Friday, 14 December 2012

Snow Topped Spice Cake

This is a really good cake as an alternative to Christmas Cake. It doesn't contain dried fruit, is very soft and light, yet really Christmassy with the spices. I've made it a few times, and each time it has been really successful.

It's a Nigella recipe from How to be a Domestic Goddess.

Snow-Topped Spice Cake

4 large eggs, separated, plus 2 extra large egg whites
125ml vegetable oil
125ml water
2 tbsp runny honey
200g dark muscovado sugar
75g ground almonds
150g plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp all-spice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
zest of 1/2 an orange
100g caster sugar

250g royal icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180c.
Whisk together the yolks and oil, then add the water, honey and dark muscovado sugar. Add the almonds, flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt, spices and zest, folding in gently. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and then gradually add the caster sugar. Fold the whites into the cake mixture, and pour into a well buttered 25cm Bundt tin. Cook for 45 minutes, or until the cake is springy on top and beginning to shrink away from the edges. Let the cake cool in its tin on a rack for 25 minutes before turning it out.

When the cake is completely cool, make up the icing. You want it to be pretty thick, or it will disappear into the cake. Drizzle the top of the cake with the icing.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Chocolate Peppermint Brownies

I love the combination of chocolate and peppermint, so I decided to give my regular brownies a Christmassy twist today with the addition of peppermint icing. I had recently bought some paste-style food colouring, and I wanted to try it out, so I combined the two.

I used the Chocolate Brownie recipe in Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess which is not on her website, but I imagine any brownie recipe would work. As I don't eat nuts, I leave the walnuts out, and I don't know how well nuts work with peppermint, so I would stick to a plain chocolate brownie.

I then made up plain glace icing, with about 300g icing sugar and 6 tablespoons of hot water. I then added half a capful of peppermint flavouring. I reserved about two tablespoons of the white icing, and spread the rest over the brownies. I then used my red food colouring to dye the leftover icing a candy cane pink, which I piped in stripes across the brownies. To hide my terrible icing, I 'feathered' it using a skewer.

The final combination works really well!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Orange Princess

This pudding - and it is definitely a pudding, rather than a dessert - is based on Queen of Puddings, but is made with oranges rather than the layer of jam. It's really a very simple and economical pudding, being based on breadcrumbs, eggs and milk, and even with the meringue, nicely uses up the whole egg. My recipe is from the Dairy Book of Family Cookery, surely an 80s classic, which I think you used to buy from the milkman. 


300ml milk
1 orange
15g butter
75g caster sugar
50g breadcrumbs (white is best)
2 eggs, separated

1. Heat the milk and butter together, and grate in the zest of the orange. When the butter has melted, stir in 25g of sugar and the breadcrumbs. Stir in the egg yolks.

2. Pour into a buttered 1 pint ovenproof dish. Bake in the oven at 170C for 20 minutes. 

3. Remove from the oven and cover with slices of the orange.

3. Whisk the egg whites until stiff then fold in the remaining 50g sugar. Pile the meringue over the pudding.

4. Brown quickly in the oven. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Bread making for date night

Since we've had a baby, we have instigated a regular date night. This is an at-home event; we can't have babysitters every week! However, it is really good fun, and allows us to have a child-free time where we can focus on each other.

My husband has added a twist to date night: each night must be themed alphabetically. So last week, he took 'A', and we ate alphabet spagetti, asparagus, artichokes and amaretti biscuits. This week, I took on 'B.' Our menu included Beer and Beef Pie, beans and broccoli, and Baked Alaska. I'll hopefully post about the dessert later.

Our activity was bread-making - well, bread shaping. I made the dough in the breadmaker, and then we shaped our loaves when my husband came home from work. They proved while we put the baby to bed, and then we baked and ate them with our meal.

I egg-washed mine; my husband's rolls are more rustic!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Batch cooking for Baby: Asian Salmon

I discovered Pinterest a few months ago. You can see my boards here. One of the first collections of recipes I found was a link to freezable dinners at What's Cookin, Chicago? This is a really good collection of recipe links which can be organised in advance and put in the freezer for when you need them.

One of the recipes I tried was Asian Salmon. You put the salmon fillets in a Ziploc bag, add the marinade ingredients, and then freeze it. When you're ready to eat it, you defrost it in the fridge, thereby marinading the salmon, and bake in the oven. Easy, but most importantly, delicious. I rarely make recipes where you have to marinade things, because I don't have the time, and I'm not organised enough to sort it out in the morning. 

Of course, you don't have to make this just for the freezer. You can let it sit in the marinade for 20 minutes or so before cooking straight away. You can also make this with frozen salmon, just don't let the salmon defrost before you put it back in the freezer in its marinade.

