An Austerity Cake (Well, sort of) of Orange and Polenta

Yesterday saw several UK cities, my own included, hosting Anti-Austerity rallies. I would have loved to have attended the London one, but child number two has a nasty case of chicken-pox and child number one required the taxi of mum and dad all day! I found myself idly looking through the kitchen cupboards at one point, thinking about Austerity and, to my mind what it breeds, poverty. I have never experienced poverty. Even as a child, the fact that my mother worked in a supermarket meant we always had lots of great food on the table – even if we didn’t have much of anything else. Today I am in the fortunate position of wanting for nothing. When I go to the supermarket I don’t have to look at what things cost, I buy what I want. I am very very lucky. Consequently the cupboards are often bursting with things we don’t need and I throw too much away. While I scanned the cupboards, a bag of polenta caught my eye, along with some ground almonds. I can’t cook with polenta. its always tasteless mush. BUT I remember eating a DELICIOUS slice of lemon Polenta cake in a Soho cafe the other week. There were also several oranges that needed eating. Ha! I will use these to make a cake I thought. Remembering how fortunate we are and vowing to use the stuff piling up in my cupboards and stop wasting food, when I am so so fortunate and others are not. It turned out well. A surprise to me –  I am generally a cook rather than a baker. So am pleased to share this with you…and if you were on the rallies yesterday, well done – you are awesome.

You will need:

  • 200g soft unsalted butter
  • 200g Demerera sugar (plu 50 g for the syrup)
  • 2 large eggs (or 3 medium)
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 150g polenta
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • juice and rind of three oranges
  • one of two springs of fresh rosemary

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  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees. Butter and paper line your cake tin really well, including the paper.
  • Grate the rind of all three oranges and juice all three as well. Keep separately and set aside.
  • Beat the sugar (200g) and butter until really soft and fluffy, there should be no lumps. I prefer to do this by hand than in a mixer.
  • Next, add the vanilla essence and eggs slowly – you will want to do this part with a mixer. Keep beating till its a really smooth consistency.
  • Add the polenta, ground almonds and baking powder. Mix well for several minutes.
  • Next, pour in half of the orange juice, half of the rind and the rosemary – mix in.
  • Pour the mixture gently into the cake tin. It should be smooth but will look a little ‘grainy’ because of the polenta. It will also be little drier than usual cake mixture.
  • Bake for about 40 mins. Till firm in the middle and coming away from the sides. make sure it does not burn.
  • Let it stand for 5 mins then VERY carefully turn out to a plate – its a really crumbly cake and this bit can be tricky to keep it together. take your time. its does fall apart a bit.

Before it cools down fully, make the sticky syrup. to do this:

  • Heat the rest of the orange juice, rind and 50g sugar super gently till it bubbles and reduces. It will become a little thicker and sticky – but not too much! make a few fork holes in the cake and pour over.

You can serve on its own or with some ice-cream or creme-fraiche.

Fridge Frittata anyone?

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Spanish omelette, frittata, egg pie, whatever you call it, I don’t really know the difference. But I like them (eggs)! I make frittata when I am in a hurry and I know I have lots of eggs in the house. Also, when I have things leftover, perhaps in the fridge, that need eating up. This can be vegetarian or you can add meat. Eggs are cool. Eggs are robust, they can take lots of other flavours and textures. They are versatile little chameleons that you can turn into all sorts of delicious things. Anyway, this is quick and easy AND the kids will eat it too. AND you can take it to work for lunch the next day. Win Win Win!

Serves 3-4

You will need:

6 x medium (organic free-range if you can) eggs

5 x slices of good quality smoked streaky bacon

8 x baby new Charlotte potatoes

1 x cup frozen peas and or sweetcorn

1 x small handful fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 x handful spring onions, chopped

1 x cup grated parmesan

Salt and pepper

a pinch of chilli flakes (optional)

1) In a heavy bottomed sauce-pan put the potatoes on to boil. When cooked through (about 20 mins), drain and set aside to cool. When cool slice. about the width of a pound coin.

2) In a mixing bowl or large jug, beat the eggs, season well with salt and pepper and add the spring onions, parsley and chilli (if using).

3) Meanwhile, in a deep, non-stick frying pan, fry the chopped bacon till starting to brown in a little olive oil. when the bacon is brown add the potatoes a cook until they start to colour too. about 5-10 mins. Thrown in the peas.

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4) Turn the heat down and pour the egg mixture over the potatoes, bacon and pea mixture.

