During my early school years, my father would collect me at lunch time, to go home to eat a delicious meal around the dining table, all of us together, before he dropped me back and carried on his way to work. This was in the days before Nairobi became so congested with traffic and people so as to make it impossible to go anywhere quickly. When I started secondary school, for reasons that are not clear to me now, I was signed up for school lunches. After a week of leathery grey slices of meat in thick brown gluey gravy, grey mushy vegetables and claggy puddings with skins on them, I told my mother that I thought pork was being served and that of course I wasn’t touching it so I wasn’t eating a thing and therefore starving in the afternoons. The double whammy of forbidden meat and a hungry tummy had exactly the effect I had hoped for. No more inedible food in the smelly dark dining hall but glorious packed lunches eaten under the trees in front of the school tennis courts with my friends. Our cook, Migaleh, had come to work for us via some ambassador’s house and would cook the most scrumptious ”european” food – roasts, chops, steaks, chips, sausages, mashed potatoes, omelettes – for me and my brother at tea time. Now he was making me a thermos of hot chunky chicken soup or thick roast beef or chicken salad sandwiches to take to school…oh how I pitied those boarders trapped in the dining hall with the nuns as we sat in the sunshine shaded by the Jacaranda trees!
I was reminded of this today as I shopped for after school snacks. School has begun; the children are off the streets and out of the shops and can now be seen looking tired and despondent in their school uniforms on their way home for tea. It is difficult to get back into a routine in those first couple of weeks but all too soon the summer holidays will be but a distant memory as the unrelenting schedule of early mornings, lunch boxes, sports practices, clubs and societies, music practice, homework and a regular bedtime establishes itself. Until half term that is.
My friend C alerted me to this recipe for cheese muffins from a wonderful New Zealand book of traditional home baking compiled from old community cookbooks by Alexa Johnston, called Ladies, A Plate. I found great pleasure in reading the stories that hark back to “a gentler time” which are attached to many of the receipts. C sometimes makes these for her packed lunches and once I had a taste, I was smitten! I make these quite often as they come together very quickly and it’s just so handy to have a few stashed in the freezer.
They are incredibly quick to make. Measure out the dry ingredients into one bowl and use a whisk to aerate and mix at the same time. I’ve substituted bouillon powder for the salt for a more savoury flavour.
Then, add the parsley and about 2/3rd of the grated cheddar cheese and mix again to coat the cheese.
Pour the wet ingredients into a measuring jug and whisk.
Gently add to the dry ingredients and mix very lightly until it has just about incorporated – don’t overwork the batter otherwise the muffins will be tough. It’s perfectly alright if there are some tiny pockets of flour visible.
Grate some parmesan using the coarse side of a box grater to get lovely long pieces of cheese rather than the finer more powdery output that is usual.
Divide as equally as possible among the cups of a 24 mini muffin pan (which have been very well greased, hopefully with a saved butter wrapper). Use a dessert spoon and a rubber spatula to fill the cups and then top with the two cheeses.
I am submitting this recipe for September’s Cheese, Please! Recipe challenge as hosted by the informative and delicious blog Fromage Homage. Do go over and take a look at what she’s been up to – cooking with cheese, tasting it and travelling for it and making her own cheese. And she’s a mother – I am in awe!
TINY CHEESE MUFFINS (makes 24 mini muffins)
Barely adapted from Alexa Johnston, Ladies a Plate
- 180G flour
- 3 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp Marigold bouillon powder or Knorr Aromat powder or salt
- 1/2 tsp cayenne powder (chilli powder)
- 80g strong cheddar cheese coarsely grated
- 2 Tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 large egg
- 190ml milk
- 2 or 3 Tbsp coarse grated parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 190C/375F and thoroughly grease a 24 cup mini muffin tin.
- Measure out the flour into a medium size mixing bowl; whisk in the baking power, bouillon powder or salt and the cayenne. The salt either in the bouillon or itself is important as it activates the baking powder when the wet ingredients are added.
- Stir in the chopped parsley and 2/3rds of the cheddar cheese with a table knife, coating all the cheese and parsley with the flour mixture.
- Pour the milk into a measuring jug, crack the egg into it and whisk together.
- Pour the wet ingredients onto the dry and mix gently with the table knife until it is just combined. Don’t overwork the batter.
- Spoon into 24 mini muffin cups as evenly as possible. Top with the reserved cheddar and then with the parmesan.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and crispy.
- Remove to a wire rack to cool. They should pop out really easily.
- These are best, greedily devoured, warm of course but are delicious cold. They freeze well and are ideal to pop into a lunchbox where they will have thawed out by the time you are ready to eat. Lovely with soup or as a rustic nibble with drinks!
-Replace the parsley with finely chopped spring onions (scallions)
-Replace parsley with a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped sundried tomatoes and/or olives and one tsp of very finely chopped rosemary or dried oregano. Replace the cheddar with crumbled feta or goat’s cheese.
-Use smoked paprika instead of the cayenne