Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Foodie Festival Oxford

About a week ago a friend of mine recommended a foodie festival in the heart of Oxford, even better though it was a short cycle away and the ticket spanned the whole three day festival period.  Naturally I could not resist and eagerly bought my ticket, hoping someone would like to come with me.  Luckily people did so I was not left to enjoy the whole food-filled weekend as a loner.  The format of the festival was in the form of three "theatres" or glorified tents featuring a food master class, wine theatre and chef demonstrations theatre, with rows upon rows of local producers (plus some not so local).  Treasures on offer included gourmet cheeses, artisan chocolates, various wines made within the UK as well as Italian wines and unusual liqueurs.  Chefs from around Oxford came to show off their culinary skills, including chefs from the Ashmolean Dining Room and The Cherwell Boathouse and bakers to host fun cake decorating classes.

Decorated cupcake from Holly Cupcakes, St Germain van and an amazingly carved watermelon from the Thai food stand.

The first day was spent gawking at the sheer size of the place, and navigating myself around the place.  We didn't quite understand how to book things yet so only managed to book on to the Holly Cupcake class and a wine tasting class hosted by Villa Maria, which I must say was fantastic.  The presenter of the class was a dedicated wine drinker and reviewer: Quentin Sadler who was highly entertaining, full of fascinating stories based around the wines tasted and the region in which they originated.  I learned that looking at a grape type in wine is not reflective of its taste but that the flavour is also influenced by the climate.  One thing I took away with me was the knowledge in that the more acidity a wine has, the less ripe the grape is and that a Syrah is the same grape as Shiraz only from New Zealand instead of Australia, but has a milder flavour and lighter hue due to the cooler climates, cool huh?  We dined outdoors for lunch, settling for a Thai green curry from Chiang Mai Kitchen (vegetarian of course) after carefully seeing what was on offer from the various stands dotted around.  In the following days we tried Jamaican from Sizzlingpot Supreme (not worth it - I thought I was going to get food poisoning from the cold rice which was a mix of uncooked and over-cooked grains topped with a soggy greasy fish) and a Moroccan tagine which was fantastic, consisting of fluffy couscous buried under mildly spiced roast vegetables in a tomato sauce with a side of green lentils, salad and olives, so good!  Half way through the day we ran to a friend's house as it suddenly decided to downpour, but we happily holed up for an hour munching lemon bon bon and ginger fudge from Yum Yum Tree Fudge.  The day was complete with a tasting session first with Cordorniu complete with cute gifts then with Villa Maria, needless to say it was a jolly walk home!

Left to Right: Quentin Sadler wine blogger, Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham from Dwink and Jo Sorenson for Cordorniu

The next day, I was slightly more on the ball and proudly booked a cooking demonstration featuring Arun Manickam from the Ashmolean Dining Room and a chocolate tasting session hosted by Chocolate and Love.  My favourite chocolate from that session was called conscious chocolate which is bizarrely labelled as "raw" but upon seeing our confused faces, it was explained how the process did not heat the cocoa above 42C to keep all the antioxidant properties and flavour; what resulted was a soft fudge like chocolate which was messy to pick up but tasted amazingly rich and dark but not bitter.  If I had money I'd make this my chocolate of choice hands down!  This was also the day we braved Jamaican food from Sizzlingpot Supreme which seemed a good idea at the time, but what ensued a long wait whilst the team argued and a worrying discussion on the rice occurred.  Optimistically (or foolishly) we waited patiently during which a customer returned with their meal saying it was not cooked and about 10 minutes later our cold rice came out to be microwaved and a soggy "fried fish" was slapped on top and away went £6.50.  I have to say I was tempted to leave it, for safety reasons but then decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and ploughed through as much as possible which did not end up being much.  I failed to understand how the rice could be both overcooked and soggy and undercooked and hard simultaneously.  Oh well, out of the whole weekend this was the only dampener and more good food were to follow!  Bellies just about filled, we continued to wander around the place and happily sampled a whole array of handmade flavoured cheeses from Lymn Bank Farm which I found so amazing I bought a range of flavours which included tomato and basil, ginger, horseradish and garlic.  £10 for 5 cheeses was not too bad in my opinion and since then they have been lovely to eat as a nibble or topped on home made pizzas.


The final day brought more friends and a boozy start participating in a boutique beers and cider masterclass lead by a pair called Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham who were hilarious and they showed a genuine passion for beer and cider which turned out to be every bit as complex as wine drinking.  They talked about the art of mixing beer with cheeses, beer in cooking and how to enjoy certain beers and food partners as well as how each of the six tried were made and how they differed in flavour.  The one thing I took away with me that day was the purpose of levelling the head of beer - apparently it removes the larger gas bubbles leaving only small bubbles which resulted in a smoother head which lasted longer.  Interesting fact but I doubt I'll ever put that to practice!  Their site is well worth a read though, it's highly entertaining as well as informative filled with reviews, facts and competitions.  The next masterclass to follow was about appreciating the origin of Parmiagiano Reggiano and Parma Ham alongside Burgundy wine which also came in a white and rose which surprised me.  I missed the ham out (not a fan of most meats in the slightest) but tasting the different cheese vintages was amazing as the depths of flavour noticeably developed with age.  coming out of that tent though, I must admit I am not keen on Burgundy; the wine was sickly sweet and quite potent.  I have faith that I might grow to like it one day... Another friend came with me today and we returned to Lymn Bank Farm cheese stand where he proceeded to buy lots of cheese as I did (they really are that good!) but upon the third visit taking friends we met up with later, it got slightly embarrassing as they threatened to rename their stand.  Next we went to pay a visit to the St Germain blue van , whereby we had a fun conversation with the bar man and proceeded to sample all three liqueurs: St Germain, Frangelico and The King's Ginger and consequently I broke my personal promise of no alcohol purchasing, taking home a bottle of Frangelico which tasted divinely of hazelnuts.  The bank holiday ended beautifully with another wine tasting session, this time with Errazuriz which is a family run business specialising in Chilean wines.

Monday, 23 August 2010

What to put in my lunch box?

Every year, my church hosts a holiday bible club for children from both Christian and non-Christian backgrounds.  This year I have had the pleasure of helping and tomorrow the kids will start flooding in for a week of fun and chaos.  There is a Spy Theme going on, and I'm pondering what to wear for the opening day - Sherlock's cloak or a bowler hat and black tie?? Choices, choices...  More importantly though, the leaders have been told to provide their own lunch, which opens so many possibilities.  For my placement year about two years ago I adopted the Bento lunch style, and I am hoping to repeat this again this year, not just for Holiday Club but for when I start my new job in little more than two weeks' time!  

