In Search of Perfect Muffin

About three things I am absolutely positive. First, travel broadens the mind. Second London is a great place to discover diversity of the world's food. And third I am unconditionally and irrevocably in love with muffins.

Since my first stay in Great Britain I am a great lover of muffins, all of them, from the best of all really chocolate chocolate London's muffins to the delightful cheese muffins of Steam in Oamaru, New Zealand. Of course I mean the American style muffins which are of a cupcake's shape. The English muffin term refers to a leavened, round, flat roll, usually toasted and eaten with butter and jam. They are also yummy but my devotion goes to the baking powder or cream of tartar muffins, stuffed with variety of sweet and savoury food, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, cheeses, nuts, meat and whatever you like.

Many times I wonder what the ideal muffin should looks like. The shape of a cupcake, but what the size? I prefer rather bigger muffins, maybe not the Texas ones, but certainly not that small as a cupcake! This is why if the recipes says "makes 12 portions" I always spoon the mixture in 6 tins;-) Apart from my personal preference to the size, a good muffin should have a gently rounded, rather not a mushroom, top with a golden crust. A moist, finely-grained crumb is absolutely necessary. As well, as a seductive aroma. From my experience, I am always surprised of the intense smell of baked banana and strawberries.

Finally, I want to share this great recipe, improved and checked to the pleasure of my husband and friends.

Banana and Forest Fruits Yoghurt Muffins

200 g flour
105 g icing sugar
1 egg
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp baking powder
1 ripe banana
250 ml forest fruits yoghurt (weights roughly 270 g)
opt. a dash of vanilla sugar

1. Sift flour and icing sugar into a bowl, add baking powder and mashed banana, mix.
2. Place 1 egg, oil and yoghurt in another bowl and mix well, even pretending beating.
3. Pour the liquid into a bowl with dry ingredients and mix quickly. Do not overmix. Warning: the dough is quite thick, it is fine.
4. Spoon into 7 muffin tins (this amount makes large muffins).
5. Bake in preheated oven in 190 Celsius degrees for 20 minutes.
6. Leave to cool.
7. You can serve these wonderful muffins with yoghurt but they are delicious on their own!

Generally muffins belongs to quick breads but sometimes I dream about sophisticated muffins, and I suppose it can be easily achieved by careful selection of ingredients. Trying to observe the rule of speed and easiness of preparation, on basis of a few common staples (flour, milk, egg, raising agent, salt) I experiment with freshly squeezes fruit juices, candied peel, yoghurts, spices. When you get used to so much loved blueberries or chocolate chips muffins you must discover the versatility of the kind: ham&leek, triple cheese, double chocolate, lemon and poppy seed, apple and cinnamon, raspberry and many many more...

PS. Bloggers community is a wonderful place to meet other food enthousiasts and share our experience. With great interest I read about Zorra's of Kochtopf blog initiative of Bread Baking Day, a web event for food bloggers, with changing theme and hosted by different blogs. For the 18th Bread Baking Day with the theme 'Quick Bread' I send my entry with Banana and Forest Fruits Yoghurt Muffins. This time the event is hosted by Fun and Food Blog. All the vegetarians are welcome to drop in for inspiration!

breadbakingday #18 - last day of submisson April 1


Wine, Calcot, Barcelona

I wanted to welcome spring in Barcelona and I flew for a few days to Catalonia. Catalonia is amazing place for me. Architecture, fresh food, modern cuisine, nice people, mountains and sea there were main points of my visit in Barcelona.
My first steps were to grocery market. There are a few markets with fresh food in Barcelona. The Boqueria Market near main touristic street of Barcelona is very famous. I visited this market on Saturday morning when many Spaniards were doing shopping. Place is big and old and looks like a meeting center where people meet and talk about various things, they eat in small tapas bars and sometimes buy things. This market is special because many tourists visit it, take photos and buy fresh fruits or juice and smoked meat.

The Boqueria Market have a special arrangement in the front, near main gate there are stalls with fruits, juice, vegetables, smoked meat and sweets and there are many tourists. Seafood is in the middle part of market, there are many stalls with fresh meat and bread. There is a lot of variety kinds of meats and seafood and I regret that I couldn’t make any dish. Interesting stalls are far away from the main gate. There are cottage vegetables, eggs, bread which maybe didn’t look very attractive but had good taste and smell. I was in seventh heaven.

I bought a few vegetables, fruits and very tasty breads. Because I was thirsty, I tried juices for tourists. So, drink was horrible. My mug included sugar with water and juice of different fruits. It wasn’t a good choice.

