Chicken Thigh Traybake with Carrot Pepper Couscous

I’m going to be blogging some of the recipes that I’m both recreating from my limited collection of recipe books and inventing from scratch. The first of these is something that I did invent myself, it’s a Chicken Thigh Traybake with Carrot Pepper Couscous.


Obviously being a student, it’s all about being thrifty and saving money. I calculated the cost of the meal per head and it came to £0.62 per person. I didn’t include the cost of herbs and spices in my calculations.

The couscous is shopbought and cost just £0.39 but I add the roasted carrots and pepper from the traybake to it which take on lots of flavour from the spices in the traybake and the chicken. Chicken thighs are a much cheaper alternative to chicken breast and they not only have more flavour but if you get ones with the skin still on, you can crisp up the chicken skin and it’s amazing! You can choose to debone them but I found it was more hassle to debone them when you could just chuck it all in at once!

You can also add other vegetables to the traybake such as red onions, courgettes or aubergines but it’s up to your taste. A small amount of dried chilli flakes adds a background warmth to the vegetables. A lot of oil comes out but I would advise not throwing it away as it contains so much flavour with the roasted garlic, the sweetness of the carrots and pepper as well as the meatiness of the chicken thighs and heat from the chilli.

2 carrots, peeled

1 yellow pepper (up to you which colour, it was what I had)

5 chicken thighs, with the bones in

½ tsp smoked paprika

¼ tsp dried chilli flakes

1 tsp chopped garlic

50ml sunflower oil

1 pack of Roasted Vegetable Couscous

Salt and pepper to season

Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Chop up your carrots into rounds about 0.5cm wide and your pepper into squares roughly the same size. Throw them into your roasting dish so they cover the base.

Add in your chicken thighs, skin side up. Season again and then sprinkle over the paprika, chilli and garlic. Rub the oil all over the chicken and toss it in with the vegetables until everything is evenly coated. Make sure that the skin is facing upwards.


Bake the chicken and vegetables for around 40 minutes until the chicken skin has browned and is crisp and when you press the chicken, the juices run clear.

During the baking, make your couscous as instructed on the packet, adding a pinch of salt and pepper to add extra flavour. Fluff the couscous up with a fork and allow to cool.

Once your traybake is done, lift out the chicken thighs and place them onto some kitchen towel on a plate to drain away the excess oil. Pour the excess oil in the roasting tin into a bowl – save it for cooking other meals! Put it into a glass jar if you have one, or wash out a jam jar and dry well. Add the carrots and peppers into the couscous and mix to incorporate in.

To serve, place one of the chicken thighs on a plate with some of the couscous and enjoy!



Exploring Chocolate Tarts: ‘Nuts for Chocolate’ Tart

You might have seen my recipe for Dark Chocolate Teacakes using Mr Toms but I chose to reinvent the way in which I used it in a bit of an experiment to make my Nuts for Chocolate Tart.


Mr Tom is essentially a peanut praline bar and so I decided to crush it up into a powder and use it as a dry ingredient in the chocolate frangipane. This was a bit of an experiment but the texture of the tart was reminiscent of a Bakewell tart except with the flavour of chocolate.

Margarine and sugar are creamed together before the egg is mixed in and the ground almonds, cocoa powder and Mr Tom powder are folded through with a drop of almond extract. I like to finish the tarts off with a chocolate topping of simply melted chocolate with single cream. It sets softer than a ganache made with double cream for a cleaner finish.


Again because the tarts are so small, the frangipane cooks quicker than the pastry would so I have to blind bake the pastry. You can read the full details of both how I line my tart tins as well as how I blind bake my pastry by clicking here.

1 pack of ready rolled shortcrust pastry

100g margarine

80g granulated sugar

2 eggs

60g ground almonds

1 x 40g Mr Tom bar, crushed up into a fine powder

1 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted

¼ tsp almond extract

50ml single cream

50g dark chocolate, broken up into pieces

Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Fill your tart tins with the pastry as detailed above, rerolling any excess to the same thickness. Any gaps in your pastry can be patched up with the pastry. Line with foil as above and fill with weights.


