Friday, 30 April 2010

Plum brandy conserve and raspberry jam tart

A few days ago, I saw this post in my blog feed thingy, and I thought, that looks good. You see, I like the concept of pies et al (crust and sweetness, possibly topped with ice cream or whipped cream - hell yeah!), but I don't like the texture of bits of fruit that is inevitable in such items (well, of the fruit variety). This seemed like the perfect solution. Also, I've had a jar of plum brandy conserve in my cupboard that I got at the Farmers' Market months ago but could never bring myself to open it for some reason. However, as you can see from the thread, it doesn't actually have a recipe. It links to two other blogs that do have recipes, but neither of those is vegan. As you can see from the original post, it calls for one whole egg and one egg yolk, and I wasn't exactly sure what to do there. I mean, I know how to sub eggs in cake, but since I've only ever made eggless pie crusts in recent memory, I wasn't sure what I should sub for the egg (well, the yolk more accurately). So, after some PPKonsultation, I settled on soy yogurt. I give you ...

Plum Brandy Conserve and Raspberry Jam Tart

9 tablespoons (110g) margarine, at room temperature
1/2 c sugar
1/4 c plain soy yogurt
1/8 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 c plain flour
1/2 c stone-ground cornmeal or polenta
pinch sea salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 c plum and brandy conserve
1/4 c raspberry jam
turbinado or demerara sugar, for sprinkling

1. Cream together margarine and sugar. Mix in the soy yogurt and almond extract.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder. Gradually add the dry ingredients, just until the mixture just comes together.

3. Measure out about 2/3rd of the dough, wrap it in cling film, and chill it. Take the remaining dough, wrap it and chill it, too. (I chilled for about 2 hours, but only because I was distracted.)

4. Preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature. Press the dough into the bottom and sides of an ungreased removable bottom 9-10"/24cm tart pan or springform pan, patting it evenly.

5. Spread the conserves and jam evenly over the dough (they'll mix together as you spread - no need to combine them ahead of time if you can't be bothered).

6. Form the extra dough into disks, then lay them over the jam. Top very generously with coarse sugar (as much or as little as you feel like).

7. Bake until the pastry is golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Let cool before serving, and serve at room temperature.

The Verdict: I'm not gonna lie, it's kinda like a giant fancy pop tart - a crusty icing sugar glaze wouldn't have felt out of place here. And I wasn't keen on the texture of the crust, to be honest. But overall, the taste was great, and it was even better the next day (as was the texture).

I'll make this again, but I might experiment with a finer grind of cornmeal. It was pretty close to a shortbread crust, so that's another possibility. Also, as the original recipe suggests, you can use pretty much any jam, preserve, etc., in place of what I used - this is just what I had on hand. I might try again with raspberry jam and chocolate chips, since it's always been a winning combination. I might also try to do a GF crust, just to see if it works and to do something for the GF peeps.

I've uploaded all of my pictures from the past, oh, 8 or so months, and I've managed to get them into my Food Porn album on FB. I have to say, trying to label everything (thank jeebus for AllyChristine's cookbook/blog challenge compilation post) reminded me about a lot of good food I haven't made in ages. And it made me hungry. Part of me wants to do a post (or 10) to catch up, so I might do later. But I have meal planning and grocery shopping to do, so it'll have to wait.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Bonus: Perfectly perfect cinnamon chocolate chip muffins

A few weeks (months?) ago, I wrote this post about old-school cinnamon chocolate chip muffins like mom used to ... let me buy a packet mix for and turn into a cake-sized muffin that I hated to share. So, I've been making these like crazy (seriously, a couple times a week, hence my most recent post). When I made them last week, they came out absolutely perfect. It was the best muffin I've ever made in my life, including the much-raved about Best Pumpkin Muffins Ever from VwaV. The changes are slight but crucial. If you want the absolute most perfect cinnamon chocolate chip muffins in the world*, follow the recipe below exactly.


The Best Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Muffins Ever

3/4 c plain flour
3/4 c wholemeal pastry flour
3/4 c sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c non-dairy milk
1/4 c + 2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp applesauce
1/3 c plain soy yogurt
1/2 c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375F/190C. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

In a large bowl, stir dry ingredients together. Make a well in the centre and add liquid ingredients. Stir to combine. Fold in chocolate chips. Fill muffin liners about 1/2-2/3 full. Bake 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick through the centre comes out clean.

