Microwave chocolate cake in a mug

Serves 1-2

4 tblsp flour (plain or part wholewheat)
4 tblsp sugar
1 tblsp cocoa powder
3 tblsp milk (any kind - we use almond or coconut)
3 tblsp oil (any kind - we use olive)
3 tblsp dark chocolate chips
few drops vanilla essence or extract

Use a 15ml measuring tablespoon, with each ingredient flat rather than heaped.

Place the dry ingredients in a mug, which should be a good sized one, holding about 240-250mls (a little over an American cup). Stir in the oil and milk carefully, then gently mix in the chocolate chips and the vanilla essence.

Put the mug in the microwave, and cook for 3 minutes at 1000 watts, or four minutes at 700 watts.

This doesn't rise much, but it should have grown a little. It will be very hot. You can wait till it cools down a little and eat it directly from the mug, if you don't want to serve it in a bowl (or two) but BEWARE of the molten chocolate chips.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The first time we tried this recipe, we were rather cynical. What, we wondered, would make it rise? Wouldn't it just be a solid lump, kind of like clay, with these ingredients?

I wondered if I had made a mistake when jotting down the recipe, but then we realised that if it was a disaster, we hadn't lost much. My son followed the recipe exactly - using levelled tablespoon measures. And it came out perfectly.

Yes, these are all the ingredients necessary. No baking powder, no baking soda, no egg. I've found variations of this online which do use egg, or self-raising flour, but they all give warnings about the cake rising higher than the top of the mug. That sounds messy. The version we made rose perhaps a centimetre (we have NO idea how) and was of a delicious fudge cake consistency. We made two of them (one at a time) and shared them between three of us, with some leftover raspberry sauce.

Unbelievably delicious.

A week or so later I decided to try it myself.

So I started putting everything in the cup in order, wondering how on earth it would mix itself in the microwave. I then realised I should have mixed the milk and oil before adding the chocolate chips and vanilla.


So I did what I could to mix it all together in rather a limited space,
using a large teaspoon.

It looked like this - and despite our previous experience, I felt dubious as to whether it would work.

chocolate cake in a mugHappily, all was well - and this final photo shows that it did indeed rise slightly and gave a good consistency.

This is not as good as real home-made cake, but if you have a desperate urge for chocolate cake and don't want to wait half an hour or more (quite apart from messy mixing bowls) this is ideal.

Note that the chocolate chips are very important - if you don't have any, small chopped up pieces of chocolate may work as an alternative. Don't be tempted to leave them out; they are what give this cake-in-a-mug its fudgy, gooey consistency. You can, however, use orange or peppermint essence rather than vanilla if you prefer a different kind of flavour.

Please remember that the cake - and particularly the chocolate chips - are VERY hot when they come out of the microwave. This is why we prefer to spoon it into a couple of plates to share, as shown at the top.

I don't think this can be made gluten-free, but if you use vegan chocolate chips, and almond or coconut milk, it's certainly dairy-free and vegetarian/vegan. If you serve it with fruit (fresh or lightly stewed) and use part wholemeal flour, it almost becomes a health food...


Crunchy egg and cabbage flan

Crunchy egg and cabbage flan
crunchy egg flan
Serves 4-5

100g breadcrumbs
100g wholewheat flour
100g oats
30g flaxseeds
150g butter or spread, melted

3 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
200-300g cabbage, shredded
200g mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper
50g butter or spread
4 eggs

Heat oven to 190C (375F).

Mix the dry ingredients for the base together in a bowl, and stir in the melted fat. Mix to combine, then press into a greased flan dish (pyrex, ceramic or metal), around 25-28cm in diameter. Press down well using the back of a large spoon, or a potato masher, then bake in the hot oven for about 15 minutes. Cool slightly.

To make the filling, soften the onions in the oil in a deep pan over a medium heat, then add the shredded cabbage and stirfry until it is hot but still crunchy. Add the mushrooms, and season with salt and pepper to taste, then place a lid on the pan and keep warm.

Melt the remaining butter or spread in another pan and break the eggs in. Beat with a fork or wire whisk as if making scrambled eggs, then as they form solid curds tip into the vegetable mixture and stir quickly.

Pile into the cooked base, and serve hot, with other cooked vegetables and perhaps some baked potatoes, or cool and then chill, to serve cold with salad.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

base of crunchy flan
I found this recipe in a book I bought, inexpensively, many years ago, called 'Vegetarian Cooking For Children' by Rosamond Richardson. After deciding to become vegetarian during Lent, I was looking for something a bit different from bean curries and lentil chilis, and came across a recipe called 'Elegant egg flan'.

