The Musette: Soup glorious (vegan) soup

I believe I may have mentioned that I love soup. I’m never happier than when I’ve a pot simmering on the stove. My beloved however regards soup as an appetiser, not a meal in itself. There are times when I’ll make a base, say pea soup, and then add ham, bacon or sausages to his portion to make it more filling. However, when he’s away I’ll frequently cook up a batch with whatever I have in the vegetable box and enjoy it over a couple of days.

This is not so much a recipe, more my soup philosophy. If I’m making soup as a starter for dinner with friends, I might use a recipe. Alternatively, if I see a tempting recipe for a soup I’ve never made before, I may well (initially) follow the recipe before making it my own. And really, that’s the rub. You should make soup you love eating/drinking. Something that, particularly in winter, brings you warmth and joy.

The above were the contents of my vegetable box. I could have made a vegetable curry but these just screamed spicy root vegetable soup. I’m a big fan of curried parsnip soup but here they just lent some sweetness to the soup while the lone turnip added a peppery touch. The flavour of carrot dominated. Carrots go particularly well with coriander but I didn’t have any of the fresh herb in the fridge. I did however have hot chillies, fresh ginger and fresh garlic which I fried in a tablespoon of coconut oil with the finely chopped onion.

I’m not really supposed to eat anything fried, but I won’t tell if you don’t! To be honest, boiled onion is an unappetising addition to any soup. You’ll note that I’ve merely roughly chopped the vegetables. This is because I intended liquidising the soup so I could drink it from a mug while I ploughed through my pile of outstanding work.

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter)

  • 1 tbsp. coconut oil
  • 1 large brown onion, peeled and diced
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • I red (or green) finger chilli, finely chopped
  • 3 carrots peeled and cubed
  • 1 turnip, peeled and cubed
  • 2 parsnips peeled and cubed
  • 1 litre (4 cups) vegetable stock
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Method

1. Heat the oil in a deep-sided pan over a medium flame, then fry the onion for five minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and chilli, stir-fry for a couple of minutes.

2. Now add the carrots and parsnips, and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the stock, bring the mixture up to the boil, then turn down the heat to gentle simmer until the vegetables are tender.

4. Now blend the soup either with an immersion stick or free-standing liquidiser. If you want a finer texture, you can now sieve the soup.

5. Return the blended soup to the pan, if necessary, adding more water to obtain the desired consistency. Check seasoning and re-heat.

6. To serve, ladle into bowls or pour into mugs.  This is where a swirl of coconut cream wouldn’t go amiss!

 Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If you don’t like your soup too spicy, either omit the chilli entirely or omit the seeds from the chilli.

2. If you’d like a heartier soup, make it more like a mulligatawny one, with the addition of 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 1/2 tsp group coriander and 150g (1 1/2 cups) red lentils, washed and drained at stage 2. In which case, make sure your vegetables are in small dice, and don’t liquidise the soups.

3. If you’re cooking for friends, add some parsnip chips. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F (325F fan)/gas mark. Peel another parsnip then, using a vegetable peeler, shave the flesh in long thin strips. Lay these on an oven tray and coat (use your clean hands) with 1 1/2 tbsp. of olive oil and bake for 12 -15 minutes until crisp and golden. To serve, top each portion with a handful of the crisps.

4. You can use this basic soup recipe with a variety of vegetables and pulses. Just make sure, the flavours are complimentary. For example, this method would work well with sweet potatoes and carrot, or butternut squash.

5. Roasting the vegetables in the oven beforehand is also a great idea to enhance the flavour of the finished soup but you can equally use left-over cooked vegetables. Experiment but, above all, have some fun!

The Musette: Vegan Biryani

The first dish I ever ate in an Indian restaurant was a Biryani. After university, my beloved and I were living and working in Leicester. One Friday evening we went out for dinner with a couple I’d met through work who suggested we go to an Indian restaurant, and we readily agreed. You may find this somewhat bizarre until I tell you it was in the late-1970s. It was love at first bite.

