January 24, 2015


braised beef 

We are great fans of our slow cooker and use it regularly, but it has often struck me that it’s a bit too big for just the two of us, creating leftovers that we have to either be inventive with or waste.

Breezing through Sainsbury’s recently I spotted a mini slow cooker, 1.5 litres, and thought that for £16.99 it was worth a try.  When I unpacked it I wondered if I had dropped a clanger as it looked a bit smaller than I expected.  I wondered how useful it might be after all but spotted a recipe for pot roast beef in the booklet that came with it so decided to have a go.

braised beef1

Essentially you coat the beef in a paste of mustard and flour, add beer to the pot and cook for several hours.

braised beef2 braised beef3

The recipe was for brisket but we used topside as we had already bought one of those large joints at a special price in the supermarket, intending to cut it into portions and freeze it. 

It was a huge success.  The beef was tender and tasty, with a delicious sauce.  We served it with the veg from the pot, some greens and mashed potatoes.  There was ample for two people with just a few leftovers for a sandwich the next day. 

The slow cooker appears to be perfect for a meal for two.  It seems to heat up quickly and bubble away nicely, ensuring food is cooked in the suggested time – not requiring anywhere near as long as the larger model for food to be properly cooked.  I think we’re going to enjoy this particular kitchen gadget very much indeed.

Since making the beef pot roast I have also made a delicious rabbit stew and a rice pudding in the cooker – more about them later!


a 750g piece of topside or brisket of beef

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and sliced

1 tbsp plain flour

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

200ml beer (or beef stock)


Put the prepared onion and carrot in the cooking pot.

Mix the flour and mustard to a thick paste and using your hands rub it all over the beef.  Place the meat on top of the vegetables.

Pour the beer over the beef – add more than stated if necessary so that the liquid comes to about half way up the joint.

Season with salt and pepper, cover with the lid and cook on high for 3 hours.  Reduce to low and cook for a further three hours.  (The machine has an auto setting which will start on high and reduce to low automatically.)

Serve the beef with the sauce from the pot and more vegetables of your choice.

Serves 2.

December 15, 2014


tomato, ham and goat's cheese tart

It was time to think about using up some of the leftovers in the fridge.  It was lunchtime and with a rummage around I found a pack of puff pastry, a bit of smoked ham, some goat’s cheese and plenty of tomatoes.

I remembered the easy tarts I made quite often a couple of years ago and wondered why I had given up making them, favouring beans on toast or scrambled eggs.  It’s strange how a favourite recipe can slip from memory, almost as if it has gone out of fashion.  My previous post about it is here. 

tomato, ham and goat's cheese tart2

For this tart I used two tablespoons of onion marmalade mixed with two of double cream for the base.  The sweetness of the onion makes a difference I think.

tomato, ham and goat's cheese tart3

This kind of tart is so quick and easy to rustle up.  It takes hardly any time at all to put together and is done just as soon as you would be able to cook a ready made pizza or warm a tin of soup – well, maybe a little longer than that, but it’s well worth it.  It’s a great way to use up leftovers too.  Peppers, chicken, sausage, mushrooms, virtually any kind of cheese – the combinations are endless.

We had ours with some green salad.


1 pack of ready made, ready rolled puff pastry

a lump of St Maure goat’s cheese or any cheese of your choice

1 large or 2 small spring onions

1 large or 2 medium tomatoes

1 or 2 slices of ham, cut into strips

2 tblsp double cream

2 tblsp sweet caramelised onion marmalade or chutney


If you can, remember to take the pastry out of the fridge 20 minutes before you start, so that it won’t split when you unroll it.

Preheat the oven to 220°C / 200° fan.

Unroll the pastry and trim it if necessary to fit a baking tray or sheet.  Place the pastry on the sheet on top of the baking paper it was wrapped in (or on fresh paper).  Make a cut in the pastry about 2 cm from the outside edge, all the way round, to make a margin, trying if possible not to cut all the way through.