Place the tarts into the preheated oven and turn the temperature down to 180˚C and bake blind for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes, remove the foil and weights and return to the oven for 5 minutes until the base is slightly golden.

Prepare the chocolate frangipane by beating together the margarine with the sugar until the sugar has dissolved slightly. Add in the eggs one by one and beat until incorporated. Then fold through all of the ground almonds, Mr Tom powder and sifted cocoa powder with the almond extract until it forms a frangipane batter. It will look lumpy because of the ground almonds.

Spread a layer of the frangipane all the way to the top of each blind baked pastry case. Bake the tarts for around 12 – 15 minutes until the frangipane feels spongy on top and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tarts for 20 minutes before lifting out of the cases.

Prepare the ganache by heating up the cream until it is above body temperature. This is easiest in the microwave in a bowl for 1 minute. Add in the chocolate and leave for 3 minutes before stirring the ganache until it is smooth and shiny. Spread over the ganache in a layer over the frangipane and leave to set. Finish with a dusting of icing sugar.



Mini Lemon and Almond Drizzle Loaf Cakes

I’m currently embarking on the next part of my education as I head off to university! I couldn’t leave without doing a final bake and I chose to make a variation of my Mini Glazed Lemon and Almond Loaves. You can find the original recipe for the Glazed Loaf Cake or the Mini Glazed Loaves by clicking on the posts!


The original recipe had ground almonds in it which gave it a soft and crumbly texture. This variation uses custard powder to lend a sweeter taste and a soft light crumb and the addition of almond extract gives the almond flavour.

Unlike the original version, I use the creaming method to make this cake batter, which involves creaming the margarine with the sugar until it is a few shades lighter, adding in the eggs and flavouring and then the dry ingredients before beating in the lemon juice. I finish the cakes with a good drizzle of lemon glace icing which adds even more lemon flavour.

Instead of fully glazing the tops, I chose to leave the flaked almond surface exposed slightly and just drizzle over the icing. This is much easier than spreading the thick icing over the top but also looks better than the full glazed surface.

For the cake mixture:

200g margarine

225g granulated sugar

3 eggs

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp almond extract

275g self raising flour

25g custard powder

80ml lemon juice

30g flaked almonds

For the lemon icing

75g icing sugar

3 – 4 tsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease the inside of four 15 x 8 x 5.5cm loaf tins well.

In a large bowl, cream together the margarine and sugar until it turns a few shades lighter and is fluffy and soft. Then add in the lemon zest and the almond extract and continue to beat for another 30 seconds, which will start to extract the lemon flavour from the zest. Add in the eggs one by one, adding the next one only when the previous has been incorporated. Don’t worry if it curdles.

Sift in the self-raising flour and custard powder and beat again starting on a low speed before mixing on a higher speed for 10 seconds until it is smooth, light and resembles a cake batter. Add in all of the lemon juice and beat once again until incorporated.

Divide the cake batter between the loaf tins; it’s around 225g per loaf tin. Level out the tops in each tin and sprinkle over generously the flaked almonds.

Bake the cakes for around 25 – 30 minutes until the tops of the cakes are risen and have a crack on the surface, the cakes are starting to come away from the edges and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Leave the cakes to cool in the tin for 20 minutes before running a palette knife around the edges and inverting onto a cooling rack.


Make the icing by adding the lemon juice gradually to the icing sugar until you end up with a thick icing which takes around 3 seconds to fall out of a bowl held at 45˚.

Spoon it into a piping bag and cut off a small hole off the end. Drizzle over the icing slowly and diagonally over the loaves so that some of the icing stays to the sides and hangs off slightly. Leave the icing to set before slicing up the loaves.



