Christmas 2016

Christmas was spent somewhere different this year. Mr Bagpipes was housesitting a lovely large property in White Rock, outside of Bathurst in country NSW. This once working vineyard is perched on a hill in a charming bucolic setting. The Yak, myself and sproglets had visited there before and we were excited to celebrate Chrissy with all of our extended family. Our special guest was ‘Christmas Alf’, harking all the way from Manchester in the UK. (Not a real elf of course but the funny, kind and gentle man who happens to be Manchurian Bro-in-laws Dad.)

It was good to be together somewhere different and somewhere so very beautiful. In this freefall Christmas, I think we all felt a smidge unencumbered and a dash unrestricted by tradition. We kept that which suited us and gently nudged aside that which didnt seem necessary in this new setting.

Christmas Eve morn and our gaggle met at The Hub. Good coffee as always and darned good nosh. My poached eggs, asparagus, spinach and mushrooms on black rye arrived topped with hollandaise sauce and crispy sage. Be still my beating heart. (As long as my heart still ticks after that rich and creamy sauce.)

We stuck to our Christmas evening meal and more relaxed Boxing Day brunch. Two ethically sourced hams (yes, it does matter to us), were expertly glazed by Mum and devoured over the 4 day period. There was a delicious vegan gluten-free lasagna (the handiwork of Sister 2) for Christmas dinner, as well as a more traditional turkey, some much discussed ‘pigs-in-blankets’ that the Mancurian bro-in-law threw together, crispy stuffing balls and of course, a motza of side veggies. Desserts this year consisted of Sister 4’s fabulous pistachio ice-cream cake draped in a berry sauce and crowned with fresh berries as well as a batch of mini gluten-free, vegan sticky date puddings that I conjured up. We sat out on the vine draped patio, talking, laughing at ridiculous Chrissy cracker jokes, eating and drinking. The cicadas buzzed their Chinese operatic cadences and the sun set.

For Boxing Day brunch, the Yak made his now famous (well, within our circle) Boxing Day Fried Potatoes . They were as good as ever, and ‘it was said’ that they were the best thus far. When faced with a bag of heat affected ‘just past their best’ peaches, Sister 2 was inspired to throw together a peach puree. We added this fragrant mixture to some fizzy wine for delicious brunch bellinis and to soda water for a non-alcoholic tipple. (Nothing goes to waste when we roll.) There were fruit platters galore, fried eggs, croissants, homemade pickles, chutneys and jam.

The children ran and played endlessly; soccer, cricket, sword fights, Harry Potter incantations and movie making being the order of the day.

Naturally, there were some sad moments and those who died this year were remembered both aloud and quietly. Every one of us left our family get together with at least one precious memory, tucked safely away, to take out and savour in the year that is to come.

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Ginger shortbread for Christmas

Just as ginger is spicy and hot, I too, am a bit of a hot mess. Losing two absolutely beloved people in one year and all that comes with that, alongside some health issues; my blogging and writing mojo is sporadic at best. Frankly, my Cheergerm soul is weary, low and well, not so cheery as of late. As I tried to write this post, nine year old Kid 2 was beside me, wrapped in my doona; bouncing, rolling and banging his skinny bony knees into me. Asking me the same question over and over again. I snapped at him, then felt bad. He told me his new job ‘is messing up beds.’ This made me laugh. No chance of an idealised writing environment in my life, where is that solitary attic with a wooden desk that I once dreamed of?

Its been hard to get excited about Christmas, a season that usually provides much delight. Having children pushes me to make an effort. Writing the stripped back truth about your feelings can smack of self-pity and over-introspection. Whilst I am more than happy to read of others struggles, to write about my own leaves me feeling exposed and vulnerable. In the midst of it, I also know that things are so much worse for so many and that our children are healthy and happy. Rather than continue in this vein, here is a list of little joys I have collated from this past week.

The young kindergarten lass at the school Christmas concert on Friday night who raucously and joyfully sang ‘la la la’ shaking her head (much as a headbanger would at a Metallica concert).

