Roast Chicken with Braised Red Cabbage and Gnocchi Gratin

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Around this time of year you often see a lot of recipes for some kind of red cabbage dish – either braised or baked. Indeed, just yesterday in The Guardian there was an article about it, comparing different recipes and ingredients. People seem to think that its only available or welcome around Christmas. Not so in my house! I love it shredded raw in the summer with a mustard vinaigrette (and have been known to demolish an entire head of cabbage this way …). Any time one passes into my house (which is more regularly than you may initially think) its always a toss-up between raw salad and braising.

Plus it kind of looks like brains …

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I think when my mother used to make it, it was of the Delia Smith variety – casseroled for two hours – but then she found that cooking it on the hob was much quicker, and this is the method that I use.

The recipe is fairly basic: shredded red cabbage, sliced onion (red or white works fine), large-diced apple (I have used cooking and dessert varieties at different times and I can’t say that I have an over-arching favourite!) and red-wine vinegar (although balsamic vinegar would be a good alternative) are stewed with a little water, some sugar, garlic and spices. I use cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon.

The dish is ready when the cabbage is soft and the flavours mellowed together, anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. It can be kept warm, reheated or even frozen with no problem (in fact, I will cook a whole head of cabbage and always freeze the leftovers).

To make it more festive bejewel with pomegranate seeds.

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The other part of tonight’s dinner was Nigella’s Gnocchi Gratin, as featured in her Nigellissima book. I love gnocchi boiled. I love gnocchi fried (instant roast potatotes – also a Nigella-ism!). And now I love gnocchi gratined (is that a word?).

Supremely simple. It takes longer for the oven to heat up than it does to make it or cook it …

The amounts below are as per the recipe in the book and allege to serve 6. I halved the recipe as it was the two of us and we managed with not too much trouble to scoff the lot.

Ingredients

  • 250g mascarpone
  • 60ml full-fat milk
  • 4 tablespoons grated parmesan
  • Ground pepper
  • Nutmeg
  • 2 x 400g packets of gnocchi (I bought my gnocchi in Waitrose – get me – and the bag was 500g – not a problem at all!)
  • 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs

Method

Preheat oven to 200C and put on a saucepan of salted water to boil.

Cook gnocchi in boiling water for no more than 3 minutes – its done when it floats to the top! Drain and leave.

Meanwhile, whisk together the milk and mascarpone in a flat oven-proof dish. Put in the heated oven to warm. Once it starts bubbling slightly, remove.

Whisk in approximately two thirds of the parmesan, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Add the gnocchi to the dish and gently coat in the sauce. Top with remaining parmesan and the breadcrumbs (I actually didn’t bother with the breadcrumbs as I had been rather liberal with my grating of the cheese!) and bake for 10-15 minutes.

Nigella says to leave to cool for 5-10 minutes, but this was really covered by dishing everything up and sitting down to eat.

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As you can see from the picture, we served it up with roasted chicken quarters. These were simply anointed with olive oil, salt and pepper before being thrown into the oven for just over 30 minutes. You can roast chicken however you like. Sometimes I dot with thyme sprigs, quarters of lemon, paprika … whatever you have to hand!

And that was a rather lovely ‘winter warmer’ that would equally suit a summer evening!

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Peanut Butter Avocado Cookies

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As any schoolboy can tell you (well, they used to – I doubt that they can now) the word ‘avocado’ means ‘testicle’, for reasons that are pretty self-explanatory. But avocados are also full of all kinds of goodness. Vitamins, minerals, monounsaturated fat … its all good.

Its also considered a “ghost of evolution” … it evolved in the wild to be digested by the megafauna of South America (wild avocados have far less flesh surrounding the large pit or stone), with the seed remaining untroubled by its travels through the friendly gut until it was defecated out somewhere far away (well, hopefully) from the parent tree. 13,000 years after the extinction of the megafauna its still going in the wild …

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Personally, I like them just fine in guacamole. Which is the reason I purchased 2 Hass avocados a few weeks ago … and never made it. Suspecting they would soon turn into black-spotted barrels of slime, and not really in the mood for dip, I searched for an alternative. Most of which seem to be just adding avocado to something else … salad (with avocado), omelette (with avocado), grilled chicken (with avocado) … I wanted something where avocado was a central part and not treated like a by-product.

