Saturday 29 December 2012


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I was asked the other day ‘What is the difference between a soup and a broth?’  Good question.  Simple, surely a broth is a thin, unenhanced soup, isnt’t it?  But then what is the difference between a stock and a broth? Or a stew? Or a bisque?  Even a Chowder, Consomme or a Puree?

A soup is typically a combination of vegetables or  meats cooked in liquid. They are made up of a thin water, juice or milk based broth. They are considered a starter not a main course. They can be cooked or uncooked and served hot or cold.  Soups are cooked at high temperatures and rely on herbs, spices and garnishes to create their deep flavours.

Bisque is a thick, creamy soup. It is traditionally made from pureed shell fish. All parts of the shell fish are used, even the shells, and ground into a thick paste and added back to the bisque.

A Chowder is a soup that is thickened with flour. Often its is seafood based such as clam chowder, but can consist of vegetables. 

A broth is an un-thickened liquid food in which meat, fish, grains or vegetables have been simmered, and is eaten as a finished dish.  It is often the starting point for other liquids such as soups or gravies. Broths differ from stocks in that they are made from finer foods and are richer and more nourishing than a stock.

Stews are thicker than soups.  They are often thickened with potatoes and are served hot. Ingredients in a stew are chunkier than a soup, and the liquid in a stew is more of a gravy than a broth.  Stews are cooked over a low heat for a long time. Generally stews contain less liquid than soups.

A consommé is a broth that has been adapted.  Often egg whites are added to the broth and simmered gently to coagulate the sediment, which rises to the top.  This sediment is skimmed off the surface and a clear, pale liquid remains.

A purée is a food that has been mashed, pressed and strained into a soft paste. They are often made up from vegetables of fruit. They can resemble soups or gravies but are separated merely a less complex cooking process and by the lack of additional ingredients.

Monday 17 December 2012


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Gingerbread is quick and easy to make, making it ideal for children to have a go too.  Why limit yourself to gingerbread men and women when you can make gingerbread animals, Christmas tree decorations or gingerbread houses.  

Makes  12 decorations


200g soft brown sugar
200g butter
500g self-raising flour
4 tablespoon golden syrup
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon mixed spice
½ teaspoon nutmeg

To decorate:
100g Royal icing


Pre-heat oven to 180C/gas mark 4.

Gently melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a large pan. 

Sift into a bowl the flour, ginger, mixed spice, and nutmeg. Add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients and mix together with a wooden spoon to form a stiff dough.

Line two baking sheets with baking paper.  Lightly dust the work surface with flour and roll out the dough until it is 5 mm thick.  Using a large snowflake template cut out the gingerbread.  Alternatively use Christmas tree, stocking, reindeer or snowman templates,   

Make a hole in the top centre with a skewer for hanging on the tree.  Transfer to the baking sheets. 

Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned.  Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Decorate with piped icing and hang with ribbon on the tree.

Saturday 15 December 2012


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This cake is an ideal centrepiece on any table, and can be customised easily.  You can be  as creative as you like with the decoration, and even add gingerbread men and women into the scene.  The sky's the limit.

Serves 12


200g soft brown sugar
200g butter
500g self-raising flour
4 tablespoon golden syrup
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon mixed spice
½ teaspoon nutmeg
450g royal icing sugar
75ml water

To decorate:
Desiccated coconut
4 tubes of Smarties
3 pack of Jelly tots


Pre-heat oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Line two baking sheets with baking paper.

Gently melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a large pan. 

Sift into a bowl the flour, ginger, mixed spice, and nutmeg. Add the butter mixture to the dry ingredients and mix together with a wooden spoon to form a stiff dough.

Lightly dust the work surface with flour and roll out the dough until it is 5 mm thick.  Using a house template cut out the house pieces and transfer to the baking sheets.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned.  Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To assemble the house you will need to use the royal icing to act as glue. Place the royal icing sugar in a bowl and add the water.  Mix together to form a thick paste. Place the icing mixture into a piping bag.

Pipe the strips of icing onto the edges of the gingerbread pieces.  One by one stick the wall pieces together.  Support the house whilst you build it by placing cans next to each wall. Allow the icing to dry for at least 1 hour.

Ice along the edges of the roof and attach to the gingerbread house, supporting the structure with cans and books until the structure is dry.

