I have been verrrrrrry neglectful of my blog in recent months, which has made me realise why I enjoy it so; obviously I love to write, and this gives me a focus and an outlet; it makes me branch out a little more with my cooking; it means that I entertain more. So, here I am, back to my extensive-eating ways, full of good intentions for 2012. And what better way to get stuck right back in than by sharing some January-friendly food from one of my lovely Christmas present cookbooks? I have been coveting Lilly Higgins' lovely baking book, Make, Bake, Love, for quite a while, but when it first came out couldn't justify buying it - even for the usual myriad reasons that I use to justify buying cookbooks. I flicked through it on numerous occasions, my greedy beady eyes looking at the recipes and each time finding one that I could slot into a specific feeding point in my future. Not enough to justify spending the money or adding to my collection at that particular time, however. Oh but not until Christmas, that is - the season of justifying pretty much anything. Brillo. Down on the list it went for my Kris Kindle and when I found it in my pile of goodies on December 25th I was overjoyed. It really is pretty much the perfect baking book. It covers all bases; cakes for special occasions, cakes that you can have in the house for a few days to offer with tea to any guests, treats you can bring in to work, dessert-y bakes for when you have friends over for dins, small bakes like scones and buns, healthier bits, inexpensive goodies...you get the picture. Also, the design is pretty without being cloying, and the writing is whimsical without being irritating. You can get it on the Gill & Macmillan website for only €15.99.
My first foray into baking Lily-style-ee was the health loaf recipe that made me reeeeeeeeally want the book. I'm always trying out new bread recipes, I like to have one or two that I make each week and have on standby to butter up with soup or load up with hummus. This one is a keeper.
150g wholemeal flour, 50g plain flour; enough wholemeal to make it feel healthy, and enough plain to make it not feel punitively so.
Add to that 1tsp baking powder, 1 tsp bread soda and 1tsp, as well as 150g seeds (Lilly specifies 50g linseeds, 50g sunflower, 50g sesame, but I just shook out 150g from a seed mix packet) and 50g chopped mixed nuts. Whatever you do please please please do not use the pre-chopped variety; they lack any clue whatsoever as to what the original nuts were. You will get far more texture and taste from chopping the nuts yourself.
I don't buy buttermilk, I know myself too well; I will either go on a gratuitous frenzy of baking things involving buttermilk or feel so resentful of its almost-full presence in my fridge that I refuse to use it and eventually throw it out. So, I made the 225ml buttermilk required for this recipe using regular milk with a squirt of lemon juice to curdle it into submission. It also requires 75ml sunflower oil and one egg.
Oh the lovely thick liquid, it is ready to come together with the multi-textured dry ingredients.
I thought it was a little too heavy on the liquid, so I sprinkled in some oats, but with a fairly light hand.
Oh I love this bit, glooping it all into a butter wrapper-lined loaf tin, oven ready and waiting at 180C.
This came out - after 60 minutes - in more reassuringly perfect-looking shape than any other bread I have ever attempted. It was light and golden and fell effortlessly out of the tin.
Now, what a delicious bread like this needs is some wholesome, health-giving soup to sidle up alongside. The latest issue of Jamie Oliver mag has an interesting selection of soups, and the curry tomato soup looked sufficiently simple to whip up and get down my gullet before legging it out the door to work.
I have never actually made tomato soup from anything other than fresh tomatoes, which maybe is probably why I never make it too often - the tomato peeling gets slightly torturous. So, since this one uses passata I figure it's a good time to embrace the somebody-else-did-the-work variety of soup ingredient. The recipe also calls for curry powder. I have a relatively extensive spice rack but no generic curry powder, so I consulted the very handy section in the Café Leon cookbook where they tell you what you can substitute for ingredients you don't have. It points out that 'curry powder' is a Western phenomenon that is a mix of spices, but none in particular, so I concocted a combo of my own. Now, I couldn't tell you precisely what I put in there as it was a rather smash n grab affair, but there is definitely some cumin, coriander and turmeric.
The first step is the deliciously-scented act of softening up a chopped onion in some melted butter.
Then in goes three tbsp of the custom-made spice blend, along with one tbsp of sweet paprika. Cook this for about three minutes, stirring constantly, and enjoy the glint and glimmer of the spices against the butter and onions.
In with the tomato passata - the recipe says 625g of that (or tinned tomatoes) but I just cracked in the full jar - along with 500ml chicken, beef or veg stock. Bring to the boil, then simmer for five minutes. Season and add 1tbsp lemon juice.
Oh delicious textured, wholesome bread and vibrant soup, an essential food hug for January days.
It's good to be back.