There is a small street near the market where I looked for a shop with Spanish wine. I know a little about Spanish wines and I walked around shelves with wine and I didn’t know which bottle included beverage of god. I was reading labels and my mind made small trips to regions where there wine were produced but I still asked the same question: which wine is the best? I decided to buy wine of Catalonia from Penedès. So it was very good choice. Wine was refreshing, smelled sunny, sea wind and fruits especially cherry. It tasted fruits and light. This wine was very good to drink on its own or with bread and seafood. I had bread. So I bought spread of salmon and we had a feast at night. During my visit in Barcelona I often saw people drinking wine instead of water. Sometimes I couldn’t buy coffee or tea but wine was in every tapas bars and restaurants.

When we watched Sagrada Familia we met people eating something. I didn’t know what it was. There was a fiesta near the church. The street was closed for cars and they put tables where people were eating and drinking. There was a special place where they were serving bundles of green vegetables with red sauce. There was a bonfire where they roasted green vegetables and put on newspaper and served. The vegetables looked like leaks or scallion. That was a special kind of scallion, and the dish itself called Calçot. The most traditional way of eating calçots is in a calçotada, a popular gastronomical event held between the end of winter and March or April, where calçots are consumed massively.
Calçots are then wine roasted and dipped in salvitxada sauce or romesco, and accompanied by red wine or cava. Pieces of meat and bread slices are roasted in the charcoal after cooking the calçots.
So I have tried a traditional food!!!

"Cuisine of Catalonia is modern but it draw with tradition not only Spanish." It is a famous opinion, is it true? Yes, the Catalonian gastronomy is characterized by its variety and influence of other cultures. Its origin goes back to the time of the Romans. Since then it has been obtaining recipes from the Italian, French, Greek, Provençal, Arabian and Jewish gastronomy. The result is a cuisine of great complexity with excellence. Dishes taste well, they are light and fresh. Chefs are talented to create new dishes.
The best meal we ate was in small tapas bar far away from city center where staff didn’t speak in English and we chosen at random, but it was a good choice. I had fried eggs, salad whit black olives, green peas, cooked carrot and parsley root with mayo and fried potato fingers. Next very good meal was on the beach. There were many restaurant and tapas bar. We sat in an open air tapas bar where we couldn’t order coffee but we ordered very god seafood salad and amazing cod marinated in pesto. Place was beautiful, meal was very good, I felt happy.


A Gourmet in London

Spring is in the air, at least in London. Rhubarb is everywhere. Leeks are coming. But I knew exactly where I wanted to go and didn't let myself to get distracted.

The temple. Poilane Bakery

The little bread shop is hidden at 46 Elisabeth Street, close to main Victoria Station. It looks pretty similar to that first one which is located on Cherche-Midi in Paris. At the window you can find some pastries but these look completely different from big loaves resting on the shelves. Those really look seriously and proudly. This is it. Huge, round loaves with beautiful "P" scar. Their skin dusted with flour, and the smell, this smell. Everything remains same as much possible as in Paris. Even the bread art on the wall and the bread chandelier (did you think of that?!). We took some great Poilane, a log of walnut bread, and rye and raisin rolls. All of them dark and heavy.

Other churches. Gail's

This is where I used to work (does anyone remember me from that time?). I was seduced by these smelly, colourful breads. One of the best is our version of the Poilane bread called French Wholemeal Sourdough Bread. That resembles a good Polish bread the most. But yet my absolute favourite is the Walnut Campagne Bread. The most nutty bread I have ever sampled. Perfect in Gail's sandwich of pear and gorgonzola cheese. My other beloved breads are sultana and fennel bread and potato and rosemary sourdough bread. Beware: addictive. But what I came there for was the CHOCOLATE FONDANT. The best chocolate thing I have ever eaten. Necessarily eat warmed up. Think about how something already baked can be co runny? Yummy!!!

Wholefoods Market

Of a basilica's size, this huge store offers wonderful range of edible stuff. I just haven't noticed Polish food anywhere in front of my eyes but have no time to look for it carefully during this visit. What I love there is the cheese room (seperate space - the smell is too overwhelming), fruits exhibition, breads exhibition, well it looks like I love everything there! I love the samples, thanks to it I found the real Dutch gouda cheese and a wonderful Calamata extra vergin olive oil. So much taste in it! And, of course, great breads which remain fresh for days. My white chocolate and apricot was delightful. Melted pieces of white chocolate bursting from the surface and all over the crumb and big chewy pieces of dried apriocots make it a perfect festive bread. I only mention some of the other breads: white sourdough and rosemary fougasse. WM is going to be my definite destination next time!

