Turkey or chicken pasta bake, inspired by Singapore Airlines

The first time I made this, I used fusilli pasta.

It is not usual that you eat a dish on a plane and find it so tasty that it inspires you to make a version of it at home. However, that is exactly what happened on the Singapore Airlines flight involving a chicken pasta bake. It wasn’t the dish that we would have chosen, but it was the only option that was left. Wasn’t that fortuitous?

It also paired wonderfully with their red wine on offer, which was glorious. I’m telling you, this was an unexpectedly wonderful food memory.

When I tried recreating the dish at home, I used a mish mash of two recipes – this turkey bolognese recipe from Delicious and a chicken pasta bake from BBC Good Food. The timing of it chimed with my housemate’s training for the London Marathon and it turns out that it’s a great dish for carb loading or nourishing athletes. The day after the first time I made it, the kids commented again on how yummy it was. Noteworthy praise, indeed.

The second time, I wanted to try out something I’d seen on Instagram. A pasta bake without cooking the pasta first. This was partly as a cost-saving activity and because pasta can become too soft in a pasta bake at times, which had happened in my first attempt at this dish. I was a little bit apprehensive about it. I’d read that if you soak the dry pasta in cold water first, then it will hydrate the pasta but stop it from going overly soft when baked in the oven. Oh, ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to tell you that it worked!

You can prepare this a day or two beforehand. Make it until step 5, then cover it and pop it in the fridge until you want to bake it.

Step 2 and 3
Step 4 – Bubble, bubble, simmer, simmer

Both times, I ended up using turkey, rather than chicken, mince. This was purely down to what was available at the shops at the time. My recommendation would be not to go for the lean version as turkey/chicken mince tends to be quite lean in comparison to red meat. This dish benefits from the extra juice from the non-lean mince. And if someone doesn’t like noticing that they are eating the vegetables, then I’d suggest once the vegetables have been cooked until soft (step 2), whizzing it down with a food blender until all evidence is mush.

I made an extra little one as an extra dinner as my housemate’s was carb loading pre-marathon

Recipe for Turkey or Chicken Pasta bake, inspired by Singapore Airlines. This will feed 6 people (2 of whom may have been small children with healthy appetites).

Ingredients

  • 300g penne pasta
  • 1-2 tbsp oil (olive or vegetable)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 500g turkey or chicken mince
  • 2 x 400g tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary, thyme, basil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt and pepper to season
  • 150g mascarpone
  • small handful of fresh flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
  • grated cheddar cheese – enough to cover the dish

Method

  1. In a large-medium sized bowl, submerge the uncooked penne pasta in cold water and let it soak while you cook the sauce.
  2. Heat 1-2tbsp of oil in a deep frying pan or wok. Over a medium heat, fry the onions, celery and carrots for about 10 minutes until softened.
  3. Add the garlic and the mince and cook for 5 minutes until browned.
  4. Stir in the tomato puree and dried herbs, then add the tinned tomatoes, and sugar. Bring it to a boil and then turn it down to a simmer for 10-15 minutes. Then season with salt and pepper. Finally, stir in the mascarpone and the fresh parsley. If choosing to make this on the day, then preheat the oven now (see step 6).
  5. Drain the pasta, which should have softened and changed colour slightly by then. Mix the penne pasta into the sauce. Pour it into a large ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over the grated cheese in an even layer.
  6. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F/ Gas Mark 6. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until it bubbles. I normally serve it with some more vegetables and an optional glass of red wine.

Enjoy and thank you Singapore Airlines for feeding and inspiring me.

A versatile herby courgette pasta

Playing around with portrait mode on my phone for this photo

For a blog titled Courgettes and Limes, I’d realised that there is a dearth of recipes using courgettes or limes. So, I started writing this post in the middle of courgette season in the UK, but have only gotten round to finishing it now when the season is pretty much over. Short story – I was working abroad, got ill and then went on holiday.

This is an easy courgette pasta recipe that I love to make because it is versatile and quick. Over the 10 years that I’ve been making it, there have been so many variations. I’ve listed a few of them at the bottom of the post. I like it because it is tasty and fresh from the herbs and lemon/lime juice, easily counts as one of your portions of vegetables per day and is naturally vegetarian and vegan. Over the summer, I experimented with it once more, substituting extra virgin oil with sesame seed oil, which added a rich nuttiness to the dish. Oh my – for me, it was a game changer.

One tip that I learned recently is for a dish like this is that to prevent burning the garlic when cooking, do not chop the garlic too finely, or crush it.

Simple herby courgette pasta for one. If you want to feed more people, then double, triple, quadruple… the ingredients list and allow a bit more time for cooking.

Ingredients

  • enough dried pasta for you (anything between 60-90g according to the internet) – fusilli, linguine, spaghetti, are some that I’ve used that work well
  • 1 tbsp of vegetable oil
  • 1 medium sized courgette – any colour (or half a large courgette)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 red chilli or chilli flakes – as much or as little as you like
  • A large handful of a variety of fresh herbs (parsley, coriander, dill, mint)
  • 1 spring onion (optional)
  • 1 tbsp of sesame seed oil to garnish
  • 1 tbsp of sesame seeds or pine nuts or flaked almonds (toasted)
  • salt and pepper
  • a squeeze of lemon/lime juice

Method

  1. Before you boil the pasta, use the pan to toast the nuts or seeds. Put the nuts or seeds into the pan, heat them up on a medium heat until they turn a brown colour. Tada, they’re toasted. They will also smell glorious. Take out of the pan and set aside to cool.
  2. While they’re toasting, prep the vegetables. Finely slice the courgette, roughly chop the garlic, deseed and finely slice the chilli (if using).
  3. Boil water in the kettle to cook the pasta, and then add the pasta into the pan used to toast the nuts/seeds. Add the boiling water and salt to the pasta and cook according to the instructions on the packet. If you don’t have a kettle, bring enough water to cook the pasta to boil in a pan. Add salt and pasta and then cook.
  4. In a medium sized frying pan, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil and a pinch of salt, fry the courgettes and garlic until the courgettes are translucent and browned.
  5. While the courgettes cook, roughly chop the herbs that you’re using and finely slice the spring onion.
  6. Once the pasta has cooked, reserve half a cup of the starchy pasta water, then drain it and add the pasta to the courgettes (I guess if you quadrupled the recipe, you might want to add the courgettes to the drained pasta).
  7. Add as much or as little of the pasta water to loosen it, then mix in the herbs, spring onion, 1 tablespoon of sesame seed oil, the toasted nuts/seeds and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Season with salt and black pepper.
  8. Enjoy!
Mise en place
I really do chop my garlic roughly and it has kept them from cooking so quickly – leading to less charring
Ready for the sesame seed oil, juice and the nuts
A selection of herbs

