September 23, 2008

summer's end

It seems so long now since I last sat down to post something..... these last two months have been a whirlwind, but now life is beginning to settle a little once again!

Those first few days and weeks of hectic craziness, of everything upside down, in boxes, uprooted and misplaced - like camping out, but without the bugs! - is now slowly being replaced by a steadier pace, as we start to organise, and 'pretty up' the house. I still have no kitchen to speak of, just a borrowed cooker stood next to a rickety unit in what will be the heart of the house, and an old linen cupboard for a makeshift crockery store... but we have dreams of what it will become!

We've come a long way since our first meal of take-out curry from our local Indian on a warm July evening. We didn't even notice the peeling wallpaper and bare boards through the excitement of finally being in our new 'old' house.

Since then it's given up a few of it's secrets while we've poked and prodded, stripped back and repaired; the fireplace in the bedroom, which was draped in a musty dark yellow paint, revealed some very beautiful and ornate victorian tiles.
The garden too, has had some treasures of it's own with three apple trees. All different, and all hung heavy with fruit.

So now, with the smell of Autumn heavy in the air, the dusky evenings giving way to starry skies and coal fires, it seemed right to collect the last of the Summer's bounty and bring it in to make crumbles and cakes.
Even with the floorboards still bare, and each room awaiting it's decided dressing, this feels like home; in from the deepening evening chill to good old- fashioned apple crumble, made with the first picking of apples from our garden, eaten in front of a roaring fire - albeit an open chimney breast and old fire-basket, while we still hunt for the perfect old fireplace to put back some of the splendour this old house once had!

June 24, 2008

asparagus dip

This has to be one of my most favourite things, ever!'s very green, and garlicky; refreshing and clean tasting, it's not at all heavy or cloying like some dairy based dips can be, and it goes well with just about anything from baked potato, to crudites, to oat cakes, and yes, even hard boiled eggs! Don't believe me?....then why not give it a try!

It may sound like a weird combination of ingredients, but it's rich, nutty, almost smoky taste is very addictive. I've been making this dip for years without much change to the original recipe from a book called 'Food Combining for Vegetarians' by Jackie Le Tissier.
Food Combining is a system of eating rather than a 'diet', and was formulated by Dr Hay in the early 1900's; basically, you eat fresh, unprocessed foods, and you don't eat protein foods and carbohydrates at the same meal. As you can probably tell from the other recipes on the Blog, I don't Food Combine in everything I eat!, but I do try to mostly follow the guidelines, and I certainly feel a lot better for it when I do!

Asparagus Dip
1 350g can of asparagus (reserve liquid)
100g ground almonds
2 cloves of garlic
a pinch of smoked paprika
about 1 tablespoon of reserved asparagus liquid from can

Place all of the ingredients, except for the reserved liquid, into a lquidiser and whizz until smooth. You may need to add more, or less, apsaragus liquid to the mix to get your desired consistency. Don't be tempted to make it too runny though, because this can make it separate when it's served.

Cover, and refrigerate until needed (it will last two to three days in the fridge) although this tastes much better if it's eaten at room temperature. Try it piled onto a baked potato with a fresh crunchy green salad, or as a a dip served with crudites.

June 22, 2008

isn't life great!

It seems like I haven't posted anything in ages - and I'm getting withdrawl symptoms!!

The thing is, life has got really hectic lately; with my daughters home fom Uni now for the summer there's been lots of catching up to do, and family time, before they're off again! Then, at the same time B and I have been engrossed in buying a run-down Victorian house to do up, with all of the running around that that entails.....(I'm hoping to post more about that later)..... and......our lovely ginger fluffball of a cat, Willow, produced four beautiful kittys last Saturday night.

So, life is wonderful, and trying to fit it all in to just 24 hours a day (let alone go to work!) is great fun!

