Lovely recipe for you this week, for several reasons:
- First off, it’s EASY.
- It’s GORGEOUS to look at.
- It’s almost infinitely CUSTOMISABLE (is that a word!?)
- It’s UNUSUAL.
- It’s VERSATILE.
- It has EXCELLENT KEEPING QUALITIES
- Lastly, and possibly most importantly, it’s FAT-FREE.
Isn’t it stunning? A splendid fruit cake stuffed to the gills with beautiful chunks of whole fruits and nuts, barely held together by just a whisper of rich, dark, fatless sponge. Yes, none of your pale-and-interesting, pardon me while I have an attack of the vapours *flutters handkerchief daintily* fatless sponges here. The cakey bits here have richness and darkness coming from caramel-tasting, dark muscovado sugar, which provides a wonderful backdrop to the jewel-like chunks of whole fruit it holds.
Most cake recipes like this call for the fruit and nuts to be chopped into smaller pieces, to avoid big lumps clogging up the texture. The possible exception to this is Cherry Cake, which is notorious for letting the whole cherries slip through its rich interior to lie like sulky teenagers in a heap at the bottom (Shameless Plug: Foolproof Cherry Cake recipe in MY BOOK! Buy now to avoid [my] disappointment!). This is the exact opposite! The fruit and nuts are left whole and so are so big, buxom and unashamedly ample, that they don’t go anywhere. They naturally wedge themselves together so well, it’s the cakey bit that has to insinuate itself into whatever nooks and crannies remain. And because they are so tightly packed together, cutting a slice means you cut THROUGH the fruit, leaving exquisite cross-sections scattered through the slice, and practically every slice is different.
All fruit cakes get better with age, and this is no exception. Bottom line, properly wrapped, it will keep a month at room temperature, three months in the fridge or you can freeze it for up to six months. NB ‘properly wrapped’ involves a layer of parchment/greaseproof paper, a layer of foil and a cake tin with a lid. The sugar in the fruit will keep it moist.
You can vary the fruit to your own tastes, but I’d strongly recommend keeping the ‘big four’ of apricots, prunes, dates and figs, for their striking visual and taste contrast. I’ve used green raisins ( a new ‘find’ at my local supermarket) and cranberries, but crimson raisins or cherries could add an equally great splash of red, and substituting some of the walnut halves with whole pistachios or hazelnuts would look fabulous when cut through in slices.
This cake is delicious plain with a cup of tea/coffee, but for a ‘taste sensation’ serve some slices topped with a tasty cheese – vintage cheddar is my current favourite. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, I promise!
10 whole figs
15 whole, pitted dates
15 whole, pitted prunes
20 whole, pitted apricots
300g walnut halves
60g dried cranberries
60g green raisins
3 large eggs
150g dark muscovado sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
100g plain flour
0.25tsp baking powder
0.25tsp bicarbonate of soda
- Preheat the oven to 150°C, 130°C Fan.
- Grease and line a large loaf tin (24cm x 14cm x 7cm) with baking parchment.
- Mix all the fruit and nuts into a bowl.
- Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla together until light and foamy – 5-10 minutes.
- Mix the remaining dry ingredients together.
- Gradually add the flour mix to the whisked egg mixture until thoroughly incorporated.
- Pour the combined mixture over the fruit and nuts and stir together until everything is coated with a layer of cake batter.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and press down firmly to ensure no gaps are left. It will almost fill the tin, but this is fine, as there’s very little rise – it all happens in the spaces between the fruit.
- Bake for 40 minutes, then turn the tin around 180° and bake for a further 20 minutes.
- Slide a sheet of foil over the top of the cake to prevent it becoming too dark, and bake for a final 20 minutes for a total of at least 70 minutes.
- The cake is baked when a toothpick comes out clean of cake mixture – don’t mistake, for example, moist apricot or prune flesh for uncooked cake batter.
- Allow the cooked cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove and set aside on a wire rack to cool completely.
This recipe is a bit of an enigma – a DELICIOUS enigma!
