Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Roasted Butternut, Chestnut and Bacon Risotto

Welcome to installment #32,851 (or thereabouts) of "apparently I'm obsessed with butternut squash and you should be too". Honestly, I never knew I was such a fan of the orange behemoth but like Shakira's hips, these posts don't lie: chilli, salad, muffin, bake, galette, soup and another salad. And today, risotto! Does that count as variety? Wait, don't answer that.

The weird thing is that I don't think we ever had butternut squash when I was young. It just didn't exist in my world, like Mexican food or pomegranates. It's not that I knew of it but didn't like it - although as a heinously fussy child, there were more than enough foodstuffs in that particular category - but it never impinged on my consciousness. And there were only four channels on the TV. Things were different back then.

Like so many revelations in my diet and my life, university was where it all changed for me. Living with different people, going to different places, eating different foods and doing different things - my horizons expanded far, far beyond my pre-18 self. And, although I can't remember the exact moment when I first laid eyes on a butternut squash, at some point between then and now, it became part of my regular routine. Hence all the butternut-love on this site and hence today's offering, a gorgeously autumnal risotto.

We roasted the butternut with some rosemary, adding chestnuts and bacon near the end to crisp up. Once roasted, the whole lot was stirred through a basic risotto along with some fresh spinach and a good grating of parmesan. It was then devoured, with no leftovers and no regrets. Honestly, this is some good butternut squash action. Incidentally, some of the credit may belong to the fact that, rather than normal white wine, we made the risotto with a splash of cava. I know, fancy! It was just what we were drinking at the time and rather than opening a whole new bottle for the sake of the risotto, I decided to experiment with the bubbles and you'll be glad to hear that it worked perfectly. Hic.

On a misty, dark evening, when the leaves were dripping and the wind was howling, this risotto hit the spot perfectly. I make no further apologies for a butternut obsession. What did people eat in the 1980s? Would this have been a potato risotto? And would we have watched only 4 channels - or just turned the telly off? It doesn't bear thinking about. Thank goodness the world has changed since then.

Roasted Butternut, Chestnut and Bacon Risotto

- half a butternut squash, cut into bitesize chunks
- a couple of rashers of bacon or pancetta
- half a pack of vacuum-wrapped, prepared chestnuts
- olive oil, salt and pepper, butter
- about a tablespoonful of rosemary, fresh or dried
- an onion, finely chopped
- a fat clove of garlic, finely chopped
- a stick of celery, finely chopped
- 100g of risotto rice
- half a glass of white wine
- about 400ml of stock (we used chicken)
- a few good handfuls of fresh spinach
- some parmesan to grate over the top

Start off by preheating the oven to about 200C and lining a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Toss the butternut chunks with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary, spread them out on the tray and roast them in the oven for 20 minutes.

While the butternut is on the go, get a big saucepan and melt a knob of butter with a drizzle of oil. Add the onion, garlic and celery and cook gently over a low-medium heat, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft but not coloured. Turn the heat up to medium-high, chuck in the rice and stir it around for a few minutes until the rice is sizzling and crackling. 

Pour in the wine, stir until it's cooked off, then pour in the first big ladleful of stock. Stir, stir, stir until the stock has been absorbed, then add more stock and stir some more. Stock, stir, more stock, more stir - you know the drill. After about fifteen minutes, the rice should be almost tender.

At some point while you were stirring and stocking, the timer on the squash should have beeped to say 20 minutes is up. Add the chestnuts to the baking tray, drape the bacon over the top and put the whole lot back in for another 10-15 minutes or until the squash is caramelised around the edges and the bacon is crisp.

Ok, back to the rice - is it done yet? Is it too dry? Keep adding stock and stirring until it's the right sort of consistency and tenderness. If you use up all your stock but it's still a bit crunchy, just use boiling water from the kettle. When it's done, turn the heat off and wait for the oven stuff to be ready - there should only be a few minutes between them depending on how speedily you did all your chopping.

Once everything in the oven looks good, take it out and scoop off the bacon and chestnuts to a chopping board, cutting them into bitesize bits. Then chuck the squash, bacon and chestnuts straight into the risotto, along with the spinach. Stir it all in well, along with a knob of butter (and a final splash of stock/water if it's looking too dry), then leave it to sit and chill out for a few minutes while you pour some wine. Serve with plenty of parmesan to grate over the top.    

