Apples galore!

Bramleys on the treeYou know autumn is upon us with a vengeance when the apples start falling from the trees faster than you can pick them! It’s been an excellent year for apples and the trees down at the allotment are laden. I seem to have been picking windfalls forever, but all of a sudden I realised I’d better start taking the good fruit off the tree as it’s all threatening to fall.

Having spent the past three weekends up in London at networking or social events, I just haven’t had time to do much in the way of gardening, so it was bliss today to have a lovely day of autumn sunshine to finally try and get the plot tidy before the onset of the winter weather. I managed to pick 12 bags of apples – carrier bag charge notwithstanding! I use the strong Waitrose online delivery bags, proven to withstand hanging in the garage on strong hooks until the spring. Worth paying a lump sum of 40p for bags with my shopping delivery – I honestly don’t know what I’d do with the apples for storage otherwise! There are still plenty of windfalls on the ground too – think I’d better post offers on Facebook and Freecycle, as it’s a shame to let them go to waste…

Windfalls on the groundAs well as harvesting my apple bounty, I managed to sow my broad beans (Aquadulce) for next spring – always worth doing at this time of year – and cut down my sweetcorn and asparagus plants. The asparagus had made their usual jungle of growth, but tend to get battered by the wind if you leave the spent foliage through the winter. Plus I had no problem with the pesky asparagus flies this year, having read that cutting the foliage down in autumn removes their overwintering habitat – which definitely worked!

Asparagus pre cutting downThe dahlias are still going strong, so I was able to pick armfuls to bring home for the house, and the kale, purple-sprouting broccoli, leeks and parsnips are looking good for the winter too. The runner beans are just about holding on, but not for much longer, I don’t think. Rocket, coriander, dill and parsley are still looking good, too, so another bag of salad for the fridge! Carrots and calabrese made up the rest of my haul this evening – plenty to accompany next week’s dinner menus…

Purple sprouting broccol and kale

Tonight’s dessert is going to be that old stalwart, baked apples – one of my favourite easy puddings. So simple, yet so tasty. I barely need to give a recipe, as with my other apple ideas below; they really are more of a reminder of good combinations of ingredients majoring on apples, just in case you’re tearing your hair out, wondering what to do with them all!

Baked Apples

1 large Bramley apple per person

1 good tbsp mincemeat, preferably home-made

1 tbsp demerara sugar

Knob of butter

Wash the apple and gently pierce the skin all the way round the circumference of the apple with a sharp knife in one continuous line. This stops the apple exploding as it bakes. Core the apple using an apple corer, then place in a small square roasting tin and stuff the cavity with mincemeat. Sprinkle with the sugar and put a knob of butter on top. Add a couple of tbsp of water to the tin to make a sauce as it cooks, then cover the whole thing with foil and cook in a pre-heated oven at 200°C / Gas 6 for 45 mins to 1 hour. Serve with pouring cream.

This also works beautifully with autumn raspberries instead of mincemeat if you have any – unfortunately my autumn canes all died this year, so I can’t treat myself, but it is very, very good…

Another useful apple dessert is one I based loosely on the Scottish cranachan. I’ve been making this for years, but it always goes down well and again is child’s play to prepare:

Apple Oatmeal Cream – serves 4

2-3 Bramley apples, stewed to a purée with sugar to taste – you can add cinnamon and/or sultanas too if you like

150ml double cream

150ml natural yogurt

50g ground oatmeal

1 tbsp demerara sugar

Juice of ½ a lemon

Make the apple purée and leave to cool. Toast the ground oatmeal under the grill or in a hot oven, turning frequently to brown on all sides – but watch it like a hawk as it can catch and burn very easily! Allow this to cool too. Whip the cream until soft peaks form, then fold in the yogurt, sugar and lemon juice, then stir in the oatmeal when cool.

Spoon some apple purée into the bottom of a sundae dish and top with the oatmeal cream. Chill before serving – tastes even better if left overnight for the flavours to meld!

Yet another apple “combination” is one of my favourite lunch dishes at this time of year. It brightens up plain old cheese on toast, good though that is, and is another delicious way of working through that apple surplus…

Apple, Cheese & Walnut Toasties

Cheese, apple and walnut toasties

1 dessert apple (any will do, but this is particularly good with a Cox-type apple)

Chopped walnuts ( no need to be exact, just a sprinkling!)