I find making my own lunch so much more satisfying than queuing in a mediocre over-priced canteen where vegetarians are forced to buy either cheese laden dishes or salad.  No sir, not for me.  I am interested in tasty and cheap meals, be it left-overs from dinner or quick to prepare and healthy (well sometimes) dishes which have a tendency not to leak.  Upon saying that though, I find a bowl of homemade soup and a hunk of toasted bread in the cooler seasons so satisfying and warming and have somehow managed to carry said soup in a not 100% leak-proof container.  I suspect lots of kitchen roll was involved... Anyhow I digress again, my first lunch which I really hope I remember tomorrow is a couscous salad with broccoli and spinach pesto and grilled vegetables, finished off with an apple cupcake, apple bun and nectarine for dessert and snack.  It sounds complicated but really isn't and is ready in less than 20 minutes, score!  I would say it is a very healthy dish except I am pretty sure I cancelled all health brownie points by adding copious amounts of creamy goats' cheese.  What can I say? I love goats' cheese.  I hope you enjoy making and eating this as much as I do! 

Couscous with Broccoli and Spinach Pesto and Grilled Vegetables
(Serves 1)  



Ingredients:
  • 2 Florets Broccoli - about 50g, broken into small pieces 
  • Handful Spinach, washed
  • 1 Small Red Pepper, deseeded and halved
  • 1 Small Courgette, finely sliced
  • 1/4 Large Onion, finely sliced
  • 1 Clove Garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1tsp Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2tsp Mixed Herbs
  • 10g approx. Goats' Cheese
  • 60-80g Couscous
  • 2tsp Vegetable oil 
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
Method:
  1. Brush the courgettes and pepper skin lightly with oil then place until a grill until the pepper skins char - about 10 minutes.  In 5 minutes, check the courgettes and flip them to avoid burning.
  2. Cook the couscous as per instructions - I put mine in my lunch box with some pepper and herbs, covered with boiling water and closed the lid for 5 minutes.
  3. Place the broccoli into a ramekin and add about 50ml boiling water and cover with cling film then pierce.  Microwave for about 3 minutes full-power, remove and let stand for 5 minutes, add the spinach, recover and microwave for another minute, then leave to stand to continue cooking.
    -alternatively boil/steam the broccoli then spinach gently until tender
  4. Heat the oil in a small pan, add the onion and garlic and saute for about 5 minutes until the onions look tender.  Season and add the balsamic vinegar.  Peel the pepper and slice thinly, adding to the pan along with the courgette.  Mix well and add the couscous.
  5. Blend or process the broccoli, spinach, and half the goats' cheese until smooth(ish), season and add to the pan. Mix everything together and serve with the remaining cheese or box up for lunch. 

Apples and Midnight Baking

It's that time of year again when apples fall in prices in shops and the apple trees dotted around start to shed their fruit, plopping them lightly onto the wet grass below.  Since starting this blog, I have become a lot more aware of fruit trees and brambles, which makes walks that much more exciting.  Cycling past my neighbour last night, out walking his dog, we stopped for a while to have a chat which is when he showed me his "scrumping" bounty - a bag full of crispy looking apples fresh from the orchard straight down my road which I never knew existed before then (the orchard not the road, I'm not that oblivious).  Happy times, I will be sure to go foraging around there later!

Apple and Cinnamon Cupcakes 

In the meantime though, I have been blog hopping around the net looking for healthier cupcake sites which is when I came across Anecdotes and Apples, which was filled with wonderful wholesome and homey looking recipes - all vegetarian with a good selection of vegan too.  I came across two recipes which just called out to be made together: apple dapple cupcakes and apple buns.  The cupcake recipe is actually for 24 muffins, so I divided everything by a third which yielded enough for 12 normal cupcakes.  I think I replaced the cream with crème fraîche and quartered the frosting recipe and still had some left over - perfect to go on my apple buns if I so wish.  I also left two unfrosted as they're scrumptious as they are, maybe with a dusting of cinnamon as well...  Originally I thought it would be a good idea to make these before church but that turned into after church then much later after church... Needless to say it was gone midnight by the time I had a batch of lovely bread rolls and cupcakes - but I think there are much less pleasant things to go to bed to than the warm and spicy scent of sweet cinnamon, not to mention the anticipation of waking up to fresh bread!  I halved the bread recipe and reduced the cupcake recipe so ended up only using the one apple - next time though I feel I would happily add an extra one to the bread (the season of apples is oh so near).  Whilst the bread was proofing I made the cupcakes, which gave me something to nibble on whilst the bread was baking - all in all a fun process albeit kind of late... For the bread, I think it needed a longer second rising and/or more flour - but I did try the lower end of the recommended amount of flour and second rising; pushed for time towards the end (bed was calling).  The resultant bread was slightly sticky and elastic - although not unpleasant, just different but still tasty! Next time...



Anyway to end, I highly recommend you visit Monet's blog, it's packed full of wholesome ideas, the next thing to have caught my attention is the avocado pound cake, I have a glut of avocados which need eating and this sounds perfect! In the meantime though, I'm off for a cup of tea and an apple cupcake.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Peas Please!

Last week my house mate left me for France and also left a bag of peas in their pods.  I only just re-discovered them today and needless to say I did not have a clue what to do with them.  I spent today helping out my church preparing for holiday club, and must admit to scoffing one too many cupcakes and biscuits, a childish mistake which resulted in a ruined appetite for dinner.  Looking at the peas, looking at my stomach which refused to be hungry for real food, and looking back at the pods, I decided some podding was in order, and hopefully the sight of shiny green peas popping out might re-ignite my appetite.  Meanwhile though, a coffee and cupcake was in order to see me through the podding... (some people do NOT learn...)


Thinking about peas invariably always leads to thinking about mint, so one wet but short trek later to our mint weed patch and a handful of mint joined my shiny peas.  A rogue new potato was found in my cupboard along with a fat clove of garlic sitting around the work top hoping to be useful, a small onion rolls on scene and I am suddenly inspired to make soup!  In hindsight, lemon juice would have been a welcome addition, the acid adds another sparkling dimension to the soup, magically pulling all the flavours together.  Next time... I decided to pulse blend the soup to add some texture, a generous grind of pepper and a drizzle of plain yoghurt later and enjoyed a lovely light meal which felt healthy, therefore (in my opinion) justifying the copious cupcake eating I did today...

