A good friend of mine sent me his copy of Stylist (The Nigella Lawson Edition) over the Christmas holidays. I read about it in the papers but I was away and when I came back to Surrey it was unfortunately too late for me to get hold of it. I was so excited when it arrived. After the chaos that was Christmas, I finally managed to sit down and read it from cover to cover. What a treat! I loved it. There’s loads of good stuff in there, among which are some useful book reviews. With not much persuasion I ordered one of the titles: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. It’s been published for quite a while now so it’s not a new book, but apparently it’s one of the best food memoires out there so it’s a must-read. It should be a fun read too. I also have some more books lined up but I’ll start with this one. I ordered it yesterday and it should arrive soon…Or so I hope.
I love food, but let’s be honest, there are things that I don’t like to eat (or drink for that matter) that much. One of these is tea…I just can’t take tea. I don’t like the smell and I don’t like to prepare it. I do sometimes for J if that counts for something. I know that you will forgive me for this one small thing anyway! Another pet-hate of mine is raisins. Yes I know…I know…how can I not like raisins?! Believe me I would change this if I would! I bake with them often though, because they are a must-have in a lot of cakes and so on, and they’re so Christmassy too! So I do have a little taste every now and again.
Now I must tell you that this year I’ve decided to approach Christmas food in a different way. I did not make a Christmas cake because it takes us until July to eat it all, and frankly, Summer is no season for a cake that rich! Secondly we’re only two people at home so I don’t want to end up with loads of leftovers in the fridge. But we might have some friends over for the holidays so I don’t want to skimp either. After one of the joys of Christmas is being able to feed people and prepare a feast, even on a budget. I’ve already tried all my recipes so I feel prepared and I am so looking forward to this year’s festivities.
Recently I’ve come across a recipe from Nigella’s HTBADG for a Coca Cola Cake. Please don’t be frightened and don’t panic because there’s absolutely no reason to! You don’t need much and it’s there for a reason: it makes your chocolate cake so moist and wonderful that you won’t want to look back and do it any other way. I promise! It’s quick and easy to prepare as always and it’s a great bake for this period of the year, when it’s likely to have people visiting at short notice. (I love having people over; if I were still in Malta I think I would set up camp in my kitchen!) Storing this cake in foil in a cool place will keep it beautifully moist and fresh for around three to five days. But you can forget about that because it’ll be gone by two! Enjoy and tell me what you think if you do try it.
Things you will need for the cake:
- 23cm Springform round cake tin, lined with kitchen foil, then greased.
- 200g plain flour
- 250g caster sugar
- ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
- 1 large egg
- 30g yoghurt mixed w/ 100ml semi-skimmed milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 125g unsalted butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 175ml Coca Cola (Please – not diet!)
Ingredients for the icing (optional but hey it is Christmas!):
- 225g icing sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 x 15ml tablespoons Coca Cola
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat your oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4, and place a baking sheet on the middle shelf. In the meantime prepare the cake tin by lining it with kitchen foil and grease it will a some butter so nothing sticks. You can use this foil to store the cake in, away from anyone who might want to eat it all!
- Take a large bowl. Put in the flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda and mix. In a measuring jug beat in the egg, yoghurt, milk and vanilla extract. Grab a saucepan, put it on gentle heat, and melt the softened butter, cocoa powder and Coca Cola. Pour this cola mixture in the dry ingredients, mix well with a wooden spoon or a whisk. Then pour in the ingredients from the measuring jug. Combine everything well and pour the batter into the cake tin.
- Place the tin on the baking sheet in the oven and bake for approximately 40 mins till a skewer or a knife comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool for around 20 minutes in its tin, and in the meantime prepare the icing.
- In a small saucepan place the butter, Cola, and stir on a gentle heat till the butter has completely melted. In a small bowl, sieve the icing sugar. When the butter has melted, switch the heat off and remove the pan onto your kitchen surface and add the vanilla. Gradually spoon the icing sugar into the saucepan beating well as you go along. You should end up with a spreadable icing which will still be a bit runny. So don’t worry.
Pour this icing while the cake is still warm. It will melt slightly but it adds to the gooey yummy-ness of this cake.
If you want to turn it up a notch, bake two cakes, spread some of that yummy hazelnut spread in between the two, sandwich them together and ice as usual!
You know you have a winner when you cook something again and again without minding that much. This is one of my go-to recipes whenever I don’t want to think about fancy dishes or when I’ve had a tiring day. There is some prep work involved and some stirring, but you could always get someone to help with that! You can use a mixture of fresh mushrooms and it’s even better with some dried porcini soaked in a little hot water. (Don’t even dream of using the canned stuff, and if you do please don’t tell me.) I like to use chestnut mushrooms because they are tastier than the white button mushrooms. (I don’t buy porcini often!) Anyhow, you will get more flavour from the grated cheese and fresh parsley later. This is a simple but delicious winter dish. Serves 4.
- 250g chestnut mushrooms, chopped
- 250g arborio
- knob of butter (approx. 25g)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed
- 1 teaspoon mixed spice
- 1 litre hot vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
- 2 tablespoons grated cheese (Pecorino or Parmeggiano)
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
- Pour the olive oil and butter in a large-ish saucepan and add the onions, garlic and mixed spice. Stir until everything is coated by the melted butter.
