Category Archives: Food

Chocolate surprise muffins*

Oh yummy, yummy, yummy!

I’ve been making some lovely chocolate muffins for a few years now. It’s a quick and easy mix, and so plain that I usually dress it up a little, with some chocolate chips stirred through the mix, or perhaps a chocolate button in the middle. But a couple of weeks ago, I realised that I might be able to make them with a spoonful of caramel in the middle. So I did, with the assistance of my girls. They are truly divine. You should race out and buy the ingredients now, and have a go at them yourself. Actually, you’re likely to have most ingredients on hand already, but you may need to get some sweetened condensed milk.

Condensed milk, butter, brown sugar, in a small saucepan

Caramel ingredients

Start by making a small amount of caramel sauce. On our first attempt, the girls and I mixed together 1 tablespoon of butter, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk. The result was so-so: nice enough, but not quite there. Next time, we tried 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 large tablespoon of golden syrup, and 2 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk. The flavour was better – there was a bit of an edge to the caramel, a fuller flavour. The measures are approximate, but the proportions are about right. Opt for more (well-rounded tablespoons) rather than less, so you get more caramel mix.

Thick golden brown caramel, pushed to one side of the saucepan and holding its shape

Thick caramel, pushed to one side of the saucepan and holding its shape

Put all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Use one with a heavy base, if possible. Stir over a low heat until all the ingredients have melted and combined, then bring them to a simmer. Reduce the heat, and let the mix cook for about four minutes, stirring every now and then, to make sure that it doesn’t catch. The mix should thicken up quite a bit. It will need to cool and thicken some more before you use it in the muffins, so once the four minutes is up, set the saucepan aside while you prepare the muffins.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Celsius (that’s about 390 – 400 Fahrenheit), and grease your muffin pans (I use spray on canola oil).

The muffin mix itself is a basic one. You can use it for almost any muffin, with variations.

First of all, melt 100gms of butter in a large bowl or jug, and set it aside to cool a little.

Next, sift into a large bowl, 1 and 1/2 cups of flour and 1 and 1/2 tsp of baking powder (or just use 1 and 1/2 cups of self-raising flour), and for chocolate muffins, 2 tablespoons of cocoa.

Stir in 3/4 cup of sugar, and mix well. At this stage, if you were making say, chocolate chip chocolate muffins, you would stir in the chocolate chips (plenty, of course), or the poppy seeds, or any chippy chunky dry ingredients that you thought might enhance the end product. But I’d go with the chocolate version, if I were you.

Butter-egg-milk mix in jug, dry ingredients in large bowl, cooked caramel in saucepan, muffin pan

Butter-egg-milk mix in jug, dry ingredients in large bowl, cooked caramel in saucepan, muffin pan

That’s the dry ingredients done. One of the tricks to successful muffin making is to minimise beating, so next, get all the wet ingredients ready, so you can mix them quickly.

Break one egg into the melted butter, and mix well with a fork. The mix will thicken up a bit. Then add 1 cup of milk to the butter and egg, and mix some more.

Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour in the butter-egg-milk mix, and stir until the dry ingredients are mixed through. (At this stage, you would add blueberries, or stewed apple, or chunks of peach, or whatever wet variation you fancied, if you were experimenting with the basic mix.)

12-cup muffin pan, each cup 1/2 filled with batter, small dot of caramel in middle of batter in each cup

12-cup muffin pan, each cup 1/2 filled with batter, small dot of caramel in middle of batter in each cup

Using a 12-cup muffin pan, fill each cup about 1/3 to 1/2 full with the mix. A rounded soupspoon is probably about right. Make sure you leave enough mix to cover up the caramel. Using a teaspoon, make a small hollow in the centre of each raw muffin. Then, get the caramel mix, and using a couple of spoons, one to scrape the mix off the other, put about 1/2 teaspoon, or maybe a bit more, of caramel in each hollow. Then use the remaining muffin mix to cover the caramel.

Put the muffins in the oven, and cook for about 12 minutes, until they feel springy to the touch. While they are cooking, scrape the remaining caramel mix onto teaspoons, summon the children, and give them one each. Use a dessertspoon for yourself.

Once the muffins are cooked, let them cool in the pan for a couple of minutes, then put them on a rack. Cool for a few more minutes, and then, enjoy!

