Tag Archives: autumn

Guinness in the kitchen

Faded asparagus

There’s something rather nice about when the clocks have gone back and you can start thinking about comforting casseroles and sticky cakes on those dark afternoons and evenings. This weekend was no exception: I managed to get out in the garden both days, planting the last of my tulip bulbs and cutting down my yellowing asparagus stems, despite torrential rain overnight, but it’s definitely winter-warming weather now. My lunch of choice is soup, more often than not, and a rich casserole really hits the spot after dark.

One of my favourites is a Beef and Guinness casserole inspired by a Good Housekeeping recipe leaflet years ago. I don’t particularly enjoy Guinness as a drink, but its flavour transforms when cooked long and slow in the oven with delicious shin of beef from my local farm shop and seasonal vegetables. This particular recipe is served with herby dumplings as a change from potatoes, but I like to make very light, cheesy wholemeal dumplings (originally intended to accompany a vegetarian aduki bean casserole – I really must revisit that recipe too!) rather than the heavier and more traditional variety mentioned in the original recipe. Here’s my version:

Beef and Guinness Casserole with Cheese & Herb Dumplings – serves 3-4

Beef and Guinness casserole

2 tbsp olive oil
450g beef shin, trimmed and chopped into small chunks (or stewing steak)
2 medium onions, finely sliced
2-3 sticks celery, chopped
2 carrots, sliced
300g swede, peeled and diced
2 tbsp plain flour
250ml Guinness
300ml hot beef stock
2 tsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp Worcester sauce
1 bay leaf
leaves from a few sprigs of fresh thyme
Dumplings:
125g wholemeal self-raising flour
pinch of salt
30g butter,diced
60g Cheddar cheese, grated
Chopped herbs – (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme – or your choice!)
50-75ml milk

Preheat the oven to 140ºC, Gas 2. Put 1 tbsp olive oil in a large pan and brown the chunks of beef, then set aside. Add the remaining oil, and brown the onions, carrot, celery and swede until starting to soften – about 10 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute or so, then add the Guinness and the stock, stirring as you go. Add the sugar, Worcester sauce, bay leaf and thyme, then bring to the boil.

Cover and cook in the oven for 3 hours, stirring every hour or so. Add more liquid (stock, Guinness or just hot water from the kettle if that’s all you have) if you think it’s drying out. Ovens vary so much that it’s hard to predict.

A few minutes before the end of the 3 hours, make the dumpling mix: put the flour and salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the herbs and grated cheese. Add the milk gradually until you have a firm dough. Divide into 8 pieces and place onto the surface of the casserole after 3 hours. Replace the lid and cook for a further 20 -25 minutes until the dumplings are cooked.

Serve with green vegetables of your choice (I used pan-fried cavolo nero with sesame seeds) and enjoy!

Freezes beautifully (without the dumplings – but you won’t have any of those left anyway!)

Having used half the bottle of Guinness in this recipe, I was left wondering what to do with the rest. I can’t stand waste and I don’t drink the stuff, as I said, or any beer really – the only exception is an ice-cold shandy (or Radler in Austria – the cyclist’s drink!) when walking in the heat of the summer. When I was in hospital having my first son nearly 30 years ago, lunch one day was a ploughman’s lunch with a bottle of Guinness – for the iron presumably! I gave mine away, much to my then husband’s disgust when I told him later….

This time, I vaguely remembered a recipe for Chocolate and Guinness Cake, so had a little search online and was directed to one of my favourite Nigella books: Feast. Result! I made it in a 20cm x 30cm deep rectangular tin rather than the 23cm round tin Nigella recommends, mainly because I knew there was no way that I would eat a whole round cake that size! With a rectangular tin, I could freeze half and just make half the quantity of frosting for the rest. As it was, I ended up taking the iced half to my parents when I called in for lunch last week, then got the other half out of the freezer and iced it for this week, so I could probably have made the whole thing anyway! But this worked extremely well. I ended up using yogurt rather than sour cream as my local Coop was fresh out of the latter on a Sunday afternoon. I adapted the frosting too, as Nigella’s uses double cream, which I thought might be a problem if it wasn’t stored in the fridge – and the weather is still quite mild, so not ideal for a creamy topping to be sitting at room temperature. Here’s what I did:

Chocolate & Guinness Cake – serves 12
Chocolate Guinness Cake

250ml Guinness
250g butter
75g cocoa powder
400g caster sugar
150ml natural full-fat yogurt (or sour cream)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
275g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Cream cheese frosting:

100g butter, softened
100g icing sugar
grated rind 1 orange
1 tbsp orange juice
200g full-fat cream cheese

 

Preheat the oven to 160°C Fan/Gas 4, then grease and base-line a 20cm x 30 cm deep rectangular cake tin.

Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter and heat until the butter has melted, then remove from the heat and whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the yogurt (or sour cream) with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the Guinness mixture in the pan. Finally whisk in the flour and bicarbonate of soda.

Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined tin and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Leave to cool completely in the tin before icing.

Make the frosting by whisking the soft butter and sugar with a hand mixer, or in a stand mixer if you prefer. Add the orange rind and juice and mix again, then whisk in the cream cheese until smooth. Chill in the fridge, then use to ice the cake.

Delicious 🙂

 

 

 

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Thug control

Leo and lae nasturturtiums

A pleasantly mild November afternoon in the garden saw me attempting to control some garden thugs that really have got out of control: phlomis russeliana, with its spikes of tiered pale lemon flowers in summer and impressive seedheads in the winter garden, and a lavender-flowered aster with ambitions to take over the world – well, one particular flower bed at any rate! I bought it from a plant fair at Sarah Raven’s Perch Hill garden and, to be fair, the nursery owner did say it could have thuggish tendencies. Annoyingly I can’t remember the name of the species, and the label has long since disappeared. Strangely enough, I first planted it in a border with poorish clay soil, running alongside the boundary hedge between my garden and my neighbour’s, and it was remarkably well-behaved in that location. It isn’t prone to slug attack (always a good thing next to a hedge, especially when the neighbouring garden isn’t cultivated…), and gives a long-lasting splash of colour throughout autumn. However, when I relocated a clump to the richer flowerbed in front of the house, it soon gained delusions of grandeur, so much so that it was swamping everything else! My Japanese anemones didn’t see the light of day this year and basically nothing else that flowered after midsummer got a look in. It had to go!

Crazy aster

Anyway, mission duly accomplished on both counts and I’ve risked planting some of the asters where the phlomis were, under the apple tree, in the hope that competition from the tree and a shadier spot will curtail their growth – while still giving a beautiful display of lavender flowers in the autumn. The phlomis didn’t add much to that area and were self-seeded in any event. I like them on my dry and baked island bed in full sun, but that’s where they can stay.

Fabulous colours still in the garden at this tail end of the year, from the bonfire reds and oranges of Cotinus Grace, to the muted, but no less appealing shades of azaleas, asters and hydrangea Annabelle, and the deep scarlet of the crab apples….

Cotinus Grace

Moench and azalaea

Annabel autumn colour

On a more frustrating note, I’m STILL waiting for a knee operation to reconstruct my ACL following my ski injury back in March, and am feeling increasingly thwarted that I can’t do what I want to do in the garden. This weekend I had hoped to take out a large lavatera plant that had died in the prolonged heat and drought of this summer. I suspect they’re short-lived anyway and it had flowered its heart out for a good few summers. Unfortunately, try as I might, I couldn’t manage to dislodge the root, and soon realised that it was doing my knee no good at all to keep on persevering. It will have to wait for one of my sons to come home and apply a pickaxe and some brute force…

Still a successful weekend – at this time of year, a dry weekend definitely counts as a bonus 🙂

Penstemon and primrose
Penstemon Amelia Jane and some unseasonal primroses

Clock-changing time again…

Chrysanths and dahlias autumn 2018

This is always a busy time in the garden, tidying away the faded (or not so faded in some cases!) summer flowers and planting out my containers for winter and spring colour. The begonias and New Guinea impatiens have done brilliantly this year and are still looking colourful, but with the weather having turned decidedly chiller and frost forecast any time, the moment has come to take the plunge. Into the compost they went, and in their place I planted spring bulbs, pansies and wallflowers grown from seed in nursery beds down at the allotment.

This year I bought my tulips on a 20% off day at our local garden centre in Mark Cross: they had an excellent selection and worked out considerably cheaper than the Sarah Raven tulips I usually buy. In the large half-barrels in the back garden, I went for Creme Flag and White Flag in one, and a red and white selection of Carnival de Rio and Escape in the other, both offset with Sunset Purple wallflowers and pansies in berry shades. These were Taylor’s bulbs, marketed as Sherbet Lemons, and Strawberries and Cream respectively: I particularly liked the fact that the packets gave detailed information for each variety and they were packed in separate bags inside the pack.

In the front barrels either side of my rose arch, I went for a purple theme with a tulip mix, again from Taylor’s, called Purple Rain Fusion on one side, and Dancing Dolls (the ever-reliable Doll’s Minuet and its purple namesake, Purple Doll) on the other side. These were planted with pansies in shades of blue and purple, and Giant Pink wallflowers. In the last barrel, near the front door, I planted a tulip mix called Fondant Fancy (Infiniti and Mistress – here’s hoping the individual varieties all flower at the same time, as they are supposed to… Crocuses and daffodils were recycled from last year’s pot, so a literal case of pot luck – I’m sure they’ll be fine!