We thought the base - shown prior to cooking in this photo - was excellent, although I decided immediately to increase the amounts; the recipe in the book claimed to serve four, and to fit a 20cm flan dish, but I was not doing any potatoes so I used the amounts as shown here and it worked well.

The original recipe didn't have any onion, but I thought it needed some, so included that; I cooked the onion until it was just starting to go brown, but should have added the cabbage sooner, as it was still really quite crunchy. I was a bit dubious about the egg, but it worked well and made a meal that was decidedly different from anything I had made before, and just as good cold the following day as it was hot, served with some baked tomatoes and roasted carrots, and also some good dollops of home-made tomato ketchup.



home made hummus
Makes about two cups

1 cup chickpeas, soaked overnight (or one 400ml can)
2 medium cloves garlic, crushed
2 tblsp tahini
2 tblsp lemon juice
2-4 tblsp olive oil

If using dried chickpeas, rinse them well. Cover them in plenty of fresh water in a large pan, bring to the boil, and simmer for about an hour until soft. 

Whether cooking yourself or using a can, strain the chickpeas, reserving the liquid. 

Blend the chickpeas in a liquidiser (blender) with the other ingredients, adding about half a cup of the chickpea cooking water, or more if necessary until you have a smooth, spreadable consistency which is still quite thick. 

Scrape out into a suitable container, and keep in the refrigerator. 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Hummus is originally a Middle Eastern spread, but is also extremely popular in Cyprus. Tahini, a paste made of sesame seeds, is widely and inexpensively available from supermarkets and fruit shops, and keeps for a long time even after opening. Chickpeas are an excellent form of protein, and are known as garbanzo beans in the United States.

I always used to cook them from the dried product, and still do when using chickpeas in curries or other main dishes. But we've found that the canned ones make a much smoother hummus; keeping a can of chickpeas in my kitchen cupboard also means that I can whizz up a batch of hummus in five minutes rather than having to plan ahead to soak overnight and then cook before using.

While hummus can be bought, it often contains extra preservatives, and we like this home-made version considerably better. The amount of lemon juice and garlic can be adjusted to suit personal tastes. My original recipe asked for the juice of a large lemon, and we found that made it far too lemony for our tastes. We find that the juice of half a small lemon is about right; since lemons vary so much in size, I've adjusted it to a couple of tablespoons, which is our preference.

You can add a bit of paprika, or cayenne (if you prefer it to be spicy), or caramelise a chopped onion and add that. If you add oregano, basil and a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste, you have what some people call pizza-flavoured hummus.

Hummus is often used as a dip, with carrot sticks, cucumber pieces and pieces of pitta bread, or can be spread on bread and eaten with salad. I use mine in baked potatoes rather than using butter or a spread.

Note that the drained cooking water, whether from a can or from cooking chickpeas yourself, is known as aquafaba. It can be whipped like egg whites, and used in many ways. 


Chili non carne

Chili non carne
chili non carne
Serves 6-8

2 tblsp olive oil
3 medium onions, peeled and chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
2 medium bell peppers, chopped
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp turmeric
1/4 - 1/2 tsp chili powder
300g spinach, fresh or frozen
800g chopped tomatoes (fresh, frozen or canned)
2 courgettes, chopped (optional)
3 tblsp tomato puree or ketchup
100ml water, veggie stock or wine
400g pinto beans, cooked or canned

Cook the chopped onion in the oil in a large pan, for about five minutes, stirring once or twice, until well-softened. Add the garlic and peppers, and cook, stirring, for a couple more minutes. Stir in the spices, then add all the other ingredients, apart from the beans. Bring to the boil, cover, then simmer gently for about fifteen minutes or until the liquid is reduced.

Add the beans and cook for another 10-15 minutes.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Although we prefer to have lentils in chili - whether with or without meat - we were entertaining a vegetarian guest who likes beans but not lentils.  I adapted this recipe from one I found online, which had carrots in it, but no spinach. When I made it recently, I had no carrots, to my surprise, so I added spinach instead, and we felt that it was much better.

I use dried beans  -  either pinto beans, or a mixture of pinto and black-eye, and soak half a panful the night before. I then rinse and boil them for an hour or so in the morning, and weigh out roughly 400g when I need them. I freeze the rest in 200g portions for other meals. Using canned beans is simpler, but more expensive. Any kind of beans would work.

The spices can be adjusted to suit tastes - be careful with the chili powder, which can vary enormously in potency. We prefer just a hint of chili, but if you like it strong, add a bit more. The original recipe used oregano, and did not have any turmeric, but I use the latter wherever possible.

