Hot Toddy Cake

In an completely out-of-character moment, I got ahead of myself last weekend and made a start on a Christmas cake.  I would like to have done this on Sunday 25th, which is Stir-Up Sunday, but with a certain young lady's birthday celebrations being held that day, thought I would be unlikely to squeeze it in on the right day!  I am sharing this recipe here as I used it last year and it really was delicious - moist and fruity and moreish.

Last year's effort

I began by soaking the fruit 'overnight'.

700g mixed dried fruit, 100g glace cherries and 100g mixed peel soaked in 200ml hot, strong, black tea, 3 tablespoons whisky and 3 tablespoons marmalade

 Then I creamed together 225g butter and 225g golden caster.

4 eggs were lightly beaten and then gradually added to the mix, beating well after each addition.

225g plain flour, 1 tsp mixed spice and 1 tsp cinnamon were sifted together then folded into the mix...

Then the soaked fruit, and the grated rind of a lemon were folded through...

The mixture was then spooned into a 20cm round, double lined cake tin, levelled and baked at 160 degrees/ 140 Fan Oven/ Gas Mark 3 for 1 1/2 hours, then turned down to 140 degrees/ 120 Fan Oven/ Gas Mark 1 and baked for a further 1 1/2 hours till a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.  

Cool on a wire rack in the tin.  (Sorry - had given up with the camera by this time.  Try to hide your disappointment!)  Whilst still warm, use a skewer to pepper the cake with holes, then feed the cake with 50ml hot, strong black tea into which has been stirred 2 tsp sugar  and 1 tbsp whisky (or orange juice).

If you're making the cake ahead of time, you can feed it with a fresh swig of hot toddy each week, but take care not to make the cake soggy!  

The cake can be kept for a month, well-wrapped in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.  If short of time you can make and decorate the cake the same day.

Creamy Oven-Baked Chicken with Garlic Potatoes

 I followed this recipe in spirit, if not to the letter.  Some of the quantities I felt were not quite right for the hungry chaps and chapesses sitting down to dinner at my table, so I upped amounts.  I will give you the quantities from the recipe, but will also let you know how much I actually used.

This recipe is meant to serve six.

Begin by peeling and thinly slicing 2 medium baking potatoes. 
I actually used about 8 small to medium sized potatoes as that was the size of the potatoes in the cupboard, and I wanted more filling, potato-ey goodness.

Put half of the potato in a layer on the bottom of a lightly buttered oven-proof dish.
(The recipe calls for a 2.4l one.)

Pour over 600ml, or a good old-fashioned pint, of white sauce.  The recipe, for speed and ease, suggests bought but I am far too tight-fisted to be forking out about two quid for something that costs not much more than a pint of milk.  I use a cheat-y, quick way, which makes it easier to make it lump free. I simply dollop my 50g of plain flour on top of my 600ml of milk, and balloon-whisk till all the flour lumps have disappeared...

...then I dollop in my 50g of butter or margarine, and then bring to the boil, whisking most of the time.  Add seasoning and it's done.

So the white sauce goes on top of the potato layer...

...and then sprinkle over half a 390g can of 'Eazy Fried Onions'.  I did not have this, not because I am a purist who would rather fry my own onions, or a cheapskate who is not prepared to spend 69 of my pennies on a can of onions (when raw ones are about half the price), but because I can't bear to see those kind of spellings in my cupboards!

So I fried one (I'd have done two but what lay in the cupboard, that I thought to be an onion, was actually a rather small and strangely shaped butternut squash) and sprinkled away.

Then 250g of frozen peas were strewn on top, followed by 450g of cooked, shredded chicken.  I used 4 chicken breasts, but this would be a great recipe for using up leftovers after a roast.  

The rest of the potato is then layered on top...

I was in a bit of a rush, so it was a little haphazard...

20g of garlic butter was dotted over the  potatoes, and the dish was wrapped tightly in foil.  

It was then placed in the oven at 180 degrees/160 Fan oven/Gas Mark 4 for an hour, then the heat was notched up to 200 degrees/180 Fan Oven/Gas Mark 6, the foil was whipped off and the bubbling dish was left to get all golden and toasty for a further 20-30 minutes.

I got a wee bit fed up with waiting for ours so I may have hoiked it out a little before it was golden all over (though this may be partly down to my oven).  Anyway, the potatoes were soft, and those so-very-nearly-burnt bits were completely irresistible, so I dived in and served it.

It did not disappoint!

It was even worth the mess in the oven as my dish was too small!

Yummy Chicken Bake

This is delicious (and also VERY easy).  One of Miss U-t-B's friends was here for the second time I made this, and she had seconds, then thirds! (And she doesn't even like most of the ingredients!)

Start with a couple of onions

Chop and fry in a little oil

Chop 4 celery sticks 
(Professed celery haters like this dish in spite of the inclusion of these!)

