Czech Mate: Prague.

Four days,

Three nights,

Two totally exhausted girls,

One memorable time (for all the right reasons!)

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Nestled in a natural fording place on the Vltava River, a tributary of the Elbe, Prague is a City like no other. Intertwining, deeply cobbled streets flanked by monstrous buildings whose bold architecture stands testament to the pride, conflict, and passion that Prague has witnessed through the centuries.

Not a trace of the action-packed, budget conscious, backpacking trips that Daughter number 2 is used to – this one was designed for Ease, Rest and Relaxation.

Having to balance my budget to some extent, I chose a top hotel that was situated outside the main town – in Phara 5 (5th District; just a short distance from the City centre).

After an efficient check in, and a reassuring introduction to our room, we ventured out and over the Vltava, keeping intentionally to the outskirts of the main City.

Crossing the first bridge we came to, we were drawn to an interestingly ramshackle collection of stalls on the Rasin Embankment.  It turned out to be a Farmers Market – what a find – buzzing with locals preparing for the festivities of the coming week.

There was a definite emphasis on ‘health’ and ‘natural’ products at the market.

Wonderfully fresh looking vegetables – their odd shapes and earthy presentation proudly clarifying their status as ‘low food miles’ and Organic foods.

Home crafted style honey, potted preserves, pickled vegetables and inedibly ‘healthy’ looking vegan, wheat free and vegetarian foods were being snapped up by trendy looking locals.

The market had a gritty atmosphere to it – making us feel at home, having left West Norwood just a few hours earlier… cosy beds traded for the crisp, grey wind on the banks of the broad River Vltava.

At one end, a motley bunch of musicians were playing –

clustered around an Amy Winehouse sounding singer…

Enjoyed by a crowd of Bohemians, who we were glad to join for some time.

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Then her lanky, shabby, middle-aged colleague took over.

Suspense – what would be his ‘turn’?

He jiggled about a little as his fellow musicians paved his way,

then gently began to join in, making increasingly audible ‘popping’ noises with his lips…

Weird, wonderful, boldly confident in an unassuming sort of way, and totally individual.

A happy and perfect finale to the ramshackle, somewhat bizarre market.

And a fitting introduction to Prague!

Wacky, Weird and Wonderful.

Wacky, Weird and Wonderful.

 The fact that the Vltava slices through the centre of Prague makes it a relatively easy city to navigate.

We followed its broad bank, admiring the military style rows of grand buildings either side.

Prague - River flanked by rows of grossly grand blocks.  Painted soft orange, deep yellow, soft green or cream - all sporting the uniform red-clay roof tiles.

Prague – River flanked by rows of grossly grand blocks. Painted soft orange, deep yellow, soft green or cream – all sporting the uniform red-clay roof tiles.

Visiting just four days before Christmas, the Christmas Market in the Old Town was a must.

But a somewhat disappointing one, it has to be said.  Stroppy stall holders, crowds, bustling without the joy.  Rows and rows of tacky souvenirs, over-priced cups of  poorly made tea, served without grace on dirty table cloths, all wrapped in a chill air.

Moving on, from desire to leave the area as well as to keep moving and a little warmer, we made our way to the castle… the only way was up  🙂

Despite having been advised to take a tram, nothing is too to walk in Prague – and doing so helps prevent frozen limbs in winter, I’m sure!  So we climbed the deeply cobbled streets; eyes set on the prize looking down at us from the hilltop.  On the way up to the Castle, we were able to stop and look over the river – breathtaking views of Prague, and the lines of buildings – blocks created through the ages, reflecting different social & political periods and architectural styles – like strata plotting timelines in an ancient mountainside.

‘The Castle’ turns out to be more of a town in itself.  Buildings & renovations dating back from the 13th century to the present day.  Originally home of Bohemia’s Kings and now housing Czech Republic’s presidents, architectural styles through the ages are represented in grand proportions: Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-classical.

