Flirting with Flavour


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The Perfect Summer Cake for Everyone

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My niece graduated from high school last weekend. Wow, that sentence makes me feel old. Perhaps I should qualify that I am only 6 years older than my niece. Phew, now that feels better; less like I should have a coherent life plan.

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My sister is a phenomenal cook. A love of cooking and baking definitely runs in the family. As she and I were discussing the all-friendly menu for last Sunday’s graduation celebration, I offered to help out in any way I could. When we realised we had overlooked the sweet part of the meal, my duty became clear. The only thing is, my niece, while she loves to have dessert, is obsessed with being healthy. This makes sense for a girl recruited to play Div 1 lacrosse at Mercer. So I wanted to make something that she would actually enjoy and not end up feeling like she’d cheated on her dietary routine. Plus, it had to be me-friendly. I wasn’t about to make a dessert I couldn’t partake in!

A quick read through my inbox revealed this Honey Almond cake with Raspberries, Orange, and Pistachio from Cookie + Kate. It looked perfect. Naturally gluten free, refined sugar free, and it utilised delicious summer fruits. As much as I love chocolate, there are occasions when it’s just too heavy… At the bottom of the recipe Kate suggests that the cake might also be good with lemon and blueberries. I took this suggestion and ran with it.

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As a disciple of Amanda Hesser’s, I of course must use Meyer lemons if they are available, so rushed off to the farmers market hoping to find some. Meyer lemons and blueberries in hand, I remembered a truly outrageous lemon polenta cake I had made a few years back from one of the River Cottage cookbooks and thought – why not sub in some cornmeal? The recipe below is what was born out of this inspiration. A little bit later in the summer, when blueberry season is in full swing, it will probably be even tastier. That said, it is delicious as is and everyone has seconds! Some even thirds … 🙂

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Honey Almond Polenta Cake with Meyer Lemon & Blueberries

Ingredients

1 cup firmly packed almond meal
1 cup cornmeal, fine grain polenta, or corn flour (not to be confused with corn starch, which is called corn flour in the UK)
1 tsp baking powder, heaping
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp fine-grain sea salt

3 eggs, beaten
2 Meyer lemons, juiced & zested
2/3 cup honey + 1 tsp (separated)
1/4 cup olive oil
8oz blueberries, preferably organic (plus a few for garnish)

Powdered sugar to garnish

Method

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Grease 10″ springform pan & sprinkle with almond meal, line bottom with parchment paper
2. Whisk together dry ingredients (almond meal, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, nutmeg, & salt) in large bowl
3. In another bowl combine eggs, olive oil, lemon zest, and 2/3 cup of honey. Mix well.
4. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just a few clumps remaining. Gently fold in blueberries.
5. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and springs back to your touch. If you insert a toothpick, it should come out clean.
6. While you allow the cake to cool slightly on a rack, combine the lemon juice with the 1 tsp of honey in a small saucepan on the stove. Stir over medium heat until honey & juice are just blended.
7. Use a pastry brush to brush the honey-lemon juice over the cake while warm (though not to worry, it will still soak in if you let it cool all the way first). It will soak right in!

Enjoy! It also makes a phenomenal breakfast cake 🙂


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Pickin’ up pawpaws, put ’em in your pocket…

A couple of weeks ago, while at the annual Anniversary Weekend of the mosque where I went to pre-school, I tried pawpaw fruit for the first time.  The mosque has a farm where they grow a number of different fruits and vegetables.  And as I wandering around, I stopped to admire (hungrily, I might add) the apples that had been brought in from the farm.  In a small wicker basket on the edge of the table with the apples, were a fruit that I thought might be some kind of mango or papaya.  Unsure, I asked what they were.  “Pawpaws”, came the reply.

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Pickin up pawpaws, put ‘em in your pocket… A familiar, yet unfamiliar, tune made its way into my head.  Please tell me you also remember this nursery rhyme from your childhood?!

Upon asking a few more questions (and a couple google searches), I found out that pawpaw trees are native to the north east of the United States and are absolutely not related to papaya, which occasionally are given the nickname pawpaw.  They do, however, taste very tropical, a bit like a banana crossed with a mango and a hint of something that would make it the perfect accompaniment to a Piña Colada, and have the texture of papaya.  Their seeds are shaped like the stretched out pennies you can get as a souvenir at the zoo and there are lots of them, which make them a bit messy to eat.

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I had my first few bites of pawpaw and we threw ideas back and forth about what could be done with them, aside from eating them fresh – smoothies, curry, chilli, tea loaf, muffins, cookies, custard, were a few of the ones we came up with.  I did really like them fresh, but always one to leap at the chance to try new ingredients and recipes, I accepted the challenge to take 6 medium sized pawpaws and make something, anything, with them.  With my roadtrip to Maine coming up, I opted to make muffins, figuring they’d make a good snack for during the long ride.  The recipe I came up with, which is included below, is inspired by the pawpaw’s similarities to banana and the fall weather.  In order to get the puree, I washed, peeled, and de-seeded the pawpaws and then put the meat through a food processor for just 1-2 minutes, until I had a mashed-banana-like consistency.  The resulting muffin is really the perfect representation of autumnal spices.  For that reason, it would be a good accompaniment to a Thanksgiving brunch.  I’ve never tasted anything quite like it, but then again, until a few weeks ago neither had I ever tasted fresh pawpaw!  And, of course, these could be made using banana, mashed sweet potato, squash, or pumpkin, or anything you feel goes well with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and ginger!

