Easy peasy banana and cinnamon cake

Saturday, 29 October 2011

This is my fail-safe recipe for banana cake.. I'm not exactly sure where it came from, I've had it for years, scribbled on a couple of yellow post it notes... see below... One day I will get round to writing my recipes out on beautifully lined, scented paper or something, but until then, scraps of paper shoved in a ring binder will have to do...

The original recipe states to bake the cake in a loaf tin for 40 mins at 180C before reducing the temperature to 150C for a further 30mins. This time round I used mini loaf tins (of the cardboard variety). I followed the same recipe as below but baked them for 20 mins at 180C. The recipe makes one large loaf tin sized cake or 10 mini loaves...

Brixton market plus an Autumn squash, goat's cheese & rosemary risotto

Friday, 28 October 2011

I love Brixton market on a Sunday... fresh fruit and vegetables (at a fraction of the cost of Borough); cheese stalls, organic and biodynamic produce and free range beef, poultry and lamb. It's just down the road from my flat but somewhere I've only recently started frequenting for my weekly shop.

Brixton has a fantastic mix of cultures and is (I think) one of the most diverse and visually stimulating areas in London... The clash of 'local country farmer's market meets Electric Avenue' is fantastic and something you really don't see anywhere else. The regeneration of Brixton Village also means that this community in South West London is really picking up the game when it comes to culinary achievements (restaurant reviews from Brixton Village coming soon!).

Colourful tropical fish for sale on Electric Avenue 

Romanesco broccoli... for 60p!!

Ornamental cabbage flowers

A lovely bunch!
Right, back to the point of my market visit... squash. It's October which means that squash, pumpkins and other gourds are in season.

The squash family is so varied - the colours, shapes, patterns, sizes and textures are all so different, which makes a shopping trip for squash so exciting. 

Brixton market has four stall holders that offer different varieties of squash for sale - two organic, two not.  I chose three of the small, organic, biodynamic squash... perfect for roasting. These beauties formed the basis of a roasted squash risotto with rosemary and goat's cheese (full recipe follows below). 

Serves 6:
  • 2 - 3 small squash
  • 500g risotto rice (I generally use Arborio)
  • 3pts vegetable stock
  • 100g grated Parmesan cheese
  • small log of soft goats cheese
  • a few sprigs of rosemary
  • 4 garlic cloves 
  • a handful of rocket
  • a 175ml glass of white wine (anything you have lying around in the fridge)
  • 50g butter and a splash of olive oil (to prevent the butter from burning)
  • 1 x red onion, finely diced  
First, peel and chop the squash and place in a large oven proof dish or baking tray. Add the three cloves of garlic (don't peel these, you want to roast and soften them) and the sprigs of rosemary and then sprinkle with olive oil. Roast in a hot oven (about 200C) for 30 - 40 minutes, until the squash is cooked through. Don't worry about the squash burning slightly on top - it adds flavour! 

While the squash is roasting, melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the oil and onion and saute on  low heat for about 5 minutes... you don't want to colour the onion, just soften it. Once the onion has turned translucent, add the remaining clove of garlic, crushed and cook for a further 2 - 3 minutes.

Add the rice and stir to ensure all grains are coated in butter - they should start to turn slightly translucent round the edges. Add the wine and stir until all has been absorbed.

To stir or not to stir... that is the question
I think the secret of a good risotto is lots of elbow grease... keep stirring it (or get a strong man to keep stirring it if your arms get tired). Add the vegetable stock little by little... once it's absorbed, add a bit more and stir vigorously again. You want to get a creamy consistency and through lots of stirring you start to release the starch, which is what gives the risotto such a creamy consistency.

There are some schools of thought that say you don't need to stir the risotto until right at the end - when you give it a good beating, but I think there's something satisfying about having a bubbling pot of risotto on the go (and a glass of wine in your other hand to ease your muscles).

Right, back to the recipe...

Once the stock is absorbed (should take about 25 mins), stir in the Parmesan and most of the roasted squash, crushing the roasted garlic up (sans skin) with the back of your spoon as you go. 

To serve, put the squash risotto on a plate, add some pieces of roasted squash to the top, along with some crumbled goats cheese and a handful of rocket. Add freshly ground black pepper and drizzle with a balsamic reduction as per the above picture if you're feeling flashy.

Leiths week 5 - spatchcock quail plus a medjool date, pear and ginger strudel

Thursday, 27 October 2011

This week's penultimate session at Leiths was definitely the best so far. We learnt some great techniques, including (my favourite), making strudel pastry. Forget everything you have been taught about having a light hand to make the perfect pastry, making pastry for strudel basically involved beating the living daylight out of it to stretch the gluten as much as possible (aka we bashed it on the table for about 15 minutes... it was dangerous to be in the same vicinity.. all that pastry flying around).