We served this over brown rice, with broccoli as an extra vegetable. You could serve yogurt or grated cheese with it, if you eat dairy products.


Almond milk, step by step

Almond milk
almond milk

Makes 1 litre 

80-100g almonds
approx 1 litre water

extra water for soaking and rinsing

1. Put the almonds in a suitable container and soak in cold water in the fridge for several hours, or overnight. The quantity of almonds used depends on how much you like the flavour; it's quite mild, so if you like almonds, the full 100g gives quite a creamy milk. We have found that reducing this to 80g works just as well, and the almond flavour is less pronounced.

2. Drain the water away through a small sieve, rinse the almonds, and drain again. Place the almonds in a food processor or blender, (shown in the photo above) and blend for about 30-40 seconds, until the pieces are finely ground, as in the photo at the side.

Do not over-process or you may end up with almond butter.

3. Pour about 200ml cold water onto the ground almonds, then process for about 40-50 seconds on high. The 'milk' will be extracted into the water as you do this, so that when you take the lid off you will see something like this photo.

The sides of the food processor or blender will be rather spattered with pieces of almond, so scrape them into the milk, using a little more cold water if needed.

4. Pour the milk and pulp into a sieve over a measuring jug, then pour another 100ml or so of water over, and push down gently with a spatula or large spoon, to push out more of the milk.

Return the pulp to the food processor, then repeat stage 3; the second stage of processing will produce slightly more watery almond milk, but it's well worth doing this extra processing. Strain again; at this point you can use a muslin bag or square, if you want, to squeeze out the last of the milk, but I tend just to stick with the sieve and push out as much as I can with a spatula.

Keep drizzling water over the almonds and straining remaining milk through until there's about a litre of almond milk in the jug. Then cover, and refrigerate.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Some years ago, two members of my family realised that dairy products were causing their ears to block up. In addition, we realised that most cows' milk is highly processed and homogenised. We experimented with various kinds of home-made milk substitutes; living in Cyprus, it's very expensive to buy them pre-packaged.

For adding to coffee, and for using in cooking anything sweet or connected with curries, we like coconut milk the best. But our son much prefers almond milk on granola, and we also find that it works better in savoury foods such as quiche or yorkshire puddings. So we usually have both available.

The pulp can be refrigerated for several days, or frozen for a few months. We use it when making granola, or added to a bowl of granola when eating it. It makes a good substitute for ground almonds in any recipe that uses them, such as Christmas cake, or can be added to bread, to digestive biscuit bases of cheesecakes, or even to pastry.


Sausagemeat and Chicken Pie

Sausagemeat and Chicken Pie
sausagemeat Christmas pie
Serves 6-8

1-2 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
400-500g sausagemeat (US: 1lb)
grated zest of a lemon
90-100g fresh breadcrumbs (US: 3-4 ounces)
85-100g chopped dried apricots (US: 3-4 ounces)
50-75g canned or pacakaged chestnuts (US: 2-3 ounces)
100g fresh or frozen cranberries (US: 4 ounces)
1 tsp dried thyme
500g boneless skinless chicken breasts (US: 1lb), 
      OR 300g leftover turkey breast (US: 3/4 lb)

500g pack of ready-made shortcrust pastry (US: 1lb)
      OR home-made pastry using 350g flour
beaten egg to glaze

Note that you will need a deep round cake tin for this pie, with diameter 20-21cm (8 inches) and a removable base, ideally a spring-form tin.

If not using ready-made pastry, prepare your pastry and leave it to rest for at least fifteen minutes or so. 

Heat your oven to 190C (375F).

Fry the onion gently in a tablespoon of oil until soft. Cool slightly, then put the onion pieces into a bowl with the sausagemeat, lemon zest, breadcrumbs, apricots, chestnuts, cranberries and thyme. Mix it roughly, using a large spoon (or your hands). You can season with a little pepper and salt if you wish. 

If using raw chicken breast, cut each of them lengthwise into two or three then pieces. Heat the rest of the oil, and fry the chicken quickly, turning, for about five minutes until lightly browned on the outside.

Roll out about two-thirds of the pastry on a floured surface making a large circle, and use it to line the deep cake tin. You should not have to grease it unless it is old and likely to stick. 

Press about half of the sausagemeat mixture into the tin, and spread it out roughly so it's level. Then add the chicken or turkey pieces in a layer on top, and cover this with the rest of the sausagemeat. Press it down lightly.

Roll out the rest of the pastry to fit the top. Brush the edges with the beaten egg, and cover the pie with the pastry lid. Pinch the edges to seal. Brush the top of the pie liberally with the egg, then if you wish, roll out the trimmings to make patterns or shapes appropriate to the season or celebration. 