Fresh Pea Soup
(Serves 1)


Ingredients:

  • 1 Small potato (about 50g)
  • 75g Peas (podded weight)
  • 1 Small Onion
  • 1 Clove Garlic
  • Handful of mint (about 10g)
  • 300ml Water or stock
  • 1tsp Olive Oil
  • Squeeze of lemon
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Plain Yoghurt to garnish
Method:

  1. Heat the oil in a small pan, slice the onions, crush and mince the garlic then add to the pan and gently fry for about 5 minutes, covered.
  2. Cube the potato in 5mm cubes and add to the pan, stirring to coat in the juices.  Cover and continue to cook gently for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the peas and water, bring to the boil, season and simmer for 20-30 minutes until all the vegetables are tender (fresh peas take a lot longer to cook compared to frozen - adjust time accordingly).  Add the mint in the last 10 minutes of cooking.
  4. Blend the soup roughly by using a pulse motion with the blender, so some peas stay intact.
  5. Squeeze in pepper and lemon juice to taste then serve with a dollop of plain yoghurt.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Mmmm, cupcakes

Wow, it really feels like it's been a while since I updated this blog.  On the bright side though, it must mean I am actually becoming busier and my blog addiction is subsiding somewhat... but on second thoughts, I'm completely happy to be blogging again so maybe it hasn't subsided that much!  Over the last week, it seems as if I have been baking every day in one form or another.  Gingerbread men were cut, cupcakes for picnics and birthdays were whipped up, shortbread ducks and stars were created and a frugal hotpot made from the contents of my magical fridge which still does not look as if it is emptying any time soon.


I have not been the most organised of humans this week, so I thought it would be safer to stay indoors as much as possible to minimise being a danger to myself.  I felt it was going to be one of these weeks.  So far I had managed to mistake a friend coming over on Monday when it was actually Tuesday,  triple-booked myself on said Tuesday, having to reveal my embarrassing blunder to get myself out of two appointments and proceeding to cook an awful lunch for a friend who I was meant to have met Tuesday but postponed until Wednesday...  And today I had an enjoyable walk into town (so far so good...) to the Gloucester Green food market with my friend.   This was my first trek to the market in what feels like months (and it probably was) and I was greeted by a beautifully colourful sight.  Casually sitting on the tables were summer squashes, and other modest vegetables but the fruit stand was a glory to look at: mounds of rosy cheeked apricots, succulent plums, peaches and nectarines, towering punnets of cheap cherries, raspberries and blueberries.  I was also excited to see raw beetroot, which I was inspired to give a go by Designer from our weekend together.  Whilst queueing,  I managed to lose a £2 coin which was upsetting and hit by a sudden downpour of water which has somehow collected in the tent top.  I was rather fuddled by this as I had not realised it had rained today, but it was still sunny when we left the market, so we had time for tea in a Coffee Republic and proceeded to miss the dry spell and got poured on as we ran to Waterstones for shelter.  Quite a feat considering I was lugging an impressively heavy food laden backpack and my friend a bag of delicate soft fruits!  A leisurely read of the River Cottage Preserves Handbook later and a tentative glance outside the second storey window, and we were ready to brave the walk back home which promptly led to a blister forming which became ripped and painful, successfully rendering myself incapable of dancing tonight.  Every cloud has a silver lining though, we ended up curling up to watch Singing in the Rain instead which I had forgotten how much I had loved.  So it looks like my week of bad luck hasn't run dry yet, let's hope tomorrow will be better!

I do like to digress, but back on topic, below are two recipes for mocha cupcakes and shortbread.  I missed my friend's birthday over the month of July due to caring for my mum so I made him a very belated mocha cupcake and mini duckie shortbread instead.  The Shortbread recipe was based on a Delia Smith Recipe which can be found on her website - I just replaced the cornmeal with rice flour as I found cornmeal weirdly chewy the last time I used it.  I love all kinds of shortbread but my favourite are the thin and crispy ones which make me feel more saintly until I realise I have just eaten the whole batch.  The mocha cupcakes I kind of made up on the spot using basic cupcake knowledge.  I wanted to use coffee, so increased the flour to 125g from 100g, but added the standard 25g cocoa.  I used about 2 Tablespoons of hot coffee in the end, so wasn't quite sure how they were going to turn out!  After a 15 minute wait of suspense, the cupcakes came out wonderfully moist and soft.  I really recommend them if you're a coffee lover. With that I leave you and hopefully I'll make it to update again soon still in one piece!

Mocha-Choca Cupcakes
(Makes 16-18)

Ingredients:
  • 100g Margarine
  • 125g Self-raising flour
  • 25g Cocoa
  • 2Tbsp Very Strong coffee
     - I made mine with 3tsp coffee granules in 4Tbsp hot water
  • 2 Eggs
  • 45g Dark eating chocolate 
  • 15g Butter
  • 80g Icing sugar
Method:
  1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4/180C/350F Cream the margarine and sugar together until light and fluffy
  2. Gradually whisk in the eggs
  3. Carefully and gradually whisk in the coffee - don't worry if it curdles a bit - just add some flour
  4. Mix together the flour and cocoa, then fold into the mixture until just incorporated
  5. Spoon teaspoon mixtures into cupcake cases until 3/4 full
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes until risen and the sponge bounces back when lightly pressed.
  7. Leave to cool and make the chocolate icing
  8. Melt the butter and chocolate together over a double boiler or carefully in the microwave.
  9. Stir in the icing sugar and add enough coffee (preferably hot) to make the icing either spreadable or piping consistency.
  10. Pipe or spread onto the cool cakes and leave to set.  Before it sets, I added some white chocolate stars to the frosting.   
NB: With the chocolate icing, I only made enough for about nine of my cakes as I: i) prefer some un-iced and ii) only wanted to ice a few for my friend's birthday presentation.  Just double the recipe (chocolate, icing and butter) to cover all the cakes.  If you are spreading, you'll probably have enough with just the half recipe.  I use cheap dark chocolate for this as I still get a glossy frosting and the sugar content works better than expensive dark chocolate which tend to be more bitter.

