And Breathe…

We cooked Christmas lunch. My sister and I some how managed to cook Christmas lunch for ten without murdering each other with a carrot. Well, nearly. It seems gravy is a contentious issue.

In order to prevent murder most foul we separated the jobs to do about three weeks ahead of time so my sister could write a complex itinerary of timings, a list of ingredients, and establish marshal law in my poor mother’s kitchen. I was doing the meat and she the vegetables. I knew I was cooking a turkey crown and a large piece of beef striploin. My planning extended to turning up with a hangover, finding the meat, and cooking the meat. What we didn’t decide was who’s responsibility the gravy was…

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Needless to say, we had way too much food. The turkey crown was surprisingly tasty (I don’t normally eat turkey) and the beef was divine. We had about seven different vegetables; the best and most popular of which was the brussel sprouts…no really. My sister smothers them in cream and fries them with bacon, it is truly delicious. There was cauliflower and broccoli cheese, tarragon carrots, honey roasted parsnips, roast potatoes, mashed carrot and swede…most people think the meat is the most difficult bit. I got let off lightly. Steph’s veggies really were the stars of the show. We, as a family, have always prided ourselves on our roast dinners. We love to feed people; my father’s present to everyone on Christmas Day is the showstoppingly lavish dinner he provides.

A roast dinner is never just meat, potatoes and a few veg. It is a decadent celebration of all things seasonal. A feast. Each item lovingly prepared to showcase its unique flavours. It is a meal to take your time over. To prepare with love for those you love. Roast dinners are not scary, unless you’re faced with the same boring, soggy vegetables every week. They are an exciting way to explore new and exciting vegetables, delicious meats and different methods of cooking. The ultimate way to appreciate and stay connected to the seasons; once a week you can take the time to assess whats going on in the world around you. A walk while the meat cooks to see how the lengthening days are changing the pattern of the landscape. Duck, goose, grouse, guinea fowl, hare, mallard, partridge, turkey, venison. Much of the venison produced in the UK is from deer that roam freely, rather than being intensively farmed, resulting in superior meat. Good quality venison is tender, tasty and close textured, which means it’s easy to produce great results using simple recipes. As for vegetables, winter is by no means a boring season if you know what you’re looking for. Beetroot, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chicory, horseradish, jerusalem artichoke, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, parsnips, potatoes, salsify, shallots, swede, truffles, turnips, and a range of wild mushrooms.

Eating the seasons not only helps to ground a busy life, it is also a nutritionally, financially and ecologically sound way of organising your diet.

Between now and New Year I will add a few recipes that will turn your carrots from soggy reminders of schools dinners to transcendentally delectable nibbles of loveliness, your parsnips from boring sticks of root veg to dragon’s tails and sweet salads. Never cooked Jerusalem artichoke? Never fear. The gratin is here!

 

 

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Spring Greens

Spring is springing vivaciously, verdantly, vividly.

I love Spring, almost as much as I love Autumn; its all about the edges of things for me. The edge of Winter as it graciously gives way to the bounding, lively greenness of Spring. Those crisp mornings where you can smell the life around you shaking off the frost and stretching towards the sun.

As I have rather a lot of time on my hands at the moment I have taken to rambling about the countryside with the dog, searching (as I do any time I go for a wander to be honest) for edible treats along the way. Much of what I’m hoping to find falls into the ‘Spring Greens’ category, things like Wild Garlic, Three-cornered Leeks, Dandelions and new growth Nettles.

Trug Full of Love

Trug Full of Love

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Pumpkin Coffee Cake

…with brown sugar glaze.

How good does that last bit sound?!

I still haven’t found a muffin pan. I have the most amazing little pirate cupcake cases and paper pirates on sticks to put in them…

Thank you Father Christmas!

Thank you Father Christmas!

…and I can’t bake with them because apparently no one in Malta bakes cupcakes! Gah! This means I still haven’t tried these. Which makes me a little bit sad.

So until then I shall make tray bakes instead. Which makes me happy, yay!

I may have mentioned before how much I like pumpkin? And that even if the Maltese don’t do cupcakes, they sure do pumpkin – there is tons of it and its super cheap. AND you can buy it in segments!

A little small for Cinderella's carriage...lets eat it instead

A little small for Cinderella’s carriage…lets eat it instead

I usually make coffee cake as a go to sponge as Victoria sponge can just be a little too tame for me. And the OH has a serious thing for coffee too.

A tasty pear

A tasty pear

The following is a combination of the two above, kind of a sponge cake but also kind of a fruit loaf. But square, and with brown sugar glaze on top.

Pumpkin Coffee Cake

250g pumpkin puree, 200g self raising flour, 150g light brown sugar, 100g butter, 2 eggs, 1.5 tsp baking powder, 2 tbsp instant coffee

Brown Sugar Crumb: 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup plain flour, 4 tbsp melted butter (I know I normally hate cups but this is a ratio thing and not weight so is not sooo important)

Brown Sugar Glaze: 100g brown sugar, 50g granulated sugar, 1 tsp ground ginger, 75ml extra thick double cream

First make the pumpkin puree. This is best done in large batches and can be frozen or used in other things such as pasta sauces, or gnocchi. Roast the pumpkin in large slices until the flesh is soft enough to mash with a fork. Using a food processor, blend the pumpkin until very smooth, adding a little water if necessary to keep it moist. Weigh out 300g for this recipe, then pop the rest in the fridge for later, or label and freeze.

