Banana and Chocolate Fairy-cakes

This is a recipe which I wrote back in 2016 when the blog was young. I made these delicious cakes again today for the first time in yonks and decided that the recipe needed updating; I used less sugar, a bit less banana and I made fewer of them so that the cakes were a little bigger. I also took a new photo because my food photography skills have improved in the last four years!

These little cakes are yummy and a good use of squidgy bananas. The recipe is based on Nigel Slaters recipe for a banana loaf with dark chocolate and dark muscavado sugar, but doctored to make nice light little ‘fairy cakes’.

Please have a go at making them and let me know how you get on!

Makes 18 little cakes.

Ingredients.
65 g butter
65 g olive oil
180 g soft dark brown sugar
250g ripe bananas (approximately 2)
2 eggs, beaten
250 g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
50 g dark chocolate, chopped

Method
Preheat the oven to 180oC. Put paper cases into a patty tin.

Cream the butter, olive oil and sugar. Mash the bananas and then beat them into the fat and sugar, followed by the eggs a little at a time. You may need to add a spoonful of the flour with eggs to stop the mixture from curdling.

Sift the flour and baking powder onto the above mixture and fold in.

Chop the chocolate and fold in. You could use chocolate chips rather than chopping the chocolate, but I like the way that you get little crumbs of chocolate when you chop it which melt beautifully into the cake.

Divide the mixture between 18 cake cases and bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 15 minutes.

Crispy and Sticky Korean Chicken

This wonderfully crispy chicken in a sticky sauce is delicious. It is a speciality of Raquel – the lovely Filipino lady who helps us to look after my little boy now that I have gone back to work. Raquel often treats us to her fantastic cooking (Reuben loves her noodles with egg!) so I have asked her very nicely to teach me how to make some of her Filipino specialities. This is the first of a series of Raquel’s recipes -so watch this space!

Ingredients

  • Three chicken thigh fillets
  • 1 tablespoon Dark Soy Sauce
  • 1/4 of an onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 cup of plain flour
  • vegetable oil (about a cm in the bottom of a small frying pan)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of cornflour / corn starch
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 1/8 cup of light soy sauce
  • 1/8 cup oyster sauce
  • 1/2 cup tomato ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

Method

First, chop the chicken into thin strips and marinade it in the dark soy sauce. Finely chop the onion and garlic and set aside for later.

Put the flour into a box with a lid, add the chicken and then shake it (with the lid on!) until the chicken is well coated in flour. Take a small but deep frying pan and heat a cm of oil, when it is hot add the chicken. Do not stir the chicken – this will knock the flour off and then it wouldn’t become crispy. Instead, leave the chicken to cook for a few minutes and then gently toss the chicken in the oil. Continue to toss the chicken until it becomes nice and crispy, then turn off the heat and set the chicken aside until the sauce is complete.

In a separate saucepan fry the garlic for a couple of minutes, then add the onion – you can use a bit of the oil from the chicken for this. While the onion is cooking take a large jug and add the cup of water, stir in the cornflour followed by the honey, light soy sauce, oyster sauce, tomato ketchup, sugar and ground ginger. When the onion is cooked (nicely translucent but not browned) add the liquid mixture and stir over a hot flame until the sauce thickens.

Taste the sauce and check that it is sweet / salty enough for your taste. Then add the crispy chicken (it should go without saying that you don’t want the excess oil!). Put into a serving bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve straight away while the chicken is still crispy.

Enjoy with rice – we had yellow rice, which had just a dessert spoon of turmeric added to the water before cooking.

Korean chicken

Cooking with love: a review of The Happy Planet Cookbook, Recipes for life. By Dana Karic.

This is so much more than just a recipe book. Written by Dana, one of my lovely neighbours here on Palm Jumeirah, this book is a homage to food and how it sustains us, and an invitation to revisit our relationship with food and to share good food with others. A good friend of mine used to say that food should be cooked with love – this book is all about cooking with love. 

