cheating cassoulet

Hailing from the south of Britain, I’m often exposed to a particular attitude to things that are French. A lot of Brits seem to have a kind of “prettiest girl in school” attitude to France and things French; a perculiar mix of simultaneously hating everything about it and wanting to be exactly the same ourselves. French food does not escape this weird faux dichotomy. It is considered the pinacle of sophistication and taste, and at exactly the same time far too much of a faff.

Cassoulet is a case in point. A proper cassoulet is simmered for hours on the stove top, and is rich and thick with meat. French women only manage to avoid getting fat by not actually eating any. I have a figure to watch, and while I adore cooking I’m not actually that keen on doing nothing but watch a cassoulet all day. There is a middle way. I share with you the Hairy Bikers’ special cassoulet. It uses tinned butter beans and cannellini beans to reduce the cooking times, and cuts the calories through clever choices of cuts of meat. The recipe is attached for those who are tempted.

cheating cassolet


dinner rolls

These were the must have sophisticated dinner plate accessory of yesteryear. The recipe I used recommended using a mixer with a dough hook. I had a brief tussle with myself over whether using a mixer was defeating the purpose of my vintage cooking experiments. Then I remembered that I’m using an electric oven, a plastic mixing bowl and digital scales, so it is completely pointless to suddenly determine I shouldn’t use a mixer.

As it happens, I should have stuck to hand kneading. The dough was so thick it burnt out the motor. Clearly I am using (or was using) a less powerful mixer than Paul Hollywood has access to. I finished off the kneading by hand, which I am starting to get good at. I’m still struggling with the shaping of the rolls. They should be nice, neat little balls. I end up with something that is sort of vaguely round. ish. I also tried to cut a cross in the top, but that disappeared when they were rising. I think I should have cut it a bit deeper.

dinner rolls

These might not meet the standards of a Downton Abbey dinner table, but they will do us nicely.


cottage loaf

A traditional cottage loaf is unmistakable, the ultimate vintage style bread. It’s got a really distinctive shape of small sphere on top of large sphere. Google images provided these pictures for anyone who might know it by another name:

loaf 1loaf 2loaf 3

Mine started out looking like this, when I shaped it and left it to rise. By the time it came out of the oven, it looked like this:

failed loaf

I have no idea what happened. It seems to have spread out and flattened. This one really does look like some kind of sea creature nicked my loaf and curled up for a nap on the baking tray in its place.

Luckily it tastes pretty good. I tore it into chunks and served it with a cheating cassolet (but that’s for another post).

Barm cakes

Barm is the froth that gathers of the top of ale as it’s being brewed, and used to be used to make soft rolls. I’m pretty sure my take on barm cakes is about as far from the orginal as you can get, and is an object lesson in planning your baking. There is no leaving the house when the 6 Nations Rugby finals are on, so I thought I would spend a little time between matches doing some baking.

I’d already started when I realised I only had half the amount of yeast needed in the house (instant yeast at that, rather than ale-brewed barm) and no butter or caster sugar. I substituted ghee for butter and icing sugar for caster sugar. The rising bread dough smelled exactly like cake, which was not promising. Despite the name, barm cakes are supposed to be savoury rolls, not sweet cakey rolls.

They are shaped differently from the way I usually make rolls (i.e. roll into a ball, leave to rise). This time they were shaped into balls, rested for 30 minutes, then rolled out flat. I think they were supposed to rise into lovely light rolls. Mine just stayed flat. Still, I stuck them in the oven for 10 minutes anyway. The result?

barm cakes

My husband’s comment was “they look like something from out of the ocean”. I choose to interpret that as “they look like sea smoothed pebbles” rather than “krakens have emerged from our oven”. Despite the lack of yeast, they were still fairly light and airy. I took them to the in-laws as our contribution to a family meal, and they all disappeared. One chap ate three, so they must have been alright.


Chocolate, prune and cranberry pudding

cranberry, prune and chocolate pud

This is an adapted “Great British Pudding Club” recipe, and oh my, is it scrummy! This is baked pudding, consisting of a chocolate sponge floating over a chocolate sauce. The link below takes you to the pudding club website (including an array of pudding recipes available for free)

The original recipe has a sponge mix with added cocoa and chopped prunes. As I didn’t have enough prunes in the cupboard, I substituted half of the chopped prunes for dried cranberries. I’ve not tried mixing chocolate, prunes and cranberry before, but it was a winning combination. The sharpness of the cranberries complimented the smooth taste of the prunes, and blends fantastically with dark chocolate.

The recipe calls for a sauce made from melting dark chocolate together with water and sugar. The sauce is poured into the bottom of a deep baking dish (I used a casserole dish). The recipe says “place the sponge mix on top of the sauce and level out”. The first dollop of the sponge mix sank. So did the second. I didn’t hold out much hope that this was going to be a success, as I tried to smooth out the top of the sponge mix laced with splashes of watery chocolate.

A hour in the oven made a world of difference. The sponge mix turned into a rich chocolate cake, and when I spooned out a lump, the sauce bubbled up rich and creamy.

choc pudding with sauce

It’s not a great photo (none of the photos on this blog are!) but hopefully you can see just how moist the pudding was. It even reheated well the next day.



Flatbreads continue to impress me with their easiness. These were even easier than the naan and pitta breads as they have no yeast. These were wholewheat flour, water, salt and olive oil, mixed and left to rest for half an hour. Then it’s just a case of rolling them out, and giving them a couple of minutes in a hot frying pan.

cooking chapati

They are probably best served hot, but they were OK the next day too.

Italian women don’t get fat…

…how? I don’t know, especially if they always eat like we did tonight. This dish was rich and sweet, in the style of northern Italian pasta dishes. The sauce was made with milk but tasted like cream. The recipe recommended seasoning heavily with nutmeg, but I used cinnamon and ginger instead. This is less to do with culinary creativity and more to do with a forgetful moment when I was doing the shopping. However, it worked very nicely as a substitute for nutmeg if you find yourself similarly compromised in the spice department.

Squash, sausage and sage pasta bake

sausage ballssquash and sausage bake

I fried nutmeg-sized balls of sausage meat (the irony) with a generous helping of chopped sage. I mixed them with some butternut squash, which I had “baked” in the microwave for 13 minutes. The rest of the “baked” squash I mashed, and added to a white sauce along with grated parmasan and a generous seasoning of ground ginger and cinnamon. As you can see above, I put the sausage, sage and squash into a large baking dish. I added cooked pasta (shell shapes) then poured the white sauce over the top. I topped with some mozerella then baked for 30 minutes.

Far, far too fattening to be a regular feature on our dinner table, but I enjoyed it hugely.