5) Sprinkle over the cheese and allow to cook slowly. Gradually the underside will cook. You will see the edges brown and start to harden. They will begin to separate from the side of the pan. Keep the heat down so it doesn’t burn and cook for 8-10 mins.

6) You can’t turn this over as it will run so, once you think the bottom is well set you should place the pan under a hot grill until set and starting to brown.

7) remove the pan from the grill when cooked. You should be able to slip the omelette from the pan gently onto a serving plate. Slice and serve with Salad.

Chicken Noodle Soup

We have just said goodbye to Grandma, two teenage nephews (actually one of them just turned 20) and the brother-in-law. A full on weekend filled with activities and, of course, food. Tim, my brother-in-law flew in with his sons to attend the FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley. They are Reading fans and apparently the last time this happened as 1926! Anyway, Young men have huge appetites. On Friday night we ate two big organic roast chickens with salad. I used the leftover carcasses to make a stock. Added some leftover chicken meat and a few more bits and we had a rather delicious and huge chicken noodle soup for after the game. Gobbled up before a very long and competitive game of scrabble on the vintage board which is as old as me! This soup is very easy and very very moorish. I like it the most because it uses everything up. I hate waste.

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For the stock you will need:

1 x chicken Carcass with wings etc attached if still there and all the skin and jelly bits

1 x large carrot thinly sliced

1 x stick of celery, roughly chopped

1 x onion, thinly sliced

1 x clove of garlic, crushed.

2 x bay leaves.

A sprinkle of dried herbs. Any. I like using thyme.

Enough cold water to cover the carcass and a big pasta cooking pot or saucepan with lid.

Stock is very simple. Pop the carcass in first and then throw everything else on top. Add the water and bring to the boil.

The main trick with stock is to cook REALLY slowly and gently. That keeps the stock from getting too cloudy. You can use a spatula to scoop any scummy, bubbly bits off the surface as it cooks. This is mostly fat. About an hour should do it. The carcass will be falling apart and the carrots soft when its ready.

Once complete, scoop out the carcass and set aside. Also scoop out the bay leaves and celery and throw them away. You should leave the onion and carrot there. Place lid on and leave aside until you are ready to make the soup.

For the Soup you will need:

Chicken meat, leftover. Use everything from the legs, wings and underside as well as the breast. the grey stuff is actually the most tasty! roughly chopped, not too small.

Medium dried egg noodles. allow 1 x nest per person. Unless you are noodle mad, In which case allow a whole nest per person. But that is a lot of noodle!

A handful of frozen sweetcorn.

A handful of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Salt and pepper to taste.

Add the meat and sweetcorn to the stock mixture and bring gently to the boil. Boil for maybe ten minutes to heat the chicken through. Gently.

When you are happy that the chicken is cooked through, turn the heat right down and gently pop in the noodle nests. Cook for 4 mins (or according to the packet) with the lid on.

Remove the soup from the heat and take off the lid. Gently stir the noodles with a fork as they have stuck together a little.

Season to taste and then sprinkle on the parsley.

Serve in bowls with fresh crusty bread.

Giant Loaded Potato Skins

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I Love these big beauties! Choose the biggest baking potatoes you can. Honestly. What is the point in a tiny little loaded skin? Nope. Its probably the Irish in me. But buy them big and load them up. Also, bake the potatoes the night before. I whipped these guys up in about 15 mins after work. Then you just need to grill them to warm the filling and melt the cheese. Plus. by choosing big ones you only eat one half for dinner. Leaving the other for lunch the following day. They heat up well in the microwave. Hurrah!

The other great thing about these is that you can put whatever you like in them! For me there has to be lots of cheese. But you can add meat if you like and any veggies. Anything you like really. The base is is the potato, soured cream and cheese. Other than that go as crazy or simple as you like.

You will need (for two people):

Baking potatoes x 2 , already cooked and cold (otherwise they are a bugger to handle)

1 x small tub of soured cream

1 x cup really strong cheddar cheese, grated. but you could use stilton, parmesan. anything melty and tasty.

1 x handful of finely chopped spring onions

1 x handful of finely chopped parsley – or chives or any other herbs you like

This time I added a handful of chorizo. you could add cooked bacon, chicken, peas, sweetcorn, anything!

You will need a hot grill and a baking tray to cook them in.

1) first, pre-cook any meat. I fried some chopped bits of chorizo in olive oil and set aside (with the oil, thats tasty so don’t waste it).

2) Cut your potatoes in half and gently scoop the middles out with a desert spoon into a mixing bowl. Place the empty skins carefully side by side in your baking tray.

