April 27, 2020

PEAR AND GINGER CAKE and an illicit cup of rosé wine.

This is a cake that I made regularly for many years.  I'm surprised I haven't written about it before but can't see that I have.  The odd thing is that the book the recipe comes from mysteriously disappeared some time ago.  The only other recipe in the book that I used was for something called Italian bread pudding and in my post about that I do refer to almost taking the book to the charity shop several times.  Which suggests that I didn't in the end.  Or did I?
I also have the same recipe copied out and filed away in my documents on my laptop, which further suggests that I did that before taking the book to the charity shop.  I'm not convinced.  The net flow of cookbooks is into the house, not out of it.  I suspect that the book is lurking in an as yet unopened box of miscellaneous packing dating back to one of our three house moves of recent years. 
About a week ago, I invited family members to afternoon tea, courtesy of Zoom.
It was a great success in that we all managed to log on and natter for a while.  I was somewhat disappointed when we were the only ones who took the "tea" part of it seriously.  And seriously we did, with triangular egg and cress sandwiches (no crusts), scones, the last two chunks of our Easter cake and - the pear and ginger cake rustled up especially for the occasion.  We did however substitute a nice chilled rosé wine for tea in the teapot - the milk jug and sugar bowl were just for show and to complete the illusion.  Nobody seemed to notice!

This is a very quick cake to put together.
Pear and ginger is a lovely combination and the cake was just as I remembered it, perfect for afternoon tea - or to accompany an illicit glass of rosé!
For the cake
175g unsalted butter
175g caster sugar
175g self raising flour
1 tblsp (6 teaspoons) ground ginger
3 eggs, beaten
For the topping
450g ripe pears
1 tblsp demerara sugar
25g butter
Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk4.  Grease and line the base of a 20cm round springform tin.
Put all of the cake ingredients into a large bowl and, using an electric whisk, beat together until smooth and well combined.
Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the top.
Peel the pears, halve and remove the core with a teaspoon or melon baller.  Slice thinly and arrange the slices on top of the cake.  Sprinkle with the sugar, dot with the butter and bake for 35-40 minutes until done.
Cuts into 8-10 slices.

April 25, 2020


 The wild garlic season is upon us.
I have Dominic at Bellau Kitchen to thank for first alerting me to the use of wild garlic in cooking.  When I was a little girl, the woods around where we lived were full of it at this time of year but it was regarded with huge disdain and derision.  My mum would never have dreamed of cooking with it.  Once I had made Dominic's wild garlic and asparagus quiche I was hooked. 

These days we are usually in France when it's in season but this year, as we know, is rather different so we have been able to pick plenty of it in the woods near to where we live in the UK.
The pie filling was made of a mixture of chunks of chicken breast, chopped leeks, bacon and mushrooms in a white sauce.  The wild garlic was stirred in when the filling was ready as it cooks very quickly, a bit like spinach.  You can vary the ingredients according to what you have in the fridge, less chicken but more leeks or mushrooms, with or without the bacon, and so on.

Having piled the filling in the pie dish I let it cool before adding the pastry.  I usually make a pastry collar for the dish before putting the lid on and sealing them together with a pinched edge - the way I was taught to do it at school.
Flour is still hard to come by in many places but there seems to be no shortage of ready made pastry, as long as you're not fussy about brand.  For my pies I used a pack of Tesco own label shortcrust pastry and it was excellent. 

I made two pies, one for us and a small version for my dad who is self isolating, all by himself in his little bungalow.  We had ours with some extra veg and it was absolutely delicious. 
Other things I have made using wild garlic are mushroom and wild garlic quiche and lasagne.  I have also used it in a version of my favourite risotto, using chicken and bacon.
1 pack of ready made, ready rolled shortcrust pastry
2 small skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized chunks
1 tblsp vegetable oil 
4 rashers smoked streaky bacon, cut into 2cm pieces
1 large leek, washed and thickly sliced
6 large chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 heaped tblsp plain flour (or cornflour)
250ml milk
a small bundle of wild garlic leaves, washed and sliced into ribbons
1 egg, beaten
Heat the oil in a large frying or sauté pan and add the chicken, bacon, leeks and mushrooms.  Cook until the chicken is slightly browned and the leeks and mushrooms softened. 
Sprinkle the flour over the pan and stir in.  Cook for about 2 minutes before stirring in the milk.  Continue cooking on low heat until you have a thickened sauce.  Add a little more flour or more milk if necessary to get the consistency of a nice, thick coating sauce.
(If you don't have plain flour, use cornflour, blending it with a little of the milk and adding more to get the right consistency if necessary.)
Season with salt and pepper and stir in the wild garlic ribbons.  Tip the whole lot into a suitable pie dish with a rim and set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk 4. 
Unwrap the pastry and cut off enough to cover the pie.  From the remaining pastry or the trimmings cut lengths about 2cm wide.  Lay the trimmings on the rim of the filled pie dish to form a collar and dampen with water.  Spread the larger piece of pastry over the pie and seal to the collar by pressing lightly into place.  Trim the edges and seal by pinching with finger and thumb or pressing with the prongs of a fork.  Make a small hole in the centre of the pastry lid and either leave as it is or decorate with leaves made from any remaining pastry trimmings.  Make extra small holes in the pastry between the leaves with the point of a knife.
Brush the lid with beaten egg and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the pastry is nicely browned.
Serve hot with veg of your choice.
Serves 4-5 portions.

