Saturday, August 22, 2009

Muffins and Marmalade

I meant to write a post today, but I made marmalade instead.

It was going to be a thought-provoking discussion about real food made with real ingredients, as opposed to shop bought fluffy cakes that fade to nothing in your mouth… but I hadn’t made marmalade yet this winter and spring is knocking on the door. Oranges will only hang around so long and the thought of going through a year without a stash of home-made marmalade is enough to induce panic.

So it is now potted up, six jars cooling in the kitchen. Not enough. I’ll have to make another batch next weekend.

I also threw together a batch of bran flake muffins, in an attempt to use up the reject crumbs at the bottom of the bran flake packet, that my husband can’t bring himself to eat in the morning. We now have the crumbs from about three packets, adding up to about half a packet of flakes. Frugal mode is in place and, as those flake crumbs are about R15 worth of nutrition going to waste, I hunted down a recipe for bran flake muffins that sounded OK, added a mashed banana and tentatively introduced them to my family. Standard bran muffins are not considered edible by my kids and I really wanted them to get along with these ones, which would solve the problem of finishing off bran flakes packets forever.

The kids were outside on the trampoline as I took the tray out of the oven. Bouncing around with trousers descended to their ankles and throwing tennis balls at each other to hysterical laughter. I tried out a muffin in advance trying to decide if it would suit their taste buds. Reckoned it might. I finished the muffin with my tea. Eventually they came in, hot and cheerful, and spotted the muffins cooling on the rack.
“What’s in them?”
“Oh, banana, cinnamon, the usual, just a different recipe” I replied airily.

They tried them, and liked them, even though they had spotted the bran flakes packet on the counter and deduced my attempted deception.
Hurray! Now I can bake off those bran flake packet reject crumbs every now and then and I have another muffin recipe to add to my list.

Bran Flake Muffins Recipe

1 cup plain flour
½ cup wholewheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoons cinnamon
1 mashed banana
2 cups bran flakes (Kelloggs in our case)
1 ¼ cups millk
1 egg
¼ cup sunflower oil

Soak the bran flakes in milk for 5 minutes. Mix in egg, mashed banana and oil.
Combine flours, baking powder, sugar, salt and cinnamon.
Stir the flour mix into the bran flake mix until just combined.
Spoon into greased 12 cup muffin tin.
Bake at 200C/400F for 18-20 minutes until lightly browned.

The kids are now all in bed, and very excited that Granny is arriving tomorrow. We'll all be getting up early to go to the airport. She should be getting on the flight about now, leaving the English late summer to come to our chilly early spring. But the sun is supposed to be shining tomorrow and the daisies will be in full flood, carpeting the field by our gate and sprinkled lavishly, like a heat haze quivering in the sunlight around the house.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bring on the Garden Gnomes

What is the opposite of green-fingered? I had some flourishing nasturtiums growing in pots outside our door. They'd just got to the abundant flowering stage and were looking really bright and cheerful, when I noticed they were covered in blackfly, which were killing off all the new buds. My sister-in-law suggested spraying with soapy water.

I think I overdid it. Or else dishwashing liquid is the wrong sort of soapy water. Instead of green but bug-ridden flowering plants, I now have dessicated looking leaves that are ghosts of their former selves and poor faded looking blooms.

The silver lining is that the bulbs in the pots with them might now have a chance of enough air and sunshine to flower. They were completely drowned in a sea of saucer- sized nasturtium leaves before. I’m afraid I haven’t inherited my grandmother’s gardening gene after all!

I'm not going to show you a picture of what they look like now... it's too depressing!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Chocolate Tart

Good chocolate, dark chocolate, seriously bitter chocolate… how dark can you go? Do you stop at 60% or can you take the almost no sweetness of 85% cocoa solids that stays on your tongue with no holds barred, chocoholic, I’m-in-need-of-a-fix madness.

Looking for a chocolate tart recipe for a grown-up dinner party, I was thinking really bitter chocolate in a light pastry case: dark chocolate flavour and richness to complement an orange sorbet and the guava parfait that I’d just discovered. Chocolate with no distractions, was the mission and I finally found a recipe that worked perfectly.

It was a chocolate tart to end all chocolate tarts, as dark and rich and grown up as they come. Served with a scoop of guava parfait and one of orange sorbet it was the perfect ending to a meal. The orange offset the bitterness of the dark chocolate I’d used and the guava added an extra flavour dimension and creamy texture.

Chocolate tart before baking

Chocolate, cream and eggs fill a blind baked pastry case and then bake to a rich and solid, extremely chocolatey filling, where the pastry serves just as a container, a plain foil to its filling. Mine didn’t have the smooth and sleek looks of the official recipe photograph, but it tasted like chocoholic heaven!

I used my own sweet pastry recipe and bought really good chocolate – one bar of Lindt 85% and one of Lindt 65%, which combined perfectly to make it bitter but not so bitter as to shock the palate. I think their 75% would work just as well, but the shop was out of it.

Just out of the oven

At dinner the dessert faded the conversation to silence. Everyone was too busy savouring the flavour combinations and getting exactly the right amount of orange sorbet with a nibble of chocolate tart. I served thin slices, so the tart easily went round the eleven of us, with plenty to spare for those tempted to embark on seconds. I wish I’d photographed a slice of tart plated up with the scoop of orange sorbet and one of guava ice cream. It looked stunning, even though my presentation isn’t quite as neat as it could be. When can we have another dinner party? I can't wait to bake this again!

(Edited to add: This is the chocolate tart recipe I used.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Spring Blooms

I was toiling unenthusiastically at the computer this afternoon, when Middle Daughter sidled over tentatively and said she wanted to show me something. It took me no more than a second to abandon my screen in favour of distraction. She took me outside into the breezy spring day and opened my eyes to the new flowers that have bloomed overnight. Several of these pink pypies are blooming among the restios.

These bobbejaantjies ( pronounced bubiankies) have a delicate and elusive scent outside. The girls picked just one of them and put it in water on our kitchen table. Its fragrance mingled with the scent of guavas and I was suddenly transported to an exclusive Parisian perfumery that creates subtle and exotic signature notes for the rich and famous. If I could bottle it, I'd market it as the scent of spring in South Africa, a heady yet subtle blend of fruit and flowers.

Refreshed I returned to the computer, but not to my work. The flowers just had to be posted to blow away the remnants of stuffy flu from our house with a fresh spring breeze.

(Youngest is better now, but the weekend was a story of sunny days spent chained to the sofa and mopping fevered brows.)