Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Thanksgiving is one of those unique holidays which most Americans look forward to and which we try our best never to take for granted. 

It is a holiday revolving around being thankful for what we have, being surrounded by family and close friends, and not a single gift is exchanged(except maybe a hostess gift or two).

I am always so grateful when I am able to spend it back home with my family and this year is one of those special years. 

I haven't yet graduated to being the main cook on Thanksgiving (what a scary thought that is!) but I like to contribute something to the table.  

As a member of the family who enjoys baking (and there are quite a few of us) I decided to make a dessert and in my eyes there are two main Thanksgiving desserts: Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Pie.  

One of these traditional desserts was already spoken for but no one had baking rights to the Pecan Pie yet, so I was quick to claim it.

I envisioned little individual pecan pies, a muffin-sized pie to be exact (I'm slightly obsessed with muffins) the perfect portion that no one can say no to really.

So I set about finding a recipe that I could mutate.  I found a recipe for Mini Pecan Pies on the web page which was from Southern Living magazine November 2008. 

The recipe used a package of frozen tart shells which I decided could easily be substituted with my clever unbaked pie crust plan.

Long story short, I followed the Southern Living recipe for the pie filling and created my own little plan for the crusts.

My dad supervised as I hesitantly put the muffin pan with the half-baked crusts filled with delicious pecan goo into the oven and 25 minutes later.....voila!

Here is the recipe, which I've slightly adapted, from Southern Living November 2008:

Mini Pecan Pies (adapted from Southern Living NOVEMBER 2008)


  • 3 cups chopped pecans
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup dark corn syrup
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • two unbaked, ready rolled pie crusts
  • some flour for sprinkling on the crusts
You will need: muffin tins totalling at least a dozen

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant.

2. Unroll the crusts. Dust some flour on both sides of each pie crust. Using a wine glass turned upside down as a rough estimate cut rounds out of the crusts.  I was able to get 7 or 8 from each crust, although I did get creative and have to mush together the scraps and re-roll them to get the last round. 

3.  Push the rounds gently into the muffin tin, being careful not to put any holes through the dough as you press them in, the edges may overlap or be somewhat wrinkled as it is pressed into the tin but this is OK. Bake in the oven (without the filling) for roughly 10 minutes at 350ºF just to part bake but keep watch so it doesn't burn.
4. Stir together sugar and corn syrup in a medium bowl. Stir in pecans, eggs, and next 3 ingredients.
5. Spoon roughly a TBSP of pecan mixture into each crust. Ensure there is a good amount of the liquid in each and not just pecans since the liquid is what binds the filling together.

6. Place muffin tin with filled individual crusts into the middle rack of the oven.
7. Bake at 350ºF for 25 to 30 minutes or until set.

8. Remove to wire racks, and let cool completely (about 30 minutes). Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Coffee at The Basement

A sign in the window advertises that this interesting looking coffee shop has “Pumpkin Lattes”.  Who am I to deny myself from taste testing the one and only pumpkin latte available in Newcastle upon Tyne?
Located in Carliol Square, the relaxed atmosphere is apparent as you walk downstairs into the spacious coffee shop.  Music quietly plays in the background as the friendly barista greets you.
It feels like I’ve been transported back in time to my teen years and landed in a suburban basement to hang out on a Friday night complete with a pool table and combinations of random furniture dotted around.
There is even a little stage in one corner with a musician’s stool and a microphone which must be for “Live Music Fridays” advertised on the blackboard. 
I was very excited to have my pumpkin latte and was indeed quite impressed with it.
I was even more impressed with the “London Fog” (Earl Grey tea with steamed milk and vanilla syrup) that I had the pleasure of tasting for the first time.
That drink is definitely going on my list of things to order again, yum!    

Monday, 24 October 2011

Sugar Cookies

The sugar cookie is such a simple and versatile cookie. 

Perfectly delicious on its own or it can be made extra special using cookie cutters. Once decorated they can be a special treat suitable for any tea party!

