Category Archives: Vegetarian

Tea time cakes: Banana Nut Loaf

Banana-Nut-Loaf-(4645)

A couple of months ago I wanted to bake something light and fluffy for tea. I didn’t want to make another chocolate cake; that would have been too boring, even for my self-confessed love of the stuff. So I flipped through the books and found two lovely cakes. I couldn’t choose between them and I tried them both. On two different days in case you ask. The only problem was that when J processed the photos for me I couldn’t remember what cakes they were and where I got them from. Eventually J was the one who did the identifying; nothing out of the ordinary really – it happens. I need to improve my note-keeping…

The following is a recipe which I had in my notes for more than ten years now. It’s a good recipe for Banana Nut Loaf. You can make it quickly if you have people coming over for tea on a Sunday, you can whip it up for yourself and your family, and leave it in the kitchen for anyone who might like something sweet in the afternoon. The original recipe calls for wholemeal self-raising flour but I tried it with half wholemeal and half white once, and it still worked well. If you use plain wholemeal, then mix two teaspoons of baking powder with the flour. The recipe below is close to the one in the book but with a slight variations. It yields one loaf cake.

  • 125g soft butter
  • 230g soft brown sugar, plus 1 extra tablespoon
  • 3 eggs
  • 225g wholemeal self-raising flour
  • 50g dessicated coconut, plus 2 extra tablespoons
  • 15og banana, mashed
  • 125ml milk
  • 40g walnuts, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon mixed spice
  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4 and grease and line a loaf tin with baking paper. (Believe me, this will really keep the cake nice and moist so don’t skip the lining bit.)
  2. In a large bowl mix the softened butter, the 230g of the sugar, eggs, flour, 50g coconut, banana and milk. Whisk all the ingredients together but don’t over beat.
  3. Now spoon half of your cake batter into the loaf tin. In a small bowl use your hands to mix half the walnuts, mixed spice, the 1 extra tablespoon of sugar and the 2 extra tablespoons of coconut.
  4. Sprinkle half this mix on to the batter in your tin. Then carefully pour in the remaining cake batter. Smooth the surface with a spatula and add the remaining spice, nut and coconut mix on top.
  5. Bake the cake for around 1 hour, keeping an eye on it every now and then to make sure the surface doesn’t burn. If this happens cover it loosely with a piece of foil after 25-30 minutes. Check that the cake has cooked through by inserting a skewer or knife. It’s well worth the wait.

    Enjoy!

    Rob x

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Baked Conchiglie

Baked-Conigliette-(4641)

You know the drill: you go to the shops and buy something which is not one of your usuals. It has been a while though since I’ve gone on a shopping strike recently. Well not really…not a 100% because you can’t do that…but I had this packet of dried conchiglie lying around in my pantry not doing much. I got so tired of looking at it that I decided to use some of it.

There’s no denying that pasta and pizza are great for pantry clearing. They also come in handy when you’ve either forgot to do the shopping or when you’re too tired to think after a day’s work. The following is a take on an easy recipe which is very popular in Malta. Fact is that back home we love our food, baked dishes being some of our favourites. Baking with pasta or even rice is quick, practical and it’s the kind of food which you can freeze and reheat. It will also keep well for two to three days in the fridge. You can use other types of pasta if you like, but conchiglie give you bulk without having to pile up the pasta for decent thickness and presence. I like to make this in summer or when I don’t feel like faffing about with lasagne.

For this recipe, which serves up to 6-8 people (always depending on your guests’ level of hunger) you need:

  • 750g conchiglie, cooked al dente & drained

For the ricotta mixture:

  • 500g ricotta
  • 250g fresh spinach, steamed & cooled
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten

For the tomato sauce topping:

  • 1 -2 onions, chopped
  • 700g passata
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon curry
  • ½ teaspoon mixed spice
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • salt & pepper, to taste

For the cheese topping:

  • 50g grated Red Leicester, Cheddar or any other hard cheese you like
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4/350ºF.
  2. In a large bowl mix the cooked pasta, steamed spinach, ricotta, salt and pepper. Steaming the spinach is ideal if you don’t want a sloppy mixture. When you are happy with the seasoning, add the beaten eggs and mix everything until well combined.
  3. To prepare the tomato sauce, you don’t need to cook it on the stove. Just mix well your ingredients in another bowl.
  4. Spread a tablespoon of olive oil on the bottom of a rectangular ceramic or glass baking dish, and also spread a thin layer of your tomato sauce. Tip in the cooked pasta and ricotta mixture into the dish and spread evenly. Then spread the tomato mixture over the pasta.
  5. Grate the cheese all over and bake for around 45 minutes, but keep an eye on it once in a while. You could serve this alone or with some green salad.

