PUMPKIN SOUP WITH CHILLI CROUTONS

Spicy pumpkin soup with chilli croutons topped with crispy onions is perfect for Halloween, Bonfire night or any other wintery cold night -it will warm the cockles of your heart! Serve it up with a hot toddy of cider, orange juice, rum, sugar and a little freshly grated nutmeg-delicious

Spicy pumpkin soup

I loved Halloween as a child despite being completely terrified. I anxiously peered around every corner expecting witches & ghosts (or worse) to appear. I used to try walking backwards to keep a look out but it never really worked out. My heart rate has just gone up just remembering about the spooky parties we used to have and…………I’m still frightened of the dark!  

The bright orange pumpkin was the centrepiece so I have used the flesh to make this creamy, silky soup. You can make it as spicy hot as you like or just omit the chilli. I have also added red lentils to make it more nutritious so you could serve it as part of a meal for those that prefer not to eat meat . The homemade croutons make all the difference and I make them a lot with all sorts of soups. Once you have tried homemade ones you will never break a tooth again on the hard, oily ones you can buy. You can leave the chilli out if you wish and just have them cheesy.  I make various sorts of croutons depending on the sort of soup I make flavouring them with eg ground coriander, garlic or fennel seeds -just partner them with some sort of strong cheese. Frizzled onions too are a delicious topping-I’m never keen on bought caramelized onions as they are usually too sweet but these are lovely.

I have to admit it is an enormous fiddle to serve the soup in a pumpkin but it looked great in the photo and I have always wanted to try it! If you want to do that you really need a second pumpkin so that you can carve it out more carefully. Make sure that you leave thicker sides to make it more sturdy.

There is something very satisfying about making homemade soup so have a go at this seasonal favourite and don’t turn your back for too long…….

 SPICED PUMPKIN SOUP WITH CHILLI CROUTONS AND FRIZZLED ONIONS

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LAVENDER SHORTBREAD THINS

Lavender shortbread thins-a little taste of summer..

Lavender shortbread thins

Oops where did summer go? I’m hanging on to the idea that there is a lot more to come and crossing my fingers for an ‘Indian summer’-to be fair here in Cumbria we often have lovely weather in September ………once all the children have gone back to school. That is a shame

I love my garden and love the idea of using flowers in my recipes what could be prettier-delicate blue borage flowers in ice cubes or drinks, peppery nasturtium flowers & calendula petals in a freshly picked salad, courgette flowers stuffed with creamy ricotta cheese & fried and delicate rose petals to adorn a special cake….I could go on.

These lavender shortbread thins are delicate little biscuits perfect for serving with home made ice cream, mousses or something like a creamy lemon posset or with afternoon tea. I have used a ‘sausage’ technique for making them which easily gives thin biscuits with a good ‘snap’. You can use this method to make any sort of biscuits that require rolling out a dough and cutting out shapes. The biscuits are not perfect rounds so if you want that you will have to go back to the usual methods. You can also make these with finely chopped rosemary again take care as rosemary has a powerful flavour.

 

LAVENDER SHORTBREAD THINS*

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RICH CHOCOLATE POTS

Chocolate pots

I used to think that these little pots of chocolate were the height of sophistication. To be fair I was only about 5 years old and they were a ‘left over’ treat from my parent’s dinner parties.  My mum made these a lot and this is her recipe. They are still a treat, dark, very chocolaty, rich  and easy to make. Just take care to melt the chocolate slowly and to combine the ingredients gently.  With such a simple recipe it is easy to make more and they can be made ahead of time and frozen-all my boxes are ticked.

If you can the flavour is even better if you make them the day before so a little restraint is needed-(you can always like out the bowl to keep you going!)

NB please note that the recipe contains uncooked eggs.

RICH CHOCOLATE POTS

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CREAMY FISH PIE FOR EASTER

 

Here is a extra special creamy fish pie for Easter an ooh and aah moment at your Easter celebrations. Everyone loves a pie and because they take a bit of extra time to make we don’t make them so often hence the oohs and aaahs. This one is extra special with leeks, smoked fish, prawns and eggs. 

Making a white sauce:

It is so simple to make a white sauce using the microwave method and much easier to get rid of lumps.  Add some extra butter at the end and I can’t really tell the difference. If you don’t agree I have included the instructions to make it with a roux ie melting butter, stirring in the flour and then whisking in the hot milk. It seems a palaver to me but I guess it isn’t if you are used to doing it this way and take a hard line on the ‘right’ way to do things!

If you want to make it ahead of time just cool it quickly and open freeze. When it is frozen you can protect it with a freezer bag. To eat the pie take it out of the freezer in plenty of time for it to defrost and then cook as before.

I’m having a large family gathering this year so I’ll be making this ahead of time to leave lots of time for chocolate Easter egg eating. Got to get your priorities sorted after all.

Happy Easter!

