Thursday, 29 March 2012

Oaty Banana and Butterscotch Muffins

I wanted to make a healthy breakfast muffin so I settled on a Gwyneth Paltrow recipe for Banana and Walnut Muffins but when I couldn't locate agave syrup and was all out of maple syrup, the original recipe went a little bit pear shaped.  I substituted my own ingredients, a little bit smug that I was still as healthy as good old Gwyneth, therefore there was a slim chance that I'd soon look like her.  As I chewed on the last of my King Size Mars bar, I realised I'm never going to be a tall leggy blonde so I chucked a fistful of these butterscotch pieces into the batter.  Little did I know that this recipe was fast turning into a Nigella Lawson recipe (a quick google just a few minutes ago confirmed it). Starting out with a Gwyneth Paltrow recipe and ending up with a Nigella recipe is the baking equivalent of trying on a pair of Manola Blaniks but leaving the shoe shop with the comfiest pair of trainers ever.

If you want these to remain super healthy, just replace the butterscotch pieces with some walnuts or a combination of walnuts and raisins. Otherwise, ditch the Gwyneth regime (who are you fooling!) and bake these today.

Banana and Butterscotch Muffins, HUGELY adapted from Banana and Walnut Muffins from Gwyneth Paltrow "Notes from My Kitchen Table"

125ml vegetable oil
2 eggs
250g/9oz spelt (or wholegrain) flour
50g/2oz soft brown sugar
25g/1oz dark brown sugar
75g/3oz oatmeal *
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
3 ripe bananas, mashed
100g/4oz butterscotch pieces

*To make oatmeal, just blitz the equivalent quantity of rolled oats (not the quick cook oats) in the food processor until very fine.

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).  Line a 12 hole muffin tray with paper liners.
Lightly whisk the vegetable oil and the eggs in a jug.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugars, oatmeal, bicarb and baking powder together.  Add the vegetable oil and egg mixture and the mashed banana and mix together.
Stir in the butterscotch pieces.  Spoon the batter into the paper cases and bake in the oven for 20 - 25 mins. until golden brown.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Semolina and Almond Cake

We were in Edinburgh for the weekend, without any of the 3 little ones.  A whole 2 days and 2 nights without being referred to as Mammy and Daddy.  No baby wipes, nappies, bread sticks, teddies or scooters stuffed into my handbag.  No walking around with sick on my shoulder as I look for somewhere to change a dirty nappy.  I even had time this weekend to paint my nails green - oh, the sheer luxury of it.  The best part of the weekend?  Two unbroken nights sleep and being able to sit in a cafe reading the Sunday papers - totally minor things to most people but pure bliss to me.

Our reason for going to Edinburgh was tinged with sadness.  We were at a fundraising night for a very sick little 3 year old.  He has a rare and aggressive form of cancer with a shockingly low survival rate.  How his Mum and Dad can face each day so positively is beyond me but they are taking one day at a time and sometimes even one hour at a time.  Regardless of the level of care and love of the medical staff, no little 3 year old should have to spend their days in hospital, being pumped with drugs.  No little 3 year old should have to remain in isolation because of infection and not see his 2 year old brother for weeks and months on end.  We all hope and pray that a cure can be found for little Alex - fast. 

You never know what's around the corner.  As a great philosopher once said, "Life is a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it".  I came home on Sunday afternoon and hugged my little demons so hard that I may have hurt them.  We have a lot to be thankful for. 

You can have a look at this link for more info. on brave little Alex.
I had this recipe bookmarked for quite a while so I made it as a treat when I came home.  It's a Nigella cake that I've changed quite a bit, although I've kept to the core ingredients.  Semolina is used in place of flour which gives it a lovely crunchy texture that you'd expect from using polenta.  The original recipe calls for cardamom in the cake but instead I've used ground cinnamon and almond extract.  Also, a cold lemon syrup is poured over the hot cake and although Nigellas original recipe uses orange blossom water and rosewater, I left them out.  The result was an extremely most lemony and almond cake, with a subtle hint of cinnamon.  Delicious.

