Lemon and Ricotta Cake

Lemon and Ricotta Cake

The first lemon and ricotta cake I made was not a success. It was a Jamie Oliver recipe and didn’t really work, producing a rather dense cake. It may of course be entirely my fault and I might try it again one day. On the other hand, I’m not sure why I’d bother because yesterday I made a Diana Henry version from her book Simple and it was light and moist and delicious.

This cake works as an afternoon tea cake but also as a dessert served perhaps with some berries and crème fraîche or whipped cream. It’s best eaten slightly warm. It’s the ricotta that makes the cake moist but it also means it doesn’t keep that well. Don’t do what I did and make it on a day when hardly anyone’s around to share it with you because it really is best eaten on the day it’s made. If you do have some left, wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate it. This is what I did and the next day I gave it a blast (a minute or two at high heat) in the microwave to warm it up a little and it freshened up beautifully. I was thrilled when our Italian friend, who is very particular about the food of his homeland and whose late wife was the most wonderful cook, gave it his approval.

Lemon and Ricotta Cake

Serves 8 (depending on hunger/greed)

You will need a 20cm springform tin, lightly greased and base-lined (with bake-o-glide)

Ingredients

  • 175g unsalted butter, softened
  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 4 unwaxed lemons and the juice of 3
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 250g fresh ricotta, drained in a sieve
  • 100g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 25g ground almonds
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Icing sugar to serve

Method

  • Beat the butter and sugar together in an electric mixer until light and fluffy
  • Lightly beat the egg yolks with a fork and gradually add them, beating well after each addition
  • Stir the lemon zest and drained ricotta into the batter
  • Whisk the egg whites until they form medium peaks
  • Stir the lemon juice into the batter, then fold in the flour, almonds and baking powder
  • Fold two big spoonfuls of the egg whites into the batter to loosen it, then fold in the rest
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared tin
  • Put it in the baking oven and bake for 45-50 minutes; a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean once it’s cooked
  • Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so, then remove the springform ring and let it continue to cool, although as I mentioned above it’s delicious served slightly warm
  • Dust with icing sugar to serve

 

 

 

Smoked Salmon Quiche

Smoked Salmon Quiche

As we Aga cooks all know, cooking a quiche in an Aga couldn’t be easier because there is no blind baking required. You just have to add the filling to your pastry-lined tin and place the whole thing on the floor of the roasting oven to bake for 30 minutes or less. The pastry will cook from underneath avoiding a “soggy bottom”, as Mary Berry would tell you. The top will be golden brown.

The classic quiche is Quiche Lorraine made with bacon and Gruyère cheese, but there are so many variations you could try. For example, Diana Henry’s delicious salmon and crab tart with Thai flavours which I wrote about here.

Yesterday I made a simple smoked salmon quiche based on a Delia Smith recipe from her Complete Cookery Course. It was for a picnic for my husband and two friends who have been spending today salmon and trout fishing on the Usk. They also took with them roast asparagus dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, some mini pork pies (not homemade, I’m afraid), strawberries, rock cakes (my own), cinnamon buns (our favourite ones from Hart’s Bakery) and flasks of tea and coffee. They will not starve. I think I spotted a bottle of wine in the picnic basket too.

Smoked Salmon Quiche

Quantities here are for a 20cm fluted quiche tin, ideally with a loose bottom. Yesterday I doubled the quantities and used a 28cm tin. 

Ingredients

For the pastry:

  • 110g plain flour
  • 25g lard
  • 25g butter
  • a pinch of salt
  • cold water, to mix

For the filling:

  • 175 smoked salmon, chopped
  • 2 large eggs
  • 275ml double cream
  • freshly grated nutmeg
  • a dash of cayenne pepper
  • Salt and black pepper

Method

  • Lightly grease your tin
  • Make up the pastry by rubbing the fats into the flour and salt with your fingertips and adding a little cold water to combine. Rest it in the fridge wrapped in clingfilm for at least half an hour. Alternatively, use shop-bought pastry; I don’t mind one bit
  • Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and line your tin with it
  • Arrange the smoked salmon over the pastry base in the tin
  • Beat the eggs with the cream and add salt, pepper and some freshly grated nutmeg to taste
  • Pour the filling into the tin and sprinkle over a little cayenne pepper
  • Carefully slide the tin onto the floor of the roasting oven and bake for 20-30 minutes. Check it at 20 minutes and turn it round. When the pastry is golden and the filling is firm and golden brown, it is ready