I decided to make these particular sugar cookies for a Tea Party themed Baby Shower. 

I had chosen the teacup and teapot cookie cutters specifically for this purpose and I’m sure I will get plenty of use out of them in future too (Tea Party themed cookies from now on!).

I have to admit that it was a little frustrating when the baked cookies came out of the oven looking less than ideal. 

They had spread out quite a bit and were not particularly looking like they were heading to a tea party but luckily I was planning to add icing touches to embellish the finished cookie.

My mission was to force the brain to assume they were destined for a tea party through the creative use of sugar and an icing pen.

I had made an impulse buy of an icing pen (for the bargain price of only £3.99) on a little lunch time excursion to Clas Ohlson. I’m loving it and have put it to good use with these cookies.  

I am already envisioning Christmas cookies with sprinkles and icing galore!

Recipe from Joy of Baking:

Makes about 36 cookies.

3 cups (390 grams) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup (227 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda. 

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). 

Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat until combined.

Add the flour mixture and beat until you have a smooth dough. Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about one hour or until firm enough to roll.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Remove one half of the chilled dough from the refrigerator and, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/4 inch (1 cm). Keep turning the dough as you roll, making sure the dough does not stick to the counter.  Cut out desired shapes using a lightly floured cookie cutter and transfer cookies to baking sheet.

Place the baking sheets with the unbaked cookies in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to chill the dough which prevents the cookies from spreading and losing their shape while baking.

Note: If you are not going to frost the baked cookies, you can sprinkle the unbaked cookies with sparkling sugar. 

Bake cookies for about 8-10 minutes (depending on size) or until the edges are just starting to brown. Remove from oven and let cookies cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Frosted cookies will keep several days in an airtight container. Store between layers of parchment paper or wax paper.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Tyneside Coffee Rooms

Far: Banoffee Cake with Caramel Frosting
Fact: there are some fantastic places to have coffee in Newcastle.
I can appreciate the technical skill and extreme dedication to customer service that it takes to create a half-caf extra shot, extra hot, skinny caramel macchiato to the same standard each and every time, and I do indulge in a handcrafted beverage from the worldwide chains every so often quite happily. 

However, I can also appreciate a uniquely cosy one-off coffee shop that makes a helluva cuppa served in a chunky painted mug and whose decor comes complete with mismatched chairs, lumpy throw pillows and a take one/leave one book shelf in the corner. 

One of these wonderfully unique places is the Tyneside Coffee Rooms on the second floor of the Tyneside Cinema.
Blueberry cake with cream cheese frosting
Ok, so it doesn't have mismatched chairs or lumpy pillows, but it has fabulous red velvet seats with a greatly varied menu and they always seem to have a delicious selection of cakes (which come in very satisfyingly large portions!).  
Not only do they serve coffee but they also have a wide variety of tea and the loose teas are even served in funky tea cafetieres that perch on top of your cup.
It’s a great place to pop in and grab a cuppa to sip over good conversation, or to have lunch before a big shopping expedition in town.
I especially like the fact that there is movie memorabilia, factoids and photos in an exhibition in the corridor on your way into the coffee shop. 
The Tyneside Coffee Rooms is definitely a one-off coffee & cake experience.    

Friday, 7 October 2011

Chocolate Photo Shoot

Chocolate is a treat in all of its forms. 
Whether it be an indulgent hot coco moment, a sinfully rich & gooey chocolate dessert or just a candy bar fix from the vending machine during the work day, each is a special little moment to be enjoyed in its own way.
So last year when the opportunity arose to partake in an extraordinary chocolate selection box at an amazingly bargain basement price I jumped at the chance.
It was one of those fabulously priced trial offers for a certain high end chocolate company’s tasting club (the shop that has a name which sounds like it may actually be somewhere to rest your head overnight on a bed made of the delightful treat ). 
It was truly just too good of a deal to pass up.
I, of course, had to have a little photo shoot with my chocolates before I allowed myself to indulge in their deliciousness.