Line a brownie pan with greaseproof and lightly grease with butter. Heat the oven to 180 C. Cream 100g butter with 150g of light brown sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Don’t worry if it splits, it’ll come together again when the flour is added. Fold in the flour and baking powder, incorporating plenty of air. Mix the instant coffee into the pumpkin puree then fold into the cake batter until just combined. Pour mix into the brownie pan.

To make the brown sugar crumb mix together 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour and melted butter. Use fingers to sprinkle over the top of the batter in the pan.

Try to wait until its cooked before you eat it huh?!

Try to wait until its cooked before you eat it huh?!

Bake at 180 C for approximately 30-40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

For the glaze, combine the other 100g brown sugar, 50g granulated sugar, 1 tsp all spice, and the double cream in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir until all the sugar is dissolved.

When cake is finished baking, poke holes in the top with a skewer. Pour the glaze over the cake, making sure to cover it all. Serve it warm with vanilla ice cream and remember to thank me for your sugar coma when you can’t get to the gym 🙂

Candied Peel

Last week I joined a gym. The owner is ex-military. He scares me a little. Before last week I had never been to a gym. Not once. He noticed me looking a little despairingly at the machines – which admittedly are ridiculously simple and I now feel fairly stupid – and helped me out with how to program them etc. If he thinks I’m going a bit easy on myself he does a casual wander over, peers at my screen and presses level buttons. It is only ever up. Its good for me, apparently.

What going to the gym has actually enabled me to do is eat cake guilt free and spend even more time thinking about food. As the calorie counter goes along I think, oo thats another biscuit gone from my elevenses, and the slice of the coffee cake I’m going to make when I get home. Oh and that delcious carrot cake the other half picked up yesterday. And so on.

This recipe was inspired by BBC Good Food and I am wholeheartedly supporting the come back of this slightly retro gift. By giving some to everyone.

Dip me in chocolate...

Dip me in chocolate…and roll me to the gym

Candied Peel

A selection of citrus fruits – two or three lemons or limes, grapefruit, oranges, or the Christmassy clementine, a one to one ratio sugar syrup made from 4 cups water and 4 cups of sugar, melted dark chocolate (optional)

Are you getting fruity with me?

Are you getting fruity with me?

 

Using a sharp knife, make 6 slits along curve from top to bottom of each citrus fruit, cutting through peel but not into fruit. Using your fingers, gently remove peel. Slice each piece of peel lengthwise into thin strips. Trim excess pith from each strip. Place peel in a large saucepan, and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then drain. Do this twice.

Bring equal quanities of sugar and water to a boil, stirring occasionally until sugar has dissolved. Add peel to the boiling syrup then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently, without stirring, until strips are translucent. This will take about an hour. Remove from the heat and let the strips cool in the syrup. Keep the syrup as it could also be used for a nice gift if you pop it into a pretty jar or bottle. It would taste great in cocktails or drizzled on ice cream or cakes as it is essentially a thick cordial.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer strips to a wire wrack placed on a rimmed baking sheet. Wipe off excess syrup with paper towels, then roll strips in more sugar. Arrange in a single layer on the wire rack, and let dry for at least 24 hours. At this stage you could dip a few of the orange ones in dark chocolate too. Candied peel can be stored in an air tight container at room temperature up to 2 weeks.

Eat them straight from the jar, add them to cocktails or pop them in a blender to make a citrusy sugar.

For The Love of Blog

My laptop is still broken. I am currently borrowing one; its like my fix of methadone while waiting for my dealer to get back off holidays…or not, really. But I have realised I am a total computer/internet addict. I thought I could be with out it but I have found myself pining for writing my blog and other projects in a way I feel just a little bit ashamed about. But also good about because it means I really LOVE doing it.

For most of the time it wasn’t too heartbreaking as I was distracting myself valiantly with a trip to Kenya where I fell in love with samosas and Swahili sauce. And so actually I haven’t done a huge amount of cooking in the time I have been bereft of laptop. I did however spend a great deal of time hanging about in airports looking at my favourite food blogs and so I am going to direct you to some of the recipes I will soon be trying because I can’t get the thought of their potential deliciousness out of my head…

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Super Stuffed Squash

Super, scrummy, seasonal, sensational squash. There are a huge variety of this wonderful vegetable around at the moment, and they look so damn weird! They come in all shapes and sizes and can be multi-coloured too. Many make the perfect bowl in which to serve stews, soups and other autumn warmers. The first time I came across the squash bowl was at an autumn party, the weather was still clear enough to sit outside but it was definitely getting chilly. So with hats and coats and gloves, and a hot bowl of soup, we sat outside in the garden being gently warmed from the inside out!

Weird and wonderful

Weird and wonderful

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