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Spiced Ginger and Raisin Flapjacks

This is a bit of a funny time for the Dine at Mine household. We've had an offer accepted on a house - cue fireworks, champagne and parade of elephants! - but we won't actually move in until the middle of January. That means it's too early to buy furniture or measure for curtains, but too late to spend our weekends trawling the internet for houses and trailing across most of South London to look at them.

This is so much better than the despair of thinking we'd never find a house, so I'm definitely not complaining, but I can't deny that it's quite an unusual sensation. We day dream about bookcases and bedside tables, but we're in a kind of limbo where we can't actually do anything to make these day dreams come true. And our weekends are now curiously empty. Don't tell me we should be doing our Christmas shopping, Mr Internet will be handling most of it this year.


So we decided to go on a little trip to visit a friend. We went far away, to the place where tea means dinner and pudding means batter or black. And, knowing that our journey would be both long and perilous, I decided that we needed a car snack. Something robust, but still a treat; autumnal in feel, substantial but not stodgy, and above all, not too sticky. A mere two minutes of greed-hazed daydreaming later, an idea had floated into my consciousness and the die was cast. It was time to make Spiced Ginger and Raisin Flapjacks. 


I concocted this recipe in the time-honoured way - adapting a tried and tested recipe with a few pinches of this and teaspoons of that, taste-testing the uncooked mix until it seemed right. I also made a few extra changes to our normal flapjacks, swapping the soft brown sugar for demerara to add a toffeeish flavour and a slight crunch, and adding a pinch of salt to bring out the sweetness (like salted caramel). And the results? Well, if I say so myself, the flapjacks were slightly crumbly but tasted like an all-out, autumn-fiesta triumph. Am I allowed to say so myself? Well, I just did. They were ace.


As we travelled through the rain-sodden uplands of our sceptr'd isle, these warmed us up, cheered us up and boosted us up and over the limbo. Not long to go until New Year and New Home! And lots of flapjack to eat between now and then.

Spiced Ginger and Raisin Flapjacks
Adapted from Nigella Lawson's basic flapjacks in How to be a Domestic Goddess, previously blogged by Greedy Gusto here

- 225g rolled oats
- 40g demerara sugar
- 150g unsalted butter
- 75g golden syrup
- 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- pinch of ground nutmeg
- pinch of salt
- 100g raisins

Preheat the oven to 190C, and butter and line a tin.

Melt the butter with the golden syrup very gently over a low heat, then stir in the spices, salt and sugar until evenly dispersed. Then chuck in the oats and raisins, stir well and pour the mixture out into the tin, pressing it down quite firmly.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Leave to cool in the tin, then cut into squares, bars, triangles or any other shape you fancy. Or, as Greedy Gusto suggested before, just eat it as one massive flapjack. I think he's still a bit sad that I haven't let him try that.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Sausage Rolls at Florence Finds

This is a very exciting day for Dine at Mine. For months now I've been pootling along here happily, posting dinners and lunches and frankly greedy afternoon teas, without any real thought for the outside world.

But now, for the first time ever, I've been asked to write a guest post on someone else's blog. A real, live, 'comments and community' one which I genuinely like, run by someone I don't even know! No, I don't understand what she was thinking either.

OF COURSE I said yes - I don't think I've ever been so flattered in my cooking life - so it is with great pride and no little bashfulness that I make this announcement. Today, my sausage rolls are featured on Florence Finds. Complete with new photos and everything! I know, pretty fancy.

These are one of my all time favourite recipes - and one of the internet's, judging by my Blogger stats - so I humbly suggest that you give them a go. While you're at it, check out Florence Finds for fashion, home, beauty, culture and sparkly things in general. Happy Friday! May your weekend be pastry-wrapped and delicious.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Risotto Verdure

Just a quick introduction to say that, for those who haven't seen him before, Greedy  Gusto is a regular guest blogger here at Dine at Mine. He likes fine dining, easy recipes, makes me laugh and looks good in a kilt. Here he is!

Ciao tutti! After a very long holiday from the Dine At Mine blog, Greedy Gusto is back! I apologise for my lengthy absence, and the apology is not only to you, dear reader, but also to our neighbours in the Eurozone. You see, while I've been busy on other things, and saving money to try to buy a house, I've stopped eating out at my favourite Italian restaurants such as Strada and Pizza Express. This has surely had a massive impact on their profits, meaning that they have been sending back less money to Mama Italia, meaning in turn that Italy has pretty much gone bust this week. 

