Apple and Pecan Cake with Caramel Frosting


Apple and Pacan Cake

For the cake
390g       Plain flour
5ml         Ground cinnamon
2.5ml     Ground allspice
3.25ml   Bicarbonate of soda
180g       Light Muscovado sugar
170g       Rapeseed oil
180g       Sunflower oil
5              Medium eggs
340g       Coarsely grated Cox’s apples, skin on
130g       Pecan nuts, roughly chopped, plus extra for decorating

For the icing
600g       Icing sugar
75g         Butter , softened
300g       Full fat cream cheese [Philadelphia]
45ml       Dulce de Leche

Heat oven to 160°C fan, with a rack about mid height. Grease and line two 23cm cake tins.

Wash and grate the apples with the skin on. Weight out 340g.

Put the flour, cinnamon and bicarbonate of soda in a big bowl, then stir in the sugars, making sure there are no lumps of sugar.

Add the oil, eggs and apples, and beat everything together.

Fold in the pecans then divide the mixture between two tins and bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool for a few minutes in the tin then remove and cool completely on a wire rack.

For the frosting, beat the icing sugar, cream cheese and butter together. Beat until smooth. Add the dulce de leche and beat until incorporated. Add more Dulce de Leche if preferred. Quantity can be doubled without problems. Chill until needed.

Apply frosting to the bottom half, sandwich with the other and spread the remaining icing on top make a spiral pattern with the spatula. Decorate with pecan halves.

Beef and Mushroom Pie with Bombardier Ale

 steak & ale pie

The sweetness provided by the carrots and the ale bring the perfect balance to this rich beefy pie with strong mushroom back notes.

For the meat, I used Aberdeen Angus, which gave the pie a wonderful beefy richness and a soft texture.

The addition of a small amount Marmite XO shouldn’t upset the Marmite-ophobes. Used as a seasoning, it provides an umami boost, but there isn’t sufficient to be recognisable as Marmite.

I’d suggest you use whatever mushrooms are available. I used a mixture of oyster mushrooms and hedgehogs, both of which retain some texture after a long slow cook. The hedgehogs also provide the slightest hint of bitterness which further helps to satisfy the taste buds.

The 50:50 mixture of lard and butter makes for the lightest and tastiest of pastries that fully deserves equal billing with the rich, delicious filling. But if making pastry isn’t your thing, then simply use ready-made shortcrust.

The recipe is for a single large pie, but the filling makes about 6 individual pies if  preferred.

For the filling
3 tbsp   Olive oil
600g      Braising steak – 3cm cubes
1 large  Onion, chopped
2 large  Carrots, sliced
2 tbsp   Plain flour
200ml   Dark ale – Bombardier or Old Peculiar work well
1             Beef stock cube
½ tsp    Marmite XO
15g        Dried porcini mushrooms
200g      Mixed mushrooms – button, oyster, hedgehog – whatever is available
1             Bouquet garni
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the pastry
700g     Plain flour
180g     Lard, cold, diced
170g     Butter,  cold, diced
½ tsp    Salt
Chilled water
1             Egg yolk beaten with a tablespoon of cold water and a pinch of salt to glaze

Making the Filling

Set the oven to 160°C/Gas 3.

Place a casserole dish on the hob and heat the oil. Fry the beef in batches until browned and set aside.

Fry the onion and carrot until softened then sprinkle on the flour and stir in. Continue to cook for 1 minute.

Return the beef to the casserole, adding 200ml of ale and 200ml of water.

Crumble in the stock cube and add the bouquet garni. Finally the fresh and dried mushrooms. Bring to a simmer.

Place the lid on the casserole and continue to cook in the oven.

Check every 30 minutes or so to make sure the stew isn’t sticking. Add a little ale and water if is it.

Cook for about  2 to 2½ hours, until the meat is tender and the sauce thickened.

If the sauce is looking a little wet, then cook with the lid off for the last 15 to 30 minutes.

Similarly, if the stew looks a little dry before the meat is tender, add a ale and water water.

When cooked, remove from the oven and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside to cool completely, then chill in the fridge until you are ready to assemble your pie.

Making the Pastry

Put the flour into a large mixing bowl.

Add the diced butter and lard. Rub the fat into the flour using your finger tips until the mixture  is completely combined and resembles bread crumbs. Add chilled water and cut in using a knife until the pastry comes together. You may need up to about 200ml water.

Gather the pastry into two roughly equal balls, wrap them individually with cling film and chill for at least an hour.

Assembling the Pie

Grease your pie dish with butter and set aside.

Roll one of the pastry balls to about 5mm thickness and line the pie dish.

Place the cold filling in the pie and level.

Brush the rim of the pastry with milk.

Roll  the other pastry ball to about 5mm thickness and lay over t he top of the pie.

Trim and crimp the edge of the pie to form a good seal.

Cover the pie with cling film and chill in the fridge for an hour.

Baking the pie

Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas 7 and place a heavy baking sheet in the over just at mid height.

When the oven is thoroughly hot, brush the pie with a mixture of egg yolk and water and make a small hole in the top to let the steam out. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until golden. Reduce the heat if it starts to brown too quickly.

Baking individual pies

If making individual pies, reduce the baking time to about 25 minutes.

Take Away Porridge and Free Cat Insurance

For me, getting breakfast right is the key to eating well for the whole day. But my working day starts much too early for me to enjoy a breakfast at home, so I choose to breakfast in the office. It’s not ideal, but if I eat my breakfast early, I get hungry early and the whole day’s eating schedule starts to unravel, leading me directly to the vending machine, where instant fixes to my hunger are delivered with a thud as they fall from the spiral dispensers. Then follows the crisp and choccie bar laden walk of shame back to the office.

I don’t generally take more than a passing interest in the often contradictory health warnings issued with monotonous regularity by the so-called experts, but even I concede that a couple of packets of crisps and a couple of choccie bars a day isn’t doing me many favours.

I tried taking a breakfast sandwich to work, but found that once my taste buds were kicked down that route, my entire day’s food was in danger, often resulting in my goody bag being emptied completely before 10 o’clock. Sadly, that was a regular occurrence.

Browsing the supermarket shelves for a solution to my wayward eating habits, I stumbled across instant porridge pots. Not just one, but about 20 of them from just about all the usual cereal providers. “Are these the solution?”, I asked myself. Time for a test drive.

I bought a week’s supply and resisted eating them until at least 8:30 each morning. By that time I was actually hungry and was looking forward to breakfast. While a little sweet for me, they were otherwise quite tasty and sufficiently filling to sustain me until lunch time. Result!

The major players in the cereal business seem to be taking instant porridge pots very seriously and little wonder when you stop to compare the prices. My week’s supply of breakfast goodies cost me almost a tenner.  A portion of porridge costs about 10p, say 20p with milk and sugar. Compare that with instant porridge pots averaging around £1.20 and you can see the attraction from the manufacturers’ point of view. I realise they come in a disposable pot and are sprinkled with token quantity of a tasty flavour highlight, but the mark-up on these pots is significant. Time to see if I can do better.

Making your own instant porridge pot is exceedingly simple, as the recipe for hazelnut and sultana version below will attest. Forgive me for going American with the measures, but if I’m going to knock these up daily, it’s worth keeping things as simple as possible. Making my own also gave me the opportunity to adjust the sweetness to my liking.

If like me, because of a baking addiction, your cupboard is always full of nuts and dried fruit in any case, then using a little bit everyday helps to keep the larder contents turned over. Ingredients like that bag of goji berries for which you had great plans that never came off are just begging to be used. Just about anything goes.

Hazelnut and Sultana Porridge
1/3 Cup Porridge oats – (ok, 30g if you must)
1 tbsp    Full fat dried milk (Nido or similar)
1/3 tsp  Golden caster sugar
15            Roasted hazelnuts, roughly crushed
15            Golden sultanas
Boiling water to taste.
At supermarket prices the Hazelnut and Sultana Porridge pot will cost you 41p a go.

If you have a porridge pot every day, you can save over £250 a year by making your own. That’s about what your pet insurance will cost you. In my case I save another £2 per working day because I’m not stuffing down the crisps and choccie bars from the vending machine. The savings will easily cover my motor insurance. Now that’s a result!

Chorizo Rolls – Preñaditos de Chorizo

With Bonfire Night looming fast, it’s time to think what treats would go down well on a cold November evening. For me it’s Preñaditos de Chorizo. Small bread rolls, each ‘pregnant’ with a small chorizo. A bun with a bun in the oven. Simply divine! What’s not to like about that?


To get ahead, make them in advance and warm them up just before serving.

You can find the recipe for my take on this Spanish classic here.


Cabello de Angel

With Autumn just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about what to do with all of the beautiful pumpkins that are starting to appear in the shops and farmers’ markets. While I’m not above carving a pumpkin when the time is right, I tend to spend a bit more time working out how best to eat them.

One particular variety that I’ve noticed is the spaghetti pumpkin, so called because it flesh is made up of spaghetti-like strings. While a bit alien to us Brits, the Spanish have been making good use of these strange squash to make a delightful jam they call Cabello de Angel or Angel’s Hair. A little less acid than most jams, it’s typically used in traditional Spanish pastries.

Spaghetti pumpkins

Cabello de Angel looks a bit like marmalade, but contains soft string-like pieces of pumpkin flesh.

Finished Cabello de Angel

So far I’ve only used my Cabello de Angel in these kolache, topped with currants and berries. I’ll be turning my attention toward some Spanish pastries soon.



You’ll find the recipe for Cabello de Angel here.



A Sting in the Tail

A message was broadcast at work today that we were are all to tidy up our work areas and remove any pictures that others might find offensive. A colleague responded by sending out an example of an ‘offensive’ picture.

This cartoon goes back to a time about 8 years ago when I was out walking my dog and found a patch of ripe damsons in a thicket at the top of a hill. I was busily filling my face when I got stung on the leg. Before I could even spit out the damson stone I was stung again, and again, and in a matter of seconds I found myself in the middle of a swarm of wasps angry with me for eating their damsons.

I quickly moved away from the thicket and left most of the wasps where they were, but some followed me and I could feel them under my shirt and crawling up the legs of my shorts, stinging me as they went. As I ran down the hill I tore off my clothes as quickly as I could to rid myself of the wasps.

When I told the story to my workmates next day, one of them, Ian, was quick to put pencil to paper and drew this cartoon.


Plum and Green Gage Tart

The plum and green gage season is just around the corner and before long they will be available by the bucket load absolutely free for anyone who cares to seek them out. With the first of the green gages appearing in the shops, I thought it time I reacquainted myself with their gorgeous flavour with this plum and green gage tart.

Plum and green gage tart

Loganberry Delights

Driving from Snape to Orford the other day my eye was caught by a roadside sign. I’d passed it a hundred times before, but this time it had something to say. It said ‘Loganberries’. The sun was out, the day was warm, I had time on my hands and I thought to myself, “Why not?”.

The fruit farm is a family-run business producing top-quality fruit . The small shop is run as self-service with options for pre-picked or pick your own. I decided on the latter and simply bought some empty punnets.

As I approached the loganberry filed, I met a man flaked out on the grass in the shade of a large tree. He was quite obviously puffing and needed to cool off. But with what breath he could spare, he kindly advised me that the first three rows were the best bet as the rest had been picked the previous day.

I never actually saw or heard the man’s wife, but I did hear the man encouraging her to stop picking. “How much more do you want? Surely you’ve got enough by now.”

Half an hour later I could hear a commotion by the entrance to the field. “We can’t take all that!”, exclaimed the man, “There’s of fifty quid’s worth there.” Later he said, ” No way I can carry all that.” Then, “I’m not making two trips to the car!” and so it went on.

It’s fair to say that still having a number of jars of loganberry jam from last year I rather overdid it, too, but there’s always something you can do with ripe, fresh fruit. This is my loganberry chocolate tart.


Busy with work commitments, I was in danger of letting the rest of my precious harvest go to waste, so I decided to purée the remaining fruit and save it for another day, when time would allow me to create something tasty with it.

Loganberry Purée


Empanada Gallega

The empanada is a thin crusted, flat pie from Spain. Though traditionally they were made with a variety of fillings such a sardines, veal or even eels, the most popular filling today is the tuna and tomato version from Galicia, the empanada Gallega.  Cut into rough squares and eaten cold these are the perfect picnic food.

On one occasion,  I went to one of the many ancestral summer fiestas up in Norther Spain, in this case at Monte de Santa Tecla, where the only way to the fiesta was via a narrow, winding path up the side of the mountain during the hottest part of the day. To a background of mass drumming, pilgrims and revellers drenched each other in inky wine and tore each others clothes in a bloodless, but deeply colourful mock battle. Inevitably, attention turned to food and empanadas the size of cartwheels and other treats appeared as if from nowhere and everybody gorged themselves. Come evening, sporting tattered, wine-stained t-shirts and altogether worse for wear, the descending hordes were rewarded with a cool and cleansing splash at the nearby beach.


Whenever the topic of empanada came up in conversation, my flatmate in Madrid would always chip in with “What a lot of fuss over a pasty!” Needless to say we disagreed on that point.

Bay Oil

Bay is one of my favourite herbs, and being lucky enough to have a couple of bay trees in the garden, I am never short of fresh leaves. But sometimes cooking with leaves is not so convenient, and I’ll occasionally turn to oil infused with bay as an alternative.

Bay oils are not cheap, but they are very useful and their aroma absolutely divine. Someone suggested to me, ‘you could always make you own’, and I figured that it might just be worth a try.