Cabbage and Noodles

Cabbage and Noodles

Wotchers!

I have for you today a simple but ridiculously tasty dish that has become a firm favourite in this house, not least because it requires so little effort to make.

The combination of buttery, peppery, al-dente greens with buttery, peppery, differently-al-dente noodles is, as I have already mentioned, ridiculously tasty. Bonus is that it reheats well with a zap in the microwave, and so the initial chore of all the chopping is offset with easy side dishes/meain meals for several days.

It is based on the Eastern European dish Haluski. This version has been tweaked from the original and traditional method of making which was, if anything, even easier to prepare, involving just one pot to bring it all together. The original has everything fried in butter – delicious! – but a bit much for me, so I’ve opted for steaming the cabbage (to keep the glorious colour), cooking the noodles separately, and then just using a pan to mix.

This version is vegetarian, but it can easily be embellished into a simple main meal – although I can happily eat this as a meal just as is – with the addition of some protein: bits of bacon/ham seems to be the most popular, but chopped, cooked chicken, chorizo, hardboiled eggs are also simple to stir through the pan just before serving.

I have used white cabbage, savoy cabbage and brussels sprouts (because I love them) to add interest in both colour and texture, although using just one is fine. The noodles are actually fresh pasta ribbons: again, any shape is fine, and on reflection, smaller pasta shapes would make the dish easier to serve/eat.

Aside from my tweaks above, there seem to be a couple of other ‘rules’ when it comes to Haluski, which I can also vouch for with this version, viz.

  • Proportionally, have more cabbage than noodles.
  • When coating the greens with butter, have them ‘catch’ a little (brown at the edges) which will give a fantastic flavour boost to the dish.
  • Season generously with lots of black pepper.

Deviate from these at your peril!

Before we get to the recipe, a word or two about cooking cabbage – and indeed all brassicas.

  • Cook/steam for no longer than 4 minutes.

Yes, I agree, this does seem a ridiculously short amount of time, but it is genuinely all you need. Any longer, and you’re heading into the realms of school-dinner-boiled-cabbage-funk aroma that we all know, to our horror. The greens end up cooked, with a pleasant texture on the teeth,  and retain their glorious colour fantastically well.

Steaming is my preference, not only for the brightness of colour it is possible to retain, but it also prevents the vegetables from becoming waterlogged. Simply cut out any hard stalks (especially from kale, cavolo nero, Savoy) and shred the leaves finely, and halve or even quarter brussel sprouts.

Cabbage and Noodles

This is, essentially, a quantity-free recipe. Precise measurements are not required, and it will be all the more delicious – and quicker – without them.

1-2 onions
butter
cabbage/greens/sprouts
fresh egg noodles or egg pasta
black pepper
salt

  • Peel and chop the onions. You casn do this by hand and make the onion pieces similar in size to the greens, or you can thrown them into a food processor and blitz to a mush that will blend in with the rest of the ingredients. Both are fine.
  • Melt some butter in a large pan (because everything with end up being added to this pan) and fry the onions until softened and golden, but not crisp. Be generous with the butter, but don’t go overboard (some especially rich recipes I’ve read end up using 250g or more) – about 50g is plenty.
  • Prepare the greens by removing any hard stalks and shredding the leaves finely. Steam for 4 minutes and drain through a sieve.
  • Cook the noodles in boiling water according to instructions and drain through a sieve.
  • When the greens have drained, tip them into the butter and onions and toss gently to coat.
  • When the greens are evenly coated with the buttery onion mixture, add in the noodles and combine. Add more butter to taste. You want everything nicely coated, but not swimming in butter.
  • Season generously with black pepper and a little salt.
  • Serve at once.

The Week Long Chicken

Wotchers!

Here’s a little something I hope proves useful in these trying, lockdown times.

We get a lot of fast food leaflets through our door and I am always shocked, as I watch them tumble into the recycle bin, at the cost of the food they’re offering compared to the cost of the ingredients. Recently, I was very disconcerted to see that a single person southern fried meal cost more than an entire chicken at the supermarket.

I appreciate that the price includes wages/utilities on top of the cost, but it still seems very poor value for money, so I decided to see if I could present an alternative to demonstrate the versatility and frugality of cooking at home. It’s something I’ve been mulling over for a while: whether a whole supermarket chicken can be made to last a week.

This post is about the cooking of a large, standard, supermarket chicken – one chicken, seven meals. Great for the single person, but obviously, for even a small family, one chicken isn’t going to last a week. My hope is that one or two of these meal ideas might inspire you to make your chicken go just a little further than usual.

For the most part, these are recipes without recipes, with a sprinkling of suggestions. If you need clarification, please don’t hesitate to drop me a comment.