Exploring Chocolate Tarts: Bitter Chocolate Tart

The second of the chocolate tart recipes in my ‘Exploring Chocolate Tarts’ series is my Bitter Chocolate Tart. The shortcrust pastry base is filled with an intensely flavoured chocolate ganache-style mixture and is baked in the oven to set, giving it a smooth texture.


The foundation of the filling is a ganache made with milk instead of double cream. I infuse the milk with Food Thoughts Cacao Nibs which helps to extract some of their chocolate flavour. I add the dark chocolate and then cacao powder before stirring into a thick and glossy ganache mixture. Eggs will help to set the ganache when the filling is baked. This means that apart from the natural sugars in the milk and dark chocolate, this is technically an added-sugar-free bake, something that I’m not prone to!

But the intense hit of the chocolate flavours from the addition of the cacao powder and nibs along with the use of a 56% dark chocolate means you don’t really miss the sugar at all. The crunch of the cacao nibs adds great texture too with the little bursts of bitter chocolate against the smooth ganache filling.

Again I blind bake the pastry and you can read all about both Food Thoughts Cacao Nibs and Powder and how I lined my tins with the pastry and how I blind baked my pastry by clicking here.


1 pack of ready rolled shortcrust pastry

150ml whole milk

1 tbsp Food Thoughts Cacao Nibs plus extra to decorate

150g dark chocolate, broken into pieces

1 tbsp Food Thought Cacao Powder

1 egg

Chopped roasted hazelnuts, to decorate

Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Fill your tart tins with the pastry as detailed above, rerolling any excess to the same thickness. Any gaps in your pastry can be patched up with the pastry. Line with foil as above and fill with weights.

Place the tarts into the preheated oven and turn the temperature down to 180˚C and bake blind for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes, remove the foil and weights and return to the oven for 5 minutes until the base is slightly golden.

Prepare the ganache filling by infusing the cacao nibs in the milk. They don’t dissolve completely but they do release some chocolate flavour into the milk. Put the cacao nibs into the milk and microwave for 90 seconds in 45 second blasts, stirring halfway through. You can bring the milk up to a boil and then leave to cool as well.

Once you can hold your finger in the milk for 1 second, add the chocolate all at once and leave for 5 minutes to melt. Then stir the ganache until it is smooth, shiny and all the chocolate has melted. At this stage, it should be cool enough to add the egg without scrambling it. Add in the cacao powder and egg and mix until the egg has been incorporated in well.

When the tart cases are out of the oven, spoon in the bitter ganache mixture. If you have shaky hands, you might wish to transfer the ganache to a jug and pour it in with the cases on the oven tray. It doesn’t rise or expand so you can fill it right to the top.


It takes just 12 – 15 minutes for the filling to set, it should have a tiny wobble right in the centre. Leave the tarts to cool for 30 minutes in the tin before lifting out of the tins, serving with cream, fresh berries and sprinkling over more cacao nibs and chopped roasted hazelnuts to finish.


Restaurant Review: Tang’s Oriental Buffet

We don’t usually eat out but we decided to head to a new restaurant in Southend to try it out. Tang’s Oriental Buffet is located on the high street as part of the Victoria Shopping Centre and opened in September 2016. It’s deceptively small ground floor location Is a mere Tardis in comparison to the immense size of the restaurant which lies on the first floor.


Immediately you enter into a great environment with a grand centrepiece as you go up the stairs to the restaurant. We head to the counter and the prices for the evening buffet are £13.99 per person from Sunday to Thursday and £14.99 per person on Friday to Saturday. You head to the bar to buy your drinks from the menu, including soft drinks and alcohol. There is a huge amount of variety in the stations which in the evening included Dim Sum, Teppanyaki, Sushi, Salad, Fruit, Starters, Soups, Dessert and a chocolate fountain among others. You could certainly make many trips to each section (as we did!) with lots of different dishes to suit different tastes.

