Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Charred Graffiti Aubergine stuffed with Quinoa and Puy lentils

As a bit of a change from the sweet treats (and anticipating an upturn in sugary confections in the run up to Christmas) I though the time was right to go back to basics with some good, old-fashioned hearty fare. When I spotted these lovely, stripy miniature aubergines in the local grocers recently, I was transfixed, and simply had to have some (it's the little things that make me happy!). A little while after coming up with this recipe I saw these cute stripy aubergines being used on an American cookery programme, and referred to as 'graffiti aubergines'. So I don't know if that's just the American name for them. But since it's very expressive, that what I've referred to them as here. 

This recipe will take about 50 minutes in total and serves 2 hungry people.

2 hand-sized graffiti aubergines

1 cup puy lentils, thoroughly rinsed
1 sprig rosemary
1 cup quinoa
4 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
7 sun dried tomatoes, rehydrated and chopped
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 des sp. paprika
1 tblsp sunflower seeds
1 tblsp pumpkin seeds
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes

1. Set the quinoa, lentils, bay leaves and rosemary in a pan with 4 cups of boiling water. Simmer for about 20 minutes until tender.

2. Meanwhile, halve the aubergines and dry fry (cut side down) in a non-stick frying pan for 5-10mins until charred, moving frequently. Turn and char reverse side for about 5mins. Allow to cool slightly and scoop flesh out of aubergine, roughly chop and set aside.

3. Fry off the onion, chilli, garlic and seeds until the onion is translucent. Then add the rest of the ingredients, including the aubergine flesh. Simmer gently for about ten minutes, adding half of the puy lentils and quinoa at the end of the simmering time.

4. Stuff the aubergine skins with this mixture and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees celsius for about 10-15 minutes until crunchy on top. Use the remainder of the quinoa and puy lentils as a bed on which to set the aubergine.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Thanking the Green Fairy and Bananaman

The Thursday before last I had an opportunity to go to an exciting event at Chatham House on the role of political parties in Russian elections, and the powers of the presidency. Well, exciting to me, anyway.

The only problem was that all of my teaching is scheduled on Thursdays. Happily for me, two of my illustrious colleagues - the beautiful Green Fairy, and the heroic Bananaman - covered my classes for the week, and I was able to see one of my academic idols in action. I wanted to show my appreciation in the only appropriate way - with a showing of baked goods designed to suit them both down to the ground....

Absinthe Cupcakes (makes about 6)

For the cakes:
2oz caster sugar
2oz Stork
1 egg, beaten
2oz self raising flour
1tsp vanilla essence
12 drops angostura bitters
1tsp absinthe

For the frosting:
125g unsalted butter
125g icing sugar, sieved
5 des. sp. absinthe
green colouring (gel is best)


1. Cream together the sugar and the Stork until light and fluffy. 

2. Add the egg, a little at a time so that it doesn't curdle.

3. Add the vanilla, angostura and absinthe, and then fold in the flour.

4. Spoon into individual cupcake cases and bake at 180 degrees celcius for about 15 minutes.

5. Once the cakes spring back to the touch, set them on a wire rack to cool. Whilst the cakes are cooling, make the frosting. Whisk together all of the ingredients with an electric whisk until the mixture is light and full of air.

6. Use the icing to decorate the cipcakes - I used the spreading method rather than the piping method, as it uses less frosting, which is probably for the best when your frosting is as potent as this!

7. Add the finishing touches for decoration. I made green fairies and absinthe bottles from sugarpaste icing, and finished them off with green edible glitter.

Banana Buns (makes 8)

For the cakes:
2oz caster sugar
2oz muscovado sugar
5oz self raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2oz Stork, melted
3 small bananas, mashed up
4 des sp. milk
1 egg, beaten

For the frosting:
125g icing sugar, sieved
125g unsalted butter
1 des sp banana angel delight (controversial!)
Yellow colouring
Dried banana pieces, to decorate


1. Mix together all of the dry ingredients for the cakes.

2. Add the melted Stork and the milk to the mashed banana, then slowly stir in the egg.

3. Gently fold in the wet mixture to the dry ingredients then spoon into cupcake cases.

4. Bake at 160 degrees celcius for about 20-30 minutes, then set to cool on a wire rack.

5. Whisk together the frosting ingredients, and when the cakes are cool, decorate with frosting and dried banana pieces.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Pumpkin Party

So, Hallowe'en is now well and truly over, and what does that mean in the world of home baking?

It means several metrics tonnes of reduced pumpkins in the shops. And it would be rude to ignore that kind of encouragement.

After providing hours of carving fun times, our pet pumpkin, Reg, has now found his true, culinary, calling in life.

Now, although pumpkin and ginger soup is one of my all time favourite autumn comfort foods, we seem to have a lot of squash-related soup in this household. So, inspired by the success of the banana buns I recently made, and challenged by the other half's announcement that "I'm not really a fan of pumpkin in sweet things", I was keen to come up with a lovely moist tea bread with a pumpkinny element. I had the end of a packet of ground almonds that wanted using, and some stoned dates, inherited from a friend who left them in my rucksack, and surely couldn't have expected them to remain uneaten...?

I had fully intended to put a couple of ounces of Stork in the mixture. But then I managed to forget, and still the mixture looked pretty good, so I just rolled with it in the end - and no disasters ensued! Here's the resultant recipe.

Pumpkin, banana and date tea loaf

2oz caster sugar
2oz dark muscovado sugar
5oz self raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2oz ground almonds
1oz chopped nuts
2 bananas, mashed
an equal amount of pumpkin, cubed very small (about 2 handfuls)
3 tblsp milk
1 egg
1tsp cinammon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
handful dates, roughly chopped

To finish:
1 tblsp honey
handful chopped nuts


1. Put the 2 tblsp water on the pumpkin, cover and microwave for about 3 minutes, stirring half way. This should cook the pumpkin through until tender. Allow to cool.

2. Mix together all of the dry ingredients

3. Mix the bananas, milk and egg together. Then fold this wet mixture into the dry mixture, along with the pumpkin. I was going to puree the pumpkin first, but I couldn't be bothered in the end. It actually worked out nicely, with pumpkinny chunks coming through into the final tea bread - yum!

4. Turn the mixture into a silicone loaf tin, and bake for 30-40mins at 160 degrees celsius. A skewer will probably not come out clean because of the banana content - but you should be able to see that it's only banana residue and not unbaked cake.

5. Put the loaf tin on a wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes, until it is cool enough to handle. Then turn the cake out. Warm the honey for about 10 seconds in the microwave, until it will drizzle easily over the top of the loaf. Finish off with a scattering of chopped nuts.

Obviously the best way to serve this is with a good cuppa - I realise this is my standard cake-related advice, but then again, if it's not broke, don't fix it!