Sunday, 25 May 2008

More sproing and some tasty tortilla concoctions

I finished the last post dithering about what to do with my leftover quinoa: muffins or croquettes? And what do you know? Muffins can sproing too! We decided we wanted the black beans for dinner, so out came Veganomicon again. I really don't remember running out of linseeds, but apparently I did. I must do a stock-take some time. Ground linseeds take the place of egg in vegan baking, so I used some plain yogurt instead. I also used spelt flour instead of plain, added only a tiny bit of oil, and halved the recipe to save milk for tomorrow's breakfast. The recipe also said to add bicarbonate of soda which wasn't in the list of ingredients, so I added about 1/2 teaspoon (in the halved batch). They did rise a little and even smelt like sweet muffins because of the cinnamon. The little quinoa squiggles were pleasingly evident even on the top, and even more so when the muffin was cut. I really liked the taste, too - flavourful without being sweet, which is what I was aiming for. I've put them in the freezer for when we get back from Ireland, to eat with soups and salads.

Dinner's challenge, meanwhile, was to use up all the ingredients we had in the fridge which wouldn't last over our week's holiday. I got them all out and looked at them: one potato, some spring onions, a few asparagus spears, some goats cheese, the black beans, some carrot and about three quarters of a red pepper. I'd got some tortillas out of the freezer and some spinach, with the idea that we'd make some fillings and fry them in nice big tortilla sandwiches. We divvied up the ingredients and made one filling each. I got defrosted spinach, asparagus, and spring onion. The Scientist took the potato, beans, pepper and carrot. I steamed my asparagus, mixed it with the spinach, added some home-grown basil, and seasoned it with salt, pepper and nutmeg. I made a second batch with just spinach, some goats cheese and seasonings. The Scientist cooked and mashed his potato, added the beans, some lightly sauteed pepper and the grated carrot. In his second batch he added some cheddar. We just filled half of each tortilla, folded them over and fried them on each side in a dry frying pan until they were crisp.

The idea was a great success though both of us felt that our fillings could have been a bit better seasoned. I particularly liked the crunch of my spinachy asparagus one, while The Scientist's potato filling had a good thick texture and crunch from the carrot. I was too full to try more than a bite of the cheesey ones as we had the leftover quinoa salad from yesterday as well. I was also rather proud of myself for managing to get yet more leftovers into a nice healthy dessert - a vegan banana mousse I found on recipezaar. It was just two bananas, the juice from one lemon, 1 tbsp agave nectar and as much desiccated coconut as you fancy, blitzed up together. It was quite runny but light and sweet, and full of pretty wholesome ingredients. We even came up with the idea of using the last tortilla to make a dessert pancake, with some chocolate grated over the top. I ate mine unadorned; The Scientist took care of the pancake version and declared it a success.

After all that I sill had to face packing, but at least the fridge is pretty much clear. I hope there are a good few service stations on the way to Holyhead given the amount of OJ we need to drink before I'll let us leave the house, though.

Almond quinoa muffins
(from Veganomicon) - full batch
My half batch made 9 small muffins

1 cup vanilla soy milk [I used plain]
1 tbsp ground flaxseeds [I used 2 tbsps plain yogurt in my half batch instead]
1/4 cup canola oil [I used much less - maybe 1/2-3/4 tsp]
1/4 cup agave nectar or pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups plain or whole wheat pastry flour [I used almost all spelt flour with a bit of wholemeal plain]
1/4 cup ground almonds
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
[I think there's some bicarb of soda missing here - try 1 tsp for the full batch]
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/4 cups cooked quinoa
1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricot or currants

Preheat the oven to 350F and lightly grease a muffin tin.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the milk and ground flaxseeds. Allow to sit for 1 minute, then whisk in oil, agave nextar and vanilla

In a separate large bowl, sift together flour. ground almonds, bicarb of soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing until just incorporated. Gently fold in the cooked quinoa and the apricots and mix until only the large lumps are gone.

Pour into the prepared muffin tin adn bake for 20-22 mins until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

Super (foody) sproingy salad

Did you notice how I snuck the superfoody thing in the title there? I'm hoping I can get it past the Eco Sis medical radar by not implying it has actual superfood qualities :) I seem to have got a bit stuck on quinoa in my foray into new and nutritious ingredients, but it's because I was so surprised and taken with it. I had just never imagined any food could have that degree of 'sproing' to it. Also I have a bad habit of wanting to rush out and buy new ingredients whenever I read a new recipe, and I'm trying to keep it in check for the sake of our cupboards not being Scientist booby-traps.

Even though there is rain falling from the sky in sheets as I type, I am really enjoying the long light evenings we're having now. I feel so much more lively when the dark isn't closing in mid-afternoon, and it's lovely to sit and chat as we cook dinner with the curtains still open and a nice view of our 'verdant' (The Scientist's word) 'completely wild' (my word) garden. It also makes me much more inclined to based meals on salads, and I've been trying out some new fruity ones. I've already written about the strawberry, mushroom and poppyseed one, and we had a pear and watercress one after we went to the Alfresford watercress festival. This time I gave a Veganomicon quinoa and mango one a go, after seeing some reduced mangoes in Tesco (I'm still a bit dubious about this policy of buying more exotic fruits if they're otherwise going to be thrown away - I am still supporting Tesco selling them, after all, and that's the only feedback mechanism they care about... and while I think about it, the quinoa and black beans were hardly local. Sigh. Bad ethical salad.)

So the salad's ethics may not have been great, but it did taste very nice. Isa and Terry, the inimitable authors of the book, point out that it's really just a mix of quinoa, a vegetable, some beans and a fruit, so I felt fairly confident that I wouldn't be ruining it by using asparagus (British, thankfully, clawing back some eco-credibility) instead of pepper. Apart from that I pretty much stuck to the recipe, although I used hemp oil instead of grapeseed, and cut back on the quantity. The nicest things about this salad are its freshness (from the mango) and the range of textures - sproing from the quinoa, softness from the mango and crunch from the asparagus (which I steamed lightly in the microwave and then cooled). I halved the recipe but there was loads left. We ate it with orange-marinaded tofu (based on the Veganomicon tangerine baked tofu) which was also wonderful, and got the carnivore thumbs up, too.

I accidentally cooked far too much quinoa though, and am now in a dither as to whether to turn it into the Veganomicon quinoa and almond muffins which I've wanted to try for a bit, but which use milk of which we don't have much left and we're going on holiday tomorrow. Or, to make some quinoa and bean croquettes using the leftover black beans from the salad, and freeze them. I'm off to fret about that for a while now, and if I don't get round to posting about our 'pick of the fridge' inventiveness to use up everything else before we go on holiday, I'll be back in a week. We're going to Ireland, so expect soda bread, champ and boxty galore on our return.

