Field Guide to Cookies by Anita Chu

A big thank you to Quirk Books for sending me The Field Guide to Cookies by Anita Chu. This cute pocket sized book follows the design of a field guide not only in size but style too. This is not your average cookery book; each cookie recipe comes with detailed information, such as its history, storage suggestions and serving suggestions. In many ways this book is an encyclopedia of cookies, from A to Z and with 100 global recipes this is a handy kitchen reference tool.

With so many different recipes to try you can easily imagine there are cookies that you have never heard of before. I wanted to try something really different and picked a South African recipe, that I had never come across before. What I enjoyed about this recipe was when people commented on it being an unusual recipe, I was able to fill them in on the history and origin of the recipe. The Field Guide makes you able to turn your cookies from snack to share into a conversation piece too! This is fantastic book for a food blogger, cooking writing and photographing food are all second nature, so cookie conversation starter is a must!

Here is the recipe I tried:

South African Spiced Wine Cookies (Soetkoekies)

  • 250g plain flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1.5 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1.5 tsp ground cloves
  • 225g light brown sugar
  • 100g chopped almonds
  • 120g unsalted butter, cold cut into cubes
  • 2 eggs
  • 60ml port, sherry or red wine


  1. Sift flour, baking powder and spices together in a food mixer.
  2. Add sugar and chopped almonds, mix until combined.
  3. Add the butter and combine for a few minutes on a medium speed until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
  4. Add eggs one at a time and beat until incorporated.
  5. Add port and mix to combine.
  6. Turn out dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a disc. Wrap tightly and chill in the fridge for about 30 mins until firm.
  7. Preheat the oven to 175°C. Line baking tray with baking paper.
  8. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick.
  9. Use a 2 inch cookie cutter to cut out rounds from the dough. Place on baking tray and 2 inches apart.
  10. Bake for 10-12 mins. The cookies are done when they are golden brown. Cool on wire racks.

This book is written by a fellow blogger, check out her website here.

Posted in Biscuits & Cookies, Book Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

More National Trust Responses To Open Letter

Chief Executive and Assistant Director of Operations, East of England, respond to my open letter.

With kind permission from the National Trust I am able to publish my emails from both Dame Fiona Reynolds and Justin Scully (Assistant Director of Operations, East England). Email contact between myself and the Trust is ongoing and these are the original responses, but so far little has changed. However, the possibility of a meeting between Samphire and Blickling Hall has been mentioned.

Dame Fiona Reynolds:

Dear Victoria

Thank you for letting us know your concerns about the closure of the
Samphire Shop.

Whilst I understand your concerns, I apologise that I am unable to reply
personally.  I strongly believe that our local managers are the best
placed and best informed to make the right decisions for the long-term
sustainability of their property. I understand that Helen Bailey has
replied to you already, as has Justin Scully and I do hope they have
helped in explaining the reasons behind the decisions they have made.
If you would like to discuss this further, I know that Helen would be
more than happy to meet with you.

With best wishes

Dame Fiona Reynolds, DBE
National Trust

Justin Scully, Head of East of England

Dear Victoria,

I have been passed your correspondence to Helen Bailey regarding the decision not to

renew the lease on the Samphire shop on the Blickling Estate. I’m the Operations

Director for all of our properties in the East of England, and I felt it would be

useful if I offered some further comments if that would be helpful.

Please be assured that I am aware of the discussions that have been taking place

between our Blickling team and the Nethercotts.  They have been going on for many

months and I understand that the lease was due to expire in May of last year and was

subsequently extended in order for more discussions regarding options for relocation

of the shop, amongst other things, to take place.

We are grateful for the efforts of Karen and Jeff over the past few years as our

tenants. Our decision not to renew their lease is in no way linked to our support

for local businesses and suppliers – indeed we invest over £1 million in the local

economy each year in the Region. We are also committed to supporting local food

sourcing and Samphire’s closure does not diminish that commitment. At Blickling we

source locally where possible for use in our restaurant and the pantry area of our


Helen feels strongly, and I agree with her, that we have a responsibility to respond

to the needs of our many thousands of customers and supporters who visit Blickling

from far and wide each year. We will not be replacing Samphire with a corporate copy

of a farm shop, nor will we try to take advantage of their success.  We have felt

for many years that we are doing our visitors a disservice in this particular area

as people arrive. Our plans are to transform the welcome that members and

non-members, locals and holidaymakers receive. We also have to compete in an area of

Norfolk that has much to tempt people; whether they are looking for a day out or

somewhere to grab a coffee after walking the dog.  If we don’t respond to their

needs then the chances are they will go elsewhere and the wonderful experience that

is Blickling may be at risk.

