I visited Gola del Furlo during recent trip to Italy. This is truly an amazing place for nature lovers – naked limestone cliffs rise up on either side of the bright green waters of the Candigliano River, leaving just enough room for a narrow road pass. A couple of years ago there was a dramatic land slide and road collapse, (see pictures below), since then road is open for pedestrians only. The area is now a natural park and home to rare flora and fauna. There are plenty of perfect places to find for a picnic along the way or to climb up to the top of the gorge. Apparently, the small village of Furlo at the mouth of the gorge is a good place to eat truffles in season. However, when we were there, the village and the eatery places looked rather sad and derelict, some of them without any signs of life and when we stopped in one of the trattorias for a drink, the owner jumped at the occasion to share with us his worries about the future of the this place, his trattoria, his neighbours’ establishments, and how they were affected by the recent accident (road’s fall forced the closure of the main road between local villages) and the lack of the passer-by.
Like many of us, I do have a copy of Nigella’s book ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’. Over the years, we cooked a lot of recipes from this book, some of them more than once, but some of the recipes couldn’t hold my attention long enough (perhaps the lack of the picture along the recipe is the reason 🙂 Rosemary Loaf Cake was one of these neglected (by me) recipes, until fellow blogger Andrea from Ten More Bites wrote about this cake in her blog here. Maybe because of how she described it, or the presence of the picture, or addition of the apple sauce and the dollop of cream on the side, I don’t know what was the turning point, but I wanted to make this cake as soon as possible and I did. It has a lovely taste, texture and is delicately flavoured with rosemary.
ROSEMARY LOAF CAKE
(Originally by Nigella Lawson)
250g butter at room temperature
200g caster sugar
3 large eggs
210g self-raising flour
90g plain flour
splash vanilla extract
leaves from a 10cm stalk of rosemary, chopped small with scissors
4 tablespoons of milk
1. Preheat oven to 170C and grease and line a 23cmx13x loaf tin.
2. In bowl of electric mixer cream butter and add the sugar after the butter is very pale then continue creaming until smooth and light.
3. Beat in eggs one at a time, folding in a heaped spoonful of flour after each addition, and after this is mixed add the rest of the flour, then the vanilla and rosemary, using a rubber spatula for this.
4. Add milk, then scrape into tin.
5. Sprinkle over the extra sugar, if you wish, then bake for 50-60 minutes/until a skewer comes out clean.
6. Place tin on wire rack and when cold remove from the loaf tin.
If you are not familiar with the polenta mush yet, you need to be. Let me introduce you to it now.
Polenta originated in Northern Italy as a peasant food at first, but I am very glad now that it finally gained world wide recognition and rapidly became popular. Yellow polenta is such a versatile ingredient, is often served as a soft, thick mush, which may be topped with sauce, a hearty ragout, or cheese. Cooked polenta can also be cooled until firm and cut into wedges, rounds, or other shapes, which can be baked, grilled, or pan-fried and also used in sweet bakes and desserts. But, today, I’d like to share the recipe of the perfect side dish or as an alternative to potato mush.
The only thing I have to warn you, polenta without the seasoning can be very plain and tasteless, therefore, make sure you season it well. Season, taste it and then… season a bit more.
I like to cook polenta in a chicken stock (or in its absence, a chicken stock in cubes is just as handy), adding the butter and the cheese (this time instead of Parmesan I used Cheddar) for extra creaminess. It takes no more then 15 minutes to prepare and it’s so comforting and absolutely delicious.
PIRI PIRI CHICKEN WITH CREAMY CHEESY POLENTA MUSH
4 skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons Piri Piri seasoning mix
pinch of salt
olive oil for frying
For Polenta Mush:
2 cups (450 ml) chicken stock
1/2 cup (120 ml) water
1 cup (225 ml) milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup (250 g) coarse yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup (100 g) grated cheddar cheese
Plus: any green vegetable to serve (I used broccoli)
1. Start with preparing the chicken by placing it on a large sheet of greaseproof paper, toss it with the salt and Piri Piri seasoning mix. Fold over the paper, then bash and flatten the chicken with a rolling pin. Place the chicken on a hot frying pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, turning after 5-6 minutes, until golden and completely cooked through.
