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Yogurt Week: Italian-inspired yogurt cake

Today is the first day of Yogurt Week, the UK’s first celebration of that wonderfully versatile dairy product and everything you can make with it.

Yogurt Week 2014What can’t you do with yogurt? Eat it on its own or add it to both sweet or savoury dishes, it’s a great way to add some creamy lusciousness without adding too many calories. It’s also a perfect first food for weaning babies.

With its power-boosting protein and bone-building calcium as well as a load of vitamins, it’s no wonder that in the UK we spent over £1.2 billion on yogurt in the last year (that’s £38 every second of every day!).

To celebrate yogurt, The Yogurt Council is running a Food Stylist Competition for those of you in the UK, with a £1,000 prize package up for grabs. All you need to do is create and style your own recipe using yogurt. The competition runs until Monday 9 June 2014 and more details can be found here.

Discover more about yogurt, and lots of yummy recipes using it, on the Yogurt Council’s website and follow @loveyogurtuk on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Yogurt Week

Yogurt Week has been the perfect excuse for me to experiment with making something I often ate while living in Italy and have been wanting to try to make for a while.

‘Plumcake allo yogurt’ is eaten for breakfast and also as a snack for little ones. I have no idea why it’s called ‘plumcake’, especially when it has no plums (or anything resembling plums) in it! Aside from the misuse of English, this Italian yogurt cake is lovely and light, and yummy both for breakfast or afternoon tea. If you make it with low or no fat yogurt, you can have absolutely no guilt eating it for breakfast (remind yourself of the protein and calcium you’re treating your body to).

It’s an amazingly quick and easy cake to make, it’s really just beating the ingredients together, and doesn’t leave you with many dirty things to wash. It also freezes very well.

In making my Italian-inspired cake, I’ve only used ingredients that are common here in the UK. I also added some lemon zest as I like the tangy freshness it gives to the cake. (When brutally honest Italian hubby tried it, he quickly pointed out that plumcake doesn’t have lemon!) It’s just as yummy with or without the lemon; why not try both versions and tell me your favourite.

ITALIAN-INSPIRED YOGURT CAKE

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 40-45 mins
Makes 1 loaf
Freezable

250g Greek yogurt
100ml light-flavoured vegetable oil (I use rapeseed oil)
zest of 1 lemon (optional)
3 eggs
140g caster sugar
200g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 175C. Line a loaf tin with baking paper.

Put the yogurt, oil and lemon zest (if using) into a medium-sized mixing bowl.

Beat the eggs until they’re light and fluffy (a hand whisk is fine), then beat them into the yogurt mixture.

Add the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt, and lightly beat until combined.

Pour the mixture into your prepared loaf tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

Tip: if the top of your cake is browning too much in the oven but it’s not cooked, cover the top with a piece of aluminium foil to protect it.

By the way, can you guess what the most popular yogurt flavour is in the UK?

Disclosure: I was compensated by The Yogurt Council to develop a recipe using yogurt and promote Yogurt Week.

 

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Dairy-free lime cupcakes

At the weekend I became a godmother! And I couldn’t be prouder of my gorgeous (and incredibly cheeky) godson, Lorenzo.

Before he was born, Lorenzo’s parents decided on a colour for his nursery, his pram, etc – lovely lime green. His mum even later incorporated the colour into her wedding dress (which was stunning, by the way). So when I was deciding what I could make for his christening party, I knew I had to include his colour somehow. Voila – lime cupcakes!

dairy-free lime cupcakes

Lorenzo’s papa is lactose-intolerant so I made them completely dairy-free. Even the frosting is dairy-free, topped with some green ‘Ls’ I cut out of ready to roll icing (you need to make these in advance so they can dry and harden).

I was aiming for a lovely marbled green and cream effect as you bit into each cupcake, but in my haste to make them, the green hue was more like a splodge in the centre! I’m sure you can have more success than me swirling the coloured batter through. Or let your kids have fun with different colours.

dairy-free lime cupcakes

This recipe is an adaption of my dairy-free chocolate cupcakes, which I’d adapted from Nigella Lawson’s chocolate olive oil cake. Using healthier olive oil is a great way to eliminate dairy from cakes, and the unanimous decision from the people who’ve tried my chocolate and lime dairy-free cupcakes is that they taste just like ‘normal’ cupcakes!

