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I have had mixed experiences with making cakes containing fresh fruit.  The first time I made an apple cake it was definitely delicious but the texture and look felt more like a pudding than a cake.  It seemed rather claggy and was great with custard but I did not feel it was particularly presentable for a tea-time treat.  It deteriorated quickly in the cake tin as it was so moist and was just about edible on the second day but definitely past it after that.  I was a little unsure about wanting to repeat the experience, but we have been snowed under with gifts of apples this year.  By all accounts it has been a bumper harvest.  I decided to take a risk using a different recipe and this time the results and especially the texture were very much better.  Actually, this recipe was so popular that I did not have to worry about it lasting as long as day three, however if it had I am sure it would have been edible.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

You will not be surprised to know that this is yet another recipe from my original paperback copy of Delia Smith’s Book of Cakes, which is well thumbed and in places loose leaf.  (I was looking for the recipe for Caraway Seed Cake, one of my favourites, which will follow another time … but I digress …!)  This page popped open and it sounded lovely – and conveniently there was a small lonely bottle of French cider sitting in the cupboard.  My only argument with the recipe is the instruction for placing slices of apple on the top.  I spent quite some time making an attractive decorative pattern in concentric rings only to find this was completely unnecessary as it was completely obliterated by the topping mixture.  Next time I will either scatter the slices evenly over the top before adding the topping or even try dicing the remaining apple (but into fairly small pieces), before mixing with most of the topping and evenly scattering it over.  It can then be finished off with the remainder of the topping mix and the split almonds certainly add a lovely nutty crunch, although they could be omitted.  As for the cider, we could really taste it in the cake.  I am sure that apple juice would make a good substitute but obviously would not be quite the same.  I served this as a warm dessert accompanied by vanilla ice cream with some cake left over to cut and eat cold later.  If it is going to be served as a pudding you could go the whole hog and serve it with Brandy Sauce, the type some people serve with Christmas pudding!

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Spiced Apple & Cider Cake

For the cake:
50zs/150g margerine or butter
5ozs/150g caster sugar
2 medium eggs, beaten
8ozs/225g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp grated nutmeg
¼pt/150ml dry cider
3 smallish cooking apples (I used 1lb 40zs/600g)
For the topping:
1oz/25g butter
1oz/25g plain flour
2ozs/50g dark soft brown sugar
2tsp cinnamon
1oz/25g blanched & chopped or split almonds

1.  Preheat the oven to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4.  Line and grease a 8inch/20cm loose bottomed cake tin.

First make the cake:
2.  Cream the butter and sugar together until light, pale and fluffy.

3.  Beat the eggs and add a little at a time, beating well each time a some egg is added.

4.  Sieve the flour, nutmeg and baking powder together.

5.  Fold half of this flour mix into the mixture using a metal spoon.  Add half of the cider.

6.  Fold in the remaining flour mix.  Add the remaining cider.

7.  Peel, core and chop one apple and fold into the cake mixture.

8.  Spoon the cake mixture evenly into the prepared tin, smoothing with the back of a spoon.

Prepare the topping:
9.  Measure the flour, butter, sugar and cinnamon into a bowl and rub together with fingertips until it has a coarse and crumbly texture similar to breadcrumbs.  Add the chopped or split almonds.

10. The remaining apples should be peeled, cored and sliced thinly before arranging the slices, overlapping slightly, on the top of the cake.  This can be done fairly roughly – these will be completely underneath the layer of topping mixture so it is not worth spending a lot of time making a highly decorative pattern with the apple!

11. Scatter the topping mixture evenly on top.

12. Bake in the centre of the pre-heated oven for 1¼-1½hrs or until the cake starts to shrink away from the sides of the tin.

13.  Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes.

14.  Remove carefully and transfer to a wire rack.

15.  Serve warm as a dessert with cream or ice cream. Alternatively cut when cool and serve at tea time.

16.  The liquid in the fruit will make this a moist cake and the moistness will make it start to go mouldy quickly so be aware that it needs to be eaten within a day or so.

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When faced with a choice at the French patisserie counter it’s always difficult.  I have already posted a recipe for Tarte au Citron so now, as promised some time ago, here is Tarte aux Poires.  Both are candidates for the title of our favourite, but the jury is still out…  It is a crisp pastry shell filled with cooked pear halves, a delicious soft almondy filling and a top scattered with toasted split almonds and is a relatively straightforward recipe.  Arranging the pears decoratively is not too difficult, just a bit fiddly, but it is worth it for both the positive comments of guests and being able to produce something to keep the family happy!  Another often seen title for Tarte aux Poires is Pear Frangipane Tart, the word frangipane relating to the addition of ground almonds. (More information about this can be found with the recipe for Mincemeat & Almond Delight).  The original recipe I used was called by another relatively common name, Pear Pie Bourdaloue, but the many variations of spelling make the meaning of the name difficult to trace.  Some sources credit a Parisien baker called Coquelin, owner of La Pâtisserie Bourdaloue named after the street in which it stands, who in 1909 baked the first Tarte Bourdaloue aux Poires.  Whatever its origins, however, the numerous recipes for this classic french pear and almond tart all agree with us: it is delicious!

