Saturday, 9 March 2013

Simnel Cake for Mothering Sunday- vegan

I put eight marzipan balls on our cake; one for my wonderful husband and one for each amazing child/ stepchild/ daughter-in-law: Nanda, Vijay and Saraswati, Yadu,  Sheenie, Tam, Aran and Radha... sending love to all of you x

 I know that Mother's Day in the USA isn't until May, but in the UK it falls this Sunday (10th March) as that is the fourth Sunday in Lent, so please accept this as an early offering if you're in the States. We're dedicating this post to all you devoted mums out there who work so hard and give so much love, 24-7, 7 days a week. Hope you have a lovely day and a well-deserved rest :)
Simnel cake (usually made with egg) is now associated with Easter, but was actually originally made for Mothering Sunday. "Mothering" originally referred to visiting your nearest large or "mother" church, but in the sixteenth century, it became customary to visit your own mother on Mothering Sunday to pay respect and get her blessing.When young boys and girls in service would return to visit their families on this day, sometimes the cook would make them this cake to take with them as a gift along with Spring wildflowers they would pick on the way. It is a fruit cake, but not a rich nutty one like Christmas cake. It would have given a welcome, if temporary, relief from the Lenten fasting, during which eggs and sugar were not allowed. It does have marzipan in and on it, traditionally including 11 or 12 balls on top. They either represent the Christian apostles (with or without Judas), or eggs, representing the renewal of life in Spring. We like to think of them as representing our own children and dear ones. Whatever it means to you, this cake is a delicious teatime treat; a tradition well worth keeping alive! One interesting (but probably spurious) Victorian story about how it got its name is that long ago in Shropshire there lived a couple called Simon and Nelly who decided to make a cake for their visiting family from leftover unleavened Lenten dough and Christmas plum pudding. However, they could not agree about whether it should be boiled or baked and even came to blows about it, breaking some furniture as they quarrelled. In the end, they agreed to both boil and bake it and it was cooked on a fire fuelled by the broken furniture. The cake was, however, delicious, and became known as "simnel" after its creators, Simon and Nelly. Strangely enough, most modern simnel cake recipes are just baked not boiled as well, and not wishing to find out why the hard way, we stuck to just baking too. Of course, we had to change something, so rather than use mixed spice we added a bit of carob powder. (And that's carob powder on top of the decorations too, as I had no time to brown them under the grill.)

400g self-raising flour
4 tsps baking powder
200g demerara sugar
1 level tab carob powder
100g chopped glace cherries
200g raisins
the grated rind and juice of one small lemon (you can grate it flesh and all in a food processor)
150ml peanut oil
400ml unsweetened soya milk
approx 1kg marzipan (depends on diameter of cake) for decorating

  • Combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
  • Next, stir in the wet ingredients (this includes the lemon) and beat for about a minute.
  • Put into a prepared cake tin/ silicone mould and bake for about half an hour in an oven preheated to 180C. We used 2x 10" silicone moulds, but you could use a smaller deeper pan and slice the cake in half to fill. (For a deeper cake you may have to adjust the cooking time and temperature though.) When a thin skewer emerges from the cake clean you know it's done.
  • When the cake is cool, roll some of the marzipan into balls and divide the remainder in half. Roll out one thin circle to fill and one to cover the cake, The easiest way to do this is to roll it between two sheets of clingfilm. Some people like to brush the cake with apricot jam first, but I think this would add too much sugar to an already very sweet cake. The marzipan sticks just fine without jam anyway.
  • As a finishing touch, you could either brown the marzipan balls under the grill or sprinkle a little carob powder on top.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Healthy Mexican Pt1: Hot mango salsa and Mexican Rice- vegan

A great fresh-tasting relish!
How does tofu quesadillas with guacamole, hot mango salsa and no-fry Mexican rice sound? If you'd like to join us in this virtual dinner, then read this and the following post for the lowdown on how to make them. We love Mexican food for its vibrant colours, robust flavours and easy conversion to vegetarian- trouble is, if you use cheese the calories will stack up! So we decided to explore the lighter side of this cuisine, using less oil, wholefoods and tofu instead of dairy. Try out these dishes and judge for yourself if it worked (we think so)...