That said, when I next make these, I'll probably have to reverse the proportion of oil and applesauce to make them as low fat as possible. But at least I've shared my discovery with others.

Weight gain 4000

Mike and I went to his dad's wedding this week. I decided to wear my Joan (from Mad Men) dress, which I hadn't worn in a few months. It was snug when I last wore it. This time, I barely managed to get it zipped, and it was almost skin tight. Obviously, I've put on a couple of pounds.

Well, I've decided to do something about it. I've already started watching what I eat. It's insanely difficult to not eat whatever I want. I obviously didn't get that ingrained sense of portion control that was assured when I started SparkPeople before I got married. That programme worked really well, but I don't really want to put that much effort in to it this time. Last time, I had a specific goal and a specific time to reach it, but now I just need to knock off the weight I gained when I let myself eat whatever I wanted.

However, there are a few things that I've recently discovered that I think will help me in my efforts. First of all, I've really begun to enjoy almonds. Now, I know they aren't super low fat, but they contain good fats that I probably don't get enough of, and a little goes a long way. I feel as satisfied with half a pack of almonds as I do with two muffins, probably because it takes a lot longer to eat half a pack of almonds one at a time. Also, a Pink Lady apple with a tablespoon of almond butter is so amazing. I wish I'd discovered these things sooner. And it's a good thing I'm now employed, because a small jar of almond butter costs nearly £5.

I've also forced myself to like stir-fry. I didn't really like it before, but now I guess I'm used to the textures (from eating a lot of Japanese food). And eating it with shrooms and smoked tofu and cooking in a bit of toasted sesame oil makes it amazing. It's also super cheap. I got the Sainsbury's Basics stir-fry mix (which I think is about £1), and it makes 2 meals for 2 people (and supplies 2 of your 5-a-day per serving). It's super filling, too - I felt like I could barely move after dinner last night - without being particularly calorific (bean sprouts, cabbage, carrots, and onions are pretty low-cal). And it's a really fast meal, which is gonna be great for those nights when I just can't be bothered. I just hope Mike doesn't get tired of it!

Now the problem is making myself go to the gym. Considering that I barely feel like cooking most days, I'm gonna struggle with working out. I like how I feel when I get back from the gym, but it's difficult to make myself remember that when I've worked all day and still have to make dinner. I'm gonna have to keep up with making things at the weekend so I have less work to do during the week and can feel like I have time to go to the gym. And I'll also try to plan the quicker meals for the days I go to the gym. Hopefully that'll help.

I'll try to keep this updated with my progress, just because it'll make me feel accountable to something.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Full-time job = half-assed dinners

I started working full time (like, proper full time, with a contract and everything, not just temp stuff that could end with only a couple days' notice) about a month ago. I love what I do, and once my contract is up, I should have no problem getting another job because I'm getting crazy-good experience (I'm like a PA and an office manager in one, and it's in the charity sector). The problem is that it's pretty demanding, and even though I've pretty much got the hang of it, little things crop up on the daily, so I'm working pretty hard. And the consequence of that is that I'm super tired, and I end up making pretty crap dinners. There have been weeks when we've basically alternated between pasta and tofu scramble every day. I also end up giving Mike some pretty substandard lunches (if I even have time to make his lunch) and often end up eating canned soup for my lunch.

This week, I attempted to break that streak by planning out my menu and being prepared for most of what I was gonna make (obviously, space constraints kept me from buying everything ahead). And what happened? I had a really demanding week and made pasta twice and tofu scramble once. OK, I made pasta thrice if you count tonight - it was a variation on Sesame Kale Soba in Get It Ripe (green beans instead of kale - pretty damn good). And as far as lunches - Mike had hummus and chips at least once this week, and I not only had canned soup one day but also ended up getting a pasty from Real Foods while running office errands and having my 'lunch' while I worked yesterday. It's been a bad ... well, month for food around here.

We're going to Aberdeen next week, so we'll have at least 2 days of eating somewhere else. Oh, and I'm sure I'll blog about it, because we're going to a non-vegan wedding and staying in a hotel with 'full Scottish breakfast'!