Variations

  • Use extra virgin olive oil instead of sesame seed oil for a more Mediterranean flavour.
  • Use a mint and basil herb combo.
  • Add a finely sliced shallot in with the courgettes
  • If I only have one herb at hand – I like to use parsley or coriander
  • Other nuts and seeds that I’ve used: hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, mixed seed mix.
  • Instead of salt at the end, season with finely grated parmesan or grana padano, or even a strong cheddar.
  • The chilli, lemon or lime juice is all optional.
Herby courgette pasta

Finally I Mastered Crispy Kale

Kale Crisps Success!

A bag of kale, reduced down to 20p, was the last thing I bought before I received a notification from the Covid-app informing me that I had been in close contact with somebody with Covid-19 and I had to self-isolate for the next 8 days. So at 6.11am that morning I sent a message to cancel a run with my friend that morning, emailed my work to let them know and we did some rescheduling gymnastics so that I could work from home. Isn’t it odd that a bag of kale holds this memory for me now.

To be honest, I didn’t mind staying at home. My housemate didn’t have to self-isolate so she could get groceries for me and update me on what was happening in the realm outside of the front door. That is an odd detail, I know. I don’t fully understand the track and trace system we have in England. We figured out that my phone must have picked up something on my 20 minute train journey to work. Commuters who don’t wear their masks properly or socially distance appropriately stress me out. I was happy to temporarily cut out that bit of stress from my life.

I still had leftover pumpkin, lentil and goats cheese salad in the fridge, so I decided that for dinner that night, I’d crisp up kale and add it to the salad. I had only just mastered it the previous week whilst making a roasted squash risotto with crispy kale.

The goats cheese, pumpkin and lentil salad with crispy kale

I have been trying to make crispy kale for about 8 years and failing each time. Somehow, I had it in my head that I had to bake the kale at a low heat and so each time it would just come out soggy and burnt: an odd combination. This was due to the fact that I had first read about crispy kale in a post by Gwyneth Paltrow that also told me how to make oven dried tomatoes and either the recipe is actually wrong or I got confused between the two recipes. Then it was compounded by other recipes which told me to bake at a low temperature for 15-20 minutes. Instead, this roasted squash risotto with crispy kale recipe told me to preheat the oven to 230°c for the baking of the kale. I read that instruction twice to check and it worked.

Top Tip: the secret to crispy kale is a short baking time in a hot oven and dry kale.

Yes, once you’ve chopped and washed the kale, leave it to dry in a colander, or even better a salad spinner, for a while then spot dry it with a clean tea towel. This saves your tea towel from getting completely soaked. That is, unless you happen to have a bag of already prepped and washed kale.

Ingredients for Oven baked crispy kale, adapted from the Cooks Cook recipe

This will feed between 2-4 people.

  • 160g Kale
  • 1tbsp Sunflower/rapeseed or vegetable oil (depends on how much kale you have)
  • Salt and pepper to season, maybe a 1/4 tsp of each.
  • 1/2 tsp – 1tsp Paprika/Cayenne pepper/Chilli flakes or whatever spices you’d like (optional but highly recommended)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7 and prepare two large baking trays.
  2. Prepare the kale. Cut the kale, 2-3cm long. Remove any particularly tough bits of stalk, nearer the bottom of the kale. As you can see from the photos, I don’t really bother that much with removing the stalks because I don’t mind the extra bite. Wash the kale to remove any dirt. Leave it to dry in a colander or alternatively use a salad spinner. Then use a clean tea towel or paper towel to spot dry the kale so that it is as dry as possible.
  3. Add the kale into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle over the oil, salt, pepper and any optional spices and massage in to make sure that each leaf has been coated. I prefer to do this part in a bowl because I find it gives a more even coat than when I do it on a baking tray. However, if you want to save on washing up, do this step on a baking tray.
  4. Lay out the kale in a single sheet as much as possible. This prevents steaming and sogginess. There will be a bit of overlap, don’t worry.
  5. Bake between 8-10 minutes so that they crisp up and are a mix of darker green and brown. Some leaves will get browner than others. I think that’s okay but if you want a more even crisp, then halfway through the baking time, move the leaves around.
  6. Leave it out on the baking trays to cool a bit before munching on it. It can be eaten on its own, added to a salad or a risotto for extra texture. Enjoy.
First, cut, wash and dry the kale
Coat with oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and optional spices. This one has paprika. Then lay out on a baking tray

(not really) Pumpkin risotto

IMG_8837

I have a confession to make.

When I first arrived, I couldn’t afford to buy arborio rice here.  So, in that first year, I didn’t make any risotto, one of my customary meals back in the UK.  Thereafter I got so desperate for the comfort of cooking and eating risotto, I managed to convince myself that it didn’t matter if I used jasmine or ginger flower rice (a Cambodian medium grain rice) instead of arborio, carnaroli or any different type of risotto rice.  I’ve merrily been making and feeding this pumpkin ‘risotto’ to many of my friends, using whatever rice I had at hand.  Believe me, there were no complaints.  Spicy, and gloriously ochre with the sweetness of fresh coriander.  Who would turn down this dish?IMG_8847

However, a few months ago it all changed.  My friend Robert gave me some of his delicious bacon, mushroom and spinach risotto (which I need to try cooking myself!) made with arborio rice.   And the realisation of the error of my ways overwhelmed me.  It just ain’t a risotto without risotto rice! How had I duped myself into thinking that this chewier, creamier textured rice could be replaceable?

IMG_8519

So, yes.  You can make this not-really-risotto, pumpkin risotto (what am I supposed to call it now?) with any grain of rice that you have.  But don’t call it risotto.

