A belated Christmas cake

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The busy run-up to Christmas is paved with good intentions, namely my intention to publish this post.  So forgive me for missing the boat a little with this one.  I think we can still consider this timely though, as many of us will have tin-foiled lumps of Christmas cake waiting for a cup of tea.

I would never try to better my go-to Christmas cake recipe – Nigella Lawson’s chocolate fruit cake.  I have made her cake for a least five years and partly what makes it so great is that it’s another of my favourite one-pot recipes.  You don’t need to make it weeks in advance as all of the delicious fruity, boozy, buttery ingredients are gently boiled together to mellow and release their flavours.  Not only does this make it scrumptious, it will also make your house smell amazing.

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So without further ado, here are the ingredients and method below. It’s a long list of ingredients I know, but worth it!  My only little tweak is the brazil nuts, which make the cake feel all hearty and wholesome and slightly good for you.  I also used brandy in my most recent version instead of coffee liqueur, but both are equally good and cointreau’s not bad either.

For Nigella Lawson’s chocolate fruit cake you will need:

  • 3 cups pitted prunes
  • 1 ¾ cups raisins
  • 1 cup currants
  • 50g candied peel
  • 175g soft unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown or muscovado sugar
  •  cup honey
  • ½ cup tia maria or other coffee liqueur (or brandy or cointreau!)
  • 2 – 3 oranges (juice and zest)
  • 1 teaspoon mixed spice
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 3 large eggs (beaten)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup almond meal
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • And if you’re like me, 1 cup brazil nuts

Put the fruit, butter, sugar, honey, booze, orange juice and zest, mixed spice and the cocoa in a big saucepan over a medium heat and bring it to the boil, stirring.  Simmer for 10  minutes and remove from the heat, letting it stand for 30 minutes.

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Meanwhile, warm your oven to 150 degrees celsius and get your cake tin ready.  You are going to line it so the baking paper towers up beyond the sides of the tin and your finished, prepared tin looks like it has an extra top layer of baking paper.

This may seem a lot of faff but I promise it’s worth it as without it, the top of the cake can be burned and tough.  There are more explicit instructions here.  In short, I find it works for me if I grease the whole tin liberally to start.  I cut out a circle of baking paper for the base and two long strips which circle around half of each side, and then plaster it all on, the side pieces first and then the base circle.  This is not the best picture, but I’m including it to give an idea of the finished product if that’s helpful and, like me, the idea of origami makes you balk a little.

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Add the eggs and all dry ingredients to the cooled butter mix and stir gently to combine.  Pour the mix into the prepared cake tin and bake for 1 and 3/4 to 2 hours, until the top is firm but shiny and a skewer inserted into the middle has a little gooey mixture clinging to it.

Cool in the tin.  It keeps for ages wrapped in a layer of baking paper encased in tin foiled. It’s not at all bad with a little nip of something!  And of course, it goes well with tea.

Keep safe and happy this Christmas season, wherever you are in the world.

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Irish soda bread

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You all know how much I love a good, old-fashioned cookbook.  So I was naturally delighted when this little gem, ‘The Cookin’ Woman: Irish Country Recipes’ arrived in my letter box, thanks to my little sister (Science teacher extraordinaire and blogger at Einstein’s Kitchen).

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It’s appropriate not just because I love unusual cookbooks, but also because my better half is Northern Irish.  Florence Irwin is the author, lauded as Ulster’s first travelling domestic science instructor.  She came to write this book after her expeditions throughout County Down. Her recipes include not only traditional fare and specialties such as dulse, but also suggestions for the modern-day cook such as the outlandish ‘imaginative and healthy vegetable dishes,’ and some household tips.

I myself would be interested to know quite how this little book found its way to this side of the world.  The original sales sticker on the back says it is from Four Provinces Bookshop (sadly now closed), 244 – 246 Grays Inn Road, London.  From there to Port Chalmers…who knows how that happened?

