Lola and Finn's Mum

Lola and Finn's Mum

Saturday, 23 January 2016

A cake to make me less narky: Barefoot Contessa's Apple Spice Cake

So, I am justifying the inclusion of this truly wonderful cake into my ‘do things better’ agenda for the following reasons: It has apple in it, so surely must be one of my five a day. It is made with vegetable oil and not butter so that has to make it a ‘better’ cake, whatever that is. It is packed with spices and of course they have oodles of medicinal qualities, and lastly, a bit of what you fancy does you good, and the opportunity to sit down with a slice of this with a cuppa turns a narky Stella into a less narky one. Only one slice mind…
If you want a really really reliable, decadent, frankly scrumptious cake, you open a Barefoot Contessa book and turn to the section marked ‘desserts’. There you will find cake heaven. And it was in her ‘Make it Ahead’ cookery book that I found this. Don’t be put off by the amount of spices; go buy them if you haven’t got them because you will be making this cake more than once. I promise.
I very rarely alter a Barefoot Contessa recipe because they are usually perfect. However, I have made a couple of alterations, mainly due to the fact that I didn’t have any golden raisins, but I did have some pretty jewel like sultanas which did the job just nicely. I also didn’t have the exact size pan as indicated in the recipe, so I split the mixture between two smaller pans.
If you don’t fancy my chosen way of eating this, with a cuppa, then serve some slightly warm with some ice cream. And swoon…

APPLE SPICE CAKE from ‘Make It Ahead’ by Ina Garten
serves 12
An American recipe, so uses cup measurements (which I quite like…)
1 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup rum
1 cup golden raisins (I used sultanas)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown (Muscavado) sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp grated orange zest
2 1/2 cup plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
3 (large) to 4 (small) Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and 1/4 inch diced

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9x13x2 inch baking pan, or a pan(s) that will take the amount of mixture.
Toast the pecans on a baking sheet for 5 to 10 minutes. Watch the nuts like a hawk. They burn in the blink of an eye. Set aside.
Add the rum and raisins to a microwave-safe bowl and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap; microwave for 1 minute, then set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vegetable oil, vanilla, and orange zest on medium speed.

Once combined, add the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves; mix until smooth. The batter will be very thick.
Drain the raisins before adding them to the batter. Drink the rum.

Add the apples and pecans too, then use a rubber spatula to fold them all into the batter.

Spread this batter in your prepared pan, smoothing it out.
Bake the cake for 35 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Let the cake cool until it’s barely warm or room temperature before cutting into squares.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

I AM NOT ON A DIET. I AM NOT ON A DIET (repeat to fade) Chicken with Lentils and Rosemary

I am not on a diet. Diet is a dirty word. It conjures up ideas of solitary lettuce leaves and a kind of hunger which makes you want to kill someone (in my case anyway that is; I am always at my most calm and serene with a full stomach). So, what I am doing is making better choices. I am ‘doing stuff better’ a la my New Year’s Resolution (mentioned here) and it is a vague enough notion to ensure that I don’t fail. Let’s face it; ‘doing stuff better’ could mean anything. But at this time, it means selecting foods to eat that I know are good for me and that I enjoy, and staying off the pies.

It is, with this in mind, that a foray into the latest Waitrose magazine led me to discover a Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall dish for chicken with lentils and rosemary. Yum, says I, for though lentils get a bad rap, I absolutely adore them and as such, should eat a whole lot more of them. In this recipe, the lentils draw in the flavour of chicken stock, onions, garlic and rosemary and transform into something gorgeously tasty and satisfying, so much so I probably could have eaten a bowl of that alone and felt pretty damn satisfied. The accompanying chicken was more a bonus than the main event for me.

This is pretty easy to make. It’s a one pot wonder essentially and thus good for a night where I can’t really be bothered with much culinary flourish. It does require more effort than hurling some oven chips in the general direction of the cooker, but once you have sautéed your onion, garlic, rosemary and then added the lentils and stock, you are good to go really. Just plonk the chicken on top. And I don’t know whether it was luck or judgement, but the resulting dish was the cooked down tastiness of the lentils but with some on top still retaining their shape but yielding willingly as you ate. Yum. The consistency of the lentils, kind of reminded me a little of mash, and that could never be a bad thing.

I served this with steamed spring greens, their verdant, iron rich goodness complimenting the chicken and the lentils completely.

Chicken with Rosemary and Lentils, taken from Waitrose magazine

Serves 4/5 people

My alterations in red.


2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil

1 large onion, sliced (I used two biggish ones)

4 garlic cloves, chopped

Leaves from 2 sprigs of rosemary

200g red lentils, well rinsed

500ml chicken or veg stock (I used chicken stock. It was quite a strong stock)

8 skin-on, bone-in, free-range chicken thighs, or 1 medium chicken (about 1.75kg/4lb), jointed into 6-8 pieces (I used four chicken breasts on the bone, skin on)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Flat-leaf parsley, chopped, to finish

Pre-heat the oven to 180c

In a flameproof casserole pan or pot that will be big enough to hold the chicken in one layer, add the oil, then the onion and cook, stirring regularly, for six to eight minutes until it begins to soften. Add the garlic, rosemary and some salt and pepper. Cook gently for a further five minutes, then stir in the lentils and stock.

Season the chicken and place skin-side up in the casserole. The chicken skin should remain exposed above the liquid in the dish so it can brown in the oven.

