Tag Archives: recipes

Apple watch

The apple season has been unusually protracted this year, starting as it did in late July/early August with the shiny red Katy apples and now in full flow with the main crops ready to be harvested for storage: Bramleys and an unidentified, but delicious Cox hybrid in my case. I’ve been eating windfalls for months, but this weekend is on my calendar as apple harvest time – if the weather decides to play ball! I’ve been away or otherwise occupied so much recently, and am going away for work again next week, so this weekend is really my last chance before the winter weather sets in and the prospect of frost rears its ugly head.

After a delightful couple of days here in the South-East with glorious autumn sunshine and a soft breeze – combined of course with a full workload and no time to go outside and play – Saturday morning dawned wet and gloomy: not the ideal weather to cut the long overdue lawn and harvest my apples…. Fortunately, tomorrow’s forecast looks better, so I abandoned all hope of a day catching up in the garden/allotment and spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon pootling around in the kitchen, baking instead – good for the soul :-).

I haven’t had much time to bake since getting back from holiday, so a good opportunity to restock the cake tins (and freezer). My younger son is dog-sitting next week while I’m away; heaven forbid that I should leave him with no cake! Today’s session included spiced apple shortbread, hazelnut maple biscuits (courtesy of Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries III, and a brace of ginger cakes, including one for the freezer. I also made a mocha ice cream and a good, old-fashioned apple crumble for tonight’s dessert. My favourite kind of afternoon….

I also wanted to share two other apple recipes I’ve made recently in this most apple-centric season: a walnut apple galette and a fragrant Apfelkuchen, a yeasted cake topped with sliced and spiced apples. The galette is from an ancient M&S Seasonal Freezer cookbook I’ve had since the year dot: Leo the labrador (6 today!) chewed it indiscriminately during his puppyhood, so it now has no front cover and rather mangled edges, but I haven’t the heart to throw it away. As for the apple cake, it’s based on a Nigella recipe from her delightful Domestic Goddess book, but with lots more fruit following a discussion with German colleagues in the Foodie Translator group on Facebook. Definitely one to make for breakfast or brunch when you have a house full of guests as it makes a rather large cake.

Walnut Apple Galette – serves 8

Walnut galette

3oz walnut pieces
3oz butter
2oz soft brown sugar
4oz plain flour, sifted
2-3 large cooking apples
Juice of half a lemon
2oz sultanas
1/2 tsp mixed spice (or cinnamon)
1-2 tbsp sugar (or to taste, depending on the sweetness of your apples)
1/4 pt double cream
3-4 tbsp natural yogurt
Icing sugar, sifted (to serve)

Grease two baking sheets and pre-heat the oven to 180°C, 375°F or gas mark 5.

Grind the walnuts to a coarse powder in a food processor, then add the sugar, butter and flour, and process until it comes together to make a firm dough. Divide the dough in half and roll out each half on a piece of floured baking parchment until you have an approximate disc shape measuring at least 8″ in diameter. Then mark a disc shape on the rolled dough using the base of an 8″ cake tin. Place a greased baking sheet on top of the shortbread disc and carefully flip it over using the paper at the sides to hold it in place. Remove the paper and repeat with the second half of dough and the second baking sheet. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and cut one of the shortbread discs into eight segments while still warm (it will crack if you try to do it when it has cooled!). Leave to cool on the trays.

While the shortbread is cooking, prepare the filling. Peel, core and slice the cooking apples and put in a pan with 2 tbsp water and a dash of lemon juice to prevent the apples going brown. Add the sugar to taste and the mixed spice or cinnamon. When the apples are soft and fluffy, add the sultanas and leave to cool.

When ready to assemble, whip the cream until soft peaks form, then whip in the natural yogurt (or you can just use cream if you prefer – I like the lighter and tangier effect with added yogurt). Place the unsegmented base on a serving plate and spread half the cream on top. Spoon on a generous layer of the apple mixture, then spread the remaining cream and yogurt mix on top. Arrange the shortbread segments on top and dust with icing sugar. This softens the longer you leave it in the fridge, so if you want to enjoy the contrast between the crispness of the shortbread and the soft billowing layers of cream and apple, don’t assemble too long before eating! That said, I adore it in its slightly softer state the following day too: the flavours just seem to meld superbly….