The original version of this recipe Tarte aux Poires comes from the French recipe website Meilleur du chef which is also available translated into English where it is called Cuisine French.  The recipe translation is not perfect – for example it suggests the dish is finished with ‘blond coating’ (nappage blond). This appears to be a product commercially available containing sugar, water and a little apricot flavouring, which gives a slightly sticky finish to the tart.  I substituted a sugar and water glaze, which as far as I can see gives a similar result but is not absolutely necessary.  On many occasions have forgotten to add it or have simply run out of time.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Tarte aux Poires Bourdaloue (Pear Frangipane Tart/Pear Pie Bourdaloue)

Shortcrust Pastry – enough to line a 20cm/8inch flan case
100g butter
100g sugar
100g ground almonds
20g flour
40g whipping cream – single if whipping not available
2 eggs
1 or 2 tins pears (enough to give six halves of roughly equal size)
or
Gently poach three whole sweet pears and cut into six halves, removing the cores.
Split almonds to decorate
Granulated sugar dissolved in a little water to make a light syrup (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4.

2.  Line the flan tin with shortcrust pastry, prick with a fork, fill with dried beans and bake blind for about 10 minutes until the pastry starts to set and colour.  Remove beans and set to one side.

3.  Reduce the oven heat to 150oC/300oF/Gas 2

4.  To make the almond cream filling cream together the butter and sugar until it is pale and thick.

5.  Stir in the ground almonds.  Add the eggs one at a time.  Beat well.

6.  Mix in the cream and flour and then beat well to fully combine.

7.  Spoon this almond cream mixture into the blind baked shell, making sure it is level as possible.

8.  Taking each pear half, carefully cut splits lengthways down each piece leaving each slice joined at the top.  Gently ease each half into a fan shape.

9.  Arrange each piece of pear evenly around the dish, carefully easing out the fan shapes.  Some dishes would allow the six pieces in a circle with the points towards the centre.  If the pears are fat and round in shape there may only be space for five pears in the circle in which case the sixth piece can go in the centre.  Gently fan out the pear pieces before you place them on top of the almond cream mixture taking care not to separate them at the point.

10. If not using the sweet coating: Scatter a small handful of split almonds over the tart.  The quantity is up to you – I like to be reasonably generous.  If you intend to add the sugar coating the split almonds are added at the end just before serving and should have been carefully toasted in the oven or under a hot grill.  They burn very quickly and need to be watched as they toast.  Once toasted remove from the tin onto a cold plate to cool.

11.  Bake the tart in a warm oven for 40 to 50 minutes and remove when the top of the tart is golden. The split almonds should be starting to colour but not burn. The low heat will allow the tart to colour slowly whilst the shortcrust pastry bakes thoroughly. The almond cream will rise a little and gradually brown.

12.  Allow the tart to cool.

13.  Optional coating: Dissolve about 2tsp sugar in a very little boiling water.  Alternatively this can be done in a microwave oven.  Brush over the surface of the finished pie for a slightly sticky finish.

14.  Finish the tart by sprinkling over the roasted split almonds.

15.  Serve with cream, ice cream or crème fraîche – or alternatively just as it is.  It makes a delicious dessert, cooled but not long from the oven and can also be served at tea time.  A really good dessert when entertaining, especially as it can be made a little in advance.

Alternatives:
Can be made as individual tarts containing one pear fan each.
Other fruits are often substituted for the pears: especially apricot, apple, plums and blueberries – near Christmas I often make Mincemeat & Almond Delight which is similar but with a sweet mincemeat based filling
Other ground nuts can be substituted for the almonds. Pistachio is particularly delicious and pale green in colour even when baked.

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The Peanut, or groundnut as it is sometimes known, is both versatile and protein rich.  Peanut butter, a popular spread, has filled the sandwiches of generations of schoolchildren as well as being a mainstay for expeditions including those to the South and North Poles, plus peanut based paste products have been used to help feed malnourished children in developing countries.  Here in the UK, though, peanuts rarely feature as a cooking ingredient.  Apart from in peanut butter, they are more often thought of as a party snack item, although they are sometimes added, ground and/or whole in biscuits and very occasionally cooked into a nut loaf or nut burgers.  In other parts of the world, including South America, South East Asia, India and parts of Africa, the peanut is widely used either whole, ground into flour or with the oil used for frying in both savoury and sweet recipes.  In India peanuts are eaten in a number of ways: roasted and salted, sometimes with chilli powder added, they can be a savoury snack – and a sweet version when processed with sugar; they can be boiled or give added crunch to salads.  The peanut is native to and almost certainly originated in Peru where specimens can be dated back several millennia.  One well known Peruvian recipe, Papas con Ocopa, is a smooth sauce of roasted peanuts, hot peppers, roasted onions, garlic and oil, served poured over boiled potatoes. On the other side of the world the Indonesians have a number of spicy peanut based sauces, the most well known being Satay and Gado-gado.  In Africa too, where this recipe originates, the peanut commonly appears as an ingredient in stews, both with or without meat.