We believe in supporting the managers of our places to lead their teams effectively

and make responsible business decisions. We use an approach to decision-making that

covers financial, conservation and people considerations so please be reassured that

we are not all about the bottom line. We believe, from top to bottom in the Trust,

that our managers are the best placed and best informed to make the right decisions

for the long-term sustainability of their property, ensuring that generations still

to come can enjoy what we care for.

Thank you for contacting us with your concerns and I hope I have gone some way to

convincing you that we are just as passionate about food, communities and offering

the best experience that we can to as many people as we can.

If it would be helpful to have a chat about this further, do drop me an email or my

contact numbers are below, regards Justin

Justin Scully,

Assistant Director, Operations

The National Trust,

East of England Regional Office,

Please leave your comments on  this blog post.

Posted in Random | Tagged | 2 Comments

My Quick Jacket Potatoes

Back on my focus for cheap, quick and healthy meals (especially good for students) I thought I’d republish my quick jacket potato recipe. Interestingly enough Jamie Oliver shared a similar recipe in his new book ’30 Minute Meals’. I published my post back in May and when I read Jamie’s new book I was delighted to see that I’m on the same food wavelength as the great Jamie himself.; quick healthy meals in under 30 minutes. If you like this post check out my Quick Jacket Potato Filling.

Here’s my original post 31/05/2010:

I love a jacket potato, but they have to have a crispy skin and be light and fluffy on the inside. Microwave a potato and it should be well cooked on the inside but the skin will be soft; cook in the oven and even after lengthy cooking the inside can still be uncooked in parts. I’ve found a way to combine both microwave and oven cooking for a speedy answer to the perfect jacket potato.

  1. Switch the oven on to pre-heat at 220°C.
  2. Microwave one potato on high for roughly 5-6 minutes (cook more than one potato in the microwave and add 5 minutes per potato)
  3. Check potato is done in the microwave, it should be soft to the touch, if not cook it for a further few minutes.
  4. Put the potato on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven, turning once, for roughly 20-25 minutes.

Try this out for a quick meal plan recipe with chilli con carne or cheese and beans. Please let me know if you think this method works and whether you were able to get the perfect jacket potato in just 30 minutes.

Posted in Food Thoughts & Nutrition, Quick Easy Meals, Quick Easy Recipe, Recipes | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Quick Salmon Pasta

Here is a recipe from my meal plans, that I cooked today. This recipe is unbelievably quick. I even surprise myself how quickly dinner is on the table when I make this dish, and despite salmon appearing like a luxury food you can buy it cheapily. I like to use smoked salmon trimmings which are very reasonably priced. Tesco sell a pack for around £1. This makes smoked salmon a cheaper protein than chicken or bacon. Sometimes I buy a large pack of smoked salmon and cut up into smaller portions and freeze. You can defrost on the day you want to use it and this spreads the cost of a ‘normal’ sized pack. I also look out for special offers on smoked salmon, then I buy several packs at once, cut and freeze as above.

This is one of my husband’s favourite meals and I cooked it for my little boy for the first time today. He happily ate the salmon, since it is packed full of omega 3 I’m glad he’s made  it an addition to his diet.

Salmon Pasta
Serves 4


  • 1 pack (120g-150g) smoked salmon trimmings
  • 100g cream cheese or creme fraiche
  • 2 spring onions
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs
  • if possible fresh herbs (basil, chives, parsley)
  • 200ml liquid (white wine or milk)
  • Pasta 350g (any type, spaghetti or fettuccine work well)


1. Cook pasta in boiling water.
2. Fry spring onion with garlic and mixed herbs on a low heat, add black pepper – as much as you like.
3. Take cooked drained pasta and add to frying pan.
4. Add cream cheese and stir continuously until the cheese has melted and covered pasta, add liquid now to loosen mixture.
5. Mix salmon into pan stirring well, leave on a low heat with a lid (or you can use a plate if your frying pan does not have a lid) for 3-5 mins.
6. Stir in chopped herbs, if using, and serve.

Serving suggestion:

Salad of rocket, tomatoes and grated parmesan.

