A Passion For Baking- Banana Muffins

Several weeks ago I was lucky enough to buy a copy of Jo Wheatley’s fabulous book “A Passion For Baking”.  I have been an avid follower of Jo’s blog “Jo’s Blue Aga” ever since I watched her in last year’s series of the Great British Bake Off.  I loved reading Jo’s posts and looking through the recipes she had included on her blog so I knew that her book would be a real gem.  I know that lots of other people have felt the same as I have seen lots of lovely heartfelt comments from her fans who have baked her recipes.

Even though I bake a lot  for customers, friends and family, I couldn’t understand why I had only baked one of Jo’s recipes from the book to date. Those were the Smartie Cookies which I made for one of my stalls instead of my usual Smartie cookie recipe.  I needed to instantly put that right but at the moment I am trying but I mean trying to cut down on sugary stuff.

On Friday night I had a phone call from a customer who asked for some banana muffins. She needed them for Sunday so I chose to bake them on Sunday morning.  I was thrilled to bits, I had seen a recipe for banana muffins in Jo’s recipe book so I could test them out!  I love baking banana muffins and thought it was such a shame I had to sell them!

So, on with the recipe.  Jo’s recipe calls for buttermilk and also includes pecan nuts and grated orange zest to the mixture.  I did not have any buttermilk in so I had to make a quick trip up to Morrisons as soon as it opened to buy some, along with some pecan nuts. I don’t tend to add nuts to my baking unless a customer specifically asks for it. Usually I substitute some dried fruit, such as raisins.

Once I was in Morrisons I whizzed round with a basket, only to find there was no buttermilk to be found in it’s usual place. The recipe needed 300ml buttermilk so I couldn’t leave it out.  I wasn’t entirely sure what I could use in it’s place, then I remembered another favourite banana bread recipe I use by Annabel Karmel where it contains natural yoghurt. In the end I bought two small 150g pots of natural yoghurt and hoped that it wouldn’t affect the recipe.  Thankfully our local Morrisons is a good, well stocked one so I didn’t have problems with the pecan nuts!

Then it was straight back home!  I needed to get cracking straight away but I was furious to find out that while I had been out for 40 minutes my two teenage children had decided to make smoothies and had left a load of mess all over the kitchen work surfaces!  I was furious and ordered them to clear it up immediately. After some sulky grunts they had done what they should have done in the first place, so I could finally get on with the job in hand.

Jo’s recipe is different to the banana muffin recipe I have used in the past in that you make a separate crumble type topping for the muffins.  In my usual recipe everything is chucked in together, so I was looking forward to creating the crumble topping.  I set to making the crumble part first. You rubbed together some plain flour, butter, demerera sugar, cinnamon, orange zest, then added in some chopped pecan nuts.

I enjoy rubbing in and making crumble toppings, I find it very therapeautic and I relaxed as I listened to some music on my Ipod playing in the kitchen .  I always find though that someone always phones or knocks on the front door when I’ve got my hands in the mixing bowl. Luckily this didn’t happen today, though our house felt like the M25 on a busy day as I was trying to get on!

I then weighed out the dry ingredients into a bowl: self raising flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and caster sugar.  The wet ingredients were weighed out in another bowl; the natural yoghurt, beaten egg and some melted butter.  I also mashed two large bananas in yet another bowl.

I was careful not to overwork the mixture as Jo says to take care with this or the muffins will become tough and heavy.  I also took care that the flour was carefully folded in with a large metal spoon.

Now the fun bit had arrived where you spoon the mixture into the cake cases. I looked through my stash of muffin and cupcake cases and looked for something that would fit the banana theme, being yellow!  I found my Pudsey Bear Children In Need ones, which I always have ready for my fundraising cakes.  I thought these would be perfect for the banana muffins and luckily they fitted the mixture beautifully.  Finally, once the mixture was in the cases, I sprinkled the crumble topping on top of the muffins ensuring that each muffin got an equal sprinkling.

Then they went into the oven for about 30 minutes. I kept wanting to check on them after about 20 minutes as the smell wafting from the kitchen was heavenly.  I absolutely wished I could eat without gaining an ounce of weight so I could have made double!

When, after about 30 minutes I took the tray of muffins out of the oven I was greeted by a beautiful sight. The muffins were a lovely golden colour and had risen up and over the top of the cases like I had expected. The smell was heavenly too and I really enjoyed lapping up the smell as I placed the muffins onto the cooling rack.

Once the muffins were cooled completely, I quickly photographed them on my stand and then placed them into a cardboard box to await collection from my customer. When she saw them she said they smelled gorgeous and looked too good to eat.

