The Musette: white chocolate, cinnamon and apple rocky road

Winner of Great British Bake Off in 2015, Nadiya Hussain is now a familiar figure on cookery and food related programmes on British screens. When I saw her prepare this recipe I knew immediately that the sons of some friends would love this, particularly with my teeny, tiny tweaks. I was not mistaken. But then hands up who doesn’t love rocky road? Exactly, no one.

Aside from my friends’ sons, I also made these for my beloved’s niece and her friends to eat after they’d completed the recent Nice-Cannes Marathon. They were well received.

Ingredients (makes 15 bars)

  • 200g (7oz) white chocolate chips or chopped block of white chocolate
  • 2 tbsp Grade A maple syrup/golden syrup/date syrup
  • 130g (4½oz) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the dish
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 200g (7oz) cinnamon (Speculoos) biscuits
  • 100g (3½oz) white (preferably) mini marshmallows (if you can only find large ones, use scissors to chop them into small pieces)
  • 100g (3½oz) dried apple rings, chopped into small pieces
  • 50g (1¾oz) fat juicy raisins
  • 1 tbsp rum (optional)
  • 1 tbsp icing (confectioner’s) sugar for dusting

Method

1. Lightly grease the inside of a 23cm (9″) square baking tin with butter. Line the base and sides of the tin with greaseproof (parchment) paper or cling film (plastic wrap).

2. Gently melt the chocolate, syrup and butter in either a bain marie (heatproof bowl over saucepan with small amount of just simmering water) or microwave on low heat in 30 sec bursts.

3. Stir contents and as soon as the mixture is smooth and liquid, take off the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

4. Add the salt and cinnamon to the mixture. Warm the raisins in the rum in microwave on high for 30 secs.

5. Roughly crush the biscuits by putting them into a freezer bag and bashing them with a rolling pin – hugely satisfying! Empty the contents of the bag into the chocolate mixture and give it a good stir.

6. Add the marshmallows, apples and raisins and stir until everything is well coated.

7. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and use the back of a spoon to flatten and level it, not forgetting to press it well into the corners.

8. Put the tin into the fridge and leave it for at least 1 hour, or until set, before taking it out of the tin, dusting with icing sugar and cutting it up into 15 bars.

9. The bars can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks but they won’t last that long – trust me!

 Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If the chcocolate is too hot when the marshmallows are added, you will get into a sticky mess, so make sure you allow the chocolate to cool for 10 minutes.

2. Heating the rum on high in the microwave eliminates the alcohol but can be replaced with a tablespoon of hot water if you prefer. This makes the dried fruit juicier.

3. If you don’t use cinnamon biscuits (Speculoos), add another 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon to compensate.

 

The Musette: Aperol Spritz

My beloved is OC Drinks in our household and has recently perfected the art of making one of our favouritve aperitifs, Aperol Spritz. We first drank this in Italy and frankly became addicted. It’s the perfect drink whatever the weather, or time of year, and immediately invokes a sense of La Dolce Vita. Since we enjoy drinking it so much, I thought I’d look into its history.

Aperol is a luminous, vibrant, orange drink made from gentian, rhubarb and cinchona, among other ingredients. Produced originally by the Padua-based brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri who in 1912 inherited a drinks company from their father.

It took the boys seven years of hard work to finally produce Aperol. Pre-WWII it became wildly popular all over Italy but it wasn’t until after the war that it started to enjoy international success, particularly after the creation of Aperol Spritz and the company’s “Il Carosello” advertising campaign.

In the 1950s the aperitif ritual, which originated in Veneto, initially saw Aperol Spritz served with traditional snacks called ”cicchetti”, small dishes that usually include tiny sandwiches, olives, crisps and small portions of local dishes.

In 2003 the Aperol brand was acquired by Gruppo Campari which positioned Aperol Spritz as ‘the perfect drink for social occasions’ – I cannot disagree! –  increasing sales to four times pre-acquisition levels.

