Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Baking in cups - an inexact science

There are many pros of the internet - particularly when it come to baking and finding new recipes to try.  But there are also cons to this worldwide resource - namely that a huge number of delicious recipes originate from the States or Australia, where they bake using cups! That is, they measure everything out in cups rather than weighing it.

A typical example: today I wanted to make carrot muffins to put in Sophie's lunchbox for school. I also have some dates so I search for "carrot and date muffins" and, hey presto, the perfect recipe pops up courtesy of a website Simply Great Meals. But it is an Australian recipe and half the ingredients are in cups.

For someone who has grown up measuring everything on scales, I just don't get it! Flour? Maybe. Caster sugar? Again maybe. But what happens when you need brown sugar? The sticky lumps that ooze out of the packet don't fill the cup evenly. So am I meant to press them down so that they fill the entire cup? And what happens when it comes to chopped dates? You can't flatten those down, so does the recipe allow for the randomness of chop size and air gaps? I'm confused ...

And if you have to get scales out to weigh some things (the recipe calls for 100g butter) why don't we just weigh the rest of the ingredients?

Anyone out there shed some light for me please?

PS Take a look here to see the outcome of my carrot and date muffins.

© 2012 Nicola Noble: Please observe the rules of copyright and blog etiquette. If you use my ideas, please link back to my blog. And do let me know - I'd love to take a look.

Carrot and date muffins - perfect for the school lunch box

School has started again and so has the struggle to find "acceptable" foods to put in Sophie's lunch box. My guidelines are four to five items of which one has to be fruit or veg and another yoghurt. 

I recently found a good book in our local FARA charity bookshop in Teddington called The Healthy Lunchbox which inspired me to try harder to fill her lunch with less shop bought items (not that she had that many) and more variety. There was also an article in the daily paper last week which commented that although school dinners have improved hugely (thanks mostly to Jamie Oliver's campaign), packed lunches were still full of fats and sugars and all sorts of undesirables. 

I don't blame the parents. I would say the biggest culprit for this is time: it is much easier to buy pre-packaged items designed specifically for the school lunch box than spend hours baking. I buy yoghurt covered strawberry bits, fruit strings and mini packets of biscuits because they are quick and easy to pop into the lunch box. But, if I was to look at the ingredients in detail, I know I wouldn't be overly happy with what I see.  
The newspaper article last week suggested including carrot muffins in the lunch box, so today when both children where at school/nursery I searched for a recipe for them. Most of the carrot muffins used wholemeal flour which I don't have, but I did have dates so I searched for carrot and date muffins and up popped a recipe from Simply Great Meals. I adapted it slightly (using fresh grated carrots) and as I ran out of milk, I used half a cup of natural yoghurt to make up the quantity. 

The resulting muffins are yummy, although they don't peel away from the cupcake case cleanly which is a shame (I hate leaving yummy cake crumbs attached the case!) I deliberately made them small (cupcake size rather than muffin size) for the lunch box. I will have wait and see what Sophie thinks when she gets home from school tonight; Justin has already given the thumbs up. I am also going to freeze some, as the recipe made about 40 cakes - perfect to last for a little while still.

Carrot and Date Muffins

250g grated carrot
3 cups self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice (if you don't have this mix, cinnamon, ginger and a pinch of nutmeg)
1½ cups brown sugar
1 cup dates, pitted and chopped
100g butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1½ cups milk
Icing sugar for dusting

Sift the self-raising flour, baking powder and mixed spice into a large bowl. Stir in the brown sugar, grated carrot and dates. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients, add the melted butter, beaten egg and milk, stirring to combine thoroughly, then spoon the mixture into paper cases in a muffin tray and bake in a preheated oven at 190ÂșC/gas mark 5 for 25 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
© 2012 Nicola Noble: Please observe the rules of copyright and blog etiquette. If you use my ideas or images, please link back to my blog. And do let me know - I'd love to take a look.

Monday, 10 September 2012

I've been training for my second half marathon!

I have been very busy for the past 12 weeks training hard for my second half marathon. I am running the same one as last year, The Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon, through some of the beautiful London parks and past famous landmarks.
I entered the ballot last year to keep Mr Snowballs happy (he is a very keen runner and I am/was a complete non-runner) thinking there was no chance that I would get a ballot place. BUT I did. So I started running, found myself a School-Mum-Running-Buddy and managed to finish the half marathon in 2.37 minutes! I managed to run the first 10 miles but then the overwhelming need for the toilet and the too fast start did me in and I had to walk for a little bit. I ran some more, walked a tiny bit more and managed to do a sprint finish over the line.

My SMRB didn't have a place last year so foolishly when the ballot came around again this year we both agreed to apply and if one of us didn't get a place we would run for charity. SMRB got a ballot place so I had to find a charity to run for. There are so many different charities that take part in all these events that it took some time looking through the list but I applied for a place running for Parkinson's UK. As I know all too well from personal experience (my Dad has had it for many years now) Parkinson's is a disease that hugely impacts the day-to-day life of everyone connected with the disease - from the sufferers to the family carers/support. The charity works to support all connected with the disease and fund research into it to find a cure. It can affect anyone - it was recently announced in the press that Bob Hoskins is retiring from public life having been diagnosed with the disease.

Thankfully Parkinson's UK accepted my application and SMRB and I started training in earnest 12 weeks ago. Most race plans suggest running four times a week but with young children at home and busy lives we decided three was more realistic. I have tried to do things a bit differently this year and have actively embraced the "hills" around us (not that they can really be called hills) as last year I was foiled by the slopes in the Half Marathon (I had foolishly assumed that the Royal Parks in London were totally flat). And I have tried very hard to incorporate some fartlek/interval training and even tried "Kenyan Hills" last week, which were very hard. (Take a look here for great descriptions of what the different types of runs are - courtesy of “full potential” by Keith Anderson).

I am very lucky to have the beautiful Bushy Park within a 20 minute run from my house, so have spent most of my long runs exploring new pathways and enjoying the lovely summer we eventually had. And this time of year is stunning, with stags rising out of the browning bracken and the crisp morning air and early morning mists - gorgeous!
So I have only four weeks of training left. The next two weeks are the biggies - a 1hour 50 minute run this coming weekend and the full half marathon distance of 13.1 miles the week after, before the final taper in the last two weeks. And the big day on Sunday 7 October (just two days after my birthday!).

I know that I will never win awards for speed but I am hoping that this year I am able to run the whole race without any walking (or toilet stops).

If anyone out there would like to sponsor me, you can do so here.  Many thanks in advance and wish me luck - looking at the map again it looks an awfully long way to run ...

© 2012 Nicola Noble: Please observe the rules of copyright and blog etiquette. If you use my ideas, please link back to my blog. And do let me know - I'd love to take a look.