Saturday 14 April 2012

Oatmeal Bread

What's the worst part of going on holidays for a week?  Apart from the suitcase full of dirty laundry, no food in the house and a car full of grumpy people moaning something suspiciously like "I don't want to go home", it's gotta be the knowledge that the lazy days of ice-cream, chocolate, red wine and take-aways have come to an end.  Someone once told me that none of these foods contain calories when consumed on holidays and I've used this advice as my mantra ever since - although my jeans probably dispute the theory!

Once home, time to cheer everyone up (there's only so much of the grumbling you can take before it wears you down).  I decided on something semi-healthy as a way to break us into the normality of being home.  This Oatmeal Bread is more a loaf cake than an actual bread.  The recipe takes a leaf out of Nigella's book by substituting applesauce for some of the sugar and butter.  I wouldn't dare call it super healthy but its a step in the right direction.  Don't feel the need to add the sugary, nutty topping, the cake is sweet enough and doesn't necessarily need it but it's an delicious bonus. 

This cake is moist and full of flavour.  Maybe I'll have a slice or two for breakfast in the morning - it's gotta be as good as a bowl of porridge.  Yeah I know, I'm totally in denial and intend to stay that way for another few days until I ease myself gently back into the swing of things.  Now, which of you ate my King Size Snickers?

Oatmeal Bread, adapted from Dorie Greenspan, "Baking From My Home to Yours"


For the topping
50g light brown sugar
30g chopped pecans
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

For the bread
2 large eggs
300g apple sauce *
80ml vegetable oil
60ml buttermilk
150g wholewheat flour
150g sugar
11/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
75g dried apricots or any dried fruits of your choice
100g rolled oats

* I just stew some chopped eating apples in a little water until soft, blitz them in the processor then put into ice cube trays and freeze until needed.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C (350F) and grease a 2 lb (900g) loaf tin.
First make the topping by combining all the ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
Whisk the eggs, apple sauce, vegetable oil and buttermilk together in a bowl or jug.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarb and spices together.  Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until combined.  Fold in the apricots and oats until just mixed.
Pour the batter into the prepared tin and sprinkle with the topping.  Press down slightly with your fingers so that it sticks to the bread.
Bake for 55-65 minutes until golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Energy Bites

I'm totally in awe of the people who excel at something other than their day job.  Everyone knows the guy who is effortlessly good at playing guitar in his spare time or the shy reserved girl who can produce an amazing singing voice out of nowhere.  Unless you'd count making jigsaws with 2 year olds, changing babies nappies or pushing kids on swings, it's safe to say I'm just an Average Joe.

I run quite a bit but I'd never call myself "a runner".  I'm more of a slow plodder, someone who will keep going but will never ever win anything.  I try to get do 10km 4 times a week (children and husband permitting!).  Although sometimes if I listen hard enough I can hear my body saying something like "You big fool.  You get one hour to yourself, would it not be better to spend the little spare time you have sitting in front of the TV and not be hauling your sorry ass out into the streets in lycra?".  It has a point and sometimes I'm tempted to listen to it but I usually but nothing beats the feeling of finishing another run - I'm ready to take on the day.

If I go for a run in the morning, I'm always starving for the rest of the day.  These little bites are great for bridging the gap between breakfast and lunch.  They're a perfect energy boost for anybody in training for a marathon or charity run or even when you fancy something sweet before dinner.  They taste quite chocolatey even though there is only 1 tablespoon of cocoa in them and the dates and honey make them quite sweet.

Energy Bites, adapted from BBC Good Food magazine, April 2012.

100g toasted pecans
75g chopped dates
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tsp wheatgerm
1 tsp brown linseed (poppy seeds, sesame seeds or any other small seeds would work here)
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp honey
50g desiccated coconut

Blitz the pecans in a food processor until they are fine crumbs.
Add all of the other ingredients (except the desiccated coconut) and pulse until it is all combined.
Shape the mixture into golf ball sized balls and roll in the coconut until fully coated.
Place the balls in the fridge for 20 mins. to firm up.

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.