I found it while poking around in a Russian cooking blog, and even with Google Translate’s quirky services, it was so different and so unusual, I just had to give it a try. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve ever come across before, and seems to be that rare thing – a unique recipe (at least with this title), for I have been unable to find any variation of it at all, and I’ve searched in several languages!
Amusingly, for all this talk of the unusual and unique, it’s name describes exactly what it is.
It’s a cake.
Made with cheese.
It’s a cheese cake.
But unlike the more usual crust-topped-with-rich-soft-cheese, it’s a cake-texture-tempered-with-curd-cheese-with-condensed-milk-soured-cream-topping cake. And it tastes AWESOME!
The differences don’t end there either – instead of mixing the cake batter together, and pouring into the pan, the cake is made by building up alternate layers of wet and dry ingredients, and then baked in a slow oven for an hour. Finally it is topped with a sweet cream and condensed milk topping, sharpened with lemon juice.
So what does it taste like? Like a cheese cake, to be honest. The ‘cake’ is like a firm sponge or madeira cake, but the sweetness and texture is tempered by the curd cheese layers to produce a crumbly, cakey mouthful that bizarrely (in a good way!) also tastes like cheesecake. It’s not an overly sweet cake, and I like that. I also love the fierce mix in the topping of the extremely sweet condensed milk and the sharp lemon juice *drools* My mouth is watering just at the thought – yum!
You can buy curd cheese in the supermarket, or it’s very easy to make yourself using vegetarian rennet and whole milk. For this recipe the curd needs to be dry and crumbly, so however you obtain your curd cheese, drain it well in a piece of muslin and then press it with a weight for at least an hour to squeeze out the moisture.
I’d love to know more about this recipe, so if anyone can fill me in, please do leave a comment below.
500g drained curd cheese
2 large eggs
200g caster sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
190g plain flour
100g unsalted butter
1.5tsp baking powder
200g sweetened condensed milk
60ml creme fraiche or sour cream
zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 170°C 150°C Fan
- Grease and line the bottom and sides of a 20cm loose-bottom or spring-form tin with baking parchment.
- Break up the drained curd by blitzing quickly in a food processor fitting with the cutting blade, until they resemble breadcrumbs.
- Whisk together the sugar, eggs and vanilla until light and frothy.
- Stir in the curd cheese. Set aside.
- Blitz the dry ingredients together in a food processor to crumbs.
- Scatter a layer (2-3tbs) of the dry ingredients in the bottom of the prepared tin.
- Spread a layer of the wet ingredients mixture. This will be quite tricky, because the crumbs will cling to the moisture, but persevere. It doesn’t matter if it’s not completely smooth and even.
- Repeat until both mixtures have been used up. Finish with the crumb mixture.
- Bake for about an hour, turning the tin around after 30 minutes to ensure even baking.
- While the cake is baking, mix the topping by whisking all the ingredients together. It will become quite thick.
- Test the cake for done-ness at 50 minutes, by inserting a toothpick or skewer into the centre of the cake. If it emerges free from liquid, then the cake is cooked.
- Remove the cooked cake from the oven and pour the topping over whilst it’s hot. Spread evenly.
- Return the cake to the oven and switch off the heat. Leave it inside the cooling oven for 15 minutes to ‘set’ the topping.
- Remove the cake from the oven and set aside to cool thoroughly.
- Serve as is, or with a dollop of whipped cream.
 Or lime. Or Seville Orange. Whatever takes your fancy.
My local supermarket recently set aside some shelves for non-traditional items. I’m guessing it’s on a trial basis, but I’m always curious to see what’s new and exciting in the land of food retail. (Hey, you have to get your jollies where you can).
One of the items that caught my eye was a big bag of corn meal (corn flour), and I decided I’d see if I could bake myself some ultimate American cornbread. Simple, you’d think? Well, that’s what I foolishly assumed when I began my searching, but what I discovered was it’s a real minefield out there, with devotees for variations from both north and south, sweet and salty, and with various additions including actual corn kernels, corn puree, cheese, bacon grease and chillies.
