Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Playing around

I'm bored with my Blogger template. Again. So if this looks a bit different or downright rubbish, it's because I'm playing around...

But I also wanted to do a quick post because I completely forgot to say this earlier - happy Hallowe'en to everyone!

Update: I'm sticking with this look. I'd forgotten that annoying problem with the minima template when the leading between the lines bunches up if you try to add more than one photo. That's the kind of thing that irks my copy-editing soul.

Soup art

So there I was, about to attempt a fancy, swirly sourcream pattern in some beetroot soup when I realised that the blobs had shaped themselves into a cute Scottie dog - or should that be a West Highland terrier? Hmmm, I thought. You can get coffee art, so why not (accidental) soup art? I've invented soup art!

Then I remembered that soup art already exists - in restaurants. That's what they do.

Oh well, it was still extremely tasty and a rather vibrant pinky-purple to boot.

And there's a sneaky, hidden ingredient to make this a proper winter warmer... vodka! Only a teeny bit, mind - 2 teaspoons per serving. Just enough to give a little kick.

But, seeing as I'd like to enter this recipe for the Weekend Herb Blogging event (hosted by Kalyn's Kitchen), let's concentrate on the beetroot and what it can do for you, as I think we all know what the vodka does in large enough quantities. And how.

After rummaging through a couple of books*, I found out that:

  • Beetroots are an excellent source of folic acid and a very good source of manganese and potassium.

  • However, don't throw away those beet greens - they're even more nutritious because they're richer in calcium, iron and vitamins A and C, as well as containing magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin B6.

  • Beetroots have long been used for medicinal purposes, mostly to treat liver disorders, because they stimulate the liver's detoxification process (bringing us back to that vodka...).

  • The amazing colour comes from a pigment called betacyanin, which is apparently a powerful cancer-fighting agent.

  • Beet fibre has been shown to have 'a favourable effect on bowel function' (such a lovely way of describing it).

  • Those last two points mean that beetroot is thought to help protect against colon cancer.
So there you go. Beetroot - an all-round winner in the 'good for you' stakes, as well as being pretty to look at (once cooked, admittedly) and a pleasure to eat. What more could you possibly want?

Tipsy beetroot soup from A Paradiso Year (Autumn and Winter Cooking) by Dennis Cotter

Serves 6 to 8 people

You'll need:

800g beetroot
3 onions
6 cloves garlic
half a bulb fennel or 1 stick celery
olive oil
100g potato
1,500ml vegetable stock
1 tablespoon fresh dill, fennel or lovage
large pinch cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to season
sourcream to serve

1. Cook the beetroot in boiling water until tender, then peel under cold running water and chop coarsely.

2. Meanwhile, chop the onions, garlic and fennel or celery, heat some olive oil in a pot and cook them until the onions are soft.

3. Chop the potato and add it to the onions, along with the beetroot, the stock and your chosen herb. Bring this to a boil and then simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, or until the potato starts to break down. Add the cayenne pepper and the balsamic vinegar. Blend the soup to a smooth purée, season well with salt and pepper.

4. Pour the soup into the bowls and put a teaspoon or two of vodka into each serving. Then drizzle a little bit of sourcream over the top and serve.

Cook's notes

I'd maybe double the amount of potato suggested but that's just because I like a really thick soup.

Vodka - I tried the soup both with and without it, and it works both ways. So if you don't want alcohol in your lunchtime soup, don't worry, it's still delicious.

*The fantastic beetroot facts came from The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods by Dr Michael Murray and Dr Joseph Pizzorno, with Laura Pizzorno.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Nice matters

The very lovely Holler over at Tinned Tomatoes has given me this award! Cheers Holler! And she's right - nice does matter. Sometimes I wish there was a bit more of it in the world.

So, in turn, I'd like to pass on the award to the following bloggers because they always make me smile, and I think that's a nice thing :-)

Hellojed at It had better be good
CookieCrumb at I'm mad and I eat
The mysterious Caked Crusader
Debs at The Humble Housewife, and...
Carrie over at Ginger Lemon Girl

Mr B. wants to know if I can now call this an award-winning blog...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Happiness is a warm chocolate choc-chip muffin

This is something I used to dream about in my last job, staring at a watery cuppa and a stale bun, wondering how I was going to cram all the work in unless I developed several clones. One day, I quietly vowed, on that tantalisingly out-of-reach day when I have nothing much to do except please myself, I will make delicious muffins. And I will take the chance to slow down and appreciate them properly, fresh and warm from the oven - every last soft, rich, chocolatey bite.