I used this recipe as the basis for my dairy-free icing, but it’s basically dairy-free spread beaten up with icing sugar to which you then add your choice of flavouring (and colouring if you want). The quantities below make a large amount of icing which is perfect if you want lovely big mountains of piped icing on top. If you just want to spread it on like me (I must learn how to properly pipe!), reduce the quantities. Using a dairy-free spread instead of butter also means the icing will be quite runny after you’ve beaten it; pop it into the fridge for a while to cool before icing your cupcakes.

DAIRY-FREE LIME CUPCAKES

Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 15-20 mins
Makes 12 cupcakes
Uniced cupcakes can be frozen

200g caster sugar
150ml olive oil (not extra virgin olive oil)
3 eggs
2 limes, zested and juiced
1 tsp vanilla extract
140g self-raising flour

For the icing:
2/3 cup dairy-free spread
2 1/2 cups icing sugar
2 limes, zested and juiced
green food colouring (optional)

Preheat the oven to 170C and line your cupcake tray with paper cases.

Cream the sugar, olive oil and eggs quite vigorously (about 3 minutes) until you have a pale creamy texture. Turn the speed of your beater or mixer down a little. Add the vanilla extract, lime zest and juice, beating until combined.

Slowly add the flour and gently mix until combined.

Put about 1/4 cup of the mixture into a small bowl and mix through a little food colouring.

Divide the rest of your uncoloured mixture evenly between the paper cases. Add a spoonful of your green mixture to each and swirl through using a skewer. Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden and a skewer comes out clean.

Leave the cupcakes to cool on a wire rack while you make the icing. Briefly cream the dairy-free spread using a hand-held beater or mixer then slowly add the icing sugar a bit at a time, beating until light and fluffy. Add in half of the zest and juice, and taste. Keep adding a little more zest and juice, tasting as you go, until you’re happy with the flavour. Mix through the food colouring if using.

Have fun decorating your cakes.

Variations:

  • for dairy-free lemon cupcakes, replace the zest and juice of the 2 limes with the zest and juice of 1 lemon;
  • for an indulgent gluten-free squidgy dessert, substitute the flour with the same amount of ground almonds and instead of the icing, drizzle with a lime sugar syrup.

Ham, Cheese and Veggie Muffins

I was very happy to discover this new blog (The Diary of a Fussy Eater). Amy’s a working mum of a fussy eater who’s taking a stand to get her boy to eat more healthily. If, like me, you’re struggling with your own fussy eater, I’d definitely recommend checking out Amy’s recipes and techniques.

ham, cheese and veggie muffins

Amy’s Ham and Cheese Mini Muffins are super easy and quick to make. I made them with Nicholas pretty much immediately after seeing the recipe and my fussy eater scoffed three of them as soon as they were cool enough to eat for his afternoon snack. Win!

I made a couple of little changes to her wonderful recipe. I used wholemeal self-raising flour (she uses plain flour with the addition of a couple of tablespoons of wheat bran) and I added some veg (I just couldn’t help myself!). I think you can easily get away with adding some grated vegetables as the overall flavour is still ham and cheese which kids usually love.

Like me, Amy isn’t a fan of hiding vegetables as it doesn’t help little ones learn to enjoy eating their veg. BUT that certainly doesn’t mean I don’t do it. I think the important thing is to keep offering them an assortment of vegetables, cooked in different ways to keep trying to pique their interest.

I make these muffins with Nicholas and point out all the ingredients as we add them, so I don’t think the veg can be called hidden! Our favourite grated vegetable to add is carrot, but courgette (zucchini) has gone down well and also parsnip.

This recipe is also great in that it’s very ‘forgiving’. The amounts don’t have to be exact and we’ve also made them successfully tipping everything into the bowl together (egg unbeaten), mixing until combined, so perfect for getting your munchkins involved (which is also a good way to encourage them to eat).

The muffins freeze very well and are also great in lunchboxes. And I’ve scoffed quite a few myself!

Thank you Amy for helping me get more vegetables into my own fussy eater 🙂

ham, cheese and veggie muffins

HAM, CHEESE AND VEGGIE MUFFINS

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 10-15 mins
Makes 12 small muffins
Freezable

1 cup of wholemeal (or plain) self-raising flour
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
100g cooked ham, sliced
1/2 cup milk
60g butter, melted and cooled
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup finely grated vegetables such as carrot, zucchini or parsnip
Salt and pepper (optional)

Preheat your oven to 200C. Lightly spray or grease a 12-hole muffin tin.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the flour, cheese and ham.