Shortbread Thins
(Makes about 2 trays worth)


Ingredients:
  • 40g Rice Flour
  • 75g Plain Flour
  • 40g Caster sugar
  • 75g Margarine or Butter
      - I used half of margarine and butter
Method:
  1. Pre-heat Oven to gas mark 2/150C/300F
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light
  3. Add the flour and rice flour, mixing to form crumbs.  Push the mixture together with the wooden spoon or your hands until it resembles a crumbly ball of dough.  
  4. Roll out thinly - about 3mm and cut out shapes with a cutter
  5. Place on a non-stick/greased baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until just golden.

Monday, 16 August 2010

A Lazy Sunday

The Girls came over from London and Southampton on Saturday, which turned out to be a stormy day filled with torrential rain.  Nonetheless, we had amples of fun buying an ambitious amount of alcohol and mixtures and slogging home in the downpour.  It was lovely catching up with them, as I have not seen some of them for over a year - another scary indication of how fast time flies.  Originally we were planning on a cocktail session at home, then a leisurely mini pub-crawl.  One pub later and we were back in the house sipping hot chocolate and ready for bed!  How the times have changed and I really am beginning to feel old! Luckily for me, I was not the first to cave so the "host" can not be blamed for the end of the "party"...

 
My messy worktop

A morning chat, some rustling and mini activity of packing later and I hugged The Girls goodbye.  The end of one event and another unexpectedly appears.  One machine wash load later and I found myself entertaining The Anthropologist and Pixie Boy.  Originally I was supposed to have met up with people from Ceroc in University Parks for a picnic.  Needless to say, by the time I had finished two wash loads, made a batch of coconut cupcakes and for Mini to come over, it was hardly worth the hour and half trek to the picnic.  Sabotage was in order, so a quick text later and we were off to our own picnic in the park down the road... which I must say I approved of much more.  I am all for energy conservation and a walk longer than an hour just seemed unnecessary on a Sunday afternoon.  Another friend met us up in the Park, contributing Jaffa cakes and giant chocolate buttons and we were set to enjoy a beautiful afternoon which turned into an equally stunning evening.

Raspberry-Filled Coconut Cupcakes
(Makes 10-12)


Ingredients:
  • 50g Butter
  • 50g Self raising flour
  • 50g Dessicated coconut
  • 50g Caster sugar
  • Raspberry Jam
  • Icing Sugar to dust
Method:
  1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4/180C/350F Cream the margarine and sugar together until light and fluffy
  2. Gradually whisk in the egg
  3. Whisk in the coconut
  4. Fold the flour into the mixture until just incorporated
  5. Spoon teaspoon mixtures into cupcake cases until 3/4 full
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes until risen and the sponge bounces back when lightly pressed.
  7. Leave to cool and make beat the jam in a bowl to soften
  8. Cut a cone out of the centre of each cake, fill with jam and replace.
  9. Dust the cakes with icing and enjoy!  
NB: I wanted to make a small batch of cupcakes for a small picnic and made these.  I wanted frosting but from experience knew it would be hard to transport so opted for a filling instead, which means if need be, the cupcakes can be stacked.  


    Tuesday, 10 August 2010

    Project Frugal: Day Nine

    Yesterday's sunshine felt as if it never existed today, as it continued to drizzle down miserably all day.  Luckily for me though, I currently work from home so felt no need to stretch my legs outdoors.  Mooching around the house, I pondered what was considered a suitable lunch for such a day as today.  Looking into my shrinking fridge, I spotted sundried tomatoes in oil, leftover tinned tomatoes and some red peppers beginning to look a bit tired along with a wrinkly carrot - inspiring stuff I know.  When in doubt, my philosophy is to throw everything together in a pan and see what happens.  The result today was quite surprising as a vibrantly warm broth came out making up for the lack of sun and blue skies outside.  I used the oil from the sundried tomatoes jar as I have always been slightly at a loss as to what one does with all that oil, be it in a jar preserving various peppers and tomatoes or in tinned sardines or tuna.  I've always heard that pouring the stuff down drains is a bad idea, and emulsification via washing up liquid is just faff I did not want to handle today.  What can I say? It's wet and not too warm, I feel justified in just curling up and doing as little as possible until the sun decides to come out again.

    Some work and much procrastination later, I dashed out to Cafe Noir to catch up with a friend, which turned out to be very enjoyable albeit slightly soggy - the rain of course had decided it quite liked pouring down at a slanted sheet, all the better to drench people with!  Arriving on scene, shaking out pools of water I trudged into the room feeling slightly ruffled; luckily it was nothing a hot chocolate and good company could not fix and soon enough the rain outside got bored and went away, finally letting the sun out to play.  Some time later, we left the cafe to a beautiful evening with everything glittering to make up for a muggy day.  On my way home I spotted a elderberry alongside more ripe and luscious blackberries, so to date, my roadside now sports: blackberries, elderberries and plums.  Exciting times! I finished the evening with the broth I made this afternoon, thickened with some soup pasta and sardines and crackers.

    Running costs so far is about £15 over 9 days but that did include a cheeky bottle of Martini.  I completely follow Nigella's thought train though: vermouth keeps whereas white wine doesn't so actually it is an investment...

    Sunshine on a Rainy Day Broth
    (Serves 1)


    Ingredients:
    • 1 Carrot, sliced
    • 1 Small Red pepper, diced
    • 1 Garlic clove, minced
    • 1 Stick Celery, sliced
    • 3-4 Sundried tomatoes, chopped
    • 1/4 Tbsp oil
       -i.e. from jar of sundried tomatoes
    • 2 plum tomatoes/1/4 Tinned tomatoes
    • 400ml Water
    • Cheddar cheese to garnish
    Method:
    1. Cover the base of a small pan generously with oil and heat gently.  Add the carrots, celery and garlic, stir to coat then cover and gently cook for 5-10 minutes.  
    2. Add the peppers and sundried tomatoes, fry for another 2 minutes then add the tinned tomatoes and water.  Beat the tomatoes to break up then bring the whole lot to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 25-30 minutes until the carrots are tender.
    3. Spoon into a bowl/cup and sprinkle with grated cheese and serve with crackers or bread.
    Variation: Add a handful of small pasta towards the last 10 minutes to thicken the broth.  I did this when I was reheating the left-overs then stirred in a tin of sardines before serving to make an evening meal.  If adding pasta, add more water to compensate.

    Monday, 9 August 2010

    A Weekend in Bridgwater

    Vegan cupcake with raspberry butter cream frosting
    Last weekend I visited Designer in her home town near Bristol.  The train journey up was surprisingly smooth, but alas I can not say the same about the journey back due to a mix of badly labelled and positioned trains and confusion over stations, which led to mad bolting towards unknown platforms and hopping on random trains.  I know. Mad. Returning to Oxford only half an hour later than expected though was acceptable to me and overall the weekend was a wonderfully packed one full of baking, eating, baking, drinking, baking, make-over, films and fruit picking.  Did I mention baking?  What more can one ask for?