- Add the arborio and 1 ladle of stock, and stir until this is absorbed by the rice. Continue to add 1 ladle full to 2 of vegetable stock at a time while stirring often. Add the mushrooms when you have used around half of the amount of stock. When you have finished adding the stock and the rice has absorbed it you should end up with a creamy consistency. If it is too dry try adding more stock.
- Remove it from the heat, add the grated cheese and parsley and mix these into the rice. Call everyone to the table and serve at once.
A note on something completely different: I will be away for a couple of weeks, but will be back with some new recipes as soon as I’m back in Surrey, just in time for the run-up to Christmas. Enjoy!
During the first weeks of summer I read somewhere that Rick Stein was publishing a book about the food of Spain, to accompany his series by the same name on BBC2. What a treat! Excellent. I bought it and then…ta-da…I read that he was going to do a book signing in Guildford. Even more…excellent! So I did a thorough read of most of the recipes in the book and counted the days. In the meantime J and I moved to a new place and J’s dad flew in to help us with this move. In all the excitement I got sick. Typical. Not even the flu jab worked. As I resigned myself to the fact that I was only in possession of a mere unsigned copy, J offered to go to the town centre and get it signed for me. So sweet. So as I lay on the couch, fever going up and down driving me crazy, J was having all the fun, standing in a long queue/line, clutching my precious book. Mr. Stein kindly signed my book, commenting to J that it was heavily annotated or something like that. I like Rick’s simple but creative approach to food. Pity I didn’t get to meet him.
So inspired by Rick’s book Spain, I tried an accompaniment – not the usual first recipe to try from a new publication, but it appeared good on paper and I decided to give it a go. It’s not a main meal I think, but it makes a good snack for a BBQ or a picnic – hot or cold, your choice. A very simple but very tasty dish, with some variations peppered here and there. You could leave the pancetta out if you’re vegetarian, but for me it would have that something missing, if you know what I mean. And it’s one way of making J eat more veg! Here it goes.
- 230g green lentils, cooked as per packet instructions. (Don’t throw away the cooking liquid.)
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 whole head of garlic, peeled and sliced
- 2 smallish onions, peeled and chopped
- 200g carrot, peeled and finely chopped
- 100g pancetta or back bacon
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 large tomatoes, chopped
- 120ml white wine
- 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
- salt and pepper, to taste
Cook the lentils, use a sieve on a bowl to reserve the cooking liquid, and set them aside. Pour the olive oil into a wide and shallow pan and warm it through. Add the chopped garlic, onions and carrots and cook over medium heat for around 15 to 20 minutes, when the vegetables are softened.
Add the pancetta or bacon and toss it with the vegetables for 5 minutes. Time to add the paprika, tomatoes and wine, and let everything simmer happily until the liquid is reduced and slightly thickened.
Topple the cooked lentils and 150ml of the reserved liquid into the pan. Add the parsley, some salt and pepper to taste, let these simmer for 5 minutes and serve. Serves 6-8 people easily.
J and I have just arrived back from a brief holiday in the Lake District. Those who know us know that we love the Lakes, especially in good weather. This year, weather-wise, it was not good. We cancelled two days of camping and chose to head up north on Wednesday instead to stay in the tiny village of Seatoller in Borrowdale. That was a great choice: the valley was lovely with beautiful views all around, but with low clouds, mist and the heaviest rain we could barely walk. I could be exaggerating just a little bit but it was too soggy for my taste. We did manage to enjoy some walks here and there, and we went to our favourite little towns of Keswick, Hawkshead and did all the tourist things, among which was a visit to Hill Top, a farm which once belonged to Beatrix Potter. But I seriously digress…
Though this actually brings me to something I wanted to write about for quite a long time now. I don’t want to be a nag because no one likes that, myself included. But this has been bothering me. On to another story then! (Sorry…) While we were in Hawkshead we decided to have some coffee and cake from a quaint local teashop. Quaint is only the word J used to describe it, since it was really girly, but later he told me he felt squeamish when he saw it. Their chocolate cake seemed so delicious in the display area so that’s what I ordered. Result: it was so-not-delicious! It was dry and had too much salt in it for my liking – so I ask this: what is it with people’s obsession with chocolate and salt? There is no doubt that we are eating too much salt. Now this comes from someone who loves salty things – I could eat a whole tin of anchovies if given the chance. I say it because I would be the first one to put my hand up because I’m guilty too, even though I’ve given up on the anchovy-tin-bit quite a few months ago. Sad I know, but true! Thankfully these days many food stuffs have labels that indicate how much salt or sodium (they are different) you can find in that product. They make life a teeny bit easier.
I am trying to reduce salt in my cooking. I didn’t take it away completely because I need it. We all do. I still wash the beans from a tin to remove all those salty preservatives. More so after watching a celebrity chef on tv throwing the beans plus + the horrible goo into his dish = yuck! But salt in sweet things…*mm…let me think*…is not a good idea with chocolate. I just don’t like it, and I prefer to use herbs and spices, and pepper of course to season savoury stuff. I am no chef I know that. I’m a simple home cook and people are partial to different kinds of food – I know that too. But the fact that we should go slowly with the salt mill is well-known. Nothing new here. I won’t go into any health issues – we’re getting that everywhere and a lot lately and frankly you know the drill. I just want less salt in my sweets. Where can I get a decent saltless bar of chocolate? I wonder if that’s a lot to ask.
Note: For a good guide for salt take a look at http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/treatments/healthy_living/nutrition/healthy_salt.shtml