Monday, 17 November 2014

Spiced Apple Cake

Spiced Apple Cake

It feels almost as though everything I've been cooking and baking recently has involved apples. This year's crop has been spectacular not only for the quantity of the apples, but also the quality. There's been piles of huge, great, red-cheeked spheres all over the kitchen, awaiting their time to shine in chutneys, crumbles, pies, apple sauce. My fingers ache from peeling. 

Although the crumbles and chutneys have all been wonderful, my favourite use for this fragrant fruit however is apple cake. This year I have veered away from my usual recipe, dispensing with the walnuts which sometimes give a slightly bitter flavour to the cake. Instead, I've added muscovado sugar for a deeper, more rounded flavour and have upped the spices. The result is a lightly spiced, incredibly moist, delicious cake. I can't think of a time during the day when you wouldn't want a slice of this - breakfast, mid-afternoon, supper time - perfect.

As apples are still in season, I'm sending this over to Katie from Feeding Boys who this month is hosting Ren Behan's Simple and in Season challenge. 

 Simple and in Season

The spicing in this cake makes it ideal for this time of year so I'm also sending it over to Janie from The Hedgecombers who is this month's host of Tea Time Treats (Bonfire Night), a challenge she runs alongside original creator and host Karen from Lavender and Lovage.

Teatime Treat Linky Party logo


RECIPE

150g butter
90g caster sugar
90g muscovado sugar
180g self raising flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
1 teaspoon allspice
half a teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 eggs
3 medium-sized apples or 2 big ones, peeled, cored and chopped into small dice. 

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Grease and base line a round cake tin, 22cm diameter

Cream the butter and both kinds of sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Sieve the flour and spices and fold in to the batter.

 Add the chopped apples, stirring well to combine.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing the top.


If you want a slightly crunchy top, you can sprinkle over a spoon of demerara sugar just before it goes into the oven.

Put in the oven and bake for about 30-35 mins or until the cake is cooked and golden brown on top. It takes slightly longer to cook than a normal sponge cake because of the addition of moist apple.

Remove from the oven. Take the cake out of the tin as soon as possible (without burning yourself of course) and leave to cool on a wire rack.


Torta di Mela

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Gorgonzola and Leek Risotto

Leek and Gorgonzola Risotto

The garden is covered with golden brown leaves, the wind is whistling through every crack and crevice in the house and I can finally get back to wearing my beloved boots, hats and gloves - yes, it's autumn and I love it. It also means that I can start making risotto again; I know there are summery risotto recipes out there but really, for me, it's a cold weather dish.

This one, creamy with gorgonzola, is perfect for these increasingly dark evenings. Make it when you've got the kitchen to yourself - then switch on the lights, pour yourself a glass of wine and watch the wild weather outside from your warm, cosy haven, whilst stirring the risotto and contemplating life.

I am sending this to Speedy Suppers, the blog challenge hosted by Sarah at Maison Cupcake and Katie at Feeding Boysas the theme this month is cheese.


I am also entering my risotto (with extra leeks) into Extra Veg, a blog challenge run by Helen from Fuss Free Flavours and Michelle (Utterly Scrummy) and hosted this month by Emily from A Mummy Too

Extra Veg event

RECIPE
Serves 2 generously

2 leeks
50g butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 glass dry white wine
1 litre hot vegetable stock
250g carnaroli or arborio rice
120g Gorgonzola
10g parmesan, grated

Chop the leeks very finely. Melt the butter with the oil in a wide saucepan, add the leeks and cook gently until softened, being careful not to colour them as leeks can turn very bitter if they start to brown.

When the leeks are soft, tip in the rice and stir well so that all the grains are coated in the buttery juices. Turn up the heat to medium and pour in the wine. Keep stirring until it is absorbed.

Start adding the stock, a ladleful at a time, making sure it is all absorbed before adding the next, stirring all the while to make sure the rice doesn't start to stick.

The rice should be cooked after about 18 minutes (it should still have a slight 'bite' to it). You might not need all the stock or you may need a little more (you could just add boiling water).

Add the blue cheese, roughly crumbling it in and stirring so that it melts into the risotto. You can also beat in the parmesan at this point or you can sprinkle it over just before eating if you prefer.