They were indeed the prettiest chocolates I have ever experienced and they tasted pretty fantastic too which is an impressive bonus. They had both style and substance, a combination I can happily sink my teeth into.
I can genuinely say that up until that point I had never had so much fun taking pictures of food.  I think it was one of the very first times I tried my hand at actually styling food.   
After the shoot I did my best to savour each and every bite of these decadent morsels but if I recall correctly the box didn’t last very long.
Can you blame me?  

Saturday, 1 October 2011

French Toast Casserole

It may be purely an American thing to make a casserole that is not savoury but whatever you choose to name this dish it is not a disappointment for something special of a sweet & stodgy nature.

It is probably best to refer to the meal where this dish is served as brunch otherwise you are flat out having dessert for breakfast. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to the idea of having dessert for breakfast, and in fact some of my favourite breakfasts are probably considered desserts somewhere in the world (waffles smothered with syrup, bagels with fruity cream cheese, porridge with dried fruit and drizzles of honey...) but for the sake of appearing healthy let’s just refer to this as the perfect brunch dish.

My mom found this recipe a couple of years ago and prepared it for our family Christmas Brunch that year (see how that sounds? Brunch is just fantastic!).

Simply put, it was awesome. It is now in my ever-growing repertoire of tried & tested recipes.

Basically it is a giant finger-licking portion of delicious French Toast (or Eggy Bread as it is called in the UK) that has been smothered in a sticky combination of syrup, pecans and brown sugar.  It is then baked to perfection so each bite has a bit of crunch followed by the soft sweet insides.

It is pretty simple to assemble and well worth a try! Your sweet tooth will definitely thank you (even if your waistline wants to disown you).

Below is the original recipe that my mom typed out for me from the newspaper article where she discovered it.  The article credited the recipe as being adapted from Virginia Willis' Bon Appetit, Y'all.

It is worth noting that recently I made a half batch (since I didn’t have a football team to serve it to) in a brownie pan and it worked quite well and made two large portions or 4 petite ones.

French Toast Casserole (makes 8 servings)
4 TBSP (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 loaf brioche (any sweetish white bread will do) sliced roughly 1 1/2 inches thick
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup whole milk
1 TBSP vanilla extract
1/2 TSP ground cinnamon
1/4 TSP ground ginger
Pinch Salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
Confectioners Sugar
Maple syrup

Combine melted butter and brown sugar in a 9x13 inch baking dish.

Arrange bread slices overlapping in the dish.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and salt. 

Pour mixture over bread, and let it soak in. 

Top bread slices evenly with pecans or walnuts.

Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 3 to 12 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Meantime, take casserole out of refrigerator and let sit at room temp for 20 minutes.

Bake casserole until browned and set, 30 to 45 mins. Let cool slightly on wire rack.

Sift confectioners’ sugar over casserole, and serve with syrup.

(Adapted from Virginia Willis' Bon Appetit, Y'all)

Saturday, 24 September 2011

South Shields: Colmans Fish and Chips

Greasy fingers, the smell of malt vinegar, ketchup dribbling down your chin, the sounds of the seaside, a giant seagull trying to steal your chips...
Colmans, South Shields
I suppose the above description is more relevant to grabbing some fish & chips to wander along the coast with but that is what I envision when going out for this famous British meal.
This particular time, however, I sat in the white tiled seaside themed restaurant of the Award Winning fish & chip establishment known as Colmans.
There are plenty of good fish & chip shops in the North East of England (see previous post) because we are so close to the sea but some stand out a great deal more than others.
Colmans which bills itself as Famous for Fish & Chips since 1926” is located in South Shields and has a restaurant attached to their extremely popular take away shop. On my visit there it was chock full of groups of older folks and whole families getting their mid day meal. 