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MINCE AND DUMPLINGS FOR A COLD DAY

 

It’s a blustery day in Cumbria not quite cold yet but with a definite feel and smell of Autumn in the air and the promise of approaching winter. I say promise because I like the feel of Autumn still sunny and sometimes warm but with rustling falling leaves and the garden slowly turning to orange and gold. I like the Winter as well but it has to be a proper one with frosty mornings and proper snow, only at the weekends, so I don’t have to drive in it.  I’ve got out my  warm coat, scarves and gloves so I’m ready for anything. I’m looking forward to lighting the fire for the first time and looking forward to some cosy nights in with my favourite people.

This mince and dumplings is comfort food at it’s best everyone  I have spoken to about this have said……………………..Oh.oooooo I love them. But most have never made them possibly because they are not sure how to and don’t realise how easy it is. For my generation they remind us of childhood and for me of school dinners. Yes school dinners!! Maybe there is a touch of rose tinted memories here but we certainly had some memorable ones such as mince and mash, chocolate sponge with green peppermint custard (sounds absurd but we loved it), Apple pie with grated cheese-again rather odd but I was always told it was a ‘Yorkshire thing’. I think even at my tender years I thought that even odder because the cheese was always white, grated Lancashire cheese! Maybe this was  some historical culinary attempt at reconciliation between Yorkshire and Lancashire. Mince and dumplings was also on the menu probably because it was relatively cheap to make and filling for all us growing girls…………………..

This is my version which lives up to that memory when I suppose the recipe was very much the same. It’s childs play to make and can be cooked from start to finish in about an hour and for most of the time it will cook merrily by itself. So you just have time to pull those curtains, light the fire and pull on that baggy old cardi you only keep for winter (shapeless and quite probably bobbly-I know you have one) and cosy up for the night………………………..

MINCE AND DUMPLINGS

Serves 4/5

For the mince:

A little vegetable oil

2 large onions, peeled and chopped

800g beef mince meat

3 carrots, peeled and chopped

About 165g turnip, peeled and diced

2 beef stock cubes

750ml water

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

  1. In a large pan with a lid (I prefer to use a large, open shallow one with a lid) heat up a little oil and add the onions. Cook until golden.
  2. Add the mince and stir every now and then until it is all browned. Add the chopped carrots and turnip-I have used quite a lot of vegetables so there is no need to serve more vegetables with the meal.
  3. Crumble the stock cubes into the meat, add the water and stir until dissolved-this is quite a lot of water because the dumplings will absorb some of it.
  4. Season with black pepper. Replace the lid and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Taste and adjust and more salt and pepper if you prefer.

 

For the dumplings:

250g self-raising flour

½ teasp salt

100g shredded suet e.g. Atora

1 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped or 1 teasp dried parsley or mixed herbs

About 8 tbsp. of water.

 

  1. Mix all the dry ingredients together. Add the water to make a softish dough.
  2. Make into about 8 balls. Roll in a little flour if they are sticking.
  3. When the mince is cooked, drop the dumplings in and spoon over some of the liquid. Put the lid back on and cook for about 20 minutes until they are risen and cooked through.
  4. If you think it is too wet then remove the lid and simmer until the liquid is reduced.

 

 

CATEGORIESMAINS

SIMPLE OATY BISCUITS TO BAKE AT HOME

 

 

Fiona's Oaty Biscuits
Fiona’s Oaty Biscuits

Simple oaty biscuits to bake at home?  Simple is great and it’s a shame that simple is often thought to be boring.

My mother is a Scot and I was brought up eating lots of oats, porridge, oat cakes, haggis, muesli, flap jacks, oaty bread, oaty biscuits and a delicious pudding called cranachan, a creamy mix of raspberries, toasted oatmeal and whisky. I have to admit to preferring porridge made with rolled oats (not pinhead), milk (not water) and sugar (not salt). We were subjected to ‘proper’ porridge on visits over the border to see grandparents and I still shudder at the memory. Our rolled oats of choice was Scott’s Porage Oats. Who could resist the athletic, kilted Scots man on the packet about to release his shotput over the glorious highlands?.

Oats are healthy to eat, high in fibre, cheap to buy, nutritious and their slow release, wholegrain goodness will keep you going until lunchtime and beyond…what’s not to love?

This recipe for oaty biscuits comes from a Scottish (of course) friend Fiona, have a go they are simply delicious!

FIONA’S OATY BISCUITS

125g  Plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

125g rolled oats

125g  unrefined caster sugar

125g  block margarine or butter

Generous tablespoon golden syrup

Splash of milk

Prepare a baking tray with baking paper.  (It is helpful to have two trays if you have them as the biscuits take up quite a lot of space in the oven)

 

  • Put the flour, baking powder and oats in a bowl and mix together.
  • Melt the sugar, margarine and syrup in a small pan and then add to the dry ingredients.
  • Stir until incorporated. The mixture should be quite stiff but add a very little milk if it doesn’t come off the spoon easily. Drop approx. a small desert spoonful of mixture onto the baking sheet, it helps to use a teaspoon to push the mixture off the spoon.
  • Bake for about 20 minutes in a medium oven at approximately 160C, Gas mark 2. When golden remove from the oven, allows them to cool a little and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

NOTE: It is easy to put too much too much mixture on the tray, the biscuits need room to spread or you will end up with one large (but equally delicious) biscuit!

