Thursday, 24 October 2013

Tomatoes on toast

Did I mention that we are going away for a week? 

I'd like to say I'm being ever so casual about it, that it's no biggie, but who am I kidding? 

We are going to ITALY. To Rome, then to Naples.

I am very, VERY excited. 

Of course, in the run up to any holiday there is the finishing up of work. 

There is the 'weather checking and clothes washing' to be taken care of (you might not like me to mention that it's currently getting up to 28C in Rome - now where did I put my sandals?)

There is the consideration and purchasing of useful literature (I am very pleased with my 'overlay' book of ancient Roman sites (which has photos of the current ruins, with artists impressions of how they used to look which you can overlay onto the photos), purchased on Amazon for a mere 1p as opposed to the 10 Euros I am informed it will cost us in Rome)

There is the finding of the passports and the checking of the tickets. 

There is the daydreaming of how perfect it will all be as long as we don't try to do too much and wear the kids out on day 1 (actually unlikely as we are staying with friends just outside Rome first and we have been promised a relaxing day on Sunday revolving around lunch somewhere very lovely.)

And then there is 'Operation Fridge Run Down'. Easier said than done when the courgettes are still coming, as are the tomatoes.

I managed to get a whole yellow ball courgette into a quiche the other day - grated and squeezed out before I cooked it up with 3 thinly sliced onions. It made a delicious supper, and the courgette went completely undetected by those who did not know it was in there.

I could have cried when the next day, the Husband brought 2 more green courgettes in from the garden...

Tomatoes, on the other hand, are something I never tire of. The kids eat them raw and cooked, and it's very easy to turn them into soup, passata, anything really. Proper tomatoes, grown with some love, just smell delicious - of sunshine, of warmth, of halcyon days. If I had nothing else to do, I'd quite happily sit in a greenhouse of tomatoes and smell the smell all day. A bit like Ferdinand the bull smelling the flowers all day - but he was in Spain, and not many people know that story these days...

If you've never smelt a freshly picked gorgeously ripe tomato, you might think this all sounds a bit wierd, but I'm betting I'm not the only one who feels like this...

Tomatoes, of course, remind me of Italian food - the classic insalata tricolore with mozarella and basil, all that pasta sauce flavoured with basil, with chilli, with all sorts of things, brushcetta... I'm anticipating more than the odd stop during our sightseeing to partake of all things gorgeous, Italian and tomatoey - plus the odd glass of chilled white wine, of course.

For now, though, something much more English. I could have gone the bruschetta route for lunches the last few days, but these are English tomatoes, and oddly, bruschetta never occurred to me until just now when I sat down and started writing this. So I've been eating tomatoes on toast - inspired by a friend who's on the 5:2 diet and who advises me that if you use Nimble or Weightwatchers bread, 2 pieces come in at around 132 calories - including a dollop of Lidl's lowest fat mayo. Now I am no longer following the 5:2 diet. I'll tell you about it sometime, so my tomatoes were sliced and arranged on slices of homemade bread, drizzled with some (Italian) olive oil, sprinkled with some sea salt and pepper and served with some delicious Hampshire watercress. I decided to pass on the mayo...

Tomatoes on Toast (serves 1)

2 reasonably thick slices of good bread
tomatoes (the exact number will depend on the size of your tomatoes, how thickly you slice them, also the size of your slices of bread - may be 3-4 small to medium sized tomatoes as a guide)
Olive oil, seasalt and fresh ground pepper
Watercress to serve

Toast the bread lightly on one side under the grill. Flip the bread over and cover the uncooked side as much as possible with slices of tomato, drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle on some salt and pepper, then pop back under the grill for a few minutes till the tomatoes are starting to soften. Alternatively, you could sprinkle a little sugar on the tomatoes for a more caramelised effect.

Serve on a plate with some watercress.


