Creative Tops

How to incorporate pecans into your meals for National Pecan Month

April 22, 2014adminBlogComments Off

Nuts about pecan? Few of us with a sweet tooth can resist the allure of a mouth-watering pecan pie.

But with April – National Pecan Month – in full swing, many people are waking up to the fact that there’s so much more to a pecan than pecan pie alone.

Pecan pic

Take a new peek at pecan: desserts such as this with caramel sauce are delicious, but there’s so much more you can do with pecan than just pecan pie

Here are five of our favourite pecan recipes:

Macaroni pecan tuna bake crunch

This is quick and easy to make. Just get a tin of tuna or fresh flakes, boil some macaroni and make a cheese sauce.

Add the cheese sauce to the tuna, then stir in liberal dollops of Dijon mustard to add kick. Stir in sweetcorn with peppers and button mushrooms. The crunch comes from pecan and chopped up celery.

Once these are all mixed in, put the macaroni in a baking tray, pour the sauce over it, grating Red Leicester and breadcrumbs over the top, then bake on a medium heat for 20 minutes.

Spinach, peach and pecan salad

This is the perfect refreshing meal, especially in a hot summer. You’ll need the following: 75g (3oz) of pecans, a bag of spinach and two peaches. Put pecans in a baking tray and roast in a pre-heated oven on medium heat (180C, gas mark 4) for 10 minutes until they start to go dark. Peel the peaches into bite-size pieces. Put these three ingredients in a bowl and toss with the balsamic vinegar.

Pecan ice cream

Ingredients: five tablespoons of chopped pecans, one tablespoon of butter, 200g dark brown soft sugar, one teaspoon of vanilla extract, two beaten eggs, milk (175ml), double cream (175ml), more double cream (125ml).

Sauté the pecans in butter on medium heat until lightly browned, stirring regularly. Using medium heat, mix together the sugar, eggs, milk and the bigger portion of cream until smooth.

Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and cook for two further minutes. Take the saucepan off the hob and stir in the smaller portion of cream, vanilla and pecans. Pour into an ice-cream-maker and freeze.

Pecan and cashew curry

Sirloin steak can be cooked on a high heat. Mix in spices, tomatoes, spinach plus chickpeas to thicken.

Pour in plain yoghurt towards the end for a sprinkling of opulence. The secret ingredient to any mild curry is mango chutney. Don’t hold back on this – only three-quarters of a standard jar will suffice.

Add pecans and cashews for a chewy curry you’ll never forget, serving on a bed of mushroom rice for a healthy meal.

Pecan and maple pie

Pecan and maple are as inseparable as rum and raisin or Ant and Dec. They fuse deliciously here. You’ll need a 9in (22.8cm) prepared unbaked pastry shell, three eggs, maple syrup, two tablespoons of  melted butter, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, pecan pieces and half a cup of light brown sugar.

Beat eggs in a bowl. Add maple syrup, brown sugar and melted butter and vanilla. Stir in the pecans. Pour into the prepared pie shell and bake in a medium pre-heated oven for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with ice cream.

How to enjoy a home-made Easter feast

April 16, 2014adminBlogComments Off

Few seasons outside of Christmas get the taste buds watering more than Easter.

From hot-cross buns to Easter eggs to holiday weekend roasts, there are a multitude of traditional and not-so traditional recipes to enjoy.

Easter pic Hot cross fun: hot cross buns are a traditional Easter favourite and a hoot to make

Here are some of the best examples.

Hot-cross buns

In the kitchen, nothing says “Easter is here” more loudly than the mouth-watering sight of these traditional sticky glazed fruit buns with pastry crosses.

Mix in the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into a bowl in one bowl, then a warm milk and butter mixture with an egg in another before kneading together into a sticky dough.

You can be as creative as you want, adding sultanas, mixed peel, apple, cranberries, cinnamon or whatever takes you fancy.

Roll into hot-cross bun-sized balls and leave for an hour.

Cross the buns with a piping bag full of the butter mixture.

Heat the oven to 200-220C, brush with golden syrup and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. Add a jam of your choice if needed.

Roast dinner

An Easter Sunday roast has become as associated with Easter almost as much as turkey has with Christmas.

