Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Peach and basil muffins; do I sound like a gourmet baker yet?

I'm a bit behind with my blog posts: I made these muffins about three weekends ago when I had some friends round for a sewing and alterations session. We altered precisely nada in the end, deciding that Lauren's coat was a perfect length already, and that Caroline's dress was too weirdly put together to change - but we did do a lot of bantering and muffin-eating. I'd made two types of muffin: some apple and cinnamon ones using slightly sweetened applesauce, and these peach and basil ones. I'll post the apple recipe another time - frankly the recipe is all the way in the kitchen and I'm quite comfy here on the sofa. And full of noodles after a post-work trip to Wagamama in Oxford.

Both types of muffin were nice and light, though the basil taste wasn't terribly pronounced in these ones. Next time I'll add more. The peaches were tinned, but in season I'd use fresh ones. The recipe was from a book called Muffins Galore, which is definitely my sort of book. It's divided into sections on chocolate, fruity, nut and spice, and savoury muffins, and there's even a separate section on special diets - low fat, low sugar. and gluten free. I have a lot of their other recipes bookmarked, which is good news for my commission of Easter muffins from The Scientist's sister. I'm still torn between lemon and poppyseed, apple streusel, or cinnamon swirl.... Oh gosh darn it, I just noticed that there is even one called Easter muffins, with some cute little eggs on the top. Back to the decision-making drawing board. Sigh. (Still, I'm guessing in the wider scheme of things this is not the worst dilemma I could have)

Peach and basil muffins, from Muffins Galore, by Catherine Atkinson
Makes 12 (I halved it and used the other half of the egg in the apple muffins)

2 ripe peaches, peeled, stoned and chopped into small dice - or the equivalent of well drained tinned peaches
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil (or more)
3 Tbsp soft light brown sugar
Grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
300g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
50g butter
80g granulated sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
150ml milk

1. Place the peaches in a bowl with the basil, brown sugar and lemon juice, and stir to mix. Set aside to stand for about 30 minutes.

2. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line the cups with paper muffin cases.

3. Mix the flour and baking powder in a large bowl, then rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the granulated sugar and lemon zest.

4. In a separate bowl or jug, mix together the egg and milk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry alternately with the peaches and their juices, mixing briefly until just combined.

5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin cups, dividing it equally. Bake for about 20 minutes or until risen and golden. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack. Serve warm or cold.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Penguin and mushroom salad

I'm probably inviting all sorts of weird web search results with a title like that - what a world of difference a missing comma makes (as I said to my students this week in a seminar that rather worryingly had to turn into a grammar lesson on how to use an apostrophe). Needless to say, the penguin was only matched with the mushrooms in the course of writing this post, and neither was harmed in the process.

The mushroom salad was actually my entry to Lisa and Jacqueline's monthly No Croutons Required event, which was featuring chickpeas this month. Chickpeas are our favourite pulse (is that sad or with-the-moment?) so I really wanted to enter - but busy-ness got the better of me actually posting it before the deadline. I had paired my chickpeas with a marinated and grilled portobello mushroom, serving it with mixed leaves and sundried tomato, and with some home-made blackberry vinegar drizzled over the top. I would have added avocado too if I'd had any - I think that would be a nice additional texture. You can't really see the vinegar in the photo but it gave a nice fruity acidity. I kept the marinade simple as I didn't want the vinegar to get drowned - just a bit of shaosing wine, some balsamic vinegar and some garlic powder.

Inquisitive penguin

The penguin was another matter entirely. I started him quite a while ago but then didn't have any orange wool, so he sat rather sinisterly beakless and featureless for several weeks. Then I got some more wool and made him his beak, but didn't get round to attaching his wings or giving him any eyes. So when I finally got him all together I was pleasantly surprised at how cute he was. He's another character from my book of knitted toys, and the reason I was pushed to finally finish him, is because he's one of several ambassadors from my sewing group, to an exhibition of toys in Cardiff. One of our remote members lives there, so she will be taking them in, and hopefully seeing them in situ. They come back to their owners eventually, which I'm pleased about - I felt rather sad squishing him into the postbox to go off on his important errand.