I was in a fog of indecision until I stumbled across this recipe from an old farming magazine from 1847. Several things about the recipe appealed to me, not least because it claimed the resultant ‘cakes’ would be light and honeycombed. Other details that made it stand out from the many other recipes I had been seeing were that it was yeast raised, sugar free, fat free and gluten free. In addition, unlike many of the modern recipes, it contained solely corn meal and unlike the modern gluten-free recipes, there was no additional alchemy required in the form of different flours and additives to put in.
The method varied too, with the batter being set to rise overnight using yeast, and then, once the other ingredients had been added, being poured into a cold pan before baking. Actually, the original recipe didn’t specifically say that it should be a cold pan, it just said to bake it, but since all of the other recipes were most insistent that the pan be roaring hot before adding the corn mix, that’s what I did for the first trial run. It wasn’t a success. The extreme heat killed the yeast on the edges, so while the middle rose delightfully, the edges were heavy and hard. Subsequent trial runs with a cold pan were much more successful, as the picture above illustrates. I used my non-stick, heavy 24cm diameter saute pan to bake the bread in the oven, because the handle is removable.
Excuse me for banging on, but this recipe is yet another example of why I love old recipes so much. Simple, wholesome ingredients that can be enjoyed without the need for complicated additives or specialised components. The only requirement for this particular recipe is time – remembering to mix up the corn meal and yeast the night before – or in the morning if you want to enjoy it with your evening meal.
It was delicious warm from the oven, with butter and honey, for breakfast. Other uses are as an accompaniment to, for example, chilli, gumbo, jambalaya. It’s best eaten warm, but once cold, can also be easily reheated with a quick zap in the microwave or oven. I turned the remainder into crumbs and froze them, ready to use in meatballs, stuffing and as coating for home-made chicken nuggets and fish fingers.
Feel free to customise this to your own tastes by adding whatever flavourings take your fancy, but I hope you’ll try it just once as is, in all its splendid simplicity.
Jenna in Ohio – I hope you approve!
450g corn meal
1 sachet easyblend yeast
warm water to mix
- Put the corn meal, salt and yeast into a bowl and add enough water until the mixture is easy to stir. It varied, depending on the moisture content of the corn meal, but you’ll need to add between 600ml – 1200ml (1-2 pints). It will have the consistency of a loose batter.
- Cover with cling film and leave overnight or for at least 8 hours.
1 large egg
2tbs milk 
2tbs plain yogurt 
1 rounded tsp bicarbonate of soda
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Grease a 24cm deep, heavy pan or skillet.
- Whisk the ingredients for Mixture 2 together and then whisk it into the cornmeal.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the surface.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, turning the pan around after 20 minutes to ensure even colouring. Check for done-ness by inserting a cocktail stick into the centre.
- If the top seems to be browning too quickly, slide a sheet of either foil or parchment over the pan.
- Serve warm from the pan.
 You can use 60ml or 4tbs of buttermilk if you prefer.
I love it when a plan comes together AND tastes fantastic – modest opener, no? In the endless round of needing to put a family meal on the table every day, there will obviously be some things that make repeat appearances on a regular basis. In this house, it’s sausages, and much as I love the great quality ones we buy (97% pork), just grilling or cooking them in a pan gets boring – mostly boring for me to make, but also a little dull to eat week in, week out.
So here’s a variation that’s just as tasty as sausages, but, more interestingly, in an equally delicious form: Sausage Lasagne! The already seasoned sausage meat goes so well with the robust tomato sauce and flavourful white sauce and – bonus – doesn’t need hours simmering on the stove top. I already had a batch of the tomato sauce in the freezer and lasagne sheets in the cupboard, and so only needed to whip up some white sauce to bring it all together. You can assemble the lasagne the day/night before and leave it overnight for the flavours to develop, or make it and bake it all in one go – after just one hour in the oven, it’s ready. I’ve added some healthy spinach to this recipe for a splash of eye-catching green, and the strong flavours of the sauces mean that the spinach can be easily passed off as parsley to suspicious family members.
