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 glac√© 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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Banana, spelt and oat muffins…

Hello! Yes, I’m back again. I went and ran a marathon in Manchester – 4:28.27, in case you were wondering. It was a bloody hard run and I pretty much loathed miles 16-23, but I’m proud of the fact that I eventually managed to pull myself together and leg it for the last three miles! During my seven-mile pity party the 4:30 pacer overtook me, which led to another round of ‘This is all pointless, I am rubbish, I’ve buggered it all up’ wailing, but with a mile and a half to go to the finish on Sir Matt Busby Way I overtook them again and ended up with mile 26 being the fastest mile of my entire race (a habit that drives my running coach friend absolutely crazy as I do it all the time in training as well. And I do all my training runs at or faster than marathon pace…). Before the marathon, my goals were a) to run faster than I did in London last year (4:32) and b) to come in under four and a half hours. So on paper, I achieved everything I set out to achieve. I just need to come to terms with that and stop thinking that if I’d paced it a bit better and not had a complete meltdown with ten miles to go, I might have come in nearer the 4:20 pace I set out doing.

But enough of that! Muffins. This is the second time I’ve made this recipe, which I originally adapted from this BBC recipe when I was in Somerset over Easter. My mum had some seriously manky bananas in the fruit bowl, so I turned them into muffins. And then this week my housemate also had some blackening bananas, so she told me to feel free to make muffins with them as well!

I wanted my muffins to be a bit healthier than the original recipe, so I added oats, used coconut oil instead of butter, reduced the amount of sugar, and this time I used spelt flour instead of ordinary flour. It worked really well – they’re nutty, not too sweet and nicely oaty. I’m going to give you the full recipe that I used here, because it’s changed so much from the one that inspired me that it’s pretty much a new recipe in its own right!

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Banana, spelt and oat muffins

Makes 10 muffins

 

75g coconut oil

200g spelt flour

75g oats (any oats will do – this time I used M&S five grain and seed porridge which was awesome)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

50g caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 large, ripe bananas

2 medium eggs

125ml milk (I used Koko coconut milk)

 

1. Preheat the oven to 190C.

2. Melt the coconut oil in a small pan and allow to cool slightly. In a medium-sized bowl, mash the bananas well and beat in the eggs, vanilla extract, melted coconut oil and milk.

3. In a separate bowl, add the spelt flour, oats, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, sugar, salt and spices and mix together.

4. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and give it a quick mix until just combined (it’s OK if it’s still a little lumpy).

5. Spoon into a muffin tin lined with paper cases and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

6. Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.

 

Lentil, artichoke, mushroom and asparagus salad…

I am all about the asparagus at the moment. I’m not totally obsessive about where my food comes from, but I do try to avoid buying fruit and veg that has been shipped from far-flung countries – especially when, if you just wait for the right season, the British version is a million times better. That’s not to say I don’t buy foreign raspberries in January, but when it comes to two things – strawberries and asparagus – I really do try to only buy British and only buy in season. Apparently strawberries are a little late this year (but that just means that when they do arrive, in the next week or so, they’ll be super sweet and juicy as they’ve had a longer, slower ripening time) but British asparagus has now appeared in the shops and on the market near where I work. I think there’s something nice about only eating British asparagus – it makes it into a real treat for those few weeks that it’s available.

Anyway, I wanted something healthy involving asparagus, and I also had some portobello mushrooms from last week’s veg box, and so this idea came about. It’s not exactly rocket science, and it’s not really a recipe, but it was delicious (if I do say so myself!)
IMG_20130521_190453Lentil, artichoke, mushroom and asparagus salad

Serves 2

 

3 portobello mushrooms, sliced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tin green lentils, drained

1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1″ pieces

1 tin artichoke hearts, drained and halved

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

 

1. Heat a little oil in a pan and gently fry the mushrooms until they’ve released their juice and soaked it all back up again. Add the garlic and fry for another minute or so (be careful not to burn it).

2. Put the mushrooms in a bowl with the lentils. Add the asparagus to the frying pan with a little water and cook until tender.

3. Add the asparagus, artichoke hearts, lemon juice and seasoning to the bowl and stir to mix everything together.

4. Serve warm, topped with a fried or poached egg.

 

Onion marmalade…

I haven’t posted about Veg Box Day for a while, but I’ve still been getting my Riverford box every two weeks! And I realised the other day that while I’ve been worrying about the Great Potato Mountain and things to do with Jerusalem artichokes, I’ve also been collecting a quite impressive pile of onions. So I had a look through the recipe cards that come with each veg box, and found a simple-looking onion marmalade recipe. It called for 1kg of onions and when I weighed mine they were about 980g, so I thought brilliant, let’s give it a go.