Watching Kid 2 at the same concert, impersonating a kookaburra during a song with great abandon, all self-conscious anxiety placed aside for a moment.

Our twelve year old Kid 1 picking out small Christmas gifts for his kindy buddies, selflessly and of his own volition.

All the appreciative folk who view our street’s Christmas lights with gratitude and wonder.

The ongoing support of family and friends and the camaraderie I have found in this online blogging community.

The Scottish people, my ancestors, for creating that delicious biscuit called shortbread. Attributed to Mary Queen of Scots in the 16th Century, it was an expensive luxury for the ordinary folk. In Shetland, it was once traditional to break a piece of shortbread over the brides head as she crossed the threshold of her new home. (Not sure how I would have felt about buttery crumbs through my hair but this shows how special this biscuit was.)

My creation this year combines warm spices with small nuggets of ginger that add a chewy, toffee-like surprise. I used a brand that stated it was ‘un-crystallised bare ginger’ but it still has some cane sugar on it, so I am not quite sure what the difference is. (I imagine it contains less sugar.) There is nothing quite like giving something homemade as a gift. Pop your baked goodies in a vintage tin or wrap them in some pretty cellophane and finish off the parcel with a darling bauble. Another little joy to add to my growing list. Merry Christmas to you all.

GINGER SHORTBREAD, (CAN BE ADAPTED TO GLUTEN FREE)

WHAT YOU NEED
250g butter
1/2 cup caster sugar
2 3/4 cups plain flour or gluten free plain flour
1/4 cup rice flour
2 1/2 tsps ginger powder
1/2 tsp mixed spice
30g bare uncrystallised ginger, finely chopped (if you can’t find this ‘naked’ stuff just use crystallised.)
Extra white sugar for sprinkling on top

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 170C and line 2 baking trays with baking paper Sift the flours and spices together into a bowl.
Cream the butter in a stand mixer then add the sugar gradually, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy then stir in the finely chopped ginger.
Work in the flour gradually until the mixture is just combined.
Knead the mixture lightly to bring together to a dough. (I do this in the bowl.)
Divide the dough in half, place onto a floured board and pat each into a square.
Using a rolling pin, roll each square into a 16cm by 16cm square, roughly 1cm to 1 1/2 cm thick. Gently lift the squares onto the prepared trays and cut each square into 12 rectangle fingers.
Prick the surface of the shortbread with a fork. (This helps in releasing moisture as it cooks, making the shortbread crisper.)
Sprinkle extra caster sugar over the shortbread.
Bake in the centre of the oven for ten minutes then reduce the temperature to 150C and cook for about 30 minutes to 40 minutes. It is ready when it is firmish to the touch in the centre and golden around the edges.
Remove from the oven and carefully run a sharp knife through the shortbread rectangles again to make it easier to break into fingers later.
Cool down on wire racks. Gently break the shapes apart.
Wrap up festively and give to your best people, and eat some, always eat some.

Cooking Notes: when making gluten free shortbread, keep in mind the mixture will be more fragile. You may want to shape it into a square rather than use a rolling pin particularly if you are baking on a hot day.

A Cheergerm adaptation from The Margaret Fulton Cookbook 2004 Revised and Updated Edition published by Jannie Brown and Suzanne Gibbs.

Click below for previous shortbread recipes.

Cardamom, cinnamon and brown sugar shortbread
Cranberry, chocolate, pistachio shortbread
Old school shortbread
Gluten free shortbread


Nectarine clafoutis, gluten free

Being the daughter of a woman raised on a New Zealand orchard, it was my destiny to adore stone fruit of all types. Fuzzy floral scented peaches, delicate orange tinged apricots, plums of varying sour-sweetness, luscious ruby-red cherries (that also served as wonderful edible earrings) and of course fragrant white or yellow honey-fleshed nectarines. This abundance of stone fruit speaks directly to my heart of summer, sweet memories and our family history.