    Beetroot Risotto with crème Fraîche and dill
    Arriving late Friday evening, we settled down to a beautiful beetroot risotto made by Designer, which was a stunning characteristic blush red.  Washing it all down with a small glass of Rhône, I can happily concede the weekend had well and truly started.  We had a lazy start the next day, watching Saturday morning cook shows on the TV whilst it showered in the grey outdoors.  I had to admit I was hoping for a sunny day - but I speak too soon.  As we were leaving to go find a Pick Your Own (PYO) Farm, the sun blazed out and burned the remaining clouds away, leaving us to a beautifully bright and mild day with a playful wind teasing us.  After getting slightly lost down a maze of brambles-lined country road, a friendly local redirected us to the PYO, which turned out to be closing the very next day due to reaching the end of their season.  Determined, we trundled down the extensive farm looking for raspberries and gooseberries and found both.  A fun, albeit slightly prickly session later, we left with a punnet of white and black gooseberries and sinfully sweet raspberries, basking in the sun with a farm-made ice cream.  A short drive later and we found ourselves walking down beside the locks, gazing at the canals, blackberry bushes and sloe berries.  It was too early to pick anything yet so no foraging, but the delicate purple blackberry flowers were a delight to look at nonetheless.  We enjoyed the last of the sun for the day sitting outdoors enjoying a traditional cream tea whilst watching a wasp trying to engulf a jam splodge.  Quite amusing really!  Supper that night was a lovely simple dish of smoked salmon, prawns and lemon spaghetti dish in a crème Fraîche sauce, this time accompanied by a Rose Pinot Grigio.

    PYO Farm showing raspberries and black gooseberries
    As evening approached, we perused gingerbread recipes and finally alighted onto one found the in the Hummingbird Bakery Book.  Instead of using the specified list of spices though, we substituted the equivalent amount in gingerbread mix, lovingly made up by Designer's mum.  The smell was divine, and we hadn't even baked them yet.  Patiently we tucked the dough into the fridge to allow the flavours to develop over-night as we turned to making grilled pepper salsa which tasted heavenly with toasted pitta strips and tortilla chips, which we happily munched with Pinot Grigio and watching Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  Tonight was finished with a rich chocolate mousse hiding brandy-soaked black cherries in the bottom, with delicate almond macaroons we made earlier along with the mousse.

     Cream Tea by the Locks

    Sunday morning was a relaxed affair, once again watching addictive cookery shows and sipping tea.  Eventually we naturally migrated to the kitchen to start some much anticipated baking.  Upon commenting on the sadly steep continual rise on dairy products, especially butter, we settled for vegan chocolate cupcakes adapted also from the Hummingbird bakery with the intent of decorating them in butter cream later.  The mixture resembled a stiff chocolate paste, resembling more brownie than chocolate cupcake, but in the oven it went with the two of us each believing it would not rise due to how heavy it looked.  In the meantime though, we had fun rolling out the gingerbread dough and making little boys and girls.  A check on the cupcakes and to our delight, the mixture had ballooned and we had cute round cupcakes waiting to come out, trading their oven space with the gingerbread people.  We watched part of Gigi, one of my all time favourite musicals before realising that time really wasn't on our side.  Off to the kitchen we ambled to get started on decorating.  A hilarious session later, we finally had icing the right consistency to pipe: white glace for the gingerbread people and a raspberry tinted butter cream for the cupcakes.  With the kitchen a tip, although filled with lovely aromas and baked treats, I realised I was about to miss my train if we didn't leave pronto.  A fast pack-up later (in which time, Designer had thoughtfully layered some gingerbread friends into a box for me) we were out the door speeding towards the station which mercifully was a short distance away.  With the arrival of the train, our weekend together came to an end, and we said our farewells.  I was about to embark on a complicated journey home, on a mission to reach my church service on time; Designer was headed back to her now "slightly" chaotic kitchen and I had gingerbread friends to keep me smiling all the way home.

     Gingerbread Making Fun

    Friday, 6 August 2010

    Sprouting Beans

    The one thing that keeps popping to my attention a lot recently is how to sprout beans in the comfort of my own home. I first read about it in my favourite cookbook: Cornucopia at Home. I proceeded to encounter the subject as I continued to read other cookbooks, such as Vegan Rustic Cooking and The Cranks Recipe Book. Although I have never attempted it, I remember my parents doing it as standard when I was a child. It was such a fun process to watch, seeing little white tails appear from mung beans lying on a wet paper towel.

    Aside from the fun factor, bean sprouts are highly nutritious, not to mention delicious gently stir fried.  The ones often seen on the supermarket shelves are usually mung beans, although any beans can be sprouted, from alfalfa, adzuki, chick peas, kidney beans, etc... One thing that is not recommended though is mixing the sprouting mix together as sprouting time differs between bean type, environment and batch.  Now all grown up (kind of...) I want to try bean sprouting for myself and hopefully encourage you to try it at home too if it all goes well!

    According to Cornucopia, to sprout beans I should have in my extensive kit:
    • Beans (mung beans, adzuki, chick peas, alfalfa, etc...)
    • A large jar
    • A 20cm square of muslin/porous cloth
    • String/Elastic
       My Sprouting Kit
      I went to Fabric Land to get some natural muslin, which was a bargain at less than 50p for a quarter of a metre.  After a rummage in the cupboards I found a jar to my liking, and a scrap piece of ribbon in my bedroom found its way to the kitchen. Now all I need is beans to sprout and I'm ready to go!

      Day 1: To start, it was really simple.  Literally fill the jar to about a fifth full with beans then fill with room temperature water.  Cover with the muslin square and either tie the string around the jar neck or use a sturdy elastic band to keep the cloth in place.  Once assembled, I just needed to stand the jar in a corner somewhere and leave for about 12-15 hours.


      Day 2: I woke up this morning and emptied the jar out into the sink, gave it a little shake and left if to sprout some more as I doddled to morning church.  I was surprised to see the beans had not only almost doubled in bulk but had begun to sprout already.  Exciting times!  By the evening there were definite little white tails poking out of the mung bean seeds.  Throughout the day whenever I remembered I gave the beans a bit of a swish and rinse.  This I am told prevents bitter sprouts which I must say do not sound nearly so tasty.  Don't feel the need to constantly do this though as twice to thrice should be enough per day.


