Friday, 24 May 2013

Mullet Muffins: Party on the Top, Business on the Bottom

A few weeks ago we went to visit my in-laws.  Whenever we go to visit I like to bring some sort of homemade baked good with us.  We have some during the visit and then it's a nice way to thank them for having us by leaving the leftovers behind.

This past visit I was posed with a tricky situation as we also have a munchy little toddler on our hands, who is so keyed into food that any sweet treat has to be eaten whilst crouched in a darkened closet at midnight to avoid her doe eyes and smacking lips.  Not that she leads a 100% sugar-free existence... but we are trying to lead by example.

That being said, one can only eat so many wheat germ, whole grain, dried fruit so-called-pastries before wanting to dive head first into a giant bowl of brown sugar and butter.  And it's also not much of a parting gift to leave behind muffins that can only be described as "good for you" or "healthy" (rather than any sort of comment on what they might actually taste like, or any joy that might be derived from tastebuds rather than colons).  The trick was to marry the two, creating what I have decided to name  "mullet muffins"- with a party on the top and business on the bottom.

The Top:

I used Joy the Baker's Coffee Cake Muffin recipe (one of my favourite blogs) for the topping- making a delicious cinnamony struesel that completely distracts from the wholegrain goodness of the bottom.  I think the main reason for my obsession with coffee cake is the struesel on top.  "Struesel" by the way is a fancy (German) word for cinnamony, sugary butter.  Sounds more refined to add struesel to a muffin than the backbone ingredients of Cinnabon 

The Bottom:

I used the old Divertimenti Cafe's muffin recipe, using light wholewheat flour instead of white, lots of greek yoghurt for protein and adding in several heaping handfuls of raspberries.

The result was something I was happy to share with Nell and the in-laws without feeling guilty about either.

Makes 12 muffins

300g/ 21/2 cups wholewheat flour
1 tbs baking Powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs
100g caster sugar
250ml natural greek yoghurt
25g melted butter & a little for lining your muffin tin
½tsp kitchen salt
1tsp vanilla paste
2 big handfuls frozen raspberries

For Struesel Topping
3 tbsp cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
64g/ 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon


To prepare the tins brush them with melted butter and line with flour- or use paper muffin cases.

Melt 125g butter and set aside.

Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl break the eggs and whisk with a fork.  Add the melted butter and yoghurt and stir thoroughly. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and fold together until thoroughly incorporated.

Add the raspberries and stir through.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin tin, dividing it equally.  Combine all ingredients for struesel topping together and mix with your fingers until crumbly.  Sprinkle over each batter-filled tin.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 175C for approximately 20-25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the muffin comes out clean and tops are golden brown. Remove and leave to cool down in the tin for approximately ten minutes before turning out.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Honey-Roasted Lamb

Not two weeks ago I was preparing to share my take on a traditional Sunday roast with my parents, who had flown over from the US for a visit.  After living abroad for nearly seven years now I continue to marvel there are still new and interesting pieces of the culture to experience and share.  This particular spring lamb roast seemed to cover several of those categories and was really a treat to share with my family.

Firstly the lamb.  Lamb is so commonplace in the UK that I had forgotten it's nearly 'exotic meat' status in the US.  Growing up in the Midwest of the US whenever my friends and I would take a road trip we loved to keep ourselves entertained by playing our favourite (made up) car game "Cows on Your Side, Cows on My Side".  No seriously.  There was a point system and everything.  Cows are like pigeons in corn country- they are EVERYWHERE!  Nowadays on road trips outside of London this game has had to change it's face slightly to "Sheeps on Your Side, Sheeps on My Side" in order to ever have a shot at winning a point (two if you shout 'hey sheep' and it looks at you).   These little clouds of wool are more commonplace than cows here, so much so that no one bats an eye when they end up on the dinner table.  

The second reason for my efforts was to acknowledge the mainstay of the Sunday Roast in the UK.  Originating possibly from long Sunday mornings spent in church families would put their joint of meat or bird in the oven before they went off to Sunday services, and find it cooked and ready to be eaten upon their return.  This idea has since evolved over time.  Sunday roasts now represent a nod to British tradition, time devoted to family and friends, letting go of work and relaxing.  Leftovers from this hearty meal often make their appearance in various other forms during the busy work week as an economic and easy way to make the indulgent lunch affordable.

Lastly this meal served as a wonderful multicultural/anthropological tie in to parts of varied backgrounds which make up my family.  Lamb is a traditional Easter and springtime dish.  This week we've indulged in both chocolate bunnies and matzoh ball soup as we attempt to show our daughter all the wonderful traditions she's a part of.  Yes, we are cherry picking the best of our backgrounds.  Frankly who in our unique position wouldn't?  And if you notice in the photo the lamb was enjoyed with a side dish of noodle kugel.   That's right, cherry picking.