Basket of chocolate muffins, one split open to show the gooey caramel inside

Basket of chocolate muffins, one split open to show the gooey caramel inside

It turns out that if you are under a certain age,** you can poke your finger into the caramel and lick it off, or just stick your tongue directly into it, which will definitely enhance the muffin eating experience.

Packet of Cadbury Caramel Buttons

If you are a busy parent, or just plain busy, you may not have time to make the caramel. It turns out that these Cadbury Caramel Buttons do very nicely. I put two into each muffin. Then I eat the rest, all by myself.

* Why, yes! These are inspired by Stef’s excellent Lemon Surprise Cupcakes.
** Probably about 120.

Father’s Day in our house

The girls made breakfast in bed for their daddy.

Scrambled eggs on marmite toast, spciy apple cake, oj, all nicely presented on a tray.

Scrambled eggs on marmite toast, spicy apple cake with a drizzle of cream, and orange juice. The cake was left over from last night’s dessert. The usual rule in our house is that she who gets up first may eat any left over dessert for breakfast: the girls’ devotion to their father is shown by their making sure that there was enough left for him to have some too.

I made the coffee.

Cross posted

Star the twenty-third

I’m creating a virtual star chart, to record my progress in Dry July. The star for making it through Friday 23 July without touching the demon drink is a fairy bread star, made for my daughters’ ninth birthday party.

Bread coated with 100s and 1000s (also known as non-pareils), cut into a six pointed star. Very easy to do, and always well received.

Our daughters invited 11 other children around for a disco party tonight, to celebrate their ninth birthdays. We served tiny sausage rolls and ricotta and spinach puffs, and chippies, and fairy bread, and home made pizza, followed by…

Frog ponds:

Oranges, halved through the poles and the flesh scooped out, filled with orange jelly, two spearment leaf lollies tucked in at the side, topped with sprinkles of varying colours, and a chocolate Freddo frog. I made the jelly using orange juice, some from a bottle, and some from the scooped-out orange.

Fruit and lolly kebabs:

Kebabs with piece of orange, white marshmallow, piece of pineapple, pineapple lump lolly, another piece of pineapple, pink marshmallow, another piece of orange. As usual, the children pulled the fruit off and ate the sweets.

And meringues. No photo – we ate them.

All followed by birthday cake, which the girls decorated themselves.

Round cakes with chocolate icing, decorated with Smarties, making a “B” on one cake, and a “9” on the other. I used my never-fail yoghurt chocolate cake recipe.

My elder daughter and her friend arranged the music and some games, and compered the evening very successfully. The whole affair was enhanced by a tinsel Shadow vessel swinging from the fan.

(Description: Multi-coloured … thing, suspended from a ceiling fan with a wire, long strands of tinselled wire falling out in a fountain like spray from the centre, strands of shiny stuff underneath, very, very garish.)

I love making party food for the children. It’s an opportunity to be a bit creative, to go for glorious colours and happy shapes, and to simply enjoy food. I’ve cooked for 16 birthday parties now, and enjoyed them all. The children seemed to enjoy the party, but it was very, very loud, even when there was no music playing. Fortunately, it was all over by about 7.45pm.

Right now, I need a drink.

Chocolate self-saucing pudding

It’s cold and wet in Adelaide. After an extended warm autumn that seemed to last until well through May, at last winter has arrived. In my house, winter means fires and soups and stews and pudding. Extra food to keep our bodies going in the cold, and extra comfort for the dreary days.

My girls love chocolate self-saucing pudding. So do I, because it’s very, very easy to make, and the ingredients can be assembled a little ahead of time, then quickly mixed together and the pudding put into the oven just before I start doing the last minute prep for the meal and getting the girls to set the table. 45 minutes later, the pudding is cooked and ready to eat, usually a few minutes after we have finished eating and clearing the first course.

First, assemble two sets of ingredients. In one bowl, mix together 2/3 cup of brown sugar, and 1/4 cup of cocoa powder. It’s a good idea to sift the cocoa powder. to get any lumps out of it. This mix of brown sugar and cocoa powder will become the sauce. Sometimes I add a pinch of salt, to round out the flavour of the sauce. Set the sugar and cocoa mix aside.