Chop a green pepper and add to the pile

Shred 6 cooked chicken breasts 
(I used fewer, and once again, leftovers would work)

Mix 2 small cartons of natural yogurt 
(I only had a large one, so I used half) and 4 tablespoons of mayonnaise

Stir the cooked onion, the raw vegetables and the chicken into the sauce and place in an ovenproof dish

Top with 6oz/150g of grated cheddar

And sprinkle with a large packet of plain crisps which you've crushed lightly

Bake for 40 minutes at 180 degrees/160 Fan oven/Gas Mark 4

And the result?



PS Served with boiled rice and green salad.

Gnocchi with roasted veg and goats' cheese

 Main ingredients for tonight's meal - a butternut squash, a red pepper, a punnet of baby plum tomatoes, a couple of cloves of garlic, a small goats' cheese and a packet of gnocchi (only two of us tonight).

Buttenut peeled and cut into fingers, pepper deseeded and sliced , tomatoes chucked in, along with the unpeeled garlic.  Olive oil drizzled over and then put in to roast for about 30-40 minutes, at about 200 degrees/ 180 Fan oven/Gas Mark 6.

Just before the vegetables are roasted, boil up some water, salt it and cook the gnocchi, as per the instructions on the packet.

Chop or crumble the goats' cheese...

Tear up a few basil leaves...

Pull out the veg (they should have some nice caramelised edges)...

Squeeze the lovely sweet, roasted garlic out of its skin and add to the veg...

Put the veg into a food processor and whizz briefly to make a chunky sauce...

(Or save yourself the hassle of washing the blasted thing up and just give it a bit of a mash with a fork?)

Stir three-quarters of the sauce through the gnocchi, plate up, then dollop on a little more sauce, sprinkle with goats' cheese and basil and serve.

It was very tasty, and oh-so quick after a busy day!

Sausage, Spinach and Red Pepper Pasta Bake

This recipe was a bit of a hit-and-miss affair.  I liked it (with a tweak, I'd like it very much, but more of that later) but Mr U-t-B wasn't all that keen, and Miss U-t-B wasn't feeling very hungry (ie: had arrived home from school ravenous and eaten toast and Doritos not so very long before it was ready!) so she ate a small portion and expressed no real opinion, except by leaving all the red pepper.  Anyway, as my judgement in these matters is supreme, I will share!

First I skinned and fried some tasty sausages in a little oil.

Then I added a cut up red pepper and fried till the pepper was soft and there were some nice bits of caramelisation going on in the pan...

Then I strained it, as I wanted to get rid of as much of the fat as possible, and put it aside.

I cooked some pasta shapes (a mixture of penne and farfalle as they take the same time to cook and I wanted to finish off the packets).

I made a quick cheese sauce using my lazy method  (explained here).

When the pasta was cooked I drained it and added half a packet of young spinach leaves.  The idea was that they would wilt and get mixed through the pasta.  My pan wasn't large enough, so I had a devil of a job (and messed up almost every pan in the kitchen)...

...before I eventually had (in an ovenproof dish) the pasta into which had been stirred the cheese sauce, the sausages and pepper and the bag of spinach.  This was topped with mozzarella. (There's the tweak I'd do - I'd not bother as I find these days I only like my mozzarella in salads.  I might put a bit of cheddar on top instead, but to be perfectly honest, it would be fine without.)

Into the oven it went to melt the mozzarella.  

Once it was out of the oven, my stomach took over and I dived in to eat rather than taking photos of the finished meal!

'Best Ever' Cheesecake 

I was a bit suspicious of this cheesecake recipe when I saw it,  all that trumpet blowing made me think it would be a disappointment, but I have to say I rather agree now. I'm not a mad fan of cheesecake in general, finding them often too rich, too sweet or too cloying, but this one was excellent.  REALLY excellent!  So here is the recipe - it's adapted from Galton Blackiston's 'Return to Real Cooking'.

As good as it looks!

Prep time: 35 mins plus chilling
Cook time: I hr 40 mins
Do ahead: Needs time to cool and chill overnight. Once cold, the cooked cheesecake and topping can be stored in the fridge for up to two days.  

For the biscuit base
165g soft butter
40g icing sugar
165g self-raising flour

For the filling
2 x 300g full fat Philadelphia cream cheese
1 x 500ml tub creme fraiche
365g caster sugar
60g plain flour
6 large eggs, beaten
100ml double cream
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

For the topping
400g blueberries
50g caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp arrowroot

You will need 
a 28cm, 6cm deep spring-form tin and a small shallow non-stick tin measuring 15cm x 25.5cm both lightly oiled

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees, fan 175 degrees, gas 5.  Make the biscuit base by creaming the butter and icing sugar together, using an electric hand whisk, till light and fluffy - this will take about five minutes.  Sift in the self-raising flour and whisk that in too.  Spread the mixture evenly in the shallow tin and bake for 10-12 mins or until lightly golden.  Leave the biscuit to cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the filling.  In a bowl, using a wooden spoon (oh I do like a recipe that makes one feel like a proper old-fashioned cook - just a bowl and a wooden spoon - none of these mod cons!) beat together  the cream cheese, creme fraiche and caster sugar.  Sift in the plain flour followed by the egg, in batches, stirring well between each addition.  Stir in the cream and the vanilla.  Don't worry if there are still a few lumps.  Cover and set aside.