Sunday – Roast Chicken & Stock

Method 1 – Oven

  • If you can afford it, roast two chickens in the oven at the same time. It’s more economical and you’ll have more cooked chicken to use/freeze.
  • Put the chickens on a rack over a large roasting pan. Or use the solid shelves that come with your oven, and put the chickens on the rack oven shelf.
  • Add about 1 litre of water to the roasting tin. This will catch all the meat juices and stop them gumming up your pan over the long roasting time, and be the basis of your gravy. During the cooking, it will also keep your chickens moist as the oven heat turns to steam.
  • Put your pan into a cold oven and turn the heat to 140°C, 120°C Fan.
  • Cook your chickens for 4 hours. They will be basted to a delicious tenderness by their own fat, and the skin will crisp to parchment thinness.
  • While the chicken is cooking, prepare your potatoes/stuffing/vegetables. Peel your potatoes and cut into even-sized pieces. Boil for 5 minutes, drain then allow to dry in the warm pan. When dried, shake the pan to roughen the edges, which will make for extra crispiness. Cauliflower and broccoli are simple to prepare and cook quickly and the combination of cauliflower and chicken gravy is sublime.
  • After 4 hours, remove from the oven, lift the rack off the tin and cover the chickens in foil. Cover the foil with a clean cloth. NB To keep the skin crisp, remove it and set aside before covering with foil. The chickens will stay hot for quite a while, certainly long enough to roast your potatoes/cook stuffing/steam vegetables.
  • Turn the oven up to 200°C, 180°C.
  • Put some lard or dripping in a roasting pan and put into the oven to melt/heat. Coat your roughened potatoes with the hot fat and roast for 45 minutes. Put your stuffing in at the same time.
  • Get a steamer pan ready for your vegetables.  Carrots can be peeled/cut into batons and cooked in the boiling water under the rest of the vegetables (give them a 5-minute head start, for 15 minutes total). French beans boil in 7 minutes/steam in 10. Broccoli and cauliflower also steam in 10 – put the cauliflower in the steamer pan under the broccoli.
  • Pour the water from the chicken pan into a saucepean, together with any bits that have fallen in. Taste  to see if it is flavoured well enough. If not, then add some bouillon or boil fast to evaporate some of the liquid. Serve as a jus or thicken with flour if preferred.

Method 2 – Slow Cooker

For one chicken

  • Get 1 large onion, 2 large carrots, 3 sticks of celery.
  • Peel the carrots and cut in half lengthways. Cut the celery in half across the width. Cut the onion in half, no need to remove the brown skin.
  • Arrange the vegetables on the bottom of the slow cooker. Add fresh herbs if liked.
  • Put the chicken on the top.
  • Put the lid on and cook on High for 4 hours, Low for 5 hours. No need to add any water. There’s enough moisture in the vegetables and chicken to keep it moist and make a very flavourful jus.
  • Finish as above.

Before bedtime, take a few moments to set up your stock so it can work it’s magic overnight.

Stock

chicken carcase(s)
1 onion
2 carrots
3 sticks celery
1tbs black peppercorns
2 bayleaves

  • Take off all the meat from the carcase(s) and set aside. Put everything else into a pan or slow cooker.
  • Chop the vegetables and put all the remaining ingredients into the pan.
  • Add sufficient water to just cover.
  • Cover and cook in the slow cooker overnight on Low, or cook on the hob on 1. The low heat will make for a clear, flavourful stock, and the brown onion skins will give it a great colour.
  • The next morning, switch off the heat and allow to cool until just warm.
  • Put a colander over a bowl and pour the contents of the pan through, to remove the bones and vegetables. It will need to drain for 15-20 minutes.
  • Repeat, this time using a fine sieve to remove smaller particles.
  • If you’re keen, repeat a third time, either lining the sieve with wet muslin, or using a coffee filter, to ensure your stock is crystal clear.
  • Allow the stock to cool completely, then chill in the fridge or freezer. When completely cold, remove the fat that will be resting on the top.
  • Portion out your stock and freeze. 500ml is a useful quantity to have to hand.

 

Monday – Cold chicken salad with baked potato

Chicken Salad with Baked Potato
This meal harps back to my childhood. We always had a Sunday Roast – chicken, beef, pork, lamb in rotation – and Monday was always washing day. This was back in the days before modern, front-loading machines, when the best we had was what was known as a Twin Tub. Bedding had to be soaked in a barrel, then thrashed about with a copper washing dolly, or what we used to call an ‘umpy-tump’ – because that was the sound it made splooshing up and down on the sheets. These were then rinsed and finally passed through the mangle. All of which is a huge digression, but my point, my POINT is…..Mondays were a bit busy, so there was little time for cooking meals. The quickest and simplest was to have cold slices of meat from the roast and a baked potato. Salad scattered with some chopped mint from the garden and a splurt of mayonnaise, and it was ready in no-time. Choose whatever part of the chicken you like, but the pale breast does both look and taste delicious.

 

Tuesday – Chicken and Veg Pie with crunchy stuffing

All the flavour of Sunday Roast Chicken – inna pie! Using the leftover vegetables and gravy means it comes together in minutes and the crunchy stuffing ‘crumble’ sets it off beautifully. Can be made without pastry as a ‘bake.’

cooked chicken – a mix of light & dark
chicken gravy
cooked vegetables from the Sunday roast such as carrots, french beans, etc.
frozen peas
leftover stuffing
baked shortcrust pastry tart shell(s)

  • Chop the chicken and vegetables into 1cm  dice.
  • Moisten with the gravy.
  • Freshen things up with a handful of frozen peas – no need to cook first.
  • Spoon the mixture into the pastry shell(s).
  • Blitz the stuffing in the food processor or chop coarsely.
  • Sprinkle over the top of the pie to give a savoury crumble topping.
  • Put pie(s) into the oven and turn the heat to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes until thoroughly heated through and the topping is crisped and browned.