The original recipe for Chicken & Peanut Stew, comes from the Tesco website as part of a series of international recipes to celebrate World Cup 2010.  Its flavours originate from West Africa and the recipe was taken from the book The Soul Of A New Cuisine: A Discovery Of The Foods And Flavours Of Africa, by Marcus Samuelsson.  In the end I used mostly the same basic method and ingredients with a few slight variations: less chilli and ginger, though more of both would be fine, and I used poached pre-cooked chicken (although chicken thighs would be a good alternative) and added a sweet potato for good measure.  I was concerned that cooking the peanuts would make them lose their crunch but I need not have worried.  The stew was mostly soft in texture but with a delicious peanutty flavour and crunch.  It is a delicious and unusual recipe, not difficult to make and one which I will definitely be repeating.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

West African Style Chicken & Peanut Stew
(Serves 4)

2 medium onions, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2·5cm/1in pieces
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2·5cm/1in pieces
½-1 small chilli – deseed and remove membranes
2.5cm/1inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 bay leaves
6 peppercorns, white if available
900ml/1½ pints of water
1tsp chicken stock liquid/½stock cube (unless using fresh chicken pieces)
12ozs cold cooked chicken
or
4 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs
200g/7ozs peanuts, salted or unsalted (seasoning can be adjusted later)
3tbsp olive oil
2 medium sized potatoes, peeled and cut into 5cm/2in cubes
4 tomatoes, cut into quarters
500g/1Ib spinach, tough stems removed, washed
Salt, if needed

1.  Put the onion, carrot, sweet potato, chilli, ginger, bay leaves and peppercorns, along with the water and the stock powder/liquid/cube into a medium sized saucepan.  Bring to a boil over a high heat and then reduce the heat to medium.

2.  If using fresh meat it should be added now – previously cooked meat is added later when the potatoes are cooked.  Add the chicken thigh pieces to the pan.  Simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

3.  Toast the peanuts in a dry frying pan on medium heat, shaking occasionally, until you can smell them roasting and they are golden brown.  Once cool, grind 100g /3½oz (half) of the toasted peanuts to a powder.  (This will be used to thicken the stew. The remaining peanuts should be kept whole.)  Put the pan on one side to use later for frying the potatoes.

4.  Remove the chicken from the cooking liquid and put on one side.  Throw away the bay leaves.  Liquidise about half of the vegetable and stock mixture until smooth and then re-combine with the unliquidised mixture and set aside.  If you want a less chunky stew then liquidise all the vegetable and stock mixture.

5.  Put the oil in the frying pan used for roasting peanuts over a medium heat.  Put in the potato pieces and sauté for about 10 minutes until golden brown.

6.   Add the chicken pieces that have been set aside or the pieces of cold cooked chicken and toss for about 10 minutes so they start to brown a little, adding a little extra oil if needed. Remove the pan from the heat.

7.  Return the vegetable purée mixture to the saucepan and bring to the boil.  Stir in both the ground peanuts and the remaining 100g/3½oz whole toasted peanuts until well combined.

8.  Add the tomatoes, browned chicken, potatoes and spinach.  Simmer for around 5 minutes until completely heated through and the spinach has wilted.  Remove from the heat, taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

9.  Serve with rice or crusty bread, if required, as an addition to the potatoes already in the stew.

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This is a very special recipe, one I turn to again and again for a rich fruit cake: for Christmas, Easter or even the occasional ‘special’ birthday.  (It would also make a good wedding cake, but that is outside my experience.)  Its full title in my recipe file is Special Occasion Cake (from Mrs Maud Farrant) written in my mother’s hand.  As with all good recipes it is a ‘hand-me-down’.  I am the third generation, at least, to use it.  It came from my father’s mother, my ‘nanna’ as we called her and through her daughter, my aunt, to my mother.  Each time I make this recipe I do so with a sense of pride and connection with the past, especially as my nanna and aunt are no longer with us.  It is especially lovely to have it each Christmas and also to turn it into an Simnel Cake at Easter.  I really hope that the tradition will continue with my own daughter: that in years to come I will be able to eat a slice of a cake from the same recipe in her home!

Here is this year’s Christmas cake, made a little later than I had hoped but looking just as tasty as usual. Each year it is decorated slightly differently. This year it will be a version of the traditional topping of marzipan and icing (the photo will appear on this page in due course). Last year I finished the cake with an unusual sweet and crunchy Florentine topping, from an idea in Tesco’s 2009 free instore magazine which I will definitely be repeating (recipe and picture further down). I have also often made it into a Dundee cake, covered with concentric rings of nuts and glacé cherries before it was baked. Our last Dundee Cake was before I started this blog so there are no photos, but it is about time we ate one again. Perhaps Christmas 2011 unless I develop another plan. (As mentioned before I also use this recipe for my Simnel Cake at Easter and more recently for our Silver Wedding Celebration Cake – pictures and details below or by following the link.)

Meanderings through my Cookbook http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Although this cake doesn’t take long to mix, it is really important to have the timings in mind. For best results it needs to be started in advance, preferably the day before as the fruit needs to be soaked in alcohol and plump up. Actually, I have forgotten this several times and it is still delicious – just leave for as long as possible and go ahead. Remember too that the cooking time is around 2¼hours, give or take a bit, so if you put it in the oven late in the evening (again I admit to doing this) plan to stay up past midnight waiting for it to cook – you have been warned! Some people like to ‘feed’ a cake by piercing the bottom of the cooked cake with a skewer and pouring over a small amount of additional alcohol. There was no instruction to do this in the original recipe and I know my mother does not, however, as recommended by others, I feed my Christmas Cake just a little and like to think it is an improvement. I never feed a Simnel Cake and we enjoy it just as much. It all comes down to personal preference. (The measurements given are Imperial and I am loth to convert the original as I am afraid that adjusting the measurements may make the cake less successful.)

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Basic Recipe: Special Occasion Rich Fruit Cake
*Mixed dried fruit can be either a combination of sultanas, raisins and currants or the ready mixed variety with mixed peel included, in which case add an extra 2ozs mixed fruit instead of adding the peel or add another 2ozs glacé cherries.

