November 21, 2015


lemon and oregano chicken legs

We were recently the lucky recipients of a bag of goodies donated by a friend who was closing up her home in France for the winter.  The contents included a pack of frozen chicken legs.

We are in the throws of working against the clock chez nous at the moment, having had a lot of building work done, hopefully the last tranche, and now trying to get the decorating done and the furniture out of the barn and back in the house before the weather gets too cold and damp.  (If you’re interested you can read about that here.)

In this game of “beat the clock”, time for shopping is seen as a waste of time, unless it’s an essential trip to the nearest DIY store, so we are doing our best to use up the contents of our own fridge and freezer.  This pack of chicken legs therefore came in very handy and provided us with an excellent late lunch one day.  We are finding that working in the morning while the light is good, having a late lunch and very little food in the evening after a second session of painting, seems to work well for us.

I spotted this recipe on the BBC Good Food website and adapted it using what I had in the house, i.e. chicken legs not thighs, maincrop potatoes not new ones and dried oregano instead of fresh.

lemon and oregano chicken legs2

The whole thing worked extremely well, providing a delicious and hearty meal and creating very little washing up.  We had ours with some greens which required only one extra saucepan.

lemon and oregano chicken legs3

The steps in the cooking allowed perfectly for preparing the ingredients, setting the table, slapping another coat of paint on a bit of wall and enjoying a glass of wine.  (There was wine in the recipe so why not?)

A great recipe to have under the belt for midweek dinners and equally for guests.  Definitely one I will be doing again and again.

lemon and oregano chicken legs4

As for the washing up, and those who may not approve of allowing the dog to finish the dish (there were no onions in it by then), there is a very good reason for it.  Now that we have our new fosse septique I am keen not to overload it with too much gunge so have got into the habit of wiping fatty dishes with kitchen paper which I then dispose of in the bin, along with all bits on the plate, thereby flushing less grease into the fosse.  With something like this I am happy for Lulu to help out and make the task easier!


500g maincrop potatoes, washed and halved then sliced into roughly 1cm slices

2 tblsp garlic oil

4-5 chicken legs, skin on

5-6 shallots, peeled

100g bacon lardons

1 lemon, cut into eight wedges

1 tblsp dried oregano

100ml white wine

200ml chicken stock (made from half an Oxo cube*)

*use Marigold powder for a gluten free version


Preheat the oven to 220°C / 200° fan / gas mk 7.

Put the potato slices in a bowl with 1 tblsp of the oil, season with salt and pepper and stir to coat all the slices.  Tip into a large roasting tin or baking dish and spread out evenly.  Bake for 20 mins.

While the potatoes are baking, remove any excess or flappy bits of skin from the chicken and season with salt and pepper and prepare the shallots.  Check your paintbrush isn’t drying out.

After the first 20 minutes, remove the tin from the oven and add the chicken on top of the potatoes.  Scatter the lemon wedges, lardons, shallots and oregano over the top and drizzle with the other 1tblsp of oil.  Return to the oven for another 20 minutes.

During the second phase of cooking, set the table, prepare any additional veg, open the wine, pour yourself a glass and slap another coat of paint on the wall over the fireplace!

When the timer pings, pour the wine and stock over the chicken and return to the oven for a third 20 minutes, after which the chicken should be cooked and the potatoes tender.

Serves 4

November 13, 2015

FRIDGE BOTTOM QUICHE (or a free lunch)

fridge bottom quiche

Quiche is one of my favourite ways  of using up leftovers.  We have enjoyed many a unique quiche over the years, each one dependant on what’s lurking in the depths of the fridge or freezer and in fact it’s almost worth keeping a pack of pack of pastry in just for the purpose of making a fridge quiche when it’s the right time.

Enjoy with a nice glass of chilled rosé or white wine, wrung out of the bag in the wine box before you put it into the recycling.  Toast the good health of yourself and your friends and feel happy and virtuous that you have done your bit to not waste food and therefore, in your own small way, to save the planet.

Elizabeth's Kitchen Diary

I’m linking this post to the “No waste food challenge” organised by Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary and hosted this month by  Tracy of “It’s not easy being greedy” blog.  You can see the details here.