I apologise that I haven't had time to visit all your lovely blogs either for a while - but I'll soon be back in the swing, I'm sure; not too much time for 'creative' baking at the moment, although B did get a lemon meringue cake for his birthday last week, but it got demolished before I could photograph it! Still I'll be back very soon...
Take care, Alfie

June 02, 2008

pea, feta and spinach salad

This salad is so fresh, and vibrant; it is just simple, uncomplicated, good food. Just recently I've had a real hankering for peas....yes, I know, peas! Perhaps it's the longer days, and a promise of Summer (what, you hadn't noticed because of all the rain?), or maybe it's just that they taste so good, all bright green and sweet, and bursting smugly with their own goodness.
This gorgeous, verdant, salad is adapted from a recipe by Bill Granger (Pea, Feta and Mint Salad), but I'm not overly keen on mint, so I left that out, and also adapted the dressing so that I could add garlic (of course!)

The combination of the flavours works beautifully together, and even just looking at it makes you feel instantly healthier! It's colours are jewel like, and although we ate it as a simple lunch, just with a hunk of crusty bread, it would make a wonderfully vivid and appetising side to grace any meal.

Pea, Feta and Spinach Salad
(adapted from a recipe by Bill Granger)

200g fresh peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
30g pistachios
50g baby spinach leaves
75g feta cheese
Blanch the peas in boiling water for about two minutes, and then refresh immediately in cold water to stop them losing their lovely bright green colour.
Cook the onion in the two tablespoons of oil until soft and golden (about five minutes). Whisk together the remaining oil and cider vinegar for the dressing, and season with garlic, salt and pepper.
When the onions are cooked, mix them with the peas and pistachios in a bowl, and toss together with the dressing.
Lightly mix in the spinach to coat the leaves with the dressing and then sprinkle with the crumbled feta to serve.

May 26, 2008

individual smoked salmon and watercress tian

Ah..... the Great British Bank Holiday!

Rain again.....but that didn't stop us enjoying it, after all, we wouldn't let a few showers spoil the fun! Not much chance for basking in sunshine in the garden, but, undeterred, we still managed to conjure an illusion of Summer with these individual smoked salmon tian; perfect with a light salad of mixed leaves, dressed with garlic vinaigrette, and freshly made crunchy coleslaw on the side - who cares about the rain when you can create Summer in your kitchen!
A Tian is basically a tart without the pastry crust, named after the half glazed french Tian dish that it was traditionally cooked in. Not only does this mean that it is very easy to make, also get all of the wonderful rich, savoury, flavour of a tart, without all the work of making pastry and lining tart cases etc! Whilst there is obviously still a place for tarts and quiches, these little Tians make a wonderful short-cut, and they're great if you can't eat wheat, or you just simply don't want the extra fuss, or 'packaging' of the pastry crust. They hold together surprisingly well even without a pastry case, so they are also perfect for picnics and packed lunches. (Bet you can't guess what's in my lunch-box for today!....)

Because I wanted small, individual, Tians I improvised and cooked them in my muffin pan. The combination of delicate smoked salmon and punchy watercress is so evocative of lazy Summer eating, and it's all held together with a smooth, creamy textured custard, tinged with garlic and freshly grated aromatic nutmeg (this has an amazing ability to bring out the flavour in any creamy sauce)

Individual Smoked Salmon and Watercress Tian
(Cabbage Roses and Cupcakes)

5 eggs
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
150mls single cream
1 tablespoon parmesan cheese
120g smoked salmon
half an 85g bag of watercress roughly chopped (plus a few sprigs for garnish)
1 clove garlic
half a tsp grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Set your oven to 180C / Gas 4. Then, in a large bowl, blend together the eggs, cream, creme fraiche, and parmesan. Stir in the garlic, nutmeg, and watercress, and then season to taste. If you don't have a non-stick pan you may need to oil it a little before pouring in the Tian filling. Pour the filling almost to the top of each muffin mould.

(Because the salmon is heavy and sinks to the bottom of the mixture, I found it easier to divide the salmon between the muffin moulds after pouring in the egg and cream filling to make sure that it was evenly distributed). Finally, place a decorative sprig of watercress on the top of each Tian and bake for 20-30 mins until they are just set and golden brown.

May 18, 2008

pistachio meringues with blackberry and elderflower granita

Meringue is one of those things that I find very therapeutic to make, the added bonus being it's always so wonderful to eat too. In the Winter it's comforting with a heavy unctuous chocolate or toffee topping, and in the Summer (well, the sun has been out for a couple of days, so we could be forgiven for thinking that it must be nearly Summer!) what better way to finish off a meal than with a sweet, crisp meringue, dotted with nubs of bright green pistachios, and then piled high with floppy clouds of double cream, and topped off with a tart and refreshing granita?