Quinoa salad with black beans and mango (aka sproing salad) (from Veganomicon)
Serves 4 to 6

1 mango, peeled and cut into small dice
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced as small as you can get it [I used lightly steamed and cooled asparagus]
1 cup chopped spring onions
1 cup fresh coriander [I thought we had some but we didn't so I had to use dried]
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp grapeseed oil [I used hemp oil and halved it]
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups cooked quinoa (this is 1 cup dried cooked in 2 cups water for about 15 mins until water has been absorbed)
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
a few leaves of lettuce for garnish [I added quite a bit of lettuce]

Combine the mango, peppers, spring onions and coriander in a mixing bowl. Add the red wine vinegar, oil and salt and stir to combine. Add the quinoa and stir until everything is well incorporated. Fold in the black beans. You can serve immediately or leave to sit for a bit for the flavours to meld. To serve, place a few leaves of lettuce on a plate and scoop some salad on the top. This tastes good chilled and is even better at room temperature.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Super-posh intellectual dining

Last night I dined at one of the Oxford colleges, thanks to a kind invitation from a friend with a visiting fellowship. Whatever you think about elitism and snobbery, I love the traditions and ceremony of occasions like these. I haven't dined at a college for ages and it was great fun. The college in question was Corpus Christi which is a small and not very stuffy college - quite similar in size and spirit to the one I went to myself. It's beautiful, especially on a nice warm evening, with (I think) the only paved rather than grassy front quad of all the colleges. My friend gave me a brief guided tour of the quads and the chapel before we went up to the SCR (Senior Common Room) for drinks. I'm like a kid in a sweetie shop in hotel rooms, looking through all the cupboards and the complimentary goodies you get, and I think my friend was a little startled at how lively I became at the sight of so many bottles and juices and types of tea bags you could *just help yourself to*! I am very fond of my institution but it rarely gives us access to crystal glasses and sixteen types of Twinings tea.

The meal itself was pretty nice though these things are a bit wasted on me, fussy, small appetite person that I am. The first course was poached egg on asparagus with hollandaise on the side. This is a combination of some of my favourite foods, and as someone who can *just* manage to poach one egg successfully, the sight of about 35 all done to perfection and served at the same time was pretty impressive (cue more enthusiasm and no doubt more discomfort on the part of my host who could probably see his fellowship being revoked for bringing in unsuitable guests). The next course was fish, and some deep fried spring rolls for me, which were ok, and then stuffed pheasant (or something similar) for the carnivores and a Mediterranean tart for me. I'm not too keen on tarts, so I mainly ate the roasted veggies which were very nice. And finally, dessert was chocolate creme brulee, which was very rich and decadent. There was a layer of crunchy sugar under the torched brulee - is that normal? I didn't know whether to be impressed or surprised. All of this was accompanied by both red and white wines, and fully butlered service.

So far so decadent - we'd just eaten four courses, after all. But no, there was still "dessert" to come. This was back in the SCR, with a new seating plan, and consisted of dessert wine, claret and port, with fruit platters, and plates of truffles and petit fours (mmmnnnnn). I had to leave a little early to get my train but it was a lovely evening of conversation, good food and a nice dose of nostalgia. I have to admit that I did snaffle a little treat to take home to The Scientist - they really will never let me back. I hope my friend's fellowship is safe!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Ummmm....lemon mousse cheesecake

The Scientist's favourite dessert is lemon meringue pie. When I was out shopping recently I picked up a couple of limes on a whim, thinking I might try out a lime version. Then I decided I might use the lime as the drizzle for a lemon drizzle cake variation for him to take gaming. Then I made him mini chocolate chip cookies instead after he reflected on how nice it is to have a whole pile of mini treats (one mini treat is pointless in his book because it's over too soon). So I still had the limes, and meanwhile they had been augmented by two lemons for the cake. So then I thought I might make a lemon and lime swirled cheesecake for a Sunday dessert. I even imagined how attractive the light yellow and light green halves would look. But I didn't really want to buy a whole packet of biscuits for the base and have lots left. When I had a flick through some cookbooks I hit on a lemon mousse cheesecake which just had biscuits crumbled on top. There were a few mini choc chip cookies left from the gaming batch and my mind was finally made up (about time, you may be thinking, but I like a good back story :) ).

The mixture was very much like a regular cheesecake, but the egg white was whisked up separately and folded in to the rest of the batter - hence the mousse part. I quartered the recipe and made it in the little star shaped foil pots April sent me in my Blogging by Mail package, just for fun. I also cut down on the sugar a bit and used double the amount of lemon for more tang. It made three, but there's never any harm in having a spare - or so I heard The Scientist saying on his way to the fridge later in the evening.

The verdict on this dessert was an absolutely resounding thumbs up from both of us. The Scientist is generally a fan of dessert but he really got excited about this one. The mousse part was beautifully light and soft - airy round the edges and just softly damp in the middle. The extra lemon gave it a really good flavour - I'd definitely recommend using more than the recipe says. I dusted one with icing sugar just for the photo but it tasted lovely like that, and the crumbled choc chip cookies added a really good extra substance and texture to the others (the cookies were slightly soft which was nice, although I'm sure that crunchy biscuits would work just as well).

I'm sending this souffle pie to Tartelette's round of Sugar High Friday, which has a citrus theme. Now, does anyone have any good ideas for limes...?

Lemon mousse cheesecake (from Martha Day's Complete Baking - again!)

Serves 10-12

1.2kg cream cheese, at room temperature [I used reduced fat]
350g caster sugar
45g plain flour]4 eggs, at room temperature, separated
25ml fresh lemon juice
grated rind of 2 lemons
115g digestive biscuits, crushed

1. Preheat oven to 325F/170C/Gas 3. Line a 10-2in round cake tin with greaseproof paper and grease the paper.

2. With an electric mixture, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Gradually add 285g of the sugar, and beat until light. Beat in the flour.

3. Add the egg yolks and lemon juice and rind, and beat until smooth and well blended.

4. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Add the remaining sugar and beat until stiff and glossy.

5. Add the egg whites to the cheese mixture and gently fold in.

6. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, then place the tin in a larger baking tin. Place in the oven and pour hot water in the outer tin to come 1 inch up the side.

7. Bake until golden, 60-65 mins [I started checking through the glass oven door at about 40 minutes for my little ones]. Let cool in the pan on a rack. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

8. Unmould using an inverted plate. Smooth the top with a metal spatula. Sprinkle the biscuits over the top in an even layer, pressing down slightly to make an top crust. To serve, cut slices with a sharp knife dipped in hot water.

