Make it Easy Cookbook

Make it easy cookbook

I was kindly sent a copy of Jane Lovett’s Make it Easy Cookbook to review. The introduction to Jane’s book leaves you in no doubt that this is a woman that you can trust to deliver recipes that will work for you. Having been classically trained at Cordon Bleu she has worked at Leith’s School of Food and Wine, run her own catering company and has tested and developed recipes for cookery books, magazines and TV. She runs regular cookery demonstrations from what looks like a beautiful home and garden in Northumberland.

The book is designed to help you plan ahead with your cooking, and will give confidence to any unconfident cook. It is brimming with top tips, hints and do’s and don’ts to help you cook a dinner party from scratch without fuss and ending up frazzled. Every one of the recipes has a tip on how to get ahead, perhaps by preparing it a day ahead,  and most recipes have a hint or tip which helps guide the novice cook, or the more experienced, towards success.

Jane Lovett Cookbook

The recipes that struck me as must-makes included her stuffed marrow recipe, a great way to use up that glut for the veg grower. Her recipe for slow cooked Chinese duck legs sounds delicious and easy and can be made two days in advance and happily sit in the fridge developing a richer flavour.

For dessert I would be hard pushed to choose between the stem ginger ice cream or the ginger creams with pistachio brittle. I have a thing for ginger.

Jane’s book is full of wise advice and would make a great Christmas gift for the keen cook in your household and would prove endlessly useful for those times when you need to plan a meal ahead.

Jane Lovett’s Make it Easy Cookbook is published by IMM Lifestyle books and is available at all good high street and online retailers priced at £12.99.

Disclosure: I was sent a complimentary copy of the book for the purposes of this review. All of the opinions are my own and are honest. 


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Green tomato and marrow chutney

Green Tomato and Marrow Chutney

I am sure that I normally make my chutney earlier than this, but this autumn has been so unseasonably mild that my tomatoes have just continued to give. A week or so ago I knew that it was finally time to pick the last of the tomatoes.

Last of the season's tomatoes

The tomatoes have done well this year, we have had a good harvest. I couldn’t say the same for our sweetcorn or our cabbage or our borlotti beans. But every year is different and that is part of the joy of vegetable growing. These beauties were destined for chutney, along with a marrow and some bramleys.

I made a very similar chutney last year and was very pleased with the result. This year’s seems promising. Of course, it is too early to tell what its real flavour might be once it has sat in the cupboard for a month or two and matured. At the moment it has too much vinegary  astringency to be sure. But underneath its immaturity I can sense its sweetness and the potential for a lovely chutney.

Chutney takes much longer to cook than you first imagine it might. Patience and a gentle simmer is needed and it is only ready when the vinegar has all but disappeared and in its place a thick sludge remains. It will take about three or four hours and your house will smell vinegary, spicy and fruity. I like it, the girls don’t. The Aga makes life easy because you just bring the pan to a simmer and then place it in the simmering oven for a few hours. A slow cooker might work, but I have never tried it so can’t say for sure.

Chutney cooking

The chutney nearly there and ready for potting

You can add whatever fruit and veg you have to this chutney as long as you remember that you need 1 part vinegar to three part fruit/veg. Then sugar in a similar amount, perhaps slightly less. You can use whichever spices are your favourite or you have in the cupboard, just make sure you tie them in a cloth that has been scalded in a pan of boiling water for a few minutes. That way you don’t experience an unpleasant bite into a whole spice when enjoying your chutney. I add walnuts to my chutney because I love the slight bite they retain, but feel free to not include them.

Here is what I have in mine this year.

1kg marrow
1.5kg tomatoes
400g bramley apple
350g onion
3 cloves garlic
150g sultanas
100g walnuts
15g salt
600ml vinegar (I used a mix of distilled and cider as that is what I had in the cupboard)
500g soft brown sugar
Spices to tie in a cloth bag:
1 chilli, left whole or cut in half depending how hot you want your chutney
1tsp mustard seed
4 cloves
5 cardamom seeds
1 tsp coriander seed
5 allspice berries
1 bayleaf
1 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp fresh ginger, sliced


Chop all the fruit and vegetables to an even size. Slice the garlic. Place all of this in a large preserving pan. Add the sultanas and the walnuts. Tie the spices into a bag and place in the pan. Sprinkle the salt over. Add the sugar and pour the vinegar over everything. Place the pan on a medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Continue to simmer until the fruit and vegetables are tender and the vinegar has become a thick sauce.

