Something New- Ginger & Grapefruit Upside Down Cake

gf slicesSo, there’s been this red grapefruit sitting in the fridge for a while and it needed using. Obviously when faced with such a simple, nutritious and easily consumed food item I could only think of one thing. Cake.

But you don’t often put citrus fruit in a cake, juice maybe, zest to kingdom come but the actual flesh doesn’t appeal. Plus the acidity could bring curdling issues and there’s not actually that much fruit here, it would mess up the moisture levels too and put everything out of whack. That’s a silly idea. Maybe I’ll just stick it in the blender with some pineapple and make a smoothie.

Now wait just a seventies throw backing minute- pineapple! Pineapple upside down cake. Only the pineapple is in the tin and not in danger of imminently disintegrating into white mould and bad smells. So, grapefruit upside down cake. How hard can it be? After looking up several internet sites for guidance, I decided that most people who post on cookery websites either don’t know what the damn hell they are talking about or have ripped off a Martha Stewart classic. Like, word for word from the main Martha Stewart pages. Same full stops and spelling mistakes, all of it. So, bah, I’ll wing this one. And wing it I did. The results were beyond pleasing, not only because I pretty much made this up on my feet after a long Monday at work.

Boom Boom Ginger & Grapefruit Upside Down Cake

gf cake header

For the topping:
One medium grapefruit (I’ve used a ruby here but it would work with pink or yellow too)
100g unsalted butter
Up to half a cup of soft dark brown sugar

For the cake batter:
100g unsalted butter
300g golden caster sugar
4 eggs
290g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
Fresh root ginger
Splash milk

Preparation is key here children, start with plenty of space and heat the oven to 180 deg C. Get a, 8 inch round cake tin to the ready and one large, clean mixing bowl.  We’ll jump about a bit here so start by combining the sugar, butter and baking powder for the cake batter. Cream together until light, fluffy and uniformly mixed. I do this by hand with a big balloon whisk, but if you are happy with your biceps just as they are feel free to use a food mixer. Next peel a piece of stem ginger- I lurve ginger and use a piece about 1 inch long by half an inch across and thick. It has kick though, so if you’re not a fan maybe use slightly less. Pass this through a fine grater and mix the fine, juicy pulp into the sugar and butter mix- careful to discard the stringy mess that’s left behind. Now, just to confuse you, set this bowl aside.

Now peel your grapefruit, getting rid of as much pith as you can *insert taking the pith joke here*. Leaving it whole, slice into even rounds. Melt the butter then tip into the bottom of your cake tin, then scatter over the dark brown sugar until you have a layer of butter soaked sugar, as uniform as possible. This shouldn’t be more than a few good handfuls, and make sure you have removed any lumps. Now cover this with the grapefruit slices, try not to overlap any.

Back to the batter, add one egg and combine thoroughly with the sugar-butter mix. Repeat for the remaining eggs, then fold in the flour. Depending on how big your eggs were, the batter maybe very stiff at this point, and if it hurts your wrist to stir it with one hand then add a splash of milk to loosen it up. It shouldn’t pour like a pancake batter but you don’t need a cement mix either.

Spoon the batter over the grapefruit slices and get it in the oven for about 40 minutes or until golden brown on top and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Some of the topping butter may melt up when you put the batter on, skimming around the sides on the ‘top’ of the cake. Don’t worry too much, it will make it look messy but this will be the bottom of your cake, so who cares!!!!

crappy bottom cake- fear not!

crappy bottom cake- fear not!

Cool for a good twenty minutes, then get a large plate and cover the cake tin before flipping it over in a quick and single movement to turn it out. It is very, very important that you make some kind of declaration of your own brilliance here, such as ‘ta dah’ or ‘voila!’ or similar.

If you are fortunate, you now have a lovely, sticky, moist cake covered in caramel and grapefruit. Yum. Some say serve warm but I think it’s better the next day.

ta daaaah!!!! It looks better in full daylight I promise. And those burned looking bits? Thick, fruity caramel. Fabulous.

ta daaaah!!!! It looks better in full daylight I promise. And those burned looking bits? Thick, fruity caramel. Fabulous.

Variations: You can swap the root ginger for a tsp or so of ground if you must, but only if you really can’t get root ginger, it tastes so much better. Actually the root ginger is so fantastic in this batter you can forgo the topping altogether and just use this to make a lovely spicy ginger cake instead. You can swap the fruit slices as you please, for pineapple or pomelo or even finely sliced apples or pears if you feel like it. Apparently peaches work well too but could be very wet. Swap your ginger to match your fruit, although it would go with pineapple or pear. If in doubt, use some vanilla!


