Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Speedy and simple spicy soup

Speedy, healthy, spicy soup
For those of you who don't know, I've just returned from a research trip to wintry Moscow. It's such an intriguing place. Snow-covered streets give it the appearance of a fairytale wonderland, flanked with startling architecture and air that seems saturated with centuries of intense history. And luckily for me, the weather was unseasonably mild for this time of year (around about -7 degrees celcius, but still not nearly as bad as it could have been).
Yet frankly, whilst the trip was a success, I have to say I'm relieved to be back at home. The Moscow metro system is intimidating to say the least - as the third most used metro system in the world, it feels like rush hour even in the middle of the day. And if you're unlucky enough to catch yourself down there during the actual rush hour, it's a pretty horrific sardine-like experience of pushing and shoving, made all the more frightening when you're about to enter the third trimester of your pregnancy. Plus, despite the rather spectacular thermal vest and long johns I took with me, I still managed, perhaps predictably, to pick up a cold.

One of the nicer aspects of the Moscow metro

So, despite the general success of the trip, I was ready to come home, and more than ready for a bit of comfort food. However, after my trip to the midwife today, when my comment about suddenly feeling pretty darn hungry all the time was met with a snarky reply of "Well remember you're not actually eating for two you know", I ended up making a bit of a point with my super-healthy lunch. And you know what? It was bloody lovely, and was super simple to make, in around half an hour. Here's the recipe...
Speedy and simple spicy soup (vegan)
(serves 4)
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 scotch bonnet chilli, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped into small (1cm) cubes
1 cup of red split lentils, rinsed well
handful of mushrooms , roughly chopped
1 red pepper, roughly chopped
2 pints vegetable stock
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1. Fry the onion and chilli in a tablespoon of rapeseed oil in a large saucepan until the onion is translucent.
2. Stir in the carrot, potato, mushrooms and lentils, fry for a minute or two and then add the stock.
3. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 15-20 minutes until the lentils and vegetables are tender.
4. Add in the tin of tomatoes, bring back to a simmer, and then serve whilst still hot.
This will make your tummy smile inside, will clear your sinuses like a dream and will leave you with an afterglow of satisfying smugness at its healthy, tasty goodness. Delicious!


Sunday, 3 February 2013

Welcome... to the Crystal Maze!

Aztec zone
So, although I realise my posting has been more than a little sporadic of late, I hope that this sweet little treat will make up for the radio silence. And let me tell you this. It’s a mega treat. Because, it’s that time of year again – Mr P’s birthday!

Those of you with good memories will recall that last year’s birthday celebrations provided my decorating pal Mel and I the perfect opportunity to get creative with a surprise cake based on the Plants Vs Zombies computer game, which completely blew him away. This year, we gave him a bit of a say in the creative process – to decide either the theme or the flavour. After much serious deliberation (or perhaps it was a gut reaction, since he’s been very busy applying for jobs at the moment), Mr P declared that he’d like a chocolate fudge cake.
I am utterly indebted to the marvellous Lindy’s cakes for the recipe I used – you can find their original recipe post here. Flavour-wise, Mel and I agreed that this is probably the best cake we’ve ever made. And as you probably know, I’m not a major chocolate fan, and she doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth at all, so that says a lot about the recipe. Presumably the deliciousness of the cake is inversely proportional to its  healthiness, seeing as it contains roughly a bucket of butter, chocolate and sugar and a comparative sprinkling of flour. But who am I to argue with perfection?! This cake is super moist, and stays moist very well, and is sure to go down well for any occasion.
Crystal Maze cake

Medieval zone
Richard O'Brien in sugarpaste form


As for the theme, it’s based around one of Mr P’s favourite TV shows from childhood, The Crystal Maze. I haven’t seen any other Crystal Maze cakes online, so it felt like a very original project. There are four separate 5” square cakes, each representing one of the four challenge regions from the original show – Aztec, industrial, futuristic and medieval. The research process consisted of spending two hours of my life (that I am well aware I will never get back) watching old episodes online, whilst screaming at the screen and genuinely wondering if the contestants came from another species altogether. If you don’t value your sanity, knock yourself out here 

The industrial zone
The futuristic zone


Super moist rich chocolate fudge cake
Recipe from Lindy’s cakes
This makes 4 x 5” square cakes; for one 8” round cake, just halve the quantities given below.


450g (16oz) unsalted butter
450g (16oz) good quality chocolate
2 tablespoon (30ml) instant coffee granules
450g (1lb) caster sugar
450g (1lb) light soft brown sugar
300ml (10 fl oz) water
8 large free range eggs
70ml (2.2fl oz) rapeseed oil (Lindy uses veg oil, but I think rapeseed is less detectable, and healthier too!)
200ml (6.8 fl oz) sour cream/natural yoghurt/Crème fraiche
250g (9 oz) self raising flour
250g (9 oz) plain flour
100g (4oz) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon (5ml) bicarbonate of soda

1. Preheat your oven to 160 degrees celsius (315 degrees F, gas mark 2-3) and line your tin/tins with baking parchment. I also like to line the outside of the tins with a few layers of newspaper as it helps the cakes to rise with a more even, rather than domed top (even though it adds to the cooking time a little). This is more important if you’re decorating with sugarpaste, but if you’re going for a more rustic look, then it’s not such a big deal.
2. Add the butter, chocolate, coffee, sugar and water to a pan and slowly melt together over a low heat. I know the idea of adding the chocolate and water rings alarm bells, but you just have to keep the faith here. Once these ingredients have melted together, melted allow to cool.
3. Add the beaten eggs, oil and sour cream to the chocolate mix and stir well.
4.Sift all the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre.
5. Pour the chocolatey liquid mixture into well and stir in the dry ingredients, mixing well until thoroughly combined.
6. Pour the cake mixture into your tins and bake for about 1hr 30mins (1 hour 45mins-2hrs for an 8” round) or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
7. Place the tin on a cooling rack, and leave the cake to cool inside it.
To finish and decorate:
This cake is so rich and moist that it doesn’t really need to be cut and sandwiched with buttercream. In fact, it tastes so rich and moist that even without any topping you it still tastes great.

A chocolate ganache might be overkill on a cake like this, but I think a vanilla or chocolate buttercream, or even a cream cheese frosting would work pretty well on top. In my case, I made some mild chocolate buttercream (not very chocolatey and not particularly sweet) – just enough to create a crumb layer on top. Then I covered the cakes with a layer of sugarpaste and finished with sugarpaste decorations.