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 glacĂ© 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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Pullat, not pancakes…

ImageI know. I KNOW. It’s been nearly ten months since I last blogged. What can I say? Life sort of got in the way for a bit, with a new house, new job, holidays and all sorts of other bits and pieces. But here I am, back again, and I’m going to attempt to stick around!

It being Shrove Tuesday today, it’d be traditional to make pancakes. But a couple of friends of mine had a pancake party, so I’m a bit pancaked out (I didn’t believe that was possible, but there you go!) Then a post from Scandi Home popped up on my blog reader, and I decided to have a go at the laskiaispullat – Finnish Shrove Tuesday buns – mentioned in the post. My sister (who’s still living in Finland) was very impressed when I told her I was making them!

The recipe is really easy, using baking powder as a straightforward raising agent rather than fiddling about with yeast, and they’re packed with cardamom which is a really traditional Finnish flavour. I made mine in a silicone muffin tin and got six buns out of the batter. They puffed up like muffins, and they have a muffin-like texture too. I had mine with some caramel apple jam – although I think they’re usually served with jam or marzipan and whipped cream.

ImageThey were absolutely delicious – and yes, that is a Moomin mug with coffee in the background! You can’t get more Nordic than that.

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.

 

Veg Box Day: 30/04/13

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Hoorah for Veg Box Day! And for the first purple sprouting broccoli of the year! I’m very excited (yes, I know, sad or what!)

As well as my PSB I got courgettes, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, spring carrots with their tops and cherry tomatoes. I’m not sure when I’ll have time to actually cook with any of it as I’m moving house in the next few days, but I’m sure I’ll find something to do with it all!

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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Hazelnut meringue cake…

I promised I’d be back with the recipe for the amazing hazelnut meringue cake that we had over Easter, and here I am!

IMG_20130331_154133Apparently Mum used to make them all the time when I was little, but then I think they fell out of fashion and everyone thought they were a bit naff. But I think it’s definitely time for a 70s revival!

Apologies for the link to the Daily Mail – my mum didn’t get the recipe from the Mail but it’s identical to the recipe we used and I can’t find it anywhere else on the net! So here it is. We didn’t bother roasting and chopping the hazelnuts, we just bought bags of roasted and chopped nuts instead. And we added our own little tweaks – we put some Frangelico liqueur in with the whipped cream, and we drizzled some gorgeous Dulce de Leche over the top.

It was SERIOUSLY GOOD. Just look at it.

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It’s been a long time…!

Over a month since my last post. Whoops!

Good old marathon training has truly taken over my life in the last few weeks. 20-mile runs, interval sessions, 10 miles every Wednesday…it doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else! Add to that the fact that I’ve had the dreaded IT band issues (a phrase to strike fear into the heart of any runner and something that affects lots of people when they start marathon training) and I really have been eating, sleeping and breathing running. Thankfully my running club is sponsored by an excellent physio clinic, and they’ve certainly been doing well out of us recently – just about all of my training buddies have suffered some sort of injury or niggle! I’ve been having weekly physio appointments since my leg started hurting (and after a truly terrifying experience when what was meant to be a 22-mile run ended up with me stopping after 8 miles with stabbing pains in my knee…) and I’ve noticed a massive difference. My legs are stronger and I’m pretty much pain-free (apart from the obvious post-run aches!)

Before Easter training really ramped up an extra notch as I did 20 miles on the Sunday, 10 on the Wednesday and then 22.5 on Good Friday. Ouch! Last Friday saw me complete my last long run before the big day – a nice 16 miles along the river to Chiswick – and now I’m doing what’s called ‘tapering’, where you reduce your mileage in order to conserve energy for the marathon. I am having the classic ‘But surely I’m not running far enough? What if I suddenly lose all my fitness and forget how to run 20 miles?’ freakout, but I’m assured that’s perfectly normal, as is worrying about every single twinge and ache! But we’re less than two weeks away from the big day, and I’ve followed my training plan and worked my way up to some serious distances, and I’ve got three 20+ runs under my belt, so now I just have to trust that everything will be OK!

I will leave you with a photo of the amazing hazelnut meringue cake that my mum made for Easter Sunday lunch – and I’ll be back with the recipe!

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Veg Box Day: 05/03/13

IMG_20130305_204527Another green veg box! And another box with no potatoes, hoorah! I am saved from the Great Potato Mountain (for the time being…)

This week’s box has portobello mushrooms, red kale, courgettes, leeks, broccoli and carrots – all brilliant. And a swede. Not so brilliant, as I still haven’t used the one from my last box! So it’s the Great Swede Mountain instead of the Great Potato Mountain. Riverford do have a nice-looking recipe for Indian spiced swede on their website, though, so I might have to have a go at that!

Cupcakes and a hedgehog…

I have a friend who is expecting a baby, and she had a baby shower at the weekend. Naturally I decided to bake cakes for this occasion! But these were no ordinary cakes. Said friend had been given a lovely collection of old recipes from Persephone Books for Christmas, and we both fell about laughing when we found the recipe for ‘A Hedgehog Tipsy Cake’, which had been submitted by a Mrs Gladys Langley from Acton in 1931. You probably had to be there, but it was hilarious at the time and we decided I had to have a go at baking it for the party.

Apparently the recipe itself is from the 18th century, and the description was hilarious – being a ‘tipsy’ cake, it’s soaked liberally in wine, and Gladys makes frequent mention of the need to soak the cake in wine, ‘through and through’, and of the fact that wine is really extremely good for soaking the cake with. We can assume Gladys enjoyed the odd tipple, then.