The Cake Story

cardIt’s the best kind of story!!!!!! And it begins with myself and the boy, wandering past a small cakery at least once every Saturday whilst about our business in sunny Colchester. With each passing we at least slowed down, if not all together stopped to admire the edible artworks in the window. We didn’t go in, as it is small and that end of town is populated with many independent cake and coffee establishments which have previously won favour. I must admit that my preference for other venues was more than a little biased by my ever expanding experience of beautiful looking cakes tasting like mildly sweetened cardboard.
I love cake. If I was prepared to buy much bigger trousers, I would have cake every day. I like pretty things too, but pretty cakes tend to be so disappointingly bland, often a few days old and past their best underneath that finely crafted sheet of rolled sugar surround. Not that I wish to frown upon the immense work, precision and craft it takes to decorate a cake properly. I can’t do it, and I admit it freely. I can whip up a grumpy looking cake that’s wonky on top with a dull finish that tastes like a baked slice of heaven however, and I will always vote for function rather than form in these stakes. Fables the world over tell us that an attractive exterior is worthless if there’s nothing good on the inside afterall. There is nothing more disappointing than shelling out on a glittery, over coiffured cupcake that degenerates into a glittery pink mist of air brushed polystyrene once it hits the taste buds. Heart breaking.
So, we looked in the window in The Cake Story many times, then walked on by. Only one day, we didn’t. Whilst looking in the window a painfully stereotypical brash Essex granny was loudly complaining at the price of some gorgeously presented macaroons on display. At about 60p each, the proprietors were apparently ‘avin a larrrrf’. I have no idea of the relative cost of a macaroon, but upon looking at the little sandwich board in the street it appeared that you could purchase one slice of cake and one hot caffeinated beverage inside for less than four quid on that particular day. This seemed entirely reasonable and not at all comedic to me. A brief discussion ensued, based largely around how amazing the red velvet cake in the window looked, and in we went for some refreshments before hitting Sainsburys. You should never go shopping when you’re hungry you know.

Coffee & Cake. A welcome luxury on a cold Saturday afternoon.

Coffee & Cake. A welcome luxury on a cold Saturday afternoon.

I should at this point state that The Cake Story is in the business of selling fabulous celebration cakes for you to take away, the small barrista bar and cosy bank of tables in the shop front almost seems like an aside, but one that generates plenty of business I imagine. The staff are spectacularly friendly, doing their best to explain early on that the display cakes are exactly that, displays, before elaborating on what is on offer today before you take a seat. Behind the little bar you can see into the main kitchen and glimpse the magical works that occur therein. Then, you can sit down on a comfy chair for a wonderful and generously cut slice of cake and a more than acceptable coffee. Or if tea is more your chosen cake accompaniment, you wont have to pay for it at all!
The red velvet cake was fantastically light and moist, balanced perfectly with a thick, slightly sharp frosting which I suspect involved cream cheese or sour cream perhaps. Sweet and comforting without being heavy or sickly and so beautifully, beautifully decorated it was an absolute bargain.  You should be prepared to make friends with other punters however, as it is certainly a shared space experience but with cake that good everyone is happy. Actually just as we were leaving an apparent regular came in, greeted the staff without actually ordering then snuggled herself into a seat to wait, proclaiming joyfully that this was the best spot in town. She may have a considerable point there.

Your friendly neighbourhood cake men.

Your friendly neighbourhood cake men.

I shall certainly be back to make the most of my loyalty card, and am already racking my brains for a reason to purchase one of their glorious celebration cakes. But having looked at the pricing, do we really need a reason? Their 6″ cakes start from just £11-50 and they really are spectacular, beautifully finished, eye catching and underneath all the bling, yummy. Chocolate cakes, fruit cakes, devils food, a giant cupcake or a VW Camper van cake are all available and shown on their literature. Of course wedding options are available- in fact while we were there a very happy couple were sampling potentials for their big day which looked progressively yummier as they came out. The boy and I briefly considered faking an engagement, but that is another cake story, for another day.

They offer a same day service, bespoke requests and use British produce (hurray!) and I shall say again, they are lovely friendly people and I implore you to give them a go if you are able to. If you are an actual person who knows me and therefore probably knows Colchester, head down there and check them out on Priory Walk between Sainsburys and the sports nutrition shop, you wont be disappointed. If not maybe look at their website, if only to gaze a little while at the pretty.

Mmm. Cake.

A Question of Horse

Hilarious. Really. Yawn.

Hilarious. Really. Yawn.

