Monday 15 August 2011

A simple chard sauce to go with pasta

This recipe was born a few months ago (I'm a bit behind on my blogging aren't I?!) when we over-ordered rainbow chard from our organic farm and there was half a pot of cream sitting in the fridge fantastically close to going off. It's amazing how something thrown together with the intentions to merely using things up can become a favourite and something we'll come back to three more times in the following fortnight.
We ate it each time with pasta. This sauce would also work well with spinach, turnip or broad bean tops or any other wild greens. If you prepare all of the vegetables before you start cooking, your input into the sauce will take no more than a few minutes.

Creamy rainbow chard sauce for pasta (serves 3)

2tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
250g rainbow chard, finely sliced
1 courgette, sliced
200ml double cream
200ml hot vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to season

Heat the oil over a medium heat and add the crushed garlic.
Cook for two minutes until just browning and throw in the courgette slices and strips of chard. Stir to coat in the garlicy oil and allow to the chard to wilt.
Pour the cream over, followed by the stock.
Turn up the heat to medium-high and bring to the boil.
Turn the heat down a little and simmer for 5minutes, stirring otter , until the sauce has reduced.
Season generously with salt and pepper and toss through pasta.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Summer Holidays

It's been a blissful couple of weeks. 10 days of holidaying - a sandwich of Florence-Home-Paris - that has left me refreshed and smiling again.
A few days with L, M and Nonno and Nonna in Florence were not unbearably hot, but sadly filled with the buzz of mosquitosand I have come home with a rather furious allergic reaction to their bites that almost puts me off wanting to go back in the summer. We saw all of our favourite sights, drank in our favourite cocktail bar and ate in our favourite restaurants. Then, we went off in search of some new adventures and took M on her first train journey to Pisa and then piled into a little car with Nonno behind the wheel, driving all over the road and ignoring the lanes as Italians seem to do, up to Fiesole, where ancient Roman ruins hide amongst more traditional Italian buildings that overlook the whole of Florence. I took my camera everywhere, looking like a proper tourist, and soon I hope, the restaurant will have a few of my shots up on the wall. One day soon, with the trip fresh in my mind, I will write a dedicated 'Things to do while you're in Florence' page and with any luck, if you ever visit, you'll see us sipping our drinks too across the room filled only with Italian voices.

A few days at home left lots of time for work in the garden, especially picking all of the dwarf and broad beans that had popped up whilst we were away. We also arrived just in time for the start of the blackberry season and got our hands stained picking one and a half kilos in just two days. We enjoyed the novelty of having our own fresh fruits from the garden but I couldn't help but make something a little bit special with them too while I had time. This blackberry, orange and hazelnut tart was so enjoyed by the three of us that I had little choice but to make it again for the restaurant as a special.
We had barely scraped our plates clean when it was time to jump back into the car in the small hours of the morning to make a second trip down to Bristol airport that week.
This trip however, I was to be alone and I fought the tears back as I waved goodbye to L and M to spend the longest time away from them I have ever done.
All this to travel to Paris to pick up sister E, who you may remember has been au-pairing for the last year just outside the French capital. What a year she has had! Aside from phone calls, postcards and facebooking, I've been following her little blog and was really looking forward to seeing everything she has been telling me about.

As her family had gone off camping for the weekend, we were left to our own devices and took the chance to visit some of E's favourite new haunts. I see why she has fallen in love with the city. I think I re-fell in love with France and the French, something I'd forgotten about in my wonderful little Italian inspired world.

There were many highlights to our weekend: pressing my face up against patisserie windows, an hour and half wait to see the riders approach the Champs-Elyses on their last stage of the Tour de France, the best falafels I have ever eaten in the Marais, 

mint tea in the Paris mosque and a couple of visits to Pierre Herme for macarons and a tarte infinement vanille. Of course we indulged in some culture too; a trip to Musee Rodin and then to l'hotel des invalides to see Napoleons enormous tomb - as well as visits to Paris' rich areas where we were well and truely ripped off having a hot drink sitting on a bar terrace. At the end of our weekend alone, we were greeted by E's French family who welcomed me as if I had known them as long as E had.

We cooked, spoke French, watched two very excitable young girls put on their dance shows and then got up the next morning to play even more before the inevitable trip to the train station came along with its tears and goodbye hugs, kisses and promises to be back very, very soon.
It was total bliss, perhaps being an au pair would be a great thing to do for a year given the chance, especially if you end up with a family as warm and generous as E's.