5 a day additions:

As in my photo you can add green beans to this dish, pop them in with the pasta when it is half way through cooking, then it can be added into the sauce alongside the pasta at stage 3. Cooking the pasta and green beans together saves on pans and washing up!

Posted in Quick Easy Recipe, Recipes | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Spaghetti with Fried Eggs

Now that students are getting back to university after the Christmas holidays I thought I better get back on with my student meal plans. So here is a recipe I posted some time ago that some members of my family have been a bit skeptical about, however once they tried it they were hooked. Spaghetti with fried eggs, it is a cheap, quick meal packet with protein and carbohydrate.

I came about this meal after I have been on holiday in Norfolk and I had no meal plans to fall back on. Instead, I looked in the fridge and my store cupboard and found two useful ingredients – spaghetti and eggs. Well, necessity is the mother of invention, because after a quick search on google I found a recipe for spaghetti and fried eggs, at first I thought this was a crazy idea! However,  I needed to put lunch on the table and eggs are really healthy for you – read about that here.  It was delicious! My little boy loved it, whereas he normally shies away from eating egg, served like this he ate it all.

Here’s the recipe:

Serves 2


  • 150g spaghetti
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 2 large eggs
  • Large handful of chopped parsley
  • Ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated Parmesan (optional)


  1. Cook the pasta as per instructions on the packet, meanwhile prepare the sauce.
  2. Heat the oil and garlic in a large frying pan for approx 2 mins.
  3. Crack the eggs into the frying pan and cook until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny.
  4. Pour cooked and drained spaghetti into the frying pan, mix well and break up the egg white as you stir.
  5. Mix in chopped parsley and black pepper.
  6. Serve with some freshly grated Parmesan.

You could serve this with a tomato and rocket salad if you want to add some vegetables to this meal.

Original recipe from the New York Times.

Posted in Meal Plan Topics, Quick Easy Meals, Quick Easy Recipe, Recipes | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

National Trust Reply to Save Our Samphire

Helen Bailey, General Manager of Blickling Hall, has given permission for me to publish her response to my open letter. Here it is in its entirety:

Dear Victoria

Re Samphire Shop, Blickling Hall, Norfolk

Thank you for your letter to Dame Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust. This has been forwarded to me, as General Manager of the Blickling Estate, to answer.

I understand your disappointment about our decision not to renew the Nethercotts’ lease. Your passion for Samphire is clear from your letter, and the comments added to your blog show great support from local people. We understand how Samphire has become part of some people’s visit to Blickling. This was a decision we deliberated over long and hard, with a lot of discussion with the Nethercotts. We were – and are still – keen to try to find alternative accommodation for Samphire at Blickling, but no mutually satisfactory space has been found yet.

The redevelopment of the Dutch barn, as the main place to welcome visitors onto the Blickling Estate, is the start of major Estate-wide work to enhance people’s enjoyment here. Also in the early planning stages is work on the Courtyard area, which could create opportunities for local businesses, including Samphire, which we look forward to discussing in due course.

It is in direct response to the views of our visitors, which we gathered from extensive research, by a formal survey, comment cards, and in conversation, that we are making improvements to the main entrance to Blickling. Hundreds of thousands of people come to Blickling, and it is important to us that everyone is made to feel welcome, whether they come to walk their dog in the Park, use the cycle routes, or visit the house and gardens.

There is a real drive at the National Trust to bring our places to life, the result of which should not feel like some corporate roll-out, but provide the welcome visitors need and start to tell the story of Blickling and its rich history. We are developing and strengthening relationships with our neighbours and the local community to ensure that we understand their views and expectations. Inevitably, there are decisions we have to make which do not please everyone.

Please don’t underestimate how seriously we take support from, and for, the local community. The National Trust employs 35 permanent staff and around twenty more seasonal staff at Blickling, all local people. We are incredibly fortunate to have the support of over 350 volunteers, most of whom live locally. Also, we have 300 tenants on the estate, residential, local businesses and farmers. In our shop and restaurant, a very high proportion of what we sell comes from local producers, including our tenants – this is something we insist on, despite commercial pressures.

I hope this answers the questions you raised. I would welcome the opportunity to sit down and discuss our plans with you when I am back at work in the New Year.