Apfelkuchen – serves 8-10

350g strong bread flour
1 tsp dried yeast (I use Dove’s Farm)
1/2 tsp salt
50g caster sugar
200ml milk
1 medium egg, beaten
25g butter

1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp cream (or crème fraiche)
7-8 eating apples (I used Katy, but any crisp dessert apple will work beautifully)
Juice of 1/2 lemon (or lime)
1 tbsp demerara or caster sugar
Fresh nutmeg, grated
1/2 tsp cinnamon or allspice
Handful flaked almonds

I make my bread dough in a breadmaker, but you can do it by hand if you prefer. For the breadmaker method, just put the first seven ingredients in the breadmaker and prepare the dough using the dough setting. My machine (Panasonic) takes 2 hours and 20 minutes for dough, but other machines may differ. I tend to make the dough in the evening and then leave in the fridge, covered, in a bowl overnight for a long, slow second prove.

The following morning, knock down the dough on a floured surface, then press into a greased 20 x 30 cm Swiss roll tin or roasting tin. It will take some pressing to make it expand to fit the tin, so be patient – it will get there in the end! Then set aside in a warm place to prove again while you prepare the filling. I find this takes up to one hour in a warm kitchen; if you’re lucky enough to have a proving drawer or an airing cupboard, you may get away with less.

Peel and core the apples, then cut into slices, coating in lemon juice to prevent browning as you work. Place in a bowl with the sugar, cinnamon or allspice and toss to mix evenly. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C, 375°F or gas mark 5.

In a small bowl, mix the beaten egg with 1 tbsp cream and grate in some fresh nutmeg. Then brush this mixture over the proved dough. Finally arrange the apple slices neatly in rows on top of the dough and sprinkle with flaked almonds. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes until the fruit is tender and starting to turn golden brown. Dust with icing sugar and serve warm in chunky slices with a beatific smile. My German colleagues suggested lashings of whipped cream – but even I draw the line at whipped cream for breakfast!

Advertisements

Using your Loaf

In this age of healthy, “clean” eating, is it wrong of me to confess that I always like to have cake in the house?! As I’ve said many times before, my motto is everything in moderation and a piece of cake with your afternoon tea is good for the soul – well mine, at any rate. Now there’s just me at home, though, I do have to be careful to make things that don’t go off before I have time to eat them. Loaf cakes can be the perfect solution: I often make the mixture, then cook it in two loaf tins and freeze one, or even cook just one cake and freeze half. Such a luxury to know you have cake already in the freezer when you return from holiday or have a particularly steep workload. They’re usually very quick to make too, so you can knock them up in no time.

Two of my favourites are adapted ever so slightly from Nigel Slater’s first Kitchen Diaries, both in the winter months, which is precisely when I like to cook them. They just suit the grey days at the start of the year somehow: a spicy double ginger cake for the chilly days of January and a frosted marmalade cake to make the most of the peak citrus season. My final loaf offering is one I stumbled across by chance in Waitrose’s Weekend newspaper: a “healthy” date, walnut & banana loaf.

Frosted Marmalade Cake

frosted-marmalade-cake_slice

6oz butter, softened
6oz caster sugar
1 large orange, zest and juice
3 large eggs, beaten
3oz orange marmalade
6oz self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder

For the frosting:
4oz icing sugar

One 2lb loaf tin, greased and lined

Preheat the oven to 160°C, 350°F or gas mark 4. Beat the butter, sugar, orange zest, beaten eggs, marmalade, flour and baking powder in a large bowl until pale and fluffy. Finally, gently stir in the juice of half the orange. (Nigel uses the classic sponge method and mixes these separately, butter and sugar first, then eggs, then folding in the flour – I find my method works just as well!)

Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 40-45 minutes until cooked. Leave the cake to cool in the tin – it may sink slightly – then remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

Sieve the icing sugar and mix in as much of the remaining orange juice as required to produce a smooth, slightly runny consistency, then drizzle icing over the cake, letting it run down the side, and leave to set.