Whether you choose beef, pork, chicken or lamb, this can be a time to show off, imposing your own personality on what are traditionally generous helpings.

Yorkshire puddings are a firm favourite this time of year. Or you may prefer something a bit more leftfield, such as using aubergine Parmigiano to bring out a leg of lamb’s fuller flavours. You could stuff your lamb with spinach and gremolata.

But make sure there’s enough room left for Easter eggs…

Easter eggs

Why go to the expense and tedium of buying Easter eggs when you can have fun making your own?

Choose your preferred variety of chocolate – milk, dark or white.

You will need small egg moulds, which can be bought from specialist kitchen shops.

You should first learn the methods of tempering chocolate for best results. Then it’s a messy treat pouring swirls of chocolate into each mould.

But how do you stick the egg’s two edges together?

Simply heat a baking sheet, then place the edges of two halves on it for a few seconds, then gently push the edges together like you’re using superglue.

The best fun, however, is to be had by decorating the eggs.

The choices are endless and you can be as creative as you like, adding your own little quirks.

You can use stencils or simple stained glass or even throw in a basket with an Easter chick.

Crispy cake nests

These easy-to-make chocolate crispy cakes are fab to make with little children over the Easter holidays, especially as there are only five main ingredients: 36 mini chocolate eggs, cornflakes, butter, plain chocolate and golden syrup.

Simnel cake

No spring holiday is complete without this traditional symbolic Easter cake.

The 11 balls of almond paste represent the apostles.

All you’ll need is: almond paste, icing sugar, milk, eggs, caster sugar, butter, flour, grated nutmeg, cinnamon, lemon, cherries, candied peel, dried fruit.


Bake-Off winners: Where are they now?

April 9, 2014adminBlogComments Off

Great British Bake Off has brought rising success to its four winners.

While other reality show winners may be in the limelight for a couple of weeks before fading back into everyday life, the GBBO winners have bucked the trend and gone on to build careers within the world of baking.

They’ve got multiple TV appearances and five published books (with four more in the pipeline) under their collective belts. We take a closer look at what they are up to now.

Vintage Inns Vintage Summer Cake

Series One: Edd Kimber

Edd Kimber, the first series winner in 2010, was only 25 years old when he claimed the GBBO crown.

He gave up his bank litigation job upon winning the programme and turned his head firmly towards pastry making.

Since the show he has worked in Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir pastry kitchen, where he no doubt picked up some inspiration for his two books ‘Say it With Cake’ and ‘The Boy Who Bakes’.

He currently runs master classes in London where he teaches baking enthusiasts how to make French delicacies.

Series Two: Joanne Wheatley

Joanne proved to be a strong contestant throughout the second series, so it was hardly surprising when she was crowned queen in 2011.

The Essex housewife now runs cooking classes from her Ongar home, where she specialises in AGA cookery.

As well as her popular classes, she also boasts a monthly column in Sainsbury’s magazine and has written two books ‘A Passion for Baking’ and ‘Home Baking’.

Series Three: John Whaite

John swapped law school for pastry classes after winning the 2012 competition.

After initially working at the Le Cordon Bleu pastry kitchen in London, he decided to pass on his wisdom through his own cookery classes held from his Greenwich home.

He also acts as an ambassador for a charity, Baking a Smile, which provides cakes and baking workshops for children with terminal illnesses.

Two years on, John has a published book, ‘John Whaite Bakes: Recipes for Every Day and Every Mood’ to his name, while his second book is due to be published later this month.

Four: Frances Quinn

Last but not least, Frances Quinn clinched the 2013 winning spot after proving she had both style and substance.

The most recently crowned winner has taken a sabbatical from her job as a children’s clothes designer at Joules to pursue her baking future.

Her upcoming cookery book is sure to feature imaginative designs and creations for others to replicate.

Since the show, she has undertaken several rather unusual projects, including baking a giant fondant fancy for illustrator Quentin Blake and creating  a gingerbread biscuit to mark the first birthday of the Shard in London.

With the 2014 Great British Bake Off applications in and the weather getting gradually warmer, it won’t be long until a new baker’s dozen set of contestants will grace our screens, hoping to kick-start their own glittering baking career.