One of my favourite Irish treats is Soda Bread, or Soda Farl.  The leavening agent is baking soda, and the bread itself is dense and wholesome with a pleasant soda twang.

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Naturally, the Cookin’ Woman has a recipe for Soda Bread.  It’s surprisingly easy to make, being rather like whipping up a batch of scones, and it resulted in a delicious little loaf.  I am pleased to report passed the Northern Irish test – all gone rather quickly and washed down with plenty of tea.

You will need:

  • 1.5 pounds or 680 grams plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Approx. 3/4 pint or 350 mls buttermilk (I used plain yoghurt thinned with a little milk)

Preheat your oven to 375 Fahrenheit or 190 Celsius, leaving the tray you will be using for the soda bread in the oven to warm up.

Sift the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt into a large bowl.  Make a well in the centre.

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At this point, Florence becomes very firm on instructions to ensure a light loaf.  One is not to add it ‘drop by drop.’ Instead, start with adding about half the buttermilk to the well in the centre.  Using a knife, draw the batter from the sides and add more liquid as the batter thickens.

To ensure a light loaf, you don’t want it over-worked  ‘ragged’ in the centre.  And so I stopped mixing at about the point where it was lumpy and not to dry.

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Spread the warmed tray with flour.  Tip out the dough, dredge it in flour and knead lightly, tucking in the edges to form a circle as you go, and doing so ‘very lightly indeed.’  When the top is smooth, turn it upside down (to distribute flour to what is now the top of the loaf) and roll it to about 1 inch thick.

Cut it into farls.  Yes, I had to check this out too – ‘farl’ is an old Scottish word for quarter.

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Florence doesn’t specify a time, but just that one bakes it until it is ‘risen, nicely brown and cooked to the centre.’  This took my farls 30 minutes.

Delicious hot with butter and tea!

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Bacon and asparagus risotto

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It’s truly wonderful to be writing about asparagus.  The appearance of these little green spears of joy means it must be spring.  I’m sure you’ve all enjoyed my endless assault of stodge and apples as much as I have, but there are few things in life as heartening as these green signs of life presented to us after a long winter.

Risotto is a favourite dish of mine.  My husband describes it as a labour of love and one that he couldn’t be bothered with, because risotto takes a certain degree of patience as one gently stirs the rice and waits for the stock to slowly absorb.  But this is exactly why I love it – it affords plenty of contemplative time and an excuse to mooch around in the kitchen.

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I was inspired to make this particular little dish as I am taking every chance to make use of the all-too-short asparagus season, but spring being the perverse season it is, we are still getting some rather miserable days and cold nights.  Asparagus risotto is the perfect antidote – another chance to make use of asparagus, with all the heartening loveliness of risotto you need on those windy, nasty days.  The streaky bacon in this takes the savoury hit up a notch, but you could have it vegetarian-styles and it would still be rather tasty, I believe.

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This is what you need for 2-3 large bowls of risotto:

  • 3 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
  • 6 spears of asparagus, chopped
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1.5 cups aborio rice
  • 6-8 cups chicken stock
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper

Put your chicken stock into a saucepan and get it gently heated, perhaps the odd bubble but definitely not boiling.

While it warms up, put a heavy-bottomed pot or saucepan on low-medium heat.  Add the olive oil and let it warm up.

Once the oil is a little warm and swish-able around the base of your pot or pan, add the bacon and asparagus.  Cook it gently for up to 5 minutes, letting the asparagus soften slightly.

Tip in the rice and stir it around so all the grains are coated in the oil. When the rice grains start to go translucent, add a ladle of stock to the pot.  Stir until the stock has been absorbed, and then repeat with another ladle of stock, stirring until all the stock is absorbed.

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Repeat until the stock is all used up.  This process should take 20 – 30 minutes. Be vigilant and keep stirring throughout!  There is nothing worse than having your lovely risotto cemented all over the base of the pan.

