Tuscan Bean Soup – Avoca Cafe Cookbook

Whilst I had the Avoca Cafe Cookbook out I decided to make up some soup for me this lunchtime (everyone else was out). Avoca don’t do small quantities of soup (or anything really) so this ended up being a vast vat of soup but my boys have a day off school tomorrow so Jon and the boys can have some for lunch tomorrow (I’ve wondered in the past whether to get soup flasks for the boys to vary their packed lunches and decided against because they lose so many things, now I’m going into an office more maybe I should get a soup flask for me).

The main thing I did differently was to add a whole tin of cannellini beans, half a tin seemed  a very small quantity of beans in this volume of soup. I do think it needed the whole tin. The soup was delicious.

Ingredients

  • 1 onion peeled and chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 celery sticks, finely diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 75g/3oz streaky bacon cut into bite sized pieces
  • 3 garlic cloves peeled and crushed
  • 1.2 / 2 pts vegetable stock
  • 3 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • pinch of sugar
  • 110g/4oz canned cannellini beans drained and well rinsed (I used a whole can)
  • 1 dessertspoon oregano

Instructions

  1. Saute the onion in the olive oil for 10 minutes or until translucent
  2. Add the celery carrots and bacon and cook for 5 minutes
  3. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute
  4. Stir in stock and tomatoes. Season well, adding the bay leaf and sugar.
  5. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked but still al dente.
  6. stir in the beans and oregano and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  7. Remove the bay leaf and serve with croutons.
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Fish Pie – Avoca Cafe Cookbook

A good friend is of the opinion that a cookbook has proved its worth if you get 5 recipes from it that turn into regular things that you cook. Given how small a repertoire of regular dishes most home cooks have that’s a pretty good rule of thumb, although I’d almost go so far as to say the Avoca Cafe Cookbook: Bk. 1 justifies its place on my bookshelf on the strength of its chicken and broccoli gratin recipe alone.  Having made that gratin several times I felt I needed to try another family meal from the book and went for their fish pie. Many cookbooks have a fish pie recipe and they are all variations on a theme but this was great I’ll definitely be following this one again. It is simple flavours using good ingredients and not very difficult to make. I’ve seen people debate the merits of hard boiled eggs in a fish pie, I come down in favour not least because at least during spring, summer and autumn we always have an abundance of eggs from our chickens to use. I agree with their assertion that too many different additions confuse the taste buds in this pie. The final winning part of this recipe for me is the use of breadcrumbs to top rather than mashed potato, (despite growing up in an Irish household I have a great aversion to some forms of potato hate mashed potato the most).

I served this as suggested, with green salad, and baked potatoes for Jon and the boys. The quantities would serve 6 easily and 5 generously. We enjoyed it so much we ate the lot between 4 of us but were aware it was rather more than we should be eating. I’d make it with approx 500g of fish next time and reduce some of the other ingredients a little if I was making it for four.

Ingredients

  • 700g smoked haddock
  • 2 onions peeled and chopped
  • 600ml/1 pint full cream milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 110g/4oz butter, plus extra for the topping
  • 50g/2oz plain flour
  • 4 eggs, hardboiled, shelled and halved
  • A bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 200g/7oz frozen peas
  • 6 tablespoons breadcrumbs

Instructions

  1. Put the haddock in a saucepan with the onions, milk, bay leaf and peppercorns. Place over a moderate heat, bring slowly to the boil and poach the fish for 5mins, or until it flakes easily.
  2. Remove the fish and set aside to cool, reserving the cooking liquid (I put the onions aside with the fish so that they would be in the finished pie).
  3. Gently melt the butter in a saucepan and whisk in the flour making a roux. Strain the reserved milk from cooking the fish and gradually stir it into the roux. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes stirring all the time. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Break up the fish into large chunks and place in a shallow oven proof dish. Add the hardboiled eggs, parsley and peas and pour the sauce on top.
  5. Scatter over the breadcrumbs and dot with butter
  6. Bake in an oven preheated to 180C/Gas 4 for 30-40 minutes until brown and bubbling.

Rock Cakes – Saved by Cake Marian Keyes

I wanted a quick bake to go into packed lunches and since I haven’t used Marian Keyes – Saved by Cake yet I decided to turn to the first recipe which was rock cakes. I don’t think I’ve made rock cakes since I was at school. Her book is aimed at beginners and whist I’m not a beginner I bought it because I was interested to read what she had to say about how baking helped her with her depression. The book is lovely, a nice range of recipes beautifully photographed so you can see what they should look like. she is very honest about her depression and her ability to bake when she started and how baking helped her.  Her rock cakes were nice, but not as good as the spare rock cakes Maria sent me home with after her charity book evening, that may be me not the recipe, I used softened butter since I had some but the recipe didn’t specify and I wonder if it should have been cold butter. My oven was a little too hot so they were a bit more brown than golden brown after 15 mins. But these really are very easy to make.

