On New Years Eve at midnight we sat in Amy and Martin's backyard and watched fireworks, with a 41 degree day behind us and a cool change winding its way between us. Champagne in hands, we agreed that 2010 had been an asshole of a year. So we decided to celebrate its passing with homemade English muffins, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs the next morning. The muffins were so delicious that I couldn't be bothered persisting with the camera, so I took the picture below later in the afternoon when it was time for a snack; I took it at that time on New Years Day when the feelings of newness and promise begin to settle in, and your mind turns to getting down to it, or back onto it. Or whatever.
I'd been hoping to make these about 11 times a day recently, but kept running out of time. What a shame! I should have pushed harder, because on New Years Day we learned that homemade English muffins knock the pants off store-bought muffins. And using the first cookie-cutter I stumbled upon in my post-sangria haze resulted in smaller muffins than what you see in the shops: not mini, but petite, and perfectly sized so that you can eat two, instead of just one.
They're really easy to make, my friends! Yardena and Nicole can attest to this, as they sat at my kitchen bench watching me while we drank sorely-needed coffee. The muffin dough needs little kneading, and is enriched with milk, a little butter and an egg. After its first rise (of around 50 minutes) it is knocked back down, dusted in polenta and cut into the sweetest little puffy muffin shapes that were so cute we wanted to beat them up. Another 10 minutes later, they're ready to go and you toast them in a dry frying pan until browned. They're then finished in the oven for another 10 minutes or so and come out piping hot and begging to be split and spread with slightly salted butter. You should really make these.
It was a lovely day of eating and going to the cinema and feeling sleepy after the chaos of the last few weeks, but thankfully the last of its kind for a little while; the catch-up drinks, many meals out, celebratory drinks, sweet Christmas treats, BBQs, days of feasting and boxes of average chocolates all add up and suddenly you feel a bit blah. Or in my case, TOTALLY blah. You know what I mean right? This year I've decided to attack this by doing Bon Appetit magazine's Food-Lover's Cleanse. I came across it a couple of weeks ago and it looked perfect for me in a number of ways:
1. It uses the principles of detoxing and cleansing in a way that is relaxed but consistent; the foods are nutritious, there's limited dairy and some fish and a tiny bit of meat, limited wheat and no coffee or alcohol. It has been developed by a food-writer and registered dietician, so the focus is on flavour and healthfulness - not low and empty calorie foods.
2. It is (really!) fully of delicious-looking food made with lots of ingredients I already have. This is a big issue for many people who want to embark on a program with a planned menu: buying all the spices you don't normally use, more fish or particular (more expensive) cuts of meat and eating something different for every meal, every day, things really begin to add up. The other thing that is unusual and great about the Food-Lover's Cleanse is that it uses leftovers! Roasted vegetables form last night's dinner get reinvented as a salad for lunch the next day. One bigger batch of citrus salad dressing is used multiple times over a week. I like this! Of course any sort of new program will have you spending a little, but when a significant portion of your time, effort and money is spent on food anyway (as with me), this doesn't seem like a big deal.
3. On a related note, the recipes are highly cutomizable once you understand the types of food and guidelines for the cleanse. This means that the program can be adjusted for seasonal and budgetary constraints. Being in Australia means that we're in summer now, while the plan has been developed for people who can get their hands on winter fruit and vegetables. I'm going to change up what I need to and blog about those substitutions and tweaks here, with little notes on what worked particularly well and what I wouldn't try again.
4. It means I get to make a whole range of recipes I've never tried before - including some from Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook Plenty, that I've been wanting to get for ages (hopefully it will convince me to finally buy the book). Doing things like this usually means that I end up a couple of new recipes that can be thrown into the everyday rotation, which is always great.
I'll post on my progress and any deliciousness the plan puts me in contact with over the next two weeks. Join me if you like, or use me like a guinea pig and wait until I've tested the waters and come out on top (fingers crossed). So far, so good though. I'm writing this after eating a superb mushroom, onion and thyme omelet, drinking a cup of camomile tea. The sun is out and the caffeine withdrawal headaches haven't kicked in yet. I'm thinking about how lovely those muffins were yesterday, and about how great this year might be.
Homemade English muffins
From Gourmet Traveller 2010
1 tbsp dried yeast
pinch of caster sugar
60 ml lukewarm water
600 gm (or 4 cups) plain flour
1 1/4 cups milk, warmed
40 gm butter, melted
1 tsp kosher salt
Polenta or corn meal, for dusting
1. Combine yeast, sugar and lukewarm water in a bowl and whisk with a fork until combined. Stand until foamy (5 - 10 minutes).
2. Add flour, milk, eggs, butter and salt. Mix well to combine. Turn this onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth (between 3 and 5 minutes). Place dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and stand until doubled in size (40 - 50 minutes).
3. Preheat oven to 180C. Dust your work surface with polenta. Knock back the risen dough and press out or roll to around 1 cm thick. Cut out muffins using a 9 cm cutter (or a little smaller, if you want to make petite muffins like me), re-rolling scraps to make more. I got around 20 out of my batch. Set these aside to prove for 10 minutes or so.
4. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and toast muffins in batches until golden both sides (5 - 10 minutes). Transfer these to an oven tray and and bake, turning once, until cooked through and puffed (8 - 10 minutes).
Muffins are best eaten on day of making, but they can be toasted the following day, or frozen while fresh.