Campari is not too dissimilar in taste and smell to Aperol, but it’s darker in colour. Importantly, Aperol has an alcohol content of 11% – less than half that of Campari. Aperol and Campari have a similar sugar content, though Aperol is less bitter in taste.

A ready-to-drink version of Aperol Spritz was launched by the group in 2011, which contains just 8% alcohol, giving consumers the chance to responsibly enjoy the drink at home with minimal effort.

On 29 June 2012, Aperol Spritz attempted the Guiness World Record for the ‘Largest Aperol Spritz Toast’. More than 2,600 people descended onto Piazza San Marco in Venice to secure the title. Why was I not invited?

Here’s my beloved’s recipe for the purrrrfect aperitif.

Aperol Spritz

step 1FILL A LARGE WINE GLASS WITH ICE

step 2COMBINE TWO PARTS PROSECCO DOC WITH THREE PARTS APEROL

step 3ADD ONE PART SODA/SPARKLING WATER

step 4GARNISH WITH AN (ORGANIC) ORANGE SLICE OR TWO AND/OR SLIVER OF ORANGE PEEL AND ENJOY!

Marathon madness

Each year, when the Nice-Cannes marathon takes place, I mull over whether or not I should train for the following year’s race. This lasts for all of ten minutes before common sense asserts itself. More so since I’ve learnt that 5 hours is the cut-off time!

This year however I really felt part of the action as my  beloved’s niece stayed with us and took part in the race. This is the relative for whom I recently made a wedding cake. She came with five friends, one of whom stayed with us while the other four were in a hotel in Nice. These ladies are seriously good runners with marathon times ranging from 2:45 – 3:45 hours.

The girls arrived Saturday lunchtime and, having checked their dietary preferences beforehand, prepared their meals and snacks accordingly. They all carbo-load before the race but eat normally the day before. I knew that all these long-legged gazelles would have hollow legs and, if I wasn’t careful, eat me out of house and home.

When mealtimes are uncertain, I ensure I have dishes that can happily sit and wait at room temperature or be cooked at the last moment. I also made sure that I had plenty of snacks to hand for them to eat, particularly directly after the race.

To be fair the catering wasn’t too onerous: lunch and dinner on the Saturday (the day before the race),  early breakfast and lunch on the day, plus post-race snacks and finally breakfast on the Monday. The rest of the time, the six were out enjoying themselves in Nice. And, aside from the snacks for six, I was only catering for an additional two.

The week before the race we’d had torrential rains and high winds which had whipped the sea into a maelstrom, depositing tons of stones and sand on the coast road where the race largely takes place. Fortunately, the weather was fine on the week-end of the race  – aside from the persistent cross or head-wind – and probably warmer than expected.

They arrived at lunchtime on Saturday, ate lunch, dropped off the luggage and headed into Nice to collect their numbers etc I’d made a cheese and onion quiche for lunch which I served with  variety of salads. My beloved adores my quiches but I rarely make them unless we have company, otherwise he has to eat all of it and you really can have too much of a good thing. Dinner was a vegan shepherd’s pie with lentils and mushrooms, not lamb, topped with sweet potato. Dessert was vegan rice pudding with raspberry compote.

I rose early on Sunday to prepare their respective breakfasts and post-race snacks – egg sandwich for one and porridge for the other. I think it’s important to have a routine and eat the same thing before a race so that there’s less likelihood of tummy troubles. I watched the MotoGP races from Malaysia – now you know why I didn’t mind an early call!

Later I watched the runners stream past on the coast road from the relative shelter of the terrace. At that distance, even with my binoculars, I couldn’t pick out the girls as, only just over 10km from the start, the leading ladies are still quite tightly bunched although it does take a while for everyone to thunder past. Had I been watching from the roadside, I would have given plenty of encouragement to the tail-end Charlies, I know what that feels like.

