Blackberry & Apple Loaf Cake

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Autumn is here. I tend to forget how quickly summer can end, how the chill in the air appears overnight and the nights start to draw in. The weather is wetter this year, but the same change comes, the trees are turning shades of orange and gold, which spells time for a slightly heartier cake that warms you on cooler days.

IMG_5185tThis is that cake. A wonderful nutty cake with warm fruit and a crumble topping. It’s basically two puddings combined into a joyous concoction that will warm your soul. There had to be some self-control to stop us demolishing the entire thing in an afternoon. IMG_5192t
I’ve rarely used hazelnuts in a cake before, almonds are usually the recommended nut of choice. After this, I will be making more cakes with hazelnuts in because, seriously, wow! Forget hazelnuts and chocolate in your cake, hazelnuts with fruit is where it’s at. This is destined to become a staple cake, one that I make again and again throughout the autumn and winter.  Continue reading

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Upside-down blueberry and elderflower cake

It was a rainy evening. Somehow British summers always end up a little disappointing in this respect. A couple of weeks of blazing sunshine, followed by constant, unfailing miserable weather that makes it feel more like October than July (I say this like it’s a bad thing, but I’m already looking forward to autumn). I’d been super ill that week, and felt exhausted. I’d eaten like crap and slept badly, and sometimes you just need to clear your mind, bake, and then sit and eat some damn good cake.

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I proceeded to make the following cake three times in the space of about two weeks. This is no bad thing, although I think the first cake tasted the best and the second looked the neatest (I will add here that I didn’t eat all three by myself – however bad things get I think I’ve yet to eat an entire cake to myself).

This is one of those cakes that makes you feel comforted as soon as you start eating. It’s a cake to be eaten with coffee or after a good meal, or sometimes as breakfast, because it does have fruit in it and that’s definitely okay. The recipe originally comes from Scandilicious by Signe Johansen, however I have revised it slightly with each bake. I have yet to be adventurous enough to try it with a different fruit (although the first version I made was blueberry & raspberry), but there’s time for that. I’m pretty sure it’d be great with blackberries, and after all, tis the season etc etc.

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Upside-down blueberry and elderflower cake (from Scandilicious by Signe Johansen)

300g blueberries (or other soft fruit)
50ml elderflower cordial
4 eggs
250g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
125g plain flour
125g ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
125g butter, melted
125g Greek yoghurt
  1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3-4, and grease a 23cm springform tin. Wrap the outside of the tin in a layer of foil to create a seal to stop fruit juice leaking out.
  2. Spread the blueberries evenly over the base of the tin, drizzle with the elderflower and leave to macerate.
  3. Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla with a mixer/hand whisk for 5-8 mins until pale and fluffy. When you remove the whisk, the trail of mixture it leaves on the surface should remain visible for 2-3 seconds.
  4. Combine the flour, almonds, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Mix the melted butter and yoghurt together. Gradually mix the melted butter/yoghurt and dry ingredients into the beaten egg mixture, alternating between wet and dry ingredients until combined.
  5. Pour the batter over the blueberries and bake until the top looks golden and feels springy and firm to the touch. This seems to be anywhere between 40-60 minutes, depending on your oven. Pierce with a skewer to check it’s cooked through.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for as long as humanly possible before releasing the springform and flipping the cake upside down onto a plate (original recipe says leave for 15 minutes – this was not long enough to stop my first cake breaking in half)

Sugar Free Banana Bread

This is an unusual one for me. I am all about sugar. I mean, I eat a lot of vegetables too, but when it comes to cake, I am a purist – it’s got to be full of butter and sugar. That’s what cake is about, right?

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A few weeks ago one of my colleagues went on a sugar free diet, and a couple of the others were just generally trying to ‘eat better’…I think we’re always striving for this in my office, but there’s a pretty consistent balance between the amount of cake and the amount of fruit consumed – recently there has been a pretty steady stream of Creme Eggs being consumed. But, I digress! To my colleague, sugar free meant no cake, so I decided to look into making sugar free cake (because an office without sugar is no fun).

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And behold! I found a recipe that I like. This is pretty straightforward, and I’ve played around with it a bit – most recently I have added chocolate to it, because that still counts as low sugar, right? But what I’ve found is that in banana cake you don’t really need sugar. Granted, it makes it look a bit more appetising (for whatever reason this cake has come out a slightly grey shade of brown every time I’ve made it), but it tastes just as good because bananas are super sugary, especially if you leave them until they’re really brown. I’m not going to start advocating a sugar-free lifestyle, but, this banana bread is pretty good if you want to try it.

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Quinoa and Pepper Salad

img_4599tThis has become one of my staple lunch options. It’s straightforward and fairly quick to make, and you can switch the different items based on what you’ve got around. This recipe is based on Anna Jones’ ‘At Your Desk Salads’ (from A Modern Way to Cook) – which is an excellent chart of ingredients in six different categories that you can mix and match to create a salad. So the base of this is quinoa, with pepper, spring greens, cornichons, pumpkin seeds and a pesto dressing. I won’t list all of the various options here, but another variation I’ve done recently is brown rice with carrot, lettuce, sesame seeds, capers and a soy sauce/maple syrup dressing.