Firstly, start by making the meringue the day before.

75g shelled pistachio nuts
4 egg whites
200g golden caster sugar
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar

Line a baking tray with baking parchment and heat the oven to 120C / Gas 1. Tip the pistachios into a shallow baking tin and toast in the oven for 7-10 minutes. Blitz in a food processor or chop roughly and then set aside.
In a clean bowl whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, but not dry. Gradually whisk in the sugar a spoon at a time until it's all been incorporated and the mixture is no longer gritty. Quickly whisk in the corflour and vinegar, which you have mixed together into a paste, and then lightly fold in about three quarters of the pistachios.

Spoon the mixture onto the baking tray to make four round shells with a slight hollow in the middle for the filling. Then sprinkle over the remaining pistachio nuts, and bake low in the oven for about an hour, or until they are firm and crisp on the outside. If they brown too quickly you may need to turn the oven down, or put the tray lower down in the oven. When they are cooked leave in the oven to cool - preferably overnight.

To make the Granita.......

225g blackberries (or other soft fruit of your choice)
250mls elderflower and blackcurrant cordial
juice of 1 lemon

....simply puree the fruit with the cordial and push through a fine mesh sieve. Add the lemon juice and then pour into a shallow container and freeze for about an hour. By this time the granita should be starting to freeze around the edges.
Gently stir the crystals with a fork and then put the container back into the freezer. Keep doing this every half hour, taking care not to crush the crystals too much otherwise you will lose the lovely 'grainy' texture.

When the mixture has reached the consistency of a firm slush it's ready to be eaten.
Finally, when you're ready, assemble the meringue with the cream and granita and serve straight away. I know I'm definitely looking forward to a long, hot Summer. It's the perfect excuse for eating lots more lovely meringue with refreshing fruit granita!

banana chocolate muffins with banana fudge glaze - definitely not for the faint-hearted!

I make no apologies for yet another post about chocolate (I feel there may be a theme developing here!) after all, chocolate is possibly one of my favourite things (what, you hadn't guessed!) and always seems to work wonderfully well in any context; this recipe being no exception......and these muffins have got banana in them, so that makes them healthy, right?
Adding the banana to these chocolate muffins was the result of needing to use up some sad looking bananas that were sat in the corner of my kitchen slowly turning a deeper and deeper shade of black! When they were cooked they looked a little bare, so I made up a fudge sauce and threw in some more chopped bananas (well there were quite a few to use up!) and voila, there you have it.....soft, chewy chocolate/banana muffin, drizzled with buttery banana fudge mmmmmm!....

Banana Chocolate Muffins with Banana Fudge Glaze
(Recipe) Cabbage Roses & Cupcakes
225mls single cream
50g cornflour
100g dark soft brown sugar
3 tbsp cocoa

75g butter
125g dark chocolate
75mls sunflower oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
125g golden caster sugar
125g plain flour
2 and a half tsps baking powder
1 large banana chopped

Fudge Glaze
50mls double cream
175g soft brown sugar
50g butter
1 chopped banana

Put the cream, cocoa, brown sugar, and cornflour into a saucepan and whisk together over a medium heat until boiled and very thick and smooth. Take off the heat and beat in the butter and broken up chocolate until melted and combined into a thick, glossy batter. Next, add the oil, vanilla, one of the eggs and mix this in. Finally add the caster sugar and the remaining egg and beat again until smooth.

Then, sift the flour and baking powder into the chocolate mixture, add the banana and beat through until combined.

Pour the batter into muffin cases or tins and bake for 25-30 mins at 180C/ 350F / Gas 4.

To make the glaze, melt the butter and sugar together in a small pan until the sugar has melted. Add in the cream and boil for 2-3 minutes stirring all the time. Take off the heat and add in the chopped banana. Stir and leave to cool until it has thickened enough to drizzle over the muffins and cover them.

