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Muffins as gifts

I was thinking the other day about what desserts- or other foods- would make a good gift. I can’t think of anything better to be given as a gift than a homemade something or other. So here’s what I made a few days ago to give as a gift to a good friend- also as part of my goal 190, which has to do with trying out different muffin recipes.

The recipe is from Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a domestic goddess’, and she describes these as ‘baby bundts’, not muffins- and actually makes them in mini-bundt pans. Since I don’t own mini-bundt pans, I made them in a regular muffin tin. These taste absolutely stunning, full of lemony freshness & yoghurty tanginess. I’ve made them many times in the past- always with great success-, and so I thought it was a good opportunity to post about them here.

Baby bundts (aka lemon & yoghurt muffins, from Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a domestic goddess’)

Ingredients:

* 1⁄2 cup (125 ml) plain yoghurt, preferably bio
* 75 gr. butter, melted
* 2 large eggs
* Zest of 1 lemon
* 150 gr. plain flour
* 1⁄2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
* Pinch of salt
* 7 tablespoons (125 gr.) caster sugar

For icing:

* 1 1/3 cups (200 gr.) icing sugar
* Juice of 1 lemon

Method:

* Preheat the oven to 170 degrees (gas mark 3) and butter or oil a mini-Bundt tin (or muffin tin, like I did) with at least six moulds
* In a measuring cup, mix the yogurt, melted butter, eggs and lemon zest
* Put the flour, bicarb of soda, salt and sugar in a large bowl
* Mix the wet ingredients into the bowl, folding everything in well, then fill the mini-Bundt molds with the mixture; bake for 25 to 30 minutes
* Cool a bit before turning them out, otherwise they’ll break, but don’t let them cool completely in the pan either, as they will stick. Cool completely on a rack, flat sides down
* To make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and add enough lemon juice to make an icing thick enough to top the cakes and drizzle down the sides
* Makes 6 cakes.

Variations: Virtually any citrus can be substituted for the lemon. Lime comes to mind, and you can combine lemon and orange, half of each for the cakes and the icing respectively.

I posted a recipe about a loaf of bread a few days ago, mentioning that it’s the perfect bread to have with those early autumn stews. Well, it turns out I’m not yet ready for those early autumn stews. I still, inexplicably, long for strawberries, cold watermelon, summery salads & even more summery barbecues. I also wish I could turn back the time & have that missed summer holiday at a small, distant greek island… and mostly, I long for the sea. The closer I got to my longings this summer was a dip in a swimming pool here in London, when I was 9 months pregnant (it was wonderful, but when it’s the aegean you’re longing for, a swimming pool in North London simply won’t cut it).

So here I am again posting another summer recipe, taken from Tessa Kiros’ mouthwatering book ‘Falling cloudberries’. Kiros describes this as a finish cake… but I think it’s suitable for a summer celebration (or, ok, an early-autumn-wishing-it-were-summer celebration) anywhere in the world. It’s a delicious, delicate & light cake. It’s also easy to make. Highly recommended!

Sipi’s strawberry cake (from Tessa Kiros’ Falling cloudberries: A world of family recipes’)

Ingredients:

  • 220 gr (1 3/4 cups) cake flour or plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 180 gr (3/4 cup) sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 180 gr butter, melted
  • 185 ml (3/4 cup) warm milk
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 800 gr strawberries
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons icing sugar
  • 750 ml (3 cups) thick double cream

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 180 degrees (gas mark 4)
  • grease & flour a 22 cm springform cake tin, or a bundt pan
  • put the flour & sugar in a bowl with 1 teaspoon of the baking powder
  • Mix in the butter & then stir in the milk
  • Add the egg yolks & vanilla & beat in well
  • Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, incorporating the rest of the baking powder when the eggs have started fluffing up
  • Fold the whites into the cake mixture
  • Pour the batter into the cake tin & bake for about 1 hour or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean & the top is deep golden & crisp
  • Remove from the oven & leave to cool a bit before turning out onto a rack
  • When cool, slice the cake in half horizontally & put the bottom half on a large serving plate
  • Clean the strawberries& hull them (leave a few unhulled, if you prefer to see them that way on the top of the cake)
  • Dice about half the strawberries & sprinkle with a little lemon juice & 1 tablespoon of the icing sugar
  • Whip the cream into stiff peaks with the remaining icing sugar
  • Mix the diced strawberries with about a third of the whipped cream & spoon over the bottom of the cake
  • Put the other half of the cake on top & thickly spoon the remaining cream over the top & side, then decorate with the rest of the strawberries.
  • This is best eaten immediately. Any remains will keep for a day in the fridge.

Back to bread baking… I think early autumn is a perfect time to experiment on different recipes for loaves. Simple to make, can be tackled between nappy changing and feeding the baby… and yet so wonderful when in need of something straightforward which can make the kitchen- and the whole home- smell heavenly. So I thought I’d take my first tiny steps in cooking again & achieving my goals by starting with goal 191, which involves bread baking. Not at all originally for me, this loaf comes from one of Nigella Lawson’s cookbooks (‘How to be a domestic goddess’). Nigella calls it ‘the essential white loaf’ and it is indeed a perfect, simple white loaf. The only one you’ll need to have on your repertoire, come to think of it.

