Sheffield, home of the house with the caterpillar hedge.
Last weekend I finally committed to tear myself away from the prospects of another potentially amazing weekend in Liverpool to make the journey across the Pennines to see my friends for the first time in a month and a half. I’m not entirely sure why it took me so long, the train ticket being fairly cheap thanks to the glory of the 16-25 railcard. But there I was on a Friday afternoon, ready to hit the road after a prelude of my rather rushed visit to Liverpool Tate to see the Rene Magritte exhibition before it closed on Sunday.
The whole weekend revolved around two things and two things only: love and food. Gritstone, the third variable in the equation was an eventuality which unfortunately remained just that. I did get down to the climbing gym to pull on plastic as well, even though I am ashamed to admit this as the weather was glorious this weekend. Food and love featured heavily though. My train pulled into Sheffield at quarter to 9 on Friday and Kim picked me up straight from work. Our first stop was Two Steps, the legendary Sheffield chippy and everybody’s favourite, for a much needed dose of cod and chips with a massive helping of mushy peas. Rhythm & Booze, another Sheffield/Yorkshire institution provided locally produced cider to wash it all down. It was great to be back on Sharrow Vale.
Saturday saw a visit the the recently reopened York which absolutely deserves a review of its own (watch this space) and the main event: Lily’s housewarming party. Even a temporary abode needs to be warmed, and the best way to go about this is with plenty of wine and ale and, obviously, savoury muffins. And so spinach and pine nuts muffins and chorizo and red pepper muffins came to be (see recipes below). In a stroke of genius Kim remembered a gingerbread house flat pack assembly kit purchased on a recent trip to IKEA, and in our heads we swiftly formed a genius idea. Housewarming, a gift of a house, geddit? It makes sense. After much umming and arring re the best glue/icing recipe we unpacked and set out to assemble the ridiculously cute little house. IKEA clearly harbours a well kept secret of a comedic genius amongst its designers – the gingerbread house comes with standard IKEA flat pack assembly instructions and pictograms. Fantastic.
We should have realised the odds were against us from the outset. As you can see in the top photo half of the roof and side walls had shattered in the box. We decided this minor setback could be worked around with architectural and structural adjustments and a clever piece of gingerbread masonry, i.e. making the house a wee bit (considerably) shorter. Our choice of icing was still up for debate as it was taking ages to solidify and we had to hold the house together for it not to fall apart. Never mind it looked like something a five year old might have created: when it finally started to look promising, we decided it was time for the finishing touch: the chimney. And it was glorious… for about 3 seconds.
Following this major setback we decided to abandon any further gingerbread house attempts and present our dear friend Lily with the chimney only, as a token of our well meaning efforts. Ooh, and those lovely savoury muffins and some sickly sweet Maltesers cupcakes that Harriet made.
Lily in return fed us some pretty lethal fairy cakes, very top heavy with sugary icing. One tiny thimble sized cake made us all buzz with a sugar overdose, thank you Lily! There was also tzatziki and lovely hummus made with peanut butter to snack on, so many ideas to try at home! But most importantly there were lots and lots of friend, and a collection of my favourite people finally all in one room again!
And to wrap things up, Expat Gourmet is rather ashamed to present the list of things we ate on Sunday (following a rather gluttonous, gourmet Saturday): eggy bread and spaghetti hoops for brekkie and gingerbread house ruins for lunch.
Spinach and Pine Nut Muffins (makes 12)
oil or melted butter for greasing
250g frozen spinach
8 tbsp sunflower oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
280g plain white flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 200C. Grease a muffin tin or line it with cases. Put the thawed spinach in a sieve and try and squeeze out as much water as possible. Heat some oil in a pan, lightly fry the garlic, then add the spinach and cook for a couple of minutes.
Meanwhile, mix together the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, buttermilk and the remaining oil. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid ingredients and add the spinach as well. Stir to combine.
Divide the mixture evenly between the muffin cases in the tin. Scatter the pine nuts over the muffins. Bake for about 20 minutes but take care so they don’t brown too much.
We thought afterwards that feta cheese would be a delicious addition to the mixture. I would add about 100 g feta cut into little cubes when combining all the ingredients together.
Chorizo and Red Pepper Muffins (makes 12)
Use the same quantity of flour, baking powder, salt&pepper, eggs, oil and buttermilk as the recipe above
100g chopped chorizo
1 small red pepper, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 red chilli, chopped (if you feel like it)
Lightly fry the chorizo, garlic and pepper over medium heat so that the sausage releases its delicious juices. Then, similarly to the recipe above, combine the wet ingredients and beat the liquid ingredients, mix together adding the chorizo and pepper as well. Sprinkle some sweet or smoked paprika over the muffins before they go in the oven.
Bake in an oven preheated to 200C for 20 minutes.