Carrot and Spinach Buttermilk Muffins

I started writing this blog post this morning, Will woke up at an eye-watering 5am so I had some time before breakfast! Anyway, I then found another million things to do so thought I would leave writing until later in the day. One of today’s tasks was the weekly shop. I’ve done a lot of online food shopping since having Will but I must admit I don’t like it. I like the convenience, but I absolutely hate having no control of which food is chosen for me. I’m normally the person who picks up every single watermelon in the shop before deciding that the very first one I looked at was in fact, just fine! Shopping with Will has become a bit of a breeze recently though as he is happy to sit in the trolly, eating and nosing his way around the shop! I tend to take him a piece of fruit to eat en-route. Once home, with Will napping I decided to sit down to write a little more. I made myself a cup of tea, sat down at my desk and went to tuck my chair in. In doing so I happened to notice my feet, and it was at this precise moment that I realised I had gone all around town and to the supermarket in ODD SHOES! They didn’t even nearly resemble a pair! I think its fair to say that early mornings coupled with moving house and finishing maternity leave is starting to take its toll… on my wardrobe choices if nothing else! Thankfully I’m not making such mistakes in the kitchen!

I’ve been frantically filling my freezer with food so that when we begin moving house lunches and supper will be taken care of. Snacks and meals that can be eaten hot or cold, at any time of day are going to be a necessity over the next few weeks, especially as the house we are moving into is still derelict, and I go back to work next week! This recipe is something I make quite often, we have them as snacks, with big bowls of soup or as an alternative to bread.

Savoury muffins are something I never really enjoyed; I found most recipes came out heavy, ‘healthy tasting’ (code for dull) and with a chewy, often unpleasant texture. I then came across a  recipe that used buttermilk and I decided to experiment. The following is the result of a few months experimenting with different flavours. These are delicious, delicately spiced with cumin and coriander, but not overpoweringly so. The recipe looks like it contains lots of raising agents, and to be fair it does, but the resulting muffin is light, fluffy and not at all greasy like shop-bought sweet muffins can be.

The key with this recipe, as with soda bread, is to act quickly once you have added the buttermilk into the batter. The buttermilk is added last and the muffins will be lightest and most fluffy if they get into the oven as quickly as possible, no pressure! I’ve probably made the recipe sound scary now, but they are incredibly easy to make.

The vegetables can be swapped for alternatives such as butternut squash, Kale, courgette or sweet potato, or anything else you fancy/have to hand. It goes without saying that these are an excellent way of sneaking vegetables into fussy children. More than this though, they are actually a brilliant way of celebrating just how delicious vegetables can be! Savoury muffins are also a great food to give when weaning as the texture is softer and more moist than bread. Will has them along side soup to dunk, or just with some cheese for a simple, quick lunch.

Ingredients

This makes 12 generous muffins

  • 250g Wholemeal self raising flour
  • 80g unsalted butter (salted is fine too if not cooking for little ones)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 200ml buttermilk
  • 150g of grated carrot (roughly 3 medium carrots)
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 large handfuls of spinach
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander

Method

  • Melt the butter un the microwave, add a tablespoon of it to a frying pan and pour the rest into a large mixing bowl
  • Peel and dice an onion, add this to the frying pan and soften in the butter.
  • Once the onion is soft add the cumin and coriander, switch the heat off and let the spices warm through
  • To the bowl of melted butter add the flour, eggs, baking powder and bicarb, mix to combine
  • Peel and grate the carrot
  • Chop your raw spinach finely
  • Add the carrot, softened onion and spinach to the other ingredients and combine
  • Finally pour in the buttermilk, combine quickly and spoon into muffin cases as efficiently as you can. The mixture will start to foam and become light and airy as soon as the buttermilk and bicarb react.
  • Bake for 17-20 minutes, until golden and hollow sounding when the bases are tapped.

These keep for 5 days in a sealed container but they freeze well too. I have a freezer full of them now for Will’s packed lunch, and my own!

Butternut Squash Houmous 

I’ve been rather silent this week as we are currently in the middle of renovating the barn we are moving into. We only have 4 weeks to finish it so it’s been rather hectic! At the moment it’s seems miles off being finished but I’m assured it will be ready on time! All our spare time has been spent painting, sanding and doing general donkey work to speed the job up. I wouldn’t mind moving into a house that wasn’t finished a few years ago, but now we have Will I am much more anxious that things are finished. Busy baby who is furniture cruising and into everything plus building site- no thank you! In fact, the whole moving with a baby scenario is bonkers. Filling one box takes hours as Will likes to play boo/needs a feed/doesn’t want to pack! Every night I look at the house and wonder what I can actually pack- babies need a lot of things every day, it’s all going to have to be packed at the last minute.  I certainly haven’t stopped cooking though! If anything I’m cooking more as I find it a brilliant way to relax. 

I have made this particular recipe for years and years, but have avoided sharing it for one reason and one reason alone – the spelling of the word ‘houmous’! There are SO many versions out there and I simply wasn’t sure what to write. Then I made it the other day and Will was such a huge fan of it that I decided to bite the bullet, choose a spelling and share the recipe. 
Houmous features in our weekly meals quite often, I find it handy to keep in the fridge to add to sandwiches, salads or as an impromptu snack. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but having healthy snacks to hand really ensures I make better food decisions (most of the time – sometimes I still decide that a ginormous bar of cadburys whole nut is completely necessary)! 

While there is very little wrong with some shop bought versions, homemade really does taste better. I use my nutribullet to blitz the ingredients making it both quick and low on washing up (vital in my kitchen).  It can also be made from mostly store cupboard ingredients. 

