Butternut Squash and Rosemary Muffins

Butternut-Squash-and-Rosemary-Muffins-(4400)

Back to baking. This is the first recipe I tried from Baking Made Easy. It’s also one of the reasons I bought this book. Now if you read one of my previous entries you will know the story behind this, so I won’t bore you again with it. What I will say is that recipes on television almost always look better and/or easier than in real life, and this was one of those instances. However I must say that with some little tweaks here and there these muffins will be some of the best you’ve ever tried. I really really like them. They are also the first sweet and savoury muffins I ever tasted or made. I think this is also one of the rare occasions where I used self-raising and wholemeal flours, but you will see more of these in future posts.

The usual note before we start: Lorraine’s recipe calls for pumpkin. Now I guess this will be ideal for my Maltese friends because you can find pumpkin all year round in Malta. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.) In the UK it’s only in season in October/November, so I made these muffins with butternut squash instead.

I also would suggest to roast the pumpkin or butternut cubes on a baking tray, whichever one you choose. Please do not boil or steam them because you will end up with soggy muffins (I was about to write “soggy mess” there for a minute.) You want to dehydrate them first. Take my word for it: I really wished I did that for my first batch!

This batter will yield around 12 muffins. Do not worry if they will not rise while baking – they are not being temperamental, they are meant to be somewhat flat. You can substitute the bicarbonate of soda with more baking powder if you like. Ms. Pascale uses fresh rosemary. I had to use the dried version.

  • 180g self-raising flour
  • 130g wholemeal flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tablespoons dried rosemary, finely chopped
  • 240g pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into 0.5cm cubes and dry-roasted
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 100ml plain yoghurt
  • 275 ml milk
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 60ml vegetable oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6, and insert 12 paper cases into your muffin tin. You could also cut squares of baking paper and push them into each hole. The finished product will look like you bought them from a pastry shop.
  2. In a large bowl sift both flours, the baking powder and bicarb, and stir in the rosemary.
  3. In another bowl put 160g of the pumpkin/butternut cubes, eggs, yoghurt, milk, honey and vegetable oil and stir until well combined.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and use a large spoon to mix: not more than 12 mixes. It’s important not to over-mix as you will end up with a dense muffin at the end. Leave the mixture to stand for 5-10 minutes.
  5. Then pour the mixture into the individual muffin cases. Now sprinkle the remaining pumpkin or butternut cubes and the pumpkin seeds onto the batter. Bake for 25 minutes at which point always insert a skewer at the centre of the muffins to check if they are cooked.

These muffins taste great at any time of the day!

Rob x

Falafel with Tahini Yoghurt Dressing

Falafel-(4406)

Last year I had a couple of hours to spare on an unusually busy day and headed for the local library. The automatic pilot in my brain directed me, as usual, to the food section where I saw a little book trying to grab my attention. I looked at the cover: Spice It….it said. As usual, I filled the pages with post-its for everything that I wanted to try…and still want to try (because to be fair I haven’t cooked that many things from it). So one evening, when I had no idea what to cook for the next day, J suggested one particular recipe that caught his eye. It was one of those times when we cooked together, and what a treat that was! I was sous-chef and kitchen cleaner simultaneously but everything worked.

The only thing that you may find tricky to get hold of is the tahini paste. These days you don’t need to go to speciality shops for it; your local supermarket will probably have it. Unfortunately I don’t think you can replicate the taste by using peanut butter as a substitute for tahini, but you could try that out if you’re up for an experiment.

Falafel-(4402)

Now before you read the ingredient list I tell you this: don’t be frightened because of the frying bit. You won’t eat these that often and they’re a doddle to make. There’ll be some washing up but nothing you cannot handle. May the force be with you! (I just had to put something sci-fi in there. Sorry but the temptation was too strong.) This serves 4 and is ideal as party food, snack food or part of a meze.

For the falafel you need:

  • 250g dried chickpeas
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 5 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 5 tablespoons fresh coriander, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • some vegetable oil for frying

For the tahini yoghurt dressing you need:

  • 100ml yogurt
  • 100g tahini paste
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • juice of ½ a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Put the chickpeas in a bowl and cover them with cold water. Leave them to soak overnight.
  2. Drain the chickpeas, put them into a food processor and grind them coarsely. Add the onion, garlic, parsley, coriander (both fresh and dried), cumin and baking powder and blitz until smooth to give you a bright green mixture.
  3. For the tahini dressing, put the yoghurt, tahini paste, crushed garlic clove, lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl and whisk. Season to taste.
  4. Now comes the fun part: using slightly wet hands shape the chickpea mixture into around 20 oval shapes. Feel the fear (as Nigella would say) and heat about 3cm of vegetable oil in a deep pan. To make sure the oil is hot enough slowly drop a small cube of bread in the pan. If it starts to get brown immediately then you can start frying the falafel. Fry the falafel in batches until golden brown on all sides. Drain them on a paper towel and try to keep them warm while you book the next batch.
  5. Place them on a serving dish and drizzle the dressing on top.

Serve with some side salad if you wish. You will miss these little guys when you’ll eat them all.

Rob x

Chorizo and Thyme Bread

Fougasse-(4392)

Now that’s a great combo. That’s why I’ve chosen it for the name of this blog. And if you try this combination, you’ll know – it’ll be a bit of an a-ha moment. You see, to be honest this blog post was a long time coming and I know I will be relieved once it’s published. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you might already know that recently I bought a cook book which I didn’t like that much at first. I thought it was a total waste of money really. Having baked some recipes from it as the weeks passed by, I must now say that although I still have some lurking doubts, I am warming up to it slowly. First of all I must thank this book for this blog’s name. I have cooked with chorizo before and it has become a staple in my pantry. Lorraine Pascale made me want to try it with thyme. It turned out to be a perfect marriage.

The following recipe is my take on her Chorizo and Thyme Fougasse (click here for the actual recipe). I am grateful to Ms. Pascale for this and for some other recipes in her book which I will try very soon. I made this bread after a long walk in the beautiful Surrey countryside and loved it. So here it goes.

A very important note for this recipe: I used my bread machine to make the dough instead of a mixer with a hook. This was less messy and it worked really well for me. I will also include the traditional method later on.

For the bread machine dough method will need:

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons yeast dissolved into 250ml warm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (extra virgin if possible)

Have 50g of finely chopped ready-to-eat chorizo and 2 tablespoons of dried thyme at the ready, to add after the dough cycle is ready, and some milk for brushing the dough.

  1. If you have a bread machine then choose the pizza dough option which will take approximately 45 minutes. Remove the dough from the container.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6.
  3. Work the chorizo and thyme in the dough. When these are well combined leave the dough to rise in a warm place, preferably covered with some oiled clingfilm or a warm damp clean cloth for around 30 minutes or until doubled in size.
  4. Brush the dough with the milk.
  5. For the crust to remain nice and golden place two handfuls of ice cubes at the bottom of the oven (you can also either spray the oven with some cold water before closing or fill a small roasting dish with water in place of the ice cubes).
  6. Place the dough on a lightly oiled roasting tray in the oven. Bake for around 40 minutes but keep an eye on it and check its colour every once in a while. I know this is fiddly, but it’s worth it. I’m already smelling the freshly baked bread in your kitchen!

And now for the other method, all you need to do is to replace Step 1 with the following:

  • Mix the dough ingredients together in a large bowl.
  • Turn out the dough onto a floured surface.
  • Knead for 15-20 minutes. I know you have to work at it and use some muscle power but this will develop the dough’s elasticity. So please, please have patience.
  • Put the dough back in a bowl, cover with a clean cloth and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
  • Continue from Step 2.

    Enjoy!

    Rob x

J’s Pancake Recipe

Blueberry-Pancakes-(4418)

I introduce to you my lovely husband J. I’ll be cheating today because this is his recipe! J likes to cook and he takes over the kitchen once in a while to whip up some tasty treats. I hand over the baton very graciously during these moments especially during weekends when I mainly bake anyway. I never regret it.

One of my personal favourites is pancakes. He makes a mean stack and they’re always special. Being a perfectionist, he worked and worked on this recipe till he got it right if I may say so myself. He thinks so too I guess but he’ll never admit it. So without further ado here it is. This recipe makes around 6 large thick American style pancakes, and of course if you have a waffle-iron you can make lovely waffles instead of pancakes.

Just a note before we start: instead of buttermilk, you can use the same quantity of milk and leave it at that. You can also add about 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to the milk and let it sit for around 15-30 minutes. Also feel free to leave the salt out completely. I prefer a salt-free batter personally but I know that J likes a slightly salty flavour. For extra taste and colour contrast J likes to add some blueberries.

  • 175g plain flour
  • 2½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt – optional
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1¼ cups buttermilk
  • 35g butter, melted
  • 250g blueberries – optional

If you don’t have buttermilk start off by preparing the milk as suggested above. If you’re using only milk then read on.

Measure the flour, baking powder, salt (if you’re using it) and sugar and mix them in a bowl.

For the waffles, or for fluffier pancakes, separate the eggs and use some muscle power to beat the whites into soft peaks.

Mix the milk/buttermilk with the egg yolks and melted butter. Pour these into the dry ingredients but try not to mix the batter too much.

Fold the soft beaten egg whites into the mixture and use a ladle to pour a bit of the pancake batter on a preheated and greased griddle (or a good non-stick pan). Sprinkle in some blueberries if you want at this stage.

Cook on one side until you see bubbles forming throughout the surface and the edges have solidified. Then turn the pancake over on the other side. Repeat until you have used all your batter.

Serve alone with some golden syrup or honey, or with fruit. Or however you want for that matter! Enjoy!

Rob x

Chocolate Chip Muffins

Chocolate-Chunk-Muffins-(4414)

A couple of weeks ago I wanted something sweet but which was not going to take the best part of the afternoon to prepare it. When it comes to that I turn to one person. You know who…don’t you?

I bought Nigella Feast recently. (About time…it was published in 2004!) In it is a lovely muffin recipe which I adapted just because I didn’t have all the ingredients. It turned out really well. The only thing is that I’ll have to buy chocolate chips the next time I try it. Chocolate chunks seem to be too heavy for these muffins to handle. But they’re great anyway. This is quick and really easy so give it a go. You will not be disappointed.

Two notes before you start:

What I do for the chocolate chunks is to take a plastic freezer or sandwich bag, put a bar of chocolate inside, close it and bash it with a rolling pin. (See? I said this was quick. Brutal but quick.)

If you want these to be extra chocolatey Nigella suggests adding 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder with the dry ingredients. Makes 12.

  • 250g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • half teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 100g chocolate chunks (or 1 bar)
  • 250ml milk
  • 90ml vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and fill a muffin tray with paper cases or line each one with baking paper cut in squares.
  2. Put all the dry ingredients, including the chocolate chunks in a large bowl.
  3. Pour the liquids in a smaller bowl, or better still in a medium measuring jug. Pour these into the dry ingredients till all is combined and just moistened. Don’t mix too much to so that the end result will be light and fluffy muffins.
  4. Spoon the mixture into their muffin cases and bake for 20 minutes until the muffins are risen and golden. Check if their completely cooked by inserting a skewer or knife.

Enjoy!

Rob x

Pappardelle with Butternut Squash and Blue Cheese

Pappardelle-with-Squash-and-Blue-Cheese-(4391)

What a long recipe title this is! The story behind this is simple enough though, with some simple steps. It goes like this:

Step 1: Buy Nigella Book.

Step 2: Read every page intently and stick post-its to every page.

Step 3: After careful consideration choose 1 recipe…yes…just one. O-N-E I said!

Step 4: Run to the market & fill your bag with veggies for…what…20 recipes???