Jo mentions in her recipe introduction that the muffins are “lovely and simple to make with children” and I can totally agree with that.  I have made muffins before with the children at school in my day job and I am sure this recipe would be a hit with them!

Banana Muffins from “A Passion For Baking” by Jo Wheatley, winner of The Great British Bake Off 2011.

Happy Baking!

Sam xx

The Hairy Dieters’ Paprika Chicken

Last Friday I promised to take my children into York for the afternoon.  Even though we live only about 10 miles from York itself we hadn’t been into the centre of York for a few weeks.  The children joked that “Mum’ll spend most of the time in Lakeland!” but to be honest, it was just great to be able to go into town and have lunch and a look at the shops.  We ended up having lunch in Nandos which was very busy and noisy but the children enjoyed filling and refilling their glasses of coca cola!

When we got back in at dinner time the last thing I felt like was a big dinner and the children felt the same.  However, my hubby had got back from a trip to Scotland and was starving as all he had eaten was a sandwich on Edinburgh station.  So, I had to look and see what was in the fridge.  I told him we had chicken in the fridge, he said he fancied chicken with bacon wrapped round it with pesto.  He had to do without as i had no pesto or bacon.  I did have the ingredients for the Hairy Dieter’s Paprika Chicken though.

The recipe introduction says that this dish is a low cal version of a Romanian dish called Paprikash.  It reminds me of the flavours of goulash but with chicken instead of beef.  I was keen to try it as the recipe picture looked mouthwatering and I know that it would go down well with my son and husband.

First, I fried the onions in a pan with a tablespoon of sunflower oil and then added the chicken to the pan. In the recipe it calls for 12 chicken thighs. I had 4 chicken breasts but I cut them into bite size pieces removing all visible fat.  After the chicken had browned, I added some garlic and smoked paprika to the pan, followed by a tin of chopped tomatoes, chicken stock, bay leaves and some mixed herbs.  It then had to cook gently for about 20 minutes.

While the chicken was bubbling away I chopped up 3 large peppers, these were different colours of red, yellow and green. They were added to the mixture and it carried on cooking for another half an hour.  The sauce was thickened up with a cornflour paste.

The Paprika chicken was served with 50g dry weight basmati rice per person.  The Hairy Dieters also suggest you could serve mashed potato with it and also top it with a spoonful of half fat creme fraiche but I didn’t do that.

Sadly I didn’t get the reaction I wanted to the meal.  My son turned his nose up at the Paprika Chicken as he said he didn’t like it.  My husband fished all the bits of chicken out and left all of the peppers, sometimes he likes them, other times he doesn’t.  Well at least I  liked it!

As I was so concerned about getting the dinner on the table, we were running late and were in a hurry, I completely forgot to take a photo of the meal.

The Paprika Chicken is to be found on page 91 of The Hairy Dieters Book: How To Love Food And Lose Weight.

Happy Cooking!
Sam xx

The Hairy Dieters’ Coconut Prawn Curry

Last Thursday it had been a few days since I had got back from my summer holiday and I still hadn’t got my act together getting the food shopping in for the week.  I had run round our local Morrisons the day before in between other errands so that I wasn’t dragging my children round for hours on end.  I also felt that if I took them on a weekly shop I would end up putting twice as much stuff in the trolley.  In the end I did throw stuff in without making a proper list and a couple of days later thought “Oh hell, what on earth can I make with this?”

