February 27, 2013


I am always tempted to buy the beautiful bright pink rhubarb that appears in the shops at this time of year.  Mostly I resist because it’s really quite expensive and in another couple of months we have plenty of our own in the garden.

slump1Then last weekend we were shopping on the market and saw some that seemed quite reasonably priced.  Actually, to tell the truth, I have no idea what it cost, I just couldn’t resist the beauty of it so I bought it anyway. 

There’s something about the pink rhubarb that seems different from the green stuff that grows in our garden.  I’m sure that in reality they taste exactly the same so perhaps it’s the fact that we can get it NOW, when the weather is grey, cold and altogether grotty.  It always makes me think of summer.

When I was a little girl my parents had two huge rhubarb patches at the top of their long, sloping garden, one either side of my dad’s hand-built greenhouse.  He has a photograph of me taken at about the age of five, in black and white of course, hiding behind the pea row, munching on a stick of rhubarb and dipping it into some sugar which I had tipped into my hand. 

My mum’s rhubarb pies and crumbles were to die for.  She would never have put rhubarb in a cake or have combined it with anything else, such as orange, strawberries or chocolate.  Except that occasionally she would add a few chopped dates – we liked the flavour and the “medicinal” properties were legendary !!


The pink rhubarb we get here is grown in the “rhubarb triangle”, around Wakefield in Yorkshire.  I remember seeing a TV programme about it two or three years ago, where one of the growers took the presenter into a shed where you could actually hear it growing – strange but true – there was a constant creaking noise as it pushed its way up through the compost.

A few more years ago than that, Nick and I came a cross a bunch of rhubarb growers from Wakefield on holiday in France.  What a jolly lot they were !!  We were at the end of one of our marathon motorcycle camping tours of France and, having done about 2,000 miles in a fortnight, were treating ourselves to a night in a nice hotel before getting the ferry home.  Having heard only French being spoken for two weeks it was odd to be surrounded by Yorkshire accents.  One of the desserts on the menu for the evening was something made with rhubarb and I remember clearly the laughter of these rhubarb growing folk ringing out in the restaurant as they criticised it mercilessly !!


With my lovely pink rhubarb I fancied making something other than my standard crumble so I looked on the internet and found this Good Food recipe for something called a “rhubarb and orange slump”.  As I was making it I realised it is really a cobbler by another name.  In any case, it doesn’t look much in the photos but by golly, it was delicious !! 

Tea Time Treats Challenge Logo

I am linking it to this month’s Tea Time Treats Challenge, created by Karen of Lavender and Lovage and Kate of What Kate Baked – because this month’s challenge is for puddings !!  Kate is in charge for February and this is my second pudding to be submitted – puddings are very much my thing !!

Rhubarb and orange slump

900g rhubarb, wiped and cut into 3cm lengths

zest and juice of 2 medium oranges

140g caster sugar

200g self raising flour

85g cold butter, cubed

150ml milk

2 tbslp flaked almonds (optional)


Preheat the oven to 190°C / 170°fan / gas mk 5.  Grease a gratin or other baking dish.

Put the rhubarb in a medium saucepan with the orange juice and one tablespoon of the sugar.  Heat gently and cook for about 5 minutes until the fruit is soft.  Tip into the prepared dish.

Put the flour and butter into a food processor and blitz to breadcrumbs.  Mix in the orange zest and the remaining sugar.  Add enough milk to make a soft dough – softer than pastry but firmer than a sponge mixture – by pulsing again.

Drop tablespoonfuls of the mixture onto the fruit, scatter the flaked almonds over (if using) and bake for 25-30 minutes until the topping is crisp and golden.

Serve warm with cream, custard, ice cream or whatever you fancy.

Serves 6.

February 25, 2013


The Alphabakes Challenge for February, organised by Ros of The more than occasional baker, and Caroline of Caroline Makes, is to bake something which has the letter “E” in the title. 

Eighteenth century tart1

Well it turns out that Ros has presented us with a real challenge this month because….have you ever looked in the index of a recipe book to see how many entries there are for the letter “E”?  Well I have, and believe me, there are very few !!  Simply “egg” was not allowed so if you take “egg” out of the selection you are left with lots of recipes that are entitled “easy” this or “economical” that, “everyday”  the other, and not much else.


I could have attempted chocolate éclairs or English madeleines, which were very tempting.  Eve’s pudding was a possibility and I did make a baked egg custard the other week - but thought that wouldn’t count.

Eighteenth century tart6

Then I remembered this dessert that I used to make regularly in the 1990’s.  It’s a sort of orange curd tart with grated apple on top and all I had to do was remember which recipe book it came from.