In a jug or small bowl, whisk together the milk, butter and egg then stir through the grated vegetable. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and mix until just combined (mixing too much can make your muffins dense and chewy).

Divide the mixture evenly between the muffin tin holes. Bake for 10-15 mins until golden and cooked through when tested with a skewer.

Dairy-free chocolate cupcakes

Here in the UK the weather is glorious (and what a difference that makes to everyone’s mood!). Although I’ve lived here for (hang on while I count…) almost eight years (EIGHT YEARS – where did that time go?!) and I’m half-British, I find it really difficult to do the very British thing of stripping down to summer clothes the instant the sun drags itself out. My head just needs time to adjust (and often by that time, ‘summer’ is over!).

But, what my friends and I are very good at is having barbecues to make the most of our limited sun exposure. Thankfully Nicholas, growing up in the UK, isn’t missing out on seeing the men folk standing around a sizzling barbecue, stubby in hand (how many of you are going to have to look that one up?!), tending the flames, while the women folk do pretty much everything else (and I wouldn’t have it any other way!).

diary-free chocolate cupcakes

I made these cupcakes last weekend for our friends’ barbecue. I’ve been wanting to try Nigella’s Chocolate Olive Oil Cake for a while, especially as the barbecue-tending half of our dearest friends is lactose intolerant. The original recipe makes a dense and squidgy flourless cake (well it’s Nigella after all!) which I’m sure is amazing, but for a sunny day, after eating loads of meat, I wanted to make something a bit lighter. I also thought by the time we’d want dessert we’d be lazily enjoying the sun, not wanting to move, therefore ‘pop-in-the-mouth-without-effort’ cupcakes would be better than a whole cake 🙂

If you followed Nigella’s original recipe, using all ground almonds and no flour, these would make fabulous gooey individual puddings. They’re also easy enough, with lots of measuring and mixing, to get your little ones to help you make them.

diary-free chocolate cupcakes

DAIRY-FREE CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 15-20 mins
Makes 12 cupcakes
Freezable

150ml olive oil (not extra virgin olive oil)
50g good quality cocoa powder, sifted
125ml boiling water
2 tsp good quality vanilla extract
75g ground almonds
65g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 pinch of salt
200g caster sugar
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 170C and line your cupcake tray with paper cases.

In a small bowl or jug, whisk the sifted cocoa powder with the boiling water until you have a smooth paste. Whisk in the vanilla and leave to cool.

Cream the sugar, olive oil and eggs quite vigorously (about 3 minutes) until you have a pale creamy texture. Turn the speed of your beater or mixer down a little and pour in the cocoa paste, beating until combined.

Slowly add the flour, ground almonds, bicarbonate of soda and salt, and gently mix until combined.

Divide your mixture evenly between the paper cases and bake for 15-20 minutes (when you stick a skewer in to test, it should come out mainly clean possibly with some chocolate cake crumbs attached).

Eat warm or cold, dusted with icing sugar or not.

Variations:

  • for a gluton-free squidgy cupcake, substitute the flour with more ground almonds (140g in total).

Roasted carrot soup for the whole family

Happy International Carrot Day! Bet you didn’t know that even though this year marks a decade of celebrating the root vegetable. I certainly didn’t!

After our Easter indulgences, I though it was time to return to my mission of getting as many vegetables into Nicholas as possible (and soup’s the least stressful way). I’m sure the exhausted Easter bunny would also happily relax with a large bowlful.

This is a super simple soup (try to say that quickly as many times as you can!) the whole family can enjoy from weaning babies (omit the seasoning) to adults. It freezes well and can also be used as a pasta sauce for a quick healthy lunch.

roasted carrot soupRoasting the carrots and onion, before adding them to the stock, creates an extra depth of flavour. Ordinary carrot soup becomes something more interesting to the palette. While roasting the vegetables means the cooking time is longer, you can always roast them earlier in the day (if you’re at home) or even the day before.

