The New Classic: Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake

A life without cake isn’t one worth living. Sorry clean eaters and strict dieters.

I knew that when this long weekend that’s just passed came up that I was going to make a cake, irregardless of how poor I currently am (or that I’d just finished a Delia marmalade cake which I managed to burn the sugar top but still tasted good). I simply reached for the nearest cookbook (which just happened to be in my room instead of the bookshelf), which happened to be Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess, and just flicked through the cake chapter until I found one that I had everything in for or at least could make substitutions. A couple were considered but I decided that I hadn’t made or eaten a lemon cake in a long time.

Now for the ultimate making a virtue out of necessity – I had no granulated or caster sugar in, I’ve been working my way through a bag of preserving sugar (it’s just white sugar but with larger crystals) from abandoned jam-making plans  – using it in recipes that call for demerara for crunch etc, so I decided to blitz it in the blender until it was ground fine enough to bake with. Sugar is sugar and why go to the shop when I could just spend a few minutes running the blender?  If you aren’t a skinflint and do have granulated sugar handy, no need for this. I’m just writing what I did! And it worked, though when initially creaming it with the fat, there was still a bit of grit going on. Undetectable in the finished cake. I had just enough icing sugar buried in the cupboard to make the 100g for the syrup.

I also used plain flour with baking powder in lieu of the self raising flour (HANDY TIP! If you also have no SR flour in, add 2 tsp of baking powder to every 150g plain flour instead!), and Waitrose’s essential Olive Spread (they seem to have stopped selling essential sunflower but the olive is only £1.10 a tub so not that much more expensive) instead of butter – it said suitable for baking on the tub, so no issue. It’s important you check this as not all spreads can be used in baking as especially the ‘light’ ones will contain a lot of water. Recipe also stated large eggs, I had mixed sizes as they’re cheapest, and again, didn’t need extra liquid.

I’d say use a deeper 2lb loaf tin than I did, as I had a slight eruption of batter (luckily I had a baking tray directly underneath the tin so I ended up with a single lemony rock bun in addition to the loaf), and the lemons I had were cheap small ones that didn’t zest well so I used the zest of two, but kept to the 1.5 listed for the syrup as they still gave a hell of a lot of juice.

This cake might not be massively voluminous but is still incredibly light and citrussy – frankly it is just what you need. Unpretentious, but heavy with sharp lemon without being overwhelming – I suppose it is just a lemon drizzle cake in all but name, without the un-necessary icing.  I call this an adaptation rather than my own recipe. It’s cake. It’ll make the world feel like a safer place when you eat it.

Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake

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For the cake:
125g olive spread  – or indeed any spread you like, just make sure it says ‘suitable for baking’ on the tub.

175g preserving sugar, ground as finely as you can in the blender – or granulated/caster.

2 eggs

Zest 1 regular lemon or 2 smaller, older ones (as I had)

175g plain flour

2 1/4 tsp baking powder

Pinch salt

4 tbsp milk

For the syrup:
Juice 1 1/2 lemons (about 4 tbsp/half a cup – 60ml)

100g icing sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/gas 4/160C fan; grease and line a 2lb/900g loaf tin with a sheet of baking parchment, leaving it hanging over the sides to make it easier to lift out later.
  2. Cream the olive spread and the ground-down sugar, for at least 5 minutes (a tip I picked up off The Kitchn or Food 52 ages ago), the sugar will still have some grit but don’t worry about it – if you used ordinary sugar, then obviously ignore what I just said as you’ll have no need to worry.
  3. Add in the eggs and lemon zest, beating them in well.
  4. Mix the baking powder and salt into the flour before adding gradually to the mix, folding gently but thoroughly, and then finally, the milk.
  5. Spoon and scrape into the prepared tin and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden and risen (It’ll sink a little on cooling) and a cake tester comes out clean.
  6. Whilst the cake is baking, get on with the syrup – place the icing sugar and lemon juice into a small and heat gently until the sugar is fully dissolved.
  7. As soon as the cake is out of the oven, puncture the top of it numerous times with your cake testing implement. Pour over the syrup, making sure to let the middle get a good dose of it as well as the drier edges, and leave to soak in. Make sure you absolutely douse it and use every last bit of the syrup! Don’t even TRY to take it out of the tin until it is completely cold, as it’ll be sodden with syrup and will crumble apart.
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Ugly But Worthy: Creamy Sardine And Tomato Pasta

The sadly late Anthony Bourdain was quoted as saying that poor cooks are often the most creative because they have to be (paraphrased horribly I hasten to add). Do I need to continue my gushy worship of Jack Monroe…you must have got it by now!

