Experiments with Polenta –

Half term has just finished ūüė¶

Making the most of ‘time’, I’ve been doing some seasonal Spring Cleaning‚Ķ therapeutic.

Going through the cupboards, I found that we had rather a glut of polenta.

So to correct the balance of ‘store cupboard essentials’, we had a polenta evening, trying lots of different polenta dishes. ¬†Here are the top two: Orange polenta cake steeped in fruit syrup,¬†&¬†Mushroom herb polenta – more tricky to make, but an education in polenta cooking if like us you’re not familiar with it. ¬†I have to say, I ¬†always just thought of polenta as something which lacked good looks and taste, even when served in the smartest restaurants, and never really ‘got‘ it..!

Mushroom, Herb & Polenta 'Pizza'.

Ottolenghi’s Mushroom, Herb & Polenta ‘Pizza’.

Orange Polenta Cake with orange syrup.

Orange Polenta Cake with orange syrup.

Mushroom Herb Polenta; like a homemade pizza.  Bubbling with mushroom juices, grilled cheese & fragrant herbs.  Orange Polenta cake; lovely for desert with a dollop of creme fraiche; equally good for tea the next day.

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Ottolenghi’s Mushroom & Herb Polenta. ¬†Vegetarian.

We found it best to let the prepared polenta rest a little before use, allowing it to settle.

I’d love to hear what other people do with polenta – do let me know (I’ve still got quite a stash in the cupboard!) ¬†We used thyme and sage in this recipe, as they both needed trimming ready for their spring growth!

http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/mushroom-and-herb-polenta-shop

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Orange Polenta cake with Orange Syrup.  Vegetarian.

Light, textured and aromatic – a grown up cake to serve with rich ice cream, creme fraiche and / or dark berry compote. ¬†It’s plain, not a stunner – but simple is sometimes good…

250g softened butter

250g sugar (I used unbleached cane sugar)

4 large eggs

140g polenta

200g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

Grated zest and juice of 2 large oranges.  Grate gently or the zest will be bitter.  Save 100ml juice for syrup.

Orange Syrup – 100ml orange juice and 100g sugar.

Line a round 23cm cake tin with baking paper.  I used a smaller tin with only 2/3 of the mixture and it was perfect, so adjust carefully to suit your needs.

Heat oven to 160 / 140 / gas 3.

Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Gradually add eggs, beating well.  Feel the burn in those arms!

Reserve 100ml juice for syrup in a small saucepan.  Add the rest, with zest and dry ingredients to the creamed butter & sugar, sifting in flour and polenta.

Gently plop into the tin and smooth the top.  Bake in the oven for around 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre.

Make the syrup by gently dissolving sugar in remaining orange juice over a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Once dissolved, bring to the boil then simmer for 5 minutes to reduce & thicken slightly.

Slowly pour the syrup over the cake, allowing it to seep in.  I did this before taking the cake out of the baking paper, to stop the syrup from running off.

Allow to cool on a wire rack. ¬†Enjoy – some people won’t like the texture of the polenta, but I think it’s quite sophisticated‚Ķ I’m going to try this again in late summer, with lavender flowers in the syrup to give it a more floral aroma.

Recipe from the fab¬†BBC good food website. ¬†What’s your favourite recipe website?

Kitchen cupboard - a bit more sorted, but will never be 'tidy'!

So for the moment, my kitchen cupboard is¬†sorted, but it’ll never be ‘tidy‘!

Start the day with Zest – Lime marmelade muffins.

Last year it was all about Cupcakes…

This year, it’s Muffins.

P1000145They’re so very very easy – they could almost be called a convenience food. ¬†But a fun one – and one that you can be sure only contains good things. ¬† ¬†¬†And they’re a great subject for experimentation – you can make an unlimited range of flavours quick and easily – and because they’re batter based, there’s no need to soften butter, or for creaming, or any special skills.

Give them a go – you wouldn’t believe the transformation from lumpy, unattractive batter that goes into the oven to the domed little beauties that come out – magic!

Here’s a recipe to give you a tangy lift in the morning – best eaten ¬†still warm from the oven… yum!

Makes 12 muffins.

Preheat oven to 400F, 200C, Gas 6.