Having weeded some of the allotment beds so that I could plant my broad bean seeds last weekend, and taken down the tatty sweet pea tripod and gone-to-seed spinach and chard stems, this weekend was the turn of the garden at home for a change. A long to-do list (headed by finishing the containers) included sowing sweet pea seeds – I’ve never tried sowing sweet peas in autumn before, but after miserable spring germination performance in recent years, I figured I had nothing to lose! I’m starting them off indoors on the heated conservatory floor, but once they’ve germinated, they should be able to go out into a cold frame. I also potted on the cuttings I took in late summer: penstemon, cistus, anthemis, salvia, osteospermum and hydrangea. Most (with the exception of the cistus) had good little root systems, so should make nice little plants by spring. I also experimented with taking cuttings from my huge Daphne bholua Jacqueline Postill, after chatting to a local nursery owner last weekend, who had said she couldn’t find one anywhere. Mine grows like a triffid, needing pruning twice a year, so worth a shot. It may well be too late this year, but we shall see…

With the onset of frost around the corner after a bitterly cold and showery day on Sunday, I brought my tender geraniums and tibouchina into the conservatory and put other tender specimens in my grow frame. This in turn meant finally harvesting my chillis from the fading chilli plants in the conservatory to free up space. The chilli plants have been yellowing and dropping their leaves for a few weeks anyway, so now was the time.

Chillis

It may have been too wet and cold to do everything on my list, but a good weekend, all things considered. The clocks may have gone back and there’s an hour less light for gardening in the afternoons, but the hatches are battened: let the weather do its worst!

 

 

Apples aplenty – and cavalcades of kale

Cox apples_landscape

‘Tis definitely apple season in all its joyous abundance – the ground beneath my orchard trees is covered with windfalls, some just slightly peck-marked, others victim to brown rot or insect damage from within. The plums were a martyr to moth damage earlier this year too, with a poor harvest in any case, but very few that were actually edible, as most had maggots in – yuk! Now’s the time to put greasebands round the trees to stop the moths sheltering overwinter – and next spring I’ll try and remember to hang pheromone traps to catch the other kinds of moths that cause so much damage to plums.

In the meantime, what to do with all these apples? The obligatory and delicious apple pies and crumbles, of course, plus apple juices and compotes for the freezer or to eat with my breakfast muesli. I like to use them in soup too, not only my favourite tomato, apple & celery, but with other strong-tasting vegetables to add an undernote of sweetness and some body. I’ve currently got an excellent crop of spinach and Swiss chard from both my spring and September sowings, so spinach soup was calling to me. I usually make spinach & pea soup with frozen peas, but had no peas in the freezer as I tend to use fresh veg through the summer months. Inspiration descended with the notion of combining spinach and apples in a soup, with a smattering of bulb fennel for good luck, since I’ve managed to grow it successfully for the first time – very good it was too!

Spinach, Apple & Fennel Soup – serves 6

Spinach, apple and fennel soup

500g spinach, washed, thick stalks removed, and roughly chopped
2 large eating apples, peeled, cored and diced – I used a Cox type
50g butter (or olive oil if you prefer)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 bulb fennel, chopped, plus a handful of the feathery fronds to add at the end
Few sprigs of thyme, leaves removed
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1 bay leaf
1 litre chicken (or vegetable) stock
Handful of red lentils (optional)
Seasoning

Melt the butter or olive oil in large pan and gently fry the diced onion, fennel, celery and garlic until soft and golden – about 10 minutes. Then add the diced apple, thyme leaves and bay leaf and stir for a couple of minutes. Add the chopped spinach leaves – it will look like a huge pile, but they soon wilt down. Finally, add the stock, a handful of red lentils (to thicken – leave out if you prefer) and seasoning, bring to the boil and cook for 20-25 minutes until nicely tender. Leave to cool, then blend in a liquidizer.

Serve with a swirl of cream or crème fraiche and homemade rolls straight from the oven.

Another revelation in the apple stakes was that apple juice with kale and fennel isn’t bitter at all, but rather delicious. Kale is another crop that just keeps on giving this year – strictly speaking, I grow cavolo nero for its beautiful dark green, crinkly leaves. It is so good for us, it’s a shame not to use it in as many ways as possible. I don’t get my juicer out as often as I should, but having experienced a sublime Green Goddess juice on my recent trip to the States, I thought I’d experiment. Cue 4 or 5 Cox-type apples, chopped kale (stalks removed), a quarter of a lime, a quarter of a fennel bulb and a knob of ginger. I say Cox-type as I sadly have no idea which variety mine is – it was in the allotment when I took it over, resembles a Cox (but without the scab problems that can afflict Cox apples proper), and is always extremely prolific, juicy and tasty. It stores quite well in the garage too. And the juice? – Divine! Do try it and see.

