Category Archives: recipes

The black-bean brownies that keep my kids alive

Brownie on plateI have the noisiest food processor in the world. It only occurred to me a while ago that maybe it’s not supposed to be that loud. But it processes perfectly well, so it would be petty of me to get a new one, even if I court deafness every time I use it.

And it is useful. I remember bugging my parents to get a food processor when they were the new big thing (at least, they seemed to be) so we  could “make coleslaw”. The idea of my voluntarily eating vegetables must have persuaded them in the end, but I don’t think I made the coleslaw more than once or twice. Mostly the new toy sat gathering dust in the back cupboard behind the stand mixer and in front of the good plates inherited from my paternal grandmother.

Nowadays I use my (newer but noisier) processor for making pastry (the recipe here is my favourite for everything), for falafel or carrot salad, but most often for these black-bean brownies, which are probably one of the things that keep my vegetable-averse children alive. They have one of these or a pumpkin muffin in their lunchbox every day, and they fight over getting the “test brownie” when they’re out of the oven. If your kids are used to regular brownies you might want to call these something else in case they’re disappointed, but as far as mine are concerned these are better. And I didn’t have to lie about the beans, either. They proclaim it proudly. Bonus: They’re gluten free.

I found the recipe online years ago, but it comes originally from a book called The Daily Bean by Suzanne Caciola White. I’ve changed the method, though, so I think I’m allowed reproduce my version here.

Ingredients in food processor

Aerial view

Black Bean Brownies

1 cup cooked black beans (the contents of one 15oz / 425g can, drained and rinsed)
2 cups (200g) sugar
1/2 cup (200g) butter, softened a little
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
4 eggs

Optional: 3/4 cup (95g) chopped walnuts

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).
  2. Put the drained and rinsed beans and the sugar in your food processor and process until they form a smooth puree.
  3. Add the butter, cocoa, coffee powder, and eggs and blitz again until smooth.
  4. Stir in the walnuts, if using.
  5. Pour mixture into a lined 9×13 pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes.

If you don’t have a food processor, follow the method in the book, which says to first beat the butter and sugar with the cocoa and coffee. Then mix in the eggs and then the beans, followed by the nuts last of all.

Baked brownies in tin

Out of the oven. I lined the tin with a silicone sheet instead of paper.

If you want to know more about the recipes I love, you should follow me on Pinterest, because that’s where I keep most of them. Or just go directly to Smitten Kitchen because that’s where anything I don’t bother to pin comes from. 🙂

Far-from-beige cauliflower and a discovery

I made Cauliflower with Romesco Sauce for dinner and it was so delicious that I’m going to give you the whole recipe, since I didn’t do it exactly the way the recipe I used told me to. I got this from Jill at Proper Fud, but I don’t think she ever blogged it, so here I am filling that gap.

First, put on some fancy wild rice mix to cook. Don’t boil it till it’s crunchy like I did. Or just use regular rice, whatever.
Then turn on the oven to 400 F and make the sauce while that heats up.

The sauce is exactly as given in the recipe:

  • ½ tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 roasted red pepper (from a jar)
  • 40g fresh breadcrumbs
  • ½ garlic clove
  • 40g ground almonds
  • 1tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 50ml water

Sorry, Americans, for the metric. You’ll have to weigh stuff. (I love my digital scales. So handy.)

Whizz all that up in your food processor. I use the mini-blender attachment of my Braun Multimix that they don’t make any more so you can’t buy one – it’s just the right size and so much easier on the washing up than the big processor. First I ground the almonds in it, then added the bread to make the breadcrumbs, and then put in everything else and gave it a good blend. I end up with quite a dollop-y sauce, but if you wanted it more pour-y you could just add a bit more water, I’m sure.

Your oven is probably hot enough by now. Get a cauliflower and break it into florets. Spread them on an oiled baking sheet and sprinkle a teaspoon more of the smoked paprika over them, and a drizzle of oil. Into the oven with it.

After 20-25 mins the cauliflower will be roasted and a little charred around the edges. Try not to burn the rice like I did. Serve the cauliflower on the rice with dollops of sauce on top. The sauce really brings this whole thing to the next level and makes it a totally delicious dinner. A glass of wine  brings out even more facets of flavours, if you like that sort of thing.