This is one of their recipes but adapted to suit what I had in my fridge that needed using up, and also, it continues my theme of rags-to-riches cooking. The ingredient that was given the star treatment perhaps erred on the side of dowdy as opposed to dismal, but this definitely allowed it to truly dazzle.

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Ages ago, I purchased some Princes Sardine And Tomato paste  (which also has sprats and haddock in it) when I went through a huge tinned fish phase, and I’d opened it to have on some toasted slices of homemade bread earlier in the week, but knew it needed using very shortly. After spending a long time re-acquainting myself with Jack’s recipes, either earmarking some new ones to cook, or just getting ideas, I landed upon this – pasta with a sauce made from cheap salmon paste and yoghurt. I did a top-up essentials shop after work this morning and made sure to buy yoghurt (even though of late I’ve not been into smoothies so it’s vanished from my regular shopping) as I really liked the sound of this recipe.

I also had a bald lemon sitting in the fridge from another recipe so this was a perfect way to get rid of it.

To cut a waffle short, the main fish component has been changed, and I upped the lemon contingent so I can call this my own. Don’t be put off by it’s rain-soaked-cardboard colour, one taste, and it’s kerpow. A surprisingly zesty and uplifting summer lunch made with something you’d eat in sandwiches at Grange-Over-Sands on a rainy day.

Use any pasta shape you have knocking about – could be good either on short cut shapes or spaghetti.

Serves 1 but easily doubled.

 

Creamy Sardine And Tomato Pasta

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Another dish that’s aesthetically challenged.

 

75g pasta, either penne (or other short shape) or spaghetti

1/2 onion, sliced

Pinch chilli flakes

1/2 tbsp oil

Juice of a small lemon (to taste, but I recommend at least half)

75ml/5tbsp fat free natural yoghurt (not a necessity, use whatever yoghurt you have in, just make sure it’s plain!)

About 3/4 of a 75g jar sardine and tomato paste (Princes isn’t essential here, it’s just what I had, if you can find own brand cheaper, use that)

  1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil, and add the pasta. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for 8 to 10 minutes.
  2.  Put the sliced onion into a small pan with the oil and lemon juice, and cook over a medium heat to soften. NOTE: I squeezed in the juice from half the lemon first, and when it evaporated off, I squeezed in the second half mainly to deglaze any brown bits off the pan but it’s down to how sharp you like it. Lemon is fish’s best partner after all.
  3. When the pasta is cooked but still al dente, remove from the heat and drain, reserving about 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Quickly stir the yoghurt and fish paste into the onions to warm through – I took my eye off the pan for a touch too long and the yoghurt began to split, but that’s maybe because it was fat-free.
  4. Pour the sauce into the pasta pan, along with the reserved cooking water and heat through until the pasta has absorbed it, and then serve and prepare to be amazed.

Where’s The Meat: Mushroom And Chickpea ‘Bourgignon’

Please accept this vegan recipe as a peace offering after writing about cooking with offal and MSM the past few days!

It would only be a matter of time before I started playing with the doyenne of rags-to-riches cooking themselves, Jack Monroe’s recipes and making them my own. I read this on their site and liked the sound of it as I had an 88% full (roughly) punnet of mushrooms in the fridge that I couldn’t see myself using for anything else over the next few days, and I felt it’d be a good way to use a few bits out of my store cupboard too – I know coconut oil isn’t budget cooking, but I had the end of a jar languishing at the back from almost a year ago (when I made these brownies for a friend’s birthday) and it was getting on my nerves so, out it came.