In no time at all they were back demanding to be fed lunch. I’d whipped up an Italian style take on my Sunday roast serving the roast beef with polenta, wild mushroom sauce and spinach, followed by bread & butter pudding. Much to my beloved’s dismay, there were no leftovers. Those girls had worked up a serious appetite! This probably stood them in good stead for a night out in Nice.

Monday they ate a copious breakfast before leaving for a post-race hike in the nearby hills before flying back that evening to Blighty. It’s always enjoyable having house guests, particularly those that entertain themselves. As long as I know when, what and where they need feeding, I’m fine.

 

The Musette: fennel jam

I love fennel. It’s a highly versatile vegetable that can be eaten raw or cooked as part of a sweet or savoury recipe. Every part of the fennel bulb is edible, and the roots, bulb, shoots, fronds and seeds all carry the same intoxicating, heady, aniseedy fragrance in varying intensities. Don’t waste any of it!

Tall, coral-like bushes of wild fennel populate the Italian countryside, scenting trails with their seductive perfume, making it easy to identify and hard to resist. I’ll often pick up some wild fennel seeds to perfume dishes, particularly pork ones.

This time I had a few bulbs (no seeds) from my recent Italian haul and decided to turn them into jam. The recipe is quick and very easy, uses the whole bulb and goes with both sweet and savoury dishes: it’s lovely on toast for breakfast or as a chutney with cheese and cold cuts.

Ingredients (500g jar)

  • 500g (1lb) small bulbs fennel
  • 1tsp sea salt
  • 250g (1 cup) raw cane sugar
  • 50ml (2 cups) cider vinegar

Method

1. Finely slice the fennel bulbs and put into a heavy-based saucepan on a medium heat and season with a generous pinch of salt.

2. Add the sugar and vinegar, bring to a boil, then simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has almost completely evaporated and the mix is sticky and jam-like.

3. Decant into a sterilised jar and seal.

4. I like to leave the jar in my preserves store for at least a week before diving in. Once open, eat within two weeks – no hardship – and keep it in the fridge.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If you have more or less fennel, the recipe is easily scaleable.

2. If you want to preserve the fennel’s delicate green colour, use white wine vinegar and golden caster sugar.

3. Because my version results in a rich brown jam, many assume its made from onions until they taste it.

 

The Musette: Halloween treat

I generally don’t embrace with any real enthusiasm holidays I regard as being US imports and, in truth, we don’t get too many trick or treaters at Halloween but enough that I’ll be embarrassed if I don’t have anything to give to them. I’m unwilling to add to their caches of sugar laden treats, so I’ve made some that could be labelled “healthy” from a variety of nutrient-dense ingredients that, unbeknown to the kids, are loaded with fibre, healthy fats, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

These homemade chocolate- coated caramel bars are made of three simple, delicious layers. The base is a coconut oil, syrup and ground almond layer that provides the perfect nutty flavour and texture.

Next is the divine, gooey, salted, date caramel layer. Medjool dates which are filled with fibre, calcium, potassium and zinc, are blended with water and sea salt to form a thick paste.

The bars are then topped with melted dark chocolate – the darker the better. Look for a small bar (70 % cacao or higher) filled with antioxidants and high quality fats to make these homemade bars even more tempting. Kids in France tend to prefer dark chocolate.

Ingredients (makes 12 small square bars)

  • 100g (1 cup) almond flour made from toasted, ground almonds
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 1 1/2 tbsp brown rice syrup (or date or maple syrup)
  • 300g (1 ½ cups) Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
  • 13 tbsp (¾ cup) warm filtered water
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 100g (3 oz) small bar 70% min. dark chocolate, melted
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil, melted

Method

1. Line a small tin with greaseproof (parchment) paper and set aside.

2. In a small bowl mix together almond flour, coconut oil and syrup until well combined. Spread the mixture into the bottom of the lined tin and place in the freezer to set.

3. In a high-speed blender, or food processor, combine the pitted dates, filtered water and sea salt. Blend on high for 30-45 seconds, or until the dates are completely liquefied and the mixture is thick and creamy. If the date mixture is too runny, add in another date or two.

