I like to harvest some of our lavender each year and make something with it, so this year we have made lavender ice cream. It tastes amazing…. here is what we did;
Four eggs yolks (we made meringues with the leftover whites!)
1 tablespoon of fresh lavender buds
140 g of sugar
250 ml milk
250 ml cream (one standard carton)
Red and blue food colouring (optional)
1. Heat the milk in a saucepan over a low heat and add the lavender (we used one tablespoon, but for a stronger flavour this can be increased, up to three tablespoons, if you really like a strong lavender taste).
2. Leave the lavender in the warming milk for five to ten minutes.
3. Add the sugar to the warm milk and stir until completely dissolved.
4. Crack the eggs, separate and place the four yolks in a bowl.
5. Whisk the egg yolks thoroughly with a fork.
6. Add the warmed milk to the egg yolks, one tablespoon at a time initially, and stirring constantly. You want to make sure that the milk is not too hot and that the eggs don’t scramble! You can strain the flowers from the milk before adding to the egg yolks but we left them in until the very end.
7. Once about half of the milk has been added, the rest of the milk can be poured in, mixing all the time.
8. Return the mixture to the saucepan and keep stirring, over a low heat, until the mixture thickens.
9. Turn off the heat and strain into a clean, dry bowl, to remove the lavender flowers.
10. Add the cream to the bowl, stirring continuously.
11. If you want to make your ice cream more “lavender” coloured then mix in some red and blue food colouring until you get the desired colour. We used about two drops of red to every one drop of blue.
12. And then it is time to turn it into ice cream, either using an ice cream machine or, as we did, place it in a shallow plastic container, add a lid and freeze; check on it every hour and stir up gently with a fork to mix and break up the crystals, until you are happy with the texture of your ice cream.
Next time we make it we are thinking of trying this (to combine science and ice cream making… how cool is that?!).
And a little something else … The Boot’s Maternity and Infant Parenting Blog Awards 2015 are still open for voting. If you like what I do here and have a minute to spare I’d really appreciate your vote; You just need to click the image below and scroll down to the “Best Parenting Blog” section under “For the Family”; Many thanks!
I love the Bumbles of Rice blog, showing life as it really is. Sinéad, from Bumbles of Rice often shares images and recipes of what the family is eating on an given day. Sometimes it turns into a whole week in dinners, and a linky. I took part in one last year and I’m delighted to do so again. Apart from being “nosey” I love getting ideas and inspiration from what other people share, and it’s nice to see that other families have their quick-cheats too.
So here is what we ate in the Sicence Wows house this week…
Dinner was home-made burgers with home-made chunky coleslaw, for me anyway, my kids turn their noses up at the coleslaw (which was a favourite of mine as a child) so they got corn and carrot sticks instead. A good start to the week, no complaints, no bribes required and they all went back for seconds. What’s seldom is wonderful, as they say!
I decided to try something new on Tuesday, some sticky chicken wings with chilli dip from The Extra Virgin Kitchen Cookbook. I served them with home made oven chips and broccoli. They were fairly successful, despite the request to “remove the black bits and then I’ll eat them”. Good enough that I would make them again, but maybe with a second batch of chicken wings containing no marinade.
Wednesday night I kept it easy and simple, fish fingers, beans and mashed potato. Another good night (it turns out this week contained less dinner complaints than usual, it is a good thing I have it documented for my own records!).
This one I knew would be a crowd pleaser… home made chicken goujons, served with (ahem) more home made oven chips and broccoli and peas. I could go a whole week without cooking with potatoes as my kids are not big fans but this week I had a big bag and used them (it seems) in every meal. The vegetables were a bit repetitive too, it was a case of using up what was there.
No matter what is going on in the world there is always one constant that can be relied upon… Friday night is pizza night in the Science Wows household. The kids like them with corn, salami and olives. Sometimes the sauce is home made roasted veg, sometimes it is from a jar. I made a big batch of sauce last week and froze it in portions (I make it a bit like a ratatouille then blitz it so that no one can recognise an “offending” vegetable).
The adults had theirs with a bit of blue cheese, pear and prosciutto (this is the posh combo that would ideally be completed with some caramelised onion – but not this time).
That is our week in dinners, if you want to see what other families are really eating, check out the posts in the linky by clicking on the image below. I’m off to steal some ideas for the next few weeks!
We had the Best Summer Ever this year and finished it off with a trip to visit my sister and her three lovely children in South Hampton this week. We filled the sunny few days with trips to many of the lovely parks and greens, which meant a fair few picnics.
Here are a few photos to show how we spent the last few days of our Summer. As the lovely Luara over at the Dairy Free Kids blog is running a blog linky looking at what is inside everyone’s picnic baskets, I thought I might include this post too. If you want to see what people have been picnicking on this summer just click the linky image (picnic basket) at the end of this post to check out all the great posts.
As you can see, we kept it simple but fun. Remember to check out the linky to see what other’s have been putting in their picnic baskets this summer..
I really love the “A Week in Dinners” series over on Bumbles of rice so I couldn’t resist joining in when the series was opened up as a blog linky. I am really looking forward to seeing what everyone else is eating (because I am so nosy!) but here is my contribution!
This is what we ate for the second week of the Easter holidays.
We arrived back from visiting my parents with a LOT of chocolate and the leftover lamb from the big family Easter dinner. My mum is like most Irish Mums … afraid of not having enough she tends to cook a lot, especially when she has the whole family to feed. Knowing that the left over meat would not be eaten I took it home for a few more meals.
First up… a kind of curry with a Moroccan twist? (Okay I improvised and as the cupboards were fairly bare I threw in what I had to hand). Onion and garlic are always a good starting point, followed by tomatoes, carrots, herbs from the garden, tin of tomatoes, spices, raisins and ground almond…. I am a bit of a chuck it in and see what happens cook! It smelled good enough to draw them to the table… and I served it with a bowl of couscous.