*pokerface* Not that I’d ever do that.
Moving quickly on…..
To speed things up, use your own white sauce and/or tomato sauce. I’m going to run through the recipes I used for both, purely as suggestions. The tomato sauce does freeze very well, and is then handy for rustling something up at short notice.
Important: The quantities given make a LARGE lasagne – probably enough to feed eight – quite deliberately. I highly recommend making it as is, because a) it’s really worth the effort and b) it freezes/reheats extremely well, so the remains can be frozen in individual portions for a speedy supper at short notice. If you’re cooking for yourself and/or have a small amount of freezer space, then you might want to make a half quantity and reduce the cooking time to between 30-40 minutes.
White Bechamel Sauce
The spices are optional, but they do give a more rounded flavour than just a plain milk/roux sauce.
600ml whole milk
2-3 bay leaves
1 strip of lemon zest
1/4 of a nutmeg – left in one piece
1 blade of mace
1tbs black peppercorns
40g plain flour
salt and pepper to taste
- Stick the cloves into the onion, just below the middle, so that they sit under the surface of the milk when the onion floats.
- Put the milk, onion and the rest of the flavourings into a small pan and heat slowly.
- When the mixture is almost at a boil, remove from the heat, cover and set aside to infuse until cool.
- Strain the flavourings out of the cooled milk.
- Clean the pan and return to the stove top.
- Melt the butter in the pan and stir in the flour to form a paste.
- Gradually add the milk a little at a time, stirring it smooth each time.
- When all the milk has been added, turn the heat to low and let it simmer for five minutes to ‘cook out’ the flour. If you don’t do this, your sauce will taste ‘floury’.
- Once the sauce has simmered enough, season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Cover the sauce with cling film until required. Make sure the cling film touches the surface of the sauce to prevent a skin forming.
This probably doesn’t qualify as a traditional tomato sauce, but it has a great, rich flavour that goes well with the cooked sausage and has a bonus of loads of flavoursome veggies hidden inside. This will make more sauce than you will need for the lasagne, so freeze the extra.
3 sticks celery
2tbs olive oil
100ml tomato paste
150ml red wine
1tbs dried oregano
1tbs dried basil
2 bay leaves
2 x 400ml cartons chopped tomatoes
pepper and salt to taste
- Put the onion, carrots and celery into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until finely chopped.
- Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat, and add the chopped vegetables.
- Stir over medium heat until the moisture in them has evaporated. Hint: If there’s clouds of steam rising from the pan, there’s still moisture. Stir regularly.
- When all the moisture has evaporated, add the tomato paste and stir.
- Continue stirring until the tomato paste has caramelised. It will turn from a dark red to more of a brick-coloured, orangey red.
- Add the red wine and stir thoroughly.
- Add the rest of the herbs and the chopped tomatoes and simmer over a low heat for an hour, stirring occasionally. If you have a splash guard, you might want to cover the pan to protect your stove top, but you don’t want to cover it closely – the evaporation will intensify the flavours.
- Remove the bay leaves (or not, your choice – sometimes I forget them and they get blitzed along with the rest of the ingredients – it’s not the end of the world) and puree the sauce smooth with a stick blender or by using a blender attachment on your food processor.
- Return the pureed sauce to the pan and season with salt and pepper to taste.
To assemble the lasagne
2 x 400g packs good quality sausages 
260g fresh baby spinach leaves
600ml tomato sauce
600ml white Bechamel sauce
250g lasagne sheets
150ml low fat creme fraiche
100g grated vintage cheddar
- Remove the sausage meat from the skins and add to a large pan.
- Stir over medium-high heat, breaking up the larger pieces of meat with a wooden soon, until it is just cooked through.
- Add the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer.
- Remove from the heat and stir through the spinach – the heat of the sauce will wilt the spinach and it will keep a lot of its glorious colour.
- Select a large dish to construct your lasagne.
- Spread a thin layer of the sausage sauce in the bottom of the dish.
- Add a layer of lasagne sheets over the top. Feel free to break the sheets up in order to make them fit.
