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Saturday, 14 November 2020

Pumpkin Cheesecake With Pumpkin Ice-cream

With Halloween done and dusted on Saturday, it seemed a little brutal to get stuck in to cutting up the pumpkin lanterns the next day but it was a Sunday, so there was time to do some processing and start making good use of the stuff whilst it was still fresh.

I started by turning a pound and a half of a lantern into pumpkin soup. Normally I would use 1lb of pumpkin and 1lb of butternut squash to make the soup but I didn't have any butternut squash so I used a pound and a half of pumpkin and 8 oz of potatoes to add the creamy texture usually provided by the butternut squash. With all the usual flavours added, it wasn't noticeable that I had changed the recipe.

Pumpkin & Potato Soup

1 lb 8 oz cubed pumpkin flesh
8 oz peeled and cubed potatoes
2 garlic cloves, chopped
10 fl oz vegetable stock
5 fl oz sieved tomatoes (or passata) or 2 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp curry powder
Salt & pepper to taste

Put some oil in the bottom of a large saucepan and gently saute the cubed vegetables for about 5 minutes then add  the garlic and fry for another minute. Pour in the stock and tomatoes and add the curry powder. Put a lid on the pan and simmer for 30 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Blend until smooth, taste and season as necessary. Eat hot or cool and freeze in portions.

Whilst the soup was cooking, I put another lot of pumpkin chunks on to steam so by the time we had finished lunch, it was possible to use some to make pumpkin puree for the cheesecake and ice-cream ideas I had in mind. 

Pumpkin Ice-cream

450g fresh pumpkin
300ml whipping cream
120g light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch ground cloves
Pinch of salt

Peel and chop the pumpkin then steam until soft. Mash until a smooth puree is formed. Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend for about a minute until well mixed. Pour into suitable containers and put in the freezer. Take out of the freezer after 2-3 hours and whip up with a fork to break up the ice crystals before returning to the freezer.

With the ice-cream in the freezer, I turned my attention to the cheesecake. I had made pumpkin cheesecake a few years back but it was a baked one and I think on the whole we prefer non-baked cheesecakes - they are certainly easier to make! The previous weekend I had made a totally delicious pear and gold chocolate cheesecake, served with pear and vanilla ice-cream and I really wanted to repeat the dessert this weekend but with the seasonal ingredients of pumpkin. So, stocked with luxury chocolate from The Chocolate Mill MK, I decided to pretty much follow last week's recipe but use ruby chocolate this time.

I was confident about the flavours but I really wasn't sure what colour the cheesecake would end up and I thought there was a possibility that the orange of the pumpkin puree, mixed with the pink of the ruby chocolate would make an unpleasant brown colour but in fact it turned into an attractive golden brown, just enough of a colour to hint at the pumpkin and spice flavours, and perfectly complimented by the gingerbread-like spiced ice-cream. Lovely!

For the base
150g digestive or ginger biscuits, crushed in a blender
75g butter, melted

For the topping
100g pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp mixed spice
200g ruby chocolate
30g butter
250g cream cheese
90ml whipping cream

For the biscuit base combine the crushed biscuits and the melted butter in a bowl then press into the greased base of a 20cm circular tin or dish. Place in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to solidify.

Next, melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Leave to cool. In another bowl, mix together the cream and cheese and beat until smooth. Once the chocolate mix is suitably cool add it to the cream mix and stir thoroughly. Add the pumpkin puree and mixed spice and stir in. Spoon the mixture onto the biscuit base. Return to the refrigerator to chill for a few hours or over night.

Friday, 6 November 2020

Halloween lanterns and Vegan Pumpkin Pancakes

It felt as if Halloween should have been an anticlimax this year, what with rumblings about whether kids should go Trick or Treating or not. But as my girls have never had the desire to go Trick or Treating, they weren't going to miss that. Our only involvement normally is putting out pumpkins and having a bucket of sweets available for anyone who comes knocking, whilst suitably dressed up ourselves.

