Friday, February 25, 2011

Mincemeat and marzipan cake

I was going to call this cake 'leftovers' cake seeing as it is made with Christmas leftovers but it struck me that, as a title, it didn't sound too appetising. But appetising it is in a 'slice with a cup of tea' sort of way. Loaf cakes are my favourite kind of cakes to bake, largely because there is minimal margin for error and no need for artistic decoartion. It is in the nature of a loaf cake to look pleasingly plain. This doesn't mean that it need taste plain however. This little loaf is packed with fruity, almondy flavour - all the more welcome now that we're somewhat distanced from the onslaught of such things in December.

Like many of my favourite recipes, this one is from BBC Good Food. It doesn't seem to be on the website - I found it in a little book that I have called '101 Cakes and Bakes'. It is a handy little book with sections on 'fresh fruit cakes', 'tray bakes' and 'muffins and cookies' amongst others. This, from the 'loaf cake' section, is an easy cake to make and you don't need any special equipment - two bowls, a whisk, wooden spoon and loaf tin. The smell as it bakes is particularly tempting and once it was out of the oven, I have to confess that I didn't manage to wait until it was cool to try a slice. I should have waited though as the marzipan was a little chewy whilst still hot - it had a better texture when cool. My only criticism would be that the chunks of marzipan sunk to the bottom of the cake. Next time I will cut them slightly smaller perhaps. Otherwise, this is a definite 'bake again' cake. It would be good spread with a little butter too, like a tea-bread. I made one minor alteration - the recipe suggest sprinkling with flaked almonds prior to baking and then dusting with icing sugar whilst still warm. I didn't have any flaked almonds (and, truth be known, don't really like them) so I simply sprinkled the top with demarara sugar which gave a nice crunchy crust to the loaf. My version is here...

Mincemeat and marzipan cake
From '101 Cakes and Bakes' by BBC Good Food


200g self-raising flour
100g cold, diced butter
85g soft brown sugar
85g marzipan
2 large eggs
300g mincemeat
2 tbsp demarara sugar

1. Pre-heat oven to 170C. Butter and line a 1kg/2lb loaf tin or use a handy loaf tin liner such as these ones from Lakeland. Love them!

2. Tip flour and butter into a large bowl and rub together until you have the consistency of fine crumbs.

3. Cut the marzipan into small cubes, approx 1cm square (no bigger). Stir these into the crumbs, along with the soft brown sugar.

4. In another bowl, lightly whisk the eggs and then stir in the mincemeat. Pour this mixture into the flour mix and stir gently until combined. The batter will be quite thick.

5. Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin. Level the top as best you can and sprinkle with the demarara sugar. Bake for 1 hour, or until the loaf is golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.

6. Place tin on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes and then tip out onto the rack until completely cool.

Notes: this teabread keeps well (4-5 days) as long as it is tightly wrapped.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Green soup

One of the best things about hosting Christmas ourselves this year was that we were able to make turkey stock from the carcass. This is not something we are very good at remembering to do with our regular roasts, I'm not really sure why. We're probably just too lazy. But it is, of course, simplicity itself. Especially in the Aga - just bring it all to the boil on the top and then pop it into the simmering oven until you remember to get it out several hours later!

Our freezer is packed full of pots of stock and it is so flavoursome - it adds so much flavour to soups and risottos in particular. I have a few favourite 'go to' soup recipes that I make regularly but really, with stock so flavoursome, it doesn't matter what you put in your soup. The end result will probably be delicious. Last Friday I took a look in the fridge and didn't seem to have enough of anything to make a particular soup. Instead, I decided to make a mixed green vegetable soup using up little bits of all kinds of veg. I wasn't expecting a particularly great result, but it was absolutely delicious as well as being extremely healthy (...don't tell anyone about the cheese toastie I had alongside). It's lovely green-ness made me feel all Spring-like and uplifted!

Here is what I did...

Green Soup
Serves 4

A selection of green vegetables. Here is what I used...

2 leeks, sliced
2 spring onions, sliced
1 stick celery, sliced
1 large potato, cubed
1 courgette, roughly chopped
1 cup frozen peas
small handful chopped cabbage
1 pint good quality turkey, chicken or vegetable stock
Dash of sherry vinegar (optional)

1. Heat a little olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the leeks, celery and potato and sweat for a few minutes until just starting to soften.

2. Add all the other vegetables and then the stock. Stir and bring to the boil. Simmer over a gently heat (or in the simmering oven of an Aga) until vegetables are tender. I left mine in the simmering oven for around 25 minutes.