Yours sincerely

Helen Bailey

General Manager, Blickling Estate

Posted in Random | Tagged | 5 Comments

Speedy Prawn Stir Fry

Today, after lunch, my Mum visited and my two year old told her “Had some yummy food”. George really seems to love this meal and it is certainly a hit with his Dad too. I love this stir fry, not only because it so tasty, but it is so quick! If I concentrate and put aside distractions (hard to do with a little boy in the house) then I can get this meal done in 10 minutes. With a whole pack of stir fry vegetables in this dish it is a good recipe to get kids eating vegetables that they usually refuse. I really recommend this stir fry it is the perfect way to get a delicious meal on the table in no time at all and is a must on your meal plan.

Serves 4


  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 250g pre-cooked prawns (I use frozen prawns and defrost them in my fridge)
  • approx 250g noodles
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp tamarind paste
  • Packet of fresh ready to use stir fry vegetables (approx 400g)
  • Handful fresh coriander.


  1. Tip the ground spice and soy sauce over the prawns and mix well.
  2. Heat noodles in boiling water according to packet instructions.
  3. Pour oil into a large wok and put on a high heat, when oil is really hot add prawns, scraping out all the of spices into the wok.
  4. Move prawns quickly around wok for only a few minutes before adding prepared vegetables. Stir for a minute or two, keeping the heat high.
  5. Mix in honey and tamarind paste, keep stirring. This should take approx 4-5 minutes.
  6. Drain noodles, transfer to the wok and use chop sticks to mix everything together.
  7. Serve with some fresh coriander.

Tip: If you like spicy food try adding a large helping of white pepper to this dish. White pepper gives heat, but provides a different flavour to chilli.

Posted in Quick Easy Recipe, Recipes | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Twenty Ways To Save Money On Your Food Shop

At the start of the New Year I’m republishing this blog post. I know I need to say some money after Christmas! Here are some of the ways I’m going to try saving money on my food bill:

  1. Swap olive oil for cheaper sunflower or rape seed oil when frying.
  2. Don’t buy prepared vegetables/salad, a bag of salad costs around the same as two whole heads of lettuce.
  3. Weigh each portion of rice and pasta so you have less wastage.
  4. Grow your own herbs, even a pot on your windowsill will save you buying expensive packaged fresh herbs.
  5. Compare the price per kg(lb) of products to find the real bargains.
  6. Make your own flavoured yogurts by buying plain yogurt and adding jam, fruit, nuts, muesli, chocolate chips etc.
  7. Say no to ready meals, make meals in bulk from scratch and freeze them in portions so you have your own ready meals at a fraction of the price.
  8. Eat less meat, choose several nights a week to eat vegetarian.
  9. Don’t buy brands, instead try supermarket own brands.
  10. Make your own bread (dig out your breadmaker from the back of the cupboard, or buy a cheap one on ebay). Bread made at home costs only a few penies and you can make flavoured breads at a fraction of the shop bought price.
  11. Meal plan – plan a whole week of meals so there are no last minute calls to the local takeaway.
  12. Check the fridge, freezer and store cupboard before shopping so no duplicates are bought by mistake.
  13. Dilute fruit juices to make them go further – this also makes them more refreshing as the fruit provides vitamins and the water hydrates.
  14. Check out local shops – at my local Chinese supermarket I can by the same products 3x cheaper than leading supermarket chains.
  15. Don’t buy gravy granules – use some cornflour to thicken sauces.
  16. Make your own muesli with oats and dried fruit, it is cheaper and healthier as there are no hidden sugars or salts.
  17. Use a teapot to make tea, it will provide more than one cup per tea bag.
  18. Make lunches to take out – shop bought sandwiches are expensive and unhealthy.
  19. Don’t thrown away leftovers make bubble and squeak or soup.
  20. Look at the low shelves in the supermarket – items at eye level are more expensive and budget ranges are on the lower shelves.

If you have any other ways you save money please leave a comment!

Posted in Meal Plan Topics, Money saving | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Galton Blackiston’s New Book – Summertime

Now I’ve got my Christmas entertaining out of the way I’ve able to think of warmer times, when I won’t need a hat, gloves, scarf and even wellingtons to go outside. Galton Blackiston’s latest book Summertime has really got me in a good mood.

Galton is a fantastic chef, he can even boast of Delia Smith being one of his fans. I’m lucky enough to have eaten in his restaurant at Morston Hall, North Norfolk and since I love Norfolk I keep a keen eye on Galton’s work. Galton is a champion for local produce and supports local suppliers, something else I can chalk up as a positive against his name.

