Better late than never: Festive carrot cakes

What better way to brighten these frosty February days than with a twinkly reminder of the festive season we just left behind? Ha! The truth is I’ve just been too busy to keep up with posts. So apologies for harking back to 2011 but I feel it would be a shame not to celebrate these:

Concealed inside is a rich carrot sponge, with cinnamon and nutmeg, heaps of orange and lemon zest and a helping of preserved mixed peel (the type that normally makes it into xmas puds). Cake-decorating gurus stress the importance of a strong, firm cake that can hold the weight of plentiful decorations, so the basic sponge is adapted from a Mich Turner recipe (from this book). Once baked, I skewered the sponge and drowned it in Mich’s sugary citrus syrup, then sandwiched it with orange buttercream. I’m not such a fan of marzipan, so I gave both cakes an undercoat of the same orange buttercream, before their topcoat of white sugarpaste.

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Spiced ambercup squash soup with coconut milk

I’m so behind with my blogging. I have the utmost respect for anyone who manages to post once a week. As for those who do it daily – I bow down to you. Life has taken over recently, so here I am posting a very belated autumn recipe with blatant disregard for seasonality. Don’t go looking for ambercups now; you’ll be sorely disappointed….

Anyway, back in November, I was wandering around Brixton farmers’ market and found myself captivated by the crates of amazing squashes. Beautiful things in every shape and size: smooth, knobbly, bulbous, bent, some fat and round; others twisted and otherworldly; a rainbow of orange, yellow, gold and green.

This ambercup squash took my fancy. Like a miniature pumpkin, with a typical round shape, deep orange hue, lovely stripes and a contrasting green tip. I bought a couple and they sat on my kitchen windowsill looking pretty for a week.

Then I made them into this soup. It would have been quick and simple, had my stick blender not exploded in my face. Luckily the soup survived, as did my eyebrows – just! – but a chunky texture wasn’t floating my boat, so the soup was temporarily abandoned and confined to the freezer until Amazon delivered my spanking new Breville appliance.

It was worth the wait. When – days later – I finally puréed the soup and blended in coconut milk, the outcome was silky smooth, mildly spiced and nutty.

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Melting lamb tagine

I was given this tagine dish for my birthday this year. My boyfriend got it so right.

It sits proudly on our kitchen shelf, all sleek and beautiful and modern. It’s quite different to traditional Moroccan tagines, which are made of terracotta and can be intricately painted (I’d love one of those someday too, but I’m holding out for an authentic one from Marrakech), but what makes mine brilliant is that you can use it on the hob and in the oven  – very convenient, as it means you can fry the onions and spices on the stove, brown the meat, then bung it all straight into the oven for its long, slow cooking.

Lamb tagine is possibly my all-time favourite dish, when it’s done how I like it. I don’t have time for watery ones. It must be thick and textured; oozing with onions; sweet and gooey; fragrant but not too spicy. It must include sticky dates, must be scattered with flaked almonds, must have fresh coriander on top and cool yogurt on the side. The couscous, ideally, is lemony, and on the grainy side rather than soggy or wet. It’s my ‘turn-to’ recipe when we have people for dinner, and a satisfying feast on a Sunday.

I’d always choose it over a roast.

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