September 11, 2014

BEAUTY IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER – AND A COTTAGE PIE

cottage pie

Right in the middle of our house hunting adventures in France we had to dash back to the UK to take delivery of our beautiful new hob and oven.  Beautiful they are indeed.

John Lewis had a price match and trade in offer in August that we couldn’t resist.  The only thing I wasn’t entirely comfortable about was that we would be “trading in” virtually brand new, hardly used appliances and John Lewis told us they would definitely be going to the tip.  Something in my upbringing told me that wasn’t right so we did a bit of asking around and found new homes for both of them. 

The oven went to Nick’s sister, whose own oven was originally a better one but had stopped working properly – so even a basic model was better than that.  The hob will be replacing an old worn out model in a friend’s gite in France.  As trade-ins we provided the broken oven and the old hob, so everyone was happy.

The oven is the same as the ones currently being used in the Bake Off tent and the hob is an induction model.  We were thinking of having a gas hob, which  is what we have always been used to, but although the gas supply is fairly near to the oven end of the kitchen getting it fitted would have meant a lot of disruption and expense, not to mention the destruction of part of my lovely new kitchen, so we opted for induction.  We are very pleased with it so far, having had it for a total of one day!

cottage pie2

I was thinking there would be no time for baking again this month, the final stage of our two-nation house moving exercise being very near to its conclusion, then I picked up the little recipe book that came with the new oven and flipped the pages.  The book opened at a recipe for cottage pie – as if anyone needs a recipe for cottage pie – and with my dad coming round for his dinner on the middle evening of our brief three-day stay in the UK, I thought “why not?”.  I realise of course that the purpose of the recipe book is more about getting the owner of a new oven used to using all its knobs and buttons than actually presenting original recipes, so I dutifully followed the recipe to the letter.  This included adding some tomato purée, something which I have never put into a cottage pie before.

cottage pie3 cottage pie4 

The main difference between a cottage pie and a shepherd’s pie is that the first is made with beef and the second with lamb.  I didn’t know that until fairly recently and have been making both for decades thinking they were both a shepherd’s pie and wondering why some people called it a cottage pie! 

Either way, they’re simple to make and quite adaptable and the good thing is that you can wash up the pans while it’s in the oven so that by the time it comes to the table the kitchen is looking less like a war zone – something I’m trying to be conscious of now that we have a dining kitchen – eating dinner while staring at the washing up is something I don’t love about our new house.

cottage pie5

The casualties.

There are of course, casualties with my new hob and oven.  Well not so much the oven, but most of my pans will not work with the induction hob so I have had to get a new set.  The old ones will go to France to supplement or replace the mismatched selection of mainly cheap ones we have there – bought when we thought all we wanted was a holiday home and we wouldn’t be doing very much cooking……..how things have changed!

cottage pie6 cottage pie7

I dislike pictures of leftovers but I completely forgot to take a picture of the finished cottage pie.  So I put in another of the oven as well – much more attractive!

The pie was delicious and because the recipe was sort of chosen at random I’m being cheeky and submitting it to this month’s Random Recipe Challenge, organised by the lovely Dom at Bellau Kitchen.  You can read all about it here.

If you want to catch up on the final stage of our house hunting adventures in France and take a peek at the new house – and its lovely kitchen – you can do that here.

Cottage pie – the ingredients

450g potatoes, peeled and quartered

225g carrots, peeled and diced

1 tbslp oil for frying

450g minced beef

1 onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tbslp plain flour

250ml beef stock

1 tblsp tomato purée

2 tblsp Worcestershire sauce

250g pack of mushrooms, sliced

1 tblsp grated cheddar cheese

Method

Boil the potatoes and carrots until cooked.  Drain and mash them together.

Fry the onions, garlic and mince in a large frying pan until the meat is browned.  Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the stock, tomato and Worcestershire sauce and stir well.  Mix in the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 170°fan.

Spoon the meat mixture into a suitable baking dish.  Spoon the potato and carrot mash on top of that and spread out evenly with a fork.  Sprinkle with the grated cheese and dot with butter if you like.

Put the dish on a baking sheet if you want to be sure the pie will not boil over onto your lovely brand new oven floor!  Bake for 25-30 minutes until browned and bubbling.

Serves 4.  Serve with greens of some kind.