Mix together the cream and chutney and spread over the pasty with the back of a spoon within the margin.

Arrange the slices of tomato, cheese, ham and onion on top and bake for 15 minutes or until the pastry is browned and the cheese bubbling.

Serves 2-4, depending what you serve with it.  Salad makes two servings from it.  Add chips or potato salad and bread to make it serve four.

December 6, 2014

INDIAN CHEESECAKE (or a tale of two tins, part two)

Indian cheesecake2

The other tin that I bought on our visit to Ikea for shelves or lighting (I still can’t remember which) was this tin of biscuits.

There was an enormous mountain of them by the checkouts and I carefully selected a tin that wasn’t dented – a good proportion of them were.  Unfortunately as we loaded our things from the conveyor back into the trolley (why do we never remember to take a bag into Ikea?) it somehow fell onto the floor so I ended up with a dented tin full of broken biscuits! C’est la vie!

Indian cheesecake

Luckily some of the biscuits were still in big enough pieces for dunking but there were a lot of crumbs so I thought it was the perfect excuse to make a cheesecake.  I rarely make cheesecake on the grounds that they are simply too moreish and not at all good for you, but we were having visitors so I decided to go for it.

I chose a recipe from Annie Bell’s Baking Bible for something called “Indian cheesecake”.  I spotted it a few weeks ago when I was searching through the index pages of my recipe book collection for something to bake that began with the letter “I” for an Alphabakes challenge.  It appealed to me but I never got round to making it at the time.

Indian cheesecake3

I’m not entirely sure why it’s called an “Indian” cheesecake.  In the recipe the base is made from a sort of crumble mix of polenta and flour but of course I already had a load of ginger biscuit crumbs so I obviously used those.  Maybe the Indian label comes from the spices in the mixture, ginger and cinnamon, but they to me they are more reminiscent of a English tea room than an Indian restaurant.

In any case, it was truly delicious.  And I really mean truly.  Nick pronounced it the best pudding I have ever made and it was demolished by our guests in double quick time and with second helpings.  Hence the reason for there only being one slice left by the time I took its picture!

I will certainly be making it again when I feel the need for an indulgent dessert.  If you fancy making it yourself I would recommend making it the day before you need it as you are supposed to chill for many hours or preferably overnight.  Which makes it even more the perfect dessert for visitors!

I give my adaptation of the recipe using broken biscuits and the ingredients I had available.


175g ginger thins, or digestive biscuits

75g butter, melted

550g cream cheese (I used full fat, but the recipe says low fat)

150ml crème fraîche

180g caster sugar (the recipe says golden caster sugar)

3 eggs

¼tsp vanilla extract

½tsp ground ginger

½tsp ground cinnamon

1 heaped tsp black treacle


Preheat the oven to 170°C / 150° fan.  Have ready a 20cm dia, 7cm deep,  non-stick tin with a removable base.

Bash the biscuits into crumbs, mix with the melted butter and press into the bottom of the tin.

Put all the other ingredients into a food processor and blend well.  Pour through a sieve onto the crumb mixture and bake for around 50 minutes.  The centre of the cheesecake should still have a slight wobble as you take it out of the oven.

Run a knife around the sides of the cake and leave to cool in the tin.  Cover loosely with foil and chill in the fridge overnight.

When ready to serve, remove carefully from the tin.  Dust with cocoa powder before serving if you like.

Cuts into 12 slices.

December 4, 2014

ROOT VEGETABLE CAKE (or a tale of two tins, part one)

vegetable cake

Not long ago there were several recipes for leftover vegetable cakes popping up all over the place.  A link to this one on the BBC Good Food website turned up in my inbox and with friends coming round for tea I decided to have a look what was lurking in the fridge drawer.

 vegetable cake2 vegetable cake3

I was also keen to give my new cake tin a try.  I spotted it on a visit to Ikea for shelving, or lighting, I forget which, and couldn’t resist it.

