Early Morning Victory for Murray so it’s Vermont Maple Syrup Breakfast Muffins

Well, finally we have a tennis champion after millions of years or whatever the statistic is. Fantastic news! So to celebrate I am making Vermont Maple syrup breakfast muffins with a British Autumnal twist as we woke up to the news early this morning here in the UK.

This is based primarily on a recipe in the muffin lovers Bible: The Joy of Muffins by Genevieve Farrow and Diane Dreher which is still in print I see and a snip at about £6, but with the addition of oat bran and blackberries.

You will need (for 12):

1 ½ cups of Plain Flour, ½ cup Oat Bran, 4 tsp Baking Powder, ½ tsp Salt, 1 large Egg, ½ cup Milk, ½ cup Maple Syrup, ½ cup melted Butter, cooled slightly, 1 cup Blackberries and a sprinkling of icing sugar.

Preheat the oven to 210°C/Fan 200°C.  Combine the flour, oat bran, salt and baking powder in a bowl and in a separate bowl combine the egg, milk, syrup and whisk together and then whisk in the butter. Add the wet to the dry and fold for about 10-15 fold actions and then add the blackberries and continue to fold in for another 5 fold actions or so. Don’t forget: a light touch makes for lighter muffins. Dollop into a 12 hole muffin tin, with or without cases and bake for 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with icing sugar.

The kitchen will take on a fabulous aroma of maple syrup firstly and then blackberries and when you try one, hopefully warm you have the rich flavour of butter behind the main ingredients and a lovely nutty texture. Yummy.

You can always leave out the oat bran and use 2 cups of plain flour instead and blueberries instead of blackberries.

Posts, I think are going to come weekly for the time being as we have very recently welcomed the gorgeous creature below into our home:

She is a cocker spaniel, 8.5 weeks and we named her Kenya.

Anyway, it won’t be long before she settles down, I hope, and the baking can continue in earnest, but in the meantime I am cooking speedily!!

Waffly Good Breakfast where the Old Countries Meet the New

Hello again, we are back from our holiday, the school term has started and cake orders are coming in again after the summer break.

We have been lucky enough to have seen this:

Had a go on this :

Eaten massive sandwiches looking like this:

and seen plenty of these:


And of course. maple leaves are on the flag for a reason and vats of syrup have been consumed and transported back to blighty. I feel a few maple syrup recipes coming on!

For starters how about this:

Waffles with mascarpone cheese, fruit, toasted nuts and maple syrup.

Child two has been eating toasted waffles like they have been going out of fashion. Here in the UK we don’t seem to sell the frozen boxfuls like they do in North America, however we do sell them fresh in packets or if you are feeling really virtuous you can buy a waffle maker and do it yourself. We ate breakfast at a diner called Tutti Frutti and as the name would suggest anything you ordered came with a huge pile of fruit, so inspired by Child two and Tutti Frutti, I made the following, (serves one):

2 or 3 waffles (warmed), 2 or 3 tbsp of mascarpone cheese (light or regular) or a mixture of mascarpone cheese and 0%fat Greek yoghurt, fruit of your choice, I used a banana, sliced, a nectarine, sliced and a handful of blueberries, a sprinkling of toasted nuts (almond, pecan, whatever you want) and a drizzling of maple syrup.  Pile it all up on the plate and off you go.

(Europe is referred to as the old countries by Canadians and the recipe fuses Italian and Spanish ingredients with Canadian; oh and these waffles were Belgian!).

Simple Soft Fruits

So we are deep into the soft fruits season and given the expense and uneven ripening of some (peaches, apricots, nectarines) at the point of purchase it can be very tricky to have enough of any one thing to convert into a delicious dessert. I also feel that for many of the summer fruits, red and blackcurrants aside, the least fuss the better. Washed and used as an accompaniment to other things seems the best way forward.

A couple of ideas: pancake pouches with soft fruits, and the old favourite, a vintage sponge. Of course, the ever-present strawberries and raspberries below can be replaced with sliced peaches, nectarines and whole cherries if you have them.