Eighteenth century tart2

And here it is, full of puddings that have long since gone out of fashion, piped whipped cream no longer being the height of sophistication for a dinner party.

Eighteenth century tart3 Eighteenth century tart4 

It’s easy enough to make – a sweet pastry case and a filling made from whisked egg yolks and candied peel.  Then you simply sprinkle grated apple on top and bake.

The recipe does not suggest baking blind the pastry case and indeed there was a slight hint of a soggy bottom.  Perhaps not exactly soggy, but maybe just damp - less crisp and crumbly than would be perfect.  In previous decades a soggy bottom never bothered me, possibly because most of my tarts and pies probably had them and it was the norm.  I’m sure my mum’s often had them too.  But somehow since “Bake Off” having a soggy bottom has become a criminal offence and we are all now much more conscious of them – I have been known to turn my pastry upside down and give it a Mary Berry kind of tap just to make sure !!  So the next time I make this tart I think I will bake the pastry case first, just to see if it makes a difference !!

Of course I have no idea what it is about the tart that links it to the eighteenth century.  Delia has a creamed apple flan on her website which she says comes from an eighteenth century recipe.  Further research via Google comes up with a handful of puddings that contain lemon, apple or pear - and a few rather buxom wenches!  Unfortunately my recipe book is from the era where all you get is the recipe itself – history and other observations seem to be a phenomenon of more recent cookbooks.

 Eighteenth century tart8

The filling is shallow but very rich and you only need a small slice each, depending of course on how much you had to eat before you got to the dessert.

Tea_Time_Treatrs_logo Now that I have rediscovered it I shall add it to back into my repertoire of favourite puddings.  Which brings me nicely to the point where I can also submit it to this month’s Tea Time Treats Challenge, organised by Karen of Lavender and Lovage and Kate of What Kate Baked – because this month’s challenge is for puddings !!

Kate is in charge this month and, being rather a fan of puddings myself, it was almost unthinkable that I should not take part this time !!


For the pastry

125g plain flour

75g cold butter, cubed

½ tblsp caster sugar

1 egg yolk

1 tblsp cold water

For the filling

75g softened butter

75g caster sugar

4 egg yolks

25g candied peel

zest of one orange

1 dessert apple


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease a 20cm (8”) tart tin or flan dish.

Make the pastry by putting the flour and butter in a food processor and blitzing until breadcrumbs miraculously appear.  Add the sugar and egg yolk and pulse again, adding enough water to form a dough.  Roll out and line the tart tin or flan dish.

To make the filling, put the butter, egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl and whisk with an electric whisk, beating until they are light and fluffy.  Stir in the candied peel and orange zest.

Spread the filling over the pastry case.  Core the apple and grate it, unpeeled, then sprinkle it over the filling.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the filling slightly puffed up and not too wobbly.  (It will shrink back down as it cools.)

Serve warm or cold.  Cuts into 6 slices as a little goes a long way.

February 22, 2013


The We Should Cocoa Challenge for this month, hosted by Jen of Blue Kitchen Bakes, is to make something combining chocolate with ginger.  This is a combination I have never baked before so I spent a happy time browsing through my cookbooks for ideas.  There were quite a few delicious looking chocolate and ginger cakes, fabulous sophisticated tarts and plenty of ginger biscuits dipped in chocolate.  Then I spotted a half jar of ginger jam in the fridge and wondered if I could do something with that !!  I remembered some little buns I used to make years ago - a kind of rock cake dough but with a blob of jam in the top, dead easy to make and very moreish so I set about finding the recipe.


These days they are sometimes called by a modern name, “thumbprint cookies”, but I remember them as “raspberry buns” because that’s what we always put in them – a blob of raspberry jam. 

We_Should_Cocoa_Logo But I couldn’t find my recipe anywhere.  I could picture the accompanying photo in my mind – a few buns on a plate – but I searched through my growing collection of cookbooks and found nothing.  In actual fact that’s not absolutely true, I found a couple which used the creaming method to make the dough, which I was sure was wrong as I definitely remember rubbing butter into flour to make them.  A Mary Berry recipe for “mini jammy cakes” came close but they didn’t quite seem how I remembered them. 

buns3 I was sure I would find the recipe in the Be-Ro book but it wasn’t there – which is strange because I remember making them with my mum and the Be-Ro book was the only cookbook she ever used, apart from a few handwritten recipes and magazine cuttings that she kept in a folder.  I also seem to remember making them at school, which would be in about 1964 !!

