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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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

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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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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BEEF BOURGUIGNON & DUMPLINGS

Classic Beef Bourguignon with crispy Baguette Dumplings

Brr it’s cold and blustery in Cumbria today and this beef bourguignon is a great warming dish on an almost wintery day. A classic French chef may shudder at the thought of adding the crispy baguette dumplings but they make a great topping and an ‘all in one’ meal. The dish uses cheaper cuts of meat which have lots of flavour (more so than expensive cuts) but slow cooking. These cuts are also cheaper so it’s win win for me. Shin beef in particular has a great flavour and almost melts down into a rich gravy, a piece popped into any beef stew takes it to a new delicious level. Trust me I know my shins from my steaks.

CLASSIC BEEF BOURGUIGNON & DUMPLINGS

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CARMELA’S SPAGHETTI CARBONARA

Carmella phot
Carmela Sereno’s demonstration

I really enjoyed a pasta making demonstration by Carmela Sophia Sereno at the New Bookshop in Cockermouth and loved her book-Southern Italian Family Cooking.

Carmela is very engaging and amusing -a more down to earth sort of Nigella without the affectations and irritations of the latter.

From an Italian family she is influenced by her mother and grandmother’s cooking and has then developed her own style and recipes. Her business  ‘Carmela’s kitchen’ has blossomed from teaching in her family kitchen to large scale demonstrations, radio shows and pop up kitchens as well as writing books. Happily, she is enjoying a whirl wind of activity at the moment despite having 4 bambinos at home. I was exhausted just listening to her.

We watched as Carmela made basic pasta, with the speed of someone who does it all the time and knows what she is doing even though she only had a tiny table to work on in the middle of a bookshop! She showed us how to cut all the different shapes and sizes with only some basic equipment. This was an impressive performance whilst keep up the constant chat, anecdotes and tales of her family’s cooking back home. Particularly impressive was the pretty, parsley lasagne-laying individual leaves on the pasta and them repeatedly passing it through the pasta machine until it stretched in situ. Holding the pasta sheet up to the light it did look like very pretty wall paper!

Handmade parsley pasta
Handmade parsley pasta

Carmela’s (first) book –SOUTHERN ITALIAN COOKINGsimple, healthy and affordable food from Italy’s cucina povera is widely available. I liked it, not least, because it is a small paperback (A5 size) and simply printed, in fact just like a family recipe book. It doesn’t have the beautiful photographs you almost always see in cookery books nowadays and is all the better for it. These, dispiritingly, look nothing like the dishes that you will produce at home. Nowadays the camera, almost certainly, will lie. Her recipes are family friendly, easy to follow and you can really feel the echoes of home Italian cooking. I was intrigued by Carmela’s advice not to put cream in Spaghetti alla carbonara and tried her recipe to the letter (now that’s a first for me) and it was lovely and rich without it. It did remind me of when I travelled around the poorer regions of Italy many (many) years ago. I suppose over the time we have ‘anglicised’ Italian pasta dishes serving them with far too much sauce perhaps to disguise poorer quality pasta. Now I am going to try the lasagne without the béchamel sauce.

Also in the book are recipes for antipasti, homemade pizzas, soups, bread, risotto and biscotti, cakes and desserts including a special Tiramisu recipe from her grand-mother. I must give this a go, it must be one of the most popular Italian puddings made here probably incorrectly.

Get in touch with Carmela:
07951 395237

Twitter @carmela_kitchen

Facebook/carmelaskitchen

http://www.carmelas-kitchen.co.uk

Buy Carmela’s book on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/q4uq233

Here is Carmela’s recipe for Spaghetti alla carbonara reproduced with kind permission:

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CHICKEN & BROCCOLI NOODLES

Chicken, broccoli and sweet chilli noodles

The trouble with kids is that if you say ‘you must eat 5 a day’, ‘you must eat your greens’……they can stick their heels in and REFUSE to have anything AT ALL to do with ‘healthy eating!! So finding new ways to introduce vegetables into their diet is important-it’s no good cooking dishes, however nutritious, if they don’t appeal to the little darlings.