Oh, and a discovery. Dash’s testing results came back with some helpful recommendations for all sorts of things, including his eating situation. The doctor mentioned a book called Helping Your Child With Extreme Picky Eating. I was sceptical because I’ve done all that, read the books – they just make me depressed and guilty – but I looked it up on Amazon anyway and checked out the reviews. One mentioned a website, so I took a look:
https://mealtimehostage.com/.

About 30 seconds later, all sorts of lightbulbs were going off in my brain. The website talks about Selective Eating Disorder, which is now called ARFID, and is an official thing people have. Here are some excerpts from the site.

Selective eating disorder was officially added to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in May 2013, and renamed Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).

Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is food refusal due to highly selective intake, lack of interest in eating, or fear of the unpleasant effects of eating without concerns of body image or weight.

“A selective eater will NOT “eat when they get hungry.” If you implement a technique designed to “wait them out” or “exert your parental control,” if you alter one of their 10-20 foods, you risk having that food drop out of their food list forever.

Children and adults with ARFID experience strong disgust reactions to the sight, smell and even the mere thought of eating unfamiliar food, which can create significant distress for eating in social settings.

Patients with ARFID are […] more likely to have a co-morbid anxiety disorder, learning disorder, or cognitive impairment […].

Therapy that focuses exclusively on the eating fails to consider the eating disturbance in its wider context as a relationship between the individual eating the food and the person who provides it.

DING DING DING!!! All the boxes, checked. All the Dash’s-eating things, making sense. I have joined the FB group and ordered the book. I read this entry and all the things I do, that are mostly for a quiet life and just because I hate causing, or suffering, angst, were suddenly validated and turn out to be okay.

So that’s a thing, and maybe it will lead to some developments. No cauliflower for him. Not yet.

Banana butterscotch muffins with a healthier twist

 

One of my favourite recipes is banana butterscotch muffins from Nigella Express. I don’t make it often because Dash doesn’t like banana, but if I’m bringing a treat along somewhere, it’s a handy one.

I wanted to bake some of these for the nursery school open house on Saturday, but I thought it would be nice to make the recipe a little healthier, considering all those delightful teeny toddley people who would no doubt be cruising by the food table and swiping everything they could grab before a parent stopped admiring the classroom decorations and noticed.

So I used brown sugar instead of white and reduced the quantity, because the butterscotch chips give plenty of sweetness. I added oatmeal too. I didn’t dare tweak the recipe further since I was baking against the clock and for an audience (I mean, the results would be eaten by an audience; I wasn’t actually baking in front of a live studio audience), but I have suggestions for next time…

Mabel dishing out the muffins

Helper

This is the recipe as I made it this time:

3 ripe bananas (if your bananas are not very ripe, 30 seconds in the microwave will soften them up nicely)
1/2 cup (100g) light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup (125ml) vegetable oil
1.5 cups (150g) AP (white) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking (bread) soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
1/2 cup (50g) oatmeal (old-fashioned, not quick)
1/2 cup (75g) butterscotch chips

1. Mash the bananas with the brown sugar and set aside.

2. Stir together the flour, oatmeal, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

3. Beat the eggs with the oil in a measuring jug.

4. Add the egg and oil mixture to the dry ingredients and mix to moisten.

5. Add the mashed bananas (and sugar) and mix well. (Not too well. Lumps are fine, so long as the flour is all mixed in.) It’s quite a wet mixture.

6. Mix in the butterscotch chips.

7. Spoon into well-greased muffin tins. I made mini muffins, the better to be grabbed by little hands, and the mixture made 24 minis plus 3 regular-sized ones for taste testing. If you use paper cases, the oatmeal often sticks, so even though greasing is a pain it’s better for the final product.

8. Bake at 400 F (200 C) for 15 minutes for mini muffins or 20 for regular-sized ones.

9. Cool a little and remove carefully from the tin so as not to leave bits behind. If you can take them out of the tin before they’re totally cooled, the bottoms will be as deliciously crunchy as the tops.

Muffins on cooling rack

They’re a little bumpy-looking, but that’s the artisanal touch, y’know.