Asian Salmonrecipe adapted from What's Cookin', Chicago.
2 salmon fillets, skinless and deboned1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard2 tablespoons soy sauce3 tablespoons olive oil1 clove garlic, crushed

Put the salmon fillet into a Ziploc bag. Add the mustard, soy sauce, olive oil, and garlic. Mix it up a bit, but don't worry too much. Place the bag in the freezer, clearly labelled and dated.
To cook:
Place defrosted marinated fish on parchment lined baking sheet, and bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, or longer depending on thickness. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 2-5 minutes. before serving. Serve with rice and steamed vegetables.

    Tuesday, 24 July 2012

    Batch cooking for baby: Lasagne

    My lasagne is okay. Not great or amazing, but okay. I'll post the recipe below, but I thought I'd take the opportunity to link you to Felicity Cloake's Perfect... series that she writes for The Guardian. Ms. Cloake takes a classic recipe and compares versions from across the world, and, perhaps more interestingly, from different food writers. Even if you don't like the original, it makes for fascinating reading.

    So, back in November 2010, Ms. Cloake wrote about the Perfect Bolognese. Apparently, white wine, not red, chicken livers and milk are key ingredients for bolognese sauce.

    I have always made my sauce for bolognese and lasagne in exactly the same way. However, in November 2011, Felicity experimented with the various components which make up the Perfect Lasagne. Here, she found that red wine, rather than white, was important, and, interestingly, a white bechamel, with parmesan added on the top, were the keys to the perfect lasagne. The chicken livers stayed. I have to admit, I haven't tried making either bolognese sauce or lasagne with chicken livers yet.

    This is what I would call an 'everyday' lasagne. Lasagne is a brilliant family dish, and pretty much guaranteed to make my husband happy, if it's served alongside some salad and perhaps some ciabatta bread. However, an authentic lasagne takes hours to cook, and I didn't have that much time. This probably takes about an hour, start to finish.

    My Lasagne Recipe

    Ragu sauce
    1 carrot
    1 onion
    1 stick of celery
    2 tbs Olive oil
    3 cloves garlic
    500g minced beef
    3-4 rashers bacon
    1 tbs tomato puree
    2 tsp Italian herbs
    Optional: Mushrooms and peppers if you want to up the vegetable content
    2 tins tomatoes
    Red wine if you have it
    Worcester sauce

    Bechamel Sauce
    50g butter
    50g plain flour
    600ml milk
    200g Cheddar cheese or a mixture of cheddar and parmesan

    9-10 sheets of dried lasagne pasta

    1. Chop the carrot, onion and celery very finely. Fry in olive oil gently in a large saucepan, to soften rather than colour. Add the garlic, crushed. When the vegetables are starting to soften, add the minced beef in small pieces, allowing them to break up and brown. Add the bacon, chopped into small pieces. Add the tomato puree and italian herbs and stir well. At this point, if you want to add mushrooms and peppers, chopped fairly small, do so.

    2. Add the tinned tomatoes to the saucepan, along with 100ml of red wine, and worcester sauce to taste. Season generously, and let simmer while you get on with the bechamel sauce.

    3. Melt the butter in another saucepan over a medium heat. When it has melted, turn the heat down, and whisk in the flour. When the butter and flour are smoothly combined, add in the milk, gradually, and whisking all the time. When all the milk is incorporated, turn the heat up and bring to the boil, allowing the mixture to thicken. Keep whisking all the time to avoid any lumps. Grate the cheese and stir it inot the sauce. Grate some nutmeg over the sauce.

    4. Arrange the lasagne in your dish. The best way I have found is to have a third of the meat sauce, then a layer of pasta, then a layer of the white sauce. Repeat this, so that you have a layer of sauce left over at the end to finish it off. 

    5. Bake in an oven at 200 C for around 40 minutes. Serve with salad and ciabatta bread.

    Freezing notes: I assembled this in 3 small dishes and cooked them for around 20 minutes each. To cook for eating, defrost and then cook in a hot oven for 25 minutes.

    Thursday, 5 July 2012

    Batch cooking for baby: Salmon and Dill Potato Bake

    We're expecting a baby in August. We're also having our kitchen completely redesigned and re-fitted. All of this upheaval, not surprisingly, turns my mind to meals. I'm quite good at meal planning now, but I also know how invaluable it can be to have something convenient stashed away in the freezer, ready either to be cooked from frozen, or defrosted without any additional preparation needed.

    I've done a fair amount of cooking now, and the freezer is gradually being stocked up. So I thought I'd collect some of these recipes together.

    This was adapted from a recipe from, and the first batch was absolutely delicious.

    Salmon and Dill Potato Bake


    4 skinless salmon fillets
    600g potatoes
    200g baby spinach
    1 onion
    1 lemon
    50g butter
    50g flour
    500ml semi-skimmed milk
    15g dill


    Peel and slice the potatoes. Put them in a large saucepan of cold water and bring to the boil. Allow to boil for 10 minutes. Drain and set to one side.