Wednesday – Chicken Sandwich

Now you might be forgiven for thinking that this is a bit of a cop-out ‘recipe’ – A recipe for a chicken sandwich? I hear you exclaim. Well yes and no. On the one hand, no-one needs a recipe for a sandwich – bread, butter, filling, bish-bash-bosh, job done! But here I’d like to offer a few suggestions to take your chicken sandwich game up a notch or two, without having to resort to fancy-schmancy breads, etc.

  • Bread – Whatever you fancy. I’d like to suggest that you toast it, but only one side. I’ve opted for wholemeal brown and you can see from the picture that just the outside is toasted. This is to give crunch texture, something I’ve come to value more and more in recent years. It will also give a great contrast to the soft, creamy filling.
  • Butter – Actually, no. Better in this context to go with mayonnaise. I alternate between a low-fat mayonnaise, and making a dressing comprised of half mayo, half plain yogurt, with coarse-ground black pepper and a dash of lemon juice to add a little zing. Use either of these instead of butter on the untoasted side of the bread. Then, on each slice, add a light dusting of finely ground white pepper and a scattering of a pinch – literally between index finger and thumb – of salt.
  • Filling – again, choose whatever part of the chicken you like. I’ve gone for thinly (5mm) sliced chicken breast. You don’t need much to make a decent sandwich. Arrange the slices on one piece of bread and press the other slice lightly on top. Cut into quarters.
  • Put together a little salad and arrange on a plate alongside the cut sandwich and enjoy.
  • If you’re in need of something more substantial, try pairing your sammich with some Leek and Potato soup, made with your delicious stock.

 

Thursday – Chicken Tetrazzini

A bowl of Chicken Tetrazzini

Recipe can be found here.

If your supply of chicken is dwindling, add more chestnut mushrooms, whose meaty texture goes so well with the sauce. In fact, I’d go so far as to say, make a full batch of the sauce, because it is fabulous, and portion/freeze it for a quick meal later.

Friday – Berbere Chicken

Berbere Chicken

Here’s something a bit different. Berbere is a fabulous aromatic Ethiopian spice mix. It is available both in shops (Bart do a tin) and online and you can even mix up a batch yourself and have it be tailored to your own personal taste. If you can’t find any berbere, you can substitute your favourite curry powder or garam masala.

3tbs ghee
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
3 plum tomatoes
3tbs tomato paste
2tbs berbere
500ml chicken stock
salt & pepper to taste

cooked chicken

  • Peel the onion and chop finely.
  • Melt the ghee in a pan and add the onion. Cook over medium heat until the onion has softened and is starting to brown.
  • While the onion is cooking, chop finely (in a food processor if liked) the garlic and tomatoes.
  • Add 1tbs of berbere to the cooked onions and stir for 2 minutes, until fragrant.
  • Add the chopped garlic and tomatoes, tomato paste and stock.
  • Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Use a stick blender or liquidiser to puree the sauce smooth.
  • Taste and add more berbere, salt and pepper if liked.
  • Add the cooked chicken and heat through. Serve with noodles and rice or mujaddara.
  • Extra sauce can be refrigerated/frozen for use another time.

Saturday – Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup

As the end of the week approaches, you might be down to your last few shreds of chicken, so a great way to make them stretch is to make a soup. There is a very basic version, and then a list of additions which you can add according to taste/necessity.

2tbs butter
1 onion – finely chopped
2tbs plain flour
250ml milk
250ml chicken stock
1 tin sweetcorn – drained
cooked chicken – chopped small.

Optional Additions
bell peppers – seeded and diced
cooked potatoes – cubed
garlic – to taste, finely chopped, or garlic powder
ham/bacon – to taste
spring onions – sliced
fresh parsley – chopped
croutons
cooked vegetables – whatever you have to hand
celery

  • Melt the butter in a pan and add the chopped onion. Cook until softened and translucent.
  • Add the flour and cook, stirring, until it thickens into a roux.
  • Add the milk and stock and continue stirring over medium heat until thickened to the consistency of cream.
  • Simmer for 5 minutes to cook out the flour. Taste, and if it tastes floury, simmer a little longer.
  • This is the soup base. If you like a smooth soup, you could puree it now, either in a liquidiser or using a stick blender.
  • Add the rest of your ingredients according to taste and simmer gently until heated through.

No-Bake Christmas Cake

No-Bake Christmas Cake

Wotchers!

A rich, fruited cake at Christmas is traditional: crammed with dried fruits, candied peel and spices, and liberally doused with alcohol, before being encased in the equally traditional marzipan and white icing.

Delicious.