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Pawpaw Muffins
Yield: 22 muffins

Ingredients
Dry

2 ¾ cup flour (I used a mixture of spelt & white rye)
1 7/8 tsp cream of tartar
¾ tsp salt
1 1/8 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon (I use a Vietnamese cinnamon that I got through the King Arthur Flour website – I have never had such a fragrant cinnamon, even when I grate it myself)
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp each of allspice and ground ginger
Zest of 1 lemon

1/2 cup unsweetened desiccated coconut
1/3 cup mixed chocolate & cinnamon chips

Walnuts, roughly chopped (to sprinkle on top)

Wet

¼ cup vegetable oil
6 medium ripe pawpaws, pureed
5/8 cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
Juice from ½ lemon
3 eggs

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375F (190C or 350F convection).  Line muffin cups.
  2. In a medium bowl mix together flour, cream of tartar, salt, baking soda, spices, and lemon zest
  3. In the bowl of a mixer (or use a hand mixer), whisk oil, pawpaw puree, and sugar on medium speed until well mixed and fluffy. Add lemon juice and the eggs one at a time. Combine.
  4. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Mix until just combined, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Remove bowl form mixer and fold in coconut and chocolate/cinnamon chips.
  5. Divide batter evenly into muffin cups. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes. (Mine cooked in 23 minutes in a convection oven at 350F.)


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Pocono Blueberry Muffins

I moved home last month.  Suddenly the year in London that had seemed such a long time came to a close.  Bags and boxes packed and shipped, doors locked for the last time behind me, a taxi ride across town to the Heathrow Express with MC beside me clutching our “travelling hamper” passed from Maria, to me, and now to another Maria, a last emigration through security into Terminal 5, 7 ½ hours of reading, writing, and fitful sleep interspersed with conversation with my neighbour (because I seem to have that look that welcomes strangers to converse with me), and I was running into my mom’s arms at the airport, encouraging her to speed down the highway so I could climb into my bed at last.  Of course, always on the move, I only spent two nights at home before hopping in the car to drive up to New York for a good friend’s wedding and from there to the Poconos for my annual siesta by the lake.

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This year was different, however.  This year, added to the leaps and bounds of Rascal greeting me upon arrival were the faces of three of my cousins, whom I had not seen in over 5 years.  I must admit to a wee bit of apprehension.  Knowing that I was no longer the same little girl who had frolicked with them in Bermuda, I wondered what had changed for them.  I needn’t have worried, though, because family is family.  Our last memories of spending time together may have been growing dusty in the backs of our minds, but it didn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter.  Squinting over puzzle boards, helping me remember words forgotten in my state of dissertation-weariness, plucking blueberries off the bush in front of the cabin and then working together to turn them into delectable muffins.  We no longer have to search in the recesses of memory, we have living memories now.  It is a beautiful thing and I am grateful for it.

But now, this is a food blog, so where’s the food?  Every food has a story, and as one friend recently pointed out to me, the experience and people are just as important as the food itself.  So, today, after a long hiatus (sorry about that – dissertation and moving took a lot out of me!), I thought what better way to restart than with, you guessed it, blueberry muffins!

For me, summer isn’t summer without blueberries.  And while, in recent years I have become slightly obsessed with blueberry cornmeal pancakes, and blueberry pie is undoubtedly the queen of summer delicacies, blueberry muffins are the unsung heroes.  So simple that even in a sparsely outfitted summer kitchen you can find the ingredients, yet so delicious that it really takes all the restraint one can manage not to finish the entire batch in one sitting.  Fresh from the oven.  Still steaming.  With the blueberries barely cooled enough to not burn at the touch.  There were four of us, after all… but we did manage to restrain ourselves, so we could enjoy the fruits of our labour the next day, and the next.  And you know what, they might be even better reheated in the toaster oven!

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With 2 cups of blueberries, these muffins are really all about the blueberries.  My mom exclaimed excitedly (and with mouth full) that she had never had such blueberry-y blueberry muffins!  I usually use muffin tin liners, but since we didn’t have any, we buttered the muffin tins and I must say, I may never use liners again.  The result was that not only the tops got crisp on the outside, but the bottoms too, which helped to seal in the moisture for a nice spongy interior.  I also decided to throw in some cornmeal the second time I made these, because, why not?

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Blueberry Muffins
From Food52

Makes 12-16 muffins

Ingredients:

2 2/3 cups flour (I subbed 1 cup cornmeal for 1 cup of the flour)
2 2/3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup sugar, scant (you can also use a sugar substitute, like coconut sugar and it is possibly even more delicious, because it acts like a brown sugar and caramalises)
4 TBSP melted butter, slightly cooled (or canola oil – I can never be bothered to melt and cool butter and canola works just as well)
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 cups fresh blueberries

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 425F (218C) and line muffin tin with cups or butter/spray the tin well.
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl (you will be adding the wet ingredients to this). Then mix together the butter, egg and milk, and add to the flour mixture, mixing quickly with a fork.
  3. Fold in the blueberries.
  4. Divide the batter between the muffin cups.
  5. Bake 18-20 minutes.