Almond Cherry Muffins

In the UK, the cherry season is renowned to be short, from June till August, so grab a pound or two when you can and make these indulgent, moist, yogurt muffins filled with sweet cherries and topped with slivers of almonds.

Last year when we took hold of our allotment, there was very little but mature- trees, vines and grass, lots of overgrown grass. Among the trees, there was a pitiful cherry tree, producing maggots riddled fruits. After a lot of TLC, this year we harvested 2 kilos. Not leaving anything thing to chance or the birds, the harvest was done in one single go.


Then came the nice conundrum, what do we do with so many cherries:
1: preserve...in vodka
2: jam
3: compote
4: pick and eat from the fruit-bowl
Eventually a little pile was left. It's when I remembered a Lemon Yogurt Muffin recipe which I recreated when I reviewed Lighten Up By Jill Dupleix Almond. Wouldn't Cherry Muffins be a good idea, then? And so it was 6 large muffins, Breakfast sorted.
                                          Almond Cherry Muffins
Ingredients
  • 250 grams plain flour
  •  2 teaspoons baking powder
  •  150 grams granulated sugar
  •  A pinch of salt
  •  1 large egg , slightly beaten
  •  250gr of yogurt
  •  5 Tbs/80ml vegetable oil
  •  1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  •  300 grams/11 ounces cherries pitted and halved
  • a couple of handful of toasted almond slivered plus extra non-toasted to sprinkle on top
  • Ingredients
  1. Preheat oven to 425F/220C. oil 6 muffin cups or line with liner papers.
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl first, leave the almond and the cherries out for now
  3. Do the same with the yogurt, egg, oil, almond and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry one. The batter is ready and it is smooth, no lumps please, add the cherries and the non-toasted almond.
  4. Divide the mixture in the muffin cups, making sure that you fill them half way as thei are going to rise. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds
  5. Bake in preheated oven (220C for 4 minutes) then reduce to 190C for 12-17 minutes. As usual ready when the knife inserted come out clean.
  6. These muffins can be frozen for up to 2 months, so if you prefer smaller portions, this recipe will make 12 standard-size muffins.

Trebah Garden Cornwall - English Garden Chic -

The verdant beauty of Cornish gardens is famous the world over and far more accomplished writers than I have described it so much better than I'll ever do.... But I would like to give it a go. It would be nice to think that next time you spend some time in Cornwall you'll stop at Trebah Garden because this photo story has inspired you.

Founded in 1838 by Mr Fox, I am not making this up, Trebah contains many exotic specimens from around the globe. Trebah Garden has all the qualities of an English Garden.


Trebah is  Poetic,  as with every self-respecting English garden it has a lawn from which one can admire this sub-tropical paradise while having a picnic or a snooze...Well maybe not a snooze, or you would not be able to admire the garden's stunning coastal backdrop which is set within one of Cornwall's Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. 

Cornwall, Trebah, Gardens

It pretends to be messy, it's as if plants landed there, welly nelly all by themselves. Areas are mapped skillfully, so that one area leads to the other seamlessly.

Cornwall, Trebah, English Garden view


There is a profusion of plants, some are rather stunning such as the Gunnera Manicata, also known as Giant Rhubarb, fast-growing with prickly stems. The plants reach about 3 m tall and the leaves up to 2.5 m across.


Cornwall, Trebah, English Garden viewCornwall, Trebah, English Garden view

pastel colours are enhanced by vibrant greens

Cornwall, Trebah, English Garden view

What is an English garden without a bit of water? Trebah has much more than a pond, though it has that too, Trebah is by the sea...and has its very own beach. It's from here that 7,500 men from the 29th US Infantry Division embarked on the 1st June 1944.

Cornwall, Trebah beach, WWII embarkment, Gardens

There are paths throughout the garden, leading to little marvels such as the Bamboozle, a walk through the home of 39 varieties of Bamboos. One of which can grow up to 30cm in height a day, another is the Mallard pond, Mr Monet eat your heart out.

Cornwall, Trebah, English Garden view

There is an amphitheatre which can be admired from Healey's Hill (Hey, it wouldn't be Cornwall without a hill). In the 60s, Sir Donald Healey, the famous car designer, lived in Trebah. His workshop was on the beach, it's now the ice cream parlour.