Monday, 19 May 2008

A quilt for Isabel

My friend Julie has become a mum for the first time! Young Isabel made her appearance last week, and mother and daughter are both doing well. This exciting event leads me to mention a hobby previously absent from this blog: patchwork. Kiwi Sis and I have always been quite crafty, and Kiwi Sis has actually been doing a machine patchwork course herself in New Zealand, so I expect to be challenged on my amateur ways any day now! For the last few years I’ve been making cot quilts as presents for my friends’ new babies – I love doing it and I’m always incredibly touched at how much people seem to like them. I’d made Julie’s – sorry, Isabel’s – early because I wanted to give it to Julie in person, so I’m not spoiling any surprises by posting a picture here.

Julie didn’t know the sex of her baby in advance so I kept the colours gender-neutral, with a nod to the scarlet she wore in her wedding dress. I haven’t had a chance to talk to Julie yet, and I imagine that she’s probably a bit busy going ‘ouch, I hurt’ and ‘aaaargh, I’m a mother’ to be reading this, but we had a little toast to her, her husband and her daughter – spot where the wine’s from, Julie (but ignore its name!)?

¡enhorabuena! May the start of your family life together be very, very sweet.

I realised while going through my photos for pictures of other quilts that I actually haven’t been very good at recording them before sending them off to their new little owners. Here are some of those I have recorded, and there will be more coming in the next few months. I’ve had to start asking my friends to get pregnant in an orderly manner so I can keep up!

The mother of all the quilts: the first and hugest

Callum's quilt
Munchkin's quilt (modelled by a pook)

Zoe's quilt

Sunday, 18 May 2008

A meal for the Puritans: intercontinental blog challenge #3

Firstly: happy birthday, Junior Bro! I'd like to think that you're reading this on your new laptop, but I suspect that 14-year-old boys have more interesting things to look at on the web. Ah well, this square older sister wouldn't have it any other way.

Anyway, this post is another installment in my fun challenge with Lisa from Unique Little Bits. We each cook a dish from the other one’s cuisine after a particular theme. This time I suggested bread, although since Lisa has written about some really professional-looking breads on her blog I am a little worried about how my efforts will pass muster!

The two American breads that sprang to mind when I was deciding what to make were cornbread, and steamed Boston brown bread. I’ve made a nice pumpkin cornbread before, but it comes under the heading of ‘savoury scone’ for The Scientist, so I always end up eating it on my own. I thought that the brown bread – which looked quite sweet from the recipes I found – might suffer the same fate, so I decided not to tell him what was in it beforehand and go for it anyway!

When I looked up the history of brown bread I discovered that it’s based on the ingredients available to early Puritan New Englanders – rye and cornmeal flours, which eked out the more precious wheat flour. Also, since ovens weren’t that common, the bread was steamed, usually in a cylindrical jar or mould. I found a recipe which baked the bread in the oven but I wanted to stay true to the spirit of its origins, so I steamed mine. I didn’t have a big coffee can, which is what’s usually used to make it in nowadays – in fact I didn’t have any tin cans at all as we’d only just done our recycling. So I improvised with an empty glass jar (the one which had held the applesauce which has already featured as prompting several other baking endeavours – this sauce keeps on giving even after its demise!). I steamed it by standing the jar on top of an improvised trivet in a saucepan, inverted the matching steamer basket over the top to accommodate the height of the jar, and then covering the holes in the steamer with a lid. I love it when science meets pragmatism! Anyway, despite the making do, the bread steamed fine, although I had been a bit worried about how thin the dough was – really more of a batter than a dough. I suppose it’s supposed to be like that.

Ready for steaming (top), and posing an intractable problem (bottom)

More perceptive readers may already have noticed a problem with my loaf, however: the neck of the jar was narrower than the base, making it almost impossible to get it out! I thought about ships in bottles; I thought about those clever science experiments you do with children to get an egg inside a bottle with a narrower opening. But my thoughts didn’t get me any further to getting my loaf out, and The Scientist informed me that the egg in bottle principle worked on the basis that there was spare air in the egg which could be sucked out. My loaf looked pretty dense and I wasn’t confident about any spare pockets. In the end I abandoned the scientific principles and cut it up inside the jar. This is why there is no picture of it beautifully sliced – it was more of a rustic carving.

It may not have passed the science (or the common sense) test, but I’m happy to say that it did pass The Scientist test. He thought that it tasted a lot like malt loaf, which he really likes - dark yet sweet, and with a soft, slightly chewy texture. We both enjoyed it served with Boston baked beans and apple sauce, which are its traditional accompaniments, and some grilled corn on the cob.

Update: go and take a look at Lisa's lovely looking Bara Brith speckled bread here

Boston brown bread (from Martha Day Complete Baking)
Makes 1 loaf

45g cornmeal
45g plain white flour or wholemeal flour [I used half and half]
45g rye flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/s tsp bicarb of soda
45g seedless raisins
60ml milk
60 ml water
60ml molasses or black treacle

1. Line the base of one 1 pint cylindrical metal or glass container - a tin, jar or heatproof glass coffee jug, with greaseproof paper.

2. Mix together the cornmeal, plain or wholemeal flour, rye flour, salt bicarb of soda and raisins in a large bowl. Warm the milk and water in a small saucepan [I did it in the microwave] and stir in the molasses or treacle.

3. Add the molasses mixture to the dry ingredients and mix together until it just forms a moist dough. Do not overmix.

4. Fill the jug or tins with the dough to about 2/3 full. Cover with foil or greased greaseproof paper and tie securely.

5. Bring water to a depth of 2inches to the boil in a deep, heavy-based saucepan large enough to accommodate the jug or tin. Place a trivet in the pan, stand the jug or tin on top, cover the pan and steam for 1 1/2 hours, adding more boiling water to maintain the required level as necessary.

6. Cool the loaf for a few minutes in the jug or tin, then turn it on its side and the loaf should slip out [ha!]. Serve warm, as a teabread or with savoury dishes.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Spring watercress soup

Here’s another product of our trip to the watercress festival at Alresford last weekend: watercress soup. But first, here is a picture of the lovely Alresford itself which I’d forgotten I’d taken:

Watercress soup has had a bit of a bad press over the years as it’s one of the faddy weight-loss foods you subsist on until you’re nothing bit a bit of green string yourself. I made a nice watercress, pea, asparagus and courgette soup last year which was much more substantial though, and just sang ‘spring’. I was going to go for that again with my Alresford cress, but then I saw a recipe which was actually called ‘spring soup’ while flicking through Moosewood Low Fat Favourites and incorporated some of their flavours too. In particular, theirs also had carrot in it, and some pasta which I liked the sound of. I used edamame beans instead of their lima beans (I never knew until last week that edamame beans are the same as soya beans). Their soup was a brothy one, but I quite like nice thick soups (and wasn’t sure how appetising bits of watercress would be) so I cooked the pasta separately, blended the soup, and then added the pasta to it at the end. I meant to cook one person’s worth, but ended up with three good portions, so so much for my maths! The recipe is very rough – just use what you have! It wasn’t the most photogenic soup in the world but it tasted really good – nice and fresh but good and filling. In fact I had to go and collapse for a bit after eating a bowl, so it’s definitely not in the stringy water category – though still nice and healthy.