 

Braised Pork with Ginger and Star Anise

Braised Pork with Ginger and Star Anise

My sons gave me two cookery books for my birthday. My daugher-in-law looked a bit sceptical and asked if I was sure they were what I wanted (I do have quite a few already), but I assured her it was. I had dropped a few (many) hints in the run-up to my birthday. One of the books was Diana Henry’s new one, How to Eat a Peach, which is a beautiful 71ztiybGwmLcollection of menus rather than recipes; it’s also a sort of memoir, an account of the places she’s travelled to since she was a teenager, and where she discovered all the dishes she loves to cook and eat. I have already cooked a few of the recipes from the book, although I haven’t yet put together a whole menu. The first thing I made was this braised pork, which I pounced on because I knew it would be perfect for the AGA simmering oven. I adjusted the quantities because there were only four of us eating and off I went.

 

Braised Pork with Ginger and Star Anise

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the pork

  • About 1tbsp groundnut or vegetable oil
  • 1kg pork shoulder, cut into 3cm cubes
  • 200g shallots, sliced
  • 20g fresh root ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely grated or crushed
  • 5 tbsps kecap manis
  • 3 tbsps light soy sauce
  • 11/2 tbsps tamarind paste
  • 400ml chicken stock
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 medium-hot chillies, halved, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 2 birds’ eye chillies, left whole

For the crispy fried shallots

  • Groundnut or vegetable oil
  • 100g shallots, finely sliced
  • Sea salt flakes

Method

  • Spread the pork out on a large baking tray, lined with bake-o-glide and drizzle with the oil
  • Place on the top rung or on the floor of the roasting oven for 10 minutes, then remove it, turn the meat over and return the tray to the roasting oven for about 5 minutes. Your aim is to have golden brown pieces of pork; you’re not trying to turn it dark brown
  • Meanwhile  get on with your shallots. Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in the casserole you want to braise your pork in. Do this on the simmering plate. Add the shallots, turn them over in the oil, put the lid on and transfer the casserole to the simmering oven for about 15 minutes until they are soft and golden
  • Stir the garlic and ginger in and return the pork to the pan along with the kecap manis, soy sauce, tamarind and stock
  • Bring to the boil on the boiling or simmering plate, add the star anise and all the chillies and place your casserole, uncovered, in the simmering oven for about 3 hours but, as I’m sure you know, when slow cooking in the Aga simmering oven the timing is not crucial as long as you end up with meltingly tender meat
  • Remove the star anise and the whole chillies
  • Meanwhile make the crispy fried shallots by heating about 2cm of oil in a small pan on the simmering plate. Add the shallots and fry, moving them around, until they are crisp and golden. Remove with a slotted spoon to a sheet of kitchen towel on a plate and sprinkle with salt
  • If the liquid around the pork is not thick and glossy and seems a bit thin, remove the pork with a slotted spoon to a dish and keep it warm in the simmering oven. Boil the liquid for a while on the boiling or simmering plate until it’s reduced and then return the pork to the pan to heat through
  • Serve the pork with the crispy fried shallots sprinkled over. We ate ours with rice and stir-fried pak choi

Chicken Forestière with Truffle

Chicken Forestière with Truffle

My husband was in London recently and on a whim, bought a black truffle that had just arrived in a new Italian Deli on the King’s Road and brought it home; he adores truffle. It was expensive (about £7) but you don’t need very much and can make it last for several meals. I wasn’t sure I could do it justice at first but the beauty of this small black nugget of earthy flavour is that you don’t actually have to do anything to it for it to enhance a meal. What made it really expensive was the Affetta Tartufi I bought (see photo below)! I’m always interested in quality when buying for my kitchen.

I made mushroom risotto one night: my husband acted the Italian waiter and with “pennacchio” shaved some of the truffle onto our bowls: delicious.

Then last night I cooked chicken forestière and again, we shaved truffle onto the finished dish. We don’t cook as seasonally as we used to, do we? But I do like to try. For example, I wouldn’t dream of using strawberries in December, even if they were available to buy in the supermarket. I also only cook asparagus when the British version is in season in May/June.

