Fishy Scales and Waggy Tails Round Two…

So the other week I received a jar of Armstrong’s Twisted Fish salmon treats for the canine members of the house, and boy were they excited!

Twisted Fish jar Twisted Fish open jar

Molly was especially keen as she has already had the pleasure of knowing what this little jar of goodness contains having been my taste tester for my earlier blog post.  I gave them one each at the time to stem to relentless jumping and scraping of my legs to get at what was in my hand – this proved only to encourage more jumping, scratching and so forth with a little competitive growling thrown in (the dogs, not me!).  Basically they went mad for them, and as I put the jar away, their little faces and ears seemed to drop!  A few days later  I began to organise getting a few pictures of the pair of them enjoying their treats.  Arnold in particular LOVED this portion of the task as he scrambled around, sniffing like a truffle pig, looking for more and more treats! I think he messed up the first few shots on purpose to get more…

Arnold eating treats Arnold with jar

As we grow increasingly aware of the additives and preservatives in our own food, so we should pay more attention to what we feed our beloved pets – they are after all an extension of our own family and I love to try and feed my two the most wholesome, natural food and treats that I can.  Armstrong’s Twisted Fish are a no brainer, you can’t get any more natural!  If Molly and Arnold are extra good doggies from now until Christmas, they could be finding Twisted Fish treats in their Santa stockings (yes, they have proper Santa stockings at Christmas and yes, Santa Dog visits too you know!) 😀

Arnold and Molly

You can purchase Armstrong’s Twisted Fish through their website http://www.armstrongstwistedfish.com, for news and events updates they also have a Facebook Page  and can be found stocked at The Salty Dog in Bangor.

 

What to do with your Flesh at Halloween…mwahahahaha!

As an 80’s kid growing up, Halloween was all about cheap plastic face masks, a bowl of nuts in their shells that would take a jack hammer to crack the damn things open and my favourite memory of all?  Carving a turnip into something more gruesome than the turnip itself… ahh and sparklers out in the garden while dressed in a bin liner – great fire safety Mum and Dad! Only kidding, love you…

Anyway, nowadays Halloween has turned into something much bigger as we follow more and more trends from the USA – trick or treating, costumes and decorations have taken on a whole new level.  Food at Halloween seems to be ranking higher in importance in recent years (chucking monkey nuts in a bowl no longer cuts it), especially as the popularity of the pumpkin grows and grows with people turning their flesh (pumpkin, don’t freak) into many a marvellous thing!  I myself have jumped on the pumpkin bandwagon and managed to whip up three delicious dishes from one humble pumpkin so here are a few ideas to get you thinking when you start scooping!

Pumpkin and Apple Loaf

Pumpkin Loaf sliced

 

 

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger Snap Crust

Pumpkin Cheescake Slice

 

Healthy Thai Pumpkin Soup (no pic, sorry)

 

Ingredients

300g roasted pumpkin flesh

1 onion, chopped

2 tbsp water or oil

350mls chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 chilli, chopped with seeds if you like a bit more heat

1/2 tsp each of chopped thyme, sage and rosemary (I used a bouquet garni from Sainsbury’s or Tesco)

Salt and pepper to taste

3/4 tin of reduced fat coconut milk

Sweat the onion on a medium heat for 10 minutes in water or oil (I used water to keep calories low) in a large saucepan, add more if the onion starts to catch.  Chop the roasted pumpkin roughly and add to the pot along with all other ingredients except the coconut milk.  Simmer for 20 minutes, take off the heat and blend until smooth (I used a stick blender but use whatever blending methods you have).  Stir in the coconut milk and bring back up to a simmer.  Serve with crusty bread, a spud (yes Mum used to chuck a spud into soup, 80’s kid remember) or just on it’s own in all its orangey gorgeousness! Soups are hard to fail on, these are just guidelines so feel free to throw in anything else you fancy that will enhance the flavour.  Go for more pumpkin, less stock if you like a thick soup or omit the chilli and add a tbsp of curry powder for a twist.  Experiment my friends!