Today was that day.

And they were goooooooood.

Ok, I'm not working at the moment but I'm not completely free to please myself forever - unfortunately my bank account won't allow it :-( So now I have to find a new job. But at least I'll have some proper muffins to help me through any stressful times!

Chocolate choc-chip muffins from Baking – From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Makes 12

90g unsalted butter
110g dark chocolate (around 70% cocoa solids), coarsely chopped
2 cups plain flour
2/3 cup caster sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
1¼ cups buttermilk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 190C/ gas mark 5. Butter or spray a 12-hole muffin pan or line with paper muffin cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

2. Melt the butter and half of the chopped chocolate together in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (or do this in a microwave). Remove from the heat.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, bicarb of soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg and vanilla extract together until well combined.

4. Pour the liquid ingredients, as well as the melted butter-chocolate mix, over the dry ingredients and with the whisk, or a spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough – a few lumps are better than overmixing the batter.

5. Stir in the remaining chopped chocolate. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

6. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the centre of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from the pan.

Cook's notes

I chopped up the chocolate into pieces that were a bit to small - so most of them melted into the batter as the muffins cooked. But they still tasted fab, so no biggy.

However, I'd probably crank up the chocolate chunk quotient next time. I'd say use 55g for the melted choc that becomes part of the batter, as per directions above, and maybe 100g for extra chocolatey chunk goodness.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A tasty burger

We're not a vegetarian household but that's how we eat a lot of the time. I'm always interested in getting a bit more variety in my diet than the monotonous meat and two veg. So I was highly excited when my copy of Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson arrived on the doorstep earlier this year. I rapidly bookmarked a whole bunch of recipes to try out, but then moving to Ireland and setting up a new life got in the way of doing... well, anything else really. It's only recently that I've had the opportunity to dive back into this book and get cooking.

Chances are, if you're into food blogs then you've probably come across Heidi by now. And if you've enjoyed her blog then you're likely to enjoy the book too. What I like about her writing is that she doesn't ever really say 'eat this, it's good for you'. Instead, she lets the recipes speak for themselves: interesting, often new (to me, anyway), ingredients from around the world, brought together in tasty combinations that stand confidently on their own, without anyone hankering wistfully after animal protein. It happens to be good for you? That's just a bonus.

And the photos? Everything looks so vibrant and beautiful, with rich, jewel-like colours shimmering on every page - colour is such an important part of stimulating appetite and appreciating food (as Heidi discusses) and the pics certainly reflect that. Also, it has to be said, I'm a sucker for interesting photography and thoughtful design - this book has it in spades. Nice paper choice too - it feels good to run your fingers across the pages. (Yes, I like to stroke books... doesn't everyone?) This is a book that's been put together with love from start to literal finish of the inside cover.

So, once I'd snapped out of my book-lovin' reverie, I had to decide where to start. Oooh - sticky teff-kissed spice loaves... Well, I'll have to go on a teff hunt first, so that's earmarked for another day. Gnocchi alla Romana... that sounds good but we've eaten lots of pasta and sauce over the past couple of days, so, again, reserved for a future date.

Then I remembered a conversation with my former workmate Chloe (hi Chloe!), in which we'd both drooled over the gorgeous-looking chickpea burgers. Yes, I thought, that's a good place to start. And what an inspired bit of thinking (Heidi's, not mine, I hasten to add) - turning the burger into the bun and stuffing it with extra veggies. No more too-sloppy or too-crumbly, tasteless concoctions for this kitchen - so often the problem with veggieburger recipes. This is a tasty, beautifully-textured burger, indeed.

Here's a link to the 101 Cookbooks archived recipe for sprouted chickpea burgers from Super Natural Cooking.

Cook's notes

I changed nothing. Not a thing. How often does that happen? Oh, actually, I left out the micro sprouts but that's just because I had a 'senior moment' when I was out shopping and forgot to buy any. (I'm only 31 - this doesn't bode well.)

These patties were also good as leftovers - very easy to split open when they're cold and then stuff with whatever's to hand in the fridge. That's my lunch you're looking at in the photo at the top :-)

For some reason, I'm now thinking that these would work well in a wrap with some salad and tzatziki. Mmmm - time to make some more!