Once they start appearing at our local markets, bags of fruit appear in our household and are eaten ‘au natural’, sweet juices dribbling down chins or baked into various desserts and sweet treats. Mr Bagpipes (aka Dad, aka Sweet Tooth Pants) was coming for lunch, hence a fast and easy confection was called for. I whipped this up as quick as a flash (for much of my best work is done at the last minute dontcha know?) Procrastinators unite, is there a club I can join?

The fancy sounding clafoutis (pronounced klah-foo-tee), originates in France and is a sweet eggy batter that is poured over fruit (traditionally cherries) and baked into a light airy custard-like pudding. This would be delicious with any stone fruit but I had an oversupply of nectarines. It is best served straight from the oven as it does deflate rather quickly. (Much as my heart did when Donald Trump was elected President.) Enjoy this summery dessert, we did.

NECTARINE CLAFOUTIS

WHAT YOU NEED
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk
60g butter, melted
90g gluten free plain flour
1/4 tsp vanilla bean powder (or 1/4 tsp vanilla essence)
4 nectarines, washed, sliced and de-stoned (300g once destoned)

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Grease a pie or baking dish with butter (I used a 29cm X 20cm baking dish).
Whisk the eggs and sugar together until well combined. (If you are using vanilla essence add it here.)
Whisk in the milk then add the butter, sifted flour and vanilla bean powder, stirring until just combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared dish.
Arrange the nectarine slices over the batter in a pattern that is pleasing to your eye and heart.
Bake for 30-35 minutes until puffy and golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Best served straight after baking as it does deflate somewhat. Great with a wee dollop of ice-cream, cream or creme-fraiche.

A Cheergerm adaptation of a bunch of clafoutis recipes.


Barcelona

The deafening roar of motorbikes, the bumble bee buzz of scooter type Vespa bikes, buses, cars and the frequent high pitched wail of emergency sirens were my lullaby for the requisite Spanish afternoon siesta.

Balcony doors flung wide open, provided a view of Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral and the loud hum of traffic noise merged with the sound of children playing at the large school across the road. I was lulled to the blurred place that exists in the space between awareness and sleep.

Barcelona is a vast old city set out on a before its time grid structure, chock full of mind boggling modernist architecture, older style apartment buildings that speak of another era, attractive Spaniards with exquisite taste in bags and shoes, millions of tourists with varying degrees of taste in bags and shoes and of course, a motza of food and drink. Tapas, churros, patisserie, Catalan cuisine, Italian, Vietnamese, Portugese. Wine, beer, cava, sangria. All of varying quality.

We used Trip Advisor and a bit of nouse and managed to (mostly) enjoy good edibles at reasonable prices. The Yak did devour more than his fair share of patatas bravas (a potato tapas dish) and being in a bit of a ‘tourist area’, we probably would have done better going further afield more often. (Kid 2 ended up with a tummy bug/food poisoning case on our two last days, putting a bit of a kybosh on going further afield as we had planned.)

People really do eat late here, it’s no myth. We got into the rhythm of a slightly later start to the day. Heading out for coffee accompanied by delicate little creme patisserie stuffed pastries, followed by some serious sightseeing. Lunch consisted of fresh baguettes and jamon or tapas, then off we trotted back to the apartment for that siesta. We would devour a late afternoon snack then head out the door once more after eight. No self-respecting restaurant opens their doors before eight-thirty, although tapas and pinchos are served earlier. Unfortunately for the Yak, much of the pinchos (small snacks) are served on bread. The Spanish way of life would particularly suit our hot Australian summers although I fear that most of us would fail to return to work after the siesta, as the seductive lure of the pool or beach would prove far too tempting.

The man at the nearby jamon specialist shop was patient with our very poor Spanish skills (I use that word loosely) but we managed to order a few slices of Iberian jamon to go with our crunchy baguettes, tomatoes and Manchego cheese. Wine is plentiful and very reasonable if you visit a good, big supermarket and the tiny and interesting speciality wine shops are also worth a visit or two.