2. Meanwhile chicken is cooking, make a mush. Heat the stock, water and milk to a low simmer in a medium saucepan. Generously season with salt and pepper. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal (I like to use a hand whisk for that) making sure there are no lumps. Stir regularly until the polenta is very thick and creamy, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in grated cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Cover with the lid and let it ‘rest’ for about 10 more minute. Ten, serve it when you are ready.
I am a sucker for any recipe with history or any interesting background story. So when I heard about the Naughty Senator Cake, I was intrigued immediately. Why such a title and what is so naughty about it?
Apparently, Melissa Gray, producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and author of All Cakes Considered, came up with the idea for her Naughty Senator pound cake after two sex scandals involving members of Congress. “I settled on peppermint, chocolate and rum,” she writes. “Peppermint, because the senators and congresspeople I’ve met over the years at NPR always seem to smell of mint. It’s a public speaking thing. … Chocolate, because it’s rich and so are most senators. Rum, because, well, rum means debauchery to me. Or at least a sizeable impairment of judgment.”
Was this story true or not, I don’t know for sure, but it definitely made me want to make this cake. If you like the classic Marble Cake and the mint flavour, you are going to love this cake. The light and slightly crumbly texture is perfect without even being frosted. Rum gives the cake an extra kick and the minty flavour is my favourite part. It is even better the next morning paired with a cup of mint tea.
Another reason why I made this cake because it was my Mum’s Birthday today,(Happy Birthday Mum) and although sometimes because of the distance, we cannot meet up so often, we have this tradition when for any member of the family for their Birthdays we make a cake in their honour and celebrate with them this way. She will get a picture of the cake, but we will get to eat it ; )
To be honest, with this cake I always stick to the original recipe, the only change I always make I reduce the amount of sugar. (I tend to do this for most recipes I try)
THE NAUGHTY SENATOR MARBLE CAKE
300 g white sugar
25 g cocoa
225 g butter, soft
4 large eggs
375 g plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ tablespoon salt
250 ml milk
2 teaspoons peppermint essence (or extract)
½ teaspoon green food colouring
2 teaspoons rum (or rum extract)
1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Coat a bundt pan heavily with butter or cooking spray.
2. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the sugar and all of the cocoa. Set aside.
3. Cream butter with a mixer at medium speed, gradually adding the remaining sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together.
5. With the mixer on low speed, add 125 g of the flour mixture; beat, then add 1/3 cup (80 ml) of the milk and beat again. Repeat until all of the flour mixture and milk are blended into batter. Beat on medium-high speed for an additional 2 to 3 minutes.
6. Pour half of the batter into a clean medium bowl. Add the peppermint flavouring and a couple drops of green food colouring (just enough to turn the batter pastel green) to one bowl of batter. Pour two-thirds of the green batter into the bottom of the cake pan. Set aside the remaining green batter.
7. Clean off your mixer beaters, dry, and return them to the mixer. Add the cocoa-sugar mixture to the yellow batter and add the rum. Beat until smooth.
8. Using a spatula, pour the chocolate-flavoured batter over the green batter in the cake pan. Layer the remaining third of green batter over the chocolate batter. Marble by taking a small rubber spatula or plastic knife and cutting through the middle of the batter ring to the bottom of the pan. Bring the spatula or knife toward you and then up toward the side of the pan. Rotate the cake pan with your other hand and repeat. You’ll do 2 rotations total, no more.
9. Bake for 1 hour. When the cake tests done (an inserted toothpick comes out clean), cool for 15 to 30 minutes in the pan, then removed onto a cake rack.