Monday, October 22, 2007

I love my local library

Sometimes you open a cookbook and a recipe leaps off the page, teasing you with its mouth-watering description and general all-round sexiness. So you amble into the kitchen like a person hypnotised, cookbook in hand, because you have no other option - that recipe isn't going on any 'to make' list nor will it be filed away for another day. You have to make it now.

At least, that's what happened to me after I found this sitting happily on the shelves of my local library in all its hardback glory:

Plum bakewell tart is the recipe that worked its voodoo magic on me. There are a few others I'd like to try from this book* but the thought of a thick layer of vanilla-scented frangipane and juicy plum quarters, with a dollop of spicy jam hiding underneath... Mmmmmm. Before I realised it, I was rummaging through the kitchen cupboards, looking for the necessary ingredients. By some minor miracle, I had them all. Hurray!

Having said that, it had better be a sustained case of baking lust, as you need the best part of an afternoon to make the recipe. The pastry and frangipane both need half an hour to rest in the fridge, then there's a further hour in the freezer (!) for the pastry once you've eased it into the tart tin... And you have to make the jam. So I'm thinking it's more of a lazy Sunday afternoon project than something to whip up after work. But it's worth it. Oh yes. Like Mr O. says, it blows any factory-made version out of the water.

*Maybe I'll try for a proper book review before the library due date at the end of the month.

Plum bakewell tart from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver

You’ll need a 28cm tart tin for this recipe.

For the sweet, shortcrust pastry (which makes enough for two tarts), you’ll need:

500g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
100g icing sugar, sifted
250g cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
Zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
A splash of milk

1. Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a large bowl. Using your hands, work the cubes of butter into the flour and sugar by rubbing your thumbs against your fingers until you end up with a fine crumbly mixture. Now add the lemon zest.

2. Add the eggs and a splash of milk to the mixture and gently work it together until you have a ball of dough. Flour it lightly. Flour your work surface and place the dough on top. Divide the dough into two pieces. Pat each piece into a flat round, flour them lightly, wrap in clingfilm and put into the fridge to rest for at least half an hour. (Put the half you’re not using in the freezer at this point for another day.)

Or just buy some good-quality ready made pastry. I was in the mood to make pastry this time around but that’s not always the case :-)

For the plum bakewell tart you’ll need:

A knob of butter
½ x sweetcrust pastry recipe above
1kg plums (mixed varieties would look pretty)
100g vanilla sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cornflour, dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold water
50g flaked almonds
icing sugar

For the frangipane, you’ll need:

285g ground almonds
50g plain flour
1 vanilla pod (or 1 teaspoon of good-quality vanilla extract)
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
250g caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten.

1. Grease a 28cm tart tin with a little butter and make your pastry. After it has rested for 30 mins in the fridge, take it out and roll it out on a floured surface. Line the tart tin with your rolled-out pastry, easing it into the ridges at the side. Place in the freezer for an hour.

2. Put the ground almonds and plain flour together in a large bowl. Halve the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape out the seeds, using the back of your knife and add to the bowl (or just add the vanilla extract). Beat together until light and creamy. Add the eggs and beat again until the mixture is smooth. Place in the fridge to firm up for at least half an hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4 and bake the pastry case for around 10 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Remove from the oven, leaving the oven on.

4. Halve the plums and remove the stones. Finely chop half of them and place in a saucepan with the vanilla sugar and the cinnamon. Cook gently until softened, with a jammy consistency, then stir in the cornflour and simmer until thickened.

5. While the plums are cooking, cut the remaining plum halves into quarters and macerate them for 5 minutes by sprinkling them with icing sugar. Carefully spoon your plum jam into the pastry case and smooth it out across the bottom. Spread the frangipane over the plum jam. Arrange the plums on the surface of the frangipane, pressing them in lightly. Scatter the flaked almonds across the top.

6. Bake the tart in the oven for about 1 hour, with a baking tray under the tart, just in case it bubbles over. Once cooked through and golden brown on top, remove the tart from the oven and leave it to cool.

7. If you like, mix together a few tablespoons of icing sugar with a little warm water and drizzle over the top of the tart before serving.

