chutney was a clear winner for me. And the packaging, ohhh.

Colgate Hub

Heather’s Harvest

We also enjoyed Praana’s range of delicious spiced herbal and fruit teas, Sponge Cakes (try them and thank me later), artisan cakes from Tarte and Berry and not forgetting Joe and Steph’s Gourmet Popcorn. Amongst all of these independent brands and big electrical names, well known favourites including Knorr, Ocado, Lurpak Cook’s Range and Costco Wholesale also featured at the event. Oh and just when we thought things couldn’t get any more delicious, we stumbled upon Merangz produced by The Little Round Cake Company – seriously impressive free range egg meringues traditionally made in Shropshire – giant Swiss pistachio, passion fruit bites and hazel nut praline nests amongst so many other flavours. Need I say anymore? Food heaven.

Did I mention the best part? I met acclaimed TV chef and Belling brand ambassador that is Brian Turner. Talk about star struck! That’s certainly one to tick off the bucket list. Until next year, then.

Merangz

The Cheshire Cheese Company

Shara, TC and Jade

Shara, TC and Jade

Delicious macaroons!

Farrington's

Farrington’s Mellow Yellow

 

Chunky authentic guacamole

No Mexican fare is complete without this delicious side. It has to be one of my favourite things to eat at any time of day, whether it’s partnered with spicy fajitas, piled onto melting cheese nachos or simply spread on thickly sliced toast – a personal favourite. Made right, this is comfort food at it’s best and it’s super healthy. Avocados do have one of the highest fat and calorie contents a fruit can have, but it’s all good healthy fats to make you glow. Your hair, skin and nails will thank you for this one.

The first trick to making a decent guacamole is using ripe avocados. It sounds obvious enough, but people often get this part wrong. You’ll know they’re ripe if they give a little when squeezed. If it’s under-ripe, it’ll be firm and quite unappealing, almost bitter to eat. I always get my avocados fresh from a market stall because they usually have better quality, size and price over regular supermarkets. One of my favourite local fruit and veg markets is Kingston’s Ancient Market in the suburbs of London – a quaint historical location, friendly traders and great value – I’ll do a post on my favourite London markets soon.

In true form, this recipe uses all the classic flavours that go into a tasty homemade guac and there’s the second trick – salt for balance, crushed garlic for a kick, diced tomatoes for freshness, chilli for heat, spring onions for texture, lime juice to cut through the rich buttery avocado and good quality olive oil to bring everything together. That’s it! It’s such a simple recipe but will bring your meals to life with vibrant green colour, fresh flavours and a beautifully creamy texture. Try it with my American sweet potato pancakes – it’s a dreamy combo. If you’re not keen on avocados, you’ll be hooked once you’ve made this guacamole.

Serves 2-4 | Prep: 10 mins

For the guacamole: 

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1 beef tomato
  • 1 spring onion
  • 1/2 lime
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes or 1/2 a fresh chilli
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • Olive oil

Step one: Run a sharp knife along the middle of the avocado, around the entire fruit til it meets the start point. Twist in opposite directions with your hands and it should come apart, stone intact. Use a sharp knife to tap and remove the stone. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon into a bowl and mash gently. Tricky part, done!

Step two: Chop and remove the flesh of the tomato then dice into small chunks. I ended up using half of the tomato because they’re quite big and juicy, but you could add more if you wish. Chop the spring onion and crush the garlic cloves. Add all three ingredients to the avocado.

Step three: Season to taste with salt, pepper, chilli, a good squeeze of lime juice and a drizzle of olive oil. Mix everything together, but not too much as you want some texture remaining.

Step four: Garnish with a few spring onions and chilli flakes, then devour.

Sweet potato pancakes with honey Greek yoghurt

Ahh, pancakes. You can’t beat a perfectly thin crepe doused in lemon and sugar, or a stack of fluffy American style pancakes soaked in maple syrup. It’s one of those foods that bring instant joy before they’re even served. There’s even a guilt-free day dedicated to them, I mean what more of an excuse do we need? And it’s not just kids who get excited at the prospect of flipping pancakes and piling on as many toppings as possible – strawberries, chocolate sauce, caramel, whipped cream – they’ve all been done. In the UK we usually make thin crepes on days like Shrove Tuesday, but in my opinion you can’t beat good homemade American pancakes. They bring reminders of home and happy times. Maybe it’s the nostalgic element of childhood excitement, or the fun and competitiveness making pancakes usually brings to the kitchen that make them such a winner. But let’s be honest, they’re not the healthiest of things.