We still managed to get a table quickly and soon we were joining in on the eating of delicious fish & chips. We then had the rest of the day to explore and enjoy.
Lakeshore Railroad, South Shields
Of course when in South Shields you have to head over to check out Lakeshore Railroad for a ride or just to take snaps (like some of us who obsess over getting a picture of the steam looking “just right”).
A gentle ride around the park on the mini steam train is the perfect thing if you are feeling rather roly-poly after finishing off your huge plate of carby goodness.  
And who knows, maybe after the digestion lethargy has finally passed you might even fancy a go at the amusement arcade across the street. 

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Make and Mend Market Treats

Here we have a little eye candy from the most recent Make & Mend Market and I can personally vouch for the deliciousness of each and every item seen here.

Lemon Dream from Poor Girl's Kitchen

Poor Girl’s Kitchen had an array of tempting goodies to choose from and I had to really hold myself back from getting one of everything.

I was even lucky enough to be the enthusiastic winner of four delightful Pet Lamb Patisserie cupcakes of my choosing. 

All I had to do in order to win the tasty quartet was to be the first fan to visit their stall in the Grainger Market and yell (yes, yell) out the secret password.
Caramel Bar from Poor Girl's Kitchen

Since I was out of the house early already for park run and also near enough to the market venue anyway, I figured why not give it a try? 

After finishing park run, I jogged my way through Newcastle town centre (won’t be doing that again anytime soon, yikes!) over to the market, checking via my phone along the way to see if they had released the secret password.

I was nearly at the entryway to the market when the password was finally announced.  I kept up the pace until I was standing directly in front of one of the Pet Lamb ladies who was sitting calmly at their stall.

Cupcakes from Pet Lamb Patisserie

I quickly asked if it had already happened and when she said no, I couldn't help but smile knowing I was about to be super-duper embarrassed and then I proceeded to yell out:

Having successfully won, I just grinned like an idiot whilst choosing my cupcakes and I don’t think I stopped grinning until well after I had eaten the majority of my treats accompanied by a cup of tea in the comfort of my own home.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread

Deliciously sticky & sweet, this hodge-podge of cinnamon sugary layers can only be described as seriously satisfying especially straight out of the oven.  

As soon as I saw this recipe on Brown Eyed Baker’s blog I knew that I definitely had to find the time to make it, but that thought was only second to my drooling.

This is my kind of bread and is the perfect accompaniment to a cup of freshly brewed coffee on a lazy Sunday.  

It took me a full afternoon to patiently prepare my kitchen so that everything would come together nicely. I carefully removed any traces of cats from the work area and banned them from the kitchen for the duration (which I think they were none too pleased about).

I scrubbed the counter top and laid out my tools (rolling pin, mixing bowl, measuring spoons, etc...) followed by each ingredient lined up in the proper order. 

My mom has always maintained that she thoroughly enjoys baking bread from scratch mainly because she loves the kneading process.  I have to admit that I’m not a huge fan of kneading since it makes my hands ache a bit, but luckily this bread only requires the dough be deflated and kneaded only a little bit (you have no idea what fun it is to punch...sorry “deflate” dough until you’ve had a go). 

The finished result is pretty darn impressive looking and tasting, which is definitely a winning combination.  Even though the process may have made my kitchen look like the losing end of a flour fight followed by a cinnamon sugar explosion, it was worth every sticky sweet moment!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Whirlwind Taste of the Northeast

I had a whirlwind visit recently from an old friend who had never been to England before and was only going to be in the Northeast for a single day. 

Marshalls Fish & Chips
I felt obliged to show him not only the visual highlights of the area (see my non food blog entry) but also a few of the culinary highlights.

We headed to the seaside to enjoy fish & chips, complete with mushy peas, in its natural surroundings.  We had our typically British meal at Marshalls in Tynemouth which came very highly praised by a friend.

From now on I will be the one strongly recommending Marshalls.  

Neither one of us had room in our stomach to completely finish our tasty meals but it was so good we just wanted to keep trying.

Tasty treats
This could have been because they serve quite generous portions, or it could have had something to do with the delicious selection of sweet things we had just enjoyed whilst sitting on a breezy bench along the coast.