Pancake pouches

I first saw these on Pinterest just as an image and the pouches looked perfect. I can’t imagine how the author/baker managed to get the batter to form little cauldrons into which the fruits can be spooned, but the version we ended up with went down a storm with the kids and can definitely be served up at breakfast as a low faff option or as a pudding with ice-cream as well as fruit. The origins appear to be mini German or Dutch Pancakes.

1 cup or 250ml milk
6 eggs
1 cup or 130g flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. orange zest (optional)
1/4 cup or 60g butter, melted

Sifted Icing Sugar for dusting

  1. Pouches with ice-cream and fruit

    Preheat oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C. Blend first six ingredients (milk to orange zest) in a blender.  Be careful to see that any flour clumps get well-blended.

  2. Blend in butter a little at a time in order to temper the eggs.
  3. Grease muffin tins very well with butter and distribute batter evenly between 18 holes, slightly less than half-full per hole.  Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until puffy and golden on top.
  4. Remove carefully from the oven and allow to fall back and cool down for a few minutes before carefully teasing away from the hole with a small palette knife or similar, arrange individually or together on a plate and dust liberally with icing sugar.

Borrowed from realmomkitchen.com. Bless them, although the recipe appears to be a traditional one.

These are really gorgeous in taste and this method allows one to make pancakes of a morning without the batch cooking. They basically behaved like Yorkshire puddings, for those Brits reading this, but do not cook long enough to set in the puffed up state have a lovely gooey texture too. Yummy. You might need to trial this a couple of times to get the pouch effect and just less than half full as opposed to just over half full in the bun holes seems to work better.

Vintage Cake with Soft Fruits

Just a reminder really that a simple sponge see Easy Peasy Vintage Sponge Cake with soft fruits and cream can create a wow factor like any beautifully iced cake and is far less fuss. Just one word of caution: don’t be tempted to substitute whipping cream for double, it can’t cope with the weight of the top tier so well.

And just for good measure food marriages with soft fruits include:

  • raspberries folded into whipped cream with a ¼-½ tsp of rose-water,
  • peaches cut in half, sprinkled with a little brown sugar and grilled, top with Greek yoghurt and chopped, toasted pistachios,
  • and strawberries with chocolate.

My Mother’s Easy Peasy chocolate cake recipe coming very soon.

B is for Bristol, Bridges, Balloons and The Boston Tea Party’s Basiled Eggs

I adore Bristol. I love the Georgian and Victorian architecture, the sprawl, the vibrant, urbane youth culture, the coffee houses, the energy, the creative forces that flow there, the accent, the organic food hotbed it has become and of course all my lovely friends that still live there. I don’t live there anymore but many of the significant moments in my life happened there: moved away from home (to Bristol), met my better half, graduated from the University and the children were born there. The city itself is famous for Brunel’s Suspension Bridge spanning the Gorge, the annual Hot Air Balloon festival, brightly painted houses, rain, Banksy graffiti, the docks, the University, the longest Georgian Crescent of townhouses in the country and much more. But I always feel it is a place to live rather than visit, to get under the skin of and absorb it’s energy and atmosphere.

Brunel’s masterpiece: Clifton Suspension Bridge

Interestingly though very little cooking-wise can be associated with the city as far as I’m concerned. Don’t get me wrong there are hundreds of fantastic restaurants, cafés, bars, deli’s and the like and the city also hosts an organic food festival every year, but very little influences me now apart from the veg box routine and a tale I can tell about trying to transport an extremely hot, freshly roasted turkey across town as a student as no-one had an oven big enough to cook the turkey and all the trimmings for our Christmas meal.

