Earl Grey cupcakes

October 30, 2009 § 6 Comments

I think I’ve become obsessed with cupcakes. Truly. Especially putting flowers and leaves in them, for some bizarre reason, because it always seems to turn out the best ever cakes I’ve eaten – and I don’t usually have a sweet-tooth. Now, before you start saying I’m tooting my own horn, try making these and then tell me it’s not better than the usual victoria sandwich you crack out at tea-time.

My fascination with Earl Grey tea is no secret, that’s for sure. I have turned many to its wily wonders, including my best friend Tim. Earl Grey is a distinctly British tea, having been presented to the second Earl Grey, the British Prime Minister in the 1830s. As the story goes, he was gifted with a present of tea leaves flavoured with the oil of the bergamot fruit, extracted from its rind. There’s different variations on the original Earl Grey tea, including French Earl Grey which apparently has additional rose petal flavouring (oooh) and also a concoction called “London Fog” which comprises of Earl Grey tea, steamed milk and vanilla syrup – a delicious combination. Incredibly rich in antioxidants, Earl Grey tea is an all-round winner when it comes to everyday tea-drinking.

Earl Grey tea leaves

So why put them in cupcakes? Well, why not? It seems as though the contents of teabags are perfectly delicious when added to cupcake batter, so it was time to test the theory out. The result is a tea-time treat that is a wonderful substitute between a tea-bread and a cake, that you can have with tea or quickly munch on the go. It’ll even give you a bit of a caffeine boost! To make about 15-20 cupcakes (give or take a few) you’ll need:

  • 120g unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 240g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 360g self-raising flour
  • 120ml milk
  • 1 tbsp Earl Grey tea (or 1 tea bag)

Ingredients

First you’ll want to preheat our oven to 175°C and line your cupcake tray with cases, alternatively greasing it generously. Beat the butter until creamy, adding the sugar and creaming them together until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Creaming butter and sugar

Then add the eggs one at a time, beating them well until properly combined to produce a smooth mixture.

Added eggs

At this point, you put the tea leaves into a pestle and mortar and grind until powdery, so you won’t get a mouthful of leaf when you eventually take a bite out of the cupcakes. Then add half of the flour to the egg mixture with the ground tea, mixing well. Add the milk to loosen the mixture a little, then the remaining flour, stirring until just combined.

Stirring in milk

While you’re adding the milk, the mixture will resemble cookies and cream ice cream but should become more sticky and firm after the second half of the flour is combined. Fill your cupcake cases with the batter so that they are two-thirds full. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

Batter and baked

Larger cakes

When you take the cupcakes out of the oven, cool them on a wire rack and then you can serve them with some tea (Earl Grey is you must) or eat them as they are. They’re really quite the treat, and as a thoughtful gift you could bake up a batch of these and give them with a tin of loose Earl Grey tea.

Earl Grey tea and cupcake

Olive, sweetcorn and parmesan pasta

October 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

I do apologise for the long delay between this post and my last – it’s been very hectic around here! Following my last recipe, Diwali celebrations were in full swing and the parents were preparing to depart to India the following weekend, so cooking up dishes has been a little bit difficult. I only have a tidbit for now, as I’m planning something deliciously wicked with chilli-flavoured chocolate, which will be making its way to you soon. I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful scent of lilies that filled our kitchen when making this dish – a relative brought over a bouquet to our dinner party and now all the lilies are in full bloom. They smell wonderful.

Lilies

Quick pasta dishes are a godsend. When your stomach is growling and having a general tantrum, what better than a quick carbohydrate boost to keep it happy and smiling for a few hours? They’re great for lunch, a quick snack, even a family dinner if you’ve got young ‘uns who aren’t the most patient angels. Plus, you can pack them full of vegetables to fulfil some of your 5-a-day requirements, or meat for something more wholesome.

Storecupboard ingredients can go quite a long way for a quick pasta, if you don’t have the time to gather up a plethora of fresh ingredients. Cans of sweetcorn or jars of olives can last a long, long time and there’s always bound to be some lurking around at the back of the cupboard on a rainy day.

Olives and sweetcorn

However, most pasta dishes benefit from having a little touch of authenticity, such as parmesan, or mozzarella cheese, as these ingredients bring together the tastes in the dish. Parmesan (actually called Parmigiano Reggiano)  is an Italian hard cheese that can be aged from a minium of 12-14 months, up until 2 years. When I visited the Taste Festival in Regents Park this summer, one stall had three types of parmesan that had been aged for different periods and the longer it is aged for, the more complex the taste… truly lovely – especially with port!