4. Pour the date liquid over the top of the set almond base in the tin. Return the tin to the freezer and let mixture set for one hour.

5. After an hour, remove the tin from freezer. Pour melted dark chocolate and coconut oil mix (melt in microwave or in bain marie) over the top, completely covering the date mixture.

6. Place the tin back in freezer and let it sit for 6 hours, or overnight. Can you wait that long?

7. After the bars are well chilled, remove from the freezer. Gently remove lining paper and bars out of the tin and place on a cutting board. Cut into small, medium or large bars with a warm, sharp knife. Whatever your heart desires!

8. Store the bars in an airtight container in the fridge where they’ll keep for two weeks  – not that they’ll last that long – or, alternatively, they’ll keep (well-hidden) in the freezer for two months.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Make extra salted date caramel to add to smoothies, pour over ice cream, drizzle on sweet potatoes and oh so much more……………..

2. Feel free to add a little pinch of flaky sea salt on top of the bars for an extra dose of salty sweet flavor.

3. Make the bars more like snickers bars with the addition of a few peanuts in the caramel layer.

4. Not that I had any complaints from my testers but, the next time I make these bars, I’m going to double up on base and chocolate layers, so that they’re a similar thickness to caramel layer.

Fridge of a thousand jars

A house guest once commented on the number of jars in my fridge calling it the “fridge of a thousand jars!” That was obviously an exaggeration but I’ve just given the fridge a tip to toe clean and frankly, once I saw all the jars lined up, I realised he did have a point.

Any jar once open naturally ends up in the fridge. I have the usual selection of mustards, home-made jams and marmalades, sauces, chutneys, mayo etc that you’d probably find in most people’s fridges, though I may have a few more condiments. For example, sweet German mustard for veal sausages, dill sauce for smoked salmon, two types of horseradish, German curry ketchup, Scandinavian remoulade sauce for cold roast beef, capers in brine and salt, anchovies in oil and salt……………I think you’re now beginning to get the picture!

I’m also keen on pickles, they add such a satisfying crunch to so many dishes. Of course, you’ll always find jars containing large dill pickled cucumbers and the smaller French cornichons along with a whole host of home-made pickles such as onion, red cabbage, cauliflower and even mixed vegetables. That reminds me, I must do a blog with some of my ridiculously easy pickle and fermented vegetable recipes. I find it’s an excellent way of not wasting a scrap.

I also have small jars of confit and roast garlic which I’ve prepared to pop into dishes where I don’t want the hit of raw garlic, along with confit tomatoes and maybe the odd confit duck leg sitting in its protective layer of unctuous goose fat. I’ll also often mince ginger and turmeric and pop the paste into little jars to use as and when, otherwise I find they tend to shrivel up in the fridge.

I’ll generally have some home preserved soft fruits, typically white peaches or apricots, as a go to dessert if unexpected visitors drop by. Before the jar’s open, it stays in my stand alone preserves fridge but once open it migrates the main one.

There’s usually a small selection of open jars of home-made jams, chutneys and marmalades, along with home-made nut butters, home-made tahini and preserved lemons. There’s also usually a bottle of my home-made pesto. In summer it’ll be made with basil but at othertimes maybe rocket or carrot tops. Then there’s my home-made vanilla paste and extract, a few flavoured oils – though these don’t last too long – and let’s not get started on the small plastic containers full of dips such as hummous, guacamole, aubergine caviar and artichoke mousse which form the basis of many a pre-dinner nibble or a sandwich filling for me.

When I make up different curry pastes, I’ll make these in bulk and freeze what I don’t need in individual portions. Though, occasionally, I’ll just pop some in a small glass jar to use later in the month.

Every time I open a can of chickpeas, I drain off the aquafaba. If I’m going to use it within the next week, I’ll pop it into a jar in the fridge. If not, I’ll freeze it. I follow a similar procedure with egg whites.

I think you’re beginning to get my drift and it’s probably a good thing my guest didn’t glance into my freezer which is always full of little plastic bags filled with so many different treasures!

The Musette: vegan cauliflower korma

This is a creamy, comforting take on the curry-house staple from a Meera Sodha recipe which I’ve adapted – as I’m wont  to do – to my own taste and dietary requirements. Like Meera I had always thought of korma as the curry for people who didn’t like heat or spice but this is a quite different take: less sweet, with warm subtle backnotes.

I made this for supper for some French friends because, even though they might claim to like spicy food, the French don’t do hot and spicy. My friends, like me, don’t eat dairy so this was the ideal recipe for a quick Friday evening supper.

Ingredients (serves 4 hungry cyclists)

  • 200g cashew nuts
  • 1kg (2lbs) approx. whole cauliflower
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 fat cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • thumb sized pieces fresh ginger and fresh turmeric, peeled and grated
  • 6 cardamom pods, seeds extracted
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp rose water
  • 250ml (1 cup) filtered water
  • 1 tbsp brown rice syrup
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 handful each toasted flaked almonds and freshly chopped coriander, to serve

Method

1. Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/350F/gas 4. Put the cashews in a heatproof bowl, add freshly boiled water to cover and leave to soak for 10 minutes. Drain, add 250ml (1 cup) filtered water and blend until smooth.

2. Steam the cauliflower whole until you can easily pierce the stem with a sharp knife though it should still be firm, not mushy.

3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp coconut oil in a large frying pan over a medium flame, then fry the onions for 12-15 minutes, until soft and golden. Add the garlic, turmeric and ginger, fry for three to four minutes, then stir in the cardamom seeds, 1 tsp freshly ground pepper, garam masala and rose water.

4. Next add the brown rice syrup, a tsp sea salt and the cashew cream, then cook for about 10 minutes, until the sauce turns a rich golden colour. It should be the same thickness as a cheese sauce, if it’s not, add a little more filtered water. Season to taste and turn off the heat.

5. Put the steamed cauliflower into an oven proof dish and pour over the sauce which should easily cover the head of cauliflower. Pop into the oven until it’s golden and bubbling, 30-40 minutes should suffice. To serve, portion into quarters.

6. Toast the almonds for 5 minutes in the oven, finely chop the coriander and scatter over each serving.

7. Serve with a spicy chutney on the side and naan or, if you’re feeling really hungry, basmati rice.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. I made this firstly faithfully following the recipe but didn’t really enjoy the taste of the oven roasted cauliflower and I wanted it to be more like a mildly spiced cauliflower cheese and also use less fat in the cooking process.

2. I added the rose water and rice syrup because I had them in my pantry but I suspect that while they lend sweet backnotes to the sauce, they’re really optional extras.

3. I thinned the cashew cream with a bit more filtered water rather than non-dairy milk – fewer calories and no loss of flavour.

4. I skipped the toasted raisins in my version because I didn’t like them.

5. The dish isn’t a looker but it’s really tasty. Try it and see for yourself or indeed revert to the original recipe, link above.

The Musette: tomato and chilli jam

A couple of week-ends ago, I popped over the border into Italy specifically to buy fruit and vegetables to turn into jams, chutneys and sauces. There’s something very therapeutic about the end tesult, lots of bottles full of delicious condiments neatly stacked in the small fridge which I have for this very purpose.

I use this tomato and chilli jam in so many ways I have lost count. It’s fantastically versatile: spread it on corn cobs (instead of butter), put a dollop on top of goat’s cheese on a crostini, use it instead of mint jelly with lamb, stir into mayonnaise for a spicy dip and it’s wonderful with fish, especially squid. I even put it on top of my avo toast and it’s great on a cheese platter.

I rarely part with any of it as it’s really all for personal consumption. Only my very closest and very dearest friends can look forward to the odd small jar as a rather begrudging gift.