The La Boqueria market was overloaded by tourists, yet still a foodie fantasy land and worth a visit. Rows of perfect chocolates, piles of nuts, vibrant fruits and vegetables and hanging strands of every chilli you could imagine. A lovely local kindly tapped me on the shoulder and told me to beware pickpockets, I had stupidly placed my iPhone in my back pocket whilst buying some plump scarlet plums.

The Sagrada Familia, the iconic Gaudi cathedral was almost a religious experience. God or something akin to God talked to me via Gaudi’s visionary use of space, organic shapes and multi-hued incandescent light.

As I wrote this, it was 10.30 at night, and the Yak and lads were having a different kind of religious experience. They were perched, bums on edge of seat at a tapas bar around the corner watching a Barcelona soccer game with a bunch of passionate Barca fans. They had toured the football stadium Camp Nou earlier that day whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my lone Gaudi ‘La Pederra’ tour. Our little boys heads were full of soccer glory. Messi, Neymar Jr and Suarez. I instead chose to go back to the apartment and enjoy an extra sneaky tumbler of very good Spanish wine and a modicum of peace and quiet.

We made special memories, yet for the Yak and myself, it wasn’t all fun and games. The loss of our Jo bore down heavily upon us at times. However, what we do know is that she would have wanted our boys to experience this big wide world we live in. To laugh, love and shout at the soccer. To eat good food, to learn how to say hola, adios, bueno and bonita. And that is what we will continue to do, wherever and whatever we do, in the best way that we can.


Spiced chestnut flour apple cake, gf

Oh no, not that old chestnut.

Rest assured, this is not some stale joke of a cake. After much searching, I finally found some chestnut flour and have been enjoying experimenting with this fine and light textured ingredient. Adapted from a lovely wee recipe on the Gluten Free Goddess blog, this cake is fruity, nutty, earthy and rich with spice.

It has been ‘dinner party tested twice’ and speedily gobbled up. And there is nothing tiresome or old about that.

SPICED CHESTNUT FLOUR APPLE CAKE, GLUTEN FREE

WHAT YOU NEED
Apple mixture
4 apples/ 800g (I used 2 Granny Smith and 2 small pink ladies)
1 tbl lemon juice
1 tsp raw caster sugar

Cake
1 cup almond meal
1 cup chestnut flour
3/4 cup gf plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
1/4 tsp vanilla bean powder (or 1/2 tsp vanilla bean essence)
1/2 tsp fine salt
3 eggs (70g each), room temperature
1 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1/2 cup raw caster sugar
3 tbl light olive oil or grapeseed oil
1/3 cup sour cream

Topping
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 tsp raw sugar

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 170C and line a 24cm springform tin with baking paper.
Peel and cut the apples into a 2 cm dice, place in a bowl and add the lemon juice and tsp of raw caster sugar, stir and set aside.
Sift all of the dry ingredients into a bowl.
Beat the eggs and sugars in a large bowl until smooth then add sour cream and oil and combine well. (Add vanilla essence here if you are using it.)
Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet until combined.
Smooth half of the batter over the base of the prepared tin.
Add the drained apples to the tin and gently press down a little.
Spread the remaining batter over the top of the apples. (This ain’t easy.) Then sprinkle the chopped pecans mixed with raw sugar over the top.
Bake for 60-70 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cool for ten to fifteen minutes then release from the tin, remove onto a wire rack and let cool completely.
This cake is complemented by a splodge of whipped or double cream or creme fraiche.

An adaptation from the Gluten Free Goddess blog. Link to the original recipe after the photos.

https://glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com.au/2007/03/flourless-apple-cake.html


Vegan peanut butter and chocolate chip biscuits

Joe (she added the ‘E’ because that’s how she rolled) was beautiful, sweet, wise, brave, funny, passionate, a letter writer, smart as a whip, suffered from a chronic illness but never complained. An absolutely devoted wife, her equally devoted husband is bereft without his soul mate. Beloved baby sister of the Yak, a loving daughter, a committed vegan, animal lover and mother to two very fine cats. An amazing Aunt, sender of wonderful Christmas packages to our boys, the best of sister-in-laws and a true friend to many.

