What I'm cooking and eating

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Victoria Sandwich

I very seldom make sponge cakes.  My old oven wouldn't, and although my new one does quite beautifully, we have managed for over 35 years without eating sponge cake regularly, and I fail to see why we can't go on doing so, or rather, not doing so.  But when asked to contribute a cake for the ice dance club's post-RIDL buffet, I happily volunteered.

I grew up eating these sponge cakes, and have always known how to make them (although I did have to check with my mother, both about flavouring this particular cake with orange, and about how you make butter icing, although in the end I went with the recipe on the side of the packet of icing sugar, using orange juice instead of milk or cream).  They are actually very easy to make, and it was only that they would not rise in my old oven but came out flat and miserable.

I have 21 cm diameter sponge tins, so made this cake with 4 eggs.  If your sponge tins are smaller, use 3 eggs, or even 2.  My grandmother used to make just one layer, so used only one egg.

Weigh your eggs, and then accumulate the same amount of butter (or baking margarine), sugar and self-raising flour.  For 4 eggs, which is what I used, it was 240g, which meant the last 10g of baking marg got used to grease the tin. 

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (an electric mixer is the easiest thing to use for this).  Add in the eggs one at a time, and continue to whisk until they are incorporated.  Now fold in the flour, into which you have added a tiny pinch of salt.  Divide the mixture among your sponge tins, and bake in a moderately hot oven (c gas 5, or 200 C - 180 in a fan oven) until it is cooked, which will take around 25 minutes or so.  If you bake the sponge in one tin, it will take longer, of course.  When it is cooked - when a skewer or very thin knife inserted into the top comes out clean - remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.

That's your basic Victoria sandwich.  Mine - pictured - was an orange cake so I added the zest of an orange to the cake mixture, and substituted orange juice for milk in the icing (according to Tate & Lyle's recipe, which was beat 75 g butter until light and fluffy, slowly incorporate 175 g icing sugar, and then as much milk or cream - or orange or lemon juice - as you need).  You can, of course, substitute unsweetened cocoa powder for 25g or so of the flour, and also for some of the icing sugar to make a chocolate cake.  Or for a delicious cake that can be used as pudding, sandwich it together with jam and whipped cream, or fresh fruit and whipped cream.... and sprinkle a little icing sugar on the top through a tea-strainer if you want to make it look "finished".

You can also use this mixture to make a hot pudding, putting jam or cooked fruit in the bottom of the dish and the cake mixture on top, then turn it out and serve hot with cream or custard.  Or both.  You can cook this in the microwave, as, indeed, you can the cake itself, but the texture is Not the Same.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Udon with butternut squash, tomato and feta

Sorry there aren't any photos - wasn't thinking!  But this was seriously delicious.

2 tbsp oil
1/2 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 tsp za'atar or rosemary or something similar
1 punnet cherry tomatoes
1 large clove garlic
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tsp home-made pesto (if you happen to have any!)
1 packet udon noodles
1/2 packet feta cheese

 Put the squash into a lidded frying pan with 1 tbsp of the oil (I used stir-fry oil on this one) and the herbs, and cook gently until really soft and squishy and beginning to caramelise.  This takes up to 45 minutes, so if you're in a hurry, do it in the microwave for 5 minutes before transferring to the frying pan.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce by putting the remaining tbsp of oil (I used rapeseed, but olive is also vg), vinegar, crushed garlic and pierced tomatoes into a saucepan, cover, and cook on a low heat for about 5 minutes, until the juices run.  Put this into a food processor with the pesto, if you have any, or some fresh basil or, if all else fails, some dried marjoram or thyme, and work until smooth.

Cube the feta cheese, and prepare the udon according to the instructions on the packet.

Once the squash is cooked, combine everything in the frying-pan and make sure it is all piping hot.  Serve at once - we weren't sure whether to eat it with chopsticks or a spoon and fork!

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Bacon and sweetcorn chowder

I had a couple of corns-on-the-cob that wanted eating, and not very much else in the house.  And the Swan Whisperer has a cold, and I'm recovering from one and now have a bad cough, which is leaving me very drained.  So this was rather comfort food!

