A Birthday Cake

 

The birthday cake – a perfect place to start baking.  This cake was such an act of love – both the planning and the execution.  My little boy making the mixture, adding a bit extra vanilla extract (which he so loves) carefully turning the mixer on and off, cracking the eggs and putting in the flour.  On and off again and finally once the mix was in the oven, sitting on the table licking the spatula and what was left to be scavenged from the bowl.

My daughter elaborately setting the scene – keeping Daddy out of the room, arranging the candles, perfectly spelled out, orchestrating the presentation and leading the sing song.

There are as many recipes for a Victoria Sponge as there are days in the year but the following is so straightforward and a particularly good way to teach children.  Their pride in the finished article will more than compensate for the mess.

Take three eggs and weigh them, make a note of the weight and then measure out the same of soft butter, caster sugar and self raising flour.  Cream the butter and sugar for a good 5 minutes until light in colour and texture.  Add the eggs one at a time with a spoonful of flour to stop it curdling, sift in the remaining flour with half  a teaspoon of baking powder.  Stir in 2-3 tablespoons of milk until the mixture will drop off a spoon.  Divide between two 18cm greased and base lined tins and bake at 170 for 25 minutes.  If you only have 20cm tins make it a 4 egg mix.

Traditionally sandwiched together with raspberry jam and spinkled with caster sugar but you can go crazy here, it is your cake after all.  Whipped cream or butter cream with the jam is never a bad thing, fresh raspberries good too.  Lemon curd with or without the cream looks summery and tastes delicious, a compote of gooseberries or rhubarb would add fabulous tang to the sweet cake or maybe chocolate spread if that is your thing…

The top cake is the birthday special but it would look like the one above if not in a darkened room lit only by candles.

 

Chicken with harissa

Thinking of easy delicious suppers for every night can be exhausting.  Inevitably I think we all resort to the old favourites which we can shop for and cook without too much stress.  Sometimes though just a little variation can be the proverbial zip to spice up life.  These chicken thighs with harissa are a case in point and ridiculously easy, it is barely a recipe in fact but regardless I share it here.  Crisp skinned chicken sliding off the bone in a spicy red jacket with crunchy greens to give verdant vigour!

Chicken with harissa

1 red pepper

1 teaspoon olive oil

4 chicken thighs

3 teaspoons harissa paste

1 pack tenderstem broccoli.

Slice the pepper and mix it with the oil in a roasting dish.  Put half a teaspoon of harissa under the skin of each thigh and squidge a bit to spread.  Put the chicken in with the peppers and roast at 190 for 30 minutes.  Towards the end of this cooking time blanch the broccoli in boiling water for 1 minute and drain.  Remove the chicken from the oven, stir in the last teaspoon of harissa and then fit the broccoli in and around the chicken.  Return to the oven for 10 minutes.  Season and serve, small waxy potatoes would be perfect here.  If you like things a little saucier, add a glug of white wine with the final teaspoon of harissa.

 

 

Time for soup

Soup, soup, soup.  Funny how it never crops up much on our summer menu.  The odd gazpacho if it is really hot outside (rarely) or a chilled courgette soup if the glut is overwhelming (it wasn’t this year).  Generally though it is when the days cool that I want soup.  I love soup – not only is it warming and cosy, but as it is often vegetable based it reassures you that it is doing you good whilst giving you that warm hug.  Not to mention what a star it is when coming to use up vegetables you have too many of or those past their best and did I mention how cheap it is…

We eat a lot of soup for weekday lunches, partly as a fabulous quick warm healthy solution but also because for some maddening reason I can’t always sell the idea to my children.  Tomato soup fine, creamy onion soup fine but anything green or pulsey they just won’t love.  I keep on trying though.  Whenever we have a tapas, picnic sort of weekend lunch in the cooler months, I tend to rustle up some kind of soup.  Serve it to the children in little bowls with something yummy and crunchy to sprinkle on the top.  This way not only is the amount not too daunting but there are other things for lunch if it is really poorly received.  It seems to work this way but would be a different story I think if they were presented with a big bowl of soup and nothing else….

Red Lentil and Tomato Soup

1 onion chopped

1 tablespoon oil

2 cloves garlic chopped

Small thumb of ginger peeled and grated

Large pinch of chilli flakes

Large pinch sea salt

70g red lentils

1 can chopped tomatoes

500ml vegetable or chicken stock

50g creamed coconut

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1/3 bunch coriander chopped (optional) I add for us, not for my children.

Soften the onion in the oil for a few minutes over a gentle heat, add the garlic, ginger, chilli and salt.  Stir, add the lentils, stir again and add the coconut, tomatoes, stock and sugar.  Simmer for 20 minutes or until the lentils are soft and have broken down.  Add the coriander if using and blend with a stick blender or in a liquidiser.  If you like you can serve the soup with a blob of yoghourt.

This is just fabulous to warm you up on a chilly blustery day.  Delicious, wholesome, cheap and made pretty much from store cupboard ingredients.  Extremely easy to make and you just know it is doing you good.  Increase the chilli if you like it spicy or omit if serving to very small children.

 

Autumn is on the way…

So, there is a distinct chill in the air, not properly cold, just an end of summer nip about the ears when you go outside.  Enough to make me think about lighting the fire and there being a subtle shift in what we eat.  I won’t stop putting salads of some kind on the table, nor will we have already had the last barbecue of the year, but when the leaves start to turn I can’t help thinking of butternut roasted until the edges caramelise, a proper apple and just picked blackberry crumble or tart.  Or of Chilli, warm spicy and seasonally orangey red, a suitable precursor to all those beloved stews of winter.  Of soup.

It is clever how, when the seasons change, our cravings do too.  I know a salad made from sunny garden tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella festooned with marjoram is absolutely delicious, it is just I don’t want it now.  Rather a robust salad of roasted beetroot, feta and rocket – still a salad but heartier somehow, if a salad can be such a thing.  A peach melba with a juicy ripe peach, fresh raspberry sauce and proper vanilla is a thing of beauty, but at this time of year I think I’d rather have hot chocolate sauce on my ice cream, going all gooey and chewy as the warm hits the cold.