20 February 2010

Buttery Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

Mmmm. Good. Heavens.

This cake was goooood.

I needed something to take along to one of my seminars, that's good for a quick snack with afternoon tea.  I'd had this recipe bookmarked for a couple of weeks, and I'm glad it didn't remain too long on the to-be-baked list.  This cake is super-moist, very rich, and sure to impress.  It also might impress the women in your life, if you happen to have any.  I'm not really sure what else to say about it... except that you should most definitely make it for your next dinner party, potluck, or any time all of your friends gather in the same location.

*Note to Brits: this cake, though called a "coffee cake," does not contain coffee.  It's for having with coffee - kind of like how teacakes don't actually contain tea.  Yet another instance of two countries separated by a common language... I'm slowly learning to cope.

I found the recipe via this food blog, and the original recipe is here.  The only thing I can think that might make it better is an addition of some lemon zest in the filling.  Next time.

Buttery Cream Cheese Coffee Cake


1 cup (225g) butter (no substitutes)
1 cup caster sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup sour cream (I used crème fraiche)
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt


2 (8 oz or 250g each) packages cream cheese, softened
1 egg yolk
1 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla


1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup butter

Set oven to 350F (175C) with oven rack set to second-lowest position. Grease a 13 x 9-inch (or an 11 x 7-inch, baking time will need to be increased slightly). Cream butter with sugar (about 3-4 minutes), add in eggs and sour cream or crème fraiche; beat well (about another 3 minutes). In a bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture; beat well until combined (batter will be thick). Spread more than half of the batter in the prepared baking pan. In another bowl, cream together all filling ingredients, then carefully spread over the cake batter. Spoon the remaining cake batter over the top of the cheese mixture. Mix all topping ingredients, pinching together with fingers until the consistency is like crumbs, and sprinkle over the top. Bake for about 50-55 minutes or until middle feels set and not jiggly.

16 February 2010

Spinach & Lentil Curry

Curry has always scared me.  I was always just a bit terrified of it... all those spices, all that effort, and for what?  Some gloppy-ish thing served over rice like you find at the chippy?  Even if one could cope with the mile-long ingredient lists, why would they bother?  I decided that it was time to try - I very well couldn't continue to live here in England without figuring out how to tame the curry beast like the rest of the population.

Still, I wanted a recipe that didn't call for 18 different spices.  I try to keep my cooking more simple than that.  Then I found this one, courtesy of TimesOnline.  A few additions and substitutions (as is my usual style), and I had all the ingredients.  My time had finally come.

Halfway through cooking the lentils, I was worried.  Worried, worried.  The broth tasted like... spicy sand.  It was weirdly gritty, or rather, DUSTY, like chalkdust on the day you clean the erasers.  But I stuck to my guns, and followed the recipe.  Would the Times lead me astray?

I cannot believe I had any doubts, because this turned out to be one of the best things I have ever made.  I felt warmed, healthy, smart, not over-full... quite perfect, really.  So even if curry scares you, like it scared me up until the moment I took a bite - never fear.  It is so worth it.

*The Times calls for split yellow mung lentils, of which I have never been a fan - so I used my always-on-hand french green lentils, which are smaller, not-split, and have a firmer texture (they kind of *pop* when you bite them).  So I swapped half of them for some bulgur wheat to mimick the consistency of yellow lentils and add a whole grain to the already-healthy dish.  I made other minor adjustments as my pantry would allow, and added a dollop of greek yoghurt and shallots for garnish.  Do NOT skip the yoghurt... it beautifully cuts through and compliments the flavours of the curry, and makes it a perfect toast-topper.

**Also, the Times created this dish more soupy than I wanted it, so I adjusted the water content accordingly, paying close attention to add just the right amount as I went along.  I imagine, though, that this would make a delicious soup, and I'd like to try it that way at some point, also with a little swirl of yoghurt or crème fraîche.

Spinach & Lentil Curry
Serves 4
  • ~1/2 cup french green lentils
  • ~1/2 cup bulgur wheat
  • 1/2 tea ground ginger
  • 2 tea harissa paste (or chilli of your choice)
  • 3/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • ~3 tbsp tomato paste or puree'd tomatoes
  • 200g baby spinach leaves, stems removed, roughly chopped.
  • sea salt to taste (don't skimp - since there's no salty broth, you'll need it.)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic (~2 tea garlic paste)
  • 3/4 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 shallot, minced (for garnish)
  • small pot of greek yoghurt (for serving)

Place the lentils, ginger, harissa and turmeric in a pan, and add enough water to cover the lentils 2x.  Bring to a boil, then simmer over a moderate heat for 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a further 20-ish minutes.  Add bulgur and continue simmering for however long it takes for your lentils to get a little mushy - in this case you want them slightly overcooked so they break down and thicken your pot.  ((Add water as needed, both the lentils and the bulgur will absorb a LOT of it, keep adding it a bit at a time to avoid a soupy consistency in the end.))  Add salt and set aside.

