Asparagus and Poached Egg Risotto

Bath Asparagus (racheldemuth.co.uk)

Asparagus seems to be one of the last remaining seasonal treats. I know you can buy it in November but the spears that arrive from Chile, or where-ever the out of season stuff comes from, are fairly slim and rather like drinking cold red wine, somewhat tasteless. Talking of red wine, we are also home, in this neck of the woods, to Bath Asparagus a throw back to the Roman Era when the local area was populated with colonisers from Rome bringing with them colonisers of their own. Bath Asparagus (above) looks like a pretty, if slender, version of the hearty native plant and is only found north of Italy in the immediate Bath locality! We are not allowed to pick it let along eat it, but one can see it growing quite abundantly in the lanes around us as Roman villa remains are dug up periodically…..

IMG_0880Anyway, we’ve just eaten the British stuff, grown in Evesham I dare say,  for dinner this evening and I have to say it’s a very cost-effective way to stretch a bunch of asparagus around four people. The kids are a bit ‘meh’ about the whole thing but as they like risotto with poached eggs they’re willing to overlook the presence of the asparagus. One could easily substitute the asparagus for peas the rest of the time.

So for 4 people you will need: 2 tbsp Olive Oil, 1 small Onion, diced, 1 stick of Celery, diced, 1 clove of Garlic, crushed, or a squirt of garlic puree, 400g Risotto Rice, 1.2 litres of Vegetable Stock, 1 bunch Asparagus (however much you want really) tips cut off as shown in the photo and the rest of the usable stem (not the woody end part) chopped, zest of half a Lemon, Parmesan Cheese, grated, a knob of unsalted Butter, 4 Eggs, Salt and Black Pepper.

So in a large heavy based saucepan, heat the oil over a moderate heat and add the onion, cook until transparent.

Meanwhile pour the stock into a smaller saucepan and heat until simmering point. Turn the heat under the stock right down once simmering. Add the asparagus tips to the stock to cook for 5-7 minutes until tender then remove and set aside.

Once the onions are transparent add the celery and garlic and continue to cook for a couple of minutes stirring from time to time. Add the risotto rice and stir around so that the rice is coated with the olive oil, then start adding the stock. As with all risotto, you can add a glassful of white wine or preferably Vermouth at the start of the absorption process if you wish, or just stick with stock which of course you add, ladelled in from the saucepan at regular intervals, stirring all the time as you go. The whole absorption process takes about 15-20 minutes over a moderate heat. After about 5 minutes from the point where you start adding stock add the chopped asparagus so it has a chance to cook and then about 5 minutes from the end, as the rice seems to be almost tender add the lemon zest, a little finely grated Parmesan cheese, the butter and seasoning as required.

Whilst all this is going on fill a large saucepan or frying pan (this is a hob heavy meal) with boiling water from the kettle and allow it to reach simmering point over a medium heat, add a pinch of salt, then, when the risotto is done, crack the eggs carefully into the water, depending on the size of your saucepan you may have to cook the eggs in 2 batches. Cook the eggs for 2-4 minutes depending how soft you like them, and, remove to a wad of kitchen paper using a slotted spoon. The kitchen roll will soak up excess water from the egg. Dish up the risotto, add the asparagus tips and the poached egg, a little more Parmesan and black pepper if desired.

What else is there to say? I love Spring……

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee Kahlua Crown Cake

The very wonderful Mary Berry has filmed a new series ‘Mary Berry Cooks’ which aired this week (Mondays 8.30pm, BBC2), and this week’s subject matter was Afternoon Tea.

This is a type of meal which is fairly close to my heart for obvious reasons and also a treat I like to indulge in, in celebration of life events. The idea that on a regular basis anyone needs 4 ‘meals’ a day is fairly ridiculous, but like the feasting we enjoy at Christmas, weddings and other high days and holidays, Afternoon Tea, preferably at a posh hotel and accompanied by a glass of Champagne to go with the tea and goodies really must sum up what we Brits do best to make you feel special. I had Tea at the Ritz as part of my Hen Party (a million years ago), and I had no problem convincing a whole bunch of female friends and relatives to munch through fabulous sandwiches, scones and cakes for an hour or two, despite the usually obsequious diets most of them generally adhered to.