April 23, 2020


I have just spent a not-so-happy hour re-uploading pictures to various posts after either Google or Blogger threw a wobbly and decided not to display them.  Grrrr…..  The good thing about this is that in searching for the original photos I stumbled across a picture or two that were meant for other posts and were forgotten.  This one of those posts, better late than never.
Now I realise that baked camembert is hardly a radically new idea and that the whole world and their grandmothers have been baking the stuff for decades.  I/we never had - until we received this delightful little pot from Nick's sister as a Christmas present.  I think that one of the reasons I/we had not baked Camembert before, apart from not having the right pot, is that we felt it was essentially "bad for us". 
Of course I also realise that you don't need a special pot to bake a Camembert.  Other people have served it to us baked in its own little wooden box topped with tinfoil or in other everyday pots lined with tinfoil.  So it wasn't not having the pot that deterred us in the past -  it was the thought of all that yummy, gooey baked cheese - far too delicious to be good for us! 
However, the pot was irresistible and came with a couple of tempting recipes so we threw caution (and our diets) to the wind and had a go.
We served it the last time we had a guest round for dinner (which seems an awfully long time ago now) and even with the best will in the world the three of us could not eat our way through a whole Camembert so there was a good half of it left over.  That's when I discovered that it's also delicious when cold and re-solidified.  I dare say that's no surprise to most people either!  We had chunks of it in salads or stirred into in a dish of potatoes. (Also just stolen from the fridge when nobody was looking for no other reason than because we could.)  The last bit of it went into a quiche. 
1 normal sized Camembert (the one that's about 10cm or 4" dia)
1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 tblsp Vermouth (or dry white wine)
1 tsp of fresh thyme leaves (or sprigs of rosemary)
Preheat the oven to 200C / 180 fan / gas mk 6.
Unwrap the Camembert and place it in the baking pot.  Make small slashes in the top and push a slice of garlic into each hole.  Pour the Vermouth over and sprinkle with the thyme.
Put the lid on the pot and bake for 20 minutes or until molten.  Serve hot with French bread, or breadsticks. 
Serves at least 4 people.

April 15, 2020


I thought it was time I sorted out the fridge and on doing so happened upon a full tub of ricotta cheese.
After puzzling over it for a moment I remembered that we had enjoyed the spinach and ricotta pancakes so much that I thought I would make some more, but never did.  Hence a tub of ricotta cheese that I had completely forgotten about, only one day past its best before date lurking at the back of the fridge.

I can't explain why my first thought was to use it in a cake - except that possibly my thoughts always turn to cake.  In any case, I vaguely remembered a recipe in one of my cookbooks that I had been meaning to make for a long time.  Years in fact.  It's in one of my favourite books - "Cakes" by Liz Herbert.  I have used many recipes from this book and they always, always work.

It said in the recipe that the top of the cake would crack and it certainly did! 

As the cake cooled down the top gradually took on a smiley face appearance.

It even smiled through a good dusting of icing sugar.

This was an excellent cake and I would highly recommend it.  I half expected it to have a texture which was more like a cheesecake but it was definitely a cake.  It was nice and moist with an even crumb, a lovely flavour and is one I look forward to making again.

50g sultanas
225g caster sugar
175g softened butter or baking spread (I used Stork soft margarine)
1 lemon, zest and juice
½ tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, separated
250g tub ricotta cheese
225g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder


First, put the sultanas into a small pan with just enough cold water to cover.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.  Drain well and leave to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Butter a 20cm round springform tin and line the base with baking paper.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks using an electric hand whisk.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the butter, sugar, lemon zest and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Gradually beat in the egg yolks then the ricotta on slow speed to make a smooth batter.

Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl, fold in with the sultanas and lemon juice.  Then carefully fold in the egg whites.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface.  Then make a slight dip in the centre with the back of the spoon.  Bake for 70-75 minutes until nicely browned and done.  (Begin checking after 65 minutes.)  The crust will crack which is normal. 

Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 15 minutes before removing carefully to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.  Dust with icing sugar before serving.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

April 11, 2020


Happy Easter!

Our Easter cake is a Mary Berry's Very Best Chocolate Fudge Cake and you can see the recipe here.


