Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Carrot cake

No time to make a cake? Think again. This might be the quickest one you'll ever make. I knocked it up while supervising two pans of simmering chilli (one veggie, one beef), cooking rice, refereeing sibling fights, defrosting a pot of salsa, fielding unwanted sales calls and making guacamole. The recipe comes from an old Sainsbury's card and is called Passion Cake. It will certainly stir passion within you for another slice.

Feeling the passion?

Passion cake

1 x 150g natural yogurt
110g grated carrots
75g raisins
2 teaspoons cinnamon
110g soft light brown sugar
150g self raising wholemeal flour
2 eggs, beaten

125g cream cheese
50g butter, softened
225g icing sugar (sifted if you can be bothered)

Pre-heat oven to 180/gas 4. Place all the cake ingredients in a bowl and mix until combined. Transfer to a greased and lined 20cm square tin, and bake for 30-35 minutes. Mix the topping ingredients together and slather all over the top of the cake when it is cool.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Check out my buns

Perhaps it's something to do with the terror of being schooled by nuns from a young age, but I've always been obsessed by those coffee-iced choux buns they sell in French patisseries called Religieuses. So today I decided to make my own choux pastry - for the first time ever. I'd heard it's pretty easy, and yes, I did have misgivings when the pastry turned out to have the consistency of pancake batter, but I had faith in the recipe (and a decade of mumbled childhood prayers and unwilling Sunday mornings in church). You can see the results of my first attempt at the end of this post. Refusing to accept defeat, and spurred on by the scorn of the "it's easy" brigade, I finally got there with the help of a Delia recipe:

A line of choux buns with chocolate and coffee icing (alternating)

Chocolate and coffee choux buns

Delia says this will make 30 buns but I made about 10, being totally ham-fisted. It kind of depends what shape you're making and how big each one is.

60g plain flour (she stipulates 'strong plain flour' but I used the ordinary sort)
a teaspoon of caster sugar
150ml cold water
50g butter, cut into pieces
2 eggs, beaten well

Preheat oven to 200/gas 6. Put the water and butter into a pan and heat gently until it reaches boiling point and the butter has melted - then remove from the heat straight away. While that's happening, measure out the flour and sugar and beat the eggs. Locate and plug in an electric hand-held mixer. When the water and butter is ready tip the flour and sugar in quickly while beating vigorously. Keep going for about a minute until you have a smooth ball of paste. Now add the beaten eggs, a little at a time, beating well all the while. This should result in a smooth, glossy paste. Spoon mounds of it onto a greased baking sheet, leaving at least a couple of centimetres between each one. Bake on a high shelf for 10 minutes, then turn up the heat to 220/gas 7 and bake for another 10-20 minutes until the buns are a light golden brown colour. I would suggest watching them like a hawk at this stage. Once out of the oven, transfer them to a wire rack and pierce the side of each one with a knife to let the steam out.

Fill with whipped whipping/double cream. I topped mine with chocolate sauce (see below) and coffee glacé icing, but you could use melted chocolate, or just icing sugar. You could put jam or lemon curd inside the buns with the cream.

Chocolate sauce: Melt together 50g butter, 2 tablespoons golden syrup, 2 tablespoons drinking chocolate. Remove from the heat about 30 seconds after it starts to boil.

Coffee glacé icing. Melt a teaspoon instant coffee in a little boiling water, then add enough icing sugar to make a thick but spreadable icing.

Failed attempt: choux buns which have not risen and which look like poppadoms
First attempt: Anyone for poppadoms?

Monday, 28 January 2013

Cheese and onion quiche

The 8 year old vegetarian is giving me a headache; she has also given me an excuse to indulge my latest passion - buying cookery books from eBay. As I usually shop with one eye on the telly, the books that arrive can be a bit of a surprise, but what an education! Anyone for minced tongue and bacon with hot beetroot relish, liver sausage flan or hydropathic pudding?

Today's recipe for cheese and onion quiche is from an old favourite, The Big Food and Drink Book, which accompanied the tv series (remember Jilly Goolden's mad hair and mad wine descriptions?).

A slice of hot cheese and onion quiche
No liver sausage in this flan

Cheese and onion quiche   

Ready made pastry
a large knob of butter
225g onions, peeled and thinly sliced
150g Gruyere/Leicester cheese, finely grated (I used half Cheddar, half Gruyere)
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
100ml milk (I used up some double cream mixed with skimmed milk)

Pre-heat oven to 220/gas 7. Fry the onions gently in the butter until they are soft and sweet, but not browned. Line a 20cm (8inch) metal flan dish with the pastry, spread the onions across the base and top with the grated cheese. Beat the eggs, yolk, and milk together and pour them over the cheese and onion. Cook for about 25 minutes, then turn down the oven to 190/gas 5 and cook for another 10 minutes until the top is brown. 

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Old Mother Hubbard's Sunday lunch

The cupboard was very bare so she went to the freezer instead. She found a single piece of cod and two salmon steaks. "Aha" she thought, "these will defrost quickly". The children weren't so keen and started squabbling about who would have the cod (salmon is pesce non grata here) and generally mithering about being made to eat fish. And then Child 1 had the bright idea of dipping the fish in breadcrumbs mixed with parmesan and shallow frying it. We did, and it was an unqualified success.

A lump of parmesan cheese and some grated parmesan cheese
The magic ingredient

Cod and salmon in crunchy parmesan breadcrumbs

I had lots of home made breadcrumbs in the freezer (the by-product of making my own bread with tough crusts), and used a couple of handfuls mixed with a handful of grated Parmesan. I dipped each piece of fish in beaten egg, then dragged it through the breadcrumbs mixture, before frying in about 3 tablespoons hot olive oil for a few minutes each side.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Feeling dippy

Here's a great way to up your family's fruit quotient (note - marshmallows count as one of your five-a-day when served in this manner):

White chocolate fondue in a bowl surrounded by chunks of fruit and marshmallows with recipe book behind
No double dipping, please!

White chocolate fondue

200g white chocolate, chopped or broken up
150ml double cream
50g unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place all ingredients in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Heat and stir gently until they have all melted and you have a smooth sauce.

Serve with pieces of fruit and marshmallows on cocktail sticks - or fondue forks if you are really sophisticated. 

From the Cookbook for Girls by Denise Smart 

Friday, 25 January 2013

Date night

I bought a couple of packets of luscious Medjool dates to get me through my self-imposed sugar ban over Christmas - but the Quality Street got the better of me and the dates got left on the shelf. So I made them into these toothsome crumble bars:

Oaty, baked bars with date filling
Dates, butter, sugar, oats, flour

Date Crumble Bars

175g plain flour
175g oats
175g butter
50g brown sugar

175g dates, stoned and chopped
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon clear honey

Heat the oven to 190/gas 5. Put the ingredients for the filling in a pan and simmer gently until the dates are soft. Whizz the flour with the butter and about half the oats until it reaches the fine breadcrumbs stage. Stir in the sugar and remaining oats (for textural reasons). Put half this mixture into an 18cm square tin and pat it down. Spread the filling over it, then top with the rest of the flour mixture. Spread it into an even layer and pat it down. Bake for 35-40 minutes, then cut up while cooling in the pan and remove when cold - or you will be left with more crumble than bar.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Food on sticks

Admit it, you remember parties where the culinary climax was a half grapefruit covered in foil and studded with cocktail sticks containing a cube of cheese and a piece of tinned pineapple. Closely followed by sausages. I have made the cheese and pineapple hedgehog for my own children's parties and let me tell you that unless you get the right type of cheese it's a nightmare. Too crumbly, and the carefully cut cube disintegrates as you begin to thread it on the stick.

The French have a nifty way with a stale baguette and some sticks: Cut the bread into slices, thread them onto a skewer, grill one side, turn over, top with cheese (preferably goat's), grill and serve with a well-dressed salad.

But here, from a warmer continent altogether, is my favourite speared food:

Chunks of marinated lightly curried chicken on skewers
Fragrantly spiced succulent chicken skewers

Chicken Tikka skewers

Serves 2:

2 chicken breasts
1½ - 2 tablespoons tikka curry paste
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons natural yogurt
1 garlic clove, crushed

Mix the paste, juice, yogurt and garlic together in a bowl. Cut the chicken into even size chunks and put it in the bowl, mixing it around well to get an even coating of the marinade. Leave it for an hour (minimum) or overnight. Thread onto skewers and cook under a hot grill, turning half-way through.

I like to mix things up and serve these with a flavoured couscous for maximum taste and minimum cooking time.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Give us this day...

I read recently that you can save about £365 a year by making your own bread. That's a lot of dough (sorry). Whether or not you want to save money or feel smug, I urge you to dust off your bread machine and give it a go. It only takes a few minutes to load the ingredients and press the start button - something I can achieve quite easily between breakfast-time arguments. Do it then, and you can be tucking into warm, fresh baked bread by lunchtime. I've been experimenting with different quantities of white and wholemeal flour, salt and sugar and this loaf seems to be universally well-received. It doesn't keep well, so I suggest slicing and bagging it up on the day of baking, then freezing it.

Loaf of home made light brown bread, one slice cut off and buttered
Which side is yours buttered on?

Light brown bread

1 teaspoon easy-blend yeast
150g wholemeal bread flour
350g white bread flour
2 teaspoons sugar
25g butter
1 teaspoon salt
350ml skimmed milk (or use half water, half milk)

Put everything in the machine in the order listed and you will have a large loaf in 4 hours. Perfect with chunky soup, cheese and pickle, or dipped into a boiled egg.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013


It's simply a matter of survival - when the temperature drops this low you must hurry home and eat steaming hot jam sponge pudding. This one cooks in the microwave in three and a half minutes - just enough time to get a bowl and spoon out and make a cup of tea to wash it down.

Steamed jam sponge
Is your mouth watering?

Steamed Jam Sponge

To feed a greedy two or a moderate 4:

Take an egg and weigh it - mine was 60g. Use that amount of butter, sugar and self raising flour, plus 2 tablespoons milk and about 5 tablespoons jam (I used Bonne Maman strawberry - hence the lumps - cheaper is better here)

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat the egg with the milk and add it slowly to the butter and sugar. Fold in the flour. Put the jam in the bottom of a pudding basin, pour the cake batter on top, cover with clingfilm and cook on high for 3 and a half minutes in the microwave. Let it stand for a couple of minutes before turning it out and serving with custard.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Pork Life

I've spent a lot of my life not liking pork. I think it was something to do with the sweet/savoury mental trauma of roast pig plus apple sauce. I used to save the apple sauce til last, being very, very careful not to contaminate it with gravy, and have it as a pre-pudding palate cleanser. Anyway, now that I'm a grown up I love it and can thoroughly recommend the following recipe (adapted from one of Nigella's) which is a quick and delicious combination of pork steaks with mustard, cream and apple juice...

Pork steak in grainy mustard sauce
Make a pig of yourself

Mustard Pork Steaks

2 pork steaks
2 teaspoons garlic oil
125ml apple juice
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
75ml double cream

Bash the steaks with a rolling pin. Heat the oil in a frying pan and cook the steaks over a medium-high heat for about 5 minutes a side, or until they have a nice brown crust. Remove them from the pan and keep them warm in the oven while you pour in the apple juice to de-glaze the pan. Let it bubble for a couple of minutes, then stir in the mustard and the cream, and cook for another couple of minutes. Pour over the steaks and eat without delay. Nigella suggests serving with gnocchi; I had mash.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Up-cycled fish

According to a recent report, we throw away 50% of the food we buy. Not in this house, where our fridge is the modern equivalent of the old-fashioned pig bucket, containing leftovers galore. While most families sat down to a succulent roast beast on Sunday, we polished off a variety of odds and ends in the war on waste - including a pair of cod fillets a mere 24 hours past their sell-by date. Only one was eaten, so two days later I up-cycled its twin into tasty fishcakes.

Plenty more fish in the sea

Fish cakes

Mashed potato
Fish, cooked
Spring onions
Parmesan, grated
Chopped parsley
Plain flour

While the potatoes are cooking, flake the fish, chop the spring onions and parsley and put them in a bowl with plenty of seasoning and the Parmesan. Mash the potatoes with a little butter and milk (not too sloppy), let them cool for a few minutes, then add them to the bowl and stir well. Shape into rounds, dust with flour and shallow fry in a splash of olive oil heated with a knob of butter. Serve with a poached or fried egg on top.

Be inventive - use tinned tuna/salmon, capers, any leftover veg (chopped smallish), any kind of hard cheese, dill instead of parsley, even ham or cooked bacon. 

Thursday, 10 January 2013

It's getting chilly

"Mummy, I want to tell you something but I'm scared you'll be cross"... Children, as even the childless know, have an infinite capacity to surprise - but no-one was more surprised than me when Child 2 told me that she wants to be a vegetarian. She's 8. We need to talk about the reasons for this, but not 30 seconds before she gets on the school bus. So, to try and change her mind I made a chilli beef casserole.

Bowl of rich, glossy chilli beef casserole
Thick, rich, glossy chilli

Chilli beef casserole

2 onions, chopped
500g diced beef - I cut each piece in half again as they were a bit large
1 red pepper
30g plain flour
Tin of tomatoes
Tin of kidney beans in chilli sauce
Oxo cube
A large glass of red wine

Pre-heat oven to 180/gas 4. Fry the onions and pepper in a splosh of oil over a medium-high heat in a casserole dish. Add the steak and keep stirring until it has browned, then add the flour and stir well for another minute or so. Tip in the tomatoes, Oxo cube and wine and keep stirring until the mixture thickens. Finally, add the kidney beans and sauce, and about half the empty tin of water. Stir some more until it starts to bubble, then turn off the heat, put a lid on it and transfer to the oven for 2 - 2 and a half hours. 

Go all out and serve with rice, (blue corn) tortilla chips, grated cheese and home made guacamole.

Guacamole: Mash a ripe avocado with a good squeeze of lemon juice, a couple of pinches of salt and half a clove of crushed garlic.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Tarte Tatin

If one of your new year's resolutions was to eat more fruit and veg, then this is for you. Invented in the 1880s by those tarty Tatin sisters 100 miles south of Paris, I bet my version would barely raise a Gallic sneer as I've used ready-made puff pastry for speed. There are also some nifty savoury versions, made with tomatoes or red onions and cheesy pastry which we'll come back to another day.

Tarte Tatin
I rushed the caramelisation - 7/10 for looks, 10/10 for taste

Tarte Tatin

6 apples
70g butter
70g brown sugar
A block of ready-made puff pastry
Vanilla pod (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 200/gas 6. Put the sugar, butter and vanilla seeds (if using) into a frying pan with a heatproof handle and heat until the sugar dissolves, the mixture foams and it starts to turn a darker shade of brown. Meanwhile, slice the apples (not too thin, not too thick). Take the pan off the heat and arrange the apples in 2 or 3 concentric layers, then return it to the heat for 5-10 minutes until the caramel starts to bubble up around the edges of the apples. Remove it and cover with a circle of pastry large enough to tuck down inside the edge of the pan. Put some slits in the pastry and bake it for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Leave it to cool until the pan can be picked up with bare hands, then invert it over a large plate - and pray. Eat warm with cold cream, ice cream, creme fraiche etc.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Save your dough

January - the month of austerity. Maybe Dave's nicked your child benefit; maybe you spent a little too much on Christmas; or maybe you've resolved to save up for something nice. Just don't spend it on supermarket or takeaway pizza when you can make your own so easily.

Home made pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, ham, pineapple
Made by children for children

Pizza dough

1 teaspoon easy-blend dried yeast
300g white bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
150 ml warm water

I use a bread maker, putting all the ingredients into it in the order listed above. It only takes 45 minutes, though I often make it in advance and leave it to rest in the machine until I am ready to cook. Pre-heat the oven to 220/gas 7 and roll out the dough to about 30cm diameter. Now add the tomato base layer. (Use ready-made tomato pasta sauce for speed - you can jazz up a bit by heating it in a pan with some crushed garlic, herbs, chopped tomatoes and a bit of sugar.) Then pile on anything you can find - sliced mozzarella plus a bit of Stilton, Brie, goat's cheese, parmesan, mascarpone, salami, ham, parma ham, bacon, olives, pine nuts, sliced tomatoes, mushrooms, courgettes, herbs, a drizzle of olive oil (chilli oil is my favourite)... Cook for about 15-20 minutes until it looks delicious.

You can also make it by hand: combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, make a well for the water and oil and mix until everything is incorporated. Knead on a floured surface for about 5 minutes, then cover with a tea towel and set aside until you are ready.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Chestnuts - not just for Christmas

Don't mess with Christmas or Christmas will mess with you... I spent December chirping about my plans for a foolproof Christmas - making and freezing all the food in advance - and (radically) planning to eat it on Christmas Eve, leaving me free to enjoy Christmas day outside the kitchen. With comic timing, I was taken ill just before the meal and spent the next two days in an opioid haze before being cut open on 28th. I was unable to eat a single thing for six days; my circadian rhythms altered, leaving me glued to Peter Andre at 4.00am and falling asleep bolt upright during the day. But amidst all this corporeal chaos was inspiration - in the form of Nigella and the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network making delicious, fresh dishes which I longed to re-create.

Now convalescing (aka 'milking it'), I find that it is simple foods I crave. Things like this nourishing

Chestnut and bacon soup:

75g streaky bacon
50g celery
125g onions
50g carrots (I used butternut squash)
25g butter
1 tsp dried thyme
240g tin cooked chestnuts
1.25 litres stock (or water plus stock cube)

Melt the butter in a pan, add the bacon, thyme and vegetables and cook for about 10 minutes until soft. Add the chestnuts and stock, season well and cook for about 20 minutes with a lid on. Blend and serve. Reheat with a little cream.

Tin of chestnuts
Chestnuts - not just for Christmas