Zucchini cake…

It seems like every time I start a new blog post, I have to say ‘Hello! Yes, I’m back! I know I haven’t posted for ages!’ I seriously doubt whether anyone is actually reading my blog anymore, but never mind!

I hope you’ve had a lovely summer. I have – we actually had some decent weather in June and July, I went on a lovely family holiday, I managed to run a half-marathon around Wimbledon Common (yes, we did get Womble medals at the end) despite it featuring all my running pet hates – laps, hills and warm weather – and my mum and I made lots of jam. Cherry (using cherries from the farm near my parents’ house) and spiced plum (using last year’s plums from the freezer). If I can get my act together, blog posts about those will appear at some point!

Anyway, here we are in September, and although the weather is nice today, the nights are starting to draw in (my running club has switched to its winter routes as it’s too dark for us to run around the parks now) and the autumn veg are making an appearance. A friend gave me a giant courgette the other day, and there was only one thing for it – I had to make my mum’s zucchini cake. A quick search of this blog revealed that I haven’t actually ever posted the recipe, and that is a serious oversight as it’s one of my family’s classic favourites. We lived in America for four years when I was small (which is why we call it ‘zucchini cake’ rather than ‘courgette cake’) and my mum picked the recipe up from a friend, and it became a regular feature of my childhood. It’s quite a plain, unassuming cake – the sort of thing you’d make so you have something in the cake tin for the weekend, rather than for a celebration – but it’s seriously yummy. Lightly spiced with cinnamon, lovely and moist, and perfect eaten just as it is with a cup of tea or coffee, or warmed and served with vanilla ice cream for a Sunday pudding treat.

If you’re turning up your nose in horror at the idea of putting courgettes in a cake, just think of carrot cake – that’s perfectly fine and delicious, isn’t it, and trust me when I say that zucchini cake is just as good. The white part of the courgette almost melts into the cake and adds to the lovely light texture, so you’re left with tiny dark green flecks of courgette running through each slice. We don’t put icing on ours, but it would be lovely with a lemon glacé icing or a vanilla buttercream. This recipe makes two cakes and works equally well with loaf tins or round 8″ tins – make sure your tin is nice and deep, though. It also freezes really well. You could even make two shallower 8″ cakes and sandwich them together with buttercream! The measurements are in cups, I’m afraid, but it’s very easy to get cup measurements from kitchenware shops these days and they are very useful for American recipes.

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Zucchini Cake

Makes two 8″ cakes or two loaf cakes

3 eggs
1 cup sunflower oil
2 cups sugar
2 cups grated courgette (zucchini)
3 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking powder

Beat the eggs in a very large bowl. Add the oil, sugar, courgette and vanilla and mix well. Add the flour and other dry ingredients, mix well until fully combined.

Fill your greased and lined cake/loaf tins half full and bake at 190C/375F for 50-60 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

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Carrot cake…

My first post on the new-look blog! Hope everyone has found me without too many problems…does anyone know how to display one’s followers on WordPress? I think I’ve got a lot to learn!

Anyway, here’s a post about carrot cake. Along with the never-ending Potato Mountain, my veg box often leaves me with rather a lot of carrots. For some reason I can never think of things to do with carrots! But on Saturday I was going to a party and I fancied doing a bit of baking, so I decided to make a carrot cake. I actually used my mum’s zucchini cake recipe (courgette cake to us Brits, but we call it zucchini cake because the recipe’s American) and it worked really well. I wanted to halve it, because the original amounts make two cakes, and as the recipe calls for three eggs I decided to use a mashed ripe banana as well as an egg, and I reduced the amount of oil.

Here’s the recipe itself…

Carrot cake

1 large egg
1 medium-sized really ripe banana
1/4 cup sunflower oil
1/2 cup light muscovado sugar
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 cup grated carrot
Large handful chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups plain flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
1/8 tsp baking powder

Mash the banana in a bowl, add the egg and beat together. Add the oil, sugar, carrot and walnuts and mix well.

Add the dry ingredients, mix well, pour into a lined cake tin (I used one that I think is 8″…), sprinkle with sugar and bake at 190C for about 50 minutes.

And here’s what it looked like shortly before it was demolished by a horde of hungry runners!

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Fireworks!

Bonfire Night isn’t until tomorrow, but this weekend has been full of organised fireworks displays all over the place. I’m lucky enough to have a particularly fantastic one right on my doorstep at my local cricket club – people come from miles around and there’s a huge crowd, mulled wine, an enormous bonfire and a brilliant half-hour fireworks extravaganza. Apart from one shower, the weather was crisp and cold and perfect for fireworks!

I went with a gang of running club people, and of course rather than attempt to cram ourselves into one of the local pubs afterwards, we sent a couple of the boys down to the corner shop and crammed ourselves into my flat instead for dodgy wine (apparently the only white on offer was Black Tower…!) and a ton of crisps and pizza. Thankfully I’d done my 12-mile run in the morning!