Trebah Garden is a multiple awards garden which is off the A39 about 15 minutes drive from Falmouth. Opened all year round, entry cost £10 for adults, £4 for children.

Disclaimer: This post is part of a series which I am currently writing for various media to promote Cornish Summer Time, #CST. Words are my own.

How to Make Homemade Feta Cheese

Let's face it, there is Feta and there is Feta. The solid white blocks store-bought bears little resemblance with the soft, crumbly and tasty cheese, one gets in Greece or in specialist shops. 

Homemade Feta Cheese
With the lockdown one thing is certain, our days of enjoying foreign food in situs have been put on hold. So at Pebble Soup HQ, we have decided to 're-create'. A couple of weeks back, I was pairing Portuguese wine. This week, I expanded my cheese-making repertoire.
Santorini stock picture

What is Feta and How Should it Look Like?
Feta is a cheese matured in brine (that's the technical term for very salty water). It's made from a mixture of sheep and goat milk. Unless you are in a 'sheep region', ewe milk is near impossible to get. Therefore either go all goat-milk or half-half goat and unhomogenised cow's milk, the choice is yours. Ideally, you'll want to achieve that grainy appearance, you see in Greek salads or in pastries such as Spanakopita. 
Homemade Feta

Is Feta Easy to Make?
Not exactly, only because making feta at home takes a long time. On the other hand, you don't have to be present, all of the time, so the 'doing bit' is easy,  the process less so. of course, there are easier options to choose from, such as Ricotta or Labne, but in my opinion, if you nail Feta, you are ready to make any other cheeses (within reason).

Feta in olive oil


What will you need?
Thermometer
Large slotted spoon
Large deep pan with lid
Plastic boards
Colander
Glass bowl
Long sharp knife 

Only 5 Ingredients
1 litre of unhomogenised cow's milk
1 litre of goat's milk
1 tablespoon of plain full-fat bio live yoghurt
1/4 rennet tablet
1 sterile cheesecloth or muslin 
2 teaspoons of salt

But around 15 steps so please read through before starting
  1. Boil 50 ml of water and dissolve 1/4 rennet tablet. Make sure it is fully dissolved so it will involve a bit of stirring.
  2. Mix the yoghurt with 50ml of cow's milk, leave this to rest on the kitchen top.
  3. In the saucepan, combine both milk and bring the temperature to 32C on medium heat.
  4. When the temperature has reached 32C, cover with the lead and leave to rest for an hour.
  5. After an hour, if the temperature has dropped, gently bring it back to 32C, then stir the rennet solution in, very slowly. Use up and down motion rather than round and round. Do so for only a couple of second
  6. Put the lid on and leave it to rest for 12 hours.
  7. Hold the knife at an angle and cut cubes of about 1.5 cms. Leave the curds to rest for 14 minutes
  8. Now, you are going to collect the cubes in the muslin. First, line the colander with the muslin, if you wish to keep the whey (great fertiliser for veggies) set the colander on the top of a large bowl. Very gently pour the curds and the lot in the colander
  9. Gather up the corners of the muslin to create a bag and let the whey drain over a sink or over a bowl for 36 hours
  10. Halfway through flip the curds.
  11. That's it, you are almost done. Open the bag and gently cut the large curds. 
  12. Sprinkle the salt making sure that it is distributed through.
  13. Now create a square parcel, place it on the board, place the other board over and place a heavy object on the top (a saucepan filled with water will do)
  14. Let this press in a cool place for 12 hours, open the muslin and cut the cheese into squares.
  15. You can eat the feta now or store it in the fridge in an airtight container for a couple of days.
  16. If you still have some after that time you can store your feta cubes in a jar submerged with olive oil and herbs.

 

Animus - Portuguese Wine - An Aldi Find

At Pebble Soup HQ, we are trying hard to smile but after seven weeks of lockdown, we are really missing our international freedom of movement. We dream of times when traveling will be possible again, but in the meantime we  also recreate the taste of a country from our home. So last week we 'went to' the north of Portugal.
The Douro Valley photo credit RRuiCunha courtesy of the Portuguese Consulat 
No prize for guessing the number one thing visitors bring back from the area around Porto: Port wine of course, a fortified wine produced with distilled grape spirits exclusively in the Douro Valley.
Portuguese Wine, Aldi Animus


At Pebble Soup HQ, Port is not a favourite, but recently we tried Aldi Animus red wine. Animus is not fortified. Still, it is produced in the same area, the Douro Valley, with the same blend of grapes than Port, and let me tell you this wine tasting session was a success. We found Animus to be a great table wine, full bodied at the amazing price £4.99. Highly recommended.

