HALLOWEEN CREEPY SPIDERS!

 

Halloween creepy chocolate spiders

I just have to look at these Halloween Creepy Spiders to make me smile……..and they are fun to make and decorate especially for little fingers.  They would be a fun project for the half term holidays. 

I always loved (and still do) Halloween and Bonfire night and I can still feel the excitement that I did as a child!

We followed the Scottish tradition of ‘guising’ rather than the more American ‘trick or treating’ – you had to put some effort in before you got a reward! So it was either a song or a dance or you read a poem as this was regarded rather odd in Yorkshire we got away with mumbling a few words that were vaguely poetic before we held out our hands but we did go to town with the handmade costumes!  Bonfire night was next on the children’s calender of very exciting things. I know nowadays it is considered risky to have your own bonfire and much  ‘safer’ (probably) to go to an organised event but this misses the point. Where is the building excitement of scavenging for wood etc to burn on the fire and then building the fire (I think we had help with this part!), not to mention the anxiety that someone may maliciously set fire to it before the night.  Even more important to me was the lovely food that was associated with bonfire night, toffee apples, parkin, cinder toffee, sausages and homemade soup. Given the opportunity to go and see a spectacular firework display I’d rather stay home have a tiny fire, a packet of sparklers and the nice food any day!

Somewhere in between was the, much, more serious-Mischief night. I think this was a Yorkshire custom or at least Northern as I haven’t heard anyone else doing it other than in these areas. Opinions vary as to whether it was the night before Halloween or the night before Bonfire night. When I talk about it nowadays it always gives rise to a fair amount of consternation and tut tutting and a  lot of taking the moral high ground. Hm..mm,  it was, however,  fairly tame and ‘just’ mischief such as taking gates off hinges (putting jam under the bars of your gate usually protected yours if you were lucky), ringing doorbells and drawing smiley faces (only with lipstick) on the round orbs on some neighbour’s gate posts………………..nothing to get too worked up about unless you were that way inclined

Just to get things going I would start with these lovely chocolate spiders….

HALLOWEEN CREEPY SPIDERS

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ROSE SCENTED PERSIAN RICE PUDDING

 

PERSIAN RICE PUDDING

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.)

 

Persian Rice Pudding by Sabrina Ghayour

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BAKED AUBERGINE WITH CORIANDER & POMEGRANATE

 

Baked Aubergine with Coriander & Pomegranate

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.

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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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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.

 

 

 

 

LEMON CURD

Gorgeously citrusy lemon curd
Gorgeously citrusy lemon curd

This delicious lemon curd is truly the the food of the gods and takes just 20 minutes to make.  You could use it fill a light, fluffy sponge cake or lemon roulade, dollop onto freshly baked scones or use as a decadent filling for dainty sandwiches-white bread, no crusts of course. Personally, I found it very difficult not to eat the whole lot directly from the jar……not just me..I had to wrest it from my husband as well.

The curd is made in small jars as it doesn’t keep well although this is academic as you won’t be able to resist it for long

 

Try it and you will never look at a bought jar of bright yellow, gloopy lemon curd in quite the same way.

Lemon Cake

LEMON CURD

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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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