My passion for Indian food has grown over the years and I think I’ve learned to appreciate the subtlties of spicing. This recipe may have a long ingredient list and a lot of stages, but it actually comes together quickly and easily. A biryani tends to be a fairly delicate dish and the spices are used here to layer the flavours in a subtle yet generous way. Of course. a biryani is first and foremost a rice dish that stands or falls on the fluffiness of its rice: every grain should be separate and perfectly cooked.

Ingredients (Serves 4 very hungry cyclists)

  • 8 cardamom pods
  • 1 small stick cinnamon
  • 4 cloves
  • ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 3 bay leaves
  • large pinch of saffron
  • 4 tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • small thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 500g (1 lb) grated root vegetables (such as carrots, butternut squash, potato, parsnip, swede)
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 300g (10 oz) basmati rice
  • small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
  • small handful toasted flaked almonds
  • small handful plump, juicy raisins

Method

1. Pre-heat oven to 220C (200C fan)/425F(400F fan)/gas 7. Put 4 cardamom pods, the cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, fennel seeds and bay into a pan with 500ml (2 cups) water. Bring to the boil, turn off the heat, then cover and allow the water to infuse.

2. Crush the other cardamom pods, remove the seeds and finely grind them while discarding the pods. Mix the powder with 4 tbsp warm water and the saffron.

3. Fry the onions in 2 tbsp coconut oil until light brown and beginning to crisp, around 10 minutes. Then add the ginger and garlic to the pan and fry for a further 2 minutes.

4. Add the ground spices and all the grated veg. Mix well and fry for 10 – 15  minutes and finally season well with salt and pepper.

5. Heat the remaining coconut oil in another pan and fry the rice over a high heat for a few minutes, until it’s shiny. Strain half the spice-and-bay liquid into the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated.

6. Now, assemble your biryani. Put a layer of rice in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over the remaining strained spice-and-bay liquid and some of the saffron liquid. Add a layer of the grated vegetable mix. Sprinkle over some of the chopped coriander. Repeat with another layer of rice and pour over the remaining saffron liquid. Sprinkle the almonds on top.

7. Cover the dish tightly with tin foil and/or lid and greaseproof paper. Put in the oven for 40 minutes, reducing the heat to 190C(170C fan)/375F (350F fan)/gas 5 after 20 minutes. Fluff and mix with a fork before serving and top with extra herbs, toasted almonds and plump juicy raisins. 

 

8. The next day, you can reheat/sauté any leftovers. My beloved is partial to it topped with a friend egg.

 

Halloween horrors!

Horror of horrors,  an unexpected visitor and I had a bare cupboard.

Never knowingly under catered is my leitmotif. So how embarrassed was I when one of my friend’s sons popped in unannounced and found the cookie jar bare? I was mortified! He’s a bit of a cookie monster and when I visit his parents usually take him a batch of these cookies.

When I make a batch of cookies, I typically pop a few raw ones in the  freezer specifically to cover unexpected visitors. That way, within 20 minutes, the place smells of warm cookies and I have something delightful for my guest(s). If not cookies, I’ll have a few slices of cake in the freezer I can rapidly defrost or some fudgy brownies which are delicious straight from the freezer.

I tend to batch bake. That’s because it’s just as easy to make ten cakes as it is to make one. My repertoire tends to be biased towards my customer base, elite and professional athletes, many of whom eschew cakes made from refined products. Through much testing, I’ve developed a range of cakes which meet with the approval of their dieticians and team chefs who aren’t above sneaking a piece for themselves.

Cannondale’s chef and crew enjoying my fruit cake!

Many of our friends much prefer healthy home-baked goodies and I try to comply. Of course, I now can’t eat products containing refined sugar, white flour and diary which has pushed me to experiment though many vegan cake recipes often include products such as vegan butter which for me is also verboten. However, and happily, there are plenty of alternatives so my baking continues apace, just not so much recently.

This is partly as a result with the ongoing issues with my fridge-freezer which are now resolved but, as a result, the default cookie jar is empty. Also, it’s been far too warm this summer to spend hours baking in the kitchen and now I have to lay down some stocks. Because of my love of baking, I hardly ever buy biscuits or cakes. So not only was the freezer bare but the cupboard was too. My poor visitor was doubly disappointed.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. It was Halloween so surely I had laid in stocks for the trick or treaters? I don’t do Halloween nor is it really celebrated in France where kids are neither encouraged nor allowed to eat loads of sweets or snacks, except maybe a bit of top quality dark chocolate. I usually have some dark chocolate in the cupboard for my baking but my beloved has eaten it all. See, the cupboard’s truly were bare.

