Chocolate (and vegetable) cupcakes.

I don’t really know what to say.

I’ll be the first to admit to being quite a fan of slipping legumes and vegetables into sweeties, so I was fairly stoked to find that this month’s Sweet Adventures Blog Hop theme is “Cake and Three Veg”. However this time, I may have developed a slightly crazed obsession and got a little bit freaky with my veg-sugar combinations.

It’s always nice to think that eating a cake could actually be providing you with nutritious goodies like iron and protein, not just sugar. In the past, I’ve experimented a lot with chickpeas, pumpkin and zucchini in cakes, and have come up with delightfully tasty results. As I sat, brainstorming ideas for this month’s little challenge, for some reason I became fixated on the idea that including just one vegetable would definitely not be enough. The result was this: Chocolate, bean and chard cupcakes with potato icing. I know. I’m still not sure whether this decision was a strange delusion or what, but I did it. The truth is that these are just the vegetables and legumes I happened to have in the kitchen and garden. Simple decision really.

I stealthily went about my baking, feeling terribly uncertain about what on earth I was doing. My dad walked past as I was finishing icing the last cake. He remarked that they looked good, and asked if he could have one. My response was something along the lines of, “Errr, yeah, you can if you like… but they might be a bit… weird. I don’t know. It’s up to you. I won’t mind of you hate them.”
Not exactly brimming with confidence, was I? Must work on that.

I was pleased that the feedback was positive, and that they were “good” and “chocolatey”. Relief. I chose not to tell him what was in them, out of fear that the rest wouldn’t be eaten.

And so, here is a piece of advice on serving sweet foods made of vegetables. Unless you have very adventurous friends, hold off telling people what’s hidden in your tasty creations until after they’ve tried it. In fact, it may not even be necessary to tell people at all. Though in the case of these cupcakes (which are pretty much a meal in themselves), a warning not to eat too many might be in order. You could even try serving them as a main+dessert combination, just to revel in the confusion that will follow.

There is just one problem. I know exactly what is in these cakes, and my head is putting up an extreme mental barrier to eating them. Healthy – yes. Chocolatey – yes. But there’s chard in them. I love chard, but my brain screams “not with chocolate!”. Never mind. I’ll just have to feed them to unsuspecting visitors*.

*To my friends, I promise I won’t trick you into eating any more vegetables unknowingly. Legumes, yes. Chard and potato, no.

Chocolate (and vegetable) cupcakes

Makes approx 15 cupcakes

Cake mix:
2 large leaves (or equivalent) of chard
230g cooked red kidney beans
2 tablespoons oil
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup cocoa

Icing:
320g potatoes
3/4 cup icing sugar
50g dark chocolate

(Note: if you’re piping the icing, you’ll need more than this, so scale it up a tad. But you should be right if you’re just spreading it on with a knife.)
Preheat the oven to 180C and line muffin pans with patty pans or other liners as you see fit. (I made some up out of squares of baking paper and brown wrapping paper. Suitably earthy, I thought, given the contents of these cakes.)

Blitz the chard in a food processor, then add beans, oil, sugar and water and whizz until you get a fairly smooth consistency with as few lumps of chard and beans as possible. It will look green and you will wonder what you’ve got yourself into. Don’t worry!

Combine the remaining dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the wet to the dry, and mix well. Fill the pans to 3/4 full, then bake for 15-20 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

Meanwhile, peel, chop and boil the potatoes, then drain and mash really well. Melt the chocolate using which ever method works for you, then add it to the potato along with the icing sugar. Mix well, and pipe (or spread) on the cupcakes when cool.

Place innocently on display and wait for people to eat them.

 

This post is part of the November Sweet Adventures Blog Hop. Check out the other entries via the link above.

 

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Cooking from abundance.

There is nothing more satisfying than walking through the garden and making a meal from what’s available. Ever found yourself deciding on dinner then going to the shops to buy ingredients? If so, you might like to read on and discover the joys of creating from what’s available. If you start with what you already have, there’s very little chance you can go down the wrong path and cook out of season, over-processed or well-travelled “food” (read: items from the supermarket). Cooking from the abundance of your garden also gives you this crazy-brilliant feel-good buzz. True! Harvesting actually releases dopamine, and makes you feel good, supposedly a remnant from our hunter-gatherer days, where finding food triggered a release of dopamine, resulting in a feeling of bliss or mild euphoria. (Also supposedly the same process in play with compulsive shopping – ever heard of retail therapy?) But I digress!