But there’s a huge elephant in the room when it comes to Christmas Cake recipes which no-one ever seems to mention – and that is the lengthy, fretful and agonisingly nerve-wracking extended baking time. And it IS just as stressful as it sounds, because the cake ingredients are not cheap, and so any mishap is going to prove expensive. If the oven is too hot, the outsides of the cake will burn and any exposed fruit will char to bitterness. If the oven is too cool, there’s a real risk of the inside of the cake ending up anything from gummy underdone-ness to out and out raw – and this is only likely to be discovered when the first slice is cut. And even if it is baked properly, failure to maintain sufficient moisture in the form of soaking it in alcohol between baking and consuming will result in an overly dry cake of sawdust texture. Not to mention the expense of having the oven on for so long.

So here I am, not just mentioning the elephant in the room, but naming/shaming/kicking it out.

Because this recipe requires no baking at all, and will only take maybe 15 minutes of your time.

Essentially, this is a fridge cake, with the wonderfully festive mix of fruit, spices and alcohol held together with biscuit crumbs and a little butter. It certainly looks the part and, as the photo demonstrates, it cuts beautifully – I do so love a clean, sharp slice! The biscuits should be Rich Tea – the rest of the ingredients need their dryness and plainness in order their flavours to shine. Sidebar: how much of a misnomer is Rich Tea? They’re the un-richest biscuit out there, just one step up from a water biscuit, and no hint of the taste of tea at all. Nevertheless, when you need a plain ‘canvas’ on which to display your more exotic ingredients, they can’t be beaten. NB Although breaking the biscuits into pieces is fine for recipes such as Chocolate Salami, the biscuits here should be blitzed to fineness in a food processor. This fineness is key in ensuring your cake holds together well with no unsightly air pockets, so please take the time over this one detail. Be more Edna.

Edna says: No Lumps!

ANYHOO…

Back to the cake. The texture is actually very close indeed to that of a well-moistened traditional cake, but the taste is extraordinary. In bypassing the hours and hours in the oven, the flavours of the fruit, peel and nuts are bright and fresh with no hint of dryness or burn. The alcohol is also more prominent, so if you’re planning on it being offered to children, perhaps reduce the quantity and substitute apple or pear juice to make up the overall amount of liquid.

There is also the freedom to make the mix of fruit, peel and nuts just to your liking. I don’t like angelica – or at least, the lurid dyed-green angelica found in the shops, so I don’t add it in. Glace cherries might be your absolute bête noir, in which case leave ’em out. As long as the overall weight is observed, the proportions can be made up of whatever you like. The mix below gives a ‘traditional’ flavour, but you could also choose a mix of, for example, dried mango, pineapple, papaya, coconut ribbons and white rum for a tropical flavour. The same goes for the spices. You might like them to be a little more robust that the quantities given. You’re only limited by your imagination. Go wild.

No Bake Christmas Cake

These quantities make a small, round, family-sized cake of diameter 15cm and a depth of around 5cm. A tin of larger diameter will result in a shallower cake. If you’re catering for only a few, consider halving the recipe and perhaps using a square or loaf tin for easier slicing, or even pressing the mix into cupcake or deep tart tins for mini individual portions.

For a Gluten-Free version, substitute GF Rich Tea biscuits.

For Vegans: Substitute the butter for the fat you prefer. It should be one that is solid at room temperature.

60g prunes – chopped
60g mixed, candied peel – chopped
75g raisins
75g sultanas
75g glace cherries – halved or quartered
1/2 nutmeg – grated
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 rounded tbs liquid sugar[1]
80g unsalted butter
75ml alcohol – a mix of cream sherry and brandy is nice, or 25ml each of these plus dark rum. Substitute fruit juice if preferred.

75g walnuts – chopped
250g fine Rich Tea biscuit crumbs

  • Put everything except the nuts and the crumbs into a pan.
  • Heat, gently stirring, until the butter has melted and the fruit is warmed through.
  • Remove from the heat, cover, and set aside to allow the fruit to plump up (30 minutes-1 hour).
  • Put the nuts and crumbs into a bowl.
  • Add the cooled fruit mixture and toss to combine. The mixture should now resemble damp sand, and stick together when pressed. Adjust spices if necessary, and add more crumbs/alcohol/juice if required.
  • Line your tin with plastic film.
  • Pour in the mixture and press flat. I find the base of a glass tumbler is excellent at achieving a smooth surface.
  • Cover the top with plastic film and chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.
  • Decorate with almond paste and icing as per a traditional cake.

 

[1] Ooh, a footnote! Haven’t done one of these in ages! The liquid sugar can be whatever you have to hand: honey, golden syrup, agave nectar, maple syrup, treacle or molasses if you’d like a dark cake, glucose if you don’t want to add another flavour to the mix.


Mini Christmas Puddings

GF Xmas Pudding
Wotchers!

Well, friends, I’m afraid it’s that time of year where we must turn our thoughts to next month’s festive season. As menu planning seems to get earlier and earlier each year, if I am to SURPRISE and DELIGHT your festive table, I need to be even more ahead of the game, so here we are.