Well what about his book? I have to admit it took me by surprise; with a Mitchlin star to his name I did not expect such a refreshing, user friendly book. There are so many recipes I want to cook from this book, reading them alone has been a pleasure. The photography and sytling give a fantastic vibe, even my 2 year old son enjoyed looking at the pictures in this book! It’s interesting that ever since I showed my son the pictures from Galton’s delicious picnic section he’s been role playing picnics with his Lego characters….make of that what you will, but it seems to me that if Galton can even get a two year old fascinated with cooking and eating then the rest of us are going to love this book.

The first recipe I’ve cooked is Galton’s Sticky Banana Tea Bread.

We ate this so quickly I’ve had to make another already! Here’s the recipe, slightly adapted, and as I cooked it. I bet once you’ve tried this recipe you’ll be as much of a fan of Galton as I am.

Sticky Banana Tea Bread:


  • 150g sultanas
  • 125g raisins
  • 125g currents
  • 275ml leftover cold tea
  • 2 bananas, mashed with a fork
  • 200g demerara sugar
  • 100g pecan nuts, chopped (I used mixed nuts, hazelnuts, brazils, almonds etc)
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 2 tbsp black treacle (I used golden syrup)
  • 400g self-raising flour, (I used some white flour and some spelt flour)


  1. The night before baking, place all the fruits, except the bananas in a bowl, pour over the tea and leave overnight to marinate.
  2. The next day pre-heat the over to 170c.
  3. Add all the remaining ingredients to the fruit and beat well. Pour the mixture into a prepared loaf tin (900g/2lb tin) and bake for approx 1hr 15mins or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out almost dry (there may still be a little stickiness).
  4. Remove from the oven and turn out on to a wire rack to cool.

Posted in Book Reviews, Cakes, Recipes | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Save our Samphire

This is an open letter to the Chief Executive of the National Trust to express the disappointment of all the loyal customers of  the Farm Shop ‘Samphire’ of Blickling Hall, Norfolk. Samphire is being closed due to their lease not being renewed by the National Trust. Please leave a comment on this blog entry so we can gather support to demonstrate to the National Trust that Samphire must stay open or be rehoused.

Dear Dame Fiona Reynolds,

As a member of the National Trust I feel it necessary to write an open letter in support of the tenant shop Samphire of Blickling Hall, Norfolk. This letter will enable all Samphire devotees to express their thoughts about the impending closure of this delightful shop.

My question to you is this: How can you let us fall in love with Samphire, give it the beautiful surroundings of Blickling Hall, make it a must  for people near and far and then take it away? This is like cold turkey – is there no place for Samphire elsewhere at Blickling Hall? What have we, the National Trust members, done wrong? I am unhappy and disappointed.

Without Samphire Blickling becomes just another National Trust property, with the same corporate feel that the National Trust is beginning to have wherever you go; for some, every property seems to have the same cafe, the same shop, the same produce and the same welcome area. As a National Trust member I visit properties regularly and Samphire made Blickling different.

It is ironic that earlier this year I had considered writing to you to commend Samphire and request more local shops at other properties as at Blickling. Now, instead, I’m writing this letter begging you to reconsider the decision to take away this gem, and the reason many people visit Blickling so regularly.

As a young Mum whenever I visit Blickling Hall I eat a picnic in the garden. My son plays on the climbing frame with other children, while I chat to other parents. Whenever I visit I always meet others who come to have food from Samphire and to eat it in the Blickling grounds. How can we picnic now? I suppose we’ll have to make some sad sandwiches and remember the good times visiting Samphire and enjoying their exquisite produce.

National Trust, I understand you must redevelop your entrance area and I encourage this. However, please do not deprive us – find it in your hearts to rehouse Samphire somewhere else on the estate. You really will do more damage than you realise if Samphire is gone for good.

The National Trust seems to promote relations with the local community and to provide local produce, so why does it seem that every property is becoming the same – please do something before it is too late! In return there are so many of us who will stay as loyal to Blickling Hall as ever.

I ask three questions:

  1. What is Blickling Hall currently doing to support local business and local people?
  2. What procedures are in place to take account of the views of local people, and National Trust members, when making decision regarding longstanding tenants?
  3. Can another place be found on the estate to house Samphire?

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Victoria Currell.

Posted in Random | Tagged | 78 Comments