Apple and kale juice

Another apple creation was inspired by a recipe I read in the Waitrose Kitchen magazine on my flight to Chicago. Conveniently, I knew I’d be able to track the recipe down online when I got home, but rather more impressively, I actually remembered to do so after a couple of weeks away! I’m always on the lookout for new ice cream recipes, so this one was extra-tempting: who could resist the prospect of toffee apple ice cream?! The original recipe used bought ice cream (the horror!), but I made my own and swirled it all together rather than layering – truly reminiscent of those brittle toffee apples of our childhood, but without the associated dental challenges!

Toffee Apple Ice Cream

Toffee apple ice cream

125g granulated sugar
5 tbsp water
600ml whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

50g light brown soft sugar
50g wholemeal flour (I used self-raising as that’s what I had, but plain would be fine)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
70g butter, cubed
Salt to taste
100g caster sugar
70ml double cream
3 eating apples, peeled, cored and diced
juice of half lemon

First, make the vanilla ice cream by placing 125g granulated sugar and 4 tbsp water in a small pan, allow the sugar to melt, then continue to cook over a gentle heat for 5 mins until syrupy. Allow to cool completely. Whip 600ml whipping cream with the cold syrup and vanilla extract until it thickens and just begins to hold its shape. Pour into an ice-cream maker (mine is a basic Magimix Glacier model where you have to freeze the bowl in the freezer overnight beforehand: simple but effective). It should take about 30-40 minutes to churn, and while that’s doing you can get on with the rest.

Preheat the oven to 150˚C, gas 3. Line a medium baking tray with baking parchment. For the crumble, put the brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in a bowl, then rub in 30g cubed butter and a pinch of salt, until the mixture resembles fine, gritty sand. Spread out on the tray and bake for 10 minutes, stirring halfway through, until pale golden and crisp. Set aside to cool.

Put the caster sugar in a large frying pan with 2 tbsp water. Heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Then without stirring, bring to the boil over a medium-high heat and simmer briskly for about 4 minutes, until a dark golden caramel forms. If it colours unevenly, swirl the pan. Remove the pan from the heat; stir in the cream and a pinch more salt. Add the remaining 40g butter and stir until a smooth caramel forms. Pour into a heatproof bowl. Return the unwashed pan to the heat and add the diced apples (sprinkled with lemon juice to prevent browning). Cook, stirring, for 10 minutes, until softened and golden. Add to the caramel bowl and allow to cool.

If the ice cream is ready before the remaining ingredients are cool, just transfer it to a large freezer container and freeze until everything is cool. When you’re ready, gently fold in the crumble chunks and caramel apples until just mixed and return to the freezer to finish freezing. Remove from the freezer 20-30 minutes before serving – and enjoy!

My final offering today is hardly a recipe, more an assembly of garden produce that, combined, make a wonderfully refreshing autumn kale salad. It was inspired by a delicious cabbage and kale salad I had at one of my daughter-in-law’s friend’s houses in Ohio. She’d used a bagged salad from Costco (costing in excess of $5!), which even included raw Brussels sprouts (and I, a confirmed sprout hater, liked them – perhaps raw is the way to go!). I used vegetables from the allotment, with finely chopped raw kale, calabrese leaves, red lettuce, sliced fennel, toasted sunflower, pumpkin seeds and peanuts, dried cranberries, served with herb-roasted carrots, beetroot, red onion and potatoes, topped with a smattering of griddled halloumi (you could use feta or goat’s cheese too), and dressed with a lime, olive oil and pomegranate molasses dressing – so good! (And all the better for mostly being home-grown 😊).

Kale and roasted root salad

Autumn – decadence and decay

Dahlias

Autumn can be a time of abundance, decadent overgrowth and plentiful harvests, but it’s also a time when plants start to decay and die back as the first frosts of autumn hit or the winds come howling in. I came back from nearly two weeks in the US celebrating my son and daughter-in-law’s wedding with her American friends and family to find my allotment full of weeds, dahlias still flowering in gay abandon and my bean frame horizontal – I’m guessing we’ve had some strong winds in my absence! The calabrese plants appear to be flowering, despite not showing any signs of heads before I went away, and there are lots of windfall apples on the floor. On the plus side, the spinach and chard I’d sown in early September are looking really good, as is the kale and purple-sprouting broccoli, and even the bulb fennel hasn’t gone to seed – a first! The courgette plants are looking very sorry for themselves, not quite frosted, but definitely browning, although I still managed to harvest a few decent courgettes – I’d picked all incipient fruit before I left to avoid coming back to marrow armageddon….

