Magic Mondays

I am not a Monday person (who is though?!) The start of the working week never holds much joy or motivation for me. In an effort to change this, now I am at temporary stay-at-home mom and days of the week mean nothing to a child; we have Baking Mondays. I have surprised myself with the consistency that has been achieved in the recipes we have also repeated. I confess, I am a “serial tweaker” responsible for augmenting/botching even my favourite baking recipes with what is to hand. Not so now..

The focus has been on baking something simple, with few ingredients, simple recipes to read together and nothing in it that I wouldn’t want the toddler to be munching on straight from the bowl at clean-up time. Hence, a lot of maple syrup and wholemeal flour (low sugar and low processed ingredients) with a vegan type approach (no dangers of raw eggs in the batter).

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The first such recipe, inspired by this one at Blissful Basil, has been tested and we have tried various optional extras during the three times we have made these cookies. The ratios hold up well to any mishaps, so foolproof for a less than exact baker and their impatient junior baker. It is also healthy and time friendly. I have left half the batter in the bowl for an hour in the warm kitchen and they have baked up fine. I have put the batter in the fridge for slightly harder dough, put more than a tablespoon and less for each cookie and I (today) mistakenly put a bit more than a quarter cup of almond milk in, making it a wetter dough. All had no apparent effect to the overall consistency of the delicious cookies that are produced. Our appreciative, hard-working 9-5 tasters are eager that we keep baking them!

Below is the recipe as we made it today.

Nut butters of all kinds are a super source of protein, healthy saturated fats and trace minerals like selenium, copper and zinc, which are all important for blood sugar balance and healthy immunity. Nuts like almond are also a source of dairy free calcium, so extra bonus. Personally, I find that nut butters also have more of a flavour and aroma. Cashew butter is buttery and rich and pairs well with cinnamon, almond butter has a lovely smoothness to it and hazelnut has an obvious nutty flavour which loves chocolate (of course that’s how Nutella was born). What about peanuts you may ask?! Personally, I have eschewed peanuts  given years of Candida issues (peanuts can be implicated in encouraging yeast overgrowth. Since going off them, if I try them again, I feel the effects).

We also love adding the chia almond butter because really, chia are brilliant little dynamites of nutrients. Also, apart from in baking and over porridge, I have never been able to get on with them (chia pudding–I want to love you, but your texture is too off-putting!) The toddler also tries to get her paws this almond butter whenever she can, so best to put it into something she can enjoy without raiding the jar and leaving a messy, chia-encrusted fingerprint trail everywhere!

Nut butter cookies

1 cup nut butter (we used a mix of Meridian cashew butter and Sowan’s almond butter with chia)

1 cup pure maple syrup

2 tsps vanilla bean paste

1 tsp cinnamon (to pair with the cashew butter)

1 cup wholemeal flour (bran included)

1 tsp baking powder

1/8 tsp sea salt (plan to try Maldon salt flakes at some point to see if the added crunch adds anything)

1/4 cup almond milk (Oatly I find has the highest almond content)

handful of unroasted sesame seeds and roughly chopped cashew nuts (battered in a clean tea towel with a rolling pin)

Method

  1. line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set your oven to 170 degrees Celcius
  2. start by creaming the nut butters and maple syrup together
  3. add the vanilla bean paste, baking powder and cinnamon and combine
  4. add your optional extras (here sesame seeds and cashew nuts, but pecans and sesame and chocolate and sesame work brilliantly too)
  5. mix
  6. slowly add the flour and salt (you can mix them together in a separate bowl, or just add straight–both works)
  7. add the almond milk a bit at a time to form a sticky dough that will still drop off a spoon (but as mentioned, a little extra splash of milk to a wetter dough seems to simply need a little longer in the oven with no harm done)
  8. drop a tablespoon of the mix at regular intervals onto the parchment
  9. bake top to middle of the oven, watching regularly for them to puff up.
  10. once they puff up and get a bit drier, use the back of a fork pressed horizontally and vertically to flatten them down. Put them back in.
  11. the cookies can take anything from 8-14 minutes to bake. (Note: don’t write a blog post with the last batch of these baking in the oven–they burn quicker than you think and need a watchful eye!)
  12. take them out either when they are just a tiny bit darker (softer cookie) or nicely brown around the edges (chewier cookie)