Other healthy things you could try:

  • Substitute plain yogurt for one (or both) of the eggs.
  • Use part wholemeal flour instead of all AP flour.
  • Substitute applesauce for part or all of the vegetable oil.

They all disappeared in record time, so I think I can safely say this particular version passed the adult-and-toddler taste test.

Apricot breakfast muffins

I like to make breakfast muffins. I whip up a batch containing something relatively healthy, thus guaranteeing that nobody else will want to eat them, and then I stick them all in a ziploc bag in the freezer. In the morning I can pull one out and 20 seconds in the microwave later I’ve got something nice to eat with my coffee.

In the summer I made a batch of somewhat aggressively healthy zucchini-and-almond ones; more recently I was eating my old faithful (delicious) oatmeal streusel muffins; but today I pulled a bag of dried apricots off the shelf, looked up a basic recipe, and messed with it to good effect.

Apricot muffin

This is how my version looked:

  • 1 cup (160g) chopped dried apricots
  • 1 cup (120ml) boiling water
  • 1 cup (100g) wholewheat flour
  • 3/4 cup (75g) AP (white) flour
  • 1/4 cup (25g) wheatgerm
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (75g) brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil (120ml) (in its liquid state)
  • a splash of orange juice (or some orange zest)
  • 1 cup (240ml) natural yogurt
  • 1/4 cup (50g) chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup (25g) chopped walnuts

Turn the oven to 400 F (200 C). Put the apricots, roughly chopped, into a small bowl and cover with the boiling water while you get on with everything else.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flours, wheatgerm, baking soda and salt. (You don’t have to have wheatgerm, and you can probably use all wholewheat flour if you want to.) I like to use a balloon whisk for this, but a spoon will work too.

Measure the sugar into a smaller bowl and mix with the egg, breaking up any lumps with a fork. Add the oil (you can use vegetable oil if you don’t have coconut) and the yogurt, as well as the orange juice or zest if you have it, and mix well.

Now mix the wet ingredients into the dry ones, but don’t overmix. Lumps are fine. Drain the apricots and add them, along with the walnuts and chocolate chips. Obviously, at this point the mix-ins are totally up to you, but this seemed like a good combination.

Scoop 12-15 muffins into waiting muffin cases (or greased muffin tins) and bake for 15 minutes.

Muffins in freezer bag

Oops, I just had one for my elevenses as well.

 

Adding this post to Simply Homemade’s breakfast linky. Go check out some other great healthy breakfast ideas. 

Soft pretzels

I mentioned that we made pretzels, didn’t I?

“Tell us about the pretzels,” I hear you cry.

Oh, okay then.

I pinned this recipe ages ago, thinking it sounded like a fun thing to do with the kids, and on our snow day last Tuesday I was apparently desperate/ambitious/energetic enough to unearth it and put it to the test. It worked admirably.

I don’t want to reproduce it here because it’s not mine and I didn’t change it. And they do a great job of the instructions over there. But you can see my photos and get my additional thrilling thoughts on the process.

I made the dough in my lovely Kitchen Aid, though you could do it by hand if you felt up to a decent bout of kneading. It’s very theraputic, you know. I recently discovered that my oven has a “Proving” setting, which is brilliant for baking with yeast in the winter. The dough did such a great job doubling that it runnethed over.

Dough rising up and over the edge of the bowl

Then I set the kids up with a clean table surface and some flour, and gave them a blob each. The great thing was that you don’t have to do any particular shape, so this would work really well with smaller children too. Mabel made lots of little balls, and though I was sceptical, they came out fine and she loved them. I made some long sticks and a couple of bread rolls as well as some small pretzel twists.

Children rolling dough into pretzel shapes
I found a handy video to show you how to shape the pretzel twists, with a pleasingly Canadian narration to boot. But just forming a simple circle was very easy and still impressed the kids, so you don’t have to be so fancy if you’re not inclined.
Boiling the pretzels

The boiling step seemed a little daunting because I’ve never done that before, but it was perfectly simple. Make sure you have enough baking soda to hand, because it does take quite a lot. You don’t have to time the 30 seconds particularly carefully, and I just kept it on the hob between batches, waiting for the kids’ ones to be ready to go. They came out a little slimy, but they stayed in their shapes well.

