Spiced Apple Cake

Spiced Apple Cake

My plan for today was to tell you about the most delicious veal ragù I’d made but I’m afraid it was disappointing and I can’t quite work out what went wrong. I guess you win some and you lose some. I won’t give up though and when I get it right, I will let you know. Meanwhile, there’s my trusty old favourite ragù which I wrote about here.

So instead I want to tell you about an apple cake recipe I’ve recently fallen in love with. Forgive me for giving you another apple cake recipe but this one is too good to ignore. You probably aren’t surprised though, because I believe I’ve mentioned in previous posts how much I love apple cake.

There’s something about the slightly caramel flavour of this one that reminds me of the plum torte I wrote about here; the soft brown sugar is probably responsible. I came across the recipe on the Spectator website.

Spiced Apple Cake

Ingredients

  • 1 large cooking apple
  • 1 eating apple
  • 200g unsalted butter, melted (by placing it in a bowl on top of the Aga at the back) fullsizeoutput_317d
  • 225g light brown sugar
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar

 

 

 

Method

  • Lightly grease and line a 9″/23cm cake tin with bake-o-glide
  • Place the brown sugar, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl and rub between your fingers to get rid of any lumps in the sugar
  • Briefly whisk the eggs in a small bowl using a fork and then add them and the melted butter to the dry ingredients, quickly mixing the whole lot together with a spatula
  • Peel and core the apples and cut each into 12 wedges
  • Pour three quarters of the mixture into your prepared tin and arrange the apple slices in a circle, alternating cooking and eating apples and starting from the outside. Place any spare segments in the centre of the circle
  • Spoon the rest of the mixture into the middle of the cake and don’t try to spread it to the sides. Sprinkle over the caster sugar
  • Bake for about 50 minutes until the top is golden brown and taught. Leave in the tin to cool for 10 minutes

Can be served warm or cold. I love serving any apple cake with whipped cream, but it’s up to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roasted Lamb Ragù

Roasted Lamb Ragù

Casseroles are perfect winter food: they require long, slow cooking and are warming and comforting. They are also ideal if you are cooking for a large number of people because the quantities can easily be increased. Furthermore, if you are entertaining you can make your casserole ahead so that on the day it only requires reheating and you can concentrate on spending time with your guests.

Despite knowing all of this, for me there’s a problem: I hate making casseroles because I hate the meat-browning stage of the process. My kitchen is always left with a film of grease on every surface and my hair looks like I’ve spent the day working at the local chippy.

Browning the meat for a casserole, we are told, seals in the juices and assures flavour, so it probably isn’t a stage we should skip. But what if we could? One of my Aga recipe books suggests browning the meat for a casserole in the roasting tin in the roasting oven, which seems to me to be the answer. After all, you need a high temperature and the Aga roasting oven is hotter than the highest setting of most conventional ovens.

Then the other day this recipe for roasted lamb ragù caught my eye in the Waitrose Food Magazine under the heading “A Genius New Way to Cook”; you roast literally everything together in the oven, including the meat. Waitrose says you can try it with other combinations of meat, spices and herbs, and I’m thinking of trying to make one of my favourites – boeuf bourguignon – in this way. Anyway, this ragù was absolutely delicious and I will definitely be making it again and using the same method for other combinations of ingredients. (She says, with a flick of her ungreasy hair.)

Roasted Lamb Ragù

Serves 4

(Pre-heat conventional oven to 200ºC)

Ingredients

  • 2 leeks, halved lengthways and finely sliced
  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • 2 celery stalks, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 clove
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 bay leaves
  • A few thyme sprigs
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 4 anchovy fillets
  • 900g lamb neck fillets
  • 250ml red wine
  • 250ml chicken stock
  • 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes

Method

  • Toss the leeks, carrots, celery, garlic, spices, herbs, honey and anchoivies in the large Aga roasting tin. Season
  • Season the lamb neck fillets and lay on top
  • Place the tin on the third set of rungs in the roasting oven and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning everything at least once. You want the meat to be browned and the vegetables soft and turning golden
  • Stir in the wine, stock and tomatoes and place in the simmering oven for 2 or 3 hours. You know the drill: no harm will come to it if left for longer. Mine was in the oven all afternoon
  • (Or turn a conventional oven down to 160ºC, cover the tin loosely with foil and roast for one hour and 30 minutes.)
  • Roughly shred the meat, turning it in the juices and put the tin back in the roasting oven for 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally until the meat is browned in places and the ragù is glossy and thick
  • (Or turn the conventional oven back up to 200ºC, remove the foil, shred the meat as above and roast for a further 30 minutes.)

We had ours with delicious sourdough bread, purchased that day from the wonderful Hart’s Bakery in Bristol, and a green salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. If we hadn’t had delicious, fresh bread to hand, I’d have served the ragù with pasta. Tagliatelle would be perfect.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Lasagne al Forno

We had a lovely weekend, apart from the weather, obviously. As I write Storm Imogen is still raging outside and if it carries on much longer I might be raging too!