 

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The finished product never lasts long and sadly doesn’t make more than about 15 cookies unless you plan to make them half a tablespoon in size–which I don’t have the heart to do. The end result is a toddler happily covered in flour, making cookies for Papa and learning to follow simple instructions like “pour slowly”. She gets to wear a borrowed dark blue apron (from granny since we are currently living here), heavily folded at the middle to shorten it up and with the apron strings wrapped about three times round her middle because of their length. And at the end, licking the spoon and clean up. All part of the magic Monday fun!

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blueberry yogurt thank you

I have 12 potted plants sitting on our balcony. The containers holding these range from run of the mill, nursery bought aluminium window boxes (fixed to the railings with garden wire), a fire bucket bought at our local, annual Ham Fayre and a fish poacher, 1950s from our favourite retro haunt. Some have done really well in their new home with a novice gardener and others have baulked at the mere mention of being transplanted into something as kitsch as a French bird cage! (don’t judge, I did say I was a novice!)

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sadly this was a trailing campanula..didn’t like the bird cage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the surviving campanula

For instance, I have a bellflower, genus campanula, with its lovely blue bells. of this family, campanula rapunculus, (the name of this variety may remind you of something) was grown in Europe for its spinach like leaves and radish like roots…it is what Rapunzel’s mother craved when she was pregnant and what plant she stole from the witch’s garden.

My goal was also to have some sweet smelling, bee-friendly varieties, so I have a few other flowering plants.lovely fern

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I have lots of woodland varieties, evergreen, hardy and mostly with foliage rather than flowers. Love the Hebes and ferns I have, as well as this interesting one called Jack Frost.

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All of them, even a dwarf Rhododendron, above, seem to be quite forgiving. I’m hopeful it will last.

We recently were away celebrating birthdays and our kind neighbours upstairs agreed to water them twice whilst we were away. That was almost a week ago and I am ashamed to say that I only got round to dropping by a little something sweet to say thank you, on Wednesday, after we had been back a week and a bit!

Yogurt cake is a very ‘continental’ thing. I read on one of the foodie blogs I follow, that this is the first cake a little French child is taught to make. This is likely because the recipe is so ridiculously easy and flexible and, famous last words, so long as you keep to some of the general proportions of the recipe, even a less patient, methodical baker like me can manage mouth-watering results.

Incidentally, I am working on migrating a list of my favourite food blogs so you too can experience kitchen envy and food porn.

This cake is flavoured with lemon and blueberry and finished off with poppy seeds—i hope I can be forgiven for the practice of throwing in more than less. Poppy seeds and lemon; blueberry and lemon..both heaven, so I figured, why not go for broke and add both to a simple lemon yogurt cake. Trust me, it works. I made this cake recently for my workmates to celebrate my big birthday. The result was lots of happy faces and a few lowly cake crumbs left on the plate. I like to think that part of the appeal lies in the fact that my version is also healthy-(er!)

Lemon blueberry yogurt cake

The basic recipe is based on using the yogurt pot as your measure. 1 jar equals 125 ml, taken from Orangette’s lovely website.

1 jar plain yogurt ( I use Greek style, strained yoghurt)
3 jar plain all-purpose flour ( I love Dove’s farm flours)
0.5-1 jar of xylitol (I put in a little at a time and taste as I go as I prefer less sweetness)
1 jar vegetable oil
3 medium eggs
2 tsp of baking powder (be warned, this cake does sink)
Zest of one organic, unwaxed lemon (should he about 2 tsp)
Lemon juice to taste ( if I use Crazy Jack lemon juice, I use less, otherwise can be the juice of the whole lemon you zest-ed or more to taste)
A punnet of blueberries

Blueberries are a powerhouse of nutrients, such as manganese and phytochemicals. They are credited with anti-inflammatory effects as well as fighting bad cholesterol. I had a workmate years ago when I was a tour guide who swore the reason for her husband getting his cholesterol under control was a punnet of blueberries every morning.