IMG_20130413_163409I can’t actually find the exact recipe on the Riverford website, but here it is with my little tweaks (I added mixed spice and chilli flakes because I didn’t have the suggested thyme)

Onion marmalade

2tbsp olive oil

1kg onions, peeled, halved and finely sliced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 tsp mixed spice

1/4 tsp red chilli flakes

125-150g brown sugar

150-175ml balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper

1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onions and garlic and cook on a medium heat until the onions are starting to soften.

2. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very soft and starting to caramelise (about 45 minutes).

3. Add the mixed spice and chilli.

4. Turn the heat up briefly, add the brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, and bubble for a couple of minutes.

5. Turn the heat back down to low and cook until almost all the liquid is absorbed and the onions have turned into a sticky marmalade. Season with salt and pepper.

6. Pour into sterilised jars (I got one normal-sized jam jar and one slightly smaller one) while hot and screw the lids on tightly. The safety buttons on the jar lids should pop down as the marmalade cools, and then you should be able to keep it for months like any other jam. Otherwise keep it in the fridge – it probably won’t be very long before it all gets eaten, but it should last a good few days!

Of course I had to try a bit, with some oozy Brie and wholemeal soda bread…

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Veg Box Day: 5/2/13

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A little bit of a soggy veg box this time, thanks to the odd bits of sleety rainy rubbish that we keep having! Luckily it wasn’t out in the rain for too long, so everything survived – the potatoes are back, along with carrots, parsnips, onions, broccoli, two long red peppers and a big bag of curly kale.

The kale gave me a chance to try something I’ve been meaning to try for ages – kale chips. They’re one of those trends that seemed to sweep the entire food blogging world a while back, and my last attempt was a bit of a disaster as I forgot they were in the oven and ended up with charred bits of cabbage. Not ideal. But this time I watched them like a hawk and it worked! All you do is wash and dry the kale, strip the curly bits from the tough stems, put them on a baking tray with some foil or non-stick paper, spray them with a bit of oil, and put them in the oven at about 200C until they go all crisp and slightly brown at the edges. The window between ‘crisp and slightly brown’ and ‘charred and bitter’ seems to be about 30 seconds, so watch them!

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I sprinkled mine with some salt and pepper, and they were delicious. They’re really tasty and despite having practically zero substance (and therefore practically zero calories) they really do satisfy that nibbly snacky feeling. If you like roasted broccoli, you should definitely give these a go. A friend of mine sprinkles hers with a tiny bit of sugar and apparently that gives them a takeaway crispy seaweed vibe!

Happy 2013! (And a New Year mushroom and chestnut stew…)

It’s been such a long time since my last post! The run-up to Christmas was a never-ending stream of pub trips and parties (with a bit of running thrown in for good measure) and then I headed down to Somerset for an extra-long Christmas break with my family. We celebrated Finnish Christmas and English Christmas (with a couple of Aussie bits too), and we did plenty of eating, drinking and being merry. I’m now back at work and attempting to get over the culture shock! What do you mean, I’m not allowed to flump on the sofa with the cat and a handful of Ferrero Rocher for a sneaky afternoon snooze?

We also did plenty of excellent cooking over the festive break, and I rounded things off with this excellent (if I do say so myself) mushroom and chestnut stew, which was our New Year’s Eve veggie option. My sister and I bought my mum a slow cooker for Christmas, so she made a (by all accounts delicious) beef in beer using that, and my mushroom and chestnut offering was perfect – hearty, rich and gorgeously tasty. We had both stews with Mum’s amazing dumplings, new potatoes, bread (just to complete the carb-fest!) and broccoli. And plenty of fizz to see in the new year!

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Mushroom and chestnut stew

Serves 4

1 red onion, sliced

1 white onion, sliced

1 punnet chestnut mushrooms, quartered

1 punnet shiitake mushrooms, sliced

1 punnet (usually 3-4 mushrooms) portabello mushrooms, sliced

1 large glass red wine

1 vegetable Knorr Stock Pot

1 pack vacuum-packed chestnuts (or my dad actually found a bag of fresh chestnuts going cheap in the supermarket, so we roasted our own – I probably used 10-12 chestnuts)

A little water

Salt, pepper, sage and thyme to taste

1. Fry the onions in a large ovenproof saucepan with a little olive oil (I used garlic olive oil) on a gentle heat for 10-15 minutes, until they become translucent and just start to go brown at the edges.