Grated cheese (Cheddar, Lancashire or Cheshire would be my preference here)

Dash of milk to bind

Granary bread for toast

Just toast the bread on one side under the grill as usual. In the meantime, grate the apple and cheese, add a dash of milk to bind, then stir in the walnuts. Spoon onto the untoasted side of the bread and grill again until melted and golden brown. Take care that the walnuts don’t catch – best to try and submerge them under the cheese!

My final suggestion is actually a recipe “proper”, this time from the National Trust magazine earlier this year. It’s an interesting variation on an apple cake and one I really enjoyed when making it back in September. I’d just returned from Normandy at the time, where I’d tasted delicious French cider, so I made a point of buying good French cider to make this – but I’m sure any would work!

Apple, Raisin & Cider Tea Loaf

9oz self-raising flour

5oz butter

Pinch salt

1 level tsp mixed spice

4oz light Muscovado sugar

4oz raisins, soaked in 2 tbsp cider

I medium Bramley apple, grated, sprinkled with lemon juice to prevent oxidation

2 eggs, beaten

Glaze:

2oz light Muscovado sugar

2 tbsp cider

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C / Gas 4 and grease and base-line a large loaf tin.

Rub the butter into the flour and stir in the salt, sugar, mixed spice, grated apple and the raisin and cider mixture. Then mix in the beaten eggs.

Transfer to the tin and bake for about 1 hour until golden and cooked through when tested with a skewer.

Boil together the glaze ingredients for 3-4 minutes and brush onto the warm loaf while still in the tin.

Allow to cool, turn out, and serve buttered with a nice cup of tea. Mmmmm….

See also The Last of the Apples from Storage for yet more ideas of what to do with all those apples. Or check out the Ingredients Index for even more suggestions. And enjoy! You know what they say about an apple a day….

Gardening Angel mug

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Moreish Macaroons

KitchenAidcropAll this Bakeoff fever of late has inspired me to treat myself – well, with some birthday money – to a coveted KitchenAid food mixer in shiny candy apple red. Having taken delivery a few weeks ago, I’ve been so busy with work and with going up to London every Saturday for the past three weekends, that I simply haven’t had time to christen it! Until today, that is, when I finally put it through its paces with some luscious lemon macaroons.

I’ve given a recipe for coffee macaroons before, and Nigella’s chocolate macaroons in her Domestic Goddess book are another favourite of mine, but I hadn’t tried lemon ones. It was surprisingly hard to track down a recipe that appealed, i.e. didn’t use an inordinate amount of egg whites, or sound too fiddly, so I ended up adapting a number of recipes I came across online and adding my own previous macaroon-making experience – so far so good! A number of recipes used cream, mascarpone or buttercream to fill, but I wanted the zesty, tangy hit of pure lemon to offset the sweetness of the macaroons themselves, so opted for home-made lemon cheese. Here’s what I did:

Lemon Macaroons – makes 16-18

Lemon macaroons100g icing sugar

75g ground almonds

Finely grated rind 1 lemon

2 large egg whites, at room temperature

75g caster sugar

Home-made lemon cheese to fill

 Spritz a silicone macaroon mat with oil (if you have one! See the coffee macaroon recipe for details otherwise – I really do recommend them for perfectly even-sized macaroons!) or line two baking trays with baking parchment.

Place the icing sugar, ground almonds and lemon rind in a food processor and blitz to a fine dust.
Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until the mixture forms soft peaks, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar a little at a time until the mixture is stiff and glossy. (You can add a few drops of yellow food colouring at this point if you like, but I prefer my food to be natural, and am happy with beige macaroons!)
Gently fold in the icing sugar and almond mixture with a metal spoon, until well incorporated.
Transfer the mixture to an icing bag with a plain nozzle and pipe the mixture evenly into the macaroon tray or onto the baking parchment-lined trays. It should make about 32-36 small (say 4cm) circles.

Bang the sheets down a few times, to remove any air bubbles and peaks – that’s the theory anyway; I really struggle to make my macaroons completely flat without the little peak where you detach the piping stream – any tips gratefully received! It’s not really a problem, but completely smooth tops would be the ideal. Set aside for 30 minutes to dry out and form a skin.
Pre-heat the oven to 150°C, then bake the macaroons for about 18-20 minutes until the surface is firm and the macaroons lift off the paper or tray when gently eased with a knife or by bending the silicone mat. Leave to cool on the baking tray.

When cool, fill with lemon cheese and serve.

