Saturday, 26 March 2011

Boat Cake

I have got hold of my Aunt Clare’s cache of recipes. It contains several of my parents’ dishes including a rhubarb tart, which I will reproduce and then revise once cooked.

I was very worried when I first asked for them and my cousin said ‘written on the back of envelopes? And scraps of paper? I think they went on the fire.’ Not to be put off, I started rifling through the cookbooks and came up with two bundles of index cards, in rubber bands, and a manilla envelope with more bounty.

What I am looking for is boat cake, aka Peacock cake. It’s a light fruit cake, with demerera sprinkled on top, baked in a shallow square tin, suitable for cutting into slices and transporting onto boat of any size, or taking on picnics. The peacocks didn’t get the whole, I’ve been told, just the stale leftovers. Which is more than they deserve, vicious nasty creatures.

This is a tribute  recipe, and is in unreconstituted inch, oz, and Fahrenheit measurements. I will prepare and then revise it, on the basis that my aunt was a very particular woman, and the recipe is likely to be accurate and usable.

Prepare 7”x11” tin

Set oven to 170F


10 oz slf-raising flour
6 oz fat
3 eggs
6 oz sugar
8 oz dried fruit
8 glace cherries
1 tsp each cinnamon and mixed spice
¼ tsp ginger
1 pinch salt
A little water

Two spoonfuls of demerera sugar

Add the spices to the flour
Rub the fat into the flour, until it resembles breadcrumbs
Stir in the sugar
Add the eggs and water and beat everything together
Stir in the dried fruit

Put into prepared tin and sprinkle with demerera sugar

Cook for 30-35 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Veg and nut wellington

I'm still developing this one. I've made it twice so far, once with puff pastry and once with shortcrust. The heart of the dish is made with a recipe from Cranks for nut roast. This mixture is balanced be a moist layer of mashed veg, which is surrounded by a single leaf layer of cabbage or spinach, followed by pastry. The whole is then baked in a hot oven, to be eaten with  a tangy green salad.

The first effort (shortcrust) was very good. The mashed veg was swede and butternut squash, with nutmeg, sitting on spinach.

The second effort is in the freezer. Puff pastry, gently fried onion with steamed sweet potato and some fried nutmeg, with a divider of savoy cabbage.

The main thing is that the puff and short crust pastry are both shop bought and are vegan, hurray.

I think this one is a winner. I've eaten it twice, both with cabbage. It was nothing but yum. And packed with protein. In the tradition of cooks everywhere I do want to brag, and in order to disguise that I'll say, if I say so myself, this is very good.

grated apple

I love grated apple. Eating it is a pleasure. Somehow the flavour is improved, and the fact that you can suck it to death makes it better than just biting into an apple. I like to pour freshly squeezed orange juice over it. Perfect.

My mother used to give us grated apple when we were feeling poorly. The story she told me is that it is easy to digest. I have no idea if this is true, but as a gesture of maternal love, I have introduced my children to it as well, and it goes down well. 

The best apples to eat grated are braeburns or cox. 

It doesn’t need a recipe.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

wheat free lemon cake

I love lemon cake, and I was intrigued when I came across a six line recipe called gateau mousseline in my new favourite classic cook book, Ginette Mathiot's La cuisine pour tous. It uses potato starch flour, and no fat. The result is a wonderfully light and pale cake, perfumed with lemon (not soapy). It's quick and easy, but I wouldn't want to make it without an electric whisk.

The eggs are separated, the yolks beaten with the sugar, after the whites have been whipped into a frothy light mass. Then the two are folded together - don't let anything interrupt this process, or you may end up with some slightly unpleasant chewy lumps. The tin should be 2/3 full, since the egg mixture rises like a souffle.

I used a bundt tin, the one that looks like a donut, slathered in butter. The cake needs to be thoroughly cooked and completely cooled before getting it out of the tin. It is so light that it has no weight to help loosen it..

I topped it with a slightly liquid lemon buttercream, nice and sharp. I've noticed some recipes use vanilla alongside lemon, but for me that is just wrong. I want that citrus bite. If I'd had any, I would have put a layer of lemon curd in it.

I looked for other recipes online and elsewhere that made cake in this way, and came up with chiffon cake. However, the recipes I found use ordinarly flour.

This isn't a keeping cake, it's a cake for eating promptly. It would be wonderful for a many layered cake.


