Sweet sweet Friday: Superfruity Halloween Muffins

I’ve been haunting every green grocer and supermarket in our neighbourhood this week, looking for a Halloween pumpkin. But Cinderella’s fairy godmother must have been around and turned them all into carriages because there were none to be found (plus, of course, it’s spring here and pumpkins aren’t exactly in season).

The main reason I wanted a pumpkin – apart from the Halloween connection – was to make Aine’s Vegan Pumpkin & Poppy Seed Muffins. Aine is an actress and dedicated vegan and she has a lovely and inspiring blog, PeaSoupEats. You should check it out, even if your idea of veganism is choosing chicken instead of steak.

Anyway, with no pumpkins to be found I thought laterally and went for the next best thing – carrots (well, they’re orange, at least). I fiddled around with Aine’s recipe and this is what I came up with. The trick with these is that they look like a treat but they’re full of stuff that’s good for you (and the little horrors in your life). Hope you have a sweet sweet Friday and a Happy Halloween.

Superfruity Halloween Muffins
The stewed apple replaces oil in this recipe (thanks for the tip Aine!) and I found date syrup in my local ethnic warehouse. You could use golden or maple syrup, but once you’ve tried date syrup you won’t go back!

1 3/4 cups white flour

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
pinch sea salt
1 1/2 tsp cinammon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 cup dates, roughly chopped
2 carrots
1 small overripe banana
3/4 cup low fat milk
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1/4 cup stewed apple (or applesauce, or apple puree, or whatever else you call it)
1/4 cup date syrup
1 Tbsp blackstrap molasses

Preheat the oven to 200C and prepare your muffin tins. There is no oil in this recipe so it pays to grease the tins well or use paper or silicone liners.
Peel the carrots and slice into coins, then cook in boiling water until soft and mashable. Mash to a puree and let cool. This should yield about 3/4 of a cup. Make it up to one cup with mashed banana (you may not need all the banana).
Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl, then stir in the nuts and dates.
Pour the milk and vinegar into a large jug and let it sit for five minutes to curdle and thicken. Add the other ‘wet’ ingredients (stewed apple, date syrup, molasses) and stir gently.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and fold together gently. DON’T beat it or your muffins will be Halloween horrors.
Dollop into muffin tins (I made a dozen mini and six full-size ones) and bake for 20-25 minutes, until they are springy and pass the clean skewer test. Dust with icing sugar and serve with pride.

Pea Souper

I’m sorry to be a weather bore, but really, there is little else in my life at present. (Well, apart from writing and packing and trying to see people and remember errands and wrangling wet washing and convincing the Small Girl that she doesn’t need Hop On Pop read to her for the tenth time in 20 minutes. But I digress.)

I know it’s very Anglo-Saxon to discuss atmospheric conditions but I just can’t help it. The wind! The rain! The brief bursts of sunshine that make me think it might be ok to hang the washing out or go for a walk, only to get drenched or tossed about like an autumn leaf.

On the upside, it’s perfect weather for soup – and I have just the thing. It might look a bit sludgy in the photo but it’s full of robust, earthy flavours thanks to some good old-fashioned ingredients – bacon bones, split peas, a handful of parsley and some (frozen) pea puree stirred in at the end to make it a little less khaki. It’s almost worth the weather. Almost.

PEA SOUPER
This recipe can be adapted to suit your fridge or garden, but the split peas and bacon bones are essential.
Take your biggest pot (or borrow one from next door) and set it on the stove. Add 2 cups split peas, 2 large onions, finely chopped, a stick or two of celery, de-strung and finely chopped, 2 carrots, peeled and diced, 500g bacon bones (or a small ham hock), 3 litres of cold water and a bay leaf.
Bring to a simmer, skim off any scum that floats to the top, and simmer gently for about one and a half hours until the peas are soft. Add a cup or two of frozen peas and cook for five minutes more. Let it cool a little, then remove the bones and bay leaf (pouring it through a coarse sieve is the easiest way to do this and will protect you from the terrible fate of putting a bacon bone through the blender).
Puree, then return to the pot and reheat to serve.
Makes lots – freeze some for your next rainy day.