Cook's notes

So, what didn't I do as per the recipe this time? Well, I didn't have a 28cm tart tin for a start, so I filled a 21cm tin instead and used the leftovers to make free-form tarts. I think I stuffed too much frangipane into the tin but other than that, it worked pretty well.

The pastry - it was ok. I've tried other, better versions, so if you have a 'go to' sweet pastry you'd probably be better off using it. Also, I used a teaspoon of cinnamon instead of the lemon zest recommended because I was angling for a more spicy autumn flavour overall.

Jamie recommends half a teaspoon of mixed spice for the jam but my love of cinnamon won out and I chucked in a teaspoon instead. While this made for quite a spicy jam, it balanced out when paired up with the frangipane.

It is a loooooooong recipe. I think the easiest way to make it would be to make the consituent ingredients on one night and then put the tart together on the next.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

In good company

The very lovely Deborah over at The Humble Housewife has put together a list of Irish food blogs. I've added a link on the right-hand side to her post, as well as here, so if you'd like to check out what's happening around the country, take a peek.

Maybe there are now enough of us for an Irish Food Bloggers' Association. Maybe there already is one and I've just not realised! Time for some more surfing...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Camera class 101

Note to self: please, please, please remember to check the settings on the camera before taking any pics. Otherwise you'll end up with slightly blurry pics of your very last cup of fennel soup and will be left with no other choice but to post it on your blog because the recipe's so darn good it can't possibly wait for another day. Nnnnnrgh!

Fennel and almond soup from Little Red Gooseberries by Daphne Lambert

Serves 4

You'll need:

4 fennel bulbs
1 leek
50g butter
1.2 litres (2 pints) vegetable stock
4 tablespoons ground almonds
Salt and pepper

1. Cut the fennel leaves from the bulb and save for decoration. Remove the tough outer layers of the fennel bulb and chop the remaining bulb into small pieces. Remove the outer leaves from the leek and slice into rounds.

2. Melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan and stir in the fennel and leek. Sweat gently for 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to to boil, then simmer for 10 minutes. Add the ground almonds and cook uncovered for a further 10 minutes.

3. Cool slightly then blend the soup until smooth. Heat through and divide between 4 bowls.

4. Serve garnished with the chopped fennel leaves (although I used some lovely purple watercress I found in the farmers market last weekend).

Cook's notes

As per usual, there was something I tinkered with or, in this case, left out because I didn't have it :-) The recipe specifies that 2 teaspoons of pastis should be added at step 3. So if you like a stronger aniseedy flavour, go for it. However, although I love fennel both raw and cooked, I dislike stronger aniseed flavours like liquorice, so I was perfectly happy with my non-pastis version of this soup.

I'm sure it's possible to cut the butter down for this recipe but it does add a gorgeous rounded-out flavour that complements the fennel and almonds rather well, so I'm loathe to mess with it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A nice cup of tea and a slice of...

...raspberry jam ripple cake.

Yeeeeeeees. So... I'm not proud about this but the thing is... the jam I bought in Ennis the other day for the in-laws... Not quite all of it is going to make it back to them. Not in the jar anyway. They're more than welcome to have some of this gorgeous cake though. I think they'll understand.*

It's a very simple, lazy day kind of cake to create. The sort of thing you make with your mum when you're too small to see over the top of the kitchen counter and you clamber onto a chair to take part in the incredibly serious business of swirling in the jam. (Of course, the jam goes everywhere but into the cake but that's not the point.)

Homely, uncomplicated and the perfect accompaniment for a strong brew.

Raspberry jam ripple cake from the Donna Hay magazine, issue 2 (autumn)

You'll need:

125g unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1½ cups self-raising flour, sifted
½ cup ground almonds
½ cup milk
½ cup raspberry jam
1 tablespoon boiling water

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5 and line a 20cm round cake tin with greaseproof paper.
2. Place the butter, sugar and vanilla together in a bowl and beat until light and fluffy.

3. Add the eggs and beat in well. Stir through the flour, almonds and milk.

4. Spoon half of the cake mixture into the tin. Mix the jam and boiling water in a small bowl until smooth. Spoon half of the jam over the cake mix in the tin, top with the remaining batter, then spoon the remaining jam over the cake. Swirl the jam through the cake using a palette knife or a butter knife.

5. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until the cake is cooked when tested with a skewer.

