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Posts Tagged ‘spice’

  1. Carrot cake and topping

    May 20, 2015 by sarah

    This recipe is one of those which turns out to be much greater than the sum of all its parts. It is ridiculously moist, homely yet in fashion, chewy but light. You can glam it up with decoration or leave it rustic and plain. Bake in a round tin or rectangular, this cake never fails me in the bake or others in the tasting.

    Many people don’t like nuts so I use sultanas in my version which add texture and some sweetness. Feel free to change back to nuts; walnuts are traditional. It keeps well as it is an oil based cake, but the icing will only keep for a day or so at room temperature, depending on how hot it is!

    carrot cake-004

    Passion Cake

    For the cake:
    175ml vegetable oil, flavourless
    200g caster sugar
    3 eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla essence
    100g sultanas
    200g carrots, grated coarsely
    150g plain flour
    1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon each of cinnamon and mixed spice
    1/2 teaspoon salt

    For the topping:
    75g cream cheese or ricotta or quark
    50g softened butter
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    finely grated zest of 1 orange
    100g icing sugar

    Prepare a tin by lining the bottom with parchment paper and greasing the sides. Either a 22cm round tin or a 20 x 30cm rectangular tin, or muffin cases (about 12). Preheat the oven to 180ºC/ 160ºC fan.

    Beat the oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla in a jug.

    Put the dry ingredients into a large bowl, add the grated carrots and wet mixture. Beat well until mixed.

    Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about an hour for the large tins, half an hour for individual muffins. Allow to cool in the tin for 10minutes before turning out to cool completely on a cooling rack.

    To make the topping, put the soft butter in a bowl and beat until smooth. Add the cream cheese (which should be cold from the fridge) and vanilla and orange zest and beat until smooth. Sift over the icing sugar and beat until all incorporated. This topping is soft and cannot be piped; look at my other recipes if you need a topping that can be pipped.

    carrot cake-003

  2. Spice 5 – Cinnamon – Cinnamon Rolls

    March 30, 2014 by sarah

    Cinnamon. A beautiful warm, sweet spice, which I am sure we are all familiar with. Essential in many of the recipes we know and love, such as apple pie and mulled wine. True cinnamon comes from the bark of young saplings of Cinnamomum verum, a tree native to Sri Lanka (also known as Ceylon), which is stripped and rolled by hand to form quills. The cinnamon available in Europe can only come from this source, but it is also possible to get ‘cassia’ which is harvested from other Cinnamomum species, but is less aromatic and subtle than true cinnamon and the bark is much tougher. Cinnamon has many health benefits including anti-clotting and anti-oxidant actions, helping to control blood sugar levels in diabetes, and anti-viral and anti-microbial actions. However, too much cinnamon can be harmful due to it containing coumarin which can cause liver and kidney damage in high concentrations. The EU has set limits to reduce exposure to this but at levels that will actually affect the taste in the produce – so if you want your cinnamon baked goods to actually taste of cinnamon, you know who to blame so make it yourself! See this article on cinnamon!

    cinnamon (4 of 4)
























    I decided to make cinnamon rolls as they were made recently on a blog I follow irregularly. However, this and all the other recipes I could find were American so had the usual problems with measurements in cups and using something called all purpose flour. Also, this is an enriched dough and in the past I have had great trouble getting enriched dough, such as for hot cross buns or stollen, to rise. Where do you leave your dough to raise – an airing cupboard or low oven? I found that using a reptile heat mat obtained online for a small sum gave me a specified level of warmth so that even on the coldest winters day when the heating has been off for hours I can still rise dough and make bread. This time I used our conservatory as the sun had been warming it all day but did the second proving on the mat as it was evening by then.

    cinnamon (1 of 4)