- Add a layer of meat sauce, then a layer of white sauce.
- Continue layering until all the components have been used up.
- OPTIONAL: I like to use a top layer of low fat creme fraiche and a sprinkling of cheese, in order to give a little sharp tang to what is a rather rich dish. You can, of course, omit either or both and finish with the Bechamel, but to be honest, I’ve usually miscalculated and run out by the time the dish is full.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Bake for 1 hour, until cooked through and bubbling.
To enjoy later
When the lasagne has cooled to room temperature, cut it into portion-sized pieces – as it cools, it will firm-up nicely, so the pieces should stay intact rather well. Put each piece in a ziplock bag, box or wrap in cling film and freeze.
Once defrosted, put the piece or pieces into a dish, cover with foil and put into a cold oven. Turn the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan for 20-30 minutes until heated through. You may like to sprinkle a little extra cheese on the top to freshen it up. If, after this time, you’re not sure that it’s hot enough, a quick zap in a microwave (be sure to swap the foil for cling film) for a minute or two should do the trick.
 Use a stainless steel saucepan or an enamelled cast iron pan. I’m of the opinion that the acidity in tomatoes has ruined my non-stick pans in the past, and so I’ve now banned myself from putting tomatoes into any of my non-stick pans.
 I use Sainsbury’s ultimate 97% pork sausages.
 Or greenery of your preference. Blanched kale is terribly good for you – bit more difficult to pass off as parsley, though.
I love pitta bread – it reminds me of my years in the Middle East. Plus it’s always fun to have a sammich with the filling all neatly tucked away in a pocket: filling integrity being a very serious matter in the business of sandwich – and sammich – crafting.
The one niggle I have with regular pitta, is opening it to make room for the filling. It’s always a good idea to lightly toast your pitta under a grill before you try splitting it open. Hopefully, it will puff up and make the job a little easier. If it doesn’t, then you have to cut it open by hand and here’s where I get a little grumpy: there’s always a thin side and a thick side, and it only takes the slightest slip of the knife to poke a hole through one side and then your pocket has sprung a leak.
Not so with these beauties. For a start, they’re a little thicker than regular pitta, which means there’s actually some soft insides to slice through. Let me briefly digress into some advice on cutting pitta pockets. Some people favour cutting all down one side, but to my mind, this isn’t the best approach. Sure, it might give you a wide pocket into which to stuff your favourite fillings, but in doing so, you lose the structural integrity of the pitta and it becomes a two-handed juggle to keep everything from spilling out. Much better to take the bull by the horns and cut directly across the middle – which gives two pockets, each with a lovely straight opening and a well-formed structure for your filling. It might require a little more care in filling, but once it is in, it’s not going anywhere except in your mouth. You only need one hand to hold it, too. There’s also a real likelihood that I have spent WAY too much time thinking about this.
Another attraction of these breads is that they’re deliciously soft, and remain so way past the shelf-life of regular pitta breads. The last of the previous batch I made stayed pillowy right up until I spotted a little mould starting – 9 days after baking!
They’re incredibly versatile – as well as sandwich pockets, lightly toasted and cut in ‘soldiers’ they’re great for dipping into hummus, moutable salad (roast aubergine + tahini, aka baba ghanoush), even a soft boiled egg. and they also make fab ‘instant’ pizza bases.
Lastly, they’re a great Deja Food. You can, of course, cook potatoes especially to make these, and their warmth will then assist the yeast in making the dough rise. However, you can just as easily use potatoes from previous meals with no discernible difference in the resulting bread. The batch in the photograph was made using the insides of 2-day old baked potatoes – once riced, I zapped them in the microwave for 30 seconds to warm them up a little before adding to the rest of the ingredients. Simples!
Makes 12 fluffy pitta breads.
350g cooked, riced potato
2 sachets fast-action yeast
2tsp caster sugar
250ml whole milk
50ml vegetable oil
400-500g strong white bread flour
- If the potatoes are cold, warm them briefly in the microwave for 30-45 seconds and tip into a large bowl.
- Add the yeast to the potatoes.