    Enjoy!

    Rob x

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

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Cookies are not very difficult to make. It’s easy to bake a good quality batch at home, but I guess they can turn out bad if not made with care. As with almost all sweet things that need chocolate, it’s important to have a cool environment. I make these cookies regularly throughout the year but in the summer I just freeze the chocolate chunks or chips beforehand just to make sure that they won’t melt while I handle them. That did happen once and although they were good, the chocolate just melted in the mixture. Another thing which helps is to use chunks instead of chips. I can’t find decent sized chocolate chips here so I make my own. I place one or two 100g bars of the stuff into a plastic bag and bash it with a rolling pin until I get small chocolate cubes. I must admit they still end up being large-ish but the larger the chunk, the larger the cookie, so who’s in?

I tried and liked many chocolate chip cookie recipes, so what I will give you is the most recent one I came across and made. This is taken from Nigella’s Kitchen with minor changes. They are a treat. I managed to make a batch of 18 large cookies out of this. You’ll need:

  • 150g soft unsalted butter
  • 125g soft brown sugar
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, cold from the fridge
  • 300g plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 300g chocolate chunks
  1. Preheat your oven to 170ºC/Gas Mark 3 and line a couple of baking trays with baking paper or silicone sheets.
  2. Melt the butter either on the stove or in the microwave in short blasts. Be careful not to burn it. Put both sugars in a bowl with the cooled melted butter and whisk.
  3. Beat in the vanilla extract and the eggs till the mixture is creamy. Slowly mix in the flour and the baking powder and gently mix everything again. Now is the time to fold in the chocolate chunks.
  4. Using a small ice-cream scoop or a US ¼ cup measure (or your hands if you like and if they’re not too warm), drop the cookie mixture down onto your lined baking trays. Make sure you place them around 6-8cm apart because they will expand in the oven. Try to keep the cookie dough bowl in the fridge to keep it cool in between batches.
  5. Bake for around 17-18 minutes. Keep an eye on them and take them out as soon as their edges turn a little golden. Leave to cool for a while before turning them on a wire rack. Do not over-bake.

Note: Uncooked cookie dough will keep for 3 months in the freezer in an airtight container or sandwich bags. What I do is this: set aside a small batch of formed cookies on a tray and insert these in the freezer. When set, take them out and transfer them into a large sandwich bag. When needed put them back on a lined baking tray and bake into a preheated oven for around 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

Rob x

Random thoughts, books…and a recipe.

So, yesterday I made a huge mistake. J and I went to the University of Surrey for an event with Professors Jim al-Khalili and Brian Cox. No, that is *not* it…the mistake I mean. The interview was fantastic and we really enjoyed watching these two great minds discussing physics, music, broadcasting and the likes. What has all this to do with food? I didn’t have anything to eat before heading out and I was hungry. While waiting in line, J was tweeting away and I was deciding whether to leave the long queue to get myself a sandwich or starve for a couple of hours. A small sacrifice for the opportunity to watch your two heroes on stage, no? Yes. Then it was question time. After an hour of cheerful banter between the gentlemen, someone handed over to them a pile of questions for Prof. Cox to answer. The cards were in a sort of fruit bowl. Was it or was it not? I still have my doubts but that did it for me. So even though it was surreal to see the Professors on stage, I was not totally there. Pathetic of me, I know. Then someone asked Prof. Cox whether he liked Marmite. That’s what I would like (I thought): a big bowl of Spaghetti with Marmite (see Nigella’s Kitchen page 49). Here it is with some changes. The lesson is now learnt.

