Rosemary Cake

Rosemary-Loaf-(5055)

I love herbs. They bring so much taste, zest and greenness in the kitchen especially during the dullest of months. They are generally used in cooking I know, but I was really intrigued when I was flipping through Nigella’s books and found a recipe for a cake with rosemary. And incidentally, after making this I realised that it is quite a popular dessert too. I do have a confession though: rosemary is not one of my favourites. I cannot pinpoint exactly why; maybe because of it’s sometimes soapy taste and woody texture, or it could be simply because of it’s pointy shape. But there’s an endless list of savoury stuff using this particular herb, and you can be as creative as you want. It is great with chicken, though lately I don’t bother with it and use sage or tarragon instead, which works great for me.

Now I must say here that this cake was not very popular among those who had a taste. The cake itself was fine, but the rosemary bit was not to everyone’s liking. I was not surprised, but I loved not only the taste, but the aromatic smell wafting through my kitchen while it was in the oven. So even if I scared you off at the start (really…I didn’t mean to) I would recommend you give this a go. You could always serve it with some raw fruit, or a fruit compote if it’s not your cup of tea when eaten on it’s own. So here’s the recipe, taken from Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess with minor variations. You need a loaf tin for this.

  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 210g self-raising flour
  • 90g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary, chopped but not too much
  • 60ml milk (I used semi-skimmed)
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar, set aside for sprinkling the top

Preheat your oven to 170ºC/around 350ºF/Gas Mark 3, and line a tin loaf with some butter and baking paper.

Cream the sugar and softened butter till everything is pale and light. Beat in the eggs slowly, preferably one by one, alternating with one spoon of flour.

Add the vanilla extract, then all the remaining flour. Now it’s time to add the rosemary.
To give the batter a slightly more liquidy consistency add the 4 tablespoons of milk and mix till it’s combined with the batter.

Pour your mixture into the prepared loaf tin and sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of caster sugar on top. Bake for approximately 1 hour, until a knife comes out clean.

This cake will keep well for several days if stored in an airtight container. Like all Madeira mixtures it is ideal for tea-time. Enjoy!

Rob x

Advertisements

Orange Muffins

Orange-Breakfast-Muffins-(5083)

I was taught that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But let’s be honest: how many times do we get bored with the same cereal day in day out? Countless are those times when I throw my hands in the air and simply give up! Too many times for my liking. Worse case scenario? One cup of coffee and that’s it. Not good enough. More often than not, whenever I can, I eat breakfast later in the day – I just cannot take it at 6 or 7 in the morning. So guilty as charged.

Even though I’m always up for a good English breakfast especially on holiday, I’m always looking for recipes which can be adapted or used as good options for everyday. People tell me that breakfast is the last thing on their minds at home, but when on holiday it’s the first thing they think about. Does this ring a bell? To me it certainly does.

If you look for breakfast recipes in this blog you won’t find many, but J’s pancake recipe is great for weekends, when we may have more time to potter about in the kitchen. However preparing pancakes everyday isn’t my cup of tea. So the following could be an option for you once in a while because you can prepare them a day or two before and keep them in a cool, dry place. If not they will go mouldy (it happened to me), but if you store them correctly they will keep for two to three days. These breakfast muffins are taken from Nigella Bites with minor variations. They are very easy to conjure up.

  • 80g unsalted butter, softened and slightly cooled
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 80g caster sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 100ml milk
  • 1 egg

Line a muffin tray with paper and preheat the oven to 200ºC/395ºF/Gas Mark 6.

In a large bowl mix flour, ground almonds, baking powder, sugar and the zest of an orange.

In a smaller bowl or a jug whisk the orange juice, milk, egg and the cooled softened butter together.

Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients folding it gradually until you have a lumpy muffin mixture. Don’t worry; this is how it should be.

Divide the mixture into your muffin cases. Mine yielded 11. Bake for 20 minutes and when cool enough to handle place the muffins onto a wire rack. These are best eaten while they are still warm, but they are still good if you choose to leave some for the next day! I would comfortable eat them with unsalted butter, marmalade or jam, or perhaps even top them with some glaze or icing. I’m really getting hungry now.