One way that the aforementioned restaurants have been trying to entice customers back over the course of the credit crunch is through vouchers. And I love those 2 main courses for the price of 1 vouchers. Now I can have a pizza and a pasta course all for the price of one dish!

I do wonder how the restaurant chains will recover from the now omnipresent vouchers, and I think Angela Merkel has learnt wisely from the Pizza Express example. Pizza Express started off with the occasional voucher to entice people in on a quiet night; now there's been Weimar-republic style voucher hyper-inflation, with 2 or 3 deals available at Pizza Express on most nights. Let's hope the ECB doesn't go down that route...

Anyhow, I'd better get on to today's recipe (which is linked to the paragraphs before - you see, this is a Jeremy Clarkson Sunday Times-esque blog, where I blether on about something vaguely relevant and hopefully funny for the first two-thirds of the blog, then quickly sum up the whole point of the review in the final third).

You see, I was wondering whether the restaurant chains could make much money when they offer these voucher deals. I think the answer must be yes, and that leads to the question of how much are they over-charging us when we don't use a voucher deal? But to stick with the first question, how much does it cost to make, for example, the Risotto Verdure from Strada? Fortunately, they put their recipe on the website, so I could test it... (and you can watch the comedy Italian man in the video).

The raw ingredients cost about £10 to £15 (depending on your choice of quality of food and supermarket), though this does include the cost for example of buying a 500g arborio rice bag, when you only need 175g. So for that price, you'll get more than just the meal for two.

And in my local Strada, the Risotto Verdure costs £10.25. So that's £20.50 before wine and service.

Is it nicer in the restaurant? When the restaurant is busy, and the chefs are over-stretched, and they're trying to save money by cutting down on the expensive ingredients (more on that in another blog - but I'm looking at you, mozzarella-light bufala pizza)... I'd say cook it yourself, and save money on the bottle of wine too.

Risotto Verdure
From the Strada website

It's quite a long recipe, so best to download this file from the Strada website.

Greedy Gusto's basic tip is to add plenty of white wine at the beginning, stir it continuously, and add copious shavings of parmesan at the end!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Garlic and Mustard Rack of Lamb with Red Wine Gravy


Much as I would like to think otherwise, I’m pretty sure I’m a peasant at heart – culinarily, at least. Just like the chicken breasts in mustard, this was another dinner when we were given a more expensive cut of meat than we would customarily buy. And, just like the chicken, the results were nice but didn’t blow our socks off. It’s the equivalent of being served caviar on toast, and secretly preferring Marmite.

We’d never cooked rack of lamb before and although we were excited to try it, it just couldn’t live up to the slow-roasted lamb shoulder. Slow roasting the shoulder is far easier to prepare and requires very little input from you. The result is gorgeously savoury and so tender that it falls into damp shreds at the touch of a fork. Intensely flavourful and utterly reliable, I’m salivating at the thought of it – and although we repeated it just a couple of weeks ago, I can’t wait to make it again.

But this was a much more high-maintenance dish. Although it cooked more quickly, it demanded much more care and attention, was entirely unforgiving when it came to timings, and still ended up fatty and difficult to carve from the bone. I know that rack is considered far fancier than shoulder – if only because of those little white hats you can buy to cover up the bones – but I just prefer the slow-cooked succulent meat, and nothing will convince me otherwise.

This particular recipe was adapted from Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals and although it was slightly fussy (prepare it, brown it, turn it, daub it, roast it, rest it, carve it), the meat did turn out perfectly pink. We also made his suggested red wine gravy, studded with nuggets of crisp bacon. I won’t deny that the colour was offputting – red wine + flour = lurid magenta – but the flavour was great, I promise.

We skipped his recommended spring veg, going for some much more seasonal options. In fact, as you can see by our ludicrously overstuffed plates, we had parsnip and carrot mash, roasted celeriac, kale, peas and broccoli, not to mention the roasted tomatoes from the lamb. And those vegetables, swimming in gravy, were still one of my favourite bits from the meal. What can I say? I’m a peasant at heart. At least I haven’t done a Baldrick and just cooked turnip.