And maybe in next 2 years....

This time I have no time (again...) to check Paul and Le Pain Quotidien. If anyone wants to share his or her own opinion about the aboves please do so. What would you recommend?

And in the end there is a story inviting you to a food trip to Poland. The last evening in London we were sitting with our friend Gosia and trying different Poilane breads. I was fighting with the shadows to get some nice pictures for you. Together with Darek we were talking Gosia (from about 3 days till then) about how marvellous the Poilane bread is. That it is the sourdough, truly French bread, baked in a wood-burning ovens, wholesome and natural. Finally (means: on taking photos) Gosia took a slice of the great Poilane loaf and said: 'Great, this is really good Polish bread'.


Winter leeks

I love two vegetables: tomato and leek. For me tomato means – summer and hot months. Leek means – dark, cold, long winter nights and hot soup.

Leeks have a mild onion-like taste, although less bitter than Scallion. The taste might be described as a mixture of mild onion and cucumber. It has a fresh smell similar to scallion. In its raw state, the vegetable is crunchy and firm.

Leeks have a long and rich history, one that can trace its heritage back through antiquity. Thought to be native to Central Asia, they have been cultivated in this region and in Europe for thousands of years.
Leeks were prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans and were especially revered for their beneficial effect upon the throat. The Greek philosopher Aristotle credited the clear voice of the partridge to a diet of leeks, while the Roman emperor Nero supposedly ate leeks everyday to make his voice stronger.
The Romans are thought to have introduced leeks to the United Kingdom, where they were able to flourish because they could withstand cold weather. Leeks have attained an esteemed status in Wales, where they serve as that country's national emblem. The Welsh regard for leeks can be traced back to a battle that they successfully won against Saxons in 1620, during which the Welsh soldiers placed leeks in their caps to differentiate themselves from their opponents.

Today, leeks are an important vegetable in many northern European cuisines and are grown in many European countries especially in France as the key ingredient in vichyssoise. The Vichyssoise soup is a cold potato leek soup with a French name and it was invented not in Paris or Lyons or even in Vichy, France, but in New York City at the beginning of the 20th Century.
It was 1917 and the fashionable Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Madison Avenue at 46th Street was about to open the new roof garden restaurant. The head chef was a Frenchman named Louis Diat. He often made a potato and leek soup from a recipe given to him by his mother, and he was preparing to serve it at a party celebrating the opening of the roof garden. Whether, according to legend, the soup prepared in advance wasn't re-heated in time to be served as a first course, or whether the day was warm and Chef-de-Cuisine Diat was creative, he added cream to his mother's soup recipe and served it cold, sprinkled with chopped chives. He called it Crème Vichyssoise Glacee, or Chilled Cream Vichyssoise, in honor of the town where he was born.

In France a leek soup is popular among women because it is a basic ingredient of the eat-clean diet. You can find a recipe for that diet in the book “French Women Don't Get Fat” of Mireille Guiliano . She wrote that soup makes miracles and that diet is a fast way to a slender figure. Maybe, but whole French cuisine and wine are a good way to be skinny and healthy.
So, the Vichyssoise soup, Mireille Guiliano soup or my French leek soup is the same but my dish is very hot.
In winter I often prepare leek soup because it is my favorite dish. This soup is very easy and quick to make. Keep it in the fridge and heat up it when you get back home on a cold winter’s night...

What you need:

Ingredients for 4 people
- 2 large potatoes
- 2 large leeks
- 1 onions
- ½ cup milk
- 3 tbs olive oil
- 2 tbs freshly chopped parsley
- 1/2 liter [1 pint] warm water
- salt, pepper and nutmeg

1) Peel and cube the potatoes. Peel and mince the onions. Prepare the leeks (wash them and take a 1/3 of the top leaves off) and slice them.

2) Put the onions and leeks in a saucepan, heat the oil and gently mix onions and leeks. Cover with a lid and braise on a gentle flame for about 10 minutes.

3) Add the cubed potatoes, salt and pepper, and 1 or 2 pinches of nutmeg ;
add the water and milk. Simmer for another 15 to 20 minutes.

4) Adjust salt and pepper, and serve soup on each plate sprinkled with chopped parsley.

If you prefer another herb to change or wish to vary the flavors: coriander, basil or tarragon would be fine.

Enjoy! Bon appetit!


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