When I got in from Morrisons I put IPlayer on while I was catching up with my ironing and saw two episodes of the Hairy Bikers’ series where they turn into the Hairy Dieters. I enjoy watching all of the Hairy Bikers’ programmes on the TV, but this one has been my favourite so far. The subject of dieting strikes a chord with me, seeing as I seem to be on one or thinking I should be on one most of the time! I am amazed at how Dave Myers and Si King have managed to lose about 3 stone each, yet they adore their food and are constantly surrounded by it when filming and out on the road.  So I wanted to see how they did it, although I am not on television, I bake for a living and I am a self confessed foodie!
The Hairy Dieters: How To Love Food And Lose Weight- the book  to accompany the BBC TV series.
So, last Thursday it had been a busy day.  I had taken my son out to watch the latest Diary of A Wimpy Kid film at the cinema, gone via Tesco for washing powder and a perk me up coffee in the cafe.  I regretted buying the cappucino, it was meant to be Costa coffee but it was the most bitter coffee I had tasted in my life. It gave me a massive headache, so bad I am surprised I managed to drive home.  But I had to, as my daughter’s horse needed feeding, my dog needed walking and my husband was hundreds of miles away up in the Scottish Highlands.  What could I cook that was easy to make but I had the stuff in the fridge?
The Coconut Prawn Curry recipe leapt out at me from the page.  My daughter (who does not eat meat) loves prawns and korma type curries like me and the recipe served 2 people.  It looked delicious yet would take only 20-30 minutes to prepare. I had some prawns in the fridge and a tin of half fat coconut milk in the cupboard.  My son was happy and content with a portion of another Hairy Dieters’ meal that was in the freezer from a couple of weeks ago, which was chilli and rice.  So on with the recipe.
First I put some curry paste, onion, garlic and some chopped red and yellow peppers in a pan with a little bit of water, so that the onion softened without added fat.  The curry paste the Hairy Bikers suggest to use is a medium strength one, but mine was a korma paste so it probably was a bit milder than the one in the recipe.
I then had to add some mango chutney, tomatoes and half fat coconut milk to the pan.  When I looked in the cupboard I noticed I’d run out of mango chutney so instead I used a tablespoonful of my next door neighbour’s homemade apple chutney, hoping this wouldn’t affect the taste of the dish.  After this had cooked for a bit, I had to make a little cornflour paste in order to thicken up the sauce.  Finally I added in the prawns and some spinach leaves.  
Served with a portion of 50g dry weight boiled basmati rice, this was a substantial meal. We both thought the curry tasted fantastic and were keen to try it again as soon as possible.  I am sure it would taste just as delicious with chicken or even with lots of different vegetables.  

The Hairy Dieter’s Coconut and Prawn Curry served with a portion of basmati rice.

Happy Cooking!
Sam xx

Ruby Jacks

This morning I woke up keen to get baking again.  I can blame the Great British Bake Off, of which I was glued to episode 2 last night while clearing up the kitchen after dinner.  I was absolutely blown away by all the fantastic breadmaking going on in the GBBO tent and also enjoyed tweeting about the programme when I should have been loading the dishwasher!

I was in a happy mood when the programme finished although I was upset to see Peter go. After his fantastic Union Jack cake which reminded me of a Battenburg, I was surprised to say the least.  In that frame of mind I decided to put some towels in the washing machine so they would be done before I went to bed.  But disaster then struck!  I have been having problems with my washing machine leaking water over the past month or so and it always seems to do it when I have towels in the wash.  It is so frustrating as many of you know, we all need our domestic appliances to work properly, especially if you are at work too!  Last night though, my machine decided that it was going to churn water out all over the utility room floor, which to me was the last straw.  In the end my hubby told me to go to my local electrical shop in Boroughbridge and order another one.

To cut a long story short, I was delighted with the service and the guys agreed that they could come and install my new machine and take the old one away this very afternoon!  I was so pleased, even though my kids werent!  They were gutted they would miss their trip to the cinema in York this afternoon and lunch in Nandos!

So, what has all of this got to do with baking?  Well, one of the things I do (apart from catching up on all the boring chores) is baking when I know I’ve got to stay in all afternoon.  I wanted something quick, yet unusual that the kids would enjoy helping me to make to relieve the holiday boredom.

Once again I turned to the new Great British Bake Off recipe book “How To Turn Everyday Bakes Into Showstoppers” and the recipe for Ruby Jacks caught my eye under the biscuit section on page 87.

First of all, the name stood out for me.  What on earth or indeed who was Ruby Jack? I have been puzzled to find out and I even googled Ruby Jacks but nothing came up only a name of a group, nothing to do with biscuits.  I wondered if it was due to the red colour of rubies but scanning down the list of ingredients it sounded like a flapjack mixture with added ground and stem ginger.  But, aha!  In the bottom right hand corner of the recipe there was a tip suggesting you could decorate the top of the flapjacks with melted white chocolate and dried cranberries and sour cherries,  hence I suppose them looking like rubies!  I’m still non the wiser though.

As soon as I got the ingredients out, my son decided that he would rather play on his XBox and my daughter and her friend were up in her room jamming on their guitars. It looked like it would be me on my own in the kitchen! Even my dog slunk off to his basket to snooze!

So, I keenly melted butter, golden syrup, brown sugar in a medium pan, then added a teaspoon of ground ginger and a tablespoon of chopped Opies Stem Ginger to the mixture.  Once this was combined I added in porridge oats.  The mixture was then placed in a square tin and pressed down with the back of a spoon.  There looked like a lot less mixture than I would usually have when I make my flapjacks, these were quite small.

After the flapjacks had baked in the oven for 1/2 an hour I took them out of the oven and let them cool in the tin on a wire rack.  Meanwhile I searched in my cupboard for some white chocolate, remembered I didn’t have enough spare and settled for some pink chocolate buttons I had bought on holiday on the Isle of Arran at the beginning of June. These only took one minute to melt beautifully in the microwave but were fiddly to spread on the top of the flapjack squares.  I found a bag of dried cranberries in the cupboard but I did not use all of them.