Double Ginger Cake – makes 2 loaf cakes (or 1 large square cake)

ginger-cake-cooked_cropped

250g self-raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
200g golden syrup
stem ginger in syrup (3 lumps, finely chopped)
2 tbsp syrup from the ginger jar
125g butter
2 heaped tbsp sultanas (optional)
125g dark Muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
240 ml milk

Grease and base-line either 2 loaf tins or one 8″ square deep cake tin. I usually make two loaves and freeze the second.

Set the oven to 160°C, 350°F or gas mark 4. Sift the flour with the spices, bicarb and salt. Put the golden syrup, ginger syrup and butter in a small pan and warm gently. Add the chopped stem ginger, sugar and sultanas (if using – I find they ALWAYS sink to the bottom of the cake as the mixture is so wet, and they really don’t add anything to the cake, but if you like them, leave them in!). Bubble gently for a minute or so. Break the eggs into a bowl, then add the milk. Remove the syrup mixture from the heat and pour over the flour. Then add the eggs and milk, stirring gently until no traces of flour remain. The mixture will be very sloppy!

ginger-cake-pre-cooking

Pour into the prepared cake tins and bake for 35-40 minutes or until firm to the touch. Leave to cool before turning out, then serve in chunky slices with a good slathering of butter. Perfect teatime fare….

As I said, my final loaf recipe was adapted from a Waitrose recipe and is actually for a “sugar-free” cake, not that I was seeking to make any such thing. It is, of course, free from refined sugar, not sugar in any form, as it contains fruit and fruit nectar – but if you’re keen to cut down on refined sugar, do give it a go.  I happened to have a blackened banana in the fruit bowl, which was why it called out to me. The original recipe uses date nectar, which I didn’t have, so I used agave nectar instead, and two ripe bananas – there again, I only had one in the house, so I added an overripe pear – great way to use up the stragglers in your fruit bowl! I must admit, I was dubious before I made it, but it really is very light and delicious – well worth a try.

Date, Walnut & Banana Loaf

40g butter, softened
2 tbsp agave nectar (or date nectar if you have it)
1 egg, beaten
100ml semi-skimmed milk
150g wholemeal SR flour (or spelt flour if you prefer)
1 tsp baking powder (may need 2 if using spelt)
2 tsp mixed spice
2 ripe bananas, mashed (or 1 banana + 1 pear)
50g walnuts, chopped
60g chopped dates

Grease and base-line a loaf tin. Set the oven to 160°C, 350°F or gas mark 4.

Cream the butter and agave nectar together in a bowl, then add the egg and milk and combine with a hand mixer. Sift in the flour, baking powder and mixed spice. Stir to combine – it will look very odd at this stage! Add the mashed bananas/pear, dates and walnuts and mix again. Transfer to the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes or until firm to the touch. Cool and serve in slices, with butter if preferred. This won’t keep for long because of the fruit content, especially in warm weather, so do freeze half if necessary.

date-walnut-banana-loaf

‘Tis the season for… Mince Pies

Mince pie time again! I usually make my own mincemeat and these days one batch lasts me a couple of years, maturing beautifully from one year to the next. I’ve experimented with a few recipes over the years, but Delia’s original recipe from her Complete Cookery Course has always been my preferred option. Usually, however, I make it back in October and leave to mature nicely before using it for the first time. This year, October and November have passed in a flash and I’ve only now realised that I’m down to my last jar of the 2013 vintage (and very nice it is too!).

Fortunately, I’d heard discussion of a quick mincemeat recipe on breakfast radio and a swift hunt online brought up a Good Food recipe that sounded just the job. Here it is, adapted to reflect some elements of my old recipe, but I’m hoping it will do the trick. It certainly smells fantastic as it infuses overnight.