Semolina and Almond Cake, adapted from Nigella Lawsons "Sticky Semolina Cake" recipe.


For the syrup
250g granulated sugar
150ml water
Juice of 1 lemon
For the cake
300g semolina
150g granulated sugar
125g butter
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs
2 heaped tablespoons natural yogurt
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
25 whole blanched almonds

Make the syrup first.  Put the sugar and water into a saucepan and place on a low heat until the sugar dissolves.  Add the lemon juice and turn up the heat and boil for 5 minutes.  Take off the heat and allow to cool.  Then place in the fridge  to chill.

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F) and butter a 23cm square baking tin.
Place all the cake ingredients (except the whole almonds) into the food processor and blitz until it forms a batter.  Pour into the prepared tin and level the top.
Dot the cake evenly with the almonds in 5 rows of 5.  Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, until golden.
Pour the cold syrup over the hot  cake and allow to cool in the tin.
Cut into 25 squares, with a whole almond on each slice.
This cake will keep for at least 5 days wrapped in parchment paper and kept in an airtight container.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Mango Bread

I was sick in bed last weekend with a combination of flu and smallbabywontsleepitis. Leaving my husband to do the housework scared me a little since I know that the ceiling would have to fall on the kitchen table before he'd feel the need to put a wet cloth anywhere near it. So I sent him random texts from my sick bed "Put the bin out, x", "Don't forget to sterilise bottles, x", avoiding the obvious one of "Please feed the kids periodically throughout the day, x". I signed off every text with a little "x" to take the sting out of the command.

While I was in bed, I was going through the contents of the fridge in my head so that I could send him a text to tell him what to make for dinner. I knew I had a mango that was coming a little close to being chucked in the bin unless it was used to make something. For some reason I thought Mango Bread would be nice so I put a reminder in my phone to google a recipe the following day.

This is the recipe I came up with and I added lime zest and some ground ginger.  The result is a really moist loaf cake. It's quite sweet and when I'm making it again, I think I'll soak the raisins in some rum for even more flavour and add a little dessicated coconut for more texture.

Mango Bread, adapted from this Kitchen Runway recipe.

3 medium eggs
180ml (3/4 cup) flavourless oil (I used Canola)
375g  (2 1/2 cups) plain (AP) flour
225g (1 cup) granulated sugar
60g (1/4 cup) light brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 large mango, peeled and diced
150g (3/4 cup) raisins
zest of 1 lime

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).  Grease and line a 2 lb (8 x 4 inch) loaf tin with parchment paper.
Combine the flour, sugars, baking powder, bicarb and spices together in a bowl and set aside.
Whisk the eggs and oil together.  Add the flour mixture and combine with a wooden spoon.
Add the mango, raisins and zest and mix until just combined.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 50-55 mins until a skewer comes out clean.
Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Happy St. Patricks Day

It's time to fly the flag.  We have a great little country at the edge of the world.  We're the masters of freckles, pale pasty skin, red hair, soda bread, potatoes, Irish stew and all the bland food you can shake a shamrock at.  But we're so much more than the stereotype.  Times are hard for everyone just now, global recession, mass unemployment bla bla bla.  It's time for us Irish to stand up and be proud of who we are, what we have and all the brands we have exported far and wide.  It's time to fly the flag.

1. So many internationally recognised people and brands that are truly Irish; Riverdance, Padraic Harrington, Jedward (cinge!), Westlife, Mary Robinson, Father Ted, Terry Wogan and Graham Norton.

2. We'll always be the natural home of Guinness, it never tastes as good anywhere else in the world.

3. The phenomenon that is U2 will always call Ireland their home.

4. We offer somebody a cup of tea before they're even properly in the door.  "Yes, I'd love one" is the only answer we're prepared to accept.