I also went to the V&A’s Hollywood Costume exhibition yesterday, which was fab. I really don’t know a lot about films (it’s always best to assume I haven’t seen things, because I probably haven’t…) but even I could recognise the iconic costumes from films through the ages. My favourites were a perfectly 60s green skirt and jumper combo from Mildred Pierce, and a navy sparkly number from Chicago. And of course there were Dorothy’s iconic ruby red slippers – although they’re more than a little shabby and faded these days! I’d definitely recommend going if you can get a ticket!

 And finally, this week I discovered this…

Ooh yeah. Can’t wait to make a butternut squash risotto and stir a bit of that in! In other news, I’ve started my Christmas shopping…

Veg Box Day: 30/10/12

No drama this week! My veg box arrived on time and with everything where it should be. Plus it was cheap as chips, thanks to the lovely people at Riverford putting a £5 credit on my account to make up for the mix-up with the last box!

So my box contained a butternut squash, some carrots, a few onions, a bag of potatoes, broccoli, a Savoy cabbage and some cherry tomatoes. All good stuff, although I am getting a little tired of small potatoes – I want to make mash and jacket potatoes, and small ones are no good for that!

Anyway, I had an evening in last night so I decided to do some cooking. I still had carrots, potatoes and a sorry-looking red pepper left over from my last veg box, so I made carrot and coriander soup and a roasted tomato and pepper pasta sauce. For the soup I fried an onion with garlic, ground coriander, cumin and turmeric before adding the carrots, some chopped potatoes and some veg stock and simmering it until the veg was all nice and soft. I then used my stick blender to whizz it into a smooth soup – although I did manage to splatter myself and the kitchen in the process! The sauce was even easier – I just whacked the tomatoes and chopped-up pepper into the oven with a couple of cloves of garlic, a spritz of olive oil and some black pepper, and then when it was roasted I whizzed that up as well. It smells delicious and I can’t wait to eat it!

In other news, I spotted some festive lights last night! Usually I’d moan about it being too early, but since the clocks went back at the weekend I still haven’t got used to these dark evenings, and with the weather being so chilly it’s nice to have a bit of sparkle around!

Somerset apple cake…

As promised, here’s the apple cake recipe! It’s been a family favourite for many years – I have no idea where the original recipe came from, but it’s written on the inside cover of my mum’s Dairy Book of Home Cookery from the late 70s, so it’s been around in my family for as long as I can remember!

It’s a really easy recipe – you just rub butter and flour together and then chuck in all the other ingredients, and it’s so packed full of apples that you end up with chunks of apple lightly bound in spiced cake mix rather than a traditional cake batter! Which can surely only be a good thing. I also love it because it doesn’t involve sultanas (why do so many apple recipes insist on including the horrible little things?) but if you don’t have a sultana aversion, feel free to chuck a few of those in as well.

Somerset apple cake

4oz butter or margarine (we use Stork for cakes)
8oz self-raising flour
4oz sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon mixed spice
8oz peeled and diced cooking apples (3-4 medium/large apples)
A little milk

Rub the butter and flour together, then add the sugar, spice, egg and apples and stir until well mixed. Add sufficient milk to make a sticky consistency.

Grease and flour a 7–8” cake tin, spoon in the mixture and bake at 180C for about an hour in the centre of the oven or until firm and golden. You can test with a skewer but you might need to give it a few pokes because you’ll often find some apple on it rather than uncooked cake!

Autumn jam-making adventures…

As I mentioned, some of the rhubarb from my parents’ garden found its way into a crumble, and some was destined for jam. A few months ago my mum was given a jar of homemade rhubarb and ginger jam by a neighbour, and it was so good that she had to find out how to make it. A quick Google came up with this ridiculously easy BBC Good Food recipe – you just chop up the rhubarb and stem ginger and put it in a big bowl with the jam sugar, lemon zest and juice and grated fresh ginger, and then once the rhubarb has released all of its lovely juice and the sugar has dissolved a bit (we left ours overnight) you just boil it all up until it reaches setting point. Easy! And absolutely gorgeous.

 

Then we used more of our home-grown apples to make our favourite autumnal jam – caramel apple. This is the third year we’ve made it and it’s always good (you can see the 2010 and 2011 batches here and here!) and again it’s a really easy one to make. Apples, two types of sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg, and boil boil boil. The original recipe calls for pectin but we never bother with that – we just boil it up until it reaches setting point, as apples have plenty of pectin in them.

Two lovely jam recipes to see us into Autumn…and the weather definitely seems to have turned autumnal as well!

Apple and rhubarb crumble…

We really are coming into apple season now and as there’s a nice cooking apple tree in my parents’ garden, we made good use of the apples while I was at home! There was also still a pretty big patch of rhubarb left, so we turned some into jam (but that’s for another post) and made some into crumble.