Garlic and Mustard Rack of Lamb with Red Wine Gravy
From Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals
- An 8 bone rack of lamb
- a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme (he suggests rosemary, but we only had thyme)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- a teaspoon of Dijon mustard
- a splash of white wine vinegar (we only had red wine)
- a few handfuls of cherry tomatoes
- a few rashers of bacon, finely chopped
- another sprig of rosemary or thyme
- a heaped tablespoon of plain flour
- half a glass of red wine

Preheat the oven to 220C and get a big frying pan on the heat with a drizzle of olive oil in it. Get out a baking tray or roasting tin and line with a bit of parchment paper.

Cut the rack of lamb in half and season it all over with salt and pepper, then add to the frying pan. Turn it every few minutes until it's browned all over - about 10 minutes in total, I think.

While it's cooking, crush or finely chop the garlic and rosemary/thyme and mix up in a little bowl with the mustard, splash of wine vinegar, salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. You're aiming for a paste, but I didn't have a garlic crusher or a pestle and mortar so mine was more of a lumpy sauce.

When the lamb is browned, take it out of the pan and put it onto the roasting tin or baking sheet. Daub the garlicky mustardy glop all over it, and scatter the tomatoes in and around, rolling them in any fallen drips of sauce. Put the whole lot in the oven for 14 minutes if you want your lamb slightly pink in the middle but not too rare - obviously, cook it for longer or shorter times if you like it more or less cooked.

While it's in the oven, pour away most of the lamb fat from the frying pan and then add the bacon over a low heat. Once the bacon is golden and sizzling, turn the heat up and add the herb and flour, stirring well. Then chuck in the wine, stir until it's mostly evaporated, then add a few ladles of cooking water from any vegetables you're doing at the same time (we had plenty). If you're not cooking any veg, just use water from the kettle. 

The gravy will turn an alarming shade of pink but even though it looks really unlikely, I promise that it tastes really nice. Have faith!

Keep the gravy bubbling gently until it's the sort of consistency you want, while you wait for the lamb. Once the lamb has had its full time, give it a couple of minutes to rest, then carve and serve with the gravy and veg. Enjoy!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Cumin-Roasted Cauliflower with Pomegranate, Yoghurt and Mint

While all our cookbooks are in storage (you may have heard me mention this once or twice), I'm entirely relying on the internet for recipe inspiration. This particular recipe comes from Smitten Kitchen, home to some of my all time favourite salads - asparagus and parmesan; butternut squash, chickpea and tahini; roasted red peppers and chickpea. She posted this particular one just a few weeks ago and I was impatient to try it, drumming my fingers until the fates and fridge combined to make it happen. Although I had to bastardise it slightly(skipping the feta because we didn't have any, although I'm sure it would be great, and swapping ground cumin for cumin seed), it still lived up to all my expectations from her blog - fresh, vibrant and unusual. And, of course, photogenic. Well, in her photos, at least.

Quick and easy to prepare, the most challenging bit was getting the seeds out of the pomegranate without getting splashed - and please see below for a tedious exegesis on how I finally cracked that conundrum. As for the results? Well, on its own this salad was nice but a bit underwhelming. I think that perhaps her feta and cumin seeds would make it just that bit punchier and gutsier but as it was, I liked it but didn't fall in love.

Basically, what I'm saying is that this salad was a Lavinia Swire. It was pretty, and nice, and when it arrived I thought it was fresh and interesting. But although you wondered if there were hidden depths - a dalliance with the dastardly newspaper magnate, perhaps? - after a while you realised that no, no there weren't. It was pleasant and very attractive. And I'm sure that, if it were to die, it would do so in a beautifully wan and picturesque fashion. But some dishes are Lady Marys, or Dowager Duchesses, stealing the show and demanding centre stage. This tasted like a supporting role. 

That said, it could be a brilliant bit-part. It would be perfect in a mezze spread alongside something like hummus or baba ghanoush, a flatbread or two and some pickles. Or even better, this would be light and fresh with a hot, spicy tagine. In fact, this salad would be ace stirred through some couscous - with the yoghurt on the side, to drip over stew and salad alike.

In the right ensemble cast, I think this could be a real crowd-pleaser, and even on its own you wouldn't kick it out of the kitchen. But I'm just not sure that it made enough of an impression. Good thing Lavinia kicked the bucket last week - and in such a refined manner, too. Wouldn't you expect a bit more from Spanish Flu than a weak voice and dewy makeup? Could it be that Downton isn't 100% historically accurate? Surely not.