August 31, 2014

PLUM AND BLACKBERRY DRIZZLE CAKE (or a tale of two cakes and a mishap because of The Archers)

plum and blackberry drizzle cake

I made this cake using some of those gorgeous little yellow plums called mirabelles that are so common in France but seen so rarely in the UK.  In fact I can’t recall ever seeing them in English shops at all yet in France they fall off trees by the roadside and are just left.  Not long ago we drove along a stretch of road that was a sea of squashed plums in places, which seems such a terrible shame.

plum and blackberry drizzle cake2

I used a recipe for a cake I first saw on the cover of Good Food Magazine two or three years ago and have been meaning to make ever since.  I did a bit of research and found it on the Good Food website here.  

However, backpedalling slightly, before I used my precious mirabelles, I decided to make a “practice” cake with some apricots and plums that were slightly past their best and needed eating up.

The cake is definitely a bit fiddly to make.  You put pieces of fruit on top of the cake mixture then cover it with more mixture and because it’s so stiff, it’s quite difficult to spread the mixture evenly. 

You end up with a cake something like the texture of a Madeira cake with a very convenient crack on the top to hold the fruit topping.  Having looked at some of the reviews on the website I decided to reduce the amount of sugar in the drizzle as per many of the comments.

plum and blackberry drizzle cake7 plum and blackberry drizzle cake8

plum and blackberry drizzle cake6

This is one of those cakes I will no doubt make again and again, not because it’s quick and easy, which it isn’t, but because it looks great and is quite delicious.  In fact we had visitors the evening that I made the apricot version and it all disappeared in one sitting!

The sugar content was perfect I thought, but there was a bit too much of a vanilla flavour, so I decided that when I made the cake again I would reduce the amount in the mixture.

Now we come to my plum and blackberry cake, using my precious mirabelles!

plum and blackberry drizzle cake3

While I was making this cake I decided to catch up with my podcasts of The Archers.  We don’t have a TV or radio in our little French house but we do now have internet so I no longer have to cope with Archers withdrawal symptoms as I can get the programme as a podcast.  I had several episodes to catch up on and got thoroughly engrossed as I baked.  I remembered that I had decided to put half of the vanilla extract in the mixture but………

plum and blackberry drizzle cake4  

When it came to making the drizzle I got to the part where Elizabeth Archer was having an affair with Roy Tucker and I completely forgot about reducing the sugar as per the previous cake!  So I ended up with a very sugary drizzle which, like all the people who left comments about it, was not as good as on the apricot cake.

In actual fact the recipe is rather confusingly written on the website so I have rewritten it in a better order for myself and that’s what I have given below.  Here is my version, with the amendment for the vanilla and drizzle that I think works best.

Ingredients

For the cake

175g softened butter

175g golden caster sugar

250g self-raising flour

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

For the drizzle

100g granulated sugar

1-2 tblsp citrus juice (lemon, lime or orange)

Fruit content

175g of a mixture of blackberries and stoned, diced plums, or apricots*

Method

Prepare the fruit and divide into two bowls – 100g in one for the cake and 75g in the other for the drizzle.

Butter a 900g/2lb loaf tin and line the bottom with a long strip of baking parchment that runs up and over the short sides. 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°fan/gas 4.

Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer, or by hand, until pale and creamy.  The resulting mixture will be very stiff.

Spread roughly one third of the mixture in the bottom of the tin and scatter roughly 50g of fruit on top.

Dot another third of the cake mixture on top of the fruit and spread out as evenly as you can. 

Repeat with the other 50g of fruit and the last third of cake mixture.

Bake for about an hour until the cake is browned and risen and passes the skewer test.

While the cake is baking, make the drizzle by mixing together the granulated sugar, citrus juice and remaining 75g of fruit in a small bowl.

When the cake comes out of the oven, leave in the tin and prick all over with the skewer.  Spoon the drizzle over the cake, and leave to cool in the tin.  As it cools, gently push any runaway fruit back up to the top of the cake, where it most of it will ultimately stay.  The topping will become crisp as it sets.

When cold, remove gently from the tin using the baking paper overhang as handles.

Serves 8-10.

*You can make this cake with various fruits, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, apricots, plums, nectarines and all the currants – and any combination you like.  Fruit should be stoned and diced or chopped to roughly 1cm pieces.

August 22, 2014

STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING CAKE

sticky toffee pudding cake 

Whilst briefly back in the UK in between French house-hunting adventures a local Clandestine Cake Club meeting cropped up.  After my limited success with the new oven, even though I didn’t trust it, I decided to have another go at baking a cake and Nick decided he would too.

Then we decided to do something radical with the oven.

sticky toffee pudding cake2

We took it out!