    Grown-up Cinnamon Rolls

    500g strong white bread flour
    100g caster sugar (golden/unprocessed if you have it)
    75g butter, melted
    2 medium free-range eggs, beaten
    200ml milk
    1 sachet/7g dry yeast
    1 teaspoon salt
    zest of 1 lemon
    50g unsalted butter, softened
    100g soft brown sugar
    2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    150g soft brown sugar
    1 tablespoon whiskey or other alcohol of choice
    1 teaspoon vanillar extract
    30g butter
    115g icing sugar
    Make the dough. Heat the milk until body temperature/tepid and add the yeast; leave until starting to foam (how quickly depends on type of yeast). In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest and make a well in the middle. Into the well add the now activated yeast, the two beaten eggs and the melted butter. Mix with fingers/hand until comes together then turn out onto a well floured surface. Knead for about 5-10 minutes until comes together and is silky smooth. The dough will be quiet wet/tacky to begin with but keep working and will firm up. If it feels very sticky, add a little more flour when kneading.
    Place the kneaded dough into an oiled bowl and cover with oiled cling film. Leave somewhere warm until at least doubled in size.
    How log this takes varies with a lot of factors but allow at least 2-3 hours.
    Make the filling. In an small bowl, beat the dry ingredients into the softened butter.
    Make the rolls. Punch down the proven dough and roll/stretch out on a work surface until forms a rectangle 15″ long by 9/10″ wide. Sticking the edge closest to you down to the table and then rolling away works best. Spread the filling evening over the rectangle, leaving a 1/2″ border at the long edge furthest from you. Starting at the long end closest to you, tightly roll up the dough over the filling. Seal the final unfilled margin but dampening with water and then pressing the dough firming into it.
    Cut the dough across the roll up to make 1″ sections. This amount should make about 18 slices.
    Lightly grease a couple of pan such as square brownie pans. Put the slices in the pans, allowing a good 1/2″ around each to allow for expansion.
    Cover with greased cling film and leave somewhere warm until doubled in volume – about an hour.
    Cook the rolls. Preheat the oven to 180 C or 160 C fan. Bake until golden brown, take about 20-25 minutes.
    Make the glaze. While the rolls are cooking, make the glaze. Combine all the ingredients except the icing sugar, in a small pan and gently heat until the sugar has dissolved and the butter melted. Take off the heat and beat in the icing sugar, sieving over the top to stop lumps forming. Alow the rolls to coll for 10 minutes in their pans then pour the glaze over so that it covers all the buns and soaks through to the bottom. Allow the glaze to set for 20 minutes or so before serving with a large mug of coffee.
    cinnamon (3 of 4) cinnamon (2 of 4)

  3. Spice 4 – Juniper Berries – Venison Casserole

    March 19, 2014 by sarah

    Right, time for another spice and this time something that is probably known to you but perhaps lurking in the back of the cupboard unused? Well, mine was until I found this recipe. The recipe is actually a hand me down from my Mum, hand written into my recipe book from about 15 years ago!

    juniper (6 of 6)

























    Juniper is actually the female seed cone (i.e. not a berry or fruit) of Juniperus communis but the scales are fleshy and fused to give the berry like appearance. It is one of the few spices that is native to Europe, and even occurs in the UK though it is rare here. It is used a lot in Northern European, particularly Scandinavian, cuisine in particular to flavour game and cabbage dishes. And who can forget juniper is used to flavour gin. My favourite cocktail has got to be the plain, but oh so mouth watering, gin and tonic. Made with Hendricks of course!

