Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Brolli Bake

Today started badly, but ended well. James has really got one on over the last few days; whinging, shrieking, clinging to me, you name it. I was at my wits' end by lunchtime, but was thankfully saved by a text message from a girlfriend inviting us all to join a group going to the park for the afternoon. I took a cake along with us, a(nother) variation on my standard Tea Loaf recipe, this time a Date & Walnut version which I'm very pleased with. It's so nice to be able to experiment on one's friends, but they're used to it, and cake never goes amiss, I find!

Date & Walnut Tea Loaf

I cannot urge you strongly enough to start making these. They are incredibly simple, have so many possible variations and it's so nice always to have a homemade cake knocking around somewhere. They pack up well for a picnic or a moveable feast with children - remember to take a knife to slice it!

300ml strong tea
250g pack chopped dried dates, 'slab' broken up
1 large egg, beaten
250g self-raising flour
125g caster sugar
80g walnuts, chopped
demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Soak the dates in the tea overnight. Stir the beaten egg into the fruit-and-tea mixture, then beat in the flour and sugar. Fold in the walnut pieces, then turn the batter uinto a greased and floured 1lb loaf tin. Sprinkle a little demerara sugar over the top. Bake at 160°c for 1 hour 15 minutes, covering the cake with foil after 40 minutes to stop the top from over-browning. Cool the cake in the tin. For the very best result, wrap the cooled cake in foil and leave it to mature in an airtight tin for a couple of days before eating it.

Dinner tonight was a pasta bake - yay! We got a small cauliflower and a small head of broccoli in last week's vegetable box, so I combined them with some pasta and cheese sauce for a delicious twist on good old cauliflower cheese (which I anyway prefer with a mixture of cauli and broc).

Brolli-flower Cheese Pasta Bake

Yes, I know you're not supposed to mix metric and imperial measurements, but I do it all the time and no bad comes of it really. Our milk comes in pint bottles, after all!

150g dried penne pasta
small head of cauliflower
small head of broccoli
50g butter
40g plain flour
1 tsp English mustard powder
1 pint milk
Cheddar cheese, grated
Parmesan cheese, grated

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling, salted water. Add the cauliflower and broccoli florets for the last 5 minutes. Drain and tip the mixture into a large ovenproof dish.

Meanwhile, put the butter, flour and mustard powder into a large saucepan. Add the milk then bring to the boil, whisking constantly. When the sauce thickens, remove from the heat and whisk in a handful of grated Cheddar. Pour the sauce over the pasta and vegetables in the dish, then scatter over another handful of Cheddar and a couple of tablespoons of Parmesan. Pop the dish into a 200°c oven for 10-15 minutes to brown the top. Lovely!

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