For the cake

50g cocoa powder, sifted and blended with 6 tblsp boiling water

3 large eggs

50m milk

175g self raising flour

1 rounded tsp baking powder

100g butter, softened (or use baking spread)

275g caster sugar

For the icing and filling

3 tblsp apricot jam

150g plain chocolate, not too high percent cocoa solids, Cadbury's Bournville is ideal

150ml double cream


Butter two 20cm sandwich tins and line the base with baking paper.  
Preheat the oven to 180° C / 160° fan / gas mk4.

Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and beat well until smooth and thick.  Divide between the two tins and level the tops.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until done, cool in the tins for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling completely.

Warm the apricot jam and spread onto the top of the cakes.

Break the chocolate into chunks and place with the cream into a bowl sitting over a pan of simmering water.  (Ikea sell a very useful stainless steel bowl with a handle that does this job for a few £.)

Stir the mixture frequently until the chocolate has melted then remove from the heat to cool.  When it has thickened but not set, spread over the jammy tops of the cakes and sandwich together.

Decorate with Easter eggs or other decorations of your choice.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

April 8, 2020


A quiche is a good way to use up leftovers.
This comes under the general heading of fridge bottom quiche, in other words, filling a pastry case with whatever you have left over and making it into a really tasty dish.  It can be either a light meal with some salad or a main meal with added veg, bread, etc.
Interestingly, apart from a brief encounter in Aldi a couple of weeks back, I haven't seen ordinary flour on the supermarket shelves for a while.  However, when I made a quick smash and grab shopping expedition to Tesco at the weekend (just after lunchtime on Sunday and it was very quiet) there was no flour but plenty of packs of ready made pastry.  Just what you need for a quiche.
The main ingredient for this one (which I made last year as it happens) is some slices of that delicious smoked sausage you get in France called Morteau.  There are other smoked sausages and in the UK I would use some Matteson's, the u-shaped sausage readily available in supermarkets.  In reality any cooked sausage will do.
This time I used a rather swish long and narrow tart tin but as you can see, the ready made, ready rolled pastry was not quite the right shape and there had to be a join.  Nobody seemed to notice!
Other ingredients were some sliced leftover small potatoes, a fried chopped onion and a handful of leftover cooked broad beans.
The final ingredient was some sliced very ordinary goat's cheese then the usual egg mixture.  I often add a little grated Emmental but on this occasion I didn't. 
By the way, did you know that you can still make a perfectly delicious savoury tart or quiche if you have no eggs at all?  You make the filling from a kind of white sauce instead and I wrote about it once before here.

This particular quiche was notable for two things.  Firstly it was declared by my brother, who was staying with us on holiday at the time, to be the best quiche he had ever eaten.  Secondly for the fact that it was very nearly an upside down smoked sausage quiche as in removing it from the tin I somehow managed to tip it out onto the board the wrong way up.  It only just missed ending up on the floor but with two of us and various fish slices we managed to turn it back the right way up completely intact.
1 pack of ready made, ready rolled pastry (or make your own if you have the flour)
1 onion, peeled and chopped
a few slices of smoked sausage
3-4 small potatoes, cooked and sliced (not too thin as they could break up)
a handful of leftover cooked broad beans (you could use broccoli, asparagus, or French beans)
a chunk of goat's cheese, cut into 6-8 slices (you could use slices of virtually any cheese)
3 eggs
a dollop of cream or crème fraîche
about 250ml milk, semi skimmed or full fat
Butter a tart tin with a removable base, 23cm round or oblong.  Unroll the pastry and line the tin with it.  Line with baking paper, fill with baking beans and blind bake at 180° fan for 15 minutes.
Fry the onion in a little oil until lightly browned and soft. 
Remove the tart tin from the oven, remove the paper and baking beans and turn the oven down to 160° fan.  Arrange the sliced sausage over the tart base.  Scatter the onions, then the beans, then the potatoes evenly over the sausage.  Finally top with the sliced cheese.
Put the eggs into a large jug and beat.  Add the cream or crème fraîche and mix together.  Season with salt and pepper then make up to 350ml with the milk.  Beat together to combine thoroughly and pour gently over the filling in the tart.  It's best to have a little left over than to over fill.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until the filling is puffed up, lightly browned and almost set with a slight wobble. 
Remove from the oven and set aside before serving warm.  The filling will settle down and set completely.
Serves 6.

April 6, 2020

CHEESY HAM AND EGG BASKETS - more confinement cooking.

One of the things I miss most whilst being confined to quarters is having a nice lunch out.
We usually go out to lunch every week or two, mostly on a spur of the moment basis, but of course, "that particular avenue of pleasure is currently closed off".  So, in our efforts to make the best of things, we have been trying to have more interesting food.  Often out of necessity (shortage of ingredients) but also as entertainment.  Eating out is entertainment after all and we do miss that.  Dredging my memory for lunch inspiration I was reminded of these tasty little frittatas which we first had last year and you can see the original idea here.  