So on Saturday morning my youngest dressed in her Halloween themed dress, put on her bat wings and decorated the kitchen in Halloween decorations. Then we stuck on a Halloween playlist and gathered together our homegrown pumpkins to decide which ones to carve. Having selected three that looked suitable, we got stuck in, quite literally.

As usual, we saved the seeds and put those out for the squirrels. These little cuties had been tapping on the window all morning asking for treats so they would have to do for Trick or Treaters this year. 

Once carved, we put the pumpkins out in the back garden so that we could enjoy them without giving the wrong impression that we were open for Tricker or Treaters.

We also saved the bits of pumpkin cut out from the eyes etc. and I put that in the steamer so that I could turn it into pumpkin puree for use in recipes after that. As it happened, it was time to get dinner on by this point so I didn't make it into anything straight away.

We are the support bubble for my step-daughter, who lives with her cat just around the corner. She popped over in the afternoon to do some Halloween crafts with my youngest and I invited her to stay for dinner. We were having massive homegrown baked potatoes for dinner so it was easy enough to whip her up some vegan coleslaw and some baked beans to top her potato. She likes to add a few extra flavours to her beans so I fried up some homegrown courgette, mushrooms, shallots and garlic and she added soy sauce and curry powder to her taste.

After dinner, and once Strictly had finished, I asked if she fancied cooking some pancakes. They would, of course, have pumpkin in them (and be vegan). She's always up for dessert so I tinkered with a recipe and made vegan pumpkin pancakes, using some of the pumpkin I had steamed earlier, and she cut them into Halloween shapes before adding maple syrup. 

Vegan Pumpkin Pancakes

55g wholemeal flour
115g plain flour
½ tsp salt
25g caster sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
3 tsp baking powder
300ml soya milk
3 tbsp sunflower oil
130g pumpkin puree

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Combine the wet ingredients together in a measuring jug.
Gradually pour the wet ingredients into the dry, stirring to form a batter. Heat some oil in a large pan then pour two coaster-sized areas of batter into the pan at a time. Fry 2 minutes then flip and fry 2 more minutes. Keep warm in an oven until ready to serve then serve hot. 

If you wish to make these non-vegan, halve the amount of baking powder, add an egg and use milk.

Anyway, my youngest went to bed, tired and feeling as if she had partied all day one way or another so definitely no feeling that Halloween had been cancelled in our house this year.

Friday, 30 October 2020

French Beetroot Salad

We had a holiday to France cancelled back in April. We like to spend a few days in northern France every year and whilst we are there we embrace the local food and drink. The French seem to use and sell local and artisanal food effortlessly on both their quaint high streets and in their supermarkets.  

It's funny really because the food of northern France is really not very different from that of the UK. Hardly surprising really, considering the proximity. However, there are some delightful differences beyond the shape of their bread! We like to buy bits and pieces from the boulangeries and charcuteries.and put together relaxed cold buffet type dinners, followed by treats from the patisserie. 

One thing that we enjoy as part of those meals, which are abundant in the supermarkets over there but completely missing from UK shops, is beetroot salad. Diced cooked beetroot in some kind of mysterious dressing.

Not able to get our French experience this year, we did at least manage to grow a fantastic beetroot harvest. And, fortunately, a few years ago I managed to figure out a good approximation of the flavours involved. Mind you, rather than eating it as part of an elaborate French buffet, we were more often found eating it as a side dish to out lunchtime savoury muffins.

French Beetroot Salad

4 cooked and peeled beetroot
2 finely chopped shallots
1 1/2 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
1 heaped tsp of mustard
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
Garlic salt

Dice the beetroot then mix all the ingredients together. Leave to stand for a 10 minutes before serving or place in the fridge until needed.

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Pear & Gold Chocolate Cheesecake

The last trug of pears are rapidly ripening now and I really need to use them up but I am reluctant to just chop them up and freeze them for later use in preserves as I have been enjoying a variety of pear based desserts and I still have ideas I want to try.