If lemon macaroons don’t appeal, I also experimented with another variation on the theme for my birthday afternoon tea party back in the summer, making coffee and vanilla macaroons (using vanilla extract rather than coffee essence), but sandwiching them together with a rather scrumptious salted caramel filling instead of the usual chocolate ganache. The filling is from a recipe by Eric Lanlard in Sainsbury’s magazine. Try it and see!

Vanilla Macaroons with Salted Caramel Ganache

Birthday afternoon tea_crop4oz ground almonds

4oz icing sugar

2 large egg whites

2oz caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract or paste

Mix the ground almonds and sifted icing sugar in a bowl until well blended.

Whisk the egg whites in another large bowl until they reach the soft peak stage, then gradually whisk in the caster sugar. Gradually fold in the almond/icing sugar mixture a third at a time and finally add the vanilla extract or paste until smooth and shiny.

Spoon into a piping bag with a 1cm plain nozzle and pipe 24 -28 small rounds, perhaps 1½” across, onto a parchment-lined baking tray or, even better, one of Lakeland’s macaroon moulds, placed on a baking tray for support and sprayed with a fine oil spray to prevent sticking.

Leave to set for at least 30 minutes so that a skin can form and they don’t spread during cooking.

Bake at 150°C (fan) / 170°C (conventional oven) / Gas Mark 3 for about 15 minutes or until firm and crisp on top. Another test is to see if one can be lifted gently from the tray without sticking or leaving a gooey residue – return to the oven if they do! When you’re happy that they’re done, remove from the oven and leave on the trays until completely cold.

Salted Caramel Ganache

175g salted butter

150g vanilla sugar

150ml double cream

Cut 25g of the butter into small cubes. Heat the sugar in a thick-based pan until it turns a dark caramel colour, stirring from time to time – it will happen! Remove from the heat and add the diced butter. Heat up the cream in a separate pan. Put the caramel back on the heat and gradually add the hot cream, bubbling for a few minutes – stir if lumps of caramel form and these should melt again. Allow to bubble for a few minutes. Pour into a bowl and leave to cool to room temperature. Whisk the remaining butter until pale and fluffy, then gradually whisk into the cooled, salted caramel.

This makes more than enough to sandwich both the coffee and the vanilla macaroons (i.e. a 4-egg white macaroon mixture in total) and still leave extra in the fridge to dip your finger in when passing…

Oh, and the KitchenAid, you might ask? It passed its first test with flying colours: simplicity itself to use, easy to dismantle and wash, and what a treat to be able to wander off to the other side of the kitchen whilst it’s doing its stuff!

Goodbye to courgettes….

zucchini-537001_640The recent sunny days, yet cold nights of this lovely spell of early autumn weather have more or less put an end to the courgettes. Mine are hanging on in there, but I really don’t think I’m going to get much more fruit now. In any event, I’ve earmarked their current position for next year’s broad beans, which I like to sow in late October/November for an early and hopefully problem-free crop next May/June. I plant the variety ‘Aquadulce Claudia’, one of the best autumn-sowing varieties, and find they make a good start before the worst of the winter, regrowing all the more strongly next spring. In contrast, my neighbouring plotholder’s spring-sown plants never really came to anything in this late, cold and dry spring, so I felt doubly glad I’d opted for autumn sowing – plus it’s one less thing to sow next spring!

The courgettes haven’t been wonderful this year either, I must admit. I had seven plants: four green ‘Defender’ and three golden ‘Soleil’, but the yellow ones, in particular, were dreadful: the fruit set, but never grew to full size. The Defenders were fine, just not quite as bountiful as usual, which was fine, but meant I wasn’t giving them away left, right and centre as usual! Time to try some new varieties next year, I think… I still have three or four in the fridge, and have been meaning to note down my favourite courgette recipes, so here goes: better late than never!

Courgette Fritters – serves 2-3

I first tasted these many years ago in a trendy little restaurant (Randalls) in the back streets of Bollington, on the Cheshire fringes of the Peak District – divine! They are quite a last-minute thing to cook, so probably best not attempted for a dinner party, but if you’re cooking a family meal or informal supper where you can stand and cook/talk at the same time, these are a delicious way of using up a glut of courgettes!

250g medium courgettes

Handful dill (optional)

2 egg whites

2 level tbsp plain flour (can use rice flour for a gluten-free alternative)

Salt

Rapeseed or sunflower oil

Cut the courgettes into 5-6cm lengths, than half and quarter each length, so you have 4 batons. Place in a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave to draw out excess juice over the sink.