The waxy glow of the street lamps lends a warmer glow to Prague, despite the fact that temperatures inevitably plummet even further once the daylight has left.  It must be simply stunning in the summer; vines on the hillside basking in sunshine, a sparkling Vltava sporting pretty tour boats, and cafes spilling over the cobbles with lazy lunches (and cheap beer??!).  But dark winter evenings, lit by the ivory light from wonderful old lamps, combines with the magical architecture, misty winter chill and cobbles to create a truly memorable atmosphere, too.

Prague by Night: Charles Bridge.

Prague by Night: Charles Bridge.

We briskly walked back over the river and to the suburbs of town, happy to slip into our pre-booked sauna and soak up some deep heat!

Day 2 called for a more positive return to Old Square.

Wonders to admire: fire char baked pork roasting on huge spikes, traditional potato pot in oversized paella pans to taste.  A good-looking, even better sounding singer crooning on a swiftly erected stage listen to, whilst roasting under plentiful gas heaters…

Mystical, charming, magical and bold.

Reportedly one of the largest festive markets in the Czech republic, and having risen to the heady heights of featuring in ‘The Archers’ as the seasonal short break destination for Jennifer & Brian, I have to admit to finding the market somewhat of a disappointment… Perhaps my standards are too high now that London’s local markets have developed to include such enthusiasm, interesting variety and inciting atmosphere… spoilt with our local West Norwood Feast, Crystal Palace Food Market & Herne Hill… bursting with character and passion that seemed to be missing in Prague’s tourist trap effort.

But we did enjoy a pop up concert, and tasting Christmas traditions – huge hams roasting over red coals, a mizture of potato gnocchi, saucerkraut and ham… soggy, slightly greasy and better in anticipation than reality!  Also a fascinating sweet, cylindrical pastry called a trdelnik.  Rolled around metal poles, stretched over hot coals and turned by chains at either end; sold hot, dusted with cinnamon, sugar, and nuts.

Church of Our Lady before Tyn, Old Town square.

Church of Our Lady before Tyn;

an immense Gothic edifice whose 15th century towers rise  80 metres above the surrounding Medieval streets.

Despite the jostling and hustling of packed crowds visiting the pretty Christmas Market, you can still soak up the legions of tumultuous history… heresy, revolutions, plots, and reform.  Perhaps less has changed than you first think… more harmonious and settled now, but still a bustling market square at the heart of the town, a focus for locals and visitors alike.

Vltava River's many magnificent bridges.

Vltava River’s many magnificent bridges.

Next time, I’ll take a hike up the old clock tower in the Town Hall to take in an aerial view of the city… didn’t occur to us at the time, but the birds eye view would have been worth the climb, I’m sure.

Just North of the Old Town Square is the Jewish Quarter.  Yet another side of Prague – a more tranquil atmosphere, slower pace and greyer colours (trimmed with copious amounts of gold) to other parts of the city.

Jewish Quarter, Prague.

Jewish Quarter, Prague. Reminiscent of Paris’ grand, leafy boulevards with fine boutiques; gold encrusted, inside and out.

Walking along the main street felt like entering a Grimms Fairy Tale book… gothic towers looming eerily over grey skies, defining the road with strangely intimidating dark spires.

Having had a very high recommendation to visit a particular cafe, next stop was to find Wenceslas Square.  Another busy hub; the heart of the New Town, a business and cultural focus.  More Christmas market stalls in what was originally designed to be a horse market, the square was named after the patron saint of Bohemia.  Wide boulevards.  Literally stunning, edged as they were with fringes of trees sporting fairy lights.  Again, especially attractive in the dark haze of a winter’s night, marking out the twinkling bare branches engagingly.

View from Wenceslas Square, Prague.

View from Wenceslas Square, Prague – photo taken before the tree lights came on, but still pretty impressive!

