Autumn winds are making the delicious plums fall from my tree and I’m picking them up as fast as possible as they rain down on my head. Apart from being delicious, I love the idea of ‘free’ food and, even better, free food from my own garden. For me, Victoria plums have the best flavour and are perfect for this Fruity Plum Crumble
Plum crumble has to be the ultimate comfort food and certainly a dish to illicit some guaranteed ‘ooohs and aaahs’ when it is brought to the table. Perhaps this is because the fruit season is short and serving this once or twice a year pudding, signals the changing of the year. Actually, mine isn’t a once a year treat as my freezer is now full of all the plums I couldn’t use -even after making spicy plum chutney & gifting some to friends etc there are lots left! I have either put the prepared plums (stone and halved) straight into freezer bags or cooked and pureed into boxes. My plan is to use the puree to make into a Christmas ice cream possibly with a little brandy or port and crumbled amaretto biscuits.
If you have a tree or know someone who has one, you will need to get a wriggle on and get them picked. Even better you could consider planting your own tree to guarantee your supply for years to come. They are trouble free and have pretty blossom in the spring.
I absolutely adore rice puddings & consider it the food of the gods -it’s not for nothing that babies here are often weaned on rice! I have eaten it around the world (of course there are many versions as it is such a cheap, staple ingredient) and have loved many of them. My favourites include the slow baked, creamy, nutmeg flavoured pudding of my childhood served hot on a cold day (with the skin of course) and the very rich, sweet Spanish Arroz con Leche served cold on a hot day. Both France & Italy have sweet, custardy versions with vanilla and many Asian countries cook it with coconut milk and serve with fruit such as lychees…I could go on. To be fair I’m very happy with tinned or carton rice puddings and yes, I did snaffle the kids’ baby rice.
When I read this recipe for a Persian style rice pudding in Sabrina Ghayour’s book ‘PERSIANA’ -Recipes from the Middle East & beyond, I knew that I had to try it…I loved the idea of rice delicately flavoured with rose with zesty lime & gentle spices. Sprinkled with crushed pistachio nuts & edible rose petals it looked as beautiful as it tastes.
I don’t often cook from recipe books but I love ‘Persiana’ with a passion, at first glance it seems so exotic but in actual fact, once you have accepted the long list of ingredients, this is a cuisine that is simple is simple to make and made to share-my kind of food. I could eat every page. I have only made some tiny changes, marked by asterisks, the most important being to take great care with the rose flavouring-perhaps it is a western thing, although I love it it’s very easy to over do it and end up with a soapy taste -you have been warned.
(Most of the ingredients are available in good supermarkets (even in Cumbria) or on line.)
I have a soft spot for anything Spanish having lived in Madrid for a number of years and this Tortilla Espanola was one of my favourite ‘tapas’. Cut up into squares and served with cocktail sticks it is served to accompany a drink. Many bars serve a selection of tapas: slices of salty Serrano ham, cubes of Manchego cheese, hot and garlicky prawns and…….I’m right back there now. Little tapas were originally served free but nowadays you are likely to be charged for them. You can also ask for larger portions and go from bar to bar ordering their speciality tapa. There is even a verb ‘tapear’ which means to have tapas!
This tortilla is a simple peasant dish of potatoes and eggs, quick to prepare and very cheap to make -it is a good standby meal as you will probably have all the ingredients already. I apologise to my Spanish friends in advance but I usually don’t make it in the traditional way but in a microwave -yikes, that’s almost committing treason tampering with a national dish.
Also, I have a nifty trick for turning the tortilla over using two plates rather than the precarious putting the plate on top of it and inverting the frying pan -it can end up with a clatter of pan and plate and …..a mess of tortilla on the worktop or worse. You be the judge you may enjoy the drama of the traditional method -you could even exclaim a flamboyant ‘ole’! as you do it!
This is a take on the famous Turkish dish ‘Imam Bayildi’, a delicious combination of baked, silky, smooth aubergines with an aromatic stuffing. Legend has it that the Imam fainted with pleasure after tasting it. I’m not sure if I fainted the first time but it has become one of my all-time favourite dishes. If you are planning on improving your diet by eating less meat then this is a great dish, if you are cutting out dairy products as well then it is also suitable for a vegan diet. Personally, I’m going down the road of eating less meat and making sure that the meat I eat is better quality and the result of a higher welfare standard.
You could serve these aubergines as part of mezze type meal (lots of little dishes served before a meal). These could be hummus, falafel (see my own recipe for these), spicy sausage, cheese, stuffed vegetables, olives and tzatziki etc. I love all these little dishes, with bigger portions, for a pick & nibble more sociable sort of meal.
Give it a go, try not to faint and enjoy this meal with friends.
I’m not keen on the traditional Christmas cake so this is my alternative one -my Festive Cherry Berry Pecan Cake. Not surprisingly it is packed with cherries, berries and pecans. It’s also one for marzipan lovers that don’t like icing -me! I only make it a few days before Christmas but it keeps well loosely wrapped in foil and in a cake tin. I love to eat this on boxing day afternoon with a glass of something fizzy or perhaps a sloe gin. Lovely.
Loathe marzipan? -Let me convert you with my homemade marzipan…it’s very different with a more nutty flavour rather than the tongue tingling aftertaste of artificial almond flavour. This amount of marzipan will give you lots of stars, crescents, holly leaves or whatever you have cutters for. If you leave them dry a little they will pack into bags as presents for your favourite marzipan lover.
Have a lovely Christmas and a very peaceful New Year.
This is the smell of Christmas for me, delicious, fruity mincemeat full of plump fruit, zesty orange, apple, nuts & spices. Homemade really is the best there I’ve said it. I’m having none of the pasty, oversweet, sticky ones and if I am going to all the trouble of making my own mince pies it would be a crying shame not to use a good mincemeat. This ‘recipe’ is hardly a recipe just a list (albeit longish) of ingredients that you put together and give a quick stir. If you can bear to give it away small jars make lovely presents. Give it a go please.
LUSCIOUS FRUITY MINCEMEAT Makes 450g (1lb)
100g dried apricots, snipped in half with scissors
50g walnuts (or almonds)
50g seedless raisins
1 medium eating apple, peeled, cored and cut up roughly
1 tbsp. mixed candied peel
1 heaped tbsp. grated suet (vegetarian if you prefer)
Zest of 1 small orange and juice
2 tbsp. unrefined caster sugar
1 tbsp. golden syrup
½ teaspoon mixed spice/½ teaspoon cinnamon
A good grating of nutmeg
2 tablespoons brandy/whisky
The ingredients can be chopped by hand but it is much easier to use a food processor.
First of all process the snipped apricots and then tip them into a large mixing bowl. Then process the nuts and add to the bowl. Do not over process these as they give the mincemeat some texture.
Now process the raisins, apple, sultanas and suet together.
Add them to the bowl and then add the currants (which can be left whole), the orange juice, zest, sugar, syrup, spices and brandy.
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
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
Lavender shortbread thins-a little taste of summer..
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.
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.
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.