Friday, 18 October 2013

Pasta Ratatouille

This could be called desperate veg growers' dinner, but I prefer to call it 'pasta ratatouille'. It sounds much smarter, doesn't it?

Easy, undemanding, a great way to disappear some of the glut of tomatoes and courgettes that you might be lucky enough to have (yes, still, even in October) into a healthy and tasty dinner.

This is definitely one to take as a guide rather than a defintive recipe. Use whatever you have.

Pasta Ratatouille
(serves 2 aduts & 2 children)

300g pasta
3 medium sized courgettes (I had 2 green ones and a yellow ball one)
2 green peppers
5 large beef tomatoes
4-5 small onions
3 cloves of garlic
olive oil
1 tablespoon capers
grana padano cheese

Heat the oven to 200C, and when it is to temperature, put in a roasting tray with a good slosh of olive oil in the bottom of it to heat up for 5 minutes.

While the oven is heating, top and tail the courgettes and chop into bite sized pieces; deseed the papers and similarly chop up.

Peel the onions and quarter them; peel the garlic cloves and finely slice them.

Halve the tomatoes and cut out the woody bit where the fruit was attached to the vine - you don't need ti be fussy about removing too much of the seeds or anything.

Once the oil has had the chance to heat up, take the tin ot of the oven and chuck everything in, and roast for a good 45 minutes, shaking the tin every now and again to make sure it's all getting cooked.

While the veg is roasting, cook the pasta according to packet instructions, drain, and if the veg still needs to roast for a little, stir through a little olive oil to stop it sticking together.

When the veg is roasted, mix it in with the pasta and stir through the capers. Put it all back into the roasting tin and grate over some of the grana padano cheese, then pop the tin back into the oven for 10 minutes tilll the cheese is melted and everything's really hot again (you coud put it under the grill if you prefer).

Serve - with extra grated cheese, and chilli sauce - if needed

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Condensed Milk in 'Beaker-Gate' Shocker (and another banana loaf recipe)

The other day I made Dan Lepard's ultra delicious Lemon Butter Cake, which requires 125g condensed milk.

It doesn't take a genius to work out that this left me with 272g condensed milk (give or take). By the way, why are the tins 397g? Does anyone know? Are they really 400g but state a weight which allows for the bits that you can never get out, even with your finger a spatula? Would it be too hard to make a tin that tiny bit bigger? Big enough to carry a full 400g? This is something I genuinely wonder about, so if anyone can enlighten me, please do.

But back to the matter in hand. What to do with 272g of condensed milk? I pondered the question idly on social media and received a number of suggestions, including drinking it in tea, making it into a sandwich and using it as a sex aid (this was the day of 'beaker-gate', after all). I had been contemplating nothing more complicated than a quiet corner and a teaspoon, but only in a half hearted sort of way: not only can I no longer drink 10 pints, dance till dawn, consume a doner kebab with extra hot chilli sauce and survive the next day; it seems that I can no longer face eating most of a tin of condensed milk. Age is a cruel mistress.

 So I did not consume the condensed milk. Oh no. I conscientiously decanted it into a mug (a mug, note, NOT a beaker...), popped some clingfilm on the top and consigned it to the fridge. Now in this house the Husband and I have one of those 'standing jokes that's not really a joke' which has developed over the course of our life together. I hate to throw food away, so anything that can't be frozen in a little convenient portion will find its way into the fridge, and I  genuinely, I mean, really GENUINELY, mean to use it again. But it doesn't always happen.

Sometimes I forget.

Sometimes it wasn't actually that nice in the first place.

Sometimes I just want to cook something else.

Sometimes, it disappears to the back of the fridge, only to re-appear weeks later with all sorts of interesting mould growing on it.

Sometimes, I really do use it.

When we're clearing up after a meal, the phrase you're most likely to hear him say is "Shall I throw this away now, or put it in the fridge and throw it away in a week's time" . You get the idea.