Anyway, coming up with cake recipes and ideas these days is much like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, there’s not much left that hasn’t been tried already, however, reminding others of, perhaps forgotten, treats is the name of the game here.

IMG_1192This is, as the title of the post suggests, Coffee Kahlua Crown cake. Meringue on top of cakes is a bit of a favourite of mine from the aesthetic point of view and although I have offered up something similar before it was a bit of a half-baked (!) affair, this is far more sophisticated both in looks and flavour.

So essentially we have a coffee walnut sponge cake, 6 smallish meringues, butter icing and glace icing to decorate. Where to start; making the meringues perhaps.

Very straight forward really, the day before you plan on making the cake, you will need 3 medium egg whites and 150g caster sugar, you can add pinches of salt and vinegar and vanilla extract, but it’s not necessary, egg whites and sugar is enough!

So whisk the egg whites so that they form stiff peaks but the mixture hasn’t gone over and become ‘dry’. This is clear when you see it so whisk more circumspectly as you reach the stiff peak stage to see off this point. Then, turn the motor on the whisk down a bit and start adding dessert spoonfuls of sugar gradually allowing each spoonful to be fully incorporated before adding the next one. You are aiming for a stiff, glossy white state. It must hold it’s shape. You can colour the meringue if you wish at this point using colour pastes ideally, or not as the case may be.

Preheat the oven to 120°C/Fan 100°C and cover a couple of baking sheets with greaseproof paper. You can then either pipe the meringue using a nozzle like this → IMG_0756

or just use 2 teaspoons to create blobs, a bit bigger than a golf ball, spacing them with room to expand a little on the baking sheets. this amount of mixture will probably make about 12.

Bake for 1 – 1.5 hours until hard to touch and slightly browned. Leave the door of the oven ajar to let them cool.

They will store for a couple of weeks in an airtight tin.

Next the cake: a Mary Berry recipe if the truth be told (and she must be credited) with a minor tweak.

So you will need: the oven on to 180°C/Fan 160°C, grease and line the bases  of two 8″ sandwich tins.

The ingredients are as follows: 4 large eggs, 2 heaped teaspoons of instant coffee powder (use the fancier instant espresso as it’s more of a powder and less granular), 225g soft butter, 225g caster sugar, 225g self-raising flour, 2 level teaspoons of baking powder, 50g chopped walnuts.

It couldn’t be easier, crack the eggs into a jug and add the coffee powder and whisk together (yes really), weigh out all the other ingredients into a bowl and then add the egg/coffee mixture. Beat together until smooth. Divide between the two sandwich tins and level with a spoon. Bake for 25 minutes or so until a small sharp knife blade comes out clean and the cake is starting to come away from the edges. Leave to cool in the tins initially and them remove to a wire rack until cold.

To assemble: for the buttercream you will need 75g softened butter and 210g icing sugar, 1.5 tablespoon of milk and 1 tablespoon of Kalhua. Begin by beating the butter and sugar together, slowly initially to incorporate the sugar into the butter otherwise there will large sugar clouds everywhere. Then add the milk and Kahlua and turn up the mixer to beat quickly for 5 minutes. Stop half way through and scrape the sides down to ensure everything is mixed evenly.

IMG_1191Lay the bottom half of the cake on a plate or cake stand, level the top of this layer with a long sharp serrated knife if necessary and then, coat with 2/3rds of the buttercream. Layer the top half of the cake on top and check whether it appears level. Spread the remainder of the buttercream thinly over the top of the cake and place the meringues (probably around 6) on top of the buttercream.

As a final flourish pop two spoonfuls of icing sugar in a small bowl and add just enough Kahlua to give a thick runny consistency so you can drizzle. Using a teaspoon go ahead and drizzle this icing over the meringue and cake. Dust with a little cocoa powder if you like.