Ingredients (makes about 8 medium-sized jars)

  • 1 1/2kg (3lb 4 oz) very ripe organic tomatoes
  • 75g (2 3/4oz) garlic cloves, peeled
  • 8 large red chillies, with seeds (or 8 tsp chilli paste)
  • 75g (2 3/4oz) ginger, peeled
  • 900g (2lb) jam sugar
  • 80ml (3fl oz) Thai fish sauce (or 3 tsp sea salt)
  • 300ml (1 1/4cups) cider vinegar

Method

1. Blitz about 3/4s of the tomatoes with all the garlic, chillies and ginger in a food processor. Pour into a heavy-based saucepan. Add the fish sauce and vinegar, and bring to the boil, stirring slowly. Reduce to a simmer and reduce the liquid by around one-third. I find this generally takes around an hour.

2. Depending on the size of the tomatoes, dice the remaining ones and add them to the pan. Simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring from time to time.

3. Now add the jam sugar and boil for about 5 minutes, until setting point is reached. The mixture will turn slightly darker and sticky.

4. Store in warm dry sterilised jars and seal while the mixture is still warm. The longer you keep this jam the hotter it gets. It keeps for about 3 months in the fridge, though it rarely lasts that long!

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If you can’t find fresh chillies, and I often can’t, replace each chilli with 1 tsp of chilli paste.

2. The original recipe, which I believe came from Peter Gordon, advised adding the sugar from the start and using golden caster sugar. I’ve found that my method ensures the jam doesn’t burn and stick to the pan  – it’s a nightmare to clean – and it sets more easily, though total cooking time is about the same.

3. Make a small quantity to start off with and test for taste. You can always add more, or less, aromatics next time around.

4. I’m conscious that the inclusion of fish sauce renders it non-vegan. Instead use 1 tsp of salt per 500g of tomatoes.

5. The original recipe used red wine vinegar but one day when I decided to make some, I only had cider vinegar and it made no difference. So that’s what I always use now. But don’t use malt vinegar, sherry or balsamic, stick to red wine, white wine or cider.

 

The Musette: apple and almond cake

I’m generally not fond of cake as dessert. Instead mid-morning coffee and cake or afternoon tea and cake get my vote. However, there are a couple of exceptions: brownies, and cake with fruit. I had some organic apples my beloved wasn’t overly keen on, plus marzipan left over from the wedding cake, so I decided to make my beloved a dessert cake, to be eaten warm with creme anglaise or whipped cream, for Sunday lunch.

This cake brings back memories of week-ends in Hamburg. Saturday afternoons, we’d go round to our friend’s mother for Kaffee und Küchen, she was an absolute whiz in the baking department. None of us could ever say no to another piece of one of her cakes. She used to make an Apple Cake very similar to this one and she told me that the secret behin the cake’s caramel flavour and moistnes was marzipan.

My beloved said the cake reminded him of the ones Heike’s mother used to make. So that was a result!

The advantage of such a cake is that it tends to improve with keeping and will therefore provide sustenance at afore-mentioned mid-morning and mid-afternoon for a couple of days when my beloved’s energy may be flagging. Providing we don’t have any visitors!

Ingredients (10 portions)

  • 800g (1 3/4lbs) tart eating apples
  • 1 organic lemon, juice and zest
  • 250g (9oz) almond paste/marzipan
  • 150g (3/4 cup) raw sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 200g (14 tbsp) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 5 medium-sized organic eggs, at room temperature
  • 100g (1/2 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 50g (1/2 cup) ground almonds
  • 80g (9 tbsp) cornflour (cornstarch)
  • 2 tsp baking powder

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas mark 4/(350°F).

2. Grease the sides and base of a 24cm round cake tin with butter, then put a disc of greaseproof (parchment) paper on the bottom.

3. Divide the lemon juice into two separate bowls. Peel and core the apples. Slice two and toss them in one bowl of lemon juice. Dice the other apples into small cubes and toss in the other bowl of lemon juice.

4. Using a grater with large holes, grate the almond paste into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the sugar and salt and mix until the almond paste is finely broken up.