This particular 272g of condensed milk (give or take - I couldn't say for sure that a teaspoon's worth didn't somehow come my way) did get used. It ended up in another version of Banana Loaf. I wish I could settle down to having a 'go to' recipe for things like Banana Loaf, but it seems I can't help fiddling - probably because so much of my baking depends on what's knocking around in the kitchen. I can't even stop fiddling with the flapjacks I swore were the best I'd ever made. In case you're interested, it's worth swapping some of the oats for dessicated coconut...

Another Banana Loaf

100g chopped dried fruit - I used apricots and a mixture of currants, sultanas and mixed peel that was in a value bag of dried fruit I bought last Christmas for mincemeat/Christmas pudding purposes...
100ml black lapsang souchong tea (what I made at breakfast time - Earl Grey would be good too)
100g unsalted butter
272g condensed milk (give or take - obviously, a teaspoonful either way isn't going to make much difference, so go on, treat yourself...)
225g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb
about 350g (peeled weight) mushy bananas
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Soak the dried fruit in the tea - probably an hour minimum, or longer - I started mine off at breakfast then baked the loaf at tea time.

Pre-heat the oven to 180 C and line a large loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

In a large pan, gently melt together the butter and condensed milk, stirring occasionally.  While this is going on, measure your flour, baking powder and bicarb and mix together. Mash up the banana with the vanilla extract, then beat in the eggs with a fork.

Beat the mashed banana & egg mixture into the melted butter and condensed milk, stir in the soaked fruit, then finally, stir in the flour about 1/3 at a time.

Scrape into the loaf tin and bake for about 45 minutes to an hour till a cake tester comes out pretty much clean. Keep an eye on it - if it looks like it might catch, cover lightly with some foil or something.

Leave to cool in the tin.

It will smell delicious - and (and now I really am getting old) it tastes delicious with a nice cup of tea...

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Carrot & parsley soup

I swore, as you do, before you have kids, that I would be no ferrier of children from one activity to the next. My life would not be ruled by what they wanted to do. They would know the benefits of down time, of being able to come home to a homemade cake and a drink before relaxing, completing any homework, generally having time to recover from the day at school.

Of course, the children didn't know that, and as they have got older, have other plans. 'Home' is far too boring. Apparently, it's not enough that they've been at school all day, giving their all. They want to do other stuff, and while it caught me a little by surprise, well, I guess that's fine.

What's a little less fine is that although I work from home, I'm still working, and so 3.15 sees me legging it up to school desperately trying to remember who needs to be where at what time and crucially when they need to eat.  It doesn't matter that it's the same each week, and I don't know whether it makes it better or worse that most of what they do is local. I don't have to get in the car and drive them anywhere - which is a good job, because now it's October, the camper van has gone back into her winter quarters and I no longer have wheels, but it feels like I am constantly running up and down the road: football, choir, cubs, ballet, brownies.

This term, Blue has thrown a big spanner in the mix by wanting to join an orchestra (with his trombone) which requires being OUT  OF THE VILLAGE at 5 o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon. In terms of how he gets there, this is not so much of a problem as one of his friends was already in the orchestra and his parents suggested that Blue join in, in full knowledge of the fact that there would be no lift sharing possibilities. Pink has no commitments on a Tuesday evening, which makes things slightly less complicated but there's still the issue of making sure that everyone gets fed without me having to cook more than I have to. 

Soup is a pretty good option in these circumstances - easy to heat up quickly and feed people as they need it - particularly Blue, who, along with most nearly 10 year old boys, lives with the beast of constant hunger raging inside him. On a Tuesday, by 6.30, when he gets home from his orchestral endeavours, the beast needs feeding - now...

Carrot & parsley soup

1 onion
1 clove of garlic
2 stalks of celery
350g peeled carrots, sliced into chunks
Olive oil and a knob of butter
1tsp cumin
800ml chicken stock
80g red lentils
a large handful of flat leaf parsley

Peel and chop the onion and garlic, clean and slice up the celery.