A Modern Way to Cook has rapidly become one of my favourite cookbooks. In the past I have bought recipe books and cooked one or two things out of them, and then they just sit on the shelf, very occasionally used. So for a while I have refused myself cookbook purchases because it’s not worth paying about £25 for a couple of recipes. This time though, I found the book in the library, and I took it for a test run before investing. For the longest time I didn’t even realise my library had cookbooks, and now I know I think I will always borrow before buying. We cooked out of A Modern Way to Cook pretty much solidly for a week, and I realised that it was going to be a worthwhile investment, because there’s so many new, different (and quick!) recipes to try. Not eating meat has meant I’ve had to invest a fair amount of time into looking at what else I can eat that is good for me, balanced and healthy, and this book is possibly one of the best I’ve come across (also Ottolenghi’s Plenty, which will be discussed at a later date).

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On Trying, part II

For the last few years I have made January a full-vegetarian month. This year is no different, and it’s usually about this time that I write something about it. Last year I wrote about how much I hate labelling myself as something based on the food that I choose to eat. And now I feel that enough time has been dedicated to wondering if I’m making good food choices (although, realistically, I will continue to think about it frequently) – I’m going to widen my view a little.

Not eating meat is one of the most straightforward ways of cutting your carbon footprint. But what about the other stuff? Waste is a huge problem, but much more challenging to tackle because it’s pervasive – most things are packaged in non-recyclable plastic, things are single-use, disposable, made for ultimate convenience. Whilst I think we’re pretty good at recycling and reducing waste in our house, I know there are ways we can do better. So this is what I’m going to be looking at this year. By no means am I going to end up with a ‘zero waste’ lifestyle – I know others advocate this, but for me, in the same way that I don’t think I’m capable of being vegan, I don’t think I’m capable of living zero waste. So instead, I am going to start where I am and look for the changes that can be made. Finding sustainable alternatives to the least sustainable products that I use, finding better companies to purchase from who align more happily with my values. I’m hoping that small steps like this will make for more lasting change. I’ll still be writing about baking, but I’ll be writing about this too.

On Trying

Last January I made a sort of vague commitment to reducing my meat consumption. I didn’t even dare use the word ‘vegetarian’, because, in my own words “I like bacon too much”. The last eighteen months or so have been a process of trying, and admittedly, occasionally failing, to cut meat out of my diet. It’s still a process. In the last month I have eaten chicken and burgers and sausages and bacon and even perhaps some beef. After a few weeks of eating meat a couple of times a week, I kind of start to forget why I wanted to do this in the first place. Then various reminders start popping up, like this excellent video, or writing my dissertation on why conserving the planet is impossible whilst we continue with vast and rapid economic development. Oh, and this highly comedic campaign to help California deal with its drought.

It’s not easy. Some people probably find it a relatively simple transition, perhaps they have stronger ethics than I do, or more of an abhorrence towards meat and the horrible industry it represents. I think there will always be days when I hate having to choose boring cheese ploughman’s sandwiches over chicken caesar salad, when I wake up and want a massive fried breakfast with bacon. But I suppose that is why I keep trying. At the end of the day, I feel relatively powerless to make any change that will positively impact the future of the planet. Giving up an environmentally damaging practice like consuming meat is one of the few choices I can make which will make a difference. It has other benefits too, like learning how to make delicious vegetarian food, and not gaining weight (even when spending significant amounts of time sitting at a desk doing research).

So here’s to a renewed commitment to trying. Maybe one day I’ll be able to call myself a real vegetarian. For now, I’m going to go eat my courgette fritters for dinner.

(full service will resume in about 5 weeks when I’ve finished my dissertation)

Carrot, Cumin and Kidney Bean Burgers

Carrot, Cumin and Kidney Bean Burgers

Gratitude for this meal idea goes to Laura, who I am sharing my quest for better cooking for one with.

After a previous bad experience making vegetarian burgers that contained kidney beans, I wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of these burgers. The gross burgers I made a year or so ago were dry and unpleasant, and so I was like “will this be more of the same?” NO. No it won’t. These burgers are excellent, cheap and straightforward to make. From Laura’s suggestions I made some additions to the original recipe, such as increasing spice and eating with halloumi. I also added some garlic, because if there’s one thing that Nigel Slater has taught me, it is that anything is greatly improved by the addition of garlic.

I think if you leave the mixture in the fridge for a bit you could probably put these on the barbecue. This I am keen to try because one of the few things I am not sold on for being fully vegetarian is not being able to have proper barbecues. I mean, there’s nothing like a beef burger or a sausage that tastes of delicious charcoally grill, right? So I’m hoping that these burgers might make a good substitute (or I will just continue with my occasional lapses back into eating meat).

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I also probably need to invest in a new grater. And a garlic crusher. I spent far too long trying to grate the carrot because we don’t have a box grater, which makes grating more than a small amount of something really inconvenient. Then when I was grating the garlic I managed to also grate my thumb. Genius.  It is useful to have effective kitchen tools.

Oh, and if you were wondering what my soundtrack to making these burgers was, it was this little guy chewing his cardboard tunnel: tiny rabbit

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