And so I stumbled across this recipe (coincidentally the same lady who started Foodie Penpals …) for Peanut Butter Avocado Cookies. I know. I thought the same thing. This is not a combination that instantly screamed “We have a winner!” but I was intrigued. And we should strive to try new things in our lives. Even if we don’t overly like peanut butter (that said, I made these little munchkins last year and they were scoffed quicker than I should have – and will be made again).

The recipe calls for either agave nectar or honey as a sweetener. Although I could’ve bought agave nectar (something my local supermarket does sell – although non-sweetened dried cherries and frozen baby onions seem to be a bit beyond its remit), I already had a jar of honey open. The only extra purchases were the peanut butter (smooth) and chocolate chips (dark).

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The recipe also says ‘half a cup’ of mashed avocado. My avocados were quite hefty so this equated to half an avocado. Bear this in mind. Three quarters of a cup of oats is approximately 85g (I know this because I weighed them – just for you). Two thirds of a cup of peanut butter is around 6 tablespoons. Or just over half a 340g jar.

Its so simple to make – mix wet ingredients together and add the dry ones. Its also flourless, if you’re that way inclined. No butter. No added fat of any sort – only what’s already in the avocado and peanut butter.

The recipe states 15-18 cookies – and I managed 13 from the batter. Possibly my blobs were too generous! They also don’t spread during baking, so make sure that you flatten the blobs (technical term …) – I know the recipe does say “flatten slightly” but were I to make these again then I’d flatten them more.

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And the result, after the not-quite-15-minutes cooking time? No, you can’t taste the avocado, but the peanut taste is quite overwhelming. I’d go far as to say either dial back the peanut butter or increase the amount of honey. But that’s my own personal taste. If you like that peanut tang then these are bang on. Definitely moist.

I also kept them on the baking tray for 5-10 minutes after baking before transferring to the cooling rack.

Will I ever make them again? Possibly. I also wonder if they’d work as some kind of bar/traybake if you upped the amount of oats …

White Chocolate and Cranberry Muffins

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I’m (not in any way) sorry to announce that there are more muffins recipes on the way …

… although not until I buy more muffin cases.

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Following my Lemon Curd muffins two friends mentioned white chocolate muffins – one with blueberries and one with cherries. I’ve also been meaning to make some guacamole for a while so have a lime in the fridge awaiting avocado nirvana. Lime. My second favourite citrus. Tangy. Sour. Zesty. The perfect antitode to the glorious sweetness of (good) white chocolate … I couldn’t, could I? After all, the lime was ear-marked for something else …

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Then my thoughts turned to something else zesty that I like quite a lot. Mojitos. Mojito muffins … I couldn’t, could I? I probably could … A quick Google provided reams and reams of recipes for Mojito-inspired cupcakes, including drenching in rum syrup. I have mentioned my cupcake aversion previously, but anything a cupcake can do, a muffin can do better. (Although so far I have yet to see a Food Network show entitled Muffin Wars, or similar …)

dried-sour-cherriesBut one crazy idea at a time (glossing over the agonizing possibilities about getting mint AND lime into a muffin for a moment). White chocolate and cherry. Sour cherry. Cherries soaked in … lime syrup? Sounds good, right? Mmm. Well, you’d think that our supermarkets would be fit to bursting with dried cherries (especially at this festive time of year). You’d be wrong. Dried cherries sweetened with sugar or fruit juice rather seem to be the norm on the High Street (health-food shops aside) so, in a bit of a bind I purchased one small bag of dried cherries sweetened with sugar and one bag of “berry mix” – dried cranberries (sweetened with sugar), dried cherries (sweetened with sugar), dried blueberries (sweetened with apple juice) and dried strawberries (sweetened with apple juice).