Spring watercress soup (adapted from Moosewood Low Fat Favourites)

Made three portions

1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Half an onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
½ tsp dried thyme [of course, you could use fresh herbs – just double the quantity]
½ tsp dried basil
1/8 cup of water
3 cups stock
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 cup edamame beans [the original recipe was for butter beans, and they also used green peas. I decided I had enough veggies already]
Half a bundle or so of asparagus. [they say cut into 1-inch lengths. I chopped them much smaller since I was going to blitz it, and reserved the tips which I steamed separately and added to the finished soup]
Handful of small pasta shapes – I used little stars
½ tsp salt
½ tbsp lemon juice
Handful watercress, chopped [I didn’t use the stems though I thought later that I probably could have done]

In a covered soup pot on a low heat, cook the garlic, onion, carrot, thyme and basil in the water until the veggies have softened – about 10 mins. Add the stock and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Add the beans, asparagus and watercress and return to a boil. Cook until soft, adding the salt and lemon juice about half way through. In a separate pot cook the pasta until al dente. Blitz up the soup using a hand-held blender, and then add the pasta. Serve hot.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Watercress galore

I love the traditions of English village fairs and festivals, and last weekend we went to a great one: the fifth annual Alresford watercress festival. Yes, a whole festival devoted to this gracious and peppery vegetable - and why not? As the festival program informed me, watercress put Alfresford in Hampshire on the map, sending trainloads of the stuff up to Covent Garden market every day. I also learned that watercress was cultivated by Hippocrates in 400BC to treat his patients, that it contains mustard oils which give it its peppery taste, and that people used to eat it in sandwiches between the wars. The industry drooped a bit later in the twentieth century, but now that watercress has been labelled a superfood, it's back with a vengeance, complete with the slogan 'not just a bit on the side'.

Alresford (pronounced 'Allsford') is as beautiful a small rural town setting as you could hope for for a community festival, especially in last weekend's sun. I have a friend who lives there and he had raved about it so much that we decided to make the trip down from Warwickshire to visit him and see what it was all about. I think he panicked a bit that he'd built it all up a bit much and started mumbling about pond weed and watercress beer, but he needn't have worried (I can get excited about a lot less than cress). The Scientist grew up in north Hampshire so he got positively dewy eyed on the trip down, reminiscing about cricketing glories with his dad, and we even started calculating just how far one could commute to work (not THAT far, we decided). The town's main street was cordoned off and was lined with stalls selling watercress goodies galore. I was all up for anything weird, but sadly the watercress ice cream was off the menu this year. There was a lot of meat about, so I went for some watercress and chilli fudge (very hot!), a watercress scone (very green) and a watercress and coriander flatbread (very tasty). The Scientist shunned the watercress beer (actually it was far too hot to contemplate alcohol of any sort), but we both tried a little taster of watercress and tomato panacotta and a watercress flapjack from one of the local restaurants (very....interesting). We missed Anthony Worrall Thompson's cooking demonstration in favour of catching up with my friend at a riverside pub, but did see the watercress bug stilt-walkers and some morris men (I love morris dancing - it just sums up English country fairs). Sadly we were too late for the watercress eating contest - one of the few such contests where you use up more calories than you take in, I suspect.

I also, of course, bought some watercress to take home, and here's what some of it turned into: watercress, potato and goat's cheese tortellini. I used wonton wrappers for the pasta, and just blitzed up some cold baked potato flesh, some chopped cress and a mixture of cottage cheese and goat's cheese. I even managed to fold them into a sort of tortellini shape. I steamed them and we had them with a tomato relish and the Slayer Tombstones and garlic dip I blogged about yesterday. They were yum - the filling had a nice creamy consistency and the combination of cress and goats cheese worked really well. In fact the 'grass' around the tombstones was watercress as well, and I also put some in my vanilla bread, fig relish and goats cheese sandwiches (I really have been eating them most days this week!).

Alresford Watercress festival:

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Buffy bites

After failing to make Stephanie from Dispensing Happiness's street food cocktail party last month I'm pleased to be back on track for this month's event - a Buffy Bash! I've never seen a whole episode of Buffy though I sat through the film that preceded the series once, but I'm not sure you can be a student in the 1990s without absorbing Buffy-culture. Especially not if you live with as big a sci-fi fan as The Scientist. I do know, though, that Buffy was written by Joss Whedon, who also wrote Firefly and the film Serenity, which I have seen or I think The Scientist would have sued for (non)divorce. I did quite like them, actually - I like the engineer character (I've forgotten her name and can't ask The Scientist because he is taking part in his first online poker game and I don't want to be accused of breaking his concentration). Anyway, I thought of going down the pink and girly route for the blog party, which seems to be Buffy's trademark (who is called Buffy anyway - is it a nickname?). But in the end I went for Slayer Tombstones with blood-red relish and anti-vampire garlic dip.

I always have more difficulty thinking of drinks to take along to Stephanie's parties. I'm not a big drinker and our 'cocktail cabinet' is somewhat random. I'm quite pleased with what I came up with though - Nosferatu's bane (The Scientist came up with that one just now in a brief break from play). I should say that I'm pleased with the idea - the reality tasted absolutely disgusting and I would not recommend that Stephanie pass it around her guests unless she wants it to be her last cocktail party. I found it on this website where it was listed as a natural hay fever remedy. I hope it does something useful as it certainly serves no agreeable purpose as a drink. It consisted of water which had been boiled with garlic cloves, mixed with half that quantity of cider vinegar, and some honey (if you actually want to try it, I'd go for a LOT of honey). It looked a lot like a nice glass of wine and I kept almost being tempted to try it, but one small sip left me reeling from vinegar fumes so I'm afraid it didn't last much longer than its photography pose.

