Saturday, 26 January 2013

Recipe LXXXVIII - Apple and Cinnamon Sponge Cake

This is one of the easiest and least time-consuming recipes you can find. It is perfect as an offering at a party, to sell at a village fête, or like I did, take to a celebratory end-of-semester lesson. It is very tasty, and the measurements are so easy to remember that you'll never be able to forget it.

180-200g fine sugar
180-200g softened butter
180-200g self-raising flour
2 eggs
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 braeburn apple, roughly chopped

1 baking tin with removable base (see far left in the photo)
1 electric mixer
1 set of scales
1 large bowl

Turn on the oven to 180°C. Cut up your butter and put it into a bowl, then put the sugar in and mix it up. Crack the eggs, and give it a go with the mixer.

Add the flour, and carry on mixing it. It will quite quickly turn into a cement-like consistency. Then add the pieces of apple, and mix them nicely in so they are in all parts of the mixture.

Take your cake mould and grease the inside, then pour in the mix, and spread it out to make a roughly flat surface.

Put it into the oven for between 30 and 45 minutes. You will know when it is ready because a knife inserted into the top will come out clean.

Don't peel the apple - the outer layer gives the cake a tangy flavour. Serve with whipped cream and a cup of tea.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Recipe LXXXVII - Winter Warmer: Beef Stew

It's -5°C outside and the snow lying on the ground is so charming to look at, but spend a few minutes bringing up the wood for the fire and you soon realise how nipple-hardeningly chilled you become in such a short time. For that reason, I'm making a beef stew with all the necessary accoutrements to keep the kitchen warm for a few hours - a slow oven cook. Beef shank is quite sinewy and full of marrow and fat, so cooking it in a few minutes is a very bad idea. But leave it for several hours in a casserole dish on a slow cook and the beef will do the hard work: its flavour will ooze, its fat will run, its marrow will shrink and along with the vegetables you add, the whole thing will be worth the wait at the end of the day. Bear in mind, though, you need a lot of meat to make it, as it shrinks and falls from the bone.

1kg to 1.5kg beef shank
salt and pepper
2 bottles of dark beer (I used Czech Březňák because I love its smoothness, but British or Irish stout, German or Belgian dark beers will also do)
2 onions, quartered
Feel free to use your own range of vegetables. I used these below:
7 large mushrooms, whole
1 fennel, sliced
5 carrots, in large pieces
5 potatoes, cut to size, parboiled
5 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs of rosemary
10 whole peppercorns
Walnut oil, if you have it, otherwise olive oil or ordinary
Optional: sugar, cinnamon or sultanas

A high-sided frying pan
A casserole dish with a lid

Put the beef, well-salted and peppered, into a high-sided frying pan and fry on a gentle heat for a few minutes to seal both sides. Leave it on the side in the casserole dish. Put the water on to parboil your potatoes. Then put your vegetables, bay leaf, rosemary and peppercorns into the pan and sweat gently on a low flame for ten to fifteen minutes.

Put in your potatoes and slowly add the beer, letting it heat up to simmering point.

Leave it for a further ten minutes, then pour it over the beef in the casserole dish, and put the whole thing in the oven for 6 to 9 hours.

Not only does your house smell marvellous for a whole afternoon and evening, but the results are very rewarding.

To make the flavour just right, after a couple of hours, take it out for a brief time to add whatever it may need. This could include sweetening it, to take the bitterness of the beer away. You can use sugar and/or sultanas and/or cinnamon, but it's your call. Anyhow, enjoy the anticipation, which is just as good as the eating!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Recipe LXXXVI - Apricot Dumplings

The Austrians and Hungarians are both not very well-liked by the Czechs. Firstly because they felt snubbed when the Emperor decided, when he was crowned, to overlook Prague and just have his coronations in Vienna and Budapest, ending Czech equal status in the Empire, called "Austro-Hungarian", not "Austro-Czech-Hungarian". But it doesn't stop there. In the courts of the Emperor, as well as in those of the upper nobility, it was common to have a Czech cook. The Czechs are quite miffed that their neighbours adopted lots of Czech dishes that are their own, and not Austrian or Hungarian. The Schnitzel, Goulash, Strudel and this particular dish are all most likely Czech, but they are known by their association to other countries.