Cumin-Roasted Cauliflower with Pomegranate, Yoghurt and Mint
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 1 as a main, 2 if you're having lots of other bits
- half a head of cauliflower, cut into individual florets
- a good shake of ground cumin
- olive oil, salt and pepper
- a few spoonfuls of natural yoghurt
- a handful of pomegranate seeds
- a couple of sprigs of mint

Preheat the oven to 220C and line a baking tray with parchment. Toss the cauliflower with a drizzle of olive oil, some salt, pepper and a good few shakes of ground cumin (enough that each floret of cauliflower looks faintly speckled). Then spread it out on the tray and roast for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are blackened and the stalks are tender.

While it's cooking, I'll tell you about a new way to get pomegranate seeds out of the pomegranate. I used to do it that way that Nigella tells you about - cutting it in half, holding over a bowl and thwacking the back with a wooden spoon until the seeds fall out - but I always found it a massive pain. For one thing, it left the bowl, kitchen counter and your clothes looking like a crime scene, spattered in bright red droplets that you just knew would stain forever. And all the white pithy bits would fall out too so you had to go through the bowl picking them out one by one, which was a huge nuisance. Well, no more! 

This time I cut the pomegranate in half then got a bowl filled with cold water and pulled the pomegranate to bits under water. No drops, no spray, and all the white bits floated to the top and could be scooped off. Then I just poured out the water (using my hand to hold the seeds in the bowl) and was left with a perfect bowl of pure seeds. I'm telling you, it has changed my whole attitude to pomegranates.

Right, coming back from that tangent, transfer the cauliflower to a plate and drip the yoghurt over the top. Scatter with pomegranate seeds and torn mint leaves, then tuck in.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Chocolate Fudge and Pear Pudding

Like all children of the 80s, when Jamie Oliver was still just a twinkle in a tv producer's eye, my school cookery lessons prepared me for a life of morbid obesity. There was no question of learning to cook anything even remotely healthy - as far as school was concerned, my future life would be wall to wall crumbles and cakes. 

The most noteworthy recipe was a truly foul pizza on a scone base. Not a dough based on a scone recipe. An actual pizza-sized scone. Two inches thick of bready stodge, drizzled with a bit of tomato passata and blanketed with plastic cheese. My parents, ever supportive and encouraging, chewed manfully and silently for a few minutes. Then, in defeat, we chucked the whole lot in the bin. In terms of life lessons, I think that class taught me "Don't trust teachers".

Precisely two recipes made it into permanent rotation in our household. One was a chilled lemon cheesecake, which is delicious but irritatingly requires only half of a small tin of condensed milk. Clearly the point of this lesson was not so much "learn how to make a cheesecake" as "come on girls, it's good to share with your best friend" - or, worryingly, "condensed milk is delicious straight from the tin and you don't want it to go to waste, do you? Think of the starving children in Africa!".

The other recipe which actually found a home in our home was this chocolate fudge pudding. It's one of those where you pour some kind of boiling water concoction over a chocolate sponge before cooking. Then, magically, through the alchemy of the oven it turns into a chocolate fudge sauce lurking beneath the sponge. It blew my pre-teen mind and still sort of does now, to be honest, even though I'm much older and theoretically a bit wiser.

This time, in an unprecedented innovation, my mum recommended adding pears to the mixture, building on my new favourite pudding combo of pears and chocolate (see here and here). Now, these flights of inventive fancy are relatively common with my mum - and I don't think she'd be too offended if I said that the results can be hit or miss. This landed much closer to hit than miss, but it wasn't quite perfect. 

The pears ended up gorgeously soft and nestled very happily among the chocolate sponge and sauce. But they also exuded a lot of juice, which made the finished product both sweetier and runnier than expected. Clearly it wasn't a disaster - a sweet, runny chocolate sauce is still a chocolate sauce - but I've added notes in the recipe for changes which might bring you the perfect result.


Needless to say, this was still absolutely delicious - and now that we're back in the season of proper puddings, I'll definitely be trying it again. Just don't try to change my mind on the pizza thing. Scones are for clotted cream and jam, not melted mozzarella, and nothing will ever convince me otherwise. So there, Mrs Edwards!

Chocolate Fudge and Pear Pudding
Adapted from a school pudding approximately 20 years ago. That makes me feel old.

