Banana bread: a recipe for bake sale success

In less than two months, I will be running 26.2 miles through the glorious streets of London, along with about 37,000 other people. For me, the London Marathon is a once-in-a-lifetime event, so I’ve been really focused on my training so far this year.

As well as training through the winter months, getting up for a run before work twice a week as well as dedicating a day at the weekend to an increasingly lengthy stint, in order to confirm my place in the marathon, I have to raise a whopping £2,000. I’m raising money for the charity I work for – Christian Aid – an international development NGO working to end poverty in several developing countries around the world through long-term, sustainable projects.

So what’s the best way to raise money? Feed people cake.

Bake sale

On Wednesday, I put on a Cakes, Books and Clothes Sale at work to help my marathon fund. A wealth of books were donated by colleagues and family – so many that I could hardly fit my feet under my desk at the beginning of the week! And some of Christian Aid’s resident bakers took to their kitchens to provide sweet treats for the event.

Cakes and books sale

I made some banana bread, and lemon and poppyseed cupcakes for the sale, both of which sold out. The banana bread was the standout winner though, selling out in record time. So if you’re looking for a popular bake sale idea, then you should give this a go.

Banana bread

Banana bread

I’ve made this sweet bread a couple of times now. If, like me, you’re not a big fan of bananas, don’t be put off by cooking with the sweet and squidgy fruit! It makes this loaf lovely and moist, and really delicious; the taste of banana is quite subtle. It’s also pretty cheap and simple to make. Go on, give it a go.

Ingredients

  • 3 medium bananas
  • 100g butter, softened at room temperature
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 250g plain flour, sifted
  • 80ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: An hour (possibly a little longer)
Slices into 10 generous portions

On this occasion I used an impropmtu lemon buttercream icing, leftover from the cupcakes I made the same night, which I made following this recipe, but I think a simple glaze made from icing sugar and water compliments this bake nicely (just buy some icing sugar and follow the instructions on the packet).

Method

1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4. Grease and line a standard loaf tin.

2. Tip the butter and sugar into a large bowl and beat together with a wooden spoon.

3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. When adding the second egg, add a tablespoon of the flour with it to prevent curdling.

4. Get a small to medium sized bowl. Peel a banana and slice into small pieces, then add to the bowl. Repeat this for all three bananas, then use a potato masher to mash the pieces up until fairly smooth.

5. Pour the milk and lemon juice into a jug. Add the liquid to the large bowl along with the vanilla extract and banana. Mix well.

6. Fold the remaining flour and the bicarbonate of soda into the mixture gradually until thoroughly combined.

7. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and spread it out evenly with a spatula or a knife. Bake for one hour, take it out of the oven and poke a skewer or knife through the centre. If it comes out clean, it’s cooked. If not, pop it back in the oven for another 10 minutes or so. I’ve found that the knife never comes out entirely clean. As long as it’s mostly clean, I think you’re safe to say it’s done.

8. When the bread is ready, leave it to cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then turn out on to a wire rack or chopping board to cool.

9. Ice as you wish and decorate with sprinkles.

This recipe was inspired by The Clandestine Cake Club cookbook.

If you would like to sponsor me for the London Marathon, you can do so here.

Goats’ cheese and squash savoury pancakes

I may be a day late, but these pancakes were worth the wait; the sweet and creamy savoury flavours in amongst the batter taste great.

I won’t attempt anymore poor poetry, but if you’ve not tried making savoury pancakes before, I would recommend giving these a go.

This recipe uses a traditional pancake batter with the addition of sweet and soft butternut squash, smooth and creamy goats’ cheese, and a hint of rosemary. The peppery rocket salad compliments the pancakes well and the pumpkin seeds add a bit of crunch.

You could serve them for brunch or a light evening meal.