Quick Mincemeat

quick-mincemeat

450g currants
450g sultanas
450g raisins
100g candied mixed peel
50g flaked almonds
1 rounded tsp mixed spice
1 rounded tsp cinnamon
1/2 fresh nutmeg, grated
Juice and grated zest of 1 large lemon
Juice and grated zest of 1 large orange
450g dark muscovado sugar
100ml brandy (I used Metaxa) or 50 ml brandy + 50 ml Amaretto
2 large cooking apples, peeled and grated
200g vegetable suet

Mix all of the ingredients, apart from the suet, in a large mixing bowl, and leave to infuse, covered with a tea towel, overnight. Mix in the suet, then spoon into sterilised jars, cover with  cellophane circles and lids. Store in a cool place; should keep for at least a year.

My all-time favourite mince pie pastry is this very rich, buttery, sweet shortcrust recipe that makes featherlight, crumbly pies. I’ve also used the sweet tart pastry from the Tarte aux Pommes recipe to great effect, but this one is the best in my view. I have no idea where it came from originally; it’s scribbled down in one of my handwritten recipe notebooks as simply “yummy mince pies”. See what you think:

Sweet shortcrust pastry

6oz butter
8oz plain flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp water

Rub butter into flour (again, this can be grated in from a frozen block if you prefer). Stir in sugar and bind to a firm dough with the egg yolk mixed with water. You may not need all the liquid – add with care until the consistency feels just right, not too wet. Knead gently until smooth. Chill for 20-30 minutes, then roll out dough thinly on a floured surface and use as usual.

This quantity should make 24 mince pies. I use a 3″ round cutter to make the bases and then roll the trimmings again and cut out 24 tops using a star-shaped cutter, 2.5″ across. Line 2 x 12-hole patty tins with the bases, fill each with a generous teaspoon of mincemeat, then press the stars lightly on top. You can brush the edges lightly with water or milk, but the mixture is so buttery, they should hold anyway. Bake at 200°C, Gas 6 for 10-12 minutes until lightly coloured. Dust with icing sugar to serve. Serve warm.

mince-pies_cropped

Happy Christmas!

Baking with courgettes…

The recent unexpected late summer heat has meant that the courgettes are still going great guns. Blink, or miss a day or two of harvesting, and you have marrows to contend with! Fortunately, I love courgettes, so courgette pasta, courgette & feta pancakes and grated courgette & beetroot salad have all been on the menu this week – hardly any wonder that I turn virtually vegetarian in the summer months.

Another way of using up courgette gluts is to use them in baking. Bread and cakes with added courgette seem incredibly light and airy – and decidedly virtuous: green AND making inroads into the courgette mountain!

I first made courgette bread  a few years ago when I stumbled across a delicious-sounding recipe on Jack Monroe’s website, then called “A Girl called Jack”. The website has now been rebranded “Cooking on a bootstrap“, but the recipe remains the same – along with the intention of providing tasty food on a shoestring. I’ve adapted it slightly for use in a breadmaker, but it is fundamentally based on Jack’s original idea – and a really nice way of using up some of those courgettes. (See the original website if you want to make it the old-fashioned way.)

Courgette, Lemon & Sultana Bread

courgette, lemon and sultana bread

1 medium courgette
300g strong bread flour, plus extra to knead the dough
1 tsp dried yeast (I like Dove’s Farm)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
50g sultanas
zest and juice of 1⁄2 a lemon
1 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
Water
Poppy seeds to sprinkle

Grate the courgette finely into a large mixing bowl and set aside in a colander to allow some of the liquid to drain off – especially important if using juicy homegrown courgettes! Put 1 tsp dried yeast, 300g strong bread flour, salt and sugar into the breadmaker, then add the drained courgette, sultanas, lemon zest and caraway seeds if using. Add the water to the lemon juice and make up to 100-120 ml – I would tend to add the lesser amount if using homegrown veg. as they are very juicy. Set the breadmaker to dough mode – this takes 2 hrs 20 minutes in my Panasonic machine, but every machine will be different.

When the dough is ready, turn out onto a floured surface and knock down. You may need to add quite a lot of extra flour at this stage, depending on the juiciness of the courgettes. When the dough is soft, but able to be moulded without sticky fingers, pat out an oval on a greased baking sheet and leave in a warm place to prove for 30 mins – 1 hour. Sprinkle with poppy seeds if using.