I was a bit nervous serving this one up, waiting for a litany of complaints but SURPRISE! SURPRISE! they all loved it! Every scrap eaten. I was one smug mama sitting at a silent table of busy eaters!
As I said, my Mum cooks for an army when she has the whole clan together so despite last nights dinner, there was still plenty of lamb left over! “Waste not want not” as they say so the family was subjected to another round of lamb left overs. This time disguised as a stir fry, served with noodles.
Sit fries are common enough around here, usually with prawns or chicken but I thought I was fairly safe with this one. Not so! Perhaps one lamb dish too many, this one went down with mixed reviews, and a fair bit of picking the “I don’t like this” bits out.
It was the Easter holidays and I still had not done the big weekly shop so I decided to limp along through the rest of the week on what we had around the kitchen. The chickens were all back laying so we had a good supply of eggs… a Tortilla was on the cards for Wednesday night.
Served with broccoli and smoked salmon (for the egg hating family member) this was another hit. Happy diners all around and clear plates at the end of the meal. Another smug mama moment.
As a rare and very special treat my hubby and I dined out on Thursday night so the kids were fed pasta with sauce and bruchetta and the adults ate this:
After a little stroll around Galway City we settled on a lovely little tapas restaurant (Lunares) for dinner and it didn’t disappoint! We got three tapas between us: potatoes with chorizo and a fried egg, prawns in garlic and chili and a chicken dish, marinated in wine. All washed down with a lovely glass of Tempranillo! The food, ambiance and service were excellent. The taste of the food was made all the nicer by the fact that I did not have to cook it or do the wash up after!
Friday night is pizza night in our house… without fail! On a good night the toppings are all gourmet and there are accompaniments such as chips and a lovely salsa, on a bad night it is sauce from a jar with a sprinkle of cheese. This Friday night fell somewhere in between… the sauce was homemade roasted vegetable but the toppings were basic enough (salami and olives with a sprinkle of blue cheese for the more adventurous) and there was no chips or salsa.
Each pizza has to be made to the personal preference of each family member, some like small thick bases, other prefer them large and wafer thin. Regardless of how they like them, they all eat them without complaint which always makes the little bit of effort worthwhile.
Still no shopping done but a rummage in the freezer revealed a pack of fish fingers so we were in business. Served with homemade oven chips and yet more broccoli and everyone was happy.
Simple, basic but no complaints… that is good enough for me!
We started the day well, with a big grill and homemade smoothies but the weather drew us outside for the day and after plenty of adventures and work in the garden, a lovely neighbour dropped us in a lemon drizzle cake. I hadn’t even started dinner but it was one of those rare moments when you just go with the flow and five hungry people tucked into a delicious lemon drizzle cake… and ate the lot. After that there was not much point in making a dinner really so I waited another hour or two until everyone was hungry enough and it was a kind of “eat what you want” meal (not very good mothering there I know). There was beans on toast for one, ryvita and cheese for another, sandwiches, fruit…. and even pancakes for one lucky boy !
A real medley of a meal and not very healthy, I’ll admit, but a nice way to round off the last day of the Easter holidays.
So that is our week of dinners, what did you have?
This egg experiment is a new take on an old favourite. We have made bouncy eggs before, we even made them fluorescent! This year we decided to add more colour.
This is a really simple experiment, you probably have everything you need already in your kitchen and it is guaranteed to entertain both the young and the young at heart!
You will need:
Clear malt vinegar, a glass or cup, a whole raw egg, food colouring
What to do:
Place the raw egg in the glass and cover with vinegar, making sure the egg is completely covered.
Leave overnight or up to 48 hours if necessary.
After this time, remove the egg carefully and rinse it in a bowl of water.
The vinegar will have dissolved all the shell of the egg, leaving just the egg membrane keeping the structure together. The “naked” egg will be soft and bouncy and a little delicate so do be carefully when washing any remaining shell off.
Next place the egg into an empty glass and cover with water, add at least two teaspoons of your chosen food colouring (we used red here) and leave overnight again.
The next day carefully remove the egg from the coloured water, rinse and pat dry (you may find your fingers will get a little stained from the food colouring but it will wash off).
Now you have a coloured, bouncy egg, but be carefully when you bouncy it…
What has happened:
When the egg is in the vinegar you will notice some bubbles forming and eventually a foam will appear at the surface of the vinegar. The eggshell is made up of calcium carbonate. The vinegar (an acid) reacts with the calcium carbonate (a base) producing a salt and a gas called carbon dioxide (these are the bubbles you see). The vinegar will keep reacting with the calcium carbonate until it is all gone, leaving the egg contained in just the cell membrane.
A delicate, but bouncy egg.
When the egg is then placed in coloured water the water will travel into the egg by a process called osmosis. The egg will swell a little with the extra water.
I hope you have fun with this one, and please do let us know if you try it out. We are currently repeating the experiment as my Junior Scientists want to see the eggs with different colours… we will keep you posted!
I had great fun preparing for the third, and final part of this blog series. It is all well and good discussing the merits, scientific and otherwise, of using vegetables in your baking, but as a truly dedicated scientist I realised a little R & D was also required. Time to don the apron and turn on the oven, but which recipes to choose? I am very keen to try Dee’s Beetroot Chocolate Cake from which these blogs were inspired but I wanted to introduce some other vegetables for this blog. When I posed the questioned through social media I was delighted with the number and variety of recipes recommended. I needed to choose my parameters and narrow down my study field.
I started to ask the question… “what vegetable would really convince you?”
