Monday, 31 May 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Marble Cake

I always used to love making marble cake as a child.  My Mom showed me how to dollop drops of chocolate batter on top of white cake batter and then swirl them in with a knife.  The marble effect this created through the cake used to fascinate me.  When I grew up and moved to England, I noticed a distinct lack of marble cake, so I began to make my own.  This recipe is really easy and makes one of our favourite cakes here in the 21st Century Household - especially for birthdays. 

This recipe makes two eight inch layers, so you will need two pans.  It’s easiest to make it in an electric mixer, but if you don’t have one, you can use a spoon.  You just need strong arms!

3/4 cup butter, softened
1-1/2 cups caster sugar
4 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup plus 1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons cocoa powder (NOT drinking chocolate)

Preheat oven to 350 or 160.  Grease and flour or line two eight inch round pans.

Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat together. 

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt and baking powder.  Gently blend this mixture into the buttery eggy mixture - if using an electric mixer keep it on low to avoid being covered in flour!  Now add the 1 cup of milk and blend until the mixture is smooth.

At this point, remove about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of batter from the mixture and place it in a small bowl.  Divide the rest of the batter between the two baking pans. 

Sift the cocoa powder into the batter in the small bowl and blend in.  Using the 1/4 cup of milk, gradually add the milk, a bit at a time, until the batter is a nice consistency (preferably the same consistency as the mixture already in the baking pans).

Now dollop the chocolate mixture over the top of the batter in the baking pans, about three dollops per pan.  Gently run a knife from one side of the pan through the other, cutting the chocolate and vanilla mixture together.  You want to see streaks of chocolate through the vanilla - don’t over-blend.

Place the pans in the oven and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until a piece of dried spaghetti inserted into the centre of the cake layers comes out clean. 

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for about ten minutes.  Remove from the pans and cool on wire racks.  When completely cold, the layers can be frosted and sandwiched together to make a two layer cake.  It’s lovely iced with either chocolate or vanilla icing, but I use vanilla the most - and I have to confess it is often made by Betty Crocker!

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Sweet Freedom

I came across all sorts of really interesting products at The Real Food Festival in London earlier this month, but the one that impressed me most was Sweet Freedom, a totally natural alternative to sugar. Developed by two foodie friends, Tina Michelucci and Deborah Pyner, this great tasting product has 25% fewer calories than sugar.  

I met Tina Michelucci at The Real Food Festival and she explained that Sweet Freedom has only three ingredients – apples, grapes and carob.  No chemicals are used in production and it is GM and gluten free.  Its ingredients make it suitable for vegetarians and vegans and it has a low glycaemic load, making it suitable for diabetics as part of a healthy diet.  Tina also mentioned that Sweet Freedom can be used anywhere sugar can - from sweetening coffee, tea and cereal to baking.  You can make salad dressings, marinades, jams and chutneys with it - you can even spread it on toast.

There are two types of Sweet Freedom, mild and rich. I tasted both at the festival, and have been using the rich variety at home over the past few weeks.  The mild version reminded me of wildflower honey with a light, sweet taste and the rich version has a flavour that is reminiscent of toffee.

Sweet Freedom is the first ever sweetener to win Gold at the Great Taste Awards.  Both products won Gold in two separate categories
.  It also has a number of high profile fans including Raymond Blanc, who is now serving Sweet Freedom as an alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners on the tables and using it in his kitchens at the world renowned Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. 

I wondered how Sweet Freedom would perform in my favourite recipes but Tina, who is also a keen cook, assured me that it works very well.  If a recipe calls for 100 grams of sugar she suggests using 75 grams of Sweet Freedom and keeping the oven temperature to a maximum of 180℃ to see great results. 

Masterchef finalist Joy Skipper and food writer Suzie Banks are both fans of Sweet Freedom too.  Suzie has developed a delicious recipe for Pecan Pie made from Sweet Freedom and gluten free flours turning this American classic into a much healthier treat.  (Photograph and recipe reproduced with permission.)

