Posts Tagged With: muffins

CB – All About the Blueberries

I made the winter and June joke about Scottish weather this time last year on the blog but it still holds kind of true. The weather last month did make some attempt at being better. Certainly it was warmer, even if it was rather wetter than I – or the tourist board for that matter – would have preferred. So June’s cooking adventures had more of a lighter theme too them and they involved quite a lot of blueberries. In fact it was mostly in service of establishing some more exciting mild weather breakfast foods.

First up, I continued in my fruitless quest for a better breakfast muffin. I think I’m going to officially give up on the notion of ‘healthy’ muffins. Because once again these muffins were a complete disaster. These particular muffins were oat muffins and probably were not helped by the recipe calling for them to be blitzed in the food processor. I don’t have a food processor. I do have a blender and while in many cases they can be used interchangeably – this appears to not be one of those cases…Anyway, they continued the pattern of ‘healthy’ muffins in this kitchen – I ended up cooking them for twice as long as the recipe suggested and they were still practically raw when I took them out of the oven. I officially despair of them.

The saddest of blueberry muffins

My second adventure in breakfast blueberries took the form of those little breakfast granola pots you get. You know the kind: fruit compote on the bottom, a layer of plain yoghurt in the middle and crunchy granola on top. A deliciously decadent breakfast, the kind of thing I buy for breakfast on mornings that I have to get ridiculously early trains. (Or occasionally, to go with my coffee when I’ve slept in, because I tell myself they’re healthier than a muffin.) Given that I already like that sort of thing and I make my own yoghurt, when I saw the recipe it seemed a perfect wee treat. And it was. Cook down some blueberries and brambles with some ground ginger, into a compote and leave to cool. Toast some oats in the meantime (I added some flaked almonds to the toasting pile, which was an excellent decision). Once cool put a couple of spoonfuls into each of your little tubs, layer over some yoghurt, and then sprinkle over the oats/granola and voila! I’d recommend keeping the oats separate from the rest of the parts until just before you eat them/leave the house. Apparently there’s a good reason for you getting your granola in a tiny container when you buy them out places; the oats get a bit soft otherwise. Excellent for having in the fridge for days when you’re disorganised and need a breakfast you can either eat at speed or take to the office with you. Now I just need to figure out how to replicate the peach/mango one that my favoured coffee shop tempts me with…

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New Challenges

I found myself a new cooking challenge to take me through the year. Unsurprisingly I got some new cookbooks other the festivities and one of them made the journey back up north with me. Another Lorraine Pascale effort – I suspect I now have a full set of her cookbooks – Eating Well Made Easy and well I’m trying to eat more healthily. (When I went veggie I seemed to mostly replace meat with cheese, this was…not entirely good for my waistline.) As I’m terrible for looking at cookbooks and not cooking anything from them I had the idea that I could try and cook two things each month from it. It seemed a good plan for making myself try new things – from an already trusted source – and having a subject for one blog post a month. (Accountability!)

So far I’ve been successful in my efforts! It took me until the very last day of January to get my second thing of the month made – banana and peanut butter muffins! But we’re only a week into February and I’ve already made two things out of it! Success!

Anyway, back to January’s adventures.

First up, I went with a tagine. (Leek, aubergine and chickpea tagine to be precise.) I do actually have a tagine, but its lurking in a cupboard at my parents’ house so I ended up making this in a large pot instead – much less exciting. I discovered after I started cooking it that it was actually supposed to be served with buckwheat rather than couscous. As I was making it as a ‘cook up my cupboards’ recipe, that wasn’t really an option, but after having a wee dig about in my cupboards and unearthed some Bulgar wheat so I used that instead. I’ve never used Bulgar wheat before but it’s cooked very similarly to couscous so that was fine. The recipe called for harissa paste which I didn’t have a the time, I’ll have to try that next time I make bulgar wheat, because it doesn’t seem to soak up the flavour of the liquid its soaked in quite as well as couscous does. Anyway, this was a ‘cooking for friends’ recipe so I thought it would do nicely for a bulk cook, keeping me in dinner and work lunches for several days. Now, often when I make these kind of dishes that say serves 4-6, a lot of the bulk of them is the accompaniment – lentils, rice, couscous, whatever – so cut that down and that keeps it manageable. This was…not the case with this recipe. It was tasty; don’t get me wrong, but oh my goodness, so much food. It fed me for three days meals, I froze a portion and I used some excess sauce, as a sauce for gnocchi – surprisingly successful – and still there were leftovers. I’d definitely make it again (ideally in a proper tagine) but, less of it, as by the time I was done I was utterly scunnered of it and still had to throw some out which doubly upsets me.

