Chocolate and Banana Gruffalo Cake – Emily’s 3rd Birthday


This is the first year Emily has been big enough to be able to ask what kind of cake she wanted. The answer was an instant “Gruffalo” . After some googling a 3D cake seemed rather out of my skill-set and with rather a lot on my plate this year I did consider buying some handy cake toppers from eBay   really taking the pain out of cake decorating.

But the first Google link was this little fellow with a soft buttercream icing , eminently preferable over a hard royal icing in my book.

I changed the recipe slightly , banana rather than chocolate cake and milk rather than dark chocolate icing. I also used by 175g recipe  because it never fails to produce a light moist cake.

The most terrifying bits were cutting the cake shape and modelling, the rest was pretty easy and  I made the cake over 2 days , actually one night and a very early morning.


The relief  I felt when Em correctly identified it as a Gruffalo cannot be expressed loudly enough.  It was intended to go to Nursery with her that morning but they are a bit overwhelmed with 10 birthdays in July and some very over-sugared children so it was a grandparent only affair, incredibly patient she waited two days to blow out the candles. A massive improvement over previous years when the singing of happy birthday has resulted in bafflement or tears. Time is going very fast … so it’s really important to mark these moment

1st BirthdayUntitledUntitled





Banana and Chocolate Gruffalo Cake 

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 350g of self raising flour
  • 350ml of sunflower oil
  • 350g of  caster suhgar
  • 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 bananas
  • 5 eggs

For the butter cream

  • 150g of butter
  • 100g of icing sugar
  • 150g of milk chocolate
  • 2-3 tbsps hot water

For the decoration

  • 100g of ready made royal icing
  • Food colouring orange , green, purple and black
  • 1 fruit roll-up or liquorice strings

 1 day before

Make the cake sponge

  1. Blend together the oil and sugar and bananas
  2. Mix in the eggs
  3. Mix the flour with the  bicarbonate of soda
  4. Add the flour and sugar
  5. Divide the mix into 2 lined square cake tins each 30x30cm
  6. Bake at 175degC for 40 minutes until golden and firm to touch.
  7. Turn out from the tins and leave to cool

Make the Chocolate Buttercream

  1. Melt the chocolate until liquid but don’t let it bubble
  2. Mix together the butter and icing sugar
  3. Add to the chocolate
  4. Mix well and leave to cool ( if you refridgerate , you will need to take it out of the fridge a few hours before use to let it soften)

Die the royal icing enough to make

  • Purple prickles
  • Two eyes of orange , with a small dot of black colouring to make the pupil
  • Small green poisonous wart
  • Keep enough white to make whiskers , tusks , teeth and horns
  • For the mouth and eyebrows you could die royal icing black but I found it impossible to get it dark enough ending up with a lot of soggy grey icing. Instead  an unrolled dark fruit roll-up or liquorice lace works well

Leave wrapped in clingfilm to prevent the icing drying out

Day 2

Assemble the cake

  1. Sandwich the two cake layers with buttercream
  2. Cut into a Grufallo shape using the offcuts to form ears
  3. Cover with buttercream and fork

Shape the features  once they are all completely shaped lay them onto the cake.

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Pasta with Nduja and Green Vegetables


Poor poor neglected blog it’s like that pet that you have before you have a child and then completely ignore. Except my blog doesn’t start scratching the furniture and weeing in my shoes, it just sits their forlornly with occasional requests coming to my inbox for updates.

The thing is I still cook so much I just never manage to take a picture of anything and I’m pregnant with number two so that seems the ideal time to try and restart.

Here is dinner from a few days ago, delicious asparagus, broad beans ( from the freezer but fresh will be available soon) and star ingredient Ndjua . I was actually sent some of this a long time ago use the whole lot in one go and have spent years trying to find it again.

Tracked this person down a food festival delicibo   though they have a stall in Chesterfield Market

Made from guanciale (pig cheek) and pancetta (bacon), dried Calabrian red chilli and salt. It is a little like a drier sobrasada one of my favourite Majorcan ingredients. A little goes a long way and it keeps forever in the fridge so worth an investment

There days I quite like pasta to  be half and half with some vegetables struggling to get that 5 a day ( or is it 7 now) , you could use any green vegetables in season so kale or  purple sprouting broccoli would work.