Start this recipe in advance and soak the mixed fruit in the brandy at least overnight.
2tbsp brandy (rum can be used as an alternative)
1½lb (or 1lb for a less rich and heavy cake) mixed dried fruit (*see note above)
2ozs peel (unless using mixed fruit with peel – *see note above)

8ozs butter, at room temperature
8ozs soft brown sugar
3 large or 4 small eggs
10ozs self raising flour
large pinch salt
1 level tsp mixed spice
1 level tsp cinnamon
2ozs glacé cherries (*see note above)
1oz blanched chopped almonds or flaked almonds
a little milk to mix, if required

1.  Place the mixed fruit in a bowl, pour over the brandy and cover.  Leave to soak overnight.

2.  Line a 8-9inch loose bottomed tin with non stick baking parchment.  I do this by cutting a ring for the base and a long strip that is 2 inches more that the width and height of the sides.  Fold up the spare 2 inches of liner along the long side and cut into it at about 1inch intervals up to the fold along the entire length.  Use this to line the inside of the tin, folding in the cut pieces to part line the bottom.  Place the circle of liner on top.  It should not need greasing, but you may just like to add a few dabs of oil to help it adhere to the tin.

3.  Preheat the oven to 150oC/140oC Fan/300oF/Gas 2.

4. Cream the butter with the sugar until light and very creamy.

5.  Break an egg into a jug and gently mix with a fork.  Add a little at a time to the butter and sugar mixture, beating well between each addition.  Continue in the same way until all the eggs are added.  Beat the mixture very well.

6.  Add the soaked fruit, cherries and almonds and mix in well.

7.  Sift the flour, ground spices and salt into the cake mixture and gently fold in, until the flour has disappeared.  Gently stir a little milk to the mixture if it seems a little stiff.

8.  Tip the mixture into the prepared tin, pressing down well into the bottom and smooth out so the top is flattened.

9.  Make a collar out of three or four sheets of newspaper about twice the height of the tin and tie in place around the cake with string.  This prevents burning.  (I find the Waltham Forest Guardian makes an excellent ring, but doesn’t add anything particular to the taste – so feel free to use any newspaper!)

10.  Place in the centre of the preheated oven.  Check after 2hours by gently pressing the top to see if it is still spongy and/or inserting a skewer to see if it comes out cleanly.  I usually find that it needs a further 15 minutes in my oven but the original instructions specify 2½ hours (and in one place it says 2½ to 3hours – a non fan oven instruction).

11.  When cooked remove from the oven, take off the newspaper collar, ease out of the tin and remove the lining paper.  Place onto a wire rack to cool.

12.  When cold the cake can be stored in a tin until it is ready to be finished.  Place it on the lid of the tin and cover with the upside down tin base.  (Label the bottom ‘this way up’ so no one forgets!)  If you want to ‘feed’ the cake pierce the base, not the top, with a skewer and gently drizzle about a tablespoon of extra brandy into the holes.  This can be repeated at regular occasions.  If I make my cake in November I usually do it four or five times between baking and the time it is decorated.

The cake is now ready to be decorated.  See below for some of the cakes we have eaten … plus decorating information.

Finishing touches …

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Starry Night Cake – Christmas 2010
Traditional marzipan and white icing (fondant).  Design by hopeeternal
(more information about the cake and design)

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Florentine Topping for Christmas Cake (December 2009)
(Amount generously covers a 23cm/9inch cake)

Florentine Topping is an alternative to the usual Christmas marzipan and white icing. Mixed red & green cherries, if available, would be a pretty alternative.  If you can get whole candied fruit to chop this is preferable to bought ready chopped peel in a tub. This recipe comes from the Tesco In Store Free Magazine, November-December 2009.

25g/1oz butter
2tbsp golden syrup
50g/2ozs flaked almonds
50g/2ozs roughly chopped walnuts
200g/7ozs halved red cherries
50g/2ozs chopped mixed peel
1tbsp plain flour

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180oC/160oC Fan oven/Gas 4

2. Melt the butter and golden syrup together in a pan.

3. Stir in the almonds and walnuts.

4. Stir in the cherries and mixed peel.

5. Stir in the flour and mix thoroughly.

6. Place the cake on a baking tray and spoon over the Florentine Topping aiming for as even a layer as possible.

7. Bake in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes. Gently lift onto a rack to cool and decorate with ribbon to serve.

8. Can be stored in a cake tin for up to two weeks.

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Dundee Style Christmas Cake – December 2011
Walnut halves, pecan nut halves, blanched almonds, red and green glace cherries. Design by hopeeternal
More information about this cake

Dundee Cake (simplified topping using blanched almonds & cherries)
For a generous topping use 50-60 whole blanched almonds and 12-15 halved cherries.  Start with a ring of evenly spaced nuts around the edge of the uncooked cake mixture.  Within this place a ring of halved cherries.  Then a second ring of nuts and finally a small ring of cherries and a central cherry or nut if space permits.  Try to place the nuts and cherries without smearing the cake mixture on them for a clean looking finish.  The finish can be varied by adding other nuts, differently coloured cherries or changing the design from the usual formal concentric rings.