I’ve only lightly played with this, by adding the chickpeas for some protein, and a couple of extra flavourings in the bay leaf and the steak seasoning. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to spread the word of the phenomenal work Jack does – they are as ‘up there’ in my culinary place of worship as Nigella, if not on equal billing. In fact my favourite way of cooking is taking one of Nigella’s recipes and ‘Monroe-ing it’ i.e using the cheapest possible version of the listed ingredients as far as possible without ruining it – classic case in point, the chocolate cake I posted a few months back.

Why tea? Jack has waxed lyrical numerous times about how black tea is a great substitute in any braise that calls for red wine, as it provides the same tannic flavour wine gives after a long slow cook and one doesn’t have any red wine in or doesn’t want to go and get some/avoiding it for whatever reason. When writing this up, I realised Jack used two teabags to get some truly strong tea and I only used one, hence why I perhaps couldn’t quite taste it. Ah well, next time, I’ll use two.

The original recipe served 4, I’m greedy so it served two for me, but as it’s all vegetables, I don’t feel guilty. Either way, this is an enormously satisfying meat-free stew – I had it with (don’t tell anyone….instant) mash but serve it however you like – plain rice or buttered noodles would be good, or just eaten out of a bowl, and because it’s made entirely of vegetables, no need to cook any extra sides.

Sorry the photo is bad…this is classic comfort food – but with a face only it’s mother could love.

Mushroom And Chickpea Stew/ ‘Bourgignon’

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1 medium onion, sliced

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 dessert spoons coconut oil

1 x 400g tin plum tomatoes

1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained

2 tbsp tomato purée

300ml strong black tea,

1 tsp dried mixed herbs

Few shakes Schwartz Steak seasoning (or indeed any brand)

1 bay leaf

300g mushrooms, sliced

  1. Boil kettle, and brew the tea (300ml means the biggest mug you can find). Leave to stew.
  2. Place the onion and garlic into a pan, and dollop the oil over. Stir, add a pinch of salt and bring to a medium heat, continuing to stir as the oil liquefies. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally until softened, take care to not let them darken.
  3. Pour over the tinned tomatoes, stir in the puree, and add the herbs. Remove the teabag(s) from the mug and pour the tea into the pan, and give everything a stir.
  4. Add the sliced mushrooms and the chickpeas, then bring it all to the boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook for at least 20 minutes to let the sauce reduce and thicken and all the flavours meld together. You’ll want a fairly thick gravy but really it’s up to you.
  5. Season to taste, adding the steak seasoning, and optionally, a splash of vinegar, before serving, either eaten dreamily out of a bowl in front of Netflix, or beside some mash or over plain rice.

Rags To Riches: Sweet And Sour Hot Dogs..Cambridge Style?

I always love when frantically scouring cookbooks or recipes online; in dire need of fresh inspiration but with no desire to shop; and I drop the metaphorical pin on a recipe where upon initial browsing, I realise I have every ingredient in stock. This was one such occasion, albeit subject to my usual adaptations and tweaking so I can now paraphrase it as mine own.

My new bootstrap cooking approach has meant that I’m stocking my cupboards with ingredients that range from the merely dowdy, downmarket, to the downright dismal, and trying to find ways to zhuzh them up and give them a chance to dazzle for once. This is definitely based on one of the dismal kind – tinned hot dogs. As in THE cheapest you can get, made from the dreaded pink slime. I know, I know. What have I become? I’m sorry to my vegan friends.

The source recipe for this, bizarrely sold this as ‘Polynesian sweet and sour’. Now I admit I’m not familiar with the cuisine of the Pacific Islands but the original creator might have their geography mixed up or they’re just pushing it a bit far. The flavours present here are distinctly Oriental – in fact, it tasted pretty much like anything offered by local Chinese takeaways and I assure you this is no bad thing.

Anyway, I had a dented can of pineapple rings in the cupboard that needed using, two peppers in the fridge that were just starting to ruche…plus all the other ingredients, including an almost-empty packet of garlic powder that really needed to be used…time to make canned hotdogs chic, or at least edible.

Don’t skip the browning of the hot dogs part – honestly, it’s worth it. And I also recommend stir frying the peppers before adding the pineapple.

The source claimed this served 8…really? It more realistically serves two but then again the hot dogs were pretty small.