Pecan Pie
Serves 8

75g Quinoa Flour
75g Rice Flour
35g Ground Almonds
65g Unsalted Butter, cut into small cubes
20g Sweet Freedom natural sweetener (Mild)
1/4 Tsp Gluten Free Baking Powder
1 Medium Egg Yolk (reserve the white)
25ml Cold Water

25g Unsalted Butter, melted
250g Sweet Freedom natural syrup (Rich)
2 Medium Eggs
1/2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
Finely Grated Zest of 1/2 Lemon
125g Pecan Halves, lightly toasted

To make the pastry, place the quinoa flour, rice flour and ground almonds in a bowl and using clean fingertips, rub the butter into the flours until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir through the baking powder and then add the Sweet Freedom, egg yolk and cold water, cut through the flour mixture with a knife and then use your hands to bring the pastry together into a ball.

Put the ball of pastry on top of a sheet of cling film and then place another sheet of cling film over the top. Roll out the pastry, in between the two sheets of cling film, into a large circle, just a little bigger than a shallow tart tin measuring 20cm (8”) in diameter and 2.5cm (1”) deep.

Peel off the top layer of cling film, slide your hand underneath the bottom layer of pastry and carefully flip it over onto the tart tin. Keeping the cling film on the pastry press it into the tin. Peel off the cling film and finish lining the tin. Trim any excess pastry and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170/ Fan 150.

Line the pastry case with baking parchment and baking beans and bake blind for 20 minutes. Remove the beans and baking parchment.

Brush the inside of the case with some of the reserved egg white - this helps to seal the pastry. Bake for another 5 minutes.

Make the filling whilst the pastry is cooking. Mix together the melted butter and Sweet Freedom then whisk in the eggs, vanilla extract and lemon zest.

Roughly chop about half of the pecans and sprinkle them over the base of the pastry case. Pour over the filling then arrange the remaining pecan halves on the top and carefully push them into the filling so they are coated with the syrup.

Return to the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and is set in the centre. Leave to cool before removing from the tin.

For more recipes using Sweet Freedom, please click hereSweet Freedom is now available in all large Tesco stores in the free from/sugar aisle,, in the free from aisle in some Waitrose stores, at, Whole Foods Kensington, Fresh & Wild, Planet Organic and all quality health food stores, delis and farm shops nationwide.  Also available at

The 21st Century Housewife has not been paid for this post.  

Monday, 24 May 2010

National Vegetarian Week

This week is National Vegetarian Week, an annual awareness campaign promoting the benefits of a meat-free lifestyle and healthy, delicious vegetarian food.  Since 1992, the Vegetarian Society have celebrated National Vegetarian Week with events, cookery demonstrations and competitions and even discounts and special offers on products for vegetarians.  Their website offers lots of resources for vegetarians, those considering a vegetarian lifestyle and even non-vegetarians like me who are concerned about how what we eat impacts not just our own health, but the health of our planet.  

Although I do eat meat, like many others, my family and I are trying to eat less of it and actively support initiatives like Meatless Monday.  Whether you are vegetarian or not, the National Vegetarian Week and the Vegetarian Society websites are great resources for delicious, healthy recipes.  I urge you to celebrate National Vegetarian Week with even just one meat free meal.  With all the lovely vegetables that are available this time of year, it is a great time to do it.  Why not try my Risotto Primavera, featuring lovely in-season asparagus?

The 21st Century Housewife's Risotto Primavera
Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
320 grams of risotto rice (Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone)
1 glass dry white wine
1 litre of vegetable stock (I made mine from cubes)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup of frozen peas
a couple of good handfuls of asparagus spears, washed, each one cut in two or three pieces
1 handful of grated vegetarian cheddar cheese

Take the peas out of the freezer, measure out one cupful and leave them on the side to thaw out a bit.  Heat the oil over medium heat in a saute pan or fairly deep frying pan (in a pinch you can use a large saucepan for this as well).  Gently saute the onion until it is beginning to soften, but not brown.  Stir in the risotto rice until it is well mixed with the onion and coated with oil. 