We were impressed with a lot of the main dishes they had such as Chicken in Honey Sauce, Prawns with Ginger and Spring Onions, Stir-fried French Beans, Seafood Curry, Salt and Pepper Prawns and Chicken, Preserved Tofu with Mince and Spare Ribs in Peking Sauce. There was a wide variety and the staff were very useful in replacing the trays when they were almost empty and this was impressive to see considering that in other buffet restaurants, the staff are slightly slower to replace foods.


We found the Aromatic Duck Pancakes slightly dry and the accompanying spring onions and cucumber had been pre-cut so they had dried out slightly making it hard to eat. But there were lots of options available for palates less used to the oriental cuisines such as Prawn Toast, Satay Chicken, Spring Rolls, Lemon Chicken and Deep-Fried Crab Claw.

It was good to see there was a Dim Sum station here with lots of traditional Chinese steamed goods from siu mai (pork dumplings) and har gow (prawn dumplings). Personally I would have liked to see a greater range of options there as there are plenty of other dim sum dishes that could have been served such as beef balls with beancurd or cheung fun (rice rolls). And unfortunately some of the char siu buns that we had were still frozen cold in the centre which was unpleasant.


The sushi platters were both attractive and regimented in appearance, all of them like little soldiers lining up ready to be eaten by the Southend population! Ranging from octopus and salmon nigiri and inari (beancurd wrapped around rice), there was enough sushi here to challenge any of the leading sushi companies! They tasted very authentic and were very good quality. Personally as someone who is allergic to fish, I wish there were tongs for each type of sushi so I didn’t have to use chopsticks (which they did have) to pick my own sushi up. They also had wasabi and soy sauce on hand which was good to see.


Moving onto the restaurant layout itself, there were lots of tables and none of them too close to the bar which was useful so no one could judge you too much for going up on too many occasions! The décor was great and the atmosphere suited the buzz of a brand new restaurant. I felt that some of the tables were a bit close together and I think perhaps a few tables could have been sacrificed in order to make everyone feel more comfortable.

The waiting staff were overwhelmed with it being so busy but we found they were helpful in clearing away our finished plates pretty quickly and actually the tight space meant it was easy for them to clean up the plates. It was also good to see that all of the staff said “goodbye” and “hope you had a nice meal” as we were leaving, something that not many other restaurants can claim to do!

But as with any new restaurant, there is always scope for improvement.

The desserts were very hit and miss. The coffee and walnut cake was slightly dry whereas the chocolate and orange cake was wonderfully flavourful and moist. And the slices of these cake were very large, one slice would have been more than enough and you would have missed out on other desserts. And the smaller petit fours style desserts, again, were varied in quality. The mini eclairs were fine, the carrot cake squares were lovely and spiced with a moist crumb and then the chocolate cakes were hard and dry. Some of the jelly pots were also something that reminded me of what we had for school dinners! And as a dessert connoisseur, I know what I’m talking about!


Besides the dessert, they had a chocolate fountain. All that was available to dip into the chocolate were marshmallows and I would like to have seen some fresh fruit there such as pineapple, banana and melon. Speaking of fruit, the fruit bar was good with large bowls of fruit to cleanse your palate between each plate however I would also have liked to have seen a much greater variety too with more fresh than tinned. Moreover, different ice cream flavours besides the standard 3 Neapolitan flavours would have been more exciting.


The drinks were okay, again there could have been a greater variety of soft drinks on the menu. Diet options and other brands would have improved the night. Other buffets we’ve tried had fruit crush drinks and lots of different fun drinks to try so I would like to see this implemented. In the end, we chose the Chinese tea which had free hot water refills so we just cycled through that all night but charging per drink means that it could get very expensive so perhaps charging slightly more for the drinks and offering free refills would have been better? Maybe even upping the price of the buffet and having unlimited free soft drinks and hot drinks would be more appealing! One more disappointing thing is that water wasn’t free.