Hot mango salsa (serves about 4)
This could equally well be called salsa fresca or pico de gallo ("rooster's beak"; refers to the shape you have to make with your finger and thumb if you eat it with your hands). The heat of the chilli is offset by the sweet, moist mango pieces. Be sure not to let it sit around too long, as it gets watery over time.
1 ripe (but not too soft) mango
1 large capsicum (bell pepper)
1 tsp minced fresh chilli (we used a very hot red Scotch bonnet, hence the small amount)
2 heaped tabs fresh coriander (cilantro)
the juice of 2 limes (about 2 tabs)
1/2 tsp seasalt

  • Finely dice the mango and pepper, and add to a mixing bowl with the chilli.
  • Chop the coriander very finely- scissors are great for this- and add to the bowl combining well.
  • Mix in the salt and lime juice, and you're done- simple as that :)

Although it's colourful, we kept the flavours quite simple, to complement the salsa.
Mexican Rice
This doesn't really need a recipe; it's so simple and so adaptable to what you have. For 5-6 portions as a side, we used 1 1/2 cups (250ml) dry weight of rice. American long grain would be more authentic, but we had basmati in the cupboard and that was just fine. We put the finished rice in a foil-covered dish and kept it warm in the oven before serving with the quesadillas, guacamole, salsa and a green salad.
white basmati rice
chopped bell pepper
sweetcorn kernels
compound hing
dried oregano
tomato puree
a splash of olive oil
  • Wash the rice and put in a pan with the water (your usual amount).
  • Add the olive oil and seasalt.
  • Halfway through cooking, add all the ingredients except the tomato puree.
  • When all the water is absorbed, stir about 1 tab tomato puree and stir roughly- it's nice to get little pockets of it rather than it being evenly distributed.

Mexican rice looks great presented in a glazed earthenware dish

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Chocolate Pumpkin Seed Flapjack- vegan

These flapjacks are crunchy and sweet but without refined sugar/ syrup!
I know I've been going on about the perfect vegan flapjack for at least a year and a half now, but this time we really have nailed it- promise! The secret is mixing the oil and water together with a spoonful of the oats in the food processor, which results in something akin to melted butter. The other thing is using gour. Not only is it healthier than sugar and golden syrup, but it also holds everything together better than other natural syrups like agave nectar and date syrup.
500g oats
100g pumpkin seeds
280-300g gour
200ml cold-pressed rapeseed/canola oil.
50ml water
200g vegan dark chocolate
 These amounts are from memory- I will revise them next time I make!

  • Crumble the gour into a large heavy pan and melt it, stirring to avoid burning at the edges/ on the bottom.
  • Blitz the water, oil and a dsp of the oats in your food processor.
  • Stir into the gour. Turn off heat.
  • Stir in the oats and pumpkin seeds.
  • Press into an oiled Swiss roll tin/ baking tray with shallow sides and bake for about 30 minutes at 170-180C. Longer at lower heat is the secret for an even crunch!
  • when baking put squares of chocolate on top- they will melt in the heat of the flapjack. Spread evenly.
  • Mark out, then cut just before fully set for a neat finish.
If you love flapjacks like we do, check out our other flapjack recipes:

Monday, 4 March 2013

Tofu Cutlet/Tofu Burger #2- vegan

We served these with guacamole, grilled tomatoes and grilled plantain

A closeup of the amazing light texture
  My husband literally threw these together for Saturday dinner, and we all loved them, even my burger-hating daughter! They are tasty, light and healthy. I didn't get all the quantities for an exact recipe, but I hope the following notes will do until we make them again- these amounts made 9 burgers/ cutlets.

30g ground peanuts/ almonds
Tofu made with 2l soya milk, curdled then left crumbly, not pressed- see here for how to make
30g porridge oats
30g tahini
seasoning: salt, herbs, paprika
1-2 bell peppers

  • First, make the tofu- or crumble a block of bought firm tofu.
  • Grind the nuts and place in a mixing bowl.
  • Add the crumbly tofu.
  • Add finely shredded/ grated peppers.
  • Add seasonings, oats, tahini and mix thoroughly.
  • Pat into burger/ patty/ cutlet (square) shapes and grill on both sides on an oiled tray.
  • Be sure to make plenty; you will want second helpings!