The crowning glory of an Afternoon tea.

Low Carb, Wheat Free Spaghetti Squash Turkey Bolognese……

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This picture is a disaster, but I assure you the recipe is not. This is a clean eating gem: low carb, gluten-free, dairy free, temple food of a comforting type at a time of year when temperatures are plummeting and feasting is just around the corner…..

We have recently changed our veg box supplier and to my delight the range of veggies has been welcome change, spaghetti squash wasn’t something I had had much experience with but the prospect of using it like actual spaghetti really wet my appetite. I was serving this up to sceptical kids so decided not to make a regular bolognese, so that comparisons were less likely to be drawn. Child one found it hard to get past the fact he wasn’t eating actual spaghetti, (why bother) but they all admitted it tasted good in its own right. My better half and I REALLY enjoyed it and in fact I would suggest it is as least as tasty……..

You will need (serves 4)

For the Spaghetti:

1 Spaghetti Squash, a pinch of salt and a drizzle of Olive Oil – pre-heat the oven to 180°C, half the squash having given it a quick wash and scoop out the seeds, sprinkle with the salt and oil, cover in foil and bake both halves in the oven for about an hour, remove the foil after about 30 minutes. It’s cooked when a knife inserted into the flesh meets little resistance.

For the Turkey Bolognese sauce: 400g Turkey thigh mince, 1 medium Onion, chopped, 1 clove of Garlic, crushed, Oil, pinch of dried Chilli Flakes, 1 tsp of Worcestershire Sauce, 1 tin chopped Tomatoes, 1/2 tomato tin of Water, any amount (within reason) of chopped veg such as Pepper, Peas, Courgettes and a handful of baby Spinach Leaves, Salt and Pepper.

So fry off the onion in the oil and once transparent add the garlic, chilli flakes and turkey mince. Stir around until the mince has browned and then add the Worcestershire sauce, tomatoes, water, and all the veg you are planning to use apart from the Spinach, stir around and simmer for 30 minutes or so. The sauce will keep of course until the squash is cooked. Once you are sure the squash is tender, remove from the oven, add the spinach to the sauce, season and stir around until the spinach wilts. (Add a splash of water if the sauce becomes too dry).

To serve, loosen the squash from the skin with a spoon/fork combo and fluff the squash up to shake out the individual strands. Divide between the pasta bowls and ladle sauce to over to taste. Serve with or without Parmesan.

I won’t leave it so long to post next time……..

Chilli with the Black Eyed Peas (Beans), and a few cake designs for chilly spring

Sounds exciting doesn’t it? No bands involved I’m afraid and sorry for the REALLY long gap in between posts at the moment. As I have said before we have the builders in and my new kitchen (which is under construction from the ground up) currently looks like thisIMG_0856

It’s not it’s best side and is sorely lacking in kitchen units, but any minute now they will arrive and the fun will really start.

I’ve also had plenty of work on despite the upheaval, which has been a little challenging. Nevertheless I have been producing seasonal stuff:

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and more seasonal stuff: IMG_0848

and also very specific stuff: IMG_0776

that last one being Taylor Swift’s electric acoustic guitar!

So on with the recipe, I have concentrated so far this year on cakeage, so I think it’s time for a family favourite. This comes with many variations but is, in essence, as supplied below. Instead of aubergine, we commonly use butternut squash, but the fresh, spicy flavours permeate come what may.

You will need for 4:

1 Onion, chopped, 1-2 tbsp Sunflower Oil, ½ tbsp Olive Oil with Garlic, or a clove of Garlic, crushed, a sprinkling of Crushed Chilli Flakes, 2 medium Carrots, grated, ½ Aubergine or ¹/3 Butternut Squash, roughly chopped, 1 tin Tomatoes, chopped, ½ Vegetable Stock cube, 1 300g tin of Black Eyed Peas/Beans, 1 400g tin of Kidney Beans (or Mixed Beans) in chilli sauce, 1 Red Pepper, chopped, juice of a Lime, 2 tbsp of chopped Coriander, a few drops of Worcestershire Sauce, Salt and Pepper.