    Venison Casserole with Juniper

    Serves 4

    1 pack of diced venison (about 400g)
    1/2 teaspoon of peppercorns
    1/2 teaspoon juniper berries, bruised in a mortar and pestle
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    3 bay leaves
    good sized sprig of thyme from the garden
    1/2 a bottle of red wine
    2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
    1 onion finely diced
    1 tablespoon plain flour
    rind of 1 orange and juiced
    2 tablespoons of red currant jelly (I used damson jelly because that is what I had – it worked well)
    sherry glass of port
    a dozen small shallots, pan fried
    one pack of vacuum packed chestnuts (or roast and peel and blanch and remove skin yourself – if you are a masochist)
    Marinade the venison in the wine, peppercorns, juniper,  1 tablespoon of olive oil, bay leaves, thyme, garlic and onion for 24-48 hours.
    Drain the venison, reserving the liquid.
    Brown the venison in the other tablespoon of olive oil, dust with 1 tablespoon of plain flour and rest on a plate and soften the onions from the marinade mixture. Add the venison, softened onions and the rest of marinade ingredients to a casserole dish. Add the juice and rind of the orange, the redcurrant jelly and the port and season. Add more water if necessary to make sure the venison is covered.
    Cook slowly for 2 hours on the hob or in a low oven.
    Add the shallots and chestnuts and cook for a further 30 minutes.
    Serve with mashed potatoes, celeriac mash or gratin or any other starch to your preference and it is obligatory to serve braised red cabbage with this stew.
          juniper (2 of 6) juniper (1 of 6)    
     I had quite a lot of problems photographing this dish. Though incredibly tasty, the stew is just BROWN and brown things don’t look that appetitsing. Hense the use use of the contrasting blue napkin and a fair sprinkling of parsley! Also, to get height in the bowl I used a a trick of placing half an upturned apple in the bottom of the dish to raise the chunky bits above the liquid of the stew and give more of a 3-D appearance.

  4. Asian-style Butternut Squash Soup

    February 19, 2014 by sarah

    Whenever I make this soup, the colourful bowlful and cheery flavours brightens up the dampest of wet winter days. Saying that though, I can tell spring is close now; the dawn chorus has returned, it is just about light when I get up, the sun has some warmth in it when it is out from behind a cloud and little shoots are appearing in the garden and on our walks. I suppose we should be grateful for living on the top of a hill and not in a flood, but the incessant mud and grey skies are very soul draining.

    I have never eaten a soup of this style in Asia and I am not sure it could ever be called an ‘authentic’ Asian recipe, whatever that may mean, but the flavours of that part of the world are in this soup and the cheerful colour reminds me of the sunnier latitudes. I hope it cheers up your winter days too.

    This recipe is adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Everyday’. I think cutting up raw squash is asking for an injury; sharp knife and a round, moving and very hard object do not make a good combination. In this recipe I get round that problem by roasting the squash whole first so it is meltingly tender and easy to prepare. I usually do this when the oven is on for something else, for example our evening meal, to save energy.


    Asian-style Butternut Squash Soup
    1 butternut squash, medium sized
    1 large onion, finely chopped
    1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
    1/2 teaspoon ready chili in vinegar or a small medium hot fresh chili
    knob/thumb sized amount of fresh ginger, finely grated
    1 garlic clove, chopped
    about 1 litre of vegetable stock (from a cube/pot is fine)
    2 tablespoons of peanut butter
    juice of a lime
    To Serve – fresh coriander, toasted seeds
    Place the butternut squash on a baking tray, stab a few times with a sharp knife and place in a medium to hot oven for 30 minutes to maximum 45 minutes until it is soft all the way through when you insert a sharp knife.
    Allow the butternut squash to cool sufficiently to handle; this takes about an hour at room temperature. Scrape the flesh of the squash into a bowl using a large spoon or your clean hands, discarding the skin (unless you want to add that for extra fibre) and seeds with the fibres (unless you want to wash the fibres off the seeds and roast them for the topping – too much hassle for me).
    Heat the oil in a large saucepan and then add the onion and a pinch of salt (the salt stops the onion catching); cook until the onion is soft, sweet and translucent. Add the chili, ginger and garlic and stir for a minute or two until fragrant. Add the reserved butternut squash and enough stock to cover the squash. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes to meld the flavours.
    Add the peanut butter and lime juice, stir until the peanut butter has melted. Blend the soup with a hand blender or in a blender. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning as required. Serve!