Yeah, yeah, those of us not living on Mars at the moment are all very aware that there is an epidemic of up-in-arm-itis about the shock discovery of horse meat in an ever growing but already wide range of should-actually-be-beef products.

*insert poor joke about having the trots here*

There’s so much potential discussion here. I’m not going to get into the general squeam of ick that your average Brit feels about the concept of eating horse when it’s good for most of the rest of Europe. I don’t have any great issue with the idea of a fillet of filly, hell I’ll try most things once as long as they don’t come with coconut. And as long as I know what they are. My initial reaction to this developing scandal was along the lines of eeew though, from a point of view of where the crap did that horse meat come from? I had visions of some poor, louse ridden dobbin living a miserable life fed on rubbish and tied to a fence until it was time for a swift bang between the eyes before being shipped in the back of a dirty van for a midnight delivery to some borderline criminal meat packing facility. Think of the cruelty, the lack of regulation, the bacterial potential!

It turns out that this view point is as naive and ridiculous as those crying into their burger buns because they have frankly stooped to the dizzy low culinary standards of the bloody French. Because the majority of this meat is popping up in ready meals, frozen burgers, the now much maligned Findus lasagne. All of which is choc full of nice meaty bits that come from all over Europe, where their horse is as well produced and regulated as their cow, chicken, deer and pheasant.

Yup. All over the EU.

So say, Tesco, the massive multinational supermarket chain which holds every other food outlet in the UK by the balls and owes it’s sprawling success to the British consumer, gets all of it’s own label meat products from eastern Europe?  I know we don’t have farmed horse here, but a Tesco value beef burger is supposed to have beef in it, and the UK produces some of the best beef in the world, for a dubious economic return. Way to go Tesco for choosing to shun the British farmer, seriously over contribute to green house gas emissions and issue a glorious eff you to a struggling rural trade in your largest marketplace country. Not to mention you know, letting your customers who are mostly strongly against eating horse chow down on a nice cut of Stallion.  Shame on you.
There is also the strong possibility of lasting damage to the beef trade from this scandal. Flash back to the days of BSE when all beef sales plummeted due to the general ignorance concerns of the greater shopping public who feared developing a spongiform encephalopathy from eating anything that didn’t have wings. Are we going to see a general turn off from beef to allay a nagging fear that that brisket or steak mince actually came from Red Rum’s cousin? Nagging. Meheheheheheheheh. Sorry, but the possibility is real, dangerous and frankly cross making because it is completely unnecessary.

But what are you going to do, eh? Well, I’ll tell you what to do timid beef lovers, get off your butt, get down to your high street and go and see a butcher. Not a freezer counter, not an extra value pre packed over travelled stack of poly tray vacuum packed animal parts. An actual, honest to goodness butcher. And when you get there, say hello to your butcher, and ask him for some nice, fresh, British farmed cow produce. And don’t say oh the money or the time or the BLAH BLAH BLAH if you wont do it, you’re lazy and you deserve to have rat flesh in your dinner, let alone horse. Get some mince, squish it up in your hands and make your own value burger, it’s not that much more expensive than a frozen meat-like pattie in a blue and white striped box and it will taste a million times better and be a million times healthier for you. More adventurous cooks could try to put together a lasagne, a bourginon or even just steak and chips. With British beef, from British farms which pay British tax and don’t try to flog you a dead bloody horse!!!!!

Tesco aren’t the only villain/victim in this whole debacle of course, but seeing the little map of the eurozone on the news illustrating how far so much of this produce is travelling to get to our shores gave me the rage to say the least.  It is unacceptable to me that so much beef/meat that is readily farmed here is instead shipped in from so far away by a supposedly proud British company who have a head office in Cheshunt but prefer to put their burgers together a couple of thousand miles away, then ship them all here at cost to the enviroment as well as the consumer. I wont name any more names, like Findus and Dalepak, because it’s getting late and I want to watch Michel Roux on BBC2 now, but please, fellow Islanders, just think. Just make that choice for yourself and for your economy and your countrymen and get out and buy locally. Don’t be scared of an hour in the kitchen and a hot pan. Don’t be scared of that back row of hanging sides at the butchers.  Be scared of a crappy, additive riddled ready meal that is a blight on the fine history of lasagne. Be scared of a British multinational company that don’t give a toss enough about this country to source British produce for it’s most basic (and best selling) own label products. Vote with your wallet, and vote for your tummy.

Just say neigh no!