It’s really simple to make.  I make it a lot as pumpkins are pretty much available all year round in Cambodia, but not always strictly as a risotto.  I really appreciate the fact that here you can buy however much of the pumpkin that you’re planning on cooking with: you just ask the market seller to cut off however much you need.  In contrast, I don’t think that I would have made this in the UK because I didn’t really buy pumpkins.  I didn’t really know what to do with a whole big pumpkin and I didn’t shop in those places that sold different varieties of smaller ones.

I adapted the original recipe to add in a bit more spice, with extra cumin, chilli and coriander.  Lastly, there’s the grown-up version with the added white wine.

IMG_8733

Recipe for Pumpkin Risotto, adapted from BBC Good Food

Ingredients

  • 400g pumpkin, seedless and peeled
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 5 garlic cloves (but garlic isn’t as strong here, so perhaps 2 if your garlic is strong)
  • 1 onion
  • 200g risotto rice
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 litre of hot vegetable/chicken stock
  • 125-250ml (or more) dry white wine
  • 25g cold butter
  • 50g parmesan cheese, grated (for vegetarians, choose an alternative or omit altogether)
  • generous bunch of coriander, roughly chopped up
  • spring onion, chopped up (optional)
  • 2 red chilli peppers
  • salt and pepper
  • optional lime wedges to serve

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4/Cut the pumpkin into fairly even 1inch/2.5cm cubes.  As you can see from the photo, I don’t worry too much about being precise.  Coat it with 1tbsp of vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper.  Bake in the oven for about 30 mins.
  2. Meanwhile get started on the risotto.  Crush the garlic and chop up the onion.   If using spring onions, then finely chop up the whites of the spring onions, reserving the green part as a garnish for later.
  3. Heat the rest of the oil on a gentle heat in a medium sized pan and fry the onions, garlic and spring onion until the onions are soft.
  4. Now add the cumin and rice, being careful not to let it catch on the bottom of the pan.  Stir so that every grain of rice is coated in the spice.
  5. Add the wine and let it deglaze the pan, by stirring it around the bottom of the pan.
  6. Next, adding the stock about a ladleful at a time is the accepted wisdom but I’m pretty imprecise about this.  I think that add however much you need so that it just covers the rice and the rice won’t burn at the bottom of the pan.  Stir and stir until the stock has disappeared this helps release the starch from the rice).  Then add in a bit more stock.   *As you’re doing this, multi-task with step 7.*  Continue until the rice is cooked but still has a wee bit of bite – this is al dente.  Add another generous ladleful of stock, this helps to create a sauce,  and the butter.   Cover with the lid to help the butter melt.
  7. Check on the pumpkin and remove from the oven once they’ve been baked.  Grate the cheese, roughly chop up the coriander, finely slice the chilli peppers and the greens of the spring onions (if using).
  8. Once the rice has been cooked, add the pumpkin, cheese, coriander, spring onions and the chilli peppers. And stir through to mix well.  If you’d like a bit of zest, sprinkle some lime juice on top.  Et voila – enjoy.

The verdict?  A satisfying meat-free meal, which my friends, khmer and western, enjoy eating.  I especially like this paired with kimchi.

IMG_7555

Learning to make Ouzi with Ola and her mum

ouziouzi parcels
I aim to post a blog entry once a month. You wouldn’t think that it would be a difficult task. However, this is the month of September and I feel like I’m running as hard as I can on an upward inclining treadmill, which is about to spit me off because of the amount of work and time required to prepare for the start of an academic year at university, both at work and in the residential life team. I guess, the feeling is intensified this September because I had to move into a new flat, learning the ropes of a new role and area with my promotion to the role of deputy warden, meeting a new team of tutors, looming work deadlines… I’m going to stop trying to explain now because it’s beginning to sound like I’m whinging.

Besides, amidst all the change and chaos, I decided to take a two weeks holiday to Jordan. A luxury, I admit, in September.

So, as the rain beats down against the window of my new study/dressing room, I’m thinking, ‘was it really only a fortnight ago, that I was eating breakfast on a balcony in 30°c, listening to the tannoy of the scrap metal truck making it’s way around the neighbourhood, looking forward to my first arabic cookery lesson?’ I want to go back to that morning, when I made my way to the apartment, drinking in the sun and lingering slowly past the jasmine flowers that seem to overhang the walls on every street corner, so that I could inhale their fragrance one extra breath.

I guess the best thing to do in my case then, is to make some Ouzi.

On holiday, I learned that Jordanian women love FOOD. I had tremendous fun interacting with them whilst eating together, sharing cakes, talking flavours and recipes, helping with cooking. Maybe this is the same for all Arab cultures? I hesitate to generalise. One really interesting cultural food fact that I learned is, that the smaller you dice the tomatoes and cucumber that go into your salad, demonstrates how much you care for your guests. More effort goes into cutting up your salad veg finely, you see. I’d never thought of it in that way before!

The opportunity to cook together with Ola came out of a conversation Ola and I were having about okra! I smile as I remember this because I was telling her that I really don’t like the slimeyness of cooked okra, which prompted her to share a recipe with me. I still remember the arabic for okra (bamieh). Oh my random memory! When Ola mentioned how nice it would be to cook together, I seized on the opportunity – yes please! I’m only here for a fortnight, but I love learning new dishes! My British friends, also asked whether they could join in too. We’d agreed to keep okra for another event and settled on making Ouzi, which is a traditional Jordanian rice dish, that can be served as a rice dish or rice stuffed filo parcels. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m guessing that every Jordanian mother has their own family recipe for Ouzi, like the Brits do with roast dinners?

jordanian oven
 

An arabic oven
We met at Ola’s mum’s house. What a privilege and because we were there, I experienced baking with an arabic oven! What did I learn?

  1. Arabic mixed spice is entirely different from UK mixed spice. More savoury rather than sweet. Shall I post a recipe for one later?
  2. An arabic oven automatically has a grill function, by design.
  3. Arabic curry powder is different from UK curry powder, but I don’t know how, so I’m going to use the british stuff for the timebeing.

I’m going to write this recipe a bit differently. It’s in 3 distinct bits and I thought about writing the ingredients list for each separately. I’ve seen a number of recipes laid out like that. However, I think that in this case, it would be annoying NOT to have the whole list of ingredients at the beginning because there are so many spices that go into each stage.