1 pack of ready made, ready rolled puff pastry, oblong or round

2 tblsp oil or a large knob of butter

2 rather tired leeks

2 slices of ham, dried edges trimmed off

the noggle end of a St Maure goat’s cheese

half a pack of well scary Camembert

1 rather squidgy tomato, mouldy bits cut off

3 eggs

a few blobs of the cream that died the other day (or crème fraîche)

milk (skimmed or full cream)


Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Unroll the pastry and line a suitable flan tin, patching up as necessary.

Heat the oil or butter in a frying pan.  Trim the leeks to remove any grotty bits and slice thinly.  Cook in the pan on medium heat until softened, not brown and crunchy.

Arrange the leeks over the pastry base.  Add slices of ham and cheese, add slices of tomato last.

Put the eggs into a jug and beat.  Add your cream or crème fraîche and enough milk to make up to 350ml, season with pepper and whisk together.  (There is usually enough salt in the ham for our taste but add salt as well if you like.)  Pour gently over the filling and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is almost completely set.  A slight wobble in the middle is fine.

Serve warm with a salad made from rescued wrinkly lettuce, any bits of tomato and cucumber you can find and maybe that one last piece of beetroot.

Serves 4, for free, or almost.

November 2, 2015


It’s that time of year again.  Charity cake stall time.  About twelve years ago I started a cake stall at work to raise money for “Children in Need” and the first year we made £135.  At the point where I retired we were regularly making over £1,000 each year.  I still contribute some cakes, even though I retired over two years ago, but nowadays only two or three cakes, not the usual seven or eight.  You can read more about how we raise so much money here.

ginger cake

This year we will not be in the UK on the actual fundraising day so I made some cakes that would freeze well and gave them to my colleague to put in her freezer.  I made the ever popular chocolate Guinness cake to Nigella Lawson’s recipe, which usually sells out early in the day.  I decided to freeze it with the topping on as a friend told me it freezes ok, and handed it over with instructions to sprinkle liberally with icing sugar if it looks like a dog’s dinner when it thaws out.  A dusting of icing sugar can do wonders for most less than perfect cakes I find.

The second cake I made was another Nigella recipe; a vanilla spice bundt cake.  More about that later but having never made it before I can’t wait for a reason to make it again.

Nick is also now retired and happy to pass an afternoon baking.  He chose to make a ginger cake to a Delia Smith recipe.

ginger cake2

It’s one of those cakes that fills the house with beautiful aromas while it’s in the oven.  Once it was made we were very tempted not to give it away but to eat it ourselves, it looked and smelled that good.  But we did the right thing, wrapped it up for freezing and handed it over.  The next day we made another one!

According to the recipe you should keep it for a day before eating.  We were setting off for France the following morning so we wrapped it up in foil and parcelled it up to bring with us – but we simply couldn’t resist just one slice between us before the day was up – quality control of course!

It was scrumptious.  Dark, sticky, dense and almost chewy, with a heady taste of ginger and the other spices.  Several days later it was just as good as when we first tasted it.  What more could you want from a cake?

Perfect for Bonfire Night too, you can find the recipe in “Delia’s Cakes” or see it here.  I can’t recommend it enough and as soon as I get the chance I will be making it again.

Cuts into 10-12 thick slices.

October 26, 2015

MOCHA BANANA CAKE or a Bellau Kitchen inspiration.

mocha banana cake

Blogging has been an unexpected joy and revelation in my life.  Being able to tell a story and have total strangers from all over the world read and respond is something I still find quite amazing*.  On top of that, reading other blogs has been inspirational, educational and sometimes very helpful.  We have also made many good friends, real ones who we meet up with often, as a result of blogging, which is probably the greatest joy of all.

I have countless recipes from baking blogs bookmarked for future use – sometimes I feel compelled to bake something almost immediately, other times the inspiration is just tucked away for the right time.  One of the blogs where I regularly get inspiration is Dom’s Bellau Kitchen.  Just the other day I was looking at one of his recipes and ended up following a link to his coffee, chocolate and banana cake.  With two rather sad looking bananas sitting in the fruit bowl just waiting to be loved, the inspiration fell into the immediate category.

mocha banana cake2

The great thing about the recipe is that it was so fast to make.  I didn’t even have to mash the bananas – they just went into the mixing bowl with all the other ingredients and in less than an hour later I had a really delicious cake on the table.  You would never know that it was such a quick and easy cake to make and that I hadn’t spent hours sifting, mixing, blending and beating.

mocha banana cake3

The banana flavour was strong but not too sickly or overpowering.  The cinnamon, chocolate and coffee were all identifiable in the background and made for a change from my usual date and walnut combination.  Definitely a recipe I will be using again, especially when I’m pressed for time and feel the urge to bake something that will be on the table in super quick time.