We were so grateful for this tip from a local – Ovocny Svetoxor (literally translated ‘fruity cinema‘) would have remained an undiscovered gem without it.  There are apparently branches across Prague, but the one we visited in the passage Svetoxor is the spearhead, having been here since the 70s… the psychedelic, block decor remains shocking but totally on trend (just not the same trend as anything else within a fair distance!).  Bright, fast and fresh.  Outside is an array of multi-coloured, glossy ices – too watery to be ice cream (and too frozen to try, despite looking otherwise irresistible).  Fruit cakes, gateaux, sundaes, freshly made juices… I never knew that Heaven was based down this little alley in Prague!

Despite being small and packed, we found deep lime green seats to sink into, and enjoyed the freshest juices I have ever tasted.  Then back through icy streets, now veiled in darkness but glowing in a romantic haze of the ivory light of street lamps.

Our third day – packed with pottering.

We walked along the top ridge from our hotel towards the castle – breathtaking views of the city in the crescent of the hill below.  Stretching out on both sides of the broad icy river.

Back through streets, admiring the huge painted blocks; wondering what was going on inside.

Watching tourists being whooshed around in jolly cars or traps pulled by impatient horses.

We found a huge Tesco, and had to go in to ‘spot the differences’… there were as many surprising similarities with regard to products and packaging as differences – a whole isle (double-sided!) of chocolate – acres of pastries and breads and unbelievably cheap alcohol.   (Interestingly, no drunks though).

Walking around Prague in darkened streets felt safe – even as we stepped away from the centre of the city, making our way through graffiti littered streets to the outer district of our hotel.  It was interesting staying further afield – seeing the environmental changes as we crossed through the city zones.  Also watching more Czechs busy about their daily life, uninterrupted by mobs of tourists doing an impression of a couple of girls in IKEA  on a wet Sunday afternoon.

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One seasonal sight that we would have totally missed had we been staying in the more trendy centre of town was the local Christmas preparations… heaps of Christmas trees being sold and marched home. As they would be on the streets of London, but these had many fewer needles.  And those that were there, were longer and finer than those of the Norway Spruce or similar found at home.

The tradition of eating Carp is another that is not shared at home.  We were introduced to this on our first day, at the locals Farmers Market on the Rasin Embankment.  Large blue plastic bins filled with running water and tightly packed with huge, sad fish.  Jostling for space so that their fins often looked damaged.  Being prepared on stalls that were reminiscent of the mass executions held in past times in the old square.  Blood literally running down the street.  Fish heads, placed upright next to their decapitated bodies as the scales were vigorously scraped off.  Desperately, pathetically gasping their last airless breath as their mouths continued to open and close before realising that their lungs were no longer attached.

One morning, walking through the outer district, we saw an old lady ahead.  Looking forlorn – motionless on the pavement.  As we neared, we noticed the familiar smell and sight of the large blue buckets.  She had chosen her Carp and it was being prepared.  She stood further away and turned as we passed, holding her head in her hands.  Without looking, she gave a gasp as the clever cracked down.  Although it seemed in a way barbaric, the fish were always kept in running water, and killed swiftly and professionally.  Perhaps one day we will try fresh carp, to better understand the tradition which is clearly still so popular.

The observation Tower by night.

Back to the warmth of the sauna for the final time.

And another wonderful supper.

Top Tips:

If flying from Stanstead, book short-term car park –

well worth it, especially at that time in the morning!

Pre-book a private transfer from the airport –

great value and saves worrying about being ripped off!

If you’ve got them, take thermal trousers to go under jeans –

and waterproofs to go over them.  If you haven’t got them, do!

Just enjoy – it’s a wonderful city, I’m sure equally so for different reasons

all through the seasons…

:-)

🙂

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Pole dancing in the garden!

How Does Your Garden Grow *4

Washing Line Pole

Upcycling in the garden!