Set oven to 180°C/gas 4 to preheat, then cook the proved loaf for 30 minutes. It should be golden and crisp on top, feel lightweight and sound hollow on the bottom when tapped. Leave to cool on a wire rack, then serve with butter and hunks of cheese – this is also surprisingly good toasted with jam!

My second bread recipe came about when I realised I hadn’t left myself enough time to make a yeasted dough and had people coming for lunch. A quick internet search (I find myself doing this more and more nowadays despite my many recipe books!) brought up this BBC recipe, which is amazingly good considering how quick it is – and yes, it uses up yet more courgettes! I adapted it to what I had in the fridge, as ever, but honey aficionados might like to check out the original recipe.

Courgette & Cheddar Soda Bread

Courgette and Cheddar soda bread

400g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
2 medium courgettes
50g rolled oats
1 tsp salt
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
75g mature cheddar, grated
few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
285ml natural yogurt
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 egg, beaten or milk, to glaze

Heat oven to 180°C fan/gas 6 and grease, then dust a baking sheet with a little flour. Coarsely grate the courgettes, then place in a clean tea towel and  squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Put the flour, oats, bicarb and 1 tsp salt in a large bowl. Add most of the cheddar (save a little for the top), thyme leaves and grated courgettes. Mix the yogurt and maple syrup, then pour into the flour mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to clump together, then tip onto a work surface and knead briefly to bring all the loose bits together – try not to overwork the dough or the bread will be heavy.

Shape into a round loaf and place on the baking sheet. Brush with egg or milk and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Use a sharp knife to score a deep cross on top of the loaf, then bake for 30-40 mins until deep golden brown. Best served warm, but leftovers will keep for 1-2 days. Delicious with soup, cheese or hummus – and makes delicious toast!

My final baking suggestion is a courgette cake. Inspired by Bake Off’s drizzle challenge this week, I fancied a courgette drizzle cake – and sure enough, my internet searches brought up a few promising candidates. I plumped for a gluten-free option (always worth experimenting before you’re expecting guests) from the Waitrose recipe site, and was amazed by the results: you would never guess this was a GF cake – sublime!

Courgette Lemon Drizzle Cake

Courgette drizzle cakethe

250g courgettes, coarsely grated
175g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g ricotta
125g Doves Farm self-raising flour
85g polenta
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Finely grated juice and zest 2 lemons
Handful thyme sprigs
6-8 tbsp icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas 4. Grease and base-line 2 loaf tins (or one if you prefer a larger cake for a crowd – bear in mind that cakes made with fresh vegetables don’t keep as long, especially in the warm summer months. I made one to eat and one to freeze.). Put the grated courgettes into a clean tea towel and squeeze out excess juice.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until creamy. Gradually beat in the eggs, adding a spoonful of flour if it looks as though it is starting to curdle, followed by the vanilla and ricotta. Fold in the flour, polenta, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Finally fold in the lemon zest, grated courgettes and thyme leaves, reserving some for decoration.

Spoon the mixture into the loaf tin/s and bake for 1 hour (large tin) or 35 mins (two tins) until risen, golden and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Mix the lemon juice with the icing sugar and a sprinkling of thyme leaves. Spoon the drizzle over the cooled cake and leave to set. Slice and serve with a cup of tea for a delectable afternoon treat.

Courgette drizzle cake_closeup

Peas, courgettes and beetroot…

Peas

This has been a week of hefty pickings from the allotment – and with only me here to eat it all, my cooking has been very much variations on a theme! Hard to believe that just six weeks ago, I was worried whether the plants would survive the cold/slugs/pigeon attacks. I needn’t have fretted; the peas, mangetout and sugarsnap, have been amazing, outgrowing their net protection frame so much that I had to put in extension poles to raise the height (and stop those plump allotment pigeons pecking out the tips). The courgettes, sown and brought on in the warmth of the conservatory, have loved the freshly-manured bed and plentiful rain followed by sun, and almost growing before my eyes. I sowed two varieties this year, my old stalwart, the dark green Defender, and a pale green Italian variety from seed producers Franchi Sementi, called simply Genovese – which is delicious and very prolific. I wasn’t sure that seed from a hot country would do as well here, but so far I’m very impressed.