One of the problems (if you can call it that) of having friends who are also artisan food producers, is that you get exposed to some really lovely food. What could possibly be wrong with that? Well, once you have tasted it, you don't want to go back to the rubbish you were eating before.

I certainly find this the case with chocolate. I haven't had Cadbury chocolate in the house for years because I find it awful, quite frankly, but I don't mind buying more continental-style chocolate. As it happens, Lidl do a very decent dark chocolate that I like to use in cooking. However, no dark chocolate ever lives up to the quality of the dark chocolate that Steve Mills from The Chocolate Mill uses in his truffles. As such, I asked him if he would buy in some extra chocolate for me from his supplier. And whilst he was at it, I wondered if I could get some milk, white, ruby and gold chocolate too.

Honestly, a bag full of high quality, interesting chocolate to play with was just the boost I needed during lockdown and we had some fun trying out some ideas over the summer. Yes, I did, as always enjoy the flavours of the dark chocolate but I found the ruby chocolate and gold chocolate the most fun to experiment with because they are so novel, yielding interesting colours as well as flavours. I should probably share the recipe for the ruby chocolate ganache that I made for a rather spectacular strawberry Victoria sandwich cake in July but that is a story for another day.

Anyway, restocked with fresh supplies of gorgeous chocolate in time for half term, we have once again been experimenting and I knew that I wanted to try out the hunch that I had that the gold chocolate would pair particularly well with pears. So, with all the ingredients to hand, I set about making a pear and gold chocolate cheesecake. And yes, it most definitely worked - somehow taking on the taste of a silky smooth salted caramel cheesecake, despite not adding any salt to the recipe!

To serve, I scooped out some balls of the pear and vanilla ice-cream I had made at the weekend. Honestly, vanilla ice-cream doesn't get any better than that! Somehow the pears seem to make it taste extra creamy and extra vanilla-y without that weird back of the throat burning you can sometimes get with over flavoured vanilla ice-cream.

So, some random Thursday evening in October we enjoyed an absolutely top class dessert. And why not, as there is so little else permittable these days to raise the spirits!

Pear & Gold Chocolate Cheesecake

For the base
150g shortbread biscuits, crushed in a blender
75g butter, melted

For the topping
125g pears, peeled and chopped weight
1/2 vanilla pod
200g gold chocolate
30g butter
250g cream cheese
90ml whipping cream

For the biscuit base combine the crushed biscuits and the melted butter in a bowl then press into the greased base of a 20cm circular tin or dish. Place in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to solidify.

Next, gently steam the pear pieces with the vanilla pod for about 5 minutes until soft. Cut open the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds onto the pears. Put in a food processor and blend until smooth. Set aside to cool.

Next, melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Leave to cool. In another bowl, mix together the cream and cheese and beat until smooth. Once the chocolate mix is suitably cool add it to the cream mix and stir thoroughly. Add the cooled pear mixture and stir in. Spoon the mixture onto the biscuit base. Return to the refrigerator to chill for a few hours or over night to set before serving.

Pear & Vanilla Ice-cream

3-4 perfectly ripe pears
2 cm length of vanilla pod
2 oz (55 g) icing sugar
4 fl oz (110 ml) milk
5 fl oz (147ml) double cream

Peel, core and chop the pears into pieces. Cut the piece of vanilla pod in half length-ways and scrape the seeds out onto the pieces of pear then add the pod shells to the pears too. Steam the pears and vanilla together for 10 minutes until very soft. Remove the pod shells then blend the pears until totally smooth in a food processor, adding the sugar towards the end of the blending process. Allow the pear puree to cool down then mix the puree with the milk and double cream. Pour into suitable containers and freeze for 2-3 hours. Remove from the freezer and beat then return to the freezer. Repeat every two hours until solid.