Gorgonzola Risotto

Monday, 22 September 2014

Coppa and Rocket Pizza

Coppa and rocket pizza

Although I love my job, it's always a bit of a struggle to ease myself back into the routine of work after a long, pleasure-filled summer holiday. However, after several years I think I've managed to hone my techniques to ensure a smooth transition with minimal post-holiday trauma. Take clothes for example: going straight from the sandal-and-short wearing days of summer to full-on formal work wear is guaranteed to lead to a feeling of melancholy. A gradual change is needed, replacing first sandals with shoes, then linens with heavier materials and longer sleeves until by mid-September, you're back in suits and jackets as though you've never worn anything else. 

The other important aspect to consider is food and drink. In my opinion, September, like January, is not a good month for making any new resolutions regarding alcohol or healthy eating. If you are suffering badly from back-to-work blues, aperitifs and cocktails in the garden are a great way of getting back in a holiday mood, even when there's work the next day. Food should be fun and frivolous - don't make the mistake of going straight into winter with heavy, rib-sticking stews and roasts. 

This pizza is perfect for September. It's good for prolonging a holiday feeling but is also substantial enough to take you comfortably through the darkening evenings. This particular topping, discovered recently on a trip back to Italy, combines the meaty flavour of coppa (a bit like prosciutto but using a different cut) with the peppery tang of rocket. It works wonderfully well and has become my current favourite. If you can't find coppa, prosciutto works well too.

Teatime Treat Linky Party logoThe theme for this month's Tea Time Treats is Mediterranean and as savoury dishes are allowed, I'm sending this one along; the challenge is hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage and Janie (this month's host) at The Hedgecombers.




Please don't think that it's not worth making your own pizza. The difference between real pizza and store-bought is incredible, they're like two different things. Also, it's really straightforward, does not take hours of kneading and is very rewarding. You don't need any special equipment apart from a couple of pizza trays and a very hot oven. 

RECIPE (makes enough for 3 or 4 pizzas)

For the dough

450g strong white bread flour, plus more for kneading
7g (1 sachet) easy blend yeast
1 teaspoon salt
approximately 300 ml warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil

 Put the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl and pour in about 200 ml of the water and the olive oil, mixing with your hands. Be prepared to add more water but do it gradually - you don't want it too wet (although it's not a disaster if this happens, just add more flour until you can knead it without it sticking to everything). Start kneading by pushing the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, the fold it back and turn slightly. Keep doing this for about 10 minutes, it should feel smooth and springy when it's ready.

Form the dough into a ball and rub a little olive oil over the surface, so that it is lightly greased. Put it into a clean bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place for at least 2 hours, I've left it a lot longer than this and it doesn't seem to be a problem. The dough should more or less double in size.

When you're ready to make the pizza, preheat the oven to the hottest possible setting  (240°C on mine). Divide the dough into four roughly equal parts (you can weigh them if you want to be really precise) and roll each one out. It may seem far too small to fit into your pizza tray and it will keep springing back first of all but do persevere. If you don't want it that thin, you can divide the dough into three parts rather than four.

TOPPING (per pizza)

About 2 tablespoons of passata
125g mozzarella (I use the normal mozzarella for pizza, not buffalo), thinly sliced
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

After it's been cooked:
4 slices of coppa
a handful of rocket leaves

Lightly grease the pizza trays and stretch the dough to fit. Then cover with the passata (it should just be a very thin layer), a pinch of salt and a sprinkle of oregano. Add the cheese, drizzle over the olive oil and put in the oven. It takes about 10 minutes to cook but keep an eye on it as all ovens vary. After about 8 minutes, I take the pizza off the tray and slide it back directly onto an oven shelf for the last minute or two.

Put the coppa and rocket on the pizza after it's been cooked, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve.
Pizza

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Strawberry Vanilla Loaf Cake

Strawberry Loaf Cake

After the success of my strawberry muffins back in June, I've become slightly obsessed with using this fruit in baking. The heat works its magic on the strawberries, turning the already delicious flavour into a jammy, scented treat. 