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Traditional Simnel Cake for Easter
A Simnel cake can be made with brandy or rum, as in the basic recipe above, or alternatively pre-soak the fruit in the juice of half a fresh orange.  Simnel Cakes were originally made for their mothers by working children as a gift for Mothering Sunday, the third Sunday in Lent, which falls three weeks before Easter.  Nowadays Simnel Cakes are mostly eaten at Easter.  See Afternoon Tea for Mothering Sunday for more information.

A Simnel Cake traditionally has 11 marzipan balls around the edge – one for each Disciple or Apostle of Jesus, except for Judas Iscariot!  Counting is not my strong point (!)  I miscounted and managed to add 12 balls instead of the usual 11.  A pity because I was very pleased with the cake.  Here it is …

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First make the 11 small marzipan balls of around 2cm in diameter, before dividing the remaining marzipan in half.  Cut the cake horizontally through the centre into two equal pieces.  Roll one piece of marzipan into a circle.  Lightly spread the cut surface of the cake with apricot jam and place a rolled out circle of marzipan on top, putting any trimmings to one side.  Spread over a little more jam and cover with the second half of the cake. Roll a second circle from the remaining marzipan and place on the top of the cake. Trim to size and reserve the trimmings. The top can be marked in a lattice pattern, if required, using a light touch of a knife and the 11 marzipan balls are then placed equidistantly around the edge – a very little jam can be used to keep them in place.  Flash grill the top of the cake until the marzipan starts to bubble and slightly brown – take care as it burns quickly.  Any other decorations, such as sugar or foil covered chocolate eggs, fresh or sugar flowers or other items should be added when the surface is cold.

This version is decorated with a nest using the marzipan trimmings pushed through a clean garlic press to create strands.  When cool place a small pile of sugar covered chocolate eggs in the central nest.

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Silver Wedding Anniversary Celebration Cake

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I have long been on the look out for a good Nut Burger/Cutlet/Rissole recipe.  From time to time I buy ready made Goodlife (Fairtrade) Nut Cutlets which are useful for a quick meal, but want to find a successful recipe to make something similar myself.  I may well end up experimenting using some of the ingredients from the back of the packet however there is one recipe I have made that is rather good and just needs a bit of ‘tweaking’ before I post it!  This recipe for Nut Rissoles is definitely a ‘keeper’ and one of the quickest nut ‘burger’ recipes I have come across, although the recipe is finished in a tomato sauce rather than grilled or baked, which keeps the rissoles moist.  The little patties are quickly mixed and shaped while the sauce is cooking.  After that it is just a quick 25-30 minutes in the oven.

The recipe comes from Rose Elliot’s Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.  Originally called Brown Nut Rissoles in Tomato Sauce the recipe suggests using almonds or hazelnuts.  I used a mixture of almonds, hazelnuts and walnuts.  The cheese and egg in the recipe is not noticeable and helps to bind the mixture together.  I see no reason why these Rissoles might not be frozen as I have previously made nut burgers in bulk and stored them in the freezer.

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Nut Rissoles with Tomato Sauce
(Serves 3-4)

1 quantity of  Simple Tomato Sauce (sauce in original recipe has no herbs)

Nut Rissoles
1 small onion, finely chopped & fried in 1tbsp olive oil
125g/4ozs roughly chopped nuts, single variety or mixed
50g/2ozs soft white or wholemeal breadcrumbs
50g/2ozs Cheddar cheese, finely grated
2 heaped tsp tomato purée
1 egg
½tsp dried thyme
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

1.  Preheat the oven to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4.

2.  Before making the rissoles make Simple Tomato Sauce and leave it to simmer.

3.  Mix the rissole ingredients together well, season to taste and form into 6 to 8 equally sized slightly flattened balls with your hands.

4.  Place them in the base of a shallow greased dish and pour over the tomato sauce.

5.  Bake for 25 -30 minutes.

6.  Serve with pasta or rice sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese plus a green vegetable or green salad.

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Shortly after I was married I bought a wok: Ken Hom had been on television and stir frying seemed so easy. My mother in law regularly fed us stir fried dishes when we visited and I figured that if she could do it then so could I!  Since that time I have acquired several books of chinese recipes and treated myself to a pretty blue and white fishy chinese dinner set (pictured) of bowls, plates, spoons and chopstick rests, to which I have added some matching larger bowls that I was fortunate to find in the same design.  I have cooked some multi-dish Chinese style meals for guests, but mostly I cook stir fries as family dinners.  Once the preparation of ingredients has been done, this meal can be cooked and served very quickly.

One of our favourites is chicken and cashew nuts, traditionally one of the most popular choices at the Chinese takeaway.  I also stir fry with prawns and also with lean pieces of belly pork (or pork fillet) flavoured with lots of garlic and ginger, sometimes including chinese plum sauce.  This recipe has no original source, or at least none that I can really acknowledge.  It is just what I find works for us.  The ingredient information is scant as I tend to use what is available, but always start with onion, garlic and ginger, add light soy and five spice and finish with sesame oil.  I follow the advice I heard somewhere not to cook with sesame oil as it burns easily.  I stir fry with sunflower (not olive) oil and stir in the sesame oil at the end for added flavour.  I have been known to add toasted sesame seeds at the table as well.  I still have the same, now well used, wok that I bought when I was first married: it is a Ken Hom one with a slightly flattened base as I cook on an electric ceramic hob.

A word about soy sauce:  much has been written about avoiding the additive MSG (Monosodium glutamate) because of possible health implications.  It used to be difficult to find soy sauce without this ingredient, but it is now becoming increasingly easy to find dark and light soy sauce and its Japanese cousin, Shoyu, that are MSG free.  They are worth hunting down.