Parmesan

So, onto the pasta. You’ll need:

  • About 100-150g of pasta per person, penne is usually the best to go for
  • 6-10 olives,evenly sliced
  • 1 can sweetcorn
  • A jar of basic tomato sauce (or you can make your own with 400g chopped tomatoes, 1tbsp tomato puree, drizzle of olive oil, pinch of salt and sugar, and herbs to taste)
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 20g grated parmesan

Pasta

Put your pasta in a pan of salted boiling water to cook while you make the sauce. Drain the pasta after 12-15 minutes, depending on whether you want the pasta al dente or softer. In a separate saucepan, heat 1tbsp of olive oil and add the chopped onion and garlic. Fry for about 5 minutes or until the onion has become translucent. Then add the tomato sauce, bring to the boil and then simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain the sweetcorn and rinse with a little cold water. Add the sliced olives and sweetcorn to the sauce and stir thoroughly. Then stir in half the grated parmesan into the sauce, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Once you have drained the pasta, add it to the sauce and combine the two. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle the remaining parmesan over the top. There you have it – a meal that takes a maximum of 20 minutes to prepare and will be on the table before you know it.

Olive, sweetcorn and parmesan pasta

Vegetable moussaka with harissa

October 15, 2009 § 1 Comment

Yesterday was my sister’s 26th birthday. We started off the day by surprising her in her bed at 7AM with a coffee cake and a big box of chocolates, and while she was at work I planned out a birthday dinner for her. I wanted to make something with Middle Eastern influences, but really fresh flavours, so eventually settled on the idea of a vegetable moussaka. The last time I made moussaka for the family it felt like there was something missing from the tomato base, which made it a somewhat plain dish – tasty but not incredibly interesting. This time, I decided to use harissa to flavour the tomato sauce, which provided it with a much-needed kick that completely transformed the dish.

Moussaka comes in several different forms, as varying versions of the dish are made across the Middle East. The Greek dish is often layered with potato, aubergine (or courgette), lamb mince and a tomato sauce that includes kidney beans. However, Arab versions of the dish usually don’t layer the vegetables, giving the dish more of a stew-like appearance and taste. The Greek version of moussaka is the one I went with, layering aubergines, potatoes, cheese and tomato sauce to create a more substantial dish that kept together more easily when serving.

Harissa on the other hand, is used in a wide range of Middle Eastern dishes, from Tunisian to Moroccan dishes, but also in North African cuisine. It’s basically a chilli paste flavoured with various spices to create a hot condiment or ingredient for a wide range of recipes. The chilli peppers are usually smoked and combined with garlic to create the base for harissa, after which a combination of spices or peppers, tomatoes, even rose petals are added. I used rose harissa (from the world foods section of Sainsburys) which worked brilliantly with the flavours in this dish to combine Greek influences with Moroccan and Turkish tastes.

Vegetables and harissa

Making moussaka is fairly easy once you’ve done it a couple of times, but there are a number of stages which means you need a whole kitchen to yourself to get it done. The moussaka is made in two parts: filling and base.

For the filling you’ll need:

  • 2 large potatoes, peeled
  • 5 tbsp olive oil (or soya oil)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 2-4 tsp harissa paste
  • 1 tsp dried or fresh oregano
  • a pinch of ground cinnamon
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 x 400g can of red kidney beans (drain these and rinse gently under a cold tap)
  • 2 aubergines, sliced
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Start off by boiling the potatoes until they are tender, then drain them and slice into 5mm pieces. Separately, in a heavy based saucepan, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and fry the onion and garlic gently until softened (which is usually around 5 minutes).

Frying onion and garlic

Add the tomatoes, harissa paste, oregano, cinnamon, sugar and tomato purée. Then bring the tomato sauce to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat some of the remaining oil in a large frying pan and fry the aubergine slices in batches until just soft and golden-brown on both sides. Add more oil as you go along because as you’ll notice, aubergine really soaks up oil quickly.

Tomato sauce and fryinng aubergines

Your aubergine slices should be coming along nicely while you simmer the sauce. Set the fried slices aside on kitchen paper as you fry each batch in a single layer.

Fried aubergine slices

Going back to your tomato sauce, once your 10 minutes are up, remove the cover and add the kidney beans, seasoning and parsley. Then re-cover and simmer for a further 20 minutes.