3. Whizz to a smooth consistency with a stick blender. Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in a small dash of sherry vinegar to taste.

4. Pour into warmed bowls and garnish with chives, if you have any to hand!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Chipotle chilli beef

 Both my husband and I love a good chilli con carne. It was, I think, the first thing he ever cooked me. Those were in the early days when I thought that he could only cook items made with mince (chilli, spag bol and shepherds pie were the first three meals he made - much as I loved them, I was relieved when a beef and ale stew made an appearance).

The only problem with our love of chilli is the eternal debate as to what makes a really good chilli. We have quite different opinions on this matter. For him, chilli must be made with minced beef. Whilst I will concede that minced beef is the more traditional option, I actually prefer mine to be made with actual chunks of meat. Slow-cooked casserole-style.

We also disagree about what else should go into a chilli. My husband is keen to add whatever may be in the fridge/cupboards. This often involves sweetcorn. Much as I like sweetcorn, I do not like it in my chilli. Nor do I want carrots. Or mushrooms. Or courgettes. For me, onions, garlic, kidney beans and bell peppers are all I require.

Our final chilli dispute erupted one evening when I dared to served jacket potatoes alongside my chunky meat chilli. This was a step too far for my beloved. For him only rice will do. We do agree on the toppings though - guacamole, soured cream and a little grated cheese.

Last week, whilst taking stock of the surfeit of jars occupying 2 full shelves of my fridge, I spotted a half-used jar of chipotle chilli paste. This was last used to great success in my chipotle chicken stew. I decided to adapt my regular chilli recipe and use the paste to add a smoky richness to the dish. The result was something of a triumph - the flavour was fantastic and it was, I think, one of the best chillis I've ever made. A couple of squares of good dark chocolate added at the end also added an extra dimension as did the long, slow cooking. I couldn't help feeling that it would be rather good made with diced venison too. Another time, perhaps?

I can only apologise about the terrible photos - there must have been a smear on the camera lens...

Chipote chilli beef
Serves 4
Based on this BBC Good Food recipe

1 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 bell peppers (one red, one green)
2 heaped tbsp chipotle chilli paste
1 tsp ground cumin
500g diced stewing beef
1 400g tin tomatoes
1/2 pint beef stock
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dried marjoram
410g tin of red kidney beans (or feel free to use other beans - black beans are good too)
2 squares good quality dark chocolate
To serve: your choice of soured cream, guacamole, fresh coriander, grated cheese, rice, tortillas etc...

1. Pre-heat oven to 170C*. Roughly chop onions and slice the peppers.

2. Heat a little oil in a casserole and then gently fry onions until they are transluscent and soft. Add the peppers and crushed or finely chopped garlic. Set to one side.

3. Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary and brown the meat on all sides. You may need to do this in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. Set meat to one side and put vegetables back into the pan.

4. Sprinkle over the cumin and marjoram and spoon in the chipotle paste. Give a good stir to combine and cook for a minute or two before re-adding the meat and stirring to combine.

5. Pour in the tomatoes and stock. Add sugar and plenty of salt and pepper and give it all a good stir. Bring up to simmering point.

6. Place lid on casserole and pop in the oven. Cook for at least forty-five minutes, but preferably longer at a lower temperature* if you have the time. Check on it every now and again and add a little more water/stock if it is drying out. After this time, add the kidney beans and cook for a further 15-20 minutes with the lid off if the sauce needs reducing somewhat.

7. Before serving, check the seasoning and add salt and pepper as required. Stir in the dark chocolate and sprinkle with fresh coriander before serving.

*As with many beef casseroles, this is better the longer and slower it is cooked. I brought mine to the boil on the boiling plate of the Aga and then tranferred to the simmering oven for 2 1/2 hours.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Banoffee cupcakes

I have a confession.

I am not a huge fan of the cupcake.

I'm not quite sure how to explain myself. I like the look of them. I like the cute-ness factor. But I just can't help feeling a little... cheated... by a cupcake. I'm more of a big cake sort of girl. I prefer a slice. Also, much as I love buttercream, I just can't quite cope with the amount that is smeared atop a hummingbird bakery-style cupcake. It looks promising, but I usually end up feeling rather sick.

However, these completely divine banoffee cupcakes have stolen their way into my heart. They are very seriously good. The combination of banana and fudge chunks within and caramel-flavoured buttercream and dulche de leche on top is simply too good to resist (though I do find myself wondering how good this would be in large cake format). In my quest to conquer my cupcake antipathy I've tried a lot of cupcakes but these really do take the number one spot for my 'best-ever-cupcake'.