Chicken forestière, with its wild and chestnut mushrooms, feels like the perfect autumnal supper so I’m going to tell you how to make it here (adapted from a Diana Henry – who else? – recipe from her book A Bird in the Hand for my AGA):

Chicken Forestière

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 8 chicken thighs or 4 chicken legs, skin on, bone in
  • 20g dried wild mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, halved and sliced
  • 75ml Madeira (or if you don’t have any, sherry would work)
  • A couple of carrots, cut into batons
  • 175ml of chicken stock
  • 150ml double cream
  • 150g whole button or quartered chestnut mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

Method

  • Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour over 50ml boiling water. Leave to soak for about 20 minutes
  • Meanwhile, season the chicken and heat a sauté pan on the simmering plate and place the chicken in it in a single layer. No need to add oil at this stage.
  • Brown the chicken on both sides, taking care not turn the pieces over until they can easily be moved, or the skin will tear
  • Remove the chicken from the pan and put it in a dish
  • Pour the chicken fat into a frying pan and put this to one side
  • Add the tablespoon of oil to the sauté pan and cook the onions (slowly in the simmering oven if you like) until soft
  • Deglaze the pan with the madeira and add the carrots, stock, wild mushrooms and their soaking liquor
  • Bring to the boil, cover and cook for 10 minutes on the simmering plate or if you have time for 30 minutes in the simmering oven
  • Return the chicken to the pan with any juices that have run out of it. Cover and cook, choosing the simmering oven if you have plenty of time (an hour or more) or a hotter oven if you are in a hurry. I wouldn’t leave it in the roasting oven for more than 15 minutes. You could start if off there and then finish it off in the simmering oven
  • Stir in the cream and return to the simmering oven for at least 10 minutes with the lid off
  • Now place your frying pan on the boiling plate to heat the chicken fat and cook the mushrooms briskly until they are golden brown. Season and add to the chicken, stirring gently to combine everything
  • Taste for seasoning and scatter over the chopped parsley
  • The addition of the shaved truffle to individual servings is recommended but not essential

We had ours with steamed new potatoes, broccoli and green beans.

 

 

 

Ceviche (For When the Aga is Switched Off)

Ceviche (For When the Aga is Switched Off)

For the first time in the eleven years I’ve owned an Aga, the engineer who came to service mine last week was not able to carry out the work. It was my fault: Aga advises owners to turn it off 24 hours before the service but I in my infinite wisdom thought the evening before would be soon enough, forgetting that this year’s appointment was at the early hour of 8am. I did not realise that it would not have cooled down enough by then for the engineer to work on. I am telling you this so that you can learn from my mistake. Another tip is to lift up the lids and open all the doors to help it cool down more quickly.

If like me you have no other oven, you have to plan cold meals for when your Aga is switched off. (Mine takes about 5 hours to come back to full temperature; newer ones might be quicker; older ones possibly much slower.) I have the perfect recipe for such times, especially if it’s summer: ceviche. Ceviche is a South American dish of marinated raw fish or seafood. This one is ceviche de sierra by Diana Henry and is packed full of all the Mexican flavours I love, including chillies, lime and coriander.

Ceviche de Sierra

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 4 fillets extremely fresh mackerel, bream or sea bass, skin removed
  • 3 limes
  • 1 shallot, very finely sliced
  • 1 large, ripe avocado
  • 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 red and 1 green chilli, halved, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 10g bunch coriander, leaves only, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 tbsp pomegranate seeds

Method

  • Slice the fish into broad strips
  • Put them into a dish with the juice of two limes and the shallot
  • Halve the avocado, remove the stone and slice the flesh
  • Peel the skin from each slice, then put them into a shallow serving bowl or on a plate
  • Season and toss in the juice of the third lime
  • Add the fish and shallot, oil, chilli and coriander and toss gently together
  • Sprinkle on the pomegranate seeds and serve

 

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Warm Salad of Griddled Chicken, Freekeh, Preserved Lemon, Sour Cherries and Mint

Warm Salad of Griddled Chicken, Freekeh, Preserved Lemon, Sour Cherries and Mint

The title for this recipe is very long, isn’t it? It’s another Diana Henry one but I’m making no apologies. I wanted to try freekeh (a cereal food made from unripened wheat which has been roasted and crushed into small pieces) because I’d never used it before so I pored over my various cookbooks and this was the recipe which appealed the most on the day. It’s perfect for the summer weather we’re having now. Instead of cooking the chicken in a griddle pan, you could barbecue it outside.