Musical Monday: Écoute moi camarade

Last night, doing the dishes, I suddenly realised that this is the first time in five years that we haven’t been in France in mid-September. This time last year we were in a tiny apartment in Paris and the Small Girl had slept through the night for the first time (her exhausted parents lay awake anyway, because they couldn’t believe she wasn’t going to wake up). The year before that, Corsica, where I suspected I might be pregnant but ate lots of unpasteurised cheese anyway.
September is the time of La Rentree in France – everyone gets sorted and goes back to school or work after the long summer holidays. I think September in New Zealand is about waiting for the rain to stop!

Parsley, sage and running out of time

My quest to use up everything in the house before we move (in 12 days, argh!) is continuing apace. In some ways I feel incredibly organised because I know that we’ll be having a risotto, two pasta dishes, something with venison and something involving cannellini beans, baby beetroot and a bag of frozen corn kernels in the days to come. Hmmm. And definitely some Szechuan takeaways.

But last night was all about parsley and Parmesan. For my birthday two months ago my sister sent me a mysterious courier package with a note saying that her new philosopy was to only give “useful” presents. Inside was a kilo of proper Parmesan, a rare treat in this little corner of the world. I never thought we’d get through it in time but it’s amazing how cavalier you get when you’ve got a lot of a luxury ingredient and a short time in which to use it. The Small Girl must be the only toddler in town to get Parmesan on toast for lunch.

Anyway. The other things we have in abundance at the moment are lemons and parsley. The tiny seedling I planted a year ago has blossomed into a huge, regenerating bush obliterating everything I planted around it. With a packet of spaghetti in the pantry, we were set.

Spring Spaghetti

This is fresh, zingy and can be made in the time it takes for the pasta to cook. (Well, in theory. It took me ages last night but that’s because other affairs of state took me away from my rightful place at the kitchen counter.) Bon appetit!

For two very hungry people:

220g spaghetti
2-3 juicy lemons, zested and juiced
about 1/4 cup olive oil
a few tablespoons of capers
a few handfuls of grated Parmesan
a few handfuls of finely chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Cook the pasta according to packet directions until al dente. While it’s cooking, mix all other ingredients in a large serving bowl. Taste for seasoning and to adjust lemon/oil proportions if necessary. Drain the pasta and toss it through the lemon/parsley mix, then pile into warmed bowls. Eat with gusto.

Spring detox

Lovely Joan at Sempiterna Me has been musing about spring and what it means to us in New Zealand. I’ve just read that it’s rained for 35 of the last 40 days, which makes it very good weather for considering such matters. The seasons are less marked here and sometimes it’s difficult to really feel the change; there’s not the same bursting into life after the dark days of winter, the same sense of rebirth.

As her post points out, this should be the time of Lenten fasting, a kind of detox season after the hearty meals of winter. I think she’s right, but it’s too chilly for salad when there’s driving rain outside.
The upside of this warm, wet weather is that creamy-fleshed cauliflowers are currently in abundance, stacked high at the grocer’s and incredibly cheap. It’s never been the most fashionable of vegetables thanks to years of being overcooked or drowned in gluggy cheese sauce, but I think the humble cauliflower deserves a bit of recognition.

Here’s a simple soup just perfect for the season, based on a Stephanie Alexander recipe. The original includes a spoonful of Vegemite (!) but I’ve omitted it and added a squeeze of lemon juice instead. I’ve also topped it with an improvised gremolata of flatleaf parsley, lemon zest and Parmesan but it’s delicious on its own.

Easy Spring Cauliflower Soup

Spring Soup

1 litre chicken stock (homemade for preference, carton for convenience)
1 cauliflower, chopped (include the stalk)
salt and pepper
handfuls of parsley
zest and juice of a lemon
handfuls of grated Parmesan

Heat the stock to a gentle boil and throw in the cauliflower. Simmer until tender, then puree in a food processor or with a stick blender. Season to taste and squirt in the lemon juice. Reheat gently and decant into warm bowls, then sprinkle generously with the parsley and Parmesan. Serves four.