I try and walk down to the allotment every other evening in the harvesting season – or every evening if it’s very hot, especially if I have new plantings I need to keep watered. Even with such a short time interval between harvests, I am still returning with four or five courgettes and a punnet full of peas, to say nothing of soft fruit. I’ve given some away to friends and neighbours, of course, and my son and his fiancée visited briefly this weekend and went back after dinner with a vegetable box worth of fruit and veg from me and my son’s future in-laws. With tomatoes, lettuce and round courgettes from their smallholding, and sugarsnaps, straight courgettes, dill, jostaberries and dahlias from me, they can cancel this week’s Abel&Cole box without any qualms at all!

Baba ghanoush for lunch

It’s been surprisingly easy to come up with different combinations each night for dinner. I love eating the sugarsnaps raw with my simple lunch, but I’ve also had them in pasta sauce with fresh pesto and courgettes, as a quick & easy stir-fry with mushrooms and a hint of bacon, in a cream sauce with dill and smoked salmon to top linguine, and in a delicious pea orzotto inspired by Bake Off’s John Whaite via Twitter. I suspect this would also work with pearled spelt, although I haven’t tried it yet – or of course you could use rice, but cooking for a much shorter time as for a standard risotto.

Sugarsnap Orzotto with Tangy Feta & Mint – serves 2

Sugarsnap orzotto

1 litre vegetable stock, preferably homemade
300g sugarsnaps and/or mangetout peas
1 lemon, grated zest and juice
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
125 – 150g pearl barley, rinsed and drained
Small glass white wine
Handful fresh dill, roughly chopped
Handful fresh mint, roughly chopped
100g feta cheese
Salt and pepper

Put the vegetable stock, 200g peas, half the lemon zest and the crushed garlic into a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the sugarsnaps are tender (mangetouts will need less time), then allow to cool. Blitz in a blender to a smooth liquid and sieve to remove strings – essential, even with fresh-picked sugarsnaps!
In a large, shallow casserole, heat a generous amount of olive oil over a medium heat, and add the chopped onions. Cook for 5 minutes or until transparent, then add the pearl barley and white wine. Bubble for a few minutes, than add some of the blended pea stock, half the lemon juice, seasoning and half the chopped dill and mint. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 hour – 1 hour 15 minutes, topping up with more stock as it is absorbed by the barley. Chop the remaining sugarsnaps/mangetouts into bite-sized pieces and add after half an hour. You may not need all the stock, so keep an eye on it, and keep testing the barley for tenderness. Meanwhile, chop the feta cheese into small chunks and add the remaining lemon zest and juice, chopped mint and dill and a splash of olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Leave to marinate while the risotto cooks. Once the pearl barley is tender, it is ready. Serve topped with the minty feta cheese, and garnish with extra raw sugarsnaps if you have any!

Earlier in the week, I also served both peas and courgettes raw in a sublime beetroot “rice” and feta salad adapted from a recipe suggestion in Olive magazine. I’ve grown two varieties this year, my favourite Cylindra for deliciously sweet, cylindrical beets that peel easily after roasting, and Chioggia, an usual and very pretty pink and white-striped beetroot. So far, I’ve found the taste of the Chioggia a little insipid when cooked, and the stripes/colour tend to fade to a muddy pink, which is disappointing – but grated raw in this salad, they were a revelation!

Beetroot “Rice” Salad with Feta, Sugarsnaps & Courgettes
– serves 2

Beetroot rice salad

4 raw beetroot (I used Chioggia), peeled and roughly chopped
Handful of dill, chopped
100g feta, chopped
100g sugarsnap peas, trimmed and roughly chopped
100g fresh courgettes, sliced very thinly into discs
2 tbsp sunflower seeds, toasted
1 heaped tsp cumin seeds, roasted
Lettuce to serve

Tangy lemon dressing
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
6 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
Handful dill, chopped (and/or mint)
Salt and pepper

Put the chopped beetroot into a food processor and process until it resembles grains of rice. Tip into a serving bowl. Make the dressing by blending all the ingredients together in a jar and shaking until emulsified. Pour half the dressing over the beetroot – you won’t need it all, but see how you go. Any left over will keep well in the fridge for a week. Mix in the toasted sunflower and cumin seeds, sugarsnaps and courgettes and finally sprinkle over the feta. Serve on a bed of lettuce and enjoy! It’s hard to believe something so healthy and raw can taste so good.

