Tuesday, 4 November 2014

This Year's Christmas Cake

Well here we are in the first week of November and I’m already getting ready for Christmas. If I’m not careful I’ll be getting ahead of myself!

Over the weekend the house smelt like Christmas had already arrived; I made our Christmas pudding on Saturday and on Sunday I made this years’ cake. I used a recipe by Russell Clement, Catering Manager at Flatford, one of the National Trust’s properties. The recipe was on the back of our latest newsletter and I was intrigued by it – I’ve never seen a recipe where some of the fruit was blitzed and then mixed in, but it sounded so good I just had to give it a try. Obviously I haven’t tasted the cake yet but if the taste of the mixture (when I ran my finger round the empty bowl!) is anything to go by it’s definitely a winner.
 
It looks pretty damn fine to me as it is, but I’ll top it with marzipan and a pattern of glazed nuts and fruit to prettify it a bit. Can’t wait to have a slice with a cuppa a bit nearer the big day!
 
I emailed Flatford to ask them if I could use Russell’s recipe on the blog and they very kindly agreed, so here it is in its entirety… The only thing I changed was the baking time, although that may be my oven; I ended up cooking it for exactly 3 hours.
 
Fruit-packed Christmas Cake
 
100g dried pears, finely chopped
100g dried apple, finely chopped
150g raisins
300g sultanas
50g dried sour cherries
100g dried cranberries
50g best quality candied peel, finely chopped
40g candied stem ginger, finely chopped
¼ tsp ground cloves
2 bay leaves
2 clementines, zest and juice
150ml liqueur e.g. Cointreau, Kirsch, Cassis or Framboise
50g hazelnuts, blanched (or skins removed)
50g almonds, blanched
200g butter, unsalted
175g dark brown muscovado sugar
4 free-range eggs at room temp, beaten
250g SR flour
 
1.The night before you bake the cake, place all the prepared dry fruit, the ginger, the ground cloves, the bay leaves, the zest and juice of the clementines and the booze into a large non-reactive bowl and mix well. Take a big sniff then cover and leave to steep overnight in a cool place.
 
2.Grease and line a 20cm cake tin. Leave the parchment protruding around the edge of the tin, standing about 5-6cm proud of the edge to protect the cake during the long cooking.  Pre-heat the oven to 125C (fan) or 150C (conventional).
 
3.Toast the nuts until golden brown, place them in a processor and pulse until they are finely chopped. Add the nuts to the fruit mixture, remove the bay leaves, mix well and put 350g of the fruit and nut mixture back into the processor. Blend to a thick paste.
 
4.Beat the sugar and butter together until the sugar has dissolved then slowly combine the eggs, beating well after each addition. Fold in the flour, then stir in the paste and the rest of the fruit and nut mixture.
 
5.Spoon the mix into the tin and level the surface well. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 2-2½ hours. Check the cake by inserting a skewer or knife into the centre and see that it comes away clean.
 
 
6.Leave the cake in the tin to cool then remove, leaving the parchment in place, and wrap tightly in foil until the big day.
 
7.This cake is very versatile, it will take any kind of finish you like from a simple glaze to draping in fondant so let your imagination guide you!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Foie Gras...it's a matter of choice

OK, I’m a fool to myself and I’ll probably wish I’d kept my mouth shut but here goes…

I saw a link to this news item from the Vegetarian Society on Twitter today and it really made me angry. It illustrates why I sometimes hate being labelled ‘a vegetarian’ and why I could never be a member of the Veg Soc. I just can’t stand their preaching and I really don’t want to be associated with it. Is it any wonder that omnivores complain about veggies always being so 'holier than thou' about not eating meat? 
 
Take this simplistic, naïve statement from the Veg Soc in the piece above, for example “The production of foie gras is unnecessary”. On the contrary, foie gras is entirely necessary for someone who wants to eat it. In these days of food being transported around the world, with strawberries and asparagus available in December, ‘necessity’ is beside the point – it’s about freedom and personal choice. Right now… do I ‘need’ a piece of coffee and walnut cake? No, of course not, but I’d damn well like some! Others may feel the same about foie gras.

I am obviously not in favour of animal cruelty but I’m also not afraid to face the unpalatable fact of life that animals are still seen as less important and more expendable than humans…this isn't going to change, ’twas ever thus. Animal cruelty will never be eradicated as long as there are living humans on this planet. While there is money to be made from selling an animal related item there will be people willing to buy said item. 

