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.
Browsing through the farmers’ market last month I spotted a box of fennel bulbs, two for £1.50. The last time I bought fennel it was for a particular recipe, and I paid quite a hefty price in the supermarket. That recipe (a delicious salad of fennel, watercress and pear with a lime dressing from Nigel Slater’s beautifully written ‘Kitchen Diaries’) was too wintery for a sunny May afternoon, but I had oranges and sunflower seeds at home. Instant inspiration. The delicate aniseed crunch of the fennel combines beautifully with citrus.
Today the market made its monthly appearance and I quickly hunted out the fennel, managing by great strength of will (and an empty wallet) to avoid the temptation of cakes, handmade chocolates and posh cheeses.
As it happens it’s grey as Mordor out there today, so I came home and had pasta. The second the sun comes out though, that fennel is for the chop!
A Summery Fennel Salad
Wash and very finely slice two bulbs of fennel
Toast and lightly crush a generous handful of hazelnuts, or use sunflower seeds or a combination.
To make the dressing, whisk the juice of two freshly squeezed oranges with olive oil, Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper. Adjust to your taste.
Spread out the sliced fennel in a dish, pour over the oil, add the nuts/seeds and gently combine.
Wensleydale cheese goes really well with this salad, perhaps with some fresh multi-seed bread.
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.
Here I am again … with another quinoa recipe. Despite what some of you might think, I do have other ingredients in my kitchen and not just quinoa but I was trying to come up with a different version of the spinach and quinoa bake. So, as soon as I felt that ray of inspiration coming I put my Marimekko apron and armed with the digital camera in one hand and the knife on the other I ‘invented’ the following recipe with a cabbage cousin (cabbage and broccoli are both from the Brassicaceae family). As usual, feel free to replace some of the ingredients, for example change the broccoli by another vegetable or the smoked salmon by another fish or any other source of protein (cheese is the first one that comes to my mind … mmhhh pieces of halloumi or feta!). As I learnt from my mother: you have to think about the colours when choosing your ingredients … the eyes are the first ones ‘tasting’ the food!
Broccoli and quinoa bake
120 g smoked salmon trimmings
1 small broccoli head
1 tbsp capers
80 g or ½ cup quinoa
½ fresh chilli
Wash and drain the quinoa, place it in the pan with 1 1/3 cup of water, bring to the boil and then lower the heat and cook for about 15 minutes until all the water is absorbed. In the meantime, cut the broccoli into small florets, place in a small pan, add boiling water and cook at a medium heat for about 3 minutes, drain the little green trees. Finely chop half of a fresh chilli (or a whole one if you like to spice things up!). Mix all the ingredients, add salt and pepper to taste. Place in a loaf tin and bake for approximately 40 minutes at 180 ºC / Gas 4. Eat hot or cold. Serves 2 small stomachs like mine or maybe just one if you like big portions (like my friend Elena does!)
This morning at work, Suzy asked Yeliz if she had made any pancakes yesterday as it was pancake Tuesday. In the Christian calendar this is the last day of indulgence before the ritual fasting associated with Lent. Historically it was the last day to use and eat “rich” foods like eggs, milk and sugar and pancakes were the most convenient way to use up these ingredients. A last fling before the long fast.of Lent.
Overhearing this conversation was Saimir who had never eaten a freshly made pancake and asked if they could make some during their lunch break. Now, this is a GP surgery, and the kitchen is not kitted out to cook food, but just to heat things up. Both Yeliz and Suzy were still up for it and by then word got round and expectations were running high. But, we did not have a frying pan but luckily across the road is Roneford, the catering supply company, and Saimir very generously bought a nice ceramic frying pan that he said the girls could borrow to make the pancakes.
Rough approximations and fed 16 people with 1 pancake each, well 3 greedy ones had 2 each.
3 cups plain flour
3 desert spoons sugar
4 ½ cups milk
Butter for cooking (a small knob each time)
Three lots were made as we did not have any mixing bowls, just small soup bowls and a small saucepan. Both were used to mix the ingredients. Roughly one cup of flour to 1 egg and a cup and a half of milk and 1 desert spoon of sugar were used each time round and mixed and gently hand whisked with a fork for around 5-8 minutes. We do not have a whisk. At one time Suzy had flour in the bowl and then added the egg and milk and gradually blended them together until smooth and at the other time she beat the egg and milk together and then added the flour. Yeliz and Saimir did the cooking and served the pancakes with a twist of lemon juice sprinkled over with sugar and they were delicious.
We could have done with more but then time is limited and an hour does not last forever.
Following Vilma’s comment on quinoa and her question about ‘pesque’ I asked my mum if she knew what pesque was, she remembered from her childhood in Cuzco, Peru that they called pesque the cooked quinoa that was given to baby chicks. Beside that she wrote some comments (in Spanish) that I have translated below.
“To the marvellous qualities of this tiny grain I have to add the beauty of its plants, spikes of 2.5 – 3 meters high that appear like lovely bunch of flowers in different shades that go from crimson red to yellow and orange … all of which you can see in the Andean fields.