The cake is described as a leftover vegetable cake but of course it doesn’t use leftover cooked veg – raw veg only.  I used two carrots, one parsnip and a chunk of swede. 

vegetable cake4 vegetable cake5

There’s a note on the recipe that the cooking time may vary due to the water content of what ever veg you use.  My mixture seemed very wet, possibly due to the swede I thought, and seemed to take forever to bake.  At one point the cake was still very runny in the middle after an extra twenty minutes and I began to think it would never be cooked.  The outer part was looking brown enough so I covered it in foil and put it back in the oven until eventually it was done.  I suspect that using a tin that was a different shape and capacity to the one stated might also have something to do with the longer cooking time.

Although it was surprising that it took so long to bake, as I hadn’t put all the mixture in the tin.  I remembered that a cake tin should not be filled by more than two thirds and this left quite a bit of mixture over, which I used to make some muffins.  They only took twenty minutes to cook and were lovely.

vegetable cake7

The cake took so long to cook that it took an equally long time to cool down.  It was still warm when my guests arrived so I never got to put the orange drizzle icing on the top.  It looked pretty enough without it and it tasted lovely too.  I dare say the orange icing might have added something – a bit of extra orange flavour!  But I will definitely make it again, with or without the icing.  And I was very pleased with my new tin.  The cake slipped out effortlessly after ten minutes of cooling in the tin.

vegetable cake6Ingredients

140g sultanas or golden raisins

2 oranges

200g butter, melted

300g self raising flour

300g soft light brown sugar

2 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

4 large eggs

300g raw vegetables, such as carrot, parsnip, swede, squash, pumpkin, or a combination, peeled and grated

200g icing sugar


Put the sultanas with the zest and juice of one orange into a glass bowl and microwave on high for two minutes to plump up the sultanas.  Leave aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease and line the base of a 30x20 cm baking tin with baking paper.

Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. 

Mix together the sultanas, melted butter and beaten eggs and pour into the flour mixture.  Mix well.  Add the grated veg and mix again.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until done.  Cool in the tin.  (Cool for ten minutes only before turning out onto a wire rack if using a bundt style of tin.)

When cool, decorate with icing made with the icing sugar, the zest of the second orange and enough of the juice to make the icing runny.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

November 16, 2014


carrot and orange cake 

My sister in law recently asked me to recommend a recipe for a carrot cake, saying she found many of them too moist and oily.  I had to confess that I had never, ever made a carrot cake.  I have made cakes from parsnips, courgettes, beetroot, pumpkin and butternut squash, all of which were delicious.  But never carrots.

I also once made a kale and apple cake, which was utterly horrible.  I don’t know if it was my dodgy oven or the recipe, but I came to the conclusion that there are some vegetables that really don’t belong in a cake.

I have eaten lots of carrot cake in my time and usually found them to be very moreish.  However, the last slice I had was in a Debenhams café and it was awful – dry with a slightly stale, overly sweet frosting.  Ugh.

Anyway, a request came along for cakes for the Children in Need cake stall at work (although I retired eighteen months ago) and I had all the ingredients in stock, so the excuse was there to have a go at my very first carrot cake.

carrot and orange cake2 

I chose a recipe in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, because it only has carrot and orange flavours, no bananas, sultanas or anything else to detract from the main ingredients, apart from a little mixed spice.  Also, bearing in mind what my sister in law said, it’s made with butter, not oil.

carrot and orange cake3

There was no picture of the cake in the recipe book so I had to use my imagination a bit when decorating the cake.  The idea is that you bake the cake until it’s fairly firm, remove it from the oven and then lay orange slices on top, brush it with runny honey and put it back in the oven for another fifteen minutes or so, until it’s completely done.