One of the things that Dana has provided with this book which is truly unique are the inspirational note cards. In the deluxe version of the book these are tucked into a pocket inside the cover, and I love Dana’s suggestion of putting them as place settings for guests. The note cards are described as a gift to you, and like all good gifts they lift the spirit and are best shared.  

The Happy Planet Cook Book

The book can be enjoyed alongside Dana’s beautiful jazz album Our Secret Place. Music and food are a very special combination, whether it is inspiring music to cook to, or music to set the mood for a dinner party. I don’t know about you, but I have a ‘dance around the kitchen’ playlist!  

Dana communicates beautifully how the food we eat nourishes our bodies and how a positive relationship with food nourishes the soul. She encourages us to pause or to pray before meals “to make sure that our emotions are in check and we’re eating from a place of peace and joy, not guilt, stress or anger”.  

I love the encouragement Dana gives to host dinner parties. My husband and I try to host one every couple of weeks (although lockdown curtailed this for a while!) and they are something which should bring joy not stress.  Dana provides some wonderful tips for hosting a joyful dinner party, including decoration ideas and choosing music to fit the mood.  She communicates really well the ‘togetherness’ of sharing food – and to me that is the main point, your cooking doesn’t have to be perfect because there is something really special about sitting around a table together.  In my experience people are always genuinely touched to have been invited into your home, and you end the evening closer to them than you would have done after a night out. 

So, I have told you all about the things which make this book so much more than a recipe book, but what about the recipes?! The recipes are mostly vegan, but Dana encourages the reader to experiment and use your imagination “If you think that a nice piece of fish would go well with a certain meal, go ahead and add some fish!”.  If you are the kind of person that likes exact measurements in a recipe then this book might not be for you, but for me it is perfect and exactly how I cook; look at a recipe for inspiration, maybe follow it exactly the first time but then add a bit of this, take away a bit of that…  

I couldn’t write a review of a recipe book without testing one of the recipes! I made the vegan pancakes which were perfect for a relaxing family weekend breakfast. I would never have thought about putting sparkling water into pancake mixture to make it fluffy, I will definitely be doing that again! I forgot to take a photo of our efforts because we were too busy eating them all up! 

You can read an excerpt of the book and order the paperback version at www.thehappyplanet.com/. If you would like the beautiful hardback deluxe version then contact Dana direct on her Facebook page @danakaric. You can also follow Dana and her lovely recipes on Instagram @thehappyplanetblog.

Enjoy, and don’t forget to cook with love! 

The Happy Planet Cook Book
Dana Karic

Chocolate Ricotta Cheesecake

This recipe came about because I had ricotta cheese that I wanted to use up. All of the ricotta cheesecake recipes I could find online were for baked cheesecake – and I wasn’t sure that I trusted my oven enough for that (yes, I know, a food blogger with a dodgy oven is not ideal). The solution I came up with was to use the biscuit base from my sister’s lemon cheesecake and a chocolate ricotta mousse from Delia. It was delicious and I will certainly be making it again. It was a bit rustic looking because my little boy didn’t really want me to be in the kitchen so I was in a bit of a hurry, maybe next time I can make it a little more pretty.

Ingredients

for the base…

  • 200g digestive biscuits
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 1 level tablespoon caster sugar (optional, I think it is quite sweet enough without it)

for the filling…

  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 250g tub of ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon of Cointreau, which is an orange liquor (Delia’s recipe used rum, the alcohol is of course optional)
  • 2 tablespoons of soft dark brown sugar
  • 200ml tub creme fraiche

Method

for the base…

The base needs making at least an hour before the filling so that it has time to set in the fridge.

First put the butter in a pan to melt (as slowly as your hob will allow). Next put the biscuits into a food bag and bash them until they resemble fine breadcrumbs – this is very therapeutic! Children love this part too! If you are adding sugar put it into the bag and shake it with the crumbs to mix, then stir the crumbs into melted butter. Press the mixture into the base of the dish you will be using for the cheesecake and put it into the fridge for at least an hour.

for the filling…

Melt 100g of the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water – the bowl should rest on the pan without touching the water so that the chocolate won’t burn. Grate the rest of the chocolate or chop it in a food processor and put it to one side for later.

