Keeping the home fires burning

When we left London back in August 2010 we were taking a well earnt career break. I hadn’t anticipated mine to last quite this long, but landing back in Aus with a bun in the oven isn’t entirely conducive to convincing an employer you’re a job candidate with a long term future. So, instead of working I’m keeping the home fires burning while I slowly expand bellywards.

I’ve always made muffins, usually whipping up a batch on a Saturday morning for breakfast and weekday morning tea provisions. Banana choc chip or date, raisin and spice were the usuals, but because of the Queensland floods this summer, bananas have become a luxury item and not something to be merrily left hanging around getting brown and squashy as cheap filling for sweet treats.

When our stuff arrived from London and I finally had a fully equipped kitchen, it gave me an enormous sense of contentment and satisfaction to produce my first batch of muffins after six months.

Since then I’ve been experimenting and, thanks to Belinda Jeffery’s fantastic book Mix and Bake, have branched out into tea breads. I don’t have a massively sweet tooth (although late pregnancy has apparently brought on a craving for jubes, so there you go), but I am a fiend for anything spiced and, given the dessert menu, will tend towards the gingered, the cardomom scented or the cinnamon infused. Belinda is heavy handed with the spice rack in all her tea bread recipes and they make a welcome change from the regular muffins.

Below is a picture of her spicy pumpkin, pecan and raisin tea bread (although I had dates in the cupboard, so I used those instead. I am totally incapable of actually making a recipe to the letter).

Spicy pumpkin pecan tea bread. Made for morning tea

I’ve made this twice now and, like carrot cake, it is sweet, spicy, toothsome and vaguely wholesome. Made for laying on the butter and eating with a cup of proper tea mid morning. And it freezes well (and eats well while frozen!).

Another winner is her spicy apple, aniseed and hazelnut tea bread, which I don’t have a picture of. Of course, I used the pecans I already had from the pumpkin loaf recipe because it seems I have an allergy to actually obeying a recipe. Equally delicious, the aniseed makes it very aromatic and the applesauce used in the mixture gives it a softer crumb, so it’s actually easier to slice it from frozen than fresh.

But can a girl claim to be stocking her larder if she doesn’t have some chutney stashed away somewhere? I think not. Perhaps it’s the nesting instinct, but I have been collecting olive and pickle jars to recycle for a chutney session and a couple of weeks ago made a batch of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s  River Cottage chutney.

OK doesn't look so great in the pot, but on sourdough with cheddar yummmm!

Bottled deliciousness

Chutney is a play on sweet and sour with the bulk made up of a combination of (usually excess) fruit and vegetables. Hugh’s aims to use up those monster marrows old English men feel some Freudian urge to grow, but I just used a cheap kilo bag of zucchini. The sweet and sour element comes from the sugar and vinegar, which are also important preservatives, and the dried fruit. Hugh specified sultanas, but I have a bit of a horror of chilli and sultanas in the same dish (think 1960s “curry”), so used dates. Also they were in the cupboard and sultanas were at the shop.

This is the second batch of chutney I’ve made; the first was Nigella’s apple and cranberry, made as Christmas pressies in 2009. After impatiently waiting two weeks to crack Hugh’s open, the sharp spike in the number of cheese, salad and chutney sarnies in our house is undeniable proof of its success.

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10 Responses to Keeping the home fires burning

  1. miga says:

    As the principal beneficiary of these downtime-induced culinary excursions, I can only confirm that the results are as good as they look!

  2. anzacdaygirl says:

    Date and nut loaf was part of the baking repertoire for women who kept their home fires burning in the 1950s and I have always loved them. Some of these women, who were serious about their loaves, even had cylindrical tins with removable ends – fancy! I have one of these in my baking tin drawer. Chutney an essential pantry item and even better when it’s home made. Keep a jar for me.

  3. ooooh! Cylindrical tins. That is taking it to the next level. I think I’m doing well to actually own two loaf tins. I may yet work up to those heady heights of loaf expertise!

    We’ve still got a couple of jars in the fridge, so I’m sure there’ll be some left for you.

  4. Babic says:

    I have had the absolute pleasure in tasting your culinary delights previously and therefore I strongly believe that your Muffins are the perfect accompaniment to a nice cup of Yorkshire Tea……..

  5. Boba says:

    And, can it be bigger compliment for culinary skills than that received from a mother in law…so I confirm Emica’s chutney and other delicious things ( a carrot salad is only one example), and the esthetics of setting up the New Years table for a New Year 2011, get many compliments from our guests and made we very proud, thanks Emica

  6. togram says:

    Those photos are making me hungry! Spice in cakes – yummo.
    This is definitely the time of year for baking and preserving. It is getting crisp in the mornings here in Perth and my instinct to turn stuff into jam has awoken!

    • I am yet to attempt Ann’s superior dried apricot and pineapple jam – even though she generously gave me the recipe for my hen’s night recipe scrap book :) I’m not sure I can live up to it!

  7. NZ Grandma says:

    Emily – all your culinary delights look so yummy, but what fruit was used in the chutney? Looks much lighter than anything I’ve made. As for the loaf – well! Looks very appetising. No wonder the man is delighted with your efforts.
    Re Anne’s dried apricot & pineapple jam.. You may be surprised to know that particular jam was my own mother’s (your great-grandmother) signature recipe when I was little (such a long time ago :-( I also made it when your Mum & Susan were growing up & here was i thinking it was a New Zealand creation!

  8. Emily says:

    I have just made Belinda’s apple pecan crumble muffins. yes they are delicious. yes they heady with cinnamon… but they took nearly an hour to prep! peeling and chopping the apple, roasting and chopping the pecans, making a dry mix, wet mix and crumble… muffins should take 12 mins max to prep! These are delicious but special occasion only in my opinion

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