  5. Spice 2 – Sumac – with homemade cream cheese

    February 14, 2014 by sarah

    When I envisioned this blog project, I was going to try to stick to well know spices mostly, in order to explore their potential in new ways. But I was in the supermarket the other day, and found myself staring at the spice section ticking off which spices I had and which I didn’t have. Sumac was the only spice I knew I didn’t have in my cupboard so I just had to have it! And then when I got it home, I realised I knew nothing about it or how to use or even what it tasted of. The packet unhelpfully suggested ‘add to Middle Eastern dishes’. Luckily my new cook book arrived last week and Sophie Grigson’s ‘Spices’ helped me find the potential of this unusual spice.

    Sumac is made of  the dried berries of Rhus coriaria and used in the cuisines of the Middle East, North Africa and Sicily. It tends to be sprinkled on hummus or yogurt, added to salads and along with thyme and sesame seeds is an ingredient in za’atar seasoning used for dipping of olive oil soaked bread. Tasting it neat, it has a zing citrus like tang but no other aromatic tenancies. I was a little under whelmed tasting it but I think it is probably more suited to lovely sunny days, BBQs and salads than the rainy, windy weather we are having at present. I will do more experimentation if the weather improves and add another recipe for this spice.


    Homemade cream cheese (lebneh) with sumac

    500g/ml pot of yogurt, preferably full fat Greek type
    1/4 tsp salt
    extra-virgin olive oil
    bread to serve, preferably homemade sourdough
    Stir the salt into the yogurt in its pot. Place a plastic sieve over a glass bowl and line the sieve with muslin that has been sterilised by pouring boiling water over it. Tip the yogurt into the muslin lined sieve and cover the whole lot with cling film. Place the bowl in the fridge and leave for about 24 hours so that the whey drains out of the yogurt.
    Serve the cheese sprinkled with sumac and drizzled with the olive oil. Scatter over the pomegranate seeds; the sweet burst of the seeds make a pleasing contrast to the creamy yogurt and slightly sour tang of the sumac. Eat within a day as this is a fresh cheese and does not last.

  6. Spice 1 – Star Anise – ox tail stew

    January 16, 2014 by sarah

    So here is the first recipe in a series of forty on spices. This time we are looking at star anise, that pretty star shaped spice with a hidden powerful punch.












    Star anise, or Chinese anise, is the star shaped dried fruit (and seeds contained within) of an evergreen tree (Illicium verum, part of the Magnolia family) native to Vietnam and Southwest China, so it is not surprising that it is widely used in the cooking from these countries. It imparts a deep and warming licorice flavour to dishes, like the Vietnamese soup Pho,  and is an essential ingredient in Chinese 5 spice mix. But perhaps more surprisingly, it is the flavouring in several liquors such as Sambucca and Pastis and even, until relatively recently, used to manufacture antivirals such as Tamiflu!

    I like to use the spice whole, partly because it is so pretty and partly because it is easier to control the flavour level and pick out the bits after. You can buy ground star anise but be very careful with how much you add to a recipe as it is very pungent and will easily overpower any other flavours in the dish. I like to add a star or two to poaching fruit such as plums or pears and I add it my mulled cider recipe (but not to my mulled wine – I like to taste the wine).

    Ox Tail Stew with Star Anise

    Recipe from ‘River Cottage Everyday’ by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with a few of my own additions. Serves 4. Tastes even better on the second day, like most curries. Although it contains spices other than the star anise, the later is the star of the show and the predominate flavour but not over powering.


    1kg oxtails, cut into thick slices (get the butcher to do it so you don’t chop off a finger trying)
    1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
    2 medium onions, finely sliced
    4″ cinnamon stick
    3 star anise
    2 bay leaves
    1/8 teaspoon ground pepper
    thumb sized bit ginger, finely grated
    up to 1L of good quality beef stock
    couple of squares of dark chocolate (70% cocoa minimum)
    salt to taste or a splash of soy sauce
    Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based casserole and brown the meat all over, doing it in several lots so as not to overcrowd the pan and end up stewing up. Remove the meat to a plate and turn the heat down to low and add the onions and a sprinkle of salt. Cook until soft and translucent.
    Return the meat to the pan and add all the other ingredients and enough beef stock to just cover the meat.
    Bring to a slow simmer and then let is cook very gently for about 3 hours. If easier, you can do this in a low oven (120 C) or a slow cooker.
    After this cooking time, remove the meat from the sauce with a slotted spoon and pick out the whole spices and bay leaves. Leave to cool so the fat rises and you can skim it off with a slotted spoon and some paper towel. Reheat the sauce and boil until slightly thickened. You can either add the meat back in as it is or remove from the bones with a couple of forks (may be a good idea to do this for ‘fussies’). Stir in the chocolate.
    When you want to serve, heat through thoroughly and serve with mash. It was even better the second day.

