I have a confession, I am addicted to Pinterest – seriously addicted.

This is one of those Pinterest recipes that you see, pin and just have to make. I have also pinned several other versions of this cake (also called Magic Cake) because that is the beauty (or waistline downfall) of Pinterest, it suggest similar pins and you just can’t stop pinning. I am surprised I have time to actually make anything.

We love flan (really, who doesn’t) and we love chocolate cake (again, who doesn’t) so a combined two-for-one sounded like a result. This recipe is from Food Network’s Marcela Valladolid and can be found here.


This cake was a big hit despite two major errors in the making of it.

Firstly, I completely spaced out on the 12 cup bundt pan – who knew bundt pans came in different sizes? I had the foresight to check my pan and it was only 6 cups (a 12 cup bundt pan must be ginormous). Luckily, I have two of them 6 cuppers – great, two cakes to eat.

Secondly, I don’t know how, but I completely forgot to cover the bundt pans with foil as they went in the oven. The result is they overcooked and the cake was a little dry and the flan a little too set.

Amazingly, the cakes survived these bungles and were not only edible, but delicious. I can only imagine how fantastic this cake is when made following the recipe!


Personally, we preferred this cake cold from the fridge as warm or room temperature flan is just odd tasting. We also omitted the nuts and extra caramel, it didn’t need it and I didn’t think the chopped nuts sounded appealing.

This was a big hit in our house and the magic part of it makes for a clever and delicious desert. I am now on the hunt for a 12 cup bundt pan…


Raspberry Buttermilk Cake

After the very successful apple cake recipe from Dorie Greenspan, I didn’t expect to find another cake that was so easy to make yet produced such wonderful results. Yet here it is…

Fresh raspberries in Abu Dhabi are on a par with gold prices. So, when my local supermarket had a special offer I bought two punnets on the spot. After agonising over what to do with this precious ingredient (this is where EatYourBooks is a godsend), I decided to make this gorgeous Raspberry Buttermilk Cake from “The Epicurious Cookbook”.

It is one of those recipes where it almost looks too simple, that perhaps the quantities are incorrect – only 1 egg? I feared it was not going to produce enough cake to satisfy my hungry hoard but it does, and it does it beautifully. This is a fuss free cake that is light, has just the right subtle vanilla flavour along with the lovely raspberries to add tartness. The sugar sprinkled on top just before it goes in the oven leaves a lovely crunchy, shimmery top to counterbalance the glorious soft texture of the cake – ah, the wonders of buttermilk.

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake

My two year old helped make this cake by adding the raspberries to the batter in the tin. The idea is to randomly drop the raspberries not push and squish them – the latter action means the batter rises around the raspberries too much and you don’t see them in the finished cake. The taste is the same, it’s purely a looks thing. We also had some sugar sprinkling issues but we lived.

A note in the cookbook mentions that tart cherries and almond extract in place of raspberries and vanilla is delicious too – sounds divine. Cherries are on a par with oil prices so I am on specials standby for this version.

I can see why this is a “four forks” recipe – I have already made it twice this week.

Winter Minestrone Soup

Or rather what to eat to use up all those vegetables you bought for your new juicer after you discover you don’t like juices that contain spinach and other greens.

I have discovered that the only vegetable I like in my juice is carrot and they are so delicious and sweet that they probably shouldn’t be a vegetable. I also bought a large container of dried wheatgrass… what was I thinking? There is probably no way I am going to be able to disguise that in anything… I have a fairly heightened sense of smell and a vivid imagination and no matter how healthy something is if I don’t like it then I am unable to eat or drink it. Apologies to all the wheatgrass fans but it reminds me of mucking out horses – it has that straw smell. I like horses but not sure I want to drink something that has an aroma of wet straw.

My health kick lasted all of two days and my downfall was a delicious, simple, homemade rice pudding that I made for my children.  It seemed downright unjust to not be able to eat it, so I did. But I am not posting on the rice pudding (in my haste to consume it I forgot to take a picture), I am posting on a fantastic soup I made using all those vegetables.

Barefoot Contessa Minestrone Soup

This recipe is from Barefoot Contessa’s “Foolproof” and like most of Ina’s recipes is very straightforward. I made one change, I put the pasta into the soup to cook instead of cooking it separately (the only reason for this was laziness – I didn’t want to wash the extra pan). This recipe was delicious but the addition of the pesto and parmesan and a drizzling of olive oil to serve is what really makes it go beyond vegetable soup. Most of the ingredients are store cupboard or standard vegetable drawer fare which makes it very easy to put together. Because of the spinach, this soup isn’t really a keeper and wasn’t as vibrant when we had leftovers the next day; it still tasted delicious but on the looks front it had lost its pizzazz.

