What I’ve been eating this month – September 2019

6.9.19 Go To Fruit Cake

One of the few recipes I make time and time again, is the fruit cake from Jane Brocket’s Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, which is sadly out of print now (it is an ‘old’ book, published 2008, but it looks like you can still get second hand copies on Amazon UK). It’s a book of recipes inspired by classic British children’s stories. Even the design of the book is genius (I love a well designed cook book), it’s one of those books that is a pleasure to hold in your hands, as it’s about the size of an old hardback children’s book, with the creamy paper and old fashioned font to match. There are no photos, instead some lovely black and white line drawings, to go with the children’s book theme. My favourite fruit cake is apparently inspired by the sort of cake mothers or nannies would bake for their charges to ensure that they had enough energy for their adventures, a la Malory Towers etc.

Anyway, as Brocket points out, it’s a perfect cake to take on family holidays if you’re staying in the UK, it keeps well (not that it ever lasts long with us) and is perfect for a slice to eat in the garden or cosied up by a rental cottage fire. I often make it if I’m travelling to Wales to see my dad. My kids though are not happy with this cake just being a travelling cake, so after the last cake was made for a trip to Wales in August, I promised them that I would aim to make this cake once a month from now on, and so I made one when the kids went back to school.

The recipe, as with all recipes you make often, is one of those things where I have shortcuts now, and where I know where I can bend the rules. The recipe is a traditional fruit cake but I’ve recently taken to swapping the glace cherries with snipped in half dried apricots, purely out of necessity at first, the August Wales cake was made when I had just my local corner shop for ingredients and they didn’t have any glace cherries. The dried apricot substitution is nice, it gives the cake a different tone to the glace cherry version, but both versions are equally nice. The September version was also a dried apricot one, as I was using up the remaining dried fruit packets from the August cake. The using things up did mean that I didn’t have quite enough dried fruit but that was another rule to bend, and it still worked out to be a lovely cake.

Changing the dried fruit has made me curious now, what other dried fruit substitutions could I make, especially as I’m down for making this cake every month now apparently. My son is angling for a dried pineapple version, which has my tastebuds interested too. I think though for pineapple to work, there would have to be some other substitutions too, maybe some mashed up banana in place of some of the butter, dried apricots the newcomer, could stay, hmm it would need something else too, I will have to think. Another version that came to me, whilst I was stirring the thick raisin studded batter, was an apple and berry version, dried apple (snipped into small pieces), dried cranberries, maybe the raisins could stay . . . I will have to play.

8.9.19 All things Pumpkin Spice

Yes, we’re Brits totally shipping any American foodstuff (unless it’s chlorinated chicken), so September is Pumpkin Spice month. To my daughter, Starbucks is what McDonald’s was to me when I was that age, so we made an almost specific trip (some art supplies were needed as well), just for PSL. Coffee hasn’t quite got its claws into my daughter yet but she likes coffee Frappuccinos, but to me, that’s way too much cream, so whilst she got her pumpkin spice frappuccino, I got my pumpkin spice latte. Personally, I’m way more of a Pret girl than a Starbucks person, if anything because they pay more tax but also I prefer their coffee anyway, so I was pleasantly surprised how good the Starbucks PSL was, I may be back (until Pret launches their Autumn range anyway….).

Anyway, my daughter wanted to make her own pumpkin spice frappuccino, so she hit Google and stumbled across one of my favourite sites, Minimalist Baker, I hadn’t realised that they had a pumpkin spice frappuccino recipe. The whole process is a bit lengthy, it kept my daughter occupied over the weekend, making the pumpkin butter on Saturday and actually making the frappucinos on Sunday. The result was, to be honest, like really nice pumpkin spiced iced coffee but it wasn’t that frappuccino-y. I don’t think my daughter was too impressed actually but I liked mine.

9.9.19 Chicken Madras

I’ve been in a cooking slump, so there’s nothing like a new Claire Thomson book to easily pry me back into the kitchen. Her latest book, New Kitchen Basics, does exactly what it says on the tin and it’s just what I need.

The first recipe I tried was Chicken Madras, as I was in a rare for me, curry mood. The recipe was ‘relatively’ easy to make, its quite a lot of ingredients and quite a few steps, but it’s nothing taxing and it’s fairly quick-ish. The result was really nice, I like my curries mild to moderate with their spiciness, and this was just right, I will make again.

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9.9.19 Pumpkin Butter Cake

What I won’t be making again is Pumpkin Butter Cake, I won’t link to the recipe, or photograph the resulting ‘cake’, as the ‘cake’ is already in the food recycling bin. This was basically an attempt to use up the pumpkin butter that my daughter made for the frappucinos. Pumpkin butter isn’t really a thing, at all, in the UK, so I was a bit clueless about what to do with the rest of it. I checked Pinterest, the home of potentially dubious quality recipes everywhere, and found a recipe. I realise, from my Pinterest search, that the most common baking use of pumpkin butter, is a sort of traybake looking, gooey thing, the recipe I tried was not a variety of that, I went for a loaf cake type thing. I followed the recipe, stuck it in the oven, set the timer, timer beeped, cake looked so uncooked I was momentarily unsure whether my oven was actually on or not (it was). I stuck the cake back in for a further 20 minutes (10 minutes over the recommended max time), at least this time, when checking it with a skewer, the skewer wasn’t covered in cake mix, but I still wasn’t sure, even just sticking the skewer in to check the cake was cooked, how it felt doing that, just felt wrong, like I wasn’t pushing a skewer through a cake, but instead something much denser. Anyway, I let it cool, I cut the first slice, just cutting it felt wrong too, again too dense, I looked at the slice with trepidation, no crumb structure whatsoever, it was a pumpkin coloured, stodgy looking brick. I dubiously took a mouthful, the taste was (as long as you like pumpkin), quite nice, the flavours in my daughter’s pumpkin butter really came through, but the texture was gross and I knew if I was daft enough to eat a whole slice, I’d be regretting it for the rest of the evening as it congealed in my stomach. So, it went into the food recycling bin, and I have not had to do that to a cake for such a long time. I’m sure Pinterest is full of some fantastic recipes that actually work but I know it’s always a risk, as you don’t know if the recipes linked to on the smaller sites have actually been tested properly, this one obviously hadn’t, unless the author really likes stodgy cakes with zero crumb…

10.9.19 Butternut squash madras

I’d made extra of that madras sauce and ooh it was good with some steamed cubes of butternut squash, stir-fried in the sauce and then blanketing a jacket potato.

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11.9.19 Greens, Pancetta, Garlic and Chilli

Another recipe from New Kitchen Basics, and this was really nice. I used kale for my greens, I’m not a massive fan of it but I prefer it over cooked green cabbage. Anyway, the kale in this was lovely, as the recipe blurb for this says, there’s something that happens when you cook the greens in the bacon fat. So, as I keep meaning to increase my greens from more than just rocket (which I adore) and the occasional spinach, this will be a good go-to recipe.

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16.9.2019 Cajun Potatoes

Another New Kitchen Basics recipe, it has a dressing of sour cream and buttermilk. I think the dressing was meant to be blended, as in blended in a food processor but I’d forgotten how to lock the bowl of my food processor onto its base (I use it that rarely), so the sour cream, yoghurt (a substitute for the buttermilk), celery, red onion and parsley, was left as is, it was still nice though. The potatoes were good too but it was definitely one of those dishes were you needed both the carb/protein/whatever and the dressing, for it to work well, which it did. I don’t think I will be rushing to make this again though.

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20.9.2019 Pasta Parmesan Soup

Oh my goodness, this was gorgeous, I knew it would be, I’m not very good at menu planning but I do try and at least plan in the morning what I’m going to have for lunch, and when I decided on this from the Brooke Lark blog, I popped out to get some parmesan and I wanted to cook and eat it there and then. I managed to hold off, cooking at the first ‘appropriate’ time and settling down to eat at 11.58. This is a really simple recipe, just small pasta (it’s meant to be ditalini but I substituted macaroni, as that was the smallest pasta I had) in chicken broth, with melted butter, garlic, parmesan and parsley. It’s extremely hug-in-a-bowl comforting. My attempt didn’t turn out to be quite as soup-like as I think it was meant to, the hazards of dividing ingredients by four when cooking for yourself, but it was still lovely and it definitely still had more of a wet, soupy vibe rather than just being a pasta dish. I will make this again and again and again.

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23.9.2019 Copycat Olive Garden Chicken Gnocchi Soup

We don’t have Olive Garden in the UK, so I have no idea if this is a realistic copy but this recipe from Kitchn is delicious! Thick, creamy, chicken-y and comforting. If you’re in the UK and you’re making this, I have no proper idea what half-and-half is either (I’m guessing is some sort of low-fat cream??? I know I could Google it but it’s sometimes good not to Google every one of life’s mysteries away), anyway I substituted single cream (full fat, by the way, I’d rather eat sensibly -or not so sensibly the full-fat version of things instead of some frankenfood copy) and it worked.

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24.9.2019 Tomato gnocchi soup

I had some gnocchi leftover from the day before so I searched Pinterest for another gnocchi soup, nearly all of them were variations on the Olive Garden soup but there was this from Connoisseurusveg, a creamy TOMATO gnocchi soup. It’s meant to be a vegan recipe (nothing wrong with that) but I only had chicken stock and as I’m not actually vegan (partly due to some annoying food intolerances), I used cow’s milk instead of coconut milk, I also added some parmesan on top. Anyway, it was lovely, although in part because I have a special jar of chilli flakes that I used that makes anything taste gorgeous. Anyway, really simple recipe that I will make again except my soup blender died dramatically whilst I was making this (smoke coming out of something you’re holding isn’t great), so it will have to wait until I can get myself a new one.

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28.9.2019 Banana bread

My daughter has adopted this recipe now from Kitchn, it’s a really easy and delicious banana bread recipe to make.

29.9.2019 Dinner rolls

For reasons, I am going to have to start making bread more often, at least for a while. I am after a really good bread roll recipe, and this, from Nigella Lawson, was really nice but they’re on the small side (I guess the name ‘dinner rolls’ should have told me). What I’m after is a soft bun you can load with fillings. I’ve got my eye on the next recipe to try out in my search, so more next month ….

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30.9.2019 Ice cream cake

I made actual ice cream cake last year for my daughter’s birthday (she’s not a big cake fan but does like ice cream), it was nice but far too chocolate-y even for confirmed chocoholics, so most of it ended up going in the bin. It’s now that birthday time of year again and I needed to make a birthday cake for my son, and I happened to spot this recipe by Jack Monroe, it’s proper cake but it’s made out of ice cream, melted ice cream, I had to give it a try. The recipe just uses the melted ice cream, some baking powder and some flour, and the result was pleasantly surprisingly, a really lovely crumbed cake but, I think the taste really really depends on how chocolate-y the ice cream is you use, as the cake although it looked like chocolate cake, wasn’t actually that chocolate-y. I guess I’m still looking for that magic Goldilocks chocolate-y zone.

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What I’ve also been eating

I’m a sucker for a well-targeted Twitter ad, so I had to try the new M&S Magic Sprinkles, because secretly I’m about 8. Anyway (not an ad or anything), it’s this mixture of various seasonings, garlic is quite predominant, taste-wise anyway , that is meant to go with everything. I so had to try and um, visually it’s like sprinkling the contents of a fireplace on your food, it’s extremely ash like, not helped by it coming in a little plastic sachet, so difficult to sprinkle properly. Taste-wise, luckily it doesn’t taste of ash, although there’s a nice smokey taste, and like I say there’s garlic too. I’ve tried it, so far, on chips and roasted veg. Re: the chips, well Five Guys haven’t got anything to worry about with competition for their flavoured chips, it was okay I suppose. Re: the veg, well I know how to flavour roasted veg well, and switching to Magic Sprinkles, not as good. I may finish the sachet but I suspect this will become an old out of date spice packet I find in 5 years time when I clear out my cupboards.

I’ve also, yep had a Pret trip and have discovered that being a bit better at paying your taxes, doesn’t mean you make better PSL, I found it a bit too spiced and not as smooth as the Starbucks one. Their new ginger biscuits though, sigh, they’re gorgeous! Although talking of all things Pret and ginger, they seem to have revamped their cans, their ginger beer now starts off tame but by the time you get halfway through the can, it’s so gingery it’s actually unpleasant (and I like most ginger beer).

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