Too busy this last weekend to do much gardening… 😦

and surrounded by swaths of laundry after a house-full of guests,

my washing line seems to be the only thing that’s Growing In My Garden this week.

How does a nylon line suddenly get a foot longer, therefore a foot nearer the muddy ground…

Ensuring that the sheets have earthy brown trims after flapping over a wet lawn for a day or so?

My redundant IKEA curtain pole, having lost a ‘finial’ during building work, came to the rescue!

Washing line pole upcycled

Recycling in the garden

I’m suffering from not having ‘my time’ outside this week.

But watching washing dancing on the line,

billowing around such a pretty pole makes up in parts.

Hoping next weekend will be less frantic, and sunnier.

Until then, here’s my curtain call…

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Ode To a Washing Line.

There are many funny sights worth witnessing
on blustery days or fine
sights you see in the open air, on a swaying washing line. 
Socks are jovial talkative things, forever wanting to dance
Pyjamas are always so tired it seems, fall asleep if given the chance.
Shirts are ”armless” pathetic clothes
Crying at the merest whim
Briefs and pants are reluctant to talk
(they keep everything in)
Vests go around with mini skirts
they’ve fallen out with the slacks
Bras are so very full of themselves, but seldom have time to relax
T-shirts are ill-used and misshapen, from being too long in the sun
Trousers are extremely frustrated,
never being let-down for fun.

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By John Day  http://www.poetry.com/poems/53248-Ode-to-a-washing-line

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Now, I’m off to see what’s growing in other How Does Your Garden Grow gardens –

follow the Pink flower link on the right hand sidebar to “How Does Your Garden Grow?”

– Annie’s wonderful weekly collection of inspiration and awe at Mammasaurus.

 

Curtains to the old washing pole!

Curtains to the old washing pole!

What have you ‘upcycled for use in your garden?

Mammasaurus and How Does Your Garden Grow?

Happy Easter. Helter Skelter Egg Run.

Happy Easter…

May your eggs be plentiful and yummy!

As a chicken keeper, who is not very keen on chocolate (really!) finding and enjoying eggs is more of an all year pursuit than a seasonal  treat – perhaps with a few weeks off midwinter when the chickens focus on keeping warm rather than egg production.

Last Easter, Holly (daughter number 2) gave me a lovely ceramic ‘egg tray’ to keep Ava and Clemmie’s eggs in.  A beautiful mix of utilitarian and elegant, it was a lovely present.  However, due to the traffic in our kitchen at times, it got broken within a week.  I replaced it with something that I think every chicken keeper should have – a helter skelter egg run…

04.14 Egg run with dishwasher box

More robust, quirky in design and cause for an everyday smile.

The definition of ‘Helter Skelter’ is In disorderly haste; confusedly; haphazardly.  

although that may apply to the fairground variety, the Helter Skelter is anything but when used as an egg run / store.

What I love about it is that it effortlessly orders the eggs – so that if you want the freshest for poaching you take from the top.  But when baking you’d go for one at the end of the run…  And gently guide the others down to take its place.  We used to date each egg when taking it out of the laying box, but that’s no longer necessary.

I got mine from Amazon UK – I’m sure they are easily available from outlets worldwide too.

 

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As a child, I didn’t particularly like chocolate either – I remember kind friends / family giving my sister and me beautifully shiny, brightly wrapped Easter Eggs.  I would enjoy the thought and the pretty packaging, but the eggs themselves would sit in the kitchen for some months.  Sometime in the autumn, my mother would usually make a chocolate cake   🙂

My parents used to hide a new dress in the garden as an Easter present for us to find instead of the eggs – I remember finding a lovely bright red dress one year – I put it straight on, then went to church and ripped it on the railings on the way home.  My mother mended it with iron on mending fabric… strange the things that we remember.  What does Easter mean to you?

 

Experiments with Polenta –

Half term has just finished 😦

Making the most of ‘time’, I’ve been doing some seasonal Spring Cleaning… therapeutic.