- Warm the milk to blood temperature.
- Add the sugar and salt to the milk and stir to dissolve.
- Add the oil to the milk, mix briefly, then add the liquids to the potatoes and yeast.
- Stir to combine.
- Gradually mix in the flour until a soft dough is achieved. From all the times I’ve made this, it’s pretty much 400g of flour that is needed, but a lot depends on the moisture content of both the flour and the potatoes. It’s better to have the dough too soft than too dry, so proceed with caution one 3/4 of the flour has been added.
- Cover with cling film and leave to prove for 1 hour.
- Tip out the risen dough and pat out the air.
- Form into a ball, cover lightly with a cloth and allow to rest for a further 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Divide the dough into 12 even pieces and shape into balls. It’s worth taking the trouble to weigh the dough and divide it evenly, so that the breads are all of a similar size and therefore cook evenly. Don’t go mad with it, though – within 5g is plenty close enough.
- Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out into oval pitta shapes. They want to be fairly thin – no more than 1cm in order to keep them pitta shaped once baked, but again, don’t get too precious about it – “that’ll do” is fine.
- Arrange on baking parchment-lined baking sheets and dust liberally with flour.
- Bake for 15 minutes, turning the baking sheets around after 10 minutes, to ensure the breads bake evenly.
- Cool on the baking sheet, covered with a clean cloth, to ensure the crust stays soft and pillowy.
I’m so enchanted with this recipe – so simple, so refreshing, so vegan. Yes, that’s not a typo. Completely lacking in animal-derived ingredients. “But it looks so creamy!” I know, right!?
I rarely eat ‘neat’ mayonnaise these days – it’s just too rich (“Hold on a minute,” you say, “what about the very mayonnaise-like Dutch Fritesaus you have on chips??”. It’s deuced delicious, is what I say. *shrugs and waves hands vaguely* So I’m a contrary enigma!)
I usually mix equal parts mayonnaise and plain yoghurt to get creamy with a little tang – but this mayonnaise delivers on both counts. It’s not overtly apple-y, but you can taste the freshness. It’s fabulous!
Now for the slightly sad news: The best apples for this mayonnaise are Bramley apples – an iconic cooking apple here in the UK which, when cooked, fluffs up like cotton wool without drowning in juice. As far as I’m aware, it’s not widely available outside the UK – please contradict me if I’m wrong! It’s the fluffiness of the Bramley that gives this mayonnaise both its ‘body’ and delicious tang. Not wanting to disappoint readers from Forn Parts as Terry Pratchett puts it, I tried with other apples and my recommendations are listed below, together with some ideas for providing variety. The original recipe was incomplete, vague and in Russian so I initially just guessed quantities/types. However, I also experimented with different batches for a week or so (anyone wanna buy 4 pints of apple mayo??), and here are my findings and suggestions:
- Apples: If Bramley apples aren’t available to you, use three (3) sharp apples such as Jazz, Braeburn, Granny Smith. Also, make sure there’s no excess moisture left in the pan when the apples are cooked. The resulting mayonnaise will be slightly less firm, but certainly not runny.
- Acid: I’ve switched the original vinegar for lemon juice. Experiment. A nice white balsamic might suit the apples you have perfectly.
- Mustard: I’ve used yellow mustard powder, but if you like things feisty and have the seeds, grind yourself some black. Alternatively, use ready mixed mustard – a mustard mixed with vinegar might prove the better compliment to your apple pulp.
- Sugar/Salt: Both are needed, maybe you’ll need a little more of one that the other again, depending on your apples. I stayed with ordinary table salt and white, caster sugar, as I wanted the colour to remain light and creamy, but there’s certainly scope for using the whole range of sugars from icing through to molasses. Smoked salt is the next variation I’m planning to try. Have at it!
- Pepper – again, thinking of the impact on the finished colour, I opted ground white, but an earlier version contained coarse-ground black made for a lovely speckled effect. There’s also all the ‘red’ peppers (paprika, cayenne, chilli etc) to introduce a little (or a lot of!) heat.