A delicious soup hearty enough for supper with a slice of cottage loaf slathered with butter.

Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake from Dorie Greenspan’s “Around My French Table”

Apple Cake

This was a huge hit in our house. It’s a very simple rustic looking cake but I find that these are usually the best. Not too sweet and a lovely aroma of dark rum with apples – great combination. The texture of the cake reminded me of a clafouti but more cake-like than batter. We ate it warm from the oven with cream but it was just as good, if not better, plain the next day with a good cup of coffee. This is not elegant restaurant style fare, more a secret recipe handed down. I love rustic great tasting food and it doesn’t get much better than this cake.

I used Captain Morgan’s Jamaican Rum which is wonderfully aromatic. Don’t skimp on this ingredient as it is vital to the cake. If you don’t have a mix of apples don’t worry, I only had Golden Delicious and the cake still turned out beautiful.

As soon as my family took their first mouthful of this cake I was ordered to make it again – it’s that good.

Apple Cake 2

If you don’t own “Around My French Table” the recipe can be found on the Epicurious website here.

The Cottage Cooking Club – October

I managed (albeit a tad late) to cook five of the recipes from the October list. In no particular order, because in our family we all had different favourites, here are the five:

1. Pumpkin & Raisin Tea Loaf (p.394)


My kids loved this which surprised me because I felt that it was more “malty” in flavour and not at all “pumpkiny”. The pumpkin I used was very wet (overripe?) and the quality was debatable. The only pumpkin I could find was sectional pieces from a large Halloween style pumpkin;  I am not sure if these are the best for cooking. The texture of the bread was very dense and not as orange as the variety made using the tinned variety. This was very much as it’s name suggests, best eaten at tea time slathered with cold butter. It’s not like cake, not as sweet, which makes me happy that it was popular with my children as it tastes like it’s a healthier option. I am interested to try the courgette and beet variation suggested in the recipe.

2. Vegeree (p.276)


The concept of no smoked fish and the twist on the name of this very traditional British breakfast dish was a difficult one to get across to the family. But, despite their initial misgivings this went down well and was very easy to throw together. Next time I will increase the curry powder as I feel it could do with more – I used mild for the children so this could be why. Great supper dish. If you are not veggie the smoked fish could easily go back into this recipe along with the courgette and aubergine.

3. Warm Salad of Mushroom & Roasted Squash (p.94)


This is very similar to a recipe we love in The Garden Cookbook by Sarah Raven so it had a lot to stand up to. To save time, I threw everything into the roasting dish instead of cooking the mushrooms in a separate pan. With this modification it was very easy to put together. We love blue cheese in this house and it’s great with mushrooms. However, I felt that with the strong flavours of the blue cheese the balsamic dressing was a little too much and think a lemon dressing might work better.

4. Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon & Paprika (p.352)


I love cauliflower but know that it’s not for everyone. I made this as a side dish with grilled beef fillet, roasted garlic potatoes and spinach gratin. Being able to throw it in the oven to roast alongside the potatoes and gratin was great. This is incredibly effortless and has lots of flavour. The lemon was quite strong so I didn’t squeeze over the extra roasted lemon wedges as instructed, I felt that it didn’t need it. Also, three tablespoons of olive oil wasn’t enough and I ended up adding more as it was quite dry. Great recipe, definitely a keeper!

5. Baby Beet Tarte Tatin (.48)


I loved this one. It is one of those recipes that looks like it took all day but really was a cinch to make. My beets were a bit rough looking so I ended up peeling them; they were also a variety of sizes so I had to slice them so they would cook evenly and fit the pan. As a result it didn’t look quite like the photo in the book but it still tasted great! I cooked the tarte tatin for 25 minutes and the pastry was perfect.

Vanilla Extract


Due to alcohol being one of the main ingredients of vanilla extract, it is no longer sold in supermarkets here. Vanilla essence is but I personally don’t like that strange artificial taste.  So, the only solution was to make my own and who knew it was so easy? I was inspired by the ‘recipe’ in “The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook” but there are lots of instructions on the internet.

I used 12 vanilla pods which will hopefully be enough for the size of the bottle – the great thing is if I don’t feel the extract is strong enough, I could throw in a couple of extra pods down the road. My other half wasn’t overly impressed with the amount of vodka I used (enough to cover the pods) but as he likes cakes I am hoping he will forgive me.