Pour in the glass of wine and stir gently until it is absorbed.  Now you can begin adding the stock, a few ladles full at a time, stirring each one in until it is absorbed.   This will take at least fifteen to twenty minutes. Don’t be tempted to crank up the heat too much, you have to be patient with this dish.  When cooking risotto the burner should never be turned up beyond medium heat. 

Meanwhile, steam the asparagus over boiling water (or cook in the microwave) for two to three minutes until just tender.  Drain, set aside and keep warm.

As soon as the last ladleful of stock has been absorbed, turn the heat back a bit and stir in the cheese and the frozen peas until the cheese has melted.  After a couple of minutes gently stir in the steamed asparagus. 

Serve on warmed plates or in warmed bowls.  

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Apricot and Almond Loaf Cake

The wonderful flavour combination of apricots and almonds makes this cake almost sinfully delicious.  It’s seriously moist, so it is best if you can make it the day before and allow it to rest overnight before slicing into it.  (It tastes even better after it has sat for a while.)  However, every time I make this it smells so good while it is cooking I find myself cutting into it when it is still warm.  It tends to crumble and make a bit of a mess if you do that but it is so worth it because it tastes absolutely ambrosial - if I do say so myself! Actually, even when it has cooled, this tends to be a very crumbly cake so I always use a very sharp knife to cut it.  Sadly it is definitely not low-calorie, but I comfort myself with the thought that dried fruit and nuts are really very good for you!   

1¾ cups all purpose flour
¼ cup ground almonds
¾ cup white sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ tsp salt
¾ cup chopped dried apricots (ready to eat ones)
1 cup desiccated coconut
¾ cup chopped almonds
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup oil or melted butter, cooled a bit
1 cup buttermilk or milk
1 teaspoon almond extract

Mix the flour, ground almonds, sugar, baking powder, dried apricots and coconut together in a large bowl.

In another bowl or large pitcher mix together the eggs, oil or melted butter, buttermilk or milk and almond extract.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones all at once and stir thoroughly to blend. 

Pour into a large (2 lb) greased and floured or lined loaf tin, or you can divide the mixture between two smaller ones.  Bake at 350 or about 170 (160 fan) for 40 to 50 minutes (30 to 40 minutes if you use smaller loaf tins) or until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. 

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Spicy Sausage Pasta

This is a really quick, easy and economical recipe - but the key to it is to use really good, meaty sausages or good quality vegetarian ones.  This is real comfort food, and kids love it because of the wagon wheel pasta shapes. If you can't get them though, it also works just fine with penne.

To serve four people you need:-

8 sausages
1 tablespoon olive oil + a bit more for drizzling the sausages
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 - 400 gram (14 oz) can of chopped tomatoes
¼ cup red wine
½ teaspoon garlic salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ to ½ teaspoon chili powder
¼ cup pimento stuffed olives, sliced
8 ounces of Rotellini (wagon wheel) pasta

Preheat oven to 375℉ or 190℃.  Place the sausages in a roasting tin and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, turning once, until no pink remains inside.  Remove from the oven, cover with foil and keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and sauté gently until it begins to go translucent.  Add the tomatoes, red wine and seasonings.  Simmer over medium to low heat for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions.  Slice the sausages in fairly thin slices.

When the pasta is done, drain it and return it to the pan.

Add the olives to the sauce.  Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if necessary.  (If you like things really spicy you might want more chilli powder.)  Add the sausages and heat everything through.  Pour the sauce over the pasta and stir gently to coat.

Serve in warmed bowls.

Monday, 17 May 2010

And What, Pray Tell, Is This?

It looks like a strawberry without its distinctive shape - or maybe an oversize raspberry.

