Friday, 18 May 2012

How does your garden grow?

Today is a day for feasting and celebration!

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, I am having the day off in anticipation of jetting off on my holidays this weekend, hurrah!

But mostly, a very lovely lady has a birthday today. And as well as being the birthday girl, she has recently purchased her very first house. Since I'll be away for the housewarming, I thought the least I could do would be to make some kind of cosy-making contribution. And given that the garden's always the last thing on a long line of new home chores...

P's Praline Plant Pots
100% edible
Makes 6-8 'plant pot' cakes or 8-10 cupcakes

For the cakes:
100g caster sugar
40g light muscovado sugar
150g dairy-free margarine (I used vegan Vitalite)
2 eggs, beaten
100g self raising flour
40g cocoa powder
10g ground almonds
splash of hazelnut milk (any non-dairy milk will work though)

For the edible 'soil':
15g plain flour
15g light muscovado sugar
dessert spoon cocoa powder
15g dairy-free margarine
(or if you're feeling lazy you could crush up some Bourbon biscuits instead)

For the frosting:
50g dairy-free margarine
15g cocoa powder
35g icing sugar
splash of hazelnut milk

1. If making the edible soil from scratch, prepare that first. Mix together the dry ingredients, then rub in the fat until you achieve a crumble consistency. Spread the mixture out on a baking tray covered in baking parchment. (For a dairy version of the recipe, you can substitute the dairy-free margarine for ordinary chilled butter, in cubes, throw everything into a food processor and pulse. However, if you try that with a margarine you will get a paste instead of a crumble texture, so you'll need to rub the fat in by hand).

2. For the cakes, mix together the sugars, then cream together with the margarine until fully mixed and light in colour.

3. Gradually add in a little of the beaten egg, stirring well. Continue until you have added half the egg, then add half the flour and stir in well. Gradually stir in the remainder of the egg, then add the rest of the flour, cocoa, and almonds and stir until completely mixed. Stir in a splash of the milk at the end to loosen the mixture slightly.

4. Spoon the mixture into cupcake cases or silicone plant pot moulds. Bake the cakes and the 'soil' at 180 degrees celcius. Ordinary cupcakes will take 10-15 minutes, but the deeper 'plant pots' will take around 25 minutes. The soil will be ready in 10-15 minutes.

5. Allow to cool thoroughly on a cooling rack. Meanwhile, prepare the frosting. Stir together all of the ingredients except the milk until they are roughly mixed. Then use an electric whisk and beat well for around 5 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add in a splash of milk and beat for another minute or two.

6. Finishing: If you  have used silicone plant pot moulds, you can serve in them. If you prefer, to make a fully edible plant pot, remove the cakes from their moulds when cool, level off the top and cover the outside in a thin layer of terracotta-coloured sugarpaste. Make the rim of the pot by adding a thin stip of sugarpaste at the top edge. Make sure that this is higher than the top edge of the cake. Cut a well in the centre of each cake, fill with buttercream, then replace the cut-away piece of cake in the centre. Spread a thin layer of buttercream over the top of the cake to enable the 'soil' to stay in place. Sprinkle with the edible soil, and finish with sugarpaste flowers of vegetables. I made my carrot leaves using sprigs of coriander.

So, Miss T... let me take this opportunity to wish you Very Many Happy Returns of the Day:

Happy Birthday!
Happy New Home!
Happy New Garden!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Curry and comfort

Unfortunately, this weekend I've come down with some kind of horrible disease. Perhaps that's an exaggeration - but  anyway, I have a sore throat, headache, temperature and am generally feeling rather sorry for myself. But bear with me, as there's a reason for the 'pity me' tirade.

Namely... comfort food. For me, anything a little bit stew-y and spicy fits into the comfort food category, especially when it's loaded with healthy, nutritious ingredients. Which brings me right back to curry. We eat rather a lot of curry at home, but I suppose we've fallen into a bit of a rut with it, not experiementing as much as we should. But last weekend as a pre-birthday treat for my Dad, we went to the rather wonderful Coriander restaurant. No fuss, just great food, made from sensible ingredients. I felt like I was falling in love with curry all over again.

So, when I started feeling the onset of a nasty sore throat, and inspired by the outing, I decided to put together a delicious, comforting massala, using aubergine, cauliflower, and potato. Simple, healthy and delicious, and served with fragrant pilau rice.

Aubergine and Cauliflower Massala
Serves 6

2 aubergines
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large cauliflower, separated into florets
6-8 medium potatoes, diced
4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp chilli flakes or one red chilli
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1/2 tsp fenugreek
1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1tsp coriander seeds
2 dessert spoons of tomato puree
2 tsp garam massala
1 tsp ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
4 cloves
1 green cardamom pod
2 cups of water
3 tblsp sunflower oil

1. Chop the aubergines in half and half again, lengthways. Dry fry them in a non-stick frying pan, until each cut edge takes on a charred appearance. When they are done, set aside.