Unbaked pretzels on baking sheet

After brushing with egg wash and baking – golden and delicious. Do put salt on top (or cinnamon sugar, if you’re that way inclined). I left some plain and they were a little bitter (because of the baking soda); though the children didn’t seem to care.

Baked pretzels

I found myself dipping them in wholegrain mustard. I don’t even know who I am any more.

They were delicious warm, straight from the oven, but a few seconds in the microwave brought them back even the next day (for the few that were left over). I also slit one in half and toasted it with ham inside, like a very thin bagel. It worked admirably.

New-obsessions week, day 2: Cold-pressed iced coffee

Iced coffee and French press

Okay, so coffee is not a new obsession. But this is something new for me: iced coffee at home.

I am a travesty of an American. Don’t tell the people who gave me that certificate, but we don’t have a coffee machine in our house. We drink instant coffee here, mostly. (This also makes me a very bad European. Sorry, everyone.)

But we do have a cafetière, otherwise known as a French press, otherwise known as a plungy-thingy [imagine me doing dodgy-looking hand movements to indicate the plunging]. And we have a fridge. And I bought some ground coffee in a bag. But the special thing about this is that it’s cold-press coffee, which makes it even easier, as well as smoother and deliciouser. All you need to do is remember to make it before you go to bed.

1. Put four heaped tablespoons of coffee grounds (or more) in the French press.
2. Fill it up with cold water. Stir a little. Do not plunge yet.
3. Put it in the fridge overnight.
4. Get up on a warm summer’s morning. Open fridge. Plunge, and pour into a nice tall glass.
5. Add ice cubes*, milk, and a straw.

* I do not have ice cubes. This is the other reason they’ll throw me out of the country, but if we had ice cubes the children would do nothing but take them out of the freezer, play with them, and crunch them up for their dinner. Besides, I don’t want to dilute my lovely coffee with anything but some nice creamy milk.

You can play around with the quantities until you get the strength you like best – this is weakish, but if you use ice, you might want it stronger. Keep the rest in a sealed jar (or just where it is) for tomorrow and the next day, unless you need to drink the whole thing in one morning.

You can also make a simple syrup to sweeten it a little, or just stir in some sugar if you’re not fussy. I’m sure I’ll get around to that some day soon, but for now I’ve just been enjoying mine along with a rhubarb muffin from the freezer for second breakfast after my workout.

Tune in tomorrow for my new all-purpose household and beauty obsession.

Accidental quiche

I remembered late in the day that I was supposed to bring some food to Monday night’s board meeting – an appetizer or dessert, because it was at 6.30 and some people wouldn’t have had time to eat. There wasn’t much in the fridge, I didn’t even have a lemon handy to make scones or muffins, and I knew someone else had already taken the chocolate option.

So my brain, as it sometimes does, lit upon probably the most complicated thing possible and decided that was the obvious choice. I would use that lone zucchini (courgette) in the salad drawer and the leftover cream from a cake at the weekend, and make mini quiches.

My brain also decided it was too good for recipes, or couldn’t find anything just exactly right, and so thought it would wing it. This could have been disastrous, but by happy chance things came together deliciously and I ended up with some very nice mini quiches.

But then we had nothing for our own dinner, so I decided we should keep the quiches because there weren’t enough for everyone at the meeting, and that I’d make some healthy blueberry muffins (frozen blueberries) instead. I ended up bringing seven quiches and some slightly odd-looking mini muffins (all the blueberries stuck to the pan), and I’m sure everyone thought I was a terrible overachiever.

Apologies for the approximate quantities, but I eyeballed the liquids.

Zucchini (and ham) mini-quiches

Pastry:
1 cup (200g) flour (I used white wholewheat flour)
Pinch salt
4oz (100g) butter (I used some spreadable Dairygold I had in the fridge, which might be what led to the very soft texture of this dough)
1 tablespoon cold water

Filling:
1 zucchini (or any vegetable, probably)
About half a small onion
A slice of deli ham (if you have it, or want it)
Some feta, if you had any, would be a delicious addition
Two eggs
A large splash of heavy cream (if you happen to have some hanging around)
As much milk as it takes to get what looks like the right amount of filling
A good grating of parmesan
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Turn your oven to 400F.