- optional - 6 pears, peeled and quartered lengthways (if you're doing this in advance, keep them in a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon juice to stop them from going brown) 

For the sponge
- 75g of self raising flour
- 100 g of butter
- 100 g of caster sugar
- 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
- 2 eggs, beaten in a little bowl
- half a teaspoon of vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons of milk

For the sauce
- 100g of soft brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
- 150ml hot water from the kettle  
(Sauce note - If you're using the pears, as discussed above, the sauce came out very liquid and very sweet. I'd be tempted to use just 100ml of water, 50g of sugar and double the amount of cocoa powder. I have no idea if that would work but it's worth a go. It's hot chocolate sauce, how wrong could it be?)

Preheat the oven to 190C and grease a large ovenproof dish with a bit of butter or vegetable oil.
Using electric beaters, a posh mixer or just a wooden spoon, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Then gradually add the eggs and vanilla, beating well after every addition. Sift the dry ingredients into the bowl and fold them into the mix with a wooden spoon. Add enough milk until the mixture is soft and drops off the spoon.
If you're using them, arrange the pears on the bottom of the dish. Then scoop the sponge mixture on top, spreading it level.  
Mix together the brown sugar, cocoa powder and hot water in a little bowl, stirring to get rid of lumps, then pour right over the cake mixture. It'll look disgusting and you'll think I'm loopy but I promise that the sauce will sink through the cake.
Bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until the sponge is risen and springy, and the sauce is bubbling.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Honey and Walnut Soda Bread

In my first job out of university, I spent three months living and working  in Brussels. This was my first time ever living abroad, first time ever living on my own, and first time ever doing either of those things in a world where I didn't really speak the language (it's frightening how much French you can forget in 4 years). I got to know my new colleagues, was welcomed into their social circles and ushered into the expat world. I spent hours exploring the city on my own and had adventures with my new friends - dancing till dawn, going to Cuban hiphop concerts, serving behind the bar at a charity pantomime, eating my first (and last) kebab. It was dizzying and disorientating and I felt, for the first time in my life, like a proper grown-up.

Baking this at my mum's house, she had measured everything out in little bowls as if we were on Blue Peter. 
I also missed my boyfriend, family and friends sorely, became addicted to Skype and realized how much I love London. I promised myself that never again would I live in a one-room flat with only a single ring to cook on and mousetraps in the halls. I trudged through the slush and puddles of Brussels in January, railed against the lack of open shops on a Sunday and held my breath through the astounding urine stench around the Gare du Midi. 

I visited the Chocolate Museum and the Mannekin Pis, gazed at the Atomium and the Tintin graffiti and desperately, dearly longed to come home. On the day when I settled into my London-bound Eurostar seat for the last time, bags filled with Wittamer chocolate and worn-to-death gloves and scarves, my iPod shuffle came up with the Jackson 5 singing "Going Back to Indiana". Even today, Michael Jackson's whoop of joy makes my heart leap.

But of course, my main memories are food. I came home from Brussels distinctly chubbier than I'd gone and when you consider the Belgian greatest hits, it's hardly surprising. Frites with mayonnaise, steak, mussels and more mayonnaise. Endless rounds of gaufres on the street, crunchy with sparkling crystals of sugar, and posh chocolates in shops. My colleagues and I would eat out almost every lunchtime (with wine, naturellement!) and even when you did have to eat al desko, the local cafes specialised in oozing wedges of freshly cooked quiche in buttery, crumbly pastry. My low-key lunch of choice was a walnut and raisin wholemeal baguette filled with nothing but ripe brie, followed by the most perfect tarte au citron, hiding a mini sponge centre soaked in lemon curd and surrounded by quivering custard. Like I say, a bit of extra chub was hardly surprising. 

This soda bread was the second of three baking experiments with my mum and its flavour reminded me instantly of those far-off brie baguettes in a sweet and nutty baguette. But although the idea was lovely, the bread itself didn't quite work. It needed far more time in the oven than the recipe suggested, and still came out quite heavy and dense. As for the nuts, I think toasting them lightly in a pan or the oven before adding them to the mix would have made all the difference - this way they still tasted slightly raw. And the honey added a general sweetness, but its favour wasn't very clearly defined.