Pasta with Nduja and Green Vegetables

For two people

  • 100g of linguini or spaghetti
  • 4 handfuls of broad beans
  • ½ bunch of asparagus ( 6 spears)  – finely sliced lengthways
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of Nduja
  • 1 handfuls of toasted breadcrumbs


  1. Boil the pasta with the broad beans for 10 minutes
  2. Steam the asparagus over the top for a few minutes , it should still snap
  3. Once cooked mostly drain the pasta, but leave a couple of tablespoons of water ,add the nduja  and stir over the heat , this will melt the nduja and allow it to the coat the pasta and beans
  4. Stir in the asparagus.
  5. Serve and top with the breadcrumbs
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Beef Brisket with Carrot and Peanut Sauce

Slow cooked beef brisket with carrot and peanut sauce

Two years ago some new things came into my life. A slow cooker ,  a pressure cooker and a baby. The first two have definitely made it easier coping with the latter.

A pressure cooker cooks things very fast when you have forgotten to do anything , the slow cooker does what it says on the box and cooks things very slow , so when you have a millisecond in the morning before running off to work  you can throw ingredients into the slow cooker.  I have learnt it’s best to keep ingredients large if you want to leave them all day, particularly with joints of meat cooked whole they are  easier to use  as leftovers  in another dish.

This dish is sweet and rich but the shredded veg gives spikey crunch, it would work with pork shoulder or chicken joints.

Beef Brisket with Spicy Carrot and Peanut Sauce

750g roll of brisket
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tsp of chilli paste
4 whole carrots
1 clove of garlic.
1 spring onion

  1. Place in the slow cooker on low for 8 hours
  2. Mash the carrots and onions to make a sauce
  3. Slice the brisket to serve.
  4. Pour over the sauce and sprinkle with chopped spring onion.

If you don’t have a slow cooler , chop the carrots and place everything in the oven  at 180degC for 2 hours.

Serve with shredded cabbage , carrot and sliced cucumber dressed with rice wine vinegar and fish sauce.

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Mutton Tagine

Mutton Tagine

More magic from the slow-cooker, so easy  I don’t even sear the meat, never needed to, all the ingredients  thrown in  first thing in the morning  and after even the worst day a delicious meal.

I really love Lamb but mutton really has that denseness to it, perfect with some sweetness and spice

Mutton Tagine

Mutton Tagine

1kg of mutton shoulder or leg in a whole piece.
Handful of dried apricots
1 tbsp of ras Al hanout
1 tbsp of dried red chillis
1 large onion roughly chopped
1 clove of garlic
1 handful of black olives
1 lemon chopped into quartets
2 tbsp of dried mint

Put all the ingredients in the slow cooker , leave on low for 6 hours.
To serve pull the mutton into chunks and mix together .

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Red Thai Curry Spiced Beef Ribs


It’s got very cold, so the slow cooker is on overdrive. No soggy brown stews here, I need stickiness and spice. Beef ribs are something you never see in supermarkets so you need to visit a butcher. I hit the market on Friday morning, a very welcome day off and these sat in the cooker from lunchtime to the evening.

I get the ribs cut into three it’s easier to serve portions, the meat after slow cooking is super-tender and they have a layer of fat that makes amazing sweet gravy.

You could serve this with some rice but I like the contrast of some crunchy shredded raw savoy cabbage (in season now) dressed with a little rice wine vinegar.

Red Thai Spiced Beef Short Ribs

Red Thai Curry Spiced Beef Ribs

Enough for 4 hungry people

3 beef ribs cut into three
3 large handfuls of chestnut mushrooms
3 tbsp of dried coconut powder or coconut cream.
2 tbsp of soy sauce

Red Thai Curry Paste

2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander seeds
4 red bird’s eye chillies,
1 tbsp paprika
3 tbsp of lemongrass stalks
4cm piece ginger, chopped
zest of 1 lime
1 large onion chopped
5 garlic cloves, chopped
Handful of coriander stalks
2 tbsp each fish sauce

1.Process together the ingredients for the paste
2.Add the paste and the ribs to the slow cooker, no need to sear.
3.Leave in low for 6 hours.
4. An hour before the 6 hours is up, add the mushrooms , coconut powder and a dash of soy.

If you don’t have a slow cooker then 150deg in the oven for 3 hours should do it but you may need to a add a dash of water.