Set oven to Gas Mark 4

Preparation, approx 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45m

Butter a 20cm/8" deep cake tin, very well


125g potato starch flour
75g sugar
5 eggs
zest of 1 lemon

separate the eggs, putting yolks and whites in two separate mixing bowls
whisk the whites with an electric whisk for a minute, then add a teaspoon of sugar and keep whisking until whites are stiff
whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, until they are thick and creamy
fold in the potato starch flour with the lemon zest
fold in the egg whites, combining everything well
pour into greased cake tin - fill to 2/3 to allow for rising

cook for 45 minutes

allow to cool completely before turning out

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

mixed alcoholic drinks are extremely toxic

I've been reading La cuisine pour tous by Ginette Mathiot. It's a best seller of French cuisine, first published in 1932. In French. Entry 1761 in the beverages section caught my eye:

This publication contains no recipe for cocktails.While they may be fashionable, these mixed alcoholic drinks are extremely toxic and have no place in a family cook book.

(free translation)

So, you can see this is a serious work, and covers medicinal matters too. 

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Red-cooked lamb

My father used to say that the test of a good restaurant was in tasting a pre-prepared dish. Short-order cooking is one thing, but taking time to cook a dish in advance requires other skills. Red-cooked food is in this category, however it is wonderfully simple to make, whether it is meat, fish or veg.

This way of cooking results in meat that is sweet, pungent in the best way and tender enough to be eaten with chopsticks. There isn't a lot of sauce, but what there is pumps out flavour. It makes me think of that Greek dish, kleftiko.

Lamb is treated the same as beef or pork. The meat is sealed, then braised on a very low heat, and is basted every 20 minutes while cooking.


4-5 tbsp veg oil
1.35kg meat with some fat on, such as shank, belly, blade or rib
4-5 tbsp soya sauce
6-7 tbsp red wine or sherry
6-7 tbsp water
2 tsp sugar
large slice of ginger
two star anise
strip of orange peel (without pith) or a bouquet garni

set oven to 140 C/275 F/ Gas Mark 1

Don't trim the meat, leave on fat and skin.
Heat the oil in a casserole on medium heat, and add the meat, sealing it on all sides.
Turn heat down to very low and add half the soya sauce, half the wine, half the water and half the sugar. Stir the meat in the mixture a few times, put the lid on and transfer to the preheated oven.
Cook for 1 hour, basting every 20 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients and cook for another hour, basting every 20 minutes.

Serve with rice.

I like to eat it with stir-fried curried cabbage with coconut and lime.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

marmalade three

I have had lots of compliments on my marmalade. I like making it, and it feels like time spent with my mother, grandmother and aunt. It is also a great pleasure, to come out as a culinary alchemist. All cooking is magic of a kind, and working with molten sugar produces a very particular golden bounty. My marmalade recipe is here.

I am just starting my last batch of marmalade for this year. In an unexpected last gasp of enthusiasm, I swiped a bag of seville oranges from Sainsbury's in mid February, and have kept them in the fridge, for no good reason, until now. The fruits have been well behaved, and are still good, despite the wait.

My mum got used to waiting, despite seeming an impatient person, trained in part by her five offspring, whose timekeeping was and is both variable and erratic. Within the family, the tardy was referred to as a Late Long. I am a Late Long, and I should have a badge made, to warn to unwary.

Recipes for marmalade, in many of the cookbooks I refer to, often mention that it's best to make marmalade with the first batch of seville oranges that come to town. I have never seen seville oranges until late January. My marmalade baptism was with the last few seville oranges at the bottom of the box at my greengrocer's. I only got them because his regular old (older than me) ladies hadn't come for them, perhaps having fallen victim to a particularly cold snap. My benefit. So most of the marmalade I've made has been with 'old' sevilles, and this last batch is in keeping with my sloppy beginning in the making of same.

The recipe I've been using refers to a given number of oranges, combined with a weight of sugar. However, this last batch are uniformly smaller than those I've used before, of whatever age. I started weighing the oranges this year, and they averaged 120g per orange - these weigh around 100g each. So I'm doing a five for four deal in my calculations.

Older oranges are easier to prep in some ways, because the pith comes away more easily. This makes cutting the peel easier too. I'm just setting the two bowls out now, and will cook and bottle the magic tomorrow.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

red-cooked chicken

We jumped the gun with pancakes this week, and Kitty went to a friend to eat pancakes, so I indulged myself and made a recipe by my hero, Kenneth Lo: red cooked chicken.

In the traditional manner, I didn't allow enough time. Also the stock I used was highly flavoured, with a little star anise, a lot of mixed peppercorns, as well as garlic and ginger. Red-cooking, according to Ken, is slow cooking in soya sauce, red wine and stock, and not very much of them. Slow-braising in a limited amount of liquid makes the meat very tender and flavoursome, with no need of any other seasoning. Searing the meat on all sides before braising gives a chance to drain off excess fat.

