Feeding Friends

Let me tell you the story of why the microwave permanently smells of burnt garlic. Once upon a time I thought it would be a good idea to test ALL of my recipe books…

How to feed your friends with relish aims to take the fear and stress out of cooking for friends; whether it’s a full on dinner party or helping out during a difficult time by popping round with something nice. There are plenty of helpful tips on what to cook, how to create the right atmosphere etc. Definitely one of those books that leaves you hankering after a particular lifestyle. However, I’m wondering how rigorously the recipes were tested.

A quick pea soup with ‘blasted’ garlic (perfect for feeding unexpected guests), asks you to microwave a bulb of garlic for 5 minutes until ‘soft and mellowed’. After 1.5 mins the kitchen was filled with acrid smoke as the papery outer skin did its best to burst into flames. The garlic itself was burnt and hard. And to this very day, the microwave stinks of burning garlic.

How to Feed Your Friends with Relish by Joanna Weinberg. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007.

A pea-souper

Why did you buy it?

Can’t remember. Probably because it has menus in it, I’m a sucker for menus.

Judge a book by its cover…

Classy. Nice size, nice illustrations, lovely thick paper. Very middle-class-younger-person-with-taste, which I’m assuming is the target audience.

Do you use it?

Not a great deal. The parts about entertaining are great, in reality the recipes often disregard her own advice and are more fussy and time consuming than necessary. A lot of the time there will be ingredients that at least one member of the family will veto, and after the fiasco with the microwaved garlic I’m treating other recipes with extreme caution.

What did you make?

Well. Pea soup… actually there were other issues with the recipe, there is no way that 500ml of stock is going to make enough soup for four. Other than that, it was nice. Then we tried a cottage pie, tarted up with the addition of chorizo. Not bad, but nothing special.

Sausage meat and cabbage casserole was really nice, but again there were issues with the amount of fluids, this time way too much. There were also some flapjacks, which were pretty good. Oh yeah! I forgot about the steak sandwiches, they were lovely.

Is it still in print?

Not sure, but copies are available in print or via Kindle.

Is it worth buying?

Hmm. It’s a nice book. I would recommend it to experienced cooks, who know when and where to make adjustments, and who want to entertain more; otherwise not really. I will be keeping my copy though.

Egg Free Cakes – Part 2: Vinegar cake

Vinegar seems like a strange ingredient in a cake, doesn’t it? One of the many roles of egg as an addition to cake batter is to help the cake rise properly, giving a lighter texture than an eggless cake. Here the vinegar combines with the bicarbonate of soda to give the batter enough oomph to rise.

You honestly can’t taste the vinegar, there’s just a slight malty flavour to the crumb. Trust me!

Vinegar Cake

  • 225g (8oz) butter
  • 450g (1lb) plain flour
  • 225g mixed dried fruit (sultanas and raisins work well)
  • 225g (8oz) light soft brown sugar
  • 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 300ml (1/2 pint) milk
  • 3 tbsp malt vinegar

Preheat oven to 200/ 180 fan/ gas mark 4. Grease and line a round or square 9″ (23cm) cake tin.

Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the fruit and sugar.

Sprinkle the soda into the milk, then add the vinegar. It will froth up. While it’s still frothing, add to the dry ingredients and mix well.

Turn into the cake tin and bake for 30 mins. Then reduce the temperature to 170/ 150 fan/ gas mark 3. Continue cooking until the cake is firm to the touch and a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean. If the top starts to burn before the cake is done, cover with a piece of baking paper (not foil).

Cool in the tin for 30 mins, finish cooling on a wire rack.

Malt vinegar is made from ale whch is allowed to become vinegar.

Egg Free Cakes – Part 1: Honey Cake

Lockdown. It could have been worse; though, I daresay for many of us It coud have been better. Still, plenty of time for baking right? IF you can get the ingredients of course. A combination of panic buying, and people having nothing better to do than make banana bread, has left the shelves a little bare. I mean, I’m all for people discovering the joys of homebaking, though there is a slight feeling of “hey, I liked baking before it was cool!”

Supposing you have managed to grab the last bag of flour, but what’s this? No eggs! Who is panic buying eggs anyway? If you look online there are various suggestions, often on vegan sites, for alternatives to eggs. Try them if you want, but I always find that recipes that never used ‘X’ ingredient in the first place always turn out (and taste) much better than adapting an existing recipe with alternatives.

So I’m going to share my two favourite egg-free cake recipes: Victorian Honey Cake – also low fat (but not low sugar, you can’t have everything) – and Vinegar Fruit Cake, which is a lot nicer than it sounds, the vinegar just adds a pleasant maltiness.

The honey cake is an adaptation of a recipe found in the first edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. We like to have it for breakfast. The original recipe calls for cream rather than buttermilk, I have tried it this way, but it’s very dry. Milk also works, if you can’t get hold of buttermilk, both give a nice chewy texture. Use any kind of honey; I like to use a mild honey for the cake, then while it’s still warm from the oven, brush liberally with a stronger tasting honey (Greek, for example). Cut the cake into squares, fingers, or use a cutter to stamp out fancy shapes (keep those lovely trimmings to eat sneakily while no one’s looking).

Victorian Honey cake

  • 4oz (120g) caster sugar
  • 8floz (230ml) buttermilk
  • 10oz (300g) plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbinate of soda
  • 4tbsp honey
  • More honey for glazing

Grease and line a square 9″ cake tin. Preheat oven to 190/ 170 fan/ gas mark 4.

Mix the sugar and cream together in a large bowl. Sift in the flour and soda and fold into the mixture.

Mix in the honey, and scrape the mixture into the tin.

Bake for around 30 mins (but check after 20), or until the top is a light golden brown and a skewer poked in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 mins, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Spread the top generously with more honey while still warm.

Honey bees typically produce 2-3 times more honey than they actually need.