Second up were muffins. Banana and peanut butter muffins. Healthy ones. I suspect my rubbish oven is partly to blame as I’ve cooked muffins with wholemeal flour previously and they were delicious. I’ve tried to make banana and peanut butter muffins twice now, following two different recipes and both attempts have been thoroughly underwhelming. Which, given that bananas and peanut butter are two of my favourite things, is really rather disappointing. They’re just really dry and tasteless? Admitted this should have contained dates, which I didn’t have, but I presumed that was mainly for the sweetness so I added honey to them – the absence of which I’d previously written of the failure of the last recipe – but even that couldn’t help them. I’m going to try making the lovely pumpkin muffins in this oven (both healthy and tasty) and if they’re rubbish too, I’ll know it’s the oven and if not well I guess I’ll know that muffins that are both tasty and healthy are rare and to be treasured.

Categories: being veggie, challenges, cooking the book | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Bake More Often: Baking in Unfamiliar Kitchens

Over the last year and a half, I’ve lived in three different places, which has meant three different kitchens. One of those was my parent’s kitchen, which is familiar but having been away seemed strange and new again last winter. I adored the kitchen in my old flat. It was big and between my flatmates and me we basically had everything culinary we could possibly need (and a few things we didn’t). One of my flatmates was as keen a cook as me and the kitchen became the main social space of our flat. The weekend that I moved in there were home made brownies and I never had a chance to get nervous about cooking in this kitchen because someone else was already experimenting. There were successes and disasters and not a little heckling.

My current kitchen is different. It’s small and perfectly formed but it’s not mine. I’m a lodger and however well that situation has worked out, I’m always aware that this is someone else’s kitchen. It’s exacerbated by the fact that my landlady isn’t much for cooking herself. She doesn’t bake at all. I already spent much more time in the kitchen than she does just making dinner and preparing packed lunches. So for months I chickened out of baking. After my excellent start to my Bake More Often challenge in the first three months of the year, I didn’t bake again for another three months.

Then June arrived and with it both my parents’ birthdays. And they came to visit. In our family birthdays are always marked with cake. Even when I was writing my dissertation in sunny Bournemouth and couldn’t come home for my birthday, my parents sent me a tiny box cake in the post. I couldn’t not provide cake and pride forbade the shop-bought variety. There were some obstacles. Due to the aforementioned small kitchen, most of my non-essential cookware is in storage at my parents’. I had no cake tin and it seemed foolish to buy one up here that I would use once or twice and not again after it. Equally it seemed foolish to buy flour and sugar and all the rest when I had no room to store them and would probably only bake once or twice. So I determined to get one of those packet mixes and make a cake that way. After all I’d got back into baking back in Bournemouth after I’d found a packet on special offer and had too much fun making butterfly cakes…

Flutterby Cake

Then I discovered that neither did my landlady. In fact the extent of her baking equipment is a large bowl, a whisk, a set of scales, some wooden spoons and a bun tray. Undeterred I bought packet mix and butter, and made red velvet cupcakes. Not quite as impressive as I’d hoped but baking nonetheless. The icing was a bit of a disaster but the buns were tasty and my parents were impressed that I’d actually produced cake in this strange new kitchen.

Red Velvet Cupcake

The oven has taken some getting used to. Its highest temperature is 200˚C (it’s a fan oven thankfully) and pretty much anything I ever bake in it takes at least 5 if not 10 minutes longer than the instructions say. It’s been an experience. However, I’ve persevered, as evidenced by the fact that I have another two Bake More Often posts planned for this month. (Pastry is a bit of a theme; it seems to be the most consistently successful substance to bake in this oven.) I made Banana and Peanut Butter muffins and they were…fine. Well the recipe needs a bit of refining which doesn’t help but in the end I established that giving them a wee zap in the microwave then letting them cool down again made them quite pleasant to eat for breakfast. Given how nice they looked and smelled they were just a bit underwhelming.

Banana peanut butter buns!

Back to the drawing board with those ones I fear…

Categories: bake more often, challenges, feeling philisophical, nablopomo | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Bake More Often: Cooking Up The Cupboards Edition

Having baked on a total of three occasions last year, it is now only March and I’ve already baked on four (or six, depending on how you’re counting as I did make the sausage rolls again) occasions. On this occasion, largely due to having ambitiously bought various ingredients with intent to bake more often and then having to use them up before I move house. I’m always a bit over-ambitious on the dried/cupboard goods front, but this evening as I was baking I was delighted to find myself finishing off numerous things. I was shaking out empty bags of flour for those last few grams, measuring out those last few drops of vanilla extract and emptying out that packet of chocolate chips that have been lurking around falling out of cupboards on me.