I can’t stop every instance of animal exploitation – I can only do what is right for me; but what I won't do is preach to others or tell them how to behave. If someone wants to eat a steak or foie gras or sea bass…go ahead, I hope you enjoy it. Just don’t ask me to join in.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

'School Dinner' Jam and Coconut Sponge

Mr Simply Veg and I were talking about school dinners the other day; I don’t know how we got on to the subject – I can only say when you get to our age you start to ramble a bit.

I loved school dinners mainly because they were so much nicer than the meals I had at home. Sadly I can honestly state, without any fear of contradiction, that my mother never managed to serve up an edible meal in her life; you know the sort of thing…if the veg are still recognisable they haven’t been boiled for long enough. Gravy…? One lump or two?

Anyway, Mr S-V said his school dinners weren’t particularly memorable but then he went all dewy eyed about a jam and coconut sponge he used to have for pudding. I was tasked with recreating this culinary masterpiece and by all accounts I did a pretty good job. *polishes halo*

Himself is a very happy chappie and I am now officially a domestic goddess. As I’ve said before…he’s easily pleased.

170g unsalted butter
170g caster sugar
3 eggs
170g self-raising flour
1 tsp vanilla extract

3 tbsp strawberry jam
50g desiccated coconut

Line a 16cm x 24cm baking tin with baking parchment. Turn the oven on to 180C.

Cream the butter and sugar together with a hand-held mixer until light and fluffy then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the flour and the vanilla extract. Scoop into the lined tin, level the top, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

When cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.

When the cake is completely cool spread with the jam, going right up to the edges, then sprinkle over the desiccated coconut.

Cut into squares and serve with custard. Lots of custard. Also good served as cake with a decent cuppa.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Creamy Mushroom Tagliatelle

I saw a discussion on a food board recently along the lines of ‘If you could only have three vegetables’. It really set me thinking – I’m just not sure I could whittle it down to three.

Well, there’s mushrooms, onions and tomatoes, (yes, I know, tomatoes are technically a fruit but you wouldn’t want one in your fruit salad!) but how could I live without broccoli, butternut squash, sprouts or peppers; and then there’s asparagus and aubergines and green beans not to mention celery and carrots….oooh, and beetroot! I could go on...!

Let’s face it, there’s no way on this earth I could keep to only three veg, which is why I’m glad vegetables are one of the main elements of our meals rather than just an add-on or a side dish.

Mushrooms are one of my absolute favourites - this is a bit of a variation on Mushroom Stroganoff, which we love, plus pasta. What's not to like?

1 tbsp olive oil
knob of butter
2 shallots
300g mushrooms
1 clove of garlic
50ml white wine
200g crème fraiche
1 tbsp chopped parsley
black pepper

150g tagliatelle


Thinly slice the shallots and sauté until translucent in the oil and butter. Thickly slice the mushrooms and add to the onions; cook until all the water from the mushrooms has evaporated then add the garlic and cook for another minute.

Season with black pepper and add the wine; allow to bubble for a minute or two then stir in the crème fraiche and chopped parsley.

Cook the tagliatelle in a large pan of boiling water until al dente. Drain and add to the creamy mushrooms; mix carefully and serve immediately with plenty of grated parmesan-style cheese.

Serves 2

Friday, 29 August 2014

Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms


I know Shirley Conran said some years back “Life is too short to stuff a mushroom”, but I thought it was about time I proved her wrong. Well, I’m definitely no Superwoman and I could be about forty years too late, but better late than never.


We had these nutty, veggie stuffed mushrooms for dinner on Monday, really needing something to cheer us up; it was a Bank Holiday here and it absolutely poured with rain the entire day. I felt so sorry for all those people who had outdoor plans for their day off. Great British weather…don’t you just love it?

Having decided to make these lovely mush I hit a bit of a brick wall over what to serve them with – I ummed and ahhed about creamy mashed potato but I finally came down on the side of lemony herb couscous. Nothing new there, I’d happily eat couscous every day.

Incidentally, I always thought these mushrooms were called Portobello, but it seems they’re now called ‘Portabella’. Amazing…you learn something new every day.

1 medium red onion, peeled and diced
1 red pepper, cored and diced
olive oil
6 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
50g pine nuts
½ tsp dried oregano
1 crushed clove of garlic
125g grated mozzarella
1 thick slice wholemeal bread, blitzed into crumbs
4 large Portabella mushrooms
1 tbsp pesto

Remove the stalks from the mushrooms and chop finely; sauté the stalks together with the onion and red pepper in a tablespoon of olive oil until lightly coloured; add the sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, oregano and garlic and cook for another minute then scoop into a large bowl and mix in the breadcrumbs and half the cheese.