1/4 cup butter, melted

2/3 cup marmalade (I use lime marmalade for an extra zing)

2 cups self raising flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs – lightly beaten

3/4 cup milk

2 tsp lemon or lime zest, and 2 tp orange zest

1.  Line your muffin tin with 12 muffin cases.

2.  Heat butter and 1/3 cup marmalade gently to melt together.  Stir and cool.

3.  In a large bowl, sift self raising flour and baking powder.

4.  Make a well in the centre of the flour.

5.  In a small bowl or jug, combine eggs, milk, zest/s and butter marmalade mixture.

6.  Add liquid to the flour in one go and stir a little Рit should stay lumpy Рif you over mix it, the muffins will have hard tops.

6.  Fill cases 2/3 full with batter.  Bake until golden brown Рaround 15 Р20 minutes.

7.  The muffins are ready when a skewer or thin knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

8.  While they are cooking, make the glaze for the muffins Рgently heat 1/3 cup marmalade.

9.  Brush glaze over the hot muffins and serve warm, or transfer to a wire rack to cool.

What are your favourite muffins – do you make them yourself, or where do you buy them from?

Apple Cake Experimentation – 3 recipes that came out as winners.

We’ve been experimentating with different apple cake styles and recipes over the winter.

It’s been interesting, made the house smell wonderful and provided us with a great excuse to have the oven on, which has helped the log burner heat up the kitchen – win, win, win!

Here are the recipes for three of our favourites – all very different.

Recipe 1 –¬†

Chunky Apple & Plum Loaf Cake.           

ImageThis is a great way to use up not only older apples, but also the last bit of jam in the jar (or have a clear out, and finish those last smidgens from lots of pots!)

We made it in a loaf tin… just for a change, but you could use a regular round tin if you prefer – use a 1Kg / 2Lb loaf tin or a 20 cm round tin lined with baking paper.

This recipe is adapted from one found in BBC Good Food Magazine.

We used Plum jam, so ours was an¬†apple and plum¬†cake, but consult with your almost empty jam jars then decide what you’re going to make –

250g / 9oz Self Raising Flour

175g / 6oz butter (I always use butter rather than spread in cakes & pastry as I think it tastes better)

175g / 6 oz Muscovado Sugar (or demerara, or white if you don’t have Muscovado)

1/2 tsp Cinnamon

3 Small Eating Apples – Peeled & cut into medium sized chunks

2 Large Eggs, Beaten

1 tsp Baking Powder

Jam & 2 x Rounded Tbs Demerara Sugar for top

1.   Preheat oven to 170c or Gas 4.  Line loaf or cake tin with baking paper.

2.   Rub the flour, butter and muscovado sugar together to make fine breadcrumbs.  Reserve 5 Tbs of this mixture and mix it with cinnamon and demerara sugar for topping.  Set this reserved mixture aside.

3.   Mix apple chunks and eggs.

4. ¬† Stir baking powder into rubbed in mixture, then quickly and lightly stir in the egg mixture – don’t over mix.

5.   Spoon into the tin Рif you have enough jam, you can dollop some jam in as you spoon cake mixture in.

6. ¬† Dollop rest of jam on the top – we made a little rut along the middle of our loaf cake, and put jam along the middle – good idea to keep it away from the sides of the tin as you don’t want the jam to burn

7.   Spoon reserved crumble / sugar over the top, avoiding jam.

8. ¬† Bake in your preheated oven for 1 hour and 10 or 20 minutes – test with a skewer & it’s cooked when skewer comes out clean. ¬†Cover with foil after about 50 minutes.

9.   Once cooked, leave in tin for around 30 minutes then cool on a wire rack (or eat hot!)

Recipe 2 – Apple Cake with Syrup.

ImageThis is a very different cake, made with semolina – higher in protein than flour. ¬†This cake has no added fat and the main sweetener is the maple syrup. ¬†There are different grades of ‘maple syrup’ sold, and as always you get what you pay for – genuine maple syrup has a low GI in contrast to cheaper varieties, which often contain a low element of maple syrup (therefore less taste) and often have a much higher GI. ¬†This is great with greek yougort or vanilla ice cream.

The recipe here was adapted from http://www.weighitup.com.au

Line a 20 – 22 cm cake tin, or make in a flapjack type tin – 32 x 22 cm, lined.

Heat oven to 180c or gas 4.

4 eggs
¬Ĺ cup ¬†sugar
250g semolina
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup water
¬Ĺ cup quick oats
800g stewed Apples
¬Ĺ cup flaked almonds – optional

Syrup:
1 cup water
¬ľ cup ¬†sugar
¬ĺ cup¬† Maple Syrup

1.   Mix eggs and sugar with a whisk until light, creamy and thick.

2.   Add some of the semolina, then some of the water and vanilla.  Add the rest of the semolina, baking powder, water, vanilla and oats. Mix well.