Most people are familiar with the carrot cake and enjoy it as a bone fida cake, so carrots were already out there. This, in my opinion, excluded the parsnip too and many other vegetables that are known to be high in sugar content. Someone mentioned the potato and it seemed like a very good starting point to me… its high starch content makes it an obvious substitute for flour in baking, but in my head it still belonged on my dinner plate along with bacon and cabbage. It was easy to find a recipe using potatoes in cakes and I chose to try some mini chocolate cupcakes.
My husband said if I managed to bake a tasty cake containing green leafy vegetables it would definitely convince him. I had to admit he made a good point. Green leafy vegetables are not known for their sweetness and definitely not what I would be reaching for when creating a sweet treat. Not one to shy away from the challenge I decided that a spinach cake was next on the list.
I liked these choices, but for me there was one vegetable missing. My ultimately convincer would be a tasty cake containing mushrooms! (I know, I know these are not technically speaking vegetables, but if you refer back to the first blog in this series, I did say I would be including it too!) .
I do love the taste of mushrooms but, try as I might, I could not imagine the taste of a sweet mushroom cake. My brain just could not compute that one… or else I felt a bit queasy every time I tried too. So mushroom cake just had to go on the list.
That was my three vegetables picked, so I got down to some baking… with a few little chefs eager to help!
Once the baking was finished I had plenty of taste testers to give their verdict, friends, neighbours… and especially family! Along with the recipes that I share below, I have also included the feedback and opinions I received. At the end of this blog I share some tips and advice suggested by others along with some other vegetable cakes that I didn’t get around to trying yet.
My most enthusiastic Taste Testers….
Potato Chocolate Mini Cupcakes
Here is the original recipe for those who prefer these measurements. Personally, I still like to work in kg/g (or lbs/oz) so I have converted the measurements and share them below…
For the Cupcake:
60g butter (at room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg (room temperature)
60g mashed potato (cool and unseasoned)
3 tbsp milk
80g plain flour
3 tbsp cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
For the Ganache:
120 ml cream
1 tbsp butter (room temperature)
100g dark chocolate
Preheat the oven to 190oC and place mini cupcake liners in cupcake tray.
Beat the butter and sugar together until light in colour.
While still mixing add the egg, vanilla and mashed potato and beat until smooth.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a separate bowl and then add to the butter mixture.
Stir until evenly combined.
Spoon batter into miffin cups, filling each about half full.
Bake for 10 – 12 minutes.
Allow cupcakes to cool completely, in the tray, before adding the ganache.
To prepare the ganache, warm the cream and butter over a low heat until just below simmer.
break the chocolate into small pieces in a heat proof bowl.
Pour the heated cream/butter mixture over the chocolate and allow to leave for one minute to allow the chocolate to melt.
Whisk until smooth and pour over the cupcakes.
Add desired sprinkles or toppings of using.
Allow to cool completely before serving.
The potato provides us with Vitamins A, B and C, Potassium, Calcium and IronThe Results and feedback:
These mini cupcakes turned out well. The potato gave them a nice texture but there was no taste of the vegetable at all. No one was able to guess the mystery vegetable ingredient!
Although I liked these cupcakes and they kids did too, giving them a six out of ten, I felt that the ganache was a bit too strong for my liking and some others agreed. If doing this one again I would maybe change the dark chocolate for milk or change the topping entirely. The cupcakes taste good on their own, light and moist too.
I thought I would find it difficult to source a Spinach cake recipe but it turns out it is a traditional Turkish cake. I based this cake on this original recipe.
180 ml Olive Oil (preferably Extra Virgin)
2 tbsp Lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180oC.
Wash the spinach and remove any large stalks.
Add spinach, olive oil, vanilla and lemon juice to bowl or blender and blend until pureed.
In a separate bowl beat the eggs and sugar together until light and creamy.
Add the spinach puree to the beated egg and sugar and mix well.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into another bowl, make a well in the centre and add the egg/spinach mix.
Fold together until uniform.
Pour into a greased pyrex dish or into prepared cupcake liners – I made one loaf (5 X 9 inch) and six cupcakes from this mixture.
Bake at 180oC for 30 minutes (20 minutes for cupcakes).
Allow to cool before removing from baking tin.
Tastes good served with whipped cream!
The results and feedback:
This one was a BIG hit!!! I called it “Kermit Cake” when offering it to the kids and they could not guess that it was made of Spinach. More importantly, it did not put them off when they found out! My seven year old wouldn’t usually eat spinach if his life depended on it but he could not get enough of this cake. All three kids gave it ten out of ten and it was popular with adults too. One person guessed the mystery vegetable ingredient, which surprised me as I could not detect it at all!
I would definitely bake this cake again!
Spinach is full of vitamins (A, B, C, E and K) as well as Iron
Next up was the mushroom cake, I had my doubts about this one and originally considered adapting a recipe for rhubarb muffins but then Dee pointed me to this recipe she had found.
125g butter (at room temperature)
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
2 large eggs
240g wholemeal flour
120 ml milk
400g button mushrooms, washed, dried and grated
75g chopped walnuts
2 tbsp honey
Preheat the oven to 180oC and grease and line 20cm springform cake tin.
Place butter and sugar in a bowl and beat until light and pale.
Add one egg at a time and mix well between additions.
Add the flour and milk, in small amounts, keeping the mixer on a low setting, and ensure each addition is well mixed in before adding the next (i.e. add flour, then mix, then milk, mix, flour again etc).
Add the mushrooms and mix well.
Add the chopped walnuts and honey and mix until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.
Pour batter into prepared tin and tap base to remove any air bubbles.
Pop in the oven and bake for one hour.
Turn off the oven and allow cake to cool gradually with oven door ajar.