It’s all very straightforward, fry the onion in the oils over a medium heat in a fairly large saucepan until soft and translucent, add the garlic if using, chilli and carrot IMG_0860and cook over a low heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the aubergine/ butternut squash and again cook for 5 minutes or so over a low heat. Add the tin of tomatoes, stock cube, some just boiled water, start off with 250ml and the Worcestershire sauce and allow the come up to simmering point and then cook with the lid on for 10 minutes or so, add the two tins of beans, the pepper, lime juice, coriander, salt and pepper and cook over a lowish heat again with the lid partly covering for a minimum of 30 minutes until everything is tender, adding more water as necessary to prevent any sticking to the bottom of the pan.

This is one of those great stew type dishes where the longer you leave it the better it will taste. If you have the time, go Greek and cook it at lunchtime to eat in the evening. Even a couple of hours between assembly and consumption will make a difference. Serve with rice, bread or tortilla!

Salted Caramel and Sour Cherry Zillionaire’s Shortbread

BIG, big apologies for my absence from the blogiverse. We are having some building work done here at Cutest Cakes HQ so a combination of project managing, tea making, working, dog walking and everything that goes with organising two children has forced blogging so far down the list of priorities it has largely disappeared out of sight.

However that does not mean the recipes have dried up! This is a fantastic, post Lenten, splurge and for someone who isn’t into sickly sweet stuff, just the ticket.

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Making Million or Zillionaire’s shortbread is quite a lengthy and messy business. I make no apology for this, there is no getting away from making an effort sometimes, but if you can get hold of ready-made salted caramel, or ideally make it on a separate occasion and store it in the fridge to keep it more solid, this will reduce the faff factor.

You will need:

A jar of Salted Caramel such as Hawkshead Relish Salted Caramel Sauce.

This is a 320g jar which should be more than enough, stored in the fridge before using to keep it as solid as possible.

Alternatively I give a recipe for making Salted Caramel, this time use:

250g Caster Sugar, 4 tbsp water, 160ml Double Cream, 50g Salted Butter, ½ tsp Coarse Sea Salt.

If you haven’t made caramel before it is a bit of a scary process but you’ll be fine.

Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat gently over a moderate to low heat to dissolve the sugar. Do not stir at all at any stage. Swirl the mixture around from time to time off the heat, but once dissolved allow the sugar syrup to come up to the boil and boil for around 5-8 minutes. During this time the syrup will become a dark ‘caramel’ colour and thicken. Swirl occasionally but that’s all. Once the desired colour has been reached, remove from the heat and very gently and slowly pour in the cream. At this point it will look like it has all gone wrong, don’t panic, add the butter and sea salt too, find a whisk appropriate for your saucepan, and whisk gently until a smooth sauce-like consistency is reached and all the butter has melted. A crusty shelf of sugar will have formed about 2cms above the bottom of the pan, just work round that, don’t try to dislodge it as you pour the sauce into a jug. Leave to cool. The odd stir as it cools might help to stop a crust forming.

After about 2-3 hours you will have a supercooled liquid (for the scientists amongst you), fridge until required, ideally overnight at least. You can transfer this sauce to a thoroughly clean, preferably sterile jam jar with a lid where it will keep for weeks!

So once you have resolved the caramel issue, you can move onto construction of this delicious confection.

You will need for the Shortbread: a 6″ square, ideally loose-bottomed, cake tin, greased on the bottom and very slightly up the sides, 125g Plain Flour, 40g Caster Sugar, 80g Butter, softened

and finally for the topping you will need: 50g Milk Chocolate, 80g Plain Chocolate and 50g Dried Sour Cherries.

So to make the shortbread, pre-heat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C, then mix the flour and caster sugar in a large bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Knead the mixture until it forms a dough and then press into the base of the cake tin to give an even layer. Prick with a fork and then bake for 15-20 minutes until firm to the touch and very lightly browned.