Still, it was good fun and the tombstones were great, as were both the dips. The garlic one was a new invention - I bought a jar of garlic relish at the weekend, and we just mixed it with some Greek yogurt. We'll be revisiting that one - though perhaps without the cocktail. We'll take our chances with Nosferatu.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Pushmi-pullyu banana bread

I mentioned yesterday that I had made an exception to my current no-freezer rule for some banana bread. I really had meant not to do any extra baking at all for a while, but then I saw that Not Quite Nigella was having a Banana Bread Bakeoff, and I couldn’t resist sending in my favourite recipe. I had no hesitation in picking it – a swirled banana and chocolate bread originally from a Cooking Light Annual, though I got it from here. It’s really flavoursome and moist and I would never guess it was a lightened recipe. But then I got thinking about my second favourite banana bread, which is a spiced honey banana bread (also lower fat) which I’ve only made once, for my birthday cake last year, and most of it ended up not being eaten for various missing-cat-stress-induced reasons (it was the pook, and he turned up eventually, thankfully). Was this an opportunity to give it another go?

After some dithering, I hit on the idea of making two loaves in one – the head would be chocolate and banana, and the tail (so to speak) would be honey banana – a pushmi-pullyu of the banana bread world, if you will. This seemed like a brilliant plan, and it actually did work a lot better than you might think for such a hare-brained scheme. I halved each recipe, and propped a divider in the tin while I filled it, so that there wouldn’t be too much mixing of the batters. This got a little complicated since the chocolate-banana loaf already had a mixing of two batters component, but with a little propping and balancing and careful checking of ingredient lists, everything ended up in the right place. The only other change I made to the original recipes was to substitute some wholemeal flour for some of the plain in each case, which didn't notably alter the flavour. (DVN: I used the Leeds farmers' market honey!)

It's all about improvising!

I was really intrigued as to whether the two halves would stay separate, and was delighted to find that they did! A cross-section of the middle revealed some intermingling, but as the two separate pieces show, it really is two loaves in one. I feel quite pleased about this experiment, and think it may even invite the use of the word ‘splicing’ which isn’t one I use every day. Even better, the honey banana half keeps well, so as long as you start at the right end, you will be in banana bread for ages! Even longer in my case, as most of it has joined a veritable battery of cakes in the freezer which I’d better actually start eating at some stage before they join forces in some flour-based crack force and take over our house.

Two breads in one - honey-banana on the left; chocolate-banana swirl on the right

Marbled-Chocolate Banana Bread (full quantity recipe)

From Cooking Light, 2004 Annual (and to be found here)

2 cups all-purpose flour (spoon and level method)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups mashed bananas (about 3 bananas)
2 large eggs
1/3 cup low-fat plain yogurt
1/2 cup plain chocolate chips

Butter for greasing tin
2 lb loaf tin (8" x 4")

Preheat oven to 350F/180C/Gas Mark 4. Grease the tin.

Cream butter and sugar together until well combined. This won't look like a traditional mixture due to the lower proportion of butter to regular loaf mixes.

Mix flour, soda and salt together. Don't bother sifting.

Add eggs, bananas and yogurt to the creamed mixture. Melt the chocolate chips, in a medium bowl, in the microwave for one minute on HIGH. Stir the chocolate until completely melted. Leave to cool whilst you finish the batter.

Add the flour mixture to the banana mixture. Mix well, scraping bottom and sides of bowl. Scoop out a cup of this mixture and blend it into the melted chocolate.

Place alternating spoonfuls of the chocolate and plain mixtures in the loaf tin. Swirl batters together using a knife, making sure you go into all corners.

Bake for one hour. A skewer inserted should come out clean.

Cool in tin for ten minutes, then remove and cool completely on a rack.

Spiced honey and banana bread (from Martha Day's Complete baking) (full quantity)

Serves 20

115g/4 oz soft light brown sugar
275g/10 oz plain flour
3 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp bicarb of soda
4 tbsps sunflower oil
4 tbsps strong-flavoured clear honey
2 eggs
4 tbsp orange juice
3 bananas
115g/4 oz sultanas

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Lightly grease and line a 7x11in baking tin

Mix in the sugar with some of the flour and sift it into a bowl. Sift the remaining flour into the bowl with the mixed spice and bicarb of soda.

Make a well in the centre, add the oil, honey, eggs and orange juice and mix together thoroughly.

Mash the bananas, then add them to the bowl with the sultanas and mix together well.

Pour the mixture into the baking tin and bake for about 35-40 mins or until the centre springs back when lightly pressed [you may notice that this is a lot shorter baking time than the swirled bread, but in fact it did take longer for the whole loaf to be cooked. I just kept testing with a cake tester]

Leave the cake in the tin to cool for 5 mins, then turn out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Vanilla flavoured heaven

I always think it’s sad that the phrase ‘vanilla flavoured’ is used to describe something that’s a bit bland and ordinary. I love the scent and flavour of vanilla; it’s right up there with cinnamon and rising bread in my top three baking scents. This is why today’s lunch was vanilla-flavoured heaven and I plan to repeat it EVERY day this week!

Despite my love of vanilla I have never until now cooked with real vanilla beans. I suppose I’m just a cheapskate. But I found a ‘two for one’ deal at Julian Graves a few weeks ago and stocked up. I hadn’t decided what to use them for yet, but then I saw that Master Baker’s theme ingredient for the month was vanilla, so that gave me a bit of a nudge. The Scientist has requested a dessert break for a little while after all the baking I’ve done recently, and I have imposed a no-freezer ban (apart from one tiny exception which I will write about soon, and it doesn’t count because it’s banana bread and that is above all rules). So cake and biscuits were out. Leafing through a Donna Hay book in Sainsbury’s the other week, however, I stumbled on an easy-sounding recipe for rhubarb and vanilla jam, and when I searched around for it later I found that Arfi at HomeMadeS (a New Zealand blogger with an absolute gift for photography, though she’s extremely modest about it) had made it and posted the recipe. I had rhubarb from the Leeds farmers’ market to use up, and decided that was the way my vanilla flavoured post would go, complete with real vanilla pods.

But this is me, and I rarely go for the simple option. After making the jam (which smelt delicious) I started to have thoughts of a vanilla bread for it to go on. I was initially thinking of an enriched challah-type bread, but then found a recipe for what looked more like a regular type of bread but with added vanilla. I looked up vanilla in the index of my copy of Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery, which stated uncategorically that it is an abhorrent idea as a bread ingredient. I was undeterred – she is, after all, only a baking guru, and besides, I wasn’t mixing vanilla with other spices which seemed to be what she objected to.