IMG_20130227_121102So first you bake a madeira cake, which I did several days in advance using the recipe from my trusty Dairy Book of Home Cookery, and then the day before the party I duly cut it into a vague hedgehog shape and took a piece out of the back before soaking the cake in wine (actually I made a sort of syrup out of white wine and elderflower cordial, as I got the feeling Gladys would have used a sweet wine, and that worked very well).

IMG_20130222_174723Then on the day of the party I brushed the cake with melted jam, covered it in cocoa powder and added toasted flaked almonds (Gladys suggests blanching, cutting and toasting your own almonds but this is the 21st century and Tesco now does that for you) to make it hedgehogy…

IMG_20130223_151418…and then finally I made what is referred to in the recipe as a ‘solid sillabub’ by whisking lemon juice, sugar and double cream together. I put blueberries from a jar of blueberry jam onto the eyes (the recipe says to use raisins, but I wasn’t going to buy a load of raisins just to use two) and piled the cream around the cake before adding a spoonful of jam just in front of the hedgehog, as instructed by the recipe, ‘to look as if he is eating it’. It looks a bit more like he has been run over, or like he’s just been horrifically ill, but here we are, the finished Hedgehog Tipsy Cake!

IMG_20130224_115524Surprisingly enough, the other party guests were slightly perplexed, but it ended up tasting OK (the cream was particularly nice) and I think everyone got the idea once we’d explained!

To make up for this bizarre baking adventure I also brought a batch of chocolate brownies, and some cupcakes. There was a bit of a story to those, as well – my friend has decided not to find out the sex of her baby, and when she had her 20-week scan we joked that the only disappointing thing about that was the fact that she wouldn’t be able to have an American-style ‘gender reveal’ party. This was something I’d never heard of until I started using Pinterest and saw people posting photos of gender reveal cakes – apparently it’s a thing to ask the ultrasound person at your scan to write down the sex of the baby and seal it in an envelope, and then you take this to a baker who makes you a cake, or cupcakes, with a secret pink or blue middle. Then you have a party and cut the cake, or hand out the cupcakes, and that’s how you find out what you’re having. Bizarre. Anyway, I decided to make cupcakes with secret blue AND pink middles, just for the heck of it.

I used my mum’s tried and tested sponge recipe – you weigh three eggs in their shells, and then whatever the weight (mine were 225g) you use the same weight of butter, sugar and flour. Cream together the butter and sugar, add the eggs one at a time with a little bit of flour, add the rest of the flour, stir in a little bit of vanilla extract and there you go. Bake in the oven at 180C for about 20-25 minutes for cupcakes, or longer for a sponge (until it’s golden brown on top and risen and a skewer comes out clean). For cupcakes I like to add a splash of milk for a slightly more runny batter (it should just drop off the spoon) and it always makes lovely light cakes. I got exactly 12 from my mix.

IMG_20130223_161509I then made some buttercream and coloured a quarter of it pink and a quarter blue, and then I cut little cones out of the middle of the cupcakes, chopped most of the cut-out cake bit off to leave a lid, and filled half the cakes with pink and half the cakes with blue buttercream. Annoyingly my buttercream went a bit runny, but it was fine once it was in the cakes! I then put the lids back on the holes and decided to make the rest of the buttercream chocolate (mainly because I needed to rescue the runny situation and had run out of icing sugar, so I used cocoa powder!)

IMG_20130223_175222Yum yum. Annoyingly I forgot to take a picture of the inside of the cakes, but they went down very well!

Veg Box Day: 19/02/13

The veg box is starting to get a little greener…!

IMG_20130220_095525Apologies for the dark photo but in there we have watercress, chard, potatoes, onions, carrots, a swede and some portobello mushrooms. I think watercress pesto (I’m going to try freezing it) and onion soup might feature over the coming days…I’ve got a ton of onions to use up!

I didn’t have time to make anything with my veg last night, because I was out having a sports massage (ow) and then at a talk by the hilarious former 10,000m world record holder Dave Bedford, but on Monday night I made a restorative supper after my weekend away running the Brighton Half Marathon. If I was putting it on a gastropub menu (with all the necessary capitalisation) I’d call it ‘Pan-fried Smoked Cheddar Polenta with a Mushroom and Roasted Pepper Ragu’. It was totally inspired by Hugh F-W – I’d watched River Cottage Veg that afternoon as part of my day off loafing around and the chefs in the Canteen had made polenta with tomato sauce. I realised I had all the ingredients for something similar, so off I went! And it was very nice indeed. To make the polenta I boiled a cup of water with a bit of veg stock and then whisked in half a cup of polenta, and kept whisking until it was all thick and smooth. Then I stirred in some salt and pepper and a little bit of smoked Cheddar (I have some in the freezer from Christmas!) and spread the mixture out in a little dish to cool. While it was in the fridge, I roasted a red pepper (from my last veg box) and then chopped that up and cooked it with onions, mushrooms and a little tin of chopped tomatoes. Then I cut the polenta into strips and cooked them in a dry non-stick pan until they were nicely toasted.

IMG_20130218_211159The half marathon weekend was fab, too – I stayed in a huge house with about 25 other Ealing Eagles, and we all had a great time! We had chips on the beach for lunch and a carb-loading chilli party on the Saturday night, and everyone did amazingly well in the race itself. Almost everyone got a PB! I managed 2:01.03, which is not a PB and not quite what I was aiming for (which was sub-2 hours) but I’m OK with it – it’s not bad for a training run and it’s given me some valuable race lessons (namely do not persist in keeping up with the 2:00 pacer if your watch is telling you he’s doing 8:30/mile…). We all headed out for a brilliant afternoon/evening of well-deserved eating and drinking, followed by a fry-up the next morning to fortify us for the trip back to London. Here’s just a few of the 40 Eagles that took part!

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