Pour into warm sterilised jars. Seal and store for a few months before enjoying and bringing back memories of your summer.

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Banana, chocolate and walnut cake

Banana, chocolate and walnut cake

Just one of the  bonuses of running bread making courses if that I have to make a cake to take along to each one. This week’s choice was easy. I spied a couple of bananas on the side that were turning the wrong side of eating-ripe. If I am going to eat a banana (and I do, most days) a good eating banana is just a little underripe. But if I am going to make a banana cake then it needs to be at that “mash me now” stage, and these two were.

Dark chocolate and walnuts both have a wonderful affinity with a banana. They both have that slight bitterness that undercuts the sweetness of the banana. I topped the cake with a chocolate ganache for a bit of extra indulgence, but really it doesn’t need it.

This cake will also sit quite happily in a tin waiting to be eaten. In fact, I made this one on Monday for the course on Tuesday and I am just enjoying a slice of it today (Friday).

I am linking this with this month’s We Should Cocoa, hosted this month by Choclette over at her wonderful blog Tin and Thyme, which has  the theme of bananas. How very fortuitous. If you haven’t yet become acquainted with Choclette then get yourself over to her blog immediately and indulge yourself in her many wonderful recipes, many of them on a chocolate theme and all of them vegetarian.

Banana, chocolate and walnut cake 

Two medium-sized bananas
3 eggs, 2 separated
50ml milk
100ml sunflower oil
75g dark brown sugar
75g caster sugar
175g spelt flour (or you could use wholemeal or plain flour)
50g walnuts
4 tbsp cocoa powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
50g dark chocolate, chopped roughly


Preheat the oven to 160°c, gas mark 3 and use the centre of the oven or place the rack on the bottom runner of the baking oven of the Aga. Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment making sure there is a rim of at least 2cm over the top of the tin.

Mash the bananas until smooth in a large bowl or jug. Add the whole egg and the two yolks, the milk and the oil. Mix together until well combined.

In a scrupulously clean bowl beat the two egg whites until stiff peaks are formed.

In another large bowl mix together the sugars, the walnuts and the chocolate. Sift over the flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda and the baking powder. If you are using wholemeal then make sure you tip in any bran left in the sieve.

Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until well combined. Add one-third of the egg white and mix well to loosen the mixture. Carefully fold in the rest of the egg white.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and place in the oven. Bake for 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean. Check after 45 minutes and it may take 1 hour 15 minutes, depending on your oven. Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

Chocolate ganache

80ml double cream
100g dark chocolate


Chop the chocolate very finely or pulse in food processor until fine. Heat the cream in a heavy based saucepan until just simmering. Remove the cream from the heat, tip in the chocolate and leave for a minute. Stir until the ganache is smooth and glossy. Decorate the top of the cake with a thick layer of ganache, swirling the top.

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Hotel Chocolat treats for Christmas

I have been holding off from using the word until at least November. I am the sort that starts to think about Christmas about mid November-ish. But I think about chocolate most of the time. Hotel Chocolat kindly sent me a selection of the gorgeous treats that they have available this Christmas. To be honest when I was asked which chocolate I would like to try I couldn’t make up my mind. My youngest had no such problem. Straight away she asked if we could try the marzipan and the mint selections. She is very different from me in many ways, as all children should be, but we have the exact same taste in chocolate. Here is what arrived in a beautifully presented gift bag.

Hotel Chocolat

The youngest dived straight in and she and I both agree that it would be hard to choose between the marzipan or the mint if we had to. The little solid Santas would also be lovely to find tucked under the tree come Christmas morning.

Hotel Chocolat

Which would you choose?

Disclosure: I was sent these items free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions are my own and honest. 