2. Meanwhile, in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, fry off the fenugreek, mustard seeds, cumin seeds and coriander seeds over a medium heat until the seeds start to pop. At this point add in the chopped onion, stir for a couple of minutes, then add in the garlic and chilli, stirring periodically for another minute. Then add in the potato and the tomato puree, stirring periodically for about 5 minutes.

3. In the non-stick pan, dry fry the cloves and the cardamom pod for 30 seconds to a minute, moving continuously. Transfer to a pestle and mortar and finely crush, discarding the cardamom pod and retaining only the seeds. Add this powder, and the rest of the spices to the potato mixture and mix thoroughly.

4. Add a cup of water to the curry mixture, and allow to simmer gently for another 5 minutes. After this time, most of the water will have been absorbed. Add in the cauliflower, mix thoroughly, and after about 5 minutes add another cup of water, together with the tinned tomatoes. simmer gently for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes and cauliflower are tender.

5. Chop each of the lengths of aubergine into 3-4 pieces, add into the curry mixture, and gently stir in. Allow to simmer for another 3-4 minutes. If the curry is too hot, add 1/4 cup of milk or soya milk. Serve with a good helping of pilau rice.

Fragrant Pilau Rice
Serves 2-6

1 teacup of basmati rice per person
2 teacups of freshly boiled water per person
4-6 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
seeeds from 3-5 green cardamom pods
seeds from 1 black cardamom pod
1/2 tsp - 1tsp turmeric
1 bay leaf

1. Put all of the ingredients together in a saucepan and bring up to the boil. Boil for 2-3 minutes, then turn off the heat, put a lid on the pan, and leave it over the warm.

2. Wait for about 15 minutes, after which time the rice should be ready to serve.

Aubergine and cauliflower massala with pilau rice

As with most curries, this tastes even better on the second day, which is perfect if you're still feeling grotty!

Friday, 4 May 2012

P's Peanut Butter Cups

Ah, peanut butter. Woefully under-rated, and yet with almost infinite possibilities in the kitchen. My vegan trial period has very much convinced me of its general importance (and only strengthened my belief that if it ain't crunchy, it ain't proper peanut butter).

Anyhoo, if you like maximum bang for your buck in terms of effect for effort, this one's for you. It's a home-made, veganised version of Reece's Peanut Butter cups, and it's probably the simplest recipe on my blog so far. And just 3 ingredients... what more could you want out of life?!

Give it a go, and I guarantee you won't be disappointed!

P's Peanut Butter Cups

Vegan peanut butter cup
For best effect, you will need individual silicone cupcake cases
200g very dark chocolate (I think 70% is probably best, as 90% can be a little bitter - it depends on your taste)
approx. half a jar of crunchy peanut butter
2 tblsp icing sugar

1. Melt three quarters of the chocolate in a bain-marie with 2 tsp peanut butter. When melted and entirely mixed together, pop a couple of teaspoons full of the melted mixture into one of yor silicone cupcake cases, and guide it about 1.5 - 2cm up the side of the case to make the side of the chocolate shell. Make sure there are no holes. Repeat until all of the mixture is used - this will make around 10-15 shells, depending on the size of your cases. Pop the shells in the fridge for about 20 mins to set and to chill.

2. I always use the setting time to clean my 'melting bowl' so that I can re-use it for the next stage... Put about 3 tblsp of peanut butter in your bain marie with the icing sugar. Make sure you have about a tsp of peanut butter left to use in the next stage. Melt the peanut butter and icing sugar together. When the mixture is melted and mixed together, spoon a good teaspoon into each of the chilled chocolate shells, evening out the surface as you do so.

3. Put the filled shells in the fridge to enable the peanut butter to cool and chill. (I always cheat and use the freezer, but you have to get on with the next stage straight away and not leave them in there for very long, as you don't actually want to let them freeze).

4. Melt the remainder of the chocolate with a 1tsp of peanut butter in your bain marie. When the mixture is ready, spoon a small amount onto one of your filled shells, and tilt with your hand to cover th whole surface. You may need to use a blunt knife to coax the chocolate top into place. Repeat with the rest of your cases, and leave to set.

5. These sweets are best stored in the fridge until you are ready to serve them, as the addition of peanut butter to the chocolate shell decreases its melting point. Remove from the cupcake case to serve.

Home-made Reese's Peanut Butter Cup... untouched

Home-made Reese's Preanut Butter Cup... not untouched for long!

Seriously, it would have fit in one mouthful, so three bites is really not bad going!