Nor do I celebrate Guy Fawkes night. I’ve never been over fond of fireworks and I’m now more than happy to watch displays from a distance on my balcony during the various festivities and national holidays in France. I know I’m giving the impression that I’m a bit of a kill joy but nothing could be further from the truth, though I do accept that my popularity may have slipped a notch on account of the empty cookie jar.

I’m attempting to rectify matters and have already started on my Xmas cakes. I like to soak the organic dried fruit in honey and rum for three weeks prior to baking the cakes which I find then remain really moist. I make Xmas cakes for family and friends most years but this year they’re assuming greater significance as I’ll be using them, specifically their decoration, as a dry run for a wedding cake I’ll be making next year. This is a bit of a departure for me and I’ve been watching loads of videos on YouTube which explain the various techniques for decorating with sugar paste.

The marbled effect I’m attempting does mean that the cakes won’t look particularly festive but, on the plus side, they’ll have marzipan and icing on the top and all four sides – I generally only decorate the tops. I’m going to use different colourways, within the bridal couple’s defined palette, on each cake so that they can select which one they prefer. It’s been an interesting project thus far and I had no idea that wedding cakes were so expensive! Needless to say it’ll be our wedding present to them.

The Musette: Cheesy spinach bake

My beloved has spent much more time at home this year which means I’ve radically reduced the amount of meat he eats and upped his veggies. That way I need only prepare one dish for us both, rather than two separate ones. The other day I picked up some robust spinach from the market which coincided with a delicious vegetarian recipe from Rachel Roddy in the Guardian who claims she was inspired by a Tuscan recipe from Lori de Mori’s book Beaneaters and Bread Soup.

I thought the recipe would work wonderfully as a main meal for my beloved and then again the following day as a side dish with a piece of steak. It’s a straight-forward recipe but like most good things it’s not instant but at least it’s not time-consuming nor difficult. It’s just a layer of well-seasoned spinach, covered with a thick, duvet-like layer of  egg-enriched cheese sauce enrobed in crisp breadcrumbs. The latter are important to provide a nice contrast to the tender baked spinach and cheese sauce.

Ingredients (serves 3 sides, or 1 main and 1 side)

  • 500g (5 cups) large handful spinach, washed in cold water
  • 250 ml (1 cup) whole milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 20g (7 oz) butter, plus more for lining the dish
  • 20g (7 oz) plain flour
  • 2 large organic eggs, 1 separated
  • 40g (14 oz) parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • handful of fine breadcrumbs for dusting dish and top
  • sea salt and black pepper to taste

Method

1. Set the oven to 180C/(fan 160C)/350F(fan 325F) /gas 4. While still wet from being washed, put the spinach in a large pan, cover and cook on a medium heat. After 3 minutes, give the leaves a prod and a stir, then continue cooking until the spinach has collapsed and it’s tender.

2.Drain the spinach. Once cool enough, squeeze it with your hands to eliminate as much water as possible.

3. Warm the milk and bay leaf together until almost boiling, then remove and let it sit for 5 minutes to infuse.

4. Heat the butter in a heavy-based pan. As soon as it starts to foam, whisk in the flour. Keep whisking steadily for 2 minutes, then pull from the heat. Add a little of the infused milk and whisk to a smooth paste. Return the pan to the heat, then add the remaining milk, whisking continuously until it almost boils. Season with salt and black pepper. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring and whisking frequently for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce is thick. Allow to cool. Add 20g parmesan cheese, the egg and egg yolk and whisk into the sauce.

5. Chop the spinach. Beat the egg white until firm, then stir into the spinach. Add 2 tbsp of sauce, some salt and black pepper and a grating of nutmeg to taste.

