Sunday, 25 November 2007

Excuses, excuses, excuses

I can't believe it's nearly been two whole weeks since I last posted. Where is the time going?

We(*) have been quite busy recently though so if you'll allow me, I'm using that as my excuse. You see we moved into our two bedroom flat just over two and a half years ago. But until now it's really been a one bedroom flat with a spare room so full of junk you couldn't move in it. So we've emptied it, bought some carpet, have had a trip to Ikea, built some furniture, put pictures & blinds up and generally had a big clear out and have then (in a tidy manner, of course) have put back in what we need.

Its a really nice room now, even if I do say so myself. There is just one thing that's missing and that's a small 2 seater sofa. So another trip to Ikea is needed but we just need a vehicle bigger than out ickle C2.

(*) I say we but I'm sure Hubby will disagree. But seriously, nothing ever gets done with out a project manager/supervisor/general all round bossy boots ;)

Since making the christmas cake I have cooked, I just haven't had enough time to blog about it. So here is a little summary with pictures:

My first ever Toad In The Hole (Jamie recipe) - severed with the suggested red onion gravy it was delicious and I was very proud of my yorkshire pudding.
We followed this up with some Toffee Apple Crumble - in fact we've had this twice. Once made with normal eating apples and once with bramleys (rather than the 50/50 mix suggested by Simon Rimmer). We both much preferred the bramley only one as the sweet sauce is more than enough sugar to match the tangy bramleys.
I also turned this pile of chopped vegetables...
into one of our favourite soups - Lentil and Chestnut Soup
1 small onion
half leek
1 carrot
1 stick celery
2 tablespoons olive oil
225g red lentils
1.5 litres vegetable stock
225g cooked chestnuts

double cream to serve (optional & not really needed)

Finely chop the onion, leek, carrot and celery.
Heat the oil in the pan, add the chopped vegetables and let sweat until soft.
Add the lentils and stir, then add the stock.
Bring to the boil and simmer until the lentils are very soft (about 40 minutes).
Add the chestnuts and simmer for a further 20 minutes or so.
Liquidise (I used my hand blender) until smooth.
Sprinkle each full bowl of soup with parsley and lace with cream as required.

Consume with lots of crusty bread and butter.

Its truly delicious.

Whilst I've been AWOL we also had Children In Need day at work and that means one thing - cakes, cakes and more cakes. I made my cupcakes with pink & white icing with flowers and I also tried some vanilla shortbreads - they were ok but a little soft & not quite as nice as I'd expected. Here they are among some of the other cakes brought in by my colleagues...
And last, but not least. Here is a lovely sunrise we had the week before last.

Monday, 12 November 2007

My first Christmas cake

I will 'fess up now. I'm not a fan of Christmas cake but I really wanted to make one! So this weekend I jumped in the deep end...

The recipe - wow, there are so many to choose from! I ended up going with one from my mum's Good Housekeeping magazine - November 2007 - Christmas Cake with a Hint of Dark Chocolate

250g sultanas
250g raisins
125g Agen prunes, chopped
125g ready to eat Apricots, chopped
150ml Dark Rum + 1 tablespoon for feeding the cake (we used original Antiguan rum from our honeymoon)
Zest and juice of 1 orange
175g dark muscavado sugar
175g softened butter
4 medium eggs
125g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 level teaspoon cinnamon
75g Green & Black's Dark 85% chocolate, finely grated
100g lightly toasted flaked almonds

Greaseproof paper
Brown paper
8" tin

Start the night before you will make the cake
Put the rum and orange juice & zest in a large pan
Add the dried fruit and bring to the boil, then turn off the heat, cover and leave to soak overnight
The next day
Preheat the oven to 150 °c (130 °c fan)
Grease and double line the baking tin with greaseproof paper, allow it to stand proud at the top
In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light & fluffy - I used an electric hand mixer for about 5 minutesAdd the eggs one at a time, making sure the mixture doesn't curdle (if it does add a little of the flour)
Gently fold in the flour, mixed spice & cinnamon
Next, fold in the chocolate and almond flakes
Lastly add the fruit and carefully mix through

Pour the mixture into the tin, taking care not to catch & pull the greaseproof paper off the sides of the tin
Level the surface of the cake
Wrap 2 layers of brown paper around the outside of the tin leaving a good inch above the top of the tin. Use the cotton to secure this.

Pop in the oven for 3 to 31/2 hours. Use a skewer to make sure the centre is cooked through.

Once cooked leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then take the cake out (leaving it in the greaseproof) and let it cool on a cake rack.
Once cold, wrap in clingfilm and then tinfoil and pop it in an airtight container.

After 2 weeks add the tablespoon of rum & re-wrap the cake. It will last for up to 3 months.

Saturday, 10 November 2007


Regular readers amongst you have probably noticed I don't cook or eat much red meat. I've never been a big fan partly because of the taste. But the worst part for me is the smell of cooking meat, especially the browning part. It turns my stomach. So at home I stick to chicken which I can just about deal with and fish when Mr C approves!

To cut this story short, I was leafing through Jamie's Italy earlier in the week and hit a small jackpot - tuna meatballs!

I made them last night and they were surprisingly pleasant. The cinnamon on the tuna was a great mix.

