Saturday, 27 August 2011

Easy Mac and Cheese Muffins

Brits and Americans seem to have very different taste when it comes to certain dishes.

I always get funny looks and raised eyebrows from Brits when the idea of  brunch consisting of maple syrup on pancakes and sausage comes up. And on the flip side, if you try to explain to an American that Brits mainly eat pancakes (which would actually be called crepes if we were on the continent) with lemon & sugar for their dinner on Pancake Day, they think it’s pretty odd.

So as you can imagine it can be a bit of a challenge to find common ‘taste bud’ ground on dishes that seemingly have the same ingredients but are in fact very different.

Enough of the pancake talk though, this is actually a post about a certain deliciously stodgy comfort food which thankfully seems to span the two cultures quite well from my tiny experience.

The superstar comfort food combo of pasta, cheese, and butter, fondly known as Mac & Cheese.  It is a warm & fuzzy edible hug that sticks to your ribs and makes you need a little nap when eaten in large quantities. 

I was very pleased to find that this dish was readily available on both sides of the pond and the differences between the two were not that apparent, if there are any at all. 

Although one American boxed version is practically flourescent orange in colour which doesn’t seem natural, and it doesn't seem to be popular in the UK but in its defence, it is easy to make and in a pinch it does the trick.

There is no argument that homemade Macaroni and Cheese is best and it has a firm footing on my list of favourite things to eat. It is also a welcome dish for most taste buds(unless you are on a diet).  

So of course when my friend gave me a copy of this recipe I was rather curious.  The title of Easy Mac and Cheese Muffins brought images to mind of a bready muffin with tubes of macaroni sticking out in all directions with some crusty melted cheese dotted on top. 

Luckily that isn’t actually how this recipe works. In fact, it is a recipe for individual portions of comforting and delicious Macaroni and Cheese baked to perfection using muffin tins (hence the ‘muffin’ title).  

How ingenious is that?

Monday, 22 August 2011

Pick Your Own...

The sign upon entering the farm should read: Risk life & limb fighting off the hordes of drunken wasps in order to enjoy some of our deliciously ripe fruit.

Ok....I admit it, I am a wasp-hater, and believe me the feeling is mutual since I was stung enough times as a kid to know that I should just steer clear of the little yellow & black terrors. They may be tiny but gosh oh gee their sting hurts like an elephant stepping on your toe(or what I imagine that would feel like).

Spot the wasp?
Perhaps I am overreacting ever so slightly, but there were indeed a few wasps buzzing around the strawberry fields at Brockbushes Farm this weekend which is to be expected in the great outdoors.  More than once though I had to abandon the perfect strawberry due to a (cunning & vicious) wasp nearby naughtily nibbling on a fuzzy pile of over ripe berry flesh.

Putting my irrational fear of wasps aside, I absolutely love the idea of ‘Pick Your Own’(PYO) farms. Not only do they make for a fun place to visit with their quaint little Tea Rooms and cutesy Farm Shops bursting with local products, but the whole idea is to go and pick only the best fruit.  You see exactly where it comes from and cut out the middle man.  It’s a win-win situation all around.

Summer Fruit Pie

After a hard working afternoon of picking fruit(or even a tough twenty minutes of wasp-dodging) you deserve a reward and may choose to sample some of the homemade treats that the quaint Tea Room has on offer.

You may decide to sample a slice of their Summer Fruits Pie and it may just be one of the largest pieces o’ pie you have ever seen. 
Bakewell Tart
Or perhaps you’ll choose a slice of the extra moist, make you drool, Bakewell Tart and you will be wishing that you had received the biggest piece you have ever seen.

Whatever you choose, just make sure you get yourself your own little pot of English Breakfast tea (and don’t forget to use the little pot of hot water supplied to top up your teapot).

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Fig Bar Bread (Muffins)

There are some recipes that are well loved family traditions.

The recipes are made routinely for special occasions (Christmas, b-days, out of town visitors) or any excuse for good eatin’ (how about just because it’s Tuesday?).  

They have come to represent comfort, enjoyment and quality time with loved ones all combined perfectly in mouth-watering deliciousness.

It’s fascinating how each family has its own unique set of food traditions and I’m pretty excited to share one of my family’s secret recipes which I absolutely love, and yes, I did ask my Mom first if it was OK.

Technically, this recipe is not so secret since it originally came from a magazine or newspaper way back when, and the name of said magazine or paper has been lost over time.  The point is that it was someone else’s recipe, perhaps even a family tradition which was shared with hopes of spreading the edible joy.

The recipe itself has been photocopied many, many times over the years and is ready to completely fall to pieces, but it is well worth saving.

My copy of the recipe was given to me by my Mom with her own little notes of improvement scribbled on it.  I have now added my own scribbles each time I’ve made it (and for the record, her loaves always taste so much better than mine for some reason!). 

Unfortunately, I haven’t mastered the art of changing an American recipe to UK measurements, and therefore this recipe is still pretty Americanised except for the obvious changes (ie: fig bar = fig roll).  I just hope this fact is not off putting and I hope that my UK friends are still willing to try making it.

Fig Bar Bread muffin & mini loaf slice

Fig Bar Bread
(makes one average loaf)

1 ½ cups of sifted all-purpose(plain) flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 beaten eggs
½ cup milk(4 fluid oz)
1/3 cup cooking oil (just under 3 fluid oz)
½ tsp vanilla

1/3 cup brown sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons butter or margarine
6 or 7 fig bars(fig rolls), crumbled, roughly 1 cup
(I always use a LOT more crumbled fig bars since i LOVE the streusel and prefer a LOT more then this recipe creates)

Into a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

Combine the beaten eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; add to flour mixture, stirring till well blended.

In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and cinnamon; cut in butter or margarine till mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Mix in the crumbled fig bars(fig rolls).

Pour one-third of the batter into a greased and floured loaf pan.

Sprinkle half the fig mixture over batter; pour another one-third of the batter into the pan and sprinkle remaining crumbs over. Top with the remaining batter. With a narrow spatula, swirl gently through the batter and crumbs to create a marble effect.  

(I prefer to leave a layer of the streusel on top rather than covering it with batter, but this is up to you)

Bake in 350 F oven for 50-55 minutes or till the loaf tests done. Let it stand in the pan for 5 minutes; remove from pan.

Cool completely on a rack.  Cut loaf into thin slices; serve with butter or whipped cream cheese.

(thin slices, eh? Pffft! Cut it into extra thick slabs, no question.)

Recently, I made a double batch of Fig Bar Bread, which created enough batter for one large sized loaf, two mini loaves and a handful of muffins which promptly fell to pieces when I impatiently cut them in half while they were still warm so that I could photograph them. Falling to bits or not, they were eaten straight away and tasted just like I remember...and giving me the strong urge to call my Mom.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Charity Bake Sale - DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal

Our Charity Bake Sale
In my place of work we have built quite a reputation for our ability to raise money for charity purely through the power of baking.  

We have worked hard to nurture this reputation over the years and this week’s Charity Bake Sale was certainly no exception. 

There were delicious goodies a plenty!
Near: Stained Glass Jello
Far: Guinness Chocolate Cake

The beautiful buffet of treats consisted of both homemade and shop bought deliciousness all spread out on tables in one corner of our office with colleagues from across departments tempted by our efforts coming and going throughout the day.

Let me tell you, it is incredibly difficult to resist trying one of everything or just digging in and eating it all when it’s right in front of you all day.

The sweet and savoury dishes sat side by side, with delicately constructed desserts nudging up against their sturdier savoury counterpart.  A plate baked Steak Pie and a lattice topped Spinach Pie alongside the Blueberry Lemon Millefeuille and Coffee Kisses. 
Left: Coffee Kisses
Right: Cinnamon Apple Muffins

I have to admit that the Coffee Kisses are one of my all time favourite bake sale treats and I love it when they make an appearance at our Bake Sales.

The recipe comes from the Bero cookbook and they are incredibly more-ish.

They go especially well with a mug of coffee or cup of tea, well heck, technically they are great even with a glass of water! 

I’m not ashamed to say that my mouth is watering now whilst just gazing at the photo of them, mmm...

Blueberry Lemon Millefeuille

All my drooling aside, I’m very pleased to confirm that we raised a whopping £247 in aid of the DEC’s East Africa Crisis Appeal.

It really warms my heart that I am lucky enough to work with such wonderfully generous and giving people, thank you to everyone for making it such a success!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Mussels Provencal

Mussels are one of those foods that can be a bit scary to try for the first time. I managed to avoid officially trying them for a very long time. 

It was only when a certain someone, who absolutely loves mussels, gently nudged me to overcome my fear of the unknown seafood and give ‘em a go.  

Let me tell you, I am so glad he was so persistent on the issue because they are absolutely divine!

Plus the fact that this certain someone really enjoys cooking them as you can see from these photos (yay!) and doesn’t seem to mind going solo on the de-bearding/scrubbing process that goes along with it (yuck!).  

Long may these delicious edible epiphanies continue!

I’ve been told that the following link is for the recipe which was used:

Friday, 5 August 2011

Cauliflower Stilton Soup

When you think about summertime, it isn’t traditionally the time of year when you would choose to have a thick & warming soup for your dinner. However, if you live in England it could well be on the menu and you’d be grateful for that fact.  
A steaming bowl of delicious soup served with crusty brown bread on the side is just what you want after a drizzly morning or a chilly afternoon.  

It’s even more of a treat when the soup is made for you to enjoy by someone else!

This recipe was adapted from the Easy Cauliflower Soup recipe found on the Waitrose recipes page.  It is pretty simple and gets points for frugality too since it uses items already in the average store cupboard.

Cauliflower Stilton Soup
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 fresh bay leaf
1 large potato, peeled and diced
1 large cauliflower, cut into florets
3 tbsp greek yoghurt
250g Stilton

In a large saucepan, heat the oil and gently cook the onion and garlic for 3-4 minutes until softened. Add the bay leaf and 1½ litres of cold water, then the potato and cauliflower. Bring to the boil then simmer gently for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are just tender.

Remove the bay leaf then purée the soup using a hand blender or a liquidiser until smooth. Pour back into the pan, add the yoghurt and crumble in the Stilton. Heat through gently to melt the cheese then season generously with freshly ground black pepper.