5. We don't see anything wrong with having 3 types of potatoes with dinner - mashed, roasts and chips, what's not to love about it?

6. We spawned a type of pub that's replicated worldwide.

7. We're known for our oxymorons.  Seachtain na Gaelige (Irish week) is in full swing just now and it's a 2 week event - huh?

8. We can boast the fastest and possibly the most dangerous, sport in the world (hurling).

9. We can ask a policeman "Any craic?" without fear of being arrested.

10. We're a big enough lobby group, as Nike found out earlier this week when they released their "Black and Tan" trainers.

Irish Flag Cupcakes

As ever, I was rushing but I managed to make a quick batch of cupcakes this morning from this recipe.  I just divided the batter into 3 and added green colouring to one batch and orange to the second and left the third batch without any colouring.  When they were cooked and cooled, I cut them horizontally into 3 and filled them with the mascarpone cream (without the coffee) to make the Green White and Gold of the Irish flag.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Ginger and White Chocolate Chip Cookies

I think I've just started a new love affair with crystalllised ginger.  I've only recently discovered it and I go to bed every night thinking of recipes to use it in.  Fair enough, Crystallised Ginger Brown Bread or Crystallised Ginger Curd may not make the grade (yeah, some things are best kept in my head!), but just now I'm lovin' the chocolate & ginger and the chocolate & lemon combination.

Crystallised ginger is one of those Marmite type ingredients, you either love it or hate it, there's no in-between.  But if ginger is your thing, you've gotta try these cookies.  Ina Garten even goes so far as to say they're the ultimate ginger cookies. I'd definitely agree.  These. Cookies. Are. Amazing.  They're extremely gingery, they're chewy, they're sweet and they most definitely scratch my crystallised ginger itch.

Ginger and White Chocolate Chip Cookies adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten
Makes 16 cookies
270g (2 1/4 cups) plain (AP) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
170g (1 cup) dark brown sugar, lightly packed
60ml (1/4 cup) vegetable oil
80ml (1/3 cup) black treacle
1 large egg, at room temperature
130g (1 cup) chopped crystallized ginger

150g (1 cup) white chocolate chips
Granulated sugar, for rolling the cookies
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the brown sugar, oil, and molasses on medium speed for 5 minutes. Turn the mixer to low speed, add the egg, and beat until well incorporated. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the crystallized ginger and chocolate chips and mix until combined.
Scoop the dough with 2 tablespoons or a small ice cream scoop. With your hands, roll each cookie into a 1 3/4-inch ball and then flatten them lightly with your fingers. Press both sides of each cookie in granulated sugar and place them on the sheet pans. Bake for exactly 13 minutes. The cookies will be crackled on the top and soft inside. Let the cookies cool on the sheets for 1 to 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Ginger and Lemon Scones

Best comfort food ever?  It's got to be a cup of tea and a scone.  Not very rock n'roll I'll admit, but I long ago became that person who doesn't care  if I'm "with it" or even know any more what constitutes being "with it".

There's just something so homely about sitting down to a scone with real butter.  It's familiar, it's easy, it's tasty and you don't feel the same guilt about eating a scone as you would a piece of chocolate cake.  Maybe it's just me and my crazy calorie guilt!

Scones are such a basic treat to make. If you were to take a week long baking course, scone baking would probably be covered in the first 10 minutes.  They're so easy to make, you can have warm scones on the table within 25 minutes.  Having said that, it's really difficult to get the perfect scone recipe. If you add an egg and you get a cake-like scone - not good. If you leave out the egg, you need to be careful that you don't overmix, otherwise you'll end up with a scone that's as hard as a football - not a particularly good outcome either.

This recipe is perfect, the scones are crumbly and soft and oh so tasty.  I'm not a fan of Jamie Oliver.  It's not that I don't like him, it's just that the word "over-exposed" comes to mind whenever I see him on the TV.  Having said that, this recipe is without doubt the best scone recipe I've ever tried and I've made scones with this recipe hundreds of times without fail. 
I mess around with the flavours all the time but since the ginger and lemon works so well in these scones, I decided to post this recipe.