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However, I don’t particularly want to make “White Chocolate & Sweetened Cherry” muffins. I want the sweet/sour combo, and I’m having an issue with getting non-sweetened cherries. This is not an insurmountable issue – I just need to get to a larger health-food shop/supermarket and I am impatient when it comes to baking once I have an idea …

This afternoon, whilst on a walk, I had a “woah” moment. I have a load of cranberries left in my fridge. These are tart. Why not use them in place of the dried cherries? Why not indeed. Plus cranberries are festive … right??

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So I did. And these are they …

(In case you are concerned, the dried sweetened fruit I have will be going into something else in the future and won’t be wasted!)

Recipe

  • 300g (10oz) self-raising flour
  • 150g (5oz) caster sugar (I used golden caster, but only because it was in my cupboard!)
  • 125g (4oz) butter, melted and cooled
  • 100g (3.5oz) white chocolate, chopped (I used Lindt as I prefer it – but I do think that its a case of get what you pay for with white chocolate)
  • 100g (3.5oz) cranberries, chopped
  • 1 egg
  • Half teaspoon good vanilla extract
  • 200ml (6fl oz) buttermilk

Method

Preheat oven to 180C (approx. 350F) and line a muffin tray with paper liners. (This recipe gave me enough batter for 14 muffins with perhaps 2 tablespoons of batter per cup – adjust to your own preferred size!)

As with muffins, mix the dry ingredients together (including the white chocolate and cranberries).

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In a jug, mix the egg, buttermilk and vanilla extract. When cooled, add butter to the wet ingredients, add wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined.

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Spoon into muffin tray, and cook for 20-25 minutes.

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When a skewer comes out clean, they’re done! Remove and allow to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes before removing.

Don’t, whatever you do, become so involved with what you’re doing that you forget they’re in the oven and then smell warm cranberry and rush to the oven to find that they’re a little browner than you’d like …

Tip: Don't get so engrossed in writing the article that you forget what's in your oven ...

Tip: Don’t get so engrossed in writing the article that you forget what’s in your oven …

If you can wait until they’re cool then do so … otherwise enjoy with a lovely cup of tea. Or with something … festive. If that’s your thing.

There will be more muffins in the near future!

Gunpowder Soup

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I was first introduced to this tangy, hearty and casserole-like soup several years ago by my mother-in-law. She would make it every Bonfire Night as a “winter warmer” to be served at the firework party she would throw, to be eaten either in a chunky mug when stood outside, or as a way to warm your bones once you’d come back inside. This is all well and good, but this is far too tasty a dish to reserve for a once-a-year roll-out.

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We cooked this for my own mother on her recent trip to England and she immediately demanded the recipe. Yesterday she informed me that she’d already made it (now back in France) and is planning on making it for visitors on a regular basis.

There’s not a lot to this recipe, but it relies on a couple of easily-obtained flavour winners: bacon (what’s not to love there?) and barbecue beans. That’s right. BBQ Beans.

Other barbecue bean manufacturers are available ... Please check local listings for details.

Other barbecue bean manufacturers are available … Please check local listings for details.

Ingredients

  • 25g (1oz) butter
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 4 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped (if you want to use pancetta cubes or lardons instead then go right ahead)
  • 1 leek, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 or 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 x 400g can barbecue flavour baked beans*
  • 1 pint (2 cups) chicken stock
  • Handful (approx. 50g/half a cup) small pasta (such as conchigliette)
  • 15 mls (1 tablespoon) tomato purée
  • 1 x 220g can baked beans*
  • Small can sweetcorn (optional)

*If you can only get a small can of barbecue beans then use a large tin of regular beans. I have made this soup with curry-flavour beans, and the soup tasted great. Feel free to substitute with any flavour beans you wish!

Method

Melt the butter in a pan. Add onion, bacon, leek and carrot and allow to soften.

