Chocolate cake for the freezer

freezer cakeThis is from Domestic Goddess. The original recipe can no longer be seen in my copy, the pages sealed together through years of perusal with egg and jam stained fingers. I transcribed the recipe into the inside front cover, but my accuracy can never totally be trusted. Plus that page is getting grubby too. I do know that the original uses a quantity of thin cut marmalade. While I am a big advocate of chocolate orange (seriously, who doesn’t love a chocolate orange?) I prefer to make this cake with jam. Jam comes in hundreds of different fancy flavours, all of which taste amazing when baked with chocolate into a cake. If you don’t believe me, stand in a jam aisle of a supermarket and add ‘and chocolate cake’ to each of the different types of jam. Infallible.

Last time I was pregnant, my preparatory cooking consisted of baking a stack of these in various flavours, and that was it. (I didn’t really pack a bag either, until the morning we left for the hospital. I think I was experiencing what’s known as large amounts of denial.) In comparison I’ve been fairly organised this time, and have succeeded in filling the freezer with more than just dessert. However, once the silver trays of risotto, goulash, sausage stew, ziti and macaroni cheese were sealed, it was time for cake. The first cake I made in the new oven, the first time the new house smelt of baking, rather than broken thermostat and despair. The easiest cake in the world.

125g unsalted butter
100g dark chocolate
340g (standard size jar) of jam, any flavour
150g caster sugar
a pinch of salt
2 eggs
150g self raising flour
23cm spring form tin, lined

1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, remove from heat and stir in the chocolate until melted. Take a moment to admire this.

2. Throw in the sugar, eggs and jam. Mix well.

3. Add the flour and pinch of salt. Stir until combined and delicious.

4. Pour into cake tin, bake for 40 minutes at 180ºC, until a skewer comes out clean. Serve warm or cold, with cream or ice cream if you like. Or wrap in clingfilm and store in the freezer, until such time you’re expected to feed and water guests who are only interested in looking at your newborn baby.

Meat & two veg

meat & vegA perfectly lovely Mother’s Day doing practically nothing at home was enhanced considerably by the arrival of a new oven. The timing was coincidental, not some sick joke on the part of my family. It’s been three months since we moved in. Three months with a barely functioning oven. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say they were the worst three months of my life.

Dinner was nothing much to look at (even if I could be arsed make any kind of effort with food photography) but it was the first thing I’ve oven cooked in our new house that wasn’t burnt, thrown into the bin, or cried over. Now I just need to remember how to bake cakes.

Dear…My Pregnant Friends (round 2)

1. The reactions when you announce your second pregnancy will range from bored resignation, inappropriate comments on the frequency/infrequency of your babies, to mild laughter. No one will scream hysterically, or buy you flowers. Get over yourself.

2. People are not particularly interested in your continuing pregnancy, besides finding out the gender of the baby. The gender should be ascertained as quickly as possible, and should preferably be the opposite to that of your current child, in order to appease the general public.

3. Your nearest and dearest will forget that you are pregnant. Regularly. You will end up screaming “BECAUSE I’M SIX MONTHS PREGNANT!” down the phone at your Gran, and then crying about it.

4. Although you are incredibly jaded, you will cry as much as you did the first time.

5. You didn’t keep as much baby stuff as you think you did. Well, you kept plenty, but none of it will be particularly useful. You will now balk at the cost of muslin squares, because you know they’re essentially just sick rags.

6. You will try and use the benefit of your wisdom to persuade first timers against unnecessary precautions, extravagant purchases and hospital bags the size of the Coca Cola Christmas truck. They will smile, nod and ignore you.

7. Small children are constantly on the brink of contracting chicken pox. The mum friends you have gained since your previous pregnancy will start greeting you with a scream of “HAVE YOU HAD CHICKEN POX?” every time they see you.

8. Besides shouting at her, no one has a clue what to do with a pregnant woman who may have been exposed to chicken pox.

9. The guilt you will experience when you can’t take your small child to the park because you have your head in the toilet/on the sofa/jammed permanently in the fridge is all-encompassing.

10. Because you have 97 other things to do, your pregnancy will fly by. As you barely know what day it is, you won’t be able to constantly reel off how many days, weeks and months pregnant you are. You’ll have to get an app to remind you. The apps are better this time.

chocolate sprinkles

krispy kremeOur oven is still useless. People in baseball caps fulfill all our cake based needs these days. For shame. We now have a three year old who screams ‘DOUGHNUTS!’ whenever she enters a service station. Her dad couldn’t be prouder.

The no cook key lime pie continues to be amazing (I’ve made it several times since, we’re not still eating that one from January). NB it does set in the fridge, when left overnight. And it’s even better when made with chocolate digestive biscuits instead of normal ones. Well, duh.