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Crabapple and sloe jelly

Whilst I was picking my rosehips for the syrup I found a couple of heavily loaded sloe trees. I made my way back there a few days later and picked a kilo or two and popped them in the freezer. We are lucky enough to have a crabapple tree nearby too so I picked a couple of kilo of those too. The crabapples have sat in my kitchen looking at me accusingly for a couple of weeks, so yesterday I made myself get round to giving them a good swill and popped them in the preserving pan with some of the sloes. I cooked them slowly in just enough water to cover them until the apples were pulpy. I gave them a good mash and strained it overnight through a jelly bag. Today, I boiled them with sugar until the jelly wrinkled on a cold saucer. The finished jelly will be great with roast dinners and cold meats and stirred into gravies. I might even have it on toast like I do with my damson and rosehip jelly. This one though is a little sharper and has that sherbetty finish to it that you would expect from a jelly made with fruits that are sour before cooking.

Crabapples and sloes

The colours at the different stages are stunning. Starting with a rose pink and turning to a deep purple. It is worth making this jelly just for these colours.

Crabapple and sloe juice

The strained juice

Crabapple and sloe jelly boiling

The boiling stage

You can put in as many crabapples and sloes that you have, cover them with just enough water to almost cover and then strain the juice through a fine sieve of jelly bag. Measure out the juice and to every 600ml add 450g of granulated sugar. Here is what I did:

2kg crabapples
1kg sloes
1 kg granulated sugar

Rinse the crabapples and the sloes well. Place in a large pan and cover with just enough water to almost cover. Cook over a gentle heat until the apples are pulpy. Mash with a potato masher and pour the purée into a jelly bag, a clean tea cloth (boil in a pan of water before use) or through a very fine sieve. Leave to strain overnight.

Measure the juice and for every 600ml add 450g of granulated sugar. I had 1,300 ml of juice so added 1 kg of sugar. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves and then turn up the heat and boil the syrupy mixture until a teaspoonful of it wrinkles when placed onto a cold saucer and pushed with your finger. Remove any scum that rises to the surface. Pour the hot mixture into warm sterilised jars and seal.

You might also like to make crabapple jelly without the sloes or crabapple and rosehip jelly.

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Baked bean and ham pie

Branston bean and ham pie

Autumn is most definitely upon us, the nights and mornings are chillier, the gloves have been dug out from the back of the drawer and the lawn is more leaves than grass. It’s time for dinner to be warm and comforting once more. One of the comfort foods we always turn to in this house is baked beans so I was thrilled when Branston asked me to develop a recipe around their beans.

Branston baked beans

Branston launched their baked beans 10 years ago this month and they have been rated by the Good Housekeeping Institute as the best tasting beans of all the leading brands and in taste tests 4 out of 5 people prefer the taste of Branston’s beans. This might be something to do with Branston putting more tomatoes into their sauce.

This pie makes a substantial family meal, with the beans as the star. The beans’ tomato sauce means that there is no need to make a gravy. I served it with a swede and sweet potato mash that was perfect to soak up the juices, but really all you need is the pie.

Branston beans and ham pie

If you would like the pie to be even more substantial you can crack a couple of eggs onto the filling before you put the pastry on top. I made it with the eggs when Granny came round for tea, but didn’t for last night’s tea as my eldest is away with school for the week and my youngest turns her nose up at eggs. The pie was well received both times with second helpings being devoured eagerly. Even Granny, who said she wasn’t keen on beans before she dug in, ate every last mouthful! A ringing endorsement, I’d say.

For the pastry
250g plain flour
125g cold butter, cut into cubes
7-8 tbsp cold water

For the filling
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stick of celery, finely diced
1 onion finely diced
350g cooked ham, diced (or you can use bacon rashers, cut into small pieces, or bacon lardons, just fry them with the vegetables)
1 x 410g tin Branston baked beans
½ tsp oregano
pepper to taste

1 egg and a splash of milk for egg wash


Preheat the oven to 200°c, gas mark 6, or use the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga.

Make the pastry by placing the flour into a large bowl and adding the cubes of butter. Rub in using your fingertips until the butter is evenly distributed. Pour most of the water in (you might not need all of it) and draw a knife through the pastry until it starts to come together. If you need more water add it gradually.  Bring the dough together into a ball using your hands and wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for twenty minutes to chill. You can also make the pastry in a food processor by whizzing the flour and butter together briefly and then add most of the water and whizz until it all just starts to come together.