Adding kidney beans and frying aubergine

Now you can preheat your oven to 190°C and get started on making your topping. Traditionally, moussaka has a yoghurt-based topping or cheese sauce topping that has eggs whipped into it, but as Diwali started from the next day (as in today) I decided to substitute the usual topping (which I didn’t really find appealing anyway) with a basic cheese sauce, for which you’ll need:

  • 20g butter
  • 20g flour
  • 400ml milk (full-fat is the best to use for this sauce)
  • 100g cheddar cheese, grated plus extra for sprinkling and middle layers (can be up to around 250g altogether)
  • 20g parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • ½ tsp mustard

Cheddar and Parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a gentle heat, adding the flour gradually and stirring well for 2 minutes to avoid lumps. Then pour the milk in gradually, beating well with a wooden spoon to a make a smooth, thin sauce. Simmer and stir until the sauce begins to thicken. Then add the mustard, stir well, the gradually add cheese to taste, stirring until fully melted. Add a little grated Parmesan (around 5-10g) to the mixture and stir well again. At this point, a pinch of nutmeg, salt and freshly ground pepper and a pinch of parsley will really brighten up the cheese sauce and bring out some delicious flavours.

Cheese sauce

Now to assemble the dish. In a large 9 inch square dish (lasagne dish will be suitable), spoon a layer of the tomato mixture, then arrange aubergine slices in a single layer, then a layer of grated cheese, topped with potato slices. Repeat and continue the layering, finishing with a layer of the aubergine slices. Pour over the topping and sprinkle with the remaining cheddar cheese, then grating the remaining Parmesan over the dish. Transfer the dish to the oven and bake for approximately an hour, or until bubbling and golden-brown on top. Remove from the oven and stand for 10 minutes before eating.

You can serve the dish with an olive, feta cheese and tomato salad if you want. Dress the salad with a good glug of extra virgin olive oil, a splash of lemon juice, freshly ground black pepper and some chopped mint. And there you have it! A delicious Middle Eastern moussaka with delicious harissa, which is not too spicy, but not too plain either. This dish is perfectly complemented by a New Zealand 2008 Sauvignon Blanc.

Moussaka

Chamomile cupcakes with a lemon glaze

October 6, 2009 § Leave a comment

A horrible, dreary day. It’s been pouring with rain since I woke up at 8 in the morning. I find the best way to turn a miserable morning around is a damn good cupcake. Having scored points with the family with my lavender cupcakes (recipe coming soon), I decided to do something a little different. Continuing on from the comfort foods theme, I thought about drinks that bring comfort and apart from a big mug of tea, chamomile tea is the first beverage that comes to mind.

Miserable morning!

Chamomile’s a notoriously relaxing herb that is often drunk as a tea for the purpose of promoting sleep, or soothing a sore stomach and various other conditions. The dried flowers are used in teabags, and I used these flowers to flavour the cupcakes. Chamomile is usually complemented by honey and lemon, however as these cupcakes are quite sweet as it is, I decided to leave out the honey.

Chamomile flowers

So how do you get from tea to cupcakes? Well, the lavender cupcakes were lovely – aromatic to be precise, so why wouldn’t other flowers produce a yummy combination? Testing that theory was a good idea, these were so delicious…

These quantities will make about 24-30 cupcakes:

  • 225g unsalted butter (at room temperature)
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs (at room temperature)
  • 3 bags of chamomile tea (I used Whittard’s)
  • 270g self-raising flour
  • 180ml milk

First, preheat your oven to 175°C and line your cupcake tray with cases, or grease it generously. Then you’ll want to cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Once smooth (and no lumps of butter remain), crack the eggs in one at a time and beat each of them for at least half a minute before adding the next one to ensure that they are fully combined. Mix in the contents of the teabags.

The flour and milk need to be added gradually, alternating between the wet and dry ingredients, ending with the flour. Stir until just smooth. Spoon the mixture into cupcake cases and bake for about 20 minutes or until a cocktail stick comes out clean when poked in the middle.

Batter

They’ll be a beautiful golden colour when they come out, and if some look a little pale, don’t worry it’s just the milk. If you leave them in too long they’ll get hard!

Baked!

Once they’re out the oven, cool the cupcakes before drizzling over the lemon glaze – which you’ve yet to make! It’s a really simple lemon glaze:

  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 6 tbsp icing sugar (also known as confectioner’s sugar in some parts)
  • you can add 1 tsp of lemon rind if you really want to, but I couldn’t be bothered…)

Spoon the lemon juice over the icing sugar and mix well. The glaze should be slightly yellow-tinged and fairly syrupy. If it’s not enough you can make more with a 1:2 lemon juice to sugar ratio.

Lemon glaze

Then you’re ready to spoon the lemon glaze over the cupcakes. Just drizzle.. it’s not supposed to set as a hard opaque layer, but rather a transparent/translucent kind of sticky layer. Let it set for a moment, and then they’re ready to eat. These are guaranteed to put a smile back on your face!

Cupcakes

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