- Oil: Originally vegetable, I also tried various mixtures as well as a couple of less obvious options. Vegetable is fine, but I felt it a little ‘claggy’ on the palate. Switching out 2tbs for olive oil wasn’t an improvement. However, in it’s defense, I must confess I didn’t use the best quality olive oil. Grape seed oil I found gave richness without clagginess. Experiment!
2 Bramley Apples
1tsp white sugar
1tbs lemon juice
2tbs yellow mustard powder
1tsp ground white pepper
100ml grape seed oil
- Core, peel and chop the apples and put into a small pan with the lemon juice, sugar and salr.
- Cover and simmer over a low heat until cooked and fluffy – this won’t take long at all, so don’t wander off and let it burn. If you’re using a sharp dessert apple, they’ll need a little longer to soften, plus you’ll probably need to leave the lid off once cooked just to let the excess liquid evaporate.
- Use a stick blender to puree the apples smooth.
- Add the mustard and pepper and blend in.
- SLOWLY – and I mean one drop at a time to begin with – add the oil. Just as with traditional mayonnaise, if you add the oil too quickly, it won’t emulsify and you’ll end up with runny mayo. Once you’ve added half, you can start to add a little more at a time – maybe a teaspoon – but certainly don’t just slosh it all in.
- Transfer the finished mayonnaise to a plastic container and chill thoroughly.
- It will keep up to two weeks in the fridge.
This week saw the need for some culinary ingenuity here in deepest, darkest Worcestershire.
My daughter caught a bug and was off school for the tail end of the week, effectively preventing me from going shopping and as I had already procrastinated weekly shopping to Thursday’s ToDo List, we therefore all had to make do with what little was in the house already.
Whilst it was hardly a Gomser Cholera Pie situation, it did nudge me to be a little more creative in pulling ingredients together. I also experimented with the presentation by stacking the various elements in a tower, which made for much more eye appeal and created interest where there wasn’t much. (Are stacks/towers in or out this season? I can’t keep up). ANYHOO – I thought they looked very striking, especially when each individual element was visible. If you’ve got professional rings – great! – otherwise, opening steamed pudding tins both ends, as mentioned way back in Muffins, gives you a food-grade metal ring for a fraction of the cost. A flat-bottomed, straight-sided glass performs well to ‘tamp-down’ each layer.
I had some bits and pieces of vegetables and chicken in the fridge, some pickles, frozen peas, half a cucumber, eggs, plain yogurt. and mayonnaise. A veritable Deja Food banquet! What follows is more a list of suggestions based on my tinkering to encourage you to have a go yourself and – literally – throw something together from next to nothing.
Vegetables: Cooked al-dente, veggies retain a lot more of their colour and are still perfectly fine up to 2 days after cooking, provided they are stored in the fridge. Don’t chop roughly, rather dice them small so that they fit well together in layers in the moulds. Broccoli and cauliflower should be separated into tiny florets. Frozen peas are brilliant – ready in a flash, sweet and a fabulous pop of green. Caramelise some onions and toss through some mushrooms – store in your fridge for instant flavour boost. Personally, sweetcorn is the only tinned vegetable I keep in the cupboard, but tins of pre-soaked and cooked pulses such a chick peas, butter beans, lentils, etc. are invaluable. If you’re using fresh salad veggies, de-seed them to help avoid too much moisture adversely affecting your stack (tomatoes, cucumber etc).
Meat: The remains of a larger join are great. Trim off any fat, sinews and skin – any meat making an encore appearance at the table should be just as carefully prepared as it’s debut.
Fish: It’s more usual for seafood, rather than fish, to be served cold. Having said that, a few tins of firm fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines and pilchards in the cupboard are always handy. Drain and flake lightly – don’t crush into a pulp.
Fruit: Don’t limit your imagination merely to the contents of the fruit bowl – dried fruit, especially the tarter fruits such as apricots, cranberries and barberries can provide quite a refreshing zing to a cold salad. That being said, my current favourite salad fruit is Bramley apple, diced small – so sour, so refreshing!