These are best eaten on the day that they're made, but they also make a delicious, and very tempting dessert eaten warm with ice-cream and extra banana fudge sauce!

May 08, 2008

twisted candy!

You see the thing is......

while I really do love eating good, fresh, healthy, wholefoods, I can also be tempted to go over to 'the dark side'!
This was one of those times; standing in the checkout queue yesterday, absently waiting my turn, blissfully unaware of the temptation ahead, I spied this twist on a Cadbury Creme Egg
It was calling me, with it's iridescent yellow and red and bluey-purple wrap, was a done deal, and I snuck home furtively with my elicit hoard!
Ah - but what's it like inside the wrapper I hear you ask? (Ginny I thought I'd elaborate!) Well, I ate the evidence before I could take any more photos, but it's basically a chunky twist of chocolate with a creme egg centre. Packaging aside - I still prefer the original though, for it's gooey fun-of-eatingness!
No recipe this time, just a pic of a candy wrapper that I wanted to share - just because......!

Arte Y Pico.. PostScript

I was amazed, and delighted, to find that Marye at Baking Delights had also passed on this award to me - two in one week! - Thank you Marye; as you say, for a non-blogger it must seem crazy to get excited about a picture to put on your blog. But really it's more about the fun and networking of the blogshere, and all the wonderful people you meet along the way!
Check out Marye's blog, it's inspiring and full of lovely recipes and interesting articles.

May 03, 2008

Arte Y Pico

Another lovely surprise yesterday..... from Angela - she chose me for the Arte Y Pico Award This award is for creativity, design, interesting material and contribution to the blogging community. I'm really thrilled to receive it, especially as I'm so new to blogging! So, thank you Angela, and as always it's good to pass on the good feeling.

As I particularly love the beautiful photos that I find on so many of the food blogs out there, it's a pleasure to pass this award on to 5 blogs that I always look forward to reading, as much for their wonderful pictures, as for their imaginative and innovative recipes! Make sure you find some time to check them out and see for yourself.

I love Milk and Cookies
Cannelle et Vanille
And then I do the dishes

The rules for this award are:
1. You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and also contributes to the blogging community, no matter what language.
2. Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his/her blog to be visited by everyone.
3. Each award winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her/him the award itself.
4. The award winner and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of Arte y Pico blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.
5. To show these rules.

April 28, 2008

decadent chocolate mousse cake

Is it a cake - or is it a mousse? Well, whichever it is, it tastes delicious! When I saw this recipe by Annie Bell I knew I had to make it. What is it, I wonder, about our love affair with chocolate, perhaps it's the velvety texture, or is it the irresistibly rich and decadent taste that wraps itself around your tongue, and into your psyche, leaving you helpless to resist?
This gorgeous cake cum mousse is a very simple cake to make, and it looks stunning. I love the way that the sides bulge under the weight of the just-set, unctuous, moussey, chocolate centre, hinting at the delights within. This is chocolate heaven, and I make no apology at all for posting this luscious recipe; it may be gratuitous in it's extravagance, but it's worth every calorie!
Chocolate mousse cake

2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
150g golden caster sugar
450ml double cream
1 and a half tablespoons rosewater
300g good quality dark chocolate

Heat oven to 140C/ Gas 1, and then butter a deep sided 20cm cake tin with a removable base (the 'cake' is so soft when it's cooked that it's best not to try and get it off the base!)

Whisk the eggs, yolks and sugar until very pale - almost white, in fact, and doubled in volume. Meanwhile heat the cream and the rosewater to boiling point and then pour over the broken chocolate pieces. Stir gently every so often until the chocolate has melted and then add the chocolate mixture to the eggs and sugar and mix together. Pour into the prepared tin and then bake for 30-45 minutes (depending on your oven) until the cake is just set and still has a bit of wobble in it!

Leave to cool in the tin and run a knife around the top to release the crust if it has stuck to the tin. As it cools the top will crack a little but I think makes it look even more appealing! Eat this on the day that it's cooked to get the maximum gooey moussiness, although this will keep well covered in the fridge for a couple of days. Allow it to come back to room temperature before serving.

Lovely served with cream, or real vanilla ice-cream - or if you want a bit of a tang to cut through the rich chocolate, try it with Greek yoghurt!