In another, larger bowl, mix together 1 cup of plain flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder (substitute 1 cup of self-raising flour for the plain flour and baking powder if you like), 1/2 cup of brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons full of cocoa powder. Again, it’s a good idea to sift the cocoa powder and the flour and baking powder. Set the flour and cocoa and sugar mix aside.

Melt 60 grams of butter, and set it aside.

Beat together one egg and 1/2 cup of milk and set aside. I usually just use a fork to beat the egg and milk mix: the idea is to beat it until the egg is broken up and thoroughly mixed through the milk, not to get it light and fluffy as you would for a sponge cake. Again, set the mix aside.

And last of all, grease your baking dish. I use a 2-litre (about 3.5 pints) pyrex casserole dish, with high sides.

All these ingredients can sit on your kitchen bench for a while. All day would not be sensible, given the milk and egg, but they should be fine for up to an hour or so, ‘though you may want to put the milk and egg mix in the fridge if you do this.

Make sure you start your oven warming so that you have it at 170 degrees Celsius when the pudding goes in (that’s about 350 Fahrenheit). When you are ready to start assembling the pudding, put the kettle on, because you will need 1 and 1/4 cups of boiling water. Then, stir the milk and egg, and the melted butter into the flour, cocoa and sugar mix. When the batter is smooth, pour it into the casserole dish. Don’t try to spread it to the edges: you want it to sit in the middle of the baking dish, leaving space for the sauce around the side. Sprinkle the cocoa and sugar mix over the top, reasonably evenly, and then carefully pour 1 and 1/4 cups of boiling water over the whole thing. Don’t just slosh the water in – try to pour it slowly and evenly, so all of the cocoa and sugar mix gets wet.

Into the oven it goes, for about 40 to 45 minutes, or maybe a little longer, depending. If you are using a small baking dish, it may be worth putting a baking slide under the dish, to catch any drips. The pudding is ready when it feels firm and cakey, and there is a rich chocolate sauce bubbling at the side. Be careful if you test the pudding’s readiness with your finger: the sauce burns!

I let it sit for a few minutes, so that the sauce thickens up, and the pudding cools a little. Then I dust it with icing sugar, and serve it with thickened cream. It’s delicious. My girls usually lick their bowls clean.

This recipe makes enough for all five of us to have a good sized serving, and there’s still enough left for the first person up the next morning to have the leftovers for breakfast. You could serve up to eight people, especially if you added icecream on the side. If you are only cooking for a couple of people, then the recipe can be halved quite successfully. However it’s a little difficult to get half an egg. I use a whole egg – the smallest one I have on hand – and 3 tablespoons (45ml) of milk.

Puddings spell comfort to me. I have fond memories of a glorious steamed pudding that friends made one night when I was staying with them in Canberra, served with runny custard and cream. I had two helpings. My mother used to make us “Children’s Favourite Syrup Pudding” and hot fruit sponges, to warm us up in cold and wet Taranaki winters. The food of love.

What puddings do you make and love?

Cross posted

ANZAC Biscuits

There are rules about ANZAC biscuits. More particularly, there are rules about the use of the word “ANZAC”, in both Australia and New Zealand. In general, you can’t. Fortunately, those responsible for making the rules noticed that New Zealand and Australian women had been baking ANZAC biscuits for decades. We are permitted to continue to use the word in connection with the biscuits, provided the biscuits conform, more or less, to the approved recipe.

ANZAC biscuits are a delicious golden oaty biscuit. Tradition has it that they were baked and sent to soldiers serving in the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps during the Great War. They are good keepers – hence their suitability for shipping overseas. And they are very easy to make.

This is the recipe that has been in my family for at least 60 years, if not longer. I got it from my mother, and she from her mother. It’s a very easy recipe, so much so that it’s child’s play in our house.

Start by heating your oven to about 180 degrees Celsius (about 350 Fahrenheit), and grease two baking slides with butter, or line them with baking paper.

In a large bowl, mix together 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of coconut, 1 cup of rolled oats, and 1 cup of sugar.

Melt together 125 grams (4oz) of butter, and a large tablespoon of golden syrup (that means about 20mls – a modern tablespoon is 15mls, but when my grandmother first started making these biscuits, tablespoons were 20mls).