6. Butter a baking dish and sprinkle over half the breadcrumbs. Add the spinach mixture and cover it with the cheese sauce. Sprinkle over the rest of the breadcrumbs and parmesan on top of the disk, then bake in the oven for 30 minutes until bubbling. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

 

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. If you serve this as a main course, then all it needs is a  salad  –  mixed red and green leaves with a sharp dressing.

2. It’s also good with roast chicken or a piece of grilled meat, such as steak.

3. If you make it in a cake tin, it could be cooled and taken on a picnic – just cover it with cling film and pack snugly – in an appropriately sized basket.

The Musette: Spicy potato cakes

This is another recipe from my favourite vegetarian cook, Anna Jones. Of course, I have once again taken a few liberties with her original recipe and tweaked it to make it more to my taste. Now Anna suggests eating these for breakfast but I would find it far too hearty for first thing in the morning though it made a very tasty lunch for a few hungry cyclists. The potato cakes are not particularly spicy as they embrace the deep, fragrant flavours of southern India. But feel free to make it spicier if that’s your bag!

It’s a great way of using up some left overs and, though I’ve yet to try it, I think you could happily substitute other root vegetables for the mashed potato. I didn’t have any left-overs, instead I baked four large potatoes and opened a small jar of pre-cooked lentils. I love that the potato cakes are topped with mashed, spiced avocado  – I eat this on toast for breakfast/lunch/dinner several times a week. Don’t omit the cucumber pickle. It’s so easy to make and really makes the dish.

Ingredients (serves 4)

FOR THE POTATO CAKES

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 10 dried curry leaves
  • 4 large potatoes, baked, potato removed and coarsely mashed, or 4 big spoons of leftover mash
  • 4 tbsp cooked puy lentils
  • handful fresh spinach leaves, washed and dried
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

FOR THE SMASHED AVOCADO

  • 1 large ripe avocados, halved
  •  juice of 1⁄2  unwaxed lemon
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • sea salt to taste

FOR THE QUICK CUCUMBER PICKLE

  • 1⁄2 hot house cucumber, halved and thinly sliced into ribbons
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds, bashed in a pestle and mortar
  • a pinch of sugar
  • grated zest and juice of 1⁄2 an unwaxed lemon
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar

Method

1. Heat tsp of coconut oil on a medium heat and fry the onion until soft,  about 10 minutes.  Add the mustard seeds and stand back while they merrily pop.

2. With the pan still on the heat, add the turmeric and curry leaves and fry for another minute or so, then put the whole lot into a bowl to cool slightly.

3. Add the mashed potato and lentils to the cooled onions, then season and mix well. Wash the spinach, then wilt it in a hot pan before adding this to the potato mixture. Divide the mixture into 4 portions, shape them into 4 fat potato cakes and put them into the fridge to chill.

4. In another bowl, mash the avocados with the lemon juice and spices, then season well.

5. To make your pickle, put the sliced cucumber into a bowl and add all the other pickle ingredients. Using your hands, scrunch the cucumber slices to get the flavours going.

6. Put the frying pan back on the heat. Take the potato cakes out of the fridge, flatten them slightly and fry them gently in rest of the coconut oil for about 2–3 minutes on each side, until warmed through and crispy brown.

7. Serve each potato cake topped with a spoonful of smashed avocado and a spoonful of pickle. Yummy!

 

 

 

The Food in Spain

As I live in the south of France you might assume I’m surrounded by lots of wonderful restaurants. In that respect, we’re very fortunate but we’ve sadly also had plenty of indifferent or badly cooked meals where, for example, I’ve offered to go into the kitchen to show their so-called chef how to cook an omelette!

My favourite type of restaurant is what I’d call a neighbourhood restaurant. One where you can be assured of a reasonably priced, well cooked meal, using fresh, seasonal local produce. I’m not expecting michelin stars just great crowd pleasers – the perfect omelette, steak and chips, grilled fish, mussels you get the gist.

We’re lucky to have a number of these types of establishment where we live equally are a number of places that give French cuisine a bad name – overpriced, poorly cooked from frozen ingredients. Fortunately, even though these establishments tend to prey on tourists rather than locals, there’s not enough tourist traffic and they eventually (thankfully) go out of business. As a consequence, I cannot confirm you’ll never have a bad meal in France.