I like traditional Christmas Pudding. I like its dark richness, studded with jewel-like fruits, crunchy nuts and tangy peel. I like its dense nature and the accompanying wide choice of accessories with which you can adorn your plate: pouring cream, whipped cream, clotted cream, custard, white sauce, brandy butter, rum butter…

What I’m not so keen on is facing it after a comprehensive but daunting Christmas Day lunch with all the trimmings, after a morning that has invariably involved snacks both sweet and savoury. By the time pudding is served, no-one usually has the energy or the inclination to do it justice.

So what I have for you here is an alternative. Something that satisfies the craving for the traditional flavours, without the, lets not deny it, heaviness of a traditional pudding. Just look at it! ”Bejewelled” is not an exaggeration, especially when served on a sparkling glass dish. As a bonus, it doesn’t involve any heavy mixing and steaming and re-steaming.

GF Xmas Pudding with nutmeg for scale

Mini Xmas Pudding with nutmegs for scale.

A riotous mix of dried fruits, nuts and peel is macerated in alcohol (not compulsory, fruit juice is absolutely fine), then set in a tangy, lemon jelly in little moulds. The flavours stay bright and fresh, the portions are small, and tradition can still be observed. The jelly acts as a palate cleanser, really waking up the tastebuds in preparation for the ensuing onslaught of nuts, chocolates and drinks as the rest of the day trundles on. It’s gluten-free and can also be vegetarian/vegan with the use of appropriate setting agents for the lemon jelly.

half-sphere mould

I used a silicone mould like this. It’s known as a half-sphere or hemisphere mould. Each shape is of diameter 55mm. It is the perfect size for individual desserts and one of my most used silicon moulds.

Mini Christmas Puddings

These quantities make eight mini puddings. You may have a little lemon jelly left over, but just set it by itself for a delicious, refreshing mouthful.

40g prunes, diced fine
40g sultanas
40g raisins
20g currants
40g candied peel, diced fine
40g glace cherries, each cut into 8 pieces
20g preserved ginger, chopped
20g flaked or slivered almonds
80ml cream sherry or apple juice

Lemon Jelly
2 sheets gelatine (or vegan/vegetarian alternative)
2tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
2tbs caster sugar
150ml water

  • Mix the fruit and nuts and pour over the sherry/juice. Leave to soak for 2 hours. If, at the end of this time, the fruit hasn’t absorb all of the liquid, try zapping it briefly in the microwave to warm it through.
  • Put the mould onto a baking sheet or tin to give it stability. Spoon the mixture into your individual moulds and smooth over.
  • Soak the gelatine sheets in cold water for 10 minutes.
  • Heat the 150ml of water in the microwave or in a pan, and add the sugar and lemon juice. Stir until dissolved. Adjust the taste with more of either or both as liked.
  • Squeeze the gelatine sheets free of excess water and add to the lemon syrup. Stir until dissolved.
  • Pour the lemon jelly into each mould, allowing the jelly to seep between the fruit and fill all the little gaps. Tap the baking tray lightly onto the work surface to get rid of any air bubbles and add more jelly as required.
  • Lay a piece of cling film lightly over the surface on the mould, to prevent evaporation, and chill in the fridge for 4-6 hours until firm.
  • To serve, loosen the jellies by standing the mould in hot water for 10-15 seconds before turning them out.
  • Serve with cream and/or brandy butter.

Paradise Slices

Paradise Slices

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something glu…ten-free

Wotchers!

Bit of a bumper-fun bonus this week, with not one, not two, not three but FOUR recipes, each named Paradise Slice. Initially I was just going to make a post with two contratic recipes, but I got a bit carried away.

It all started with me reading a recipe in a small, vintage paperback pamphlet from the S.W.R.I. of Shapinsay, in Orkney. Their Paradise Slice comprised a rich, almond sponge, studded with dried fruits, candied cherries and baked in a shortcrust pastry case. Lovely, I thought. Baked it, and decided it needed tweaking a little, so made it again, this time with my crisp, cornflour shortcrust, which makes for a delicious contrast with the rich, buttery almond sponge, and also swapped in some confit fruit I’d bought on holiday in France.

Then I discovered a much-requested Paradise Slice in the Los Angeles Times, which was very different indeed: dark, rich, chewy and studded with pecans. Lovely, I thought – right up until I read how many calories it had per serving. So I did some tweaking and also reduced the batch size, making a slice now only 200 calories as opposed to, originally, over 500.

Then it occurred to me that I shouldn’t forget people with gluten intolerances. So I adapted a recipe from Sainsbury’s magazine that used as its base a mixture of popcorn and rice cereal. With a few more tweaks I managed to get each slice of this particular paradise down to less than 100 calories. Lovely, I thought.