3) Use a fork to gently mash the potato flash in the bowl. Throw in the chorizo, chopped onion, herbs. most of the cheese, soured cream and anything else. Mix well and season with salt and pepper. You could add some chilli flakes if you like a kick.

4) Once mixed, spoon it all back into the skins. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and pop under a hot grill until the cheese is all bubbly and brown.

Serve with a crunchy green salad. I like them with coleslaw too. Excellent!

Smoked Eggs anyone?

Oh my goodness! I just burnt three boiled eggs. Seriously! I am in shock. It’s very funny actually. I did not actually realise you could burn boiled eggs. Really. Yet here they are, in all their carcenogenic glory –

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I mean, holy crap! I had to post them. They are so bad.

I forgot they were boiling because I was busy upstairs folding clothes and getting excited for out imminent holiday!! yay! a week in the glorious St Ives, Cornwall. I promise to post lots of lovely food that we both cook and eat out. I am looking forward to spending time with the family and sharing our food adventures. But hopefully no more epic egg fails!

REALLY easy Banana and Chocolate Chip Muffins

I am without doubt, more of a cook than a baker. I am impulsive in all things, and I find the exacting measurements and temperatures in baking all a bit tricky. I can do it, I just find myself preferring to do something else with my time! I also like to throw something together, on a bit of a wing and a prayer and find its turned into something marvellous! That is not my experience of baking – its too specific and so many things can go wrong, it can make me anxious – wondering what is going to appear when I finally open the Aga door!

So anyway, that is why I like these little fellas. Everything can be thrown into the bowl in one hit, mixed well and thrown in the oven. Simples.

Also, you can put whatever you like in them. I had two over-ripe bananas and some chocolate buttons in the house. But you could add blueberries, toffee chunks – whatever grabs your fancy.

Set the over to 180 degrees and line a 12 muffin tray with cases.

200g self-raising flour

100g butter or margerine

150g caster sugar

100g choc chips or other filling

1 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

2 really ripe bananas mashed up

3 tablespoons milk (full fat or semi skimmed 2%)

sift the flour into a large bowl and then add all of the other ingredients. Mix really really well (preferably in a mixer – I love my Kitchenaid). you don’t want any lumps and bumps.

Spread the mixture evenly between the muffin cases. I like it when I fill them quite high and they come over the top in the cooking.

Bake for 25 mins approx. They should rise really well. and be firm on top. pop a skewer in if unsure. if it comes out clean you are good to go!

Cool and eat them up! This batch went very fast in the office this week.

A brunchy, breakfast day. Oh, and the perfect poached egg.

I went to bed really early last night, feeling unwell. So when I awoke, well rested this morning, I was also really hungry! Sunday is a usually and egg and bacon day in our house (time allowing). I remembered the Betty Crocker pancake mix in the cupboard! Lazy I know. The kids and I made pancakes with the usual stuff that kids love: blueberries, Nutella, syrup. Yum. Though admittedly not terribly healthy. Then we decided to take one up to dad in bed as a post-valentines day treat.

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It was the first sunny, almost spring-like day today so we went for a long walk on the Heath. Afterwards I decided to use the leftover roast potatoes from last night to make a brunch hash. Hash can be whatever you like, I usually use bits and bobs of leftover from the fridge. This was todays:

A handful of leftover, roasted new potatoes

A handful of mushrooms

A fingers length of chorizo (cut into pound coin size chunks)

A tablespoon of olive oil

A pinch of black pepper and salt

A pinch of any dried herbs from the cupboard

Just chop everything into largish chunks. heat the oil in a medium sized, non-stick frying pan and add everything, stirring occasionally, till hot and nicely browned.

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Now, you could eat this all on its own. But personally i think it needs a perfectly poached egg (or two). A couple of friends have commented on how good mine look and have asked how I manage it. Its very easy. Here you go…

You need a small, shallow frying pan. and in it you need boiling water. As soon as the water starts boiling, add a tablespoon of vinegar. Any vinegar. It does not matter. The vinegar is my magic trick for keeping the egg together. I think it might be a Delia Smith trick – I have forgotten, but I have used it for years and it always works. The vinegar is imperative. As soon as the vinegar is in, gently add the eggs. Two, one after the other. and turn the water down to simmer. Gently simmer for about 3 mins. the eggs should be able to move around the pan and you can use a spoon to gently spoon water over. As soon as the white looks solid, remove the eggs. You should do this with a spatula, onto a folded tea-towel (to remove water. The place on top of the hash.

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enjoy!