      Day 3: Wow my sprouts went crazy during the night, I think another day or so and I'll be ready to start eating them!


      Day 4: Almost ready! It's now time for me to start contemplating what to do with them...  The photo below was taken in the morning, tonight though the jar is full with thickening sprouts, I'm so excited!


      Day 5:  I woke up to a shocker this morning, with my sprouts straining against the muslin, I gave them a last rinse and now contemplated what to do with them.  I like them raw, but they're even lovelier stir fried.  They taste nothing like the shop bought bean sprouts; they were so much better, packed full with flavour and fresh crunch.  Below I share what I've come up with so far with what to do with home-made bean sprouts.


      Looking at my jar I thought there wasn't much but how wrong I was.  A large handful later and I still had most of a jar left of bean sprouts.  Needless to say I used a generous amount in my stir fry that night, which included celery, cabbage and left-overs of: carrot, onion, butternut squash, boiled new potatoes and black-eyed peas.  The resultant meal was delicious, but I must say I must have made enough for two! The quantities given below are enough for two, or if you use just the one noodle portion, then for one very hungry person.


      Stir-fried Bean Sprouts with Noodles
      (Serves 2)


      Ingredients:
      • 3-4 Handfuls of mixed vegetables
            -such as: potato, celery, carrot, butternut squash, leeks, onions, etc...
      • A Big handful of Bean sprouts
      • Some beans
          -such as black eyed peas, chick peas, etc...
      • 2 Portions of Egg Noodles
      • Soya Sauce
      • Pepper
      • Chilli oil (optional)
      • Vegetable Oil to fry
      Method:
      1. Coat a large pan with oil and heat on high and bring a pan of water to the boil.
      2. Add the noodles to the pan and cook for 5 minutes on a simmer until soft, or follow the packet's instructions. 
      3. Add all the vegetables and stir fry over a high heat for 3-5 minutes.
      4. Season with soya sauce and pepper.
      5. Drain the noodles, and add to the stir fry, mix and serve.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds if you have any!

      Having replaced the muslin top and leaving my jar of magical bean sprouts on the counter, I was not expecting it to continue growing at a monster rate.  I woke up the next day to find a full jar again and couldn't help thinking of that story about the girl and the never-ending porridge pot... only with bean sprouts!  Naturally I had bean sprouts for lunch too... along with half a tin of sardines in a toasted malted bread bap; very nice it was too! You might notice that some of the sprouts have eagerly thrown up some leaves, don't worry about it, I think they look lovely and taste just as good.


      Day 7 and my magical sprout jar still appears to be magically refilling, so I had a bean sprout salad made with left over boiled new potatoes, black-eyed peas and bean sprouts gently stir-fried together in a little chilli oil and a generous grinding of pepper.

      Verdict? Sprout your own beans! Nutritious, delicious and abundant, it's worth the wait; in fact the wait was exciting.  I was amazed by the speed at which the beans sprouted, and felt that if I watched a while longer I would have been able to see the delicate root tails elongating.  I hope you've enjoyed following my journey into the land of sprouting beans.  Next time I will be trying out chickpeas, adzuki and black eyed peas.  Until then, happy sprouting!

      Tuesday, 3 August 2010

      Project Frugal: Day Two

      I went to one of the numerous charity shops dotted around Headington a few days ago to gaze at their used books. I love the Helen & Douglas House charity shop which I walk past every time I decide to visit the local shops and it is one of those places where you can find beautiful items at cheap and cheerful prices. Automatically, the moment I enter a charity shop I bee-line to the books first. This time I plonked myself on the floor in front of the cookery books and happily started rummaging through them. The great thing with cheap cookery books is the freedom to buy books that are normally unaffordable in a shop which usually ends up with just a handful of practical recipes anyway. It is also a good way to try out new authors who I wouldn't normally choose to read, enter: Nigella Lawson. I love her TV Series when I happen to catch them, but I would say she is definitely aiming for the middle class audience who wouldn't blink an eye going to Waitrose to buy their finest ingredients. Not that I dislike Waitrose, I actually adore the place, but once again have to be sensible about what I end up buying, and I manage it with varying degrees of success.

       Uncooked Blackberry and Rhubarb Crumble

      Going back to the point of this post though, I spotted a dirty copy of Nigella Lawson's book: How to Eat within the mass of Good Housekeeping and novelty cookbooks, and glanced through it.  I must say I was prejudiced but once I started reading the first few pages, I discovered I really love her writing style.  I was right in that she loves her designer food, and seems have an obsession with mentioning this one brand of eggs every few pages or so, but surprisingly her ingredients, although sometimes extensive were perfectly attainable, replaceable or easy to miss out with easy to follow steps.  Expecting a hefty price tag I was happy to see a sticker displaying £2, which I thought was a bargain even if I only ended up reading the book for pleasure.  As soon as I got home I tucked into the book and spotted a handful of recipes already I would love to try and which surprisingly with a little tweaking fit my frugal project. 

      Rhubarb

      For lunch today I decided to use my butternut squash up which has been hiding in my cupboard for the last few months.  I had decided to try Nigella's butternut squash and pasta soup (recipe below), but missed out the white wine as I didn't have any.  The resultant soup was a beautiful hue of orange, enhanced by the pureed butternut squash and tasted wonderful.  Simplicity really is the key sometimes I feel.  I made enough for two, but looking at the thin broth thought I might actually have to go for seconds.  Toward the end of my lunch though, I barely has room to finish it, lovely though it was.  Another winner in my book! I enjoyed this soup with some grated mature cheddar on top and nothing else.

      My foraging bounty

      Later on, I strolled down to work to get some books and on the way home took a detour to pick some blackberries as I was having a friend over tonight for dinner and a thrifty card making session.  The walk was pleasant despite the light spattering of summer rain which cooled me down a treat.  The only thing I would change next time would be not to wear a silk chiffon dress, apparently silk and brambles don't mix well.  Going home with a huge grin on my face, I snagged some lavender as well and hopefully tonight will turn out good with a free meal for two.  After much thought this afternoon, I decided against risotto and decided to make a vegetable toad in the hole instead with boiled sweet heart cabbage, potatoes and green beans with a blackberry and rhubarb (from the garden) crumble to finish (recipe below).  The dinner was a success, plates were cleaned and dessert was served with a toffee ice cream (what I found in my freezer) - so much a success I forgot to take photos until a good way through dessert.  Sated, we went upstairs to finish our night making birthday cards. Total cost spent today? Nothing.  Hurrah!