 

ouzi spices

 

Please don’t let the long list of ingredients put you off making this delicious dish. I’ve written down the recipe as Ola’s mum taught me; would it help you to imagine that most Jordanian women would add their own variation of spices to this?

To give you an idea of the flexibility of flavouring in Ouzi, I’ll let Ola interject: “you can add more spices other than cinnamon to the meat (first step) if you like. but even if you don’t it won’t matter because all the flavours will blend at the end, so every spice will add to the flavour regardless of the step at which you add it.”

So, what ingredientsdoes one need to make Ouzi for about 8-10 people?

  • 454g/1lb ground beef or finely diced steak
  • ground cinnamon
  • curry powder
  • chicken or vegetable stock
  • ground green cardamon
  • ground cumin
  • arabic mixed spice or bokharat
  • ground black pepper
  • salt
  • 400g frozen peas
  • 600g or 4 cups of dry basmati rice
  • raw, blanched almond slices/halves
  • 16 sheets of filo pastry
  • ghee or melted butter
  • sunflower or vegetable oil
  • water
  • 1tbsp of freshly chopped parsley

You’ll also need:

  • 2 large baking tins, preferably roasting tins.
  • A soup bowl or ramekin, which you will use to help you shape and stuff your filo pastry sheets with rice.

I think that once you have everything out and ready, then it’s pretty easy to cook and assemble. So, let’s begin.

Cooking the meat

Ingredientsfor the meat part:

  • 454g or 1lb of beef mince, or finely diced beef steak
  • ½tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp salt

Method:

1. Brown the beef in a frying pan or the stock pan that you’re planning on using for the rice. As the meat is browning, add the cinnamon and the salt. Once the meat is browned, empty it onto a dish.

cooking ouzi meatadding spices to peascooking ouzi rice

Cooking the rice and vegetables

Ingredients for the rice:

  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 400g frozen peas, defrosted in cold water and drained.
  • 600g or 4 cups of basmati rice, rinsed and soaking in cold water
  • 1tsp ground cardamon
  • 1tsp cumin
  • 2tsp arabic mixed spice
  • 1tsp curry powder
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 3 stock cubes
  • boiling water
  • 3 handfuls of raw, blanched almond slices

Method:

1. Put the sunflower oil in the stock pan and add the peas and 1tbsp of salt. Do this on a medium-high heat. Cover the pan to allow the peas to steam for about 5 minutes.

2. Now, comes the fun part of adding all the spices to the peas. Give it a good stir. Break up the stock cubes and add them to the peas as well. You can add a cup of water at this stage, if you think that the peas are starting to burn a bit.

3. Boil the water. Meanwhile, drain the rice and add it to the stock pan. Cover the rice with enough boiling water so that it the rice will steam cook at the end. I’m not very good at measuring out water for this, but I believe it’s something like 1 cup of rice:1¼ cups of water?

4. Bring the water to boil, then cover the rice and peas in the pan with a lid and leave it for 10-15 minutes on a very low heat, until the rice is cooked. Test it – it should be light and fluffy. No al dente nonsense.

5. Heat 1tbsp of sunflower oil in a frying pan and on a medium heat, fry 3 handfuls of the almonds until they brown. Leave to one side until the rice is ready.

frying almondsfrying almonds2mixing rice and meat
6. On a big serving dish, put out half of the rice, then half of the meat. Mix it up. Then repeat until you have used up as much rice and meat as you’d like. Ola’s mum said to us that we can put the rice and meat together in whatever proportion we like, according to taste. Now at this stage, you can add the almonds and eat it just like this. That’s what I did when I made ouzi by myself after my cooking lesson. See below. If you tilt your head, there’s thank you (shukran) written with almonds in arabic.

shukran ouzi
 

serving up ouzi
Or…. you can also wrap up the rice in filo pastry, which is what Ola and her mum taught us to do.

Assembling the filo parcels

Ingredients:

  • The fried almonds
  • The ouzi rice, cooled.
  • 16 sheets of filo pastry
  • ghee or melted butter
  • sunflower oil
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

You’ll also need the baking trays/roasting tins and ramekin/soup bowl at this point

Method:

1. So, you need to leave the rice to cool completely now before adding it to the filo pastry. Otherwise, Ola’s mum shared that from her experience, the filo pastry will break when you come to wrap up the rice with them. She advised preparing the rice part in the morning when making Ouzi for dinner, in order to give the rice sufficient time to cool down. However, if you have left it too late or are impatient, you can speed up the cooling process by laying the rice out as a thin layer on a BIG serving dish so that the rice is exposed to as much cold air as possible. If you want to use warm rice, then on your heads, be it!

bowl to shape ouzi parcelslaying in the filo pastry
2. While you’re waiting for the rice, preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 you could fry the almonds and prepare the baking trays by generously greasing them with oil. When the rice is ready, get your ramekin or soup bowl out, the almonds and the filo pastry sheets. (For the sake of ease, from this point forward, let’s call the ramekin or soup bowl, a bowl.) Cut the sheet so that it’s 2½-3 times the size of the dish that you’re using. It’s possible to cut away extra pastry, so err on the larger size when you first begin.

3. It’s assembly time 🙂 Flour the bowl if you want to doubly make sure that the pastry won’t stick to the sides. Gently place one sheet of filo pastry on top of the bowl, so that the centre of the pastry sheet is in the bowl and the sides of the filo sheet are comfortably overhanging over the edges of the bowl. When we assembled them, Ola used 2 sheets because the pastry broke when we only used one. It’s worth experimenting to find out what will work, but don’t use anymore than 2 filo sheets per parcel. Press the pastry to the sides of the bowl.

layering the ouzi parcelfolded ouzi parcel
4. Add a tablespoon of almonds and then use a large spoon to add the rice until it reaches the top of the dish. Fold the layers of the filo pastry over the top, so that it begins to look like a parcel. You want to have enough pastry on the top so that when you invert the bowl, there will be enough there to form a firm base. Tear away any spare pastry from the top and store it, just in case you need to patch anything up!