Scholarly penguin

The Easter break starts at the end of this week so hopefully I will get a few more posts up - including an award from the lovely Johanna :)

Thoughtful penguin

Sunday, 14 March 2010

'Just had to' brownies

I'm sure that I'm not alone in bookmarking copious numbers of recipes from other food blogs. Occasionally I even get round to making some of them :) But sometimes a recipe pops up in your reader and you just have to make it right there and then. This happened to me twice in one day last week - once with Wendy's Baked Honey and Mustard Butterbeans which I only didn't make that night because I already had dinner planned (but looking at the picture again just now I still really really want to eat that dish right now!). The other was Alice Medrich's cocoa brownies which popped up on The Wednesday Chef. I don't know quite what lured me in about these brownies quite so irrevocably. It's an interesting recipe, using cocoa powder and no chocolate, and very little flour, but I suspect that it was the chocolatey photos that seduced me. I did go and make a half batch that very evening, and took most of them to my sewing group the next night.

I've made a lot of brownie recipes in the past, and what generally wins me over or puts me off is whether the darn things cook through properly. I like some barely cooked fudginess as much as the next person (who likes barely cooked fudginess - it must be said that this seems to really divide people, as evidenced by the two brownie-eaters in this house). But completely uncooked goop: not so much. These brownies did cook all the way through and firmed up nicely to cut into little pieces. Taste-wise they were very cocoa-ey - actually a bit more than I like, but The Scientist and my sewing buddies liked them. I'm just not too cocoa-y a sort of girl. So while I may not eat them myself again, I will happily make them for other people :)

Now, butterbeans, you say....?

Alice Medrich's cocoa brownie recipe at The Wednesday Chef

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Chocolate mousse at Tiffany's

Somehow I have never seen Breakfast at Tiffany's. I think that means I can never be truly sophisticated (as if!). But I felt better when it turned out that several of my friends hadn't seen it either, and it very quickly turned into an opportunity for a film night. I was delighted when they all rose to the occasion: Lauren turned up in a vintage suit and hot pink tights, Kate in a dotty tea dress, Caroline in her new skinny jeans, and Helen - was late. From round the corner. And she doesn't have a blog. But it was lovely to see her :) I wished I wasn't wearing my favourite fleecy skirt which is sadly a magnet for cat hair (but hang on - isn't there a cat in Breakfast at Tiffany's???).

Looking sultry and sophisticated - it's obviously seen Breakfast at Tiffany's

We actually had such a great time chatting and laughing that we didn't get round to watching the film. But I'd thought that with such a sophisticated lady as Audrey Hepburn in the room (even if we did keep her inside her dvd case) we needed a sophisticated dessert. These are coffee chocolate mousses from the Green and Black's cookbook. I served them in some vintage teacups which were my Grandad's and which I like to get out and use in careful company sometimes. I knew that the girls would appreciate them particularly.

The mousse wasn't as silky as the one in the cookbook picture, but it was actually a lot less full-on chocolatey rich as I'd expected (a good thing as far as I'm concerned). It also definitely tasted of coffee, but again without being overpowering (a good thing as far as both Kate and I were concerned!). I was so busy trying to photograph the pretty teacups that I didn't really pay much attention to the fact that the mousse looks a bit lumpy. Sigh - unsophisticates it and me both. It tasted good though - I'd definitely make it again, and with vegan marge instead of butter, it's dairy free.

Coffee and chocolate mousse (from the Green and Black's cookbook)
150g dark chocolate
2 Tbsp filter coffee powder
60g butter (or vegan marge)
3 eggs, separated
3 Tbsp caster sugar
cocoa powder, to decorate

Melt the broken up chocolate with the butter and coffee powder, stirring gently. Add the three egg yolks and stir until well combined.

Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form, then add the caster sugar and continue whisking until stiff and shiny. Fold into the chocolate mixture and combine gently until there is no white showing anywhere. This took a little while and I thought it wouldn't combine, but it did.

Chill for at least 6 hours, and serve with powdered cocoa on the top. Don't put the mousse back in the fridge once it's been cocoa'd though, as it will meld in and spoil the look of the mousse. Or you can forget to do anything with the cocoa powder, like I did.