For 2-3 people you will need:

  • 250g dried spaghetti
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 1-2 tablespoons Marmite (depending on how strong you want the sauce to be)
  • freshly grated cheese, to taste
  1. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.
  2. Before you drain the pasta and when it is almost completely done, melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the Marmite and around 1 tablespoon of water from the pasta. Mix well.
  3. Reserve another ½ cup of boiling water, drain the pasta and pour the Marmite concoction over it. You could add some or all the water to combine this mixture if needed. Serve the pasta with some grated cheese.

Just a note: It goes without saying that this recipe is very salty. So don’t cook it too often if like me you tend to avoid salt.

(For whoever wants to watch the Brian Cox interview you can watch it now on the University of Surrey’s You Tube channel.)

I’m reading a number of books at the moment. It’s not always about cooking with me, but it so happens that right now I’m flipping through some recipe books and some biographies, one of which is A Taste of My Life. Raymond Blanc needs no introduction. He is a brilliant chef and a humble man with a great smile. He’s also a genius in the kitchen, which helps! In his BBC programme Kitchen Secrets I was completely amazed at the way he constructed an espresso cup filled with a coffee cream. Watch it here – it’s truly remarkable.

I’m about half way through Blanc’s book, so this is by no means a proper review. (And I won’t say anything bad. If a book is on this blog it’s only because I like it.) I love how he peppers the chapters with different recipes, some of which are derived from his childhood experiences with food. Some descriptions of are a bit too squeamish for me (eg. the pheasant incident on pg. 25) but I can live with them, and part of his mission is to raise awareness anyhow. So really, no harm done. J and I also liked the American guest and the lobster story. Now I would have loved to be there when that happened.

Another book which I recently got from the library is Cook by Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers. Now you’ve got to love Thomasina – she’s so cool! I cannot get hold of the book, unfortunately but I really wish they would reprint it once more. I would be the first to get it. I would have liked to see more food pictures (by now my readers know that I like to see the food before I try any recipes). However it’s a lovely book and it’s colourful – I can’t help but think of M&Ms every time I open it – and that’s a good thing!

Some recipes that I will definitely try include her Roast Chicken with Saffron Cannellini Beans (pg. 100), the Sicilian Oxtail Stew with Garlic, Chilli & Chocolate..yes, chocolate (pg. 91) and the Chocolate Ganache Tart (pg. 214), to mention only a few. There is a good selection of exotic flavours scattered here and there in her recipes but the food remains familiar. It’s a great book for all, especially those who love to feed big crowds without the extra stress. You can find Thomasina here.

Rob x

Lemon Cake – Part 2

Lemon-&-Almond-Cake-(4557)

Now there’s no doubt that Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess is full of good stuff. Somehow I find that her recipes here are more refined than those in her other books. To be honest I cannot pin point exactly why; to me they just are. Just try the next recipe, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s one of my favourites: Damp Lemon and Almond Cake. It’s not a flourless cake; you still need some plain flour for this, but if you like almonds like me, you will be completely smitten by this beauty.

If you want to learn from my mistake, I’ll tell you that it is essential that you use baking paper for greasing your cake tin. I didn’t and you can see that mine got a little burnt at the edges. (You will need a 21-23 cm springform tin.) What I can assure you though is this: it was delicious, especially with real vanilla ice-cream! You could serve it alone of course, or with some sort of lemon ice-cream or sorbet, but for me that would be a tad too much. You still don’t know which cake I like best…Let’s start:

  • 225g unsalted butter, softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 50g plain flour, or rice flour for a GF version
  • 225g ground almonds
  • ½ teaspoon almond essence
  • juice and zest of 2 lemons

Preheat your oven to 180ºC/Gas Mark 4. Cream the butter and sugar together well. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a quarter of the flour after each egg.

When these have been well combined, gently add the ground almonds, almond essence, lemon zest and juice.

Pour into a very well greased and lined round cake tin and bake for around 1 hour. Mine was done after 55 minutes so every so often please take a look at your cake without opening the oven too much. After 30 minutes cover it with a piece of foil to stop the surface from burning.

After the cake is done remove from the oven and let it cool for around 10 minutes in its tin. Then turn it out slowly onto a rack.

Enjoy!

Rob x