Lift off at the annual Balloon Fiesta, however a common site at any time

One dish I ate there amongst all the hundreds was in a coffee lounge called The Boston Tea Party. This establishment was a bit of a trail blazer in its time. Housed in a large rambling Georgian Town House in ‘downtown’ Bristol very close to the University, the interior was painted cobalt blues and stately reds. The chairs, tables and sofas were mismatched and second-hand. The original shabby chic, in fact the shabbiest of chic. There was a courtyard garden for the rare moments of dry weather and it served the new wave of coffees: latte, Americano, flat white, double espresso together with deep filled hearty sandwiches, curiously forgettable cakes but fabulous breakfasts.

It was the place to go to nurse a hangover and take visiting friends to show how ‘hip’ Bristol was/is. Having breakfast out, and not in a transport-style cafe, was a new idea in the early nineties and new style fry-ups were definitely the thing to have. I was never much of one for bacon, sausages, black pudding and fried bread, but could be tempted with scrambled eggs. So this recipe is really just that but with an Italian twist which drew me in at the time and inevitably has stuck with me.

Another easy, peasy one. Serves 1.

Split a panini or thickly cut a slice of bread and toast. Meanwhile, crack two eggs into a smallish bowl and add 2 tbsp of milk, a pinch of salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Cut 4/5 cherry tomatoes in half and very roughly chop about 8 basil leaves.

Melt a knob of butter in a non-stick pan and add the eggs, stir around over a moderate heat with a wooden spoon until lumps start to form. Then add the tomatoes and basil and continue to cook until the egg sets to your preference. Spoon over buttered toast.

Despite the juiciness of the tomatoes the eggs continue to set as normal and the basil gives off a fantastic aroma which I think it works well for breakfast. Wakes you up a bit, but also works at any other time of day…

‘Gert Lush’ as the Bristolians would say. ‘Yummy’ for the rest of us.

Many thanks MW for the bridge and balloon photos. For those of you who think you may know MW, but need a clue, the W stands for a wellknown purveyor of cake ingredients, spookily enough.

‘Vintage’ Sofa prompts Granola Update

So the last couple of days have been rather manic, with any spare time devoted to the acquisition of this:

with this :

Not a lot of time for blogging then.

However I have been sitting on a granola update, as well as my new Chesterfield, for a couple of weeks so I am going to share that.

The original granola recipe is quite a free-form idea using rolled oats, desiccated coconut, nuts, seeds and dried fruit toasted in a slight honey/butter glaze. Commercially, of course, there are variations of these sorts of things and maple and pecan is quite a common combination. I accidentally bought some maple syrup flavoured Golden Syrup recently and an idea formed that the said syrup could replace the honey component. Therefore if you are bored with the original version, fancy a change or are not keen on dried fruit, try this:

250g Rolled Oats, 50g Desiccated Coconut, 60-80g Pecans, 60g Almonds (still with the skins on for preference) and 30g hazelnuts all roughly chopped, 75ml Maple Syrup flavoured Golden Syrup and 50g Butter.

Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/Fan 155°C.

Measure out the dry ingredients into a large bowl and the syrup and butter into a saucepan and heat gently until the butter is melted. Stir to blend completely with the syrup.

Pour the wet into the dry and stir round until the dry is properly coated with the wet.

Spread out on a baking sheet and bake/toast for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so to brown evenly.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely before transferring to an air-tight container.

Good with other cereals as a garnish, on its own or with yoghurt and fruit. Yummy.

I’m sure this could be made substituting actual maple syrup for the flavoured golden syrup but in the UK, unlike Canada, it doesn’t grow on trees and really is quite expensive.

Thatcher inspires Cottage Loaf

There has been a thatcher at work in Town for at least a couple of weeks now and as the Kids and I tend to drive by at least once a day, monitoring of his progress has become part of the daily routine. He is fascinating to watch; progress appears to be very slow and, as you are building a roof, is clearly very precise. He doesn’t seem entirely dressed for the job, often wearing something you might throw on for Saturday lunch at the pub if you are male and in your mid fifties. Naturally it’s not a particularly messy business, a bit dusty at best, and on the whole he has been blessed with reasonable weather so doesn’t need sou’westers on, but his attire has, quite frankly, been the most surprising facet. As I understand it the crop used to produce the straw lengths used by thatchers is a different variety to that used to produce grains of corn for consumption. The stems are a lot longer and grown as a rule only in East Anglia, (an area in the East of Britain).