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A dirty kebab


I managed to write two blog posts last year. Truly pathetic and when I look at what other people have accomplished pretty shaming.

But work has been busy, so busy I have failed to take even half my annual leave allowance. So I am going to manage some days off in the Spring, spend some time with Em and cook a new dish every week.

I started on New Years’ Eve, Nick was keen to have kebabs and I happily obliged , this was my version though a very long and slow cooked spiced lamb shoulder, crunchy kebab salad you can’t really mess with a classic and creamy crunchy mint yogurt.

Spice Mix

1 tbsp of whole coriander seeds
1 tbsp of garlic powder
1 tbsp of chilli flakes
1 tbsp of paprika
1 tbsp of sumac
1/2 preserved lemon finely chopped
2 tbsp of pomegranate molasses


1 large lamb shoulder
2 large onions roughly chopped


1. Toast all the dry spices
2. Mix with the preserved lemon and pomegranate molasses
3. Rub all over the lamb shoulder
4. Leave in the fridge overnight

Place in slow cooker on low for 8 hours you can leave it as long as 12 hours
Turn the lamb over halfway through.


You can pull the lamb apart with a fork, the onions will have practically dissolved into the juices.

Perfect for filling a warmed pitta bread, stuffed with kebab salad ( Shredded white cabbage mixed with shredded white onion, chopped tomato and dressed with lemon juice.) , topped with yogurt mixed with mint sauce and finely chopped cucumber.

Slow Cooked Spiced Lamb Shoulder

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Slow cooker Fennel Roasted Pork Ribs & a vote for Green Spaces.


Poor neglected blog. The truth is working full time and trying to cram in time with Toddler Em, cook food to eat and try to say more than 3 words a day to Nick, something had to give.

But I really do miss having a blog and a couple of things have conspired this week to make me want to blog again.

Firstly I work at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, and this week Michelin starred chef Sat Bains observed a surgical op at the invitation of the surgeon who had previously visited his kitchen to . Both aimed to learn lessons about team working Obviously I was nowhere near the theatre at the time – operating theatres being even harder to get close to than Michelin starred restaurants.

Reading about the visit reminded me how writing the blog so different from my work I had always found writing the blog somehow helped to round me out.

In the Community Gardens

Then desperate to escape the heat this weekend. Toddler Em and I hit our local community gardens, just a few minutes walk from the house. Arkwright Community Gardens is a gorgeous space perfect for the urban toddler to get in touch with a greener world. Chickens, a greenhouse with peaches and bananas, the tandoor oven is lit once a week with cookery and gardening clubs in an area. The volunteers there are always helpful and smiling. It was heaven when Em was really tiny letting her crawl in the mud.

The Meadows is Nottingham that does not enjoy the best reputation plagued by dodgy 70s planning decisions .The gardens are just over a decade old , they sell affordable organic produce in season and a steady stream of locals drop by for bags of salad and veg. No soft fruit this week as someone had jumped the fence and helped themselves – probably just as well as Em can make short work of a patch of strawberries.


Last weekend during our visit we bought some massive bulbs of fennel,bulbs were larger than Em’s head and the fronds towered over her. It got me enthusiastic about cooking as only fresh food can do.

I cooked the fennel bulbs in the slow cooker along with with a rack of pork ribs, they meant for the BBQ but your just cannot get the weather , just lightly seasoned with salt and pepper cooked as a rack in the slow-cooker on low for 4 hours til the bones lift out of the meat. Served with a fresh fennel and carrot salad , fennel finely sliced and carrot grated with just a dash of white wine vinegar.

I am still working through the fennel leaves so far in a fish stew and bean salads.


If you could spare a vote for the Community Gardens they have put themselves for a Lottery Good Causes Award. It will only take a quick click here

Em in the Community Gardens

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Beef and Beetroot Curry


We are back to using a vegebox,this time from local Eden Farms, now a vegebox this time of year is pretty root-based the odd leafy cabbage. Beetroot feature heavily but once you have shredded them for salad , made some borscht even stuck them in the brownies you start to wonder, what else can I do with these things.

I was searching around and found a recipe for a beef and beetroot curry sounded a bit odd but we need to do something with them. I could’t find the recipe again but it had stuck in my head so this is a bit of a throw together

I used beef ribs but any slow cook stewing joint cut into cubes would work well , the cooked beetroot is nice and earthy and goes particularly with with a ind of mint-yogurt which I totally cheat when making and mix mint sauce with yogurt.