We have not been thrilled with the oven or hob in our new house, both are much more basic than the ones we left behind.  Setting the oven temperature is guesswork, there is no timer programme, just a minute minder and the grill is half the size of my previous one.  It had to go!

sticky toffee pudding cake3

I was looking online to get an idea of how much it might cost to replace it with something more sophisticated and spotted a great offer in John Lewis which included a large trade-in discount.  The offer finishes at the end of August so we decided to go for it. 

sticky toffee pudding cake4 

The timing of the oven removal was such that if I was going to make a cake, it had to be one that could be baked a couple of days before it was needed.  I looked through my recipe books and found one by Delia Smith for a cake that sounded very much like a sticky toffee pudding that she said would improve over a couple of days.  Perfect!

sticky toffee pudding cake5

I followed the recipe precisely and it turned out perfectly.  It was however absolutely done in the minimum amount of time given in the recipe, something I am not used to.  This may be due to the characteristics of the oven or the fact that it’s almost impossible to set the temperature accurately on the dial.  Nick made a lovely ginger and orange cake and that was also done in less than the time stated.

You can see the recipe for my cake here.  The only change I made was to decorate it with some pecan nuts.  The fudgy icing tasted like butterscotch and was a total revelation – I have never made anything like it before.  The cake itself was moist and with the dates and pecan nuts was very much like a sticky toffee pudding.  It was lovely and I would definitely make it again.

We take delivery of the new oven – of our own choosing – at the beginning of September, when we next go back to the UK.  I’m really looking forward to it!

August 20, 2014

BANANA CLAFOUTIS (gluten free)

banana clafoutis2

Recently I have had good results with gluten free baking by simply using Dove’s Farm gluten free flour instead of normal flour in the recipe.  I simply substitute one for the other.  A good tip is to add slightly more liquid than given in the basic recipe and so far it seems to work fine.

banana clafoutis

Clafoutis is basically a pudding made of a layer of fruit with a batter poured over, which is baked and then served warm or cold.  I have made many a clafoutis in the past based on a recipe featured some time ago on my friend Susan’s blog, which was originally for cherries, but I have used apricots, plums and prunes soaked in brandy (delicious!)

Not long ago I saw a comment in another friend’s blog where banana clafoutis was mentioned.  It never occurred to me to make a clafoutis from bananas before and the idea is slightly problematic as Nick does not like cooked bananas at all – he can just about bring himself to eat a fresh one!  This is a shame as I love bananas in any form, but eating a whole banana pudding by myself is not a great idea!

banana clafoutis1

Luckily the need for a gluten free pudding cropped up sooner rather than later so I decided to give the banana clafoutis a try.  I actually made two gluten free desserts, in case anyone else disliked cooked bananas.  The other one was indeed much more popular – details to follow - which in fact left most of the banana clafoutis for me to eat up!  I was sensible and wrapped slices of it to put in the freezer!

I thought it was delicious.  If you like bananas and want to make a really easy pudding that’s a little bit out of the ordinary, this is a recipe worth trying.  You can use normal flour or gluten free flour and of course you can use other fruits than bananas!  In this case, because there is lots of liquid in the batter, I didn’t add any extra and the clafoutis turned out just right I thought, nice and firm and easy to serve in slices, rather than with a spoon.

Recipe for easy clafoutis (huge thanks to Susan for the original idea)

Ingredients

50p gluten free plain flour (or normal flour if you don’t need to be gluten free)

50g ground almonds

2 eggs

100g caster sugar

125ml cream

125ml milk

½tsp vanilla extract

3 large bananas, ripe but not overripe

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease a suitable baking dish*.

Put all the ingredients except the fruit into a bowl and mix together using an electric whisk or stick blender, to make a smooth batter.

Peel the bananas and slice thickly, arrange in the bottom of the dish.

Pour the batter over the top and sprinkle with flaked almonds if you like.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until no longer liquid and lightly browned.

Serve warm or at room temperature, by itself or with cream.

Serves 6.

*Also excellent as individual puddings, just grease 6 ramekins and bake for 20-30 mins.

August 7, 2014

PEAR AND CHOCOLATE PUDDINGS

pear and chocolate pudding

I spotted a recipe in a magazine recently that I felt compelled to try.  It was a Rachel Khoo recipe for individual chocolate puddings with a pear in each one.

pear and chocolate pudding2

I bought a bag of those own-brand, basic range pears from the supermarket.  There were only five useable pears in it and the recipe was for six but I soldiered on.  I also had only five ramekin-sized dishes in my new kitchen, under the new regime of minimal possessions including bakeware.  Somewhere there are dozens of other ramekins, probably packed and stored in a mystery warehouse somewhere in darkest Rotherham.  Or maybe I took most of them to the charity shop, I can’t quite remember.

pear and chocolate pudding3

In the recipe Rachel uses a steam oven and makes much of its benefits for baking over other ovens.  If only !!  Luckily instructions for using an ordinary oven are also given.