Eggs: Hardboiled, even a single egg can bulk up what seems to be a very meagre salad. Chop the white separately, then push the yolk through a sieve for a delicate drift of yellow.
Pickles: Fantastic to have to hand – piquant, crunchy and with an almost limitless shelf-life. I love the rich colour of red cabbage and beetroot, capers, walnuts, small silverskin onions, and mini gherkins. I also have a jar of larger cucumbers pickled in brine, for something a little different.
Mayonnaise: Perfect for acting as the ‘glue’ to keep the layers of the salad stacks together. I prefer my mayo on the tart side, so I mix it 50/50 with plain yoghurt. Season with salt and pepper, and sharpen with lemon juice if liked.
- Lay each item inside your ring and press down firmly to compact.
- If required, spread a thin layer of mayonnaise over the top to bind.
- To keep the layer definition crisp, lay your ingredients around the edge of the ring, without any dressing, then fill in the middle and add dressing as required.
- Make your layers contrast in colour, texture or flavour.
- Add the sieved yolk just before serving, as you want it to sit lightly on top of your stack.
- Allow finished stacks to ‘set’ in the fridge to firm up in shape and for the flavours to mix.
- Made in larger rings, these salads are great for weekday lunches – they can be transported in the rings and the rings removed just before serving.
Below are the variations that I tried and my comments on each. Have fun!
I’ve seen many variations of this salad on various Russian websites, and got to thinking that so many endorsements must mean that it’s not the weird combination it first seems.
Composition/Construction as in the photo – obviously you’d start with the bottom layer.
- slices of cucumber
- sieved egg yolk
- a little mayonnaise
- chopped egg white
- caramelised onions and mushrooms
- chopped chicken
- a little mayonnaise
- chopped, moist prunes.
Verdict: I found the prunes a little on the sweet side – but I had the end of a packet of softened ready-to-eat prunes to use up. Next time I think I’d go with chopped, dried prunes and soak in a little fruit juice just before putting the salad together, because I’m really liking the startling black colour they bring to this salad. The mushroom/onion combination was really tasty – as stated above, just tossed thinly sliced mushrooms into some onions as they cooked in a little butter and seasoned with salt and pepper. Since they were already moist, I didn’t need to use any mayonnaise between them and the layers either side.
A vegetarian mix of vegetables and pickles.
- sprig of dill
- onion/mushroom mixture
- diced cornichons – mini pickled cucumbers
- a little mayonnaise
- diced cooked carrot
- a little mayonnaise
- chopped egg white
- a little mayonnaise
- cooked garden peas
- a little mayonnaise
- peeled and diced cooked potatoes
Verdict: A great side salad combination – the cornichons give a great crunch. The colours are a bit muted, so next time I’d probably add a few more layers and colours with some sweetcorn or golden carrot, broccoli and/or cauliflower, some shiny red kidney beans or chopped red pepper/tomato. The addition of a couple of layers of cheese would turn this stack into a delicious meal option – imagine the looks of admiration at the office when you unveil this little beauty.
Purple and Green Salad
I love the contrast of the green against the purple, and the three ‘white’ fillings set them off beautifully.
- sprig of dill
- a little mayonnaise
- chopped egg white
- french beans
- pickled red cabbage – well drained on kitchen paper
- diced chicken tossed in a little mayonnaise
- garden peas – cooked from frozen and chilled in cold water
- a little mayonnaise
- diced beetroot
- cooked, peeled, diced potatoes tossed in a little mayonnaise
Verdict: Probably my favourite of the three, due to the combination of colours and flavours. The pickles added a great zing of sharpness and the purples contrasted well against the creamy ‘white’ layers. Next time I would add a little variation to the white layers in the form of additional seasonings, chopped herbs, etc as the mayonnaise dulled the flavours to the point that it required some concentrated study to determine which particular ‘white’ was on the fork. Raw cauliflower or even a startling white feta or mozzarella would be other white options – beetroot/white cheese/walnut is one of my favourite flavour combos – I use it in salads, quiches, scones, pies….