However, I have never had a bad meal in Spain where I’ve eaten in everything from local, workmen’s cafes – the Spanish equivalent of a greasy spoon – to michelin starred temples of gastronomy. Lunchtime menus starting at 9 Euros a head for three courses, water, wine, coffee and bread are not uncommon outside of major towns where they typically rise to 13-15 Euros per head. Where we live in France – admittedly not the cheapest place – we can’t get a main course for much less than 11 Euros, let alone three courses with all the frills. Even in deepest France, I’ve never seen anything to match it in terms of prices.

Sea bass on a bed of spiced noodles with parsnip puree and crisps
Chocolate fondant with orange egg

Here’s the main course and dessert from a three-course meal including coffee and bread, though not drinks, from a very unassuming restaurant in a small rural town 30 minutes out of Valencia. We’d woofed down the delicious starters before I even thought to whip out my iPhone. The set menu was Euros 12.50 a head! It not only looked wonderful but tasted it too. I’d have happily paid more for food of that quality. And, to be honest, it’s not untypical of the fare (see below) we’ve enjoyed all over Spain at very modest prices. And don’t get me started on breakfast, you’ve got to love a place that serves crème caramel and cheesecake for breakfast, haven’t you?

Where and how do I find these restaurants? Generally, we either drive past and I demand my beloved halt the car so I can check out the menu and the restaurant, or I wander past. Often it’s just my finely honed sixth sense. My beloved claims I’m like a truffle hound. I like to think it’s years of developing my craft at my father’s knee.

 

The Musette: Aloo Gobi

One of my favourite vegetables is the humble cauliflower. I’ve found so many ways to cook with it and use it as a substitute for rice, couscous, pizza bases and mashed potato. My preferred way to eat it is spiced and as the star of the meal. I love Indian food but because restaurants cook everything in ghee, if I want Indian food I now have to cook it myself. To be honest, in France, that’s no bad thing. The French generally don’t like too spicy food so most of the curries served in restaurants are mild, but I love a bit of spice.

This recipe is one adapted from the incomparable Anna Jones. It’s cooked in coconut milk, given a punch with garlic, ginger and green chilli, and an earthiness from mustard seeds and  turmeric. It can be served as a vegan main, or side.

Ingredients (serves four as a main course or eight as a side)

  • 1 large cauliflower or 2 small ones
  • 500g (1 lb) potatoes, peeled
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled
  • 4 green chillies, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tbsp black mustard seeds
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 500ml (2 cups) coconut milk
  • 1 organic, unwaxed lemon, cut in half
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • small bunch coriander leaves
  • handful flaked almonds, toasted

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 7 (400F/350F).

2. Cut off the large leaves and stalks from the cauliflower, leaving the smaller leaves close to the florets. Using a large knife, slice it into large 2cm (2/4i n) steaks. Meanwhile cut the potatoes into 2cm (3/4 ins) chunks.

2. Take a frying pan (skillet) large enough to take the potatoes. Spoon in the coconut oil. Grate the ginger and garlic into the oil, add the chillies into the pan, then put over a medium heat. Let the spices and aromatics cook for a few minutes, until fragrant. Stir in the mustard seeds and continue cooking for a couple of minutes, then add the turmeric powder and a big pinch of salt.

3. Pour the coconut milk into the spice mixture, stir well and season with a little black pepper. When the milk starts to bubble gently, turn off the heat. Put the drained potatoes into an ovenproof dish along with the cauliflower steaks, add the lemon halves into the side of the dish, then pour over the sauce.

4. Bake the dish for 40–45 minutes, basting it occasionally with the spiced sauce in the dish. It may catch a little on top. Test that the cauliflower is cooked by inserting a knife into the middle – it should be tender and the potatoes and cauliflower should have soaked up most of the sauce. Once it’s perfect, take it out of the oven. Transfer to a serving dish, then squeeze over the juice from the roasted lemons, scatter over the toasted almonds and coriander, and dig in!

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1.  The original recipe par-boils the cauliflower and leaves it whole but I found that the sauce and spices didn’t fully penetrate, instead they were largely absorbed by the potatoes.