Going through the cupboards, I found that we had rather a glut of polenta.

So to correct the balance of ‘store cupboard essentials’, we had a polenta evening, trying lots of different polenta dishes.  Here are the top two: Orange polenta cake steeped in fruit syrup, & Mushroom herb polenta – more tricky to make, but an education in polenta cooking if like us you’re not familiar with it.  I have to say, I  always just thought of polenta as something which lacked good looks and taste, even when served in the smartest restaurants, and never really ‘got‘ it..!

Mushroom, Herb & Polenta 'Pizza'.

Ottolenghi’s Mushroom, Herb & Polenta ‘Pizza’.

Orange Polenta Cake with orange syrup.

Orange Polenta Cake with orange syrup.

Mushroom Herb Polenta; like a homemade pizza.  Bubbling with mushroom juices, grilled cheese & fragrant herbs.  Orange Polenta cake; lovely for desert with a dollop of creme fraiche; equally good for tea the next day.

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Ottolenghi’s Mushroom & Herb Polenta.  Vegetarian.

We found it best to let the prepared polenta rest a little before use, allowing it to settle.

I’d love to hear what other people do with polenta – do let me know (I’ve still got quite a stash in the cupboard!)  We used thyme and sage in this recipe, as they both needed trimming ready for their spring growth!

http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/mushroom-and-herb-polenta-shop

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Orange Polenta cake with Orange Syrup.  Vegetarian.

Light, textured and aromatic – a grown up cake to serve with rich ice cream, creme fraiche and / or dark berry compote.  It’s plain, not a stunner – but simple is sometimes good…

250g softened butter

250g sugar (I used unbleached cane sugar)

4 large eggs

140g polenta

200g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

Grated zest and juice of 2 large oranges.  Grate gently or the zest will be bitter.  Save 100ml juice for syrup.

Orange Syrup – 100ml orange juice and 100g sugar.

Line a round 23cm cake tin with baking paper.  I used a smaller tin with only 2/3 of the mixture and it was perfect, so adjust carefully to suit your needs.

Heat oven to 160 / 140 / gas 3.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Gradually add eggs, beating well.  Feel the burn in those arms!

Reserve 100ml juice for syrup in a small saucepan.  Add the rest, with zest and dry ingredients to the creamed butter & sugar, sifting in flour and polenta.

Gently plop into the tin and smooth the top.  Bake in the oven for around 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre.

Make the syrup by gently dissolving sugar in remaining orange juice over a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Once dissolved, bring to the boil then simmer for 5 minutes to reduce & thicken slightly.

Slowly pour the syrup over the cake, allowing it to seep in.  I did this before taking the cake out of the baking paper, to stop the syrup from running off.

Allow to cool on a wire rack.  Enjoy – some people won’t like the texture of the polenta, but I think it’s quite sophisticated… I’m going to try this again in late summer, with lavender flowers in the syrup to give it a more floral aroma.

Recipe from the fab BBC good food website.  What’s your favourite recipe website?

Kitchen cupboard - a bit more sorted, but will never be 'tidy'!

So for the moment, my kitchen cupboard is sorted, but it’ll never be ‘tidy‘!

Oh Crumbs – That’s Amazing!

P1000110Yesterday was another wet – no, torrentially rainy, cold spring day.  What is going on with the weather – we have guests from Germany who say that the spring we should be enjoying is equally illusive there, and I was speaking from a lady from Italy who said the same – cold and damp.  Grr.

We had run out of biscuits and I really didn’t want to go out to get more.  There was some fresh bread left from breakfast, so I had a look on line for inspiration, and found a solution to the problem of the empty biscuit box and the left over bread… Breadcrumb Cookies!

This recipe is on a site which I really enjoy – ‘Thrifty Fun’ – thought I would share it because it is so amazing – as many of their ideas are.