Cook's notes

Oops. I forgot to mix the jam with the boiling water, which I presume makes it easier to spread. Oh well, it still worked out ok.

This cake took about 65 minutes to cook in my oven, rather than the 50 or so specified.

Other good flavours that might work: blueberry, gooseberry, plum, maybe lemon curd... Just about anything!

*Besides, there's still a lovely jar of pink grapefruit marmalade for them, so I don't feel too bad.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Coming soon

We're getting a farmers market! Or rather, according to the Irish Farmers Markets website, it's re-opening.

From Wednesday 24 October and every Wednesday thereafter, there'll be a market at Manor Mills Shopping Centre, Maynooth, between 10am and 4pm.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lime lust - the continuing saga

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, limes.

The other lovely lime-drenched recipe I've added to my 'will make regularly, forever' list comes from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I was looking for a good wintery lunchtime salad - something that would fill me up without inducing sleepiness, which is kind of a problem for me. That snoozy, cozy feeling that creeps up after too much mid-day starch and when the office heating dial is turned up to 11...

Granted, I'm not working at the moment but hopefully I will be at some point (soon!), so I'm always on the hunt for new, easily transportable lunchbox fare that isn't just another boring sandwich again. This lentil salad recipe ticks all the boxes and makes enough to last several days. In fact, it's better after a day in the fridge, soaking in its punchy lime-cumin vinaigrette (which tastes great when you sop it up with a bit of crusty bread). And, it's easy to keep this dish from getting repetitive if you vary the added extras from day to day.

So, may I present a dish with an rather unwieldy title but more than enough zingy flavour and substance to keep you powering through till dinnertime with nary a snooze:

Lentil salad with roasted peppers, vegetable garnishes and lime-cumin vinaigrette adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Makes enough for 2 to 3 lunchboxes

For the lime-cumin vinaigrette, you'll need:

1 garlic clove, minced
grated zest of 2 limes
2 to 3 tablespoons of fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons of finely chopped spring onion or shallot
1/2 jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

1. Combine the garlic, lime zest, juice,, spring onion and chile in a bowl.

2. Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a small frying pan until fragrant, then immediately remove to a plate to cool. Grind to a powder in a spice mill, the add to the juice mixture.

3. Whisk in the oil. Taste and adjust as needed.

4. Let the dressing sit for at least 15 minutes and add the coriander just before using.

For the lentil salad, you'll need:

1/2 cup of Puy lentils
salt and pepper
2 red or yellow bell peppers, roasted and chopped
lime-cumin vinaigrette (see above)
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped mint
2 ripe tomatoes, deseeded and quartered

Possible extras
: feta, hard-boiled eggs, olives, cucumber

1. Cover the lentils with water in a small saucepan, add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until tender but still a little firm - about 25 to 30 minutes.

2. Drain the lentils and toss them while still warm with the peppers, tomatoes, half of the vinaigrette, parsley and mint. Taste and adjust seasoning.

3. Mound the lentils in a platter (or a lovely tupperware box, if taking to work) and garnish with any of the suggested extras above. Or whatever takes your fancy, really!

Cook's notes

Once again, I prefer to use a higher ratio of herbs and veggies to main salad ingredient. There's nothing worse than only finding a few measley bits of roasted pepper in a sea of lentils. Why would you want that? So I've halved the amount of lentils Deborah suggested but pretty much kept the rest of the recipe the same as hers.

Except for the dill. I left that out because it's not my favourite and there's enough herby stuff going on in the recipe that I don't think anyone would miss it greatly. However, if dill is your thing then add 2 tablespoons at stage 2, along with the parsley and mint.

And, of course, because I only used half the amount of lentils, it follows that I just used half of the vinaigrette. Next time I might reduce the oil content of the dressing a bit more as there was already quite a bit on the roasted peppers. But that's a small quibble and doesn't take away from the general tastiness of this dish.

Oh yes - I left out the 1/4 teaspoon of dry mustard specified for the vinaigrette because I didn't have any. Didn't miss it.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Go West...

Mr B.'s work often takes him out and about all over Ireland - so, when he announced that he had to drive over to the West, I jumped at the chance to tag along (what with currently being unemployed and consequently a bit bored). It was the least I could do - keep him company on a long tedious car journey ;-)*

This time it was Spanish Point and then on to Ennis. We stayed at Spanish Point on Thursday night, where I completely forgot to take any pics - memory like a sieve at the best of times. And it was pretty grey the next morning, so a photo wouldn't have adequately conveyed the windswept drama of Co. Clare. Bleak but beautiful.

