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.

Keen on quinoa – Superfood Salad

Once upon a time, when I was a carefree girl-about-London-town, I used to spend a lot of time at Leon, a tiny cafe in Carnaby Street with a Scandinavian-style bleached wood interior and good-for-you-but-not-too-earnest-about-it food. The waiting staff were charming, the menu was interesting and it was within stumbling distance of Liberty, Topshop Oxford Circus and the Boy Wonder’s work.

There are now lots of Leons and even a cookbook by its clever founder, Allegra McEvedy, but alas, none in little old New Zealand. But I’ve been making my own version of its Superfood Salad for so long now that I think it’s better than the original. Quinoa (keen-wah) is considered a super-grain because it’s high in complete proteins, which makes it an excellent choice for vegans, vegetarians and people on gluten-free diets. It behaves a bit like rice and millet – it absorbs twice its volume of water during cooking and has a subtle, nutty flavour.

Quinoa Superfood Salad

Superfood Salad (with thanks to Leon)
In the weekend I made this for Terence and Catherine, with some grilled chicken thighs, a tangle of green leaves and some flatbreads from the Italian deli warehouse down the road. Think of this as the master recipe and make your own substitutions as your garden and the seasons provide.

3/4 cup quinoa
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
1 1/2 cups frozen baby peas
200g feta, diced
1 avocado, diced
a handful or two of cucumber, cut into batons
2 handfuls of mint leaves, shredded
2 handfuls of parsley, chopped
zest of a lemon
a couple of handfuls of sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds (toasted in a dry pan, if you have the time and/or inclination)

Dressing
Mix together:
1 clove garlic, crushed with 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup olive oil

Rinse the quinoa under cold running water, then put in a pan with 2 cups boiling water. Boil gently until nearly all the water is absorbed (about 10 mins). Throw the broccoli and peas in and cook until the broccoli is bright green and ‘al dente’, then drain and refresh under cold water again.
Tip the cooked quinoa and vegetables onto a salad platter, then pour the dressing over the top. Toss gently, then scatter over the herbs, cucumber, feta and avocado. Strew the lemon zest and toasted seeds on top in an artistic fashion and serve. This feeds four as a main course, but I suggest placating the carnivores with something meaty on the side. It also makes a very good packed lunch, but remember to keep it refrigerated until playtime.

The winning Juicy Fruit Loaf

The last time I stayed with my in-laws, in their tiny town on New Zealand’s wild West Coast, I nearly caused a diplomatic incident. It was the long, hot summer of 2008 and we were waiting for our visas to be extended so we could return to London and continue tripping about Europe like a pair of Antipodean gypsies. The Boy Wonder was in heaven, playing cricket every day and gambling at the pub with his little brother. I, on the other hand, ran on the beach, reads lots of books and perfected my entry for the local A&P show.
These shows are a Kiwi summer institution, where plants, produce and baking are judged along with animals, flower arranging displays and tractors. There are ferris wheels and candy floss, shy teenagers and ruddy-faced men in tweed hats.

Nikau palms, West Coast, New Zealand

I decided to enter the baking section as a sort of post-modern feminist statement (and because I was really bored). My in-laws were most amused, but not as much as when my fruit loaf beat off all other contenders and I came home with a photocopied certificate. The Boy Wonder’s aunt still laughs at the memory of overhearing two local stalwarts looking at my name beside my prizewinning loaf. “Who’s that?” one asked the other. “Never heard of her,” the other one sniffed.

One loaf to rule them all…

Juicy Fruit Loaf
This moist, tangy loaf has no butter, oil or eggs, but plenty of punchy fruit flavours. Given the chance, it keeps well in an airtight container. This recipe was emailed to me via a forum and I suspect it may be the brainchild of foodwriter Joan Bishop, even though the authorship was never made clear. Thank you Joan, it’s amazing.

250g dried fruit (I use a mix of sultanas, dates and apricots)
120g grated carrot (about 1 medium carrot)
1 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed is best, out of a carton is ok)
2 Tbsp lemon juice
zest of an orange and a lemon
3 Tbsp brown sugar (or honey, or golden syrup)
2 small bananas, thinly sliced
225g self-raising flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda

Grease and line a 6-7 cup capacity loaf tin and preheat the oven to 170C.
Put the dried fruit, carrot, orange and lemon juice and zest and brown sugar into a large saucepan. Bring to the boil and let simmer, uncovered, for five minutes. Let cool to room temperature, then gently stir in the sliced bananas. Sift in the dry ingredients (flour, cinnamon and baking soda) and mix well, then scrape into the loaf tin. Bake for about an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean. Let cool in the tin for five minutes, then turn out onto a cake rack.