That reminds me of a couple of new courgette recipes I experimented with this year, but haven’t had time to jot down with all the wedding goings-on this summer. I’m always on the lookout for new ways with courgettes, especially in such a hot year when new courgettes were forming on a daily basis at the height of the season.

The first recipe was inspired by a recipe in the July edition of the Sainsbury’s magazine, tweaked as ever to suit what I had available. It’s gluten-free and even low carb, if that’s what you’re looking for, although not particularly why I made it – it just sounded good! The original recipe used turkey, whereas I used pork mince, but use whatever you have/fancy. Sorry, no photo – I did have one, but it’s taken me so long to write up the recipe that I must have deleted it by mistake…

Moroccan Courgette & Pork Bake – serves 4

2-3 large courgettes (about 750g)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
500g pork mince
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp harissa
handful of chopped coriander or parsley
250g natural yogurt
1 large egg
50g freshly grated Parmesan (or use Cheddar if that’s what you have!)
Seasoning

Heat the oven to 200°C / Gas 6. Top and tail the courgettes, then slice lengthwise into thin slices about 5 mm thick. Place on a foil-lined baking tray, brush with olive oil and roast in the hot oven for 15-20 minutes or until just golden and soft, but not mushy.

In the meantime, fry the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft, then add the minced pork (or turkey) and cook for a further 5 minutes until browned. Add the spices and harissa and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, then add the tomato purée and the chopped tomatoes with their juice. Stir in the chopped herbs and season to taste.

Place a layer of sauce in the bottom of a rectangular dish (20 x 25 cm), then a layer of courgettes and continue until all used up, ending with a courgette layer. Blend the yogurt, beaten egg and seasoning in a small bowl, then pour over the courgettes and top with grated cheese.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot with a green salad. Freezes beautifully too.

Another courgette recipe I’ve trialled recently, based on how delicious courgette is in bread and cakes, is courgette & cheese scones. Perfect if you haven’t time to bake bread, but need something urgently to accompany your latest soup creation! Served here with roasted tomato soup with the last of the season’s homegrown tomatoes…

Cheesy Courgette Scones – makes 10-12

Courgette scones

450g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
350g grated courgettes
salt
125g butter
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
approx. 150ml milk
125g grated Cheddar cheese
seasoning

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C / Gas 6.

Put the grated courgettes in a colander over the sink and sprinkle with salt. Allow to drain to remove excess liquid for about 15 minutes. Then rinse with cold water, tip the courgettes into a clean tea towel and squeeze out as much juice as possible

In another bowl rub the butter into the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt until it looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in the fresh thyme leaves. Add most of the grated cheese and courgette and mix thoroughly. Add enough milk to make a soft dough that’s not too sticky (add more flour if necessary). Gently roll out the dough to 2cm thick and cut into rounds with a pastry cutter. Place the scones on a greased baking tray and bake for 10-15 minutes.  They should be a nice golden brown and well risen.

Serve with butter and a bowl of steaming homemade soup. Once again, these freeze well and are ideal to have in the freezer for emergency lunches or unexpected visitors.

Still on the baking theme, I also found a delicious recipe for chocolate & courgette brownies  a great way of getting rid of excess courgettes AND adding extra vegetables to boost the 5-a-day count of unwilling veg eaters! I found it here, but have adapted it slightly and record my version here for reference. Once again, these freeze well, which is great if you live alone and don’t want to eat them all at once! The problem with vegetable-based cakes in warm weather is that they can go off within a matter of days in the tin, so freezing is definitely the way to go.

Chocolate & Courgette Brownies – makes 16

Chocolate and courgette brownies

300g courgettes / zucchini
salt
200g dark chocolate, chopped
150g butter
3 eggs, beaten
200g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
150g self-raising flour
2 tsp espresso powder
100 g chopped hazelnuts (or walnuts or pecans if you prefer), toasted on a baking tray in the oven for 5 minutes

Pre-heat oven to 160℃ fan / Gas 4.

Grate the courgettes and place in a colander over the sink, then sprinkle with salt. Leave to drain for 15 minutes or so, while you get on with the brownies.

Place the chocolate and butter in a microwaveable bowl and microwave on high for 1 to 2 minutes in 30-second bursts until melted. Stir until chocolate is nice and smooth and leave to cool. Alternatively melt the old-fashioned way in a glass bowl over a small pan of simmering water. Leave to cool.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together using an electric mixer until doubled in volume (about 5 to 8 minutes depending on your mixer). Add the vanilla extract. Carefully pour the cooled chocolate into your egg mix and gently fold together with a metal spoon.