I made the pastry in the food processor. Put the flour, salt, and butter in the bowl, and pulse until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the water through the tube, pouring slowly. You might need a little more – I was surprised that the dough came together after just one tablespoon. Remove from the processor, smush into a ball, and chill in the fridge for half an hour, if you can spare it.

Meanwhile, finely chop the onion and cut the zucchini into 1/4-1/2 inch cubes. Saute them in a little olive oil until soft but not mushy – maybe five minutes over medium-low heat. Cut your ham into little squares and mix it in with the vegetables. If you have some feta, put that in too.

Mix the eggs, cream, and parmesan in a measuring jug, and then add as much milk as you think will make enough filling. I had perhaps 16oz (500ml) in the end. Better to have too much than too little. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Take the pastry out of the fridge and knead it a little on a floured surface, before rolling it out as thinly as you can. This dough seemed scarily soft to me as I rolled it out, but it stayed together and turned out deliciously. I don’t know if it was the flour or the butter or the weather that did it, but I can’t swear yours will be just this good.

Use a cookie cutter or a drinking glass to cut circles to fit your well-greased muffin tin or mini-pie pan (I used my mince-pie tin, imported at vast expense from Ireland, but they probably sell something similar here too). Put a circle of dough in each hole, pressing it out to fit the shape, and then prick the base all over with a fork.

(I was afraid at this juncture that I’d made a huge mistake because now my filling would run through the holes, but that didn’t seem to happen.)

Bake the pastry cases blind (that just means with nothing in them) for 10-15 minutes at 400F. Take them out when they’re still pale – don’t wait for them to be golden brown. Take it out and (carefully – remember how hot the tin is) spoon an equal amount of the zucchini mixture into each piecrust. Then pour over the thick and creamy egg mixture to fill each one up.

Bake for about 20 minutes more, turning the oven down a bit to 375F or so, until the top is set and starting to turn brown. Cool before serving, but they’re delicious still a little warm.

I had a bit more filling than pastry, so I made three muffin-sized crustless quiches with the rest.

Zucchini mini-quiches in pan
If I’d known how well they were going to turn out, I’d have taken more photos

Spanish-ish dinner

I spent a year in Spain as a student, have I mentioned that before? I must have. I usually describe it as a year “studying”, with heavy air quotes, as it took place between my second and third year of college and sufficed to turn my plain old BA degree into a much more high-falutin’ BA (Int.). They hadn’t quite ironed out the process of the Erasmus year at my home university, though, and told us frankly before we left that though we were quite entitled to take the end-of-year exams in Spain and count them towards our final degree, we’d in all probability do better at home (where our Spanish-literature courses were taken through English, for one thing).

How they thought this would entice us to actually attend classes all year I don’t know. I was the most studious of the four from our University, and even I only attended everything I was meant to in the first term, about half my classes after Christmas (the 9.30am modern-literature class was first to go), and nothing at all by summer term. When some members of our department came out to see how we were getting on, at Easter, only one of us was even in town* – and she was the one who’d barely gone to a class at all. She was running a lucrative and enterprising English-language teaching business, but had to employ her considerable acting talents and bullshitting skills to convince the visitors that we were all going to class every day. She may have been rumbled by the end of the night, but at least she got a fancy dinner out of it. (*One had a green card and had gone back to America “early” for the summer, I was sightseeing in Lisbon with some friends, and the third was also in Portugal, busking with an American mate and two guitars.)

Anyway. What I did learn that year, apart from a lot about beer, was to cook for myself. It was the first time I’d lived away from home, and once I stopped going to the university cafeteria, a few of us used to make dinner together every afternoon. We’d make an outing of it and vote on our choice, which almost always came down to creamy pasta or tomatoey pasta. Gradually, however, under the tutelage of someone’s Spanish housemates, our repertoire broadened and we learned to make arroz a la cubana, tortilla de patatas, and lentejas (that’s lentils). As well as calimocho. (That’s cheap red wine mixed with cola.)