Then I had a eureka moment.  I woke up at 3am the other night and instantly remembered where the recipe was – in the only book I hadn’t checked, my ancient copy of the “Homepride Book of Home Baking”, from about 1970.  And there it was, the very first recipe in the whole book, in the “rubbing in method” section. 

buns2 The odd thing is, if my mum used to make them in the 1950’s and 60’s (which I’m sure she did as my dad and I were very fond of anything with jam in it) and the recipe wasn’t in the Be-Ro book, where did she get it from?  Maybe it was in a magazine or a pamphlet, and became one of those things that mums always know how to make without ever having to look at the recipe again, like pastry or Yorkshire pudding.  I suppose it’s possible that she used the recipe that I brought home from school.


I adapted the recipe by adding some cocoa powder and using my ginger jam.  The buns were crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside and I loved the craggy look of them – just as I remember how the raspberry buns used to look.  They were not too sweet and could have stood a little more intensity of the chocolate and ginger flavours so next time I think I might add some chocolate chips and glacé ginger to the dough…..I’ll add to the post to say how I got on.

buns7Thanks again to Jen of Blue Kitchen Bakes for another inspiring We Should Cocoa Challenge, also to Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog, and Chele of Chocolate Teapot, for having the idea in the first place!!


200g self raising flour

a small pinch of salt

100g cold butter or margarine (I used a block of Clover), cubed

100g caster sugar

1 tblsp cocoa powder

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tblsp milk

ginger jam


Preheat the oven to 220°C / 190° fan / gas mk 7.  Grease a large baking sheet or line it with baking parchment

Sift the flour and salt into a large bow and rub in the butter to get fine breadcrumbs.  (Or pulse in a food processor.)

Stir in the cocoa powder and sugar, make a well in the centre and mix in the egg and enough milk to make a firm dough.

Knead lightly on a floured surface and divide the mixture into 12 parts.  Shape each one into a round by hand and place them well apart on the baking sheet.  Using your thumb or the end of a wooden spoon, make a dent in each round and drop in a scant teaspoon of jam.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until risen and brown.  Transfer to a rack to cool.  (Remember not to taste too soon when they come out of the oven as the jam will be very hot and can burn.)

Makes 12 buns.

(For regular raspberry buns, omit the cocoa powder and use raspberry jam.)

February 13, 2013


Every November we hold a cake stall at work to raise money for Children in Need.  When we did it for the first time in 2003 we made £130.  We have beaten the previous year’s total every time and in our tenth year we raised over £850. 

Update : in November 2013 we beat the previous total again and made a staggering £1,200 !!!

The same five ladies did the baking and believe me there was an awful lot of cake !!  I made eight cakes myself and some of the others made even more, by baking ahead and freezing, or enlisting the help of family members.  By donating the ingredients I guess it costs each one of us about £40 but that’s our personal contribution to the charity and it generates so much more with a bit of effort.  It’s hard work, but it’s also a lot of fun and brings out the best in people.

I find it incredible that so much money can be made, but it is down to hard work both in the baking and the planning, and the generosity of the people who buy the cakes. 


Half of our cake stall.

Zig-zagging from left to right you see lemon tarts and almond buns, berry Bakewell cake, blackberry and apple crumble cake, orange and almond cake, coffee cake, porter cake, pumpkin spice cake, sausage rolls, lemon drizzle cake, peanut butter cake, milk chocolate cake, cranberry and orange squares, Viennese mince pies, coffee and walnut cake, and chocolate Guinness cake at the back right corner of the picture.

If you are planning a charity cake stall for any fund raising event, you might be interested to read how we did it.

1.  Marketing.

The first time we did it the cakes were very well received and word spread quickly.  We made the most of this and each year we phone or email local shops and businesses, and our own suppliers, about a week before to remind them that we will be baking again, even taking orders.  On the morning of the day itself we follow this up with another call and this gets people to come and buy.  Generally we charge about £1 for a generous slice of cake or a sausage roll and 70p for a small bun or cake.

We don’t pay for any advertising but make use of the marketing material provided by the charity – posters etc – and display all this about a week ahead, along with lots of balloons and bunting, so that people ask what is going on and often come back on the day for the cake.

Frequently someone will buy a whole cake for a donation of £20-£30.  We have even had people come in and put £10 or £20 in the collecting tin without buying any cake at all, it’s just their way of making a donation, which is heart-warming I think.  We also have a raffle going, asking local businesses for donation of quality prizes, for which we charge £1 a ticket.  Every little helps.