Finally, being inspired by all these delicious contrasting bakes,  I decided to create my own Paradise Slice. I wanted it to have similar tropical ingredients, but be a different texture and flavour experience. I took the topping from the Hungarian Cheesecake and added lime and orange zest and juice, because the acid in the citrus juice reacts with the condensed milk to make a cheesecake-like mixture without all the faff. I mixed in some crushed pineapple and desiccated coconut and also stirred through a little creme fraiche for sharpness. I poured this onto the base from the L.A.Times recipe and left it to set in a cooling oven before chilling in the fridge. The result is fantastically tropical, fresh-tasting and not overly sweet.  It cuts beautifully, as the coconut takes up excess moisture as it sets in the oven, and can be enjoyed as a dessert or as an accompaniment to coffee. Best of all, it too is a storecupboard recipe, especially if, like me, you have a bag of Seville orange zest/juice cubes in the freezer (I cannot recommend this highly enough, so useful to have their tangy, bitter/sharp flavour on hand throughout the year).

Bloody lovely, I thought!

Shapinsay Paradise Slice – Makes 16 slices

Shapinsay Paradise Slice

The original recipe called for sultanas, raisins and glace cherries in equal measure. Nowadays we have a much wider selection of preserved fruit, so I heartily encourage you to go wild with whatever combination you fancy – mango, papaya, apricots, candied peel – whatever seems like paradise!

Cornflour shortcrust pastry – recipe here

115g unsalted butter – softened
115g caster sugar
2 large eggs
60g self-raising flour
60g ground almonds
a little milk for mixing

100g dried/candied fruit
2tbs cornflour

4-5tbs jam – I suggest apricot, but anything slightly sharp will be suitable also.
1tbs caster sugar

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
  • Roll the pastry out thinly (3mm) and line a greased (and lined if liked) baking tin of dimensions roughly 18cm by 28cm. Prick the base with a fork.
  • Line with baking paper and beads/rice and bake for 12 minutes.
  • Remove the baking paper and beads/rice and bake for a further 8 minutes for a total of 20 minutes.
  • Brush the hot pastry with jam and set aside while the rest of the filling is prepared.
  • Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Toss the fruit in the cornflour until thoroughly coated. Tip into a sieve to remove the excess cornflour.
  • Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well each time.
  • Fold in the flour and ground almonds.
  • Stir in a little milk until the mixture is of a dropping consistency – that is, it drops freely from a spoon.
  • Spread half od the mixture over the pastry case.
  • Stir the fruit into the remaining half of the mixture, then drop in spoonfuls over the plain mixture. This method will help prevent the fruit immediately sinking to the bottom of the sponge.
  • Smooth over the top and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the sponge is springy to the touch and nicely browned.
  • Sprinkle over the caster sugar whilst hot.
  • Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
  • When cold, slice into serving portions with a sharp knife.
  • Store in an airtight container.

San Diego Paradise Slice – Makes 16 slices

San Diego Paradise Bars

Adapted from the recipe of Bread & Cie, printed in the L.A.Times.

For the base
85g unsalted butter
85g wholemeal flour
75g dark muscovado sugar

For the topping
200g dark muscovado sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
20g wholemeal flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
100g unsweetened desiccated coconut
125g pecans

  • Preheat the oven to 175°C, 155°C Fan.
  • Line a baking tray with parchment. I used one of dimensions 20cm x 28cm, but anything roughly that size is fine.
  • Put the base ingredients into a food processor and blend until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Muscovado sugar can be a bit clumpy and this is a speedy and efficient way to break down the lumps.
  • Spread the mixture into the prepared tin. Pack it down firmly – use a flat-bottomed glass tumbler or similar to get a really smooth, firm surface.
  • Bake the base for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
  • Mix the flour, baking powder and salt.
  • Whisk the sugar, eggs and vanilla until creamy (about 5 minutes).
  • Stir in the flour mixture, the coconut and the pecans.
  • Pour this mixture over the base and smooth over.
  • Bake for 40-45 minutes until set.
  • Cool in the tin.
  • When cold, cut into 16 bars,.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Popcorn Paradise Slice – makes 32 gluten-free slices

Popcorn Paradise Slice

This paradise slice is a variation on the rice krispie bar but with the added flavour of popcorn. I’ve decided to use air-popped popcorn, to reduce both the sugar and fat content. Air-popped corn uses no fat in the pan, just the heat from the stove to make the corn pop. I also tweaked the original recipe to include more fruit. The quantities below are to be seen as guidelines only – use whatever mix of fruit and nuts takes your fancy, just keep to the overall weight of fruit/nuts to no more than 250g.

75g popping corn
75g gluten-free rice cereal
200g mixed, tropical fruit
50g coconut ribbons
300g marshmallows
50g unsalted butter

  • Put the popping corn into a clean, dry saucepan and cover with a lid.
  • Put the pan over medium heat and shake it vigorously to keep the kernels from burning before they pop.
  • When all the popping sounds have ceased, tip the popped corn into a bowl to cool. Wipe the pan with a clean cloth.
  • Pick out any un-popped kernels.
  • When cool, add in the rice cereal, fruit and nuts and mix thoroughly.
  • Line a large baking tray (24cm x 36cm-ish) with foil and grease lightly with either spray or butter.
  • Put the marshmallows and butter into the pan and heat gently until both have melted. Stir thoroughly.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the pan and stir well, ensuring as even a coating as possible for all of the ingredients.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and press down firmly. If you prefer to use your hands, cover the mix with some greased cling film first.
  • Chill in the fridge until completely cold, then cut into 32 fingers.
  • Store in an airtight container.