    Chop the salmon fillets into small chunks. Chop the onion, and combine in a bowl with the salmon. Wilt the spinach, by pouring boiling water over a colander full of the spinach. Drain well, and add to the salmon and onion. Zest and juice the lemon and add to the salmon mixture.

    Make a white sauce, by melting the butter and then whisk in the flour. Cook for one minute, stirring well. Gradually add the milk a little at a time. Bring to the boil, whisking, and allow the sauce to thicken. When the sauce has thickened, add the dill, finely chopped.

    Pour the sauce over the salmon mixture and stir gently to combine. Transfer to an ovenproof dish - I used the foil take-away style dishes from the supermarket.

    Layer the potatoes on top of the salmon mixture. You can freeze the dish at this point. To cook, make sure the bake is thoroughly defrosted, and dot the potatoes with butter. Bake in a preheated oven at 200C, for 45 minutes, or until piping hot throughout.

    Friday, 24 February 2012

    Gardening Dreams

    Yesterday was a really beautifully warm day. I've designed my garden plan, ordered my seeds and a brand new windowsill propagator, and I couldn't wait to get started. Except... my seeds haven't arrived yet.

    Nevertheless, there were still signs of Spring all around.

    The chives were springing up, and the parsley has miraculously survived the winter!

    Crocuses were opening in the flower bed and tulips were pushing up their green spikes.

    Another winter miracle, my Romanescue broccoli, seems to be producing a flower head. It did nothing all last Summer, and I was too lazy to dig it up. Do I dare home my laziness might reward me?

     The Swiss Chard is coming back to life after the frost.
     And the rhubarb is pushing through! I had to search hard for this one!

    Thursday, 23 February 2012

    Cookie Monster Cupcakes

    It was my husband's birthday yesterday. Last week, he sent me an email, with a birthday request: Please could I have these for my birthday? He'd found a photo of cookie monster cupcakes on the Internet, and thought they were the coolest cakes ever.

    It so happens that his birthday coincided with my half term, so I have had some extra baking time this week. So I spent some of this time making the requested cupcakes.

    The recipe starts, confusingly, with the decoration. I melted white chocolate and dropped it onto parchment paper to make the eyes. When these were set, I then melted dark chocolate and dripped it onto the eyes. I then dyed some coconut (approximately 200g at a guess) blue with food colouring. I spread this out onto a tray on greaseproof paper to dry.

    For the sponge cupcakes, I used the recipe here:, which uses natural yoghurt. I'm not sure about the science of it, but they taste really good, although I omitted the poppyseed. I didn't think they would work with the coconut.

    When the cakes had cooked and cooled, I used more blue food dye (to make 12 cupcakes, I used 3/4 of a bottle) to dye some buttercream icing.

    The comes the tricky bit: the assembly. You spread the icing onto the cupcakes, quite thickly. Then, working quickly, you turn each cupcake over and dip it in a bowl of the blue coconut, so that it sticks to the icing. When I had done this, I put them into the fridge to cool and set a bit. Then you need to cut a mouth out - and I needed to actually remove a chunk of cake. I halved some smallish chocolate chip cookie biscuits, trimming off the edges to get them into the mouths, and stuffed these into the cookie monster mouth. Finally, I placed the eyes on, making sure they were suitably wonky.

    Friday, 20 January 2012


    I have been planning to make Sourdough bread for a very long time. You read so much about it, about its wonderful, chewy texture, its delicious taste... and you can't buy it anywhere near here. So when Head of Bread announced on 1st January that he was going to tweet instructions for making a starter, I was definitely up for joining in.

    The first stage is to mix together flour (I used wholemeal throughout) and water, and he suggests adding in three raisins to kick-start fermentation. I did this, and left it on the worktop overnight. The following day, I added more flour and water, and there were definite bubbles. I repeated this process for two weeks, mostly adding flour and water (known as feeding) every day, although sometimes every other day.

    Then we were told to put our starters into the fridge.

    "The fridge?" We all cried (tweeted). Yes, we were told, for the fridge would not kill our starters, only slow them down.

    Well, I was not quite ready for baking, so my starter went into the fridge.

    The following week, I had to "wake up" my starter, by feeding it and leaving it out of the fridge overnight before I baked with it. It was showing all the signs of fermenting, and on Saturday, I followed the baking instructions. This included kneading for 20 minutes. As a novice kneader, I struggled with this, but eventually achieved the required texture. I left it to prove, knocked it back, proved and shaped over the next 12 hours. Then I went to bed.

    The loaves were cooked the next morning, following tips from Dan Stevens - oven on its highest setting, tray of boiling water at the bottom to create steam - and the loaves did bake. They tasted delicious - slightly tangy, and definitely tasty. But the texture was just too dense. I don't know if it was the proving, the kneading, or the 100% wholemeal flour, but it wasn't the best bread.

    The starter is still alive and bubbling, although it is back in the fridge. Next weekend I'll have another go, and see if white flour is the way forward. The picture is not mine, but is very close to how mine looked.