Rinse the courgettes to wash off the salt, then transfer to a clean tea towel and squeeze firmly to remove excess liquid. Fold the courgettes and toasted chopped nuts into the brownie mix. Sieve the dry ingredients into the mixture and fold in carefully.

Pour mixture into the prepared tin and cook for 30 minutes. Check to see if there is a paper-like crust on top – there should still be some movement in the centre of the tin. Bake for another 5 minutes if you don’t think it’s cooked enough, then take out and leave to cool. They will firm up on cooling. Cut into 16 individual portions when cool.

My final suggestion is barely a recipe, more a reminder of my favourite and simplest way of serving courgettes as a side dish. Again no photo – I’m getting lax! I cleaned up my photos before going to the US so I’d have space to take lots of new pictures, and have clearly been overzealous.

Courgette & Tomato Bake – serves 3-4

1 large onion, chopped
450g courgettes, thickly sliced
glug of olive oil
4 large tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Handful fresh herbs (I use basil, parsley and thyme)
seasoning
100g mature Cheddar cheese, grated
50g white breadcrumbs

Cook the onions and garlic in a frying pan with the olive oil for about 5-10 minutes until starting to soften. Add the courgettes and cook for a further 5 minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes, herbs and seasoning and cook until a thickish mixture forms.

Transfer to an ovenproof dish, mix the grated cheese and breadcrumbs together and sprinkle over the courgette mixture. Cook in a hot oven at 180°C/gas 5 until the cheese is starting to brown.

Serve with sausages, chops or on its own as a delicious vegetarian main.

Front garden

 

Bulb planting time again…

Poppy with ball Nov 2017 Rotherfield Woods

Despite a couple of sharp frosts, it’s still resolutely autumnal here: the trees are still (just about) decked in their golden and orange autumn finery, although I don’t think the colours have been quite as rich as usual this year. After a rainy day yesterday, which stopped play in the garden quite convincingly, today dawned crisp, bright and blustery – an ideal opportunity to get out in the garden and allotment and get on with more of those end-of-season jobs.

I’d managed to finally empty my summer containers and plant up my winter/spring offerings a couple of weeks ago and they’re looking good: blue pansies from the garden centre, with pinky-peach wallflower Aurora (grown from seed in a nursery bed at the allotment), all underplanted with a mixture of crocuses and daffodils from last years’ containers, but new tulips of course, as they don’t come again reliably. As usual, I like to ring the changes and had ordered a new selection from Sarah Raven – if you’re haven’t ordered yours yet and you’re quick, I believe there’s up to 50% off some varieties in the end-of-season sale. Tulips can be planted right up to the end of the year, and it’s actually better to plant them from November onwards to avoid any residual fire blight

This year I went for Sanne, an apricot and pink blend I’d seen and loved at the Chelsea Flower Show this year, two other apricot tulips from the Apricot Sorbet collection: Charming Lady (double) and Apricot Foxx, and Mistress Mystic, a silvery pink. The final variety, bought on impulse from my local garden centre on a 20% off day, is Hemisphere (finally found it by checking my receipt – thank goodness for computerised till receipts!). This is supposed to start off white with pink flecks, then deepen to a dark pink over time – sounds glorious, but we shall see!

This weekend it was time to plant last year’s saved tulip bulbs in the beds at the allotment. They did so well last year that I was finally able to cut some for the house without spoiling the display (precisely the point of planting them there in the first place!). I hadn’t labelled them, so they’ve all gone in together, but with white, cream, soft pink and palest lemon, they’re sure to look good in any event. I don’t expect them all to flower, but quite a few of the bulbs looked extremely fat and hopeful – a sure sign that they will flower again. Less likely for those that split into a number of smaller bulbs.

The rest I planted up at home on the island bed opposite the house, where tulips usually do extremely well in the full sun. This year, they hadn’t done as well as in previous years, but I put it down to the takeover ambitions of Phlomis samia, which seems to have suppressed a lot of other growth in its all-encompassing vigour! I decided to remove a whole swathe of it and have replanted a new rose, Frilly Cuff, a gorgeous neat, deep red shrub rose that I’ve seen a couple of times at Chelsea and coveted each time. I decided to treat myself with some birthday money and ordered online from the breeder, Peter Beales. Here’s hoping it likes this aspect too….

frilly_cuff_-_c_35_1000px

All in all, a very satisfying day in the fresh air, and I really enjoyed my much-needed cup of tea and slice of cake when I finally came indoors after walking the dogs at 5 o’clock – virtually in the dark! This was a whisky tea loaf I like to make in the winter as it keeps really well. If you double the ingredients and prepare two at once (not really any more effort), you can freeze one for when you’re too busy to bake! The original recipe was from Rachel Allen, although it’s not dissimilar to the cold tea cake my mum has made since time immemorial. This one is a fatless loaf – although I have to confess I like to serve it slathered with butter 🙂