A word about xylitol, a sugar substitute that I used when I was on a candida diet. It is made from birch tree bark and is used extensively for dental health, check the ingredients in a pack of Orbit gum. The process was perfected in Finland in the 1970s and was identified also as a safe sugar for diabetes based on its low effect on insulin. I tend to use it a lot and find it sweeter than regular sugar so tend to use less which is an added bonus to the fact it is meant to have 33% less calories than sugar.

Preheat the oven to 180-200 degrees Celsius. Line a 9 inch spring form. I have lined the bottom with baking paper and the sides rubbed with some vegetable oil, but have also greased the whole lot with butter..both work.

Instructions
1. Mix yogurt and sugar together tasting as you go
2. Add the eggs, whisking as you go
3. Add in the dry ingredients; flour, baking powder, lemon zest
4. Add the oil and stir to combine. Initially it will look a bit like a mess, but persist and it will all come together
5. Add the lemon juice, tasting as you go. Or you could make a syrup to pour over the top after as a lot of lemon yoghurt recipes on the net advise. I have done both and prefer having everything in the cake
6. Add the blueberries and lightly mix. Or pour the mix sans blueberries and drop them in the mix last before dusting with poppy seeds..the latter is a more contrived method but prettyfies the cake with blue jewels sitting suspended in the cake and oozing their juices.
7. Smooth out and sprinkle poppy seeds
8. Bake till brown and a skewer comes out clean. Can be up to 40 mins baking time. It will look really high but will sink once it starts to cool. I am not one to care about that, my cakes taste good which I consider the main point of the exercise.

We are both off again on our travels this week–Mr T to his cousin’s wedding and me on the Eurostar for a long weekend to visit my friend, her little boy and her new addition, another little boy. Hoping the cake will be a sufficiently big thank you to ask them to babysit my plants again this weekend! Will post photos to this post when I get back!

tis the season–white asparagus

I have been married almost two years to an amazing man, T. In total I have known him three times as long as I have been married to him and it is still fresh. I learn a lot from him, not least about German culture and language and the historic and ancient differences between men and women’s brains and the often hilarious consequences of mis-communications! We have lots of fun together.

ANYWAY…

This is the season for the pernickety, but revered, white asparagus, native of sandy soils, short of harvest and full of flavour. Often chunkier and juicier than the limp green French variety (which, in the interests of fairness, is also tasty), Germans love to boil it up by the kilo load and smoother it with rich creamy sauce paired with well done potatoes that they can squish with a fork to lap up all the creamy sauce swimming around the asparagus. From May you cannot move for asparagus, but really, why not, it is so incredibly tasty in most of the ways the Germans love to prepare it.

Asparagus is 93% water, a good source of B6, folic acid, fibre and potassium as well as other essential trace minerals. It is low in sodium and calories. It has featured on Egyptian friezes from 3000 BC. The green asparagus, sometimes called French asparagus is a good source of vitamin C. In medicine, 2nd century physican Galen (a Greek) described it as cleansing and healing given its diuretic properties and that studies have shown that folate can protect against heart disease.

T’s fam’ treats white asparagus very gently, not wanting to let it sit and wait to be eaten too long, spending time peeling it and cutting it up and eating it for as much of its short season as they can–it is one of his favourite things for his birthday which is coming up in a few weeks time–along with a strawberry tart for dessert. When they boil it up, some of them also drink the cooled cooking liquor in which the asparagus boiled, with a squeeze of lemon–very good for the system and something we used to have to do as kids with the boiling water from spinach–so I can relate.

(asparagus peelings-playing around with macro photography and how things look when photographed so close)

Last weekend T brought home the first batch of white asparagus from our local German deli (local meaning just about spitting distance of our apartment!) I decided I wanted to keep to the classic pairing of potato and asparagus but give it a twist.

The recipe I drew from suggested a salad of rocket, potatoes, parsley and asparagus with fried up pieces of bacon and a creamy sauce. I am never one to follow a recipe and instead made a lighter, green version with lots of peppery watercress, salty capers and covered in Greek Avgolemono sauce, which is a bit like a very lemony Hollandaise/Bernaise sauce.