1 ½ corns-on-the-cob (it was going to be 2, but there was a Nasty on one of them, so I had to throw half of it out)
1 small tin sweetcorn
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 packet lardons
4 small potatoes, peeled and cubed
About 300 ml milk and the same of water (I didn't really measure)
Pepper, and a dash of chilli sherry (use any chilli sauce, or even powdered chilli, but not too much)

Cook the corns-on-the-cob however you usually do - I usually use my microwave steamer.  Let them cool a bit.  Put the lardons in a heavy-based pan, and cook gently.  Add the onions, garlic and potatoes, cover, and let them cook in their own steam for a few minutes.  Meanwhile, put the contents of the tin of sweetcorn into a blender and process with a little milk until smooth.  Cut the corn kernels off the cob with a sharp knife, and add these to the saucepan.  Add the creamed sweetcorn and the rest of the milk.  Top up to a nice amount with water.  Season.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked.  I actually did this in two lots, letting it stand for about an hour as I was busy.  This may or may not have improved the flavour!

Monday, 29 September 2014


I have a new cooker! This is a cause for wild excitement, as I have not had one before in all our married life - we started off with a new one (the cooker, the fridge and the bed were the only things we bought new, all those years ago when we were just starting out and money was tight), and had never replaced it. It was still serviceable, although the electronic starter had long since demised, the oven door was difficult to shut and the numbers had all rubbed off the knobs.
But we have bought a new one, and transformed our kitchen, as we had room to put the microwave above it, which has made more room than anybody would think possible.
Another cause for wild excitement is that the oven appears to make sponge cakes! My old oven never did - it made wonderful Dundee cakes, but ask it to cook a sponge and it would produce something like a flat biscuit.  I am still experimenting, as it appears that the oven is very cool and sponge cakes take about twice as long to cook as one would expect, but There Will Be Recipes when I am more confident!

Meanwhile, it seems early in the year for soup, but I have a bad cough, legacy of last week's cold, and wanted something comforting, and as I had seen "soup pasta" in Tesco, I reckoned minestrone was the way to go.  So I googled various recipes, mostly from the BBC Good Food website, looked at what was in the fridge, and came up with this:

Just under 1/2 cup cannellini beans
2 tbs olive oil
1 onion
1 leek
1 parsnip
3 small carrots
½ small swede
3-4 small new potatoes (ordinary ones are fine)
The end of a marrow (substitute a medium courgette)
A few mushrooms, sliced
1 chilli pepper
1 large clove garlic
Some basil leaves
Sloosh tomato paste
1 tin chopped tomatoes
About 75 g small pasta
Vegetable "Stock pot"
2 litres water

Soak the beans overnight, then bring to the boil in fresh water to which you may or may not have added a pinch of bicarbonate of soda.  Boil hard for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Or use a tin, but I personally prefer the texture of fresh-cooked ones.

Meanwhile chop the vegetables very finely.  You might want to use your food processor - I blitzed the chilli, garlic and basil together, then used the coarse grater on everything else except the potatoes, which I chipped, and the mushrooms, which I sliced.

Put the result into a heavy-based large casserole dish with 2 tbs olive oil, stir, cover, and leave to "sweat" on a low heat for 10-15 minutes.  Then add the tomato paste, tin of tomatoes, 2 litres of water, stock cube, seasonings of whatever takes your fancy (I had some Lebanese spice mix which wanted finished, so I added that), and finally the beans and pasta.

Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Serve with loads of grated cheese, ideally Parmesan but whatever....

This makes masses, but it will keep for several days in the fridge.


Friday, 12 September 2014

Gluten-free cheese scones

An unexpected - and very, very welcome - visit from my sister-in-law and her husband this evening.  And no cake or anything in the house.  So I thought I'd make cheese scones, which are quick and easy - but just as I was standing on the stool looking for the flour, I remembered that my sister-in-law has coeliac disease and wouldn't be able to eat normal scones.  But, of course, neither gram flour nor buckwheat flour has gluten in it.... this might work....

125 g gram flour (besan, chick pea flour)
125 g buckwheat flour
Pinch dry mustard powder or cayenne pepper
50 g butter
125 g strong Cheddar, grated
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp lemon juice
About 120 ml milk

Rub the butter into the combined flours and baking soda, then stir in the cheese.  Add the lemon juice, and then gradually add the milk until it comes together in a ball (I was using a food processor, as time was off the essence).  Squish it all together, then flatten into a rough disk and bake in a hot oven (Mark 7) for 15 minutes.  Serve at once, with butter.
No, they weren't as good as normal cheese scones would have been, but they were eminently edible!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Mung bean and cauliflower risotto

This was inspired by Clothilde's photo on Facebook from a new restaurant.  I'm sure this wasn't as good as what she was served, but it was nevertheless delicious!