Once cake is cool remove from baking tin.
Results and feedback:
This was a very dense, moist cake and despite me leaving it in the oven for extra time, there was no denying the taste of mushrooms! Not a cake I would be reaching for again and the feedback overall was similar. The mushroom taste was too strong and put most people off.
Disappointing! I let this one mull around in my head for a few days but then decided to give it one more try. This time I would go back to my original idea and try to incorporate mushrooms in place of rhubarb in my favourite breakfast muffin recipe.
The original recipe comes from Nigella Lawson’s wonderful book Feasts but I have modified it quite a bit at this stage.
Mushroom Breakfast Muffins
250g soft brown sugar
80 ml vegetable oil (I usually use sunflower oil)
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
250 ml buttermilk
150g mushrooms, washed, dried and grated
75g chopped walnuts
200g wholemeal flour
100g plain flour
50g milled seeds (such as linseed/sunflower)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)
Topping: mix 2 tbsp on Demerara sugar with 1 tsp on ground cinnamon.
Preheat the oven to 180oC and place liners in the muffin tray.
In one bowl mix the sugar, oil, egg, vanilla and buttermilk.
Stir in the grated mushroom and chopped walnuts.
Add the wholemeal and plain flour, milled seeds, baking powder and bread soda.
Fold these into the mixture with the minimum amount of mixing.
Spoon into prepared muffin liners and sprinkles with the cinnamon and sugar mixture.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes.
Result and feedback:
This time it was a winner. These muffins were as delicious (or almost) as their rhubarb cousins but with no taste at all of mushroom! The texture and moistness were just right. They were a hit with anyone who tried them and no one guessed the mystery ingredient this time!
Mushrooms contains all five B Vitamins as well as essential minerals and Selenium
Suggestions and tips:
As I mentioned, there were a lot more vegetable cakes I could have tried. I did actually also try a Chocolate and Aubergine Cake (gluten free) that Aedin from FreeFromGuru had previously shared with me and brought the cake to a gluten free barbecue where it proved very popular… again no taste of aubergine. Unfortunately I deleted the photos of the cake but you can check out the recipe here.
I really enjoyed trying out the recipes for this blog …and tasting them. The feedback from all my taste testers was very promising. This experiment has really changed the way I think about vegetables and YES I am converted to the concept of using vegetables in my baking. Now I am reviewing my favourite recipes, wondering how I can incorporate various veggies.
The things that pleased me most about all this are…
my children happily eating a spinach cake!
surprising myself with a cake that contained mushrooms… and tasted GOOD!
the enthusiasm and feedback that everyone gave in response to the idea of vegetables in baking!
I hope you have enjoyed this series on vegetables in baking and would consider giving it a go. If you have any comments or suggestions, or if you have some recipes to share please drop me a line in the comments below… I would love to hear what you think!
Last week’s blog post sparked a lot of discussion and debate on the topic of vegetables in (sweet) baking. It seems that everybody has an opinion, some are surprised with the idea, some are keen to try it and many already have and offered some great recipes. I have really enjoyed baking with various vegetables myself… and seeing the response of my taste testers, but more of that next week…. this week I promised to discuss how vegetables contribute more than just sweetness to the baking.
What else is there?
Last week I mentioned that vegetables contain starch. Wheat flour typically used in baking contains up to 75% starch. Many vegetables such as potatoes, peas, corn and squash have a high starch content also. It is a grainy substance contained within the plant cells.
So what does starch contribute to baking ?
Starch is referred to as a complex carbohydrate. The carbohydrate bit means it is made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The complex part means that the structure of starch is a long chain of these carbohydrates molecules all linked together in a chain. The carbohydrate is starch is the sugar glucose and starch is composed of a chain of hundreds of glucose molecules.
Starch is typically tasteless and odourless, its contribution in baking is a structural rather than flavoursome one. In the presence of heat and moisture starch granules will begin to swell and thicken. These swollen starch complexes form a scaffolding like network within the mix. When gluten is present it breaks down with heat and the starch absorbs the water it releases making the gluten dry and rigid, strengthening the structure even further. This starch-gluten structure gives baking its texture and rigidity and allows it to keep its shape once out of the oven.
When vegetables are used in baking the amount of flour required is reduced. This substitution of a natural starch in place of a refined one not only makes for a lighter, less stodgy cake, it also improves the nutritional content. Vegetables are packed full of vitamins, minerals and fibre. These all contribute to the positive health of our skin, hair, digestive system, mood, cholesterol levels and brain power.
What about a bit of water?
Vegetables also have a high water content which can contribute to the moistness of the cake. The baking process allows the water to be contained within the cake as well as helping to retain the vitamins and minerals. Vegetables with a high water content include courgettes, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, peas and aubergines. This added moisture also keeps the cake fresher for longer, meaning it can be enjoyed over several days without drying out …. that’s if it lasts that long of course.
Adding vegetables to baking changes the texture of the final product. As I mentioned last week, vegetables contain fairly high levels of cellulose, a fibre. In fact cellulose makes up about one third of all vegetables. This cellulose serves a structural role in the plant cells, along with smaller polysaccharides called hemicellulose. The presence of both of these greatly changes the texture of the cake. The cellulose is broken down, in part, during the baking process and this also contributes to the structure (rising) of the cake. However, cellulose still maintains a crystalline structure at the high temperatures typical of baking, and these granules directly contribute to the texture of the cake. Studies have shown that smaller granules of cellulose can yield more favourable rising of bread and other baking allowing for a lighter consistency.
Beetroot gives a lovely texture to Dee’s Chocolate cake!
The final word
So there you have it… not only do vegetables contribute a lovely sweetness to baking but they play a major part in the structure, moisture and texture of the cake. Surely you must be convinced by now? If not make sure to check back next week for the final part of this blog series when I will be sharing some recipes I have tested and the response they have received.