  7. Spice Up Your Life – Masala Chai

    January 1, 2014 by sarah

    Here is my first new project for 2014; 40 spices in 40 recipes in two years. This was inspired by the spices seen (and smelt) in Morocco; the lines of market stalls piled high with multi-coloured powders, roots and barks, the pungent spiciness tickling the nose. If you have ever seen inside my ‘flavour additive’ cupboard you will know that spices and the like feature frequently in my cooking. But in this series of blogs I want to take my use of spices to new places so each recipe will highlight one spice, though the recipe may contain other spices and flavour additives the ‘main’ spice will be the predominant flavour. Also, I want to discover new spices and unusual ways of using familiar ones, so look out for traditionally sweet spices in savoury dishes and visa versa.

    What is it about spices? Any flavour additive (a term of my invention) turns a basic dish into something extra-ordinary, something special. Think of the sensations of eating a warmly spiced curry; the burning feeling in the mouth that is exciting and somewhat shocking, dangerous even. But then subtleties of a delicately spiced Christmas biscuit or the richness of vanilla in ice cream.

    So first we need to know what we are using i.e. what is a spice? Well it turns out not to be an easy question to answer. The fountain of all knowledge that is Wikipedia (wink, wink – they like to think they are the bible but some of the information is flawed so take it with a pinch of salt) says a spice is ‘a dried seed, fruit, root, bark or vegetable substance primarily used for flavouring, colouring or preserving food’. So a dried part of a plant other than the leaves because the leaves are herbs. Ok, I think I’ve got it. But what about fresh spices like ginger root or garlic, they don’t HAVE to be dried do they? If they aren’t spices (or herbs) then what are they in a culinary sense? Ginger can be fresh or dried but both forms taste and act differently. Looks from a whiz around the internet that things like ginger, garlic, horseradish and capers are considered vegetable or flavourings rather than spices. Ok, we will stick to dried forms then.

    So we come to our first recipe. I am not going to call this one of the official recipes of the project, because as the name implies, it contains several different spices and not one over-riding flavour. This recipe is adapted from a packet of ‘Chocolate Chai’ I bought in a Whittards shop and had been languishing in the back of the cupboard for a year until I made a pot a few weeks ago and discovered how delicious it was. The bought version was based on coco kernels which look and taste exactly like coco nibs (available from health food shops) so feel free to substitute them for the black tea. It made a fantastic mildly spicy and faintly chocolaty drink.


    Masala Chai

    You can add or substitute in really any spice you like, typically things like coriander, fennel, black pepper, star anise.
    3 cups loose black tea (about 100g)
    36 green cardamon
    1 teaspoon pink pepper corns
    2 teaspoons cloves
    4″ piece of cinnamon broken into small shards
    8 pieces of candied stem ginger in sugar, finely cut up
    Mix all the ingredients together and then store in a kilner jar or other similar jars for gift giving. I bought some empty tea bags with drawstrings which can be filled and then used like regular tea bags.
    Brewing Instructions
    tea for one
    200ml of water
    100ml of milk (preferrably whole milk)
    1 tablespoon of Chai Mix placed into a tea bag
    Sugar or honey to tasteBring the water to a boil and add the teabag. Turn off the heat and let steep for about 5 minutes. Add the milk, turn on the flame and reheat until hot. Remove from heat, discard teabag, sweeten to taste, enjoy!