Heat the oil & butter in a large pan, and chuck in the onion, garlic, and celery. Fry gently for 5-10 minutes till everything is softening, then stir in the ground cumin. Cook for another minute or so, then add in the carrot chunks and pour in the stock. Bring everything up to a simmer then tip in the lentils, and cook for 20-25 minutes till the carrots and lentils are cooked.

Rip off the parsley leaves from any really big stalks, chuck the leaves in to the pan, allow them to wilt for a couple of minutes, then blitz the whole lot. Season if necessary, and if the soup's a little thick, add in a little more water.

Heat up as necessary and feed to hungry daughters, hungrier husbands and ravenous sons, as and when necesary. Oh, and don't forget to feed yourself too...

Friday, 11 October 2013

Pumpkin Ginger Cake with Lemon icing

So a couple of things have irked me this week.

Firstly, at the weekend, the Husband got stuck into the kitchen and produced a much, much better Pumpkin Soup than I did the previous weekend. He followed a Jamie Oliver recipe, right down to frying the sage leaves first in the oil which you then cook your 'base veg' (the carrot, celery, onions type veg, not the ones shouting obscenities as you chop them up). It was delicious. Grrr.

Secondly, I watched an episode of GBBO

I know. Shoot me for my hypocrisy.

In my defence, there wasn't even an old episode of CSI Miami (my least favourite of the CSIs) running on 5 USA, and I was too tired to resist I'm nothing if not open to having my ideas challenged. 

What would Messrs Hollywood & Berry say about my icing? On second thoughts, don't answer that...

So in the interests of testing whether I was right in my views about this sort of TV programme, I decided to endure it. You'll be pleased (or not) to know that I remain firm in my view that this is really car crash TV for the middle classes, and quite exploitative in the way that it plays on peoples' emotions and feelings. All that smarmy niceness and then killer comments basically telling the contestants that their cakes were rubbish. And I still don't really know what it's all FOR? I mean, for a start they weren't really rubbish - those cakes. And secondly, we all know that there are thousands of amazing bakers all over the country producing stunning cakes (both in looks and taste). So why do we need to allow some of those amazing bakers to sob into their fondant icing potagers in public? Hmm?

Anyway, rant about the premise of the programme aside, I have to say that I found the actual baking very compelling, and I liked the vegetable bakes a lot. I am a big fan of veg in cake, and when I was flicking through some books and trying to work out what to bake for a coffee morning this morning, I was mindful of the fact that despite my soup, the Husband's soup and the curry I made for the Harvest Festival Supper, we had still not got through even one of the great big enormous pumpkins from the veg patch.

Now, I know Dan Lepard doesn't take kindly to having his recipes repeated on anyone else's websites/blogs, but I made so many changes to his Ginger Root Cake that I really think this can be called an original cake. For a start, I used pumpkin, rather than root vegetables. But whatever, I was really REALLY pleased with how this turned out. Light and with a lovely ginger flavour in the cake. And of course, lemon and ginger are a match made in heaven, so the icing was a must - and who cares that my attempts at artful drizzling were less than beautiful...

Pumpkin Ginger Cake 

2 large eggs
100g dark muscovado sugar
100g treacle (see top tip below for weighing)
150ml sunflower oil (plus a little extra for weighing out the treacle - see below)
160g grated pumpkin
4 balls of stem ginger, chopped fairly small
175g spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp ground ginger
150g icing sugar
juice of half a lemon

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/160C fan and line a 20cm round cake tin with greaseproof paper.

Separate one of the eggs and put the white to one side, then beat together the whole egg and the separated yolk with the sugar till thick and foamy.

Add the oil and treacle. A top tip for weighing out the treacle is to grease the bowl you weigh it into very lightly with a little oil, also if you are spooning it out of the tin, wipe a little oil over the spoon too, then the treacle will slide out easily. Also works for syrup. 

