Chocolate and red wine birthday cake

Decorating the chocolate and red wine celebration cake with rainbow sprinkles 1
The credit for this cake goes 100% to Deb from the Smitten Kitchen blog. This is one of my favourite food blogs out there, and when I saw her picture of this cake on Instagram a few weeks ago I knew straight away that I had to make it. Happily, it coincided with my other half’s birthday and with his only request for his cake being “chocolate, chocolate, chocolate” this seemed like it was the only and ideal solution.
Chocolate and red wine birthday cake with rainbow sprinkles
This cake was a complete success. Although it’s really all about the piles of sweet chocolatey buttercream on top, the sponge itself was delicious. It’s dense, almost like a brownie, but the overall effect is not too overwhelming as it’s a fairly thin sponge cut into small pieces. Instead of using buttermilk as in the original recipe, I went for Deb’s suggestion of substituting for red wine. On the day I baked it, we didn’t think the red wine flavour came through strongly, although it did add some much needed acidity to cut through the rich chocolate flavour, but on the second and third days after mellowing in the fridge you could definitely taste the red wine. If you’re baking this cake for little ones (it would be the perfect birthday cake for a kids party, and the quantities can easily be increased to make a larger cake) then just switch back to the buttermilk.
Ingredients for chocolate and red wine celebration cake
Ingredients (cuts into 12-16 small pieces)
85g softened butter
145g soft dark brown sugar
25g caster sugar
1 large egg, plus one large egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
175ml red wine
40g cocoa powder
125g plain flour
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt

55g dark chocolate
180g icing sugar
115g softened butter
Pinch of salt
1-2 tbsp whole milk or cream
½ tsp vanilla extract
Topping of your choice – I used rainbow chocolate beans from Sainsburys

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 175C/150C fan/Gas Mark 3. Grease a 20x20cm cake tin and line it with a square of baking parchment.
Greasing and lining a 20x20cm cake tin
2. Tip the soft butter and both dark and caster sugars into a large bowl.
Butter and two sugars to be creamed
Use a hand whisk to mix until the mixture is fluffy and turns lighter in colour.
Creamed butter and two sugars
3. Add the egg, yolk and vanilla extract and beat again until fully combined.
Adding one egg and one yolk to the creamed butter and sugars
Eggs, sugars and butter
4. Pour in the red wine and mix again. At this point I had a minor panic as the mixture looked split. However, Deb says in her original recipe “don’t worry if the batter looks uneven”, so I decided to put my full trust in her and continue. Sift the dry ingredients (cocoa powder, flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt) into the bowl and give one final mix to combine.
Sifting the dry ingredients into the wet cake mix
And lo and behold I had a smooth, unctuous cake batter. Never doubt the Smitten Kitchen.
Final chocolate and red wine cake mix
5. Pour the batter into your cake tin and smooth the top out with a palette knife or the back of a spoon.
Cake batter ready to be poured into the cake tin
Chocolate and red wine cake ready to be baked
6. Bake for 25 minutes until a skewer comes out the middle of the cake clean. Place the tin on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then turn the sponge out to cool completely.
Cooling the chocolate and red wine celebration cake in the tin
Turning the chocolate and red wine cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely
7. While the cake cools make the icing. Melt the dark chocolate in a bain-marie and then set aside to cool to room temperature. This is important, because if the chocolate is still hot when you add it to the buttercream then it will melt the butter and ruin your icing.
Melting dark chocolat in a bain marie
Melted dark chocolate for the icing
8. Whisk the butter and icing sugar together until very light and fluffy. Don’t skimp on the time you give to this step as this is what gives the frosting a gorgeous texture.
Butter and icing sugar to make the frosting
Whipped butter and icing sugar for the chocolate frosting
9. Add the melted chocolate, salt, milk or cream and vanilla extract and whip again for 5 minutes until well combined.
Adding dark chocolate to the buttercream icing
10. Carefully move the sponge onto your serving plate or board and pile the frosting in the middle of the cake.
Chocolate buttercream icing piled on to the chocolate sponge
Using a palette knife or the back of a butter knife spread the chocolate buttercream over the cake. Start in the middle and push the icing towards the edge of the cake, swirling as you go.
Spreading the chocolate buttercream onto the chocolate sponge
Spreading the chocolate frosting onto the chocolate sponge
11. Finally, liberally sprinkle your cake with the topping of your choice. Don’t hold back: chocolate sprinkles, flakes, buttons, popping candy are all more than acceptable here.
Decorating the chocolate and red wine celebration cake with rainbow sprinkles 2
Decorating the chocolate and red wine celebration cake with rainbow sprinkles
The cake will keep in an airtight container for a couple of days, and longer in the fridge – after the first day the texture of the sponge became even fudgier. This recipe really is chocolate heaven.
Chocolate and red wine birthday cake with rainbow sprinkles 2

5-hour slow-cooked beef brisket with gravy

Shredding the 5-hour slow cooked beef brisket 1
As I mentioned in my blog birthday post last week, the three most popular posts on my blog since I started it just over a year ago are all slow-cooked meaty dishes (from pork belly to lamb shanks to BBQ pulled pork). And I’m not one to deny my readers what they want! Today I have something that you might not have cooked or even eaten before, but if you like pulled pork then you’re going to love this. Brisket is a cut from the lower chest of beef, and is a muscle that works hard so needs gentle, slow cooking in order to tenderise it. It is a relatively cheap cut of beef, so a great option for when you’re cooking a roast for a crowd.

