rhubarb ginger sponge pudding

rhubarb ginger pudding

We were invited to Sunday lunch with some friends at the weekend, as Piers had a new toy to play with, and he wished to mandolin lots of potatoes to make a dauphinoise. It would have been churlish not to pop over and help them out with the consumption of same. So we did. As an aside, Piers is a damn good baker, and I hope his plans to start doing it commercially start to come together soon, once he can beat the beasts of bureaucracy into submission.

Anyway. I’m not great at puddings, and my repertoire is small (ooh er, missus), but I nipped or popped into the greengrocer on Friday to see if anything inspired. And there was Yorkshire rhubarb, so I bore it home. We almost always make a crumble with rhubarb, but I wanted to do something different, so here’s what I did.

450g forced rhubarb, cut into 1in/2.5cm lengths
110g soft brown sugar
110g butter
2 tsp freshly grated ginger (or more, if you like things gingery)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
70g ground almonds
2 eggs
50g self-raising flour (or plain, and ½ teaspoon of baking powder)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

Spread the rhubarb out in an ovenproof dish (one about 6x8in/15x20cm). Now, I never add sugar to rhubarb, but if your tooth is sweeter than mine, scatter some brown sugar over the fruit.

Cream the butter and the rest of the sugar until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the spices, almonds and then eggs, one at a time. Fold in the flour (if you are making this in a food processor then just pulse in the flour, stopping as soon as it is amalgamated).

Spoon the mixture on top of the rhubarb, spreading it out lightly. I scattered some flaked almonds over the top too, as an afterthought.

Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until golden brown and more or less cooked through. It will still be a bit gooey in the middle, which just makes it better. If you let it sit for an hour (just about the time to drive from Hull to Doncaster, as it happens), it’ll firm up a bit more.

We warmed it through again when we got there, and ate it – all of it, I’m ashamed to say – with double cream.

Which after roast beef, pommes dauphinoise, cabbage and peas and beans was quite piggish. Particularly as we followed it with two sorts of cheese, two sorts of crackers, and some grapes. But, in our defence, Pete and I didn’t eat again until Monday lunchtime …

chocolate aubergine cake

chocolate aubergine cake

This recipe comes from Harry Eastwood’s book Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache, and is entitled by her Chocolate Heartache Cake. There are some cracking recipes in there, but the style of writing makes me clench my teeth, so I prefer to write up my own version without the schmaltz!

roughly 400g of aubergine
300g best dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids), broken into squares
50g good quality cocoa powder
60g ground almonds
3 medium eggs
200g clear honey
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 180 degree C. Line a 9″/23cm loose bottomed tin with baking parchment and lightly brush the base and sides with a little oil.

Cook the aubergines by puncturing the skins a few to,es with a skewer, then placing them in a bowl covered in cling film. Microwave on high for 8 minutes until they are cooked and soft. Discard any water at the bottom, and leave the aubergines to stand in the bowl until they are cool enough to handle. I used my nice red Lakeland microwave steamer to do the business.

Next, skin the aubergines, then puree them; blender if you have it, or a tedious time with a sieve. It’s easier to peel them before microwaving, so I hope you’re reading this recipe before you start!

Once the warm aubergine is pureed and smooth, add the chocolate, which will mingle and melt slowly. Set aside, covered once again in cling film, until all the chocolate has melted.

In a large bowl, whisk up all the other ingredients for a minute until well introduced to each other and slightly bubbly. Fold the melted chocolate and aubergine mixture into the bowl with all the other ingredients. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and place it in the bottom of the oven for 30 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in its tin for 15 minutes before turning it out on to a wire rack and peeling off the parchment, then turn it onto a plate (the right way up). I covered mine with a combo of cocoa powder and icing sugar, but I might try ground hazelnuts next time.

This cake keeps really well, is very rich, and freezes beautifully (just as well if there’s only two of you, or you’ll go into a diabetic coma before you can see it all off); I wrapped it in two layers of tin foil, and then put it in an airtight plastic box. We ate it with local strawberries and good vanilla ice cream.

a squeaky breakfast

halloumi breakfast

Our local cafe, run by an affable Romanian named  Ricardo, does a splendid breakfast of halloumi, roasted veg, hash brown, a sausage patty, tomato (for those that want it – I certainly don’t!) and toast, for £4.99.  It’s delicious, but by the time you’ve bought coffee, you’re up to thirteen quid or so for two, so I decided to have a go at home.