The essential white loaf (from Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a domestic goddess’)

Ingredients:

* 500 gr strong white bread flour, plus more for kneading
* 7 g (1 sachet) easy-blend yeast or 15g fresh yeast
* 1 Tablespoon salt
* approximately 300 ml warm tap or potato water [head notes suggest that you can also mix 1 scant Tablespoon instant mashed potatoes with ordinary warm water, but I haven’t tried this]
* 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
* to make this, use 1 baking sheet or 500gr loaf tin

Method:

* Put the flour, yeast and salt in a bowl and pour in 200ml of the water, mixing as you do so with a wooden spoon or your hands. Be prepared to add more water, but bear in mind that you want to end up with a shaggy mess
* Add the butter, and mix that in
* Now, either start kneading, or if you’ve got a free-standing mixer, put in the dough hook and let it do the work
* Form the dough into a ball and put into a large oiled bowl, turning once so the top of hte dough is greased
* Cover with clingfilm and put into a cold place or the fridge overnight, or in a warm place for an hour or two
* If you’re giving the bread a short warm rise, then just keep an eye on it; it’s ready when it’s more or less doubled in size. If you’ve given it a long cold rise, remove the dough from its cold storage–the next morning, later on in the day, whenever–and, if it’s doubled in size, punch it down. If it doesn’t look risen much, leave the bowl out at room temperature for a while and then proceed as above
* Preheat the oven to 220 C/ gas mark 7 and then after kneading the dough for a scant minute, form it into a round loaf shape and sit it on the baking sheet (or in the loaf pan) covered loosely with clingfilm or a tea towel and leave for 30 min or until puffy and again almost doubled in size
* Just before you put it in the oven, remove the towel or plastic and dust with flour
* Bake for 35 min or until cooked through; the way to check is to lift up the loaf or remove it from its pan and knock with your knuckles on the underside: if it makes a hollow noise, it is cooked; if not, put back in the oven for a few minutes. Put on rack to cool, then enjoy.


October is here, and it’s getting colder and colder by the day here in London. I’m already nostalgic for the summer- not that it was a particularly bright & sunny one! But it was the summer during which my little boy was born, & now that special time has passed & the newborn baby is a smiley two month old. In honour of those days just before my baby came to our world, I decided to re-start my blogging with one of the very last things I cooked & ate during those warm (well…in a manner of speaking) summer days of waiting. A few days after I made this ice-cream, true to the Hollywood-movie tradition, my waters broke in the middle of the night.

Nigella Lawson’s- or Marcella Hazan’s- world’s best chocolate ice cream (From Nigella’s ‘How to eat’, and originally from ‘Marcella’s Kitchen’)

Ingredients:

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 130 gr plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 500 ml full-fat milk
  • 100 gr dark chocolate (min.70% cocoa solids)
  • 40 gr cocoa (best quality available)

Method:

  • Whisk the yolks & 130 gr of the sugar in a bowl until thick & creamy, foaming pale ribbons when you lift the whisk
  • Bring the milk to the boil & add it to the beaten yolks, pouring slowly & beating all the while
  • Melt the chocolate in a bowl above (but not touching) some simmering water in a pan
  • Then whisk this, followed by the cocoa, into the egg & milk mixture
  • Pour the chocolate-custard mixture into a pan & cook on a low to moderate heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until everything’s smooth & amalgamated & beginning to thicken (don’t cook until it’s really custard-like, but slightly less)
  • Put 2 tablespoons of sugar with 2 teaspoons of water into a thick bottomed saucepan & turn the heat to high
  • Make a caramel: heat this until it’s dark brown & molten (you are after the taste of burnt sugar)
  • As it browns, whisk it into the chocolate custard; don’t worry if it crystallizes on contact as the whisking will dissolve it
  • Turn into a bowl to cool
  • Then chill in the fridge for about 20 mins (or longer if that’s more convenient) before churning in your ice-cream maker according to instructions

This is an exceptionally delicious chocolate ice-cream, with a dark smoky taste (the smokiness due to the added caramel). Make it as soon as possible, before the autumn cold really hits you, and wave a last goodbye to the summer…

Here I am again…

It’s been more than 2 months since I’ve updated my blog… they say images are stronger than words, so you can easily tell what the reason behind my disappearance is!

I thought long & hard about what I should do with my blog. For a while of course, after the birth of my boy, I just put the whole thing on the back burner. Those of you who have kids know very well how those first couple of months are with a new baby: there’s no time to take a shower or even to have a coherent thought, let alone to update a blog! I initially found it shocking how much of a difference there was between my previous life (before-baby) and my current one (after-baby).

