The Ordinary Cook loves to cook. If I am not cooking or baking then the chances are I am thinking about cooking and baking. I love sharing recipes and ideas and my website is my space to do this.

Chocolate cake – gluten free

choc cake

My sister is gluten intolerant so whenever she is coming to our house we try to bear this in mind.  She was expected at the party at the weekend and as there were other chocolate cakes available I thought it only fair to prepare one that she could eat.  The chocolate cake is one of Nigella’s recipes and is absolutely delicious.  I bought her Feast book (2006, Chatto & Windus) after my very good friend Annalin served us Nigella’s Espresso Martinis at a gathering at her house last Christmas. The martinis are unbelievably good.  However, I don’t think the martini recipe is in Feast after all, but there is a whole chapter called the Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame which has more than made up for that disappointment. The chocolate cake below is Nigella’s Chocolate Orange Cake, which is moist, orangey and gorgeous.  I topped it with some cupcake frosting that I had left over after making Peggy Porschen’s cupcakes from the October 2009 edition of the Sainsbury’s magazine. The combination of cake and frosting is very good and as a result of my sister forgetting about the party I had the terrible situation where I was left with cake to finish up…

For the chocolate cake:
2 oranges, weighing about 375g in total
200g ground almonds
250g golden caster sugar
50g good quality cocoa
1 heaped tsp baking powder (make sure this is gluten free!)
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
6 eggs
You will need a 20 cm cake tin, buttered and lined.
If you can plan ahead then it is wise to start this the day before you want to make the cake as you need to place the oranges in a pan, cover with water and bring to a simmer and then simmer for two hours until soft.  You then need time for the oranges to cool.

Once the oranges are cool, cut in half and remove any pips.  Place the oranges in a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Don’t overdo as it is nice to find little chunks of orange in the cake and you are going to be using the blade with the rest of the ingredients. Add all of the remaining ingredients and pulse again until just combined.

Scrape this into the cake tin and level the surface. Bake in a preheated oven at 180°c (350°f, gas mark 4) for 45 mins – 1 hour until it’s springy to the touch and beginning to shrink away from the sides of the tin.

Leave it to cool completely in the tin.  You could leave it undecorated and it will last for days, but I have to say with the chocolate frosting it is even more of a winner.

finished choc cake

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Chocolate frosting

This chocolate butter frosting was used to decorate the chocolate cake I made in the post above and it is really delicious and very rich.  It is taken from the feature about cupcakes by Peggy Porschen in the October 2009 Sainsbury’s Magazine.

It is important that the cream cheese and butter are both at room temperature, so try to remember to take them out of the fridge a few hours before you want to make the frosting.

50g cream cheese
25g unsalted butter
150g icing sugar
50g good quality dark chocolate ( at least 70% cocoa solids), chopped small or grated
50 ml single cream


Beat the cream cheese and the butter together until well combined and then beat in the sieved icing sugar.

Heat the cream in a small saucepan to simmering point.  Place the chopped or grated chocolate into a bowl and pour the hot cream over the chocolate.  Stir gently until the chocolate has melted.  Leave to cool for a few minutes.

Add the chocolate mixture to the butter mixture and stir well to combine.  Leave it to cool until it’s a spreadable consistency and then using a palette knife spread over the top of your cake.

Serve the cake in big slices and enjoy every mouthful.

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Macaroni Cheese

mac cheese

I had a tub of creme fraiche in the fridge last night that needed using up so I did an experiment with macaroni cheese, replacing the usual white sauce with a creme fraiche base.  It was good, adding a little zing to the dish. I served it with slices of ham and it made a good meal and saved wasting that tub of creme fraiche.

200 g macaroni pasta
200 ml creme fraiche
1 tsp Dijon mustard
a pinch of cayenne pepper
50 g mature cheddar, grated

25g breadcrumbs mixed with 25g grated cheese for the crunchy topping

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add salt if you like ( I tend not to, which is probably a heinous cooking crime), add macaroni and cook for 7-8 minutes or as advised on the packet until al dente. It will cook a little more in the oven so don’t overcook at this stage. Drain well.

In a bowl mix the creme fraiche with the Dijon mustard and a pinch of cayenne. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add the drained pasta and stir to combine.  Pour into a baking dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and cheese over the top and cook in a preheated oven at 200°c (400°f, gas mark 6) for 20-25 mins until bubbling and golden on top. Serve warm with crusty bread and a salad.

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A lovely loaf of white bread – at last

cooked loaf

I have been making bread for years but it is only recently that the finished bread has been enjoyable.  Most of my bread making has resulted in a lumpen dough that my husband has very kindly eaten. I think bread making takes practice.  I have, I think, improved because my kneading technique has improved with practice and I now know that you shouldn’t let the salt and the yeast come into contact with one another before you start to mix the dough. Apparently the salt begins to de-activate the yeast. Also I now add more water than I used to, a sticky dough works better than a slightly too dry dough. I made a loaf of bread yesterday to go with the ham and pea soup I made and it worked out quite well. I am very proud of that achievement after years of lumpen dough.