Next comes the fun bit. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 2 tablespoons of very hot water. When the baking soda is thoroughly dissolved, pour the water into the butter and golden syrup mix, and watch as it froths and foams.

Make a well in the dry ingredients, pour the butter, golden syrup and baking soda in, and mix through. The mix will be quite heavy to stir, so if you have deputised your children to make them, you may need to lend a hand at this stage.

Take teaspoonsful of the mix (large ones), roll them into balls, and using a fork, press them down on the baking slides, leaving room for spreading. Bake for about 10 minutes, until the biscuits are golden brown.

When you take the biscuits out of the oven, leave them to rest on the baking slide for 5 minutes, before putting them on cooling racks. When they are cool, put them in an airtight tin.

This recipe should yield about 45 biscuits. But that’s before you eat any of the uncooked mix (because it’s very yummy), or eat any of the still warm biscuits (even yummier). When I was a girl, I used to love eating them with a glass of milk. I would dip them into the milk, and then crunch into the biscuit, enjoying the contrast between the creaminess of the milk, and the hokey pokey crunch of the biscuit. These days, I make myself a cup of coffee (plunger coffee, made with freshly ground beans), get a couple of Anzacs out of the tin, and sit down with the paper for a mid-morning break. They go into my girls’ school lunches, and I’m always happy to be able to get some out when friends drop by. Somehow, they mean comfort to me, far more so than any other biscuits I make. Made and eaten with love.

Cross posted

I’m busy

I’m busy.

The school holidays were busy.

We baked buns and entertained friends. We made about three batches of buns over Easter. I made the first batch, Ms Eleven made the second batch with a fair amount of assistance from me, and she made the third batch more-or-less on her own.

We planted sage, lettuce, broccoli, bok choi, peas, beans, rocket, brussels sprouts, chives, coriander, spinach, lemon thyme and apple geranium in our gardens.

I made pickles.

I met friends for the first time, which was a delight. I had a very pleasant afternoon gossiping, in the richest sense of the word, with two fabulous women.

The strangelings starred in their drama school’s production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I’m sure they were the best Oompa-loompas ever.

We stacked firewood. Winter is allowed to arrive now.

The younger Miss Eight exploded into independent reading. This has been a great concern for us, because she was not reading with ease, nor choosing to read for leisure, yet this is a reading and language rich household, and has been ever since it was formed. But suddenly, seemingly overnight, she is reading. Tonight I pointed out that she was losing valuable reading time by hanging around gossiping with Ms Eleven, and she scarpered off to bed, book in hand.

I finally finished the elder Miss Eight’s heart cardigan. Many thanks to those who gave me helpful advice on how to make the hearts stand out. I took Daleaway’s and LeslieEileen’s advice, and picked out the edges of the hearts with a simple chain stitch. Now I’m starting on a jersey (jumper / sweater) for the younger Miss Eight. Expect a completion report in about a year.

And now that the girls are back at school, I am busier than ever, with my own work, and with helping the girls to manage their homework and music practice and social lives. I’ve never quite managed to theorise a philosophy of parenting, but through the practice of parenting, I seem to have developed one, which I characterise as present parenting. I’m here with the girls, at home with them after school, at home with them during the holidays. A lot of the time I’m not necessarily doing things with them; I’m just present in the house while they are doing their own things. Most of the time they don’t seem to need me – we just do a standard after-school debrief – but sometimes, they have something that they desperately need to talk to me about. And I am able to be present for that. Mr Strange Land is very, very good at being here for our daughters too, ‘though he does not spend as much time at home as I do. However he nearly always gets home for family dinner, and I find that often the girls will tell him something they haven’t told me. He’s very much present in their lives too. I know that not all parents are able to, or want to organise their lives this way. But for the time being, this suits us, and we are able to do it. I hope we are able to continue to be present with our daughters as they grow.

ABC muffins

School goes back next week, and that means school lunches, and school lunches means muffins. I have made masses of muffins for years and years and years, starting when my elder daughter was a tiny new baby. I would bake a batch, eat some, and put the rest in the freezer so I could grab one quickly when the day had turned to custard, as it does with new babies, and I needed something, anything, to eat. These days, I bake a batch at the start of the week, put three in the school lunches for that day, freeze the rest, and pop them into the lunchboxes later in the week. Full of sugar and fat, of course, but it’s good honest sugar and fat that I have put in myself, so I know that the girls aren’t being filled up on corn syrup or palm oil.

