Author Archives: AndrewintheKitchen

Review of The Big Family Cooking Showdown

The BBC’s new cooking show is not a Bake Off replacement whatsoever – there are three challenges, getting progressively more challenging and ended with a showstopper (sorry I meant Impress the Neighbours but without any neighbours).

All joking aside, the premise of the show was to showcase the home cooks who cook extraordinary food in three challenges; firstly the families must cook a main dish for under £10 in 75 minutes; secondly the families will cook a main course and a dessert in 90 minutes; lastly the families must “Impress the Neighbours” with a starter and a main in 2 hours and 15 minutes.

The one person who shone through last night was the wonderful Torun from the Marks family; you can tell that she is a true matriarch of her family! Finding out a bit about the family when they cook in their own home as well as how they interact with each other whilst cooking is often reflected in their food; on the one hand you have the Marks’ who are proud of their Swedish heritage and then you have the Charles’ who are just very proud!

As we began to progress through the first challenge, I found myself hoping that the judges wouldn’t mention anything about the presentation of the dish – which they did in all 3. I believe that when it comes to family cooking, the presentation is a completely insignificant matter because family cooking doesn’t always have to look great; the taste and flavour is far the superior trait. So what if the pastry on your apple pie is a bit burnt, you can just cover it in custard; so what if the posset doesn’t have a disc of caramelised mango on it, it will still be tasty!

We had mentions of presentation and then came a whole lot of pretentiousness – let’s talk crispy chicken skin, pear and carrot crisps and fish stock.

I have done crispy chicken skin before on a bit of a whim because I was deskinning some chicken thighs to put into a marinade and didn’t want to waste it. I wouldn’t purposely get chicken skin to garnish a dish and I felt like the Charles’ were doing this simply to curry a bit of f(l)avour – I am amazed at how this pun works considering what they cooked at home for their main!

I associate crispy chicken skin with MasterChef when they try to show off for the former finalists! And that’s the same thing with the pear and carrot crisps, it’s just a bit show-off for me and not the sort of thing people cook at home every day. I wish Rosemary wouldn’t have criticised the Marks’ for using a fish stock cube; in a timed challenge and in the real world, many people wouldn’t make their own fish stock because frankly most people don’t have the time.

And that’s where I began to question the show. It became slightly apparent that the show was becoming a bit like a MasterChef quarterfinal with a few extra family members thrown in (and the brilliant Zoe Ball and Nadiya Hussain!). While, yes, the programme is meant to showcase the extraordinary home cooks, I can’t help but feel this format doesn’t really work all that well with the name of the show and I feel it’s a bit confused.

Giorgio Locatelli said that “the most important thing is to see them cooking with joy” and that’s family cooking should be; stressing over a time limit and whether their ravioli is cooked through is not joyous. Seeing Torun’s speak so fondly about her love of cardamom, that is the joy that cooking brings. I wish that was highlighted more in the show, I felt we didn’t get enough of that.

I also wanted to see more rustic food, the comfort foods that our mothers cook for us; where were the stews, the casseroles, the pies or the pasta bakes? I don’t associate family cooking with the seafood bisques , the fennel risottos and the pear crisps. I wanted to see a challenge where we saw the family’s interpretation of a classic family dish such as a spaghetti Bolognese, a bread and butter pudding or a roast chicken dinner, all of which are different for every family and could be greatly influenced by family heritage.

Maybe they could even do a MasterChef style invention challenge where they have to create a dish using up leftovers or things from a half empty fridge and a few cans, something which many families have to (and sometimes struggle) to do – this could certainly inspire viewers at home to give it a try! And if you’re going to do a challenge involving money, let’s make the budget tight to show people what you rustle up in the kitchen for very little money so we avoid things like fennel risotto with parmesan crisps!

Despite my initial bugbears with The Big Family Cooking Showdown, the mere mention of “Brussel sprouts do not belong on pizza” at the end of the show is getting me to tune in next week and probably for the rest of the series. Characters such as Torun are rare to find on TV these days and they make the show a joy to watch and the selection of hosts and judges are second to none! I did enjoy watching the show and the food they cooked was stunning (I mean Torun’s apple crumble and Betty’s mango posset both looked so tasty!). It was a refreshing light show which was warm and in good taste, even if it was a bit slow for me at times.