5. With one hand on top of the folded sheets, carefully invert the dish and hopefully you’ll get the satisfaction of seeing an unbroken filo parcel appear. Lay the parcel, folded sheets down, carefully on the greased baking tray and move onto the next one. If you find that the filo sheet has torn, gently take it apart and use an additional filo sheet to assemble your parcel again. When lots of them appear on a baking tray, I think that they look like perfect white pillows.

2 ouzi parcels on the golots of perfect parcels of ouzichecking ouzi for baking
6. When they are all assembled, brush them with ghee or melted butter, and cook them in the oven for 3-5 mins, until the parcel bottoms are browned. Check by lifting them up with a spatula. Then take it out and put them under the grill for an additional 2 minutes to brown the tops of the pastry. Essentially, we’re making sure that the pastry is cooked.

baked ouzi parcelsserving up ouzi
7. When the tops are brown, take them out the oven and sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley. Et, voila – your ouzi parcels are ready to be served. Ola’s mum served them with laban, which is thick natural yoghurt which as slightly soured, and baked chicken.

Do you know what makes this really more-ish? The almonds. The nuts add texture, taste and totally complete the dish. When I made ouzi the next day for 13 friends, I made a slight variation of the recipe and missed out the wrapping in parcels bit, in the interests of time. Also, I burnt the almonds and I could have added a bit more salt. Even then, the resounding verdict from the lunch guests was ‘Zaki’ (Tasty). In conclusion, this seems to be a pretty fail-safe recipe.

Thank you Ola and Ola’s mum.

me assembling ouzialison assembling ouzi
 

 

Chocolate and Beetroot Cake

beetroot chocolate cake
choc beetroot muffins

My sister and her husband are coming to Warwick next week and their imminent arrival reminds me, amongst other things, of the beetroot they left me with the previous summer.

First of all. Whoever came up with the idea of adding beetroot in chocolate cake deserves a medal. You saved me from letting the vegetable go to waste. Let me take you back to my summer last year (when we had a summer!)

Oh dear…What was I thinking?

Everytime I open the fridge door, I have been glared at by the beetroot that has been discarded in the corner. I can’t believe that after I discovered my dislike of its flavour, I went ahead and bought some more beetroot.

I know that it’s silly, but there’s a wee bit of me that believes that beetroot will eventually taste alright if I eat enough of it. However – I just can’t face another savoury beetroot meal (see the entry on the fuschia beetroot risotto). So, I have decided that for the timebeing the best place for beetroot is in a cake and I’ve been baking this Chocolate and Beetroot cake from Delicious magazine. It’s main attraction is using raw beetroot, as opposed to the cooked stuff.

Top Tip: Use kitchen gloves when handling and grating beetroot to prevent the juices staining your hands. They’ll also protect your nails and fingers from being accidentally grated.

beetroot beetroot

But first, I’ll answer the question: why bother adding beetroot to chocolate cake?

Answer: Mostly for the moistness it adds to chocolate cake, and moistness is an essential quality in a goodchocolate cake. It’s alright. Not everyone tastes the “secret ingredient” in this cake. Nonetheless, I think that the beetroot flavour comes through. Not at all in an overpowering way; I would describe it as a hint of earthiness. Somehow the beetroot marries nicely to the chocolate, in an earthy kind of way. I’m going to stop before I try to make the chocolate-beetroot combination into a sexy one.

chocolate beetroot muffins 1packing up the muffins

The first time I made it, I baked them as 12 muffins for a friend’s picnic and there was enough mixture left over for a small loaf cake for my work colleagues to sample. I made a chocolate buttercream icing to go on top and finished it off with some slivered almonds. That was in the September with the first lot of beetroot given to me. Then with this second lot of beetroot, which I bought (silly me) I recently made three little cakes as a dessert, and a 20cm cake for another friend’s dinner do. This time round, I finished them off with the chocolate sour cream icing detailed in Delicious’s recipe. I’ve never been very interested in making icing (or as the Americans call it, ‘frosting’) as I’m not very fond of it. So, I’m pleased that I pushed myself on to learn something new.

chocolate beetroot muffins

What I like about this recipe is the end result: a scrummy, moist and very indulgently chocolate-y cake. Interestingly, the sponge in the muffins had wee air holes in it, like a wispa bar; the cake was a denser texture. If you like chocolate fudge cake, then I’d recommend you the cake version, especially with the chocolate sour cream icing. There’s no fooling yourself that it’s healthy, however, as there’s an awful lot of chocolate that goes into it. Even on the basis that there is a vegetable in it. (Although surely if you ate enough of it, you could add it as a portion of your daily fruit and veg..?)

So, stock up on your dark chocolate before you bake this because you’ll use a lot.

Ingredients for the Chocolate and Beetroot cake, adapted from Delicious Magazine’s Chocolate and Beetroot Cake.

  • 250g plain chocolate
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 150g light muscovado sugar
  • 100ml sunflower oil
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 50g ground almonds
  • 250g raw grated beetroot

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4 and grease a 22cm round loose-bottomed cake tin* (see above for variations). Line the bottom of the tin with baking paper.

2. Slowly melt the chocolate in the microwave in short blasts. The second time round, my pyrex bowl was indisposed because of Herman (more about him earlier). So, I carefully melted the chocolate in a saucepan on a low heat and took the pan off the heat, the moment the chocolate at the bottom started melting, so that I didn’t burn it. Set the melted chocolate aside to cool.

3. Peel and grate the beetroot using a normal cheese grater (see top tip about handling beetroot). Put the grated beetroot into a sieve over a sink and squeeze out the excess moisture. Leave it in the sieve whilst you get on with the next steps.

4. Whisk together the eggs, sugar and oil in a large bowl for 3-4 minutes. Add in the vanilla extract.

5. In another bowl, measure out the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and ground almonds. I’d recommend sifting the flour and bicarb of soda because you don’t want to be eating ucky lumps of bicarbonate of soda in the baked cake. Then add them to the wet ingredients and fold it in with a spatula.

6. Now, add in the grated beetroot and pour in the melted chocolate. Mix thoroughly. The mixture should be a dark violet colour.

dark violet beetroot chocolate batterbaked beetroot cake

7. Pour the cake mixture into the cake tin and bake for about 50-60 minutes in the middle of the oven. Mine needed the full hour. Check after 30 minutes and if the top seems to be browning too quickly, then cover the top with baking paper or foil. If you bake them as muffins, you’ll need 14-20 minutes. The cake is done when your cake tester comes out clean inserted in the middle.