Asparagus potato salad

(this is the finished article, before being devoured, topped off with extra olive oil and the lemony dressing, with salty wild red salmon on the side and with the potatoes still a little warm, encouraging the flavours of the watercress, capers and spinach to come out)

Salad

  • 1/2 kilo white asparagus, peeled and cut into thirds (as you prepare each, drop them into the pot with the water you intend to boil them in. I am told by my mother-in-law and aunt-in-law that white asparagus is delicate and it should be in water if it has to stand)
  • potatoes, scrubbed, quartered into smaller pieces to allow for faster boiling (I don’t get into the details of fluffy over firmer varieties of spuds. I prefer waxy potatoes 100/100 times for all of my culinary needs but as I get a veg box delivered, I tend to use what I get, unless I specifically order a bag of new potatoes)
  • capers to taste (in salt or vinegar)
  • a generous handful of watercress or rocket leaves roughly chopped (or both if you want a real peppery kick)
  • a medium sized kohlrabi, washed, skin on, cut into sticks, raw
  • generous handful of baby spinach leaves roughly chopped

(FYI: kohlrabi is a perennial vegetable,from the Brassica family like cabbage, broccoli and kale. As far as I know it is only known by its German name in English. It has a slight anise flavour and resembles a turnip with a vibrant green skin and tasty green leaves not unlike kale).

Dressing Avgolemono sauce (with added olive oil)

  • juice of two lemons
  • half that quantity of extra virgin olive oil (though for purists, this should not be included at all)
  • leftover cooking water from the asparagus–a ladle full
  • 1-2 eggs
  • salt and pepper
  • dried parsley and thyme

Avgolemono can be an acquired taste (that is what I am told, though I cannot understand anyone who doesn’t like its lemony goodness!) and as it has raw eggs, may not be eaten or liked by some people. You can drizzle a dressing of lemon juice and olive oil instead, or go for the full blown Bernaise/Hollandaise sauce. Tastes even better the next day, cold from the fridge having had the night for the juices to soak into potatoes and asparagus.

Optional extras


protein: tinned wild red salmon in brine (which is what I added a few spoonfuls of) or avocado (think this might work well)

veggies: sugar snap peas, raw, cut in half or cauliflower florets steamed. With hindsight, should have added roughly chopped mint and/or parsley or dill, like an additional green to the salad.

Preparation

1) boil the potatoes until tender and peel off the skins if you wish (I was obligated to as I was making German white asparagus and Germans peel their potatoes–unless they are new potatoes)-about 20 minutes

2) boil the asparagus in water (I don’t add salt to the water), until they are soft and a fork can go easily through them. (The taste test shows that when they are done, they are still a tiny bit chewy and fibrous but they are juicy and floppy).

3) in the meantime, combine the other salad ingredients in a bowl.  I felt that keeping the salad to mostly greens, be it raw finely julienne-d courgettes, chunks of cucumber, small florets of steamed cauliflower..they all work well with the creaminess of the asparagus and some good waxy potatoes and all go fabulous with the lemony dressing

4) once the potatoes are peeled if you want them peeled and in bite-sized chunks, combine them with the salad and toss gently with a knife, not salad serving utensils (a trick passed down from Greek mother to daughter as a way to avoid bruising salad leaves).

5) working quickly, make the dressing (drizzling it over whilst the potatoes are still hot and they are making the greens soggy and steamed, makes all the difference).

6) combine the dressing ingredients together bar the asparagus cooking stock and eggs

7) whisk the eggs in a separate bowl and to stop them curdling when adding them to the lemon mix, you temper them with the ladle of now lukewarm asparagus stock, slowly adding and whisking all the time

8) then add the eggs  mix to the lemon mix

9) you should get a creamy sauce. It may separate due to the olive oil so it can be omitted

10) drizzle over the salad and toss with a knife

I served the potato salad separately with a big steaming pile of asparagus (rather than mix the delicate asparagus with the potato salad) and a side of salty tinned salmon, drizzled over with extra Avgolemono sauce, extra virgin olive oil and more neat lemon juice and parsley for good measure.

During the Spargel season in Germany you can buy white asparagus by the bucket load from roadside stands as well as your regular supermarket, until all the fun ends on the 24th June. So, I have a few more weeks yet and lots more asparagus recipes to try.