Turn the oven on to 180C.

Brush the outside of the mushrooms liberally with olive oil and smear the pesto over the insides; place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and, using your hands, (it’s easier than a spoon - trust me!) put a quarter of the stuffing into each mushroom.

 
Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 25 minutes then take them out of the oven and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Return to the oven for another 10 minutes until golden.

Serves 2

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Beetroot and Ginger Chutney

This is a great time of year in the garden and it’s been such a good year for growing.

Our carrots are doing really well and the onions and shallots have been pulled and are all lying out in the sun to dry for a day or two. The plum tree is laden with fruit which is ripening nicely, but sadly the damson hasn’t been so lucky – some beasties have been munching on the fruit and it’s looking a bit sorry for itself. Plenty of fruit on the tomatoes, though, after a slow start; we’re just waiting for them to turn red.

And last but not least, I give you….drum roll please....beetroot! This is the fabulous bunch of little beauties I pulled on Friday – how gorgeous are they?

I'm chuffed to little mint balls with them - they’re the best we’ve ever grown and there are plenty more to come. I think I can feel lots of lovely beetroot, feta and walnut salads coming on.

Given that we’re so well endowed with beetroot I started looking for a chutney recipe to play around with, although I could quite happily eat the entire crop in salads. I based this Beetroot and Ginger chutney on Nigella's but I changed the proportions a little and added a couple of extras in the way of spicing as well as a splash of balsamic to perk things up a bit. It’s a stunning colour and sort of sweet but sharp; I think it'll make a great addition to a toasted cheese sarnie when it’s had time to mature for a few weeks.

Looks like chutney-making season has started early this year – I’m now on a quest for carrot chutney. Wish me luck.

600g beetroot
300g red onions
600g Bramley apples
25g fresh root ginger
60g preserved ginger
250g soft brown sugar
375ml red wine vinegar
25ml balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp mixed spice
⅛ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground ginger

Turn the oven on to 200C. Wrap the beetroots individually in foil, place directly on the oven rack and roast for 30-40 minutes until tender then set aside to cool.

Peel and chop the onions and the cooking apples, place in a deep wide pan or preserving pan. Finely dice the cooled beetroot and add to the pan. Blitz both the gingers with a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar then add to the pan along with all the other ingredients. Give everything a really good stir, bring to the boil then turn down the heat a bit and allow to bubble for about an hour or so, stirring occasionally, until it's nicely thick.

Draw a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan and if it doesn’t fill up with liquid you can pot up your chutney into hot sterilised jars. Cook for a little longer if it's still too runny.

Makes seven 190g jars.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Three Bean and Asparagus Salad

Sorry about the slightly iffy picture of this Three Bean and Asparagus salad; I made it last weekend when DS, DDIL and Gorgeous Granddaughter came round for lunch; everything else was already on the table so I didn’t have time to faff about. I was originally planning to do a cold lunch because I was expecting it to be warm and sunny – proper summer weather; needless to say it was cool and showery…grrr!

Anyway, we had the salad along with a Nut Roast Wellington and some of our crop of new potatoes from the garden cooked with olive oil and rosemary. Our potatoes have done really well this year – I think they enjoyed all the rain we had in May and June, unlike my tomatoes, poor things, which are looking as sick as a pig. Heigh-ho…you can’t have everything.

We’re having a heatwave for the next few days, apparently; it's about 4pm and I’m sitting here in the gloom with the shutters and windows closed to keep the heat out. It’s 29°C – ghastly! I might have to put my thinking cap on and come up with a few more salads to keep us cool.

150g fine green beans
125g fine asparagus
125g edamame beans
150g baby broad beans
100g feta
40g hazelnuts

1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp runny honey
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp walnut oil
1 tsp lemon juice
ground black pepper

Roast the hazelnuts in the oven at 200C for five minutes then set aside to cool.

Put all the dressing ingredients into a small jam jar and shake like billy-o until emulsified.

Cook the green beans and asparagus together in boiling water for 1 minute; drain and run under cold water then drain well.

Cook the edamame beans and broad beans together for three minutes; drain and refresh in cold water then drain well.

Arrange the green beans and asparagus on a shallow serving dish followed by the edamame and broad beans.

Crumble the feta over the top and sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts.

Drizzle over the dressing and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a side dish.