For the filling, sauté the carrot, celery and onion (and bacon if you are using that instead of ham) in a large frying pan with a tablespoon of oil until the vegetables are soft. This will take about ten minutes over a gentle heat. Take off the heat and leave to cool. Once cool, add the ham, the oregano, a touch of pepper and the baked beans and mix well.

Cut one-third of the pastry off the ball and put to one side. Roll the larger piece on a lightly floured work surface to the size of your pie dish. My pie dish in the photo above measures 20cm. Then line the pie dish with the pastry. Pour in the filling. If you want to add a few eggs then crack them on top of the filling at this point.

Lightly beat the egg for the egg wash in a small bowl or cup and add a splash of milk. Using a pastry brush, brush a little egg wash around the edge of the pastry where the lid will sit to help with the seal. Roll out the smaller piece of pastry  on a lightly floured work surface to fit. Place on top of the dish and, using your thumbs, press all along the edge to make a good seal.  Using a sharp knife  poke two holes in the top of the pie to let the steam escape and trim the excess pastry from the edge of the pie. If there is enough trimmings, re-roll and cut out a few leaves to decorate the top. Place these on top of the pie and brush the entire surface of the pie with the egg wash. Place in the centre of the oven or on the floor of the roasting oven of the Aga and cook for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden and the filling is piping hot. Leave to stand for a few minutes before serving.


Disclosure: I was commissioned to develop this recipe for Branston Baked Beans. All the opinions are my own and are honest. 



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Parsnip and honey cake

Parsnip and honey cake

I belong to a book club. Well, when I say book club… It started a couple of years ago with the intention of us reading a book and meeting to discuss it every month. After a couple of months the book club turned into what it is now; we gave up on the books and just enjoy meeting to have a proper catch up. A few times a year we have a clothes swap evening. Which is a brilliant idea for everyone but me. I don’t buy many new clothes and those that I do I tend to wear until holes appear. So, I never have anything to contribute to the clothes swap. For this reason I always take food instead. Last week I took this cake. It was a big success.

The cake in the photo above is only half the mixture. Because I hadn’t made it before I wanted to do a taste test to make sure it was good before I took it along. So I split the mixture into two loaf tins and me and Mr OC polished off the other half a little too easily. Your cake will, therefore, be bigger than the one in the pic.

The cake improves the next day. The first day, the taste is predominantly parsnip. The second day, the parsnip has mellowed and the other flavours are given a chance to shine through. It is a sweet, slightly spicy, moist and delicious cake.

NB: I added 25g of coconut flour in place of 50g of the plain flour, (you need less coconut flour) but I have not specified this in the recipe as you do not need it and I don’t want you to go out and buy it just to make this cake.

250g grated parsnip (from about 350 -400g of unprepared parsnip)
175ml olive oil (not extra virgin) or rapeseed oil or sunflower oil (whatever you have in the cupboard)
150g light brown sugar
100ml honey
3 eggs
100g wholemeal flour or spelt flour
150g plain flour
5g (1tsp) baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
50g walnuts (optional)


Grease and line a 20cm square or round tin or a 2lb loaf tin. Preheat the oven to 180°c, gas mark 4 or use the centre of the baking oven of the Aga.

Mix together the oil, sugar, honey and eggs in a large bowl until well combined. Add the grated parsnip and mix well.

In another bowl mix together the flours, baking powder, mixed spice and walnuts and then add them to the wet ingredients. Mix well.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and level the surface. Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 45-60 minutes until the top is golden and a skewer comes out clean when pierced through the centre of the cake. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

UPDATE* 7th October 2015

I made the cake again with a few more adaptations (well I can’t help myself) for our evening bread making  class last night. Here is a full sized version of the cake and how yours will look of you don’t split it between two pans.

parsnip and honey cake

The adaptations included using half grated parsnip and half grated carrot and adding 100g currants which I had warmed in a pan with the juice of ½ an orange to plump them up. I frosted the cake before serving with a cream cheese frosting, combining 250g icing sugar with 50g softened butter and 125g cream cheese and the grated zest of an orange. It was a big hit with the ladies on the course.

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