Allow to cool completely, then spread with the chilled caramel sauce (as much or as little as you want) and return to the fridge whilst you melt the chocolate, separately in Pyrex bowls, either over a couple of pans of simmering water or in the microwave until you have two bowls of smooth molten chocolate. Remove the caramel biscuit base from the fridge and dollop spoonfuls of first the milk and then the plain chocolate over the caramel, you can smooth it all over or not as the case may be and then dot with the Sour Cherries. Return to the fridge to allow the chocolate to set, once cooled, which won’t take long.

Now, this particular recipe does not result in neat solid squares of chocolate caramel shortbreadIMG_0790, as you can see. This is a decadent, stuff it in, finger licking, lip smacking, Nigella style delight, and having eating way too much of this over Easter has resulted in a bit of diet action at this end.

So find a REALLY sharp large knife. Remove the tin from fridge, loosen the contents round the sides of the tin with a palette knife and then push the loose bottom of the tin upwards to release the shortbread the transfer, minus the bottom of the tin, to a large plate, the caramel will start to ooze as you can see. Ignoring this, cut into squares and the dish up as required. Return any uneaten squares to the fridge where it will keep for days, if you can stand to leave it alone.

Yummy.

Blueberry, Apple and Almond Crumble: Probably the yummiest crumble in the World.

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I am feeling very pleased with myself over my latest food marriage revelation. I haven’t particularly noticed any chatter about just how good blueberries and almonds are together, but I am starting to match them up all over my cooking.

It all started when I was sent an enormous bag of dried blueberries as a Christmas present from Canada. In fairly typical North American style, provisions are usually supplied in generous quantities so having opened said present I have been attempting to add dried blueberries to anything and everything. They are fantastic in salads, both green and couscous, as some here might recall. They can obviously be added to anything one might put dried fruit in, can’t say I’ve tried them as a substitute for fresh in pancakes but they have been featuring in my granola recipes of late.

Regular readers of this blog may be aware that I am a huge fan of granola and have been tweaking the basic recipe (here) from time to time. If you are interested in the blueberry almond version then proceed with the quantities of rolled oats, desiccated coconut, butter and honey as previously given and use 80g pumpkin seeds, 80g blanched almonds, roughly chopped, and 80g dried blueberries. Make up the granola in the usual way, that is to say, melt the butter and honey together and combine in a large bowl with all the dry ingredients except the blueberries so that the dry is coated with the wet. Spread over a baking sheet and bake at around 160°C/Fan 140°C for 30 minutes stirring from time to time until all appears toasted. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Then add the blueberries and store in an airtight tin/tub.

However, the triumph, I think, is my crumble. As a household we have been happily munching on this with unparalleled enthusiasm. If you can get hold of the larger dried blueberries then that is definitely worth the expense but the smaller winberry like ones which are more prevalent here will work fine too.

This serves 4, so double up for a Sunday lunch pudding with left overs, but this is so quick a smaller mid-week one might be just the thing.

You will need for the filling: 2 medium Cooking Apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped, around 60g fresh Blueberries, a handful of dried Blueberries, ½ tsp Cinnamon, 25g brown Sugar, 2 tbsp Water.

Pop the apple, water, sugar, cinnamon and dried blueberries in a saucepan and cook covered over a low heat for 10 to 15 minutes until the apple pieces are soft. Shake and stir from time to time. In the meantime prepare the topping…..

You will need: 125g Plain flour or a mixture of plain and wholemeal, 40g Butter, softened, 50g light Brown Sugar, ½ tsp Baking Powder, 30g Toasted Flaked Almonds (try to buy the pre-toasted ones as toasting them yourself is a bit of a palaver).

Again it’s all very simple: in a Kitchen Aid type thing or alternatively by hand rub the butter into the flour and baking powder, stir in the sugar and the almonds. (if using a Kitchen Aid it is very quick, use the beater attachment and combine on a low speed until you have the breadcrumb consistency).