Although the quantities of the chocolate sponge are for six puddings I made a full batch and divided it between my five dishes.  Predictably there was a little too much mixture in the finished puddings meaning that some pears sank from view and others had a muffin top effect. 

pear and chocolate pudding4

I adapted the recipe slightly, omitting the salt from the pudding mixture as I was to be serving them for Sunday dinner and I was not at all sure salted puddings were to my dad’s taste – or mine either.  The recipe also includes a good measure of black treacle and I was curious to see how that would turn out.  Being short of time I used spreadable butter and made the sponge using an all-in-one method.

pear and chocolate pudding6

Mine turned out rather less neat and tidy than in the picture in the magazine but they were still quite delicious.  The flavour of the treacle came through strongly and I loved it.  I also found that they had an uncooked middle – a kind of chocolate fondant or lava pudding effect.  This was not implied in the recipe or the title but when I looked for it online the puddings were indeed called pear and chocolate fondants – moelleux aux chocolat et poire.  You can see the recipe here.  After several attempts in the past with unremarkable results I now seem to have made the perfect chocolate fondants by accident!

pear and chocolate pudding5

They were fun to look at and quite delicious.  Next time I think I would make the six puddings, making sure I had six pears and finding another dish!  Either that or not overfill the dishes in my usual waste not, want not fashion.  The ones that turned out with the pears the right way up would be a great dessert for a dinner party!

alphabakes

I am submitting the little puddings to this month’s Alphabakes Challenge, a monthly baking venture presented by Caroline of Caroline Makes and Ros of The more than occasional baker.  This month the chosen letter is P and you can see the details here.

Ingredients

6 small pears

500g caster sugar

750ml water

150g spreadable butter

150g light soft brown sugar

3 eggs

1tblsp black treacle

120g self-raising flour

30g cocoa powder

Method

Peel the pears, leaving the stalks in place, and remove as much as you can of the cores from the base.  Put them in a large saucepan with the caster sugar and water and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 10 minutes until the pears are tender.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Butter 6 ramekins.

Put the rest of the ingredients into a food processor and process for a couple of minutes until the mixture is smooth.

Divide the mixture between the ramekins and push a pear into each one, with the stalk sticking up.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until a crust has formed on the sponge but the centre will still be liquid.  Serve warm in the ramekins.

Serves 6.

August 2, 2014

GINGER CAKE

ginger cake9aWe moved house eight weeks ago and after three weeks abandoned ship and went to France to continue our house hunting adventures there.  Consequently we are not as far forward as we would have been if we had stayed here and continued diligently working our way through the mountain of cardboard boxes.

ginger cake2 

The kitchen is brand new and, although beautiful to look at, its size is a proving to be a challenge.  We have moved stuff from cupboard to cupboard over and again in order to find the sensible places to store things in a way that makes best use of the space.

ginger cake3

I like my new larder unit but added a couple of extra shelves to get all my baking stuff in it. ginger cake4 The new dining set arrived this week, which makes mealtimes much more comfortable than the old garden chairs.  The “dining area” is simply a space at the end of the kitchen next to the fridge, but it has a nice view over the garden.

ginger cake8

The open view at the back of the house is one of the main reasons that we bought it.  Being able to sit outside and look at the view has been a real joy during the stressful process of downsizing and moving – which is exhausting, mentally, emotionally and physically.  Sitting outside with a glass of something nicely chilled at the end of the day has been great therapy!

ginger cake6However, as you can see, we’re not out of the woods yet! 

ginger cake7 We are not very thrilled with the new oven.  In fact Nick absolutely hates it, and the hob.  Although brand new they are both very basic models and we have promised ourselves that once the dust settles, if there is enough left in the kitty, we will have new ones of our own choosing.

ginger cake9

Anyway, I had been itching to bake a cake, new oven or not.  I had successfully made several crumbles and a rather delicious blackberry and apple sponge – a version of Eve’s pudding made using dessert apples and blackberry jam – so I thought it was time to bite the bullet and just do it.

ginger cake9b

Nick chose the recipe.  It’s called “preserved ginger cake” and he found it in my copy of “Delia’s Cakes”.  That in itself was another challenge.  Most of my cookbooks were still in cardboard boxes until a few days ago.  We couldn’t empty the boxes until we built some flatpack Ikea furniture to house other stuff that was in other boxes on top of the boxes they were in.  If you see what I mean.

