March 22, 2024



I've been back in the UK for a short spell.

When I got home, the car we leave in the UK, (officially an old banger) wouldn't start.  The new battery that was fitted only a few weeks ago had failed.  How odd.  The old battery lasted nine years but the new one only eleven weeks.  Very annoying.  However, Halfords came out and changed it two days after I arrived.  My brother drove me everywhere I needed to go whilst the car was out of action, bless him.  

There has been plenty for me to do whilst I've been here and the weather hasn't been too bad, mostly fine.  I managed to cut the grass (once my brother had started the mower) and tidy the garden a bit.  I am mindful of the fact that too much tidying at this time of year can deprive insects and wildlife of their habitat until Spring properly arrives so left piles of leaves and moss undisturbed.  

On the first day of Spring and in the sunshine I fetched the garden table and chairs out of the shed to enjoy it.  I brought the pots of geraniums out from their overwintering spot in the garage, gave them a little drink and a feed and wished them well.  They're in a sunny, sheltered spot so hopefully might survive any frosts until the next visit when they can be restored to their proper place on the patio.  As I sat in the late afternoon sunshine I'll swear I could hear them stretching their stalks as they soaked up the warmth.

Being without a car was a challenge but luckily I live a ten minute walk from the village shop.  There I spotted a bunch of bananas which were past their best for 50p.  Irresistible!  And after a busy week I felt that me and my brother definitely deserved a cake.  A proper cake with icing and decorations.

The recipe is adapted from one in a book by Joanne Wheatley.  She covered hers all over with buttercream and decorated it with caramelised pecan nuts.  I just used what I had in stock so added some bronze sprinkles.  

I used a supermarket own brand flour, which I tend to buy when I'm here because it's so cheap, and, with sometimes long intervals between visits, I don't like the idea of leaving expensive flour that might go to waste.  I sifted it well (not such a chore) and it was perfectly good.  I also used the sugar I had in stock rather than the light soft brown sugar in the original recipe.  That was fine too, possibly adding to the caramel flavour.  My baking powder was a bit out of date but I decided to risk it rather than go out and buy a new pack.....which might then be left unused for some time.  It worked fine.

My icing sugar had gone hard because he who made and iced the Christmas cake hadn't closed up the paper packet!  I whizzed it well in the food processor but it still had some small lumps in it.  In actual fact they added to the crunch of the sprinkles on top and did not spoil what was a perfectly delicious cake.

It rose like a dream, looked very glamorous, had an excellent texture and tasted utterly divine.  Definitely a cake I will make again and it would probably be a good seller at a cake stall.  


For the cake

250g baking spread or softened butter

200g light muscovado sugar

3 large eggs, beaten

2 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed roughly with a fork

300g self raising flour

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp baking powder

a splash of milk if needed

For the buttercream

150g spreadable butter, or softened butter.  I used Lurpak Spreadable.

300g icing sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 generous tblsp caramel spread.  I used Bon Maman confiture du lait

splash of milk


Preheat the oven to 170° C / 150° fan / gas mk 3.  Grease two 20cm sandwich tins and line the bases with baking paper.

Put the butter/spread and sugar into a large bowl and beat well with a wooden spoon or hand held electric whisk until light and fluffy (I used my Kenwood stand mixer).

Add the beaten eggs roughly in thirds and beat in.  Add the bananas and beat in.

Fold in the flour, baking powder and cinnamon.  Mix well to combine, adding a little milk if it seems very stiff, and divide between the prepared tins.  

Level the tops and bake for 30-35 minutes until done.  Cool in the tins for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the buttercream, put the butter or spread into a large bowl and beat until soft.  Sift in the icing sugar and cinnamon and beat until smooth.  Add the caramel and beat in.  Add a splash of milk to make a soft, spreadable consistency.  (I used the food processor to make mine, blitzing the icing sugar first to remove lumps then adding the other ingredients.)

Sandwich the two cakes together with half of the buttercream and spread the rest on top.  Decorate with sprinkles of your choice.

Cuts into 8-10 generous slices.

February 28, 2024

SUNDAY DINNER SOUP (soup maker recipe)

We are very much fans of Sunday Dinner Pie in this house.  It's very similar to Christmas Dinner Pie which I wrote about here.

Last weekend we roasted a small joint of loin of pork in our usual way, which is in a covered roasting tin, sitting on a layer of sliced onions and covered with a herb crust (breadcrumbs with a few added mixed herbs).  We are not fans of pork crackling on account of it being "rather bad for you"!