I was half pleased, half disappointed with the finished cake.  It was rising beautifully when I took it out of the oven to add the orange slices and honey, but then ended up much shallower with a distinctly dense layer of cake at the bottom.  All presumably because of the removing from the oven.  The flavour was delicious and it was lovely and moist without seeming at all oily.  The orange flavour was subtle and we could also taste the honey.

I shall certainly make it again but next time I won’t bother adding the orange slices as I don’t think they improved the cake at all, will leave it to cook properly in the oven and maybe drizzle some runny honey over it as it cools, as you would with a lemon drizzle cake.  I might even try one with a cream cheese style of frosting, as in so many carrot cake recipes.

Incidentally, I spotted an error in Mary Berry’s recipe, a rare thing I think.  She lists 175g carrots in the ingredients but when it comes to the method they are simply added with the other ingredients – nowhere does it say that you should grate them!  But everyone would know that……….wouldn’t they?

carrot and orange cake4 We only made two cakes for the cake stall this year, my carrot cake and Nick’s usual coffee and walnut cake from the Hairy Bikers recipe.  He has tried several recipes, including Nigella’s but we both think this one is the best.  I wrote about it some time ago here.

So this year I only provided two cakes for the cake stall instead of my previous seven or eight, but every little helps after all.

Carrot and orange cake ingredients

1 orange

150g softened butter (I used Lurpak spreadable)

150g light muscovado sugar

175g carrots, peeled and grated

2 large eggs, beaten

200g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp mixed spice

1 tblsp milk (if needed to give a dropping consistency)

For the topping

2 tblsp runny honey


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease a 2lb loaf tin and line the base with baking paper, or use a liner.

Finely grate the orange rind and add to all the other cake ingredients in a large bowl.  Beat well until thoroughly blended, and transfer to the prepared tin. 

Bake for about an hour until just firm. 

While the cake is baking, prepare the orange slices by removing all the pith from the orange with a sharp knife and then slicing thinly.  Remove the just firm cake from the oven, arrange the orange slices on the top and brush with the runny honey.  Return to the oven for about 15 more minutes until done.

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out, remove the baking paper or liner and cool on a rack.

Cuts into 8-10 thick slices.

November 11, 2014


chocolate, plum and hazelnut cake 

For the October Loire Valley CCC meeting Nick chose this recipe from the BBC Good Food website.  The theme of the meeting was “a taste of autumn” and nuts are very much in abundance in the Loire this autumn as there has been a particularly good nut harvest.  

Strictly speaking the plum season is long gone but French plums were still available in the shops so that was ok.  It was the combination of flavours that intrigued us both – plums with nuts was not too far fetched - but chocolate?

chocolate, plum and hazelnut cake2

The cake was easy to make and Nick did a great job of making it look very glamorous.  There were chopped plums in the cake and plum halves were arranged on the top then just pushed lightly into the batter.  He decided to omit the whole hazelnuts that he was supposed to scatter on the top, and I think this was a good idea.  The cake took nearly 25 minutes longer than stated to cook, by which time those hazelnuts could have been pretty crozzled, making the cake look rather untidy perhaps.  He finished it off with a redcurrant glaze which added to its beauty!

As it turned out the flavour combination worked really well.  It was delicious, the flavour of the hazelnuts and the plums coming through with a nice hit of chocolate in each mouthful.  A stunning cake that looks much more difficult to make than it really is and we shall definitely be making it again.


This month’s Alphabakes Challenge, run by Ros of The more than occasional baker and Caroline of Caroline Makes is conveniently themed on the letter H this month so Nick’s cake fits in perfectly with that.  You can see the details here.

The selection of cakes at the October meeting was absolutely stunning.  When I started the club I had no idea whether or not there would be enough interest but I have to say that it has been a tremendous success.  If you want to read more about it follow this link.  Loire Valley CCC.


17g butter

175g light muscovado sugar

175g self raising flour

17g ground hazelnuts

3 eggs

1 tsp baking powder

50g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)

2  tsp redcurrant jelly


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Butter and line the base of a 20cm deep cake tin.

