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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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.


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Seven-Fruit Fruit Salad

My mom, Gil, and I are all gathered in the living of our doublewide trailer, home away from home, in Virginia.  I’m standing at the bar separating the kitchen from the dining room (if it can be called that – it’s really just a table and some chairs with a few feet separating it from the couch in the so-called living room), on the kitchen side, slicing banana into three bowls, already nearly overflowing with fruits.  It has probably taken me upwards of twenty minutes just to cut the fruit.   What can I say?  I have a meticulous eye for equal portions.  Plus, it’s just plain relaxing.  The rhythm of knife and thumb working in harmony pushes any stressful thoughts into the farthest reaches of my mind.  And when you finally put that first spoonful into your mouth and the sour of the kiwi mixes with the cool-fresh-picked taste of blueberries and the sugary sweet strawberries… throw in some peaches and banana, maybe some mango, what the hell, throw in any and every fruit you can dream up.  It’s heaven; in it’s simplest sense.  It tastes of sun and fresh starts.  It tastes of summer breezes and auspiciousness.

Sorry, was I saying something?  Oh right!  I was just putting the finishing touches on our fruit salads for consumption on a particularly summery March morning.  ‘How many fruits are there in it?’ asked Gil.  ‘Four.‘  ‘Then it’s not a fruit salad.  Gotta have five fruits to be a fruit salad.’  I protest that we can only use what we have and we only have blueberries, bananas, strawberries, and clementines.  So, sorry if that’s not five fruits.  I know it is a fruitless (sorry!) road to go down, as I’ve been hearing the same story since I was seven years old.  Suddenly I have a thought – well, do you not want yours then, Gil?  I’ll gladly take one for the team…

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As you might have guessed, he sucked it up and ate his [gasp!] four-fruit-salad.  I mean, who’s going to turn down a fruit salad?  Unless it’s one of those desperate fruit cups sadly resigned to a life in the refrigerator section of the local market or the airport café.  I will admit to having succumbed to these specimen in moments of weakness – aka waiting for a flight and not wanting to partake in any of the baked goods that would inevitably mean death by wheat for me.  And you know what?  They’re not that bad.  Still, I’ll take the fresh, real version any day.

Guess what, Gil!  Today, not only did I have five fruits for my fruit salad, I had seven.  That’s right, seven!!  Thank goodness for the coming of summer!  Oh, and, perhaps, globalisation for bringing me kiwis from Italy and nectarines from South Africa…

What follows is a recipe for one BIG bowl of fruit – aka a fruit salad.  You could share, but trust me you won’t want to.  If there are multiple yous that want to partake, just make twice as much and employ that meticulous eye to make sure none of your portion accidentally ends up in someone else’s bowl…

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7-Fruit Fruit Salad

Ingredients:
1 kiwi
1 nectarine
1 banana
A handful of blueberries
4 or 5 small strawberries
1/3 of a mango
1 small pear
¼ cup nonfat Greek yoghurt
Your favourite granola

Method:
Slice all fruit into a bowl (It’s okay to day dream a bit, but don’t cut yourself!).  Top with yoghurt (I usually use Greek or sheep) and some of your favourite granola.  Mine is Kazzie’s, but it’s not available outside of the Shenandoah Valley yet, so some great alternatives are Lizi’s Original and (if you’re in the mood for a particularly sweet treat) Belgian Chocolate granola.


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Apple and Pear Crumble (or an initiation into intuitive baking)

I have always wanted to be one of those people who could look at ingredients and intuitively combine them to create something wonderfully delicious, no recipe needed.  I have combined recipes before, taking and leaving different pieces of up to 7 or 8 different recipes, thus creating my own.  I’ve always been slightly intimidated to simply go forth without any reference point, though.

Last month, while in Israel, I received a special request to make apple pie.  I was there doing research and visiting my cousin J who moved to Tel Aviv to marry Y, an Israeli girl who has since become more like a big sister to me.  It seems that one of the things J missed most from the US was apple pie!  (Is there anything more quintessentially American?)

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apple and pear crumble

Now, I’m not a huge apple pie maker – there are usually blueberries or peaches, or both! (why not go wild?!) involved – and to find spelt flour in Tel Aviv at such late notice, while certainly possible, was a task made that much more challenging by the fact that it was Shabbat.  So, I improvised.  Despite Tel Aviv’s ardent refusal to jump on the religious bandwagon and shut down for Shabbat, the only grocery stores open are AMPM, so, of course, a trip there was necessitated.

J and I had a fabulous hummus dinner (more on that later), after which I scoured the meagre, though sufficient, selections of the nearby AMPM to see what I could do about this apple pie.  No Meghan-friendly flour, so…. How about a crumble?  No whole almonds – that’s okay, they had bags of chopped and crumbled almonds and walnuts.  No brown sugar?  Demerara will do – just adds a bit of an extra crunch.  The apples looked “meh”, but the pears looked pretty “all right”, so why not combine the two?  Plus, they’re getting cooked, so who really cares about a few surface-level blemishes.  What we care about is flavour!

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getting up close and personal with the crumble

Ingredients bought we headed home.  It was already quite late, but that’s never stopped me before.  I think J & Y were a bit surprised that I was baking at such a late hour (we actually fell asleep and didn’t even try it until the next morning!), but after being robbed by the AMPM’s monopoly on Shabbat grocery shopping, there was no way I was going to wait until the next day to be faced with the knowledge that I could have made this crumble for half, or even a third, of the price… [Note to self – don’t let Shabbat get the better of you, next time think ahead!]

The recipe below is the result of this late night endeavour as well as two subsequent trials and tweakings.  It’s still lacking a certain something, which if you figure out what it is, I’d love to hear it!  But, I am particularly proud of this recipe, because it has inaugurated me into the club of intuitive, recipe-less bakers. So, yay!

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the crumble topped with plain sheep yoghurt – delicious!

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3 hungry people can make a good dent pretty quickly!

Apple & Pear Crumble
Preheat oven to 180C

Filling:

4 medium-sized tart apples, chopped in large chunks
3 pears, chopped in large chunks
~ 1 inch of ginger, grated
juice from 1 orange
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg (optional)
¼ tsp ground ginger (if you don’t have fresh ginger)
juice from 3-4 passion fruits (optional)
3-4 TBSP date syrup (depending on how sweet the fruit is)
juice from about half a lemon (depending on how sour the fruit is)

Method:

Combine above ingredients in a bowl, making sure the fruit is well coated with the spices and juices. Pour into pie pan or whatever vessel you’re using.

Topping:

~ 1 ½ cups rolled oats
¾ cup chopped nuts (any combination you like – I generally do almonds and walnuts)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
½ – ¾ cup brown sugar (depending on how sweet you want it)
5-6 TBSP (or glugs) melted butter or vegetable oil

Method:

Combine the dry ingredients in another bowl and then add the butter or oil and mix with your fingers until you have a sand-like consistency.  Crumble the mixture on top of the fruit mixture.

Bake for 30-40 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 180C. It should be bubbling, the fruit should be tender (if stick a knife or fork into it), and the top should be brown. If the top browns before it is finished cooking, cover with foil. Alternatively, if the top is not crisp or brown enough for your liking, you can turn the oven heat up to 200C for 5 minutes to brown it.