Our current favourites are Apple, Banana and Chocolate Muffins. I first saw a recipe for them in an Alison and Simon Holst recipe book, but for some reason, I just couldn’t get their recipe to work well for me. So I filched the idea, and added apple and chocolate chips to a banana muffin recipe that has been in our family for so long that Mum and I have lost its provenance.

You will need some apples, bananas, and chocolate chips. If I have stewed apple (or as my girls call it, apple stew) in the fridge, then I get about 1/2 cup, drain it, and dice it. You need reasonably firm apple stew for this; if your preference is for apple mush rather than apple stew, then you may want to start with whole apples for the muffins.

About now, turn your oven on to heat up to 200 degrees Celsius (about 400 Fahrenheit).

Peel, core, slice and dice two apples. Put the diced apple into a saucepan, cover with cold water, and bring to the boil. Let it simmer gently for a minute or so, then turn it off, and drain the apples and leave to cool while you prepare the rest of the recipe. Alternatively, you could leave the apple skins on, and grate the apples. I’ve tried this occasionally, but I’m not fussed about the result, or as my girls would say, it’s not to my taste.

Melt 50 grams of butter, and set it aside to cool. If you prefer, you could use 50 mls of cooking oil instead (canola is good), but I find that the colour and taste of the muffins is not as good.

Sift 1.5 cups of plain flour, 2 tsp cream of tartar, and 1 tsp baking soda into a large bowl. If you don’t have cream of tartar and baking soda on hand, use 1.5 tsp of baking powder and a pinch of salt, ‘though the result will be cakier than a standard muffin. If you like, add a little ground cinnamon, or grated nutmeg.

Add 1/3 cup sugar. This is on the light side for a muffin recipe, but you get added sweetness with the fruit and chocolate chips, so they get too sweet if you add more sugar.

Mash two bananas in a bowl, ’til they are reasonably smooth. Beat one egg with 1/2 cup of milk. Usually I would add about 3/4 of a cup of milk in a muffin recipe that uses 1.5 cups of flour, but the mashed banana adds a bit of extra liquid to the mix, so the amount of milk is reduced.

Add the mashed banana to the egg and milk mix, and beat some more. You could add some vanilla essence too if you like, but the flavour could be swamped by the cinnamon and nutmeg, so it may not be worth it.

At this stage, before you mix the wet and dry ingedients together, get your muffin pans ready. The recipe makes 12 good sized muffins, so a standard muffin tray should be fine. Grease the muffin pans well with butter paper, or spray them with an oil cooking spray.

Make a well in the dry ingredients, and pour the milk and banana mix in. Mix together gently, just enough to combine the ingredients. Then stir in the diced apple, and about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips. Finally, add the melted butter, and mix ’til smooth.

Although it sounds like you mix this and you mix that and then you mix some more, you should try to minimise the amount of mixing you do. Overmixed muffins can get rubbery. So as you add each wet ingredient, stir the mix just enough to combine the ingredients.

Once everything is mixed together, spoon the mix into the muffin pans, and bake for about 12 to 15 minutes. Take the muffins out of the oven when they are golden brown, and springy to touch. Let them sit in the pans for a moment or two before running a knife around them and easing them out of the pans.

These muffins are most delicious when eaten while they are still warm, but they are not too bad at room temperature. If you decide to freeze some and put them in school lunches, then wrap them in paper towels before you put them in lunch boxes. The paper towels will absorb the moisture as the muffins defrost, so you won’t end up with a horrid sticky mess.

I find this recipe doubles well if you want to make a big batch. Sometimes I make a 1.5 mix, which is a bit tricky when it comes to the eggs. I use 2 eggs, and about 3/5 of a cup of milk, which seems to work out about right.

I’ll be making a batch on Tuesday morning, when the girls go back to school. And sometime in the next week or two, I’ll try the mandarin muffins on Anne’s food blog, Something Else to Eat. They look delicious, and very easy to make.