Bake for about  50-60 minutes, then leave in the tin for 15 mins before placing on a large plate and carefully removing the cake tin side. Cut carefully into wedges.

Delicious served hot with a variety of vegetables, and perhaps some baked potatoes, or cold with a large salad. 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

We were introduced to this kind of raised meat pie by a friend some years ago. She told me that it was based on a BBC recipe known as Christmas pie - and, indeed, the recipe above is still quite similar to the original, although we realised that the quantities of ingredients are quite flexible and can be adjusted to suit what you happen to have available.

We usually get too much sausagemeat at Christmas, and keep one 450g pack in the freezer for a suitable occasion; I also freeze some cranberries and chestnuts. If you don't happen to like chestnuts, apricots or cranberries, just leave them out and use rather more of ingredients you do like.

For the first few times I made this, I used packaged short-crust pastry, and it worked well. However, I decided to risk my own pastry when I made it recently; I used 3/4 white flour and 1/4 wholemeal flour, to make it a little more nutritious, and it worked extremely well. This photo shows how it looked before I rolled out the lid.

Do take note of the instruction to cool the pie in the tin for at least fifteen minutes. So allow yourself time for this - it's very important. I neglected it once, trying to serve the pie about five minutes after it came out of the oven, and the pastry sides sagged, making the whole thing collapse. It tasted all right but looked a terrible mess. The pastry really does need time to firm up - and if it's a bit longer than 15 minutes, that's fine.

Make sure, too, that when you pinch the edges of the lid, you don't make them stick out over the edge of the tin. This is a mistake I have made at least twice. You can probably see it in this photo of my most recent effort.

It looked good... but even with a springform tin at its widest, the side piece could not be lifted over the top of the pie without breaking it. In the end, we had to sit the base on a mug and slide the side downwards, then carefully move the cake on the base to a plate for serving.

We find that there is sufficient carbohydrate in the pastry and the breadcrumbs that we just serve a variety of vegetables with it to make a filling meal for about six to eight people; however if you have hungry teenagers, you might like to bake some potatoes to go with it.

This recipe is dairy-free so long as you use dairy-free spread in your pastry. 


Mincemeat cake

mincemeat cake
Mincemeat cake
Makes about 16 pieces

90g wholemeal flour (US: 3 ounces, or 3/4 cup)
90g white flour (US: 3 ounces, or 3/4 cup)
1 tsp baking powder
60g butter or spread (US: 2 ounces)
90g soft brown sugar (US: 3 ounces, or 1/2 cup)
90g regular sugar (US: 3 ounces, or a little over 1/2 cup)
1 egg
4-6 tblsp mincemeat

Heat oven to 160C (320F). Grease and line a fairly deep 20cm [8 inches] round, or 18cm [7 inches] square deep cake tin.

Cream the fat and sugar with a wooden spoon or electric mixter until light, then beat in the egg, and fold in the rest of the ingredients. Add a little milk, almond milk or coconut milk if necessary to give a soft consistency, then put in the pan and smooth the top.

Bake for about 30-40 minutes. Cool for ten minutes or so before turning out onto a wire rack, and cut into wedges or squares while still warm.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

This recipe - or one approximating to it - is sometimes known as 'mincemeat brownies', but I find that rather misleading. Brownies, in my view, contain chocolate. However, this is a soft and very pleasant cake with a slighty fudgy consistency, ideal for using up leftover mincemeat after Christmas.

You can use all white flour, and all white sugar, but we prefer at least half wholemeal flour and brown sugar. If you prefer all wholemeal flour, that would produce a denser cake but it would probably still work just fine. If you have access to good quality self-raising flour, either white or wholemeal, you could use that and omit the baking powder.

If your mincemeat uses veggie suet (or no suet at all) then this cake would be suitable for vegetarians. If you use spread rather than butter and non-dairy milk, then it would be dairy-free. 


Apple and pear spread (unsweetened)

apple and pear spread
Apple and pear spread
Makes about 500-600ml (2 cups)

4 medium apples
4 medium pears
juice of ½ lemon
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp vanilla extract

Peel, core and chop the fruit roughly. Put in a pan with a little water. Cover, and simmer gently until it is very pulpy. 

Cool for half an hour or so, then blend - with a stick blender if possible. Add the lemon juice, spices and extract, then simmer, stirring, until thick. Cool and keep the spread in covered containers in the fridge or freezer. It will keep for about a week or more in the fridge, several months in the freezer. 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

This is a good alternative to jam, for spreading on bread or toast. Even if you use fairly tart apples such as Granny Smith, the sweetness of the pears counteract this, and the cinnamon provides sufficient taste that the lack of added sweetener is not obvious. You can experiment with different spices if you wish.