Food Hero- Celeriac

cccCeleriac, or if you prefer (and who wouldn’t) Knob Celery. *insert gales of childish giggling here*. A hefty root vegetable from the celery family which yields a bulbous root structure or ‘hypocotyl’ which looks marvellously like a dirt encrusted brain and tastes pretty good too. Celeriac grows pretty much anywhere but is thought to have originated in the Mediteranean basin somewhere. But why should you care?

The Science Bit: Celeriac is rich in fibre, Vitamin K, Vitamin C, B Complex constituents and dietary iron, copper, phosphorous and calcium- all of which sums up to healthy bones and boosted immunity. It has been suggested (still under study) that the high level of scary sounding poly-acetylene anti-oxidant compounds found in natural abundance in celeriac are cancer fighting and potentially very effective in preventing colon cancer and different types of leukemia.  As well as being nutritionally sound, celeriac is one hardy bulbous dude, with a shelf life of a couple of months if you keep it right (not too hot, cold or dry) and dieters love its low calorie and low starch levels. Some nutritionists also sing of its ability to stave off hunger pangs, but that is true of most veg with a high water content.

I love celeriac, despite how popular it is in puree form by trendy wannabe masterchef types. I’m a big fan of celery, particularly cooked up but celeriac has a slightly milder peppery kick and and a really lovely texture when cooked down without the odd stringy bit that is hard to avoid in bog standard celery. And lets be honest, sometimes celery is a bit of a chore, probably because it’s touted so much as heath food and served by our Aunties alongside our favourite dips in the space where the kettle chips should be. Celeriac is more pleasing, comforting, a huggy round ball of creamy loveliness opposing the stiff, woody moral highground of celery. Plus, it looks like a brain!!!!
If vitamin content and butt-shrinking possibilities aren’t your thing and you care more about the eating experience, then look no further than this little beauty. Versatility doesn’t quite cover it- in simple terms you can eat it cooked or raw so no great surprise there but the texture and unique flavour of celeriac lends it to so many culinary opportunities. Yes, you can be a trendy wannabe masterchef type and make some kind of puree to smear on a plate if you wish, but why not bake it, boil it for mash, sautee with butter and load of black pepper, chunk out your curry or smooth out a soup. Make it into a chutney with onions and ginger or keep it raw and add to coleslaws, salads or even be really trendy and knock up a ‘celeriac tartare‘. Having a peppery base flavour it goes well with the more mustardy accompaniments including watercress, onions, black pepper and, er, mustard. But it is also highly complimented by your sharper sweet notes, like apples and fennel. And, it looks just like a brain!!!!!!

Like most produce you will get celeriac year round now but it’s natural season is early autumn up to November and that is when you will find this wunderveg at it’s best. I shall leave you with my favourite celeriac outing, comforting in the colder months and also very friendly to the dieters out there at roughly 250 cals a serving by my calculations.


Boom Boom Celeriac Soup

Celeriac Soup. Not my finest photograhic moment, but I was hungry! Yes, I know there is a chip in my bowl :-(

Celeriac Soup. Not my finest photograhic moment, but I was hungry! Yes, I know there is a chip in my bowl 😦

Serves 4

1 celeriac bulb, roughly 800g
4 carrots
2 white onions
One head of celery, leaves included
Six cloves of garlic
Sunflower oil for frying
1-2tsp White pepper
3-4 tsp Curry powder
Sea salt
Stock (chicken or vegetable)

Start off scrubbing and peeling your celeriac- you’ll probably want a small knife rather than a conventional peeler as this skin is quite thick. Some of the little crevices and nobbly bits (it looks like a brain) are hard to get the dirt out of so you might want to cut these out and discard.
Heat your oil then add the white pepper and curry powder. I tend to be heavy handed with the pepper and use a medium hot curry powder, but then I like it warm so if you’re a sensitive type maybe use lower quantities. Add in your chopped  onion and garlic and fry off for a few minutes until the onion is just starting to soften, then add the carrots and celeriac. Continue to heat through for another five minutes then add the celery, give it a good stir then cover in the stock- I like Kallo organic vegetable stock but chicken works well too. Bring to the boil, then cover and leave to simmer for about 15 minutes until the carrots are tender.
Leave it to cool for at least ten minutes, then blend together either with a food processor or hand blender. Taste, season to your liking with more pepper and a touch of sea salt (Maldon sea salt is best!!!) then reheat and serve. Enjoy!

Variations- You could add some apples or pear rather than the carrots and onions and swap the spices for some freshly ground nutmeg for a sweeter finish. To go indulgent cook off some lardons or good smoked bacon in your pan before starting then use the rendered bacon fat to fry your veg in, adding the bacon pieces back just before serving. Delicious!

thanks as ever to for some fun facts.