So, who’s up for a spot of baking? I am. Enjoy!

Rob x

Boozy Brownies

Whisky-Brownies-(4697)

Some months ago I was going through my pantry and noticed that I had a whole packet of unopened hazelnuts. That’s very me unfortunately. It’s no news that sometimes I tend to buy food stuffs without really planning ahead. I’m improving though…Honest! Solution: Twitter and the lovely James Tanner. James kindly sent me a link to his recipe for Chocolate Nut Brownies. I changed it slightly because I had to work with what I had in the pantry at the time but the result was fantastic all the same. I’m no expert when it comes to alcohol so I just put my hand in the drinks cabinet and grabbed the first thing that was in there. That turned out to be a bottle of Islay, which was a good choice. Also I used 300g of hazelnuts instead of the selection which James uses because that’s all I had. Anything you use will be great anyhow: one of the beauties of these rich chocolate babies. You will love them. James, thanks again for this recipe. It was a hit.

  • 560g dark chocolate, cut into small chunks
  • 330g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 2 shots Islay whiskey (or water)
  • 1 tablespoon of coffee granules/or a shot of espresso
  • 5 large eggs
  • 330g golden caster sugar
  • 175g plain flour, sifted
  • 300g toasted hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/Gas mark 4, and line a 2 inch deep, 12 inch square baking tin with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a small bowl over a pan of simmering water, and make sure that the water doesn’t touch the base of the bowl. Stir occasionally.

In another heavy-based pan, gently heat the whiskey (or water) together with the coffee granules until these dissolve.

With an electric whisk, beat the eggs and the sugar in a medium bowl, also over a pan of simmering water, until the double in volume. This is called a Sabayon or Zabaglione. It should turn light and pale. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Slowly fold in the melted chocolate mixture into the Sabayon. Be gentle so you retain all that lovely airy texture. Now mix in the hazelnuts.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes. Leave to cool slightly and cut into squares.

Note: If you don’t have an electric hand whisk you can still make these brownies but it will take *a lot* of whisking. But it’s not impossible. Take it from me – I tried and tested it!

Enjoy!

Rob x.

Q: What to do with left-over Shortcrust?

Xkumvati-(4503)

I get asked this question quite a lot, especially after posting the recipe for shortcrust pastry. I have one quick solution for you. Roll out the remaining pastry into a sheet and cut it into thick strips. Shallow-fry them in a little bit of vegetable oil and when they puff up and turn golden brown remove them from the pan. (Don’t be absent-minded here as they will burn easily. Happened to me countless times!) Place on some kitchen paper, sprinkle them with a bit of sugar (white or brown or whatever you choose) and a splodge of honey or golden syrup. They are yummy. Great for a pick-me-up or whenever you need some cheering up! Short but sweet.

Enjoy!

Rob x

Too much Salt.

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.

Rob x

Note: For a good guide for salt take a look at http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/treatments/healthy_living/nutrition/healthy_salt.shtml

Easy breezy pasta and rice.

Puttanesca Revisited (7034)

The school year has started and with it the gloomy weather. I don’t mind it really – better than the scorching heat. I’m no meteorologist (even though I’m known among friends to be quite the tornado buff), but seems to me that the colder weather is on the way, and this means one thing: baking party! I woke up hellishly early this morning and managed to do quite a few things, including baking some breakfast muffins and devoured one (yes…just one) while pottering about in the kitchen. Lately I’ve been into cupcake mode again so after I write this I’m off to chocolate cupcake heaven. I will not keep any recipes for myself, don’t worry.

Cumberland-Sausage-in-Tomato-Sauce-(4522)

In the meantime though I humbly wanted to offer a few tips to busy bees who have no time to cook. If rice and/or pasta is your thing then don’t fret and see if you like either one or both of the following. One is a classic puttanesca sauce. You need anchovies for this so I would give it a miss if they’re not your cup of tea. The other is something quick which you can throw together with some rice. (And no, I won’t go into how-the-pasta-got-its-name topic. It’s a classic story for a classic pasta dish. Some would even say it’s vintage.)