So here's a shot of the colourful O'Connell Street in Ennis on an overcast day:

And a pic of Ennis Friary's south transept, with the autumnal trees peeking through the windows:

And what do you know - the farmers' market takes place on a Friday... I swear I didn't know that until we arrived in the morning! It's a small market but what's there is worth investigating: cheese, bread, veg, interesting garden plants, baked goods and sweet treats aplenty. I scooped up some jam for the in-laws and a jar of Irish honey to drizzle on my morning porridge (after the plum compote runs out), along with some tomato salsa for snacks and a seven-grain loaf to try out.

Mr B. disappeared to get on with his work so I went for a wander around the medieval streets**, poking my nose into all the shops and finding lots of interesting nooks and crannies. It was refreshing to walk around a place that wasn't swamped with all the usual high-street suspects. Good things included:

  • Chocolat - funky little shop offering all manner of mouth-watering chocolate treats.
  • Food Heaven - the busy but aptly-named cafe where I stopped off for lunch. Friendly staff and an enjoyable warm plum tart.
  • Scéal Eile Books - fantastic new and second-hand bookshop with a helpful, chatty owner.
  • Open Sesame - a comprehensively-stocked wholefoods shop where the ladies behind the counter seemed to be having so much fun that you wanted to join their gang.

Unfortunately, we had to leave Ennis before dinnertime. But I'm sure we'll be back at some point - there was idle talk of a holiday in the Burren some time next year... So we'll maybe have a chance to explore places for dinner another time. Looking forward to it :-)

*Altogether now, '10,000 bottles of beer on the wall, 10,000 bottles of beer...'
**A lot like my home town of York.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

March of the muffins

Well, they do kind of look like they're marching somewhere, don't they? Not a better future anyway, just our bellies!

Sometimes I'll become hooked by an ingredient and keep using it like a woman obsessed until I can eat no more (and then feel a little bit sick as a result - you'd think I wasn't a grown-up or something). Last week, it was the turn of the humble lime.

Maybe there's not enough vitamin C in my diet and my body is trying to tell me something, maybe it's the lack of sunshine which is triggering some deep-seated need for fresh, zingy flavours, perhaps I just like the colour green a lot - who knows. But I wanted to sneak limes into everything we ate last week. And I nearly very nearly succeeded. So this recipe, and probably the next one too, is all about limes.

I first came across Robin Asbell when Heidi at 101 Cookbooks posted this recipe for red rice salad. Heidi loves wholegrains and hearty, healthy fair, as does Robin. So much so that she's written a book called The New Wholegrains Cookbook. Because I'm always interested in shoehorning some more fibre into my diet, I made a mental note to look it up when it eventually travelled across the Pond (American publications sometimes take a while to reach the UK and Ireland, if ever). So I was a bit suprised to see it in Waterstones* on Dawson Street just a couple of weeks later.** Of course, I snapped it up... It's cooking that's good for me, see? It's not an indulgent purchase... Honest!

And lo and behold, there was the recipe that (temporarily) satisfied my lime mania - lime coconut banana muffins made with wholewheat flour. The original recipe contained macadamia nuts. I didn't have any but the lime lust was so strong that I didn't feel that I had time to go out and buy some. I needed those muffins yesterday.

The results didn't disappoint. Strongly lime-flavoured, complemented by the coconut with just a hint of banana in the background. The wholewheat pastry made for a slightly tighter crumb but not the dense rockiness you might associate with 'healthier' treats of yesteryear.

I was sated - for the time being...

Lime-coconut banana muffins with macadamias from The New Wholegrains Cookbook by Robin Asbell

You'll need:

½ cup macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
2¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsweetened coconut, shredded
2 large over-ripe bananas
1 cup brown sugar
4 limes
1 large egg
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup icing sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper cups.

2. In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt and coconut. In a separate bowl, mash up the bananas and whisk in the sugar.

3. Grate the zest from the limes and add to the dry mixture, then juice the limes and measure 1/2 cup of the juice for the batter, reserving 2 tablespoons for the glaze. Add the 1/2 cup lime juice, egg and oil to the banana mix and beat in thoroughly.