Coconut Pineapple Paradise Slice – makes 16 slices

This is possibly the easiest, in terms of effort, of all four recipes, as it is mostly just letting the oven or the fridge do all the work.

Coconut Pineapple Paradise

It is another of my Lego™ recipes – stick a bit of recipe A onto recipe B, add a little something-something and, as Jeff Goldblum would say…

You can use any two citrus fruits you like, but I don’t recommend two of the same, as then they tend to gang up on the other ingredients and overpower them. And definitely not two Seville oranges – the bitter is too much for the pineapple. I’ve also tried this with fresh pineapple for an even fresher taste, but the juice content didn’t allow it to set as firmly as I’d have liked. Were I to try this again, I’d sprinkle the chopped pineapple with sugar to help draw out as much moisture as possible.

For the base
85g unsalted butter
85g wholemeal flour
75g dark muscovado sugar

For the topping
1 x 400g-ish tin crushed pineapple in juice
1 x 400g-ish tin sweetened condensed milk
100g low fat creme fraiche (or thick sour cream)
zest & juice of 1 lime
zest & juice of 1 orange – Seville if you have it
100g dessicated coconut

  • Preheat the oven to 175°C, 155°C Fan.
  • Open the tin of pineapple and tip it into a sieve over a bowl. Leave to drain for about an hour – you want as much of the juice to drain out as possible.
  • Mix the condensed milk, creme fraiche and citrus together and stir thoroughly.
  • With a spatula, press the pineapple firmly to extract as much juice as possible. Yes, even after an hour’s draining. Repeat several times as necessary. When no more juice can be squeezed from it, add it to the condensed milk mixture and mix well.
  • Finally, stir in the coconut and set aside until required.
  • Line a baking tray with parchment. I used one of dimensions 20cm x 28cm, but anything roughly that size is fine.
  • Put the base ingredients into a food processor and blend until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Muscovado sugar can be a bit clumpy and this is a speedy and efficient way to break down the lumps.
  • Spread the mixture into the prepared tin. Pack it down firmly – use a flat-bottomed glass tumbler or similar to get a really smooth, firm surface.
  • Bake the base for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned.
  • Pour the filling over the cooked base and smooth over.
  • Return the tin to the oven and switch off the heat.
  • Leave the tray in the now cooling oven for two hours, then remove and leave to cool, if necessary.
  • Finally, chill thoroughly in the fridge (probably another 2 hours).
  • Cut into slices and serve.
  • Store in the fridge either covered or in an airtight container.

In case you missed it: This week over on DejaFood – Apricot Dream Slice


Frozen Fruit Cake

Wotchers!

Mention fruit cake in conversation and many people’s eyes will glaze over at the image of dark, heavy, dried fruit cakes of wintertime, but with this recipe you can make a light, fresh, sponge cake with a burst of freshness in every bite.

Regular listeners will recall my long quest for the perfect Apple Cake, as detailed in (shameless plug) MY FIRST BOOK – and the proportional recipe I found proved not too wet or heavy, lightly cakey, and with a real flavour of the fruit shining through.

This is the soft fruit version of that cake and has the added versatility of being able to be used as a base recipe for lots of different kinds of soft fruit.

It is adapted from a recipe for Blackcurrant Cake in Mrs C.F.Leyel’s Cakes of England (1936)¹. The original recipe called for fresh blackcurrants, but in the 21st century, not as many people have their own fruit bushes, or even access to a PYO fruit farm.

What we DO have access to is frozen fruit, picked and preserved within hours to maintain their quality. As well as bags in supermarkets, many farm shops also have ‘scoop your own’ fruits and berries in their freezers, to which you can help yourself to as much or as little as you like.

Whilst the cake in the above photograph is, indeed, made with blackcurrants, my experiments have confirmed that this recipe can be used with a whole range of soft fruits, and those fruits can be fresh, frozen or even canned.

The fruit makes this cake lovely and moist, and the sweetness of the cake itself contrasts deliciously with the sharp bursts of flavour from the berries. Due to the high levels  of moisture, it is not a cake that should be baked in a deep tin, as this runs the risk of being undercooked and having soggyness in the middle. A relatively shallow square tin, or traybake is ideal.

A further insurance against a soggy cake is to toss the fruit being used in a little cornflour. During baking, the cornflour will thicken any fruit juices that are released and prevent them from flooding the rest of the cake, and the cunning division of the dough means that your fruit will be evenly distributed throughout the finished cake, no matter how plump and juicy it might be.

Bonus: This cake is delicious as is, but can also be served warm as a pudding with a little cream or custard.

Frozen Fruit Cake

Mrs Leyel’s instructions begin ″Take equal quantities of flour, sugar and fresh blackcurrants. Rub the butter into the flour″, thereby being both unhelpfully vague and omitting mention of butter in the ingredients altogether. Nevertheless, after some experimentation, these quantities make a reasonably-sized cake. If you decide to increase the quantities, then increase the cooking time appropriately.

