Saturday, 29 May 2010

Cinnamon Banana Bread

Although I never was a big fan of bananas as a fruit on its own, there's something about the combination of banana and cinnamon that just says "yuuummmm..." to me. My partner also loves banana bread and banana cake, so much that if I ever ask him "I'll make cake, what kind do you want?" the only thing he will say is "banaaaaaaaaaana cake". I've tried many recipes in the past, both my own inventions and other people's with varying levels of success. Usually it either doesn't taste enough like banana, or stops being moist after a couple of days, or becomes really stodgy and not so light (depending on the density of the banana pulp and the amount used).

From previous posts you will have noticed my recent obsession with Harry Eastwood's Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache, and this is one more recipe from this inventive book, this time using courgette as the vegetable of choice. The cake came out great, very light and fluffy, and of course (as with all the other vegetable-based cakes in the book) it didn't taste at all like courgette! And it also stayed moist for quite a while (although it disappeared so quickly I can't really say how long it would have potentially stayed moist for...).

Cinnamon Banana Bread
Source: Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache

  • 140g banana (peeled weight, about 1-1.5 large ones)
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 140g golden caster sugar
  • 150g topped, tailed, peeled and finely grated courgettes/zucchinis
  • 150g rice flour (I used plain flour)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 25g finely chopped brazil nuts (I only used pecan nuts, and doubled their quantity)
  • 25g finely chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Brush the inside of a 19cm x 12cm x 8 cm loaf tin with a little vegetable oil or butter.

Mash the banana thoroughly with a fork or potato masher.

In a large mixing bowl whisk the eggs and sugar for a full 3 minutes until pale and light. Whisk in the mashed-up banana until completely incorporated and then add the grated courgette and beat again. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, vanilla extract, cinnamon and mixed spice, and whisk again until completely blended.

Finally, mix in most of the brazil nuts and pecans with a spatula and pour the mixture into the prepared tin. Sprinkle the remaining nuts over the top and bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes.

Remove the cake from the oven and leave it to cool in the tin for 10 minutes.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Butternut squash risotto

As a child growing up in Greece, I was always an "oddity of nature". With the mediterranean having an amazing wealth of fresh and wonderful vegetables, and me being a veggie-hater since birth, I spent quite a few years with my parents chasing me around the house with a carrot (to feed it to me by force, obviously!), trying to force orange juice (with the "bits") down my throat (orange juice without bits I have no problems with), or throwing the pears they tried to force-feed me out of the balcony (one landed on a car underneath once, and the next morning I was passing by and saw it had made a dent on its roof - big oups, from then on I learnt to look at where I was throwing them) and the lentils down the kitchen drain.

Where am I going with this you will wonder...Well, against all odds (and nature), ever since I moved to the UK, a pronouncedly worse place for fresh vegetables (or at least that's what most Greeks will claim) my horizons have expanded. After spending a while being miffed at the fact that the only vegetable I had started eating (mushrooms) was not actually a vegetable (what do you mean it's a "fungus"? It's the same bloody thing! If it's not meat or fish, must be vegetable!) I discovered lots of other things that in Greece I would have just not touched. English strawberries being one (only between June-August, I refuse to touch the hormonal huge ones imported from other lands in the middle of winter) and butternut squash another. Now the funniest thing is that I can not do without butternut squash, and since it's in season in Britain for only a couple of winter months, I have to buy imported to feed my addiction, and most of the times I end up buying squash from...yeap, you guessed right...Greece.

Since cooking savoury recipes with pumpkin or squash is not traditionally popular in Greece (they're mostly used for desserts) it's now becoming more common, and I thought it would be quite fitting to have my first savoury recipe in this blog made with A. a vegetable, B. a vegetable that comes from Greece, and C. a vegetable that comes from Greece but Greeks wouldn't commonly use in this way. I also love risotto, and although I usually make it by chopping the squash into small chunks and popping them in the oven for 30 min (with some dried ground sage leaves, olive oil, salt and pepper), then mixing them into the rice after it's cooked, I came across this interesting recipe in the delicious magazine, and decided to give it a try, since the idea of making the squash into a soup and using that in place of stock seemed very original (and tasty!). For me it was equally great as my usual risotto recipe, but my partner kept drooling and calling it loooooooovely every time I asked "how is it?".