Towards the end of the year, when the other foreign students were studing for exams, my fellow Dubliners and I (except the one who’d gone to San Francisco in February) were finding new and delightfully empty bars. One was a little tapas bar called El Cielo (Heaven) where on a Monday night we’d be the only patrons, and the barman (Jesús, of course) would give us a little lesson on how to suck our red wine through the slice of chorizo already in our mouth, to marry the two flavours in the most intense way possible. (We never paid for real tapas, because we had no money to spare. So the free stuff at the bar was all we got, and since this was the centre of Spain rather than the south, a few slices of chorizo and some bread was as much as there was to pick at. If Jesús was feeling generous, he’d even let us have some shavings of jamón serrano and maybe a black olive or two while he polished all the glasses for the second time that day.)

Spanish chorizo is hard to find in the US, especially when people often take chorizo to mean the spicy Mexican sort of uncooked sausage. Spanish chorizo is a type of salami, garlicky and paprika-y, cured and dried and ready to eat – though of course you can fry it up to release some of that delicious fat and make it even tastier. I hadn’t cooked with it for an age, but I came across some in our local supermarket last week and decided to invest a few dollars in some memories. It has worked out very well.

Egg and chorizo scramble

First, I fried up a little as a background accent to a pasta and kale dinner. Next I used a little with a scrambled egg and some spinach leaves in a pita pocket for a two-minute lunch. And tonight I used a bit more with chicken and all the spanish flavours I could think of, and the aromas as it simmered transported me back to Valladolid and apparently inspired all that remeniscence you just waded through. So I decided to share it with you, in all its glorious inauthenticity.

About an inch and a half of Spanish chorizo, diced
1 sweet onion, chopped
2 large cloves of garlic (or more), finely chopped
1 chicken breast
3 tablespoons of flour
About half a teaspoon of paprika
1 red bell pepper, chopped
Red wine, about half a glass, perhaps, if you can spare it
1 can of white beans, drained and rinsed
1 can of fire-roasted tomatoes
Good shake of dried oregano
Salt and pepper

First I fried the diced chorizo in a dry pan. Then I stirred in the onion and garlic and let it all soften in the chorizo fat. I put that much in a bowl to one side and added a bit of olive oil to the pan. I mixed the flour and paprika on a plate and tossed the chicken in it before browning it in the pan, and then threw the onion and chorizo back in, along with the red bell pepper. Once all that was hot again, I sloshed in some red wine and inhaled the memories as the alcohol bubbled off. Finally, I added the beans and tomatoes, and some water – about half the capacity of the tomato tin, to pick up the leftovers in there. I sprinkled over a good shake of oregano, some black pepper and about a 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and some red pepper flakes for a little heat. Then I let it all simmer for 20 minutes until the liquid had thickened into a delicious sauce.

You could have it on rice or even with mash, but we just ate it with crusty bread as we had some left over and it works well to mop up the sauce. You could use pork instead of chicken, but you’d probably want to simmer it all for longer, depending on the cut. I won’t say it’s authentic Spanish food, but it tasted good. I served it on top of some baby spinach leaves, just for extra vitamins and some green.

Of course, if you’re not trying to stretch one chicken breast into a healthy dinner for four**, you could just fry the chorizo with the garlic and skip straight to the bread part and put all the wine in your glass, and experiment with sucking the wine through the chorizo in your mouth, and that would be transcendentally glorious too.

** No, of course my children didn’t eat this. Even if they didn’t have stomach viruses, there’s no way on earth they would eat this. So in our house, that’s dinner for the grown ups for two nights.

Good deeds and pumpkin bread

Remember Hurricane Sandy? Way back when? Oh so long ago, before Halloween and Mabel’s birthday and November started and all that stuff. We bunked in the basement and the wind blew and things got wet. Ancient history, right?

But not so much for people in New Jersey and New York who are still deep, deep in the throes of cleaning up, recalibrating their lives, starting over, and somehow at the same time getting through the day-to-day requirements of staying warm and fed and dry. Not to mention the fact that nature threw a snowstorm at them a week ago.

Justine lives in New Jersey, and she’s going to use her lovely blog for even more good than usual – as if thoughtful posts, delicious food, and lovely pictures weren’t enough – by hosting an online auction for bloggers’ baked goods on November 26th. As I both blog and bake, I offered to take part. You can read more about it here, and I’ll link again when it’s happening. I predict there will be delicious things available for a really good cause, so you might want to bear it in mind.