Tune in next week for Part 3 of the series where I will be sharing lots of recipes and letting you know what people thought.
In the mean time… if you have any comments, tips or experience to share please leave a comment below; I always love to hear from you and will be sure to reply!
Now that I have entered the world of blogging I enjoy reading other blogs as much as I do writing and researching this one. I have some favourites that I check in to regularly as a little treat; chief among them is the Greenside Up blog! Written by the lovely Dee Sewell, this blog brings together garden, community and kitchen, always with a refreshing, informative and jovial note! Last week was no exception as Dee shared a recipe for Beetroot Chocolate cake. The post not only extended my baking “to do list” but also posed the question…
“Why do vegetable work so well in baking?”
The concept is fairly new to most of us (although we are all familiar with the carrot cake) but is growing in popularity. With good reason too, it seems. Tempted, or completely put off by the idea?… I have prepared a short series of blogs to explain a little of the science behind the concept and hopefully to convince you to give it a go!
In this first blog I will look at the sugar content of vegetables and how it contributes to the flavours in the baking.
Firstly, what defines a vegetable?
We can be a little more specific when defining a fruit as its botanical definition is the ovary of the flowering part of the plant; to put this more simply it is any fleshy material covering the seed, or seeds, of a plant. In general people tend to define a vegetable as a plant used in savory meals and a fruit as a sweet option.This is a tricky one as there is no real scientific definition of a vegetable. Although there are some generally held guidelines these too vary depending on the classification, criteria used and even the Country you live in. The most common definition of a vegetable is a plant grown for culinary use.
So far, so good, right? However you don’t have to look too long to find that the lines are very blurred …. for example, in the botanical sense courgettes, tomatoes, pumpkins, squashes and avocados are actually fruit. Then there is the question of whether mushrooms are vegetables (technically speaking they are not plants but fungi); and what about potatoes? Due to their high starch (carbohydrate) content they are grouped with rice, bread and pasta and are not included as one of our “five a day”.
So the truth of the matter is I cannot actually define a vegetable for you. All I can say is that, for the purpose of this blog, I am going to lump all these in together as vegetables…. potato, tomato, courgette, even the mushroom (although as a scientist that one grates on me a little)!
Why use vegetables in (sweet) baking?
We all enjoy a nice baked cake now and again and naturally associate the sweetness of fruit with the sweet treat. No one needs to be persuaded of the virtues of a lovely homemade apple tart! The key to adding fruit is, primarily, to exploit and enjoy the sugar contained within. When we think of vegetables we tend to think of a more savory dish, however vegetables do contain sugars as well as fruit, and some in quite significant amounts. Some of the sweetest vegetables include carrots, beets, peppers, potatoes, peas and corn. Just to give you an idea….carrots contain approximately 4 grams (g) of sugar per 100 g, while beetroot contains up to 8 g per 100 g. Compare this to an apple that comes in about 10 g sugar per 100 g or a strawberry, about 4.5 g per 100 g. We begin to understand why Dee’s Beetroot Chocolate Cake was so well received by her family!
What sugars do we find in vegetables?
Now we begin to realise the extent of sugars present in many vegetables, but what kind of sugars are they?
Another sugar found naturally in vegetables is Sucrose, what we know as common table salt. Sucrose is made up of the two sugars glucose and fructose. Most plants make sugar through the process of photosynthesis. Vegetables make a simple sugar called glucose in this manner. Glucose is a single sugar molecule that is the ultimate energy fuel for our brain and body.
Long chains of glucose form the polysaccharide known as starch. The longer a vegetable is left on the plant the more likely it is to convert its glucose into starch for storage purposes. We are able to consume this starch and break it back down into its glucose molecules.
Finally, vegetables also contain sugar in the form of fibre, known as cellulose. We do not metabolise cellulose very well and do not absorb the component sugars into our bodies. Fibre is a necessary part of our diet though and helps us to maintain a healthy digestive system and a balance of good bacteria within our intestine.
The Maillard reaction
So why do we consider vegetables a more savory dish if they are so full of sugar? The answer lies in the way we cook them. Firstly we need to understand a little of the science behind the process.
I have talked about the Maillard reaction in a previous blog, but feel it needs another mention here as it is primary to the discussion of baking, vegetables and sugar! The Maillard reaction was developed in 1912 and is named after the French Scientist who first proposed it! Basically it says that when you mix sugar and amino acids (protein) at high temperatures they react to form a variety of different flavours and aromas.
When we add vegetables to our baking the high temperatures of the oven allow the aldehyde group of the simple sugars found in the vegetables to react with the amino (nitrogen) group of the proteins present in the mix to create a variety of pleasant tasting compounds.
When we boil or steam vegetables the heat and moisture do not lend themselves to the browning/sweetening reaction described by Maillard, therefore they have a much more savory taste. If you need a little convincing just try a little experiment of your own…. prepare a vegetable such as carrot, beet, squash or pepper in two ways… boil one lot and roast the other. A quick taste test should convince you what Maillard was talking about, even if the Science is a little baffling, even to the Scientists!
Tune in next week when I will discuss how vegetables contribute to the texture of baking, while Part 3 of the series will be the “proof in the pudding” blog with lots of tasty recipes to try.
In the mean time… if you have any comments, tips or experience to share please leave a comment below; I always love to hear from you and will be sure to reply!
I spent a lovely evening down at my local school yesterday. As part of a community initiative we had a series of workshops given by local parents – it was my turn last night.
I decided to do my workshop on lavender, my most favourite plant and the pride and joy of my garden (and by garden I am referring to the overgrown wilderness that currently exists around my house).