Mix together the ricotta, Cointreau, sugar and two tablespoons of the creme fraiche. Fold this mixture into the melted chocolate and then add most of the grated chocolate – save about a tablespoon of it for decoration.

Spoon the chocolate mixture onto the biscuit base and smooth it with a knife (mine wasn’t at all smooth because I was in a hurry – oh well, next time!) and then top it with the rest of the creme fraiche and the grated chocolate. Put it in the fridge for at least an hour to set.

Enjoy!

p.s. for those of you wondering about the pretty drink I served it with, it was a martini served with frozen cherries. Delicious.

chocolate ricotta cheesecake
Chocolate

Huevos Rancheros

This post follows on nicely from the last one. The link? Both recipes were shared with me by Emirates cabin crew. A complete coincidence, but not surprising I suppose living where I do. I have decided that the best thing to do with the blog while living in Dubai is to collect international recipes – this recipe is number two in the series and shared with me by Raquel who is Portuguese – although the recipe is Mexican. You can follow Raquel’s travels on Instagram here.

Ingredients

  • 1 Onion
  • 4 tomatoes
  • a red pepper/ capsicum
  • a bay leaf
  • ground black pepper
  • a 400g can of beans (such as red kidney beans)
  • eggs (maybe one per person – how hungry are you?!)
  • chopped coriander or parsley to garnish.

Method

Chop one onion and throw it in a pan with some olive oil. Let it fry for a bit and add four chopped tomatoes, red capsicum to your liking, a bay leave and some ground black pepper. Add some organic tomato puree. Let it cook for 3 minutes. Add a 400g can of beans (I used red beans) and let it cook for 2 minutes. I smashed the beans a bit to release its flavor into the stew. Add the eggs (as many as you like), some salt and cover the pan. Let it cook for 5 minutes. At the end sprinkle some coriander or parsley and voilà!

Serve on a slice of bread.

Yum!

Czech Cherry Cake

Czech cherry cake
cherry cake
Czech cherry cake

One of my favourite things about living in Dubai is that it is such a diverse international community. I have been trying to decide what to do with the blog while I am here (British seasonal and frugal food doesn’t quite fit) and I think that collecting recipes from around the world may be the answer.

To start me off my Czech friend Tereza has taught me how to make her famously delicious cherry cake. She uses a special flour which she brings over from the Czech Republic, however I have tested the recipe with ‘normal’ plain flour and it still works very well.

Tereza tells me that there are three basic types of flour in the Czech Republic:

  • fine (hladka– which is ‘normal’ white flour),
  • semi-rough (polohruba– the one in the picture, used for the Cherry Cake), and
  • rough (hrubá– close to semolina).

Give the recipe a try and let me know how you get on!

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 150ml vegetable oil
  • a drop of vanilla essence
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 100g plain flour
  • the zest of one Lemon
  • a couple of handfuls of frozen cherries, defrosted

Method

Don’t forget to take the cherries out of the freezer! Pre-heat the oven to 180oC.

Whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla essence, half of the sugar and the oil. Next whisk the egg whites, adding the rest of the sugar until you have ‘soft peaks’ (as though you were making meringue).

Mix together the flour and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the egg yolk mixture and fold in, adding a splash of milk until it is the consistency of thick custard.

Fold in the egg whites along with the lemon zest. The lemon smells divine!

Pour the mixture into a ceramic oven dish. Coat half of the cherries in flour so that they don’t sink too much and put them on top of the mixture, followed by the un-coated cherries.

Bake in centre of oven for 30 to 45 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting into pieces.

This wonderfully light cake can be served as a dessert with cream or with a cup of coffee.