We are lost, The Yak is undone. She died far too young. As I write this it’s raining, like some cliched Hallmark movie. Except that real grief is not like a Hallmark movie. It’s hard, cold and shit.

The Yak made it to her bedside in the UK hours before she died, he went thinking he would be keeping her company in hospital. He came home for a short time then flew back again for her funeral. The tryanny of distance. The lads and I are preparing to leave on our pre-planned trip to the UK to meet up with The Yak. The original purpose was to visit with our Joe.

I have not had the heart to bake, write or blog. But it had been in my mind for the longest time to do a vegan post just for her. So here it is. Vegan peanut butter chocolate biscuits, I hope Joe would have loved them. Just like we loved her.

VEGAN PEANUT BUTTER AND CHOCOLATE CHIP BISCUITS

WHAT YOU NEED
1/2 cup unsalted natural peanut butter
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white caster sugar (see cooking note below)
1/4 cup almond milk
1 1/2 cups wholemeal flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla bean powder or 1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp ground flaxseed (this can be omitted if you don’t have it, it assists in binding the ingredients a little more)
1 cup vegan dark chocolate chips

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 180C and line two baking trays with baking paper.
Place the peanut butter, grapeseed oil, sugars and almond milk into a large bowl. (If you are using vanilla essence add it here.) Beat well until the ingredients are well combined. (I used an electric hand beater.)
Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and vanilla bean powder into the bowl with the peanut butter mixture. Add the ground flaxseed and stir well.
Mix in the chocolate chips.
Roll heaped teaspoons full of the dough into round balls and place on the baking tray allowing room for spreading.
Bake at 180 for 12-15 minutes until light golden brown.
Let cool on the tray slightly then remove to a wire rack to complete cooling.
This made about 22 biscuits.

Cooking Note: it appears that in some parts of the world, some white sugar is processed using bone char. Ewww. That appears not to be the case in Australia but to be safe, I imagine vegans would check it out before they used a particular brand of sugar.

Recipe adapted from the Vegan Yoga Life blog. Link follows photos.

Original recipe:

Vegan Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies


Peanut butter chocolate brownies, GF

‘Starry, starry night, paint your palette blue and gray.’

Looking down upon this brownie reminded me (ever so slightly), of a two-toned version of Van Gogh’s iconic painting The Starry Night. Yes, it may be a stretch but this is possibly as close to creating a masterpiece as I shall ever get. My ‘swirling’ technique could use some work and my cake decorating skills are limited. I am a dab hand at the fine arts of ‘icing sugar dusting’, ‘coconut sprinkling’, ‘messy look icing’ and ‘rose petal strewing.’ Let’s just call it rustic styling.

Peanut butter is a recent joyous food rediscovery of mine and the chestnut flour contributes a wonderful light crumb. This fudgy brownie with it’s nutty ‘stick to the roof of your mouth topping’ is satisfying. A little bit goes a long way. Well, not in Kid 1’s opinion. He feels that a lot goes a long way and would have attempted to eat the entire tray if he was left to his own sweet-tooth machinations. ‘Tell Dad it’s not gluten free Mum. Please…’, he begged. After a little reconsidering, I realise I am an artist of sorts after all. And this child is one (of two) of my finest creations, no matter how gorgeously greedy he may be.

PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE BROWNIES, GF

WHAT YOU NEED
150g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
100g butter, chopped
75g chestnut flour
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 tbl cocoa powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 eggs, beaten
200g (3/4 cup) peanut butter (I used a natural peanut butter with no salt added)

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 160C and line a 16 X 26cm baking pan with non-stick baking paper.
Place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl and place over a saucepan half filled with boiling water. Make sure the saucepan isn’t touching the water. Use a metal spoon to stir the chocolate until it is melted and smooth.(I actually just placed the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan and melted it over direct low heat whilst constantly stirring but this can be tricky so stick to the tried and true method.) Let it cool for a few minutes.
Sift the flour, sugar and cocoa into a large bowl and stir in the salt.
Mix the chocolate mixture to the flour mixture, then add the eggs and stir until just combined.
Pour into the prepared pan then spoon teaspoonfuls of the peanut butter evenly over the top of the batter. Use a round ended knife (a butter knife) to swirl the peanut butter into the chocolate batter.
Cook for 35-40 minutes or until crumbs stick to a skewer inserted into the centre.
Let it cool completely in the pan then cut into slices and eat it. A fine cup of coffee or good strong cup of tea is the perfect accompaniment to this toothsome treat.