We chose these little beauties from a lovely bakery along the main road to the Priory in Tynemouth, which unfortunately I don’t know the actual name of but I know exactly where it is for future.

There was an unfortunate cake casualty due to the slightly slippery strawberry tart not coming with a warning label of some sort or perhaps simply because one of us was a bit over excited about eating it and got a tad bit clumsy. 

Luckily we had two other treats waiting in the wings to indulge in. Phew!

Slippery strawberry tart
The chubby coconut macaroon with a little maraschino cherry on top was superb. The other item shall remain nameless (just like the bakery, darn it!) because I have no idea what it was called. The anonymous treat was an almond flavoured shortbread-esque bar with dried fruit sprinkled throughout with each end of the square dipped in chocolate for an extra sweet touch. So good!

There was also a nice selection of real ales enjoyed during this extremely brief visit to the Northeast. The choices available at the Bodega and The Bridge Hotel pubs were fantastically varied from blonde beers to dark brews and all the stages in between.

Real ale at Bodega
The evening was rounded out with a four-course meal at The Raj Tandoori off the Bigg Market in Newcastle’s city centre, but unfortunately I did not get a decent photo of the delicious curries we had, but trust me they were very flavourful and got thumbs up all around.

It has to be said that all involved parties enjoyed this little whirlwind taste tour of the Northeast, and I personally can’t wait to head back to Tynemouth very soon to discover more sweet treats from that fabulous bakery.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Chocolate Guinness Cake

(This entry was originally posted on my non-food blog but I wanted to repost it on here especially since Sylvia's Chocolate Guinness Cake has become a bit of an institution at our office bake sales.....she has developed quite a reputation for her baking skills, Delia and Nigella best watch out!)

Cake. Delicious cake. Need I say more?
Well, yes I should probably say more, especially to explain the details about these glorious chocolaty creations.

My office is known for its impressive charity bake sales which means some members of the office (and even those who have moved on to other offices but still participate, lucky us!) have amazingly awesome baking skills. These skills are often honed over the years by testing new recipes on unsuspecting colleagues.

For example, one might come into the office to start their work week thinking it was just another manic Monday. Low and behold, out of the corner of your eye, you notice there are some baked goodies housed in tupperware perched on a desk. Soon, an email goes around announcing that someone has been practicing their cake-making skills and bonding with their trusty and beloved oven over the weekend. Thankfully they have thought to bring in the results to share with the rest of us.

A stampede of office workers with plates at the ready usually ensues. This is then followed by the sweet smell of chocolate or other deliciously fragrant sugary concoctions wafting across the room as the items are dished out. Mumbled jumbled yum’s and other feedback can be heard as mouths are stuffed with the baked goodies. Just as quickly as they arrived, everyone returns to their desk satisfied and just a little bit hyper.

Sylvia made these two particular treats, and my gosh they were a hit! Chocolate Guinness Cake(from the Hummingbird Cake days cookbook) & Chocolate Brownies.

The brownies were picture perfect and baked ‘just right’ in true brownie style. They were a little bit gooey on the inside with a bit of crunch on the outside. And that cake was one of the most moist, rich, chocolaty cakes I have ever eaten. It even had been dusted with coco powder, the flavor of which compliments the cake perfectly. It was incredibly delicious and memorable.

The Hummingbird Bakery's Guinness Chocolate Cake Recipe can be found in their Cake Days cookbook or on's webpage here: 

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Rowntrees Randoms

With having a sweet tooth comes the love of all things sweet, that fact is a given, but it also means you can fully appreciate the good things versus the not-so-good ones. Thankfully, I don’t often come across the second category but I probably get through more than my fair share of the first.  

I definitely think these fun shaped gummy candies fall into the good category. A bag of Rowntrees Randoms doesn’t last very long once in my possession and I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that there’s been more than one occasion when I’ve bought a bag of them specifically to send as part of a little (and lightweight) British treat parcel to my sister overseas and it hasn’t quite made it to the post office.