 

Decadence is Growing Your Own…

Whitecurrants

Strange though it may seem, there are times when growing your own fruit and vegetables can seem like the height of decadence. When else would you feel inclined to have fresh raspberries on your breakfast every day for a month, or feast on asparagus ’til it comes out of your ears?! At shop prices, or even farmer’s market prices, these luxury items tend to be perceived as special treats – yet, if you grow your own, you can indulge, in season, whenever you like – or freeze for later, of course. That’s one of the reasons why it’s always worth growing the kind of things that tend to command luxury prices in the shops, if you can find them at all, that is – asparagus, soft fruit, mangetout and sugarsnap peas, broad beans…. the list is endless. And that’s to say nothing of the environmental benefits of homegrown produce in terms of organic cultivation, food miles saved – and the taste of crops grown and eaten within hours of picking – bliss!

This week saw me with so many mangetout and sugarsnap peas that I made some into soup – sacrilege to many, I’m sure, but when you have plenty, why not?! It’s a recipe I’ve been cooking for years, all the years I’ve been growing peas, in fact, originally from an old Cranks recipe book, but tweaked slightly, as is my wont. It suggests serving it chilled, but unless you live in a very hot climate, I prefer serving it hot – and freezing for an instant taste of summer on cooler days.

Mangetout Soup – serves 6-8

2 medium onions
450g mangetout or sugarsnap peas
2 small potatoes
50g butter
1 litre vegetable stock
200ml milk (or adjust to taste)
Handful of fresh mint leaves
Seasoning

Chop the onions and sauté in butter until transparent. Trim the peas, removing any strings if using sugarsnaps or older mangetouts, chop roughly and dice the potatoes, then add to the pan with the chopped mint. Sauté for a few minutes, add the stock, season and bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly, then purée in a blender in batches. Sieve into a clean pan – this is one soup that really does need to be sieved. I’ve tried it without and you can’t get rid of the stringiness of the pods, no matter how carefully you trim them beforehand.
Add milk until the desired consistency is reached. Much depends on the size and consistency of your potatoes and how thin you like your soup!
Reheat to serve – also freezes well.

Another favourite way of cooking mangetout or sugarsnaps straight from the garden – other than deliciously raw in salads! – is with a tangy lemon dressing. This was inspired by Delia Smith’s summer vegetables in her Summer Cookbook and uses any summer vegetables you happen to have lying around, lightly steamed or microwaved and tossed in a lemon dressing with fresh herbs to serve.

Summer Vegetables in Tangy Lemon & Dill Dressing

Summer veg with lemon dressing

Mangetout peas
Sugarsnap peas
Courgettes
Baby carrots
Shallots or bulbous spring onions
Broad beans
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
6 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
Handful dill, chopped (and/or mint)
Salt and pepper

You can use any young summer vegetables you have to hand for this recipe, which is why I haven’t specified quantities – it’s entirely up to you. Prepare the veg as usual, then steam or microwave for 4-6 minutes. If using carrot or onions, start them off first, then add the rest for the last 3-4 minutes. You want them just tender, definitely not cooked through.
Meanwhile, prepare the dressing by placing the juice and zest of the lemon in a jar, then adding the olive oil, sugar, crushed garlic, mustard and seasoning. Shake to emulsify, then taste: if too sharp, add more oil.
Turn the vegetables into a serving bowl, add enough of the dressing to coat and toss while still warm. Sprinkle over chopped dill and/or mint and serve lukewarm or cold the next day.

Summer veg salad with prosciutto

If you have any leftover new potatoes, this is delicious served for a lunchtime Summer Vegetable Salad, mixed with the potatoes and some chopped prosciutto crudo, adding extra dressing if required. I even threw in a handful of whitecurrants for an extra fruity je ne sais quoi when I made this last week.
The perfect summer lunch, just right for the current unexpected spell of hot weather….