Next time, I'd use my tried and tested soda bread recipe which delivers a much better textured bread, adding in some honey, raisins and toasted, chopped walnuts before cooking. Served with a fat wodge of cheese and maybe a slice or two of pear, I can practically taste my Brussels baguette back again. Just don't let me follow it up with a gaufre. And some frites. And a dense hot chocolate, tarte au citron, and chocolate truffle. Like I said, not surprising I came back a more rounded - and rounder - person.

Honey and Walnut Soda Bread
Note: this recipe didn't work out all that well for us, although the flavour was nice. This is the recipe as we made it - fingers crossed it works out better for you. Or if you want a soda bread which always works, which can be flavoured according to whim, try this one

- 100g honey
- 100g walnuts
- 250g plain wholemeal flour
- 5g salt
- 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- 150ml water

Preheat the oven to 200C. Gently warm the honey in a pan, and crush the walnuts in a pestle and mortar - some quite fine, some still big and chunky. 

Mix together all the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the honey and water and stir until it's all combined. Knead it for a minute or so until it feels like a firm dough. We had to add a bit more flour as well, as ours came up very wet.

Shape into a round, about 5cm high (although I think it could have been taller) and cut a deep cross into it, almost all the way through. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment and bake for 20-25 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom (ahem). Actually, ours took about 10-15 minutes longer than that, now I come to mention it. Anyway, serve with a big slice of cheese and a Belgian accent. Or as it's soda bread, a Belgian-Irish accent. There's a challenge for you!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Corn Muffins

My mum, of wedding cake fame, is one of this blog's most ardent supporters. Not only has she been a reader since the very first day, she's proudly spread the word among all her family, her friends and my former Maths teacher for good measure (hi, Mrs Evans!). She buys me kitchen treats to try out on the blog - edible gold leaf, I know you're in storage now but I promise that your day will come - and sends me recipes, suggestions and ideas. In our homeless limbo land without a kitchen of our own, she finds dishes she wants to try and invites me round for lunch on the understanding that I'll bring the camera and blog the results. Today's recipe, and the next two to follow, all stem from one of these recent greedy lunches and so, with thanks, I dedicate this blog post to her.

It's quite fitting to start with the corn muffins. Not only were they the standout success of our afternoon (what a way to excite you about the two recipes to come!) but they hark back to her adventures around Canada as a fresh-faced teenager, exploring the frozen wilderness on her own, making friends and eating cornbread. I'd tried making cornbread before but wasn't blown away by the results - but these muffins were exponentially better. They also, apparently, tasted completely authentic and took her right back to her teenage travels. Not just a muffin but a time machine! I love it when that happens. 

Whether authentic or not, the main thing is that these were easy to make and tasted amazing. The recipe comes from last month's Waitrose magazine and they did feel perfect for Autumn - sweet, bright and cheery. Whether out by a bonfire, or curled up on the sofa, these are ideal for slathering in butter, dunking in soup or swiping through gravy.

You can see us here, aproned Mother and Daughter bending over her new, novelty cake tin while Mr Dine at Mine paparazzo-snaps us artistically through the flowers. Whatever you're doing on this drizzly November day, whether cooking in your own kitchen or your mum's, whether broken open by your own fair hands or hers (as modelled below), these corn muffins are a sure fire hit. Crispy-edged, crumbly-centred, delicious. Good recipe-funding, Mummy Dine at Mine!  Mummy knows best. Obviously.

And when you have leftovers, I think it's fair to suggest that you would never regret warming them up for breakfast. Or serving them with some sizzling, crispy bacon. And perhaps drizzling a sticky pool of syrup on top. Not that we would ever consider such a greedy thing, of course. And we would certainly never allow any photographic evidence.  


Corn Muffins
From Waitrose Kitchen, October 2011
Makes 12 muffins, square or otherwise

- 50g unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 125g plain flour
- 250g polenta
- 50g caster sugar
- 1 tablespoon of baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2 eggs, beaten in a small bowl
- 240ml whole milk (for once we actually used whole milk, bought specially - but I'm sure it would be fine with semi-skimmed)

Preheat the oven to 160C and grease a muffin tin with a bit of butter or oil.

Gently heat the butter and oil together in a saucepan until the butter has melted. Then get a big bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients, and pour in the milk, eggs and warm butter/oil mixture. 

Stir together until well combined, then spoon into the greased muffin tin. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. 

Brilliant on their own, with soup or - the ultimate - with bacon and syrup.
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