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).
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.
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.