8. Let the cake cool in its tin for a few minutes, then take it out of its tin and let it cool on a wire rack.

I made the chocolate sour cream icing the following morning, but you don’t have to wait that long.

Ingredients for chocolate sour cream icing

  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 100g sour cream
  • 100g icing sugar

Method

Melt the dark chocolate gently in a pan, or in the microwave. Allow to cool, then add to the melted chocolate, the icing sugar and the sour cream and beat until you have a thick, spreadable chocolate gooey icing.

Spread it over the cake, et voila!

icing on beetroot chocolate cakechocolate beetroot cake

iced chocolate beetroot cakechocolate beetroot cake 2

Roasted Beetroot and Goats Cheese Salad


roasted beetroot and goats cheese salad

Do you remember how I said that I don’t care much for the taste of beetroot. Well… I take it back somewhat with this beetroot and goats cheese salad. It turns out that I can’t resist anything with a goats cheese and balsamic syrup combination, even when beetroot is added to the mix. I’d make the salad again but tweak it slightly next time.

As I liked it the taste of it so much, I thought I’d make a feature out of this salad: I found it tucked away in the corner of the BBC good food recipe for the beetroot risotto that I made, labelled as another dish that I could TRY out. So I nicked a few beetroot quarters and rustled up this salad as a lunchtime warm up for my piece de resistance – the fuschia risotto. I won’t say it here, but you can imagine what all this beetroot eating did to my insides!

I’ve added some notes to myself in italics. You could try them out as well, if you fancy, or not. Roasted Beetroot and Goats Cheese Salad, adapted from BBC Good Food – serves 2.

Ingredients

  • 250g raw beetroot – about 3 medium sized beetroots.
  • 2 plates of salad leaves. I had rocket, lambs lettuce and some other lettuce leave (i’ve looked it up – it’s oak leaf lettuce).
  • 100g goats cheese
  • Balsamic Syrup/Glaze

Dressing:

  • 2 parts Extra Virgin Olive Oil to
  • 1 part Balsamic Vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F Gas Mark 4 and line a baking tin with foil.

2. Wash, peel, cut and quarter the beetroot*. Coat them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper and roast for 45 mins. Add some extra flavours – could try a herb like rosemary or thyme; honey; balsamic vinegar

*I’ve read that you can peel the skin off a beetroot quite easily once it’s been roasted but I’ve yet to try that method.

prepare to roast beetrootroasted beetroot

3. Wash and dry some fresh salad leaves. Make a dressing from 2 parts olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar, seasoned with salt and pepper but don’t add it just yet. I’d also be keen to try some pumpkin or walnut oil on this salad, just to see what it tastes like with it.

4. When 40 minutes of beetroot roasting time has passed, place a hefty slice of goats cheese on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof or baking paper (makes getting the goats cheese off much easier) and pop it into the oven for 7 mins.

goats cheese

beetroot and goats cheese salad

5. Take the beetroot and goats cheese out the oven. Arrange the roasted beetroot on top (I chose the ones that looked a bit more crisp and caramelised) of the salad leaves. Drizzle the dressing on top. Then, slide the bubbling goats cheese on top. Scatter some nuts on top – maybe some walnuts or pine nuts.

6. Scoosh some lovely balsamic syrup around the salad and… Ta Da! Absolutely delicious.

My tip to you – Don’t miss out the balsamic syrup: it completes the dish by bringing all the flavours together.

finished beetroot and goats cheese salad

A very pink (in fact, it’s fuschia) beetroot risotto!

Very pink risotto

The photo Emily took on Sunday of our colourful meal.

My sister gave me 1kg of homegrown beetroot at the end of July and I have almost used them all up. Beetroot ticks the box of ‘unfamiliar ingredient’ that normally puts me off making a recipe. I’ve experimented with sweet and savoury recipes provided by BBC good food and delicious magazine and it’s taken away some of my unease about cooking with beetroot. My learning points:

  1. Always wear an apron. Beetroot stains are devilish to get out!
  2. Kitchen gloves are a godsend when you need to grate beetroot. It prevents a) bits of fingernail or thumb grated in and b) very pink stained hands.

Sadly, however, my main discovery has been… I really don’t like the taste of beetroot. It makes me purse my lips in a funny way as I eat it because I’m not keen on the flavour. Then, it sits rather uneasily in my stomach. So, there you go. I’ve finally admitted it. In fact, if I was the b-list celebrity being interviewed by James Martin on Saturday Morning Kitchen, I would say that my food hate is beetroot. It has even trumped my previous food hate of congealed cheese.

Which is a bit sad really, because I’d like to like this vegetable. It is so very interesting and colourful. I love how it adds a bright fuschia colour to the dish. Besides, everyone seems to like eating beetroot. In fact, I’ve only ever come across one other person who doesn’t like the taste of it.

You’ll notice I’ve written italicised notes to myself next to parts in the method, with my ideas of how I could adapt this recipe so that it will suit my palate. The thing is, this has had lots of rave reviews on the BBC good food website. I bet they all liked beetroot to start off with. I mean, which silly person, who doesn’t really like beetroot, chooses to make a dish that’s all about beetroot?

Anyway, that is just me and my tastebuds. My friends, Emily and JCT came round to help finish off the beetroot risotto the next day. They liked the flavour and especially the colour. And you know what? I’d love to serve it as a prima plata at a dinner party, because it would serve as such a great conversation starter! So for all of your beetroot lovers, let me tell you about how I made beetroot risotto, adapted from BBC Good Food.

List of Ingredients

  • 500g raw beetroot, washed peeled and cut into quarters. 500g is about 5 or 6 small-medium sized beetroots.
  • 25g butter
  • 1 onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 250g risotto rice
  • a large glass of white wine
  • 750ml hot vegetable stock (or chicken stock, you’re not vegetarian)
  • 2 handfuls of parmesan (about 75g).
  • To serve: natural yoghurt or creme fraiche and sprigs of dill, or a slice of goats cheese, balsamic syrup and a scattering of fresh thyme leaves.

