“Chocolate-Orange Olive Oil Cake” from “Simple Cake”

Want to know the easiest way to be the most popular person at your next meeting? Bring cake.

When I brought this chocolate-orange olive oil cake to my last meeting, it was met with pure glee. This is a nice addition to any meeting that has the potential to be stressful, long or both.

Now I say I brought chocolate-orange olive oil cake, but in the spirit of full disclosure, it didn’t have any orange zest in it because I accidentally left the orange at the self-serve till and by the time I discovered the mistake (I was finishing up preparing the batter), I didn’t have enough time to run back and rescue it. So chocolate olive oil cake it is. EXCEPT, again in the spirit of full disclosure, I didn’t use all the olive oil called for in the recipe either. I don’t know if it’s because this is an American book and perhaps the olive oil over there isn’t as peppery as the ones we get over here, but I made the mistake of using all olive oil in another cake once and the peppery aftertaste was so overwhelming that it ruined the cake. I try not to make the same mistake twice, so for this recipe, I used half olive oil and half sunflower oil. It worked a treat.

So yes, this was a great success, despite the fact that it didn’t have the requisite orange or olive oil in it. But one of the philosophies of the book is to try to mix it up and be creative when making cakes, which I certainly did here, so I think it works just the same.

“Chocolate-Orange Olive Oil Cake” from “Simple Cake”

“Tangy Olive Oil Cake” from “Simple Cake”

Kirstin: So this cake was made before my new microwave oven had arrived; it was literally delivered a few hours later. So it had to be babysat in my cake killer of an oven, which Helen was very good at helping me with. The thing about these cakes is that they really are very simple and easy to make. I chatted away with Helen while baking this with ease.

And the cake was a huge hit. My only problem was that the recipe is for two cakes. When we only needed one. But hey ho. The more cake, the better! Definitely first world problems.

“Tangy Olive Oil Cake” from “Simple Cake”

“Lovely lemon Yoghurt Cake” from “Simple Cake”

Kirstin: I am so not a baker of cakes. There are several reasons for this. We are not huge cake eaters. But also because my oven has a problem with its thermostat. Great for pizzas. Cakes not so much.

But this book and my new microwave oven are set to change all of this. And it’s now exciting to be able to contemplate looking through the cake sections of my cookbooks without that threat of burnt cake.

This cake was the first (I hope) of many such a collaboration between book and oven. Truly I do not think I ever cooked a cake that turned out as well as this. The crumb was perfect. And as you can see. NO BURNT TOP! Also, I’m looking forward to making this again having read in Bon Appetit magazine recently that you should replace your baking soda every month and store it in the fridge. SO exciting!

My dinner guests and I were all completely thrilled with the results and demolished the lot. Winner. And I loved the idea of a gin glazing. I will try that NEXT time, for sure!

“Lovely lemon Yoghurt Cake” from “Simple Cake”

Cookbook of the Month, April 2019: Simple Cake by Odette Williams

Maureen: Huzzah! A month of cake!

Kirstin: I picked this book because of the photographer, Nicole Franzen, who has a great Instagram. She’s just my favourite.

Maureen: Plus it made sense to have a month of cake in April we have children home from their respective universities, so I know that cake in the house will be most welcome.

Kirstin: I like how the recipes tell you how long it’s going to take to make the cake. The time involved often puts me off, but some of these recipes are pretty straightforward and quick.

Maureen: As someone who loves to bake cake, and would do it every day if I could, I think she does an excellent job of demystifying cake baking for people who aren’t comfortable doing it.

Kirstin: I agree. I took a photo of the olive oil cake, and sent it to her. She posted it on Instagram and then we had a lovely conversation about it.

Maureen: Now that is cool. See? Cake brings people together!

Kirstin: This might even make me a baker!

Maureen: We’ll see.


Cookbook of the Month, April 2019: Simple Cake by Odette Williams

Our Verdict: Half Baked Harvest

Maureen: Apologies for getting to our March verdict on April 4th. Real life got in the way, as it sometimes does. Without further delay, what did you think, Kirstin?

Kirstin: I loved it!

Maureen: I thought it was a vast improvement on February’s book, but I liked it less and less as the month went on. We had some great meals, some so-so meals and some awful meals. So I’d say for us that it was a bit mixed.

Kirstin: I should say that I cooked from her blog, which I loved, and didn’t cook from the book at all. So maybe that made a difference.

Maureen: I cooked more from the book, so maybe the quality of the recipes was more mixed because they’re older. She is young, so perhaps she’s getting better the more experienced she becomes.

Kirstin: I’m beginning to think that we should do away with the cookbooks, because the blog was so much eaiser to use. It was so easy to find recipes, you keep the ones you like, you chuck the ones that you don’t. I loved cooking from the blog. I loved the way she categorised them as well. It made it really easy to decide what to eat.

Maureen: I get that. It’s so much easier to find inspiration online than it is in a cookbook. You can think, “I’m in the mood for [whatever] tonight” and then find it within minutes online, rather than going through each cookbook trying to figure out what to eat.