IMG_0714Once the apple is cooked, dollop into your crumble dish or a Pyrex bowl even, top with the fresh blueberries and then sprinkle over the crumble topping, bake at 190°C/Fan 170°C for 20-30 minutes until browned on top. Serve for preference with ice-cream, that Cotswold Winstone’s Vanilla they sell in Tesco and Asda is only very lightly vanilla flavoured so is more like Latte di Fiore, the milk ice-cream the Italians make. Yummy, Yummy, Yummy……

Moroccan Rose Cupcakes

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This is an extravagant name perhaps but these have a wonderful aromatic sweet scent conjuring the exotic, heat, spices…..

I have had a thing about Morocco for a number of years. I’m desperate to experience the souks, food, weather, countryside, camels, architecture, sunsets so in other words, every facet of Moroccan life. We nearly booked a holiday there a couple of years ago and then the Arab Spring sprang and we acquired cold feet. The closest I have come so far therefore is a holiday as a child to southern Spain where, for a couple of days, the warm Saharan winds blew across from Morocco via the Gibraltar straits. So near and yet so far.

IMG_9287In theory these should be called something Turkish as rose-water is the main flavouring in Turkish Delight, something I had a go at last summer, but the interior of the cupcakes is what makes them special and the swirly rose-sunset colours makes me think I can get away with the Moroccan connection.

I was actually experimenting with the idea of an ombre cupcake. This a fashionable idea where you make a cake in several layers where each layer is a slightly different shade of a particular colour starting with the deepest shade at the bottom and graduating to the palest shade at the top. Most cakes contain about 4 layers. This sounds like quite a faff and you need to be making quite a big cake. I thought I might try the theory in a single cup cake and this is the result. The rise in the batter creates an uneven pattern, but with a little bit of tweaking, such as greater variation in the colouring of the batter, I think one can achieve a more pronounced effect.

So the recipe I used was more or less the basic Hummingbird Bakery cupcake batter one as follows:

For 12 – 16 cupcakes: 80g softened Butter, 280g Caster Sugar, 240g Plain Flour, ¼ tsp Salt, 1 tbsp Baking Powder, 2 large Eggs, 240g Whole Milk, 2 tsp Rose Water.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/ Fan 170°C and fill a 12 hole muffin tin with paper muffin cases.

In a bowl combine the butter, sugar, flour, salt and baking powder and the beat together until to achieve fine breadcrumbs in consistency. In a jug combine the milk, eggs and rose-water and whisk together with a fork. Add ¾ of the liquid to the breadcrumb-like mixture a beat slowly until all combined. Add the rest of the liquid, beat again slowly until mixed in and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until you have a smooth batter. The day I tried this was freezing and the butter was not quite soft enough which left the batter a little grainy. This really doesn’t seem to make any difference to the cooked cake and as you can see it still rose plenty!

IMG_0641Anyway once you have the finished batter, divide the batter between 3 bowls by weighing the mixture as you go. Then add food colouring paste carefully with a cocktail stick and blend into the batter with a spoon until you achieve the desired shade of a particular colour, in this case pink.

Add equal quantities, using a single tablespoon measure, of the first shade to each muffin case, then add a tablespoon measure of the next shade and then repeat for the third shade. Humming Bird batter can be quite runny like golden syrup or honey so the second and third layers of batter can be poured over the previous layer, keeping the spoon moving as you go so that you have an evenish layer. If the mixture is thicker and won’t pour then tease out the batter to cover the previous layer with the tip of a knife or teaspoon. I appreciate this is a bit of a faff, but it is an attractive and unusual effect.

Bake for 19-20 minutes or so and leave in the tin for 5 – 10 minutes before turning out to cool on a wire rack.