April 26, 2008

sunshine granola know how the theory goes about making sure you have a healthy breakfast, packed with all sorts of good things, and..... you also know how it goes, that even with the best of intentions, and cupboards stocked full of said 'good things' it just never seems to happen - well, not to me anyway! I'm sure that time speeds up in the morning; no sooner have I clambered out of bed, rubbing precious sleep from my eyes, than it seems I have to be rushing out of the door - late again!
I always intend to make a 'proper' breakfast; I love oats in the morning, and sometimes the porridge even makes it from the cupboard to a bowl, although, more often than not, it's more of a whimsical notion, and my healthy breakfast goes by the board - again!
In an effort to redress the balance I've been looking around for a way to eat my oats without having to cook them first. Something I could just 'grab and go'. Then my answer came when I was trawling through my box of recipe clippings, and food magazines. There they were - several recipes for Granola! I've been aware of Granola but never really taken too much notice of it before, but now it seemed like the perfect solution to my breakfast conundrum - or lack of it! I adapted the bits I liked from the recipes I found, and came up with a lovely sweet, nutty mix that ticked all the boxes - just like a bowl of sunshine to start the day!
I enjoy it just with almond milk, and it's disappearing very quickly.....maybe next time I'll substitute maple syrup for the honey, and pecans for the pistachios, and add in some dried fruits (cranberries, strawberries, pineapple) - but then that's the beauty of Granola, the possibilities are endless - B and I are converted!

Sunshine Granola
(by Alfie)

3 cups jumbo organic oats
half cup flaked almonds
half cup shredded coconut
half cup chopped hazelnuts
half cup pistachios
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
6 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons walnut oil
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla essence

Mix all of the dry ingredients together to combine. Melt the honey and walnut oil over a gentle heat and then stir in vanilla essence.
Pour the honey mixture into the oat and nut mixture so that it's well coated and then tip into a large open baking tray.
Bake at 300F / 150C / Gas 2 for 20-30 minutes stirring frequently to prevent it from sticking.
When you have a tray full of fragrant toasted nuggets, remove it from the oven. Stir to stop it from sticking together while it cools, and then store in an airtight container.

Serve it with milk, nut milk, or natural yoghurt for a bowl full of nutty goodness to set you up for the day!

April 25, 2008

naturally sweet!.......sugarless date and apple cake

Dates are a wonderful sweetener, making the most of all those natural fruit sugars. So, when they're combined with raisins, sultanas and apple, well, there's no need for any added sugar at all! This is a real bonus in a world where it seems that almost everything is packed full of unnecessary 'added sugars'.
This is a recipe by Annie Bell which I came across in the Sainsbury's Magazine while I was looking for a low sugar Birthday Cake. It is so rich and fruity, and it could be iced if you wanted to, but seeing as I was trying to cut down on the added sugar on this occasion, that would definitely have defeated the object!
I must admit, that as it emerged from the oven in it's tinged paper shroud it really didn't look like the prettiest cake I've ever seen!
But, once it was cooled and dressed up with Spring flowers it was special enough to grace any table.......Happy Birthday Mum!

Date and Apple Cake

300g unsalted butter
340ml apple juice
300g dates - pitted and chopped
1 bramley apple - about 300g - peeled and grated
350g raisins
300g sultanas
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
150g ground almonds
150g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
finely grated zest of 1 lemon & 1 orange

Heat the oven to 150C / Gas 2. Butter a 20cm round loose bottom tin and line with baking parchment. Melt the butter with the apple juice, and then stir in the fruit. Bring to the boil, and then simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer this to a large mixing bowl and stir in the bicarb, which will fizz madly! Leave the mixture to cool for around 10 minutes.
Beat the flour, almonds, nutmeg, and zest into the fruit and then pour into cake tin.

As there is so much fruit in the cake it will burn easily, so to protect it while cooking, cut out a sheet of baking parchment that will fit over the tin and halfway down the sides. Cut a hole out of the middle of this paper the size of a 50p piece, and then butter the paper to prevent it sticking to the cake! Lay the paper over the cake and secure with string. Wrap a double layer of parchment around the sides of the tin and tie this in place too.