Set aside four plums for the top of the cake, halve and stone the rest and chop roughly.  Chop the chocolate.  Neither should be chopped too small.

Beat together the butter, sugar, flour, nuts, eggs and baking powder in a large bowl or food mixer until smooth and light.  Stir in the plums and chocolate.

Transfer the mixture to the cake tin and level the top.  Halve and stone the reserved plums and arrange on the top.  Push them down lightly into the batter.

Bake for 40-50 minutes until browned and firm to the touch.  (Our cake took 65 minutes until it no longer wobbled in the middle.)

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

When cool, warm the redcurrant jelly in a small pan until runny and brush over the top of the cake.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

October 26, 2014


apple and walnut cake

For our most recent meeting of Loire Valley Clandestine Cake Club the theme was “the taste of autumn”.  For me that means reluctantly leaving behind the apricots and strawberries of summer and indulging in the warmth of spices, nuts and autumn fruits.  Ginger and treacle remind me of Bonfire Night, cinnamon and cloves bring back lovely memories of making a Christmas cake with my grandmother.  It’s a truly wonderful, aromatic time of year.

In the garden of our new French house we have fruit trees, something that I have never been lucky enough to have before.  Red plums, cherries, golden mirabelles, apples and walnuts are all there.  By the time we moved in the plums and cherries were all done but I was able to harvest a small basket of apples and two huge boxes of walnuts.

apple and walnut cake4

Sadly the walnut tree is doomed.  It is way too close to the little house – the renovation project that seems always come with any old French house.  We have to have a new fosse (septic tank), as the existing one was condemned when we bought the house, and the roots of the walnut tree will interfere with the positioning of the new system and the drains for the little house.

So for this year we have a bumper harvest of walnuts but from next year we will be back to raiding the trees around the village for a few bagfuls.  C’est la vie!

I was keen to bake a cake that used both the apples and the walnuts from our new home so Googled  “apple and walnut cake” and found this recipe on the BBC Good Food website.  The cake was simple to make and turned out really well in our makeshift oven arrangement.  I took notice of some of the comments on the website and decided to reduce the amount of treacle in the icing, just a bit.

In France I can’t find golden caster sugar so I just used white, and the soft brown sugar available here looks something like a cross between the light and dark varieties you can get in the UK.  It’s tempting to bring ingredients to France from the UK but sooner or later I’m going to have to make do with what’s in the shops here – it will be interesting to see if there’s a huge difference in the flavour if I make it again with the exact ingredients in the recipe.

apple and walnut cake5

On the table it could be mistaken for a coffee and walnut cake, but looks can be deceiving!  The apple and walnut flavours were clearly distinct and the icing was delicious.  Definitely a cake I shall be making again and the icing could be used on many other cakes I think.

I am also offering this cake as my entry for this month’s Random Recipe Challenge from Dom at Bellau Kitchen, whose theme for October is an internet search.  You can read the details here.

apple and walnut cake3


300g plain flour

1tsp ground cinnamon

½tsp bicarb

140g soft dark brown sugar

50g golden caster sugar

250ml sunflower oil

4 eggs

4 small dessert apples, unpeeled and grated

100g walnuts, roughly chopped

For the icing

100g softened butter

50g soft dark brown sugar

1 dessert spoon black treacle

200g full fat cream cheese


Preheat the oven to 150C / 130 fan / gas mk 2.  Butter and line the base of two 20cm cake tins.

Put the flour, spice and bicarb into a large bowl.  Stir in the two sugars, making sure there are no lumps.  Add the eggs, apple and oil and beat well together until combined.  Fold in the walnuts and divide between the two baking tins.

Bake for 45 minutes or until done.  Cool in the tins for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, put all the ingredients together in a food processor and process until smooth and creamy.  Use half to sandwich the two cakes together and spread the other half on top of the cake.  Decorate with walnut halves if you like.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.