Whisky Tea Loaf

Tea loaf

200ml strong warm tea (I use Assam or Early Grey, but any tea will do!)
150g light muscovado sugar
50ml whisky
300g mixed dried fruit (sultanas, raisins and currants are my usual choices)
1 medium egg, beaten
150g self-raising flour, sifted
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp baking powder

Pour the tea into a bowl, add the sugar and stir, then add the whisky and dried fruit. Cover with clingfilm and leave to soak for a few hours or even overnight. (Alternatively, if you want to make this in a hurry, you can boil the tea, sugar and dried fruit in a pan for 2 minutes, then add the whisky and allow to cool before using in the cake.)

Pre-heat the oven to 150°C fan, Gas 3 and grease and line a loaf tin (or two if doubling the recipe). Add the beaten egg to the tea and fruit mixture, then fold in the sifted flour, baking powder and spice. Pour into the tin and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, or until just firm to the touch and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin and serve sliced with butter and a lovely cup of tea.

One final recipe that I really want to add here before I forget is one I made last weekend when all the family were home for Bonfire Night. My younger son had requested Sticky Toffee Pudding, but some of the party are gluten-intolerant so I decided to make a Pear & Amaretti Cheesecake as well – which coincidentally also goes extremely well with the sticky toffee sauce! This is another recipe torn out of a magazine in my very ancient recipe scrapbook. I think it was by Gordon Ramsay in the first place, but I’ve adapted it with an Amaretti base, and rewritten the instruction sequence, as chef’s recipes often make rather a lot of assumptions that can prove frustrating for the amateur cook. My son’s fiancée had offered to help prepare this, but found the steps in the original in a very strange order!

Pear & Amaretti Cheesecake – serves 8-10

Pear and Amaretti Cheesecake

250g bag Amaretti biscuits*
100g butter, melted
2 large pears (or 4 small)
50g caster sugar (or vanilla sugar if you have it)
1 tsp lemon juice
Vanilla extract
300g cream cheese
150g caster sugar
150g crème fraiche
1 x 300ml pot double cream
75g Amaretti biscuits

Make the base by crushing the Amaretti biscuits in a food processor (or in a large plastic bag with a rolling pin), then mix in the melted butter until thoroughly blended. Tip into a 24cm round springform cake tin, greased and base-lined with a circle of baking parchment. Chill in the fridge while preparing the filling.

Prepare the poaching syrup for the pears by dissolving the sugar in 100ml boiling water, then add 1 tsp vanilla extract (if not using vanilla sugar) and 1 tsp lemon juice. Prepare the pears by peeling, removing the cores, cutting into quarters and then chopping into 1cm dice, and add to the simmering syrup. Simmer until just tender – 5 -10 minutes or so. Drain and reserve the syrup to use elsewhere. Allow the diced pear to cool.

Whisk the cream cheese with 150g caster sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Add the crème fraiche, then whisk the double cream in a separate bowl until soft peaks form and fold into the cheese mixture. Finally crush the remaining 75g Amaretti biscuits roughly in a plastic bag with a rolling pin. Fold the crushed biscuits into the cheese mix with the cooled, diced pears. Spoon onto the prepared base, level the top and chill in the fridge for a good couple of hours.

Serve with toffee sauce (see Sticky Toffee pudding recipe) or make a bitter caramel sauce by melting 9oz granulated sugar in a small frying pan until dark golden in colour – watch like a hawk, but do NOT stir! Add 2 tsp boiling water (care as it will spit!), then add 1 tsp vanilla extract and single cream until you get the consistency you want – not too thick. You can also add some of the reserved pear syrup to the sauce.

*Note: true Amaretti biscuits (or home-made macaroons) shouldn’t contain any wheat flour, but some of the mainstream brands may. I’ve just checked on the Doria Amaretti I usually use and surprise, surprise they do contain a small amount of wheat flour. Fortunately my guests weren’t coeliac, but PLEASE check if it’s an issue for you.

Leo in Rotherfield Woods

The Great Autumn Clearout

Cotinus Grace

Newly returned from a work trip to Spain, I’ve realised yet again that there are very few good times for a gardener to go away. Poor weather and pressures of work before I left meant that the allotment grass didn’t get cut and I managed very little tidying of the beds other than general harvesting. It was a similar tale at home. Two weeks later, both garden and allotment are looking very sorry for themselves with overlong grass, weeds aplenty and dead foliage everywhere you look. On the up side, there were still dahlias for the picking, but the calabrese and caulifower have gone just too far and will need to be converted to soup pronto! Much as I love homegrown calabrese, it is a problem in that it all comes at once – and there’s a limit to how much one person can eat. I’d already given lots away to family and friends before I went, but the remaining three heads should really have been harvested a week earlier. Never mind, with any luck there will be lots of delicious side shoots from the main stem if the weather remains mild over the next few weeks.