Roast Lamb Shoulder with Herbs and Honey
Adapted slightly from Valentine Warner
Serves 4-6

1.5kg/3lb shoulder of lamb, fat trimmed (slightly less is required if joint is boneless)
Contents of 4 bags of camomile tea
1 bunch fresh thyme, leaves only
4 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves only
12 sage leaves, roughly chopped
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 lemon
1-2 tbsp runny honey
125ml/4fl oz water to start
olive oil
sea salt
fresh pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
With the tip of a sharp knife, make shallow scores through the outer layer of skin and fat of the lamb shoulder, but not into the meat, cross-hatching the entire surface.
Mix the dried camomile, the thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano together in a bowl. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Press a handful of the herb mixture into the skin of the lamb, massaging it in well all over the flesh of the lamb.
Sprinkle some of the herb mixture across the bottom of a casserole with a lid. Place the lamb into the casserole, then squeeze the lemon juice over the top, before sprinkling with any remaining herb mix.
Drizzle the honey over the top of the lamb and pour over a little olive oil.
Pour the water into the casserole, then put the lid on. Transfer to the oven and cook for 3 hours. Check the dish after one hour - the lamb should be taking on a little colour. If the water has evaporated, add a little more to maintain the dish's moisture.
After the 3 hours cooking the lamb meat should pull away easily from the bone.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 4-5 minutes.
To serve, using a knife and fork, pull large pieces of meat away from the bone and arrange on a large serving plate. I served mine with honey-glazed roasted carrots and beets, mustard and mint sauce on the side.  Drizzle the meat with any pan juices and allow guests to help themselves.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Revisitng Childhood- Cheddar Cheese Crackers

 I've always leaned towards savoury over sweet when it's come to snacking.  Judging by her love of pasta, cheese and anything topped with plain yoghurt I'm guessing my little apple Nell has not fallen too far from my snacking tree.  As we get closer and closer to March and the major 1 year milestone of her birth, I'm starting to plan.  What will we eat on her birthday?  What will we eat for our Grandparent's birthday celebration just a few days later?  And what could I make Nell that is both baby friendly, as well as good big people food as well?

Whether they're called Cheez-its or Baked Cheddars (depending on what country you're in) the idea of a cheesy, crunchy snack seems to tick all the boxes. 

What I never realised until a few years ago (gasp!) is that many of my favourite cheeses are named after the places they were developed in.  Cheddar, Stilton, Wensleydale- all actual places in England!  This is something probably painstakingly obvious to most native Brits.  As an American living in Britain on the brink of pledging my loyalty to the Queen and becoming a full fledged citizen,  I think it should have been on my 'Life in the UK' culture test.  Cheese is as much a part of British culture as tea and apologies.  Thank you dear citizens for not throwing me out of your country due to my cheese ignorance.  Please keep in mind I hail from the land of 'American cheese'- which came in single square servings wrapped in plastic.  What did I honestly know about cheese?

So, in keeping with my anthropologic ideals of this blog while attempting to create an appealing toddler/baby friendly snack with a nod to my childhood I set off to make my own Cheddar Cracker.  Poor Nell never even saw a crumb from the first round.  They were just too tasty not to keep sampling for quality control. 

These are definitely going on the birthday menu!  Hopefully she'll actually get some next time...

Sharp Cheddar Cheese Crackers
Adapted from Joy the Baker

makes about 70 crackers
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
8oz/225g mature cheddar cheese, finely grated
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 cup/135g all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cold water
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 tsp dried thyme

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together butter, cheese and pepper until it comes together in a soft ball.  If you're making these for adults you could throw in a pinch or two of salt as well.  With mixer on low-speed, slowly add flour.  Mixture will become dry and crumbly.  Add two tablespoons of water, one tablespoon at a time.  Beat until mixture just comes together into a ball. The dough should be moist but not wet, so don't add more than another tbsp of water or so if necessary.  Add garlic powder and thyme and knead into the dough.  Wrap cracker dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.  The dough can also be frozen for future use.

While dough chills, place a rack in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 375 F/190C.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough very thin, about an eighth of an inch thick.  Dot center of cracker with a fork or the end of a paint brush.  Place crackers on prepared baking sheets.  The pieces can be close together as they won’t expand much when baking.  Bake for 13 to 15 minutes until fragrant, golden brown, and crisp.  Allow to cool before serving.

The crackers can be stored in an airtight container for two or three days, but I doubt they will last that long.