I like this time of year with apples being plentiful and the weather turning chillier. I wanted to make a cake for my lovely friend Amy, soon-mum-to-be, something for her to indulge on a cold autumn’s evening. The combination of toffee taste and apples was a lot on my mind recently, had a spare hour on Sunday and I decided to improvise a little.
For the sponge recipe I have chosen a traditional Victoria Sponge, but my improvisation came in place when it was time to make the filling. I didn’t want to use the ready-made toffee sweets, or to make a very rich toffee sauce, but I still wanted to have a toffee/caramel taste. I think I found a solution (see the recipe below) 🙂
SPONGE CAKE WITH CARAMELISED APPLE FILLING
3 large eggs
175g softened butter
175g caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
1½ teaspoons of baking powder
For the filing:
3 desert apples, diced
3 tablespoons demerara sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
200ml double cream, whipped until soft picks
Plus: 2 x 18 cm greased and lined sandwich tins
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/Fan 160°C. Grease two sandwich tins then line the base of each tin with baking parchment.
2. Measure the butter, sugar, eggs, flour and baking powder into a large bowl and beat until thoroughly blended. Divide the mixture evenly between the tins and level out.
3. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 25 minutes or until well risen and the tops of the cakes spring back when lightly pressed with a finger. Leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes then turn out, peel off the parchment and finish cooling on a wire rack.
4. For the filling, finely chop the apples, put in a frying pan together with sugar, cinnamon and butter and cook until caramelised, stirring occasionally (make sure apples don’t burn) until the mixture caramelises. Let it cool. Meanwhile whip the cream.
5. When the sponges are completely cold, spread the apple filling and whipped cream in between two layers. Sprinkle with caster sugar or icing powder and serve 😉
Every year we try to visit The Grow! Cook! Eat! show in West Dean. It is a celebration of the best of the British (local) harvest, with the focus on seasonal and locally produced food. This year was no exception, the only thing, I’m rather late with my ‘report’ about it.
West Dean House is lovely, but the grounds are even better, it is divided into four distinct areas: the garden entrance; the walled kitchen garden; the pleasure grounds and St Roche’s Arboretum have carried out a bold re-development programme designed to bring the nineteenth century gardens into the twenty-first century. It worth going there at any time of the year but, it’s always more fun to make a visit there during the annual ‘Grow! Cook! Eat’ event, where there is always a great atmosphere, music and performances everywhere, local produce, farmers’ stalls and, of course, lots of food and cooking demonstrations.
Kitchen gardens need to be seen, the variety and size of vegetables is unbelievable, the displays of fruits and vegetables are incredible. Here below there are just some photos to give you a flavour.
I love baking with seasonal fruit, with plums being a real hidden gem. I find that they can bring a seasonal fruitiness that works very well with certain spices. Don’t get stuck by thinking that you either have to make the obligatory plum compote, spiced stewed fruit or even eat them from the fruit bowl (although all three are delicious options).
I recommend trying this recipe for plum muffins. Maybe try the combination of plums and poppy seeds too!
PLUM AND POPPY SEED MUFFINS
(An adapted recipe of Ren Behan)
8-10 English plums, stones removed
225g / 1 cup caster sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
240ml/ 1 cup sunflower, vegetable or mild, light olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest
260g/ 2 cups self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 tablespoon icing sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to dust
Plus: cream to serve (optional)
1. Preheat your oven to 190 C. Grease and line a baking tray with muffin paper cases.
2. Chop the fresh plums in half and remove the stones.
3. Put the sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla extract into a mixing bowl and whisk together well for 3-4 minutes until a pale and fluffy. Add in the zest and mix again.
4. Sift in the flour and baking powder and gently fold or mix with a metal spoon until all the flour is incorporated. Sprinkle in the poppy seeds and mix again to combine.
5. Pour the batter carefully into the muffin cases and gently press the halved plums into the batter.
6. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the centre of the muffin.
7. Leave to cool. Dust the muffins with icing sugar mixed with a teaspoon of cinnamon and serve with cream.