Why do I like lavender so much? Apart from the beautiful colour, delicate flower and amazing aroma I like it because there are so many things you can DO with it!I admit I only tend to be drawn to plants that have a function or use to me! That is probably why I like my herbs so much (they appeal to the green witch within).
Lavender fulfills the criteria for functional plant in more ways that I can count! Culinary, cosmetic, medicinal and ornamental… it has it all. I thought I would share some of the recipes and uses I have come across for lavender and look into a little bit of the science behind the plant.
A look at the plant
Lavender (Lavandula) is a genus comprising almost 40 different species of plant. It belongs to the mint family, Lamiaceae. The name Lavender comes from the Latin word lavare meaning to wash, a reference to the fondness of the Romans for use of the herb in their baths. The plant appears often in historical reference, being used in ancient Egypt as part of the embalming process.
The lavender plant is a shrub like plant that is native to the Mediterranean and many parts of Africa and Asia. The size of the plant varies between species but is typically between 30 to 90 cm. The common colour of the flowers are the classic “lavender” colour but the range can vary from white to pink to blues to purples. The plant is grown commercially to harvest it’s flowers. It is the small hairs or spikes on the plant, located between the petals and the stem that produce the oil that give the lavender its lovely scent. This oil is distilled to produce lavender essential oil.
Lavender essential oil is used in perfumes, cosmetics, clinical applications and aromatherapy. Different plants are favoured for different scents or different active components. The most common essential oil is extracted from Common or English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) but other species such as lavender stoechas (Lavandula stoechas), spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia) and lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia)are also used.
Lavender has been used for years as a calming agent and a means to reduce stress and anxiety and enhance restfull sleep. As well as using essential oils for these remedies, the dried flowers, tincture and teas may also be used.
Studies have shown that lavender does have a mild sedative effect and both men and women exposed to lavender essential oils at night time showed an increase in deep or slow wave sleep (SWS) resulting in more enegry the following morning. They also showed an increase in light sleep (stage 2) and a decrease in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.
Lavender aromatherapy treatment has also been shown to result in a measurable decrease in stress levels, and is associated with a decrease in anxiety and stress related headaches.
Antibacterial, antifungal and anti inflammatory
Lavender oil was commonly used in hospitals in recent history because of its associated antibacterial properties. It was also used in the treatment of cuts, wounds and burns. There are plenty of studies confirming the antibacterial properties of lavender, particularly lavender essential oils.
Lavender oils have also shown a significant effect on decreasing the growth of a number of fungi associated with common skin and nail infections. It has also possible applications in the treatment of sinusitis. The antifungal and antibacterial properties of lavender have made it useful in the treatment of skin conditions such as eczema and acne.
Studies confirming the anti inflammatory nature of lavender reinforce its associate with healing allergies, rhinitis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, burns and general swellings.
Side effects or areas of caution
Some people have reported an adverse effect when using products containing lavender, most notably skin reaction and irritation when lavender essential oil is rubbed directly into the skin.
Exposure to lavender in strong concentrations has also been linked in some people to side-effects including headaches, nausea and irritability.
A study published in 2007 suggested a strong link between prepubertal gynecomastia (benign male breast development) and the use of products containing lavender and tea tree oils.
It is usually recommended that pregnant and breast feeding women avoid the use of lavender oil due to a lack of evidence supporting it’s safety at these stages.
Cosmetic applications of Lavender
Lavender is used in a variety of cosmetics such as soaps, bath products, cleansers, toners, hair products, moisturisers and creams. It is added to these products for a variety of reasons… for its scent, antiseptic and antibiotic properties, to relax and soothe and to ease swelling and inflammatory pain.
How to harvest and dry Lavender
The ideal time to harvest your lavender is when the flowers have their true colour and are just beginning to open. Cut at least 10 to 15 cm below the flower. Gather the cut lavender together in small bunches and secure with an elastic band or equivalent. Hang the bunches upside down in a dry, well aired space (away from direct sunlight) for two to three weeks, until the flowers are completely dry.
Once the flowers are dry they may be used in a variety of ways. If you want to remove the dried flowers from the stem hold thestem over a large bowl and gently rub the flowers with your fingers and the flowers should fall off easily. This is a great activity to do while watching tv or chatting as it is time consuming to harvest the flowers from a large bunch of dired lavender (but a very pleasant task).
Make your own Lavender bath bombs
The original recipe is from James Wong’s book “Grow your own Drugs” . I have made some minor modifications;
1 – 2 teaspoons dried lavender flowers
1 tablespoon citric acid
3 tablespoons bicarbonate of soda (bread soda)
5 drops lavender essential oil
2 teaspoons sunflower oil (or other vegetable oil)
Combine all the ingredients together in a dry bowl. Add more or less sunflower oil as required, you want to get a consistency of damp sand. Rub the inside of a cookie cutter with some sunflower oil and place it on some grease proof paper. Pack the bath bomb mixture into the cookie cutter, pressing down firmly to ensure it is tightly packed. Leave in a dry place overnight to allow the sunflower oil to evaporate off and the bath bomb to dry hard. Gentle push the dried bath bomb out of the cookie cutter, wrap in cling film or tinfoil
and store in a dry place.
When you are ready to use your bath bomb just pop it into your bath and watch it fizz away releasing the little lavender flowers and the lovely scent of lavender. The fizzing is due to the reaction between the citric acid (acid) and the bread soda (base/alkaline) once water is added, producing bubbles of carbon dioxide gas.
Make your own Lavender oil
To make your own lavender oil fill a clean, dry, seal able container with dried lavender flowers and then cover with sunflower oil (or another vegetable oil). Seal the container and place in a dry place for at least two weeks, shaking once or twice a day. The length of tine you leave it determines the strength of the smell of lavender in the resulting oil.After two weeks strain the oil through muslin or a fine sieve into a clean dry container or bottle and seal. This oil can be applied directly to the skin or added to bath water.