Sweet And Sour Hot Dogs

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1 x 432g tin pineapple rings in juice, or chunks (not in syrup though)

1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed

3 tbsp vinegar (I used distilled malt but any will do)

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp garlic powder

2 tbsp oil

1 x 400g tin hot dogs in brine, drained and sliced on the diagonal into 3 pieces per dog

1 green pepper, cut into cubes

1 orange or red pepper, cubed

2tbsp cornflour, slaked in 2 tbsp water

 

  1. Drain pineapple rings, reserving juice. Chop into chunks.
  2. In a bowl, stir the juice with brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and garlic powder (should you have any MSG or red food colouring in your cupboard..;))
  3. In a frying pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Fry the hot-dogs for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. I highly recommend this step, especially if you are using the absolute cheapest of cheap ones. Remove from pan to a bowl and set aside.
  4. Place the chopped peppers into the hot pan, add a little more oil if necessary and stir fry for a few minutes, until they lightly catch. Do this as long as you want – the more charring the better. Add the chopped pineapple chunks and the juice mixture.
  5. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer, cooking uncovered for about 5-6 minutes to allow the sauce to reduce slightly.
  6. Pour in the slaked cornflour and stir constantly until mixture is thick and bubbling – like from the takeaway, you want a thick coating rather than a runny gravy.
  7. Return the hot dogs to the pan, stir to combine with the coated veg and fruit, and cook for 4-5 minutes until heated through.
  8. Serve over boiled rice, or, if you really want to go to town, egg fried rice.

Silk Purse From A Sow’s Ear?

I don;t know whether to write this recipe down or not, but I just thought I’d share another example of taking a derided and downmarket food product and elevating it whilst still on a budget.

 

 

Not a bad looking bowl of ramen, is it? Yet the only authentically oriental ingredient in that bowl was the generous splash of soy sauce! This started life as a pack of 20p value noodles (that favourite of students), and yes, I did use the seasoning sachet as the basis for the broth. Also present are frozen peas and canned mackerel, along with some sliced mushrooms.

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All these distinctly British and sneered-at-by-food-elitist store cupboard staples, but yet, made a pretty good impression of proper ramen. I followed Nigella’s method from Simply Nigella and just again, used the instructions as my base – for example in lieu of the 500ml dashi she specifies, I just dissolved the seasoning sachet in 500ml hot water etc, etc. I don’t think a recipe is needed, but just wanted to share this example of taking rubbish ingredients, and, with a bit of thought, turn them into something a lot more promising.

Feel free to badger me if you really want the recipe, but honestly, just look up Nigella’s ramen recipe!

Cheap And Cheerful: Liver Casserole

Yes,I know. I can already hear the screams of horror. I can see a stampede of vegans with burning torches and pitchforks heading up the street ready to have me burned at the stake for this.

But hear me out.

I’m well aware that liver is considered the food of octogenarians, or brings shivers down the spine of anyone who had to endure school dinner liver, all faintly green and sickeningly overdone. Indeed, handled badly, liver does turn into shoe leather both in look and taste, but with a bit more care, it can actually be quite delicious, and plus, it;s filthy cheap. Plus I kind of like these old-school British dishes, even in the middle of this relentless heatwave.

There’s two ways you can cook liver; either flash fried and served with onions and bacon, or casseroled for at least 40 minutes. I’ve only ever casseroled liver (though I once made liver curry, and despite sounding hideously unpromising, it was actually extremely good), and when you cook it this way too, you’ll want to eat it so much more – it makes the most wonderful gravy.

This recipe was adapted from one I found online after impulse buying just shy of 400g of lambs’ liver from my local supermarket’s butcher counter reductions pile and it came to just 95p. Enough to feed 2 (or myself for 2 days) handsomely.

It is ideal, especially if you’re new to cooking liver, to soak it in milk first as this mellows the taste, but I found, at least with this lambs’ liver, that this step was un-necessary. (I was being lazy).

A final note, and it’s a bossy one – mash, be it potato, or, if you’re of a more low carb bent, cauliflower, is the only acceptable accompaniment as nothing else can carry the exquisite gravy the same way.  Though some crisped bacon, and maybe some steamed cabbage or kale on the side wouldn’t be a bad shout.

