Thursday, May 20, 2010

Vegetables and chickens

I have a huge vegetable garden. Actually, I have two. A small one just outside my back door where I grow herbs and some lettuces and also a very, very big one at the bottom of my garden. I have chickens too. Lucky, lucky me, to quote Lola (you know, from Charlie and Lola). I say it often when I stroll down there, basket in hand to go pick something for the dinner. It is not always easy to live in sunny South Africa and many of my friends and family have left for greener pastures. They are spread around the globe for various reasons, mostly the kind that makes the headlines: Crime, economic crisis, corruption.... All the things we would rather not speak of in a blog about food and pure indulgence. But for us the trade off is just not worth it. We love plants far too much. And space and blue skies and sunshine and African sunsets. But most of all, I love my vegetable garden and the kids just adore it too. So, we are here to stay!
The little ones and I have this little ritual in the late afternoon - feed the chickens and pick vegetables. All three of us just loose ourselves amongst the green leaves and blooms and promises of fresh vegetables. It is the best stress release, guaranteed.

Lemon Meringue Cupcakes and a stork party

I do not have a sweet tooth. Maybe that is a bit of an understatement. I bake a lot of cakes but seldom eat any of it. I'd much rather look at the happy eater's face than to try it myself. I can honestly not remember the last time I ate a sweet and will probably have to go back many years. It gives me goose bumps even to consider eating some artificially flavored jelly concoction. No, give me sour any day.
This little story may help to put it all into perspective. My mom secretly ate a lemon in class when she was still in school. Hunger pangs drove her to it, but she packed the lemon in the lunch box herself. The teacher caught her and he demanded she go to the front of the class to eat it. Little did he know that he would be the one screaming and running out of the class once she took a bite. The idea made him cringe and flee. But we also grew up eating lemons from the tree in the garden. And grenadillas. We used to stick our fingers in the cream of tartar jars for a treat. Hmmm, not sure I'll still do that anymore though. We love sour and my kids now eat lemons too.
Now back to the cupcakes. I was asked to do cupcakes for a friend's stork party with a french theme. Vanilla-vanilla made the cut off-course. But I also wanted to do something not so sweet, lemon meringue like and decided that these will fit the bill perfectly.

Luckily, these are very easy to bake and you can make the lemon curd in advance as it keeps well in a jar.

Lemon Curd (makes 2 jars)
Zest and juice of 2 lemons (unwaxed and washed)
85g butter, diced into small cubes
240g sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten

Put the butter, sugar and lemon juice and zest in a heat proof bowl on top of a pan with simmering water and gently heat until the sugar and butter have dissolved. Strain the eggs into the mixture and stir continuously until it thickens considerably. It takes around 20 minutes, so have patients. Pour into sterilized jars and store.
Note: I found that using my baby milk bottle sterilizer makes the job so much easier.

Cupcakes (makes 12)
125 g butter, softened
125 g sugar, castor
125g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp orange flower water
2 eggs
2 Tbs milk

Preheat the oven to 180C
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and process for around 2 minutes until well combined. Add more milk to achieve a smooth batter. Spoon into individual cupcake moulds and bake for 10-12 minutes. Let cool completely before icing.

3 egg whites, room temperature
85g castor sugar
85ml water

Combine all the ingredients in a heat proof bowl and beat for around one minute until frothy and opague. Sit the bowl on top of a heat proof bowl with just simmering water and continue to beat for another 7 minutes until soft peaks form.

To combine: Spoon small amount from the center of the cupcakes with a melon baller and fill the hole with a teaspoon of lemon curd and then replace the piece of cake. Top with a generous amount of icing and use a blow torch to brown the edges.