I am back again to blog after a long break and with a very simple recipe to take that chill out of my bones. Here in London, it is supposed to be spring, but brrr there is still a very sharp nip in the air, but the landscape is beautiful with almost all the trees unfurling their pale green leaves after the long hard winter.
This cake always takes me back to my days at The Natural History Museum when I used to share the student’s room with Jovita and Neil. With rich pickings to be had in the common room with all kinds of food brought back by colleagues from far flung field trips, we also experimented with putting different ingredients together to not only add spice to our ever hungry senses but also create new dishes.
First concocted by Jovita, I have modified her original recipe to suit busier lifestyles without compromising on nutrition or taste. It takes about 10 minutes to put together and around 35 to 40 minutes to bake.
Half a cup of oil
1 cup dark or light brown Muscovado sugar.
1 and a half to 2 cups of Jumbo oats
3 eggs beaten well
Quarter teaspoon of cinnamon powder
Good pinch of clove powder
Good pinch of nutmeg powder
1 heaped teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
A grated apple or chopped up pear adds a twist and makes it less sweet. A handful of roughly chopped walnuts, pecans or dried fruit makes it richer and really tasty. I use dried fruit steeped in brandy and these include raisins, sultanas, mixed peel, currants, cherries and stem ginger. As the dried fruit mixture gets used, I top it up with a fresh lot and brandy, so there is always a big bottle on hand to dip into. If you prefer not to have alcohol just use the dried fruits and nuts.
Lightly mash the bananas with a fork. Add the sugar, oats, oil, beaten eggs, spice powders, vanilla and baking powder and just mix to combine all the ingredients. Do not beat or stir vigorously. If the consistency is very runny just add more oats so it still flows and transfer into an oiled 8 by 8 inches cake tin or dish.
Bake at 180 degrees C for 35 to 40 minutes. To check if baked, a thin knife or skewer inserted in the centre of the cake should come out clean of any batter or cake particles.
Oil – I use the best olive oil I can afford as it is going into my stomach Sugars – other sugars can be used but I prefer muscovado sugars as it is unrefined and not only makes the cake moist but also gives it a rich toffee like caramel taste. Oats – Best to use the old fashioned jumbo oats as the oval flakes give the cake a lighter texture. This is because the flakes are larger and keeps its shape and so traps some air pockets between them. You can mix some semolina or bread crumbs instead of just using oats. Here again the taste of oats between brands vary so try what suits your palette.
The last week of November I was swimming in Greece.
No, I’m not crazy, it was sunny and I did not find the water cold … OK, I will accept that I come from Peru where the sea water is cold, even in summer!
Vilma and I went to Neo Itilo with Saimir and had an incredible time with his family. We could not have been more spoiled: ate octopus freshly hunted and cooked by Martin, we had a go at olive picking and saw the whole process to make olive oil, we learned how to make the deliciously light spanakopita with Marci (Greek spinach pie with filo pastry), drunk lots of Greek coffee (thank you Ola!), were amazed by the fairy-like Vychlada caves, did some compulsory honey and olive shopping at Areopoli’s Saturday market, visited the ruins of a castle located between the towns of Neo Itilo and Kelefa … and I converted a couple of ladies into Zumba addicts!
From the field to the market, olives and olive oil in Greece. Clockwise from bottom left: olive picking in Itilo with battery activated rake, market in Areopoli, olive picking with rake in Itilo, green Olives and olives market stall in Athens, machinery to make olive oil near Itilo.
I spent a few more days in Athens where Vilma would have gone crazy at the variety of olives on sale and I walked around the city following the itinerary tailored by my friends Panorea and Stavros.
Recipes and more comments on yummie food should follow soon, in the meantime if you are interested in olives and olive oil and happen to be in London this week you might want to go to Vilma’s free talk on this subject at the Natural History Museum. Vilma, please remind us the specific time and place.
No compromises here – it’s authentic or nothing. Middle Eastern brands are not widely available outside big cities in the UK but they’re worth seeking out and stockpiling if necessary. The supermarket versions lack potency while being horribly over-priced. Frankly, they’re so insipid they make me angry. A sniff of the good stuff meanwhile will make English winters just about bearable.
There are many traditional recipes for using rose water and orange blossom water in cookbooks and online, but once you’ve got the ingredients right do stray from the orthodox paths and see what you find. I added a few teaspoons of orange blossom water to a baked cheesecake recipe (from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook) and the result was divine. The rich, smooth texture of the cheesecake was given a delicate floral lift, adding flavour without over-complicating the classic dessert.