I was drawn to these beauties via the nice lady from the Baking Mad website. For those who haven't discovered this excellent site, I suggest you go take a look. The site belongs to Allinson flour, it would seem but in a rather subtle sort of way. Silver Spoon and Billingtons sugar are also affiliated and the products are loosely promoted here. But mainly it is a superb archive of recipes, baking tips, competitions as well as being home to a baking blog.

I was asked to try out the banoffee cupcake recipe and sent a box of baking goodies to help me along: Allinson flour, Billingtons sugars and Silver Spoon cake decorating goodies. Having waited all week for my bananas to reach sufficient ripeness, I attempted the cakes on Saturday evening with a couple of visiting friends. Glasses of fizz in hands, we got busy following the detailed instructions on the site. A nice feature of the recipes is the ability to click each stage as you go along so that you can easily find your place. Handy.

Mixing the cake batter was very straightforward and we all got rather over-excited about the fudge chunks. Upon tasting the Silver Spoon fudge chunks, Claire and Joni (of lamb tagine fame) decided to carry out a taste test and declared the fudge chunks 'a little soapy'. We were a tad worried about this but were reassured upon tasting the cakes - they seemed to have semi-melted into fudgy deliciousness. I look forward to using the remaining chunks in cookies or blondies in the near future.

The recipe states that it makes 12 cupcakes. I suspect this is 12 super-sized ones as I managed to make 24 reasonable sized cakes from the batter (slight problem as the husband is away and 24 cupcakes is a lot for one girl to get through!). The buttercream icing is made with natural icing sugar so has a lovely caramel flavour and colour - I'd not used this before but it is a good discovery. We were momentarily flummoxed with the icing as there was no direction about adding milk and we couldn't get it to mix - hopefully this will be changed on the website. One other slight problem we had was that the icing started to 'melt' somewhat and didn't hold its shape too well. This could be because our kitchen is quite warm due to the Aga. However, we persevered - one of us piped the icing whilst the others added the chocolate decorations and pieces of dried banana. I got quite excited by the heart-shaped decorations, it being Valentine's Day and all.

Anyway, the recipe can be found here. I suggest you try it. Totally delicious. I might even have one now. For breakfast...

Monday, February 07, 2011

Tuna and caper pâté

The husband and I are fond of a pre-dinner drink (or two). The trouble is that with that pre-dinner drink, we usually feel the urge to indulge in a pre-dinner nibble. This, I have no doubt, is one of the key reasons for our overly expansive waistlines. (This, and our fondness for cheese, proper puddings and cake). Whilst we know that eating earlier would help ease this habit, we're not actually willing to forgo this favourite part of our day. It is the time we relax post-work, talk through the day's events and generally unwind whilst one of us potters round the kitchen creating dinner.

We try to keep our snacking under control and stick to reasonably 'healthy' nibbles. Low-fat hummous with carrot sticks, olives or tomato salsa spread on melba toasts are staples in this house. We love them, but we get tired of them too. When friends are here, or at weekends, we are more adventurous and make more fancy canapes but mid-week, it is all about low effort. Whilst browsing through some of my favourite food blogs the other day, I stumbled accross a tuna and caper pâté on the Kitchen Diaries Challenge blog which rather caught my fancy. I find the salty tang of foods like capers, olives or anchovies just perfect for awakening the taste buds prior to the main event. I had most of the ingredients to hand in the cupboard and simply improvised for the rest. It took mere moments to make - a 'bung it all in and whizz it all up' recipe. The best sort for mid-week really.

Served moments later with a crisp glass of white and some melba toasts, it was a very delicious 'snackette' (as we like to refer to such things). It would make a nice starter too and, as it uses low-fat mayo, is pretty healthy too.

Do you like a pre-dinner 'snackette'? If so, what do you tend to choose?

Tuna and caper pâté


1 tin of tuna, drained
half a small red onion or a shallot, finely chopped
2 heaped tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise
juice half a small lemon (to taste)
2 heaped teaspoons capers, well-rinsed
1/2 tsp paprika
handful flat-leaved parsley

1. Place all ingredients except lemon juice and capers into food processor and whizz to combine.

2. Add lemon juice a little at a time, tasting after each addition until the balance seems right.

3. Add the capers and pulse briefly so they are combined but not completely broken up. You want a little texture here.

4. Scrape into a serving dish and (ideally) leave for an hour or so in the fridge for the flavours to combine. If greedy and rushed like us, serve immediately with melba toasts or crudités. Or spread on crostini, as suggested by Maggie at Kitchen Diaries Challenge.

5. Serve with a crisp glass of white wine.