      Butternut Squash and Pasta Soup:
      (Serves 2)


      Ingredients: 
      • About 250g Butternut squash, peeled and cubed (1cm)
      • 1 Bay Leaf
      • 1 Small Onion, chopped finely
      • 60g Soup Pasta (E.g. Stellette)
      • 2Tbsp Mature Cheddar
      • 1/2Tbsp Olive Oil
      • 1/2 Stock Cube
      • 600ml Boiling Water
      • Pepper
      Method:
      1. Cover the base of a medium heavy based pan with oil and add the onion to it.  Fry the onion gently for 5-10 minutes covered until soft and translucent and stir often to prevent browning.  I added a bit of water towards the end to add some steam.
      2. Add the 1cm cubes of butternut squash to the pan, coat in the onion mixture and fry for about 2 minutes.
      3. Add the stock, water and bay leaf, stir to dissolve the cube and bring the whole lot to the boil then simmer gently for around 10 minutes, covered.
      4. Take out a ladleful of the soup and blend until smooth and return to the pot, then add the pasta shapes turning the heat up to return the soup to a rapid simmer.  Continue to cook for 10-12 minutes until the pasta is tender.  Season with salt and pepper and serve in bowls garnished with grated cheese.
      Vegetable Toad in the Hole: 
      (Serves 2)

      Ingredients:
      • 50g Plain flour
      • 100ml Milk
      • 1 Egg
      • 2Tbsp wholegrain mustard
      • 1 Small Onion, chopped into 8 wedges
      • 1 Clove Garlic, crushed and chopped
      • 2Cups worth cooked or frozen mixed vegetables (sweetcorn, carrot, peas, green beans, etc...)
      • 1 Tinned plum tomato (or 1 fresh)
      • 1Tbsp Fresh Herbs
      • Knob of butter
      • Olive Oil
      • Salt and Pepper 
      Method:
      1. Make the batter by whisking together the egg, milk, mustard and some salt and pepper to taste.  Add the flour and mix together to form a thick batter.
      2. Pour enough oil to cover the base of a small oven dish and preheat the oven to Gas Mark 6/200C/400F.  Heat the oiled dish in the oven for 10 minutes.
      3. Meanwhile, heat the butter and a bit of oil in a pan and saute the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes.  Add the tomato and beat apart with a wooden spoon and then add the vegetables, herbs and mustard.  Mix altogether and season to taste.
      4. Take the dish out of the oven, pour the batter to cover the base and spoon the vegetables into the middle of the dish.  Return to the oven for another 30-35 minutes.
      5. If you've made crumble, put that in the oven too.
      Blackberry and Rhubarb Crumble:
      (Serves 2)


      Crumble with Toffee Ice Cream
      Ingredients:
      • 200-300g blackberries
      • 1-2 stalks Rhubarb, chopped into 3cm lengths
      • 5Tbsp Plain flour
      • 1-3Tbsp Oats
      • 25-30g Butter
      • 4Tbsp Sugar
      • 1Tbsp Brown Sugar
      • 1tsp Ground Cinnamon
      NB: I didn't actually weigh any of the ingredents, I tend to make crumble by feel.  I like my crumble to be buttery, so if the mixture holds together when you squeeze a handful without leaving grease it's my perfect! Also I just filled 2 ramekins with blackberries, so don't take the above weights literally.


      Method:
      1. In a bowl, mix the butter with the flour, white sugar and oats with your fingers until you achieve a bread crumb consistency.  Taste the crumble, if it's too floury add some more butter, too greasy then add more flour, too plain, add more sugar! It's right when it tastes yummy.  Season with ground cinnamon
      2. In a pan, add a tablespoon of water, the rhubarb and the brown sugar.  Heat with the lid on until soft - about 3-5 minutes.  You can even skip this step and just put the rhubarb straight in with the blackberries but it mean you can fit less fruit in the ramekins.  Remove from heat, add the blackberries and mix together then distribute between two ramekin.  I used Le Creuset heart shaped ones.
      3. Top with as much crumble mixture as possible and bake for 30 minutes or so in a hot oven.  About Gas Mark 6/200C/400F.

        Monday, 2 August 2010

        Project Frugal: Day One

        Graduation was a celebration in no longer being a student and becoming a qualified adult, able to find a job.  I am currently in the position of having three jobs but no hours, so money has pretty much stopped coming in from May time.  My holiday at home was spent working the odd shift at my beloved cinema, but not nearly so many hours as before and it shows: the total earnings made last month whilst in Southampton is just enough to cover rent for a month and naught else in Oxford.  Like everything else - blame it on the credit crunch!  Today, two months after graduation and I was finally contemplating approaching the job agencies when in answer to my prayers, I received a startling email from my manager offering me a full-time job in something I truly love: Academic Support Work.  Effort involved in finding a job? Nil.  I'm happy with that, I can't wait to start!  Until I begin my job though, I have to wait a month which means for at least a month and a half I still have no funds and limited savings... what's a girl to do?

        That was an easy answer once I returned to Oxford and realised just how much food I had managed to hoard over the year, tightly packed into my freezer and cupboards.  So my mission is to buy as little as possible in terms of fresh food so that I can start making things from the pantry and freezer.  The aim is to use up my stocks of flour, dried beans, spices, dried condiments, freezer meals and stocks, frozen vegetables, etc... And buy as little as possible.  Each week I aim to post how much I have spent on food, so that you will hopefully see that it is possible to live on a frugal diet and have fun and tasty food at the same time!