Baking a Difference for the Garden State logo

I won’t be making pumpkin bread for it, as a loaf would be pretty heavy to ship, but apparently there’s a great outcry for this, perhaps by now my signature recipe. It’s certainly one thing I bake that both children will eagerly eat.

I found it on the internet somewhere but I’m afraid I’ve no idea where at this point, and the addition of chocolate chips is my own, so it’s almost original. Or else so ubiquitous that it can’t belong to anyone.

Pumpkin Bread
(chocolate chips optional but recommended)

1.5 cups (200g) all-purpose flour (or you could probably use half white, half wholewheat)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice

1 cup (200g) white (granulated) sugar
1 cup (200g) pumpkin puree (half a 14oz tin)
1/2 cup (120ml) vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/4 cup (60ml) water

1/2 cup (85g) chocolate chips (I like semi-sweet)

Mix the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices together in a large bowl.
Mix the rest of the ingredients except the chocolate chips in a medium bowl.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry, mixing until just combined.
Mix in the chocolate chips.
Pour into a prepared loaf tin and bake at 350 F (180 C) for one hour or until a skewer comes out clean (without hitting a chocolate chip).

P.S. What do you think of the new banner? Seasonal, yes, but does it make the title hard to read or not? Feedback welcome.

Seasonal produce

I am here to tell you that if you didn’t think you liked eggplant (or aubergine, because we’re fancy like that in Ireland) it’s because you were doing it wrong. Specifically, like me, you may have never bothered to salt and drain it, because who has time for that sort of thing? People who know how delicious it makes eggplant, that’s who. I just recently bothered, for the first time, to take my eggplant out a bit ahead of time – an hour is good, in the morning is great – slice it thickly, and spread the slices out on some kitchen paper. Then I shake salt all over them, both sides, top with more kitchen paper (paper towels, whatever you call ’em), and weigh it all down with a few hefty cookbooks. I just did it now while my waffle popped out of the toaster, and the butter still melted by the time I was done.

Later on, when you put the eggplant into whatever you want – this, perhaps, or just ratatouille, or vegetarian lasagne, which is what I’m planning today – it will turn out to be both chewy and creamy, and a most wonderful vehicle for the garlic that I exhort you to use liberally. If I was Nigella Lawson, the word unctuous would be bursting forth right about now, but I’m not, so I won’t go quite that far.

The other thing I’ve been doing lately is massaging my kale. (I told Facebook about it and got a few entertainingly salacious comments. My work there is done.) From being a person who never even thought about kale to one who decided she didn’t like it, I have lately come down heavily in favour of the curly dark-green leaves. It started with this recipe for quinoa salad with kale and cranberries, which I ate for most of the summer. A little fiddly what with the roasting of the walnuts, but totally addictive. You can leave out the shallot (or even the onion) if that’s too much trouble, and you won’t miss it.

But then I got even lazier, and decided cooking the kale was too much trouble for a salad. And I remembered something a friend had said once, in my pre-kale-eating days (when I was offloading a bunch of donated kale onto her, actually, because I didn’t think I’d use it) about massaging kale. How ridiculous, I thought. Maybe you and your kale are on those sort of terms, but I prefer to keep mine at fork’s length, thank you. But about a week ago, I googled “massaged kale” and came up with all sorts of perfectly reasonable suggestions. Basically, you put your (washed and de-stemmed) leaves in a bowl with a shake of salt and a sprinkle of oil, and you work it with your hands until the fibres break down, turning this tough saute-only veg into a perfectly nice wilted salad leaf. (I have been told that you can also just leave it alone for an hour or so and the dressing will do the work on its own, but I like instant gratification.)

Then you can put a bit of what you fancy on top and call it salad. Some dried cranberries and a shake of roasted sunflower seeds with a drizzle of red wine vinegar or avocado and lemon juice are two versions I tried last week, but there are a ton of options. I think you need something a little sweet to counterbalance the leaves, but probably just a pinch of sugar or a drop of honey in your dressing would do the trick quite well.

Unfortunately, I have yet to figure out how to stop getting hungry again at 2pm when I’ve had a big bowl of kale salad for lunch at midday. When I find out, I’ll let you know, because otherwise it seems like an ideal way to counteract the effects of the muffins.