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Mash or process about half of the barbecue beans and add to the vegetables with the stock. Add the tomato purée and pasta. Stir thoroughly. (I should add that if you have a couple of potatoes you wish to dice into small cubes then you can throw these in either in addition to or in replacement of the pasta. Or any bits of veg that you wish to use up!)

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Allow to simmer until thickened, around 10 or 15 minutes. Add the rest of the baked beans (barbecue and regular) and sweetcorn (if using). Taste and season if required. Cook for another 5 minutes. If it isn’t as thick as you’d like, make up a little cornflour paste and use this to thicken.

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Serve with crusty bread!

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Pistachio, Sour Cherry and Lime Biscotti

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I can remember when my good friend Alex first made these biscotti last year, and they were … not to go overboard or anything … sublime. Naturally they had to be on my list for a guest post and requested that she keep that in mind (i.e. take photos) when she made them again … So she did. In October.

I first made this variation on traditional Pistachio Biscotti for Christmas 2012. I like to make foodie type gifts for the adults at Christmastime, last years offerings besides the biscotti were three types of chocolate bark and seeded parmesan oatcakes and all seemed to go down well with the recipients!

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I was trying to think of something slightly different to make the biscotti stand out a bit. Usually biscotti is made with pistachios and orange zest and I did do this variation a couple of years ago – along with some orange, almond and cardamom biscuits. I had picked up a selection of interesting dried fruits with a view for using them in the chocolate bark – when I thought I might utilise them in the biscotti for that extra bit of zing and rather that orange zest to try lime – and wow – the combination of the lime with the sour cherry is subtle but they really compliment each other.

For the basic biscotti recipe I used a nice little book – Marie Claire’s Easy by Michele Cranston. The book has American and UK measurements which is always handy! It is also simple and really easy to follow (hence the book’s title!) It makes about 30 – 40 biscuits.

Biscotti 1

Ingredients

  • 125g (4 1/2 oz / 1 cup) plain (all purpose) flour
  • 115g (4 oz / 1/2 cup) caster (superfine) sugar – I used golden caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 150g (5 1/2 oz / 1 cup) pistachio nuts (one bag like the photo below is just right)
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest – I substituted with lime and zested two largish limes
  • (not in the original recipe but one bag of dried sour cherries – see the photo below – a small bag from Sainsbury’s is just right)
  • 2 eggs

Biscotti 2

You will need to preheat your oven to 180C / 350F / Gas Mark 4 – a little lower for fan assisted ovens.

Mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, pistachio nuts, cherries and lime zest together in a large bowl. Looks tasty already!

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Then beat together the two eggs and make a well in the centre and fold in the dry ingredients until you have a sticky dough.

The mixture will seem too wet, the first time I ever made biscotti from this recipe I was a bit panicky thinking the dough was too wet and it wasn’t going to turn out right. But trust me! Although you may want to add a bit more flour if desired. Turn out onto a well floured surface and separate into two and roll each out into a log shape. Here is where it gets a bit tricky, so you may want to do this on a floured bit of greaseproof paper so you can easily transfer it onto your baking tray as if your dough is too sloppy it can be a bit of a nightmare trying to transfer it from said floured surface onto your baking tray. Ensure your baking trays are lined with baking / greaseproof paper. While the recipe refers to only one tray it really is best to use two.

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The logs will spread slightly when cooking. Bake the logs for 30 minutes, remove from the oven and leave them to cool. Turn the oven down to 140C / 275F / Gas Mark 1 – slighly lower for fan assisted ovens. While they are cooling you can always go and have a cup of tea, flick through some scrummy recipe books or do something boring like washing up…

Once cooled get a bread knife and slice each log into thin slices – about 5mm (1/4 inch) thick. Lay the slices back onto the baking trays and bake again for a further 20 minutes – turning them halfway through to crisp up both sides. They will smell absolutely heavenly as they bake.

Let them cool down on a wire rack and try to resist having one for a little while as they will be hot – especially the cherries. Then you can pop them into a biscuit tin and enjoy them with a lovely coffee (or even tea!) They will keep in the tin for about a week to taste at their best.