        My housemate works as a cleaner in one of the student halls, and as a result brings home the weirdest things in terms of food sometimes.  Often it is not quite weird food, more the sheer quantity of food.  For instance, one day as a present she brought home a big bag of mung and adzuki beans, along with a monster bag of black eyed peas.  Although I normally eat black eyed peas, even this bag has stumped how we were going to get through it.  So far bean burgers have been made, stews and soups and we still have a way to go.  Today a batch was cooked up, ready to sit ready in the fridge or freezer for future use; with the cooking water and a 400g tin's worth of the cooked peas going towards my first frugal dish: Ugly Duckling Soup (recipe below).  No ducklings were harmed in the making of this soup, it tasted delicious and is 100% vegan friendly, but I can't say it was the prettiest soup I have ever made, what with the black eyed peas turning the soup into a murky red clay colour.  Dubiously, I poured it into a bowl for lunch to have with some cream crackers and some donated lemon and coriander hummus (Lidl's finest so not great...).  The first mouthful was a surprise, the peas and celery had lent the soup an earthy flavour with satisfying hints of bay leaf, and sweet notes from the red peppers.  I only blended a small portion of the soup to thicken it so that separate colours and textures from the pepper and other vegetables were retained. A few hours later and I was still full, so not only lovely to have but filling too!  I loved it so much I happily had it for dinner with a toasted and buttered malted bap.  If you ever feel the need to try this soup, don't be fooled by the colour, looks are deceiving!  Of course tinned black eyed peas can be used, or some other bean - being frugal gives one the freedom to experiment!  I soaked my black eyed peas overnight (about 1.5 Cups) in cold water then boiled briskly for 10 minutes the next morning and left to simmer for 25 minutes further until tender.  I reserved the cooking liquid for the soup (which turned the whole thing into a mud pool), but if you don't have the cooking liquid, feel free to use either stock or just water.

        On another subject of free food, the season of blackberries is almost here and on a little detour through a nature reserve today, I happily picked a handful to take home to munch later.  On the way out of my road I also spotted a plum tree and another one down a route I sometimes take to the shops.  I can't wait to start catching ripe plums too!  In the meantime though, bon appétit!

        Ugly Duckling Soup:
        (Serves 2)


        Ingredients: 
        • 1 Small Onion, sliced
        • 1 Clove Garlic, crushed and chopped
        • 1 Stick of Celery, sliced into disks
        • 1 Small/1/2 Large Carrot, peeled and diced
        • 1 Small/1/2 Large Red pepper, diced
        • 100g Dried Black-eyed beans, cooked
           -or a 400g Tin - save the water for the soup
        • 1 Bay leaf
        • Salt and Pepper to taste
        • About 1Pt Water/Stock
        • 1/2Tbsp Olive (or any) Oil  
        Method:
        1. Pour enough oil to cover the base of a small pan and heat.  Add the onions, garlic, carrot, celery, pepper and bay leaf.  Cover the pan and gently fry for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft.
        2. Add the black eyed peas and cooking water or stock to cover everything in the pan, stir once and bring to the boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender.
        3. Remove the bay leaf and ladle out some of the vegetable and some liquid and blend until smooth then stir back into the soup to thicken, season and serve.

        Who said birthday parties were for kids?

        Today was another beautiful Sunday.  At the end of the morning service whilst socialising with the church family, a friend of mine I have not seen in a while brought up the fact that today was her birthday - the one occasion where we can be spoiled and celebrate!  She chose to do so with a tea party, so with a few hours to spare I went home to bake a batch of cupcakes as I didn't have time to find a last second present.  When in doubt, one can not go wrong with cupcakes I feel.  I decided to make a lemon and poppy seed cupcake batch (recipe below) but didn't really have the time to rummage for a recipe, so hoped it all turned out OK in time for the tea party by adapting a Victoria sponge recipe I luckily have handy in my head.  I decided to frost some of the cakes in a lemon butter cream with pink edible sparkles.  One word of warning though, if you ever think about pouring a teaspoon of milk from a 4 pint bottle, just don't and pour it out into a smaller container/jug.  I managed about half a spoon, wanted more and promptly got a good glug of milk ruining the lovely consistency of my butter cream.  Running out of time, I did not think to pour some out then thicken up with more icing sugar, so having gone through an unnatural amount of icing sugar, I ended up with a huge batch of not quite firm buttercream.  Promptly piping the icing on to the cupcakes, they were then jammed into a round tin.  My theory was that if they were crammed tightly enough they'd survive the bike journey I was about to inflict on them, runny icing and all.


        Someone's cake stand containing scrummy chocolate cake

        The day was quite cloudy but warm and merry all the same.  I made a pit stop outside another friend's flat en route and we walked together to the Birthday Girl's burrow - round tin of cupcakes fighting against the bungee ties I strapped around them to my trusty pannier.  Upon arrival we wound our way round their shabby chic flat to the back, which was transformed with bunting hung up around the garden with tea sets and platters of finger sandwiches and sweet treats strewn around the grass.  What a wonderful sight!  Tucked into a corner, made (as we found out later) from deck chairs and Cath Kidston fabric was a cute tent for the kiddies and a picnic blanket completed the scene.  The cupcakes surprisingly survived the journey intact and was a popular hit with the guests.  I think I managed return home after evening service with two left which I promptly took photos of before engulfing - naturally washing it all down with a mug of tea.  Another week gone, and another satisfying end to it.

        Lemon and Poppy Seed Cupcakes
        (Makes 12)


         Non-Iced Cupcakes, still yummy!

        Ingredients:
        • 100g/4oz Plain flour  
        • 1.5tsp Baking powder
        • 100g/4oz Margarine
        • 100g/4oz Caster Sugar
        • 2 Large Eggs
        • 150g/6oz Icing Sugar, sifted
        • 25g Butter
        • Zest and juice of one Lemon 
        • 2-3tsp Poppy seeds
        Method:
        1. Weigh out all ingredients and leave to reach room temperature.  Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/180C/350F and line a muffin tin with cupcake (or muffin) cases.  If using cupcake cases, you might need two tins.  I happily about 18 cupcakes with my mixture quantity. 
        2. Beat the margarine, sugar, lemon zest and poppy seeds together until pale and creamy.
        3. Beat the eggs and gradually whisk into the mixture.
        4. Fold in the flour and baking powder.  Alternatively use self-raising flour and miss out the baking powder (I just didn't have any to hand at the time).
        5. Pour teaspoons of the cake mix into the cupcake cases until about a third filled.  Same applies to the muffin cases.
        6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until lightly golden and the centre springs back when lightly pressed.
        7. Meanwhile, beat the butter and gradually adding sifted icing sugar to avoid lumps.  Thin with lemon juice and continue to beat until pale and creamy.  If you want, thin with some milk too for a richer butter cream.
        8. Transfer to a piping bag/tube and once the cupcakes are cool, pipe on in a circled spiral to form a small mountain of frosting.
        9. Don't think about taking the fresh batch on a bike ride, instead leave to set a while and enjoy in the comfort of your home with a cup of tea.

        NB: Although I made cupcakes, there was enough mixture to make 12 muffins.  Usually I use a 3oz/75g quantity and 1 large egg. 

        Also sorry for the awful photo qualities, they were taken at night/when the light had disappeared.