BOSTON BAKED BEANS for Bonfire night

These sticky pork Boston Baked Beans are just the ticket for Bonfire night.

I love it when the nights start to cut in and there is the lovely sweet smell of autumn in the air. I can’t wait to get the log fire going and look forward to cosy evenings. I have always loved Halloween and Bonfire night -maybe because my mother always made an effort to celebrate them and I have never forgotten about them. Halloween involved dressing up and anxiously searching the sky for witches and Bonfire night was always at home with a bonfire in the garden and my mums food. My ‘food memories’ are still clear in my mind; almost impossible to eat toffee apples, homemade tomato soup in a mug, sticky parkin (well, I am from Yorkshire), sausages and jacket potatoes cooked in the fire. I think I recall even doing this the day after bonfire night, the embers were so hot! I thought it the most exciting night of the year. I think I may have blocked out all the rainy nights when we couldn’t do them but I do recall tears… Organised firework displays have never done anything for me at all -perhaps because the food was as important as the fireworks.

These Boston Baked Beans are the sort of thing I would cook nowadays for either a Halloween or Bonfire party but my recipe is perfect for comfort eating at any time. So batten  down the hatches and give it a go. This dish won’t spoil if it is left and it’s even better the next day.

BOSTON BAKED BEANS

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MARINATED COURGETTE WITH DILL

Courgette & fresh dill pickle
Marinated courgette with dill

Summer time and the plot is bursting at the seams…and the courgettes are intent on a veg patch take over. Will we ever learn not to put in so many-no, probably not because ‘you never know’ what may happen.  Some plants may not make it through the minefield of growing your own vegetables………………… too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet slugs, hapless gardeners, mildew, pests etc etc. Once they get past the danger times they grow at an alarming rate the beautiful, orange flowers start appearing and, magically, they develop into tiny courgettes. It is best to pick them small but beware turn your back, they have grown into huge marrows. ‘What shall I do with them’ ? is a common cry.

I like mine sliced into rounds and simply fried in olive oil but there are lots of other options -roasted in the oven, made into soup, spiralised into salads or pasta and baked in various cakes and scones.  After you have exhausted all the usual ways to deal with them try this very simple dish. It is easy to grow the delicious herb dill alongside your vegetables or it is pretty enough to go in the flower beds as well. It is my favourite fresh herb and simply used with courgettes a summer treat for me. Don’t forget it isn’t a pickle and you have to eat it fresh although it will last until the next day.

MARINATED COURGETTE WITH  DILL

2/3 Small courgettes

50ml rice wine vinegar (+water)

Approx. 1 teasp. sugar*

Fresh dill

Seas salt and freshly ground, black, pepper

  1. Using a ‘T’ vegetable peeler remove long, fine ribbons along the length of the courgette. Move around in quarter turns and then discard the middle bit. If you have to use an older courgette I would remove half of the peel as it will be tough.
  2. Put the vinegar in a small pan with 3 tbsp. water. Add *some of the sugar. Briefly simmer and then leave to cool. Taste- it shouldn’t be too sweet or too vinegary.
  3. Finely chop the dill-you can do it with the stalk unless they are tough. In this case you can take them off and just chop the feathery bits.
  4. Put the courgette, vinegar mix and dill in a small bowl and mix together.
  5. Leave for an hour and then drain before eating.

 

 

 

 

SAUSAGE & EGG PICNIC PIES

 

 

 

 

Sausage & Egg Picnic Pies

 

School holidays and sunshine (well it is here in the West, sorry East but it is usually us in the rain and cold!). Time to head out for a picnic-these portable, Sausage & Egg Picnic Pies are scrumptious. They are  a bit more of a fiddle to make than a cheese sandwich but they don’t curl up around the edges when you leave them out in the sun and……………they are delicious. If you can get hold of a nice, meaty, sausage rather than a more processed one that is better.

So head off in to the great outdoors or just down to the bottom of the garden or local park and have fun in the sun! Toodle pip

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ROAST CHICKEN WITH STICKY CARROTS

Roast Herby Chicken with Sticky Roots
Roast  Chicken with Sticky carrots

Well it’s been a while…I’m thinking ahead to a simple Sunday lunch or  easy get together meal with the family and this roast chicken with sticky carrots fits the bill. Roast chicken is always a safe bet (and economical) so it’s my go to family, weekend, roast. My Christmas turkey always sits on top of a ‘trivet’ of  vegetables & herbs  to help keep it moist by raising it off the base of the roasting tin and adding extra flavour to the chicken. It also helps to make the best gravy ever so I have used this trick with the chicken. Try to get hold of  to a higher welfare chicken if you can it is much better not just in terms of flavour but more because of the meaty texture-not the ‘cotton wooly’ texture  of meat from many factory raised birds.

My bird is fragrant with rosemary, roasted garlic, juicy with lemon and sweet, sticky carrots AND roasted all in one pan so not much washing up-can you resist?

Here is my;

ROSEMARY AND LEMON ROAST CHICKEN WITH STICKY CARROTS

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