I’m enjoying the weather. We’ve barbecued twice this weekend, which has been lovely. My husband was supposed to be taking it easy after a small operation on Friday, but was up to standing at the grill while I got on with preparing vegetables and salads.

For the Chicken

Serves 4

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken thighs or breasts
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated or crushed
  • salt and pepper
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 6 tbsp olive oil

For the Salad

  • 100g dried sour cherries
  • 2 preserved lemons
  • 200g freekeh
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp honey (or maple syrup)
  • 3 tsp white balsamic vinegar
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • good pinch of ground cinnamon
  • laves from 10 sprigs of mint, torn
  • 10g chopped flat-leaf parsley

Method

  • If you are using breasts and they’re particularly thick, cut them in half horizontally. Marinate the chicken if you have time, even if it’s only for an hour or two. Mix the garlic, seasoning, lemon juice and olive oil in a dish and lay the chicken it it, turning it to coat. Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before cooking
  • Place your griddle pan on the floor of the Aga roasting oven to get it really hot
  • Put the cherries in a small saucepan and add enough water to just cover. Bring to the boil on the boiling plate, then remove from the heat and leave to plump up for 30 minutes
  • Remove the flesh from the preserved lemons and discard. Cut the rind into slivers
  • Put the freekeh into a saucepan and cover with water, adding the regular olive oil and seasoning well. Bring to the boil on the boiling plate, then cover and transfer to the simmering oven for about half an hour, or until just tender. Drain
  • In a serving bowl mix the virgin oil, honey or maple syrup, white balsamic, lemon juice, cinnamon and plenty of salt and pepper. Add the drained freekeh and stir
  • Drain the cherries and fork them into the grains with the preserved lemon and most of the herbs
  • Place the heated griddle pan on the boiling plate and put the chicken on it (leaving the marinade behind)
  • Let it sizzle and splatter for two minutes, then turn it over. At this point you can place the griddle pan back on the floor of the roasting oven and leave the chicken to cook there for about 8 minutes until it’s cooked through. You can keep the griddle plan on the boiling plate and then move it to the simmering plate if you prefer but placing it in the oven minimises the amount of fat splattering everywhere
  • Taste the freekeh. You might want to add more lemon juice. The mixture should be moist and well-seasoned
  • Divide between four plates and serve the chicken on top or alongside, scattering the remaining herbs over. I served ours with some tzatziki

Our weekend in the garden:

 

 

 

Chicken and Sweet Potatoes with Miso, Ginger and Spring Onions

Chicken and Sweet Potatoes with Miso, Ginger and Spring Onions

 

Another of my Easter weekend dishes was this simple chicken traybake, which is also a Diana Henry recipe. It appeared in the Telegraph’s Stella magazine a few weeks ago. I tried it then and knew my family would like it. It’s perfectly suited to Aga cooking.

Ingredients

For 4-6 people, depending on hunger levels and the size of the chicken thighs

  • 8 chicken thighs
  • 700g sweet potatoes, washed and cut into wedges
  • 2½ tbsp white miso
  • 1 ½ tbsp honey or maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp rice wine
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2.5cm chunk ginger root, peeled and grated or finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 red chilli, halved and finely chopped (use the seeds for extra heat)
  • 12-18 spring onions
  • 3 tsp black or toasted white sesame seeds (or a mixture of the two)

For the final basting

  • 1 tbsp white miso
  • 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
  • ½ tbsp dark soy sauce
  • ½ tbsp rice wine

Method

Pre-heat conventional oven to 190ºC/gas mark 5

  • Place the thighs in a large roasting tin with the sweet potato wedges (they should be able to lie in a single layer)
  • Mix together everything else except the spring onions and sesame seeds. Pour this over the chicken and sweet potatoes, turning everything over so the ingredients are well coated, finishing with the chicken skin-side up
  • Roast for 45 minutes at the top of the roasting oven, basting every so often, and turning the wedges over
  • Mix the final basting ingredients together and about 15 minutes before the end of cooking time, take the tin out of the oven and pour them over, adding the spring onions at the same time. They should become soft and slightly charred
  • When cooked, sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve
  • I served ours with pak choi stir-fried in a little groundnut oil with black pepper and soy sauce

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