I have long shrugged off the proposition of having (albeit organic) vegetables delivered to my house, thinking it would be too limiting. Not in the sense that the contents don't change enough over the weeks and I'd get bored with them, rather that I am far too impulsive when it comes to food... I spend my day thinking about the stuff pretty much non-stop (and I am sure that even as I am sticking my head into my books to study Iridology or Traditional Chinese Medicine or whatever else a given day might bring, there's a recipe sneakily developing in some dark corner in the back of my brain) - when I set my mind on having jerusalem artichoke risotto one day, I won't be settling for a Thai green vegetable curry just because I've got leftovers!
Some time at the beginning of my naturopathy course last autumn, I started ordering from my tried and trusted supplier again. It's probably because the nutrition lecture on food labelling really brought it home to me how easy it is for big food companies to mess with your head and not actually tell you what goes into their products, let alone how they're produced and how that f*** up the nutritional content. Did you know that the vitamin content stated on your average orange juice carton is "before" not "after" pasteurisation? And did you know also that up to 90% of, say, vitamin C, is lost in the process, no matter how (supposedly) *gently* they do it? And that any vitamin added AFTER is likely to be in a "cheap" form, meaning that its bioavailability is low and you're body struggles to absorb it, if it gains anything at all from it?
So I did change my ways and very selfishly buy almost exclusively organic now. The first change was the regular delivery of boxes from my favourite supplier. After a little incident last year (which I won't go into, because I am almost certain it wasn't their fault, they just employed a marketing agency which employs less than ethical methods of generating revenue) our relationship had gone a bit stale, so I did investigate and compared them with other suppliers in my area and sure enough, they came out top again. What I like the most about them (apart from the fact that the delivery guy is a handsome and chirpy chap) is that you can state your likes and dislikes for produce and they'll tailor-make each week's box for you. For example, I don't like beetroot, so that's NEVER going in. EVER. Also, if I have too many clementines or kiwis left over from the previous box, I can request that these fruits are not included and replaced by something else in any given week.
I usually have a deluxe vegetable box, which carries the (seemingly) more "unusual" vegetables (e.g. artichokes, aubergines) and an essential plus fruit box which get delivered on a Thursday, and to be honest, I have to order some extra stuff on top, which I either order through them (juicing oranges, extra herbs, onions, garlic, but also great organic salmon...) or though Ocado, the only supermarket delivery service where I can trust that the quality is what I paid for and I get ripe fruit and vegetables that don't go mouldy halfway through the day they're delivered.
With all that food, of course I do have things left over by the time my next box comes, just because what I learnt in nutrition doesn't mean that I have gone off food. I am still as passionate and temperamental when it comes to all things edible and I still need to satisfy my cravings for things that aren't necessarily in the fridge that day. But I don't fret over it any more because there are so many things I can do with what's left. So Thurday usually sees the unpacking of the boxes, cleaning the produce (I soak everything that we eat skin-on in water with a dash of cider vinegar for 30 mins to get rid of any - potential - creepy crawlies and most germs) and taking out any unconsumed vegetables and fruit from the last delivery which I will then convert into favourite easy lunches that can be made ahead for the next week: soups (great recipe of last night's lentil, courgette, broccoli and salmon one-pot to follow), quiches, frittatas, dips for starters or an afternoon snack the next day (again, recipe for a mouth-watering smokey aubergine dip coming soon), the list goes on.
What I hadn't thought of until yesterday is that you could actually use vegetables to make sweet things, too! Carrot cake I have grown up with (albeit a version very different from the British tradition, and with chocolate drizzle, instead of the dreaded icing you get here), but to use courgette in muffins? La Tartine Gourmande had some recently and although I had shrugged similar ideas off before with a "yeah, like, whatever" (that I've perfected over the years by observing my teenage daughter), the idea stuck in my head so much so that I had to try some for myself yesterday.
So these muffins combine three left-overs (or actually four, if I count the eggs) from my organic delivery scheme: courgette (aka zucchini), carrots and Medjool dates, as well as hazelnuts and ginger left-over from Christmas baking. And I am learning that you can make the most delicious dishes from scraping together some random things emerging from your organic box: I am a big fan of the brown stuff, but honestly, after tasting these muffins, I will never need a triple chocolate muffin ever again! Moist, gently spiced and topped with (another concept I have never understood, but now love after trying it) cream cheese topping gently infused with lime... pure bliss!
Carrot, courgette & hazelnut muffins with lime cream cheese frosting
(yields 8 muffins)
110 g light muscovado sugar
135 g butter (diced and at room temperature)
2 medium eggs
½ tsp nutmeg (freshly grated)
½ tsp cinnamon (freshly ground, if possible)
1 cm freshly grated ginger (ca. 1 heaped tsp)
135 g self-raising flour
1 big handful of hazelnuts (chopped)
75 g carrots (peeled)
75 g courgette/zucchini
2 Medjool dates (ca. 30 g)
For the frosting:
juice of ½ lime
70 g golden caster sugar
125 g cream cheese
freshly zested lime peel (to decorate)
Pre-heat oven to 180 C.
First, make sure your muscovado sugar is nice and loose. If it is sticking together too much (which invariably happens as you store it), blitz it in a food processor. Add the butter and cream together until nice and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until well combined. Transfer to a bowl - from now on, you're working with a fork or spatula in order not to over-work the dough and keep it light and fluffy.
Fold in the flour using a fork or spatula. Add the spices and hazelnuts. Roughly grate the carrot and courgette, finely dice the dates and fold all into the dough mixture.
Line a muffin tray with 8 paper muffin cases and equally divide the mixture between them. You will need approximately one and a half tablespoons per muffin. Make sure the dough is equally distributed, coming about three-quarters up the paper case.
Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove the muffins with their cases from the tray and place on a cooling rack (most trays will retain heat for a while so the muffins would keep on cooking otherwise).
For the cream cheese topping, pour the lime juice over the sugar and leave for 5 minutes to combine. Add the cream cheese and beat with a hand-held mixer until smooth. Keep in the fridge until ready to decorate.
When the muffins have cooled down, decorate them with a dollop of the cream cheese and some freshly grated lime zest. Or, if you can't wait, for these muffins taste even better when slightly warm, let them cool enough to handle, then break off single mouthfuls, spooning the frosting onto every bite as you go along.