Welcome to my brand new series, fdbloggerfriends! In this series, I will be finding out a lot more about the food bloggers that I follow on Twitter and hopefully introduce you to some new blogs to read. Today we start with Victoria aka The Improving Cook.
Hi, I’m delighted to be guest posting for Andrew today while he’s in exam season. Good luck, Andrew!
My name is Victoria and I blog as The Improving Cook at http://www.theimprovingcook.com
Five interesting facts about me
- I have been teaching for nearly 17 years.
- I love gardening but only have a tiny wee garden.
- I didn’t eat red meat for over ten years because I just went off it and I won’t eat seafood. Fish yes, seafood no.
- I’m obsessed with Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.
- I was born in Scotland and have lived in Norway and Sicily on my way to England.
I don’t cook at all as part of my professional life. Being a primary school teacher doesn’t call for it very often! Despite that, I absolutely love my job. I always say that even the worst day at work is still a brilliant day for me, and even when I am tired and overwhelmed by what there is to do, I still want to get up and go into school. Every day is a challenge and every day is different, which suits me down to the ground. It’s hilarious, exhausting, frustrating, rewarding and wonderful all at the same time but it can be an all-encompassing job and, if you’re not careful, it can completely take over your life. That’s why it’s a very good thing that cooking and baking have provided me with a way to relax in recent years. The more I cook, the more I love it!
Before I met my husband, I was quite a lazy cook. Cooking for one can be a bit uninspiring and I quickly got out of the habit of cooking any kind of variety, or even of cooking anything that took longer than 20 minutes to make. My husband is disabled and before we got married, we did the long-distance thing for a couple of years. Cooking for him so that he would have meals in the freezer when I wasn’t there was the thing that got me back into cooking. It has grown and grown until it’s such a big part of my life that I can’t imagine being without it. It helps that he’s such an appreciative audience!
When I was growing up, my mum and my nana both cooked and baked everything from scratch. They taught me all the basics and I often cooked for myself as a teenager and at university. It all stopped from when I got my first teaching post to when I met my husband purely due to lack of time and inspiration. But, once the inspiration came back, it was almost like a compulsion. If I don’t cook or bake for a couple of days, I get antsy and restless!
I started my blog, The Improving Cook in September 2015 to keep a record of the recipes I was developing. As someone who was trying to improve their skills and try new methods and ingredients, I wanted simple, easy to follow instructions. Often, I found that recipes in cookbooks, on cooking shows and online were quite complicated, or they made assumptions about culinary knowledge, or they required a lot of kitchen equipment that I didn’t have. I thought that if I presented my recipes as simple and straightforward, in easy-to-follow language, then it might be helpful to other people in my situation. It seemed to me that there must be plenty of people looking to branch out a bit with their cooking, or to get started with it for the first time, and I wanted my recipes to be ones they could try out without too much difficulty.
I like to cook hearty, filling meals, recipes with plenty of spice, cakes and biscuits, and I especially like using the slow cooker to do batch-cooking for the freezer. But if I was choosing my last ever meal on earth, I think I would go for a really good steak. There’s a South African pub in Chilworth called The Percy Arms and they do a pretty spectacular steak night, where you get a large rump steak that your knife just slides through with no effort, served with chips- the perfect last meal!
My 3 favourite Blog Posts
If you want to get a feel for my blog- these are the 3 posts that I would direct you to:
Mango and Coconut Loaf Cake with Lime Drizzle- a great way to use up over-ripe mango, lots of tropical flavours. http://theimprovingcook.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/mango-and-coconut-loafcake.html
Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken- all the flavours of Mexico in this spicy, shredded chicken dish. Great with rice, over a jacket potato or in a tortilla wrap. http://theimprovingcook.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/slow-cooker-mexican-chicken.html
Spicy, Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup- home-made tomato soup is so much nicer than tinned. Perfect for the freezer and for taking to work. http://theimprovingcook.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/spicy-roasted-tomato-and-garlic-soup.html
You can find me on social media here:
Chocolate Banana Caramel Cupcakes
Today’s recipe is another one born from me needing to use up bananas that are on the turn. It doesn’t matter how organised I am being, there always seems to be one that doesn’t get eaten. It’s probably because I am so fussy about the perfect time to eat a banana. If it hits the browning stage, I can just about eat it on my cereal, but that’s it! I won’t throw them away, as I hate food waste, so they get used in baking and desserts. That’s why there are so many banana recipes on my blog, folks!
These Chocolate Banana Caramel Cupcakes are a great way to use up bananas. They are rather indulgent, so I won’t blame you for deliberately letting bananas go brown, just so you can make them! They are perfect for children’s parties and they’re so easy to make, that you could get the kids to help you. I used full-size cupcake cases and Carnation caramel. I also added little, coloured, chocolate beans from Lakeland to top these off, but Smarties or sprinkles would do just as well. If you want to scale back the indulgence a little, you could forget the fudgy topping and leave them ‘naked’. Enjoy!
For the cakes:
- 100g butter, softened
- 2 eggs
- 175g caster sugar
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
- 210g self-raising flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp cinammon
- 3 tbsp milk
- 2 very ripe bananas, mashed
- 6 tbsp caramel
For the fudgy topping:
- 100g dark chocolate
- 1 tbsp golden syrup
- 50g butter
- 25g icing sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 180 (170 fan, gas mark 4) and fill a cupcake tray with cupcake cases.
Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth with a wooden spoon or an electric mixer.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating them into the mixture before adding the next.
Add the mashed banana and the milk and mix through until well-combined. You will have quite a loose mixture at this point.
Using a sieve, sift the flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon and baking powder into the mixture. Fold the dry ingredients into the mixture slowly using a spatula, metal spoon or continuing with the electric mixer.
Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases as evenly as you can until they are two thirds full.
Spoon half a teaspoon of caramel into each cupcake case, trying to keep it in the middle.
Now spoon a heaped teaspoonful of the remaining cake mixture over the caramel and spread it slightly so that the caramel is covered.
Pop the cupcake tray into the oven for 20 minutes or until a knife comes out clean and the tops of the cakes feel springy to the touch.
While they are baking, make the fudgy topping. Melt the chocolate, butter and golden syrup in a small saucepan, on a low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until it is combined.
Take the pan off the heat and sieve the icing sugar slowly into the warm mixture and stir until it’s combined. If you get lumps, use an electric whisk to smooth them out. Be careful if the mixture is still hot.
Leave to set- put it in the fridge if you need to speed up the process. It should be a thicker, but still spreadable consistency. If you see any little dots of icing sugar, work them in using a wooden spoon. If it seems too thick, add a teaspoon of milk (no more) and stir through to loosen it.
When the cakes are ready, let them cool for a couple minutes in the tray. That will allow the sponge to set enough that you can lift them out onto a cooling rack without squashing them.
When ready, put the cakes onto a cooling rack.
If the icing is cooled and set and the cakes are completely cooled, you’re ready to ice. Either just spread the icing on using a knife, using the tip to swirl it round, or add it to an icing bag with a large star fitted. Only use small amounts of icing on each one, or it will be too rich.
Add decorations of your choice.