The Austrians call them "Marillenknödel", and the Czechs "meruňkové knedliky", but they are essentially the same in both countries.

This particular dish, despite not being the most photogenic, is one I have revered as the most delicious dessert I have ever eaten. Be aware that the measurements are purely guidelines, as this is a grandmother's recipe, not a pastry chef's recipe. Ever made quark cheese dough? It's surprisingly resilient, even when in a pot of nearly-boiling water...

500g fresh quark cheese
6-10 small apricots
Some spoonfuls of demerara sugar
Some semolina flour
Some butter - preferably soft but not melted
1 large egg yolk
2-3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla sugar
A pinch of salt
Some plain flour, both for kneading and adding to the dough
Powder sugar for decoration
Whipped cream, sour cream and/or melted butter

Put the quark in a sieve for between 30 minutes and an hour to drain off the excess liquid. Put it into a bowl and add the soft butter, egg yolk, semolina flour, sugar and vanilla sugar then mix it all in together with a wooden spoon, but don't mix it in too well as it needs to keep its rough, unpretentious nature. Add some ordinary flour at this point and mix it into a fluffy, light yet stick dough.

At this point, you will need a lot of flour on your hands, and on the board you are using. Better a ceramic one, as this can get really, really messy.
Using the wooden spoon, put the dough on the board and roll out into a log, then cut off a slice.

Flatten it using your fingers, then take an apricot (usually whole, pipped and with a slit wide enough to slip some demerara sugar into it, but in my case, I quartered a half-slice and sprinkled some on top) and enclose the dough around it. Roll them into balls with your hands.

It is almost impossible, with such a volatile dough, to get it totally enclosed, but it's not too important. The stuff is very resilient. Put them on a plate ready for boiling.

Bring a saucepan of water almost to a boil, and put some dumplings directly in it using a perforated serving spoon. Make sure they don't stick to the bottom of the saucepan, and check regularly. As soon as they rise to the surface, they are ready.

Put them onto a plate, pour the melted butter on top, sprinkle some powder sugar if you want, and serve with whipped cream or sour cream. If it's a hot day, ice cream goes down really well.

Here is a photo of a dumpling that has been opened:

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Recipe LXXXV - Cooking with Vegetables II: the Savoy Cabbage

Sorry for the recent silence, I was in Prague for a week over New Year and as usual had an absolute ball. Lots of food, drink and fun was had by all. I had the good fortune of spending one evening in a Czech restaurant called Blatnice (, one of the oldest restaurants in Prague. From the outside, even with the period between Christmas and New Year making it emptier than usual, it still had a very pleasant atmosphere, so we ventured inside. It did not disappoint. The one thing that Czechs know how to do it cook meat and vegetables in a way attractive to everyone from young to old. This restaurant excels in that, and their cabbage is no exception. I am a big believer in a balanced diet, and would in no way condone the eating of this vegetable alone, so don't forget to choose your meat and potatoes well, otherwise you'll be as anaemic as all those crazy vegans and other bunny-kissing nutcases!

1 Savoy cabbage
A tablespoonful of caraway seeds
20cl white wine vinegar or table vinegar
Some sugar to taste
Some salt to taste
For the binding later:
50g butter
50g flour
Some milk

Take your cabbage and cut it into centimetre-wide strips no longer than 10 cm. Put them into a bowl and pour on the caraway seeds. Mix them up well then add the vinegar and some sugar and salt. Toss the ingredients really well and leave them aside for a while. Now is the time to make all the other things you wish to put with it. I made roast pork ribs with roast potatoes, as pork goes really well with this type of cabbage.
Put your cabbage and the excess vinegar into a high-sided pan with lid and put it on a low heat for up to half an hour.

Now you need to make roux. This is quite easy - it is half-way to making Béchamel sauce. Take your butter and put it in the high-sided pan that you have cleaned out and dried. Once it is melted, add the flour, stirring it in as much as possible until it turns into a proper consistency. Add a little milk to keep it slightly fluid and to stop it from burning. The idea is that it is not a sauce, but a coating.

Pour it onto your cabbage and toss it until it totally coats the vegetable.

Take your meat and potatoes out of the oven and serve them all on heated plates.