Some Culinary uses of Lavender
Apart from the medicinal, cosmetic and ornamental applications of lavender, it is also great as a flavour in our foods. The flowers are often added to sugar to give it that delicate lavender taste. The preference in our house when it comes to combining lavender and sugar is to make lavender syrup….
250 ml water
3 tablespoons of dried lavender flowers (or fresh flowers)
350 to 400 g sugar
Place the lavender and water into a saucepan and place on a medium, heat to a simmer and leave for five minutes. Add the sugar and stir continuously until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool then transfer to a suitable container, cover and refrigerate for two to three days.
Strain through a fine sieve or muslin into a sterilized container, seal and store in the fridge for up to three weeks.
It never lasts more than a few days in our house though as the kids just love it poured over a warm fresh batch of drop scones.
On the subject of refreshments I thought I would share two recipes… one for the children and one for the adults.Lavender syrup can be used much like honey or maple syrup, as well as on pancakes it is great over ice cream or used to sweeten drinks and cocktails.
Children first, while hit by complete lavender fever we decided the ideal drink for the kids would be an adaptation of my mother in laws wonderful lemonade recipe…
1 pint of water
8 oz of sugar ( approx. 200g )
zest from three lemons
3 tablespoons of dried lavender flowers
Add water, lemon zest and lavender to small pot and place over medium heat; allow to simmer for five minutes then add the sugar and still until dissolved.
Remove from the heat and add …
the juice of three lemons
Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature and then strain through a sieve. Serve chilled and dilute to taste (about one part lemonade to two parts water).
There are a number of cocktails that work well with lavender, vodka, martini and gin seem to be the alcohol base among the most common. I decided to seek expert advice and so I asked fellow Galwegian and Sunday Times Food Columist Mona Wise (@WiseMona) for her suggestion. Mona recommended adapting a French 75, substituting the sugar or syrup for lavender syrup. As this cocktail is made with Gin and Prosecco I did not need any persuading to try it out.
Here is a recipe …
2 parts gin
1 part lavender syrup
1 part fresh lemon juice
Prosecco (or sparkling tonic if preferred)
Combine the gin, lavender syrup and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, shake well and then strain. Add to glass and then top up with prosecco.
Garnish with a sprig of lavender.
I am really looking forward to experimenting with this recipe again this weekend, I have a group of close friends coming over tomorrow night and I think this will make an impressive aperitif!
For those looking for a non-alcoholic lavender drink I can highly recommend lavender tea. I usually use one teaspoon of dried lavender to one cup of boiled water and allow to sit for five minutes. I can vouch for its effect for inducing a really good nights sleep.
I have never grown lavender from seed before but I think that will change now – I am keen to try out all the seeds in the collection. It is on my “Lavender List” for this year. I also want to make lavender soap and some other lavender cosmetics, as well as try my hand at making lavender wands and lavender icecream but I think that will be a blog for another day!
I do not use any chemicals on, or near my Lavender; the suggested uses and recipes given within this blog are recommended for chemical-free lavender, it is a good idea to either use your own home grown lavender that you know if “free-from” or buy from an organic and/or reputable source.
I was going to include the attractiveness of lavender to certain insects, particularly bees. I think that would make a whole blog within itself so I have left that for another day. However, as pointed out to me by @unusual_plants, we need to be very aware of any products we use with our home grown lavender, in the interest of our little buzzing buddies. This includes checking the content of the compost you may choose to plant your lavender in as they may still contain such bee threatening compounds as neonicotinoids!
If you enjoyed this blog, tried some of the suggestions or have any questions please leave me a message in the comments below!
The other day I was standing in my kitchen when I heard a little snigger from behind me. You know someone is up to mischief before you even turn around…and they were! My little three year old had a block of butter in one hand and a spoon in the other and he was ready to dive right in….
……………………………”MAMMY, CAN I HAVE SOME BUTTER?!
I am probably about to unleash a tirade of abuse when I reveal my reaction to the request…I walked over, dug the spoon into the butter and presented it to my happy child. I then removed the butter – job done. In my mind a win-win situation. I believe there can be benefits to feeding a spoon of butter to a growing child now and then! My mother in law reared nine children and she wisely observed that each went through a stage in their younger years of literally craving butter. She believed they were following their instinct for necessary saturated fats, required for their rapidly developing brains and nervous system – and I am in her camp!
FIRST, A BIT OF HISTORY
Butter making in Ireland goes back thousands of years and was originally performed by women who herded and milked the cattle on higher pastures in the Summer. As time progressed milk production evolved techniques to enhance preservation, such as adding large quantities of salt and burying the butter in bogs (due to the turfs antiseptic properties).
I have always had the opinion that we should aim for the more natural source of a food, the least processed the better. Following this gut instinct I have always chosen butter over margarine or spreads. Before I get into the fat and cholesterol issues let’s look at what else can be found in our pound (or 454 g for all the metric people) of butter….
Butter contains the fat soluble vitamins A, E, K and D.
Vitamin A is required for healthy body growth and development, for maintenance of a healthy immune system and for good vision. It also acts as an antioxidant, but how much is really in butter? One teaspoon of butter will provide about 2 percent of your RDA (recommended daily allowance) of Vitamin A.
Vitamin E is another good antioxidant and also contributes to healthy skin, hair, nails. One teaspoon of butter contains approximately 0.7 percent RDA.
The primary role of Vitamin K in the body is to assist in the correct clotting of blood, without it we cannot seal and heal wounds. There is about 0.3 percent RDA of Vitamin K in a teaspoon of butter.