2.  Quality baking.

Without a doubt it’s the big, glamorous cakes that sell the quickest.  Nigella’s chocolate Guinness cake, the coffee and walnut cake and the big, decorated chocolate cakes are the best sellers.  So long as the cakes look good they will sell but small cakes, scones and buns are always the last to go at our cake stall.  Sausage rolls and cheese scones sell quite well, also traditional cakes such as date and walnut loaf, carrot cake and lemon drizzle cake.  Anything a bit quirky sells less well so I was really pleased when my pumpkin spice cake sold out last time – it was the first time I had made it and I think it sold because it looked so attractive – an ordinary cake baked in a posh tin !!

charity baking5

We keep a list of what was on sale each year and make a note of which cakes sold well and which were less popular so that we can make sure we bake the best sellers again next time. 

Some people remember the cake stall when the charity begins to be advertised in the media and contact us to make sure we will be doing it again, sometimes making special requests, such as the company that asked – well almost demanded - that we bake a blackberry and apple crumble cake again !!  Home-made cake is such a joy to eat and so much better than shop-bought yet most people still don’t bake themselves that often I think.

3.  Presentation.

We have accumulated a collection of cake stands and plates so that the cakes can be displayed attractively.  Crumbs are tidied up as slices are cut and served, and the table is constantly rearranged to make sure the cakes always look appealing – a lonely slice of delicious cake does not sell if it’s on a plate of crumbs but does if it’s on a cake stand with a few others.

charity baking2A tidy display of cakes.

Each cake or plate of bakes has a label saying what it is so that customers can see straight away what they are without having to ask.  If they do ask, we can instantly see ourselves what the cakes are without having to find the person who baked it.  If a cake is slightly unusual we put the main ingredients on the back of the label.  Our labels are flags made quite simply from wooden skewers with address labels wrapped round them which we then push into the cakes so that they stand up and can be easily read.

4. Packaging.

We have a few tables and chairs set up on the premises so that people can enjoy their cake with a cup of tea or coffee.  We charge for the drinks of course, adding to the takings, and have collected nice china (mostly from charity shops) to serve them in. 

charity baking4Good packaging.

But most people buy a few pieces of cake and take them away to enjoy at home or at work so packing them was a real problem for the first few years.  We experimented with all kinds of bags, paper plates and cling film but we always worried that a beautiful slice of cake might not survive the journey and would be a bashed up lump of crumbs by the time people got it home!

Then one of us had the brilliant idea of asking our local supermarket (Morrison’s) if they would donate some of the cartons they use to sell their own cakes and pastries.  They were happy to help and gave us a whole box with about 350 plastic containers in, just the right size for two of slices of cake or 4 buns.  This made an enormous difference because at last we could sell people a box of cake that looked really nice and would get home in one piece.  All of which helps to encourage people to come back next year.

charity baking3The leftovers.

Inevitably there are always some leftovers at the end of the day so last year I put a few boxes of mixed buns and cakes in a nice basket and took it up and down the street at home, the day after the main event so the cakes were still fresh and looked good.  I knocked on doors, presented the basket under people’s noses and asked for a donation of anything at all for a box of cake.  The least people gave was £5!  I sold the whole lot so with just a little more effort I swelled our takings by £35 for what might otherwise have been thrown away.

I think the charity itself makes a difference in that people will give generously for something they think is worthwhile, such as Children in Need, and especially so if they can see the effort that has been put in. 

And of course, it’s home-made cake, which most people seem to find irresistible !!

So if you are having a cake stall soon, I hope this might give you a few ideas and  – good luck !!

February 12, 2013


Pancake day was almost not going to happen at this house but in the end we had it a day early (it was either that or not at all due to circumstances).

So instead of making home-made pancakes I rustled up a quick cheat’s version of stuffed pancakes and it was delicious.  In fact I found the recipe on the Delicious Magazine website and you can see it here.

pancakesIt was very quick and easy to do and afterwards, as always, I wondered why we only have pancakes once a year !!

Spinach and ricotta stuffed pancakes (my version)

250g bag spinach

250g tub ricotta cheese

1 pack of six ready-made pancakes (make sure you buy the unsweetened ones)

1 500g jar of Dolmio tomato sauce for lasagne

cheddar cheese for grating on top


Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180°fan / gas mk 6

Empty the bag of spinach into a large colander and stand it in the sink.  Pour over boiling water straight from the kettle to wilt it then refresh under cold running water straight from the tap.  Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the spinach and put it in a medium bowl.  Add the ricotta and mix together.

Empty half the jar of tomato sauce into a lasagne dish and spread out over the base.

Take about a sixth of the spinach mixture and spread it all over one of the pancakes then carefully roll up.  Place it on top of the sauce with the join underneath, repeat with the remaining pancakes and mixture.

Pour the rest of the tomato sauce over the pancakes and spread it out to cover them all.  Sprinkle some grated cheese on top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes (I found they needed more time than stated on the website but check after 20 minutes).  Serve with salad and crusty bread, or whatever you fancy.