Method

1. Prepare your beetroot to roast in the oven. Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a large baking pan with foil. I guess this prevents the beetroot staining the tin. Clean, peel (wear the kitchen gloves!) and quarter the beetroot. Coat with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Put them in the oven to bake for 45 mins.* I’d like to bring out more of the beetroot’s sweetness. So, next time, I think I’ll add balsamic vinegar or honey and maybe some sprigs of thyme.

*I roasted these at lunchtime, so that I could use some beetroot for a lunchtime roasted beetroot and goats cheese salad. The recipe recommended it as a ‘you could also do…’, so I did. But, if you wanted to save on time, you could choose to start on the risotto.

2. Melt the butter in an large oven proof pan that has a lid (if it doesn’t have a lid, then use cover with tin foil). I decided to test out the oven-proofness of my largest sized Judge saucepan for this recipe. (It passed the test.)

3. Chop the onions and garlic and fry them at a moderate heat until soft. Add the rice and give it a good stir so that every bit of rice is coated.

4. Now, my favourite bit – add that glass of wine. Mmmm… Stir the rice some more. Once most of the wine has disappered in the pan, add ALL of that hot stock. Bring to boil for 5 mins, stir, cover with a lid and then pop it into the oven for about 15 mins. Or until the rice is cooked, but slightly al dente.

add all the stock to the pantrying to puree the beetrootunsuccessful puree

5. When the beetroot is done, take a quarter of them and puree them. I put them in a blender and they failed to puree. Hmmm…. Cut the remainder of the roasted beetroot into small chunks. Okay, so a few options here. Next time, cut the remaining beetroot into very small chunks, say the size of a 1cm cube. Better still, if I can figure it out, puree the whole lot!

6. Grate the parmesan.

7. Take the risotto out of the oven, once the rice is ready. There should still be a bit of liquid in there. Stir in a handful of the parmesan and the beetroot puree and chunks. Watch the risotto gradually transform into a vibrant shade of PINK, as you stir and the beetroot colour bleeds into the rice. I loved watching this bit.

Fuschia Beetroot Risotto

8. Serve immediately with more parmesan cheese and a contrasting white colour. The first time, I had a dollop of yoghurt, as I didn’t have any creme fraiche, and a scattering of dill. Sadly, I only had dried dill but I could taste the life that herb brought to the dish. I’d definitely use the fresh stuff next time though. I love fresh dill. The second day, I had a hunk of goats cheese and a squirt of balsamic syrup. Definitely use fresh dill another time but if I’ve used thyme in the roasting process, then how about a few fresh thyme leaves instead of the dill?

beetroot risotto and yoghurt

Sicilian Caponata (Sicilian Aubergine Relish)

Sicilian_Caponata

I fell in love with antipasti when I holidayed in the north-western tip of Sicily last September. In the past, I’d completely avoided antipasti: the magazine diet pages advise against eating antipasti for their hidden calories. I’m not entirely sure what changed my mind, but I had definitely ditched that notion of avoiding antipasti by the time I went on holiday. And I’m glad I did, because it certainly made for a glorious gastronomical adventure.

menu del diaantipasti

breadsicilian restaurant

On our final night we stopped by the beautiful seaside town of Castellammare del Golfo, which was dressing itself up for a feria. Sarah and I both love good food so we wanted to finish our holiday with a delicious italian meal. We chanced upon this newly-opened restaurant and entered on the recommendation of an italian man (who was also a chef!) we bumped into at the corner of the street. He spoke english, having worked in England for a few years, and he was holidaying with his family in the area. I do love those serendipitous moments. I think of them as God showing me favour. Others might call them fortune or chance. I absolutely recommend this restaurant to you, but I’m not sure where it is. Maybe the photo will help you find it. We were served a delicious menu del dia. However, truth be told, I was full after the antipasti. I was ever so apologetic to the chef for leaving food on my subsequent platas.

Before we left the beautiful island, with the aquamarine shoreline, I began to dream up an time when we could eat sunny, sicilian food in the backdrop of a wet, grumpy, english winter. The occasion presented itself when I arranged a sicilian evening with my friends Helen and John, who had been to Sicily earlier in the year. Helen and I decided that we’d only serve antipasti, bread and dessert. We didn’t plan a main course. The benefit of hindsight from our holidays.

Helen made tasty parma ham rolls stuffed with cream cheese and mango and a flavourful french bean, sundried tomato and feta cheese salad. My contribution to the evening: homemade caponata and sicilian bread. (I’ll write about my tentative endeavours into bread making another day.)

sicilian evening

Caponata isn’t much to look at; it tastes spectacular. How do I describe the flavour? Sweet, tangy, a bit crunchy, moreish. Perhaps, one would bluntly call it an aubergine chutney, but that doesn’t sound very appealing to me. The juices from the vegetables makes a beautiful sauce and the aubergines soak it up. Yum. It was one of the antipasti that was constantly served to us when I was out there.

When I found this Antonio Carluccio recipe(which is in his Italia cookbook), one of the things that almost put me off making this dishis the looooong list of ingredients. But then I remembered my resolution to push my culinary self. Besides, I realised that I had most of the ingredients and I only needed to buy capers and olives… and celery and aubergines and tomatoes.. It really does taste pretty special and it is a very simple dish to make. Admittedly the list of ingredients is on the long side. There’s just quite a bit of prepping and chopping at the start.

The recipe recommended you want the pale violet aubergine that is native to Italy. I found it tricky to source in Coventry so I satisfied myself with the deep violet variety.

Oh, and something else to note. Use a really large, deep frying pan, or a large wok. I started out with a frying pan, then swapped it for a stock pan because of the quantity of the ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 600g aubergines (about 3 medium sized aubergines), cut into 1 inch cubes
  • Salt
  • 6-8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, or just olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 celery hearts, cut into little chunks
  • 500g ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 100g pitted green olives
  • 60g salted capers, rinsed
  • 100g slivered almonds
  • 2 ripe but firm pears, cored, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 50ml white wine vinegar

Method

1. In a large bowl, immerse the cubed aubergine in salted water for 1 hour. Then drain and press down firmly on the aubergines in order to squeeze as much water out. Transfer the aubergine onto a clean tea towel and pat the aubergine cubes dry. Prepare a plate with a few sheets of kitchen paper.

