Sometimes what you cook comes from desire: a craving for the simple pleasure of a roast chicken, its tender white flesh gently flavoured with lemon and thyme and the skin crisped by butter and salt; or for the gloopy indulgence of a chocolate self-saucing pudding (even more desirable when you know you have it all to yourself).
Sometimes the seasons drive your appetite: winter’s cold dark days require the sustenance of a slow-cooked apple and pork stew, rich with prunes and served with stodgy, lumpen, smashed potatoes (proving there is a time and place for stodge and lumps). Bright summer days mean frozen jewels of raspberries, homemade ice cream, and plenty of both.
But sometimes what I cook and eat is forced upon me by something altogether more prosaic: cleaning out the pantry. Using up a lingering ingredient. The pure dull necessity of getting rid of something.
My friend L talks about ‘eating down the pantry’ — not buying any more pasta until the 17 half-used packets she already has are all gone; having risotto for a week to plough through the arborio (which makes me think: it’s always the carbohydrates that multiply). Every time I open my mother’s huge pantry, I am sure she could rise to the challenge admirably and go six months without needing a trip to the supermarket. She’s stocked up for a nuclear winter, I’m sure.
I can never throw food out, into the garbage. Maybe it will benefit the compost; perhaps our dog or my parents’ chickens will enjoy it. Leftovers are frozen for a weekend when I’m feeling lazy and can’t be bothered cooking. Since I’ve started labelling things properly (that is, what the food is and exactly when it was frozen), I have a lot less UFOs — unidentified frozen objects — to contend with; in fact, simply writing the date compels me to dig out the container within a few weeks. It’s like a deadline.
But usually the culprit is bananas. I’m forever seduced by those bright, perfectly yellow hands of fruit, and I try to eat one a day. But there’s always one or two that decide to ripen at an alarming rate and, fussy thing that I am, make me crinkle my nose up at their squishy brownness. So I peel them and stash them in a bag in the freezer until I have enough for the saviour, the guilt-free recycler of over-ripe bananas: banana cake (you could even tell yourself that you intended to save a couple expressly for the purpose of turning into cake, if it makes you feel better).
Sometimes banana cake should be just banana cake - no spice, no nuts, no choc chips; nothing to detract from its humid quintessential banana-y-ness. Sometimes it should have all those extras, just because. This recipe from Martha Stewart falls into the first camp. As the recipe is cupcakes, you also have perfect single-serve portions, which will quickly be gobbled up. No chance of having leftovers to label and stash in the freezer here.
Banana cupcakesFrom the Martha Stewart website. You should not even attempt a banana cake with fruit you can eat. The flavour is not as deep. My mother’s trick: whiz your thawed bananas in the processor; this ensures the resulting puree is evenly distributed through the cake batter
- Preheat oven to 180 and prepare a 12-cup muffin tin.
- Whizz up 1 1/2 cups of banana (frozen and/or fresh) in the food processor. Then add 110 grams butter that you have melted, 2 lovely large eggs, and 1/2 tspn vanilla. Transfer to a bowl.
- Stir in 3/4 cups sugar (using a little brown sugar instead of all white would add to the richness).
- Sift into this 1 1/2 cup plain flour, 1 tspn baking powder, 1/2 tspn baking soda, and a generous pinch of salt.
- Divide evenly between muffin holes and bake for 25-30 minutes or until done.
- Enjoy as is or whip some cream and drizzle with Top n Fill.