Monday, 29 August 2011

Mincemeat Loaf Cake

I was having a tidy-up in the pantry the other day, trying to make some room for the chutneys that I'll be making over the next few weeks and, given that I shall also be making my Christmas mincemeat soon, I thought I’d better use up the last jar of the 2010 vintage which was lurking on the top shelf. (Good Grief! I just mentioned the ‘C’ word and it’s still only August!!) As a bonus I also found half a bag of pecans that was looking for a good home.

Because I don’t bake very much I don’t have a lot of cake tins and I couldn’t find a single recipe on the net which fitted any of the tins I have. I ended up adjusting a generic ‘Fruit Cake’ recipe, baked it in a loaf tin, and hoped for the best!

It turned out quite well, as it happens. OK, as cakes go, it won’t win any beauty competitions, but I think the flavour of the well-matured mincemeat plus a handful of chopped pecans more than makes up for any deficiencies in the looks department!

125g soft unsalted butter
125g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
225g self-raising flour
½ tsp baking powder
300g mincemeat
50g chopped pecans

1 tsp of granulated sugar

Put the butter, sugar, eggs, flour and baking powder into a large bowl and mix well with an electric mixer. Add the mincemeat and pecans then mix well with a wooden spoon so that you don’t break up the fruit and nuts too much. Turn the mixture into a 2lb loaf tin lined with baking parchment, sprinkle the top with a teaspoonful of sugar and bake at 160C for 1¼ - 1½ hours.

Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight tin.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

HFW Sees The Light!

Well, what do you know? Inveterate carnivore Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has had an epiphany; he’s seen the light and discovered the the joy of veg!

I'm sorry to say this, Hugh old son, but you’re a bit late to the party; those of us who can think for ourselves worked out long ago that chopping up animals for food, when there are less cruel and much tastier alternatives available, is a bad idea. What took you so long? Was it anything to do with a book deal, perhaps?

Don't you just love this quote from the article "I would love to persuade you to eat more vegetables." Now, if my memory serves me correctly, wasn't Hugh the bloke who slaughtered an animal on TV to entertain the watching masses... and now he wants me to eat more veg? Do go away, Hugh, there's a good chap; you're starting to get right up my nose. There's no-one quite so annoying as a newly-reformed evangelist preaching to the long-ago converted.

Of course, Hugh just wants to sell his new book and, once he’s made a rather large amount of money from it, he’ll revert to his former carnivorous ways. Then he can write another book extolling the virtues of meat-eating and telling us how desperately he wants us all to eat more of it….

Cynical…? Moi…? Whatever makes you think that?!

(Incidentally, I wouldn't want you to think I make a habit of reading that ridiculous rag, the Guardian; perish the very thought! I wouldn't have known about Hugh's conversion on the road to Damascus had it not been for a comment on a messageboard where I post.)

Saturday, 20 August 2011

French Onion Soup

Before I get down to the serious business of soup, I thought you might like to see a picture of some of our gorgeous homegrown onions which are currently loitering in the shed and drying out nicely. It’s given the shed quite an exotic feel, I think! Considering the strange weather we’ve had this summer I think they did rather well.

This soup is one of those things that I used to make quite regularly in my pre-veggie days. The early veggie versions I made weren’t very good, though, to be honest; I think I was trying to recreate a taste instead of trying to make something which was just as good but different. I didn’t make it at all for some years, by which time I was ready to embrace the new flavours rather than remember the old. After much tweaking and fiddling this is the result.

Couple of points to note:

1. The cheese for the croutes should really be Gruyere but vegetarian Gruyere seems to be as rare as hen’s teeth so I used some good Cheddar instead.

2. You’ll have seen that I didn’t put the cheesy croute in the bowl with the soup; this is because I have a complete horror of soggy bread! Just the thought of it makes my skin crawl, so I have my croutes on the side of the plate where they stay well away from any potential sog!

750g onions, peeled and thinly sliced
25g butter
½ tsp soft dark brown sugar
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp plain flour
1l stock
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
50ml red wine
½ tsp Marmite

2 thick slices of French bread per person
as much grated cheese as you like
a sprinkle of dried thyme

Heat the butter in a large saucepan over a highish heat, when it’s foaming add the onions; turn the heat down to medium and cook the onions until very soft and golden brown, turning frequently. Mine took about 35 minutes.

Add the sugar, thyme and flour, stir well, then add the stock, balsamic and wine; stir well and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to the merest simmer, put the lid on and leave to cook for 25 minutes then add the Marmite and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Five minutes before the soup is ready toast the bread on both sides; cover one side with grated cheese and a sprinkle of dried thyme and put under a hot grill until melted and bubbling. Serve the cheesy croutes with the soup, either alongside on floating on the soup if you prefer.

Serves 4 generously

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Is Parmesan Veggie...?

“No, of course it isn’t, don’t be so stupid!” I hear you cry. Quite clearly you’re well-informed, sensible and knowledgeable.

However, many people (including the food team at the BBC and the two Michelin-starred chefs whom I have recently emailed) are as thick as thick and still think Parmesan is a perfectly good vegetarian ingredient.

You and I know that Parmesan isn’t veggie, but what about the woman who goes to the BBC food site because for the first time ever she has to cook for a veggie guest? She thinks the BBC is a reliable, trustworthy source of information so she chooses a ‘vegetarian’ recipe plucked from the BBC’s pages; the poor veggie guest either has to eat it, so as not to cause offence or, more likely, he fills up on bread and salad and completely baffles his host by not even touching the carefully prepared ‘veggie’ dish he was presented with. His host, meanwhile, is left wondering “What did I do wrong? The BBC had marked the recipe ‘V’ – I was sure it would be OK”.

When I complained to the BBC recently about Simon Hopkinson, on the TV programme ‘The Good Cook’, describing Roast Fennel with Parmesan as "perfect, obviously for vegetarians” I received an email directing me to comment #74 on Simon's blog, by Ramona Andrews, BBC Food Host which I reproduce here for convenience:

“This is a good point about parmesan cheese. Traditional parmesan is always made with animal-derived rennet. There are, however, some vegetarian parmesan-style cheeses produced in the UK and for this reason, recipes calling for 'parmesan' are included as 'vegetarian' in BBC Food's recipe database.”

Now, if you can make any sense of that, then as my old Dad used to say, you’re a better man than me, Gunga-Din! Have you ever heard anything so lame and pathetic?

I’ll say it simply; in words of one syllable…..I don’t want meat in my cheese! Now surely that’s clear enough even for brainless chefs and the bewildered idiots at the BBC to understand?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Copyright Issues

On one of the food messageboards where I post there’s been a bit of a barney going on recently about copyright. Every so often someone posts a recipe, claiming it to be their own (which it clearly isn’t), and a bit of argy-bargy ensues; I don’t know why they do it – maybe they think no-one will notice? Anyway, it set me thinking; so I thought I’d write a few words in order to clarify things about copyright on here.

Any recipe written in full on this blog is my own and, as such, is copyrighted to me. All my recipes are either original creations or amalgamations of the best bits of half a dozen (or more!) other recipes which I have tweaked and changed to suit our taste. In former incarnations some of the recipes may even have contained meat or fish (!) which will have been dropped PDQ in favour of other more veggie-friendly ingredients. The new list of ingredients and method gets written up in my own words, at which point it becomes my recipe. When I use a recipe which is obviously written by someone else, such as Delia, Simon Rimmer, Nigel Slater, etc. I’ll give a link to where I found it published.

All photographs and recipes on this blog are copyrighted to me and may not be reproduced without my written permission.

Right, now that’s out of the way, I’m off to make some French Onion soup…

Monday, 8 August 2011


I first had this some years ago in a restaurant and absolutely fell in love with it. Amazingly, I’ve never made it myself; it’s been just one of those items on the ever-lengthening list of things that I never quite get round to….until today!

The first thing to say is that it makes quite a large quantity (which is no bad thing, let me tell you!) The recipe says it serves 6 but, as part of an antipasto platter, it would easily serve 12. The second thing to mention is, I cooked it for about twice as long as the recipe stated because I like the aubergines to be really soft and buttery.

I’m reliably informed that Caponata keeps well in a jar in the fridge with a thin layer of olive oil on the top to seal it. However, it tastes so good that I’m not sure you’ll be keeping it long enough to be bothering with that! Best eaten at room temperature, rather than fridge-cold, with plenty of fresh bread. If you want to serve it hot, it's brilliant with couscous and it can also be used as a seriously good pasta sauce.

There are umpteen recipes for Caponata on the net; I followed this one...

If it’s good enough for Antonio Carluccio, it’s good enough for me!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Beetroot, Feta and Walnut Salad

Beetroot…I think it’s another one of those 'love it or hate it' foods. I've always loved it but until today I’ve only had it pickled from a jar or from a shrink-wrapped packet bought at the supermarket. Well, I am so excited, I’m fit to burst – I have just made a salad with our very first home-grown beetroot plus some gorgeous salty-sharp feta and toasted walnuts! (Really, I must get a life…I should not be this excited about a root vegetable!)

It was absolutely delicious and like no other beetroot I’ve ever tasted; I don’t know whether that’s because it was only dug from the garden this morning, because it was organically grown or because it was freshly cooked…probably a bit of all three but, whatever the reason, I have had a slice today of my own little beetrooty heaven!

4 medium raw beetroot
3 tomatoes, cut into largish chunks
½ a small red onion, thinly sliced
3 or 4 good handfuls washed salad leaves
200g feta, roughly crumbled
50g walnut halves

1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp grainy mustard
1 tsp runny honey
juice of ½ a lemon
few grinds of black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil

Wrap the beetroots individually in foil, place directly onto the oven rack and roast at 200C for 30-40 minutes until tender. While the beetroots are cooking put the walnuts into a small baking tin and toast in the oven for 8 minutes (put the timer on, they turn to charcoal very quickly!)

When the beetroots are cooked and cool enough to handle, slip the skins off and cut into wedges through the root ends.

For the Honey Mustard Dressing - whisk the two mustards, honey, lemon juice and black pepper together in a small bowl then gradually whisk in the olive oil until the dressing thickens.

Chop or tear the salad leaves into bite-sized pieces and divide between two serving plates; top with the chopped tomatoes and red onion followed by the beetroot wedges, feta and the roughly chopped toasted walnut halves.

Drizzle over the dressing just before serving.

Serves 2