Beat in the oil and treacle until smooth, then stir in the pumpkin and chopped ginger. 

Mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarb and ground ginger, then stir this into the mixture.

Whisk the reserved egg white to the soft peak stage, then fold it into the rest of the cake mixture with a metal spoon.

Scrape the batter into the tin and bake for 40-50 minutes.

Allow the cake to cool in the tin, then make up the icing by mixing together the lemon juice and icing sugar. You want a pretty runny icing to drizzle over the cake.

I also made Dan's Lemon Butter Cake - which if you own a copy of 'Short and Sweet' (and if you don't I thoroughly recommend that you get one immediately) is on the next page to the Ginger Root Cake - but I pretty much followed the recipe for that, and I'd recommend you do too...

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Broccoli, leek and bacon potato 'pie'

There is a lot going on in my head at the moment.

 All the usual 'am I a good enough parent' nonsense, which inevitably gets louder as half term approaches and the kids show signs of fatigue. In the bath on Sunday night, Pink declared that she was 'overworked' and needed longer than 2 days for the weekend, and then on Tuesday morning, I found Blue sobbing on his bed, half dressed, just wiped out. Part of me wanted to give him the day off, and part of me wanted to say, welcome to how I feel almost every single day. I settled for a cuddle and a suggestion that if he still felt knackered after school, he didn't need to go to orchestra. He rallied, of course.

Then I went along to a breakfast talk this morning run by our Church. It's part of a mission week that's going on, designed to offer people the opportunity to find out more about being a Christian in a non-threatening environment. This basically involves inviting people to eat with you and this morning, coffee, croissants and marmalade was about as unthreatening as it could possibly get. 

I hadn't been planning to go to the thing this morning (I'm involved with a coffee morning on Friday as part of the week already) but I went along as a spur of the moment thing. I didn't have anyone who might have wanted to go to take along with me this morning, and in fact I was setting off for my dog walk having dropped the kids at school. The dog was most put out that he got short walk rations - and having gone in thinking I was just bolstering numbers, I ended up being faced with a big issue that I have sort of known that I need to deal with for a long time but keep pushing away. That's how it seems to be with God - when you least expect it, something comes bam out of no where and hits you between the eyes, and you know you have to deal with it. Mysterious ways and all that.

So I'm wrestling with tired children and how best to keep them going for the next couple of weeks, my own inner turmoil (it's not that interesting, I won't go into it, just don't think I'm keeping something juicy and interesting from you), and other bits and pieces like how I shape the next few years of my working life, whether I will ever actually sit down and write the books I start in my head when I'm walking the dog, what to get the Husband for his 40th birthday (we might have had the party, but his actual birthday is looming in December), the looming issue of secondary school for Blue, and more besides. Probably the standard stuff everyone else is dealing with - I know it's nothing earth shattering - it just seems very loud at the moment. Plus, I seem to have gone into hibernation mode. This happens every year about this time - the desire to eat peanut butter on toast moves from being something I succumb to for the occasional breakfast the morning after a night where too much wine was consumed, to something I crave almost constantly.

Faced with all that, comfort food was definitely on the cards tonight. Pie. Unfortunately, the pack of ready rolled puff pastry that was handily in the freezer defrosted into a sticky unusable mess (cue inner screaming and foot stamping), so I had to do a quick re-think and slice up some potatoes as the topping instead. Not ideal as I was up against it timewise to get Pink fed and to a ballet class, but it all worked out rather well in the end. And do note how I've helpfully specified cooking the potatoes first rather than in a mad panic at the end...

Broccoli leek & bacon potato pie 

3-4 large waxy potatoes 
2 tbsp cornflour
1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
4 slices smoked streaky bacon, derinded and chopped up quite small
4 small-ish leeks, thinly sliced & washed
300ml warm vegetable stock
80g low fat garlic & herbs cream cheese type stuff (I used Philadelphia*)
large handful of parsely, finely chopped
butter, salt & pepper

Slice your potatoes into fairly thin slices and cook in boiling, salted water till they are cooked but not falling apart. If you have a steamer pan, steam the broccoli over the potatoes for 5-6 mins or until just tender.