Here is an easy supper dish you can rustle up in between activities and homework…using ‘super’ broccoli-a super food if ever there was one. I have packed in lots of vegetables, chicken and served it up with noodles-always good for a slurp. Try eating this with chopsticks for even more possibilities for hilarity. My top tip is to involve children in preparing their own food-they are much more likely to want to eat something they have made themselves. Participation depends on what you are cooking and age of the children but there is always some thing that can do help with such as cutting up the vegetables, setting the table, deciding the weeks menue or clearing away. Have a go with this recipe:

SUPER BROCCOLI SWEET CHILLI  STIR FRY WITH NOODLES

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PASTA PUTTANESCA AND STORE CUPBOARD MEALS

Pasta Puttanesca straight from the store cupboard

Hmm what on earth can we have for tea today..? Old mother Hubbard had a bare cupboard as well but don’t despair there are always meals to be made and can be thrown together at the last minute. This pasta sauce is made from tinned tomatoes, tinned anchovies, black olives and capers- all great store cupboard standbys. Splash out on the best quality tinned tomatoes as they are the main ingredient.

Eating’ in’ is, apparently, the new eating ‘out’ and I’m all for it. Don’t get me started on my favourite grump- poor restaurant food. I’m not talking fancy or sophisticated but just good food, freshly prepared, good quality ingredients, well presented and served with a ..smile, please. I could do without the ‘enjoy’ but this is taking  my grumpiness to the next level.  Here is an ‘eating in’ dish that you can make in 20 minutes and the ‘bill’ will be very easy on your wallet.

PASTA PUTTANESCA

 

Serves 4

 

For the sauce:

4 tbsp. olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped finely

½ tsp dried chilli flakes

1 tin of anchovy fillets in oil

2 400g tins chopped tomatoes e.g. Napoli.

80g pitted black olives (plus some extra to garnish)

1 tbsp. capers, drained and chopped small*

1 tbsp. sugar

Plenty of freshly ground black pepper (no salt as the anchovies are salty)

 

400g dried pasta (100g dried past/person is a generous serving

 

1.  Heat the olive oil in a small pan and gently cook the garlic and the chilli flakes for 2 or 3 minutes.

2.  Chop up the anchovy fillets finely-this is easy to do without taking them out of the tin which is messy- open the tin and then use the tips of the scissors into the tin to cut them up roughly. Add them anchovies and the oil and cook for a few minutes.

3.  Add the tins of chopped tomatoes.  Chop up the capers roughly and halve the black olives and add to pan. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Leave to cook for 20 minutes or so until the sauce is reduced by about a third.

4. Cook the pasta in a large roomy pan. Use lots of water, add some salt and when it is boiling hard add the dried pasta. Stir once and then leave alone-it should continue to boil furiously which means that it won’t stick to the bottom.  Cook for about 10 minutes-check on the packet as cooking times will vary. The pasta should be just ‘al dente’-meaning it should still have a little bite to it.

5. When the pasta is ready divide it between 4 warmed bowls and then add a dollop of the sauce on top.  Sprinkle some chopped black olives over each serving.

 

 

ZESTY CRUSTED SALMON WITH LIME AND GINGER AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!

 

Zesty crusted salmon with lime and ginger

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Well it’s been a while, call it the post Christmas doldrums and the rather gloomy wet weather here in West Cumbria. I am up and running now with all my good intentions and plans for the New Year. My taste buds need a little livening and this salmon recipe is just the job. Nice and light and very zesty and so quick to prepare you will be astonished – if you get a wriggle on you could have it prepared and in the oven in 10 minutes and on your plate in 20 minutes and have lots of time left for all those other intentions…

ZINGY CRUSTED SALMON WITH LIME AND GINGER

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SPICY FALAFEL IN PITTA BREAD WITH A TAHINI AND YOGHURT DIP

Moroccan style falafel in pitta bread with a tahini and yogurt dip

Now here is something rather delicious for you..I would like this a lot for my tea tonight (can somebody make it for me?).

Much as I like a good steak it is very nice to have a meat free meal-I am quite happy to have them often, so ‘Meat Free Monday’ could happily become ‘Meat Free a few days of the week.   Sunday is probably a step too far for me and I would have to stick to tradition and have a lovely joint of beef or a roast chicken sizzling away in my Aga, especially on a rainy, blustery Sunday.  In this, North Western, part of the world we can expect a few of these…. On a more serious note we need to cut down on our meat consumption which, globally speaking, is just not sustainable. I won’t bore you with more important reasons to  eat less meat-you will have to take it from me.

These chickpea little nuggets are high in protein and cheap to make. They are full of lovely fresh herbs such as parsley and coriander and fragrant spices. Tucked into warm pitta bread with some salad leaves they make a deliciously different meal. They would be good in a lunch box too-minus the dip

Oops just realised can’t have them for my tea tonight……………….REMEMBER TO SOAK THE CHICKPEAS OVERNIGHT! You could use tinned chickpeas if you are short of time and/or impatient but the freshly cooked ones are so much better.

SPICY FALAFEL WITH TAHINI AND YOGHURT DIP and PITTA BREAD

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