You line a muffin tin with ordinary ham and fill with an eggy mixture and other bits and pieces.  I used cheddar cheese and tomatoes but you could use sliced peppers, bits of spring onion, chunks of goats cheese, anything along those lines.
You could of course just make one big frittata in a pan with bits of ham in it instead, but cooking them like this you end up with little ham baskets with crispy edges and a tasty filling.  This way takes a little longer to prepare but time is something we are not short of at the moment.  Each one is a portion for a snack, or two or three each make a nice lunch.  Serve with salad, crusty bread or, if you're feeling that side out, chips!
6 slices of ordinary supermarket ham (not too thick but not the wafer thin kind)
6 eggs
2 tblsp whole milk (you could use cream!)
2 medium tomatoes
a handful of grated cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 200C / 180 fan / gas mk6.  Butter a six hole muffin tin (or double up the quantities for a 12 hole tin, adjust down to make just four).
If your ham is in nice small rounds, make four slashes in each slice so that you can tuck them into the tin to line each hole, overlapping the edges.  (See picture.)  If using the larger oblong or square slices of ham such as you find in France, use a saucer, jam jar or similar as a template to cut rounds of roughly the right size before slashing them.  You might have to experiment a bit and if you end up with scraps of ham just add them to the mix or save them for something else (omelette, pasta, quiche, dog, etc.).
Whisk the eggs and milk together in a jug, season with salt and pepper (you could add herbs if you like) and divide equally between the holes.  Add a slice of tomato and a good sprinkling of grated cheese on top.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and puffed up.  Remove from the oven and allow the filling to settle down before removing gently with a palette knife.
Serves 2-3 people, depending on how hungry they are and what you serve with them.

April 3, 2020

SPINACH, PEA AND SAUSAGE EGGS FLORENTINE - yet more pandemic cooking.

This is one of those recipes that I couldn't wait to cook the moment I read it in a blog.
The lovely Dom's blog, Bellau Kitchen, is a joy to read and has over the years inspired me to cook lots of new dishes.  Cakes, soups, chicken thigh dishes, quiches, and many, many more.  The recipes always work and some have become my absolute favourites.
This was a huge hit with us when I made it just yesterday.  Although I was keen to try it, it actually took me a month to get around to it.  Knowing that there were some sausages, spinach and peas in the freezer but huge queues of people with trolleys patiently waiting to get into our nearest supermarkets (Tesco and Aldi) polarised me into activity and I finally did it. 
The only other ingredient that might not necessarily be a store cupboard/freezer item is the cream but as I said recently, we have a few boxes of Tesco "UHT double cream substitute" which were destined for France and is now very handy to have in here.
You can see the recipe here.  For the herbs I used a sprig of thyme from the garden and the only real deviation I made from the recipe was to use Cumberland pork sausages not veggie ones and about half the quantity of everything except the sausages.  That was plenty for the two of us, and in fact just two eggs not four would have been fine. It was absolutely delicious.

April 1, 2020

GINGER SPELT BISCUITS - more pandemic cooking.

I don't make biscuits very often but these are my favourites to make when I do.  The interesting thing about them is that they're made using spelt flour.
With ordinary flour being rarer than hen's teeth at the moment it occurred to me that one of the flours that might have been left behind on the supermarket shelf by the stockpilers is spelt flour.  So you may just be able to get your hands on some.  In which case I would highly recommend these biscuits.
They're quick to put together and bake in just 7 minutes or so.  The added bonus is that the kitchen smells wonderful the minute you start to melt the butter and golden syrup in the pan!

They're a lovely, chewy, gingery biscuit, crisp on the outside and softish in the middle.  They don't actually keep all that well and tend to soften quite quickly - but then keeping them is not usually an issue - they tend not to hang around for too long in our house!
50g butter
50g golden syrup
50g preserved stem ginger from a jar, chopped fairly small
50g golden caster sugar
50g light soft brown sugar
1 egg yolk
150g spelt flour
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda


Preheat the oven to 200C / 180 fan / gas mk 6.  Line two baking sheets with baking paper.

Put the butter, syrup and stem ginger in a small pan and warm gently until the butter has melted.  Enjoy the glorious aroma!

Remove from the heat, beat in the sugars and egg yolk, followed by the remaining dry ingredients.  Mix together until well combined. 

Take smallish, walnut-sized pieces of the dough (mine weighed about 15g each) and roll into balls.  Divide the balls between the baking sheets allowing plenty of room between them for them to spread.

Bake for 7-8 minutes until golden brown and puffed up.  Remove from the oven and leave on the baking sheets until they have collapsed back down.  Then lift them carefully onto a wire rack to cool.

Makes about 30 biscuits.