The recipe did not come with an accompanying picture, which I found frustrating. Sometimes it is useful to know what things look like when you bake them so you can tell whether you’re doing the right thing. I had to guess!

Here are the finished Ruby Jacks piled up on a plate.  I personally wouldn’t have put so many cranberries on the top of the flapjacks and could have piped the chocolate on in a drizzle to make it look neater but I was trying to follow the recipe!

Happy Baking!
Sam xx

Nectarine and Blueberry Gallette

It was Monday morning and the post holiday blues were beginning to set in. I woke up to rain just as I had got my shoes on to take the dog out for his morning walk and the sky looked a miserable, unappealing dark grey.  Just my luck I had a full washing line groaning with towels and bedding. Why does this always happen?

On days like these when you know you have so much to do but the weather spoils it you just want to stay inside and hibernate like a hedgehog.  I know on such occasions I always want to put my apron on and get out the mixing bowl.  I had no customers to bake for yesterday but a fruitbowl full of apples and some leftover blackberries.

The first thing that springs to mind with blackberries and apples is to make a crumble with it.  I thought I’m always making crumbles and I wanted to try something different.  I looked through the Good Food Apps on my iPhone which are a fantastic source of inspiration but then my eye hit on my spanking new Great British Bake Off book which was gleaming at me from the shelf in my kitchen.  I was positive I had seen a fruit pie in the book so I went back to look for it.

It wasn’t an apple and blackberry pie but in fact a Nectarine and Blueberry Gallette!  I had seen a similar freeform pie in Delia Smith’s Summer Cookbook and once made a pear and raspberry pie like this.  The pastry is rolled out to a giant circle, you pile the prepared fruit in the middle of the circle and then form it around the outside, pleating it carefully so that you are left with the fruit showing through in the middle.  However, I am sure that Delia’s version from memory was with a sweet shortcrust pastry.

This version in the Great British Bake Off book required me to make pate brisee for the first ever time.  As the name suggests this is a French pastry recipe used to make pies and tarts.  You use the same ingredients as the shortcrust pastry but you combine them together in a different way.  This required me to work the dough together on my work top.  I found this part ok but as per usual I was rushing as my daughter came in and asked if she could go to her friends’ house in Knaresborough for a sleepover. This was fine with me but she had a horse to sort out before she went over there as well as our dog needing another walk.  As a result I didn’t roll the pastry out thinly enough and cut round one of my dinner plates to achieve a perfect circle.

The tart assembly went well and I pleated the dough carefully around the fruit, securing it with a glaze of melted butter.  I had to leave the tart on the tray unbaked until I got back from Knaresborough (a round trip of 50 minutes including horse duty) but I did put my chicken casserole in the oven and hope it didn’t burn while I was out.  When I got back my hubby had arrived home and I had to chuck the tart in the oven before tea.

Here is the finished tart.  The pastry had puffed up a bit and I thought it could have looked a lot better!

My son had his friend for a sleepover and neither of them fancied a slice of the tart for pudding with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  My hubby and I had a small slice each.  Not one of my best efforts but I would like to try it again when I have more time and no interruptions! Famous last words!

Happy Baking!
Sam xx

Pear and Ginger Cobbler

Last Sunday I woke up feeling absolutely shattered but keen to get back into my kitchen.  I had been away on holiday for a week and although we had all had a fabulous time, eaten loads of lovely food and lazed around by the pool I was pleased to be back around my home comforts.  I really miss my own kitchen at home with all my bits and pieces and I never thought I would say this but I was even glad to use my own kettle!  The villa we rented up in the hills overlooking San Antonio was brilliant but it didn’t have a kettle!  The villa keyholder told us there was a kettle you put on the stove but we couldn’t find it, so we spent the week boiling pans of water for our morning cups of coffee!  So, the first thing we did when we got back in on Saturday afternoon was to have a cup of nice strong Yorkshire tea!

When I got home I also realised I was itching to bake.  When I go abroad especially to places like Ibiza cake is usually the last thing on my mind because it’s too hot, but when I’m holidaying in the UK I stuff myself silly with the stuff.  Perhaps I ought to move to a hot country then I would weigh a lot less!

My hubby went off on a lad’s racing day out to watch a hill climb event at Oliver’s Mount in Scarborough. I was left at home finishing off the washing and ironing and getting a Sunday roast ready for 5pm when he got back.  I thought, then that my first baking session ought to be something easy that would use up leftover fruit and be quick to make.