The bread was straightforward, and the dough rose beautifully in the sun. It came out of the oven looking lovely and soft and golden, and when it was cut you could see the vanilla seeds flecked through it (the originally recipe called for vanilla flavouring, but I had used half the quantity of that, and scraped in half a vanilla pod). I was ravenous for lunch by the time it was ready, but couldn’t decide what to put on it that wouldn’t hide its delicate flavour. Finally I went with whimsy and had it buttered with goat’s cheese, fig chutney and watercress. It was divine: the best lunch ever. I had to do a little lunch dance as I ate it. I had another piece with the rhubarb jam on it and that was wonderful too. The jam was very sweet – I might cut back on the sugar another time, but had a lovely vanilla flavour to it, and nice big gollops of rhubarb. It isn’t quite as green as the photo makes it look, but certainly greener than I expected! If that’s a vanilla flavoured lunch, though, I’ll take it every time. Thank you, Master Baker, for setting this particular ball rolling.

Heavenly rhubarb and vanilla jam (Donna Hay, and made by Arfi)

250g (8 ¾ oz) rhubarb, trimmed and chopped, 1 cup caster (superfine) sugar, 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste), 2 Tbs water

Place the rhubarb, sugar, vanilla and water in a saucepan over a low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to medium and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until thickened. Remove the vanilla bean and discard. Spoon the jam into a sterilised 1-cup (8 fl oz) capacity glass jar and seal. Makes 1 cup (8 fl oz). This jam can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Ambrosial vanilla bread (from

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups warm water
1 pkg dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp vanilla extract [I used about 1 tbsp and then scraped in the seeds from half a vanilla pod]
1/3 cup instant nonfat dry milk
3 3/4 to 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Stir water and yeast together in large mixing bowl and let stand for a minute to dissolve. Add sugar, salt, vanilla, dry milk and 2 cups of the flour. Beat briskly for 2 minutes. Add enough more flour to make a soft, manageable dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead a minute or two. Let rest 10 minutes.

Resume kneading, adding just enough flour to keep dough from becoming sticky, until it is smooth and elastic. Place in large greased bowl, cover, and let rise until double in bulk.

Punch down and shape into a loaf. Place in a greased 9x5x3 loaf pan, cover, and let rise to the top of the pan. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for about 50 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on a rack.

Apparently cats are unimpressed by jam

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Spelty shroomy pizza

My posts are all backwards at the moment, but I wanted to write about my wonderful new desk, and then it was such a nice day that I wanted to write about my salad, but now I’m going to go back to last weekend. It was a bank holiday and we went up to Leeds to see Munchkin Gramps et al, get my desk, and go to a school reunion. My old school was having a last open weekend before merging with the boys’ school and moving up to their site. Dogophile Vegan Nurse and I were best friends at school and we met up to go back together, accompanied by a tolerant Scientist. It was lovely to see the school again, reminisce about the horrors of physics and wonder that our old lockers are still there. In the evening we met up with some other old school friends for a meal and had a really good evening. Nobody had changed much at all – apart from the fact that lots of them are now mothers! Hopefully it won’t be another 14 years before we all see each other again…

The next morning DVN and I got up early and went to the Leeds farmers’ market. DVN had promised much, but it delivered – I was almost deliriously excited at how big it was. Her favourite vegetable stall wasn’t there, but there was so much else that we didn’t miss it too much. One of my favourite stalls was a herb one – did you know you can get chocolate flavoured mint? I was sorely tempted but was worried about getting it home intact. I was tempted by lots of breads and cakes, but in the end bought some lovely soda bread, some rock cakes and a crème brulee for The Scientist, and some beautiful mini cupcakes as a thank you for having us present for Munchkin Gramps and family. We drooled over various other baked goods, but were keen to get back to our own kitchens and try to recreate them rather than buy. We did, however, go a bit OTT when we saw some fancy mushrooms. We bought some field and some Portobello ones which we shared out between us, and DVN got a medley box which she very kindly shared too. We went home with mushroom plans aplenty, and even managed to miss having to help get my desk down the stairs.

The night we got back I made a delicious mushroom stroganoff (The Scientist had had a large pub lunch so was eating toast), based on a recipe from Veganomicon, which I had on some of my soda bread. The next day for lunch I had grilled mushrooms on toasted soda bread. The day after that I had my lovely salad, and last night, I went for a mushroom pizza. I’ve been reading about different types of wholegrains in my Wholegrains diet miracle book, and decided that spelt was a bit of a winner. It’s high in protein, soluble fibre (good for lowering blood cholesterol) and riboflavin (which can reduce the frequency of migraines). It’s low in gluten, though not gluten free. There was a recipe for wholegrain pizza dough in the book, so I gave that a go using spelt flour. I also made a back-up dough with white flour, just in case The Scientist didn’t want to be experimented on. The two recipes were very similar, although the spelt one used a bit more water. I put mixed mushrooms, goats cheese, sunflower seeds and rocket on my spelt one, and The Scientist substituted cured ham instead of the shrooms on his.

Spelty yeast monster dwarfs inferior strangely non-rising white flour dough

For plain and simple comfort food, his white flour base was probably the winner. For a nuttier, more wholesome taste though, mine was ahead, and I was really pleased with it. The Scientist tried a corner with no mushrooms on it and also gave it a thumbs up. I’ll let him have one of his own next time! I’ve been slowly improving my pizza dough making skills, and this time I combined several earlier tweaks: I made sure that the baking sheets were hot, and then coated them in a bit of cornmeal to help the dough crisp up, and I also made several smaller pizzas rather than one larger one each, as the bigger ones are sometimes a bit soggy in the middle. It seems to be working!

Lots of the ingredients in this meal are rich in calcium, and I’m sending my spelty shroomy pizza over to Susan of Food Blogga for her ‘Beautiful Bones’ osteoporosis awareness event. Osteoporosis is a disease particularly prevalent among women, and results in weak bones. Susan suffers from it herself, and has posted lots of amazingly tasty-sounding recipes which are high in calcium. The goat’s cheese, the spelt and the seeds in my pizza are all good foods to help bone density. I have several more spelt recipes stored up to try, so we’ll be revisiting this little super-grain (and keeping our bones healthy too, I hope)!

I was also very chuffed yesterday to discover that my cousin Pauly has been reading my blog (hello!). He’s on the lookout for simple-yet-impressive student dinner party food, and I say: what could be more impressive than home-made pizza?! The white flour dough recipe below doesn’t need any rising time, and you can posh it up by using fancy toppings. You could fit three in the oven at one time and keep them coming out as people share them. And for dessert, I’d recommend the chocolate and chestnut mousse I made for seder – v quick, v tasty and v decadent!