We also spatchcocked a couple of quail, cutting out the backbone (pretty gruesome) and then, the worst bit, crunching the breastbone so they lie flat and can cook through evenly.

Once spatchcocked, the mini birds were marinated in pomegranate molasses, garlic, diced onion and cinnamon and then grilled until caremelised and browned on top (between 5-  8 minutes). They were then put in the oven for 10 minutes to cook through. We served the quail on top of a watercress and feta salad with pomegranate seeds and toasted pinenuts.

Next on the list was a strudel with medjool dates, fresh ginger and pears. The pears were peeled, diced and mixed with the chopped dates, a teaspoon of fresh ginger, lemon juice and brown sugar.

Making strudel pastry is actually amazing... once you've bashed the living daylight out of it and left it to rest for half an hour, you need a friend, family member, lover etc to help you to pull and stretch the pastry out by hand until it's paper thin. The pastry was then cut into two and rolled up with the peary-date mixture in between the layers. They were dusted with icing sugar and then chucked in the oven for 20 minutes.

Pear, date and ginger strudel, yodeling optional
I ate a whole strudel on my way home, warm from the oven (oops).

Next (and final) week... pistachio crusted rack of lamb with boulangere potatoes, chocolate fondant and a raspberry and passion fruit compote.

Spaghetti with fennel, chilli and lemon oil

Friday, 21 October 2011

Some flavour combinations are a match made in heaven and fennel, lemon and chilli is one of those combinations (see more on my fennel obsession here) - it's a flavour explosion that makes spaghetti sing.

One of my store cupboard essentials is this lemon oil from Carluccio's... it goes amazingly well in pasta dishes (one of my favourite quick suppers is linguine with courgette and prawns, tossed in this lemony scented olive oil).

To make this dish, simply sautee garlic with finely diced chilli and a red pepper, add a teaspoon of sundried tomato paste and some freshly ground black pepper. Cook the spaghetti until al dente, then toss in lemon oil and fennel (finely sliced on a mandolin). The fennel does not cook through so it maintains a delicious bite.

Lemon oil from Carluccio'... I can't live without it

Raspberry and honeysuckle chocolate cups

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Chocolate cups filled with honeysuckle scented cream and crushed raspberries... I saw these golden raspberries on my way home yesterday and just couldn't resist them. I used honeysuckle syrup in my filling which I found on Wild England's stall at Jimmy's Harvest festival.

I think the raspberry probably overpowered the delicate honeysuckle flavour somewhat so I'm going to attempt honeysuckle macaroons soon instead... watch this space!

Smoking duck, lots of cheese...and a French-style supper

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

I managed to spend a small fortune on cheese recently (a Beaufort, St Marcellin, Tomme de Savoie and Tommette a l'huile to be exact) under the pretext that this would be 'dinner' rather than a snack which therefore justifies the expenditure (female post-purchase-rationalisation logic).

This is actually not that far from the truth - I love the French way of eating - good cheese, good wine, meat and fresh bread, shared with friends. Perfect.

Clockwise from right - St Marcellin, Tomme de Savoie, Tommette a l'huile and Beaufort

 The cheese was mopped up with a date and walnut bread and a smoked duck breast, orange and red chicory salad.
Smoked duck breast - from Venn Street Market

Date and walnut bread - from the Old Post Office bakery
Sometimes, it's the simpler the better with food, and what could be more simple than cheese, bread and red wine...

Leiths week 4 - pan fried sea bream with sauce vierge & red onion focaccia

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

This week at Leiths was a busy one... we filleted a sea bream, made bread, and created a sauce vierge.

My sea bream was pan fried on a griddle pan with lots of butter, to ensure the skin was really crispy. This was served with fresh green beans, crushed new potatoes and a sauce vierge. The sauce was made by heating good quality olive oil (200ml) on a low heat for 20 minutes with finely diced shallots, one clove of garlic, a bay leaf and a sprig of thyme. The oil was then removed from the heat and finely chopped parsley, chives and concasse of tomato were added (see Leith's week 2 for concassing method!)

Next, we made a red onion focaccia. The dough for making a good focaccia is notoriously wet so this does make working it fairly tricky. Once we had managed to scrape the mixture off the table, left it to rise and smothered it in roasted garlic and caramelised red onion, the bread was baked in a hot oven for around 20 minutes...

Next week, spatch cock quail with pomegranate molasses and a watercress and feta salad... plus a pear and Medjool date strudel. 

Jane's chocolate cake - officially the most amazing chocolate cake ever...

Sunday, 16 October 2011

OK, so with a title like that, this cake had better live up to expectations...

The recipe is from Jane - a family friend - and I have been eating this cake for birthdays and special occasions for most of my life.. and yes, I even had it as my Wedding cake. I had originally suggested having a Wedding cake shaped like a lobster (because I love the beast yet we could not afford to feed all our guests real lobster). However, this idea was vetoed and instead the cake was heart shaped (admittedly much more romantic and Wedding-appropriate) and covered with Gullian sea shells (and a plastic lobster!) to subdue my crustacean cravings.