I first cooked this recipe last year when I scribbled it down to take on a weekend holiday with friends (I got the original recipe from a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall article, but now I can’t find it…however I will pop a link up here when I come across it again). I knew at the time that it would be a great recipe to blog about, but holidays aren’t the time to be photographing a recipe step-by-step and it was gobbled up so quickly that there wasn’t even time for an end-result picture – definitely a sign of a recipe worth sharing.
Ingredients for 5-hour slow cooked beef brisket
Ingredients (serves 4)
Beef brisket
2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
2 carrots, cut into wedges
4 sprigs of rosemary
3 cloves of garlic
English or Dijon mustard
Large glass of red wine
Salt and pepper

1 tbsp corn flour
1 beef stock cube, made up with 300ml boiling water

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 170C/150C fan/Gas Mark 3. Heat the olive oil in a large casserole pot and generously season the beef all over with salt and pepper. When the oil is hot, place the beef in the pot and brown on all sides.
Browning the beef brisket
2. Turn the beef so that it is fat side up and nestle the vegetables, rosemary and garlic cloves around it.
Adding vegetables and fresh herbs to the casserole pot
3. Spread the top of the beef with mustard and pour the red wine into the bottom of the pot, along with a large glass of water. Put a lid on the pot and cook in the oven for 5 hours, basting the beef with the surrounding liquid once an hour. Add a little extra water if necessary during the cooking time.
Spreading mustard on the beef brisket
4. After 5 hours remove the beef and leave to rest on a warmed serving plate, covered with foil and a dish towel.
Beef brisket after 5 hours of cooking and basting
5. As it rests, put the pot back on the hob and heat until the remaining liquid starts to bubble. Add the corn flour and stir to combine. Slowly add the stock until the gravy is the consistency that you like. Strain.
Shredding the 5-hour slow cooked beef brisket 2
As the brisket is so tender, it will easily be shredded using two forks so no carving is necessary (can I hear cries of delight?!). I served the beef brisket with mashed potatoes, which I think is essential when you have a rich gravy on the side, and steamed cabbage slathered in butter and generously sprinkled with black pepper.
Slow cooked beef brisket served with gravy, mashed potatoes and steamed cabbage
This dish would also go perfectly with the traditional Sunday roast trimmings of roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings, but unless you have a second oven then the timings can get tricky since the beef cooks at such a low temperature. Either way, I promise you are going to love this cut of beef for Sunday dinner as much as a flashy sirloin cut. Humble and delicious.

Beef shin and mushroom casserole

Beef shin and mushroom casserole served with homemade bread and red wine
Happy New Year gorgeous readers! I hope your festive break was filled to the brim with your favourite people, your favourite food and drink, and your favourite films, music, books and games. I know mine certainly was, and so much more. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much. You know that kind of laughter that makes your stomach and throat hurt and your breathing difficult? Yeah, that.

And so now it is January. The fruit bowl has been piled high, the vegetable drawer in the fridge is stuffed full and gym memberships have been renewed with gusto. I have just discovered Yoga with Adriene’s 30 Days of Yoga and what a revelation it is. I had forgotten how amazing just a short yoga practice every day is, plus there is the bonus that Adriene is an absolute babe. Serious babe crush going on.

But on the other hand, we are still in the depths of winter. The days may be getting gradually longer, but it really doesn’t feel like it right now. So let’s all agree that we still need some comfort food every now and then, yeah? We can stick to stir-fry and steamed vegetables and baked fish during the week, but on a Sunday night let’s snuggle up together on the sofa, wearing our comfiest pyjamas, with steaming bowls of stew and glasses of red wine. Cheers to that.
Ingredients for beef shin and mushroom casserole with parsnips
Ingredients (serves 2-3)
1 generous tbsp dried ceps (aka porcini mushrooms)
2 small onions, finely chopped
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
2-3 small carrots, cut into chunky wedges
2 medium parsnips (or in my case, one daddy, one mummy and one baby parsnip), cut into chunky wedges
350g beef shin
180g mushrooms, either cup or button
Large glass of red wine
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas mark 2. Lightly crush the dried ceps in a mortar and pestle.
Dried ceps in a pestle and mortar
Dried ceps lightly crushed in a pestle and mortar
Cover with a few tablespoons of hot water and leave to soak.
2. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a casserole pot or pan and gently fry the onion and garlic over a low heat for 5-10 minutes until soft and just beginning to brown.
Sautéing finely chopped onions
3. Turn the heat up so the onions sizzle and add the carrots and parsnips, mixing well to coat them in oil. Allow the vegetables to cook for another 5 minutes.
Adding carrots and parsnips to the onion
4. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside. Add a little more olive oil and wait until very hot. Generously season the beef shin with salt and pepper and add to the hot pan. Fry on a very high heat for a couple of minutes until brown and caramelised on both sides.
Browning the seasoned beef shins
5. Pour the wine into the pan and bubble for 3-5 minutes to reduce the liquid by about one third.
Adding red wine to the beef shin
6. Add the vegetables back into the pan, along with the now-rehydrated ceps (including the soaking water), and stir. Season and tuck a couple of bay leaves into the stew, pop the lid on the pan and put into the oven.
Adding the vegetables back into the casserole
7. Remove the stalks from the mushrooms, peel and cut in half. If you’re using button mushrooms then skip this step and use them whole! Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Peeled and chopped mushrooms
8. After an hour and a half remove the stew from the oven and stir in the mushrooms and redcurrant jelly. If necessary add a splash of water to the stew.
Adding mushrooms and redcurrant jelly to the beef shin casserole
9. Continue to cook the stew in the oven for a further 30-60 minutes. The meat should be beautifully tender and the relatively large amount of fat in the cut of beef shin should have melted away into the sweet, rich liquid.
Beef shin, mushroom and parsnip casserole
Serve with potatoes, cooked in the style of your choice, or some lovely fresh bread which you can use to mop up the delicious sauce. And of course, since it’s January, I suppose some steamed vegetables on the side will help to make us feel that little bit more virtuous.
Beef shin casserole served with green vegetables and homemade bread

Sangria

Sangria
Last week was named Salad Week and we had different summer salads from sweetcorn salsa to refreshing watermelon to raw fennel. All delicious, healthy dishes, packed with strong flavours and perfect for summer eating. However, in the interest of balance this week will be all about booze and frying.

In our house, sangria means New Year (or Hogmanay as we call it here). A slightly odd combination, I’m not actually sure where it came from, but it’s now a firm family tradition. Sangria is one of my favourite alcoholic cocktails, and when I’m in Spain I can drink it by the bucket load with a bowl of olives and be happy with the world. It’s the perfect drink to make for a barbecue during the summer, or for any occasion that involves lots of people, as you can multiply up the quantities to serve as many as you like – just make sure you have a jug big enough!

This recipe is based on one from Katie Stewart’s Cookbook (our cooking bible, as I mentioned before), with a little extra booze and fruit thrown in for good measure. You can follow this exact recipe to start with, but adapt it to your own taste as you learn what works for you. I’ve had some sangrias in Spain that have enough liquor to get you under the table after just a couple of glasses (I remember one particular concoction at a beach bar which included nearly every spirit in the bar – actually very delicious, but totally deadly) so experiment with different spirits if that’s up your street. If you have a particularly sweet tooth then use lemonade instead of soda water, but personally I find this too much. As for the fruit, basically anything goes. We added peach in to this batch and it worked a treat, as would nectarine. Melon is a great addition to sangria, though some people don’t like the taste. I should probably tell you to get a half decent wine to use, and in fact a Rioja is a perfect option if you find a nice bottle, but really this is a great opportunity to use a cheaper wine. Once the fruit, spirits and soda have gone in, no one will be any wiser. Even more true after a couple of glasses have been quaffed.
Ingredients for homemade sangria
Ingredients
1 orange
2 lemons
Any other fruit you like e.g. apple, peach, melon
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp brandy
1 tbsp cointreau
70cl bottle of red wine, chilled
350ml soda water, chilled

Method
1. Chop the fruit into similarly sized pieces. Remove any pips from the lemons and orange, but leave the skin on.
Chopped fruit for sangria
2. Place the fruit into a large jug and pour over the sugar and spirits. Mix well and leave to marinade for at least an hour.
Marinading the fruit for sangria
3. Add the chilled red wine to the jug and leave for at least another half hour.
Adding red wine to the marinated fruit for sangria
4. When ready to serve top the sangria up with soda water. You can alter the quantities of soda water to your taste, depending on whether you like the sangria weaker or stronger.
Topping up the sangria with soda water
5. Fill glasses with ice and pour over the sangria with some fruit pieces.
Sangria
Serve as a punch at a party, with the main course of a Spanish meal or as an aperitif with olives, some sliced Manchego cheese and serrano ham or just some fresh crusty bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. Close your eyes as you sip and you could nearly be on the beaches of Spain.