Both orange blossom and rose water work well in the traditional English sponge cake and to flavour the icing. I like these combinations: Lavender cake with orange blossom icing (blitz fresh lavender flowers with the sugar to flavour the sponge cake, then mix orange blossom water with icing sugar and a little water) Geranium cake with rose water icing (lay some geranium leaves at the bottom of the cake tin to perfume the sponge, make icing as above)
Morning sunshine drink
Juice of a pink grapefruit
Juice of an orange
Juice of ½ lime
Generous splash of orange blossom water
Cut a grapefruit in half, use a knife to score around the segments for easier eating later
Sprinkle with rose or orange blossom water
Add a little agave syrup or brown sugar if you like it sweet
Grill until bubbling
A scoop of vanilla Swedish Glace vegan ice cream
A scattering of pomegranate seeds and chopped pistachios
I discovered pomegranate molasses by accident. I had treated myself to a rare jaunt up to London for a tour of the Wallace Collection and lunch at the Lebanese cafe Comptoir Libanais where I had my first taste of Baba Ghanoush. On their deli shelves were Middle Eastern brands of orange blossom water, rose water and pomegranate molasses. They clinked merrily in my bag on the way home and soon got used up.
I’m not ashamed to be addicted. I confess to feeling a flutter of panic when the bottles are down to their last quarter. Recently I had a go at making my own pomegranate molasses, following an online recipe of pure pomegranate juice with a little sugar and lemon juice. The sugar made it too jammy for my taste. Thanks to a friend I’ve got a couple of bought bottles to tide me over and afterwards I’ll try simmering down just the juice to see if that gives a more authentic flavour.
As for why it’s become so necessary, I’ve found that pomegranate molasses adds a pleasing, rounded sharpness to salad dressings, less abrasive than balsamic vinegar. It’s traditionally used to jazz up Baba Ghanoush and as a marinade for meat and is great with veggie sausages and tofu.
Baba Ghanoush – recipes vary, this is my favourite so far
2 aubergines, blackened under the grill or over flames (takes a while) – flesh removed and excess liquid squeezed out.
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 tablespoons tahini
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt to taste
pomegranate seeds and chopped pistachios or chopped fresh mint to decorate
Blitz in a blender or mash together with a fork, taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with pitta bread.
Pomegranate molasses dressing for quinoa & vegetable summer salad.
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 stick lemongrass, finely chopped
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
juice and zest of a lime
salt and pepper
a little honey or agave syrup if sweetness is needed
Whisk together, taste and make any adjustments.
Cook quinoa and while still warm, mix in ½ of the dressing. Chop fresh beetroot, carrot, courgette, curly kale, spinach or watercress, peas, fresh herbs, and add to the warm quinoa. Roasted squash (especially with cumin & cinnamon) is a nice addition. Sprinkle over some seeds – pumpkin and sunflower work well. Pour over the rest of the dressing, stir and serve.
Once upon the time there were 5 old wrinkling apples. They were getting older by the day but could still remember their life journey. From firm fruits attached to the branches of the tree to falling on the garden grass, picked from the garden grass and placed into Elena’s basket, passed from Elena’s basket to Tania’s plastic bag, from Tania’s plastic bag to the Algerian ceramic dish on top of the fridge. And there, with some other fruits the apples looked at me for a couple of weeks. Gone were the days when the sun would wake them up and the rain would shower them. Now they seemed to ignore the time passing, resigned to see the electric light at the end of the day and maybe waiting to see the first signs of softness in their flesh. For some strange (or not so strange) reason they were not getting rotten … they were giving me a chance. Finally, their glorious day arrived, I thought I would make an upside down cake with them! I looked for recipes on the web and on my cooking books and notes, and in a Frankensteinly way I made this upside down spiced apple cake taking elements from a supermarket recipe card and from the Girl Interrupted Eating blog (http://girlinterruptedeating.wordpress.com/2008/01/20/quick-apple-and-almond-cake/).
Think about the Little Prince next time when you are about to throw some food away and remember: L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.
Upside down spiced apple cake
5 apples, peeled and cored
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
110 g butter
110 g soft brown sugar
110 g self-raising flour
55 g ground almond
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger powder
¼ tsp nutmeg
Cut the apples in slices (you decide the thickness) and sprinkle them with the lemon juice, the table spoon of sugar, and the half tea spoons of cinnamon and allspice. Set aside. Cream together butter and sugar and when creamy, add the eggs. Incorporate all the dry ingredients (preferably sifted) to the creamy mixture. You will have a thick batter. In a silicone tin, greased pyrex or cake tin lined with baking paper place the apple slices. Put the batter on top and even the surface (don’t be shy and use your fingers if necessary). Place in a preheated oven at 200 ºC / Gas 6 for 15-20 minutes. Check if the cake is fully cooked by inserting a toothpick in the middle, it should come out clean. This cake can be kept for a few days and works very well with vanilla ice cream.