Regarding its nutritious value it has as many or even more proteines than red meat. The cuisine Novo Andina (Andean-Peruvian nouvelle cuisine) is wisely using this ingredient to give colour to salads with white, red or black quinoa, to make crusty buttered see food, lamb or pork meat or even in bakery. I have to add that NASA includes quinoa amongst the food given to astronauts.”
While chefs in Peru are experimenting with quinoa … how much do we dare to experiment in our kitchens? Just by replacing some ingredients we could be reinventing dishes and that is how I ended up making ‘Quinua chaufa’ (stir fried quinoa). The original dish I took my inspiration from is ‘Arroz chaufa’ (stir fried rice) which is something you will find in any ‘chifa’ which is how we call the Chinese restaurants in Peru. I don’t know how much chifa’s food are a fusion of Peruvian and Chinese culture, and I would guess that chifa’s dishes might not all be like in China (I haven’t been to China to compared though) and the stir fried rice or noodles in Peru are not like the ones I had here in London. Anyhow, now that you know a bit of the story behind the dish here is my recipe, now enjoy your cooking!
1 cup quinoa
1 chicken breast
1 bunch of spring onions
1 piece of fresh ginger (about 3 cm )
Soya sauce to taste
Salt to taste
Start by boiling the chicken breast, you will then have to shred it (if you boil it with something else like that lost carrot hiding in the fridge and that lonely little onion you can then use that chicken stock for a soup or another preparation!). Wash and drain the quinoa and toast on a hot pan until the grains are brown-ish and a lovely smell comes out of them. Add 2 cups of boiling water, cover the pan, turn the heat to the minimum and cook for about 15 minutes until the water is all absorbed. While the quinoa cooks fry the shredded chicken in a little bit of oil (wish a dash of soya sauce if you like). Keeping an eye on the chicken sun tanning in the pan wash and finely chop the spring onions and grate the ginger or chop it very finely. Whisk the eggs with some salt and pepper and make an omelette with them, you can optionally add some of your chopped spring onions to the omelette while it’s cooking, when done use a wooden spoon or spatula to ‘chop’ your omelette. Now you add to your fluffy quinoa the shredded chicken, pieces of omelette, ginger and spring onions, mix everything, add soya sauce to taste and some salt if you must. Eat as soon as it is ready! This recipe can have so many variations depending what you have in your fridge and what you like, here are some examples: replace the chicken by any other (edible) bird such as turkey or by any meat such as bacon strips (roasted meat leftovers are great for this dish!), if you are vegetarian replace the bird or meat pieces by mushrooms or tofu fried with crushed garlic. Your turn to come up with other vegetables that will work out well with this dish!
It is still winter and that time of the week we call the weekend. The snow is still on the grass and the sun bright but the air is sharp and very cold. Mmm… I think to myself, what about a nice bowl of steaming hot soup, and I do have a few left over vegetables languishing in the kitchen cupboard. Why not give them a rendezvous in a soup pot and this is what I found.
Add or subtract and tailor make it to what is available in your cupboards and experiment. The quantity I made was enough to serve 6 people, but just multiply or divide the quantity according to your needs.
1 fat potato with its jacket on
2 carrots (these were slightly wrinkled)
2 sticks of celery (more like 2 wilting sticks)
3 – 4 tablespoons of oil (I used sunflower, but you use olive or any other single oils)
1 teaspoon of ghee or butter (this just adds a wonderful caramel flavour)
½ cup of red lentils (wash a few times)
7 unsalted cashew nuts (found in a bottle)
8 whole almonds (lying in a packet)
¼ teaspoon of dried rosemary (you can use mixed herbs or any other combination that suits your palette)
¼ teaspoon of dried basil
1 desert spoon of desiccated coconut (optional)
Salt to taste
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, add 3 tablespoons of oil and 1 teaspoon of ghee. Finely slice the leeks, dice the potatoes, carrots and celery and once the oil is medium hot, sauté all these vegetables until transparent but not brown. Then add the washed lentils and enough water to cover the vegetables so that the level stands about a centimetre above the vegetables and bring to the boil. Now add the nuts, roughly chopped so they are easier to blend, herbs and salt and lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. When the vegetables are soft I puréed all this with a hand held blender until nearly smooth. Add more water if you want a thinner consistency and simmer for a few more minutes.
This dish is a particular favourite of mine as the ingredients are basic, quick to make and very tasty. You can use either red or yellow lentils and compliment it by adding fresh tomatoes or spinach, toasted fennel seeds, cumin seeds and coriander leaves.
1 cup red or yellow lentils
2 cups of water
1 small onion sliced
½ inch piece of ginger, cut in strips
2 – 3 green chillies slit lenghtwise
¼ teaspoon of turmeric
1 teaspoon of ghee
1 tablespoon of coconut powder
Salt to taste
Rinse the lentils well in cold water and tip into a saucepan. To this add the sliced onion, chillies, ginger, turmeric and 2 cups of water. Bring to the boil over a high heat and give it a stir now and then so it does not boil over. When nearly cooked add the coconut powder and salt and simmer until the lentils have disintegrated into a soft mash. Now add the ghee and coriander leaves and eat hot with rice, pita bread or chapattis. Some like it served like a soup in which case you add a little more water.