Broccoli and Stilton soup with scones

Broccoli & Stilton soup was the obvious choice, accompanied on this occasion by Stilton & apple scones to use up the rest of the Stilton, which I tend not to eat by itself, although I adore its savoury taste in cooking. I adapted my usual cheese & apple scone recipe by replacing Cheddar with Stilton, and added chopped sage instead of thyme – yum! The cauliflower too will go into Cauliflower cheese soup before the week is out.

Also in the fridge on my return and in need of using up fairly quickly were the peppers I’d harvested before I left, and a bag full of beetroot and carrots, not quite so urgent, as they keep, but still ripe for using. I had a yearning for a mixed vegetable stew of some kind and remembered a favourite Nigella Lawson recipe from her Feast book for a Moroccan vegetable stew with aromatic lamb meatballs. This makes huge quantities of the vegetable stew and is ideal for stocking up the freezer – very useful given that my son was dog-sitting for part of my absence and had worked his way through the contents of the freezer! That’s precisely what it’s there for, but it’s always nice to stock it up again with fresh produce before the winter. Nigella’s original recipe uses swede and parsnip, neither of which I have this year, but I figured that it would work equally well with beetroot, squash and peppers – which I had in abundance.

Moroccan Vegetable Stew with Aromatic Lamb Meatballs – serves 8-10

3 red onions
3 sticks celery
4 carrots
3-4 beetroot
3 cloves garlic
Olive oil
1 butternut squash, peeled and seeds removed
2-3 red peppers
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground ginger
100g dried apricots
2 cans chopped tomatoes
750ml vegetable stock
2 tsp rose harissa (or use normal harissa and add a couple of drops of rose water)
Seasoning
1 fresh pomegranate
Fresh parsley (or coriander) to serve

For the Lamb Meatballs:
500g minced lamb
1 leek
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground allspice
seasoning
3 tbsp semolina
1 egg
Oil to fry

Couscous to serve

For the vegetable stew: peel and roughly chop 2 of the onions, 2 of the carrots and 2 of the beetroot (use gloves unless you want to look as though you’ve been in a massacre!), then put in a food processor with the chopped garlic. Process to a fine mush, making sure you scrape down the sides so nothing is missed. Alternatively, chop finely by hand, but this is quite a large volume!

Grated veg for Moroccan stew

Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a large casserole dish (I use my trusty Le Creuset) and tip in the finely chopped vegetables to soften gently. Meanwhile, peel the remaining carrots, beetroot, squash and peppers and cut into small chunks. (The original recipe uses swede and parsnip here, so you can improvise with whatever you have/like.) Add these to the pan and continue cooking to soften, adding the turmeric, cumin and coriander as you go. Snip the apricots into halves or quarters with scissors and add to the pan. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, stock, seasoning and harissa (plus rose water if using separately), then bring to the boil. Once it comes to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for an hour or so, stirring occasionally to check that it’s not sticking.

While the stew is simmering, make the meatballs: put the minced lamb into a food processor (you don’t need to wash the bowl after processing the veg, as a bit of beetroot just adds to the effect), add the chopped leek, spices, seasoning, semolina and the egg, then process until thoroughly blended and the leek is finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for half an hour to firm up. After chilling, line a baking sheet with clingfilm and roll the mixture into small balls (about a teaspoon or so in each, like a large marble) with damp hands. You should end up with 70-75 meatballs.

Raw meatballs

Heat more oil in a frying pan, then add the meat balls in two batches. Fry until golden brown on all sides, then transfer to another baking sheet lined with kitchen towel to absorb any excess oil.

Moroccan stew cooking

When the stew has cooked for an hour, add the meatballs and continue cooking to heat through. Meanwhile, prepare couscous to serve ( I use 60g couscous and 100 ml boiling water per person, with added couscous spice (or use individual spices of your choice) and a dash of olive oil. Add the water to the couscous with the spice and oil, stir, cover and leave for 10-15 minutes, then fluff up with a fork and serve.)

Cut the pomegranate in half and hit firmly with a wooden spoon over the pan to make the jewel-like seeds fall out. You may need to scrape out the last few, but this is usually quite effective – and satisfying! Pick out any white membrane that may have fallen into the dish too. Sprinkle the stew with chopped parsley or coriander and serve.

Freezes beautifully too.

Moroccan veg stew with meatballs