100_2903 Chicken & Cashew Nut Stir Fry

Chinese Style Stir Fries

Chicken & Cashew Nut Stir Fry
(Serves 4)

2tbsp sunflower oil
2-3ozs cashew nuts
1 large white onion, medium sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1inch (2.5cm) piece of ginger, finely chopped
8ozs/225g lean chicken breast, cut into thin slices
1tbsp light soy sauce
40zs/125g button mushrooms, quartered
1tsp chinese 5-spice seasoning
1tbsp sesame oil
1tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)
A selection of vegetables in a variety of colours – choose 2 or 3 from:
     Sliced red/yellow/orange/green pepper
Pak choi/Bok choi, chopped or Broccoli, in small florets
Carrot, cut into fine rings or julienne strips – good with chicken & cashew nut
Courgette, cut into fine rings or ribbons
French beans, 1inch/2.5cm pieces or handful frozen peas, cooked & drained
Chinese vegetables: beansprouts, beanshoots, water chestnuts

The term ‘stir fry’, when used below, means to continuously turn the ingredients in the hot oil in the wok. (I have a special flattened wok spatula.)  This helps them to cook evenly, stopping them from adhering to the pan and burning.

1.  Collect together and prepare all the ingredients.  It is important that they are available for immediate use.  Ingredients should be unmixed so they can be added separately.

2.  If using Broccoli it should be blanched: divide into small florets and pour boiling water over, leave for one minute and then immerse in cold water to stop cooking.  Set aside until needed.

3.  Place the wok on the stove top, using maximum heat, to allow it to pre-heat.  After 2 minutes or so, add the sunflower oil and allow this to heat through.  (IMPORTANT: Do not leave the pan unattended.)

4.  Omit this stage if not using cashews: Drop a cashew nut in the oil.  If it sizzles immediately add the remaining nut pieces, if not then wait a short while before trying another piece of nut.  The cashew nuts will brown very quickly, almost immediately.  Be careful to remove them before they blacken and spoil.  Spoon onto a piece of kitchen paper to soak up excess leaving the remaining oil in the wok.

5.  Add a small piece of onion to the oil and if it sizzles then it is hot enough to add the remainder of the onion.  Add the onion, garlic and ginger into the hot sunflower oil and stir fry as it cooks through.  It should be transparent and not brown.  Add the mushroom pieces, and stir fry for a minute or two.  Add the pieces of chicken and stir fry for 2-3 minutes to allow it to start to cook evenly.

6.  Add chosen remaining vegetables, apart from greens/broccoli.  Stir fry as they are included.  When cooked they should still be slightly crisp rather than soft, so it is important to add those that cook more slowly earlier than those that will cook quickly. (I always add carrot first if I am using it.  Save pak choi/bok choi or pre-blanched broccoli to put in towards the end after adding the soy sauce.

7.  Add the chinese 5-spice powder and light soy sauce and stir through.

8.  Add pak choi/bok choi or broccoli, stir in well, turn down the heat a little and if possible cover the wok.  Allow to cook until the vegetables are still crisp and before they soften: 2-3minutes at most.

9.   Finally, return the cooked cashew nuts to the wok along with the sesame oil.  Briefly stir through the mixture and serve immediately.

10.  Serve, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds (optional) and on a bed of plain boiled rice or boiled noodles (or *egg fried rice, if you wish).  A small portion of prawn crackers can be served on the side, they are easy to fry if you can find uncooked ones, but can also be bought ready cooked in large supermarkets.  Soy sauce lovers may like to drizzle over a little additional dark or light soy sauce.

*For egg fried rice, stir fry pre-cooked rice in a little sunflower oil in a wok.  Beat an egg and quickly stir through the rice mixture, turning (stir frying) constantly so that the egg cooks through and does not stick to the wok and burn.  Season and serve quickly.

More stir fried dishes:
Chinese Style Belly Pork & Greens/Broccoli/Bok Choy
Special Fried Rice

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This ice cream is a great way to use up brown and mottled overripe bananas.  They may be past their best for eating, but they are ideal for cooking as their natural sweetness increases as they age.  Honey adds additional sweetness with the lemon counteracting this slightly.  The nuts – I used flaked almonds – add a lovely crunch.  I used runny honey rather than set, which I did not have, doubled the amount of cream (by mistake!) and used just one whipped egg white, which seemed ample.  The quantity overfilled a 500g ice cream tub.  Next time I would add just half a tub of cream as originally specified – 150ml/¼pint!

Last year I borrowed a fairly comprehensive, as I thought, ice cream book from the library and eventually bought myself a copy (Making Ice Cream & Iced Desserts by Joanna Farrow & Sara Lewis).  However, I found another book in a charity shop called, simply, Ice Creams, published by Hamlyn (there is no named author).  It contained some lovely and unusual ideas and I just had to have it as well.  This recipe is one of the first that attracted me to the ‘must-have’ slim paperback.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Honeyed Banana Ice Cream with Nuts
(Serves 4-6)

500g/1lb bananas, peeled (a little extra is fine rather than waste fruit)
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp honey
150ml/¼pint natural yoghurt
50g/2ozs chopped nuts (flaked almonds are ideal)
150ml/¼pint double cream – whipping for Ice Cream machine (Elmlea half fat)
1 egg white

1.  Put the lemon juice in a bowl, add the banana pieces and mash together well.  The lemon stops the banana from browning.