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Toffee Apple Cake

My youngest daughter is a huge fan of Halloween. She's never been Trick or Treating nor does she want to. What she loves is all the spooky themed stuff, carving pumpkin lanterns and making themed food. And she doesn't restrict her Halloween themed fun to one day at the end of the month, instead celebrating it all month. It is not unusual to find her in the kitchen during any weekend in October in face paint and spooky outfit, cooking up some Halloween treats.

This weekend she was enjoying the autumn classic pairing of favours - toffee and apple. Fortunately we had a bucket of Bramleys to work through and some Wethers Soft Caramels to hand.

Toffee Apple Cake

125g butter, softened
225g dark muscovado sugar
2 eggs
225g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
200g apples, peeled, cored and chopped
100g soft toffee, chopped

Preheat the oven to 160°C and grease and line a 20cm tin. Cream together the butter and sugar then stir in the eggs. Stir in the flour and baking powder then add the toffee pieces and apple. Pour into the tin then bake for 1 hour.

Once the cake was in the oven, we had a go at popping our homegrown popcorn. It popped quite well so we stuck the 4 remaining toffees in the microwave and tried spreading that on the popcorn. It wasn't particularly successful as a pouring toffee so I don't think I'll recommend that as a life-hack! Still, she had some popcorn so she plonked herself down in front of Coraline for a couple of hours whilst the rain belted it down outside. Perfect autumnal Saturday afternoon!

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Dorset Apple Cake

Maybe it's because my grandad came from Dorset and I have something in my genes, or maybe it's because this traditional cake has the perfect balance of sugar, spices and fruit, but I don't like to let an apple season go by without baking a Dorset Apple Cake or two. 

A simple, no fuss cake, with a lovely crunchy topping, a slice is just perfect in the middle of the afternoon whilst I stop for a breather. Savouring every mouthful, I watch the squirrels in the garden, busily hiding nuts, somehow unable to grasp that tomorrow there will be more nuts in the birdfeeder.

Dorset Apple Cake

225g self-raising flour
2 tsp cinnamon
115g butter
115g light brown sugar
1 large egg
6-8 tablespoons of milk
225g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and diced
100g sultanas
2 tablespoons Demerara sugar plus 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a 20 cm circular cake tin. Put the flour and cinnamon in a bowl and rub in the butter until it forms a crumb texture. Stir in the sugar. Add the egg and milk to form a batter. Stir in the apple pieces and sultanas. Spoon into the cake tin then sprinkle over the Demerara cinnamon mix. Bake for 40-50 minutes.

Plum Flapjacks

The Victoria plum tree in our garden tends to alternate between years of abundance and years of lean. One year it became so overloaded with fruit that the branches snapped! Lesson learned, I try to remove fruit before that happens now.

When it is an abundant year, I try to make sure I make the most of it, making jams and chutneys and getting plenty of them stored away in the freezer. We also try to eat a fair few and use them up in baking.

My husband always likes something sweet to eat with his after dinner cup of tea but he prefers that to be an oaty biscuit or a flapjack. So in plum season I have been known to make him plum flapjacks! They are tasty and worth making but it should be noted that after a couple of days the moisture in the fruit makes the flapjack go soft so I would recommend eating them up fairly quickly. Not that that should be too difficult!

Plum Flapjacks (makes 12)

450g plums
1/2 tsp mixed spice
Pinch of salt
225g light muscovado sugar
225g butter
3 tbsp golden syrup
280g oats
250g plain flour

Wash and chop the plums then sprinkle with spice, salt and 55g of the sugar. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 200°C and grease a suitable tin. Melt together the remaining sugar, butter and syrup. Put the oats and flour in a large bowl and stir together then pour over the melted mixture. Combine well then tip half the mixture into the tin. Layer the plum mixture on top. Sprinkle the rest of the oat mixture over the top and gentle press down. Bake for 40-45 minutes then cut into 12 pieces whilst still warm. Leave to cool completely in the tin.