Ingredients

  •  225g/8 oz self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder (UK)
  • 115g/4 oz butter
  • 75g/3 oz granulated sugar
  • 115g/4 oz sultanas
  • 50g/2 oz mixed peel
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 – 3 tbsp milk
  • Demerara sugar for sprinkling

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/180 Fan/400F/Gas 6
  2. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large baking bowl, add the butter, and lightly rub together with fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Add the sugar and the dried fruit and mix well
  4. Add the egg and 1 tbsp of the milk and mix to create a stiff dough. If the mixture is still dry add milk a tbsp at a time until required consistency.
  5. Lightly grease two baking sheets.
  6. Using a tablespoon divide the mixture into 14-16 mounds evenly spaced on the 2 baking sheets. Sprinkle with the demerara sugar.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 mins or until golden brown and well risen.

Dominic’s Engagement Cake

I made this cake for my cousin Dominic’s engagement party tonight. My twin sister has made lots of wedding cakes and when Dominic’s fiancée rang and asked me to make their engagement cake I thought she might have got the wrong person but I didn’t want to say that in case she thought that meant I didn’t want to do their cake whereas I was delighted to be asked.

Trying to design a engagement cake suitable for a party of 150 guests which doesn’t look like a wedding cake but does look special and romantic was a bit of a challenge. Also I don’t have a great deal of experience making sugar flowers and flat icing. I did know I wanted to make a two layer stacked heart shaped cake using the cake tins my mother had used for my wedding cake 24 years ago.

Bernadette suggested using butter icing and cigarillos around the side. It’s an expensive option but looks good and is relatively easy. She also suggested I use this wedding cake recipe from bbc good food magazine . It’s a very rich chocolate cake. I made up the quantities below and it was just slightly too much for the two cake tins (26.5cm wide an 15.5cm wide) I’d decided to use. When the cake was baked it came up over the level of the cake tins which was good as it made it very easy to cut the tops level. I then turned the cake over to get a perfectly level surface for icing. I nearly forgot to cut the cake in half to put icing in the middle. Cutting the large one was a bit scary but went very well. I then covered the cake in a rough coat of butter icing and started putting cigarillos on and…

The cake is now too tall for the cigarillos, it’s hard to see in the picture but there’s a gap at the bottom. The only way I could think of around that was to pipe butter icing around the base – except the only time I’ve ever piped icing was as a teenager – 30 years ago! I Fortunately I could keep trying until it was reasonable and scrape away the piped borders that didn’t quite work. It ended up not the best piped border in the world but most was covered by the cigarillos so I didn’t worry. I smoothed the top, piped the border, put the cigarillos around then sat up for ages to check they didn’t fall off. Next morning I looked at my ‘smooth’ top and realised it was a bit naff. Fortunately there is a cake decorating shop in the village so I popped over to ask about smoothers for butter icing. Lovely lady in the shop, asked me about the cake design and suggested sprinkling crushed cigarillos on the exposed surfaces.

Jon cut me 3 wooden dowels to support the top layer cake so I carefully positioned that and carried on placing cigarillos with Aidan’s help. We then positioned some chocolate roses *, crushed the cigarillos and sprinkled on top. I am so pleased with this cake, I’ve never done anything nearly as ambitious as this – I just hope I get it to Essex tonight without mishap.

*My nephew Andrew was going to make chocolate roses for me, but last w/e there was a bit of a health scare for my sisters FIL and Andrew went out to France with my sister to check on his granddad – fortunately he was ok. I had a backup plan and bought ready made chocolate roses, I’m sure Andrew’s would have been more beautiful as he is very good at this sort of thing but he made the right priority call.

Now the cake is finished I have an hour to grab some lunch, change and get to the boat club with elder son for our first official skiff race. There is a very strict ranking system from novice restricted through several grades to senior which is apparently olympic rower standard. It will be a bit of a shift in gear as right now as I can smell is chocolate cake  and vanilla butter icing and my hands feel slippery.