When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and pop them on a tea towel or piece of kitchen roll to dry off.

Mix the cornflour in a small pot/bowl etc with 2 tbsp water and set aside.

If you haven't done so already, cook or steam the broccoli till tender.

Heat a frying pan and start cooking the bacon. I used a non-stick pan so didn't add any oil, and then once the bacon fat had started to run, through in the leeks and cook till softened. If you need a bit of liquid, you can always chuck in a ladleful of hot water - I used the broccoli water...

Mix the broccoli and leeks and bacon into an oven proof dish.

Pre heat your grill.

In a small pan, mix the slaked cornflour into the stock and bring gently to simmering, stirring pretty much constantly till the mixture thickens, then stir in the cream cheese and then the chopped parsley. Season if necessary, then stir the sauce through the veg & bacon.

Layer the potato slices on top of the veg mixture, season with salt & pepper and drop a few small pieces of butter over it all.

Pop under the grill till the top layer of potatoes is golden and possibly a little crunchy too.

Know that for a brief moment, or two, life will be uncomplicated while you eat dinner. And enjoy.
*but this isn't a sponsored post or anything, its just what we had in the fridge...

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Winning the leftovers lottery - Caramel Apple Tart


Either as a repeat of the previous meal (I'd go so far as to suggest that the whole Christmas turkey shebang is much tastier cold the next day -apart from the roasties, which need to be sliced up and fried) , or providing components for the next day's dinner - left over roast meat in a stir fry or risotto, left over veg chopped up as bubble & squeak etc, every fridge should have some leftovers in it.

I hit the leftover jackpot today, with the werewithal to make a mighty fine pudding.

Enough leftover sweet shortcrust pastry from a luscious lemon tart that I made yesterday, and half a tin of caramel leftover from making a batch of flapjack. And apples - still, apples everywhere. I have an idea that this might have started life as a Jamie Oliver confection, but regardless of its provenance, this is a pretty flexible dessert that you could probably adapt, and would certainly double up in size if you had more of the necessary left over, or even if you decided to make it in its own right, without waiting to have the required leftovers...

  Caramel Apple Tart

Enough sweet shortcrust pastry to line an 18cm tart tin
200g tinned caramel
1 large cooking apple
a dessert spoon of icing sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Butter and flour the tart tin, then line with the pastry. Use a fork to prick the pastry all over, and then line with greaseproof paper, tip in baking beans and bake blind in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Remove the greaseproof paper and baking beans and return the case to the oven for another 5-10 minutes till the pastry is golden and biscuity. Set aside to cool a little.

Spread the caramel over the base of the tart, then peel, core and slice the apple into fairly thin slices, and arrange over the top of the caramel. Sieve the icing sugar evenly over the apple slices, and then bake for 30-40 minutes till the apple is cooked turning golden, and the caramel is bubbling. Leave to cool a little before serving. 

It was very tasty with some left over soured cream... 

I'm linking up my leftovers pudding to this month's Credit Crunch Munch run by Helen on Fuss Free Flavours and Camilla at Fab Food for All hosted in October by Michelle at Utterly Scrummy

Friday, 4 October 2013

The 8th pint, a dead freezer, and cherry & almond crumble

I keep thinking that I've reached a point in my life where I no longer think about Blue being ill very much, and then something happens to make it all come rushing back like a steam train. 

I certainly don't think about it every day any more, and it's not the first thing (nay, the only thing) that I'll talk about any more. Chances are, if I met you for the first time in person, these days, it would take a good few conversations before it actually came out that he'd been ill at all. There was a time when it was literally all I could talk about.