I have been pondering how to work this excitement into a post about food almost from the word go, and of course I have already given away a big clue. Wheat/Corn/Barley, whatever it is the thatcher is using is essentially the ingredient in Bread.

I am very late to the making bread party, bearing in mind the general level of baking which goes on here. It’s my Father who is the expert bread maker, but as with many of his recipes (where’s the Cornish Chicken Curry one Papa, eh?) he likes to maintain an air of mystery and won’t divulge much. I will have to extract some of his signature dishes eventually (if you get my drift) but for the time being I suspect committing recipes to paper is the issue. I cook in a ‘pinch of this and a handful of that’ kind of way too and formalising the process can be a little tedious.

Anyway, bread making on the surface appears to be a bit of an art form. Gadgets to do the job for you are popular, and, whilst they haven’t demystified the process completely they have induced some having-a-go. Perhaps having made that leap, some might fancy this too. Lorraine Pascal finally persuaded me into action. Something about her mesmerising, siren call persona convinced me all would be well. She also has the sort of equipment in her kitchen that I have in mine which is helpful! A Kitchen Aid or a Kenwood Mixer would definitely be a BIG asset here as I wouldn’t really fancy kneading by hand, and food processors rarely produce good results.

Lorraine has a there-really-isn’t-much-to-it air about her and a lot of her tips have been really on the nail. That being said if you have watched or come across her smoothing a cake, IGNORE HER. DISASTER. I will post a video at some point of how to do it properly, or come on a cake decorating course, I’ll post some details soon but certainly don’t copy her. However on the subject of baking bread she is first rate and I have been happily baking it ever since.

First you need to decide what sort of loaf you want to eat.

For the type of loaf I make and by which we are talking a bloomer/cottage-y thing,

looking like this →

the recipe is the same regardless of the flour types you use. And therein lies the charm: completely adaptable, coping with allergies (up to a point), preferences and cravings.

As I tap, I have one in the oven and the flour combination is:

200g strong white, 100g wholemeal spelt and 200g of Allison’s Country Grain (malted wheat flakes, rye flour, malted wheat and barley flour apparently).

What all this means is if you are intolerant to wheat gluten you can substitute spelt or rye or a mixture to suit or if you find wholemeal heavy going and house-brick like you can blending regular white with wholemeal to lighten it. However if regular strong white is not a dietary issue I would recommend starting off with around 200g to give a reasonable chewiness and then experiment with the remaining 300g to find your perfect loaf. All Spelt (the original wheat) gives a loaf with a ‘crumbly texture’ once baked and therefore whilst making good toast can be a bit frustrating if you like to overfill your sandwich, like I do.

So, into the bowl you will need to put 500g bread flour, (all white if you wish or we like the proportions above, or 50/50 white/wholemeal), 8g easy blend dried yeast, 1 tsp salt (don’t skip it!), 1 tsp sugar, 1 tbsp Olive Oil, and 320 ml warm water. Switch on the mixer with the dough hook attachment and off you go. Watch whilst all the ingredients combine and the end point here is a ball of dough attached to the hook whizzing round and the sides of the bowl are clean, if it doesn’t all combine add a little more water (anything up to 20-30ml), if you have added too much water, don’t panic, although the dough will be sticking to the sides of the bowl and the mixer motor will appear to be labouring, just add a little flour and all should be well. Once you are happy with consistency, let it knead for 5 minutes. Then prove for 2 hours with a tea towl over the bowl. This can be in the kitchen on the work surface, doesn’t have to be in the airing cupboard or any of that nonsense and if it does rise too fast because it’s somewhere too hot, there’ll be trouble.