Both of today’s recipes came from one of the Lorraine Pascale books I received over the festive season. A gift that was inspired by my having her A Lighter Way to Bake out of the library when I was up in Inverness, which being the case meant that today’s White Chocolate Chunk Cookies – like the other week’s Pinwheel Snacks – were on my big 30 recipes list so manage to count as productivity on both counts!

First up were the cookies. I’ve never actually made cookies before so it was a bit of a stab in the dark. When I tested them after the initial cooking period they seemed very soft so I wasn’t convinced them were actually cooked and put them back for an extra few minutes, but having tried them once they were cool I think they would have been fine as the finished product was a little too brittle and biscuit-like. They went down well with my testing guinea-pigs but personally I prefer my cookies a bit softer. Weirdly, despite putting more chocolate chips in than the recipe stated they don’t really feel chocolatey enough?

Cookie Stack

I also made pumpkin muffins, largely because I knew I had a can of pumpkin puree in the cupboard. This isn’t the first time I’ve made pumpkin muffins – several years ago I bought a pumpkin at Hallowe’en determined to make pumpkin soup and embrace the joys of squashes and ended up with more pumpkin than I knew what to do with. Those pumpkins muffins were…alright…I suppose, they were pretty uninspiring and while I ate them, I never felt moved to make them again or buy them if I saw them in the shops or at bake sales. Perhaps it’s the recipe, or perhaps using canned pumpkin rather than fresh makes all the difference, I don’t know, however, these muffins were a whole different ballgame. A pleasant balance of savoury and sweet, the worked both with and without the icing. I’ve never made a cream-cheese frosting before and from experience of eating cupcakes I generally find cream-cheese frosting a bit hit and miss, but this one is really quite pleasantly more-ish. Next time I will, however, make the effort to find room to put it in the fridge as instructed to set before icing the muffins – they loose a little something artistically when the icing isn’t as firm…

Pumpkin Muffin

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Bake More Often: Off-List Edition

I suppose I should really stop teasing with my illusions to an epic weekend of baking and actually talk about what I made shouldn’t I?

Well, it started with Sausage Rolls, we had sausages that needed using up, and in my quest for a recipe to cook them up, I remembered that Sausage Rolls were on my list and not knowing how much puff pastry I’d need grabbed a big pack on my late night supermarket run. (For reference a 1KG pack is too much – I fed a family of three twice, plus lunch for two and still managed a one-person fake-pie for myself on the Monday night!) So having successfully managed sausage rolls, I had a dig through my recipe books in search of something to use up the rest of the pastry. I stumbled across a recipe that struck straight to my childhood nostalgia – vol-au-vents. But what to put in them? The recipe called for feta cheese and pomegranate and in my opinion vol-au-vents should be hot with an equally hot filling. Handily my mum was making ham soup so I pinched some of the meat, she made a nice white sauce and a tasty filling was born.

Vol-Au-Vents

If I had issues about ‘proper’ baking with the sausage rolls, they were nowhere to be seen with the vol-au-vents. Perhaps it was the cutting out and construction work involved in putting them together, but they definitely felt like ‘real‘ baking. I do take a couple of issues with the recipe as written though. First up, why get rid of the inner circles? Bake them separately and they make cute little hats/lids for the vol-au-vents, judicious application of the rolling pin would doubtless resolve the overly puffed result I got. Secondly, once they’ve been in the oven it tells you to cut out the puffed up centres and discard – cut them out certainly, but they squash down easily enough under the weight of the filling, and if you really want to remove them they make a tasty treat for the peckish cook. Particularly tasty, I find, with mashed potatoes and broccoli.

Vol-Au-Vent Meal

While I had the oven on and was using up things in the fridge, I made some Spinach and Cheese (Cheddar, Parmasan and Cream-cheese to be precise) Muffins. These are an old tried and tested favourite of mine and make an excellent savoury breakfast. A wee 30 second blast in the microwave before eating re-melts the cream-cheese nicely. Handily they also cook in the oven at the same temperature as the vol-au-vents, so I was able to whip them up while the vol-au-vents were chilling/resting in the fridge and stick them both in together.

Spinach and 3 Cheese Muffins

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