Like most soups, don’t be too worried about exact measurements; slightly less or slightly more carrots won’t make much difference to the end result. If you don’t have enough carrots, add some other root vegetables like parsnip, turnip or potato.

If you’re not serving this to a baby, you can add some warming spice like coriander (you could sprinkle some ground coriander over the vegetables before roasting).

ROASTED CARROT SOUP

Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 40 mins
Makes 4 adult servings
Freezable

750g carrots, roughly chopped
1 large onion, quartered
1 tbsp olive oil
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Lay the chopped carrots and onion in a single layer on a roasting tray. Drizzle over the oil, and season with salt and pepper (if using). Roast for 3o minutes or until the vegetables start to turn golden.

Heat the stock in a medium to large pot until lightly boiling. Turn the heat down to low, add the vegetables and thyme, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Take the soup off the heat and let it cool a little if you have the time. Purée until smooth. Check if you need to add any more seasoning.

Variations:

  • use a mixture of carrots and parsnips
  • sprinkle the vegetables with ground coriander before roasting (you can also add fresh coriander later)

Other Uses:

  • Mix through some cooked pasta (or rice) for a quick lunch

Hot Cross Buns

Staying at home this year for Easter (yay!), I wanted to cook some traditional Easter dishes. And apart from Easter eggs, something that cries ‘Easter!’ for me are hot cross buns.

hot cross buns

I came across Paul Hollywood’s recipe online and then saw him make them on The Great British Bake Off’s Easter Masterclass (still available to watch on BBC’s iPlayer for those of you in the UK). All the online positive comments easily swayed me, as well as the addition of a couple of different ingredients which I was curious about.

By the way, did you know the buns and their distinctive crosses come from pagan traditions rather than Christian? The word ‘Easter’ comes from the goddess Eostre who was worshipped by the Saxons. To celebrate the arrival of spring, they made her bun offerings, marked with crosses to represent the four seasons. Enter the Christians, and they realised it was better to reinterpret the pagan Easter festivities rather than try to eliminate them. Thus the buns’ crosses came to symbolise Jesus’ crucifixion.

In the end I was very happy with my first attempt at baking hot cross buns. I used to bake bread quite a bit, but my last few efforts didn’t turn out that well so I stopped making it and became a bit afraid of any recipe involving yeast. Now was the perfect time to conquer my fear!

You need to allow a lot of time for proving (you leave the dough three times, each time for an hour, to rise), so making hot cross buns is for when you’re home all day or afternoon, and probably isn’t a great recipe to try with kids. I also made the mistake of not reading the ingredients list carefully enough. Milk: check; butter: check; strong bread flour: add to the shopping list… yeast: check… but as I started to make them I realised Paul Hollywood specifies fast-action or easy-blend yeast, which I didn’t have. What the heck, I thought, let’s see if the yeast I have works without dissolving it in liquid first. I followed the recipe and let the dough stand for its first hour of rising, but it didn’t rise. Ok, of course, Paul Hollywood knows what he’s talking about. Take two!

To activate my normal dried yeast, I took 3 tablespoons of the milk before I heated it and put it aside. I also took 5g from the 75g of caster sugar and put it in the bowl with the yeast. Once the rest of the milk was heated, I added the cold milk and enough hot milk to the yeast and sugar to dissolve them. I left the yeast mixture for 15 minutes to do its stuff and was thankful it was frothy when I came back. I then added the frothy yeast to the dry ingredients when I added the milk and continued as the recipe states. This time my dough rose!

The original recipe has an apricot jam glaze, but many of the people reviewing it said they preferred a simple sugar glaze. I went with the sugar glaze.

Another common comment by people who’ve made Paul’s hot cross buns is that there’s a lack of spice. When I think of hot cross buns I can almost smell the warmth of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. I followed Paul’s recipe and only included 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. While hubby pointed out that this amount of cinnamon balances well with the other flavours, it doesn’t give you the heady aroma of spices. Next time I’d add some more cinnamon, plus some nutmeg and a little cloves.

Paul’s different ingredients of orange zest and chopped apple really do add to the flavour without actually being obviously noticeable. I was surprised not to come across pieces of apple (I chopped them into 1cm squares more or less) which probably was a good thing. The amount of candied peel is also on the safe side. Hubby is a huge fan so could have had more, while I don’t like it and the amount was fine for me.