I looked in one of the trusty Great British Bake Off books and found in the second book that there was a recipe for Peach and Ginger Cobbler.  Oh bum, I thought. We didn’t have peaches at home, just a bowlful of pears and apples. I had had to leave nearly a full punnet of peaches behind in Ibiza as I just couldn’t carry them home with me, so frustrating.  When I mentioned peaches to my 12 year old son, he said “Erggh, gross!” so I had to think of something else.   I had tried a cake once with pear and ginger together and wondered if that would work in the cobbler instead of the peaches.  You can but try I suppose!

So, I set to with getting the meal prepared.  The roast pork joint had just gone in the oven with a prayer that the crackling would come out right, I had peeled the veg so now it was time to deal with the fruit.  I peeled and cored five large pears, then sliced them in half. These were cooked slowly in the oven with water and sugar for about 30 minutes.  I then made the cobbler topping which was quite messy as it involved using quite a lot of natural yoghurt in the mix.  The real treat was adding tiny cubes of stem ginger to the dough.  Finally, when the dough was formed I made 8 equal sized balls and placed them around the top of the baking dish.

The cobbler baked in the oven for approximately another 20-30 minutes.  I had to take it out of the oven and reheat it through gently as it was ready about an hour before my hubby got home and I needed the oven space for my roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings!

The verdict was that the fruit could have done with slightly longer to be baked in the oven as the pears were still quite hard in places.  This is what happens when you try to do several things at once like I try to.  My hubby and I enjoyed the cobbler but the children didn’t.  They kept joking about ” a load of old cobblers” and my son said he liked the custard best. And no it wasn’t homemade, it was a carton of Ambrosia lurking in the back of my cupboard that needed using up?

Would I make it again? Yes I will but hopefully if I make it with pears again I will make sure no one breaks their teeth on them!

Happy Baking!
Sam xx

Garlic Prawns from Ibiza

Most of my blog posts have been about sweet stuff and baking but this time I had to change my mind.  Sometimes there is just a meal you eat that totally blows your mind away that you just have to write about or try to recreate when you get home.

Two years ago my family and I spent our summer holiday on Ibiza.  I had always turned my nose up at Ibiza (sorry for sounding so snobby) because I didn’t fancy going somewhere which I thought of as just being like Blackpool with sun and palm trees. I thought English Breakfasts, pubs, fish and chips would be the norm.  Dont get me wrong I love my British food and I’m proud of being British but when I go on holiday I want to experience what culinary tastes that country has to offer or “that foreign muck” as my late grandad once said to me when I served him with lasagne!

I had to eat my words.  Once we got away from the other football shirt rowdies that we shared the plane with who were tanked up on ale at 6am in the morning, we found Ibiza in all it’s glory.  Ibiza as it should be.

I have never been a huge fish or seafood eater but on the first lunchtime we were in Santa Eularia and were sat in a lovely restaurant by the marina.  I think it was called Skuma. I saw a sizzling plate of garlic prawns heading towards the next table of customers and was immediately presented with a smell of garlic so delicious I just had to try.  My hubby was exactly the same and we had to order some.  Along with a basket of bread, olives and the moreish alioli (a type of garlic mayonnaise) we were in foodie heaven.

The large prawns must have been baked in large terracotta or iron pots with huge slivers of garlic, a couple of whole chillis and sprinkled with what looked like either cayenne pepper or paprika. I think it was the latter, the Spanish smoky paprika which I can’t buy enough of.  The prawns sat in sizzling chilli/ olive oil which married perfectly with the crusty fresh bread.

Last year we ate garlic prawns again on holiday in  Menorca and once again revisited our experience again in Ibiza this year.  However, last year I made a terrible mistake and tried ordering them in Spanish (I can speak French but my Spanish is dreadful). Along came 6 massive prawns the size of lobsters with their heads and tails still intact staring up at me!  My kids and hubby still won’t let me live it down even though my daughter’s the one taking GCSE Spanish!  Having said that, they were still delicious though it was wierd seeing their funny eyes looking up at me!
Once we got home both my hubby and I wanted to recreate the garlic prawns ourselves.  My hubby loves cooking and experimenting on a Saturday night and once he cooked them for a dinner party with friends.  He  played it by intuition but I have been looking for a recipe.  
I spotted a suitable recipe on the BBC Food recipe website which may be useful, I have not tried it yet but intend to:
The other recipe I spotted was in the lovely Sam Stern’s Student Cookbook, which made me laugh as all I seemed to live on when I was a student was baked beans and pot noodles!!
Happy Cooking!
Sam xx