150g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
150g butter
150g caster sugar
150g fruit – fresh, frozen or if canned, drained
3tbs cornflour
2 large eggs, whisked
A little milk (maybe)
caster sugar for sprinkling

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
  • Grease and line a 18-20cm square tin with parchment.
  • Put the flour, baking powder and butter into a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Tip into a bowl and stir in the sugar.
  • Stir through the beaten eggs to form a dough. If the mixture seems a little dry, add enough milk to make a soft, scone-like dough.
  • Add HALF of this mixture to the tin and spread out.
  • Sprinkle the cornflour over the fruit and toss gently to coat.
  • Fold the fruit and any remaining cornflour into the remaining dough and transfer to the tin. Smooth over lightly. It should be about 4cm deep. NB This dividing of the dough wll help ensure the fruit is evenly distributed through the cooked cake. As demonstrated more familiarly with cherry cake, fruit has a tendency to ‘slide down’ through the cake mixture and congregate on the bottom of the tin. Adding a layer of fruitless mix in the bottom of the tin will not prevent this, merely slow the downeard progression of the fruit long enough for the cake around the fruit to cook and thus hold it in position.
  • Bake for 50-55 minutes, turning the tin around after 30 minutes. NB Don’t be tempted to remove the cake too early. As already mentioned, the fruit lends quite a lot of moisture to the mix, so be sure that the cake is thoroughly cooked through before removing it from the oven by testing with a cocktail stick that the cake mixture is cooked and observing that the cake as a whole has shrunk away from the sides of the tin and is nicely browned on top.
  • Sprinkle with caster sugar and allow to cool in the tin. NB The moistness of the cake means that it is very fragile when first baked, and trying to remove it from the tin whilst warm runs the risk of it breaking apart.

¹ A fantastic collection of national and regional cakes. Recommended!

 

In case you missed it: Orange & Walnut Garland Cake on DejaFood.com


Leek and Potato Soup

Leek & Potato Soup
Wotchers!

Who doesn’t love soup? Especially during the colder months. Sure, some of them, thick and hearty after hours of gentle simmering, can be a meal in a bowl.

But not all of them need take such extended preparation. Leek and potato soup is wonderfully comforting on a cold day, and only takes about 30 minutes to make from scratch, using simple ingredients that take little time to prepare. This one recipe can also be served in a variety of ways depending on whether you want a quick warming mug for lunch, or serve a striking and surprisingly economical special occasion starter.

Variations

Texture: Use of floury potatoes means this soup will puree to a wonderfully smooth and velvety texture. Nevertheless, I do like to have a little texture for visual as well as gustatory variety, so I hold back some of the cooked, cubed potato to add as a garnish.

Flavour: The soup is only simmered for a brief 20 minutes and this mellows the flavour of the leek. To lift the flavour, I like to briefly cook a little chopped leek in some butter and then either stir into the whole just before serving, or just spoon over the top of the cubed potatoes.

Visual Appeal: The photographs don’t really reflect it, but this soup is a beautifully pale green colour. It really makes the buttered leeks (if you’re using them) pop. If you aren’t inclined to ‘faff’ buttering some leeks, you could always snip a few dark green chives into the bowls to serve.

Garnish: Grated cheese and/or bacon bits are especially fine.

My daughter recently declared this her favourite soup, even ahead of tomato soup. She likes it best with a melty cheese toastie cut into fingers to dip in. This is her helpfully holding a spoonful of delicious soup garnished with potato cubes and buttered leeks. Unfortunately, what she’s not so keen on is any of the things I thought added so much to the presentation, i.e. the aforementioned buttered leeks and potato cubes. So after this picture was taken, I just put everything back into the blender and whizzed it smooth and she was happy. The buttered leeks still add their pop of flavour, just with none of that pesky texture.

Leek and Potato Soup

2 tbs butter
1 large leek or 2 medium
450g potatoes – floury type (Maris Piper or similar)
350ml milk
350ml water
4 level tsp vegetable bouillon powder
salt and ground white pepper to taste

2tbs butter for buttered leeks, if using

  • Peel and dice potatoes into cubes – about 1.5cm.
  • Remove the outer leaves of the leek and shred finely using a mandolin or with a sharp knife. If you’re going to butter some of the leeeks, set aside 4-5 spoonfuls.
  • Melt the first lot of butter in saucepan and add the potato cubes and leek.
  • Stir over medium heat until the until leeks soften.
  • Add the milk, water and bouillon.
  • Cover and simmer gently until the potatoes are cooked (20 mins-ish).
  • While the soup is cooking, melt the remaining butter in a pan and cook the remaining leeks.
  • When the potatoes are cooked, remove about a cupful and keep warm. Puree the remainder, either using a stick blender or liquidiser.
  • Return to the pan and taste. Season using ground white pepper and salt.
  • Heat well before serving, but don’t let it boil.
  • NB You may need to thin the pureed soup if the potatoes are especially starchy. It should have the consistency of double cream/custard.
  • Add the potato cubes and buttered leeks to serve.