Much of Sunday was spent pondering the prospect of an empty nest. Owing to the wide age range of our sons (the eldest is 11 years older than the youngest), it feels like we’ve been raising children for longer than everyone else. I have friends who no longer have any children at home and some whose youngest child is only just starting secondary school. Most of my emptynester (is that even a word?) friends still see a lot of their children (some of them have boomeranged back from time to time) but life has inevitably changed for them. I’m in no hurry to reach the same stage but we’ll be there before we know it and I’m not at all sure how I feel about it.

The reason for musing on all this is that at 7 o’clock on Sunday morning my husband took our youngest son to the station to join his fellow French A-level students and their teacher who have all gone to Bordeaux for this half-term week. The students will spend the mornings in classes at the Alliance Française and the afternoons doing sightseeing and various interesting activities. They will have homework to do too. They’re all staying with families, most of them in pairs, but my son was pleased to find that he’d be on his own because he felt it would force him to speak French more. It will no doubt help that his host family has teenage children.

He’s been on trips before but as far as I can remember, this will be the first time it’s been just the two of us (three if you count Granny in her flat downstairs) for a whole week. Son texted (in French, bien sûr) to say he’d arrived safely and that the family is “très gentille”. He has an ensuite shower and wifi access. Not bad.

I’m not sure why but lasagne seems like the perfect dish for a Saturday night supper. I made one this weekend, fitting the various stages in between other tasks and watching the Six Nations rugby.

The recipe, by Tamasin Day-Lewis but based on Marcella Hazan’s version, is one I use all the time. As Tamasin says, a good ragù should have a mellow and gentle flavour, which is why you add milk. And don’t even think of using lean mince: you need fat to make a good, sweet ragù. I’ve been using this recipe since before I got my Aga, but it’s perfect for Aga cooking because it can be left for hours and hours in the simmering oven.  t’s great with tagliatelle or spaghetti but on Saturday I went the whole way and made lasagne al forno.

You will need:

  • 2-3tbs olive oil
  • Knob of butter
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 3 sticks celery, chopped
  • 3 carrots, finely diced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1kg ground beef with plenty of fat
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 200ml milk
  • 200ml white wine
  • 500ml passata
  • 1 litre béchamel sauce, made with a bay leaf and nutmeg
  • 2 packs lasagne sheets, the sort you don’t need to pre-cook
  • Freshly grated Parmesan

What you do:

  • Warm the oil and butter in a large, sturdy pan or casserole (on the Aga simmering plate)
  • Add the onion and sauté gently until softened and translucent
  • Add the celery, carrots and garlic, cook for another couple of minutes, stirring to coat well
  • Move to the boiling plate, add the ground beef, a large pinch of salt and a good grinding of black pepper
  • Stir until the beef has lost its raw, pink look
  • Return to the simmering plate and add the tomato purée, bay leaves and milk and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the meat has absorbed the milk.
  • Add the wine and let it simmer until it has evaporated, then add the passata and stir thoroughly
  • Cook at a lazy simmer (in the simmering oven), with just an intermittent bubble breaking the surface, uncovered, for a minimum of three hours
  • Pour just enough béchamel to cover the base of a greased baking tin or dish, then add a layer of lasagne, followed by a layer of the ragù, a layer of béchamel
  • Continue with two or three more layers (the more, the better, in my opinion), finishing with béchamel and a good grating of fresh Parmesan on top
  • Bake in the middle of the roasting oven (conventional 200ºC) for 30 minutes
  • It’s ready if it’s bubbling and golden all over and a knife slips easily through the lasagne

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Sitting down to eat this with a green salad and a glass of red was a lovely way to end a day which got off to a bad start; we discovered our shower was leaking into the living room below. Thankfully my husband is handy and managed to fix it.

While he did that, as well as making my ragù I had another go at making the ginger cake that went so badly wrong last time: it was better this time but the batter rose over the edges of the tin. [Insert expletive here] Next time, I’ll use a bigger tin and if it works, will let you have the recipe because it does taste good.

Italian friends came over to watch the Italy v France Six Nations match with us. Because C is a marvellous cook, it was with some trepidation that I served them the cake but they pronounced it delicious. Phew! They then left us to watch England v Scotland without them. Well done England!

So, Sunday felt rather strange. We had a Sunday roast as usual and I’m sure we’ll continue with that tradition, at least for as long as my mother-in-law is with us, but I wonder what we’ll do after that. Will we lead a more fancy-free life with no fixed meal times?  I just don’t know. I cooked slow-roast shoulder of lamb (the butcher was happy to cut a shoulder in half for me: a whole shoulder would have been far too big) but I’m not going to write about it here because it was a very similar recipe to the one I posted on my tumblr here almost exactly a year ago.

Incidentally, it’s Shrove Tuesday tomorrow and I will be making pancake cannelloni with the leftover ragù: just make crêpes, roll them up with ragù inside, lay them side by side in a dish and pour béchamel over the top, finishing with some grated Parmesan. Bake in a hot oven.