In the end one recipe made it through, and it’s amazing. In my view, you really cannot avoid using blue cheese, but since it’s not my recipe I can tell you that Nigella suggests some substitutions (Cheshire or Wensleydale cheese for those in the UK, or maybe some ricotta salata if you’re in the Mediterranean). Instead of butternut squash you can easily use pumpkin. So here’s the recipe with my variations. Go on…invite 4 friends for lunch and try this out. They will love it and so will you. You need:

  • 1 large butternut squash (or 800g cubed pumpkin)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons mild olive oil (not extra virgin)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons red wine or red vermouth
  • 125 ml water
  • 1-2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons dried sage
  • 100g pine nuts
  • 500g fresh pappardelle (tagliatelle will also do nicely here)
  • 125g blue cheese
  1. Peel and cut the butternut squash or pumpkin into approximately 2cm cubes. Gently fry the chopped onion in the olive oil (into a pan that is big enough to hold both the sauce and the pasta in the final stage of cooking). Add the paprika when the onion turns golden in colour.
  2. Add the butternut (or pumpkin) cubes and butter into the pan and stir well. When the butternut squash is completely covered with the onion and butter add the wine (or vermouth), water and red wine vinegar. Let the ingredients bubble for a minute or so, put the lid on the pan, turn the heat down and simmer for about 25 minutes or until the butternut squash is soft but not falling apart. Add the dried sage during the last few minutes.
  3. In the meantime cook the pasta as per packet instructions and lightly toast the pine nuts. Tip the nuts in a container and let them cool. Don’t be a klutz like me and burn the pine nuts! Keep an eye on them at all times.
  4. Check the sauce to see if the squash is tender. If not let it simmer for another few minutes. Add a pinch of salt for extra seasoning but not too much. When pasta is cooked add this to the sauce and mix thoroughly.
  5. Serve either in one big serving dish or in 4 individual portions. Crumble in the blue cheese and sprinkle the pine nuts.

    Enjoy it – you will want more!

    Rob x

Beef Stew

Beef-Casserole-(4387)

J tells me that I tend to panic whenever I have friends over for lunch or dinner no matter how easy the meal was to prepare. This is perfectly true. (Yes..I am aware of it and I am really working on it.) So I never cook anything complicated to begin with. This is even more true when I have people over mainly because my Surrey flat is very small and the kitchen is tiny. I am not complaining because I’ve seen tinier kitchens than this! But I think I might have just picked up on something that my mother did. She too has a little kitchen but she makes these fantastic dishes and can whip up a meal in a jiffy with a small number of ingredients. (I really have a lovely mum!) She’s really keen on one pot suppers and I can understand why. They are easy to prepare, comforting, especially on a cold winter’s day and you can potter about the house doing your thing while they do their thing and cook.

So the following is my take on my mum’s recipe. It comes in handy when I want that comfy warm feeling of her cooking. This will easily serve 6.

Just a note before going ahead with the recipe. Sometimes I serve this with mashed potatoes but other times I don’t bother too much and add diced ones in the pot. J prefers the mash so I usually do what I’m told..*ehem*. I know that the list of ingredients is long but please bear with me. For this Beef Casserole you need:

  • 750g diced beef (in bite-sized chunks)
  • 3 tablespoons plain flour
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons regular olive oil (not extra virgin)
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • 1 large onion, or 2 small ones, chopped
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
  • 8 large mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1 litre beef stock (or enough to cover ingredients)
  • 1 heaped tablespoon tomato paste or tomato concentrate
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (I prefer the dark brown kind but it’s really up to you)
  • 2-3 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C. Toss the beef in flour and season with some pepper. Then brown the beef well on all sides in an oven proof pan. Remove the meat from the pan to a separate container until needed later.
  2. Gently fry the chopped leek, onion, garlic, celery, carrots and mushrooms in the same pan you seared the beef for around 5 mins, adding the wine slowly to scrape the meat juices from the bottom of the pan. Place the beef in the pot again.
  3. Add the bay leaves, thyme, tomato paste, stock and sugar and stir. Finally add the Worcestershire sauce and give everything a good mix. Cover and put the pan into the preheated oven for around 1 and a half hours.

    Serve with mashed potatoes. Enjoy!

    Rob x

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