Of course I always get a replacement bag to post eventually, but those brightly coloured little gummies are just too good to resist.

I also think that they are worthy of a photo shoot (perhaps that’s a given since I like to snap photos of most food), so take a gander at these little cute gummies and then go out and buy yourself a bag!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Easy Mac and Cheese Muffins

Brits and Americans seem to have very different taste when it comes to certain dishes.

I always get funny looks and raised eyebrows from Brits when the idea of  brunch consisting of maple syrup on pancakes and sausage comes up. And on the flip side, if you try to explain to an American that Brits mainly eat pancakes (which would actually be called crepes if we were on the continent) with lemon & sugar for their dinner on Pancake Day, they think it’s pretty odd.

So as you can imagine it can be a bit of a challenge to find common ‘taste bud’ ground on dishes that seemingly have the same ingredients but are in fact very different.

Enough of the pancake talk though, this is actually a post about a certain deliciously stodgy comfort food which thankfully seems to span the two cultures quite well from my tiny experience.

The superstar comfort food combo of pasta, cheese, and butter, fondly known as Mac & Cheese.  It is a warm & fuzzy edible hug that sticks to your ribs and makes you need a little nap when eaten in large quantities. 

I was very pleased to find that this dish was readily available on both sides of the pond and the differences between the two were not that apparent, if there are any at all. 

Although one American boxed version is practically flourescent orange in colour which doesn’t seem natural, and it doesn't seem to be popular in the UK but in its defence, it is easy to make and in a pinch it does the trick.

There is no argument that homemade Macaroni and Cheese is best and it has a firm footing on my list of favourite things to eat. It is also a welcome dish for most taste buds(unless you are on a diet).  

So of course when my friend gave me a copy of this recipe I was rather curious.  The title of Easy Mac and Cheese Muffins brought images to mind of a bready muffin with tubes of macaroni sticking out in all directions with some crusty melted cheese dotted on top. 

Luckily that isn’t actually how this recipe works. In fact, it is a recipe for individual portions of comforting and delicious Macaroni and Cheese baked to perfection using muffin tins (hence the ‘muffin’ title).  

How ingenious is that?

Monday, 22 August 2011

Pick Your Own...

The sign upon entering the farm should read: Risk life & limb fighting off the hordes of drunken wasps in order to enjoy some of our deliciously ripe fruit.

Ok....I admit it, I am a wasp-hater, and believe me the feeling is mutual since I was stung enough times as a kid to know that I should just steer clear of the little yellow & black terrors. They may be tiny but gosh oh gee their sting hurts like an elephant stepping on your toe(or what I imagine that would feel like).

Spot the wasp?
Perhaps I am overreacting ever so slightly, but there were indeed a few wasps buzzing around the strawberry fields at Brockbushes Farm this weekend which is to be expected in the great outdoors.  More than once though I had to abandon the perfect strawberry due to a (cunning & vicious) wasp nearby naughtily nibbling on a fuzzy pile of over ripe berry flesh.

Putting my irrational fear of wasps aside, I absolutely love the idea of ‘Pick Your Own’(PYO) farms. Not only do they make for a fun place to visit with their quaint little Tea Rooms and cutesy Farm Shops bursting with local products, but the whole idea is to go and pick only the best fruit.  You see exactly where it comes from and cut out the middle man.  It’s a win-win situation all around.

Summer Fruit Pie

After a hard working afternoon of picking fruit(or even a tough twenty minutes of wasp-dodging) you deserve a reward and may choose to sample some of the homemade treats that the quaint Tea Room has on offer.

You may decide to sample a slice of their Summer Fruits Pie and it may just be one of the largest pieces o’ pie you have ever seen. 
Bakewell Tart
Or perhaps you’ll choose a slice of the extra moist, make you drool, Bakewell Tart and you will be wishing that you had received the biggest piece you have ever seen.

Whatever you choose, just make sure you get yourself your own little pot of English Breakfast tea (and don’t forget to use the little pot of hot water supplied to top up your teapot).