When I made these last week I did it specifically to take to my parents as my Dad had told me how much he enjoyed them, he thought this batch was pretty good, even said that the pistachios tasted like they had been roasted slightly before going into the mixture. This recipe is really worth trying and it is always good to experiment with other flavours – so go on – give it a go and let us know how you got on!

Biscotti 9

Lemon Curd & Poppyseed Muffins

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I’m not going to open with an apology for having not written anything here for months on end. I’m really not. Having not apologised, let me move on …

My mum likes to buy me little cookbooks. However, as she lives in France these are (in the vast majority) in French and (in the vast majority) a little odd. One of those little gems is this one: Muffins – Petits, Délicats Et Irrésistiblement Savoureux

Muffins - Small, Delicate And Irresistibly Delicious

Muffins – Small, Delicate And Irresistibly Delicious

Despite the title, this includes not only muffins (les globe-trotters) but doughnuts (sweet and nourishing), bagels (the preferred patisserie of American breakfast), cookies (les petits fours à l’américaine), scones (well, almost), rolls and cakes as well. The recipes are split into several categories:

  • Fruity
  • Filled
  • Alcoholic (this is a French cookbook, after all)
  • Festive
  • Savoury

The fruity and filled sections have the normal, run of the mill recipes. Like courgette & banana, fig & carrot, chocolate & mint, spiced chocolate and papaya. Even the alcoholic and festive sections are almost ordinary. I mean, who wouldn’t want not one but TWO egg liquor recipes? But the true majesty of this book lies in the final chapter: Sablés.

Savoury muffin goodness ...

Savoury muffin goodness …

Excuse the page crease with the scan, but I couldn’t not show you muffins topped with salsa or fried bacon and onion, let alone salami. But the picture below shows you the jewel in this book’s horrific, jaw-dropping crown:

Nightmare Muffins

Nightmare Muffins

What looks like the bastard offspring of a charcutier‘s nightmare and a sausage roll are, in fact, “Muffins saucisse-fromage”. Of course they are. Huge chunks of Frankfurt sausage smothered in a batter impregnated with onion, leek, red pepper, paprika and cheese and baked until solid and sprinkled with chopped herbs.

I’ll leave you with that one …

I’m not sure why I love muffins so much, but I’ll take muffins over cupcakes and their acres of tooth-achingly sweet icing and mounds of vanilla-ish nothingness any day of the week. And I’m not talking shop-bought muffins either – all bicarb and grease and no trousers. Proper homemade muffins are right up there in the baked goods department – maybe its the texture (not too fluffy, not too dense) or the way you can mix and match flavourings and ingredients …

I also know that I have mentioned several times about my love affair with lemon (go Team Zest!), so it seemed only natural that when perusing my fridge for baking ideas and my eyes befell a partially sliced lemon that I decided that was for me. (I should point out that the main reason I made them was to use up half a pot of buttermilk left over from making these bad boys …)

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Muffins. I love them. Sweet or savoury, its all good. Surprisingly, I’ve only blogged one muffin recipe before now. Now we can make that two. Did I mention that these are insanely easy to make and the shot of intense citrus tang provided by the lemon curd is a wonderful treat! (I’m also imagining these with lime curd … eaten in the sunshine with something cold, zesty and alcoholic …)

This amount only made 6 muffins, but you could eke it out by making the batter wetter … or making smaller or less generous muffins than I did!

Ingredients

  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • Poppyseeds (amount dependant on how much you like them!)
  • 1 egg
  • Quarter teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • 125ml buttermilk
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Tablespoon milk
  • Lemon curd

Method

Preheat oven to 180C and line a muffin tin with muffin cases.

In a bowl mix the flour, sugar and poppyseeds.

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In a measuring jug, mix the egg, buttermilk, lemon zest and milk until blended. Add to dry ingredients and beat until just mixed. This will barely take a minute. Over-beaten batter equals dense and tough muffins. And nobody wants that …

Spoon in a blob of batter into each muffin case and top with a scant teaspoon of lemon curd. Cover with another blob of batter.