Another challenge was getting all the ingredients ready.  It took me over half an hour to find all the bits and pieces and the right tin, but I have to say it was a tremendous success.  The cake was moist and light with an even crumb and a good ginger flavour.   I am very chuffed to have made my very first cake in my brand new kitchen in my new house. 

lavenderandlovage_teatime

You can see the recipe here.  I decided not to put any icing on it as we were to be taking slabs of it as part of a packed lunch for a day out.  It’s a great picnic cake, tasty and easy to pick up and eat.  For that reason I am entering it into this month’s Teatime Treats, organised by Karen of Lavender and Lovage and Jane of The Hedgecombers.  Karen is in charge this month, which is all about picnic food, and you can see the details here.

July 17, 2014

THREE FRUIT COBBLER

three fruit cobbler3 It has been a while since I baked anything.  Moving house is an all-consuming, full-on, exhausting activity.  Especially when, even though we had disposed of an awful lot of our belongings and put at least half of our furniture and other stuff into store, we still have too much to fit comfortably into our new house.

The new house has a brand new kitchen.  I managed to stop myself from laughing when the (very) young man who showed us round it said everything was “top of the range”.  Brand new it certainly was, top of the range it most definitely wasn’t.  Good quality but very basic is the way I would describe it.

Nick absolutely hates the hob and oven.  The hob is a very basic induction model, which is, to say the least, taking some getting used to.  The oven is a very basic fan oven.  So basic that the thermostat has very few temperature markings on it.  It goes from 150 – 175 - 200° with nothing in between.  So setting the oven temperature is a bit of a guesstimate.   Consequently I haven’t felt much inclined to bake a cake, although cooking of sorts has been going on.  You can only live on take-aways for so long.

three fruit cobbler4

After two weeks and a bit of climbing over cardboard boxes and assembling flat pack furniture we abandoned ship and headed for our little holiday home in France for a break.  And also to begin the next phase of our adventure, house-hunting in France.

(In case anyone needs reminding, we have downsized in the UK in order to upsize in France.  Phase one is complete.)  Within days of being chez nous all the trials and tribulations of moving house and new kitchens had been completely forgotten.  This is good.  We needed to remind ourselves of exactly why we were doing this. 

One of the things I find really touching in our little corner of rural France is how gifts of food are so freely given.  Friends will give us armfuls of home grown fruit and veg when we visit.  We regularly open the front door to find flowers or veg on the doorstep, left there by our neighbour Mme André.

One day last week we went for dinner with some friends to the hotel in the village and with coffee were served tiny red plums instead of chocolates.  A discussion about the plums followed and the manager assured us they were mirabelles, from a tree in the hotel courtyard.  I always thought mirabelles were yellow.

Anyhow, we finished our coffee and headed out into the deserted lobby.  After a few minutes the back door burst open and the manager and the waitress appeared with big grins on their faces and a huge bag of the little plums.  “Surprise – cadeaux !!” they said.

I made a crumble and a clafoutis with some of them and with the remainder I made a three fruit cobbler.  I used about 300g plums, two dessert apples and a handful of strawberries that were slightly past their best.  I also added about 75g marzipan, cut into small cubes.

three fruit cobbler2

It was delicious.  My feeling is that the little plums are not quite as sweet as the yellow mirabelles I have had before, more like a cooking plum than a dessert plum.  Whatever they are, they’re very good in a crumble, clafoutis or cobbler !!

three fruit cobbler 

Ingredients

For the fruit filling

300g small plums, halved and stoned

2 dessert apples, peeled, cored and chopped

a few strawberries, hulled and halved

75g marzipan, cubed

100g granulated sugar

For the topping

80g cold butter, diced

200g self raising flour

100g caster sugar

100ml crème fraîche

50ml milk

a handful of flaked almonds

Method

Put the plums and apples in a medium saucepan with a splash of water and heat gently until softened.  Stir in the sugar.

Preheat the oven to 190°C / 170° fan / gas mk 5.

Put the flour and butter into a food processor and process to breadcrumbs.  Add the sugar and process briefly to combine.  Add the liquids and process to make a soft dough.

Tip the fruit into a suitable greased baking dish or tin.  Distribute the strawberries and marzipan amongst the fruit.

Dollop dessert spoonfuls of the topping mixture on top and sprinkle the flaked almonds over.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the topping is browned and firm and the fruit is bubbling.

Serve warm with cream, ice cream, custard or crème fraîche.

Serves 6-8