Blackberry, orange and hazelnut tart

400g sweet shortcrust pastry
50g toasted chopped hazelnuts
1 large egg
100ml creme fraiche
zest 1 orange
300g fresh blackberries
a little butter to grease a 23cm springform tin

Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and transfer carefully into the greased springform tin.
Place a sheet of greaseproof paper over the top and fill with baking beans. Bake blind for 15minutes until the pastry is cooked though and just golden.
Whisk together the egg, creme fraiche, half the hazelnuts and orange zest in a small bowl.
When the pastry is cooked, carefully remove the baking beans to their tub to cool down again and take the greaseproof paper away. Fill the pastry case with blackberries and pour the creme fraiche mixture over.
Scatter the remaining hazelnuts over the dish and return to the oven for 20 minutes until the creme fraiche mixture has a little colour and is cooked through.
Serve warm or cold as you like.

Monday 11 July 2011

More Cupcakes......

Just another little announcement post today. I have been cooking too, but this is far more important and something I really want to tell you all about.

Bella Torta is now hosting cupcake decorating classes! This week, as a thank you to all the girls who work for us (and because L is a little mean and doesn't take them out at Christmas!) I hosted a trial cupcake decorating class. Something I've loved the idea of doing, ever since I went on one myself.

It was (I think) a great success and all the girls went away with 12 cupcakes that they spent a delightful afternoon decorating.

In case you're interested, and maybe even might like to come on one of the courses that I'm offering the details are all listed below. As ever, I'll be updating the Bella Torta website and facebook page with more dates and more styles of classes in the next few weeks. Please feel free to come and visit me in the restaurant premises for a really fun way to spend a day!

Birds, Buds and Bows Cupcake Decorating Class!

Monday 8th and Monday 22nd August

Join us in our relaxed restaurant environment for 5 hours of cupcake decorating bliss, from 10.30a.m. until 3.30p.m. where you will:

• Gain confidence using two types of icing

• Use professional icing colour gels, equipment and techniques

• Style a gorgeous large ruffled bow and make delicate yet full sugar roses

• Use florist paste to make bespoke bows, birds and flowers

• Learn how to top cupcakes with smooth or embossed sugar paste for all your decorations to sit neatly upon

• Get a chance to have all of your decorating questions answered and dilemmas solved

• Take home a unique box of 12 cupcakes that you have decorated from scratch

• Be inspired to go home and make more cupcakes just to decorate them!

The class is just £90 and includes course notes, all ingredients, equipment and materials. Please bring your own packed lunch.

Our cupcake classes are suitable for beginners and we hope that by the end of the class, your head will be full to bursting with ideas and inspiration. If you have any questions before you book, please call in to Ponte Vecchio or call Bella Torta on 07521 161547 or email
Booking facilities are available at

Saturday 25 June 2011

Che Bella Torta!


In all my excitement trying to eat all of the raspberries in the garden (they are still going), I have forgotten to let you in on my latest piece of news.
It's an idea that has floated around in my head for as long as I can remember, but it has only been since my visit to the Blue Door Bakery that I began to question why I wasn't doing what I really wanted to do with my life.

Have you guessed yet?

I've opened up my own little cake making and decorating company!
After weeks of careful consideration and a lot of suggestions, Bella Torta was born! The last couple of months have gone in a whirlwind of buying new equipment, testing out cake recipes, making sugar flowers and decorations and fussing about over a new website. I must just publicly thank my uncle I and aunty C for helping design such a fun little logo that now takes pride of place on a few aprons, letterheads and a rather fantastic self inking stamp. (No, I have not stamped everything in sight......).


I've already completed my first order - a box of cupcakes with buttercream swirls and various tiny handmade drugs for a doctors birthday and Ill be decorating a wedding cake this week with a very interesting theme. Pictures to follow..

Anyway, I'd really love for you to go and check out my website or facebook page to see what I've been up to. Of course, I wouldn't complain if you decided to put in an order either! Keep checking back too, because in the next couple of weeks I've got a very exciting piece of news that I'm finding it really, really hard to keep quiet about.


Thursday 16 June 2011

An Abundance of Raspberries

We are drowning in raspberries. Every other day we are forced into the garden with a bowl to full with more and more of the little red jewels. It also seems that someone is fed up with the abundance of our new favourite fruit, and is less interested in picking and eating and more interested in squelching and stamping them into the floor. Oh dear.

Thankfully, I was able to get her to eat some in yet another raspberry and apricot themed dessert. This time, a galette without any sugar in the pastry to allow the natural sweetness in the fruits to shine through.

Raspberry and Apricot Galettes (apapted from Tartlette. Makes 5)

For the pastry dough
70g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 egg yolks
pinch salt
210g plain flour
2 tablespoons milk

For the fruits
5 apricots
2 tablespoons sugar
2 stems lemon balm
100g raspberries
75g caster sugar
6 leaves lemon balm
1 egg, beaten

For the pastry
In a mixer, whip the butter on medium speed until light and airy.
Add the egg yolks and pinch of salt and beat well after each addition, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary. 
Mix in all of the flour and mix briefly to form breadcrumbs.
Add enough milk to bring the dough into a ball.
Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it in cling film and refrigerate for an hour.