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until firm to touch.

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Leave to cool in the tin and try not to scoff all at once …

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I will be back soon with more recipes … Promise.

Two Dips – Blue Cheese / Butter Bean Hummus

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Who doesn’t like dip? With crudités, breadsticks, toasted flatbreads sprinkled with duqqa … The mixture of flavours and possibilities are almost as endless as your imagination. Here are two extremely simple ones …

Blue Cheese & Chive

In a bowl mix 100g blue cheese (today I used Bleu Auvergne), 2 tablespoons of plain cream cheese and 1 tablespoon of mascarpone until smooth and creamy.

Pimenton de la Vera

Pimenton de la Vera

Add paprika, black pepper and lemon (or lime) juice to taste. Snip in small bunch of chives and give a final mix to blend all ingredients. Chill to allow flavours to intermingle.

Blue cheese & chive dip

Blue cheese & chive dip

 

Butter Bean Hummus

Barely more complex than that is the butter bean hummus. (Possibly should point out that butter beans = lima beans, which are named after the city in Peru from where they were exported.)

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  • 1 x 400g can butter beans, rinsed, drained
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp mild paprika

Put all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Serve with a little coriander for decoration.

Butter Bean Hummus

Butter Bean Hummus

 

Passport to Appetency IV: June

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So I’m back in France for a week’s holiday. I promised myself that I wouldn’t spend much time indoors whilst the sun was shining, but I’ve been cutting grass and made some cake so I don’t feel too bad about writing up a quick entry here!

You may remember a post from January where I took some photos in a hypermarket of some bits and pieces … Somebody mentioned that the next time they’d like some picture of cheese. I have to say, dear reader, that I endeavoured to do so as there was an impressive display. However, the vendeuse kept giving me the hairy eyeball whenever I seemed to be doing anything remotely like get my phone out of my pocket in order to take a photo, so I only managed to get a few hurried shots. For this I apologise.

Not to be outdone, I did get some shots of some vegetables …

 

And some dried sausage …

And also some sweet stuff …

 

After the flight palaver and the shopping palaver had finished, made it home where my mum presented me with a gift: A book owned by my great-grandmother, given to her by one of her younger sisters.

Originally published in 1932, this copy was published in February 1943 and given as a Christmas gift in December of that year. How do I know?

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The book was written by Jessie Lindsay, who was Head of Household Arts Department, King’s College of Household and Social Science, and Helen M Tress, Lecturer in Household Arts, King’s College of Household and Social Science, Diplomee Cordon Bleu, Paris . Their website has this to say about Jessie:

Particularly prominent among academic staff was Miss Lindsay, Head of the Household Arts Department, whose expertise was in great demand among external organisations. Her many roles included examiner in Sickroom Cookery at St Thomas’s and Bethnal Green Hospitals, Cookery Examiner for both the Federation of Working Girls’ Clubs and the Girl Guides, and Examiner in Cookery and Dietetics for the London, Liverpool and Manchester Domestic Science Training Colleges.

Miss Lindsay was also appointed by the Ministry of Health as the only woman member of the Advisory Committee on Nutrition and as a member of the Institutional Diets Sub-Committee. In connection with this she carried out extensive work in diet balancing and menu construction, and acted in an advisory capacity to numerous hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. Miss Lindsay retired as Head of the Department of Household Arts in 1948, a post she had held since 1924.

Miss Jessie Lindsay

Miss Jessie Lindsay

The only mention of Miss Tress is as follows:

… who had been employed in the Household Arts Department since 1924, and resigned during the war to take up employment in the Ministry of Food, where she organised a nationwide propaganda campaign and was promoted to Head of the Food Education Division.

The introduction was provided by Professor Vernon Mottram, MA.