With all the ‘American diner’ inspired restaurants popping up all over the UK, and especially in my home city of London, it’s not hard to find foodie inspiration or be tempted to eat your way through all the wrong kinds of foods. These sweet potato pancakes are inspired by one of my favourite diners, but with a few adaptations not only to make them healthier, but also taste damn good. I use homemade sweet potato puree that I flavour with browned butter and honey. This alone is divine. I generally avoid dairy milk, so I use sweetened soya milk (almond milk will work too) in the batter and spice things up with cinnamon, vanilla extract and nutmeg. The result? Fluffy, subtly sweet and melt in the mouth pancakes for a sweet or savory meal. The thick honey Greek yoghurt adds a lightness to the dish perfect for a healthy breakfast, perhaps with fresh or stewed fruits, but substitute this for some guacamole (recipe coming soon) and poached eggs and it’s perfect Sunday brunch/lunch deliciousness.

Makes 4 large pancakes | Method: 20 mins | Cooking: 8 – 12 mins

For the sweet potato purée: 

  • 4 small sweet potatoes
  • 2 tbsp honey or agave syrup
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • A pinch of sea salt

Step one: Peel and chop the sweet potatoes, then boil for 10 minutes in salted water on a medium heat.

Step two: Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small non stick pan for 3 minutes. As the butter cooks it will become brown and nutty in smell and taste. Be careful not to have the heat too high as it will easily burn!

Step three: Once the potatoes are soft, drain and mash with a fork. And the browned butter and honey. Use a wooden spoon and mix well for 2 minutes until smooth and creamy. That’s it!

For the pancake batter:

  • 260g self raising flour
  • 1 cup soya milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract or fresh vanilla bean paste
  • Sweet potato purée (above)
  • 4 tbsp flavourless oil for frying (sunflower or vegetable)
  • 1 tbsp honey or agave syrup
  • 3 tbsp Greek yoghurt

Step one: Heat up a small non stick pan with 1 tbsp of oil. In a heavy bowl or mixer, combine all the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder and spices – for a minute until well mixed. Make a well in the centre.

Step two: Add both eggs and the milk. Mix well to form a semi-thin batter.

Step three: Add the purée and mix well until a smooth thick batter is formed.

Step four: Take enough batter to make a large sized pancake and fry one at a time for 2-3 minutes, turning mid-way. Add more oil as you cook the rest.

Step five: To serve, swirl the honey into some Greek yoghurt and pile on top of your pancakes. It’s almost too good to eat.

Soft baked dark chocolate & pistachio cookies

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Pistachio nuts have grown on me over the years and are now a firm favourite with me. I think they’re an acquired taste – the same goes for dark chocolate. You’ll grow to love them more you’re exposed to them. I never used to like their flavours but now, well I’ve come to realise how good they are. Salted pistachios? Yes. Pistachio ice cream? YES. Bittersweet chocolate? Well, yes I’ll have that too. It was during my Summer in Berlin that I began to understand and appreciate quality chocolate. They’re both pricey but worth it, especially when it comes to cooking with them. Together they are the most amazing combination, and these guilt-free soft baked cookies do them justice.

Soft baked dark chocolate & pistachio cookies

You’ll want to use 60% or 70% (cocoa solids) dark chocolate for intensity, but the recipe can be adapted if you prefer a lower grade. It’s a simple recipe with only a handful of ingredients, but the key to this is probably the short length of time you cook them for – just 8 minutes – so I’d suggest not leaving the kitchen to save distractions!

Oh, and eat them warm out of the oven. But I warn you, one won’t be enough…

Makes 6 large/12 small cookies | Method: 5 mins | Cooking: 8 mins

For the cookie mix:

  • 180g plain flour
  • 60g rolled oats
  • 120g light brown soft sugar
  • 100g butter or sunflower spread, softened
  • 100g 60% or 70% dark chocolate
  • 100g shelled unsalted pistachios
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

Step one: Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Step two: In a heavy bowl or mixer, cream the butter, sugar and egg until well mixed. Add the salt, flour and oats.

Step three: Roughly chop the chocolate into semi-large chunks and also the pistachio nuts. Mix into the cookie dough until dispersed.

Step four: With your hands, take a golf ball sized amount of dough, and gently press down onto the tray. You should fit six perfectly on the tray, well spaced apart (they’ll spread when cooking and if making 12 then use two trays).

Step five: Bake for 8 minutes, then let cool for a few minutes on a wire rack. They should be firm on the outside, but soft melting goodness inside.

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