  • two chipolatas from the local butcher, baked in the oven
  • One red and one green pepper sliced, four cloves of garlic, one sliced onion, a handful of mushrooms, cooked down slowly in some olive oil on the hob {1}
  • half a block of halloumi, sliced and dry fried
  • some left over cooked spuds, sautéd in some olive oil

Readers, it was delicious, and we shall do it again. And probably again. And there is enough vegetable left to do for tomorrow’s lunch – I shall sling in a can of chickpeas to boost it up

{1} The pepper mix was very liquid. I might actually roast the veg next time, but we live and learn.

chicken pesto pasta

chicken pesto pasta

Here’s another 20 minute recipe (although, to be fair, I used cooked chicken – you’d need to allow a bit longer if you used raw; if you do, cook it off as the first stage).

Put some olive oil in a deep frying pan and heat it up (just low-medium is fine), chop up a courgette, add it to the pan.

Put a pan of water on to boil for the pasta; I used spaghetti for a change, but any pasta will do. Don’t forget to add it when the water is boiling 🙂

Chop an onion, ditto. And some garlic. Add them. Saute the veg gently in the oil. When all the veg are softened, add the chicken, and keep stirring. I added a little splash of white wine at this stage, but it’s not compulsory.

When the pasta is done, drain it, and add it to the veg, and add some pesto. I was cooking for two of us, with 150g of pasta, and I used three teaspoons or so. Stir it all together, dump in a bowl, scoff. Really nice for a hot summer evening, and very little time standing over a hot stove.


a timed supper



As my regular reader will know, Tuesday night is pasta night. I just open the fridge and concoct something from its contents. For people who don’t have time to cook, here’s a 15-20 minute supper.

Bear in mind I have an ceramic hob, so you can skip the “put the rings on” bit if you’ve got gas.

  1. Switch on the big ring, put a deep frying pan on it, add a slug of olive oil
  2. Switch on the medium ring, put some cold water and salt in a pan, set it on the ring
  3. Slice up a big leek and put it in the pan with the oil.
  4. Weigh out the pasta (if you do such things – we do, because carbs/diabetes)
  5. Slice up some mushrooms, and add to the leeks
  6. Notice pasta water is boiling – add pasta, set timer for ten minutes (this is dried pasta – your pasta may vary)
  7. Remember you haven’t put any garlic in, so quickly peel and chop two cloves and throw them in with the vegetables
  8. Put a colander in the sink for drainage purposes
  9. Grate black pepper into the veg
  10. Open the fridge for some lemon juice, find a bottle of white wine open, and add some of that instead.  Too much, so turn up the heat to boil it down a bit
  11. Remove block of feta from fridge and cut up about one third of it
  12. When timer goes, drain pasta then add it to vegetables, together with the feta.
  13. Stir it all together, decant into bowls, scoff.

prepayment meters

We knew this house had a prepayment electric meter. It was with EDF and, as they were the supplier in our previous home, I phoned them and asked them to put in a proper credit meter, which they did within two weeks. I also asked them to transfer the gas from British Gas to themselves, without realising that that meter was also a prepayment one, so the replacement process is rather more convoluted.

The gas meter had a £57 debt on it, and when I put my card in, with its £30 of credit, I only got £3’s worth of gas; I was horrified. Long conversations with BG later, I found that if I paid off all the debt, so the meter was clear, they would refund it all; we’re very lucky we could afford to do that – many folk couldn’t.

Also, it was costing about £4 *per day* to run the central heating for a few hours, and deliver hot water (two showers and three lots of washing up daily – cooking is all electric here). Truly, those who have nothing, have to pay more. Quite outrageous that prepayment gas and electric should be so much more expensive than metered.

However … the weeks we spent having to pay in advance (and through the nose) made us extremely aware of how much it was costing, and we have become far more frugal and careful in our use of power, which is no bad thing, I suppose.

It lives!

Many apologies for the radio silence – we’ve been moving house, which meant eating everything in the freezer and the cupboards, finding homes for all our culinary stuff in the new (and frankly inadequate) kitchen, sourcing new fridge and freezer (the USAnian behemoth having been left behind), and then starting to fill them. So no new recipes to relate, really.

We have moved to the eastern side of Hull, where there is much real poverty, and the local shops are even cheaper than where we were previously. There is a good independent butcher at the top of the street, who sells shin of beef. Shin Of Beef! And is the sort of shop where they go and cut what you want. There is a greengrocer next door, which has good produce, if a limited range – nothing like an aubergine, or a herb, or much of a choice of apples, but they are inexpensive and decent quality. We have a big Asda 15 minutes walk away, and a Morrisons 20 minutes in the opposite direction, and we have Fulton Foods, Iceland, Poundland, and Home Bargains, close to hand.  Those latter are all great for inexpensive cleaning materials, loo rolls, etc., and actually Iceland has some interesting stuff if you rummage.