Love Cake logo

This month’s Love Cake theme at Jibber Jabber UK is “in a hurry”.  You can read the details here.

When making my cake I followed Dom’s recipe which you can see here, but as usual I didn’t have all the suggested ingredients to hand so I improvised a bit.  I mixed 1 tblsp of cocoa and 1 tblsp of instant coffee powder to a paste with 2 tblsp hot water as I didn’t have any freshly made espresso on the go.  I also used golden caster sugar and omitted the icing entirely –  I used my 20cm Ikea tin which produced the shape on top to make it look more interesting without it.  It would have been even more delicious and glamorous with it of course, but sometimes a plain cake is just what you need when you’re in a hurry.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

*I’m one of those sad people who still find it amazing that you can shove a piece of plastic into a slot in a wall and get money in return.  I remember the days when you had to go to a bank and draw money out using a cheque and if you hadn’t done it by 3pm on a Friday the weekend could be a fairly miserable time.  Unless you had enough cheques to pay the greengrocer and the butcher, and were prepared to hide under the kitchen table when the milkman called for his money on Friday evening.

October 10, 2015


wedding cake2

The Alphabakes Challenge this month is for the letter “W”.  White chocolate is an obvious choice of ingredient, also walnuts or possibly whisky, but there are plenty of other choices too.   Whisked sponge, wholemeal…..numerous possibilities in fact.  Just thinking about it made me realise how much I miss our walnut tree chez nous in France and feel rather sad.

This time last year there was a magnificent walnut tree in the garden.  It was fully laden with walnuts which fell to the ground in quantities that we could hardly keep up with and we gave them away to everyone who came to the house.  Our kitten Daisy had a fine time chasing them around the garden.

Unfortunately our walnut tree was doomed.  There was nothing wrong with it, it was a beautiful, healthy tree.  Sadly it fell foul of our need for a new “fosse septique” – something we were obliged to do by law when we bought the house.  The roots of the walnut tree were in the way of the extensive pipework so it had to go - there are legal limits as to how close a tree can be in order for it to comply with the regulations.  Which all seems rather a shame when so many other people in rural France are still using antiquated systems which often consist of little more than a big concrete box with a hole in the bottom.  They seem to work perfectly well – as long as you don’t worry too much about where your waste goes.  Hey ho.

wedding cake3

Putting all thoughts of walnuts and plumbing behind me I looked in the index section of my recipe books for anything to bake that begins with “W” and another thing that crops up frequently is “wedding cake”.

wedding cake4

I have only ever made one “sort of” wedding cake and that was for my friends Elizabeth and Colin.  They were married in England last September and held a second party for their friends and neighbours in France a few weeks later.  I offered to make a copy of their wedding cake for the party and I wanted to make it gluten free so that Elizabeth would be able to have a slice herself.

She sent me photos of her original cake, which was a beautiful two tier sponge cake, covered in marzipan and decorated with fresh flowers.  We settled for a smaller version – a one tier sponge cake, covered in buttercream – my marzipan and icing skills being minimal.

I used my tried and trusted gluten free almond sponge sandwich cake recipe here, doubling up on quantities to make two 23cm cakes.  I sandwiched them together with cherry jam and some whipped cream, and made a simple buttercream to cover the cake.  When we arrived at the house for the party we selected some flowers from Elizabeth and Colin’s beautiful garden to decorate the top.

wedding cake 2a

It looked lovely on the table.  I can’t see me ever getting involved in sugarcraft or making wedding cakes that are covered in fancy icing, but I was pleased with this one.  It was a reasonable replica of the original wedding cake and when decorated with the fresh flowers looked just right for a gathering of friends and neighbours on a lovely sunny day in early October, to celebrate the wedding of two very special people.


You can see the challenge run by Caroline of Caroline Makes and Ros of The more than occasional baker and you can see the details here.

