Carrot cupcakes with mascarpone frosting

Carrot cupcakes with mascarpone frosting

I wouldn’t say I was exactly an expert at cupcakes, but I found I enjoyed making these, so thank you Ivy, my Taste & Create partner this month. Some of Ivy’s cupcake creations are amazing; as a rank beginner in the field, I decided to be relatively unambitious, and went for the carrot cakes with mascarpone frosting — largely because I like carrot cake, and they involved apricot jam — I have lots of that.

I made the candied carrots a couple of days before, and left them on a windowsill by an open window for 24 hours before storing them. They look great and are easy to make.

Candied carrots

As usual I battled with the American cup measurements; my cakes came out a bit moist yet again, and I wasn’t sure whether it was bad measuring or the fact that I baked them in muffin tins as I don’t have any cupcake cases. Ivy didn’t mention an oven temperature, so I guessed at 180 and baked them for 25 minutes. Anyway, even if they were a bit soggy in the middle, they tasted fab — I loved the subtle combination of maple syrup and orange, and the mascarpone frosting really is yummy. Read on for my metric version of the recipe.

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Caramelized apple, onion and cheese risotto

Caramelized apple, onion and cheese risotto

Taste & Create time, and I seem to be firmly stuck in the risotto groove. My partner this month is Cuisine Heart, and after browsing her blog I found several recipes to interest me. After the fabulous pear and gorgonzola risotto, I was tempted by her caramelized apple, onion and cheese risotto. Also I was running out of time, and it was easy and quick to do, using ingredients from the storecupboard. It’s basically a standard risotto method, except that you caramelize the apples and onions instead of just gently softening them in the oil, and use dry cider instead of white wine.

Verdict: OK, it is not up to pear and gorgonzola standards, but it was delicious and unusual. The only cheese I had was a stub of Comté and lots of parmesan, so I made do with those and didn’t add cream at the end. I loved the tart fruitiness of the cider and apple. We ate it on its own, but it would be nice as an accompaniment to roast pork. The photo is just further proof of how unphotogenic risotto is.

Pear and gorgonzola risotto

Thank you, Rossella of Ma che ti sei mangiato! I cooked Rossella’s leek risotto for Taste & Create, and she told me about this recipe. She said it was divine, and it is. Creamy, rich, with the perfect combination of pears and gorgonzola, and walnuts to add crunch. One of the best risotti I’ve ever had. Vegetarian too! No photo, because I already know risotto isn’t photogenic.

Even if you’ve never cooked risotto in your life, you owe it to yourself to try this. Don’t be scared — risotto is really easy. But you must use proper Italian risotto rice, otherwise it will be a travesty.

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scones for tea

One of those things that seem so obvious you hardly need a recipe. But it’s handy to have one for reference. This is from Taste & Create partner Ginny’s blog, and even though I now have some cup measures I’ve converted it to metric weights because, well, how do you measure a cup of butter?

Scones aren’t as easy as you might think. The key is to mix/handle the dough as little as possible. Don’t roll it out; as soon as it holds together, tip it onto a floured work surface and pat it out with your hands. Not too thin; it should be about 2 cm thick. Then cut into triangles or squares with a sharp knife. They might not look as elegant as round ones made with a cutter, but they will be lighter. Sprinkle a little flour on top before putting in the oven. If you have any buttermilk or even milk that’s gone sour in the fridge, your scones will be even lighter. I sometimes substitute yoghurt for part of the milk.

You have to eat them the day they are made, preferably when they are still just warm. Ginny likes hers with honey, but being British I consider that you can only eat them spread with home-made strawberry jam, with a generous dollop of clotted cream on top. Or crème fraîche if you can’t get clotted cream. And a cup of tea of course!