Bring to a simmer on the hob, then transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, for about an hour. Mine took about 50 minutes. Check that the chicken is cooked right through and the lentils are soft. If not, return to the oven for 10-15 minutes and test again.

Skim off any excess fat from the surface. Taste the lentils and add more salt or pepper if needed. Mine did need a bit more seasoning.

Scatter over the parsley.

I served this with spring greens.


Saturday, 9 January 2016

Hob Top Lunch - Chilli Beef Wraps

Yeh, I know, I should be encouraging a little more decorum when it comes to eating lunch, but when you’ve had no breakfast, spent the morning running around catching up on housework and you get to 1pm and you realise that you haven’t eaten yet and that actually you could eat a scabby horse round about now, that there is something quite appealing about rustling up something and then diving in, no laying of the table, just get on with it. And that is what happened right here and in the spirit of my ‘doing things better’ this year, I decided to sit down and blog about it instead of doing the ironing.

I bought some tortillas ages ago because I had the notion I was going to make fajitas for Lola and Finn but for reasons that I cannot remember it didn’t happen. I probably thought to myself, “Sod it, we’ll get a takeaway…” Anyway, the tortillas have been lodged behind the toaster for longer than I care to remember and as I had some sad looking peppers, beef mince that was about to go past its sell by date and a basket full of spices so I set to work.

You could juzz this up by making it far spicier than I have; I always have to factor in the delicate palates of my bubs. I had some salsa in the fridge which spiced the mixture up as required and a spritz of lime made it all taste tingletastic. We all ate stood up, next to the cooker, just a couple of spoons and a handful of tortilla. Lunch is served.

Chilli Beef Wraps

Serves 3 to 4 people


Olive oil

Two onions, finely chopped

1 big clove of garlic

1 red and 1 yellow pepper, diced

2 tsp cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp chilli flakes

400g beef mince

Salt and pepper

Handful of chopped coriander

To serve –

Lime wedges



Guacamole, etc.


Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a frying pan.

Over a medium heat, fry the onions until translucent.

Add the garlic and cook for about a minute or so, take care not to burn the garlic.

Add the diced peppers and the cumin, the coriander and the chilli flakes. Fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the mince and saute until brown. Season.

Increase the heat and cook the mince until it becomes quite dry. You will need to keep the mince moving so it does not burn.

Once the mince is of a dryish consistency, taste again for seasoning. Stir some of the chopped coriander through the mince and then scatter some over the top. Serve decorated with lime wedges from the pan if you like, with tortillas and salsa and guacamole…

Monday, 4 January 2016

The first post of 2016 and, I hope, not the last - Herbed Pork Loin with Prosciutto

So, my new year’s resolution is conveniently vague and is basically to try to ‘do stuff better’. This could encompass such aspects as eating better, trying harder to do the things I enjoy, more exercise, stop buying shoes… whatever. I think a general malaise has set in, due to modern life being, frankly, rubbish and whilst I don’t want to sound like a miserable old cow, one of the quotations that I learned for my German Literature A level examination, 23 years ago, was ‘fur die Tretmulle bestimmt’ from ‘Und Sagte kein einziges Wort’ by Heinrich Boll. This phrase kept coming back to me towards the end of 2015. Basically, destined for the treadmill. And I've gotta get off that treadmill.

So here is a blog post about a pretty yum, easy and satisfying meal that we actually sat round the table for, (and there we have another little, but crucial, activity that went by the by last year and needs to return: Eating together and having a bit of a conversation about ‘stuff’). In the spirit of trying to ‘get back’, I returned to the tried and tested brilliance of the Barefoot Contessa, who, no matter which dish I pick from one of her gloriously colourful and luscious books, the end result will make you look pretty adept.

This recipe is from her last book, ‘Make it Ahead’, which appeals to the organised person with not a lot of time and who wants to party on with her guests. I already have not a lot of time; now I just need to be organised and have a party.

Herbed Pork Tenderloin (with Apple Chutney which I did not make because I had some to use up) from 'Make it Ahead' by Ina Garten

My alterations/additions are in red


I halved the recipe below - except for the prosciutto, of which I used 10 slices

2 pork tenderloins (also known as pork fillet) (2 1/2 to 3 pounds total)
1 tablespoon minced (chopped!) fresh rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tbsp. (chopped) fresh sage
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Good olive oil
10 to 12 slices prosciutto

 Apple Chutney
(I used apple sauce, left over from Christmas)


Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Cut any sinew or excess fat from the pork loin and pat dry.

Chop the rosemary, the sage and the thyme then add ½ tsp of salt and ½ of ground black pepper to the herbs. Combine.

It’s probably easier to lay out the slices of prosciutto, overlapping each other, onto a baking tray, in preparation for laying the herbed loin onto it.

Coat the loin in a little olive oil and rub the herb and seasoning mixture all around it. Place it onto the prosciutto and pull the prosciutto over the loin, a bit like a blanket. Carefully turn the loin over so the prosciutto ends are tucked under the loin.

Place in the oven for about 25 minutes and then if you have a thermometer, check that the internal temperature is … I just cooked mine for 25 minutes and took a chance, to be honest. Pork loin is seriously chewy if you over cook it.

The Barefoot Contessa serves this with an apple chutney which, let’s face it, is a pretty fab idea. I used the last of the apple sauce with Calvados from Christmas which counteracted the saltiness of the prosciutto fabulously.


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