 

Pumpkin and Apple Loaf

makes 2 loaves, because you will want to eat the first one all by yourself

 

Ingredients

425g pumpkin puree (I roasted the flesh at 220°C for 30-40 minutes and used a stick blender to puree)

4 eggs, beaten

450g of plain flour

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

2 tbsp of mixed spice

450g light soft brown sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

250mls vegetable oil

150ml of water

1 medium to small cooking apple, grated

 

Method

Preheat oven to 180°C and grease and line two 2lb loaf tins.  Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.  Grate the apple and toss into the dry mixture, coating the apple pieces.  Meanwhile, once you have roasted, pureed and cooled your flesh, let it drain over a fine sieve for 10 minutes to release any extra liquid, you don’t want the puree to be too watery but it will will retain a little water.  Place the puree in a bowl, add the beaten eggs, vanilla extract oil and water and combine well.  Fold this into the the dry mixture with a large metal spoon until there are no traces of flour.  Divide the mixture into the loaf tins, it will come up just over half way but the loaf rises quite well.  Place in the middle of the oven (make sure you turned it down after roasting your pumpkin) and bake for 60 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the loaf comes out clean.  If you feel the loaf is browning too quickly cover with tinfoil.  Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then remove and finish cooling on a wire rack.  It will slice better when cooled completely if you can contain yourself until then!  Feel free to invent a topping for the loaf, cream cheese whipped with some icing sugar and vanilla would go lovely, or heat some orange juice in a pan, stir in some sifted icing sugar to make a glaze and drizzle over the loaf while still slightly warm.  Yum yum!

 

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Ginger Snap Crust

 

Method

225g ginger biscuits

60g butter

juice and zest of 1 lemon

340g cooked pumpkin, blended to a puree

225g soft light brown sugar, (take out any lumps)

450g full fat cream cheese

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

4 eggs

Topping

 

90mls double cream

90mls natural plain yoghurt

 

Method

 

Preheat oven to 170°C.  Grease an 8inch loose bottomed cake tin.  Bash biscuits or process in a blender to a fine crumb.  Melt butter in a saucepan then add crushed biscuits and the lemon zest and combine well.  Press mixture into the cake tin, pushing it up the sides slightly and set to one side.  In a large bowl mix together the cream cheese, pumpkin, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.  Beat the eggs and fold into the mixture.  It will be quite runny but this is right so don’t panic!  Pour into the cake tin on top of the biscuit base and bake for 90 minutes in the middle of the oven until the surface is set but underneath will still be a bit squidgy.  Take out of the oven and cool completely in the tin, do not be tempted to remove the cake until it’s totally cooled (I put mine in the fridge overnight as I was in no hurry for it).  Remove cake from tin onto a serving plate, wrap in clingfilm and chill until you are ready to top it and serve it.  For the topping beat the cream until thick, fold in the yoghurt and lemon juice and spread onto the cheesecake.  I sprinkled mine with a little cinnamon to finish but icing sugar or lemon zest would also work, be creative!  Some sugared pumpkins possibly???  Slice and tuck in!

 

Happy Halloween Everyone!

James Street South Bake Off

I have a whole new appreciation for those souls competing in the Great British Bake Off!  A couple of weeks ago I got word that I had made the final of James Street Souths Bake Off competition with my Beetroot and Guinness Chocolate Fudge Cake.  I entered my recipe as part of Belfast Restaurant Week, a great initiative encouraging people to get out and sample the glorious tastes, produce and culinary hot spots of Belfast.  I had a mixture of emotions upon reading the email, fear and anxiety being the main two that featured throughout that whole week!  With little more than seven days until the bake off which took place on Sunday 5th October,  I practiced my fingers to the bone. Quite literally, as I grated the thumb almost clean off myself whilst preparing the damn beetroot to go into the cake.  With bandaged digit, I ploughed on grating, sifting, folding, melting (chocolate, not my brain)  and waiting what seemed like an eternity on the oven as it takes two hours to bake the thing.  As you might of picked up from my tone, I am slightly at odds with beetroot chocolate cake after my ordeal, and the Guinness?  Well lets just say for the moment I am now more of a Guinness drinker than a chocolate cake eater…..