Spelty shroomy pizza (adapted from Wholegrain diet miracle)

Serves 6 [I halved it and then froze half of the dough]

1 sachet (7g) easy-blend dried yeast
About 550g wholegrain flour plus extra for kneading [spelt, in my case]
Oil cooking spray
1 ½ tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
¼ tsp fine sea salt

Toppings of your choice (I used tomato sauce, mixed mushrooms, rocket, goat’s cheese and sunflower seeds)

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the yeast and 315ml warm water. Leave to stand for 10 mins or until the yeast softens. In a large bowl, add the flour. Make a well in the centre and pour the yeast mixture into the well. Stir vigorously with a spoon until smooth. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead by hand for 8 mins or until smooth and slightly springy. Rub the dough with half a tbsp of oil. Place in a large bowl. Cover tightly with cling film and let the dough rise for 1 ½ hours.

Preheat the oven to 240C/475F/Gas 9. Coat a large ovenproof non-stick tin or pizza tin with oil cooking spray. Add salt to the dough and knead to distribute the salt and form a dough ball. Press the dough ball into a 35cm round in the tin [I just rolled it out into an oblong which would fit on the baking tray].

Top the pizza with sauce and toppings (I just used tinned tomatoes which I seasoned with basil and oregano, and cut the others directly onto the pizza.). Bake for 10 mins or until the pizza dough is brown and crisp.

Regular (but very tasty) white pizza dough for people who don’t like being experimented on
(from Good Food magazine)

Serves 4 (makes 2 pizzas)

300g strong bread flour [I’ve seen (and used) other pizza recipes which use regular plain flour if that’s all you have in a student kitchen!]
1 tsp instant yeast [the kind you get in a little tub or sachets]
1 tsp salt
1tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

Tomato sauce and toppings of your choice

Put the flour in a large bowl and stir in the yeast and salt. Make a well, pour in 200ml warm water and the olive oil [I warm tap water in the microwave. It should be warm but not so hot you can’t comfortably put your finger in it]. Bring together with a wooden spoon until you have a soft, fairly wet dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 mins until smooth. Cover with a tea towel and set aside. You can leave the dough to rise if you like but it’s not essential for a thin crust.

Roll out the dough into two rounds. The dough needs to be very thin as it will rise in the oven. Lift the rounds onto two floured baking sheets. [You get a crispier base if you let the baking sheets heat up in the oven in advance]

Top with sauce and toppings and bake 8-10 mins at 240C/Gas 8.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Spring barley salad

I’m pleased to say that my first day of working at my old-new desk has been very successful. I haven’t yet had the chance to cover it in paper so it feels nice and serene, and my only problem has involved having to improvise a prodding device so that I can reach the radio buttons while not disturbing Mausel (the radio is now so much further away because the desk’s so big!).

One of the many benefits of working from home is the easy access to the kitchen and garden. It opens up a whole vista of lunch opportunities (and procrastinatory ones, though I do try to avoid those). It was such a lovely day today that I really wanted a nice salady spring lunch, so I had a look at what was in the cupboards and plumped on a barley and mushroom variant of a recipe from The wholegrain diet miracle. Since The Scientist doesn’t like barley it seemed like a good way to get my tasty selenium fix. It was very easy and colourful – I just let the barley cook during the morning, apologetically scraped it off the bottom of the pan in my tea break, and put the other ingredients together at lunchtime. I was going to substitute grilled mushrooms for the corn, but the picture in the book looked so tasty that I quickly got some sweetcorn out of the freezer mid-morning and let it defrost. The quantities I used were all very rough, but I suspect it’s a very forgiving recipe! I simplified the dressing and just mixed a little flax oil with some cider vinegar and a little English mustard. For the first time, I ate my lunch in the sun on our deck – we moved here in September so this is a new treat we’re keen to indulge in. It was lovely. The salad was nice and filling – I’m sure it would be lovely with goat’s cheese too (in fact the original recipe had goat’s cheese and not mushrooms) but I knew I was planning a mushroom and goat’s cheese supper and didn’t want to duplicate entirely (more on that tomorrow, I hope)!

And this is what I was looking at as I ate my lunch: do you remember those poor little naked stick trees The Scientist gave me for Christmas? Look how they've grown! The apple tree even has a flower - oy, I'm so proud.

Sweetcorn, barley, mushroom and rocket salad (adapted from The wholegrain diet miracle)
Serves about one and a half Lysys, which is a bit of an inconvenient amount (though probably one normal person!)

About 35-40g barley
Handful of rocket, coarsely chopped
A handful of sweetcorn
A big flat mushroom

Splash of flax oil
Bigger splash of apple cider vinegar
Small dollop of English mustard

Place barley in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes, or until chewy but tender (for the sake of proportions, the original recipe had 100g barley to 500 ml water). Remove from the heat and leave to stand for 10 minutes covered. Transfer to a bowl and chill.

Grill the sliced mushrooms

In a large bowl mix the chilled barley with the rocket, corn and mushroom.

Whisk the oil, vinegar and mustard in a small bowl. Pour the dressing over the barley mixture to coat.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Old desk, new thoughts

Israel Grandpa's family left Frankfurt for England in 1936. He was 17, the youngest of three siblings, and had been working as a junior banking clerk since he left school. Life had become increasingly restricted since the Nazis came to power in 1933, and the family business (selling flour and sugar to bakers and catering establishments) had been losing custom. His father had lived in London between 1900 and 1906, working in his uncles' art dealing business, and he naturally looked to England as the place to resettle his family.

My great-grandparents (Putzi, of the cinnamon matzah), and their three grown-up children made the crossing from Hook van Holland to Dover on 7 October 1936. My great-grandfather set up an agency importing canned food from Palestine in his new home (I know all this from Israel Grandpa's memoirs, written before he died two years ago). Since they had not had to leave Germany in the rush that later emigrants (including Israel Grandma's family) felt, they were able to ship much of their furniture over. Within this shipment was a big wooden desk with drawers on either side of it, and a 'secret compartment' which slid underneath.

I remember that desk sitting in the window of Putzi's sitting room in London. She also had a massive, solid display cabinet where she kept the decorated playing cards we used to play with when we visited, and a similarly impressive mirrored wardrobe in the bedroom. When she died, aged nearly 101, Munchkin Granny inherited the desk and the wardrobe. The desk became Munchkin Gramps', and later on, sat in the bay window of Munchkin Granny's own house. When she moved to London about six years ago, it was just too big to fit in her new flat, and she had to face selling it. I was still a student at the time with no room to take it, but I couldn't bear the thought that such an old piece of furniture with so much family history could be lost, and so I asked Munchkin Gramps if he could store it for me until such as time as I had a house I could fit it in. He's kept it for me all that time, and this weekend we hired a van and moved it down here.