Savoury pancakes

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 25g melted butter, plus a little extra
  • 1 egg
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 300ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 100g vegetarian goats’ cheese
  • 250g butternut squash
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary
  • 100g rocket
  • A handful of pumpkin seeds
  • A dash of lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • Sweet chilli sauce for dipping

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Serves 2

Method

1. Peel, deseed and slice the butternut squash. Cut into small cubes, around 3cm.
2. Put a small frying pan on a medium heat and add a knob of butter, along with ½ tbsp oil. When the pan is hot, add the squash and fry for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cubes start to brown up.
3. Meanwhile, put the flour, baking powder, rosemary and a pinch of salt in a mixing bowl and stir together.
4. Pour the milk into a jug and beat in the egg.
5. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the milk and eggs, and the melted butter. Whisk together thoroughly until it forms a smooth batter.
6. When the squash is ready, tip it into the batter along with the goats’ cheese. Stir well until the fillings are evenly dispersed among the batter.
7. Place a large frying pan on a medium heat and pour in ½ tbsp oil. Add three ladlefuls of batter to separate parts of the pan, and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the batter begins to bubble. Flip the pancakes and do the same on the other side. Cook until golden brown on both sides. Do this in three batches, placing the cooked pancakes under the grill to stay warm if needed.
8. Serve with some rocket and pumpkin seeds drizzled with a touch of lemon juice and plenty of seasoning. The pancakes definitely need a sauce with them; I had mine with some sweet chilli sauce which was tasty.

This meal was inspired by James Martin’s BBC Good Food recipe.

A vast vegetarian Valentine’s meal at Amico Bio, Holborn

Amico Bio is a vegetarian restaurant specialising in healthy and organic Italian food. With authentic ingredients sourced from the owner’s family farm in Italy and with an ever-changing menu, you know you’re getting the good stuff here.

There are two branches in London. I’ve been to their Barbican restaurant twice before; and both times the standard of food and service was great. For Valentine’s Day,  we decided to try its sister restaurant on New Oxford Street for a change.

There was a four-course Valentine’s set menu, including a sparkling cocktail. Having had some disastrous Valentine’s experiences in the past – with restaurants not having our reservations written down and the like – we were pleasantly surprised when we could choose where to sit on arrival. The restaurant was pretty quiet for a Saturday night in central London, but I wasn’t complaining!

First course

I opted for the Spaghetti di zucchine, misticanza, peperoni e basilico i.e. courgette spaghetti with mixed leaf salad, pepper sauce and basil. I’ve got to say, this was my favourite course.

Substituting pasta for vegetables is very en vogue at the moment, especially with the rise in kitchen gadgets like ‘the spiralizer’. I’ve been meaning to make some of my own, and having this dish has inspired me to do so.

Courgette spaghettiIt was cold with a gazpacho-like pepper sauce. The courgette was cooked to perfection, and all that was on the plate tasted really fresh. It was light and the perfect entree to the banquet to follow.

Second course

It had to be the vegetable moussaka. The vegan second course option, this dish was a well presented tower of gorgeously al-dente aubergine, carrot and tomato, topped with a vegan roux sauce and a crisp and delicious big basil leaf.

Vegetable moussaka

Palate cleanser

I’m usually more of a starter and main girl myself, so I felt like I’d gone up in the world having a palate cleanser between courses. The lemon sorbet was sweet yet tarte, with a slightly unnecessary but warmly welcomed topping of caramalised lemon.

Lemon sorbet

Third course

I went for the Arrosto di seitan ala Wellington aka seitan wrapped in puff pastry with seasonal vegetables. Seitan is a meat alternative made from gluten, also known as ‘wheat meat’.

Seitan wellingtonIt’s got quite a chewy texture; a more meat-like consistency than other veggie meat substitutes. This dish was okay, but seemed more apt for a Sunday afternoon than a Saturday night. Served with herby roast potatoes, shallots and some other bits of roasted veg, it was quite flavoursome, but a little on the lukewarm side and not a showstopper like the previous courses.

Dessert

For the finale, I chose tiramisu. I’ve only actually had tiramisu once before, but this innovative spin on the creamy, coffee-based Italian dessert was delicious.

A home-made biscuit basket layered with rum-infused sponge cake, oozing with rich mascarpone and topped with toasted coffee beans; phwoar. An indulgent ending to an exciting and tasty menu.

TiramisuThe service was good and the food came promptly throughout the meal. I’d definitely recommend Amico Bio if you like healthy, fresh and innovative vegetarian food.

If you found this review useful, please leave comments below.

Spiced salmon fishcakes

Salmon is without a doubt my favourite fish. When cooked well, it’s soft, melts in the mouth and tastes sublime. And it’s full of omega-3, protein and vitamins so it’s super healthy too.

So I was surprised to read in last weekend’s Guardian magazine that it’s known for being the ‘boring’ and ‘predictable’ choice on the menu. Not for me, I can’t get enough of it.

I had a phase of buying fishcakes. Mainly, I think, because they’re often on offer in the supermarket and I’m a sucker for a deal. But I tend to find that shop-bought fishcakes are a bit mushy and lacking in flavour, probably because they tend to have mashed potato in them.

These spiced salmon fishcakes however are anything but bland. The fiery spices, succulent salmon and crispy breadcrumbs work together wonderfully to leave you feeling full and satisfied. And they’re super speedy to make.

Salmon fishcakes

Ingredients

  • 1 responsibly sourced salmon fillet (approx. 120g), with skin removed
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 30g natural breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 1 tsp crushed chillies (or slightly less for a milder taste)
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp rock salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • A dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Serves 1 (makes two fishcakes)

Method

1. Chop the salmon fillet into 3-5cm cubes; I like the pieces quite chunky.

2. Put the chopped salmon into a large mixing bowl along with the onion, egg, spices and half of the breadcrumbs. Mix the ingredients together thoroughly and add the seasoning.

3. Run a knife down the middle of the mixture and pick up one half with your hands. Press the mixture together in your hands and form into patties, a couple of centimetres thick. Pour the remaining breadcrumbs out onto a plate and cover the fishcake generously on both sides. Repeat with the other half of the mixture.

3. Pour the oil into a large, non-stick frying pan on a high heat. Move the oil around the pan to ensure it covers all of the base.

4. Add the fishcakes one by one and flatten down with a fish slice. Reduce the temperature of the hob so it’s on a medium heat and cook the fishcakes for four minutes on each side, until they turn a lovely golden brown.

5. Serve the fishcakes with a generous side salad with a big old dollop of sour cream on top. If you fancy an extra kick, put a little sweet chilli sauce on the side too.

This recipe was inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s salmon fishakes recipe on Guardian

Scrambled tofu with sautéed vegetables

Scrambled tofu, served with sautéed vegetables on an open bagel, makes a filling and flavoursome vegan brunch. It’s packed with protein and nutritious goodness, and injects plenty of colour onto your plate. It’s a great way to kickstart start your day.Scrambled tofu with sautéed vegetablesTofu, made from soy beans and water, is an ingredient I usually use at dinner time; in stir fries and curries. If you prepare it with patience by ensuring you press as much water out of it as possible, it’s very versatile and quite easy to use.

In this dish, the texture of the tofu is similar to scrambled egg, making it perfect for brunch-time eating. Its best quality is its ability to soak up and absorb strong flavours; which is demonstrated in this recipe as the taste of garlic, cumin and chilli tickle your tastebuds.

Teamed with the sweet flavouring of the red pepper and the juicy, succulent mushrooms, this is a really tasty dish that will get you well on your way to your five-a-day.

Ingredients

    • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
    • 200g tofu (I used Cauldron’s original tofu)
    • 1 red pepper, sliced lengthways
    • 3-4 closed cup mushrooms, sliced
    • ½ red onion, roughly chopped
    • 1 small clove garlic, crushed
    • ½ tsp rock salt
    • ½ tsp ground cumin
    • ½ tsp turmeric
    • ½ tsp mild chilli powder
    • 2 bagels, sliced in half
    • olive spread for the bagels
    • an avocado on the side, if you fancy it
    • ½ tsp paprika

Preparation time: 30 minutes (allowing time for the tofu to firm)
Cooking time 15 minutes
Serves 2

Method

1. Put the tofu on a plate and balance a chopping board on top, or something sturdy and weighty. Leave the tofu for 20-30 minutes, until the majority of the water has been pressed out.

2. Meanwhile, put a large frying pan or wok on a medium heat and pour in the oil.

3. When the oil has heated through, add the onion, pepper and garlic and fry for five minutes, stirring frequently.

4. While the vegetables are cooking, tip the spices into a bowl with a tablespoon of water and stir into a paste.

5. Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook for a further five minutes, making sure the vegetables cook without browning. Push the vegetables to one side of the pan.