Liver Casserole

 

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Yes, the mash is awful-looking, isn’t it? I apologise.

 

400-500g liver, from any animal you like (whatever’s cheapest)

1-2 tbsp oil

1 onion, sliced,

2 stock cubes (any you like)

1 tbsp tomato puree

2 tbsp ketchup

1 tbsp vinegar or Worcester sauce

 

  1. Wash the liver and drain in a colander in case of any excess blood, before slicing into chunks, not too big, just the same as regular stewing steak, being careful to remove and sinewy bits. You don’t want these in your casserole.
  2. In a large pan over medium-high heat, fry off the onions, sprinkling with salt to stop them catching until soft. Remove from the pan and add a splash more oil if necessary.
  3. Brown the liver pieces in the oil, ensuring, if you can, to get a good colour. Alternatively, you could switch these steps around, by browning off the liver first before adding the onions and then transferring the liver to a plate.
  4. Return the onions to the pan (or the liver, along with any juices that have collected if you did this the other way around), and pour over just enough water to cover. Crumble in the two stock cubes (I used chicken but with 1/2 tbsp beef gravy granules added) along with the puree, ketchup and vinegar (or Worcester sauce) and stir well.
  5. Bring to boil then turn down to a fast simmer and cook for about 45 minutes. Serve, with mash of course, once the gravy is reduced to a thick sauce and the liver is tender.

Struggle Food: Spiced Chicken With Apple and Tomato

I have yet to come up with a name for this dish, but I’ve titled the post ‘struggle food’ after reading a thread on a certain notorious forum that had members discussing food that their families or themselves cooked in times where money was exceptionally tight, and it inspired me to be more creative, as a) I’m having to at the moment, and b) I desperately need some new content up in here.

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Bit like playing Ready, Steady, Cook, I suppose.

This recipe began life as Nigella Lawson’s Pollo alla Cacciatore from Express, but I merely just used the instructions as my bass line whilst rummaging around my cupboards to see what I could concoct for some freezer-burned chicken thighs. (I think only the chicken, canned tomatoes, and use of canned beans to make it a one-pot meal remain from the original recipe!) This was the result.

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Adding apple to any meat braise is very 1960s school dinners I know but it worked well here. Plus I’m a huge fan of meat with fruit (a-la Moroccan cooking).

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It’s a curious amalgam of various cultures….I genuinely don’t know what to call it, I found ‘chicken and apple stew’ sounded somewhat unappetising, and ‘chicken surprise’ to just be frankly terrible. So I’ve just called it ‘ spiced chicken with apple and tomato’ which really doens’t sound that bad, actually..

Anyway, try it yourself and see what you think.

Spiced Chicken With Apple and Tomato

 

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1-2 tbsp oil

1 garlic clove

2 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into cubes

1 gala apple, skin left on, cubed

‘Steak seasoning’, generous few shakes (approx 1/2 tbsp)

1.5 tsp Aleppo pepper

1/2 tsp mixed herbs

2 tsp wholegrain mustard, mixed with juice 1/2 lemon and splash water to make a slurry, approx 60ml

1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes

2 bay leaves

1.5 tsp sugar

1 x 400g tin red kidney beans, drained and rinsed.

  1. Put oil into a saucepan, and grate the garlic into it BEFORE turning on the heat (it stops it from burning straight away) to medium.
  2. Coat the chicken pieces in the steak seasoning.
  3. When garlic is sizzling and starting to turn golden, add the chicken to the pan, along with 1 tsp of the Aleppo pepper, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the chicken is ‘sealed’.
  4. Add the mustard slurry and cook for 1-2 minutes, before adding the chopped apple and stir to coat with this aromatic sludge, and cook for 1-2 minutes more.
  5. Tip in the tomatoes, rinsing the tin out with roughly 60ml water, before adding the bay leaves, mixed herbs and sugar, season again if desired.
  6. Clamp on a lid and simmer for 20 minutes, until chicken is tender. Apple pieces should still be keeping their shape.
  7. Drain and rinse the kidney beans, if using, and add to the pan about 10 minutes before the end of cooking. When they have warmed through, you are ready to eat.