Pairing AnimusWhat do Twitterers think: 



Stay safe, drink moderately and let me leave you with a quote from Fernando Pessoa, Portuguese author: “Life is whatever we make it. The traveler is the journey. What we see is not what we see but who we are.”

Disclaimer: this post is a review commissioned by Aldi in return for samples, no money was exchanged, words and opinions are my own

Vanilla Currant Loaf /Quick Bread

Vanilla Currant Loaf, quick Bread,
Add caption
I published this quick bread recipe 12 years ago, with the lockdown and all things homemade, I thought it was time to give it an airing. 

I love new bread recipes, this one has a very smooth texture which is the trademark of "quickbreads". 

Pay attention here comes the background bit:
Quickbreads differ from cakes which are made creaming butter/sugar/eggs or from breads made with yeast. Quickbreads are often associated with "Afternoon tea" a tradition started by the Duchess of Bedford in the mid 19th century. It is said that the Duchess could not wait from lunch till dinner, don't we know the feeling, so she requested to have a pot of tea with bread and small cakes. Very likely, finding it boring to eat and drink on her own, she started to invite her "aristo-mates" and started a trend.

Tips for you
In the quickbreads family, you will find scones, muffins, sodabreads, teacakes and other fruit or veg loaves such as pumpkin. Dead-easy to make, perfect for beginners, can't really go wrong, remember to sift the flour and make sure that the oven is preheated to 180C (350F/Gas 4) that is all. Ah! and mix the ingredients in the order the recipe tells you, quick breads allow neither anarchy nor cosmic order allowed.

Vanilla Currant Loaf


ingredients
250g plain (9z/ 2cup) (all purpose) flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
60g (2 ½ oz) cold unsalted butter, chopped
115g (4oz/ ½ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
75g (2 ½ oz/ ½ cup) currants
1 large egg
170ml (5 ½ fl oz/ 2/3 cup) milk
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
sifted icing (confectioners') sugar, for dusting, optional
butter or cream cheese, to serve


Method
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F/Gas 4). Grease a 21 X 7 X 8 cm loaf (bar) tin and line the base and sides with baking paper.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Using your fingertips, lightly rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Stir in the sugar and currants, then make a well in the centre.

In another bowl mix together the egg, milk and vanilla, then pour into the well in the flour mixture. Using a wooden spoon, stir until just combined.

Spoon into the prepared tin, smoothing the top. Bake for 45 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. 

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

Just before serving, dust with icing sugar if desired.
Slice and serve with butter or cream cheese.


Vanilla currant loaf is best eaten on the day it is made, but can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 8 weeks.

This recipe was reproduced from Leanne Kitchen's "the Baker"

My Valentine's Day Gift Guide

Fun, Affordable, and Yummy, here are some gift ideas for Valentine's day.

Flowers arrangements and bouquets may be expected on V. Day, so what about keeping the floral theme but make it fun, funky and red-hot by opting for a gardening kit.  Sowlush has 7 kits to choose from. Their Chillies 'n' Spices kit includes the following:
I also like their Cool Cocktail Seeds Kits containing herbs and Cucamelon seeds.
You will find the kits here, at £14.95 each.

So near Christmas, you don't want to break the bank but on Valentine's Day, you wouldn't wish to look mean either. How about putting together a hamper? This is exactly what Wilko suggests, think of it as a Pick and Mix for grown-ups.


My personal choice is for soft, cosy and smelly nice. Oh yes, treats have to be fragrant. I opted for a luxurious crushed velvet effect throw in soft silver (£20). It looks very effective draped over the bed.

Reed diffusers are a great hit at Pebblesoup HQ but the cheap ones don't smell much and the more luxurious reed diffusers are rather expensive. Wilko's option cost only £4.00, the glass holder looks gorgeous and the scent truly is indulgent.

And when it is time to dim the light, lit up a 3 wick candle. Perfection in a hamper.

Of course, it wouldn't be Valentine's day without gorgeously presented, good quality food. Take a look at this:

There you have it, 2020 Valentine's Gift Guide.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post - I was sent some of the products in order to review them. As always opinions are my own.