2.  Stir in the honey and yoghurt and mix well.

3.  Ice Cream maker:
a.  Whisk the whipping cream lightly until the whisk leaves a trail when lifted but not too stiffly as it will be difficult to combine, especially if using a machine.
b.  Combine with the banana and honey mixture.
c.  Pour into the machine and churn for 10-15 minutes until thick gradually introducing the nut pieces through the hole.
d.  Lightly whip the egg white and spoon into the ice cream machine as it mixes.
e.  Tip into loaf tin or container, cover with cling film or a lid and freeze for at least 6 hours.

4. By hand:
a.  Whisk the double cream lightly until the whisk leaves a trail when lifted. 
b.  Combine with the banana and honey mixture and stir in the pieces of nut.
c.  Tip into loaf tin or container, cover with cling film or a lid and freeze until partly set. d. Lightly whip the egg white.  Remove the partly frozen ice cream from the freezer and fold into the banana mixture. 
e.  Freeze until set.

5.  To serve:
Defrost in the fridge before serving: this can take up to 1 hour depending on the type of ice cream.  Dip the serving spoon or scoop in boiling water to help it cut through the ice cream if it is a little hard.

Serve the ice cream with a sliced fresh banana and a drizzle of Dulce de Leche (pictured),  or similar toffee pouring sauce or alternatively some runny honey.

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Around Easter, when I was searching for a recipe for Chocolate Rice Krispie Nests, the clearest recipe and the one I eventually used came from the Netmums site.  Another recipe there, for Banana Flapjacks, caught my eye and I made a mental note to try it out. Flapjacks are so simple to make: in less than 45 minutes I had a wonderful smelling batch cooling on a wire rack.  These are ideal lunch box fillers.  I made a mental note to make a larger quantity in the future: somehow 8 or 10 bars is not really enough for a hungry family! 

The original of this recipe, Banana Flapjacks, was contributed by Anne at NetmumsIt is certainly a great way to use up ripe bananas.  I have adapted it a little, adding dessicated coconut which we love and combines really well with the banana.  It is certainly worth doubling the original recipe.  Why not make two trays: one flavoured with coconut plus another with cocoa powder (an alternative suggested in the original recipe) or by replacing the sultanas with chocolate chips, a different dried fruit or nut.  (See additional recipe below.)

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com


Banana & Coconut Flapjack

(Makes 8-10 pieces)

40g/1½ozs butter
60g/2½ozs demerara or soft brown sugar
1tbsp golden syrup
225g/8ozs porridge oats
50g/2ozs raisins (halve quantity if dividing mixture to make two flavours)
2 small bananas
15g/½oz dessicated coconut (optional)

1.  Preheat the oven to 200oC/400oF/Gas 6.  Lightly grease a baking tray around 15cm x 20cm/6 inches x8 inches.  (Foil trays from shop bought flapjacks are ideal.)

2. Melt the butter in a saucepan or in the microwave in a microwave proof bowl. Stir in the sugar and golden syrup. Stir well. (If using a microwave it is better to melt in several short bursts of heat until the butter is just melted to avoid overheating.)

3. Mash the bananas well.  Mix into the butter/sugar/syrup mixture along with the oats.

4.  The raisins should be added at this point. 
(Alternatively two different flavours of flapjack can be made.  The above ingredients should be doubled and the resulting mixture halved, finishing each half differently: 
To the first half add raisins and the dessicated coconut (if using).
To the second half add 1tbsp cocoa powder: with either chocolate chips or more raisins – or something else, as you wish).

5.  Spread into the greased baking tray and flatten well with a fork.

6.  Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 mins until slightly brown.

7.  Leave to cool slightly, carefully remove from the baking/foil tray, cut into squares or fingers and leave to cool on a wire rack.

8.  Store in an airtight box or tin.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Choc-Nut Banana Flapjack
Use above recipe omitting raisins & coconut:

2tbsp cocoa powder, sieved (or more)
50g/2oz roughly chopped hazelnuts

Eat quickly as the nuts soften and deteriorate and we felt did not keep very well.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Choc-Cherry Banana Flapjack
Use above recipe omitting raisins & coconut:

25g/1oz dark chocolate
  (chopped or chips) 
or
2tbsp cocoa powder, sieved
and
50g/2ozs chopped glace cherries

 

 

 

Thoughts on other possible alternative combinations (untried):

Double Chocolate & Banana – add:
2tbsp cocoa powder, sieved (or more)
and
50g/2ozs chocolate chips (in place of raisins)

Chocolate, Ginger & Banana – add:
2tbsp cocoa powder, sieved (or more)
and
50g/2ozs chopped crystallised or stem ginger (in place of raisins)

Apricot-Ginger & Banana – add:
3ozs of crystallised ginger and chopped dried apricots (in place of raisins)

Date-Ginger & Banana – add:
30zs crystallised ginger and chopped dates (in place of raisins)

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At our regular church Sunday lunches, a roast dinner with all the trimmings has been followed by a ‘proper’ pudding: a selection of fruit crumbles, which are both easy to make and tasty.  It has been interesting to see what variations people have brought and one of the most unusual and popular has been a chocolate and banana crumble with a nutty topping.  (I have previously written about crumbles and have been collecting ideas for alternative toppings: see Basic Recipe: Sweet Crumble Mixtures.)