I've spoken before about how much I love loaf cakes; deceptively simple, the best ones are moist, buttery and bursting with flavour. This recipe does not disappoint - beautifully textured, the strawberries and vanilla work so well together, resulting in loaf cake perfection. 

This cake is ideal for al fresco eating - it's got a bold flavour, it's easy to transport and even easier to slice and devour! So I'm sending it over to this month's Tea Time Treats Picnic challenge; the challenge is hosted by Karen (this month's host) at Lavender and Lovage and Janie at The Hedgecombers.

Tea Time Treats

As strawberries are still in season, I'm also entering it in to the Simple and in Season challenge, devised by Ren Behan and hosted this month by Elizabeth from the wonderful Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary.

Simple and in Season

RECIPE

125g butter, room temperature
160g caster sugar
2 eggs
175g self-raising flour
3 tablespoons buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
200g strawberries

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Grease and base line a loaf tin, 23 x 13 x 7 cm 

Wash the strawberries carefully, dry, hull and cut into quarters. 

Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla extract.

After weighing out the flour, remove one tablespoon (this is used to toss with the strawberries before adding them to the batter). Sieve the rest of the flour and fold in to the cake mixture. Mix in the buttermilk. 

Toss the prepared strawberries in the left-over tablespoon of flour (this prevents it from all sinking to the bottom during baking) and fold in to the cake batter.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing the top.

Put in the oven and bake for about 45 mins or until the cake is cooked and golden brown on top. It takes longer to cook than a normal sponge cake because of the addition of the strawberries.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 20 mins before carefully turning out and leaving to cool on a wire rack. 


This cake makes a perfect pudding eaten still warm from the oven, served with crème anglaise. As a cake, it's wonderful too and in fact tastes even better after a day or two - very handy for a summer picnic.


Strawberry Vanilla Loaf Cake

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Pea and Mint Soup

Pea and Mint Soup

A little morning ritual I've been enjoying in this gorgeous summer weather is having my breakfast espresso sitting on a bench in the garden, before heading off to work. I sip my coffee, listen to the birds, feel the sun on my face and survey the garden. 

The bench is next to my little herb corner so the coffee aroma from my espresso mingles with the heady smells of rosemary, thyme and mint. They all seem to be flourishing this year. Indeed, it was seeing that the mint was about to take over everything else that led me to make this delicious, summery, fragrant soup and although I was very liberal in my use of mint, it doesn't overpower the delicate flavour of the peas.

I am entering this soup into a few blog challenges this month:

Simple and in Season –  My Custard Pie (this month's host) & Ren Behan

Simple and in Season - enter your post on mycustardpie.com










No Croutons Required - Lisa’s Kitchen (this month's host) & Tinned Tomatoes













Four Season Food - Eat your Veg (this month's host) & Delicieux











Cooking with Herbs - Lavender & Lovage









RECIPE

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 spring onions
700 ml water
500g frozen peas
1 big bunch fresh mint 

Start by boiling the water (in a kettle if you have one). 

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the spring onions, roughly chopped (I use the white and green parts). Stir and cook over a gentle heat for a minute so that the spring onions just start to soften.

Add the peas and the just-boiled water. Stir everything together and simmer for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Strip the leaves off the mint and roughly chop. Add to the soup and continue cooking for a further minute or two. 

Using either a stick blender or normal blender, whizz it all up until you get the consistency you desire. I like it with a bit of texture. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with a few fresh mint leaves and a swirl of yoghurt or olive oil on top if you like. I usually eat this soup hot but it's also really nice cold. 

Pea soup

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Strawberry and Orange Muffins

Strawberry Muffins

It's been a beautiful June. I've been gorging myself on asparagus and strawberries, dining outside, going for long country walks and bike rides and sunning myself in the garden - bliss. 

I made these muffins this morning, for an al fresco breakfast. The strawberries were some that I had left in the fridge and were slightly past their best for eating normally. The buttermilk was also left over from a chocolate cake I made earlier in the week so satisfyingly, I was able to use that too. 

The muffins smelled wonderful as they were baking, the strawberries giving that heady, jammy perfume. The taste was exceptional, sweet and moist, balanced with a lovely acidity from the orange zest. 