Afterwards there were two small slices of pork, two potatoes and a few florets of broccoli and cauliflower left over, but no gravy.  Gravy is an essential element of Sunday Dinner Pie so I decided to turn the leftovers into soup instead.

It was delicious and quite thick because of the quantity of leftover potatoes but none the worse for that.  If I didn't own a soup maker I probably would have persevered with the pie option, making some extra gravy and using ready made pastry, or maybe turned it into some kind of gratin, or had a roast pork salad with the potatoes and discarded the rather tired looking veg.  Or, perish the thought, maybe even a roast pork sandwich and discarded everything else.  This was probably the easiest and quickest option that made use of all the leftovers.

It would probably work with any leftover roast meat.


2 slices of roast pork (with any attached herb crumb) chopped

1 onion (use the one that had been roasted with the meat if you have it)

leftover potatoes and veg

1 large carrot

1 small potato

1 leek

1 garlic and thyme stock pot (or a veg stock cube)

a splash of dry sherry (optional)


Peel and roughly chop the carrot and put it in a layer in the bottom of the soup maker.  Put the Sunday dinner leftovers on top and then add enough prepared leek and potato to fill to the bottom line.

Add the stock pot or cube and enough water to fill to the top line.

Cook on smooth.  Stir the sherry into the finished soup.

Makes 4 generous servings.

February 20, 2024


With my part used packet of chopped dates and a couple of tired bananas I hankered after making something quick and easy.  I have used this recipe for banana loaf before and followed the tips at the end of the recipe to add some chopped dates.  This time I made mini muffins instead.  They are a nice bite sized treat, easy to hand round to a group of people.

They were well risen, nicely spiced and not too sweet.  I think that a bananaphobe would have not been too challenged - they were very moreish and even Nick liked them!

There had been an unfortunate mishap with my brand new jar of English mixed spice the week before.  Hard tiled floors are not very forgiving, spice and broken glass went everywhere. On the advice of a friend I replaced it with a French equivalent called "quatre épices".  The spices are ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.  I looked up the ingredients of British mixed spice and they have a very similar composition although also include coriander, which I usually associate with savoury dishes. Curious! The French version worked perfectly.

The quantity of mixture in the recipe made 48 mini muffins with some still some left over, so I made a few buns as well, which took a few minutes longer to bake.  Definitely a recipe worth remembering if you're short of time but want no shortage of flavour!

The very pretty little cake stand came from a brocante shop in a nearby village.  This place is actually an old barn stuffed with antique furniture, textiles, crockery and every imaginable kind of old or vintage household goods.  Prices are not as cheap as at the average village flea market but affordable.  This little cake stand was one of several that belonged to a huge set of matching crockery, a whole dinner service with numerous serving dishes, tureens and everything else that a large household might have.  The only item of it that I wanted (although all of it was gorgeous) was one of these with the pretty bird and flowers.  I think that had there only been one in the set the shopkeeper might have refused, but there were several so she was happy to sell me one.


3 very ripe bananas, about 225g peeled weight

3 large eggs

100g light soft brown sugar

150ml vegetable oil (I used groundnut oil)

275g self raising flour

1 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp baking powder

a handful of chopped dates


Put the dates into a small bowl and just cover with boiling water.  Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4.  Grease the holes of two mini muffin tins.

Put the peeled bananas into a large bowl and mash roughly with a fork.  Add the eggs, sugar and oil and whisk with an electric hand held whisk until well combined.

Add the flour, spice and baking powder and whisk again until just combined.  Stir through the soaked dates including the liquid.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tins.  I used a mini ice cream scoop so that they were roughly even.  Bake for 12-15 minutes until done.  (The larger buns took 20 minutes).  Cool in the tins for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack.

Makes more than 48 mini muffins.

February 4, 2024


It's been a dull, grey weekend, the oven whispered "bake a cake" around lunchtime, and with a few parsnips lurking in the fridge, some lonely clementines in the fruit bowl and an unopened packet of chopped dates in the cupboard, a particular cake sprung to mind.  It's many years since I made it and the original comes from one of my most  favourite food blogs written by Dominic Franks.  You can see the last time I made this cake to Dom's recipe here.

Several people expressed a certain amount of scepticism when I made a cake using parsnips a few weeks ago, but on actually tasting it "ate their words".  Parsnips work just as well in a cake as do carrots, courgettes and other vegetables.  (I draw the line at kale.  The kale and apple cake I made a few years ago was truly horrible and I still shudder when I think about it!)

