Friday, 22 April 2011

Simnel Cake

With Easter comes much indulgence and on this most holy of days, there is one indulgence I can't do without - Simnel cake.

Simnel cake is one of those traditional British foods that probably change recipe in every town. Eaten since medieval times, it is simply a spiced fruit cake layered with marzipan and topped with 11 little marzipan balls that represent the true disciples of Jesus.

My version is as simple as can be and one that has become an annual tradition for my daughter and I to make. Sticky and soft from a layer of molten marzipan, it is difficult for me to explain in words just how wonderful this cake is. So go ahead and make one for yourself. Easter or not Easter, it is a sure-fire crowd pleaser. And if you do make an Easter related cake, make sure that you enter into the Easter Cake Bake competition over at the superb Julia Parsons 'A Slice of Cherry Pie' blog.

Simnel Cake

150g butter
150g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2 tsp mixed spice
50g ground almonds
150g self raising flour
300g mixed fruit
Zest and juice of 1 orange
500g ready-made marzipan

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 160C/GM3. Grease and line a 20cm cake tin with a removable base.
2 - In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Quickly beat in the eggs, pour in the almonds and sieve in the flour. Tip in the remaining ingredients (except for the marzipan) then combine thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
3 - Pour half of the mixture into the cake tin. Half the marzipan and roll out on a piece of cling-film (to prevent it sticking to the bench) until roughly the same size as the cake tin. Press the cake tin on top to make a line then roughly cut out. Fit into the cake tin and press down. Pour over the remaining cake mixture.
4 - Bake on the middle shelf for 1 hour 30 minutes. If it begins to brown too quickly, loosely cover with a piece of baking paper.
5 - Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin.
6 - To finish, roll out the remaining marzipan and do exactly the same as with the middle section, cutting out the left overs to roll into 11 little balls. Top with the marzipan and decorate the edges with the balls. If you have a small blow torch, lightly toast the marzipan in places. Alternatively, flash under a hot grill.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Voice of the Beehive

This weekend was a hark back to my old life as a cook and what a special day it was. For it wasn't just any old cooking job. Yesterday I was helping out fellow Masterchef finalist Stacie Stewart, cooking in the wonderful Durham Town Hall for a wedding party.

Stacie had me whipping up some of her wonderful canape creations such as lemon tarts, rare beef and slow roast tomatoes, king prawns with marie rose sauce, sweetcorn fritters with avocado salsa and mini burgers. I'm still exhausted now but it was worth every minute.

The best part of the day was working alongside and getting to know a lady who is very quickly rising to the top her game in what she loves to do the most - cook. With an energy that puts mine to shame, Stacie has built up a fabulous business in her Beehive Bakery where any occasion is catered for with skill and precision. As well as the business, Stacie has also been cutting herself as a celebrity TV chef and you can see her most weeks on ITV's This Morning with her trademark beehive haircut and charismatic style. Check out her videos and recipes here.

I'm not sure how many cookery events I can squeeze into my busy schedule but I sincerely hope that I can work with Stacie again. She is a pleasure to know and work with and I cannot recommend her business highly enough - give her a go! Cheers Stacie x

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Slow roast paper wrapped leg of lamb

As Easter approaches, a food that seems synonymous with this time of the year is lamb. We like our lamb in the United Kingdom and most British families will have a good old leg on their plate over the long Easter weekend.

Believe it or not, it isn't exactly the right time to be eating British lamb. Most of our lambs are born in February/March meaning that come April, they are still too young to give you a matured flavour. Come August or September, our spring lambs are perfect and really, that is the time to be consuming outdoor reared grass fed British lambs.

The lamb that you eat at this time of the year, if British, is more than likely barn reared and born around October or November. However, that doesn't mean its a bad thing and if you want British lamb at Easter, it is there in abundance and there are some high quality British lamb cuts to be found at this time of the year.

We love a leg of lamb. Lots of meat, packed full of flavour and value for money, it is the perfect roast for the Sunday dinner table. A great way of cooking it is to seal it in paper before roasting slowly. The paper seals in all of the juices meaning that flavour is high and you lose none of that essential gravy making stuff. It's also fuss free, something that you can prepare in advance and then leave to cook whilst you prepare the veg and puddings whilst having a cheeky slurp.

Slow roast paper wrapped leg of lamb

Feeds 4-6

2-3kg leg of lamb
1 sprig of rosemary
3 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
4 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 150C/GM3. With a sharp knife, skewer the leg all over to form small holes.
2 - Put the rosemary leaves and garlic into a pestle and mortar with a good pinch of salt. Bash it to a puree then squeeze in the lemon juice and stir together with the olive oil and a good grinding of pepper.
3 - In a baking tray, lay over a large piece of baking paper. Cross it over with another piece the same length. Put the halved and squeezed lemon pieces onto the paper then place on the lamb leg. Pour over the marinade then rub in thoroughly all over.
4 - Wrap around the paper before wrapping around another large piece to ensure that it is thoroughly wrapped. Tie roughly with string then leave to marinade for an hour or so.
5 - Place into the oven and cook for 3 hours. Once coked, remove and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Remove the paper and serve with your choice of vegetables, spooning over the delicious juices. Or to make a more substantial gravy, place the roasting tray over a hob, pour in a glass of red wine and bring to the boil before stirring in a nob of butter.