As a food blogger, I do obsess with getting the perfect photo of my food, the appearance is not the most important thing when it comes to food, it’s the taste and flavour and I wish this was highlighted on a show about family cooking; I think the focus from the judges was slightly off. The premise of the show, while sound, is flawed by the fact that the challenges and judging demand the families to cook dishes which aren’t everyday dishes and use techniques which aren’t everyday techniques either such as making your own fish stock.

But also well done to these families because I know that mine would not be like that all cooking one menu together at the same time!

Comment down below about what you think of The Big Family Cooking Showdown. I would love to hear your thoughts!

Follow me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram and make sure to check out my previous recipe post for Sausage Stuffing Bonbons and my review of the Bacon Express!

Images taken from the BBC and Buzzfeed.

Product Review: Smart Bacon Express

I love bacon. The salty fatty pork is utterly delicious and addictive and I think plays a huge role in the British psyche. The Americans may chuck bacon onto literally everything but we have the upper hand with the bacon butty and the English breakfast. The tasty yet humble bacon butty may be simple but also divisive; white, brown or a bap, ketchup, brown sauce or an egg, toasted or untoasted, butter or no butter, everyone has it their own way.

For me, the perfect bacon butty is toasted sliced white or wholemeal bloomer (I’m not fussed) spread with butter with crisp unsmoked bacon.

The bacon I would have is not the crispy bacon that the Americans have on their pancakes; it simply wouldn’t work. But at times, getting crispy bacon which is crispy but not burnt can be difficult – the so-called perfect bacon. I’ve seen various tips and tricks to get crispy bacon such as:

  • Take the bacon out 10 minutes before frying so it returns to its natural state and start with a cold cast iron pan and do not overcrowd the pan with bacon
  • Place the bacon a wire rack over a roasting tray to catch the fat and bake in the oven
  • Put cold bacon into a cast iron skillet lined with foil and add water to the skillet
  • Microwave the bacon on a plate, layering the bacon between multiple sheets of paper towels for about 5-6 minutes

While these methods all yield crispy bacon, the UK now has a new and innovative way of cooking bacon without having to turn on the hob or the oven. The Smart Bacon Express is a new healthier way to cook bacon to crispy perfection quickly and easily.

The Bacon Express instantly reminds me of a toaster, especially with the dial on the side that allows you to adjust the cooking time depending on the thickness of your bacon and how crispy you want it. The Bacon Express allows you to cook up to 6 rashers of bacon at a time – probably more than you can fit in your average sized frying pan or baking tray.

The Bacon Express has cool touch handles on the side panels which easily open to reveal the inside. The bacon is laid over the cooking plate inside which can be easily removed using the two tabs. This unique vertical cooking position allows the fat to drain away into the removable drip tray underneath the cooking plate giving crisper and healthier bacon. The two door plates again can be removed for easy cleaning. The chrome finish gives the Bacon Express a modern style, making it suitable for all kitchens.

You can watch my unboxing of the Smart Bacon Express on my Youtube channel below!

My initial impression of the Bacon Express was that it was very easy to use and set up. With just a simple touch of a button, the Bacon Express is preheated and ready to cook the bacon in no time! The intense sizzling sound when you lay your rashers of bacon on is amazing and unrivalled! Then simply shut the two doors, turn the dial to your required setting, press the button and then leave to cook. It’s that simple!

The thin crispy bacon setting took around 6 and a half minutes to cook the bacon that I tested in the video. This is certainly quicker than achieving crispy bacon through the cast iron skillet methods I mentioned above but of course there are limitations to this; cooking large amounts of bacon for a big group of people or a family means that the Bacon Express takes much longer than the other methods and while the bacon yielded from the Bacon Express is amazingly crispy (something I have never managed before), it wouldn’t be worth your time for a large amount when the grill/hob would do the same job much quicker! The size of bacon sold in the UK is larger in width than the ones on the packaging so you probably won’t be able to fit 6 strips on the cooking plate; 3 is probably the average number you can fit on.