Heat the butter in a small pan. Add the cumin and garlic and allow the mixture to become fragrant, 1-2 minutes.  Stir in the coriander powder and garam masala, mix well, then pour the mixture into the pan of lentils.

Add spinach.  Place pot back on heat and add a little hot water if you need it, heating just long enough for the spinach to wilt - maybe 2 minutes - stirring to incorporate spinach into the lentil mixture.

Serve hot with a big dollop of greek yogurt and sprinkle with minced shallot.

Serve with toast points, or if you're feeling frisky, a nice crusty, olive-oil brushed french or italian loaf.

14 February 2010

Sweet Potato & Avocado Grilled Sandwich

I love sandwiches. Who doesn't, really? Unfortunately, many vegetarian sandwich options tend toward the bland and uninspired - simple cheese, fake meat (that doesn't even try to taste good, like fried vegetable patties) or a house salad served between two slices of bread. It seems that people forget that some vegetarians actually like vegetables. I found myself browsing around for a recipe to kick my depressed tastebuds back into gear, and the minute I found this sandwich, I had to make it. And boy, did it do the trick. The result was tasty, filling and super healthy. For the price of a Big Mac, I got far more flavour and nutrition than any crappy McCoronary could offer.

*Original recipe calls for shredded monterey jack cheese, which is nonexistent in this country (or at least un-discoverable in the city of Liverpool), and tomatoes, which are horribly out-of-season -- so I opted to omit both of these ingredients. Like this blogger and this blogger, I roasted the sweet potato as opposed to boiling, which I thought would leave them bland and too mushy for proper sandwich building materials.

Sweet Potato & Avocado Grilled Sandwich
  • 1 small-ish sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, plus more for grilling
  • 1 tbsp plus 2 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp mustard
  • 1 tbsp light mayonnaise
  • 4 slices whole wheat bread
  • 4 onion slices, very very thin
  • 1 avocado, pitted and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 leaves of Round lettuce (similar to Butter or Boston Bibb lettuce)
Toss sweet potato slices with 1 tbsp each olive oil and honey. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Roast in a single layer in oven set at 190C (375F) until tender, about 20 minutes.

Whisk together remaining honey, mustard and mayonnaise. Brush one side of each bread slice lightly with olive oil (to make the sandwich nice and crisp when grilled). Then spread honey-mustard mixture on the other side.

To construct the sandwiches, layer onion and avocado on a slice of bread, season with salt and pepper, then layer on sweet potato and lettuce. Top with remaining bread slice. Fry on stovetop or use a panini press. (I fried in a non-stick skillet set on medium heat, about 3 minutes for each side.) Serve immediately.

Makes 2 sandwiches.

12 February 2010

Cream of Celery Soup

This is so much better than anything from a can. This recipe came my way via a food blogger called Ilva.  Her site is beautiful, and most importantly, her recipes are easy-peasy.  Here's the link. This is the easiest soup recipe I've ever encountered, and yields an amazing result. So perfectly creamy... but with no cream.* Yes, this soup is vegan. The best thing about this is how easy it is to make, and with just a handful of ingredients. The second best bit is that it freezes perfectly - I have been known to freeze the leftovers into individual portions - perfect for defrosting and using in a casserole. Vegan, seriously easy, and freezer-friendly? This might be a candidate for the Most Perfect Recipe Ever.

Cream of Celery Soup
  • 1 small bunch of celery, including hearts and leaves
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 zucchini
  • 500 ml (about 2 cups) vegetable stock
  • about 50ml olive oil (about 3 tablespoons), however much is needed to do the job.
  • sea salt to taste.
Chop the onion and braise it some olive oil for a couple of minutes in a stock pot.

Chop up the rest of the veg and add to the pot. After a couple of minutes, add stock.

Let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes, but not too long - so as to retain the colour.

Blend in batches in blender or use an immersion blender. Leave some chunks for texture. Add sea salt to taste - you may not need any, depending on the salt content of your stock.

*If you wish, add a touch of single or double cream (a.k.a. heavy cream) before serving.

Serves 2.