When the biscuit is cold, whiz it briefly in a food processor until you have crumbs.  Press the crumbs firmly into the base of the springform tin, using the back of a spoon.  Put the tin in the fridge to chill for 30 mins.

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees, fan 140 degrees, gas 2.  For the topping, put the blueberries, sugar, cinnamon stick and 4 tablespoons of water into a pan and heat over a low heat. By the time the sugar has dissolved, the fruit should be softened but still whole. This should take about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix the arrowroot with a small amount of water.  Stir the arrowroot into the pan and bring the liquid just to simmering point so it thickens slightly.  Pour into a bowl, cool, then chill.

Pour the cheesecake mixture over the biscuit base. Bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for 1 hour 20 minutes.  The cheesecake will have risen to the top of the tin and will be just firm on the outside and slightly wobbly in the centre.  Remove from the oven and allow it to cool.  Don't worry if a crack appears as it will be covered with the topping.  Once cold, cover the tin with clingfilm and chill in the fridge overnight.

Take the cheesecake out of the fridge an hour before you wish to serve it.  Remove from the tin, transfer to a plate and spoon over the topping (after discarding the cinnamon). Serve any leftover topping in a jug.

(NB: If you make this, DO put the finished cheesecake on a plate with upturned edges, not a flat platter like this.  The blueberry juice stains on one of my favourite linen tablecloths were somewhat alarming - though I think Oxi-Action has sorted the problem out!)

My Mum's Dorset Apple Cake Recipe

A very quick and delicious way to use up some of Nature's autumn bounty!

4oz self-raising flour
pinch of salt
3oz caster sugar
2oz butter or margarine
1 or 2 eggs (love the vagueness - I base my choice on size!)
1lb cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped

Place all the ingredients apart from the apples in a bowl and beat till smooth.  Add in the chopped apples.
Pour into a greased and lined tin. I often use a loaf tin as I have the right liners but other shapes work too.  Bake in a moderate oven (Gas Mark 5/375 degrees F/190 degrees C or 170 degrees in a fan oven).

Limoncello Pannacotta

3 sheets of leaf gelatine
300ml milk
300ml double cream
25g caster sugar
50ml Limoncello liqueur

Soften the gelatine leaves in a shallow dish of cold water.

Heat the milk, cream, sugar and liqueur in a heavy-based pan till it reaches a gentle simmer - do not let it boil!  Remove from the heat, then add the squeezed out gelatine leaves, stirring till fully dissolved.  Pour into 4 dariole moulds/metal pudding basins/individual jelly moulds/ramekins (whatever you have to hand...)  Allow to cool, then put in the fridge for a couple of hours to set.  Turn out before serving, by dipping briefly in hot water.

Serve with a fruit sauce of some sort - the original recipe has a strawberry sauce, but other berries work well too.

Not turned out, but topped with sauce!

Cinnamon Blueberry Tart

This was a real hit with friends when I made it.  It is also the pudding I once incinerated, so do keep an eye on it once it is in the oven - no sneaking off for a cup of tea!  

  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 6 tbsp golden caster sugar
  • 375g pack ready-made shortcrust pastry (actually, I used all butter puff pastry, which was delicious!)
  • 200g tub soft cheese
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar , plus extra for dusting
  • 2 x 150g punnets blueberries

  1. Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Mix together the cinnamon and caster sugar.
  2. Scatter the cinnamon sugar over the work surface, then roll out the pastry on top of the sugar, to about the thickness of 2 x £1 coins. Using a large dinner plate, cut out a neat round (approx 23cm is fine) and lift onto the lined baking sheet. Prick the pastry all over with a fork and crimp round the edge with finger and thumb. Chill for 15 mins.
  3. Bake the pastry in the oven for 10-12 mins, or until dry and biscuity. Allow to cool completely before carefully transferring to a serving plate.
  4. Beat the soft cheese with the orange juice and zest, adding the icing sugar to taste. Spread this over the pastry base leaving a 2.5cm border around the edge. Top the orange cream with the blueberries and lightly dust with icing sugar just before serving.

These 'recipes' are the things I throw together with items I have to hand that turn out to be rather tasty and worth repeating!  So  I'm putting them on the page here, so I can look back on them and try to recreate what would otherwise be a one-off, got-lucky-with-that meal.

Lentil Soup with a bit of bacon

sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped
3 carrots, cut into chunks
2 celery sticks, sliced
1 red pepper, chopped
250g green lentils/Puy lentils
2 chicken stock cubes made into 2+pints of stock
1 tin of tomatoes
packet of lardons

In the oil, soften the vegetables.  Add in the lentils and stir to coat with the oil.  Add the tin of tomatoes and the stock made with the stock cubes.  Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 45 minutes, till the lentils are cooked.  Whizz briefly (either in a liquidiser or with a hand-held blender) so it retains some texture.  (You may need to add more stock at this stage if the soup is too thick for your liking.) Fry the lardons in a little more sunflower oil then add into the soup.  Season to taste. Serve with foccaccia for a tasty and filling meal.