This time I used the dates instead of sultanas and, as both dates and parsnips are fairly sweet, I omitted the small amount of honey.  I also decided not to glaze it with the honey and clementine glaze either.  It was sweet enough without it and the top already looked nice and glossy so I didn't ice it.  I also decided to grate the parsnips a bit finer, using the medium grater on my box grater, which produced a nice cloud of fluffy parsnip which would be more easily concealed in the cake if anyone had doubts about it!

I made it as a traybake, with the walking group debriefing session in mind and it worked beautifully.  It was moist, delicious and kept well - possibly being even better the day after baking.  It was a huge hit with the handful of intrepid walkers that braved a cold, grey and muddy walk then retired to the bar.  There was only the slightest twitch of a raised eyebrow from our French members who by now probably realise that the English, although bonkers, can make a good cake from peculiar ingredients.  One even compared it to pain d'epices - and had a second slice.  Praise indeed!  A winner!


150g chopped dates

juice and zest of 4 clementines (or satsumas, mandarins or maybe 2 small oranges)

3 large eggs 

175ml groundnut or sunflower oil

200g soft light brown sugar

200g self raising flour

50g ground almonds

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cinnamon

200g parsnips


Put the dates and clementine juice into a small pan.  Add a little water if necessary to ensure they are covered.  Bring to the boil, turn off the heat and set aside to cool.

Peel and grate the parsnips, using the medium fine side of your grater, grating only the fleshy part and discarding the tougher core.

Preheat the oven to 170° C / 150° fan / gas mk 3½.  Butter and line the base and sides of a large traybake or roasting tin measuring about 33 x 24 cm.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar and flour until well blended and creamy.  This is easy enough to do with a wooden spoon.

Add the soaked dates including any liquid and all the other ingredients including the clementine zest.  Mix well.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden brown and cooked.  Cool in the tin.

Cuts into 12-16 slices or squares, depending on how many people you want to feed.

February 3, 2024


I have made this dish many times before, although not for a few years, but never posted about it.  You can find versions of it all over the place on the internet but I usually follow, as a guide, the recipe for "Provencal garlic chicken" from a great little book by Jill Dupleix called "good cooking"**.

It’s one of those recipes that’s staggeringly easy but delicious and warrants ferreting around in the back of the kitchen cupboard for a much loved bit of old kitchen equipment - the chicken brick!

I acquired a chicken brick back in the 70’s or 80’s, or whenever it was that they were all the rage.  It was made of a terracotta pottery (possibly from Habitat) and was probably a Christmas or birthday present, but it didn’t get much use and I don’t remember when I noticed it was no longer around.  Then, about twelve years ago, we held a Pampered Chef party at our house - a kind of Tupperware party but for cooking equipment.  I bought quite a few items and they were not cheap but have turned out to be a good investment.  One of the things I lashed out on was a new chicken brick, or updated version thereof, as it's also very good for casseroles, slow roasted meats and other things.

I remember the Pampered Chef agent saying that these pots should not be put in the dishwasher, that they should be washed in hot soapy water to remove any food bits but should otherwise be allowed to develop their own "patina".  This rather goes against the grain for someone like me who was brought up to scrub things to within an inch of their lives to ward off nasty tummy bugs - and whose very first domestic science lesson (from a very stern Mrs Stafford) was about how to clean a kitchen worktop properly and look after your dishcloth (having first knitted it from cotton string in the needlework class).  But I have to say that the residue hasn't killed us yet, however unappealing it may look! 

Any suitable casserole or roasting dish that has a tight fitting lid will do the job.  You can ensure a tight seal by covering the chicken with foil or baking paper before putting the lid on.  With my chicken brick I don't have to do this.

The original recipe is for forty cloves of garlic but when I checked the larder all I had in stock was thirty! It turned out beautifully; moist and delicious.  The leftover meat was excellent in a chicken and leek pie, the carcass went into the stock pot and was turned into a tasty soup with the leftover potatoes and garlic.

Retirement does have benefits.  Our food bill and wastage are both significantly lower than when we were working.  I never thought I would turn into a person that makes their own stock (and uses leftovers so enthusiastically) but having the time to do it is the key.  

**Other recipes from this excellent little book that I have made and posted about before include:

Airport potatoes 

Cranberry blondies


1 oven ready chicken, about 1.2 kg in weight

2 bay leaves

3 sprigs of thyme

4 tblsp olive oil plus extra for oiling the dish

30 garlic cloves, unpeeled

6-8 smallish potatoes, washed but skin on

75ml dry white wine


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Lightly oil the inside of the baking dish.