In defence of modern parents

I introduced the lovely and talented Jane a short while ago when she shared her vegan chilli recipe with us. It was actually this parenting article which gave me the idea to ask her to write a guest blog post; she wrote it to encourage her friends on facebook but I think it definitely deserves to be shared more widely. Please do share it with parents who you know are doing a good job, we so often feel judged negatively that we could do with a little encouragement!

in defence of modern parents

So this past couple of weeks there has been an upsurge in the number of wildly overblown, emotive and derisory anti-parent fodder on Facebook and it’s beginning to drive me a little bit insane. Apparently modern parents are lazy, digitally distracted, lacking in the skills of a disciplinarian and all for an easy life as regards parenting. We are presented with black and white photos of crying children needing more from momma or graphics showing a huge phone dominating a lounge featuring sad children wanting daddy to play with them. In the same diatribes our generation’s failings are allegedly connected with the large incline in mental health problems and diagnoses of ADHD in the future generation.

So a few points to raise, factual and non confrontational, as counter arguments; The average loan to value percentage for a couple buying their first home is a whopping 82%. with the necessity to save a substantial amount for a deposit. Steps up the property ladder as families expand see mortgages soar past £200K and pretty much everyone, first time buyer or not, parent or not, is paying between £700-£1,000 per month for a mortgage and a similar amount for private rents per month. Most families now have both parents working around 37-40 hours a week and often running two cars due to the necessity to commute to find the right job. We are paying for the food, clothes and hobbies of our children. Debt is at an all time high and costs are rising all the time, particularly with the uncertainty of what will transpire economically and politically.

Fundamentally, it’s not an easy time to raise kids and despite all the accusations of lazy parenting and digital distraction lets have a think about these phenomena and re-frame these ideas in light of the above points. So full time working parents doing long hours and commuting long distances probably don’t have as much time to enjoy their kids as much as they would like to and part time workers are cramming vast amounts of work into shorter hours to prove their worth against a backdrop of sneering colleagues who envy their 2pm finishes. Those who run their own business throw heart and soul into trying to guarantee a regular and healthy income and though often working from home don’t get to benefit from the home life they are trying to sustain. We’re up against it aren’t we??

Parents are hard working human beings who have to plot hobbies and associated tournaments/exams, sports days, nativities, birthday parties, school trips. We also have to deal with unexpected illnesses and hospital trips, broken boilers, car problems and save for Christmas and birthdays. This factor hasn’t really changed to be honest over the years but what has is that because of both parents generally having to work long hours there is a very short window of time left to both accomplish the raising of healthy and well rounded children as per guide books and forums, and also the need to see our own friends and family and keep our minds healthy too.

There is constant “noise” from parenting forums, the guide books, the health visitors and the opinions of all and sundry on how we should be accomplishing this crucial task of shaping and nurturing a human and it is very bewildering and constant. It also makes it so hard to feel 100% confident in what you are doing, leading to further self-doubt.

The importance of modern parents keeping in contact with their own friends and family, the wind beneath their wings, cannot be underestimated. Especially when you think about the stress and exhaustion issues around modern parenting. Furthermore, the importance of parents having time for each other cannot be underestimated. Mental health problems in adults are rising as well as children because we are all depleted and struggling to cope.

And has ADHD really risen that dramatically in kids or was it simply not diagnosed back in the day? Were the kids labelled as “the naughty ones” and simply put in life’s Room 101? ADHD is real, it’s not a label, and physiologically the brain of a person with ADHD differs in structure and make up. It’s no-one’s “fault” and maybe statistics on this incline are not reliable because of the former lack of care and diagnosis.

As for the bad press single parents get, don’t get me started. For whoever reads this raising kids on their own I take my hat off to you, truly, because you are warriors.

Digitally distracted? To have a look at Facebook is sometimes the only time we can connect with our friends and see what they are up to, drop them a quick message and check all is well with them. It may not always be as meaningful a connection as a night out or a coffee with them but with busy diaries sometimes it is the only way. Those who love you the most will find the time for you no matter what and I am embracing the big night in these days rather than the big night out now haha! It takes weeks to find a date where all concerned are available but we get there.