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Goat’s cheese, caramelised onion and artichoke quiche

Goat's cheese, caramelised onion and artichoke quiche

Taste & Create IX already! I was lucky again, and was partnered with another person who likes pasta and vegetarian dishes: Ginny of Just Get Floury. Once again I could see several recipes that intrigued me. I started with Ginny’s mum’s recipe for Ceci ‘n Chard and I’m sorry to say I was a bit disappointed: cheap and very healthy, but it just didn’t taste very interesting even after I threw some sliced sausage and chilli flakes into it to liven it up a bit.

Never mind! I did a lot better with my next choice: goat’s cheese, caramelised onion and artichoke quiche. It was simple to make, and delicious. I didn’t have any marinated artichokes, so I used a can of artichoke hearts, diced, and added a sprinkling of fresh basil simply because I had some. I used a fresh goat’s cheese from a local farm. I cooked it at quite a low temperature (170C) for about 40 minutes, because I like my quiche to have a silky smooth texture. As Ginny says, this recipe could be adapted in all sorts of ways, depending on what you have in the fridge: I think it would be nice with spinach or tomatoes instead of the artichokes — or even the stalks left over from my chard experiment!

As for the balsamic caramelised onions … I’ll make more next time, because they are the sort of leftovers I like to have!

Goat's cheese, caramelised onion and artichoke quiche

Leek Risotto


Taste & Create has come round again already, and I haven’t even posted anything since last time! This time it’s a different kind of challenge: Nicole emailed me to say my partner’s blog is entirely in Italian! I should have guessed from the title … Ma che ti sei mangiato.

Still, since I know French, Latin, and a smidgin of Spanish, and I’ve been to Italy a couple of times, how difficult could it be? I love Italian food, so I have a pretty good vocabulary of food items, and I can usually understand the gist of what Italians are saying to me once I’m fortified with a couple of glasses of wine. So I set forth to explore.

Honestly, with the aid of the photos there were loads of recipes that appealed to me enough to make the effort to understand them (a little Babelfish was required here and there). But I decided to start with a really simple one for which I fortuitously had all the ingredients: leek risotto. It was simplicity itself to make, and I liked the result, even if Steve wasn’t so keen (he thought it was too sweet, but I think I reduced the wine a bit too much). Sorry about the photos, risotto just isn’t photogenic, but it tasted good! Look for at least a couple more recipes from Rosella soon, and thank you Nicole for the introduction!

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Ricotta Pound Cake

Ricotta pound cake

I happened across a food blog event called Taste and Create in which food bloggers are paired up and cook something from each other’s blogs. It sounded like fun, so I signed up. I was a teeny bit alarmed when I saw who I’d been paired with: Megan is obviously a baker who specialises in fancy cakes, which are not my forte at all. I was worried I wouldn’t find anything I thought myself capable of cooking, but luckily I quickly found ricotta pound cake, which looked like the sort of cake I make to take to choir practice and doesn’t involve fondant icing. I briefly toyed with the chocolate cupcakes, but they involved piping bags and I just didn’t see myself with a piping bag; I think I’ve probably used one about once in my entire life, and that was for making Duchesse potatoes.

Next challenge: the American cup measures. Gah! I hate these! How do you measure a cup of butter?? Off to Google, and I found this handy calculator, instantly bookmarked.

So off to the kitchen with the scales and a measuring jug. Now I have to confess that even after I’d done the conversions I fiddled with the recipe. 340 grams of sugar to 170 g of flour?? Pound cakes normally have equal weights of egg, butter, sugar and flour, and I’m sure most Americans have a sweeter tooth than I do, so I reduced the sugar to “only” 200 g. This might have something to do with the fact that my cake took even longer than Megan’s to cook, and was very moist — er, soggy even. But it had a lovely crisp, caramelised outside which contrasted nicely with the golden yellow interior. It’s a “pudding” sort of cake; it would be nice with some soft fruit such as raspberries or blueberries, or even as the basis of a trifle.

So I’m not disappointed with my choice. Maybe I should put more sugar in next time though. The quantities below are what I actually used after my measuring/weighing/converting session; if you want the real recipe, I recommend visiting Megan’s blog!

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