2. Add all of the mushrooms and fry until they start to release their juices.

3. Turn up the heat, add the red wine and simmer for a couple of minutes to bubble away the alcohol.

4. Add the Stock Pot jelly thing, chestnuts and a little bit of water to loosen the mixture (remember that the mushrooms will carry on releasing liquid as they cook) and season with the salt, pepper and herbs.

5. Bring to a simmer and then transfer to a low oven (around 150C) and cook for 1-2 hours until bubbling and thick and gorgeous.

Leek and potato soup for a depressing day!

The weather has been AWFUL lately. We’ve escaped any actual flooding here in London, but the rest of the country seems to be largely underwater and there have been all sorts of problems down in the south-west, where my parents live.

Yesterday was actually quite a nice bright day, but today is grey and wet again, so I was very glad that I’d decided to make some leek and potato soup last night. Not only did it use up some of the Great Potato Mountain, but it also used the two leeks that formed the remnants of my last veg box (very excited about tomorrow’s box, by the way – brussels sprouts!)

I based it on the recipe from my good old copy of the Dairy Book of Home Cookery, which coincidentally called for two leeks and 350g of potatoes. It’s actually a recipe for Vichyssoise (with an instruction afterwards saying that you can also serve it hot as leek and potato soup, because obviously Vichyssoise would be one’s first thought…) but it’s as easy as any other soup recipe – I just cooked the leeks with a little bit of oil, added some garlic and nutmeg and black pepper, threw in the diced potatoes with a pint of veg stock, and simmered it for half an hour until the potatoes were really nice and soft. Then I put in half a cup of almond milk and blended it all to a nice smooth soup.

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I got exactly enough for three 300ml portions, and it was the perfect comfort food for a wet Monday lunchtime!

Enchiladas! Finally!

I mentioned the other day that I’d been meaning to make these butternut squash enchiladas for about 10 days…and last night I finally managed to make them!

The original recipe called for quite a lot of cheese, and browned butter, but I wanted to make it healthier so I left out the cheese and butter, used unsweetened almond milk for the sauce, and instead of tortillas I used Mountain Bread corn wraps (which I get from my local organic supermarket). I also halved the recipe – although I ended up getting a bit overenthusiastic with my squash chopping, so I had some of the filling left over which I’m going to have with pasta for tomorrow’s supper. And I got some lovely black kale in my veg box this week (no Veg Box Day post, though, I’m afraid – I got home late on Tuesday night after a book launch party and just chucked everything in the fridge!) so I put some of that into the filling as well.

It wasn’t the most attractive of things to photograph…

…but it tasted really good!

On another note, the Christmas lights are up in Ealing. I checked back through last year’s posts, and they’ve been switched on a whole 10 days earlier this year! I suppose it’s definitely beginning to look a little bit like Christmas…

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!

Veg Box Day: 21/08/12

I had an amazing weekend – a wedding on Saturday, a country show featuring cider, ice cream, big pigs and The Wurzels on Sunday, and as I’d also taken Monday off work we headed down to gloriously sunny Lyme Regis for lunch and more ice cream.

But more of that later! Yesterday was veg box day, and here’s what I got…

…salad leaves, spring onions, portobello mushrooms, charlotte potatoes, cherry tomatoes, carrots and the biggest pointed cabbage I’ve ever seen!

I also finally got round to buying myself a salad spinner – all the things like salad leaves, spinach, rocket and watercress that come in the veg box need washing, and until now I’ve been washing them in the sink and then using industrial-sized volumes of kitchen roll to attempt to dry them. But now I have this!

Of course I had to get an expensive one (well, it was more than the flimsy ¬£5.99 ones in the cheapo kitchen shop, anyway) because I only wanted a small one. This one fits in the fridge (if you store your salad in the spinner it keeps longer, apparently) and it’s solid and the plunger on top locks flat onto the lid so it’s really easy to store (very important in my tiny kitchen).

So supper last night was a salady affair – some of my freshly washed leaves with grated carrot, toasted pine nuts, new potatoes, a hard-boiled egg and a dressing made from tahini, lemon juice and a bit of water. I’ll have to think of something to do with that cabbage now!