Fortunately, even the 'steam train' moments are becoming less and less frequent, and usually triggered by something other than a panic that he's relapsed - which was what usually used to make me think about it when he first came off his chemo. The lovely nurse who cared for Blue on his first terrible night in hospital - when we really thought he was dying before our eyes - lives in the same village as us. I see her often these days - she has 2 adorable girls now herself, and I can actually talk to her in the street without crying. I have come a long way.

I gave blood earlier in the week. This always reminds me of the bad times, but more so than ever this time, when I realised that I'd donated my 8th pint - equivalent to all the blood transfusions that Blue had during his treatment. I came over a bit funny and had to have an extra long lie down, and a bag of crisps as well as a pack of fruit shortcake biscuits and 2 glasses of the rather lurid lemon squash they hand out before I felt strong enough to wander home.

Fortunately, tea was pretty much already organised - one of our freezers gave up the ghost at the weekend, leading to a frantic reassessment of what we could chuck and what we could redistribute amongst the 2 other smaller freezers that we have, already pretty full. Bear in mind that we didn't have the option of cooking and re-freezing anything: if it couldn't be eaten then or in the next couple of days, or rehoused, it would have to go. Out went the swede soup dated 2010 and various small pots of unidentifiable stuff that had been in there so long the hastily scrawled labels had worn off... It's always slightly embarrassing, being presented so starkly with one's hoarding tendencies, but I've decided to rise above it. On the plus side, we've eaten the lamb shanks, some of the more identifiable soup, and lots of rhubarb. Blood donation evening, there was more identifiable soup and a fish pie. When Blue was ill, I had to cook fresh for him every day, regardless of how tired I was. I'd never have been able to feed him fish pie from the freezer.

More importantly than my inability to throw food away, do you remember all those delicious cherries I scrumped, back in the summer? I was so utterly delighted with the possibilities they presented, that while I was deliberating what to make, they pretty much all got eaten just like that from under my nose.

I managed to salvage some after a marathon stoning session (stoning the cherries - what did you think I meant?) and stashed about 800g away in the freezer for another day.

Well, 'another day' arrived - they were in the freezer that packed up, along with the fish pie and the lamb shanks...

I absolutely couldn't bring myself to chuck them out, despite the fact that they were scrumped as opposed to produced as a labour of love by the Husband in the garden - for start, they'd only been squirreled away for a matter of weeks - unlike the swede soup - and the stoning had taken a good couple of hours of my life, and given me black finger nails for a few days. On the other hand, as scrumped produce, they came lower down the priority rehoming list...

No longer luscious purple but rather duller, with much of the juice leached out of the fruit, although saved in the bowl they had defrosted in, they still tasted good. I thought pie, but couldn't face pastry. And anyway, to make a pastry worthy of my cherries, I needed an egg yolk, and as my chickens have completely given up laying, preferring to moult drastically and unattractively all over the garden, and I was feeling too weak after the blood donation to walk up to the butchers and buy some, I had to think again. I could have made jam but I wanted something lovely for pudding. Crumble was the obvious choice. 

Comforting, homely, and in honour of Blue (who adores cherries and crumble) and all he went through in those dark days of leukaemia, and in recognition of the 8th pint, cherry and almond crumble it had to be. 

Cherry & Almond Crumble

800g frozen cherries, defrosted, along with any juice that has leaked out
1.5tbsp cornflour
50g caster sugar
good pinch of cinammon

100g plain flour
80g porridge oats
40g ground almonds
100g demerara sugar
75g unsalted butter

Put the cherries and juice in a pan.

In a small bowl/cup/ramekin, mix the cornflour with some of the cherry juice, then tip pack in to the pan, along with the sugar and cinammon. Heat gently, stirring, till the juice all thickens up, simmer for a little, then scrape the cherries into your crumble dish and leave to cool.

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.

Make the topping by rubbing together all the ingredients into a rough, crumbley scrummy mess. Try not to eat it as it is - hard as it is to imagine, it WILL taste better baked.