 

To be fair, the whole experience was great.  After the initial panic of making sure my cake was suitable for those of refined taste buds to judge, I stepped back a little and enjoyed myself.  In the cookery school where the bake off took place, there was just myself and two other bakers which eased some of my nerves as I didn’t fancy baking amongst a large group.  However I still found my palette knife shaking slightly as I pasted on the chocolate icing (that thankfully didn’t burn, congeal or separate) and, as I sprinkled over a few petals for the finishing touches I breathed a sigh of relief – it was done, I was done and there was nothing more that could be done!  No Mary Berry or handsome Paul Hollywood (unfortunately), but waiting on the judges final call was excruciating. Thank God there were no video cameras to capture for all eternity my agony!

 

I didn’t win, a carrot (cake) pipped my beetroot to the post.  I have to say I genuinely did love the experience and the chance to be there, taking part in what will probably be the closest thing I’ll ever get to Great British Bake Off! (or Paul Hollywood for that matter….)

 

chocolate beetroot guinness cake

The Salty Dog

A little while back I was asked along to The Salty Dog in Bangor to shoot some of their delicious recipes using the wonderful Keen nut butters.  I almost got too distracted by the task at hand to take in the beautiful surroundings but I made sure to take a minute and soak up the atmosphere of this lush little seaside retreat.  When the food came out for me to shoot, it was all I could do to not allow myself to unceremoniously tuck in!  Of course that’s not why I was there and so I gathered my thoughts, put my tongue back in my mouth and carried on!  Below are the beautiful creations put together by the talented chefs using only the finest local ingredients – if you wish to taste as well as look, get your butts over there 😛

 

AG8A3921 AG8A3933Keen Almond Butter Hummus

AG8A3946Choux Keen Hazelnut Butter and chocolate bun,

banana sorbet, milk chocolate mousse and nut brittle

AG8A3959Cocktail using Keen Macadamia and White Chocolate butter

AG8A3936Selection of butters available to buy in the restaurant

She’s got a nice pear…

I’ve never made an ‘upside down’ cake before, not intentionally anyway beyond a disaster that ended upside down in the bin!  The notion took me to try one and I must say it wasn’t all plain sailing (que crouched in front of oven watching cake batter drip over the side of cake tin).  However the end result came up not too bad, so much so it was worthy of a photograph and a little mention on my blog.  Feel free to experiment with the recipe, I want to try figs next!  Plums, mango and peach would all work gloriously – get creative!

Pear and Ginger Cake

Pear & Ginger Upside Down (courtesy of my friend Arnald, quite the baker)

Cake Serves 8 and ready in 1.5 hours (Includes prep time)

Ingredient’s

150g butter softened, plus extra for greasing

150g light soft brown sugar 2 balls from a jar of stem ginger in syrup chopped

415g can of pears in juice, drained 125g self rasing flour

1 level tsp baking powder 2 level tsp ground ginger

1 level tsp ground cinnamon

2 large free range eggs

Method

Pre-heat oven to 180deg/160degFAN/Gas Mark 4 Lightly butter a 20cm round cake tin and line the base with baking paper Mix 25g butter with 25g sugar and spread in the base of the tin. Scatter 1 qtr of the chopped stem ginger and arrange the pears flat side down on top Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a large bowl. Add the rest of the butter, sugar and chopped stem ginger. Add eggs and beat until well mixed. Turn into the cake tin keeping the pears in place and level the top Bake for about 35 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly pressed. Leave to cool for 10minutes and then turn out and serve upside down.

 

Fishy Scales and Waggy Tails

Last weekend I popped into the wonderful Salty Dog in Bangor for a spot of  lunch (their seafood chowder is to die for).  Following an ample serving of foodie satisfaction, I went to see what local products the hotel had on offer.  Sourcing all their ingredients locally, The Salty Dog are an excellent example of promoting homegrown – using and selling beautiful produce from across the Province.  Something in particular caught my eye as it’s not at all expected in a Hotel restaurant, or any ‘human’ eatery for that matter!  I was looking at Armstrong’s Twisted Fish Dog Treats with growing curiosity.  Reading the little information leaflet, I learned they are made from 100% natural dehydrated fish skins (cod, haddock and salmon).  No additives, colours or preservatives in these bad boys, or should I say good boys!  I took a bag of treats home , excited to see the reactions of my Jack Russell Terrier Molly.