Why you should use your butcher

April 7, 2014adminBlogComments Off

The 24th – 30th March marks National Butchers Week which has been set up to celebrate the craftsmen of some of the tastiest produce in the country.

The butchery industry faces some strong competition from supermarkets when it comes to producing fine beef/pork/lamb etc at low prices, but for many a traditional butcher’s will always beat any other source.


Here are a few reasons why it’s worth paying your local butcher a visit.

Pure meat

A certain recent scandal of the equine variety has led to people coming back to their local butcher after it emerged that some supermarkets may not be completely honest in telling the public about the kind of meat their products contain.

The great thing about meat from the butcher is that meat is bought directly from farms, helping to ensure that there are no sneaky additives to cut costs. Meat can also be prepared while you wait, so you can see exactly what you’re getting.

Plenty of flexibility

Skilled butchers are able to deal with plenty of different orders, offering a flexibility that you generally don’t get at a local supermarket. So whether you’re in need of some freshly ground ingredients for a pâté at short notice or a Jacob ’s ladder of beef short ribs, your local butcher can help.

Crystal clarity

One problem which follows the supermarket meat industry is a lack of transparency over the kind of produce on offer. But this isn’t the case at the butchers, with meat coming from traceable sources which isn’t mass produced.

Cheaper than you might think

A common misconception is that your local butcher’s is more expensive to shop at than the supermarket, but it’s often the case that the butcher’s is no more costly to visit than anywhere else for meat – and it’s often of a much higher standard.

Free range food

One of the worst things about some shops is their favouring of cost-effective mass-produced meat. This often means that animals have to endure a poor quality of life, which usually means that the taste and quality of the meat they end up putting on the shelves will also be poor. You can ask your butcher questions about where exactly the meat has come from and what conditions the animal lived in.

Highly skilled and helpful

Perhaps the best quality of the local butcher is the wealth of knowledge they possess. Many butchers in your local high streets today have been in the industry for a long time and are able and willing to help advise you on what you’re looking to buy.

It’s often the case that your butcher will be much better at preparing meat than anywhere else, knowing how each and every muscle of an animal works as well as how to recover and prepare it for sale.

Five homecooked Mother’s Day gifts

March 28, 2014adminBlogComments Off

March 30 is the day we get to give something back to the most important woman in our lives. Mother dearest’s job can often be a thankless one, so it’s only right that we show our gratitude to our mums the best (and most enjoyable) way we know how – by cooking them a delicious gift!

To help you create something that oozes love this Mother’s Day, we’ve made a list of some of our favourite homecooked gift ideas.


Homemade truffles

There aren’t many better ways of saying ‘I love you’ than with chocolate, and making some homemade chocolate truffles will be a sure fire way of showing your mum that you care this Mother’s Day.

The great thing about making truffles is how easily you can tweak your recipe to cater for mum’s tastes perfectly; if she prefers white chocolate or dark chocolate, or perhaps a hazelnut or orange zest filling, you can easily make an adjustment and really treat her on her special day.

Breakfast in bed

What better way is there of setting up that special someone for a great day than cooking her a tasty morning treat?

Again, this is something that you can have fun with; don’t just limit yourself to tea and toast. Why not try out eggs Benedict or huevos rancheros?

Lemon curd

Perhaps a sweeter gift would be a more poetically fitting way of showing your love this Mother’s Day. Well look no further than a sweet and tangy homemade lemon curd!

Not only does lemon curd make for a delicious homemade gift, but it’s also very enjoyable to make – so not only will your mother love the thoughtfulness of her gift, you will love creating it!


What mother doesn’t love cakes? It’s not only an old favourite when it comes to gift ideas, but showing your love through baking is a sure fire way to warm the heart.

The great thing about baking a cake for Mother’s Day is that the great array of cakes on offer means you can choose between opting for a classic recipe mum loves, or going for something completely different and ambitious to mark the occasion


Scones are a nice simple dish to show that you care. Bake some sugared scones and serve them to nibble at while having a lovely Sunday afternoon gossip with mother dearest.

Being so easy to prepare, the scone can be a great little extra treat to make just before you pay mum a visit and will certainly earn you some Brownie points!

Well, whatever you do this Mother’s Day make sure you treat her extra specially and let her know just how much you love and appreciate her!

Katie Alice
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