Orange and Honey Polenta Cake

I made this cake some time ago now and (shock! horror!), took the photos on my old camera- it pains me now to think how much better they would have looked on my swanky new number.  But I hope this doesn’t detract from this wonderful, moist tea time treat I adapted from a Nigel Slater recipe.   I love baking with polenta and nuts instead of flour- it gives a subtle, nutty flavour and it absorbs moisture incredibly well, particularly the syrup used here.  I can also trick myself into thinking it is more virtuous than a cake made from white flour.  Enjoy with a middle eastern twist- some sliced oranges and mint, maybe drizzled with a little orange flower water if you have it to hand. 

Orange and honey polenta cake

You will need:
220g butter
220g caster sugar
150g almonds
150g ground almonds
3 large eggs
150g polenta (the quick cook variety is best)
1 tsp baking powder
zest and juice of 1 orange

For the syrup:
Juice of 2 lemons
Juice of 2 oranges
4 tbsp honey


1.  Line the base of a non-stick, loose-bottomed cake tin (20cm diameter will do nicely) with a piece of baking parchment. Set the oven at 180C/Gas 4.

2. Beat the butter and sugar in a food mixer till light and fluffy. Add the almonds.

3. Break the eggs into a small bowl and beat them lightly with a fork, then add to the mixture.

4.  Mix the polenta and baking powder, then fold into the mixture, together with the grated orange zest and juice.

 5.   Pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Bake for 30 minutes, turn down the heat to 160C/gas 3 for a further 25 -30 minutes or until the cake is firm.  If it begins to burn or caramelise a bit on top, cover with tinfoil. 

6. To make the syrup, squeeze the lemon and orange juice into a pan, bring to the boil and dissolve in the honey.  Bubble away for about 5 minutes until you have a syrup. 

7.  Spike holes into the top of the cake (still warm and in its tin)with a skewer then spoon over the hot citrus syrup. Leave to cool before transferring from the tin. Serve in thick slices with thinly sliced fresh oranges and a little mint.  

Cheery cherries

This is a gorgeously moist, very simple loaf cake that is just the thing to accompany a cuppa.  It’s a bit of a contemporary, lighter twist on the traditional fruit cake, with  retro glacé cherries sitting, gleaming, in the moist sponge.  I know they are a bit marmitey (you either love them or…), but I  had quite a lot of glacé cherries left over from making mincemeat and this is the ideal way to use them up.  Now I just need to figure out what to do with all those currants and raisins… 

Cherry and almond cake

You will need:

150g glace cherries
175g self-raising flour
160g butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
2 drops vanilla essence
70g ground almonds
4 tbsp milk


A small loaf tine, lined and buttered. 

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees C/gas mark 3.  Halve the cherries.  Some may prefer to give them a quick rinse under the tap to get rid of some of the syrupy stickyness.  Either way, toss them in some flour to give them a protective coat.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat the eggs and add them to the mixture, along with the vanilla.

Fold in the flour and the almonds before adding the cherries and milk.

Pour the batter into our loaf tin and bake for about 1/2-3/4 hour, until a cake-tester comes out clean.  Don’t go off and watch the news and forget about it as I did, so that it burns a bit.

Leave to cool before tucking in.  Good with a glass of cold milk or dunked into hot tea.

A note on meat…. and a pudding!

I am not one to vehemently advocate a particular ingredient over another.  I am likely to be enthusiastic, yes, but I would never veer into any territory that resembles preaching.  And there is one food topic I definitely won’t go near: the politics of meat.  But mostly that is, of course, because I don’t need to.  We all know the score:  eat less of it and when you do, buy the good stuff.  Organic, free range, steer clear of anything resembling a CAFO, so on and so forth.  Nuff said. 