Now bake the cake for 2 and a half to 3 hours, covering the top of the cake with another layer of parchment if it needs it. It will be cooked when a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
This luscious, moist cake will keep in an airtight container for three weeks - if it lasts that long!

April 20, 2008

dacquoise with summer berry compote

I don't really know what made me think of it.....Dacquoise. Perhaps it was musing on a light dessert for a relaxing Sunday lunch; an occasion to be savoured as it doesn't seem to happen too often! Or maybe it was my general preoccupation with ground almonds, a sense that seems to shadow me like some half forgotten eidolon.

Well, anyway, whatever it was, it sent me searching through my own hand-written student notebooks; dog-eared recipe books bespattered and smudged with years of loving use as their pages have given up their well-loved treasures time and again. Yet, strangely, this was a recipe that I have had for well over 25 years, and have, as yet, never made! I don't really know why exactly I've overlooked it for so long. It became a family favourite of my class buddy from our sixth-form cookery classes (or Home Economics as it was then!) In fact, I remember her calling me on several occasions when she had been asked to produce this favoured confection, but didn't have the recipe to hand!

Despite this, until now, it had remained for me just so many ingredients on a page. Until today, that I approached the task with interest, wondering what it was that could be so special about what is basically a meringue with ground almonds added to it. Following the recipe I dutifully whisked up the meringue, and folded in the almonds, and then set it in the oven and waited......

Well, I can certainly see why this became a favourite. The ground almonds offer a taste that is rather like amaretti biscuits and the texture light and crispy with a little chewiness - not as sickly as a normal meringue, and perhaps a little more 'grown up'. The original recipe from my notebook was filled with apricots and cream, although the delicate nutty flavour would lend itself to all sorts of different fillings. We had ours with summer fruits though (from the freezer, since we're not yet even fully into Spring! ) as I felt I wanted a sharp contrast to the sweet almondy meringue. I'll definitely make this again, though I don't think I'll wait another 25 years!

Dacquoise with Summer Fruit Compote

3 egg whites
150g caster sugar
50g ground almonds

250ml double cream - lightly whipped
100g summer fruits
sugar to taste
1 teaspoon cornflour

Heat the oven to 140C / 275F / Gas 1 and mark out two 20cm circles on sheets of baking parchment and place these on clean dry baking sheets.

Whisk the egg whites until just stiff, and then whisk in half the sugar so that it becomes smooth and glossy. Fold in the rest of the sugar and the ground almonds gently until they are mixed in evenly.
Carefully divide the mixture between the two circles, spreading them out gently - they will be quite thin. Bake for an hour, or until the paper peels away easily.

For the compote, put two tablespoons of water in a saucepan with the fruit and sugar, and simmer gently until soft (about 5 minutes). Slake the cornflour with a little water to a smooth paste, and then add to the fruits, stirring all the time to avoid lumps. Bring to the boil to thicken the mixture for two minutes and then leave to cool. Alternatively, if you want to do without the cornflour you can just continue to cook the fruit until the juices have reduced to a syrup.

Finally, sandwich the Dacquoise together with whipped cream, and pile the fruit compote on top allowing some of the sweet juices to dapple the sides. Finish off with a light dusting of icing sugar and some toasted almonds. (Try not to assemble this too far in advance or the filling will tend to make the Dacquoise lose it's lovely crunch)

Then sit back, relax - and enjoy this with even more cream.....if you dare!

April 19, 2008

Ahem!....I'd like to thank....

Yesterday I discovered that the lovely Nic at Cherrapeno had chosen me for an 'E' for Excellent Award. I only started Blogging in January as an outlet for my love of cooking and photography, and already it's a lot of fun. Special thanks go to Nic as she has been really supportive and encouraging as I took my first faltering steps into the world of Blogging. Her own Blog is full of lovely recipes with beautiful and tempting photos, and every time I visit I always come away with a list of things to cook!

Getting the Award was such a lovely surprise, and although my Blog is really just a big 'canvas' for my own foodie experiments and ramblings it was so nice to think other people like it too! Thank you to all of you who have visited my Blog, and for all the lovely comments and feedback that you've been sending.