Poppy in the meadow 2016

Blackcurrants – not just for Ribena!

Blackcurrant fool individual

Berries and currants of all hues, shapes and sizes are coming thick and fast in the fruit garden in this unexpected July heatwave. The raspberries are fantastic this year – must be all that winter rainfall – and the gooseberries and currants aren’t far behind. All apart from the redcurrants, that is; they’ve been stripped (by birds/mice?!) despite being comprehensively netted! Raspberries and strawberries I eat as they come, but most of the currant family tend to need cooking before eating. Whitecurrants are the honourable exception, being delicious raw like mini grapes, added to salads or as elegant decorative touches. I do hope to make some jelly when I get a spare minute or two, but may have to add some blackcurrants to give a hint of colour in the absence of the usual redcurrants.

I’ve already got a number of blackcurrants in the freezer from last year’s bountiful crop, so I’ve been experimenting with this year’s pickings. Having my younger son and his ice cream-loving girlfriend to stay for a few weeks while they were between flats was a great incentive to try a blackcurrant ripple ice cream, a variation on a recipe I found in the June edition of Sainsbury’s magazine. The original used cherries, but I figured blackcurrants could work as well, if not better.

Blackcurrant Ripple Ice Cream

Blackcurrant ripple ice cream

250-300g blackcurrants
300g caster sugar
2 large egg whites
1 kg full-fat Greek yogurt

Stew the blackcurrants and 50g sugar gently in a small pan, stirring until the juice runs, until the currants soften and form a compote. Allow to cool.
Mix the egg whites with the remaining sugar in  heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir constantly until the mixture is hot, but not boiling – 2-3 minutes.
Transfer to a large, cold bowl and whisk with an electric mixer for 5 minutes until you have  a cool, stiff and fluffy texture.
Whisk in the yogurt, then transfer to an ice cream maker and churn until frozen. Of course, you can make it the old-fashioned way by freezing for an hour or so, then whisking in the ice crystals and repeating until softly frozen.
Fold through the blackcurrant compote for a rippled effect and return to the freezer for at least 4 hours to set.
This makes an extremely light, yet creamy and tangy ice cream., good served with fruit or on its own, with lots of contented lip-licking.

Having made the ice cream, I was left with two egg yolks skulking in the fridge. I normally make Chocolate Custard Creams or add them to quiche, but this week, in sweltering heat, I was tempted by the idea of a blackcurrant fool, using freshly made custard with the egg yolks as the base – satisfying use of leftovers too! I’d made double the quantity of blackcurrant compote in the first place, so enough for the ice cream and the fool – making assembling this even easier. You can add fresh raspberries and the food processing stage to replace some of the compote if you prefer. You could equally well use ready-made custard or custard made with custard powder if you don’t fancy making fresh custard.

Blackcurrant Fool – serves 2-3

Blackcurrant fool duo

2 egg yolks
1 tbsp caster (or vanilla) sugar
1 heaped tsp cornflour
150ml milk
few drops vanilla extract
250-300g blackcurrants
50g caster sugar (or to taste)
100ml double cream, whipped

Combine the egg yolks, 1 tbsp caster sugar and cornflour in a small bowl. Stir in the cold milk, then strain into a small pan. Cook gently until the mixture starts to thicken, stirring constantly. Add the vanilla extract to the custard. Allow to cool.
Stew the blackcurrants and 50g sugar gently in a small pan, stirring until the juice runs, until the currants soften and form a compote. Allow to cool.
Blend the custard and compote in a food processor, then push through a sieve to remove any seeds/skin.
Whip the cream and fold into the fruit mixture. You can use a balloon whisk to combine if the cream is too thick to fold readily!
Spoon into sundae dishes and chill, then decorate with fruit of your choice, or mint leaves/toasted  almond flakes to garnish.

Incidentally, if it’s not soft fruit season, the Chocolate Custard Creams I mentioned earlier follow the same method for the custard, but stir 60g chopped plain chocolate into the custard immediately after it thickens. Continue stirring until the chocolate melts completely, then transfer to ramekin dishes and decorate with chopped walnuts or grated chocolate. Tastes amazingly decadent for such a simple pud….