As this recipe neatly used up some old strawberries and buttermilk, I'm sending this off to the No Waste Food Challenge. It's being hosted by Michelle of Utterly Scrummy Food for Families on behalf of Elizabeth's Kitchen.

I'm also sending this off to Four Seasons Food over at The Spicy Pear where the theme is the Colour Red this month. It's normally hosted over at Delicieux or Eat Your Veg.




Finally, I'm pleased to be entering it into a new challenge, Bake of the Week over at Casa Costello.


RECIPE 

225g plain flour
160g caster sugar
2 and a quarter teaspoons baking powder
half a teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
half a teaspoon of salt
250ml buttermilk
55g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
grated zest of one orange
1 egg, beaten
about 130g fresh strawberries, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarb of soda, and salt into a large bowl and mix together. I add the chopped strawberries at this point too because I found that if I added them last of all, they didn't mix in as well. Adding them at this stage means that they are evenly dispersed throughout the muffins.

In a separate bowl, mix together the buttermilk, melted butter, orange zest, and egg. Make a hole in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients in. Mix with a fork just until blended, being careful not to over mix. With a standard ice-cream scoop or a large spoon, scoop the batter into the prepared cases, filling them almost full.

Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown.


Strawberry and Orange muffins

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Chocolate Syrup Cake for £1

Chocolate Syrup Cake

When I read about Choclette's We Should Cocoa (WSC) challenge for May, I knew I had to try and take part. I'm often unable to participate in WSC but it's a much-loved and incredibly popular challenge and I always enjoy seeing what people have made. Choclette decided to really challenge everyone this month by asking us to make a chocolate cake for £1, in line with the current focus on global poverty. 

Like many others, I found this challenge quite thought-provoking and have really enjoyed doing the research for it. Again, like most people, I soon realised that my usual cake base of butter and free-range eggs was not going to be feasible, so I had to think about alternatives. I know that margarine costs a lot less than butter but it's something that I'm really not keen on using, so the only option was to use oil. I mean, I've used oil in cakes before but usually just vegetable-based cakes such as carrot cake and pumpkin cake. Using oil in a chocolate cake was something I'd never contemplated. I also had to buy the very cheapest option for all the cake ingredients otherwise I would never have been able to manage it. I based my recipe on one I'd seen on the BBC Good Food website which you can see here. 

The results were a revelation. The cake was really delicious. I mean, nicer than my usual standard chocolate cake and a cinch to make. When it came out of the oven, it was moist and tender-crumbed with a slightly crisp exterior, just begging to be eaten (and I did indeed sample it while it was still warm). It also lasted incredibly well, staying moist and fresh much longer than a butter-based sponge. Without any budget restrictions, I would have added some vanilla essence to the batter and maybe replaced the milk with buttermilk. 

I have to confess that the total cost of the cake came to £1.01 and that doesn't include the icing sugar on top but I am still quite proud of my results. I'd like to thank Choclette for such a great challenge; my outdoor cake photos were taken in homage to her wonderful garden photography.



I'm pleased to be able to enter this in Camilla (Fab Food 4 All) and Helen's (Fuss Free Flavours) Credit Crunch Munch challenge, hosted this month by Gingey Bites.



This is also making its way over to Vanesther at Bangers and Mash for this month's Family Foodies challenge (which she runs jointly with Louisa from Eat Your Veg), entitled 'Cheap and Cheerful'



RECIPE

Ingredients and cost breakdown
175g self raising flour (5p)
1 tablespoon cocoa (5p)
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (2p)
140g caster sugar (14p)
2 eggs (30p)
150ml sunflower oil (21p)
150ml milk (7p)
2 tablespoons golden syrup (17p)

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C

Grease and base line a round cake tin, 20cm diameter

Sieve together the flour, bicarb and cocoa into a large bowl (or the bowl of your mixer). Add the sugar and mix. Add the oil, milk, syrup and eggs and beat until smooth. 

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smoothing the top.

Put in the oven and bake for about 35-40 mins or until the cake is cooked and a cake tester comes out clean. 

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for about 20 mins before carefully turning out and leaving to cool on a wire rack. 


If you're not on a budget, you could also ice this cake but I have to say that with just a dusting of icing sugar, it was pretty much perfect.

Chocolate Syrup Cake