6. Pat the tofu dry with some kitchen roll and place on to a clean plate (or rinse the existing plate and re-use). Mash the tofu up with the back of the fork, so it breaks up into rough, bitesize chunks.

7. Add the tofu to the empty side of the pan and cook for two minutes, stirring often. Pour the paste over the tofu and mix it in well so it covers all of the tofu. Cook for another two to three minutes.

8. While the tofu is cooking, toast the bagels and spread generously with olive spread. Place on a large plate.

9. When the tofu is ready, divide it in two and place on one half of the bagel on each plate. Do the same with the sautéed vegetables on the other half of the bagel.

10. Serve with half an avocado on each plate and sprinkle over a little bit of lemon juice.

This recipe was inspired by the Minimalist Baker and prepared by my wonderful boyfriend.
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Kale and mushroom risotto

Curly kale is the superfood of the moment. It’s everywhere; in all the new salads on the supermarket shelves, and in healthy juice recipes featured in magazines and online.

I’ve bought kale a few times in the past – but only ever to grill it with salt on top – because it tastes just like ‘crispy seaweed’ that you get in Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants. It’s delicious (grill on a baking tray for 10 minutes – try it)!

But I wanted to do something different with the widely praised green vegetable this time; to make it the protagonist of a meal, and to cook it more traditionally.

Kale and mushroom risotto

So I conjured up this lovely risotto, inspired by one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipes. Controversially, I used cider vinegar instead of white wine which would usually be used to cook risotto rice, and I was pleasantly surpised – the dryness of the vinegar worked well with the flavours of the earthy mushrooms and rich cheese.

This satisfying risotto dish incorporates the dark green leaves of curly kale, with the smooth texture and nutty taste of chestnut mushrooms. It’s a wonderfully green and nutritious meal that’s quick enough to make mid-week.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 5 squirts of low-fat cooking spray
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • A knob of olive spread
  • 150g curly kale
  • 200g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 550ml vegetable stock
  • 1 mug arborio rice (roughly 200g)
  • 3 tsp cider vinegar (I used Aspall’s)
  • Approx. 50g extra mature cheddar cheese, grated (or another flavoursome hard cheese)
  • Plenty of ground rock salt and black pepper
  • A sprinkle of vegetarian-friendly parmesan

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Serves 2

Method

1. Heat 1 tbsp oil and the olive spread in a large frying pan or wok. Add the onion, garlic and dried thyme and cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

2. Meanwhile, pour the stock into a small saucepan and keep on a low heat.

3. When the onion has softened, add the rice, stirring in with the other ingredients and cook until the grains have started to become transparent. When this is the case, pour in the cider vinegar and stir in with the rice mixture for 10-20 seconds, until the liquid cooks off.

4. Reduce the heat and add a ladleful of stock to the rice. Stir every now and again, and when the rice has absorbed the stock, add another ladleful. Continue this process on a low heat until all of the stock has been used, for 25 minutes or so.

5. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook on a medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until they start to let off some liquid. Take them off the heat (but keep the hob on) and put to one side.

6. Place the frying pan back on the hob and squirt in the cooking spray.

7. Rinse the kale in a colander and place it in the frying pan along with 1 tbsp water and some salt. Cook on a low to medium heat for 5-10 minutes, turning the leaves over every now and again so they’re well-covered by the water. When the leaves turn a vibrant green and have softened, they’re ready.

8. Tip three quarters of the kale into a measuring jug and use a hand blender to shred the leaves into fine pieces.

9. Going back to the rice, give it a taste – it should be fairly soft, but with a bit of bite. If it’s not quite ready, add a bit more water. When it’s cooked, there should still be a bit of moisture from the stock left in the pan. Add the grated cheddar and plenty of salt and pepper to taste.

10. Finally, stir the shredded kale in well and give it another taste. Add some further seasoning if needed.

11. Serve the risotto in large bowls, with the remaining whole kale leaves and mushrooms on top. And if, like me, you’re guilty of sprinkling cheese on top of all your food, a cheeky bit of parmesan wouldn’t go amiss.