Spread the topping evenly over the cherries then pop in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or so till the fruit is hot and bubbling and the crumble is golden brown.

Cherries and crumble both qualify, I'm sending this to this month's Alphabakes challenge hosted by Ros at More than the Occasional Baker and Caroline at Caroline Makes

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Soup - and the Pumpkin conspiracy

OK it's official, Autumn is here.

Yes, there have been some misty mornings, yes there are apples a-plenty, yes, the spiders are on the march, and we've had the first fire in the log burner, but what has really heralded the arrival of Autumn is the first bowl of pumpkin soup. 

Truth be told, pumpkin soup is something I am a little ambivalent about it. In less forgiving moments, I start to wonder if pumpkin is actually one of the biggest food cons there is. Unlike other squash which can taste sweet, nutty and delicious, pumpkin promises much but doesn't always deliver flavour-wise. For a vegetable that produces quite an unctuous, smooth soup, it can sometimes taste quite thin, and alot of the recipes for pumpkin seems to basically involve using the pumpkin as bulk, flavoured with other things. My preferred treatment of pumpkin when it comes to soup involves ginger and chilli, to the extent that any pumpkin flavour that may or may not be there is pretty much hidden. You see what I mean?

This weekend, I decided to take Nigel Slater's approach, and use smoked paprika.

You should also know that I have a vested interest in finding the best ways of cooking up pumpkin. As a result of a pumpkin growing contest that we held here, with the kids, we now have over 50 pounds of the stuff to work my way through.

Yes, 14, 16 and 21 pounds respectivaly, with another 21 pounder already in the kitchen. I need pumpkin inspiration... 

Yes, I can chutney, yes I can pie, and I'm going to donate a pumpkin curry for 10 to the Harvest Festival supper (Lucky people. Sadly, I will be otherwise engaged...), but even with those options up my sleeve. I still can't avoid soup.

I have to say that the recipe I used didn't really give me the pumpkin epiphany I was hoping for, but it was OK as pumpkin soups go. However, in a moment of inspiration, I toasted some walnuts with some rosemary sprigs and sea salt, and sprinkled this on top. It was also very tasty with some blue cheese crumbled into it for lunch today. That's the thing about making a vat of pumpkin soup - there's lots left over. Not necessarily something to be completely excited about, but it'll keep you fed for a few days, and it does look quite pleasing.

So here you go then. 

Pumpkin soup (alright as far as pumpkin soup goes)
Serves many

2 red onions
2 large cloves of garlic
2 heaped tsp smoked paprika
1.8kg chopped peeled and deseeded pumpkin flesh
800ml chicken stock
a good handful of walnut halves
a couple of sprigs of rosemary
a good pinch of sea salt

In a very large soup making pan, melt some butter and olive oil and fry the onions and garlic till softening. Add in 1 heaped tsp smoked paprika, stir in and cook for a minute or so. Add the pumpkin and carry on cooking, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is looking softened and a little caramelised.

Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, then simmer till the pumpkin is cooked.

While the soup is simmering, heat the oven to 180/200C. Roughly chop the walnut pieces and take the rosemary spikes off the twigs. Give the rosemary a bot of a chop if you can be bothered. Chuck the walnuts, rosemary leaves and salt into a small roasting tin and into the oven for 5-10 minutes, till toasty and aromatic, then set aside to cool down a little while you finish the soup. I used the oven because it was already on for something else. You could do this in a dry frying pan on the stove top too.

Finish the soup by tasting and adding in the 2nd teaspoon of smoked paprika, then blitzing as you like (hand held blender etc). Thin out if necessary using milk (or perhaps some cream) - but bear in mind that if it's thin on flavour, you don't want the soup to be too thin in teture too. Taste and add seasoning if needed.

Serve with the rosemary walnut pieces sprinkled on the top, and some really decent bread.