 

twisted fish cropped bag

 

I open the bag and inside are an abundance of the fishy twiglets, Molly is very interested at this stage.  She circles my feet enthusiastically with her head up, nose stuck in the air and looking hopeful for something to fall out of the bag and into her mouth.

 

twisted fish sticks

 

After further inspection (I’m pretty sure I too could eat these treats and get away with it), I lay a few out for Molly to sniff over….

 

Molly and fish treats

Sniffing, sniffing and result – she seems to like this one!

 

 

Molly1Molly2Molly3

 

They’re a hit!  Nice work Armstrong’s, Twisted Fish Treats from now on!

 

Find more information on Facebook or website: www.armstrongstwistedfish.com

Three is definitely NOT a crowd!

There is no real reason for this particular piece of writing only a pure unadulterated lust for all things sweet, densely creamy and which can be served up in thick delicious slices!  Over recent weeks and for various occasions (actually only one was an occasion, the rest were for the hell of it!), I have baked a trio of my favourite pies, cakes and tarts as a little reminder to myself why I love baking.  The best part however, is being able to share what I’ve made with my nearest and dearest.  To see them eagerly spoon each mouthful and give me a little nod of approval, now that’s better than eating the cake itself.  Alright, alright it’s almost better….

 

Tantalise your tastebuds, whet your whistle, feast your eyes on these little beauties!

 

 

  Custard Tart

Custard Tart Slices

 

Victoria Sponge Cake

045ce699c91a41e4e6b8770c33fe6de6

 

 

 Crunchie Cheesecake

crunchie cheescake

 

Egg Custard Tart Recipe

For the sweet pastry base crumb together 225g plain flour and  110g of cold butter.  Stir in the sugar and then mix in one beaten egg.  Gradually add enough milk to form a soft dough.  Grease a loose bottom 8″ flan dish.  This recipe will make 2 tarts but you could make half and freeze half.  Blind bake at 180 degrees centigrade for about 15-20 minutes but keep an eye on it.  It will start to colour and crisp up but be careful not to burn it.  Meanwhile slowly heat 600mls of full fat milk in a saucepan, you could add a vanilla pod or vanilla essence for extra flavour.  Whisk together 6 eggs and 80 grams of caster sugar.  Once the milk is hot but not boiling, take it off the heat and pour into a jug.  Slowly add the milk to the egg and sugar mixture, whisking the whole time until all the milk has been added.  Pour into you pastry case carefully (there will actually be enough of this mixture to make a couple of tarts or, do what I did and just pour the leftovers into ramekins and bake little individual custards).  Grate a little fresh nutmeg over the tart and bake in the oven at 200 degrees centigrade for 25 minutes, turning the oven down to 180 in the last 10 minutes.  You will be looking for a slight doming appearance on the tart, this means the egg is cooked through.  Cool completely before slicing and enjoying!

 

Victoria Sponge Recipe

Preheat the oven to 180 (160 for fan assisted).  Grease and line two 8 inch (20cm) sandwich tins.  Place 225g of softened butter into a large bowl along with 225g caster sugar, 225g self raising flour and 2 level teaspoons of baking powder.  Take 4 large eggs and crack each one in.  Using an electric whisk on a slow speed, beat for 2 minutes, or until smooth (I usually end up beating it for about 4 -5 minutes just to make sure everything’s smooth and combined)  The mixture will be soft enough to drop off the beaters when you lift them from the bowl.  Divide the mixture equally between the two sandwich tins, leveling the surfaces with a palette knife or spatula.  Bake the cakes for 20 -30 minutes.  When they are cooked they will shrink away from the sides of the tin and spring back when pressed.  After about 10 minutes,  turn out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.  Smear the two half’s with strawberry jam (beat it with a spoon to soften it up), sliced strawberries if you wish and lashings of thick double cream.  When assembled, dust with icing sugar and serve immediately! Simply delicious!