Vitamin D plays an important role in the absorption of calcium and phosphate within the body, thereby required for healthy bones.
While some of these levels of vitamins are low, they are fat soluble vitamins and are therefore more easily absorbed into our bodies due to presence of fat within the butter.
Butter contains the water soluble vitamins B and C
Low levels of B Vitamins and Vitamin C are found in butter.
Butter contains Minerals and trace elements
Butter contains Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Potassium and Iodine, all essential for healthy bodily function and immune system; Butter also contains trace elements such as selenium which is a natural antioxidant.
BUTTER VERSES MARGARINE
Most of the butter found on Irish tables is typically made from just one natural ingredient – cow’s milk. It is made from churning fresh or fermented milk or cream. The Vitamins and Minerals found in butter are naturally present (although these may sometimes be added during production). Butter usually contains salt.
Butter is high in saturated fats (often associated with cardiovascular disease).
Margarine is made from a number of ingredients, the base ingredient is typically a plant oil. These oils contain a lot more poly unsaturated fats than butter. However in order to make the product solid a small amount of saturated fats are introduced. The processing of margarine and the introduction of saturated fats requires high temperatures which create additional unwanted fats… called trans fats. Vitamins and Minerals are often added to the margarine during manufacture. Additional colouring is also added, otherwise the margarine would be grey!
SO WHAT ARE ALL THESE DIFFERENT TYPES OF FATS?
Saturated fats, Polyunsaturated fats, Trans fats…. what does it all mean. Basically saturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats are made of of the same things, put together in a slightly different way.
Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature and are found in animal derived products, such as butter, milk, cheese and meat. There are also some vegetable fats that are high in saturated fats, usually tropical oils such as coconut oil, palm oil and cocoa butter.
Polyunsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature and are found in larger qualities in vegetable and plant oils, some nuts and cold water fatty fish.
Trans fats are sometimes found naturally in trace amounts but the larger amount in our diets comes from processing of polyunsaturated fats. Partial hydrogenation of these fats results in the production of trans fats. Consumption of artificially produced Trans fats have been connected with an increased risk of hearth disease. Trans fats present naturally in ruminant animals may actually have health benefits and are not directly linked to the negative effects on health associated with their industrial counterparts.
CHOLESTEROL … LDL AND HDL, WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?
These days cholesterol is thought of as a dirty word, but it is not all bad. Cholesterol is an essential fat and plays an important role in maintaining a healthy body. Some cholesterol we get from our diet and some is made in our livers.
Cholesterol cannot move around the body on its own, it need to be transported through the bloodstream by carriers called lipoproteins. The lipoproteins we hear about most often are LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein).
LDL transports cholesterol around the body using the bloodstream as its highway. However, when we have too much cholesterol the LDL starts depositing it in the arteries and these can build up and form blockages. This is why high levels of LDL cholesterol is considered a BAD thing.
HDL on the other hand goes around mopping up excess cholesterol and transports it back to the liver. This is why HDL cholesterol is considerd the GOOD guy!
DISPELLING A FEW MYTHS
Saturated fats are essential for healthy development and function of the body. A diet with sufficient saturated fats allows for a healthy immune system, blood cells, nervous system and brain function.
Image source: chriskresser.com
The first food we make for our babies – breast milk – contains more than 50% saturated fats… this really emphasizes the importance of saturated fats in the development of babies and young children. Our brains are made up of about 60% fat; this fat content includes polyunsaturated fats such as the Omegas (3 and 6) but the largest portion is saturated fats. We need saturated fats in our diet in order to maintain a healthy immune system: without it we deplete the ability of our white blood cells to recognise and destroy invading antigens such as viruses and bateria. So our need for saturated fats extends far beyond our early development, saturated fats are a constant requirement throughout life (they can even reduce the signs of aging by maintaining a healthy elasticity to our skin).
Our lungs need a thin layer of a lubricant, called a lung surfactant, within the air spaces, in order to function correctly and stay healthy. This surfactant is made up of 100% saturated fats.
Despite the fact that saturated fats in the diet have been linked with an increased risk of heart disease there is much evidence to the contrary. Saturated fats in the diet can actually increase levels of good cholesterol (HDL) that is used to mop up excess cholesterol, as explained above. Also, saturated fats within the diet have been shown to reduce the levels of a substance called lipoprotein (a) which is linked to an icreased risk of heart disease.
More and more studies are being conducted to examine the effect of saturated fats on our health and investigate the correlation between saturated fats and risk of heart disease. These studies are now reporting a diet containing significant levels of saturated fats is not directly related to an increased risk to cardiac disease. Some reports suggest a diet rich in saturated fats reduced a risk of heart disease while other suggest the issue may lie more with the consumption of large amounts of carbohydrates along with the saturated fats.
Recent studies conducted on a group of men in Australia examined the benefit of substituting saturated fats in the diet with unsaturated fats. All the men (458 men aged 30 – 59) in the study had suffered a recent coronary event. Results from these studies showed an increase in the risk of death from coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease in the group that substituted vegetable derived polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats in their diet.
MY FINAL WORD
You can tell from this blog that my fridge contains only butter (no margarine need apply); I should also point out that my family does not contain any dairy intolerant members! So butter it is…however I do acknowledge that butter can contain a lot of salt, that the fat content is very high and that, although made from one basic ingredient, the quality of that ingredient – cow’s milk – depends on the quality of the cow! How the cow is fed and treated naturally effects the butter produced. So, like anything else, we need to shop wisely, choose the food that meets our own standards as much as possible (be that reduced salt, organic etc) and keep to that age old recommendation…. EVERYTHING IN MODERATION!
Now, can someone please pass the butter…