Then, knock back, which means sprinkle a little flour on the work surface and knead by hand for about 20 seconds, shape into an oval sort of shape, sprinkle a little flour on the top and make a couple of small slash marks with a knife. Plonk onto an oiled baking sheet. Preheat main oven to 220°C/200°C and if you have a top oven leave in there towards the bottom for 25 minutes. If no top oven, on the hob or next to will be fine with the tea towel over. After 25 minutes is up pop in the centre of the oven (minus the tea towel) and if you can, put some ice cubes in the bottom of the oven to create some steam and produce a crusty crust. This is a Pascal-ism and is a great tip. Bake for about 30-35 minutes. Then remove and after a minute or two and using a tea towel pick up the bread and knock the bottom. It should sound hollow or so the legends go. I have no idea what I’m listening for, but if it looks cooked, it probably is.

The only problem with this is that it is so tasty and the house smells so great, it’s all gone before it’s cold and you are back to square one.

The day I took the photos I asked the Thatcher’s permission and how long he had left. To my surprise, and despite the fact it looks almost finished, he still had a months worth of work to go!

Perfect Pancakes and no Palaver

At Last! My perfect pancake.

As it’s Shrove Tuesday tomorrow I feel I should blog about Pancakes. However these delicious creations feature large in our house as Child 2 is a creature of habit and campaigns weekly, without fail, to have them for breakfast on Sunday mornings. Seeing as this is the least busy day of the week from the point of view of cooking something up first thing, I have generally been happy to indulge him.

Of course I’m talking about the American variety and therefore Delia just won’t do. I have been through several versions over the years and I have always been left wanting in some way. Typically I’ve used a recipe of Nigella’s but this involves melting butter which then has to be cooled to some degree before being added to the various other ingredients, which I could not commit to memory, basically a bit of a faff. At that time of the week, let alone morning, I want to be able to bang these out in a family-tradition-I’ve-been-doing-it-all-my-life kind of way, with a minimum of brain power, equipment and little opportunity to forget some vital ingredient. I have learnt this the hard way and after 5 years have finally come up with the ideal recipe, and here it is.

Adapted from the inspirational Rachel Allen, and the result of a happy accident, her Drop Scones recipe has been morphed into our American Pancake one, and because it is all about stateside in this post, I use my anglicised version of american measures:

a generous ½ cup self-raising flour, pinch of salt, 1 tbsp (15g) caster sugar, 1 egg, ½ cup milk, a drop of sunflower oil. That’s all you need apart from a bowl, a balloon whisk and a frying pan. (I do appreciate you can buy pancake mix (type in pancake mix at the link) which would be far simpler but that’s not what this blog’s about).

So put all the dry ingredients in a bowl, make a well in the middle and add the egg and milk. Whisk until you have a smooth batter and that’s it. Heat 1 tsp oil over a moderate heat and after a minute, wipe the non stick frying pan with some kitchen paper, to remove the liquid oil or use that oil spray. Depending on the size of your frying pan dot single dessert spoonfuls of mixture around the pan. It will spread out, so to a say 22cm (9″) pan add about 3 dollops. Allow the mixture to cook on that side until you can see bubbles popping on the surface of the cooking batter, then get a little palette knife or fish slice under the pancake and flip it over, give it another 30 seconds to a minute and remove to a plate and a slightly warm oven whilst you carry on with the next batch, wiping the frying pan carefully with the oily kitchen paper between each batch. Keep going ’til you have used up all the batter, you will probably end up with around 12 or so depending on how big you decide to make them. There is no right size but you know what they should look like. We don’t go massive.

Delicious with the following:  honey, jam, eggs and bacon, any fruit, sliced to go with, and of course Maple Syrup.

Maple Syrup – Canada – Thinking Day (c.1982). What can the Girl Guides Thinking Day Celebrations have to do with all this I hear you asking? Thinking Day is also this week (22nd) and is celebrated by Guides world-wide as it’s their founder’s birth date. Back in 1982 we were duly celebrating this with other Guides from our town in a school hall somewhere. Each Guide Company providing a display from another one of the Guiding Nations. This was to include food from the relevant country for us to eat ourselves as a snack.