Ginger and Lemon Scones, adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe.

Makes 8 medium scones or 6 large scones.

225g (8oz) plain (AP) flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
50g (2oz) butter, very cold
25g (1oz) granulated sugar
zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp crystallised ginger
200ml milk with a little extra to brush over the scones

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).  Line a baking tray with parchment paper (or you can just sprinkle it with a little flour).
Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, bicarbonate of soda and ground ginger.  Using your finger tips, rub the butter into the flour.  Add the sugar, zest and crystallised ginger, mix them in quickly with your fingertips.  Add enough milk to mix into a soft dough.  Once the dough has started to come together, stop mixing.
Flour a surface and then gently roll scone dough out until it is about 1/2 inch thick.  Don't knead the dough, the less handling it gets the better. 
Cut into rounds and place these rounds on the baking sheet.
Brush over with a little milk.  Bake for about 15 / 20 minutes until golden.   
Allow to cool slightly on the baking tray before letting them cool completely on a wire rack.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Quinoa Chocolate Peanut Butter Muffins

Why do I do it? I buy ingredients with absolutely no recipe in mind so they stay in the back of my cupboard for months. Anyone for evaporated milk, Dulce de Leche, sugar paste - anyone ............... anyone at all?  It was the same with a packet of quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah or ke-NO-ah, but I guess you knew that already!). I didn't buy the quinoa for any particular recipe, and to be honest I didn't even know if it was a baking or a cooking ingredient (like I said before, I don't get out much!).   I just figured it would be a nice addition to my already jam packed baking cupboard.

I read in a New York Times article that quinoa could be used in baking, perfect for using my quinoa - I'd have to wait another while to get rid of my packets of red and blue of sugar paste!   Quinoa is a seed that can be used in place of rice in your diet.   It has a very high protein and iron content and is high in magnesium, phosphorous, copper and manganese.   It seems to be fast becoming the new super food and from a quick trawl of the internet, it's journey into the baking world has been relatively recent.

Quinoa seeds have oil in them so they can be substituted for part of the butter in a recipe, while the germ part of the seed replaces some or all of the flour.  For my first time baking with quinoa I wanted to bake something simple so that if it turned out horribly wrong, at least I wouldn't be wasting ingredients and time making it all. So I picked Chocolate and Peanut Butter Muffins. The cooked quinoa replaced all the flour and the butter content is very low (only a total of 60g, including the peanut butter).

Overall, I was really happy with these muffins.  I could probably have cooked the quinoa for a little longer as the overall texture of the muffin was a little bit too crunchy - I'll know next time.  Also, they didn't rise as well as flour based muffins.  But they were perfectly cooked inside and tasted exactly as you would expect Chocolate Peanut Butter Muffins to taste.

If you can get your hands on these Peanut Butter Chips, then grab them all.  They really change an ordinary peanut butter muffin, biscuit, brownie etc into something amazing.  I got these in Fallon & Byrne in Dublin but you can also get them on-line

Quinoa Chocolate Peanut Butter Muffins (extremely) loosely based on a Mary Berry recipe for American Chocolate Chip Muffins

Makes 10 muffins

30g butter, softened
30g crunchy peanut butter
75g caster sugar
2 large eggs
200g of cooked quinoa
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
150g plain chocolate, roughly chopped
50g peanut butter chips

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).  Grease and line 10 muffin holes or line with paper cases.
Beat the butter and peanut butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.  Using a wooden spoon, mix in the quinoa and vanilla, then add the cocoa powder and baking powder together.  Ensure that it is well incoroprated into the mixture.  Fold in the chocolate chips and peanut butter chips.
The mixture will be much thiner than a normal muffin mixture but persevere and it'll turn out fine!
Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of a muffin comes out clean.
These still tasted great 3 days after they were baked.