To make the butter icing is the usual recipe, so for 12-16 cupcakes: 160g soften Butter, 450g Icing Sugar, sieved, 50ml of Milk and a few drops of Rose Water. As described before, beat the butter and the icing sugar over a low speed until there is a sandy consistency, then add the milk and turn up the speed to medium and beat for 5 minutes until you have a light fluffy icing. You can then stir in a few drops of rose-water and also streak through the icing a tiny amount of pink food colour to give a pale pink ripple-y effect. Spread or pipe the icing on as you wish and decorate with rose petal crystals, cut out rose petals if you have the cutters and paste, actual rose petals or best of all a sprinkling of chopped pistachios. Yummy.

Sour Cherry and Velvety Chocolate Loaf Cake

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Light as a feather and velvety smooth with a delicious tang in the aftertaste, this is wonderful.

I have made it my New Year’s resolution to think up more cake recipes. I have found in the past that I have shied away from actually developing my cake ideas as the precise nature of baking demands skills in construction I felt I was lacking in.

Are there rules with these things?

Once you get past a basic sponge (a foolproof method is supplied here), it does seem from recipe books that there are no hard and fast rules for success. Unpicking the secrets however seems easier with American style recipes so I have started with an offering borrowing some ideas and ingredients from across the pond.

I had an urge to buy buttermilk and a packet of sour cherries this week, now that the supermarket shelves are clear of the festive staples, without any real plans. Consequently the kids ended up with blueberry buttermilk pancakes this morning, and once the buttermilk pot was open this cake idea followed swiftly on behind. It has gone down very well. It tastes great, warm or cold and all the cherries have not sunk to the bottom!

You will need: one large loaf tin the base of which should measure around 19/20cm x 8/9cm and around 6cm deep.

Ingredients: 190g Unsalted Butter, softened, 190g Caster Sugar, 3 large Eggs, 150g Plain Flour, 50g Cocoa Powder, 1 tsp Baking Powder, pinch of Salt, 125ml Buttermilk, 75g (1 packet) Sour Cherries (dried), 1 tbsp Kahlua (optional)

  • Preheat the oven to 170°C/Fan 150°C, grease and line the loaf tin with greaseproof paper. Just screw it up into a ball and smooth it out again and then line the tin with it, nothing too precise.
  • Pop the sour cherries in a bowl and steep in the Kahlua, if using, otherwise cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy using something like a kitchen aid or hand-held mixer.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, slowly, and beating well between each addition.
  • In a separate bowl combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt and then sift gradually into the egg mixture folding carefully as you go. The mixture might seem a little dry but never fear as you are about to fold in the buttermilk followed by the sour cherries and their residual liquor if using.
  • Dollop carefully into the loaf tin and push gently into the corners then bake in the oven for about an hour. Check after 50 minutes or so and you can turn the oven up 10°C if you wish at that point. Anyway a cake tester should come out clean.
  • Leave to cool in the tin initially on a cooling rack and remove from the tin and greaseproof paper once just slightly warm.

You can eat this warm or cold, with or without cream, yoghurt, custard etc. The moist interior means it works just fine on its own. However a little piece of luxurious eating at this abstemious time.

The American influence would be the buttermilk and dried fruit in a sponge recipe, a combination I adore, but hasn’t really caught on here …… yet.

Festive Couscous Salad to Ease You into Your New Year’s Resolutions….

IMG_0568Well here we are on the eve of New Year’s Eve and any minute now those New Year’s Resolutions to eat less, drink less, shop less etc etc will kick in. I am always a fan of easy does it in this regard as going cold turkey usually ends in failure even before the hangover has actually cleared.

We had this a few days ago as a bit of a palate clearer after the Christmas meatathon, enjoyable as always, but as we don’t eat a lot of meat in the normal course of a week, a little bit of something fishy, spicy and herby was fancied.

I am quite into the hot and cold salad together approach and this is just one of several I like to make. The warm prawn component rarely changes but the cold salad underneath is designed out of whatever is lurking in the cupboards and fridge. This one has a distinct Yotam Ottolenghi feel to it. Hardly surprising really…..

