Thursday 4 August 2016

Of Bakes and Cakes

For the past two weeks I've had visitors and it's been marvellous fun. For the most part their holiday involved exploring my island home by foot, bike and canoe, with the odd emergency use of the tiny bus, as well as relaxing on the beach and messing around in the sea. My brother had built himself a fishing rod, Roo had a million questions, and the Contrary Ladies Trio had plenty of conversation about life, love and poetry. Inevitably there was a lot of wine, rum and beer at various stages of the visit...not to mention a bit of dancing. They also seemed to appreciate the sunny weather after the summer back in the UK. I hear it's quite bad.

Domino's? No
As regular readers will know, the contrary team and various associates can sleep, dream, and conjecture about food for hours. Kim and I trod-water for about an hour just talking cake - my perfect idea of aqua-aerobics. And we had an officially qualified chef to bamboozle with recipe jiggling and fridge specials. My brother is a massive foodie and enjoyed working with the many wonderful ingredients available but there were times when he just wanted to nap, so left me in charge. He did teach me some cheffy things like what a  beurre rouge was, and the posh term for cubes of tomato.

No I can't remember what it was. And in return he made me promise to write the recipe for the Dalmatian inspired meat and polenta bake which he had four helpings of. So here goes:

Clare's Dalmatian Bake (serves 4 - 6)

First check the fridge for random items of interest and make adjustments. Sniff the open bottle of chilled red wine and taste a glassful just to make sure it's ok. Take half a large onion and chop finely. Fry off in local olive oil with plenty of garlic and some cubes of smoked cooking prsut. Add 500g of pork/beef mixed mince and brown off thoroughly. Add a glug of the wine, plenty of pepper, a bay leaf or 3 (if you have any left over from the experimental burning bay leaves to see what happens trick) plenty of Dalmatian mixed herbs, and a tin of chopped tomatoes,a rinse of the tin with water, a squeeze of tomato puree and a beef stock cube. Mix thoroughly and let it bubble until it is thick, tasty and making everyone's mouth water.

In the meantime, take the 8 pale green peppers that you were actually going to stuff with the mince mixture. Realise one of them is dodgy, 2 are too small, and the other one went in a salad so decide to chargrill them instead. Heat the grill. Deseed, rinse and dry, and cut into quarters. Place on a tray skin-side up and drizzle with olive oil and place under the heat. Shut the oven door and proceed to forget about them until smoke is pouring out. Turn them over. Once they are fairly black but deliciously soft, leave to cool slightly and gently peel off the crispy skin.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

Polenta is still a bit of an alchemical process - I blame the wine, bay leaves and golden colour. I googled it wanting the ultimate recipe and found a hysterically precious blog on the perfect polenta. Apparently forget everything you ever believed about it being a quick dish and start making it the night before.


I poured about 250g of sunny loveliness into a pan, added an amount of cold water and milk, with a sprig of rosemary, salt, and more bay leaves. Stir and abandon til it starts to get warm and demanding. Stir more. Boil the kettle and add more hot water as and when it looks a bit firm. Eventually - about 35 mins -  it is a smooth, thick paste. Taste, add more seasoning, a load of grated cheese and some crème fraiche and Dijon mustard. Stir and it should be the consistency of a good soft mash. Remove rosemary and bay if you remember.

Then panic that your glass dish is too large and ask the opinion of the chef. His sceptical face says it all. Panic some more and have a glass of wine.

Pour the meat into the tray and spread out - it was about 2 inches deep in the end. Spread out the peppers across the meat. Top with the polenta mix and spread out evenly. Top with more cheese, breadcrumbs, paprika and pop in in the oven until the polenta is soufflé-like and ragu underneath bubbly. If you can wrest some basil from the naughty cricket, tear some leaves over it as you bring to the table; serve with a salad you forgot to make, what's left of the red wine.

It's pretty good.

The other recipe I tried today was very successful. My cake making is definitely improving but only because I'm not limiting myself to the usual butter, sugar, flour and eggs with which my gran used to miraculously conjure into fluffy sponges. Mine are always disastrously greasy and crunchy .

Mediterranean Upside Down Fruit Cake

Whisk - and I mean really whisk - together 3 eggs and 100g of sugar until they are foamy and creamy. Use a machine if you have to, or just enjoy the hard work. Once you are sure, keep beating and start adding 70ml olive oil as if you were making mayo, one dribble at a time so it turns glossy, whilst remaining aerated. The recipe I adapted suggests using a light olive oil but I prefer the rich fruity flavour of the extra virgin single press local stuff. I want my sponge impolite and gutsy. Add 90g of flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, and a good pinch of ground sea salt. Fold in until smooth. In future, I would also add a dash of almond essence to this.

Slice a ripe peach and arrange on the base of your oiled baking dish. Sprinkle over a sachet of vanilla sugar. Again, I would add flaked toasted almonds for extra crunch. Pour over the batter and place in the pre heated to 160 degree oven. Bake for about 50mins - a skewer will come out clean. Turn out so the peaches decorate the top. The texture is incredibly light, moist yet robust.

Who's coming here next?!

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