The process is incredibly simple, split the vanilla beans, add to the clean, empty bottle, pour in enough vodka to cover the beans, seal and leave for at least 3 months shaking every week or so. There are lots of fantastic labels on Pinterest if you wanted to get fancy or give bottles away as gifts. I haven’t bothered as it is just for me and I know what it is (and I’m a bit lazy…)


Counting the cost of the vanilla pods and the vodka, I am not sure that this is a cheaper homemade option to shop bought good quality vanilla extract. However, it is pure and if you are unable to buy the real thing, it’s a life saver.

The Cottage Cooking Club – September

I really enjoyed the selection for September from River Cottage Veg and managed to cook four out of the ten dishes. The fifth dish, fish-less salad nicoise, didn’t happen because I couldn’t persuade my other half on the merits of a salad nicoise without the tuna – the no-tuna thing just isn’t sitting well with him. I have all the ingredients so will try to make it tonight, perhaps as a side… or perhaps I will admit defeat and crack open a can of tuna and allow him to eat it with his portion.

In order of preference, here are the dishes I made.

Mushroom “Risoniotto” (p258)


This was a real winner and went down very well with the whole family. It was easy to put together and although made with regular button mushrooms, the addition of the balsamic made it something a bit more than just some mushrooms and pasta. I have used orzo before but the only rice pasta shape I could find was a Carrefour own brand called “barley”. I was dubious as to the quality but it worked well. The parsley is essential (I made it again another night without) as it adds another level of freshness and flavour and, let’s be honest, the appearance of brown food is definitely improved with speckles of vivid green.

Oven-Roasted Roots Frittata (p234)


Wow, this one was fabulous. I would have put it at the top of my list but I seemed to like it more than the rest of the family. I love that Hugh provides options for the roots – I went for potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions and beetroot. I also really love the fact that the egg mixture goes straight over the roasted vegetables in the same dish – thank you for giving me one less dish to wash! This tasted really amazing. I have made and eaten frittatas before and sometimes they can be a bit bland. Roasting the vegetables makes a real difference here. We had this warm from the oven and cold from the fridge the next day. I prefer the warm version but would still be very happy to eat it the next day as a lunch and it would make great picnic fare. I made a crème fraiche herb mustard sauce to serve with it (I am addicted to the Maille three green herb mustard the colour of avocado).

Roasted Squash (p346)


This was easy and the squash delicious. The garlic and rosemary are both very fragrant and squash tastes so different when roasted. The skin on the garlic is essential – one clove lost its skin and became a black lump of inedible charcoal. I also took off the skin and chopped the squash into smaller pieces. I had originally planned to use the squash in a risotto however decided to make pizza instead using the Magic Bread recipe from the book. The pizza base was straightforward and I like the fact that it uses both all-purpose flour and bread flour as the bread flour is very expensive and sometimes hard to get here. I had to add more water to the dough as it wasn’t anywhere near sticky as described in the recipe. It took about 2 hours to double up and made 3 large pizza bases. Next time, I think it would easily make 4 good-sized pizzas (and there will be a next time). I made a simple margarita pizza for the kids and a goats cheese, roasted squash and onion pizza for the grown ups. The contrast of the tangy goats cheese and the sweet and soft squash was perfect. Next time I might mix the goats cheese with a little crème fraiche as it was a tad dry after baking.  We had a fun night of pizza making (and eating) and have decided that a pizza stone and wheel should go on the Christmas wish list as the pizzas were so good that we will definitely be making them again.

Pinto Bean Chili (p23)


This was our least favourite recipe. My finished dish looked nothing like the recipe photo; my chili looked like brown unappetising mush. I made this the day before and reheated it; usually these sort of recipes improve in flavour after a day or two – maybe that was a mistake. For some reason, the recipe tasted blah. It was missing something but I’m not sure what as the ingredients list was reasonably extensive. I already make a vegetable chili from the Silver Palate New Basics Cookbook which is fantastic and very popular with my family – this recipe just didn’t compare and unfortunately compare we did. I definitely won’t be making this one again and will stick to the Silver Palate recipe which is a real winner using chick peas, kidney beans and lots of vegetables, herbs and spices.

I had also planned on making the Green Lentil and Spinach Soup (p162) but the weather has been so hot and humid here that we really didn’t fancy it. So, I will save it for later in the year when the weather is less than a gazillion degrees.

To see what others in the group made for September from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s book “River Cottage Veg” check out the CCC site here.