Of equal standing, within the Physiology Department, was Professor Mottram. A leader in his profession, Professor Mottram published several books during the 1920’s, with titles such as ‘Elementary Physiology’ and ‘Food and the Family’ becoming extremely popular. He also collaborated with Miss Lindsay on the principles of diet and cookery in her book ‘A Manual of Modern Cookery’, and went on to publish ‘The Properties of Food’ with colleague Miss Clifford. His work with Dr Hartwell on the nutritive values of white and brown bread was widely reported in the medical press, and his series of talks on food and nutrition were regularly broadcast by the BBC. Professor Mottram retired in 1944, having held the Chair of Physiology since 1920.

Professor Vernon Mottram

Professor Vernon Mottram

Its quite an interesting book – dealing with the why of cookery rather than the how – but Mottram makes an interesting point in his introduction which sets the scene wonderfully. He is talking about the 3 types of cook – the first is the “divinely inspired who never weigh anything and yet  can turn out a perfect meal”, the second is “the criminals who … spoil the best food in the best equipped of kitchens”, and the third are those who “usually muddle along in between”. Of these he adds:

This last class must have been largely augmented since the war by mistresses who, as the result of the dearth of domestic help, have had to turn to and do their own cooking.

It might just be me, but I can almost hear the bemoaning of a lost way of life.

Either way, I’m rather looking forward to seeing what the Misses Lindsay and Tress have to tell me!

And in the back of the book was an old recipe card …

So! That seems like a lot without actually being very much at all … More recipes to come over the next few weeks. I’ll try to space these out a bit to get my monies worth!

P.S. I can’t tell you how much I wanted to call this post “Passport to Appetency IV: The Wrath of Khan” …

Chocolate Sponge Cake

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One of my earliest memories of food, and certainly of cooking with my mother, was licking the bowl and the beaters following the creation of a sponge cake. If you’ve never tried it, raw cake batter is fantastic. Seriously. I’m not kidding. Yes, there’s raw eggs. Yes, there’s raw flour. But there’s something about the velvety sweet smoothness. So much so that I once lost half a cake mix through scoffing before it had made its way into the baking tins.

There are many ways to make a sponge cake, let alone a chocolate sponge, but this is the way most beloved by my mother – and therefore me – including a couple of extra tips …

Who can resist orange & lemon jelly slices?!

Who can resist orange & lemon jelly slices?!

For a basic (vanilla) sponge, the recipe is incredibly simple: 6oz each of butter, caster sugar and self-raising flour, 2 eggs and some vanilla extract. That’s it. For a chocolate sponge, simply replace 1oz of flour with 1oz of cocoa powder (more on that later) and a couple of other extras (more on those later, too) et voila!

I’m not kidding.

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So. Cocoa powder. This is not the same as drinking chocolate powder. Very important to remember that! Cocoa is a powder made from crushed beans of the American cacao tree. The beans are fermented, dried, roasted and turned into thick paste. The fat (which is where cocoa butter comes from) is removed. What’s left is then ground into powder.

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Ingredients

  • 6oz (170g) caster sugar
  • 6oz (170g) softened butter (or margarine)
  • 5oz (140g) self-raising flour
  • 1oz (28g) cocoa powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • Golden syrup
  • Cream

(You may have immediately noticed the extra ingredients there … The syrup counteracts the cocoa’s bitterness and adds an extra gloss to the mixture. The cream amps up the velvety goodness. Nothing is ever hurt by the addition of extra cream!)

Method

Preheat oven to 180oC / 350oF and grease and flour your tins. (I use two circular tins, 7″ diameter, if I’m doing what amounts to a Victoria sandwich – but one thing I’ve been baking a lot over the last few months is a sponge tray bake. For this I grease and line an 8″ x 10″ baking tin with parchment and simply cook for an extra few minutes!)

Floured pans

Floured pans

In your mixer (or by hand if you so desire …) beat together the butter and sugar until pale yellow and smooth.