However, my boy is now 2 months (god, how the time passes) & I’m ready for some new blogging adventures, as I’m gradually starting to feel a connection to my previous self & my before-baby life. I’ve thought about the direction I want the blog to go in, and to be honest, achieving my 202 goals just doesn’t seem realistic anymore (particularly the having-to-read-novels-by-authors-like-Dostoevsky bit!) I do want to continue blogging though, so I’ve decided to be realistic & plan something that I can actually achieve within the time frame I’ve set myself. This blog has been, from the beginning, more a food blog than anything else… so what I’ve decided is that I will cut my list in half. I’ll go from the overambitious 202 goals to a more modest 101 goals, concentrating on the food-related ones. I won’t actually delete the non-food-related goals from my blog, since I feel they belong here, & I may feel that I want to write about some of them from time to time. But my main objective will be to focus on goals 102 to 202, all about food! I hope to achieve most of them by the end of the 1001 days, so wish me luck.

Any changes you see on the blog are due to this change in direction.. So. Hello again to everyone who’s still out there, I look forward to reconnecting with everyone, & even more than that, I look forward to reconnecting with my kitchen & cookbooks!

A few days ago a friend was telling me that, from what he’s noticed, there are two desserts that women consistently love & men consistently dislike (or even hate). One of them is carrot cake. The other, cheesecake. So in his opinion there are clear gender differences in food preferences. Interesting thought. He did say that he makes an exception for this cheesecake. It’s a chocolate cheesecake, and so I don’t know if cheesecake fanatics would consider it a ‘true’ cheesecake. However, it’s delicious & makes for a good summer dessert, as it’s not too heavy (taste-wise, because calorie wise is another story!) And since it’s very chocolatey it appeals to those men who scoff at classic white cheesecakes.

Chocolate cheesecake (from Nigella Lawson’s ‘How to be a domestic goddess’)

Ingredients:

  • 125 gr. digestive biscuits
  • 50g unsalted butter, very soft or melted
  • 500g cream cheese
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 175ml sour cream
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon lime juice (to taste)
  • 150 gr. dark chocolate, melted

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180C
  • Put the kettle on to boil
  • Melt the chocolate either in a microwave or double boiler, and set aside to cool slightly.
  • Process the biscuits & melted butter together & press in the bottom of a 20 cm springform tin, then put it in the fridge until the filling is ready
  • Beat the cream cheese to soften it, then mix in the sugar
  • Add the eggs & yolks, one by one, beating in after each addition
  • Pour in the sour cream & the lime juice & beat until smooth & creamy (if you want it a bit sourer, add a bit more lime juice)
  • Gently fold in the melted chocolate, you want the cheesecake marbled with dark chocolate, so don’t combine fully
  • Take the springform pan out of the fridge and line the outside of the pan with a good layer of strong foil, and then another layer over that. This will protect it from the water bath
  • Sit the springform pan in a roasting pan and pour in the cheesecake filling. Fill the roasting pan with recently-boiled water from the kettle to come about halfway up the cake pan, and bake in the over for about an hour. The top of the cheesecake should be set, but underneath should still have a wobble to it
  • Peel away the foil and sit the cheesecake in its pan on a rack to cool. Put in the fridge once it’s no longer hot, and leave to set until you want to unmould it. Let it lose its chill before unspringing to serve

If you want to try any other chocolate cheesecake recipes, here are a few possibilities:

PS- I’m still waiting for my baby to arrive, so no news from my side of things. It’s getting a bit tiring at this point, I really want him to hurry up & appear! Enough with being pregnant (especially in this unusual London heat).

Reasons to watch Mamma Mia (the movie) when you’re ready to pop & have a baby any moment:

  • Being mentally transferred to beautiful, crystal-clear-water-and-white-sand Greek beaches
  • …and so forgetting momentarily the basketball-sized bump you’re carrying, preventing you not only for any kind of holiday but also from simply- at this point- going to the local pool for a quick swim
  • Singing along (hopefully, in your head) to all those cheesy Abba songs & imagining dancing with friends, through the night, to that same music, with no care in the world & a couple of lovely cocktails to help you along.
  • Watching Meryl Streep sing ‘Slipping through my fingers’, about her daughter growing up & leaving her, & starting to cry imagining that the foetus in the tummy will soon- VERY SOON- become a real live baby, and then a real lively toddler, and then a real annoying adolescent, and and and… (Don’t ask, anything makes me tearful at this point, even an Abba song). The thing is, there’s nothing like pregnancy and having children to make you think hard about time passing, and the changes that involves.
  • Watching- and hearing- Pierce Brosnan singing ‘When all is said and done’ and cringing at the sound of his voice at the same time as laughing hysterically by the sheer camp quality of it all. And at the same time- late pregnancy emotionality again- feeling inexplicably moved & tearful by the whole thing too!!
  • Feeling completely nostalgic for long, lazy, delicious summer holidays in remote Greek islands- especially the tiny, non-touristy ones… (this shouldn’t be seen necessarily as a plus, now that I think of it)

Reasons NOT to watch Mamma mia when you’re ready to pop & have a baby any moment & to wait until your baby is about one year old:

  • Walking out of the cinema & realizing, that yes, you really truly will have a baby any moment now, and so for now there are no crystal-clear blue seas, cocktail-drinking-and-dancing nights with friends well into the night, nor any carefree love affairs on remote Greek islands with an Abba soundtrack. Hopefully other pleasures lie ahead though…