Admittedly it's a fair bit more work than a simple all-in-one chocolate sponge but I promise you the results are more than worth the effort... the resulting cake is sticky, densely chocolatey and utterly moreish. Don't cheat on the icing either, it might seem like an extra slog to make proper ganache instead of a quick buttercream but it really is the icing on the cake (scuse the pun)

The best wedding cake ever!

The recipe for this little beauty is below...

For the cake...
- 9oz plain flour
- 4 oz drinking chocolate
- 6 oz margarine
- 6oz golden syrup
- 3 oz soft brown sugar
- 2 x eggs
- 7oz milk
- 3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the chocolate ganache...
- 200g double cream
- 200g good quality chocolate

To start, make sure you have 2 sandwich tins greased and lined. Melt the margarine, syrup and sugar in a saucepan and then add to the sieved flour and chocolate powder. Add the beaten eggs and whisk. The mixture will be very thick at this stage - and I have a tendency to cover myself and my kitchen with thick chocolate mixture (although I'm sure the cake will work just as well if you miss this stage out).

Heat the milk to blood temperature (i.e. just lukewarm) and then ad to the bicarb. Add the milk mixture to the chocolate and whisk thoroughly. The mix will now be very runny (it's supposed to be).

Split the chocolate mixture between the two sandwich tins and cook at 150C for 40 - 50 minutes (or until a skewer comes out clean).

To make the ganache, you need equal parts of double cream and good quality chocolate (I use one bar of green and blacks dark chocolate and one of their milk bars). Heat the double cream until it's nearly boiling then remove from the heat. Add the chocolate (broken into small pieces). The heat from the cream will melt it. Leave to cool and then whisk until thick. Smother your cake and then lick the bowl clean.

Enjoy with cream, ice cream, or just on its own with a cup of tea.

There's a crab in my kitchen!

As impulse buys go, a live crab is probably going to be one of my more random purchases...

Walking through Brixton market I spotted a big brown crab crawling around on top of ice and thought 'I have to have that'. On the walk home - which involved a very much alive crab, with no ties round its claws, trying to break out of a flimsy blue carrier bag - I started to ponder about what I was going to do with this beast.

The simple solution would be to boil it and serve it with lashings of warm butter. But I am going through a 'fennel phase' at the moment so dug out a French recipe for crab, fennel and orange soup from the fish master Rick Stein. This recipe is traditionally made with spider crab - but these seem to be in short supply in London Town - so a brown crab had to suffice.

Now, before I could make the soup, the crab had to be dispatched. I know I should have done this myself, and honestly I was planning to - I even googled 'how to kill a crab'. But having to drive a screwdriver through a living creature was always going to be a job for my husband (aka crab slayer) if I'm honest. Dropping a live crab into boiling water could - for some - seem more preferable than stabbing a moving, wriggling beast to death, but it's really not the most humane way (you also get really tough meat and will find that the crab will shed its legs and claws).You can find a great overview of how to kill a crab humanely here (it basically involves turning it upside down and piercing quickly in the hole under the tail flap).

Once dispatched,my crab was boiled for 20 minutes in salted water, left to cool and then picked apart to get the white and brown meat. Mental note... in the future, I will only ever bother buying picked crab and whole crab claws... picking meat from the cavity of a crab body is fiddly and overrated.

Making the soup involved boiling up the crab shell (I chucked in the claws and legs too) with fennel and leek trimmings for half an hour to make a stock. In a separate pan, I sauteed leeks and fennel with crushed fennel seeds, dried chilli, orange peel and 1/2 a teaspoon of tomato puree. I then added Pernod and set alight to burn off the alcohol. The stock was then added along with the juice of an orange and a pinch of saffron.

Finally the crab meat and a peeled, deseeded chopped tomato was mixed in.

I'm not sure I'll be buying a live crab again - it was pretty traumatic hearing it moving around in the fridge - but the resulting soup is fragrant and delicate and did my crab justice...

Leiths week 3 - twice baked crab souffles and roasted partridge

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Week three started with twice baked crab and chive souffles. Egg whites were whipped up and mixed with a creamy concoction of egg yolk, b├ęchamel flavoured with nutmeg, white crab meat and chives. Put into buttered pudding basins, these mini souffles were cooked until golden, fluffy and risen (about 15 minutes). We then turned them out, added a mixture of lobster bisque and cream and put them back in the oven (hence the 'twice baked' bit).

Next up, proper Autumn grub - roasted partridge, browned and then roasted on top of puy lentils, smokey pancetta, garlic, chicken stock and onions. Served with buttered green beans this is the type of food I love to eat on a chilly evening.

A couple of juicy birds...

A carved juicy bird...

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