 

Crunchie Cheesecake Recipe

Heat your oven to 180 degrees centigrade.  Crush 14 digestive biscuits, meanwhile melt 150g of butter in a saucepan or microwave.  Combine the biscuit crumbs and melted butter and turn out into an 8inch loose bottomed tin.  Press down firmly with the back of a spoon making sure the mixture is smooth and even on top.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile softened 400g full fat cream cheese in a large bowl, pour in 500mls double cream and whisk until thickened but not too stodgy.  If you think the mixture needs sweetened a little sift in a little icing sugar.  Lightly crush 4 Crunchie bars and stir through the cream and soft cheese mixture.  When the base has cooled completely, spoon one third of a tin of Carnation Caramel onto it and smooth over.  Stir the rest into the creamy mixture (or less if you think its too much but when can you ever have too much caramel?).  Pour the mixture into the tin, smooth off the top and chill for at least 4 hours (overnight if you can resist eating it before then!).  Note: there is no caramel layer in the picture as I adapted the recipe later but believe me it adds a whole other dimension of yumminess!

 

 

 

Almond Nut Butter Protein Bars

All good things come in small packages, right?  Well these little wonderbars (or not so little depending on how generous your portions are!) pack a powerhouse of nutritional yummy goodness that will satisfy any chocoholics craving, in a not so sinful choccy way.  Crammed full of nuts, seeds, yummy almond butter and rich dark velvety chocolate, I have to admit, I really really enjoyed licking the spoon on this occasion!  Not to mention a few sneaky extra spoonfuls of delicious almond butter of course 🙂  Even those who aren’t fans of dark chocolate will find themselves wanting more.  I’ve already been ordered to make another batch by a dark chocolate loather!

 

Go on, move over to the dark side 😉

 

protein barsAlmond butter protein bars

Ingredients (Makes 16 pieces)

1 cup mixed chopped nuts

1/2 cup ground almonds

3 scoops protein powder (I used chocolate but vanilla  or banana could work also)

1 cup dried cranberries

2 tbls flaxseeds

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds

2 x 100g bars of 85% cocoa solids dark chocolate

2 heaped tbls any flavour smooth nut butter (I used Keen Almond Smooth Nut Butter)

 

Method

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof dish over some simmering water (do not let the water touch the bowl).  Once the chocolate has melted. take it off the heat and stir in the nut butter.  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine.  Line a square 8in x 8in dish with baking parchment.  Pour in the chocolate mixture, push into the corners of the dish and smooth over the top.  Place in the fridge until set and then cut up into equal squares.

 

 

It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time! Peanut Butter Jelly Time!

OK actually it’s almond nut butter jelly time but that’s not quite what Brian sang in Family Guy unfortunately – if only he had heard about Keen!  Whilst dreaming up what to use my fresh jar of nut butter for, I thought I’ll just have a bite of lunch while I gleefully peruse Pinterest for creative solutions.  Low and behold lunch offered up more than just a satisfied belly but rather a perfect photo opportunity and classic usage of the glorious nut spread!  Simple, to the point and utterly delicious – I give you a twist on the the good old PBJ, the almond butter jam sandwich.  I need not post a recipe, you all know what you’re doing here!  Mix it up with different flavoured jams and preserves along with any variety of Keen nut butter, trust me they will all work!

Nut butter and jam sandwichesNut butter and jam sandwich slices

Skinny is the Word

Now that Easter is officially off the scene, it’s time to stop eating chocolate bunnies and eat more like a bunny!  I’m sure you are aware the government have recently upped the stakes (or should that be beef steak tomatoes) and announced that five portions of fruit and veg a day just doesn’t cut it anymore and advise we should be aiming to consume a daily  seven!.  Phew, that’s a lotta consuming!  What’s the best way to get all these lovely nutrients in your system in one fell swoop?  A one shot wonder of delicious juice and the nicest I’ve tried so far have to be by local juice and super food company, Skinny Malinky’s.  Blended lovingly by Paula Heaney, she combines a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, crafting each juice meticulously to deliver wondrous benefits to the body, mind and soul.  7 a day? Wee buns 🙂

Juice collection copyright

Find Skinny Malinky’s @ https://www.facebook.com/skinnymalinkys