5. Add the melted (and cooled) butter and lemon zest, continue mixing until smooth. It should look like liquid toffee!

6. Add the eggs one at a time, stopping the mixer and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.

7. Whisk together the flour, ground almonds, cornstarch and baking powder in a small bowl. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the almond batter mixture by hand, then add the diced apples, along with any lemon juice in the bowl.

8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Place the sliced apples in concentric circles on top of the batter, pressing them in very lightly. (I omitted to take a photo of the cake before t went into the oven. My apples slices were sliced too thinly, so they sank!)

9. Bake the cake until the top is a rich nutty brown and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

10. Take the cake out of the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack. Let the cake cool before running a knife around the inside of the cake pan to release the cake, and remove the sides of the cake pan.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cake in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than it should take to cook and then check regularly.

2. Don’t worry, the cake is meant to be a luscious dark brown.

3. The cake will keep for a couple of days in a cake tin but please don’t freeze it, the apple will go soggy!

4. Make sure the sliced apple isn’t sliced too thinly otherwise (like mine) it will sink into the cake rather than remaining on top!

5. You can serve the cake warm with icecream. Vanilla, cinnamon or ginger would all be good. Or, of course, serve it with creme anglaise, freshly whipped cream, creme fraiche or some natural yoghurt. It’s also delicious cold.

The Musette: Moroccan potato, tomato and fennel tray bake

It’s autumn and the nights are drawing in. Thoughts turn from salads to warming soups and more substantial stews and casseroles. I love a tray bake particularly when I’m a bit pushed for time. I can mix the ingredients, pop it into the oven and just leave it to do its thing. This bake was inspired by my purchases from Ventimiglia’s market at the week-end, plus a few things which I always have in my cupboards.

Ingredients (enough for four hungry cyclists as a main, or 8 hungry cyclists as a side)

  • 4 medium fennel, about 1kg (2lb)
  • 1kg (2lb) small waxy potatoes, scrubbed, cut into chunks the same size as the tomatoes
  • 2 medium onions, roughly sliced
  • 500g (1lb) cherry tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1tsp ground cumin
  • 2tsp ground coriander
  • 3tbsp olive oil
  • 500ml (2 cups) tomato passata, plus 250ml (1 cup) filtered water
  • 1tbsp tomato paste
  • 2tbsp harissa
  • 450g (1lb) cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 100g (1 cup) pitted green olives
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1tbsp chopped preserved lemon
  • 1tbsp chopped fennel fronds

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/375°F/gas mark 5.

2. Trim the fennel bulbs of their bases, tops and tough outer layer, reserving any green feathery fronds attached to the stalks. Quarter the bulbs then cut each quarter into 2 wedges. Put these into a large roasting dish.

3. Add the potatoes, onions, cherry tomatoes and garlic. Mix the oil, salt, pepper, cumin and coriander together, trickle over the oil and using clean hands stir everything together. Roast in the oven for 60 minutes, giving everything a good stir after about 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in a jug, combine the passata with the water, tomato paste and harissa.

5. When the veg are tender and starting to brown, take the dish out of the oven and add the passata mixture. Stir it in well, deglazing the roasting dish, scraping up any caramelised bits from the base and sides.

6. Add the chickpeas and olives then return the dish to the oven for further 30 minutes or so, until the passata is bubbling and sauce slightly reduced.

7. Check the seasoning, adding more if the dish needs it, and then scatter over the preserved lemon and the reserved fennel fronds – enjoy!

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. You can use other vegetables such as a mix of roughly chopped red, orange or yellow pepper as an alternative to the fennel.

2. Instead of chickpeas, use white beans such as cannellini or butter beans.

3. Eat it with a simple green salad, or a crunchy, Moroccan-style carrot salad.

4. Don’t sweat the quantities, we’re cooking not baking.

5. This dish has a Morrocan flavour due to the spicing but you couls easily change these to something you prefer more.

6. This dish tastes better the following day!