Tuesday 11 December 2012


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Poinsettias are traditional Christmas plants and belong to the plant group Euphorbia Pulcherrima. They are available as traditional red flowering, but also come in pink or white.  The ‘flowers’ are actually bracts (modified leaves) and the flowers are the inconspicuous yellow centres that lie within the bracts.

There are sixty-five million poinsettias bought worldwide each year, but too often by New Year all that is remaining in the pot are a few sticks and some sorry looking leaves.  But you can make your poinsettia  last the festive season, and into spring and next winter, if you care for them successfully.

Poinsettias hate draughts and the cold.  All too often they are damaged even before they are displayed in your home, either by being sold in by cold supermarket doors or on the way home.   Select a poinsettia that is in a sheltered position in the shop, and wrap it up before taking it out.  Ensure you choose a healthy plant free from pest and diseases and one that has plenty of leaves and buds.

Give careful consideration to the location of the plant within your home.  They require a warm and light position, but need to avoid being placed directly next to radiators and windows.  Keep the temperature constant between 15C-22C.

Water only when the compost feels dry, but remember poinsettia can be thirsty plants.  Maintain a high humidity around the plants, so either mist occasionally or alternatively fill a saucer half with gravel and water and place near to the plant.  Feed once a month with a tomato food.

A few months after Christmas the plants will start to fade.  In order to stay bright poinsettias require equal amounts of light and dark, which is a challenge when the days start to get longer again. Move the plant to a cool, dark position indoors and water as weekly as required.

Often poinsettias get too leggy to use again the following season so you  can take new cuttings from  the plant during the summer.  However, with effort, you can nurse the parent through until the following Christmas.

Re-pot your poinsettia in April into a slightly bigger pot using compost consisting of 3 parts John Innes 3 and 1 part grit.  Cut the plant down to 10cm high. 

Once the danger of frost has passed and the ground has warmed up the plant can be placed outside.  Select a bright, sunny spot and sink the pot into the ground.  Water as necessary.

Bring the plant back into the house during September before it gets too cold. Place in a light, sunny position and feed with a low nitrogen feed every three weeks.

During October and November  you need to mimic short days and long nights in order to promote bushing on the plants. Place in a dark room during the evening, ensuring no light shines on the plant, and then place back in a sunny position during the day. The plant should burst into life during December.

Friday 7 December 2012


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The seahorse is a graceful inhabitant of the warmer seas and look like a piece from a chess kit. An oddity among ocean life, the seahorse was at one time thought to be a mythological animal.

The seahorse is a member of the pipefish family, belonging to the order Gasterosteiformes, family Syngnathidae and species Hippocampus.  There are 35 species ranging in size from a 2.5 cm pigmy variety to the giant 35 cm Eastern Pacific seahorse.

Seahorses are usually found in warm, shallow water amongst sea grass beds.  While some species prefer muddy or sandy areas, others can be found hanging onto corals, sponges, mangrove roots or even wrapped around the mooring ropes of boats.
In all cases seahorses will be found where there is deep, fast water channel nearby to provide a good supply of their main food, plankton.  

Seahorses are poor swimmers. They rely on their dorsal fin beating at 30-70 times per second to propel it along. Pectoral fins either side of the head help with stability and steering. Their tails are prehensile; that is they are specially adapted for grasping. To avoid being swept away by the current they wrap their tails around nearby vegetation.

The seahorse escapes the attention of predators by developing long skin filaments and camouflage colouration to match the marine weed in which it lives.  Within a matter of seconds it can change from grey or black to bright orange, vivid yellow or even deep plum.
In seahorses it is the male who takes on the responsibility of pregnancy.  This allows the females to make more eggs straight away without the need to nurture the last batch.  In a reverse of roles, because the male limits the rate of reproduction, the females compete with each other for the attention of the males.

After a long and noisy courtship (several days of posturing, colour changing and clicking to each other) the female releases her eggs into a special pouch on the male’s abdomen.  She leaves the male to fertilise the eggs as they embed into the spongy tissue of the pouch wall.  The male creates a special fluid to nourish the developing embryos and after gestation, he releases the free-swimming young into the sea.  The babies are born as perfect miniatures of their parents.  By the time they are two months old, they have grown to 5 cm.

Seahorses feed constantly.  They feed on plankton and other tiny prey. Seahorses can move their eyes independently and so can follow the activity of passing tiny sea life without giving their presence away.  When they judge that their prey is within range they quickly snap it up or suck it in from as much as 3 cm away.

Wednesday 5 December 2012


This chocolate cheesecake recipe is yummy and indulgent. It is a well loved dessert that impresses both chocolate and cheesecake lovers. 

15 digestive biscuits 
50 g butter 
1 tablespoon cocoa powder

For the filling:
250 g mascarpone cheese 
200 g cream cheese 
300 g milk chocolate
100 g dark chocolate
3 oz caster sugar 

75 g dark chocolate, finely chopped
125 ml double cream
1 teaspoon golden syrup

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180 c.

Crush the digestive biscuits to form fine crumbs. Melt the butter and add to the biscuit crumbs along with the cocoa powder .  Place the mixture into a cake tin and push down firmly with the back of a spoon.  Place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

Melt the milk chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of water.  Place the mascarpone cheese, cream cheese and sugar into a bowl and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.  Mix the chocolate into the cheesecake mix.
Melt the dark chocolate and swirl into the mix.

Pour the cheesecake mix onto the base and place in fridge for at least 4 hours to set, ideally leave overnight.

To make the chocolate glaze, melt the chopped chocolate, cream and syrup over a gently heat and then whisk to a smooth sauce.  Allow to cool then swirl over the cheesecake.

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Friday 30 November 2012


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My friend recently ate this baked cheesecake dish in New York as part of his Thanksgiving meal and said it was delicious. An avid cheesecake lover, I had to make this Halloween dessert and it tastes yummy.  It is the perfect way of using up hollowed-out pumpkin purée.
Serves 6


12 oz / 340g cooked pumpkin or pumpkin puree
15 digestive biscuits
2oz / 60 g butter
8oz / 225 g caster sugar
3 large eggs
8 oz / 250 g mascarponi cheese
7 oz / 200 g cream cheese
90ml / 3fl oz double cream
1 tea spoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tea spoon ground cinnamon


Heat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3.

Crush the digestive biscuits to form fine crumbs. Melt the butter and add to the biscuit crumbs.  Place the mixture into a cake tin and push down firmly with the back of a spoon.  Place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

Place the mascarpone cheese, cream cheese, pumpkin puree, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg into a bowl and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon until smooth. Fold the beaten eggs into the cheesecake mixture.

Pour the cheesecake mix onto the base and bake in the oven for 90 minutes until the surface is  set, but the underneath is still wobbly.

Let the cheesecake cool in the tin and then place on a plate and chill overnight.

Serve with the whipped double cream.

Wednesday 28 November 2012


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Starfish (also known as Sea Stars) belong to the phylum Echinodermata, and are therefore  related to sea urchins and sea cucumbers. All echinoderms are characterised by their five-point radial symmetry.  There are over 1,800 species of starfish and they vary considerably. Starfish and Sea Stars belong to the class Asteroidea, whilst Brittle Stars or Basket Stars are ophiuroids.  

They are all marine creatures, although some live in the intertidal zone, some in deep water, some in tropical areas and some in cold water. They typically have a central disc body and five arms (or multiples thereof).  Some species have many more arms, such as the 40 arms of the sun star. They are often brightly coloured in shades of red or orange, or blue/grey/brown.

The surface of their skin can be spiny or smooth, depending on the species. A starfish's skin may feel leathery, or slightly prickly. Starfish have a tough covering on their upper side, which is made up of plates of calcium carbonate with tiny spines on their surface. A starfish's spines are used for protection from predators.

While they can't see as well as we do, starfish have an eye spot at the end of each arm. This is a very simple eye that looks like a red spot. The eye doesn't see much detail, but can sense light and dark.

Instead of blood, starfish have a water vascular system, in which the sea star pumps sea water through its sieve plate. Starfish have hundreds of little feet along their arms called tube-feet. These tubes are connected by small canals and allow them to operate a water vascular system which enables their respiration, locomotion, food and waste transpiration.  They move across both land and sea by alternatively contracting muscles that allow water into the tube feet, causing them to extend and contract in order to push them against the ground.

Their mouth and gut is located at the bottom of their central disc. They have a unique way of eating their prey. They eat bivalves like mussels and clams, as well as small fish, snails, and barnacles. Starfish have two stomachs and they can push their first stomach out through their mouth and into its preys shell. This means they can eat something like a clam by pushing their stomach into its shell, rather than trying to get it into their mouth. It starts to digest the animal, then pulls its stomach back in and passes it to the second stomach. This allows the sea star to eat larger prey than it would otherwise be able to fit into its tiny mouth.

Starfish can reproduce both sexually and asexually, although they commonly reproduce by spawning. To increase their chances of fertilization, starfish probably gather in groups when they are ready to spawn, use environmental signals to coordinate timing (day length to indicate the correct time of the year, dawn or dusk to indicate the correct time of day), and may use chemical signals to indicate their readiness to each other. Fertilized eggs  live as plankton, suspended in the water and swimming by using beating cilia. Unlike adults, the larvae are bilaterally symmetrical and have a distinct left and right side. Eventually, they undergo a complete metamorphosis, settle to the bottom, and grow into adults.

Some, but not all, species of starfish can regrow a new limb given time. Some species can even regrow a new central disc from a single arm, therefore creating a whole new starfish. However, often part of the central body is required to be joined to the arm. This fragmentation is often used to evade predators or as an escape response. It often takes a starfish several months or even years to carry out this regeneration, and they are vulnerable to infections during this stage.
Starfish are important ecologically, and are keystone species, playing a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community. Its impact on the community is greater than would be expected based on its relative abundance or total biomass. The carnivorous starfish Pisaster ochracceus feeds on mussels and plays a key role in maintaining the balance of all other species in the community. Without the Pisaster ochracceus the populations of mussels within the community would soon grow unchecked and greatly reduce the community's diversity.

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The sea anemones are a large group of soft bodied animals closely related to coral-forming polyps, and belonging to the same phylum as the jellyfish.  

Related to corals, they reach their greatest diversity and abundance on the tropical reefs. Some of the largest sea anemones are found in Australian waters and can grow to over a metre in diameter.

Sea anemones occur inmost of the worlds seas at varying depths, but they are most numerous in tropical waters. They take their name from the colourful wild flowers anemones.

Like all these creatures their bodies have a simple structure consisting of an inner and outer layer of cells.  The inner layer surrounds a central cavity, with one  opening to the outside world through which both food and water must pass.  The outer layer consists of amass of fleshy tentacles radiating from around the mouth.  Each is armed with special stinging cells uses both for defence and attack.

Sea anemones are not capable of any great movement and remain anchored to the sea bed or to rocks and corals.  A special disc on the base of each animal produces a sticky cement that secures it fast, even if it is exposed to the waves in tidal rock pools.

Though they are unable to move sea anemones can draw in their tentacles by contracting muscle fibres.  Those inhabiting tidal zones retract completely when they are out of the water, so they resemble blobs of jelly. Sea anemones have no brain.  Instead its nerve cells simply form a network that connects its sense organs and its muscles.

Sea anemones are carnivorous and use their tentacles to catch prey.  The smaller species draw the minute organisms towards their mouths by beating tiny hairs on the tentacles to create a current.  Larger species prey on fish and crustaceans using their powerful stinging cells to stun or kill and mucus secretions to hold the prey fast.

A sea anemone has a muscular tube leading from its mouth into the body cavity.  Once the prey has passed through gland cells secret digestive juices to break down the food.  This digested product is then absorbed into the sea anemones tissue.

Sea anemones reproduce in various ways.  Some can simply divide their bodies into two new individuals, others split off sections of their basal discs which then develop into a new animal and some sea anemones can also reproduce sexually.

Sea anemones provide some of natures best examples of symbiosis, the relationship in which two types of animal benefit from closely associating with one another.  The cloak anemone commonly lives on the shell of the hermit crab.  The crab gains protection from its predators, which are driven off by the anemones powerful stinging cells, while at the same time the anemone gains scraps of food discarded by the crab.

In tropical waters certain species of fish live happily among sea anemones tentacles.  The most famous of these are the clownfish, which have a covering of protective mucus that prevents them being stung by the sea anemones tentacles.  The clownfish clearly gain protection from predators and the anemones may be able to prey on those fish that chase the clownfish too far or even feed on scraps of fish food.

For related articles click onto:
All about starfish
Can starfish grow back their arms?
How many seas are there in the world?
Is the sea sponge a plant or an animal?
Keystone species
Sea animals: Sea Anemones
Sea cucumber facts
Seahorse facts
Star Starfish
The seahorse
The sea cucumber
What is a sea sponge?
What is a cuttlefish?
What is a sea anemone?
What is a starfish?
Why is the Dead Sea so salty?
What is the difference between the sea and the ocean?
What is the Gulf Stream?