As the meat was cooking I put together vegetables for a stir-fry with curry, coconut and lime and some rice as an accompaniment.

To skip to the end, it all worked out well, and I will cook it again, allowing more time, before I give details.

Monday, 7 March 2011

buckwheat pancakes - crepes au Sarrasin

When I lived in Paris I sometimes liked to walk part of the way home, down the Champs Elysees and then along the river. I rewarded myself with a sarrasin pancake from a stall outside the Samaritaine department store - not the building by the Seine that you saw on The Bourne Identity, one of the buildings to the rear. I liked it with Gruyere, especially on a cold evening.

Sarrasin is the French name for buckwheat, grain or flour, although it isn't clear where buckwheat originally came from, the name started with the Romans and it has stuck. It's used in Japan to make soba noodles.

Buckwheat flour is gluten free, and looks a little bit grey. The flavour is a little bit rooty, some say musty, but I think it's like a sweeter version of rye flour. The flour feels very fine between your fingers. It is sometimes mixed with wheat flour, to give more elasticity, however in a pancake it works fine on its own. I will quite happily eat sarrasin pancakes with sweet as well as savoury fillings, although I think it is usually used for the latter.

You can get buckwheat flour in health food shops, and some supermarkets.


250g buckwheat flour
50cl/1pint milk (about a mug and a half)
2 eggs
pinch of salt

Beat the eggs and flour together. Add the milk slowly. When combined add a pinch of salt and set aside for a couple of hours (if you have time).
If the mixture becomes a bit thick, add a little water, to make it spread more easily.

Cook in the usual manner.

Grated cheese.
Ham and cheese.
Sliced chorizo.
Flaked smoked mackerel (with a dollop of sour cream, pepper and a twist of lemon).
Mushrooms, spinach and onions (softly fry onions in a dab of butter and add sliced mushrooms and a few spoonfuls of water, add washed, chopped spinach, and cook until wilted).

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Pancake Day, Tuesday 8 March

It is pancake day on Tuesday. My standard recipe for pancakes is here.

The accepted standard way to eat pancakes is with lemon and sugar. If they'd eat it, I'd make stuffed pancakes for the family, spinach and onion with a slug of bechamel sauce. Yum.

If you prefer a small fat pancake, try this, and if you can't be bothered with using different gluten free flours, use a ready mixed plain gluten free one. Or ordinary flour, if you can handle gluten.

Milk and celery with pasta

When I left home I was very interested in eating, and almost incapable of delivering a complete meal. Financial incompetence and inability to plan shored up the total rubbish approach that I can fairly call my putative independent culinary efforts, combine this with a firm belief that there is always a short cut to culinary excellence and you find me delivered to the manufacturers of tinned and dried ready made foodstuffs. Yes, I’m talking about soup.

It was the late 70s, and I’d been raised at the altar of Elizabeth David. Rustic French with a smattering of cordon bleu touches was home cooking to me. This lent packet food a strange and seldom resisted allure. In particular I liked fish balls and Findus Crispy Pancakes. From this came the inspiration for a strange, end of the week treat, celery and milk sauce with pasta.

Take one wilting head of celery, bought with the intention of good crunch eating even though I don’t like celery, and left to dehydrate, witnessing the comings and goings of foods I found more desirable.
Chop finely and fry over a low heat in oil or butter.
Add ½ pint of milk, pepper and salt.
Leave the milk to cook down, minding that it doesn’t boil over.
Cook the pasta of your choice.

The celery sauce is cooked when it’s a light golden brown, and the milk is thick.

This is not a healthy, or even that tasty, meal. It’s a filling platter for the hungry and indiscriminating eater. Students.

You can use fresh celery.

Of course there are recipes that use milk that produce similar results, with better ingredients. Pork braised in Milk - that's one.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

more marinaded chicken

We're eating some ready made singapore noodles, booty from the fridge of a friend who has gone on holiday, and I'm marinading chicken strips for young madam, whose pickiness it isn't worth challenging. She is always prepared to sit it out. Hunger motivates most people, but not her.

The marinade is a happy hotchpotch, with garlic pounded with some chopped coriander stems and a pinch of salt, sweet chilli sauce, soy sauce and a squeeze of lemon. Half an hour in that and then grill or griddle for 5 minutes a side. Result? Lovely sticky chicken strips, or goujons to you my dear.