I have two types of cake I can knock up in a hurry, without really thinking about it, and with a 99% chance of the right ingredients already residing in my kitchen cupboard. The first is a tray of brownies, the second is a batch of muffins. Both are adaptable, can be on the table in about forty minutes and, above all, are guaranteed crowd pleasers. I’ve already “done” brownies this week so when my gorgeous sister-in-law offered to pop by this afternoon with my baby nephew I decided to go the muffin route. Half an hour later the house was filled with the fragrance of coffee and chocolate; which is always a Good Thing!
Should you require a “little something” at short notice, you could do worse than these babies. They are adapted from a recipe of Susannah Blake’s in Muffin Magic. Please note that you can substitute gluten-free flour and/or non-dairy milk without any problems, I’ve done both.
In a big bowl mix 300g self-raising flour, 120g caster sugar, two teaspoons each of cocoa powder and instant espresso powder and 50g chopped dark chocolate.
In a jug beat 200ml milk, two tablespoons yoghurt, 1 egg and 85g melted butter; and then pour into the bowl of dry ingredients. Lightly and barely mix. If you under-combine with streaks of flour mixture still present you’ll get lovely light muffins. If you mix thoroughly, as you would a cake batter, your muffins will be rubbery. You don’t want that!
Spoon the mixture into twelve medium sized muffin moulds (I have two six-hole, silicon muffin trays. If you aren’t using silicon you’ll need to line with paper cases) and pop into a preheated 200C oven for twenty minutes.
Plump the cushions, hide that pile of paperwork, stick the kettle on and then hope your guests arrive before the muffins go cold. If they do cool too much remove from the tins/trays and stick in a hot oven for about three minutes. IF there’s any left you can do this for breakfast the next morning too, but don’t count on it…
Every Thursday morning one of our lovely Riverford delivery ladies lugs a huge box of organic, seasonal and largely local vegetables up to our doorstep. Every Thursday morning I am torn between excitement at the huge range of meal possibilities and tiredness at the thought of where the hell I’m going to store it all; our fridge is tiny. So Wednesday evening heralds a fridge clear out and Wednesday supper is always a witches brew of whatever is left over…
Tonight I marinaded still frozen salmon in soy sauce, brown sugar and sesame oil for half an hour before sprinkling it with sesame seeds and sticking it for a while in a medium hot oven.
Once it was nearly cooked and family members were starting to mill around expectantly I fried up spring onions, garlic, a chilli, a handful of coriander, a load of curly kale and a good pinch of sprouted alfalfa. Threw soy sauce, a pinch of brown sugar and some star anise into chicken stock and finally chucked soba noodles into boiling water for five minutes. From there it was just a quick assembly job.
Half an hour later and everyone has broth splattered down their fronts and warm bellies (I could have used a little less chilli). With a bit of re-jigging I should have just enough space for tomorrow’s veg!
I do like a nice slab of homemade carrot cake. Smugly virtuous carrots, raisins and walnuts held in a moist crumb that sings with spices and zest; topped with unctuous cream cheese icing. What’s not to like?*
Here’s my recipe, slightly adapted from Liz Franklin’s in Brownies and Bars.
Beat 125g soft butter with 125mls olive oil, 200g caster sugar and, gradually, 4 eggs. Add 300g gluten free self-raising flour, 3 good sized organic carrots, a handful each of walnuts and raisins; the zest and juice of an orange and whatever spices you’re in the mood for (cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger is good).
Combine and bake in a greased 20x30cm tin at 180C for 45 mins.
Cool and top with a mixture of 200g cream cheese, 200g icing sugar and the zest of half a lemon.
Ideally you should serve this carrot cake up with a mug of tea in a warm house when it’s gloomy and raining outside. On this particular occasion the forecast drizzle was absent and we were forced to pretend. The mug of tea, however, is not really optional.
*please note that this is a retox recipe and is not intended for anyone undergoing nutritional therapy with me!
My Favourite Knife
My favourite kitchen knife, the only one I find makes quick work of every item in the vegbox except pumpkins, is a source of much contention in our house. It is also the knife-of-choice for the rest of my family whether for chopping vegetables, spearing through vacuum packed meat or spreading butter… It then gets lost, concealed behind the chopping board, tucked under a pile of dirty dishes, or hanging out with bubble-covered cutlery on the draining board. Preparing an evening meal is always preceded with hunt My Favourite Knife (herewith referred to as MFK).
My magnetic Ikea knife rack holds the following:
One brutal looking Japanese Santoku knife with a (long-ago lost) lifetime guarantee and a blade that stubbornly resists sharpening. It only comes into its own performing rather ladylike jobs such as chopping leafy herbs and bars of chocolate, although not necessarily at the same time.
One snazzy looking, bright red Kitchen Craft parer that was a present from my lovely mother in law. It likes making quick work of fruit and is quite photogenic. I think of it as the 80s yuppy of the gang.
Three Kitchen Devil knives from a set that we’ve had for-like-ever, and which none of us really likes. Except maybe the bread knife, which is underused and therefore feels a bit sorry for itself.
There are also two pairs of scissors, honorary knives in that they sometimes get employed to chop meat (I don’t like raw meat on my chopping board), green beans or chives.
You might expect that MFK is either an expensive bit of designer gadget kit from a specialist shop, precision weighted and with a blade crafted from high quality metals or, more prosaically, a much loved heirloom piece with a well worn wooden handle and oft sharpened-on-a-whetstone blade. But no. The serrated blade is branded with a middle-class supermarket stamp and the plastic handle barely survived an over enthusiastic chewing from a rescue puppy, a couple of years ago (to this day we don’t know how she didn’t cut herself). My builder friend heroically sanded the worst of the damage down for me, but the teeth marks still give it the dejected air of a half masticated blackjack. MFK is by no means a thing of beauty. And yet..
For over fifteen years it has happily diced onions, sliced tomatoes and peeled off garlic skins; it marks out still-warm flapjack squares with as much ease as cleanly slicing through a creamy layer cake and it makes light work of removing peppers from plants without damage or cutting bread rolls in half without making a mountain of crumbs. MFK is a faithful old friend and I wouldn’t be without it. If I could only find it…