We don’t require much of an excuse to celebrate things with food. Successful work events, or our disregard (and subsequent survival) of severe weather warnings in order to travel across the country and spend the weekend with our friends. And, today, a single sheet of yellow paper. After one long (LONG) awaited appointment with a consultant, my pregnancy ducks are now in a row. Or something. I’m too exhausted with relief to talk coherently about it, suffice it to say I finally feel able to start buying mini toiletries and packing my bag. Just as soon as we’ve driven to Scotland and back for more doughnuts.

key lime pie

key lime pieTomorrow is National Pie Day, and we have guests arriving. Normally the stars aligning in such a way would result in me being up all night making my own shortcrust. This will not be happening for two reasons. The first, that I’m not ready to talk about yet, is that the oven in our new house is so monumentally shit I have yet to succeed in cooking anything besides fish fingers. I haven’t baked in over a month. But I’m not ready to talk about that yet. I may never be ready to talk about that. The second is that our weekend schedule for said guests also includes eating food to celebrate Burns Night, a birthday and Christmas, so I figured we can probably live without the pies. And that’s coming from someone who ate toast and pickled onions in bed at 10.30pm last night.

I went to see my midwife today and, such is her unique brand of support, came out incandescent with rage. Which, being pregnant, mainly takes the form of tears. God. I had to come home and shove my face into comfort food. So I immediately made this dessert for tomorrow night. It will be the only pie on the menu, chosen purely because it requires no oven cooking. It’s an alternative recipe from Domestic Goddess. Nigella’s original involves separating eggs and the like, before her pal Hettie comes along and just replaces about six ingredients with a can of condensed milk. God love Hettie. Maybe she had a really shit oven too? Or a really unhelpful midwife?

(I’m still not really sure what condensed milk actually is. I figure it’s probably one of those best not to ask things. It tastes bloody good though, particularly when mixed with 300ml of double cream. But then, doesn’t everything?)

On the matter of presentation, Nigella tells us “don’t expect a lime pie to be green. It’s yellow – a really green pie is a dyed pie.” Well screw authenticity, I have a tub of green colouring in my baking cupboard and no other outlet for it (did I mention my knackered oven?), so my pie is resoundingly green. It is also garnished with three bits of lime, sliced in such a haphazard manner they would make my former bar manager boss turn in his grave. (He’s not dead, he’s just in Exeter.)

I’m not entirely convinced that the finished cake will actually set, even though I’m leaving it in the fridge overnight. Nonetheless, it has already served its purpose as far as I’m concerned. And I’m sure no one will object to eating it with a spoon tomorrow, should the need arise.

200g digestive biscuits
50g melted butter
4 limes (juice & zest)
397g can of condensed milk
300ml double cream
23cm spring form tin, lined

1. Smash the biscuits up into crumbs, I just did it by hand.

2. Mix in the melted butter, and press the mixture into the tin. Leave to set in the fridge.

3. Chuck the condensed milk, cream, lime juice & zest into a massive bowl and mix well, with an electric whisk or whatnot.

4. Eat a large amount of the creamy, limey goodness to relieve stress. Pour the rest over the set biscuit base, and return to the fridge.

*Apparently I’m supposed to put the ‘key’ bit of the title in brackets, because I’m just using common-or-garden limes off the market, instead of key limes. I don’t even know what key limes are! Besides, the Wikipedia page on it is really long and I’ve had a tiring day. Just go right ahead and sue me.

Ode to a galley kitchen

kitchenYou know how, at a party, all the coolest people hang out in the kitchen? Not at my parties. At my parties, the kitchen consists of me, with a glass of wine, stopping people before they attempt to enter, passing them whatever they want, and sending them on their way as quickly as possible. I’d rather take a wet napkin from someone’s hand than let them put it in the bin themselves. Even when people comes over for dinner, it stresses me out if they attempt clear the table. It’s not their fault. They just don’t know the system. That there are approximately five centimetres between the sink and the wall on which to place dirty pots, that you have to tidy the washing up before you can wash the washing up. That I don’t want to inconvenience them with my sheer lack of space.

I used to write recipes for a very cool website, which was lovely, except for the bit where I had to include photos of the food. I have no interest in food photography, not least because it slows down the eating process. Plus, moving the blender and the teapot and various other stuff (see above) out of the way to get a clear background was a pain in the arse. Instead my editor just took to Instagram filtering my pictures into oblivion, leaving me to focus on the cooking.