4. Stir the wet mixture into the dry mixture, then fold in the macadamias. Divide the mixture into the 12 muffin cups. Bake for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean. Cool on a rack.

5. When the muffins are completely cool, put the icing sugar, two reserved tablespoons of lime juice and vanilla into a bowl. Stir thoroughly to make a stiff paste. If it is too dry, add a few more drops of juice. Drizzle the glaze across the top of each muffin and leave to set before serving.

*OK, I was in Waterstones but my new bookshop allegiance is to the excellent Hodges Figgis. Although, reading that Wikipedia entry, it seems all my money is going to the HMV group, whichever shop I buy from.
**Although it's probably coincidence, it tickles me to imagine that there's someone at Waterstones who reads Heidi's blog and buys in books on her recommendation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The first porridge of the year

We haven't quite hit the first hard frost of the year but fog is now making a regular appearance around these parts, wrapping itself tightly around the house in the early hours and making the prospect of getting up just that little bit less appealing.* Although it usually burns off by lunchtime, the mornings are now dreary, chilly and a touch spooky. Halloween is around the corner, that's for sure.

Time, methinks, for porridge. Comforting, slow-energy-releasing, delicious porridge.

The picture isn't up to much because I'm a photo-idiot (just point and click, right?) and haven't figured out indoor photography yet. And I wasn't prepared to shuffle out into the chilly garden to get a shot while I was still wearing my pyjamas and modelling a particularly glam bedhead hairstyle.** There's no need to put the neighbours off their breakfast.

Everyone has an opinion about the 'right' way to make porridge. It's funny, really, considering that the basic ingredients are oats, water and salt, but there you go - there are probably as many recipe variations as there are porridge lovers in the universe.

So we'll sidestep that highly controversial issue and concentrate on the extra goodies - like, say... the spiced plum compôte in the picture above (seamless link, no?).

Truth be told, I only made it because I bought a disappointing batch of plums last week. They were hard, they were sour, they were, all in all, badly in need of an extreme makeover. But sometimes good dishes can come out of the least promising ingredients.

Simmering them in orange juice with cinnamon and cloves until they started to collapse into jammy, spicy sweetness certainly did the trick. Suddenly these were transformed into plums that were not only edible but delicious and pretty more-ish to boot. So I've been happily ladling a couple of spoonfuls over my porridge all week.

To make this dish, I've tweaked a recipe from Vegetable Heaven by Catherine Mason. Although it was originally a plum and fig compôte in the book, I didn't have any dried figs in the house...

Spiced plum compôte, adapted from Vegetable Heaven by Catherine Mason

You'll need:

100 ml fresh orange juice
2 cloves
3cm stick of cinnamon
450-500g plums, cut in half and stoned
50g soft light brown sugar

1. Put the orange juice, cloves and cinammon to warm in a wide frying pan with a lid while you prepare the plums.

2. Add the plums to the pan in a single layer, bring to the boil, turn down the heat, cover and simmer very gently for about 10 minutes or until the plums are cooked.

3. Push the plums to one side in the pan and add the sugar to the liquid, stirring to dissolve. Serve warm with porridge or Greek yogurt.

Cook's notes

If you'd like to add the dried figs that Catherine Mason originally specifies then you'll need 'a handful'. Just add them to the pan at stage 2, along with the plums.

The original recipe called for 4 cloves but I found that was just two too many.

And I halved the amount of sugar the recipe called for, otherwise the dish is just too tooth-achingly sweet - for me, anyway :-)

Despite all my recipe tweaking above, I love Vegetable Heaven and would highly recommend it to anyone - veggies and omnivores alike. Along with some beautiful illustrations, it's stuffed full of fantastic recipes. Many of them would be particularly good in the winter months as they feature lots of starchy, satisfying combinations to ward off the cold: potato and smoked garlic gratin with mixed greens and brie... pumpkin stew with coconut, chilli and coriander... baked celeriac mash topped with poached eggs... damson clafouti with sloe gin syrup...

*OK, getting out of bed is never appealing, as I've ranted about before - but you know what I mean...

**A short pixie hairstyle means I look like a grumpy hedgehog in the morning, or so I'm told.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Here and there

A little bit of Scotland...

... in the heart of Dun Laoghaire, at the People's Park: