Sticky Almond Cake

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It is said that marzipan is a bit like Marmite in that you either love it or hate it.  I absolutely adore it and hence this cake, which comprises a thick layer of the stuff in the middle.  This is the reason for the “sticky” in the title.  Cakes made with ground almonds tend to be deliciously moist anyway, but the addition of marzipan takes it to a whole new level.  I made this cake for my book club last week and received compliments and requests for the recipe.  Even my husband, who normally doesn’t like marzipan, loved it.

This cake can also be seen as relief from the relentless EU referendum debate.  At last the day has finally arrived and all we can do is cast our votes and wait for the result.  In a conversation with a Twitter mate, the other day, we bemoaned how nasty conversations had become, with people who normally share similar political outlooks finding themselves on opposite sides.  She and I decided we’d change the subject and discuss recipes instead, and that is how I’ve come to be writing about this cake.  So, @soyoprincess, this is for you.

Sticky Almond Cake

Ingredients

  • 225g butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 50g plain flour
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 350g marzipan (white, preferably)

Method

  • Grease and base-line (with bake-o-glide or parchment) a 23cm springform cake tin
  • Place the butter, sugar, eggs, flour and ground almonds in a bowl and beat until thoroughly mixed.  I did this in my KitchenAid mixer but an electric hand whisk will also do the job
  • Roll out the marzipan to the size of your cake tin and using the tin as template, cut in a circle
  • Place half the mixture in the tin and top with the marzipan, then cover with the remaining mixture
  • Bake in the baking oven, or conventional at 180ºC.  Start to check it at 45 minutes and cover with foil or parchment if necessary.   It’s ready when it’s firm to touch.  Sorry to be vague but this can take an hour or as long as an hour and a quarter
  • Cool in the tin for 5 minutes and then remove to a rack
  • Dust with icing sugar before serving
  • This cake keeps for several days; in fact, it improves with age

 

 

 

Pasta Salad

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Salad can be many different things: a side dish or a main meal; vegetarian or containing meat; cold or warm.  This delicious pasta salad works both as a (vegetarian) meal in itself and as an accompaniment to barbecued meats.  Youngest son and I had it for supper the other night when my husband was at a meeting.  We nearly didn’t have any supper at all.  Just as we were sitting down to eat I dropped my glass of water on the granite work surface and it shattered into millions of pieces.  I was still finding tiny shards of glass the next day, including in my sandal, even though I had vacuumed and swept very thoroughly.  Fortunately though, I’d moved the bowl of salad to the table before dropping the glass so we were able to eat our supper without tearing our insides to shreds.

We ate this with some roasted asparagus spears.  At this time of year, my kitchen is hardly ever without British asparagus.  You have to make the most of the short season.

Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Basil and Black Olives

Ingredients

  • 175g dried pasta
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and sliced
  • 225g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4-6 spring onions, sliced
  • 8-12 black olives, pitted and halved
  • 8-12 fresh basil leaves, torn

Dressing

  • 2 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
  • 2 tbsp oil (from the sun-dried tomato jar)
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 tbsp sun-dried tomato paste
  • pinch of sugar
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Basil leaves to garnish

Method

  • Cook pasta until al dente, drain and refresh with cold water.  Turn into a large bowl and toss with the oil
  • Add sun-dried tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, spring onions, olives and basil.  Toss
  • Make dressing: put sun-dried tomatoes, oils, vinegar, garlic and tomato paste in a blender (I used my mini food processor) with the sugar, salt and pepper and blitz until fairly smooth

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    Mini food processor

  • Pour dressing over the pasta and toss well.  Ideally leave it for 1-2 hours for the flavours to infuse
  • Garnish with basil

 

 

 

 

 

 

To roast asparagus:

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Snap off the bottoms and lay the spears in rows on a roasting tray.  Drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle on some sea salt.  Put the tray in a hot oven (near the top of the Aga roasting oven) for 10 minutes, giving it a bit of a wiggle after 5 to move the spears around a little.  You can eat them hot like this, or let them cool then add a little lemon juice and black pepper, and maybe some shavings of parmesan to make another delicious salad.

 

 

Film Club Supper alla Bolognese

I belong to a little film club comprising eight friends.  We meet every six weeks or so and take it in turns to host.  The hostess (yes, we are all female) chooses the film and makes supper which we eat at the start of the evening, usually, but not always, sitting at a kitchen or dining room table.  Pudding and/or chocolates tend to be consumed on the sofa while watching the film.  We are allowed to pause the film for loo breaks, to make tea and coffee or to comment on or ask each other questions about the film.  It’s great fun.

We’ve watched a wide range of films over the years, both foreign language and English.  It was my turn to host our last meeting and I chose the film Carol with Cate Blanchett and Roony Mara.  I always mean to go to the cinema to see the Oscar nominated films but invariably don’t get around to it, so film club presents an excellent opportunity.  And it’s so easy to watch films these days.  On this occasion all I did was log on to Amazon Instant Video to rent the film and within seconds it was available to watch.

We liked the film very much.  It is beautiful and moving and Cate Blanchett’s performance is every bit as good as one has come to expect.  But I will leave film reviews to others and move on to important matters like the food!

Supper was Rick Stein’s Bolognese sausage ragù with tagliatelle.  I’d recently watched his programme from Bologna in which he’d toured that city’s food markets and restaurants.  It had transported me back to a wonderful holiday we’d enjoyed in that region of Italy when we’d also discovered its delicious cucina.

During the programme Stein made the ragù and I decided there and then to make it for film club.  My guests were too polite to say so but I know it was a little dry.  I was trying not to add too much wine/stock/cream to adjust for the fact that, as I’ve mentioned before in this blog, Agas are brilliant at retaining moisture.  But I went too far and felt we could have done with a little more creaminess to coat the strands of tagliatelle.  The flavour, however, was superb: with the aroma of fennel, rosemary and chilli, we could almost have been in Bologna.  I will definitely be making it again soon and might update this post if I get the liquid:sausagemeat ratio right next time, but for  now, here’s the recipe with my suggestions based on my experience.

By the way, I made double the BBC recipe linked to above (there were seven of us eating that night) and cooked, I felt, a little too much tagliatelle (750g).  I didn’t add all of it to the ragù but there was still plenty; nor did I emulate Rick Stein and make my own pasta.  I chose this very good quality one by  “Artigiano Pastaio” which is not cheap but worth it for a treat.

Finally, at the last minute, with my friends arriving on the doorstep, I remembered just in time to take a few photos.   Taking photos of the food needs to become second nature to me and I must learn to ignore my family when they roll their eyes at me for holding up the meal in order to take pics, or I won’t be able to call myself a blogger.

Ingredients

(For 4 people)

  • 400g fresh or good quality dried tagliatelle (or homemade as per Rick Stein’s recipe)
  • 400g sausagement
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, chopped
  • 3/4 tsp fennel seeds, roughly ground in pestle and mortar
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 sprig rosemary, leaves finely chopped
  • I large clove garlic, crushed
  • 150ml dry white wine
  • 150ml chicken stock
  • 150ml double cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • Grated parmesan to serve

Method

  • Heat the oil in a large casserole on the boiling plate and break up the sausagemeat into it.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring all the time, moving it to the simmering plate if it seems too hot
  • Add the onion, celery, fennel seeds, chilli flakes and rosemary and cook for about 15 minutes until the onion is soft.  You can do this in the simmering oven, maybe for a little longer than 15 minutes
  • Add the garlic, give it a stir and then pour in the white wine.  Cook for 10 minutes or so on the simmering plate until it’s reduced.  Then add 100ml of stock and 100ml of cream, season, let it come to a simmer then cover with a lid.  Cook in the simmering oven for 30 minutes or so and take a look.  If you think it looks a bit dry add the rest of the stock and cream.
  • You can leave it for an hour or two in the simmering oven.  When you’re nearly ready to eat, cook the tagliatelle according to packet instructions and when it’s al dente, drain, add it to the ragù and mix it in.

Serve with a dressed green salad.

 

I haven’t posted for a while so here are photos of other things we’ve been eating lately.  First, I made Mamma Moore’s apple cake again, but this time with rhubarb, of which my allotment-owning sister-in-law brought a whole load when she visited recently.  It worked superbly; rhubarb and ginger have a real affinity.

And then last night we had the simplest of seasonal dishes: trout caught the night before by my husband’s friend, baked in the oven with lemon juice, butter and parsley and accompanied by Jersey Royal new potatoes, carrots and fresh peas.