When I look around and think of all my friends and acquaintances I see parents setting good examples of the work ethic, showing how you get what you want through graft and effort alone. I see parents encouraging their children to enjoy hobbies and taking them to wonderful museums, theatres, big green spaces, foreign climes and expanding their minds with these efforts. I see parents who work long hours standing on the sidelines of a football pitch through winter for more hours at the weekend when they could be relaxing!!!

For those on lower incomes just the simple things have to be enough, and those like us on a single income plus a smidge from the cakes try to find out about the free stuff and seek out the vouchers, which takes commitment and skill to find haha! My kids have visited some wonderful places though, climbed a thousand trees, swam in open waters, enjoyed roaring fires in cottages, and tried all sorts of everything from a hobby perspective and never at a great cost. But however and whatever parents are doing I see in my friendship circle that they are doing it universally well, with the greatest love and commitment. I want to say to you that if you ever doubt yourself when reading these derisory posts, to challenge your self-doubt and think about what you have done that has made your child smile and all that you have achieved on life’s hardest but most rewarding journey. I can assure you that just being there for them, in a warm environment, with a decent meal and the example of a parent or parents who work hard and love them immeasurably is enough. You are enough.

Thanks again Jane, I needed that bit of encouragement!

Fish poached in a rich tomato sauce

Poached Fish

This is a dish which I came up with a few weeks ago. I often fry fish, but I had bought some tomatoes which were disappointingly too soft for salad and needed cooking, so I decided to make a sauce to poach the fish in. A much healthier option! I had a good idea in my head of how it would turn out, but it wasn’t until I was able to smell and taste that I realised that it had a distinctly Spanish feel to it.

I used Nile Perch, quite a strong meaty fish which is pretty cheap here in Dubai (we’ve been having a low-spend January). I served it with Buckwheat cooked with mushrooms (based on this recipe), and frozen peas because I hadn’t been organised enough to get any other green veg.

This served two adults and a child with some leftover.

p.s. I made it again last night and forgot to add the spinach, it was still very yummy!

Ingredients

  • a small onion
  • a couple of cloves of garlic
  • a couple of handfuls of cherry tomatoes, halved (you could also chop larger tomatoes into chunks, I just happened to have cherry tomatoes which needed using)
  • a teaspoon of oregano
  • half a teaspoon of paprika (you can add more later to taste if you like)
  • a teaspoon of vegetable stock powder, or half a teaspoon of salt
  • frozen spinach – this is difficult to measure out because it usually comes in a big block. I banged the frozen block (while still in it’s packaging) on a hard work-surface to break it up a bit and used as close to a handful as I could.
  • a teaspoon of tomato paste
  • two pieces of a meaty fish, I used Nile Perch.

Method

It is best to make this in a large shallow pan with a lid if you have one.

Gently fry the finely chopped onion and garlic until soft. Next add the tomatoes along with the spices and stock/ salt and gently cook with the lid on the pan until the juices have come out of the tomato. Put the spinach in a jug or bowl and add just enough boiled water to cover it, when it has defrosted add the spinach and water to the tomatoes along with the tomato paste, turn the heat up and leave the lid off to allow some of the liquid to boil off (at this point I would start cooking the bulgar wheat). After about five minutes taste the sauce and add more seasoning if it is needed (this is all down to personal taste).

Turn the heat down so that the sauce is gently simmering and place pieces of fish on top of the sauce. Put the lid on and let the fish steam for about five minutes, then turn the fish over and cook for a few minutes longer. The exact cooking time will vary depending on the type and thickness of the fish; it needs to be served as soon as it is completely cooked through, if it is left much longer you risk it becoming a bit tough or rubbery.

Serve with the buckwheat and some green vegetables.

Janey’s Venerable Vegan Chilli!