Le migliori polpette di tonna
(Serves 4)

For the tomato sauce
olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 x 400g tin plum tomatoes
red wine vinegar

For the meatballs
400g steak tuna
olive oil
55g pinenuts
1 level teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried oregano
handful chopped fresh parsley
100g stale breadcrumbs
55g Parmesan
2 eggs
juice of 1 lemon

Chop the tuna in 1" squares
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan
Add the tuna, cinnamon and pinenuts. Season with salt & pepper and cook until tuna has browned on all sides
Tip the tuna mixture into a big bowl and leave to cool for 5 minutes
Once cooled, add the other ingredients and using your hands mix together
Squeeze the mixture into small balls (slightly smaller than a golf ball)
Pop the meatballs on an oiled baking tray and leave them in the fridge for an hour
As soon as the meatballs go in the fridge, start the tomato sauce -

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil on pan and gently fry the onion and garlic until soft
Add the oregano, tomatoes and season with salt & pepper
Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes
Then using a hand held blender liquidise until smooth
Taste for seasoning & add a dash of red wine vinegar if needed

Once out of the fridge, heat oil in the same frying pan as before and gently fry the meatballs until golden all over - be careful as my first batch crumbled away into lots of bits!

Serve with the tomato sauce and spaggetti

I made 1/2 the tuna amount but the full amount of tomato sauce and have frozen it for next time - or another pasta dish.

Thursday, 8 November 2007


Little cupcakes with buttercream frosting. Better after 20 minutes in the fridge to firm the frosting up.

But I'm sure that there is a better frosting out there somewhere... please let me know if you have any icing suggestions to help me out here!

Sunday, 4 November 2007

A big catch up...

This is my catch up post as I've been lazy! Over the last two weeks I have made a tomato curry, took my first (self-taught) lesson in sugar craft, made more soup (roasted tomato and pepper with tarragon) and made up a claire original butternut squash tart. So here goes...

Tomato Curry - it turned out ok but definitely needed more sauce to it...
I made the curry on a Friday night & I will add the recipe when I can lay my hands on it. It was tasty just a bit too dry.

Cake Art - this is something I hope to play with more over the coming months. I'd really like to be a able to bake and decorate some really nice cakes. Anyway this was my first attempt at icing sugar paste and making flowers...
And the final product... (they did taste good!)

Next on my list of accomplishments is another soup (sorry if I'm getting boring here, but it's that time of year). This time it was Slow-roasted tomato and red pepper soup - it was really tasty & we have 2 servings in the freezer...

Serves 4
4 Red Peppers, halved lengthways & deseeded
3 tbspn extra virgin olive oil
1kg vine tomatoes
2 garlic bulbs - halved horizontally
1 medium red onion, chopped
400ml vegetable stock, hot
1 tbspn sundried tomato paste
1 tbspn chopped fresh tarragon

Serving suggestion - toasted baguette with a slightly melted topping of Crottin de Chavignol AOC (Goats Cheese)

Preheat oven to 200 °c
Put peppers in a roasting tin & drizzle with 1 tbspn oil
Put tomatoes and garlic in another roasting tin, drizzle 1 tbspn oil & season
Put peppers on top shelf of oven with tomatoes & garlic underneath - roast for 30 minutes
Transfer the peppers to a plastic bag, seal & leave for a few minutes to allow the skins to peel off
Heat remaining oil in a large pan, add onion and gently fry for 5 minutes
Squeeze in the roasted garlic and add the tomatoes
Discard the pepper skins & add the flesh to the pan
Add the stock, sundried tomato paste and tarragon - bring to the boil & then reduce the heat

We served with crusty bread & butter.
The tarragon added a creamy sort of taste - it really was very nice. Possibly one of my favourite tomato soups.

Lastly we have my original Butternut Squash Tart... based on Simon Rimmers Feta & Spinach Free-form pie in Septembers Delicious Magazine. I made it to use up the left over butternut squash from the soup the other day.

Serves 4
1/2 packet of filo pastry
3 tbspn melted butter
1 butternut squash
1 sprig rosemary, finely chopped
1 tbspn olive oil
100g feta
5 shallots, cut into quarters
3 tbsn balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar

Preheat the oven to 180 °c
Cut the butternut squash into about 8 large chunks (spooning out the seeds)
Place the pieces of squash on a baking tray, drizzle with the oil & sprinkle over the rosemary + a pinch of salt
Roast the squash for 45 minutes then take it out & leave it to cool down
Once cool, scoop of the flesh & cut into smaller sized chunks
Mix the butternut squash with 2/3 feta cheese, season with pepper
Meanwhile 1tbspn melt the butter in a small saucepan & add the shallots
Once the shallots are glossy and starting to warm through add the sugar
Leave for 2 minutes but keep an eye on them and mix them about
Throw in 2 tbspn of balsamic & keep the shallot pieces moving until the balsamic has thickened to a glossy coating
Put the shallot pieces in with the main mixture & add the last tbspn of balsamic vinegar. Put to one side.
Heat up 2 tbspn butter
Using a loose bottom cake tin - firstly brush the tin with melted butter, then add a layer of filo pastry brushing on butter in between each layer
Add the butternut squash mixture & crumble the remaining feta over the top.
Lift the overhanging pastry on top of the tart & scrunch it up
Cook for 20-25 minutes