Saturday, 1 October 2011

Beef and pumpkin soup

This is a recent favourite, but we are so obsessed with it we can't stop making it.

For one large pot of soup you will need….

Lean diced beef, trimmed
A small pumpkin or a butternut squash or an acorn squash or any kind of squash really, peeled, de-seeded and chopped
A big onion
A red or yellow or orange pepper
2-3 cloves of garlic
A good grating of ginger (if you like – your call)
A chili (or two or three depending on how you like it!)
A beef stock cube
Some Caribbean spices. I have used Island Spice beef-and-pumpkin soup mix, Grace pumpkin soup mix, and a mixture of Jerk and Caribbean BBQ spices (by Dunn’s River) in the past, all with good results

2 bay leaves
3 whole allspice berries (dried)
Some fresh tomatoes, chopped into six or eight depending how big they are
Sweetcorn (canned or fresh) – optional
Beans (I like kidney, aduki or gungo peas) – optional
Black pepper (not an option, haha!)

If you are doing it in a slow cooker, just bung everything in with the meat at the top, make up the stock cube as a pint of stock initially, and then just top up til it looks soupy enough for you. Then just leave it to cook for as long as you’ve got – I have done this very successfully overnight on low, and in six hours on high.


In a pan, brown off the beef and add the onion, garlic, ginger and chili. Soften together and then just add everything else and enough stock to cover; bring it up to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook til the veg and the beef are tender. This is seriously deeeeelicious.

Sid's Birthday Poppyseed and Vanilla Cake

I made this for my friend Sid's birthday last weekend.

Firstly, the cake....this is adapted from a Rachel Allen recipe. When you turn it out of the tin it will look really small. This is IS really small. However this does not keep and as you know it is very rich, so all things considered, we can work with that. If you wanted to do a double, vanilla sandwich cake, you could either with a palette knife split a one-layer cake and make double the amount of buttercream, or make two cakes and sandwich them together (again, making double the amount of buttercream). Anyway.....

150g (5 oz) softened butter (I used slightly salted)
100g (3.5 oz) caster sugar (golden or otherwise, doesn't matter)
3 eggs, beaten
100g (3.5 oz) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder (not soda)
75g (3 oz) poppy seeds (Sainsbury's usually have them, ASDA never do)
zest of one lemon
Generous splash of vanilla extract - this is your call, but I love a good vanilla-y cake, so splash it in.

8-inch (20cm) spring form cake tin. Prepare it by buttering/lining with parchment - as this cake only needs to JUST cook (or it will be like a bisquit), you have to really make sure you can get it out, it is really fragile, so butter and line thoroughly.

Preheat oven to 170 C (325F), Gas 3.

Then just do your cake as usual - cream the butter and sugar with a hand mixer til fluffy and pale, then add the eggs a bit at a time, sift in the flour and baking powder in a bit at a time, folding in with a spatula, and then finally add the poppy seeds, lemon and vanilla and gently stir til combined.

Spoon into your cake tin and make a slight well in the centre with a spoon - only a slight dip. It just helps to keep it flatter as it cooks.

It goes in the middle of the oven for 25-28 minutes; you need to watch it like a hawk (or the aforementioned bisquit situation will arise). When you can insert a skewer into the centre and it comes out clean, it's done. It will not be particularly brown and golden - this is okay; as long as it's set, you are fine. I was concerned as mine was very pale, but in all honesty it is quite a crunchy cake so you don't want the outside with a crust, ha ha. It might take a couple of minutes longer if you don't have a fan assist. It's all good.

That goes on a rack to cool after about ten minutes in the tin to shrink away from the sides slightly so you can get it out without it breaking. The icing is the slightly more fiddly bit.

Vanilla buttercream icing - this makes enough to either do the top and sides or to sandwich two together. If you want to do both, double up.

150ml (quarter of a pint) of milk - full milk if poss
125g (4.5 oz) caster sugar - golden or otherwise
2 egg yolks
175g (6oz) butter, softened
vanilla extract - now her recipe says 1 tsp, I say balls to that and put it in til it smells of delicious, it is vanilla icing!! I don't measure.

You also need

a small saucepan
a small bowl, a balloon whisk, and a folded tea towel for step 2
a larger bowl for step 3

AND - just in case - another, spare mixing bowl (or a big jug) and a sieve, in case you have a Scrambling Incident. It is just for emergencies, set it up ready with the sieve positioned on top so you can pour everything through.

1. Put the milk and sugar in the saucepan and bring to a gentle boil, so that the sugar dissolves.

2. In the small bowl, whisk the egg yolks, and then pour the milk onto them, whisking the whole time. I put a tea towel under the bowl so it doesn't move while I have the pan in one hand and the balloon whisk in the other. Then, pour the whole mixture back into the saucepan and return to the hob on a gentle heat; you now need to stay with it, stirring gently, until it thickens up and covers the back of a spoon. This takes about 10-12 minutes; don't put the heat up high to speed things up as it'll scramble the eggs (hence the emergency sieve). If that happens, quickly pass it all through the sieve. Do keep stirring though as you are making custard and as you know it has a tendency to form a squidge on the bottom. When it's done pour it into a jug and leave it to cool right down to near room temperature.

3. Finally, put your softened butter in a bowl and cream it with a hand mixer. When it's soft and light, add the custard to it, whisking as you go, and fold in the vanilla. Voila! It is done.

At this point I don't know whether to say ice the cake, or just cut it into fingers and dip it in the buttercream...ha!