The recipe I use comes from my well used copy of The River Cottage Family Cookbook (2005, Hodder & Stoughton).  I can’t recommend this book enough, everything works and is really well explained.  It is aimed at younger members of the family but it is a book I turn to again and again. I am a fan of most things coming out of River Cottage.
The picture above shows a loaf that I made out of half this quantity of dough, as I split it and made two loaves.

500g strong white flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp or a 7g sachet of fast-action bred yeast
2 tsps sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
300 ml warm water
Measure the flour and place in a large bowl.  I like to warm this in a low oven (100°c, or lowest setting) for a few minutes whilst I get the rest of the ingredients ready.  I have a granite worktop which cools everything down too much otherwise.  Keep the salt and yeast away from one another until you are ready to mix.  When everything is prepared add the yeast, sugar and salt to the flour and mix to combine.  Add the olive oil and the water and work with your hands to a soft and, importantly, slightly sticky dough.  Take this out of the bowl and knead well for as long as you can bear, at least seven minutes if possible, it’s better if it’s ten minutes.  Do it until you feel your arms want to drop off.  To knead you hold the dough with one hand and then stretch some of the dough away from you with the heel of the other hand and then bring it back into a ball and repeat. It needs to be smooth and when you poke your index finger in and take it out the dough should bounce back.  Place it back into the bowl and cover with a clean damp tea towel or oiled cling film and place in a warm part of the kitchen for 1- 1½ hours until the dough has doubled in size.  Grease a loaf tin or a baking tray with a little olive oil.Give the dough a punch to knock the air out and knead for 30 seconds and shape into a ball if you are making a loaf on a baking tray or roll into a sausage shape and fold in half and place into the loaf tin.  Leave to prove for another 30 minutes, covered with a cloth or the oiled cling film, but don’t let it double in size again as it needs to continue to grow when it’s in the oven.  Bake in a preheated oven at 220° c (425°f, gas mark 7) for about 25-30 mins.  To check it’s cooked turn it out of its tin and give it a knock. If it sounds hollow it’s cooked.  If I cook it in a loaf tin, I like to put it back in the oven out of its tin for a further five minutes for the crust to get crisp. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

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Ham and pea soup

pea and ham soup

It was my daughter’s fifth birthday party at the weekend and it is a tradition that I cook a large baked ham to slice.  We have a good chunk left over and so last night’s supper was the ham and pea soup in the picture.  If I was better at photography I might have done it justice.  It was really tasty and I made some bread to go with it which I will share with you in another post. The recipe was inspired by a recipe for Green Pea, Ham and Leek soup in the Soups book by Grace Mulligan and Dilwen Phillips in the Best-kept Secrets of the Women’s Institute collection (2002, Simon & Schuster UK).  I replaced the leek with an onion in my version.

1 onion, peeled and chopped
1½ pints (850ml) chicken or vegetable stock
6 oz  (175g) frozen peas
6 oz (175g) chopped ham
2 tbsp chopped mint
olive oil

Heat a drop of olive oil in a medium saucepan over a gentle heat, add the onion and sweat for five minutes until translucent. Add the frozen peas and the stock and pepper to taste.  Bring to a simmer and simmer for 15 mins.  Add the ham and simmer for a further five mins.  Add the mint and simmer for two mins. Take the soup off the heat. Blend the soup well with a hand blender or in a food processor. Put the soup back into the pan, check for seasoning ( I doubt you will need salt as the ham is likely to be salty) and reheat gently.  Do not allow the soup to boil or the flavour will be spoilt.  Serve in warmed bowls with lots of crusty bread or croutons.

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Damson Vodka or Gin

Preparing the damsons
Preparing the damsons

This is a great way to use up a glut of damsons, it transforms the gin or vodka into a heavenly tipple, capturing the essence of the damson.  Be warned though it is very easy to drink and very alcoholic!

For every 1 pint (570ml) damsons use 6oz (175g) sugar
gin or vodka

You will need a large screw top jar, we use the old fashioned sweet jars but you could use a large kilner jar too.

Prick the damsons with a fork or skewer and place in the jar.  It’s best to fill the jar with damsons for maximum flavour. You will need to measure them as they go in because for every pint (570ml)of damsons that you use you need to add 60z (175g) of sugar.  Fill the jar with either gin or vodka. You will need to shake the damsons gently to help the liquid seep to the bottom. Tightly fit the lid.  You now need to shake the jar daily until all of the sugar has dissolved (this can take two weeks of daily shaking). Put the jar in a dark place for six months and then decant into bottles.