Hence the Bacon Express is well suited for a university student like myself who is probably only cooking for themselves as well as other people living on their own, new couples or new homeowners. I know that I would certainly use the Bacon Express instead of microwaving my bacon (which is a nightmare at times!) or trying to grill it – the number of stories I have heard about smoke alarms being set off when people have tried to cook bacon! The Bacon Express is advantageous for cooking small amounts of crispy bacon where perhaps you won’t be cooking eggs in the same pan for the flavour or don’t want to turn on the gas/hob or oven – for example for a salad topping or a pasta salad.

Moreover the Bacon Express lends itself well to multitasking in the kitchen. Really the bacon does not require any of your attention thanks to the beeping after it has preheated and after the bacon has cooked meaning that except from opening it just to have a check on its progress, you can very easily prepare your bread for your bacon butty or scramble your eggs while the bacon sizzles away happily in the Bacon Express which is a huge positive.

When it comes to cleaning, the cooking plate, the two door plates and the drip tray are all very easy to remove but not as easy to clean. The cooking and door plates all get surprisingly messy and after letting them cool so you can remove them safely, I found they had to soak for a while before I could properly clean them and even then, I couldn’t clean them fully without scratching the plates at least – this may have been down to the fact that I cooked lots of bacon and the residue from the first batch burned as time went on.

And when it came to replacing the door plates, I did struggle with one of them getting in properly at times. But the Bacon Express prevents any bacon fat splattering around due to the closed design which is a big advantage of the product and something I really liked about it.

When the doors of the Bacon Express are closed, it is very compact and fits well into most kitchens both size wise and aesthetically. But when the Bacon Express does require a bit of space when the doors are open and many kitchens just may not have the space to fit in this gadget.


The Bacon Express retails for £49.99 which, for me, seems to be on the expensive side considering I am approaching this from a student’s perspective who would benefit greatly from this product; I would have expected a cost of around £35 – £40. But even if you aren’t a student, the Bacon Express is certainly a fun kitchen gadget with an appeal to not only student kitchens but for people living on their own, new couples, new homeowners and kitchen technology lovers too! For the bacon lovers, the Bacon Express will deliver the crispy bacon that they so desperately crave without the hassle of buying a cast iron skillet.

Overall I really enjoyed my time with the Bacon Express. The bacon it yielded was the crispiest I think I have ever had it, especially for the time that it took. The speed at which it cooked impressed me and made me think that the Bacon Express could have a place in my student kitchen when I need a cooked breakfast in a hurry – and I could also make a cup of tea or make some toast while it cooks, saving time. I would probably have a few issues with cleaning the door plates since I probably wouldn’t be able to clean it until after I got back from a day of lectures and it would require soaking for a while. It also would take up little room in the kitchen while it’s not being used which is a huge advantage.

The Bacon Express is certainly coming with me back to uni for my second year!

At the time of writing, the Bacon Express is currently available exclusively at Harts of Stur; I’ve put their social media links at the end of this post as well as a direct link to the product and their website so you can plenty more cookware items to purchase – and they have a clearance on too so make sure to check that out; you get free delivery on orders over £50 too!


As with all of my reviews, I keep the product after reviewing it but do not receive direct payment from this review. I have not been told to falsely write positive comments about the product and everything is my opinion. Also thanks to Ben for letting me borrow his kitchen – I’m sure he didn’t mind having bacon cooked for him!

Check out Harts of Stur’s website as well as their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus and Pinterest!

A direct link to the Bacon Express on the Harts of Stur website can be found by clicking here.

Comment down below about what you think of the Bacon Express! I would love to hear your thoughts!

Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and make sure to check out my previous recipe post for Sausage Stuffing Bonbons!

Sausage Stuffing Bonbons

They say that you’re obsessed with food when you start coming up with recipes and ideas at night before you go to sleep and this was certainly one of those occasions. In a moment of pure madness (and yet slight genius), I came up with my Sausage Stuffing Bonbons.