You could up the chilli contents but for me this was perfect meaning I could taste the beef and the beetroot , it didn’t not go any kind of scary luminous purple either

Beef and Beetroot Curry

Serves 2

200g of stewing beef 2cm cubes
100g of beetroot, scrubbed I dind’t bother peeking it cos the slow
cook should take care of any tough skin , these we quite small cut
into quarters but should be about the same size as the beef.
1 large onion peeled and cut quarters
2 garlic cloves peeled and roughly chopped
1 tbsp of garam masala
1 tsp of turmeric
1 green chilli roughly chopped
1 tsp of mustard seeds.

Mix all the ingredients and place in the slow cooker on LOW for six hours

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Spiced Beef Brisket – Slow Cooker


Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Made easy contains a recipe for a Sri Lankan Beef Smore , a spiced brasied beef dish,  she suggests using a beef shoulder meat tied, chuck or brisket.

I am always looking for new recipes for brisket definitely one of my favourite cuts of beef.  Curried brisket sounded to great to pass up, as usual I messed with the recipe, the original spices were coriander cumin, fennel , fenugreek and cinamon)

This is not a hot curry , mildly spiced tender meat, with just enough slightly chewy crusty bits.  Since I first made it , I have probably cooked it three or four times.

Spiced Braised Beef Brisket

1kg of rolled beef brisket
2 tbsp of garam masala (mine is a mixture of black peppercorns, fennel seeds, cinamon, cloves green cardamon )
2 tbsp of coconut milk powder if using slow cooker, if not 250ml of coconut milk + 200ml of chicken stock)
1 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
1 thumb of ginger finely grated
1 stick of cinammon
1 tsp of tumeric
1 tsp of black mustard seeds
2 cloves of garlic
2 medium onions rouhgly chopped
1 tsp of sunflower oil

In a frying pan, toast the spices in the sunflower oil
Roll the brisket in the hot pan with the spices to sear. Do not worry about browning too much
Place everything except the coconut powder into the slow cooker
Cook on low for 6 hours or high for 1 hour then low for 3 hours.
Add the coconut powder at the end .

Without a slow cooker , after searing the meat put everything in a lidded cassrole dish and place in a medium over 160deg for 2hrs, basting turning halfway through.

To serve slice the brisket and serve on top of steamed white rice, with a little of the sauce poured over.

Beef Brisket with vegetables


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Sustainable Sushi – Mackerel Sashimi and Smoked Mackerel Sushi Rolls


This week Nick was sitting his first exam in more than 20 years. When I asked what he wanted to eat to celebrate the end he said sushi. Visits to conveyor belt restaurants are definitely out with Em – pretty certain moving food would be way too exciting a challenge. But we have often made sushi at home.

Fresh fish sushi and sashimi tend towards the un-sustainable end of the fishmarket and I wanted to try to find something a bit more sustainable without missing the protein hit. The fishmongers had some spankingly fresh mackerel and some quick research showed Mackerel sashimi to be favourite dish.  Rather than simply cutting the fresh mackerel recipes ( as Hugh F-W suggests) most included a cure

Methods varied in the amount of cure , and wether it was salt sugar or vinegar but this method worked well to produce something where there was still a good taste of fresh mackerel.

We also made a few rolls with smoked mackerel, cucumber and spring onion, which Em happily tucked into the next day fun to see a toddler decimate a sushi roll.



Mackerel Sashimi

200g of salt
200g of caster sugar
100ml of rice wine vinegar

  1. Remove the head from the mackerel.
  2. Remove fillets from each side of the fish to the tail, leaving the skin on
  3. Remove all the pin-bones, I use tweezers
  4. Place the mackerel flesh side into a layer of sugar for an hour
  5. Then brush off the sugar and replace with salt and leave for at least 4 hours
  6. To make the marinade warm the rice vinegar with half the sugar (the rest can be disgarded), leave to cool.
  7. Once the mackerel has cured pull off the skin, this should leave some of the blue/silver pattern on the flesh.
  8. Put the fillets into the marinade for 30 minutes, slice into pieces.
  9. Serve with soy sauce and wasabi.
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