2. Non vegans could also spoon over some yoghurt to serve.

3. You could substitute the toasted almonds with toasted coconut flakes.

4. To increase the health benefits, add a tablespoon of freshly grated turmeric in stage 2.

4. I served it with some wholemeal flat bread.

 

The Musette: chocolate chip, oat biscuits

My Thursday evening English class were my first official guinea pigs. Now I agree that a bunch of teenage cyclists probably aren’t the most discerning of taste-testers. But mine were reasonably forthright and, while capable of inhaling their own bodyweights in baked goods, if they didn’t like something, I would be left with more than just crumbs. Unsurprisingly, anything with chocolate in it scored highly and they simply loved home-made biscuits and cookies.

These also found favour with a few professional cyclists who pretty much polished off the entire batch! I’m not sure exactly how many more kilometres on the bike were ridden to work off the surplus calories but safe to say it was plenty.

The recipe is based on one for shortbread type biscuits to which I’ve added chocolate chips – everything’s better with chocolate  – and oats for sustained energy.

You don't need many ingredients to make delicious baked good! (image: Sheree)

You don’t need many ingredients to make delicious baked goodies!

Ingredients (makes 24 biscuits)

  • 225g (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 120g (1 cup)  caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp of fine sea salt
  • 275g (2⅓ cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 30g (⅓ cup) oats (oatmeal)
  • 100g (6 tbsp) 70% min. chocolate chips

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°Cfan/ gas mark 6 (400°F/350°F).

2. Line two shallow baking sheets with greaseproof (parchment) paper.

3. Beat the softened butter until it lightens. Use really great butter as it does make a difference to the finished product.

4. Beat but don’t whip in the sugar and vanilla extract then gently fold in the sifted flour, salt, oats and chocolate chips. Don’t overwork the mixture, which should be of a similar consistency to that of pastry. Indeed you can roll the mixture into logs, wrap in greaseproof (parchment) paper and freeze for baking at a later date.

5. I use a small ice cream scoop – equally you could use a soup spoon – to portion the dough and ensure the cookies are a similar size. Place the balls on the baking sheets about 1cm (less than ½”) apart, as they’ll spread slightly while baking, and flatten the tops. I found the dough made 24 biscuits, each weighing around 30g (1 oz) uncooked.

6. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until they start to turn golden at the edges and they’re firm to the touch. Depending upon the size of your oven, you might need to rotate the sheets midway through the cooking process.

7. Remove from the oven and transfer to cool on a wire rack. Once cool, put them in an airtight container where they’ll keep for 3-4 days, providing you keep them out of reach of any cyclists, or enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee.

Gone in a flash! (image: Sheree)

Gone in a flash!

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

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

3. I have also made the biscuits with milk chocolate chips but found them too sweet for my taste.

4. I’ve successfully substituted the chocolate chips for a similar weight of fat juicy raisins.

5. The biscuits work equally well with a mixture of 50g (1¾oz) tart chopped dried cranberries and 50g (1¾oz) white chocolate chips.

The Musette: my riff on Panzanella and Insalata con l’acqua

Frankly, it’s way too hot at the moment to do much cooking, even for someone who loves it as much as I do. Yesterday evening, I surveyed my bounty: stale bread, sun-ripe organic tomatoes, a wilted bunch of basil and some salad stuff. Initially, I thought of Panzanella, bread and tomato salad, until I remembered I don’t like how the tomatoes make the bread all soggy. So here’s what I made for us instead which is more like an insalata con l’acqua – but not quite! The end result was both refreshing and substantial.

Ingredients (serves 2 as a meal, or 4 as a starter)

Salad

  • 4 slices of stale sourdough bread
  • 3 large sun-ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 large cucumber, cubed
  • 2 fat salad onions (scallions), finely sliced
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • handful of salad leaves

Dressing

  • leaves from a bunch of basil, approx. 3 tbsp., finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp  extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 fat garlic clove, crushed
  • I tbsp Dijon mustard
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Method

1. Put all the chopped vegetables into a bowl, including all the juices from the tomatoes, and season.

2. Whisk all the ingredients together to make the dressing – I confess to whipping this up in my liquidiser – and pour over the chopped vegetables. Toss well and allow the flavours to mingle for around 20 minutes at room temperature.

3. Toast the bread and place on a bed of green leaves. Pile the vegetables and dressing onto the bread, and serve.

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. Feel free to use whatever salad vegetables you have in the fridge. Finely diced celery and fennel would go well.

2. A mixture of different types and sizes of tomatoes would also work.

3. You can substitute flat-leaf parsley for the basil or, if you’ve no fresh herbs, add 1/2 tsp dried oregano to the dressing.

4. If I’d had some to hand, I might have added some small black olives and capers to the salad.

5. For a more substantial dish, top with chopped feta or even mozzarella.

6. Rather than toast the bread, make croutons with it and mix into the salad just before serving.

7. Substitute the salad onions with half a finely sliced small red onion, but soak it in the vinegar beforehand to reduce its heat.

8. If you’re particularly fond of garlic, you can rub a cut slice of garlic over the toasted bread.

The Musette: Coffee and walnut cake

I’m a sucker for anything coffee-flavoured, so this is one of my favourite cake combinations. I wouldn’t necessarily cover it with frosting if I were serving it at a cycling club event, but it’s a staple at my afternoon tea parties.

The French are not overly enamoured of what they perceive to be British cooking but they do agree that we make a cracking breakfast, fantastic desserts and delicious afternoon teas. Of course, without the frosting, a slice sits neatly in one’s back pocket for a spot of mid-ride refuelling with a coffee. French cafes don’t so much as blink an eyelid if you eat something you’ve brought with you after buying a drink from them.

More ingredients than usual - but worth it (image: Sheree)

More ingredients than usual – but worth it (Image: Sheree)

Ingredients (makes 16 thick slices)

Cake

  • 200ml (¾ cup) freshly made espresso coffee
  • 150g (1 cup) soft light brown sugar
  • 225g (2 sticks) butter
  • 225g (1 cup) golden syrup or honey
  • 2 tsp coffee essence
  • 1 tbsp dark rum or coffee liqueur
  • 3 large eggs, approximately 45g (1⅔oz) each without their shells, lightly beaten
  • 360g (3 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate (baking) soda
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 75g (¾ cup) toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

Frosting

  • 1 tbsp instant espresso coffee granules, dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water or rum
  • 100g mascarpone or 100g butter, softened
  • 200g icing sugar, sifted
  • Chopped walnuts or coffee-flavoured chocolate to decorate

Method

1. Preheat oven to 170°C/150°C fan/gas mark 3½ (325°F/300°F fan).

2. Grease a baking tin. I typically use a disposable tin-foil loaf tin 13cm x 23cm x 7cm (5” x 9” x 3”). They’re easier for storing the cakes in the freezer, which I line with a couple of strips of greaseproof paper to make it easier to remove the cake. This amount fills two cake tins.

3. Put the coffee in a pan and add the sugar, butter and syrup or honey. Heat gently, without boiling, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour into a jug and leave to cool. Whisk in the coffee essence, eggs and rum.

4. Sift the flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) into a large mixing bowl and add the chopped walnuts. Make a well in the centre and slowly pour in the wet mixture, fold the flour in gradually with a wooden spoon or spatula. Pour the mix into the prepared tins and bake in the oven for about 50-60 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

5. Leave to cool in the tins for ten minutes then turn out onto a wire rack, peel off the paper and turn the right way up. Leave to cool completely.

6. Dissolve the espresso powder in 1 tbsp hot water or rum and leave to cool. Put the mascarpone and icing sugar into a mixing bowl and beat together. Gradually add the cooled coffee. You should end up with a smooth, soft mixture.

7. Spread the frosting over the cooled cake and then leave it to firm up a bit. I topped the cake with coffee-flavoured chocolate beans but a scattering of toasted chopped walnuts would also be good.

So good, half disappeared before I cold photo it! (image: Sheree)

So good, half disappeared before I could even photo it! (Image: Sheree)

Sheree’s Handy Hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

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

3. If you think the cakes are browning too much at the edges, cover them with an aluminium foil tent.

4.  Each cake provides eight fat slices.

5. The cake will keep for a couple of days in a cake tin or, unfrosted, in the freezer for a month.