One more thing that I thought could improve would be a greater variety of main dishes. These were tasty and aesthetically pleasing so I would have liked to have seen more just to try! Lastly, I understand the need for English food but it did seem rather untouched throughout the evening suggesting that perhaps the customers tonight were truly looking for more Oriental cuisine? Perhaps fewer of the 100 dishes claimed to be on offer could have been English food such as chips and nuggets and more of the Oriental dishes?

Overall this was an impressive first time in the restaurant. Obviously no restaurant will be perfect first time around but we were fairly happy with both the service, the food and the price. The average person in our party would have spent around £16 – £17 on the meal and considering the sheer amount of food we ate and what it would have cost, it was a huge bargain. From previous buffet experiences we’ve had, I would like to have seen better desserts and more variety of desserts and the same goes for drinks. But I personally couldn’t fault any of the meals I tried and I think it would also be fantastic during the day where there are fewer dishes on offer but it is just £7.99 per person from Monday to Thursday.


I would go again in the future if they made a few of the changes I suggested above with regards to the drink system and the dessert bar. It’s a great place to bring your friends and family who maybe aren’t from the area and is actually a very welcome addition to Southend High Street after the closing down of Wok and Grill, a former buffet restaurant also on the High Street. One would argue that the gap of Wok and Grill has been filled with Tang’s but we have to wait and see whether it lasts longer!

Access: 2 minute walk from Southend Victoria Station, 5 minute walk from Southend Central Station

Price: Average spend in the evening of £16 – £17 per person; average spend during lunch service of £10 – £11 per person (including drinks)



Exploring Chocolate Tarts: Chocolate Brownie Tarts

I’ve been wanting to do a series of different versions of the same bake and everything seemed to come together all at once. I found another one of my reduced bargains from Marks and Spencer and it was ready rolled shortcrust pastry for 80p and it tied in perfectly with the arrival of my Food Thoughts Cacao Powder and Food Thoughts Cacao Nibs, allowing me to Explore Chocolate Tarts!

Food Thoughts Cacao Nibs are made from Fino de Aroma beans that are gently roasted to ensure they maintain essential nutrients such as iron and magnesium. Food Thoughts Cacao Powder is non-alkalised and sundried naturally making it a rich source of flavanols (which promote healthy blood flow) and anti-oxidants (which reduce the effect of free radicals in your body).


Here’s the science: our body naturally produces free radicals, which are substances consisting of one or more unpaired electrons. They are produced by respiration, inflamed areas of the body and even during exercise. Free radicals take electrons from proteins in the body to complete their electron pairs, leaving behind more free radicals causing a chain reaction. Free radicals cause cells to die as they collect in the cell membranes, eventually making them brittle and leaky. Poor cell performance can lead to tissue degradation and an increased risk of disease.

Antioxidants are a source of electrons for the free radicals but do not become free radicals themselves. They give your cells defense against these reactive oxygen species and can improve your skin health dramatically as well as repair damaged molecules and protect DNA from radical attacks.

Both products will be fantastic in your baking and I thoroughly recommend them!

The first chocolate tart recipe I’m sharing is my Chocolate Brownie Tart. It’s a shortcrust pastry base with a fantastically dense chocolate brownie filling which is sticky and chewy too.


The brownie is made by the melting method and couldn’t be any easier! What’s more, this same batter can also be used to make chocolate fondants, the wonderfully gooey and runny chocolate puddings. The use of cacao powder in this tart intensifies the chocolate flavour and a tiny amount of Himalayan salt in the batter adds to this flavour. I blind baked this pastry because even though the brownie batter is baked, it’s for such a short period of time that the pastry would remain underbaked so blind baking prevents that soggy bottom!

But the most important bit of getting your tarts perfect right is lining the tins with pastry. Always cut out a section of pastry larger than the tart tin and lift it vertically upwards so that it starts to go right down to the base and start to manipulate the pastry into the tin. Use a small ball of pastry to push and gently adhere the pastry into the flutes and roll a rolling pin across the top of the tin so the pastry cuts off by the flutes. You can then check the pastry is right down into the bottom and then dock your pastry with a fork (pricking the base).