But the unavoidable issue comes down to money- the good stuff is pricey.  And even if you don’t buy it as often, paying what sometimes amounts to double (I had a quick comparison on stings, especially in these cash-strapped times.
 I find the answer lies in going ahead and buying high quality meat, but the less popular cuts.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I bought a chicken breast, for example.  I find chicken thighs and legs are not only more flavoursome, they are generally less dry and more forgiving to cook with, not to mention a great deal cheaper.  I also use lamb neck in my harira, and I’ll roast a piece of fashionable pork belly (by now ubiquitous on gastropub menus) and serve it with spicy plum sauce.  I’m also looking forward to trying out recipes for ham hock and brisket.  
The other week we had our lovely newlywed friends, Pete and Anna, for dinner and I had a real craving for some pâté.  I do on occasion order liver when eating out as I like the taste, however, it is quite rich and as such not something I would necessarily buy and cook a whole packet of.  But for a deep and smooth pâté, I made an exception and headed to the liver section of the meat aisle.   It took me a half hour to find.  Who would have known chicken liver is most logically filed next to minced lamb?  In any case, when I finally found it I was delighted by how cheap the good quality stuff was- for a measly £2, I got twice the amount I needed. 
Here’s the recipe I used. 
Chicken Liver Parfait. 
Makes one cereal bowl full (but you may want to double the recipe for leftovers)
You will need:
225 g unsalted butter
225g chicken livers, trimmed
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
1 shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove,  minced
2 tbsp calvados or brandy
1 tbsp crème fraiche
sea salt, pepper
freshly grated nutmeg.
Melt 25g of the butter in a large frying pan.  Add the chicken livers, bay leaf, thyme and season with salt and pepper.
Fry the livers for about 3 minutes until they are golden on both sides but still pink the middle- do feel free to check by cutting the livers in half, it doesn’t matter as they are all going to be whizzed up into a paté anyway.
Discard the herbs and pour the livers and any juices from the pan into a blender.
Melt another knob of butter in the pan and add the shallot and garlic, sweating until cooked through.  Add the booze and simmer, enjoying the wonderful fumes, until almost completely dissolved.  Tip all this into the blender with the livers and purée until smooth.  Add the crème fraiche and blend again, making sure that the mixture is well-incorporated.   
At this point, add the remaining butter and a good grating of nutmeg.  Continue to blend until you have a thick, paté-like consistency. 
Spoon the parfait into a bowl and leave in the fridge until required.  It will keep for a couple of days but may need 10 min or so out of the fridge before serving, just to soften a bit.
Serve with sourdough bread, radishes, celery, red onion marmalade.  For this starter, I also made a goats cheese dip by mashing the cheese with some garlic, sea salt and mixing with crème fraiche and chopped spring onions, which provided a fresh counterpart to the meaty density of the parfait. 
For a pud, I wanted something sweet and creamy and managed to dig out an old favourite recipe for Panna Cotta.  This is a honey and almond flavoured one that is at once velvety and grainy, with a nutty bite from the ground almonds that gives it a bit more substance.  It’s one of those puddings that never fails to impress, but is extremely easy to make.  The only tricky part is getting your gelatin just right- it needs to have dissolved completely.  If you don’t like the idea of using gelatin, agar-agar flakes are a seaweed-derived substitute you can find in most health food shops and even larger supermarkets.  
Honey and Almond Panna Cotta
You will need:
1 sachet gelatin, 7g (or equivalent substitute such as agar-agar)
200ml double cream
250 g greek yoghurt
6 tbsp runny honey
50 g ground almonds
1 vanilla pod
4 ramekins, lightly oiled and lined with clingfilm
In a large bowl, combine cream, yoghurt and honey, mixing until smooth before adding the ground almonds. 
Cut your vanilla pod in half length ways and then scrape out all the seeds.  Add to the mixture.
Prepare your gelatin or agar-agar flakes, following the instructions on the packet.  If you aren’t quite sure, add about 3 tablespoons warm water to a large bowl, add the gelatin and stir to dissolve before leaving to cool.  Make sure to add the gelatin to the liquid and not the other way around and that all the gelatin has dissolved completely.  Otherwise you may end up with strings of squid-like rubber in your pudding.  Which is rather unpleasant.  Once you’ve prepared the gelatinous water and are sure it has completely dissolved, add to the creamy mixture.  
Divide this into your prepared ramekins and chill for at least 4 hours until set.  To serve, turn out onto plates, removing the cling film. 
I accompanied mine with a simple orange, mint and toasted flaked almond fruit salad, but you could just as easily serve it with other fruits- summer berries would work particularly well.