Follow the link for Thrifty Fun –      http://www.thriftyfun.com/tf64866920.tip.html

I wouldn’t say that they are the best cookies ever, but they are good, and definitely worth making – if only just to use up those scraps of bread that look lonely, and to entertain and amaze yourself on a wet day!

Thrifty Bakes… two very different but equally comforting Bread Puddings.

P1000104We used to save up all the crusts and ends of loaves to take to the park at the weekend and feed to the ducks.  A fond memory, but it doesn’t happen any more – mainly because of the rat problem which has meant that park keepers leave notices requesting that visitors don’t feed bread to the ducks.  The fact that the girls are now well into their teens / twenties probably has something to with it as well!

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So now one of our top ways to use those leftover bread / bun leftovers is for bread pudding.

Here are two very different sorts of ‘bread pudding’…

Bread & Butter Pudding

A traditional desert – layers of bread with butter and jam set in a vanilla custard.

A fun way to use up those last bits of jam in the pots – or ring the changes with marmalade instead.

Holly loves it cold for breakfast too, with lots of dried fruit suspended in the rich custard.

This is based on Delia Smith’s recipe – vary it by adding more mild / less cream if you’d like a lighter custard – or a few drops of vanilla essence into the custard (or almond essence, especially if you’re using apricot jam).  Make it in a well buttered rectangular / oval lesagne type dish approx 18 x 23cm (7 x 9″).  I always try to remember to get the butter out of the fridge the day before so it’s good and soft for spreading.   Serves 4 – 6.

8 slices of bread from a small loaf – or equivalent.  (Cut off crusts if they’re too crusty – make into breadcrumbs instead & mix with grated cheese and herbs to use as an alternative topping for fish pie or macaroni cheese.)

10 g (1/2 oz) whole candied lemon or orange peel, finely chopped – omit if you don’t like it.

50g (2oz) currants / sultanas / raisins

275ml (10 floz) Whole milk (use reduced fat for a lighter custard)

60 ml (21.4fl oz) double cream

50 g (2oz) golden caster sugar (or any caster sugar!)

grated zest of 1/2 lemon – don’t grate down to the white pith as this is really bitter

3 large eggs

Whole nutmeg / vanilla / almond essence.

Soft butter for greasing the dish and buttering the bread

Jam for spreading onto the bread (or marmelade for a sharper flavour)

Preheat oven t gas 4, 350F, 180C.

Spread butter and jam over the bread slices, right to the edges.

Cut bread slices into quarters and arrange one slightly overlapping layer over the base of the dish.  Sprinkle over candied peel and dried fruit.  Cover with another layer of bread and dried fruit.

Mix eggs in a big, wide jug or bowl.  Whisk in cream, sugar, milk and flavourings.  Pour over the bread & grate some fresh nutmeg over the top.

Bake in the centre of the preheated oven for 30 – 40 minutes.

Remove and leave for 5 minutes before serving with thick cream.

– Try using different sorts of bread, jams, dried fruits…

– Try substituting one egg for 2 extra yolks  or some of the milk for more cream to make it richer.  This is real comfort food – make it simple and it’s easily digested too, so good if you’re feeling a little fragile.

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Bread Pudding is quite different – mosit, heavy, spicy  and with a decidedly winter feel.

A traditional way to use up leftover stale bread (as opposed to fresh leftover bread, which is better for the recipe above), which is broken into pieces then soaked in milk to soften it.  Brandy, sherry or similar can be used to re-hydrate currants, sultanas and other dried fruit – and it’s good served with a brandy cream for tea, or cut into small pieces for a spicy treat to waken the taste buds & provide some hearty comfort food at breakfast.  This recipe is again based on Delia Smith’s.  Try with different combinations of dried fruit, glace cherries…

Serves around 6.  Use a baking tin similar to a deep flapjack tin 15.5cm x 20cm x 4.5cm deep. (6 1/4″ x 8″ x 1 3/4″).  Line the tin with parchment paper, or butter it well.