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Pickled Damsons

Pickling damsons
Pickling damsons

We have a couple of damson trees in our garden.  Last year a late frost damaged the blossom and there was not a damson to be seen. This year the trees have been loaded. We have frozen some ready for making stewed damsons this winter, I have made damson jam and damson vodka and pickled damsons.  I was introduced to the idea of pickled damsons by my husband and I must admit that I was appalled at the very thought until I tried them!  Now I am a convert, they are absolutely delicious with cold ham, sweet with a sour tang. If you haven’t tried them they are very easy to make and really worth it.  Once tried you will be making them again and again. This is a recipe from my mother-in-law from an old pamphlet collecting local people’s favourite recipes.

Sterilise 3 x 1 lb jars by washing them thoroughly, swilling with hot water and then placing in a low oven (100°c) for 20 mins

2 lbs (900g) damsons
½ pint (275ml) malt vinegar
2 lbs (900g) dark brown sugar
1 oz (25g) ground cinnamon or a cinnamon stick
2 tsp ground cloves or 6 whole cloves

Prick the damsons with a fork or several times with a skewer and put into a large jar or bowl.  Tie the spices into a muslin bag and place in a large saucepan with the sugar and vinegar and bring to the boil. Pour this mixture over the damsons and leave for 24 hours.  Turn all into a large saucepan and bring to the boil.  Boil for 3 mins.  Carefully spoon into the hot sterilised jars and cover when cold.  These are best stored for 6 weeks before tucking in and they last for ages and ages.  I have had jars for a year or more and still tasting delicious.

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Eggy Bread (French Toast)

Eggy bread is loved by my girls, probably something to do with the sugar or maple syrup drizzled all over it.  It is a great thing to cook quickly when the girls are hungry and need feeding before the hunger induced grumpiness turns into full scale warfare.

2 eggs
2-3 slices of good bread (can be stale)
½ tsp cinnamon
sugar or maple syrup
small amount of butter

Break the eggs into a shallow dish that is big enough to take a slice of the bread.  Beat the eggs gently and sprinkle with cinnamon. Dip each slice of bread into the eggy mixture so that both sides are well covered with egg.

Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat (add a tiny drop of oil to prevent the butter from burning). Place the bread slices into the pan and cook on each side for 2-3 mins until golden.  Turn onto a plate and drizzle liberally with maple syrup or sugar.  Eat warm.

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Bread and Butter Pudding

This is a family favourite and a good way of using up a stale loaf.  It’s at is best when served warm with cold cream after a sunday lunch, but also lovely to eat cold the next day.

6-8 slices of good bread (stale is fine)
20g  butter
50g sultanas or mixed dried fruit
50g demerara sugar
2 eggs
¾ pint (400 ml) whole milk

Grease a baking dish with butter, I use a rectangular one that measures 30cm x 20cm.

Butter one side of each slice of bread generously.  Lay the bread in the baking dish (butter side up) and sprinkle with the sultanas/ mixed fruit and the sugar between layers.

In a measuring jug, beat the eggs lightly and add the milk to make up to the 1 pint (570 ml) mark.  Whisk the milk and eggs together until combined. Pour this mixture over the bread.  Leave to soak for 30 mins – 1 hour until the bread has soaked up the milk and eggs.  Bake in a preheated oven at 180°c (350°f) for 30 mins until golden brown on top .

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Fruity Flapjacks

Fruity Flapjacks 2

Flapjacks are one of the first things I learned to cook.  We had a new microwave (back in the eighties when they cost the same as a small house!) and the recipe book that came with it had a recipe for flapjacks and my sister and I used to make them regularly.  If I remember right back then you had to finish them off in the oven, the microwave simply melted the butter, sugar and syrup. Ever since then I have tried various versions and I think this one is great, not too sweet but chewy all the same.   The addition of orange juice to soak the sultanas was inspired by Nicola’s Zesty Flapjacks in one of my favourite recipe books, The River Cottage Family Cookbook (you can tell it’s one of my favourites as I have only had it for three years and the spine is broken from over use).

250g oats
100g sugar
150g butter
2 tbsps golden syrup
Juice of 1 orange
50g sultanas or dried sour cherries
Lightly grease a baking dish.  I use a rectangular dish that measures 22cm x 30cm.

Squeeze the orange juice into a small pan and add the sultanas/ cherries.  Heat gently over a low heat, as soon as it begins to simmer take off the heat and put to one side so that the sultanas/ cherries can soak up the orange juice.

In a large pan, melt the butter, sugar and syrup together over a gentle heat.  As soon as they are melted stir to combine and take off the heat.  Add the oats and the sultanas/cherries and orange juice and stir to combine well.

Tip the mixture into the baking dish and press down well with the back of a spoon.

Bake in the oven at 180° c (350°f, Gas Mark 4) for 20-25 mins until golden brown.  Mark into squares with a knife whilst the flapjack is still warm because if you don’t you won’t get your knife through later.

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