Not surprisingly then, these are called Strasberries.  No, I'm not playing an April Fool's joke over a month late, they really are!

Originally grown in South America, Strasberries are actually genetically a variety of wild strawberry, but are called a Strasberries because of their flavour.  Grown in Holland, the Strasberry was saved from extinction by Dutch farmers about seven years ago and is now being marketed in the United Kingdom by the Waitrose chain of supermarkets.

Originally priced at £3.99, the berries are being sold at £2.99 now on special offer. This still seems very expensive for 125 grams, in reality barely a cupful once they have their stems removed and are ready to serve.

This is not Waitrose first foray into the realms of speciality berries.  Earlier this year they marketed Pineberries, another strawberry variety.  It was white with red seeds and very distinctive in appearance.  I never did get round to trying them as they were not on sale in my local Waitrose branch, but I heard and read very mixed reviews as to how they tasted.

As for Strasberries, they do taste very nice.  Their flavour is very delicate, not unexpectedly a cross between the flavour of strawberries and raspberries.  They are a bit more watery than strawberries, but not unpleasantly so.  They would be fun to serve at a dinner party, but you would need at least two packages to serve four people - in fact I would want to have three just to be safe and at £2.99 for each very tiny package that could make things rather expensive.  They are one of those things that may well end up being used as more of a garnish than a main event because they are so dear.

They may be a conversation piece, but I don't think they are going to be the new "it" berry this year.  There are those in the press who would disagree with me and some folks are even predicting that they will be more popular than strawberries at Wimbledon, but I'll be very surprised if I see them there.  Strawberries and cream are so much a part of that iconic tournament, I think the Strasberry might well be an unwanted interloper, especially as they are not grown in Britain.  Let's face it, most places in the world can grown their own varieties of strawberries and raspberries. At the moment Strasberries are only grown in Holland.  Do we really want to create markets for products that have so many food miles attached to them?

It's a tricky question, and as I have been known to buy air freighted produce out of season (I have a serious asparagus addiction), I don't like to preach to others about issues like this.  But I wonder why Waitrose, who are known in the industry for sourcing local products for local stores, are trying to create demand for something that is really not at all local and has a fairly large carbon footprint due to the fact it has to be shipped so far.  Perhaps they really do just want to give us a taste of something different as they say on the packaging.

If you get a chance to try Strasberries, by all means do, but I would not go out of my way to get them.  I'd be just as happy with some nice local strawberries or raspberries to be honest.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Sausage, Pesto and Asparagus Pasta

The other night I had some beautiful fresh pork and caramelised onion sausages and some fresh asparagus to use for dinner.  This is the dish that evolved from those two ingredients and various other things I had on hand.  I love inventing dishes like this, especially when they turn out as delicious as this one did!

You could easily make this recipe suitable for vegetarians by omitting the sausage and adding a few more mushrooms instead. 

Serves 3 to 4 adults generously

3 or 4 leeks, topped, tailed and cut in thin slices, washed and drained
a handful of your favourite mushrooms, sliced
1 large bunch asparagus, washed and trimmed, each piece cut in half
2 tablespoons olive oil (or other cooking oil such as sunflower or Canola)
6 good quality sausages
2 to 3 generous tablespoons basil pesto (I used Sacla brand)
2 generous tablespoons low fat crème fraîche or sour cream
8 ounces pasta
(I used Fiorelli shaped pasta but penne, rigatoni or just about any pasta shape would be fine.)

Put the sausages in an oven safe dish, drizzle with a bit of the olive oil and place in the oven at about 350 or 180.  Cook for about half an hour until no pink remains inside, turning half way through. 

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil over low heat in a large frying pan.  Add the leeks and cook slowly until they begin to soften.

Stir in the mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring occasionally. 

When the sausages are nearly done, cook the pasta according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.  Boil or steam the asparagus for two to three minutes.  Drain and set aside. 