Homemade Goat Cheese

At Pebble Soup HQ, we started to make our own goat cheese. It's not complicated, I would go as far as saying that with a good goat's milk, and a few tips, this disappearing ancient craft, could be easily revived, in your own kitchen.

Homemade Goat Cheese

At first, it was trial and error but a visit to a goat-farm put me right. There I learnt that the key is the goat's milk. Unpasteurised is best unless your immune system is deficient or you are pregnant. However raw milk is not easy to source, and for this reason, pasteurised full-fat goat milk will do. The keyword is full fat, anything but whole milk won't do.

My next point is almost as important as the first. Hygiene: everything, including your hands, has to be squeaky clean, soaked in boiling water, obviously not your mitts.

Things you'll need which you might not already have:
a jam/dairy thermometer, one which clips by the side of the pan, at least know how to recognise when the turning off the heat point is, a cheesecloth or muslin (I get mine from the chemist) and last but not least citric acid.

Firm and Crumbly Goat's cheese
Ingredients:
4 pints whole goat's milk
1tsp citric acid
1 to 2 tsp salt

optional herbs or flavouring

Method:

Dissolve 1tsp of citric acid in 50 ml of water and leave this to cool to room temperature.

Pour the milk into a large pan, clip the thermometer to the pan and heat slowly to 190F/88C. Stir frequently. Turn the heat to low but don't remove the pan from the heat source. Before the foam subsides drizzle in the citric acid solution. Stir and cook for 30 seconds.

Now remove from the heat and continue to stir until you can see the curds.

Line a colander with the cheesecloth. Slowly pour in the curds and drain for 10 minutes. At this stage mix in the salt and any herbs or flavourings if desired.

Gather the cheese into a mound. Fold the cheesecloth corners and press very very very gently. Add a heavyweight or a pan full of water over the cloth and let it drain for at least an hour.

Mould your cheese into any shape you fancy and use immediately or leave it to chill in the fridge in a clean airtight container for up to a week.

Goat Cheese


Here is a recipe I made using the homemade goat cheese: Borek





Peanut Butter Cookies


Everyone who has followed my food column in the Greenwich local newspaper will know that I am mad about the food calendar - check 2020 list of National days here. National days always spur me on and National Peanut Butter Day is no different (24th January 2020).

This time around, I have another reason to take to baking: Antoine is coming back from his travels, 8 months in South America, it is time to get the peanut butter out and make his favourite, basically anything with peanut butter.

Sadly as you also know, I am not the greatest of bakers, help is often required. When I want a recipe, I tend to search in the blogosphere, then I cross-reference with recipe books or Chefs' sites.

I like Emma MT's blog: Cakes, Bakes and Cookies. Luck will have it that she had published one of her childhood-memory-recipes, all about peanut butter. After cross-referencing her instructions, it was time to bake.

Cross-referencing allows to adapt the recipe to your own requirements but it also adds to the general knowledge. Here, for example, the reference site explains that "apparently the traditional criss-cross pattern on top of peanut butter cookies is so you can distinguish them from other cookies" really quite useful for allergy sufferers.

Recipe-wise : Emma uses self raising flour, easier than having to make your own and 1/2 the amount of peanut butter.

The result couldn't have been better an empty biscuit tin by the time Antoine flew back to his beloved Savoie.

peanut butter, cookies, biscuits

Ingredients
  • 125g                    Butter (unsalted)
  • 140g                    Unrefined light muscovado sugar       
  • 1                          Egg (free range)       
  • 150g                    Self raising white flour
  • 125g                    Peanut butter (crunchy)
Method
Preheat oven to 180C or 150 fan oven - Line two baking sheets with baking paper
In a bowl or a food processor, beat the peanut butter with sugar add the butter and process until smooth, gradually add the egg and the flour
When this is done, using a tablespoon take enough dough to fill the spoon and roll into ball, place on the baking sheet leaving a gap. 
Press with a fork until you get the desired thickness usually 1cm. Bake for
15 minutes.
Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Pay attention here are the eco-facts:

Each time you eat a PB&J for lunch instead of red meat, like a burger or a ham sandwich, you’re shrinking your carbon footprint by almost 3.5 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. You’ll also save 133 gallons of water and 24 square feet of land per each peanut butter and jelly lunch.

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