Rub the chicken with a little salt and put it in the pot, surrounded by the potatoes, garlic and herbs.  Drizzle with the olive oil, pour over the wine and season again with salt and pepper.

Fit the lid tightly (see notes in text) and bake for about an hour.  Remove the lid, increase the oven temperature to 220°C / 200° fan / gas mk 7 and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through* and the skin is a golden brown.

Serve with the potatoes and garlic cloves, which are delicious when squished so the puréed garlic oozes out.  Serve the cooking juices from the bottom of the chicken in a jug and any greens or salad of your choice.

*You can judge this by either poking a knife into the thickest part of the breast and making sure the juices run clear, not pink, or by using a meat thermometer.

Serves 6 with leftovers to use as you wish.

February 2, 2024


For my Burns Night Supper I decided to make this as well as the traditional Cranachan.  Marmalade was thought to have been invented in Scotland after all although this is now disputed.  (See here.) 

One of the guests was tee total and as the recipes I had settled on for both desserts contained whisky, I made two versions of each; with and without it.  I had an idea that whisky is not to everyone’s taste, not even the Scots, and as it turned out both versions were equally popular!  For this pudding I simply divided the ingredients between two separate baking dishes and put a good dollop of whisky into half of the egg mixture. 

It was delicious and you can see the original recipe here.  I used "wonderloaf" but it would also be good made with brioche or sliced croissants - for a Franco-Scots variation!


8 slices of white bread, crusts removed

approximately 50g very soft butter

approximately 4 tblsp orange marmalade, plus a few extra tsp

300ml milk (I used semi skimmed as that's what we have)

250 ml double cream

3 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 tblsp golden caster sugar (white sugar would be fine)

1 tblsp whisky (optional)

icing sugar for dusting (I forgot this step!)


Butter a suitable ovenproof pie dish.

Butter both sides of each slice of bread.  Make four marmalade sandwiches by spreading 4 of the slices generously with marmalade and topping them with the other 4 slices.

Cut each sandwich into four triangles and arrange them, pointed end up, in the pie dish.

Put the milk, cream, eggs, vanilla, whisky and sugar into a large jug and beat well together.  Pour this mixture over the sandwiches and set aside to soak in for 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 160°C / 140° fan / gas mk4. 

Dot a few teaspoons of extra marmalade over the pudding and dust with icing sugar.  Bake for 45 minutes or until the edges of the bread are brown and crisp and the custard is set.

Serve straight away or just warm.

Serves 6-8.

January 30, 2024


I made cock-a-leekie soup as the first course at our Burns Night Supper.  There were five guests plus ourselves so seven people in total.  This was more than my soup maker could handle so I made it like I always used to - in my large stock pot.  As the name suggests it is essentially a chunky chicken and leek soup!

Most of the recipes I consulted suggested cooking a chicken with the veg, taking the meat off the bones after it was cooked and adding it back into the soup.  I already had some home made chicken stock in the freezer so I cooked some chicken breasts separately (in the air fryer) and used those.  

Some recipes suggested adding prunes to the soup.  Prunes are a favourite in this house but not everyone is a fan so I left them out.  I would add some next time if I made a smaller quantity just for the two of us.  Another ingredient I left out was some smoked bacon because one of the guests eats only fish or chicken, no red meat. They would also be a good addition for next time I think!

It turned out really well - chunky veg, very tasty and this amount of ingredients made eight good servings.  It would also be an excellent way of using up leftover chicken.


2 skinless chicken breasts, cooked 

A twinpack of smoked bacon lardons (optional)

4 large carrots

2 large leeks

4 sticks of celery 

50g butter

2 tblsp olive oil 

1 litre of chicken stock (home made or using water and two chicken stock pots or cubes)

1 bouquet garni

A good handful of stoned prunes (optional)


Peel and chop the carrots into small dice of about 1cm.  Trim and thinly slice the leeks.  Wash and thinly slice the celery.  

In a large saucepan or stock pot heat the oil and butter gently until the butter has melted, add the lardons if using, then add all the veg.  Cook gently until the veg are softened which will take about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally or shaking the pan so that they don’t stick.  

Add the stock and approximately a litre of water.  The liquid should cover the veg completely so use your judgment to add more water if needed.  Add the bouquet garni and season well with salt and pepper.

Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 30 minutes.  If using the prunes add them half way through the cooking time.

Chop or tear the cooked chicken into small pieces and add into the pan.  Cook for another 5 minutes, check the seasoning and serve with a nice fresh baguette.

Makes 6-8 generous servings.