I am now sitting at a desk which my parents, my grandparents and my great-grandparents had in their houses, in Leeds, London, and Frankfurt. I don't even know how old it is, but it's weathered a sea-crossing, a change of nationality, and years of family and domestic business. I can hardly even describe how emotional I feel to have it here. Its smell reminds me of Israel Grandpa, although it never lived in my grandparents' house. He and Israel Grandma ran their family business until they were well into their 80s though (his memoirs are called 'Retiring at 85'!), so I saw him working at his own desk often. It's by far the most solid piece of furniture I own - it took Munchkin Gramps and The Scientist considerable effort to get it down two flights of stairs in Leeds, and quite some huffing and puffing and logistical planning at this end, too. But now it's here, and I plan to write my next academic book at it. I dare say there will be some blog posts written here too, and I am pleased to say that there is just enough room for Mausel to fit under it on my lap.

I think that Putzi would be happy that her desk had found a new place to live with one of her many great-grandchildren. I know it was in her spirit to look forwards, as Israel Grandpa says so in his memoirs, of their farewell to their Frankfurt life: 'I remember Mutti quoting a fashionable German song “Ein neues Leben faengt an, ein neuer Tag bricht heran … muss vergessen was war” (A new life starts, a new day commences…..One must forget what was )...'

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Beauty and the beast cupcakes

Do you ever find that buying an ingredient for one baking project then necessitates thinking of another to use the rest of it up, which demands that you buy something else, which…. Perhaps it’s just me. I had that this week though, and the above little numbers were the products. The ‘beastie’ one on the right (did you ever see such an unprettified cupcake?) is an apple, raisin and oat number, which I made to use up the last of my jar of applesauce. I found the recipe on Starting from Scratch (recipe here) and picked it because Mary said that it had a nice level of spice. I’m pleased to say that I agree – a pleasing tang of nutmeg and cinnamon, and very nice warm (and no eggs, so easily veganised by using soya milk). I’d meant to halve the recipe, but then realised that the whole batch would use up almost all of my apple puree - but then my cupcake liners are smaller than American ones, and before I knew it I had 15 of the little blighters jostling for space in the freezer (well, 14 – I ate one with my cup of tea today). I didn’t bother levelling them out as I assumed they would go melty in the initial heat of the oven and redistribute. Today’s science lesson is that it apparently doesn’t work like that.

The prettier little ‘beauty’ on the left is a vanilla cupcake from Vegan cupcakes take over the world, with added chestnut puree left over from the Passover chestnut orange chocolate mousse cake. I’d already used some of the leftovers in a small batch of Nigella’s jewelled Christmas cupcakes for The Scientist (they got snaffled before I’d organised myself to photograph them, but I’m sure I’ll be making them again). I’d found other recipes for chestnut cupcakes but we didn’t have much margarine, so I went down the vegan route as it used oil instead. Initially I found the texture of oil-based cupcakes a bit weird – not necessarily bad, but uncomfortably different for a comforting treat. They're growing on me though, and the workmates I took them in for gave them the thumbs up. They’re frosted with a simple chocolate buttercream – which I then had too much of, so some of that went on the chocolate Afghans I posted about yesterday.

So, in a strange form of ‘pay it forward’, we all got chestnut dessert for Passover, The Scientist got some Nigella cakes, my workmates got chestnut cupcakes, I got (a lot of) apple cupcakes, Kiwi Sis vicariously got some chocolate Afghans, and I still have a bit of chestnut puree and some chocolate frosting. Enough is enough though: the freezer is full, and I’m only allowing myself to bake when I have an immediate audience to eat the results for the foreseeable future. It’s going to be hard as I just bought a new muffin book. I’ll have to schedule some more work meetings soon – the semester is over now, and my homey workmates only eat catfood.

In a late addition to the cupcake oddity collection, here is the closest The Scientist has come to making one in the whole time I’ve known him. It was part of a ‘Ready Steady Cook’ style dinner which turned into a ‘Here’s the random contents of the veggie basket which need eating up before we go away for the weekend’ dinner. They’re mini potato rosti with cabbage and blue cheese, and he very sweetly made them this size so as not to intimidate me with their heaviness. What a sweetheart. They were really nice, and went alongside sautéed leeks and some leftover quinoa and aubergine chilli which I accidentally made with so much chilli powder that I couldn’t eat it without slathering it in yogurt!

Friday, 2 May 2008

Kiwi Sis - in her own words

I thought it was about time that Kiwi Sis was properly welcomed to this blog since it was all started in her honour. So here are her answers to some probing questions…

What are the three best things about living in New Zealand?
The fact that summer has gone on forever [I don’t wish to hear about that, thank you very much]
The scenery is amazing and loads of people live on farms which is great.
People are really friendly

3 new favourite places
The beach
Mainly Music at Durie Hill
My fabulous bed which is Queen size - boo sucks to normal size bed we left in the UK!

3 best foodie things
chocolate covered afghan biscuits - yum yum yum
fish from the fish and chip shop - and that's from someone who doesn't like fish
fresh fruit from the farm up the road

3 foodie things you miss about the UK
marmite – though Eco Sis has sent me some sachets to keep me going [aww, how sweet]
the huge range of baby snacks you can get at tescos
Tescos own Jaffa cakes

Munchkin's 3 cutest words
Bebey - means dummy and he whispers it when he wants it [I adore that part!]
Bease - please

Munchkin's 3 best animal noises
Barking like a dog - very realistic
snap and clapping hands for a crocodile
kind of raspberry through closed lips for an elephant [pretty impressive, eh?]

If Munchkin could talk like an adult, what would he say about being a kiwi?
He likes being outside whatever the weather, he loves the rain and he's quite keen on the whole barefoot idea.

3 things you would teleport to NZ if you could
My friends and family [awwwwwwww]
Central heating

NZ weather in 3 words
4 seasons in 1 day (3 words two numbers - cheating, I don't think so!)

How is Munchkin?!
Wonderful, a little grumpy when he wakes up - maybe more teeth. Laughs all the time, adores his Daddy at the moment - school holidays, will be tears when they end. A little sponge soaking everything up.

I almost cried when I read her answers – in fact, if I hadn’t been at work and about to see some students I probably would have done. Doesn’t The Munchkin sound like the cutest little love you ever heard of? I am glad to see that we come above Tesco in her list of things she’d like to have with her, anyway. And as to the chocolate-covered Afghan biscuits, I couldn’t resist giving these a go. I’ve never seen one so I have no idea if they look right, but they were from an authentically Kiwi recipe!

Thank you for answering my questions, Kiwi Sis, and for introducing yourself to blogworld. I miss you lots!!!! Kiwi Bro’s answers may follow shortly – the Sisses are all recklessly garrulous; the Bros all mindfully reflective. The Scientist still hasn’t added anything but Scientist to his six-word memoir, and I asked him about that WEEKS ago.