Archives for the month of: April, 2018

I recently spent some time helping out a few of the lovely nannies from Freckles Childcare Agency with some cooking skills. This cake was one of the recipes we made and I only wish I had come across it before. It is the model of simplicity – just throw everything in a bowl, whisk well and pop in the oven. Less than half a hour later you have a scrumptious cake, light as a feather and all that remains to do is the fun of whipping up an indulgent cream cheese icing. It’s a great recipe to have up your sleeve for those times when you want a really yummy cake but don’t have a lot of time to make one.

How you finish it is up to you but I suspect that no one will burst into tears at the sight of some good old fashioned chocolate flake liberally adorning the top. Alternatively, just fill the centre and finish with a sensible dusting of icing sugar.

This recipe uses an American cup measure – if you don’t have one a medium sized mug will do.

1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1 cup caster sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sunflower oil
1 large egg

ICING

300g icing sugar, sieved
125g cream cheese (use philadelphia as it holds up better, some go a bit soft)
50g softened unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
(If you are icing the top of the cake as well you may like to make a bit more icing, eg 400g icing sugar, 175g cream cheese and 70g butter)

Pre-heat the oven to 180c

Grease and line two 8″ sandwich tins

Measure all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Whisk well until the mix is smooth. Divide evenly between the two tins.

Bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes or until the cake is springy to the touch.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins.

While the cakes are cooling, whisk the icing ingredients together. If you like you could add cocoa powder to make a chocolate icing.

Either fill just the middle of the cake or use the icing to fill both the centre and put on the top. Sprinkle over crumbled chocolate flakes (two is about right) or dust the top of the cake with icing sugar.

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Everyone needs a go to quick supper recipe that is light, healthy, easy to make and preferably using as few pans as possible. I am currently loving using all the wild garlic that is growing rapidly in my garden. I can hardly keep up with the supply! Pesto is one obvious use for this delicious leaf but I also love to use it where I might otherwise have reached for some spinach. Here it is a natural fit with a spanking fresh piece of cod loin. Pesto over the top, wilted leaves underneath and the courgetti just adds that bit of necessary mildness that calms the who thing down. The tomatoes are something that you could leave out but I love the extra splash of colour that they give. If you need more, a side of some crispy fried potatoes is perfect.

For Four

4 pieces of cod loin (about 150g – 175g each)
Rapeseed oil for frying
3 medium sized courgettes, spiralized or shredded with a julienner
Two handfuls of washed wild garlic leaves (or use spinach)
Four heaped tablespoons of wild garlic pesto, made with dill as well
Four small tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper
Dill and extra pine nuts to garnish

Heat a frying pan with some rapeseed oil and have four plates ready warming in the oven.

Season the cod well and fry until golden on each side and only just cooked through. Remember that they will keep cooking whilst you keep them warm. How long very much depends on the thickness of the fish but approximately two to three minutes on each side should be about right.

Keep the fish warm on a plate in a VERY low oven. Quickly heat more rapeseed oil (about a tablespoonful) and add the courgette and tomatoes. Stir around fpr a minute or so and then add in the wild garlic to just wilt. Season and add a squeeze of lemon juice.

Take your plates and divide this mix between them. Sit the cod on top and then drizzle the pesto over and around. You may want to loosen it up with more extra virgin oil. Garnish with dill and squeeze more lemon over the whole thing, along with a final dusting of sea salt and black pepper. Serve at once.

If you are making this for lots of people you could of course bake or roast your fish in the oven, about 200c for six to eight minutes. Sit on a buttered baking tray, dot more butter over the top of each piece of cod. This will help get it a little bit golden. You could of course use oil but harder to get any colour on the fish.

PS This is also lovely with salmon, hake, pollock, haddock etc

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City v Country….I love both. But it is the arrival of Spring that reminds me how very lucky I am to live in a beautiful part of Wiltshire. The air is heady with the scent and promise of bounty bursting forth and the first tentative shoots are gathering confidence. Everywhere the hedges, verges, woods and fields are springing into life and nothing is more rampant than that foragers’ favourite, wild garlic.

Be absolutely sure of what you are picking – don’t confuse the poisonous leaves of lily of the valley which can look alarmingly similar. The smell is the first sign you should look for – it really is pungently garlicky. Wild garlic first appears at the end of March and by April it has really gathered pace and tends to be prolific, so you needn’t worry about picking a bunch or two. If you don’t have any in your garden you are likely to find it in local woods where it will carpet vast swathes of the ground, much like its friend and neighbour the bluebell. Pick the young and tender leaves, keeping a long stalk if you plan on popping them in a jar of water to keep them fresh for a day or two. You can also freeze the leaves – just wash, dry well and pop them in a freezer bag. Then use straight from frozen later in the year to jazz up a risotto, pasta dish or stirfry.

Once the pretty, edibile white flowers appear they are a lovely addition to salads or warm new potatoes.

Make sure you wash the leaves well before you use them. I love them as here in a simple pesto (also great to freeze – put into an ice cube tray and then turn the cubes out and store in a freezer bag). Or wilt the leaves as you would spinach, add to a frittata, make a wild garlic and potato cake or a delicious soup (you will find a recipe for that on this website).

When I make this pesto I tend to add other herbs in just to temper the strong flavour of these leaves but you may prefer to go for the full hit and leave the parsley/basil out. If I am making the pesto to use with fish I often add in a handful of dill. Any soft herb is great and just use this recipe as a guide.

You could also make a pea pesto and add the wild garlic into that, or kale, or spinach….the possibilities are endless!!

Two big handfuls wild garlic, washed
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley
Handful of fresh basil leaves (Or any soft herbs you have to hand)
60g freshly grated parmesan
60g pinenuts, walnuts or almonds
Approx 200ml extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
Squeeze lemon juice

I use a mini chopper or processor to make my pesto but a big pestle and mortar and some elbow grease is fine.

Put the herbs, parmesan and nuts into your chopper. Add a good teaspoon of salt and a glug of oil. Whizz for a few seconds and then add more oil until you have a consistency you are happy with. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, more salt and black pepper to taste. Keep in a jam jar with a layer of oil poured protectively over the top and refrigerate.

Lovely with goats cheese on crostini, stirred through pasta or risotto, stuffed into a chicken breast, swirled onto a soup…….

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There is no doubt that there are some wonderfully delicious ice creams available to buy in the supermarkets but, slightly on a par with growing your own veg, there is something deeply satisfying about making you own. Not to mention the fun of playing around with flavours and perhaps more importantly, regulating the amount of sugar you include.

This recipe is based on a very old one out of an old seventies classic ‘the Hamlyn all Colour Cookbook’. It has stood the test of time and I have just updated it a bit, using creme fraiche as well as double cream, reducing the sugar content (quite considerably!) and adding in honey as an additional sweetener. Here I am using blackberries – any frozen berries will do and in the summer, when fresh berries are abundant just use whatever you can find or pick. Bear in mind, however that the blackberries that you find in the hedgerow are not the same as the cultivated variety which I find make much better eating. That isn’t exactly relevant in April but if, like me, you have a stockpile in the freezer leftover from Autumn foraging, this is a good way to use them up. Otherwise the supermarkets are full of useful packs of frozen fruit which are perfect to use here. Play around with the flavours here and just use this as a basic guide. Roll on sunshine!!

Makes about approx a litre

500g bag of frozen blackberries, defrosted
75g caster sugar
Rind of two oranges (optional but nice)
2 large eggs
2 – 3 tablespoons runny honey
125ml double cream
150ml creme fraiche (full fat is essential)

Put the blackberries and 50g of the sugar in a saucepan and heat gently until the juices start to run. Bring up to a simmer (important to cook the berries as they will be re-frozen) and after a couple of minutes, pull off the heat. Add in the grated orange rind, stir well and then strain, reserving the berries. At this point you could sieve out some of the seeds. I don’t particularly mind them but you may prefer a seed free ice cream. Put the juices back in the saucepan and simmer hard for a few minutes until you have a syrupy consistency. Pour back over the berries, deserted or otherwise, stir and leave to cool.

Separate the eggs and put the whites into a clean bowl. Put the double cream into another bowl. Whisk the egg yolks very well until pale and thick. Whisk the double cream until the soft peak stage (be careful not to overdo it). Whisk the whites until firm, adding the remaining sugar until glossy and at the stiff peak stage. Fold two tablespoons of the honey into the berries. Fold the cream into the egg yolks, followed by the creme fraiche and the berries. Taste and adjust the amount of honey you have added according to taste. Then finally fold in the the whisked egg whites.

If you have an ice cream machine, turn the whole thing into it and churn until frozen. Otherwise just put into a tub and if you remember take it out every now and then and whisk well with a fork to break up any ice crystals. This ice cream is much more forgiving than the traditional custard base and this whisking is not as essential, but does make a difference to the final result.

If you like you can keep back a few tablespoonfuls of the berry mix to use as a sort of sauce, or to marble through at the end.

Remember to take your ice cream out of the freezer and give it half an hour in the fridge before serving.

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After what seems like days and days of rain, the sun finally arrived today. What a joy to feel a little of the warmth that hopefully lies ahead. I had a halloumi cheese in the fridge, a perfect avocado and some leftover pomegranate. In other words the makings of a delightful salad that was just the thing to enjoy in the tentative sunshine. Halloumi is a great favourite in this household but is best cooked and eaten with all due speed – it somehow loses its tender unctuous-ness if allowed to get cold so this is one salad that needs to be eaten warm, straight off the griddle pan, onto the plate and no holding back.

Halloumi has a salty, deeply savoury flavour that works beautifully with sharp, fruity pomegranate. A few capers bring an intense tang and some soft, gentle avocado provide a soothing contrast. A simple dressing of lemon and olive oil, gently tempered with a little clear honey is all you need to finish. I have used a blend of oils here but if all you have is extra virgin then just use that. I find it can be a little strong sometimes.

Of course you can play around with this depending on what you have around the kitchen. Fresh mint, basil, coriander would be lovely and perhaps some roughly chopped toasted walnuts. But the point is that it is quick and simple, so I think it is perfect just as it is.

For two reasonably greedy people

One plain halloumi cheese
Flour to dust
Rapeseed oil
Two tablespoons pomegranate seeds, ruby red
One avocado, chopped
One tablespoon small capers
Two big handfuls of mixed green leaves

Dressing

Two tablespoons olive or sunflower oil
One tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Juice half a lemon
Teaspoon runny honey
Sea salt and black pepper

Whisk the dressing ingredients together. Adjust the lemon and seasoning to taste. Set aside.

Take your halloumi cheese and cut into six slices. Dust each side with a litre plain flour.

Toss the leaves, avocado and capers together and dress with a little of your dressing so that it is all lightly coated. You may not need all the dressing.

Heat a griddle pan and drizzle rapeseed oil over the whole surface. Griddle the halloumi until seared well on each side and cooked all the way through. You can keep the slices warm in a low oven for a few minutes if you need to, or even heat them through again later. Not quite the same as straight off the pan but needs must sometimes!

Arrange the salad and halloumi on two plates and drizzle over a little more dressing. Sprinkle each plate with pomegranate, grind some black pepper over the top and serve with toasted flatbreads (those Italian ones you can buy in Waitrose are rather good. The are called Mini Piada by Crosta and Mollica).

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