People think I’m taking some kind of moral stance when I say I don’t have a microwave. It’s actually because I can’t bear to lose a quarter of my work surface, which is already only roughly the width of a rolling pin and a bag of flour. It’s bad enough I can’t take a loaf tin out of the oven without accidentally knocking the kettle on. Or that my husband always seems to want to put his shoes away (yep, in a genius move, the shoe rack lives in the kitchen too!) at the precise moment I need to stand directly in front of the fridge. Balancing a tray of freshly baked florentines on top of the pasta pot that doesn’t fit in the cupboard is not exactly conducive to calm baking.

I’ve achieved some half decent things in that little room. Everything I’ve ever posted on this blog was cooked there, from birthday cakes to cock biscuits. We’ve had Czech themed dinner parties, Hanukkah meals, and more than a dozen curry nights. I prepared my daughter’s first, second and hundredth meal there, until she was old enough to open the fridge and help herself to yoghurts, carrot sticks and leftover spaghetti.  Our new kitchen is kind of retro. And, somewhat worryingly, the oven has an electric hob. But my god, the space! It’s big enough for me to allow other people to enter, without immediately wanting to kill them. The door to the back garden is nowhere near the fridge, so my barbecue accompanying salads will make it to the table unscathed. There’s a dishwasher, which pleases me if for no other reason than the option of storing dirty bowls if I want to cook more than one thing without a Fairy Liquid sponsored break in between.

I won’t particularly miss our tiny house with the red door. That we moved into as a couple, and grew out of about five minutes after we brought our newborn baby home from the hospital. (They never warn you about the sheer volume of stuff that accompanies those tiny babies you can virtually hold in one hand.) It’s sad that we’re leaving behind the place she learned to crawl, walk, demand cereal, and leap off the back of the sofa. But I’m excited to move to somewhere a bit bigger, where my lanky toddler and, later, her little brother, can perfect their elaborate dance routines without smashing their knees on the coffee table. Where I’ll have more space to teach my kids to cook.


florentinesI bid a triumphant farewell to the horrors of the first trimester, glowed for about a week, and was promptly struck down with a three week sinus infection that set out to destroy me. Unable to give me any of the good drugs, a kindly pharmacist prescribed honey & lemon and, as a special treat, honey & lemon made with decaf tea. Ha! I was miserable. (Of course in the grand scheme of life this situation is beyond small fry. I realise that. Nonetheless I reserve the right to moan.)

In order to prove to myself I was still capable of basic human function, I made florentines. They used to be a Christmas staple, until I had a baby and proclaimed them too much of a faff to bother with anymore. My friends and family were distraught (probably). But cakes and cookies are unchallenging, and subsequent ventures into alternative desserts ranged from mildly underwhelming (Turkish delights) to unbridled carnage (macaroons). So I’m officially putting florentines back in the game.

I always used to rely on a recipe I found on the Sainsbury’s website. But this time I went with Delia, because she knows her festive shit. And because she describes these as “absolutely top drawer”. What a dude. I wish she was my drunken old friend. Because she’s so classy, her recipe fails to mention the mild peril post-oven section at all. It’s serious business, but worth the effort and caramel burns to get right. The quantities of the fruit & nut are a little silly and, so long as you have a good mixture of both, should be adjusted to suit you. Delia adds angelica, but then she probably doesn’t shop in the desolation of the so-called baking aisle in my local Morrisons. Mixed peel and the like generally come in 200g tubs. But it’s worth stocking up because, once you master the recipe, you’ll want to make loads. People get seriously worked up over these little fellas.

25g butter
75g caster sugar
10g plain flour
65ml double cream
100g ready-flaked almonds, broken up
50g whole candied peel, chopped
50g glacé cherries, chopped
100g melted chocolate, for decorating
Preheat oven to 190ºC, grease & line a baking tray

1. Chuck the butter, sugar and flour into a small pan, over a low heat, and stir until melted
2. Gradually mix in the cream until smooth. It’s kind of like making a Béchamel sauce except better because SUGAR!
3. Remove from the heat, add all the nuts & stuff (but not the chocolate), stir well.
4. Put about six tablespoon sized lumps onto the tray, with plenty of space between each one.
5. Cook for approx 10 minutes. You need to catch them in the few seconds that they’re golden, before they suddenly turn dark brown. Dark brown isn’t the end of the world, but golden is definitely the optimum colour. Scientific!
6. MILD PERIL: the lumps will have spread like mad. Probably into one giant blob. Get a knife and, working very quickly, shove them all back into little rounds. You need to get rid of the holes, and you need to do it before they set, because otherwise the chocolate decoration will seep through and Christmas will be ruined.
7. Once they’re a respectable shape, transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.
8. Turn the florentines over and decorate the flat sides with the melted chocolate of your choice. Go forth and impress your friends.