225 g (8 oz)  Stale brown or white bread, crusts removed.  You can also use stale buns, hot cross buns, or similar.

2 teaspoons ground mixed spice.

Whole Nutmeg

110g (4 oz) Sultanas

25g (1 oz) currants

25g (1oz) raisins

50g (2oz) candied peel, chopped

3 Tbs brandy or sherry or orange juice

275ml (10 floz) milk

50g (2 oz) butter, melted – plus extra for greasing

75g (30z) soft dark brown sugar

1 large egg, beaten

grated zest of 1/2 orange

grated zest of 1 lemon

1Tbs demerara sugar

Place dried fruit and candied peel into a bowl with the brandy.  Leave to marinade.

Break bread 1 cm pieces and place in a separate, large bowl.  Pour the milk over, stir and leave to absorb for about half an hour by which time the bread should be well soaked.

Preheat the oven to gas 4, 350F, 180C.  Make sure there is a shelf in the centre.  Line tin.

Beat eggs with a fork.  Mix in melted butter, sugar, mixed spice and add to marinated fruits.  Add oragne and lemon zest.  Add soaked bread and mix gently all together.

Spread into the baking dish.  Sprinkle with demerara sugar and freshly grate some nutmeg over the top – not too much!

Bake on the centre shelf of the over for around 1 1/4 hours.  If serving as a desert, eat hot with brandy cream (whisk some brandy and sugar into double cream until thick and gloopy).

History of bread puddings – our ancestors throughout the ages have been inventive in an effort not to waste food.  There is evidence that the Romans made a type of bread pudding with milk, fat and sugar – although they didn’t use eggs to make a custard, so it would have been denser than the recipe above.  Ancient Egyptians reportedly made Om Ali, an Egyptian version, from bread, milk / cream and raisins.

These days, regional varieties are still made all over the world – Shahi Tukra is an Indian dish made from bread, ghee, sugar, saffron, rosewater and almonds.  I’d love to hear of other variations still being used today –

Apple Cake Experimentation – 3 recipes that came out as winners.

We’ve been experimentating with different apple cake styles and recipes over the winter.

It’s been interesting, made the house smell wonderful and provided us with a great excuse to have the oven on, which has helped the log burner heat up the kitchen – win, win, win!

Here are the recipes for three of our favourites – all very different.

Recipe 1 – 

Chunky Apple & Plum Loaf Cake.           

ImageThis is a great way to use up not only older apples, but also the last bit of jam in the jar (or have a clear out, and finish those last smidgens from lots of pots!)

We made it in a loaf tin… just for a change, but you could use a regular round tin if you prefer – use a 1Kg / 2Lb loaf tin or a 20 cm round tin lined with baking paper.

This recipe is adapted from one found in BBC Good Food Magazine.

We used Plum jam, so ours was an apple and plum cake, but consult with your almost empty jam jars then decide what you’re going to make –

250g / 9oz Self Raising Flour

175g / 6oz butter (I always use butter rather than spread in cakes & pastry as I think it tastes better)

175g / 6 oz Muscovado Sugar (or demerara, or white if you don’t have Muscovado)

1/2 tsp Cinnamon

3 Small Eating Apples – Peeled & cut into medium sized chunks

2 Large Eggs, Beaten

1 tsp Baking Powder

Jam & 2 x Rounded Tbs Demerara Sugar for top

1.   Preheat oven to 170c or Gas 4.  Line loaf or cake tin with baking paper.

2.   Rub the flour, butter and muscovado sugar together to make fine breadcrumbs.  Reserve 5 Tbs of this mixture and mix it with cinnamon and demerara sugar for topping.  Set this reserved mixture aside.