Houmous is also an excellent food for babies and children. This version is full of protein and fibre from the chickpeas, and the butternut squash adds a lovely sweetness that children love. They can scoop it with their favourite vegis or breadsticks and it’s completely free of salt, stabilisers, preservatives or other unnecessary ingredients the shop bought offerings include. 

I have substituted the squash for carrots or sweet potato in the past, but the squash is my favourite. 

Ingredients

  • 400g butternut squash, in cubes
  • Half a can of chickpeas 
  • 2 cloves of garlic, skin on
  • 2 Tbsp tahini 
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 40ml extra virgin olive oil 
  • Sprinkle of smoked paprika

Method 

  • Peel and cube the butternut squash and roast in in a little olive oil with the garlic cloves until it is soft and browning at the edges (about 30 minutes)
  • Squeeze the garlic cloves to remove ththe sweet cooked garlic from their skins and place in the blender with the squash 
  • Drain the chickpeas and add them to blender with the lemon juice, tahini and olive oil. 
  • Blend until you have a textured paste 
  • Pop in th fridge to chill completely 
  • To serve I like to drizzle it with some more olive oil and some smoked paprika.

This is perfect with crudités or breadsticks as well as being great in wraps or as an accompaniment to a salad. It keeps in the fridge for 3 days if covered, although it’s normally eaten before this in our house! 

Well, that was my little break, now it’s time to choose bathroom tiles! 

Salmon & Spinach Tart

I love eating food, I love cooking food, I love reading about food and I love looking at food. But  can I be the only person who thinks there are far too many photos of chia pudding on Instagram? There – I’ve said it. That statement may make me wildly unpopular but frankly I’m becoming bored of the endless stream of ‘photogenic food’. Yes, food should look appetising, and yes, I applaud those who can take fantastic photographs (a skill I would love to learn one day as my camera is a total mystery to me!) But I don’t think how food looks should be anywhere near as important as how it tastes! I must declare a strong dislike for chia seeds and so they have taken the brunt of my rant – but really I am using chia pudding as an example for a whole range of ‘pretty but tasteless’ food.

This seems to form part of a growing trend for ‘clean’ food and in some ways I think this is excellent – knowing what we are putting in our bodies is hugely important to me and I am very passionate about the provenance of my ingredients. However, replacing all known foods with ‘clean’ alternatives I find concerning, especially when children’s diets are involved. We have no allergies or intolerances in our family so we eat a balance of all food groups including whole grains, dairy and meat. When I replace an ingredient it isn’t to make my food ‘clean’ as if it was somehow ‘dirty’ before – its merely to try something new and provide my family with nutritious and varied meals.

This tart is made with a sweet potato crust instead of pastry. This does make it lower in fat and calories, as well as increasing the vegetable content of the meal, but more than this, its delicious! The sweetness of sweet potatoes works beautifully with the salmon and spinach in this tart and is a lovely alternative to pastry. I have tried sweet potato bases with various quiche and tart recipes but this has been my favourite so far. It is such a summery meal, perfect on warm evenings with a large salad. It also makes a brilliant baby-led weaning meal as it contains oily fish, green vegetables and dairy; in my experience often the hardest foods to get babies to eat! It can be eaten hot or cold, so it also works well for packed lunches.

The recipe method looks a little long but if you are short on time I recommend making the tart case in advance. I normally make this in the morning, blind bake it and then keep it in the fridge until I need it later that day.

Ingredients

This makes enough to serve 4 adults as part of a main meal. 

  • 3 medium sweet potatoes
  • 2 fillets of salmon
  • 1 bag of raw spinach (enough to make 3 cooked handfuls)
  • 2 eggs
  • 100ml creme fraiche
  • Tsp dijon mustard
  • Zest of half a lemon

Method

Sweet potato tart case:

  • Peel and grate the sweet potatoes using a coarse grater
  • Highly grease your tart case and pour the grated potato in
  • Using your hands or a spoon push the grated potato into the tart case, covering the base and sides. This can be a little fiddly, I find the best way is to use my hands and knuckles!
  • Blind bake this a preheated oven at 180C for about 15 minutes until the edges are starting brown.
  • Crack one of the eggs and put the yolk to the side. Using the egg white, brush the tart case to create and pop it back in the oven for 5 minutes. This creates a waterproof layer ensuring your salmon filling will not leak through. You cannot see or taste the egg white.

 

For the filling:

  • Place the salmon fillets in a microwaveable dish with a little water and cook them for about 3 minutes, until they are cooked through.
  • Flake the salmon into large chunks and put to one side
  • Cook your spinach, drain it and squeeze out any excess moisture and chop up.
  • Add the salmon, spinach, creme fraiche and mustard to a bowl and stir.
  • Add the egg yolk and the remaining egg to the mixture and combine
  • Season with salt and pepper (no salt if cooking it for children)
  • Spoon the mixture into the tart case and put in the oven for 15 minutes
  • Optional: add slices of tomato to the top of the tart
  • The filling should be set and golden brown

 

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We enjoyed this warm last night with some new potatoes from our garden and a green salad with a citrus dressing to mirror the lemon in the tart. Will had his at lunch time cold and he ate it all (happy Mummy!) Despite the poorly taken photographs and the slightly browned black edges of the sweet potato case, this meal was made with love for my family and it tasted fantastic!

I’d love to hear from you if you try any of my recipes, or if there are any people who have a recipe for chia seeds that may change my mind about them!