A Cheergerm adaptation of a recipe from the Taste website. Link follows the photos.

http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/16515/peanut+butter+and+chocolate+brownies

Note: The first quoted line is from the song ‘Vincent’ by Don McLean, a tribute to Van Gogh.


Potato, parsnip and fennel bake

Kudos to the maitre d’ at a local restaurant. Upon being seated, we noticed our water glasses were dirty and had red lipstick marks upon them. After politely asking him for clean vessels he picked them up, examined them closely and as he walked away loudly announced, ‘Sure, well Holy Rats Arse!’

My friend and I looked at each other. ‘Did he really say that?’ I asked. ‘Yes’, said my friend, ‘Yes, he did.’ We are open minded people yet this unwaiterly proclamation managed to surprise, horrify and strangely, delight us. Hilarity ensued and we continued to repeat this phrase (quietly) throughout the surprisingly delicious meal.

Upon finishing, we walked to the front to ask if we could split our bill. He did, albeit begrudgingly and his farewell response to us was, ‘Rock on ladies.’ This bloke is taking customer service to another level. Not necessarily towards the lofty echelons of fine dining but to a very special and individual level nonetheless.

This is surely The Year of the Gratin. I am a woman obsessed. As this dish was baking; giant cheesy, thyme-scented metaphorical arms reached out from the oven and hugged me close. Whispering in bubbling, soothing tones, ‘There, there, everything will be allright.’

Aniseed fennel, slightly spicy parsnip, creamy potato and herbaceous, sweet grassy cheese. This is a wondrous combination. It’s a dish that may even cause you to utter a colloquialism that involves the sacred posterior of a rodent. If one was so inclined.

POTATO, PARSNIP AND FENNEL BAKE

WHAT YOU NEED
4 potatoes, peeled and finely sliced (600g)
4 medium size parsnip, peeled and finely sliced (500g)
1 medium size fennel bulb, finely sliced
300 ml cream (you can use 250ml of cream and 50ml of sour cream for extra tang)
1/4 cup milk
2 garlic cloves, crushed very finely
1 tbl fresh thyme, picked
A dash of nutmeg
150g Gruyere cheese, grated (I used the wonderful Heidi Gruyere from Tasmania for a bit of a treat)
Salt and pepper to season
Extra thyme

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 180C and use butter or oil to grease a large baking dish.
Layer the potato, parsnip, fennel and season with salt and pepper then sprinkle on half of the cheese. (Leaving enough cheese to sprinkle on the top.)
Place another layer of potato, parsnip and fennel and season with salt and pepper again.
Warm the cream, milk, garlic, thyme and nutmeg in a small saucepan over a low heat for five to ten minutes until the flavours are infused and the cream has thinned a little. Seasons lightly and gently pour this mixture over the vegetables.
Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the gratin and chuck a few extra thyme leaves over the top.
Cover with foil loosely (making sure the cheese doesn’t touch the foil) and bake for 50 minutes.
Remove the foil carefully (watch that precious cheese) and bake for another 40 minutes or until the vegetables pierce easily with a knife and the top is golden brown and bubbly.
Remove from the oven and let it sit for ten minutes to allow the gratin to settle before devouring.

A Cheergerm recipe based on a few hundred million different gratin recipes


Lemon sour cream muffins

Kid 1: If I was to be killed and eaten, I would like to be put to sleep so I couldn’t feel anything, then have every part of my body used, eaten and nothing wasted. Kind of like a soft shell crab.