Now please bear with me, I struggled to come up with a name for these because “Sausage Balls” is too much of an innuendo for me to handle and especially if I add the word “crunchy” to it (as I did in my first draft)! I ended up calling them Sausage Stuffing Bonbons because they are little balls of sausage meat coated in a breadcrumb stuffing mix and bonbons makes them sound more playful and fun.

The idea first came to me when I wanted to try making my own Scotch eggs which soon turned into making mini Scotch eggs and then becoming Scotch eggs without an egg. Okay they are essentially a meatball however the difference between a standard meatball and my Sausage Stuffing Bonbons is that they are coated in a crunchy breadcrumb coating like a Scotch egg. Then I had a brainwave to use a sage and onion stuffing mix (which is essentially flavoured breadcrumbs) as the coating which compliments the sausage meat amazingly.

This recipe makes a pack of sausages that you get in a supermarket just a bit different with not much effort at all. These would be ideal for a party because they are so simple, cheap, fuss-free and can be made a day ahead (and baked on the day) but they also make a great little snack (if you can stop at having just a few because that stuffing coating makes these totally addictive). If you want to add a bit of extra fun, pop them on a lollipop stick and you have a savoury lollipop!


1lb (454g) Cumberland sausages

2 tbsp plain flour

40g plain flour

1 egg

3 slices of white bread

60g sage and onion stuffing mix

Dips, condiments and sauces, to serve


Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Line a baking tray with a sheet of baking parchment.

Squeeze out the sausage meat from the skins into a mixing bowl, adding the 2 tablespoons of plain flour and season well with salt and pepper. Use your hands to combine until it is well mixed. Form 24 balls of the sausage meat and set aside.

Place the plain flour into a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Beat together the eggs in another small bowl. In a food processor, blitz the bread into breadcrumbs and transfer to a large bowl. Then put the stuffing mix into the processor and blitz briefly until it is a fine crumb and then mix with the breadcrumbs.

Roll each ball lightly in the seasoned flour, coat in the beaten egg and then toss through the stuffing breadcrumb mixture. Place the balls onto the baking tray, leaving space in between each one.

Bake the sausage balls for around 20 – 25 minutes until the meat is cooked through and the coating is crisp and golden brown, turning halfway through. Drain the balls on kitchen paper before serving.

Serve warm alongside a variety of dips and condiments such as tomato salsa (as pictured), chutneys or relishes.

Chinese Coconut Milk Pudding (椰汁糕)

One of my favourite sweet dim sum to have at yum cha is 椰汁糕 or Coconut Milk Pudding. It’s a very light little morsel of coconutty goodness and is also wonderfully refreshing but doesn’t require a lot of effort to make yourself at home either!

To get the correct balance of coconut flavour, I use an almost one to one ratio of coconut milk to whole milk; using too much coconut milk can make it very overpowering. Most tins of coconut milk are also sold in 400ml tins so you don’t have to worry about having any leftover. One tip is to use a chopstick or a fork to give the contents of the tin a mix before pouring into the saucepan as the coconut milk usually separates into water and the coconut cream and if the pudding mixture is not well mixed, it tends to separate out later on.

I prefer using gelatine powder as opposed to the sheets which all the chefs seems to use on TV. I find using the weight of a powder is much easier to control the set of the pudding and it’s also much cheaper too; I stocked up on gelatine powder when I went to Hong Kong however it can be easily found online.

150ml boiling water

20g gelatine powder

1 x 400ml tin of coconut milk

350ml whole milk

½ tsp vanilla extract

100g granulated sugar

Dissolve the gelatine powder in the boiling water, stirring until completely lump free. Set aside.

In a saucepan over a medium heat, stir together the coconut milk, whole milk, vanilla extract and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Then add in the gelatin mixture and stir again to dissolve.

Strain the mixture into a deep rectangular or square plastic container and leave to cool for 30 minutes before covering and refrigerating for 4 hours or until it is set; it should have a firm wobble and come away from the edges cleanly when you pull the pudding away.

To serve the pudding, flip out the pudding onto a chopping board and use a knife to slice into even cubes.

Giant Victoria Sponge Donut Cake

Here’s a great way of reinventing the classic Victoria sponge into a showstopper of a cake, this is my Giant Victoria Sponge Donut Cake.

