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Friday, 20 August 2010

I don't do greens (Όχι πράσινα για μένα)

My son reminds me every now and then, when I offer him a piece of garden fresh cucumber that has been placed in the fridge and is more refreshing than a glass of water on a hot day, or a serving of freshly prepared horta or salad, or a vegetarian zucchini pattie, that he doesn't do greens, or reds, or purples, or yellows for that matter, because when it comes to fruit and vegetables, he is a picky eater. He generally likes his food white: plain servings of rice, bread, pasta and potatoes are his favorite meals, with olive oil and cheese his favorite condiments. Coloured food reminds him of the marker pens he uses when he does drawings. He claims that vegetables have been artificially coloured; nature's colours are more representative of true colour than any hi-tech graphics.

The other day, I was doing some creative cookery for a friend. I recycled some of my old recipes to make some cupcakes. I got the idea of using different cake batters to create an interesting effect, both visually and taste-wise, from some 'hamburger' cupcakes which I had seen on the web. The cupcakes I wanted to make for my friend had to conform to a number of features:
  • they must be easy to make
  • they must contain natural colouring agents
  • they must contain ingredients known in Greek cooking
  • they can be promoted as 'healthy'
  • they must be visually different from the average cupcake
I came up with the idea of using olive oil (a Greek ingredient) instead of margarine or butter, in a basic cupcake mixture (easy to make), using fruit and vegetables (healthy) to give flavour and colour (natural), with the use of layering cake batters to make them visually different.

The cupcakes turned out quite dense and filling: for this reason, when I perfect the recipe, I will make them in smaller patty cases. The visual appearance of the cupcake was supposed to show three different coloured layers, but this didn't work out for me, even though the three different cake batters were all made from different ingredients; before the batter was cooked, they each had their own distinct colour: red (cocoa and beetroot), yellow (banana) and brown (cocoa and zucchini).

CIMG9882 muffins for liz muffins for liz muffins for liz muffins for liz
I rarely cook these days without thinking about the health value of the food I will be preparing. Any mother will tell you how difficult it is to ensure that children are eating healthy meals, even if they do not eat outside the home environment, like my own children. A word of advice: don't let the kids watch you making these cupcakes. It's best to keep some things secret.
muffins for liz muffins for liz
Now you see me, now you don't; the beetroot batter was clearly distinguishable from the zucchini batter before being cooked, but not afterwards - can you spot the beetroot cupcakes among the cooked ones?

I was disappointed: to create something as healthy as I desired, I realised that I would have to risk reducing the amount of cocoa in the vegetable mixtures, so that the colours of the vegetables would be more visible. Apart from the few green shavings of zucchini on the top of the cupcakes that did not manage to remain camouflaged by the cocoa powder, the cooked beetroot and zucchini batters were not distinguishable to the untrained eye.

muffins for liz
Fruit and vegetable cupcakes: the bottom layer has beetroot and cocoa, the middle layer contains banana, and the top layer has zucchini and cocoa.

I ended up with a small amount of grated zucchini and beetroot, left over from the different cake batters, so I made another 'chocolate' cake, adding both vegetables to the same batter. From the visual cupcake experience, I decided that there will be little difference in the taste if I threw the beetroot and zucchini mixtures into the same cake batter.

I was right. This cake proved immensely popular this summer with my "I don't do greens" man.

cocoa vegetable cake i dont do greens
"I don't do greens," he insisted. "I know," I assured him.

This kind of cake mixture gives a rather dense batter, using only two eggs. The grated vegetables make it heavier than other cakes. By controlling the amount of baking soda/powder used, the cake will rise accordingly - less for cupcakes, more for a cake. This is important if you don't want to create an overspill effect in the paper patty cases, to give a more professional look to your cupcakes. My only problem with the taste is that this kind of cake does not turn out very sweet; I didn't use more than the stated sugar amount for my chocolate zucchini cake.

Most people will complain that the cake tastes more like a chocolate bread than a cake. This is why this kind of cake makes a good breakfast meal; a piece of cake with a glass of milk or a cup of coffee will keep you going all morning. To make it a little healthier, I added a cup of muesli (which I renamed 'cornflakes' to the children) to the batter, making this cake a truly healthy breakfast meal. This cake replaced the usual 'cocopops in milk' bowl; how many kids do you know that get up in the morning and have a serving of beetroot, zucchini and muesli mixed into their bread?!

If the cake is going to be served as part of an afternoon tea or dessert, it needs to be accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice-cream or a syrup. I topped it with a chocolate syrup made in the same way (without adding the egg yolks) as for my chocolate boiled cake (hence the slightly glazed look on the top of the cake).

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