Serves 3-4.

(When the stuffed pancakes came out of the oven I put in another pack of sweet ready-made pancakes to warm up so we could have them for dessert.  I put them on a plate with a piece of baking paper between each one to prevent them sticking together and a piece of foil on top.  We ate them with orange juice and sugar (Dad), apple compote and honey (Nick) and lemon juice and stewed rhubarb (me).  A successful cheat’s Pancake Day.

I promise to get the frying pan out next year !!

February 8, 2013


We recently had to get a new fridge freezer.  The good thing about that is that we had to empty out the freezer drawers and have a good sort out.  Amongst the miscellaneous oddments lurking in the bottom drawer were three boxes containing three fish fingers each, (some battered, some breadcrumbed),  three packets containing a few oven chips of various types and four bags containing a handful of peas in each.  So guess what we had for dinner !!

posh peasI had seen an idea for posh peas in the book “What’s For Dinner?” by Fay Ripley.  She calls them “French peas” but most of the recipes I have ever seen for French peas have bacon or lardons in them.  These were absolutely scrummy without the lardons and easy enough to make while the fish fingers and the oven chips were cooking in the oven !!

Ingredients (it’s not critical to have exact quantities)

400g frozen peas

70g butter

2 leeks

½ an iceberg lettuce

80ml vegetable stock (I used ½tsp Marigold powder dissolved in boiling water)

Flat leaf parsley


Wash, trim and finely slice the leeks.  Cook them in the butter on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes.

Wash and roughly shred the lettuce.  Add to the pan with the peas and stock.

Cover and continue to cook on medium heat for a few minutes, until the peas are cooked and the lettuce is limp.

Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in some chopped parsley.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

February 4, 2013


My dad no longer comes to us for his dinner on a Sunday evening.  This is because he now has a lady friend and he takes her to lunch on Sundays.  He can’t manage to eat two big meals in one day so he comes to us for his tea on Mondays instead.

The upshot of this is that we have our weekends to ourselves and now see Sundays as a day when we can, if we fancy, cook something out of the ordinary or even rather exotic, things that we wouldn’t have cooked previously in case my dad didn’t like it.


When we were in the supermarket on Saturday we looked at the game birds and other tasty meats and picked up a pack of venison.  Not that there is anything extraordinarily exotic about venison but I’m pretty sure it would not have been my dad’s choice.  Whenever we asked him what he fancied for his dinner at the weekend he usually said “chicken” and his other favourites were lamb or gammon.

In fact I’m pretty sure that when he goes to lunch with his lady friend on Sundays he probably has gammon with egg on top – not pineapple as that’s far too exotic !!


Anyway, when we got the pack of venison out of the fridge to cook it, it turned out to be pack of “British game casserole mix”.  Obviously, although we had spent ages carefully weighing up what we would like to cook we picked up the wrong pack when we put it in our basket.  Hmmmmm.

It was a 340g pack of mixed venison, pheasant, pigeon, partridge and duck.  With the occasional lead shot, all for £4.


To it we added a few chopped chestnut mushrooms, two shallots, two small carrots, a leek and a small pack of lardons.  We casseroled it in chicken stock and for extra oomph added some sprigs of thyme and a good splash of port.

It was delicious.  It would easily have fed three people, being fairly rich and would stretch to four with extra veg on the side.  We served ours with some broccoli, green cabbage and celeriac & sweet potato mash.


It’s definitely something we will be making again.

Surprise game casserole

1x340g pack Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference British game casserole mix

1 small pack of lardons

2-3 shallots, peeled and halved

1-2 leeks, depending on size, washed and thickly sliced

2 small carrots, peeled and thickly sliced

3-4 chestnut mushrooms, wiped and thickly sliced

3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme

500ml chicken stock

salt and pepper

a small glass of port

oil for frying

2-3tsp cornflour or plain flour for thickening if needed


Preheat the oven to 170°C / 150°fan / gas mk 3.

In a medium hob-proof casserole dish or frying pan, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil.  Add the casserole mix pieces and the lardons and brown.  Remove from the pan and set aside.  Add the shallots and mushrooms to the pan and brown.

Remove from the heat.  Add the other vegetables, stock, thyme, and port to the casserole dish (transfer to a suitable casserole dish if you have used a frying pan), return the meat, stir and season with salt and pepper.

Cover and cook in the oven for about 1¼ hours or until the meat and vegetables are tender.  (Add a little plain flour or cornflour mixed with water and return to the oven half way through the cooking time to thicken if you like.)  Serve with mashed root veg and greens.

Serves 3-4.