Butternut squash risotto
Source: delicious magazine (May 2010)

Serves 4-6

  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped (I used 1 tsp of onion powder)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I used 1 tsp of garlic powder)
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 2cm cubes
  • 1 litre vegetable stock (I used chicken stock)
  • 350g risotto rice (I used arborio)
  • 200ml dry white wine
  • 4 tbsp grated Parmesan (I buy the best parmesan in London from Elliott of the Ham and Cheese Co. stand at the Borough market*, it's even better than many I've tried in Italy)
  • Extra parmesan to serve (If you're like me, count another half a block in shavings, I like my parmiggiano!)
  • 20g butter
  • 1 tbsp hazelnut or walnut oil

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large non-stick saucepan and gently fry the onion and garlic for 5 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the squash and stock to the pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes until soft. Whizz in a blender until smooth to make a soup, then season.

Heat a heavy-based saucepan with the remaining olive oil and add the rice. Fry for 2 minutes over a medium heat, stirring until well coated with the oil. Add the wine and simmer until absorbed by the rice.

Gradually add the pumpkin soup to the pan, a ladleful at a time, stirring between each addition to allow the liquid to be completely absorbed. Stir in the Parmesan and butter, and drizzle with the hazelnut or walnut oil. Sprinkle with some shaved Parmesan and serve immediately.

*Note: As of 2011, they have moved to the Maltby Street market, a cosy small market under the London Bridge arches.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Chocolate heartache cake

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I have been recently introduced to the world of butterless cake-making, via some photocopies from a borrowed copy of Harry Eastwood's much-blogged Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache. Being a butter and flour hardcore traditionalist (and not much of a vegetable fan), I have been slowly converted to the dark side of vegetable cakemaking, finding that not only you can not taste the veggies contained within, but also being charmed by that most obvious law of physics that Eastwood explains in her book, and which could be summarised thus: Butter when cold=solid. Butter melts while cake is baking, cake cools down, butter becomes solid again. Hence rock cake after a couple of days.

Now these cakes, apart from being pretty yummy, actually stay moist (I could say for a week, but none of the ones I've tried have lasted that long!) for much longer than your usual kind of cake. After my initial success with the Lemon and lavender drizzle cake, the next one I ventured into was the famous titular Chocolate heartache cake. While I've made flourless chocolate creations before, one of my favourites being Allegra McEvedy's Flourless chocolate brownies, I had never made anything flourless AND butterless in my life. Although this cake was nice, it turned out a bit too bitter for my taste, and I'm guessing this was either due to me not weighing my aubergines carefully, or maybe the bitterness levels of the specific aubergines I used were uncommonly high. To play it on the safe side, I would suggest to err on the side of caution, and use rather less than more aubergine if you're in doubt. The cake was moist and chocolatey, but for me couldn't be eaten without being warmed up, and accompanied with some nice vanilla ice-cream. My boyfriend and his sister, however, devoured it in all ways, hot, cold, with or without ice-cream, and couldn't have praised it more. So one not so much for those with a huge sweet tooth, but nevertheless one for chocaholics.

Heartache Chocolate Cake
  • 2 small whole aubergines (weighing roughly 400g)
  • 300g 70% dark chocolate, broken into squares
  • 50g good-quality cocoa powder
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 3 medium eggs
  • 200g clear honey
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp brandy

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a 23cm-diameter x 7cm-deep tin with baking parchment and lightly brush the base and sides with a little oil.

Cook the aubergines by puncturing their skins here and there with a skewer, then placing them in a bowl covered with cling film. Microwave on high for 8 minutes until the vegetables are cooked and limp. Discard any water at the bottom. Leave the aubergines to stand in the bowl until they are cool enough to handle.

Next, skin the aubergines with the tip of a knife and purée them in a blender. Once the warm aubergine is puréed and smooth, add the chocolate, which will mingle and melt slowly. Set aside, covered once again in cling film, until all the chocolate has melted.

In a large bowl, whisk up all the other ingredients for a minute until well introduced to each other and slightly bubbly. Fold the melted chocolate and aubergine mixture into the bowl with all the other ingredients.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and place it in the bottom of the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in its tin for 15 minutes before turning it out to to a wire rack and peeling off the parchment. Quickly turn it the right way up again and put it on a plate. Decorate with cocoa powder.
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