I’m always afraid of dried fruit like sultanas and raisins drying out when they’re cooking, so I soaked the sultanas in hot water for 30 mins before adding them. They did come out lovely and plump.

Anyway, I’ve made you read far too much. Get baking your one a penny, two a penny…

HOT CROSS BUNS

Prep time: 30 mins (plus 3 x 1 hour of proving)
Cook time: 12-15 mins
Makes 16 buns
Freezable

300ml full-fat milk
50g butter
500g strong bread flour
1 tsp salt
75g caster sugar
7g sachet fast-action or easy-blend yeast
1 egg, beaten
75g sultanas
50g mixed peel
zest 1 orange
1 apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
1 tsp ground cinnamon

For the cross
75g plain flour
water

For the glaze
25g caster sugar
25ml water

In a small saucepan, bring the milk to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the butter. Leave to cool until it reaches a temperature you can put your hand into.

Put the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into a bowl (keeping the salt away from the yeast). Make a well in the centre. Pour in the warm milk and butter mixture, then add the egg. Using a wooden spoon, mix well.

Use your hands to bring the dough together then tip onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for about 5 minutes until smooth and elastic (Paul suggests holding the dough with one hand and stretching it with the heel of the other hand, then folding it back on itself).

Put the dough in a clean and lightly oiled bowl. Cover with oiled cling film (to stop the dough drying out) and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Keeping the dough in the bowl, add the sultanas, mixed peel, orange zest, apple and cinnamon. Knead into the dough, making sure everything is well distributed (this isn’t as easy as it sounds!). Cover and leave to rise for another hour or until doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 16 even pieces (Paul actually says 15 pieces, but I have an issue with odd number when baking, and to weigh each piece so they cook evenly). Roll each piece into a smooth ball on a lightly floured work surface (Paul suggests cupping your hand over the ball and using a circular motion, first slow then fast, to create an even ball).

Arrange the buns on two baking trays lined with baking paper, leaving some space for the dough to expand. Cover (but don’t wrap) with more oiled cling film, or a clean tea towel, and let them prove for another hour.

Heat your oven to 220C (200C fan).

Mix the flour for the cross with about 5 tbsp water to make a paste, adding the water 1 tbsp at a time to achieve a thick paste. Spoon into a piping bag with a small nozzle. Pipe a line along each row of buns, then repeat in the other direction to create crosses (Paul suggests starting piping on the baking tray, moving over the buns and finishing on the baking tray so your crosses go all the way across your buns).

Bake for 12-15 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven, until golden brown.

Gently heat the sugar and water for the glaze either in a small saucepan or in the microwave.  While the buns are still warm, brush over the sugar syrup over the top of the buns and leave to cool.

Variations:

  • add some more spice such as nutmeg and cloves (even ginger) for a more traditional spiced bun
  • glaze the warm buns with warmed and sieved apricot jam (Paul’s suggestion), or honey or golden syrup
  • add some different dried fruit such as cranberries, cherries or dates
  • add 100g of broken up chocolate for more decadent buns

How do you eat your hot cross buns? Toasted? Anything on top?

Broccoli, asparagus and pea soup

Until I started thinking about St Patrick’s Day, and what healthy green recipe I could come up with for you, I didn’t realise that most of the soups I’ve posted here are green! So I thought I’d make a super green soup, the greenest of green soups for this St Paddy’s Day.

broccoli, asparagus and pea soup

BROCCOLI, ASPARAGUS AND PEA SOUP

Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 20 mins
Makes 6 adult servings
Freezable

1 tbsp olive oil (or butter)
1 onion, diced
2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
300g broccoli, stalks and heads roughly chopped
300g asparagus, roughly chopped
1 cup frozen peas
1 litre hot vegetable or chicken stock
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
Salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Add the onions and celery, and sauté for 5 minutes without letting the vegetables brown (turn down the heat if they do start to brown).

Add the broccoli stalks and about 750ml of stock to the pot. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add the broccoli heads, asparagus, peas and thyme, cover and cook for another 5 minutes until the broccoli stalks and asparagus are tender.

Take off the heat and purée until smooth. Check if you need to add any seasoning.

Variations:

  • For older palettes, add a pinch of warming cayenne pepper as you sauté the onion and celery.

Are you eating (or drinking) anything special for St Patrick’s Day tomorrow?