Remove the sausages from the oven, and using a fork and sharp knife, cut them in half inch slices. 

Add the sausages to the leeks and mushrooms, along with the pesto and crème fraîche.  Stir in the asparagus.

Very gently add the cooked pasta and stir to coat with the sauce.  Serve on warmed plates or in warmed bowls. 

Guest Post at Momtrends

I have done a guest over at Momtrends so please do go and visit this interesting and informative site.  Offering trends and tips for living a fashionable and fabulous life, Nicole has one of the top mom blogs on the web.

CSN Stores Giveaway Winner

The winner of the $25 CSN Stores Gift Certificate which can be used at any one of CSN's online stores is entry number 90, Vickie Walther from New York State.  Congratulations Vickie!  I've passed your email address to CSN so they can send the gift certificate directly to you.

Thanks to everyone for your entries!

Winner was chosen by random number generator.
The 21st Century Housewife was not paid for this post.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The 21st Century Housewife’s© Rum and Raisin Cake

This is one of those cakes that really isn't pretty.  Reminiscent of gingerbread, it's just a good, honest cake that tastes fantastic with a cup of tea or coffee.  It has the potential to be a very adult cake if you want it to be, with lashings of delicious rum, but if you prefer, you can just leave the rum out.  It still tastes amazing.  Only in that case I think you need to call it Raisin Spice Cake to avoid worrying anyone!

I was inspired to make this by my Great Auntie Margaret's Spice Cake which I made as part of my Family Food History and Recipe Project.  She got the spicing just right in her cake, so I thought it would be a great starting point for something with a few more ingredients in it - and as I had some rather lovely raisins (really plump, juicy ones) - I decided to work with those.

My recipe is a bit easier than my Great Auntie Margaret's, mainly because I have access to a lot of modern conveniences that she didn't - like an electric mixer for starters.  So I've been able to tweak her method so you don't have to do quite as much stirring and it is a whole heck of a lot quicker.

Although as I mentioned before, this is not a beautiful cake, it tastes almost ambrosial with a bit of good vanilla ice cream or some whipped cream.  If its lack of aesthetics really bothers you, you can always dredge it in icing sugar.  Or you could frost it - but if you do, you are on your own - this is one rich cake all by itself - heaven knows what trouble you could get into if you frosted it!  But if you do, I can't help but suggest a frosting with some lemon in it....

½ cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
2½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly ground if possible)
1 cup dessicated coconut
1 generous cup raisins
2 to 3 tablespoons rum
(dark or light, whatever you have on hand, but dark for preference)
1 teaspoon vanilla flavouring

Put the raisins in a bowl and pour the rum over top.  Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar.  Beat in the eggs and add the vanilla.

Sift the flour, baking soda and spices together into another bowl.  Stir in the coconut.  Add this flour mixture to the butter, sugar and egg mixture alternately with the buttermilk, stirring after each addition.  Now stir in the rum soaked raisins, along with any rum that has not soaked in.

Transfer the mixture to a greased or lined seven to eight inch square pan and bake at 350℉ (about 170℃) for 25 to 30 minutes until a skewer (or piece of dry spaghetti) inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Cool the cake in its pan on a wire rack.

If you can bear to wait, this cake tastes even better the next day.  It stores beautifully for a few days at ordinary room temperature, just be sure to cover it once it is cool.

Monday, 10 May 2010

More Great Recipes from Flora Heart Age and Jean Christophe Novelli

This is the second of two posts containing delicious, healthy and hassle-free recipes developed for the Flora Heart Age campaign by Jean-Christophe Novelli which Flora have asked me to feature on The 21st Century Housewife's Kitchen.
Flora, makers of Flora Buttery, developed the Heart Age campaign to help families get healthier by looking after their hearts.  Did you know your heart age could be different to your actual age?  Or that the World Health Organisation suggest that about eighty percent of heart disease and stroke could be prevented by positive lifestyle changes?  Flora are on a mission to get as many people as possible to use the their Heart Age Calculator to determine their actual heart age.  Once you take the quiz, Flora suggest lifestyle changes to help you lower it, and even offer a free twelve week plan to help you implement those lifestyle changes in a fun and positive way.  
One of the best ways to lower your heart age is by eating healthily.  But it doesn’t have to be a hardship as these two great recipes by Jean-Christophe Novelli demonstrate!