Gluten free summer wedding cake.

I made two cakes using a 23 cm springform tin, baking them individually.  The recipe will fill each tin with a little left over which I used to make some cupcakes.  ( I suppose if I was really clever I could have calculated the ingredients needed to fill the tin twice exactly – but I didn’t trust my arithmetic that well for something as important as this!)  For the buttercream I adapted this recipe, increasing the ingredients by half.


For each layer

185g softened butter

185g caster sugar

4 eggs

200g ground almonds

125g gluten free self raising flour

150ml crème fraîche

½ tsp almond essence

For the filling and icing

5 tblsp cherry jam

250ml double cream

200g softened butter

400g icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

3-4 tblsp milk


Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°fan/gas mk 4.  Grease and base line a 23cm springform tin.

Put the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and beat or whisk until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time and beat well with each addition.

Add the other cake ingredients and fold in gently until evenly combined.

Spoon the mixture into the tin, filling to about two thirds full and bake for 30-40 minutes until the cake is done.  Remove from the oven, turn out and cool on a wire rack.  (There will be some mixture left over which can be used for cupcakes or buns.)

Repeat to make a second cake.

Whip the cream until firm and spreadable.  Spread the jam on one of the cakes and spread the whipped cream on top.  Put the other cake on top.

To make the buttercream, put the butter into a medium bowl and beat until creamy.  Sift in a third of the icing sugar and beat in.  Add the rest of the sugar with the vanilla and enough milk to make it spreadable. 

Spoon about a third of the buttercream on the top of the cake and spread it over.  Use the rest to coat the sides of the cake.  Decorate with fresh flowers (remove these before eating).

Cuts into 16-20 slices.  Keep refrigerated because of the fresh cream.

October 5, 2015


chocolate and blackberry upside down cake3

We have just returned from a week’s holiday in Anglesey, where we were blessed with the most amazing weather for the time of year.  It was sunny and warm every day and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.


In fact I would go as far as to say it was one of the best holidays I have ever had, ever.  The skiing holidays in Austria, the diving holidays in Devon, the Grand Canyon and Death Valley experience, the motorcycle camping tours of Europe, are of course all now a distant memory and they were great, but I’d go back to Anglesey for its pretty harbours, deserted beaches and coastal walks any day.  Also for the blackberries.

chocolate and blackberry upside down cake2

The hedgerows were full of the most beautiful blackberries, large, plump, sweet and juicy.  To find so many at the very end of September was a real joy.  On the last day of our holiday we picked bagfuls of them so we could bring them home and freeze them.

Back home in Derbyshire, Sunday was a lovely day, so instead of sorting out our holiday baggage we decided to make the most of it and spend the afternoon in the garden.  The forecast was suggesting that the fine weather was coming to an end.  Sunday was also my sister-in-law Kathy’s birthday so we invited her round for tea and cake in the garden and the sunshine.  With all those lovely blackberries washed and ready for freezing I decided to rustle up a quick birthday cake that would use some of them while they were fresh.


In case you’re wondering why there’s a picture of the new CCC cookbook here it’s because I have a recipe in it! 

When contributions were invited at the beginning of the year I sent in one of my favourite recipes for a quick but fairly special looking cake that I make when I’m short of time but need to produce something that looks and tastes good – a pear and ginger upside down cake.  I was amazed when a few weeks later I received an email saying the recipe would be in the book!  Not only that, but as a contributor I was invited to the book launch party in Leeds last month and one of the other contributors at my table said she had already made the cake from the book and it was delicious – was I chuffed or what ??!!

So I decided to make a chocolate version for Kathy’s birthday cake, also using some of my lovely Anglesey blackberries.  It was made and on the table in just about an hour.

chocolate and blackberry upside down cake4chocolate and blackberry upside down cake5

It was a bit of an experiment and I had no idea if it would work, but it did.  The blackberries made a nice pattern on the top of the cake and I added a few more whole ones on top for decoration, fixing them and making sure they stayed in place with a smear of blackberry jam.  The cake was filled with more jam and whipped cream.  Definitely a cake I shall be making again. 


Dom’s Simply Eggcellent challenge at Beallau Kitchen this month is “Anything Goes”.  You can read the details here.


The Love Cake theme at Jibber Jabber UK this month is “In a hurry” and you can read the details here.