The inadequate kitchen includes an ancient and unvenerable ceramic electric hob, which is a nightmare. We’ve already had to replace the oven (bought an AEG fan oven from eBay). It came with a matching gas hob, so we’ve got someone coming in to quote us for plumbing that in. We’ve also got a newer ceramic hob to fit, which I picked up for £85, so decisions to be made there. And praise be for Ikea, who have allowed us to make the house workable for about £300 (and two 165 mile round trips!).

So we’re settling in nicely. I’ve put a dozen tubs in the freezer: old stalwarts like roast veg, lentils and cauliflower, bolognese sauce, and pork and beans. Herbs are waiting to go in the garden when we get the beds dug over. Might even plant some veg later!

More posts soon 🙂

hurrah for Aldi

Aldi-150x150I must confess to just a little schadenfreude upon hearing of Tesco’s woes. Yes, I know they employ thousands of people, and yes, I know that a lot of pensions are invested in them, but they were a bit Icarus like of late.

I very occasionally visit the huge Tesco in the centre of Hull, when I can’t get what I want anywhere else, and I’m always overcome by the choice in there. Who needs dozens of different breakfast cereals, or olive oils, or sausages, or whatever? I find myself just standing in front of the shelves, whimpering.

This morning, in stark contrast, P and I walked across the park in the wind to our local Aldi – we spent the princely sum of £27.73, and here’s what we bought:

 2.5kg baking potatoes
1kg wholemeal flour
1 large cauliflower
2 smoked salmon and cheddar fishcakes
1 pack of chicken thighs
3 courgettes
1kg bananas
2 packs puff pastry
1 double pack pancetta cubes
1 pack pork sausages
1 pack chestnut mushrooms
2 balls mozzarella
1 bottle baby shampoo (for my sensitive locks)
1 pack  Frikadellen meatballs (lovely for lunches)
1 pack Bavarian ham
1 pack egg noodles
1 pack Earl Grey tea bags
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 carton passata
1 tub hummus
1 pack Wensleydale cheese
1 tub pate
3 bulbs garlic
8 rashers back bacon (won’t be as good as Normans, but will do fine)

Yesterday, we spent about 5 quid in a local greengrocer, for cabbage, swede, courgettes (yes, I know, but I need moar! courgettes!), a bag of peppers, mushrooms (we eat a lot).

I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do with it all yet. Tonight’s supper is the fishcakes, with sautéd potatoes and baked beans (yes! don’t care!). Sunday we are cooking a huge vat of chili with some ox cheek that’s been in the freezer for a few weeks – never used it before, so that’s quite fun. I’ll keep you posted.

And if you haven’t tried one of the German discounters, you really should!

the poor don't know how to cook

Baroness Jenkin

Baroness Jenkin said this week, as the report on poverty and food banks was released, that “the poor don’t know how to cook”. Which was a tad patronising, really – lots of people who living in poverty know how to cook, and indeed lots of people who aren’t haven’t a bloody clue. And quite a few of them know how to cook, but can’t afford the ingredients, or even the utilities to cook them.

But that’s not really the point, is it? There she sat, in her Chanel jacket, and her expensive jewellery, and her posh hair cut, and she pontificated about others. And said that her bowl of porridge cost her 4p for breakfast. Well, I dispute that.

Sainsburys basic porridge is £0.11 per 100g, and their own recipe says to use 50g, so that’s 5.5p already. They recommend you make it with milk, but you can use water. So choose – can you afford milk? Has your water been cut off? Do you have a bowl and spoon to eat it with, a microwave or hob to cook it on, a way to measure 50g and 270ml? Is there money in your meters for the electricity or gas?

Cheap processed food is filling food, and if you’re tearing about working two jobs, or walking great long distances to do workfare, you’re not likely to have the time or energy to conjure up a delicious, nutritious and cheap meal. Sticking a 99p microwave lasagne on for the kids gets them fed quickly, rather than waiting while you try to prep something better.

Last night we had a quick pasta dish, as is our normal Tuesday fare. 125g of own brand fusilli, an onion, courgette, yellow pepper, a few mushrooms,  and two small smoked salami (the latter unnecessary, but needed using up). And to cook it I used a hob, a saucepan for the pasta, and a frying pan for the vegetables. I used a set of scales to weigh the pasta, a decent sharp knife and chopping board to cut up the veg, a drizzle of olive oil to cook them in, some cooking salt, and a grating of parmesan at the end (requiring, obviously, both cheese and some sort of grating implement). And some black pepper.

So the ingredients probably cost less than two quid, but the stuff I needed to actually cook it cost considerably more, and the experience gained from 40 years of cooking, so I can hurl together a meal out of pretty much anything cannot be costed.

Oh, and there’s about 170 calories in a bowl of porridge made with water. The good baroness must be starving unless, of course, she fills up at the subsidised House of Lords various canteens the rest of the time.

I wish people, particularly wealthy peers of the realm, wouldn’t be so fucking judgemental.