3.   Mix in apples.

4.   Spread into tin. Sprinkle with almonds if using them.

5.   Bake for 20 Р25 minutes if using a flapjack style tin, or longer if using a cake tin Рit is ready when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

6. ¬† Allow the cake to cool. ¬†Heat the syrup for a little while in a small saucepan – don’t let it burn, but do let it thicken a little. ¬†Then pour it over the cake – slowly so it soaks in.

Recipe 3 – Apple, Sunflower seed and Honey Cake.

ImageSunflower seeds are great little packets of goodness – they contain lots of vitamin E, which has been said to help to reduce cholsterol. ¬†They also contain a lot of magnesium, which is needed for strong healthy bones and also for regulating the flow of calcium to the blood vessels and muscles. ¬†They also contain ¬†selenium, which has been found in some studies to inhibit cancer cells… and the Vitamin E that they contain is claimed to help prevent UV damage to the skin by the sun.

We made this in a ring tin Рone with a hole in the centre.  We greased it well first, and it turned out wonderfully.

Preheat oven to 170c or Gas 5.

1 cup sunflower seeds.

1/4 cup Honey (heat your measuring cup first by pouring boiling water into it, and this will help honey to run out more cleanly)

1 cup sunflower oil

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

2 cups plain flour mixed with 1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt and 1 tsp ground cinnamon or nutmeg and 1 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups peeled, chopped apple – chop quite small.

Honey to pour over – use a spoon heated by pouring boiling water over it first to help.

1.   Sprinkle some of the sunflower seeds into the greased tin.

2.   Use an electric mixer to beat sugar, honey and oil.

3.   Beat in eggs, one at a time, adding a little flour with the last couple if necessary.

4.   Gently beat in rest of dry ingredients, then fold in vanilla, rest of sunflower seeds & apple.

5.  Cook for 50 Р60 minutes.   Cool in tin for about 10 minutes when taken out of oven.

6.   Turn out onto a wire rack to cool, and very carefully pour over more honey Рit helps this absorb better if you heat the honey gently in a pan first.  You may want to prick the cake gently too, to help absorption.

Delicious served with vanilla ice cream, custard, creme fraiche or greek yogurt.

– Do you have any recipes that you’ve found to be family favourites?

Spring: Rhubarb Custard Cake.

Spring:      Rhubarb custard cake.

A great way to use up homegrown rhubarb ‚Äď this is a very moist, almost damp cake ‚Äď different, but well worth trying‚Ķ

400 g rhubarb stalks, cut into short lengths about 1.5 ‚Äď 2 cm long.

150g custard

250g soft butter

250g sugar

250g self raising flour

Half a tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla essence

4 big eggs

Good quality jam to top cake with ‚Äď strawberry, cherry or raspberry, perhaps (red jam looks pretty with the fleks of pink rhubarb)

Heat Oven to 200c, and line a 23 cm spring clip cake tin with baking paper.

Put the washed and sliced rhubarb into an ovenproof dish, cover with 50 g sugar, then wrap foil tightly over the dish, and bake for about 25 minutes. ¬†When done, drain rhubarb ‚Äď you can drink the juice!

Make some custard ‚Äď if you don‚Äôt have any powder, use cornflower and sugar‚Ķ if you‚Äôre feeling lazy, use ready made. ¬†You need 150 g, but if you‚Äôre making it, may as well make a sensible amount ‚Äď sure it will get eaten!

Take out 3 Tbs custard and set aside.  Put the rest in a large mixing bowl with 250g softened butter, 250 g sugar, 250g Self Raising flour, 4 eggs, half a teaspoon of baking powder, 1 teaspoon vanilla essence, and mix it all well with an electric beater.

Put about a third of the mix into the tin, then layer up with some scattered rhubarb, and more mixture.  Finish with last few bits of rhubarb on top and saved custard blobbed on!

Bake in the oven for about 60 minutes ‚Äď cover with foil towards the end of cooking if you think it‚Äôs getting a bit too coloured.

When a skewer comes out clean it‚Äôs cooked ‚Äď except remember that the custard will remain runny, so a bit tricky to tell!

Again, because of the runny hot custard, and the dampness of the cake due to that and rhubarb, leave in the tin for a little to settle ‚Äď then turn out carefully and remove baking paper.

When ready to serve, top with some good quality strawberry, cherry or raspberry jam… delicious, and even better when still warm.

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