As part of the Award I am supposed to pass it on to ten other Blogs which I think are excellent - now that's a really formidable thing to try to do; there are so many wonderful blogs out there, how could I possibly choose?

So anyway...., after MUCH deliberation, and in no particular order (they're ALL so inspiring to read, and seriously gorgeous to look at! ) here are the Blogs that I would like to pass on the Award to....

You say tomato I say tomato
and then I do the dishes
Domestic Goddess in Training
The Knead For Bread
Milk and Cookies
The Traveler's Lunchbox
Confections of a Foodie Bride

April 14, 2008

sweet violet cupcakes

With Spring unfurling her rainbow hues, my garden is now carpeted with sweet violets, their frail purple blossoms a florid blaze.
Dating back to Roman times there has been evidence of violets being put to culinary use. In Rome they would welcome the Spring with 'Violetum' - a sweet violet wine, and why not? Like other plants, violets too are not without their medicinal properties. Folklore has it that the plant is good for all sorts of ailments from sore throats to headaches, to moderating anger, and even curing cancer. Violet blossoms are, in fact, higher in Vitamin C than any other domestic green vegetable, and also contain Vitamin A! Tea made from the entire plant is used to treat digestive disorders, whilst new research has detected the presence of a glycoside of salicylic acid (a natural aspirin) which affirms its use for centuries in many countries as a herbal medicinal remedy.
There have been recipes for using violets through the centuries, but the violet became particularly popular with the Victorians and Edwardians. A 'Violet Tea' was a Spring event, held when the flowers were in bloom. As violets are such delicate flowers, the Edwardian Violet Tea was presented in suitably elegant fashion. All food was especially light and miniaturized, with bite sized scones and sandwiches flavored with violet jelly or crystallized violets.

The violet is such a beautiful and evocative flower that I was inspired to use those delicate blossoms from the garden. Of course, my thoughts immediately turned to cupcakes! I was also reminiscing over the sickly sweet, but very addictive, 'Parma Violets' that I remember eating as a child. You can still buy them, but I haven't had any for years!

So, I started by baking a batch of cupcakes using a basic sponge mixture and adding lots of vanilla (I decided that anything else might overpower the delicate violet flavour) I wanted a flat topping that would frost the cakes with a slight crunch, so I used Royal Icing and added crushed Parma Violets to it. This produced a lovely pale lilac colour, and also, not surprisingly, tasted like Parma Violets....rather like a grown up and more sophisticated version of the candy! Finally, to decorate the cupcakes how could I better nature, so I picked fresh violet blossoms from the garden and crystallized them with a glimmering coating of fine sugar. They looked so pretty, a bit like ethereal butterflies.

The tender violet bent in smiles
To elves that sported nigh
Tossing the drops of fragrant dew
To scent the evening sky.
(Elizabeth Oakes Smith 1806-1893)

Sweet Violet Cupcakes
(by Alfie)

Sponge mix

100g self-raising flour
100g caster sugar
100g butter softened
2 eggs
1-2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking powder

Royal Icing
1 egg white
1 teaspoon lemon juice
icing sugar
3 packs of Giant Parma Violets

For the cupcakes, beat together all of the ingredients for 4-5 minutes until well combined and pale and fluffy. Spoon into cake cases but don't overfill - you only want the cakes to come about two thirds up the case when they're cooked.

Bake in a moderate oven Gas 5 for about 20-25 minutes until they are risen and spring back when touched. Take out and leave aside to cool.

When the cupcakes have cooled, cut the dome off the top just to flatten them out a bit so the icing will sit better. Then make the icing.

To make the icing, lightly whisk the egg-white and lemon juice in a clean bowl just to break it up a little, then beat in icing sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until the consistency is thick but it will still find it's own level. If you add too much icing sugar and it becomes too thick, just add more egg white to thin it down again. Crush the Parma Violets - I found the easiest way to do this was in a pestle and mortar. Using the food processor made too much fine powdery dust!. Then mix in a little hot water to make a paste. Stir this into your icing and then pour carefully into the cake cases. Leave to set - preferably overnight.

Decorate with the crystallized flowers - attaching them with a little more egg-white