3.   Mix apple chunks and eggs.

4.   Stir baking powder into rubbed in mixture, then quickly and lightly stir in the egg mixture – don’t over mix.

5.   Spoon into the tin – if you have enough jam, you can dollop some jam in as you spoon cake mixture in.

6.   Dollop rest of jam on the top – we made a little rut along the middle of our loaf cake, and put jam along the middle – good idea to keep it away from the sides of the tin as you don’t want the jam to burn

7.   Spoon reserved crumble / sugar over the top, avoiding jam.

8.   Bake in your preheated oven for 1 hour and 10 or 20 minutes – test with a skewer & it’s cooked when skewer comes out clean.  Cover with foil after about 50 minutes.

9.   Once cooked, leave in tin for around 30 minutes then cool on a wire rack (or eat hot!)

Recipe 2 – Apple Cake with Syrup.

ImageThis is a very different cake, made with semolina – higher in protein than flour.  This cake has no added fat and the main sweetener is the maple syrup.  There are different grades of ‘maple syrup’ sold, and as always you get what you pay for – genuine maple syrup has a low GI in contrast to cheaper varieties, which often contain a low element of maple syrup (therefore less taste) and often have a much higher GI.  This is great with greek yougort or vanilla ice cream.

The recipe here was adapted from http://www.weighitup.com.au

Line a 20 – 22 cm cake tin, or make in a flapjack type tin – 32 x 22 cm, lined.

Heat oven to 180c or gas 4.

4 eggs
½ cup  sugar
250g semolina
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup water
½ cup quick oats
800g stewed Apples
½ cup flaked almonds – optional

Syrup:
1 cup water
¼ cup  sugar
¾ cup  Maple Syrup

1.   Mix eggs and sugar with a whisk until light, creamy and thick.

2.   Add some of the semolina, then some of the water and vanilla.  Add the rest of the semolina, baking powder, water, vanilla and oats. Mix well.

3.   Mix in apples.

4.   Spread into tin. Sprinkle with almonds if using them.

5.   Bake for 20 – 25 minutes if using a flapjack style tin, or longer if using a cake tin – it is ready when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

6.   Allow the cake to cool.  Heat the syrup for a little while in a small saucepan – don’t let it burn, but do let it thicken a little.  Then pour it over the cake – slowly so it soaks in.

Recipe 3 – Apple, Sunflower seed and Honey Cake.

ImageSunflower seeds are great little packets of goodness – they contain lots of vitamin E, which has been said to help to reduce cholsterol.  They also contain a lot of magnesium, which is needed for strong healthy bones and also for regulating the flow of calcium to the blood vessels and muscles.  They also contain  selenium, which has been found in some studies to inhibit cancer cells… and the Vitamin E that they contain is claimed to help prevent UV damage to the skin by the sun.

We made this in a ring tin – one with a hole in the centre.  We greased it well first, and it turned out wonderfully.

Preheat oven to 170c or Gas 5.

1 cup sunflower seeds.

1/4 cup Honey (heat your measuring cup first by pouring boiling water into it, and this will help honey to run out more cleanly)

1 cup sunflower oil

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

2 cups plain flour mixed with 1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt and 1 tsp ground cinnamon or nutmeg and 1 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups peeled, chopped apple – chop quite small.

Honey to pour over – use a spoon heated by pouring boiling water over it first to help.

1.   Sprinkle some of the sunflower seeds into the greased tin.

2.   Use an electric mixer to beat sugar, honey and oil.

3.   Beat in eggs, one at a time, adding a little flour with the last couple if necessary.

4.   Gently beat in rest of dry ingredients, then fold in vanilla, rest of sunflower seeds & apple.

5.  Cook for 50 – 60 minutes.   Cool in tin for about 10 minutes when taken out of oven.

6.   Turn out onto a wire rack to cool, and very carefully pour over more honey – it helps this absorb better if you heat the honey gently in a pan first.  You may want to prick the cake gently too, to help absorption.

Delicious served with vanilla ice cream, custard, creme fraiche or greek yogurt.

– Do you have any recipes that you’ve found to be family favourites?