Those who know me will be aware that I spent the past 6 months in Victoria, travelling, learning, wwoofing and exploring.

For those not in the know, WWOOF stands for ‘willing workers on organic farms’, and is basically a program whereby you stay on host farms and properties as a wwoofer, working approximately 4-6 hours per day in exchange for food and board, while receiving the benefits of learning and sharing skills, knowledge and culture with your hosts. Pretty cool way of exploring the world.

We spent three weeks at the end of last year on a permaculture property in Violet Town, which was super-peaceful, had an abundance of fruit, and where each day was started with a trip to the olive grove to milk the goat. Our second host was in Castlemaine, where we had stayed several times previously, and ended up being our semi-permanent home for around four months. A secluded and semi-cleared bush property on a hill with a yurt dwelling and a huge vegetable garden.

With each host, we mostly had meals provided, but on occasion (like when we got the chance to farm-sit the Violet Town property for four days) the garden and kitchen were entirely ours to express our culinary creativity. I have to say that while in Violet Town, there wasn’t all that much in the way of abundance except for a lot of greens, goats milk/cheese/yoghurt and fruit. If there is one thing I learnt at that farm it was this:

It is very hard to go wrong if you combine garlic, olive oil, salt and chilli.

This is a winning combination, and even if you only add a few leaves of chard to these ingredients, you already have a pretty delicious side dish.

By the time we got to the second property, we were pretty well into zucchini season. Queue “101 ways with zucchini”. I made everything: pasta sauce, chocolate muffins, stuffed zucchinis, pickle, sandwich fillings… you name it. I’m pretty certain that by March I alone was consuming an average of three zucchinis per week.

But the moral of the story is that cooking from abundance is fun. It allows for an incredible amount of creativity and expression, and it’s unlikely that you any two dishes will ever be the same, because the products of the garden are forever changing and evolving.

So here’s a celebration of home-grown-and-cooked meals, with a selection of my favourite farm/garden meals from my travels.

Homemade fettucini with new potatoes, zucchini and mint

Serves 2

Pasta:
300g flour
3 happy eggs

Topping:
2-3 potatoes, boiled and diced
olive oil
sprig mint, chopped
several (2-4 depending on size) cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 spring onions, sliced
1 zucchini, diced
salt and pepper

Place flour on a clean surface, make a well in the centre and crack in eggs. Mix all together, slowly incorporating flour until a dough is achieved. Knead well and allow to rest for an hour in the fridge. If you have a pasta machine, use it now – roll into thin sheets and cut using the fettucini cutter. Otherwise, it’s a rolling pin and knife.

Heat oil in a pan, add zucchini, spring onions, then garlic, cooking until zucchini is soft. Add boiled and diced potatoes and carefully stir in chopped mint, and season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling water for a few minutes until al dente, then drain. Add pasta to pan with other ingredients and some more olive oil. Carefully mix together. Season with more salt and pepper if required, then serve.

Stuffed roasted zucchini

Excuse the shifty photography…
Serves 2

I totally can’t remember the exact quantities here. Just play.

one large zucchini
3 leaves chard/silverbeet
3-4 cloves garlic, diced
olive oil
1/4 tsp coriander seeds
handful fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup (approx) roasted almonds, chopped
salt and pepper

Cut two rounds of zucchini, hollow out (keeping inside intact) and roast in the oven covered in oil and salt. Dice the remaining zucchini (or another one if not enough), including the hollowed out part.

While hollowed zucchini roasts, prepare filling by cooking remaining zucchini until soft with garlic. Add coriander seeds, and finely chopped chard. Toss in almonds, season with salt and pepper, then remove from heat. Stir through tomatoes and fresh coriander.

Stuff the roasted zucchini with the filling, and garnish with fresh coriander.

I served this on toast (as we had an abundance of bread), but it would definitely go much better with a potato rosti or similar.

Spiced potatoes and chickpeas with chapatis

I’m getting pretty tired, and am doing some major procrastination by writing this, so I’ll just give a basic outline of what’s in this.

chickpeas, cooked
potatoes, diced and boiled
onion, chopped
garlic
whole cumin seeds, roasted
salt
olive oil (farm grown might I add)
pepper
fresh coriander

Combine ingredients in a pan in a logical order, and serve with chapatis:

Chapatis:
flour
water
pinch salt

Combine ingredients to form a dough. Roll out and dry fry in a hot pan. Applying pressure with a tea towel can help them puff up :)