Rinse and dry well in an old tea towel to remove salt.

Heat the oil in a large pan; I use a wok with a semi-circular tempura rack attached to the side and fill the wok until the oil is about 5 cm in depth. (You could, of course, use a deep-fat fryer, but I deep-fry so rarely that this method works equally well.)

When a cube of bread added to the pan sizzles and turns golden, the oil is hot enough to start the fritters.

In the meantime, whisk the egg whites until stiff, then gradually fold in the flour and chopped dill if using. Toss the dried courgette batons in the egg and flour mixture and add to the hot oil in the pan one at a time, using kitchen tongs. Don’t add too many to the pan in one go, as otherwise the oil will lose its heat and the fritters won’t cook sufficiently quickly.

When golden brown and crispy, lift the fritters out individually with tongs and leave to drain on the tempura rack (or on kitchen roll) while you cook the rest, using as many batches as you need to avoid overfilling the wok.

Serve hot as a side dish and enjoy!

Courgette and Feta Pancakes – serves 4

Courgete and feta pancakesThis is one of those favourite recipes scribbled on a bit of paper in my trusty recipe scrapbook and one I turn to several times each year. I think it first appeared in my organic vegetable box when I was tragically between vegetable plots. We’d moved house, but not had chance to grow any veg or take on the allotment, and I discovered a lovely local box scheme in the next village. They didn’t deliver and you had to drive down a very rutted track to reach the farm, but it was worth it for the fantastic smell of fresh basil when you walked in! They always added a recipe sheet in the box and this, I think, was based on one of theirs.

4 cups coarsely grated courgettes

4 eggs, separated

1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Handful dill (optional)

½ cup onion, spring onion or leek, grated or finely chopped

3-4 tbsp plain flour (gram flour works well for a gluten-free alternative)

Salt & pepper

Butter and olive oil for frying

Sour cream or crème fraiche to serve

Place grated courgette in a colander and sprinkle with salt. Leave to stand over the sink for about 15 minutes. Rinse well to remove salt and dry extremely thoroughly in an old tea towel, squeezing to remove surplus water.

Mix courgettes with egg yolks, feta, onions, dill (if using) and flour, then season to taste.

Beat egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff, then fold into the courgette mixture.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large frying pan and add spoonfuls of the mixture to cook over a medium-heat. The mix is quite soft, but you should be able to turn the pancakes with a fish slice and palette knife when one side is cooked. Cook on the other side until golden and serve straightaway with sour cream or crème fraiche on the side.

In the height of summer, I serve these with a green salad and chopped cherry tomatoes, sprinkled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil, garlic, a hint of sugar and seasoning – delicious!

My final recipe is another old favourite from the Sainsbury’s Sarah Brown Vegetarian Cookbook back in the 1980s. It’s a filling, yet delicious vegetarian main course and tastes good both hot and cold, so ideal for picnics or leftover working lunches the next day.

Courgette & Lentil Gratin – serves 4-6

4oz red lentils

1 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tbsp tomato purée

2oz oats

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 tsp chopped mixed herbs (basil, thyme, parsley or oregano all work well)

8oz courgettes, diced

2 eggs, beaten

1 tbsp wholemeal flour (or use rice or gram flour for gluten-free diners)

2 fl. oz milk

Salt and pepper

Handful basil, chopped

2oz Cheddar cheese, grated

Cook the lentils in twice their volume of water for about 10 mins or until soft. Beat with a wooden spoon, then drain off any excess liquid.

Heat the oil in a frying pan, then cook the onion and garlic for about 4-5 minutes until starting to soften. Remove from the heat, then add the cooked lentils, tomato purée, oats, lemon juice, herbs and seasoning. The mixture should be thick enough to hold together. If too wet, either return to the heat to dry off a little more, or add some more oats.

Press the mixture around the sides and base of a greased 8” flan dish.

Meanwhile, either steam the courgettes for a couple of minutes or cook them with a knob of butter in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. Drain off excess liquid if microwaving. Blend the eggs with the flour, then add the milk. Stir in the cooked and drained courgettes, chopped basil and seasoning.

Spoon the filling into the flan case, top with grated cheese and cook for 180°C (fan), Gas 5 for about 25-30 minutes or until set.

Serve warm or cold with a salad.