Note too that the quantities of fruit are approximate - use more or fewer as you wish.

However, since there is nothing to preserve this spread, it will not keep very long at room temperature, and only for about a week in the fridge.  I tend to decant it into small plastic containers, as in the photo above, each holding about 200ml, and freeze them until needed.


Apple Bundt Cake

Apple bundt cake
apple bundt cake
Makes 1 cake to serve 10-12

3 medium apples
2 tblsp soft brown sugar
1-2 tsp cinnamon

375g plain or part wholewheat flour (US: 3 cups)
3 tsp baking powder
400g sugar (US: 2 cups)
250ml olive oil (US: 1 cup)
1 tsp vanilla extract
166ml orange juice (US: 2/3 cup)

Heat the oven to 175C (350F). Grease and flour a ring or bundt pan with about 25cm (10 inch) diameter.

Peel, core and chop the apples into thin slices, then place in a bowl with the soft brown sugar and cinnamon. Leave for flavours to blend.

Meanwhile, in another (large) bowl, beat the eggs and sugar with an electric whisk. Slowly beat in the oil, vanilla extract and orange juice. When blended, fold in the flour and baking powder carefully using a metal spoon.

Pour about half of the batter into the prepared ring tin, then place the apples on top to cover. Top with the rest of the batter.

Bake for about an hour, then cool for a while in the tin before turning out carefully onto a wire rack. 

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

A bundt cake is technically baked in a ring mould with sloping sides. It's not something in our culture - but just over a year ago we re-watched the DVD of 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding' with some friends, and started discussing bundt cakes afterwards. We had a loose-bottomed ring cake tin, about 25cm across, so a couple of days later I hunted around online and found various recipes.

The one that looked simplest - and which used apples, of which I had several - was for a Dutch apple bundt. I decided that I did not need as much sugar as listed to sprinkle on my apples and that soft brown sugar would be much nicer than regular white sugar. I reduced the cinnamon, since to our British tastebuds many American recipes have too much of this spice, and I also reduced the vanilla extract since most cakes use just one teaspoon.

apple bundt cake with flowersThe original recipe called for 'all purpose' flour, but I always like to use at least half wholewheat flour. It might be possible to use entirely wholewheat. Freshly squeezed orange juice is of course the best kind, but in the UK many people buy orange juice in packets, and since it just provides necessary liquid and a little flavour, any kind could probably be used. Or even apple juice, for those who want to avoid citrus products.

I found the most difficult part of this recipe was turning the cake out, as it stuck to the inside of the ring despite the greasing and flouring. It felt quite fragile so I was worried that it might break, but it was fine. We ate it with our friends, who provided a little spray of flowers as a nod to the film!



Makes about 6-8 servings

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
6-8 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons garam masala
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 - 1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 - 1 teaspoon salt
750-800g minced beef (US: about a pound and three-quarters)
800g canned or frozen tomatoes (US: about 28 ounces)
140-150g tomato puree (US: about half a cup)
300ml stock or water (or leftover wine)

100g red lentils, rinsed
200g chickpeas, cooked; or frozen peas

Cook the onions and garlic in a large saucepan in the olive oil until well softened. Add all the spices, and stir for about a minute, then add the mince and continue cooking and stirring, mixing into the onions, until it starts to brown.

If using lentils, stir them in at this stage.

Add the rest of the ingredients and keep stirring until it reaches the boil. 

At this stage you can transfer it to a crockpot and simmer for 4-6 hours on 'medium'; alternatively, cover and simmer gently for about an hour, stirring occasionally to ensure that it does not burn.

Adjust seasonings if necessary, and serve over rice or baked potatoes, with a large salad or cooked vegetables.

Chickpeas or frozen peas can be added towards the end of the cooking, for authenticity.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Keema is a traditional South Asian dish made of mince, often with added potatoes or peas. There are a variety of different ways of seasoning this, so feel free to adjust the spices according to taste. My original recipe only used garam masala, ginger and cumin; I make it a policy to add turmeric to anything like this, due to its health properties, and when I tasted it during cooking, I felt it lacked much 'kick', so I added the chili powder. Some chili powder is much stronger than other forms, so be careful with this.

There still seemed to be something missing, so I added some cinnamon, and it felt just right. However, different people like different spice combinations, so it's worth experimenting. Equally, if you can't stand one of the spices listed, or don't have it in your cupboard, you can leave it out.

Some recipes for keema include 200g yogurt, stirred in at the end; this will add a bit of taste, but obviously makes it unsuitable for dairy-free eaters.