1/2 cup mung beans
1 tbs olive oil
1 onion
About 1/4-1/3 of a large cauliflower
1/2 cup risotto rice
250 ml white wine
500 ml vegetable or chicken stock (if you have home-made chicken stock, use that; if not, use a vegetable Knorr Stock Pot, or Tesco's own brand equivalent which I think is nicer)
About 60g Parmesan cheese

Soak the mung beans for several hours, then change the water,  bring to the boil, and boil hard for 10 minutes.  While this is happening, chop the onion and cauliflower, and sweat in the olive oil.  Add the rice, and stir thoroughly.  Add the drained mung beans, and then the wine.  Season, and bring to the boil, stirring all the time, and then allow to simmer for 7-10 minutes.  Add the stock, bring back to the boil, again stirring all the time, and simmer for a further 10 minutes, perhaps a little longer if it is still very liquid.  Stir in the Parmesan and serve at once.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Sandwich fillings and lunchboxes

This post was inspired by a conversation I was having in a group on Facebook, plus the fact that schools in England and Wales are poised to go back this week.  Mind you, Reception and Year 1 get free school dinners now, so the youngest probably won't be taking their own lunches, but still.  Adults like to take sandwiches and wraps, too - and one's own are so much nicer than bought, even if it's nice to buy them occasionally.  Who has time to make their own BLT of a morning?

So you start with the bread.  I tend to always use bought bread for a sandwich, but if you can slice your home-baked loaves thin enough, go for it!  My personal preference is a seeded wholegrain loaf.  Pitta bread or tortilla wraps are nice for a change, too.  Also, now that Lidl do such delicious rolls, baked fresh each day, I'll often go out and buy one specially (Lidl is all of 50 yards away!).  But then, I tend to make my sandwiches when I want them; for lunchboxes, I would find a roll difficult to manage. 

If whatever you are using for a filling doesn't spread readily, you might want to use a little butter (or equivalent, if you're vegan), but if it's something like cream cheese, it doesn't need it. 

I divide sandwiches into two - the main event, as it were, and the garnish.  The garnish is something vegetable - tomatoes, cucumber, sliced peppers, avocado, lettuce, grapes, any or all of the above!  Even banana can be nice, especially with peanut butter (although that is a combination I prefer in a breakfast sandwich).  If you're making your sandwich to take to work, avoid sliced tomatoes and cucumber, as they can make it soggy; use cherry tomatoes instead, and take a hunk of cucumber to eat separately.  Oh, and don't forget pickle (or chutney) with a strong cheese. 

The main event can be all sorts of things - hummus or peanut butter if you want a vegan sandwich, or all sorts of different kinds of cheese, including cream cheese (with or without Marmite) and cottage cheese.  Or egg mayonnaise - I always put chopped spring onions in mine; my mother uses chives to the same effect.  Grated cheese and carrot, bound with a scrap of mayonnaise, works well, too.

I was thinking in the supermarket that you could sprinkle sunflower seeds into your sandwich for extra crunch - Lidl sells them at the checkouts, which I find far, far more tempting than the sweets they've replaced!  Ah well.

For omnivores, of course, there is pate, there is ham, there are all sorts of proprietary sliced meats, or you could use some cold chicken (for instance) if you have some.  Bacon is good, but nicest when eaten freshly cooked, so we save our bacon and avocado sandwiches for the weekend.  Cold sausages work well, too.  And don't forget smoked salmon, which can be bought very cheaply nowadays - with cream cheese and avocado, it is a feast!  Or, if you like tinned fish, you could always mash some up; not sure how well they would travel, though.

If you get sick of sandwiches, as we all do sometimes, there's plenty of other things to take.  Salad is always good - what works best is to put the "nice bits" (chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, scallions, avocados, sunflower seeds, etc) with the dressing into one container and keep the greenery - lettuce, Chinese leaves, baby spinach, rocket, etc - separate, combining them all at the last minute.  You can buy - or make, if you're that way inclined - all sorts of nice bits for protein: falafel, pork pies, quiches, even a Cornish pasty (nicest hotted up, so I hope work has a microwave - if it does, you can take a mug of soup, too; they sell special mugs to take soup in these days.  And if you have a shaming taste, as I do, for ramen noodles.... sometimes I cook those in the microwave and then poach an egg in them, which is lovely!  Not very good for you, mind, but still lovely!

Then there are all sorts of rice salads or couscous salads you can make or buy to eat.  Home-made is often nicer, but I do rather like bought couscous salad!  And sometimes I like a box of (preferably veggie) sushi as part of my lunch!

All very vague and off the top of my head.