Sift the flour and cocoa together and add in thirds to the batter, adding an egg between each amount of flour. I should add that cocoa has a habit of wafting out everywhere as soon as the beaters start moving (or you breathe) so a small tip is to thoroughly cover the top of your bowl with a tea towel until its all combined!

Once these have been combined, remove the bowl from the machine and give the sides a good scrape down with a spatula. Add in perhaps half-to-one tablespoon of golden syrup and about the same of cream, depending on how thick your batter is.

Chocolatey goodness!

Chocolatey goodness!

Whisk again for a few seconds until all combined.

Turn out into your pans and bake for 18-20 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean!

Once your cake has come out of hte oven, leave for 5 or 10 minutes to cool in the tin. Run a knife around the inside edge to loosen and turn out onto a cooling wrack. Once the cake has completely cooled you can decorate to your hearts content!

My chocolate sponges normally have raspberry jam as a filler and then buttercream icing on top – also usually chocolate – made from softened butter, icing sugar and cocoa powder – but you can use water icing, royal icing, put the buttercream in the middle with a layer of jam … go wild. Its your cake, after all!

Strawberries make a luxurious addition

Strawberries make a luxurious addition

Deb’s Mum’s Apple Cake (Smitten Kitchen Challenge 2)

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A mere two and a half weeks since the last SKC, I’m back with another try of one of Deb Perelman’s recipes. All in the name of healthy competition. Not in any way that I want to eat cake, you understand …

To change the subject slightly, after living here for a year I’ve finally gotten to grips with the garden. The last few weekends (i.e. every weekend in May) I’ve been buying plants and planting plants and digging up lawn to make new beds in order to buy more plants to plant them … You can see the vicious circle here, yes?

My mum feeds my new-found vegetative habit. So much so that when my father came over (my parents live in France, in case I haven’t mentioned this before …) instead of the normal delivery of fresh eggs, garlic, or other Frenchy nibbles I got half a garden centre’s worth of plants. Not kidding. But Saturday was spent on my knees (ahem – naughty). To celebrate the new garden, I invited some friends over to take a look. And due to commitments, it was a late afternoon visit – a perfect time for cake!

And when looking for a new recipe to make, I remembered the SKC and a lightbulb went off. As I was lovingly looking through the SK cookbook, I came across the recipe for “Mom’s Apple Cake” which fit the bill for both! Huzzah!

Follow the link for the basic recipe, but I made a few tweaks (some even on purpose) …

  • I added a small punnet of blackberries to the middle layer of apple
  • McIntosh apples? No chance … 7 of the best Granny Smiths the supermarket had to offer!
  • No ‘tube pan’ (aka Bundt tin), so instead I used a 9″ springform. Perhaps this was the reason that it was in the oven for very almost 2 hours instead of the stated 1.5 hours …
  • Because I do not check certain ingredients often (somehow thinking that the refill fairy comes without my knowledge) the tablespoon of cinnamon was more like a teaspoon or two (to the detriment of the overall flavour, unfortunately) and the 2.5 teaspoons of vanilla was possible only 2 at a stretch

I’ve never made a cake that used oil instead of butter for the fat content, and I have to say it was a little odd. It did remind me of a recipe that my mum was given years ago called German Apple Cake which was the same principle – fruit suspended in a batter and baked – but this batter rose. A lot. Perhaps it was the tablespoon of baking powder that went in it. Perhaps it was because my tin was both smaller diameter-wise and shorter height-wise. Perhaps it was fact that it was a Springform and not a Bundt tin. I have no answer to that.

Some of those could also explain the fact that it was in the oven 30 more minutes than expected, thus definitely adding a … caramelised element to the top (and by ‘caramelised’ I mean ‘carbonised in places’ – but still tasted like fruit!).

You say burnt, I say caramelised

I was a bit worried that it wouldn’t be cooked in the centre, but I have to say that it wasn’t half bad! I think with some further experimentation (and by that I mean basically tweaking it to actually fit the tins I have – heaven forfend I buy another tin) this could be spectacular. The fault for not calling it spectacular now lies solely with me and not the recipe!