Once your stock is all gone and your rice cooked you’re nearly ready to gobble.  At this stage, I grate in a liberal amount of parmesan cheese (I have not specified an amount because too much is never enough when it comes to me and cheese) and dot the risotto all over with butter.  Season as you like and give it another good stir, then serve immediately.

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Restorative date loaf

IMG_3770A friend in need is a friend indeed, do you think?  I don’t know the exact origin of this phrase (although the finger is pointed at a certain Quintus Ennius), but I do know that anyone in any kind of need can do with a tasty date loaf.  And if you are of my age and vintage in life, you may well have Placebo running through your head at the moment too.

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This recipe brings together a few of my favourite things: butter, brown sugar, and Bin Inn.  I won’t start up again about how much I love Bin Inn (I’ve done so on previous occasions, if you are desperate to know more), but I will say they do make a fine date loaf, on which I have based this version with a few of my own tweaks.

Knowing me by now as a somewhat lazy baker, you are probably not surprised that this requires very little effort and can be mixed up using only one bowl.  You have to chop the dates yourself, but I bet you could find pre-diced ones somewhere, and voila, even easier.

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I am taking this little number, all cutely dressed up, to drop over to a friend who is plagued by a most unkind virus.  I’m hoping my date loaf will bring a little solace, and if not, at least a little sugar.  So if you find yourself in need, give this one a try.

Take care until next time.

Restorative date loaf ingredients:

  • 1 cup dates, chopped
  • 1 cup Boiling Water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 cups plain flour
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 t ground ginger
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 
1 tbsp golden syrup

Line a loaf tin with baking paper and set the oven to 170 degrees celsius.

Place the dates, sugar, baking soda and butter into a large-ish bowl.  Pour over the boiling water and leave to cool.

Add the flour, cinnamon, ginger, egg, baking powder and golden syrup.  Combine and pour into the prepared loaf tin.

Bake at 170 degrees celsius for 45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

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Apple Coconut Flan by Edmonds

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How do you like them apples?  That’s how I feel I should be addressing you, because we really have had a lot of apply recipes by this point in the Edmonds A section.  But I love a good flan and this little number is easy and satisfying, so it’s worth a try if you like the sound of it.  d

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It all beings with a packet of Edmonds butter cake mix.  I haven’t bought cake mix for years. It gives me a little guilty pang and I feel like I should be making my own from scratch.  One of the last times I used cake mix was a formative baking experience back in the mists of time.  I had to produce a cake for Girls Brigade and Mum, sick with the flu and no doubt not feeling up to chaperoning a junior baker in the kitchen, bought me an orange cake mix.  I proudly presented the finished product to the family table and Mum, who probably wanted to eat anything else in the world apart from a vivid orange pile of stodge crafted by a 10 year old, gallantly rose from bed and forced down a bowlful.  Being the anxious kid I was, I decided then and there if anything happened to Mum I would always remember that moment.  Probably a little hysterical on my part (I always was a worrier) but it was a very touching moment nonetheless and I still appreciate her sucking it up for the sake of my feelings.

IMG_3652If you want to make this Apple Coconut Flan, you will need:

  • 1 packet Edmonds Butter Cake Mix
  • 1 cup coconut
  • 125g butter
  • 2 cups stewed apple
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

Set the oven to 180 degrees celsius.  Combine the coconut and cake mix in a bowl.  Edmonds offers you the choice of doing this by hand or with a food processor.  I don’t think you need a food processor, I did this by hand very easily.

Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  In another bowl, combine the stewed apple and lemon rind and put in the bottom of a greased, oven-proof baking dish.  Spoon the cake mixture over the apples, and then combine the water and lemon juice and pour this over the top.  Bake for 55 minutes or until pale golden and firm to touch.  You can serve this hot or cold.

The apple in my version caramelised rather charmingly at the corners of the dish and the coconut toasted up a little in the topping.  We had ours semi-warmed with some yoghurt and it went down a treat, I hope particularly for my Mum.