I bought my giant donut mould from Lakeland when it was on offer for £2.50. I don’t often bake with silicon moulds but I enjoyed making this donut cake; greasing the moulds made the cakes turn out really easily and I loved how the cakes looked after they were turned out with the golden brown rings on the base.

The donut mould comes with a lid that you can put on one half so that the cake is baked with a slight hollow so you can fill it like a donut; unlike my Victoria Sponge donut, the filling is instead concealed giving it a more authentic doughnut look but I prefer having the filling exposed, it looks much more inviting to me! And even if you can’t find this exact mould, any savarin-shaped mould will do. Make sure that the inside is well greased and you may want to flour it too to extra ensure it turns out.

This cake went down a huge storm with the teachers at school who requested a cake from me. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get a picture of a slice but when you get an empty cake stand brought home, you know it must have been good!


225g margarine

225g granulated sugar

4 eggs

225g self raising flour

1 tbsp whole milk

75g raspberry jam, sieved

300ml double cream

50g granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

80g icing sugar

Red food colouring

Sprinkles, to decorate


Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Grease two 21cm silicon donut moulds well and set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together the margarine with the granulated sugar until it is light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one by one, scraping down the bowl with a spatula after each addition. Add in the self raising flour and fold through until incorporated. Then beat in the tablespoon of milk until mixed through.

Divide the cake batter evenly between the 2 donut moulds and use the back of a spoon to level the surface. Bake the donut cakes for around 25 – 30 minutes until the cake is golden brown, coming away from the edges and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Leave the cakes to cool in the mould for 10 minutes before peeling away the mould and leaving to cool fully on a cooling rack.

In another bowl, whisk the double cream with the sugar and vanilla extract until it holds a thick but soft peak. Then transfer to a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble.

Prepare the icing by mixing together the icing sugar with enough milk to form an icing that is thick enough to stay on the cake but not too thin that it runs off the cake straight away. Add a drop of red food colouring to make a baby pink colour.

Place one donut half on your serving stand and use a serrated knife to level off the top if necessary. Spread the sieved jam over this top half, making sure it doesn’t go over the edge. Carefully pipe over the whipped cream in a swirl pattern, filling in any gaps after. Sprinkle over a few pink pearl sprinkles and then place the other sponge on top the right way up.

Then spread the pink icing over the top of the sponge, covering the entire surface and allowing it to drip down the sides slightly. Before the icing sets, sprinkle over some rainbow sprinkles and leave the icing to set before slicing to serve.

Foolproof Funfetti Icebox Sugar Cookies

I’ve said before that I find making cookies where you roll out and cut out cookie shapes not enjoyable. The cookies would usually end up tough and rather bland however after a lot of experimenting and sugar cookie baking, I’ve managed to get a recipe which produces perfect sugar cookies. These are my Foolproof Funfetti Icebox Sugar Cookies!

The perfect cookie is crisp around the edges and soft and chewy in the centre but the addition of rainbow sprinkles add not only a massive pop of colour but a tiny amount of texture which adds a lot of interest to a standard sugar cookie recipe.

I eliminate the chance of overworking the dough when you roll it out by hand by following an icebox cookie method. If you’ve not heard of an icebox cookie, you might actually be familiar with the method and some cookies which use it; checkerboard cookies, pinwheel cookies and striped cookies all use the icebox method.

The cookie dough is shaped into a log and chilled to firm it up which allows it to be sliced into shapes which give consistency across a batch of cookies. Icebox cookies tend to be smaller than your average chocolate chip cookie so the yield per batch is much higher than most other recipes. I averaged around 60 cookies per batch.

Icebox cookies have a further benefit in that the cookie dough can be made ahead and frozen and after time defrosting in the fridge, it can be used as normal. Just make sure that it is wrapped tightly in clingfilm so it doesn’t suffer from freezer burn.

Check out my other cookie recipes by clicking on the names:


170g margarine

200g granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

355g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

80g rainbow vermicelli sprinkles, plus 50g for the outside of the cookies


In a large bowl, cream together the margarine with the sugar until it is lighter in colour and the sugar has dissolved and is smooth. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Mix through the vanilla extract.