Kirstin: I’ve thought about this a great deal, and I’ve decided I would pay a subscription in order to access a website.

Maureen: Well, yes, absolutely, given that we’re both married to journalists and I am one myself. The future for the industry is in paying for content, not getting it for free. But I guess it would depend on the site. You’d have to know and trust the site you’re using.

Kirstin: I loved all the Asian recipes. She’s surprisingly good on Asian recipes for an American. She could give Melissa Clark some tips on instant cooking, too.

Maureen: Maybe I’m just grumpy from Brexit. I thought it was very good, but not excellent. I’ll keep checking out her blog, though.

Kirstin: I genuinely liked the recipes. I thought it was great. I’m going to keep looking at her blog, too.

“Half Baked Harvest”
Overall Grade (A- F):   A (Kirstin) B (Maureen)
Best recipes: Maureen: Beer can chicken. We’ll be eating that again very soon. Kirstin: All of the ramen. They were all excellent.
Grade for Photography (A-F): A. “She does give good tips on how to take good food photos.” (Maureen)                                                                                                                                        Any disasters? Kirstin: No! Maureen: Yes, we had several. The meatballs, which I didn’t blog about, were disgusting, and the salmon was gross. On the salmon, she should have quit when she was ahead because the roast potatoes and asparagus with parmesan cheese were great.                                                                                                                                         Bookshelf or Charity Shop Donation? Kirstin: I’ll keep up to date with the blog, but I probably won’t keep the cookbook. Maureen: I’ll keep the cookbook, but it’ll be on a low-rotation shelf, which means I’ll probably donate it to the charity shop in a year.


Our Verdict: Half Baked Harvest

“One Pan Lemon Salmon, Roasted Potatoes and Parmesan Asparagus” from “Half Baked Harvest”

In honour of Fish Friday, here’s another fish recipe from Half Baked Harvest. While Kirstin has had good luck with her salmon recipes, I can’t say we had the same experience with this one.

I always love a tray baked dinner. Nigella excels at them. There’s minimal intervention needed once everything gets on the tray, and there’s minimal cleanup once it’s all cooked too. All in all, a win-win for a weeknight dinner.

This one starts out perfectly– you start by roasting the new potatoes, which have been tossed in olive oil. Once they’ve had their head start, you add the asparagus (now in season! huzzah!), toss them in olive oil and then scatter grated parmesan over the top, which truly is a genius move and one that I’ll be doing again.

Where things go terribly wrong is with the salmon. For this recipe, she has you make a spice mixture with honey and an array of spices (everything from basil to smoked paprika) to smother on top of the salmon when you put it in the oven to roast. I’m here to tell you that if you’re roasting fresh salmon, you honestly don’t need any of that stuff on top to begin with, but also, this particular mixture just doesn’t work and is, frankly, not tasty. Nicholas (15) really hated it and ended up scraping it off his salmon, which he then happily ate. It was just a bit yuck and unfortunately made what would have been a delicious dinner a not-particularly-appetizing one.

So while I will be roasting new potatoes and asparagus tossed in parmesan along with some fish again, there’s no way I’ll ruin it by doing this spice mixture again. Lesson learned.

I’d recommend this recipe but without the spice mixture on top of the fish. Click through this paragraph to see it for yourself on Half Baked Harvest.

“One Pan Lemon Salmon, Roasted Potatoes and Parmesan Asparagus” from “Half Baked Harvest”

“Potato Chip Chicken” from “Half Baked Harvest”

When I was growing up in suburban New Jersey, I honestly thought that fried chicken was chicken dipped in butter and then coated in broken potato chips. I know. I know. But this was how my mom always made it, and frankly, when your age is in the single digits, you’re just going to believe what people tell you. So when she said it was fried chicken, I took it as gospel.

I got older and wiser, discovered KFC (my mom was not a big fan of fast food, which is why it took me so longer to find out about it) and I learned to appreciate good fried chicken. Yum. But potato chip fried chicken still has a special place in my heart only because I have such fond childhood memories of it.

When I saw this recipe in the cookbook, I was ready to jump back into the warm waters of childhood nostalgia and make it. As it happens, my husband Tim’s mom used to also make potato chip chicken so he was happy to have it too. [Do we need to take a moment to consider the culinary wasteland that was suburban America in the 1970s? Let’s not.]

Was it as good as we remembered? The aphorism, “You never can go home again,” is true. Maybe our memories are faulty, but it just wasn’t as good as we remembered it. Nicholas (15) had no such exposure to potato chip chicken, so while he liked it, he didn’t love it. We all agreed that it wasn’t an improvement on standard breaded chicken using breadcrumbs or panko. We also thought it was a shame to crush an entire bag of potato chips for this purpose when we could just snack on them instead.

If you’d like to try this yourself, click through here to see the recipe on the Thanksgiving & Co. website.



“Potato Chip Chicken” from “Half Baked Harvest”