2. Heat most of the extra virgin olive oil in the frying pan, or stock pan and fry the aubergine cubes until it’s a golden colour, rather than a bit burnt like mine. Transfer the fried aubergine onto the plate with the kitchen paper, so that as much oil is absorbed. Leave to one side.

fried aubergine caponataadding everything else caponata

simmering caponataadding aubergine, sugar and vinegar

3. Add more oil, if necessary, and fry the onion until soft. Add in all the other ingredients, except the caster sugar and white wine vinegar (really important you leave these out for now). So, that’s the celery, tomatoes, olives, capers, almonds, pears, cinnamon and cloves. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

4. Add the aubergines to the pan, with the sugar and white wine vinegar. Season with salt, if required. Cook for another 10-15 minutes. Take it off the heat and let it cool down.

Caponata can be eaten warm, and believe me, I couldn’t resist a wee taste of it. But it is, oh so delicious, when served cold.

sicilian caponata

This made A LOT. I had loads leftover from the sicilian evening. I took it to a friend’s birthday party later that week, by which time the flavours had matured and we kept going back for some more. I gave some to a sicilian student, I stirred it through pasta to make packed lunches, and finally finished it off with a friend of mine with some bread and salad. It’s really handy to have a few jars of this in the fridge for a delicious lunch, or a contribution to a dinner.

Butternut Squash, Apricot and Almond Cake

butternut squash and apricot cake

It’s starting to snow again on campus, as I finish writing up this entry.  They look like beautiful, soft flakes and remind me of my birthday in January when there was lots of snow! Maybe it’s the snow which is helping me get into the swing of Christmas this year.  I started wrapping my Christmas presents on Saturday – a previously unheard of phenonemon for the queen of last-minute.  But then again, Saturday was the first day of snow and also the BBC Good Food Show, so undoubtedly I was going to be excited.  My highlights were of the day:

  1. Buying my amazing Titan peeler (see photo below) and later making a courgette, garlic, basil and parmesan pasta dish for dinner with it. 
  2. Chatting to Alan Rosenthal, who has written a cook book called Stewed, about his business.  I think the timing of the book launch is perfect for these dark nights.
  3. Having a fun day out with my former housemates, Claire and Sarah and tasting muchos good food. Mmmm…

Well, it has inspired me to write about a cake that we can indulge in guilt-free.  I think it’s a handy one to have in mind for after Christmas.  I was hooked the instant I saw this on Kitchenist’s blog, ‘And I’m Telling You: No-Butter Apricot and Almond Cake’.  The title read like some sort of guarantee in a shop and drowned out the voice of guilt that says, “A moment on your lips, a lifetime on the hips”.  (Actually at times, the voice of guilt likes to take on the unwelcome guise of various human beings – what is with that?!)  But the real hook for me was to bake with a butternut squash.  Who can resist one of those golden, odd shaped bad boys?

The original recipe is in Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache.  There’s an amazon package sitting in the corner of my room, and I’m hoping my brother has sent me this recipe book as my Christmas present.  I’ll let you know after Christmas. 

When it came to trying out this recipe, I didn’t have any almond essence.  And after staring at a bottle of almond essence in the shop for 5 minutes, I decided to not to purchase it but to substitute it with Amaretto (an almond liqueor) instead, which I had already. 

I think that the hardest part of the this cake is peeling away at the hard skin of the butternut squash.  The best advice I can give you is to invest in a good quality, sharp vegetable peeler.  I didn’t have one both times that I made this cake, so I attacked said butternut squash with a knife.  

cutting up butternut squash

Remember how I mentioned that I have now bought an amazing Titan peeler?  It’s my newest kitchen purchase and I love it.  It peels just about anything.  I want to buy all sorts of root vegetables just so that I can peel them.  I’m a bit ridiculous, aren’t I, for being so excited about a peeler. *v*  Did I mention already that I love it?

the best peeler

So, here are the Ingredients for my adapted version of Butternut Squash and Apricot Cake:

  • 16 dried apricots
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1tbsp of apricot brandy (optional)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 200g peeled and finely grated butternut squash *see top tip
  • 1tbsp amaretto
  • 60g plain flour
  • 200g ground almonds
  • 1 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • icing sugar (to serve)

Top Tip: Weigh out the butternut squash before you peel and grate it.  If you go over that’s fine.  You’ll lose some of the weight when peeling it.  Oh, and double check the weight once you’ve done the difficult part. 

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3.  Line the baking tin with baking paper.  In her blog, Kitchenist, Ele insists that this is a really important step and musn’t be overlooked because the cake has a tendency to stick to the tin as no butter is being added to the recipe.  So, I obeyed.

2. In a small heatproof bowl, soak the dried apricots by barely covering them in boiling water and adding 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract.  For extra apricot-loveliness, try adding some apricot brandy to it, as I did the second time I made the cake.  1 tbsp of apricot brandy seemed a good amount for me.

3. Measure out the dry ingredients in a bowl – the flour, ground almonds, mixed spice, baking powder and salt

4. In a separate large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together until it’s light and fluffy.  Use an electric whisk if you have one.  Otherwise, it’s a good workout for your arms.

5. Add in the grated butternut squash, amaretto, and 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract and combine well.

6. Add in the dry ingredients in 3. to the wet mixture and give it a good mix so that the mixture is well combined.  It should feel quite gloopy but thick.

7. Pour the mixture into the tin and spread it out evenly.  Drain the apricots that were soaking and place them on top of the cake.

unbaked butternut squash and apricot cakebaked butternut squash and apricot cake

8. Bake the cake for between 35-45 minutes in the middle of the oven, or until the tester/knife comes out clean.  The top of the cake should be springy and golden in colour.  Let it cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, then on a cooling rack.  Dust with icing sugar, just before serving.

Verdict?  I think that the butternut squash adds a beautiful moistness to the cake, rather than a distinct flavour.  The almond and mixed spice make it a truly delectable cake to eat.

So the combination of: no butter easing the guilt + butternut squash and apricot contributing towards your 5-a-day + amaretto and apricot brandy adding a sweet naughtiness to it = the perfect cake to feel good about whilst eating it.  I baked it for my work colleagues on my birthday and, on another occastion, as my contribution to my church’s ladies day.  Each time, it received good reviews.  Mmmmm…

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