Ingredients

  • 650g unsalted butter
  • 650g plain chocolate (70% cocoa)
  • 100ml very strong coffee- espresso is ideal
  • 3 tsp vanilla essence
  • 650g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 950g light soft brown sugar
  • 10 eggs
  • 2 x 284ml/9.5 fl oz soured cream

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 4. Butter, double-line and wrap the sides of the 30cm cake tin as before.
  2. Put the butter and chocolate into a medium saucepan, then stir over a low heat until melted and smooth. Stir in the coffee and vanilla.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into the biggest bowl you have. Add the sugar, breaking down any lumps with your fingertips if necessary.
  4. Beat the eggs and soured cream together in a jug or bowl and pour into the flour mix. Pour in the melted chocolate mix as well, then stir with a wooden spoon until you have a thick, even chocolaty batter.
  5. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 2½ hrs – don’t open the oven door before 2 hrs is up, as this will cause the cake to sink.
  6. Once cooked, leave in the tin to cool completely.

Note The unfilled cake will keep for up to four days, wrapped as before, or frozen for a month.

Pink Grapefruit Drizzle Traybake

I used the lemon drizzle traybake recipe from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible and substituted 1 pink grapefruit for the 2 lemons in the recipe. They were very pleasant, my husband commented they weren’t very lemony so you do need to mention what flavour they are to people as it isn’t overwhelming.

This may not sound a very radical adaptation but it’s progress for me 😉 I really like the security of following a recipe.

Gingerbread Traybake – Mary Berry’s Baking Bible

I know I did say I was going to try some different recipe books but Mary Berry’s Baking Bible  is just so good when you want to bake some cake in a  hurry. I wanted cake for packed lunches so I always intended to forgo the icing on this cake. Jon was very pleased that there was no icing this time as he has a very puritan attitude to icing. These very nice on the day of baking and got better as the days went by. My tray bake sank a little in the middle, I did take them out a little early as they were smelling like they were cooked and looked like they were cooked but maybe the last 5 mins would have been good. That said the middle was fine, just a bit lower than the rest. You can serve this is quite small cubes so it goes a long way and is perfect for packed lunches.

Ingredients

  • 275g golden syrup
  • 275g black treacle
  • 225g light muscovado sugar
  • 225g soft margarine
  • 450g self-raising flour
  • 2tsp mixed spice
  • 2tsp ground ginger
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 4 tbsp milk

For the icing

  • 225g icing sugar
  • about 2 tablespoons water

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160c. Grease and base line a 12 x 9 in (30 x 23 cm) roasting tin with greased greaseproof paper.
  2. Measure the syrup, treacle, sugar and margarine into a large pan and heat gently until the fat has melted. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour and spices (if this goes lumpy you may need to push through a sieve, I found adding a little flour at a time it went horribly lumpy so I shoved the whole lot in reasoning if I had to sieve I may as well not spend time mixing in slowly and once I’d mixed all the flour it was pretty smooth).
  3. Add the lightly beaten eggs and milk and beat well until smooth. Pour into the prepared tin.
  4. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 45-50mins or until well risen and beginning to shrink away from the sides of the tin. Allow to cool for a few minutes before turning out and cooling on a wire rack.
  5. For the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl, add the water a little at a time and mix until smooth. Spoon over the cake and add decorations, leave to set. Cut into pieces and serve!

Raspberry Bread and Butter Pudding

We’re still getting lots of raspberries – we planted three different types of canes with different fruiting times (and different pruning regimes) and have managed to mix them up. The odd weather this summer may also be messing with fruiting times so I don’t know if these are late summer raspberries or autumn raspberries.We’re also still getting plenty of eggs although the numbers are just starting to drop off.

I didn’t feel like baking another cake but I did want a pudding and all I could find in my books were meringue based and I wanted something easier. I decided to try a raspberry bread and butter pudding. Jon was unconvinced it would work but he had to admit it did. The boys declared it delicious and had seconds. I enjoyed it but I didn’t have time to leave the egg mixture soak before baking and I felt it wasn’t sufficiently egg custardy. I may have needed another egg, less milk and maybe even cream instead of milk. I’ll try again changing quantities a little to see what works best.

Ingredients

  • 7 slices of bread cut into quarters
  • butter for greasing and buttering bread
  • 65g caster sugar
  • 200-300g raspberries
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 350ml milk

Instructions

  1. Grease a 1.5 litre casserole with butter
  2. butter the bread bread and cut into quarters diagonally (you should have little triangles of bread)
  3. Beat together the eggs, vanilla essence and milk.
  4. Place a layer of bread on the base of the casserole overlapping bread slightly
  5. place a third of the raspberries over layer of bread and mash down slightly with a fork, sprinkle apprx 1/3 of the sugar over the bread & raspberries
  6. Do two more layers of bread, raspberries and sugar
  7. Pour over egg/milk mixture
  8. Leave to soak for 1/2hr if possible
  9. Bake in 180 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Recipe Copyright © PVella 100CookBooks