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Weekend brunch with feta scrambled eggs

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It started a sunny beautiful Saturday and how nice to spend it having brunch chez nous with old friends.  The majority of today’s spread was very traditional British breakfast fare….bacon, sausages from our excellent Ngaio butcher, some croissants and jam for a sweet, and a token green salad as I felt we’d best eat something from a plant.  I made sure we had a generous assortment of appropriate condiments, including my Mum’s excellent relishes and some H&P sauce in a nod to those at the table hailing from Old Blighty.

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I had eggs on the menu too, and to juice them up a bit, did my favourite feta scrambled eggs.  I’ve been inspired by the delicious feta scrambled eggs served up in mouth-watering perfection every time by the Ministry of Food.  I can’t promise my version to be as perfect as theirs, but I can promise it’s pleasingly reliable when you are looking for a little pep with your eggs.

You will need:

  • One egg per person, plus one extra for the pot
  • A splash of milk
  • About 1 tablespoon of butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chilli flakes
  • Approximately 10 grams of feta per person but don’t hold back if you feel you need more cheese
  • Fresh chopped herbs if you have them

Put a frying pan over moderately high heat and melt the butter.  Meanwhile, whisk your eggs with a dash of milk, salt, pepper and chilli flakes.

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When the butter is runny and bubbling, add the egg mixture.  There is a wide divergence in how one should scramble one’s eggs; my preferred method is to run a spatula or wooden spoon through the mixture, turning up sections as they cook and letting the uncooked mixture flow into the gaps.

When you have been doing this for a few minutes and the whole pan is starting to cook and solidify into chunks, add the feta.  I choose this point in proceedings for the feta, as this way it doesn’t melt entirely and you get pleasing, half-gooey chunks throughout the eggs.

This may be against the egg-scrambling rules; however at this point I turn up the heat and toss the eggs through the pan so they finish off cooking and are not too soggy.

Serve immediately and sprinkle with chopped herbs if you wish…the eggs picture are covered with my sister’s most lustrous fresh parsley, which she kindly gave me as part of the lovely big bunch of herbs pictured, as we are in our new house now and I have yet to return my parsley plot to past glories.

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Enjoy and happy eating!

Edmonds Apple Bread

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You may be a bit tired of my Winter and Autumn range of stodgy, warming things that include root crops and apples, and trust me, I’m just tired of Winter, but this is quite a pleasing little loaf and really easy to make.  Don’t be put off by the ‘bread’ in the title, it doesn’t involve any of that pesky rising or kneading and no yeast goes near it, it’s really more of a cakey loaf in a bread shape.

I would really love to bring you an interesting little history on Apple Bread, but truth is, I can’t find much (so anyone who can fill us all in would be most appreciated, comments below please).  Recipes for Apple Bread appear on a number of US-based sites for home-style or pioneer baking and sometimes it is referred to as Dutch, so perhaps this is where it has its origins.  I suspect its inclusion in the Edmonds book is because it makes good use of something that grows well in this neck of the woods  and is easy to whip up quickly, should you be caught unawares when Doris from over the fence pops over for a cuppa.

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I decided to bake this on a Monday night when I was in a bit of a frump (a cross between grumpy and frazzled) and it met the requirements of providing soothing sifting and mixing activities and a nice smell of baking throughout the house.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I find baking transforms a bad mood into a feeling of satisfaction and peace very quickly.

It only calls for a few ingredients, and all things you are likely to have to hand:

  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup grated apple
  • 1 to 1+1/2 cups milk, approximately

Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees celsius and grease a 22cm loaf tin.  Sift flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl.  Stir in sugar and add the apple and enough milk to make a smooth, soft dough, mixing it together quickly.

Place into the tin and bake for 1 hour or until the base of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.  You are instructed to wrap it up in a tea towel until cold.

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This makes a sturdy little loaf with flecks of apple throughout.  It’s very satisfying for breakfast, and particularly nice with a little butter or jam.  I suspect it would nicely with a little cheese or chutney too.

Happy eating ’til next time.

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