Lastly line your tart tins with foil well; by this I mean so that it takes the actual shape which will help to prevent the pastry rising too much, allowing you to get the delicious brownie filling in. I have a tub full of my blind baking rice which I have used to blind bake for nearly 2 years!

1 pack of ready rolled shortcrust pastry

75g margarine

75g sugar

75g dark chocolate (I used 56%)

45g plain flour

Pinch of Himalayan salt

5 tsp Food Thoughts Cacao Powder

3 eggs

Roasted hazelnuts, chopped finely to finish

Preheat the oven to 200˚C.

Fill your tart tins with the pastry as detailed above, rerolling any excess to the same thickness. Any gaps in your pastry can be patched up with the pastry. Line with foil as above and fill with weights.

Place the tarts into the preheated oven and turn the temperature down to 180˚C and bake blind for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes, remove the foil and weights and return to the oven for 5 minutes until the base is slightly golden.

Meanwhile prepare the brownie mixture by melting the margarine with the sugar and the chocolate either in a pan or in the microwave in 30 second blasts. Once it is all melted together, sift in the flour, salt and cacao powder and beat until it thickens. Then beat in the eggs one at a time until incorporated.


When the tart cases are out of the oven, pour in the brownie batter and shake to level out. It won’t rise too much so you can fill it almost to the top. Bake the tarts with the brownie for 10 minutes and leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes before lifting out of the cases to cool fully.

Finish the tart by topping with some of the chopped roasted hazelnuts and serving with ice cream and fresh fruit.


Mini Glazed Lemon and Almond Loaves

My Glazed Lemon Almond Loaf Cake has been one of my family’s favourite cakes of mine and I’m always being nagged to make it. These little loaves use the same recipe except the smaller tins make this cake look incredibly dainty and perfect for when you want a small slice of cake with a cup of tea.


If you’re having a lemon cake, then it’s got to taste of lemon and so I use both zest and the juice of the lemon in both the cake and the glaze for a powerful lemon punch. The almonds reduce the intensity by mellowing the flavour profiles however both flavours are pronounced.

The glaze is a simple lemon icing however I like the effect of it dripping down the side. To get the right consistency so it can drip down the sides without touching the bottom, you have to create a thick icing and bring it to the correct consistency by adding extra liquid very carefully.

This quantity of cake batter is enough for two 1lb loaf tins. It may make extra than the 4 loaf cakes in which case you can fill some cupcake cases with this batter and bake them off too. They obviously take less time to bake.

For the cake

270g margarine

300g caster sugar

320g self raising flour

½ tsp baking powder

90g ground almonds

100ml lemon juice

Zest of 1 lemon

4 eggs

For the decoration

50g flaked almonds

Zest of 1 lemon

120g icing sugar

4-5 tsp lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease the inside of four 15 x 8 x 5.5cm loaf tins well.

Place all the ingredients for the sponge into a large bowl, making sure that the lemon juice and baking powder do not come into direct contact. Beat with an electric whisk for 1 minute until everything is combined. Any lumps will be the ground almonds. Scrape down the sides with a spatula and fold briefly.

Divide the batter between the 4 loaf tins and level the surface of each loaf. Sprinkle the flaked almonds over each cake evenly and then bake the 4 loaves for around 30 – 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the deepest part of the cake comes out clean.

Leave the cakes to cool in the tins for 15 minutes before running a knife around the edge of each loaf cake and turning out onto a cooling rack.

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Into a bowl, zest the lemon and add the icing sugar. Add enough lemon juice to bring the consistency of the icing to a thick glaze consistency so that you can spread it without it running down the sides of the loaves.

Spoon some of the icing onto the top of each of the cakes and use a palette knife to push the icing around the top of the cake so it covers the surface of each loaf and begins to drip down the sides. Leave the icing to set fully before slicing into the loaves.