Hurrah, a guest post – thanks Jane! It is so refreshing to be able to share someone else’s cooking and writing styles. I met Jane at a toddler group that I used to go to when I lived in the UK. She is a supermum (although I’m sure she doesn’t always feel like it) who has set up her own business making incredibly impressive party cakes. You can see her fabulous cakes here. This isn’t a cake recipe – I expect that she didn’t want to share her trade secrets!

I really enjoyed testing this recipe. We used smoked paprika because we couldn’t get hold of liquid smoke. The observant amongst you will also note that we missed out the sweetcorn – we were convinced that there was some at the back of the cupboard, but alas there was none. This made a huge amount of chilli – we should have invited the neighbours! I am looking forward to having it again as a freezer meal on a lazy evening.

vegan chilli

I love this “chuck it al in” chilli in January, a veg packed antidote to the over indulgence of Christmas and mercifully quick to temper one’s exhaustion at the thought of what to serve for tea (the eternal dilemma haha)! Protein rich, store cupboard friendly and super yummy with either long grain or wholegrain rice with some home-made guacamole or for vegetarians sour cream with chopped chives/grated cheese. The liquid smoke, if you can get hold of it, adds a super special magic and really does take it to a new level! Lastly, kids actually like this….all three of mine and this is a minor miracle as they all have such different tastes (I have a Venn diagram under a fridge magnet lol).

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 red and 1 yellow pepper
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into batons
  • 1 broccoli head chopped into florets
  • 1-2 tbsp of chilli powder depending on your spice threshold!
  • 1 tsp of smoked paprika or a splash of liquid smoke
  • 1 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1 tsp of oregano
  • 1 tin of chick peas
  • 1 tin of kidney beans
  • 1 tin of tomatoes (add a little veg stock if required)
  • 1 tin of sweetcorn
  • 1 tsp sugar (I would start with half a teaspoon and then add more to taste)

Method

I used a large, shallow pan with a lid.

1)  Saute the onion and garlic on a medium heat in the olive oil until starting to soften.

2)  Lower the heat and add the carrots and broccoli, plus the peppers, stir frying until they soften a little.

4)  Add the chilli powder, smoked paprika/liquid smoke, cumin and oregano and stir until the veg are thoroughly coated.

5)  Add the tomatoes and chick peas, as well the kidney beans and sweetcorn. Add the sugar and stir through.

6)  Simmer away on a low heat until the veg are cooked through but still a little al-dente and the liquid in the tomato base sauce has thickened (if it is still a little watery add some diluted cornflour to thicken at the last minute or add more liquid if vice versa…either another tin of toms or veg stock).

Serve as suggested above and enjoy!

vegan chilli

Mum’s Vegetable Pie

This is the delicious vegetable pie made by my mum, which I alluded to in my Bread and Butter Pudding post. It used up all the vegetables we had in the fridge, along with pastry and cheese which were left over from making New Year party snacks. A great using-up meal, and a special treat since I didn’t have to cook that evening (thanks mum!).

What is your favourite recipe for using up Christmas and New Year leftovers?

vegetable pie

Ingredients

  • one leek 
  • one carrot
  • a handful of mushrooms 
  • a handful of green beans
  • a splash of cream
  • a couple of spoons of cream cheese (we used a Middle Eastern cream cheese called Labneh, it is similar to Philadelphia cheese)
  • a small handful of hard cheese (we used stilton)
  • one egg
  • a sheet of puff pastry

Method

Saute the leeks and mushrooms together in oil or butter for a few minutes. Next blanch the carrots and beans and combine all the vegetables in a bowl  with cream, cream cheese and crumbled stilton. When this mixture is cool, stir in the beaten egg (it would be good to keep a little bit of the egg to one side to brush the pastry with).

Lay out the pastry on a baking tray and put the filling on one half (leaving space around the edge to seal the pastry parcel). Brush the edges with milk or egg and then fold the pastry over so that it has a lid and press down the edges with a fork. Brush with egg or milk and top with a grind of salt.
Bake at 180oC for approximately half an hour.

vegetable pie