Blueberry Tart
Makes 1 X 25cm shallow pie dish
Serves 8
1 Flora short crust pastry mix (recipe follows below) 
375 g blueberries
125 g granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 egg white or milk
Granulated sugar to glaze
Low Fat custard to serve 
Pre heated oven 190°c (Gas mark 5)
Use half of the pastry mix below rolled to line the base of the pie dish.
Mix the berries, sugar and lemon juice together.
Place these into the middle of the lined pie dish.
Roll the second piece of pastry out and place on top, seal the edges and trim off excess pastry.
Whisk the egg white up until frothy then brush evenly over the pastry top.  Alternatively brush with milk.
Sprinkle a thin layer of sugar over the top. 
Pierce the top a few times with a knife to allow the steam to escape.
Bake for 35 minutes until golden brown.
This is a wonderful tart to make in August when the berries are full of flavour, fortunately they are available frozen if you are out of season.
Taste the berries before you cook them as if they are too sweet you will need to reduce the sugar you add.
Short Crust Pastry
225 g plain flour
125 g Flora Buttery - fridge temperature
1 egg yolk- reserve the white to glaze
2-3 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Place the metal chopping blade in a food processor bowl. Add all the dry ingredients and the chilled Flora Buttery.  Turn on the machine then add the water, pulsing only until the mixture resembles a moist crumble. 
If you don’t have a food processor, make the pastry by rubbing the Flora Buttery into the flour until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in the sugar and add the water.  Mix to form a dough.
Now turn the mixture into a bowl and bring together a few times by hand.
Divide into two then refrigerate until well chilled for at least 1 hour. 
If you regularly make pastry by the processor method then its worth chilling a tub of Flora and cutting it into small chunks and freezing ready for use.
The pastry can be made and frozen or refrigerated and used within 2 days.
According to the notes I was given, each slice of pie contains 313 calories and 12.1 grams of fat, 2.8 grams of which are saturates, so it should only be an occasional treat. I was really impressed by the quality of pastry the Flora Buttery produced, having only ever used butter for pastry in the past.  I did add a tablespoon of flour to the blueberries with the sugar and lemon juice to absorb the extra juice that is released when the berries cook (I always do that when I make blueberry pies).  

Chocolate and Coffee Muffins
Makes 12
350g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
30g cocoa powder
85g caster sugar
85g Flora Buttery spread
½ tablespoon ground coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 medium eggs
150ml low fat natural yoghurt
150ml skimmed milk
50g flaked almonds
Pre-heat oven 200℃.
Sieve the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder into a large mixing bowl, add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
Spoon the mixture into 12 muffin tins (lined with paper cases if wished).
Bake in a preheated oven at 200ºC, 400°F, Gas 6 for 20-25 minutes.  Best served warm.
If you don't want chocolate or coffee muffins then add grated lemon and orange zest instead to a plain mix.
These muffins were delicious as well, a lovely treat with a cup of tea or coffee.  According to the notes I was given, each muffin has 235 calories and 9.4 grams of fat, 2.1 grams of which are saturates.  As my oven runs a bit hot, I cooked them at a slightly lower temperature than recommended in the recipe.   
Check out the Flora Heart Age Website for lots more Heart Healthy Recipes and don’t forget to watch Family Food Fight with Flora, featuring celebrity chefs Jean-Christophe Novelli and Matt Tebbutt, airing in mid-May on Channel Five.
The 21st Century Housewife was not paid for this post.