I just used a classic crumble recipe – I chopped up the apple and rhubarb (three or four decent stems of rhubarb and a couple of big cooking apples) and layered it in a baking dish with some sugar and a couple of lumps of chopped stem ginger, and then the crumble was 8oz of flour and 4oz of butter, which I rubbed together before adding 4oz of sugar. I also threw in a large handful of oats and a couple of tablespoons of chopped nuts, and then the whole thing went in the oven at 180C for about 45 or so minutes, until the top was golden brown and the fruit was just starting to bubble up at the sides. We had it with custard but it’d be equally nice with some vanilla ice cream. Or with custard and ice cream!

Maple cake…

I’ve been down in Somerset for the last week, and you know what that means – lots of baking! It’s so nice to have people to bake for, and there’s a bit of a tradition in my family of making sure there’s always cake available when people come to visit.

I’d already decided what to bake first – I’d stumbled upon the Baker’s Daughter blog (which sadly doesn’t seem to have been updated for a while, but there are some amazing recipes on there) via Pinterest, and as soon as I saw the Maple Cake recipe I knew it was one to try. Having spent four years in New England as a child, I developed a serious love of maple syrup, and it’s a love my mum also shares, so I had to make this gorgeous cake for her.

The original recipe calls for one 9″ tin, but we decided to bake it in two 8″ sandwich tins and use the lovely maple icing to fill and top the cake. It worked really well and the sponge is beautifully light and delicate. It doesn’t keep quite as well as an ordinary Victoria sponge, but the buttercream keeps the cake moist and it’s so delicious it won’t last long anyway – we devoured most of it in one sitting (although there were five of us…!)

I think it would make the perfect cake for an autumn birthday, too…hmm, wonder who’s got a birthday coming up in the next few weeks…!

Apple and coconut cookies, mushrooms, and That Syed Off Eastenders…

We’re coming up to late November (only a month until Christmas, people!) and although the weather is still unseasonably warm, I want to cook warming, autumnal things. And I want to get cracking with my Christmas baking – every year, I make some sort of sweet treat for my friends, and of course I have to do a bit of recipe testing first. Of course.

These apple, coconut and cinnamon cookies, while delicious, didn’t quite fit the Christmas brief, which is why I’m sharing them with you now.

I made them on Sunday and took them to work – I was a bit worried that my colleagues wouldn’t like them because of the texture, which is very soft and moist and quite far away from what you’d traditionally describe as a ‘cookie’, but they seemed to go down really well. They’re too moist for Christmas presents, as the icing melted very quickly into the cookies, and I think they’re a little ‘healthy’ for Christmas presents, but it was a good experiment! They’re completely gluten- and dairy-free, which is always good to know.

Then this evening, I tried out another recipe – this time, it wasn’t anything to do with Christmas, but it was gorgeous! I made a mushroom and pearl barley stew based on this recipe – I wanted to make it veggie but didn’t want it to taste of vegetable stock cubes (I always have that problem…) so once I’d fried the mushrooms with the onion for a bit and they’d started to release their mushroomy juices, I added a good splash of Lea & Perrins and a splash of balsamic vinegar. I also added less water – about three cups – because I wanted it to be even more stew-like than Alisa’s version. It was seriously yummy, and ridiculously healthy!

And, just to add a touch of the bizarre, as I was walking through the shopping centre earlier I discovered that Syed Off Eastenders – aka Marc Elliot – was switching on the Christmas lights. So I took a photo.

Weekend away 4 of 4!

Yep, for my fourth weekend away in a row I headed down to Somerset to spend a long weekend at my parents’ new house. It was the first time I’d seen the place – apart from the photos on Rightmove – and I was really excited! And it’s absolutely gorgeous. Mum and Dad have only been there just over a week, but already (thanks to all the hard work they and my sister have put in) the house feels incredibly cosy and homely. There are a few cosmetic things to sort out (my bedroom has the most delightful ’90s yellow and terracotta colour scheme, with a tasteful zig-zag patterned decorative border and curtains and lampshades to match…) but it’s a lovely, lovely house.

The cats came home on Friday too, after a short stay in the cattery, and they made themselves at home fairly quickly (although to start with they did retreat to the cupboard under the stairs!)

(Note the lovely carpet there…)

And we even managed some baking – there are loads of apples still clinging on to the tree, so we made a Suze-friendly apple crumble with a seriously delicious topping. We made it up as we went along, but we basically rubbed some ground almonds into some Pure dairy-free margarine, then added oats, brown sugar and flaked almonds. It all went on top of some chopped and peeled apples, which had a sprinkle of vanilla sugar and some mixed spice. Here it is pre-oven (we ate it too quickly to take a photo of it when it was cooked!)

It was a lovely weekend, and I can’t wait to see how the house has changed next time I go back (which won’t be until Christmas – I bet it’ll come around ridiculously quickly, though!) While I was there, I also painted a new sign for the house, as Mum and Dad have changed its name. I was quite pleased with how it turned out – just look at the lovely little cottagey front door!