That was back in early February and a short while later I discovered a small recipe card in Sainsburys supermarket with a fairly similar recipe called Choc-banana Crumble, (also here) recommended as a Mothering Sunday treat. It was also part of the 2010 Fairtrade fortnight campaign (22 February – 7 March) encouraging consumers to change one or more shopping item in their basket to a Fairly Traded alternative, as the recipe includes Fairly Traded ingredients: chocolate powder, bananas, sugar and nuts. (The Fairtrade Foundation seeks to promote justice and sustainable development, encouraging consumers to buy Fairly Traded items to give a fair deal to marginalised producers in developing countries.)  When I made the Sainsbury version we found it rather dry but the second time I improved this by adding orange zest and juice, which also stopped the bananas from browning.  The orange, along with dessicated coconut, also added much more depth to the flavour.  Pineapple juice (not very popular in our house, which is why I did not choose it) would make a good alternative to the orange juice, making this crumble even more tropical.  The bananas need to be fairly ripe: I have used underripe bananas but they did not soften properly and made the dish seem flavourless.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Tropical Banana & Chocolate Crumble
(Serves 6) 

6 Fairtrade bananas, fairly ripe – reserve a few slices to decorate
100g/3½ozs plain flour
80g/2½ozs chilled butter, cut into small cubes
40g/1½oz Fairtrade drinking chocolate
25g/1oz Fairtrade Demerara sugar
50g/2ozs Fairtrade Brazil nuts, roughly chopped
50g/2oz Fairtrade Dessicated coconut
1 large orange, juice and zest – reserve a few strands of zest to decorate

1.  Preheat the oven to 190ºC/170ºC Fan/370oF/Gas 5.

2.  Put the sifted flour, chilled butter, drinking chocolate and sugar in a bowl. Using fingertips, rub the mixture together until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the nuts and half of the dessicated coconut.

3.  Peel and slice the bananas and reserve a few slices for decoration. Arrange them in the base of a large shallow ovenproof dish.  Sprinkle with orange zest (reserving a few strands to decorate), the remaining dessicated coconut and pour over the orange juice.

4.  Sprinkle the crumble mixture evenly over the bananas.  Decorate with the sliced banana and zest strands

5.  Bake the dish for about 20 minutes or until piping hot.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. 

6.  Serve with crème fraîche, cream or warm custard.

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We love the flavours of North Africa: with ingredients such as spicy coriander and cumin, fragrant cinnamon and orange flower water, hot chilli and ginger, sour pickled lemon, salty olives and sometimes even the sweetness of fruit, although readers of other pages on this site will know that I am not keen on very sweet fruit with meat.  I was delighted, therefore, to be given a Tagine for my birthday: not absolutely necessary to cook the dishes but lovely to look at and use for serving and especially for entertaining.  Along with the Tagine, I was also given a recipe book containing a good selection of ideas for using my new pot.  This was the first recipe that caught my eye: we love beetroot cooked with meat and in combination with orange the dish sounded unusual and delicious. 

This recipe was taken from Tagine: Spicy Stews from Morocco by Ghillie Başan.  I have altered the quantities and proportions a little and have adapted the recipe for cooking in the oven.  (My Tagine cannot be used on the stovetop as I have an electric cooker with a ceramic hob.)  I served the Tagine with wedges of butternut squash oven baked with olive oil and a sprinkling of Ras el-Hanout, a spice mixture which is exclusive to North Africa (I mix my own) along with Couscous flavoured with pickled lemon and fresh coriander.  I often add chickpeas to the couscous mixture but these would also be good added to the Tagine at the same time as the orange segments.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Moroccan Style Beef Stew with Beetroot & Orange
(Serves 4-6)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil (original uses ghee)
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 large red onions, halved lengthwide and sliced
1inch/2.5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated (amount can be increased)
½ red chilli, deseeded and chopped
2tsp coriander seeds, crushed
2 cinnamon sticks
3-4 beetroots, peeled & quartered (uncooked)
1lb/500g lean beef, cut into bite sized pieces
2 or 3 thin skinned oranges, segmented
1tbsp dark, runny honey
1-2 tsp orange flower water
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 knob of butter
2-3 tbsp shelled pistachio nuts
a handful of fresh coriander, chopped (original uses flat leaved parsley)

This recipe can be either cooked on the hob, as in the original instruction, or at Step 6 transferred to the oven and baked. 
If using the oven it should be pre-heated to 160oC Fan/170oC/325oF/Gas 3

1.  Melt the oil in a pan (alternatively a Tagine or lidded casserole dish suitable for stove top use) and stir in the garlic, onion and ginger until they start to colour.

2.  Add the chilli, crushed coriander seeds and cinnamon stick.

3.  Add the beetroot pieces and cook gently for 2-3minutes. 

4.  Add the beef and gently cook for 1 minute.

5.   Pour over enough water to almost cover the beetroot and beef.  Bring to the boil. 

6.  Transfer to a Tagine or ovenproof dish with a well fitting lid and place in the oven.   Alternatively leave in the pan, cover and reduce heat.  Cook for 1 hour, until the meat is very tender.

7.  Add the orange pieces, honey and orange flower water and season.  Cook, covered, for a further 10-15 minutes.

8.  Melt the butter in a small pan and lightly brown the pistachio nuts over a medium heat.

9.  Sprinkle them, with the coriander or flat leaved parsley, over the meat mixture and serve.

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