Sift in the plain flour and baking powder and using a rubber spatula, fold through the dry ingredients. Before the mixture comes together into dough, add in the rainbow sprinkles and continue to mix until a pliable dough forms.

Fill a baking tin with the extra rainbow sprinkles. Divide the dough into 4 and on a lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a log. Roll the log gently in the tin of sprinkles until the outside of the log is well covered. Lay out sheets of clingfilm and roll up the logs in clingfilm well. Shape the cookie dough into a cuboid shape and repeat for the rest of the dough. Chill for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.

Using a sharp knife and a single downward motion, slice off pieces of the cookie dough ¼ of an inch thick and arrange on the baking tray, leaving room for spreading.

Bake the cookies for 9 – 11 minutes, or until the cookies have spread and are ever so slightly tinged golden around the edges. Leave the cookies to cool on the tray for 15 minutes before carefully lifting off the tray and transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Slow Cooker Pulled Bacon with Homemade Barbecue Sauce

It used to be the case that meats that took a long time to cook were cheaper than the quicker cuts and while generally that still remains true, I found a little secret in some supermarkets which inverts that rule. “Cooking bacon” is what the supermarkets call those pieces of bacon which they can’t make into rashers and they put it all into one pack and it’s RIDICULOUSLY cheap, £1.15 for 1kg of bacon.

You do have to sort through all of the different packs as some of them can be incredibly fatty however if you do get a good pack then the bacon can be used in replacement for rashers, lardons or even slow cooked to make the most amazing pulled bacon!

My tips for looking for a good pack of cooking bacon is to choose a pack that contains hardly any fat/pieces of rind and depending on what you want to use it for, find a pack that contains what you want; packs usually either contain small rashers or large steaks. For my pulled bacon recipe, it’s best to go for the steaks. Of course choosing a pack with no fat/rind can be tricky so spend a few minutes preparing the bacon by trimming off any large pieces of fat/rind.

The pulled bacon is incredibly versatile and when it’s pulled in this way, it makes it go a lot further but for now, I am sharing my recipe for a homemade barbecue sauce which I mix with the pulled bacon and serve on poured over chips, similar in style to the Canadian dish poutine, which is chips topped with chewy cheese curds and covered in gravy.


For the slow cooker bacon:

200ml apple juice

1 tsp coriander seeds

½ tsp cumin seeds

1 clove of garlic, crushed

½ tsp paprika

A pinch of dried chilli flakes

¼ tsp ground black pepper

1kg cooking bacon

For the barbecue sauce:

40g tomato puree

60g tomato ketchup

40g soft dark brown sugar

2 tbsp malt vinegar

1 tbsp dark soy sauce

½ tsp paprika

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp salt

½ tsp black pepper

1 tsp hot sauce such as Tabasco or sriracha

Chips and grated cheese, to serve


Pour the apple juice and all the spices and seasonings into a 1.5L slow cooker. Mix to combine and place onto low while you prepare the bacon.

Trim off any large pieces of fat on the bacon and discard. Cut the bacon into manageable sized pieces that will fit into your slow cooker and then submerge into the slow cooker. Use a spoon to stir the contents so that the bacon chunks are coated in the spices.

Put the lid on and turn the slow cooker onto high and leave the bacon to slow cook for around 4 to 5 hours until the bacon is soft and falls apart easily, giving the contents a stir every hour or so. Once cooked, turn off the slow cooker and leave the bacon to sit in its cooking juices for 15 minutes. Gently lift out as much of the bacon as you can and use two forks to pull apart the bacon.

For the barbecue sauce, heat together all of the ingredients with 100ml of water and 100ml of the cooking liquid in a saucepan, stirring it constantly until it boils. Reduce the heat to medium and leave it to simmer for around 15 minutes until it has reduced slightly, stirring every so often to prevent sticking. Taste and adjust the seasoning as required.

Mix together the pulled bacon with the barbecue sauce in the pan and spoon over the cooked chips in a bowl and finish with a sprinkle of grated cheese.