Our Company had picked Canada and so someone had kindly prepared a kind of Maple Syrup Tart (a bit like Treacle Tart) for us all. Maple syrup for the uninitiated has a distinctive, intense flavour in such a dish. I should like to point out that I adore maple syrup but as we all sat there that evening, hungry and picking miserably at this confection, we were all absolutely bright green with envy as we looked across to the Company who had chosen Italy……

Let’s all groan for the Granola

Yummy? Yes really!

I know, I know, why on earth would anyone want to be eating this stuff let alone making and eating this stuff, but believe me it can really pep up your breakfast. I have used it on the fruit salad recipe in the previous post, mixed in with something a bit boring like every girls favourite red-letter, wheaten flakes, and even as a kind of garnish with yoghurt, bananas, honey…. the options are endless.

However the best bit about it (apart from the taste) is that it is a conduit to using up all those opened packets of nuts, seeds and dried fruit which have been hanging around since Christmas or even a couple of Christmases before that.

So, what to do: take a large mixing bowl and first off add 250g or so of rolled oats (quantities are not critical at all here), around 50g of desiccated coconut, 100g of chopped mixed nuts (hazel, pecan, almonds, brazil but probably not cashews, peanuts or walnuts) chopping roughly if whole, and around 50-100g of seeds, (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, linseed, again what you have lying around but not poppy). There are then two ways of approaching the next bit: either to around 75g/ml of honey slacken it with a slug of apple juice and a drop of vanilla extract and combine with dry ingredients or, and this is easier, warm the honey and a drop of vanilla extract with around 50-60g of butter until the butter is melted and then combine with the dry ingredients.

Once the dry is coated with the wet, spread evenly over a baking sheet and pop in a moderate to cool oven around 160-170°C/150°C fan stirring every 10 minutes or so for about 30 mins in total until it all appears toasted. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on the baking sheet. At that point you can add dried fruit of your choice or again based on what you have in the cupboard (raisins, sultanas, apricots, prunes, dates) chopped up if necessary. Transfer to an airtight jar and it’ll keep for a couple of months.

I find I have packets of ready-to-eat apricots and prunes hanging around from the business side of things which have a fairly short shelf life once open. This recipe seems to provide the ideal opportunity to use them up. Again credit must go the likes of Rachel Allen and also Sophie Dahl for the inspiration behind this concoction.

Veg Box Fruit Salad

So one of those food marriages I’d never stopped to think about until was pointed out to me by the fabulous Rachel Allen, she gives a great fruit salad recipe with a herby twist in her wonderful book on which the following is based.


Veg/fruit boxes at this time of year are groaning under the weight of a curious mixture of pears and oranges (amongst other things).

 Therefore try the following: peel and chop a pear, slice the ends and the peel and pith from a couple of oranges (stand the oranges, once the tops and bottoms have been removed, on a chopping board and using a sharp knife cut down round the orange flesh removing just the peel and pith). Remove the segments of flesh with the knife by cutting adjacent to the segment membranes. This all sounds far more complicated than it actually is. Alternatively, peel oranges, separate segments and cut each segment in half. Add to the pear, add a little fruit juice or the juice released from the cut up oranges, or both and then add a small amount of finely chopped fresh mint. Either you are lucky enough to have some in the garden, or like me you bought some for a curry a week ago and the rest of the packet is languishing in the fridge. Mix together and eat at any time of day but particularly good at breakfast.

The first time I tried this I also added grapefruit and grapes. Citrus seems to be the key here, but also tropical either juice or actual fruit.

Rachel Allen’s book is still in print (Collins, 2009), and if you hang around here long enough you will see I refer to her often. She has a fantastically, simple style often needing few ingredients to pack a punch. A true food hero of mine.

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