For the cake

200g softened butter, or spreadable butter (I used Stork with butter)

175g self raising flour

1tsp baking powder

4 tblsp cocoa powder

4 tbslp boiling water

200g golden caster sugar

4 eggs

2tblsp milk

For the topping

2 handfuls of washed fresh blackberries (preferably from Anglesey)

2 tblsp light soft brown sugar

For the filling

2tblsp blackberry jam or bramble jelly

125ml double cream (I used Elmlea Double)

1tblsp icing sugar

For the decoration

8-10 nice large Anglesey blackberries

1 tblsp blackberry jam or bramble jelly


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease two 20cm sandwich tins, line the bases with baking paper and grease again.

Mix the cocoa powder with the boiling water to make a paste.  Add a little more water if it’s very stiff.  Set aside to cool.

Put all the other cake ingredients into a large bowl and whisk with an electric hand whisk (or use a food mixer) until fully combined and smooth.  Add the cocoa paste and whisk again.

Sprinkle the soft brown sugar evenly over the bottom of one of the tins.  Add enough blackberries to make a single layer which covers the sugar.

Divide the cake mixture evenly between the two tins, being careful not to disturb the blackberries and remembering that the tin with the fruit on the bottom will inevitably look fuller.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cakes are done.  The one with the fruit on the bottom will take about five minutes longer than the other.

Allow to cool in the tins for a few minutes then turn out carefully onto a wire rack.

While the cake is cooling, whisk the double cream with the icing sugar until spreadable.  When the cakes are cold, spread the jam on the bare cake half.  (Warm it slightly in a small pan if necessary to make it runny enough to spread.)

Spread a thick layer of whipped cream on top, remembering to let the jam cool completely first.  Put the fruited cake on top of that.

Smear another spoonful of jam or jelly in the centre of the top of the cake and place a few blackberries for decoration.

Cuts into 6-8 slices.

September 22, 2015



My brother Colin and his daughter Joanna came to stay with us in France for ten days in August.  They are both keen and accomplished cooks.  Jo, who is not quite eighteen yet, made some delicious meals for us, including a ratatouille pasta bake and a mushroom risotto.  She also enjoys baking cakes and one of the things she made was a tray of rhubarb flapjack.

jo's flapjacks

Having discovered the jars of rhubarb compote on French supermarket shelves, we always now keep some in.  The French seemingly must eat a lot of compote.  You can find jars and tins of all many varieties, the most popular being apple, but there is always a good supply of rhubarb and apricot as well.

Last Christmas Jo gave me a jar of flapjack mix for a present, using her recipe, for me to bake myself.   They were her original apricot flapjacks using dried fruit and were delicious.  These flapjacks are a variation on that recipe.

jo's flapjacks2jo's flapjacks3

It makes a tray of gorgeous chewy flapjack with a layer of rhubarb in the middle.  Jo used to make the apricot version most weekends when she worked in a local café and apparently they always sold out early.  I can see why!

jo's flapjacks4


This month’s Alphabakes Challenge is the letter ‘J’, organised by Caroline of Caroline Makes and Ros of The more than occasional baker.  You can see the details here.

Jo’s rhubarb flapjacks


75g plain flour*

200g butter

125g muscovado sugar**

3½ tsp honey or golden syrup

150g porridge oats

A few tblsp fruit compote or dried fruit puréed


Grease a 20 x 15cm baking tin. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan.

Mix the flour and oats together in a large bowl.

Put the butter into a small saucepan, add the sugar and honey and heat gently until they are all melted together.

Mix the wet and dry ingredients until combined.

Spoon half of the mixture into the tin and spread it out. Spread a thin layer of the fruit compote on top. Spoon the rest of the flapjack mixture over that and spread out evenly.***

Bake for 25-30 minutes until golden on top and firm to the touch.

Turn out carefully onto a wire rack, so that the flapjack doesn’t break apart. Cut into the size of slice you want when it is just warm to the touch.

Serve warm with custard, or cold.

*Wholemeal flour would also work.

**Caster sugar may also work.

***If the fruit is very runny, put the tray in the fridge for it to firm up and warm the flapjack topping in the microwave to make the spreading easier.

Cuts into 6-10 pieces, depending on how large you like them.