You will need (for 2) for the couscous salad:  120g Giant Couscous (or the regular stuff) cooked according to the packet instructions, so boiled in water for 10 minutes for the giant and steeped in boiling water for 5 – 10 minutes for the regular stuff, then we are into a pinch of this and that territory, so some Pumpkin Seeds, some Poppy Seeds and some Pine Nuts, all toasted, some Cucumber, cubed, some Cherry Tomatoes, halved, some Olives, some Sultanas or Dried Blueberries, 2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a squeeze of Lemon Juice from ½ a Lemon, 2 tbsp each of chopped fresh Mint and Flat Leaf Parsley, a pinch of Salt and some Black Pepper

Combine everything once the couscous and seeds are cool. Stir around and drizzle the oil and lemon juice over. Add the seasoning to taste. Of course other things like avocados, red pepper, dried apricots could be added too. Leave to sit and infuse whilst you cook the prawns.

For the warm Prawn Salad (serves 2): a 250g packet of Frozen Raw King Prawns, defrosted, 2 cloves of Garlic, peeled and chopped, a pinch of Dried Chilli Flakes, juice of ½ a Lemon, a splash of White Wine (optional), 2 tbsp of Fresh Coriander, chopped, a tbsp of Olive Oil, Salt and Black Pepper.

Into a medium-sized frying pan over a moderate heat add the oil, garlic and chilli, stir round for a minute or two and then add the prawns, wine, lemon juice and season a little, stir fry for 5 minutes or so until the prawns have thoroughly turned pink and the liquid has reduced a little, add half the fresh coriander, stir round and then, having plated out the couscous salad, divide the prawns and their juices between the two plates. Garnish with the remainder of the coriander.

This is fantastic after all the rich food that is knocking around at this time. One feels extremely virtuous.

A very happy and peaceful New Year to all, thanks to all who follow, comment and read and see you in 2013 I hope! x

Pineapple and Clementine Warm Fruit Salad

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This dessert sums up Christmas Eve to me.

When I was a child we often assembled, after the trip to Church on Christmas Day, round at some good friends for drinks. This drinks party dragged on for hours and as a result my parents weren’t particularly in the right frame of mind, by the time we returned home, to start fiddling about with Christmas lunch. Consequently, we would have our turkey and trimmings on Christmas Eve for dinner and then have cold meat, delicious leftovers and salad etc. on Christmas Day followed by traditional Christmas pudding which was truly appreciated as we weren’t too stuffed. Dessert on Christmas Eve, after the turkey, would therefore be this warm fruit salad…..

This is delicious and a fantastic antidote to all the rich food. It tastes great with Christmas pudding if you have room, on its own, with mince pies, leftovers cold for breakfast….. the options go on and on.

You will need: 1 Pineapple, 6/8 Clementines, 3 tbsp light brown sugar, 25g unsalted butter, 1 tsp ground Ginger mixed with the sugar OR 1 tsp grated fresh Ginger OR 2 or 3 pieces of stem Ginger in syrup, finely sliced, a splash of White Rum (optional).

IMG_0572The trickiest part to this is digging out the pineapple chunks. So, with a large sharp knife cut down through the top leaves and the body of the pineapple so that you have two boaty halves. With the knife at a slant, cut a v shape section lengthways out of the middle to remove the woody core. Then cut a grid pattern lengthways and widthways almost through to the skin but not quite and with a spoon dig out the chunks you have created. You should then have a pile of chunks and 2 holders, essentially the skin and leaves of the pineapple. Reserve the holders to load the completed salad back into.

Peel the clementines and try to remove as much pith as possible. Find a large frying pan and over a low to moderate heat, melt the butter until foaming, add the pineapple, clementines, sugar and ginger and gently stir around until it is warmed through (5 minutes or so). Add the rum if using, you can flambé the fruit if you wish and then, having popped the pineapple holders in a suitable serving dish, load in all the fruit and juices.

Christmas in a pineapple cup… I hope you have a good one. x

Sorry about the picture, once we actually make this, I will update!

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