For Pasta alla Puttanesca you need the following ingredients, and will give you 3 to 4 servings.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 30g anchovy fillets, drained from their oil and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed or peeled very finely
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes
  • 500g spaghetti (or fettucine, I prefer the latter)
  • 400g polpa di pomodoro
  • 200g olives
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • pepper, to taste
  • about ¼ or so of pasta water
  1. Prepare the pasta water and let it heat up well to almost boiling point, or better still have some boiling water from the kettle to hand. You can cook the pasta while you are preparing the sauce.
  2. In a wide pan pour the olive oil on medium heat, and add the anchovies. Cook for around 2 minutes or until the anchovies have almost disappeared into the oil. Add the garlic and chilli and stir.
  3. Pour the tomatoes, tip the olives and capers and stir until the sauce has slightly thickened. Add pepper to taste. You don’t need salt here – you get plenty of that with the anchovies and capers, so go slow on that if you still think that you really need some!
  4. Reserve a quarter cup full of pasta water before you drain the spaghetti. Before serving, add the water to the sauce to thicken it slightly. Add the sauce to the pasta, toss and enjoy.

The second thing I find most convenient is a plain passata to which you might add some fresh basil and Cumberland or Chorizo Sausages. I don’t add any chilli here because the chorizo is already spicy. I make it a point to add a teaspoon or so of dark brown sugar to the sauce and a touch of Worcestershire (how you pronounce this is up to you – they are still undecided here anyway!) Toss this with rice and you have a heart-warming something after a day’s work. So uncomplicated, you don’t even need a recipe…and please…spare me the jokes!

Enjoy!

Rob x

Oven-baked Potatoes with Mushrooms and Herbs

Veggie-Baked-Potatoes-(4549)

I tried this quite a while ago while cooking with my mum in her kitchen a few weeks after Christmas. We turned simple potatoes into something nice, served with a juicy steak. I love cooking with my mama, and I’m happy to cook something for her once in a while. It’s the least I can do after so many wonderful meals she cooked for me. We made quite a few, had plenty of leftovers and gave some to my aunt who liked them so much that she ate one cold from the fridge. These keep well when cooled and is great for eating outdoors.

The quantities for this recipe are approximate; tastes differ from one person to another and not everyone likes loads of herbs or cheese or even mushrooms. So add or subtract whatever you want and experiment with different ingredients. Then you’ll end up with your personalised recipe. It’s very easy and you can figure out what I did from the photo. But here’s a guide. For the best result it’s better to get the largest potatoes you can get from the market. You need:

  • around 6 to 8 potatoes, boiled al dente (meaning ‘with a bite’, not ‘to the teeth’! Yes I’ve heard that!) and cut in half.

For the filling:

  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 6 mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 slices of bacon, chopped (you can use pancetta for a stronger flavour)
  • any herb that you fancy: I used some freshly chopped parsley
  • pepper, to taste
  • around 2 tablespoons of butter
  • around 2 tablespoons of milk

For the topping:

  • 12 slices or so of emmental cheese

In a pan prepare the topping by gently frying the onions, bacon and mushrooms in a little olive oil for a few minutes. Don’t cook them too much; the oven will do the rest of the cooking later. Set this mixture aside in a mixing bowl.

Once cooled, slice the cooked potatoes in half and scrape the middle into the same bowl, and add the parsley (or any herb you prefer). Add some pepper but no salt. You get plenty of this from the bacon. Add the butter and milk and mix. This is like making a fancy mash.

Once the mixture is ready and you are happy with the seasoning, scoop this into each half and top with the sliced cheese. Bake in the oven at 180ºC till everything turns golden. You can grill them if you prefer. Serve with steak or chicken and salad.

Enjoy!

Rob x

%d bloggers like this: