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Katrine cooks tagine

January 7, 2014

Katrine returned from her travels for Christmas and the new year. Arlo came downstairs one morning and was delighted to find her sitting by the Aga stroking Peaches. It was as though she’d never left. The house soon smelled of coffee and Moroccan  spices.tagine-spices

I can’t identify all the individual spices involved in each complicated blend, but we have 3 packets of deliciously aromatic spice mixes which I’m experimenting with.

Lentils will never be the same again.

As a Christmas present Katrine gave a very beautiful tagine pot.

tagine-potI was very nervous about using it on the aga (and my nerves weren’t quieted by researching on the internet) but Katrine said it would be fine  (in fact what she said was  “mashi mushki” or something like it).

The first thing I did was to immerse the pot and its lid in water for a few hours (the water started off hot), and the second was to make sure that the onions Katrine was chopping very finely were cooked in pans on both cooking plates of the aga so that the heat of each was reduced. After that I was in Katrine’s hands.

All the information I could find out about clay tagine pots suggests that they have to be started on a cool heat and then the heat of the hob is slowly increased. Not really possible on an aga. The suggestion for using a tagine pot on an aga was to get a cast iron one and sling it in the oven – not the most helpful suggestion.

So, once the pot and lid had soaked, I put them in the simmering oven to dry a bit. I don’t know what good this did really as my simmering oven is too cool to simmer anything, but at least it warmed the pot through – I was working on the assumption that the shock of putting a cold clay pot onto a very hot surface might crack it, so any warmth would help.

Meanwhile Katrine had cut vegetables  – potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, courgettes, red pepper, mushrooms –   into appropriately sized pieces (appropriate according to their cooking time that is).  She soaked some dried figs in water and some apricots too and set these aside. Then she fried several chopped onions and a handful of raisins in a separate pan along with some oil and a spoonful of honey for about 30 minutes until the onions were very soft. “Do you have a plan B just in case?” said Katrine.

I stared to make some bread –  2 cups of flour, half a teaspoon each of salt and sugar, 3 tsps quick dried yeast in a bowl, mix, add a cup of warm water,  mix all together and knead until it’s elastic and smooth and leave to rise for half an hour. Then knock it back, shape it into flat rolls place on a greased baking sheet and leave to rise again before baking in a hot oven for 15 minutes – ish.

Meanwhile, Katrine put the tagine pot on the simmering plate…Deep intake of breath on my part. The pot didn’t crack. Katrine put the onion mix in, added a little more oil and waited. After about 5 minutes stirring she said “It’s not hot enough”. I probably ignored her – the fierce heat of the boiling plate is no place for a clay pot.


After 10 minutes (she’s very patient) Katrine repeated her statement and moved the tagine pot to the hot plate. “Don’t worry” she said.

Then she started to layer the vegetables and a couple of spoonfuls of tagine spice into the pot on top of the onions  in the order in which they would cook – potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, courgettes, peppers, mushrooms, with apricots and figs on top and the whole lot sprinkled with chopped parsley (which, as a testament to the beloved’s gardening skills, or maybe the lack of severe frost, is still growing in the garden) and a couple of spoonfuls of water. She put the lid on.



“Forty minutes” she said. tagine2

It was a bit hot to eat with our fingers straight from the pot Moroccan style, but we gave it a go.

Delicious. Delicious, delicious, delicious.


Banoffi pie and treading lightly

December 9, 2013

bananasThere are times when the bananas in the fruit bowl look like this  – all too often in this house of late, but Rella came home a few weeks ago with a recipe for banoffi pie (which I’d never made before) and which uses bananas that look just like this. It was delicious.

OK, so it’s not an everyday way to use up bananas, but as a treat it’s pretty unbeatable (unless of course you’re Arlo, who hates bananas).

We are language studentless at the moment, but the banoffi pie did go down well with Kina and Seyda  – so much so that I made two while they were here! One of them Seyda helped make. Kina licked the bowl.

Seyda-and-Kina Seyda  asked me for the recipe before she left. It’s taken a while to get round to it, but here it is.

It’s loosely based on Ian Dowding’s original recipe although that uses pastry, has the bananas after the toffee bit, not before – nowhere near as good if you ask me – and the butter and sugar is omitted in his recipe because  you have to submerge a can of condensed milk in boiling water and continue boiling for 15 minutes and this makes the toffee. Nowadays there is a warning on the can not to do this because it’s dangerous. I would have flouted the warning, but the AGA can’t keep up a boil for that long…

Banoffi Pie:banoffi-pie1

Base –  either crush 15 digestive biscuits into crumbs with a rolling pin and add to about 100g melted butter and press into a suitable dish (mine’s 20cm by 28 I think ) or make a shortbread using 50g sugar, 100g butter, 150g flour rubbed in and then pressed into the bottom of the dish and baked for about 15 minutes at 180c, or use pastry…

Leave to cool. banoffi-pie2

Mash or chop two or three bananas.

banoffi-pie5Spread them over the cooled biscuit base.

Put 100g butter and 100g sugar in a pan and heat slowly, stirring until the sugar has dissolved.

banoffi-pie3banoffi-pie4banoffi-pie4bThen add a 375g can of condensed milk (lait concentre sucre) and continue to stir over a low heat until the mixture thickens. It will take at least 10 minutes. Stir all the time – if the heat is too high it will burn and brown bits will appear in the mixture which you don’t really want.

When the mixture has thickened pour it over the banana and spread it evenly. Leave to cool. When it’s cooled, whip 250ml cream (with a teaspoon of sugar) and then spread over the top. Serve.


My friend Jane’s dad, Lawrence, died yesterday.

I think this is a dish he might well have appreciated, so I’m dedicating this post to him  – and to Jane, Jay and Georgia.

chocolate cinnamon apple cake

October 26, 2013

Yukiko left this morning bright and early on her return journey to Japan with a quick overnight stop in London  to see the National and Tate Galleries. I’m feeling a little sad (and a little jealous). I hope the taxi driver, who tried to reverse out of the lane into the Saturday morning busy main road traffic, got her there in one piece…

26october2013Before she left, Yukiko tried her hand at cake making, English apple-glut style. Rella and Halo are home this weekend so the opportunities for sharing the apple burden needed to be capitalised on, and Sarah (of the lovely shop) has been hassling me to post the recipe as she too has an apple glut. Yukiko rose to the challenge and made the cake.





Here’s the recipe.


You need a deep sided 8″ tin which you line with baking parchment. On to this dob an ounce/25g of butter cut into little bits and then sprinkle with a teaspoon of ground cinnamon and two teaspoons of brown sugar.

Then, peel core and slice two or three apples and put them on top of the cinnamon sugar butter mix and sprinkle with another teaspoon of

Make a cake mix – beat together 4oz/110g very soft butter and 4oz/110g brown sugar until the mixture is a shade lighter than it was.  Separate two eggs. Put one yolk in the cake mix and beat well and then add the other yolk and beat again. Add the whites a bit at a time making sure that each bit is incorporated before you add the next.


applechocolate-upsidedown-cake6Fold in 5oz/150g self raising flour and 2oz/50ml water and then add an ounce/25g of cocoa powder and fold that in too. Spread the mixture over the apples in the tin making sure the cake mix goes to the edges and covers the apple.

Bake for about 35 minutes at 180 c, 350f gas mark 4. Leave to cool in the tin, then turn out upside down on to a plate.

applechocolate-upsidedown-cakeEat with cream.


Temaki sushi

October 24, 2013

The beloved spends a lot of time hinting to our language students that he would like them to make some culinary delight from their home country. It took Katrine a couple of months before we got bolo de milho,  cheesebreads and ai caramba biscuits, but now they have become a regular feature on our menus.

Yukiko only being with us for two weeks meant that the beloved didn’t really fancy his chances of being shown how to make sushi –  or anything else Japanese. But it turns out that Yukiko loves food, takes pictures of food and has travelled the world in search of different food experiences.

We discussed sushi and Yukiko was dubious – rolling sushi is a particular skill, but it’s also so much more than just a skill. Perfection takes years and it’s about the heart as well as the hands. And you need a knife to cut the sushi that we don’t have in our kitchen.

But it turns out that temaki (it means hand made) sushi is easier to make, and you don’t need to be a sushi chef with ten years’ experience to make it. Yukiko got to work.




There’s a lot more to sushi than just rice. We had some nori seaweed in the cupboard (it was well within the sell by date) and we had some pudding rice. Yukiko said it was similar and would probably do. We gained a few brownie points by having Kikkoman soy sauce in the pantry – essential for dripping onto the sushi,

Preparations continued apace – smoked salmon (thinly sliced and dressed with lemon juice), cucamelons (which again Yuikiko sliced thinly and dressed  – this time with mayonnaise), egg which was cooked into an omelette and thinly sliced, peppers thinly sliced, squash thinly sliced. And a salad. And some shoyu roasted sunflower seeds to keep us going during the preparations.

The rice was washed, then cooked in the rice cooker and put in a dish into which equal equal amounts of sugar and wine vinegar ( a nice wine vinegar that isn’t too vinegary – Rella said she’d drunk worse, but then she is a student)  had been mixed together. The rice and dressing was mixed by folding and  slicing – not squashing. It needed to be fanned too  – Yukiko was very specific about the fanning and for a while the beloved was clearly not performing his sous chef duties well enough. It all worked out though and eventually the rice was sticky enough and cool.tamaki

Then we each put a square shaped piece of nori in our hands, added some rice and whatever else we wanted, some soy sauce and rolled it up and ate it. Absolutely delicious – and a very sociable way to eat.

“For temaki sushi – everything ok” said Yukiko.

Because you must…

October 4, 2013

Our lovely language student, Jasmin, is returning to Germany tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn. This evening she’s in the pub.

I’m sure it’ll be fine.jasmin

For the last few weeks Jasmin has eaten a banana for breakfast, but suddenly she stopped. The bananas carried on ripening regardless.

As Rella and Katrine, the only people who can be relied upon to eat spotty bananas in this house, have debuked to Wales and France respectively, there was nothing else for it but make banana bread.



Mauve came round and looked at the spotty bananas. She also looked at the apples and put two and two together.

There was some apple puree in the fridge and I felt that banana bread would seem to be a natural home for an apple puree substitute for oil. So I experimented, using a combination of different recipes.

Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment and preheat the oven to 180c.


Put two soft bananas in a bowl and mash well. Put to one side.

In another mixing bowl put 4oz apple puree (mine has some cinnamon added, but you can’t really taste it in the bread) and 4oz soft brown sugar. Mix well.


Add two eggs banana-cake2(I know there are 4 eggs in the photo. I had 4 bananas so I made a cake for Mauve as well as me) and beat well. I used my stick blender, mainly because there were still lumps in the sugar, but I don’t suppose it’s really necessary.


Fold in 8oz self raising flour with a teaspoon of baking powder and then mix in two tablespoons of soya yogurt (it can be cow’s).



banana-cakePour the lot into your lined loaf tin and bake for about 50 minutes until well risen and a knife comes out clean.

Very nice –  a bit dense, maybe but it’s a banana bread.

Because you can

October 2, 2013

chocolate-cakeBecause we have a lot of apples, and because I hate to waste food, and because I heard it was possible, I decided to make a chocolate cake using apple puree in place of butter. There’s no virtue like necessity.

I wasn’t sure it would work. All the recipes I’ve read for replacing fat with pureed apple have been American and they refer darkly to replacing “oil” not butter.  I thought as long as you don’t have to rub the butter in it would be ok.

First you need to make some apple puree. I used 4 large eating apples (which I peeled and cored with my wonderful apple peeler and corer) cut them up, put them in a pan with a little water, put the lid on and simmered until the apples were soft – took about 10 mnutes. Then I whizzed them with my stick blender, so that there were no nasty bits of skin or core that my eagle eyed son would spot and identify, and left it to cool.  Four turned out to be a little ambitious, but apple puree’s nice anyway.

The cake is a variation of Julia’s chocolate cake (from Julia’s Gaia’s Kitchen cookbook).

Line an 8″ round, deepish cake tin and preheat the oven to 180c. chocolate-cake1

In a bowl put 3oz apple puree, 3oz soft brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of golden syrup and mix well.  Add 2 eggs and beat.

(I was quite excited about using loads of apples in this cake until I weighed the puree.)


Then fold in 5oz self raising flour,  1 and a half ounces of cocoa powder (and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon if you like).

chocolate-cake3 The mixture will look quite wet.

(Your inner voice – the one that told you the cinnamon apple cake was too dry – will tell you it’s too wet. Once again, ignore the inner voice – and carry on following the recipe.)


To this mixture add 4 fl oz rice milk into which you’ve stirred half a teaspoon of baking powder.  Stir carefully to mix and then pour into your lined tin.

Bake for about 40 minutes until it’s risen and looks done. Leave to cool for a bit and then drizzle with icing.

It looks like a cake, it tastes like a cake. What more can I say?

what a lovely cake…

September 28, 2013


We have not far short of several apples – some from Stephen and some from Gladys. It’s a good year for apples it seems. I like apples –  and they open quite a few doors to culinary possibilities.  It’s a pity we’re down to just the one child at home (Rella having made tracks to Wales to study paediatric nursing –  and learn Welsh into the bargain), but there are always the language students.  Jasmin is making steady inroads into the eating apples, and even had second helpings of  the apple puree I made today. She’s probably relieved not to have to eat any more runner beans..

I thought I’d share my bounty and give some of the apples I’ve got away, but it’s not quite as easy as I imagined. Grannie doesn’t want any of my cooking apples because she’s still eating through the last lot John brought down from Kent (something involving the words “coals” and “Newcastle” springs to mind…), Ruth’s got her own.  Sarah (she of the lovely shop) and Heidi came up trumps though – and I haven’t tried Mauve yet.

I did promise the recipe for cinnamon apple cake, and once it’s posted I think there’ll be hammering on my door for apples.

Here goes:


Peel and core three medium apples – you need about 8oz prepared weight.  In a bowl put 8oz self raising flour, 4oz sugar – I used a mixture of demerera and white, and a generous teaspoon of cinnamon and mix them well. Add 4 oz butter, chopped, and rub in with your fingers  until the mixture looks a bit like breadcrumbs.


Chop the apples into small pieces, add to the mixture and stir.

Crack a large egg into the mixture and mix.

It will look very dry and the inner voice in your head will be telling you that it’s not wet enough and you need to add some liquid or another egg.cinnamopn-and-apple-cake4

Resist this inner voice.

In a small pan heat 2 level tablespoons of granulated sugar, a generous teaspoon of ground cinnamon and 1oz butter and heat slowly until the butter melts.

Stir and remove from the heat.


Put the cake cinnamon-and-apple-cake-7 mixture into a lined tin – I use an 8″ round, deepish tin and just push some baking parchment in.

Drizzle the cinnamon,/sugar/butter mix over the cake and bake it in a medium hot oven – about 190c – for about 35 minutes. It should be risen and solid-ish to the touch. Leave to cool a bit (or you’ll burn your mouth on the cinnamon and hot apple bits) and eat with Greek yoghurt – or clotted cream if you’re feeling decadent.


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