For the fruits
While the dough is resting, place the apricots, sugar and lemon balm stalks in a pan with enough water to cover them.
Set over a high heat and bring to a boil before reducing the heat and poaching the apricots until just tender.
Remove from the heat, strain, discarding the cooking liquid and now almost slimey leaves and let them cool on a clean kitchen towel.
Once cooled, peel and halve them, remove the stones and slice the peaches thin.

To assemble
Preheat oven to 180C.

When the dough is nice and cold, roll it out on a lightly floured board. If the dough tears while you roll, just patch it with your fingertips.
Cut eight 4-inch rounds, I used a saucer, rerolling and using the dough as you go (ig it gets too soft, just refrigerate for a few minutes as you fill the other galettes with fruit).
Arrange the slices of a whole apricot in the center of each round and gather the edges, pleating as you go with your fingertips (don't worry about being even - these are free form). Add the raspberries on top and sprinkle with sugar and some freshly chopped lemon balm leaves.
Place all the galettes on a parchment lined baking sheet, brush with beaten egg and bake for about 30-35 minutes

Wednesday 8 June 2011

A Raspberry and Apricot Upside Down Cake

Suddenly, we are well and truly in the throws of summer. We wear short sleeves during the day, sometimes walk home from the restaurant in the light and are eating the first if the produce from our new garden. I have already mentioned how lucky we are to have bought a house with such an established garden. We have enjoyed the last of the years rhubarb now but our herbs are still very alive despite all the picking we do. It is not uncommon for one of us to take M out into the garden and come back with a few roses from one of the 18 bushes we have inherited (yes, you did read that right!) or a bunch of sage, thyme, marjoram to name a few.

Last week we gleefully noticed that our raspberries were deep red and bursting with juice. We ate them greedily straight off the bush.
This week we had been more restrained and managed to put off picking any for a few days so I would have enough to use them in something special. In the end, we had too many anyway, so found ourselves hoovering the remainder up while we waited for our cake to bake.

Raspberry and apricot upside down cake

5 ripe apricots
100g ripe raspberries
225g unwanted butter at room temperature
225g caster sugar
3 large eggs
2tbsp almond extract
300g self raising flour

Preheat the oven to gas Mark 3 1/2/ 170C.
Butter and flour the sides of a 25cm springform tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.
Beat the sugar and butter together in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, each with a tbsp of flour and beat well.
Quickly beat in the almond extract, followed by the flour.
Halve and stone the apricots and lay then cut side up into the springform tin. Fill in the gaps between them with the raspberries, making sure the fruit is in a single layer.
Gently spoon the cake mixture out over the fruits.
Bake for 1 - 1 1/4 hours until a skewer comes out clean and the top is golden and springs back to the touch.
Rest the cake in it's tin for 5minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.
Peel the paper off once cool and serve with yogurt or cream and some chopped pistachios or almonds.

Monday 30 May 2011

Knock, Knock at the Blue Door Bakery

A month ago now I found myself taking a deep breath before I knocked on the dark blue door of a house in Hagley, just outside Birmingham. Inside, I was sure that there would be several friendly faces waiting for me, but I was nervous nonetheless.
You have to understand that I am quite shy and rarely venture out alone. This was going to be different though. I knew that everyone I met here today was going to share one of my passions and that we would at least have something to talk about. Phew. I find uncomfortable silences so, well, uncomfortable.

A smiling woman opened the door
"You must be Alice, you're the last to arrive" (I wasn't late - everyone else was early.)
"What a fantastic jumper!" I had worn one of my favourites and it was highly topical.
"Do you want some tea or coffee? There are some biscuits on the table too if you're peckish."
I instantly relaxed and realised I was going to be okay and that I was probably going to have a lot of fun.

I had arrived at the home of Sarah Barnes, owner of the Blue Door Bakery and I was going to spend the next few hours learning about decorating cupcakes!
All seven of us students sat down around a table and examined the mountain of equipment in front of us -cutters, plungers, foam mats, rolling pins and not forgetting a large selection of gel colours.
We spent the day learning about how to make different swirls from the fluffiest vanilla buttercream and how to make sugar roses and all about the proper use of florist paste.

I was back again a couple of weeks later to learn some more tricks too. It's highly addictive stuff, sitting around, practically relaxing, while you learn all these skills from someone with as much enthusiasm for her work as Sarah. It has ignited a pre-existing passion in me for sugarcraft and cake decoration much more than I could have imagined that it would have done; and since then, well, let's just say I've made a lot of cupcakes and invested a lot of time into decorating them!

If you're happy to sit and look at photos of gorgeous cupcakes, take a trip to the blue door bakery's website here or check out their facebook page. Click on the 'parties and classes' cucpake icon to see if there are any courses you'd like to go on too - but book quickly, these spaces sell like hot cakes!

My finished box of cupcakes, and that jumper.