He really is showing an extreme commitment to the concept of nose to tail eating. During the school holidays, Kid 1 watched a junior baking show on television where ten year olds created intricate baked goodies. This put a fire in his belly and he insisted on baking these muffins completely by himself (under my supervision.) His egg-cracking ability has come along in spades and it’s lovely to observe his burgeoning kitchen confidence.

This is a standard recipe in our household and they are very good. The sour cream moistens the muffins and contributes towards a tender crumb and light golden exterior. They are tangy, creamy and moreish. The only thing that will be be left is the muffin wrapper.

LEMON SOUR CREAM MUFFINS

WHAT YOU NEED
1/3 cup vegetable oil (we use grapeseed)
2/3 cup caster sugar
2 eggs, 70g
Zest and juice of one medium size lemon (roughly 1 tbl of zest and 1/4 cup lemon juice. If I have extra lemons, I will often add another tbl of zest. We love ‘mega lemon’ flavour)
3/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup wholemeal plain flour
1 tbl baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat the oven to 200C and place your muffin papers in a muffin tin or on a baking tray. I will often give the muffin papers a light spray with rice bran oil spray to avoid sticking.
In a large bowl, combine the oil and sugar.
Add the eggs and mix well.
Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and sour cream and mix well.
Sift the flours, baking powder and salt into the bowl then fold in gently. Do not overmix or your muffins will be not as tender.
Fill the muffins papers about 2/3rds full and bake for about 15-20 minutes until they are risen, light golden brown and a skewer comes out clean.
Eat them.

Makes 11-12 muffins depending on the size of your muffin papers

Slightly adapted from a recipe from Jens Favorite Cookies blog, link to original recipe follows.

Lemon Sour Cream Muffins


Cauliflower and zucchini gratin

Is it wrong to love someone simply because you return home at midnight from a girls night out, on a cold winters eve, to discover that your other half has thoughtfully left your side of the electric blanket switched on? You can keep your Tiffany’s, Cartier and Harry Winston. It’s the small thoughtful actions that float my boat and whilst diamonds may be a girls best friend, they can’t keep you warm on a chilly evening. (Not like an electric blanket does. Oh, and a Yak of course.)

My way of showing The Yak love, is to cook hearty vegetable dishes that involve cheese. This little recipe is a take on a dish from the excellent ‘The Wholesome Cook’ by Martyna Angeles. It is a smidgen lighter than a heavier cream-based gratin. The sharp cheese, nutty cauliflower and golden crust has ensured that this gratin will be on steady rotation for the remainder of winter.

CAULIFLOWER AND ZUCCHINI GRATIN

WHAT YOU NEED
2 tbl oil (I used grapeseed oil)
300g cauliflower, cut into small florets
3 small zucchini (300g), sliced into 1 cm chunks
Black pepper
Sea salt
1/2 cup milk
100g Comte, Gruyere or Taleggio cheese, diced
1/3 cup breadcrumbs of your choice, I used gluten free sourdough buckwheat crumbs). The original recipe uses almond meal.

HOW YOU DO IT
Preheat oven to 180C and grease a 20 cm gratin dish.
Heat the oil in a medium size frying pan and saute the cauliflower and zucchini over a medium heat for about ten minutes, until they start to colour and soften. Season generously with black pepper and add a big pinch of sea salt.
Add the milk and cheese and stir for one minute until the cheese starts to melt. Check the seasoning then pour into the gratin dish.
Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs or almond meal and bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.
Serves 2-4 people.

Cooking Notes: I have added a few pinches of nutmeg before which adds a bit of something nice, also the original recipe uses 3 yellow squash instead of zucchini; Taleggio instead of Comte and states to sprinkle 2 tbl of chopped parsley over the gratin with the breadcrumbs before baking.

Recipe only slightly adapted from The Wholesome Cook by Martyna Angeles, published by Harlequin, October 2015.

Go here for a Cheergerm post about The Wholesome Cook book and a millet and rice puff square