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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.

Pecan Mince Pie

I first made a pecan mince pie for a MacMillan Coffee Morning event I was hosting back in 2015. I wanted to offer a selection of homemade cakes and bakes for the coffee morning so it had entailed a fair bit of baking. However, I added the pie to the menu because, by using a ready-made pie pastry case, it was very easy to bake, taking little effort and not much time. So, in addition to coffee mornings, it is a handy one to make at Christmas when you have lots of other things to be doing but still want a homemade bake with a festive feel. It is also a bit of a twist on the usual mince pies so it offers a little relief from the standard affair.

Pecan Mince Pie

1 ready-made pie pastry case
150g pecans
1 egg
55g golden syrup
25g butter, melted
200g mincemeat (I usually use Figgy Pear)

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Finely chop half the pecans in a food processor then tip into a bowl. Add the egg, syrup, butter and mincemeat and mix well. Spoon the filling into the pie case then top with the whole pecans. Bake for 20-25 minutes then cool.

Cranberry Crumble Pies

When it comes to festive pies, my first thought would be for mince pies. However, not everyone likes mince pies. Some people don't seem to like dark dried fruit, which I guess can be a bit of a problem at Christmas as it pretty ubiquitous at that time of year. 

Another classic Christmas flavour is cranberry but it is more associated with sauce served with the turkey rather than pie filling. However, the addition of cranberries to apple pies seems like a good way to make a Christmas pie that isn't a mince pie. It is also handy that they can be made well ahead and frozen until needed.

Cranberry Crumble Pies (makes 12-16)

3 -4 apples
150g fresh or frozen cranberries
55-75g soft light brown sugar
1/2 tsp mixed spice
2 tbsp water

225g plain flour
115g margarine
Pinch of salt
55g caster sugar

55g wholemeal flour
55g oats
55g light brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
20g margarine

Peel, core and chop the apples and place in a large pan with the cranberries, 25g of the sugar, the spice and water. Cook with the lid on until the apples and cranberries are soft. Taste and add sugar, 25g at a time, until sweet enough. Leave to cool.

Make the pastry by rubbing the flour and margarine together to form a crumb texture. Add the salt and the sugar and enough wayer to bind it together into a dough. Set aside to rest. 

Roll out the pastry and cut out circles of pastry to line small foil cases until all the pastry is used. Spoon generous teaspoons of the cranberry fillinto into each pie. 

Next, mix the wholemeal flour, oats, sugar and baking powder together then rub in the margarine to form crumble. Sprinkle the crumble onto each pie until used up.

The pies can be frozen at this point then cooked from frozen at 180°C for 20-25 minutes.

Friday, 23 October 2020

Figgy Puddings

Ever since coming across the term "figgy pudding" in the Christmas carol, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, I have wondered what it is like. I mean, it must be pretty tasty as the singers refuse to leave the doorstep until they have got some!

A few years ago I had a bit of an experiment with Christmas puddings. Although they all had dried fruit, sugar, spices and alcohol in them, I changed the mix and added fresh fruit, depending on what I had available. And one of these combinations was a figgy pudding that I was happy with.

I know not everyone is a fan of Christmas puddings, so I decided to make each batch into 6 mini puddings basins, each one suitable for one or two people, depending on how full up from Christmas dinner they were feeling. Mini pudding basins are available from Lakeland.

The other great thing about fruity puddings like is is that they store for months and months, so I see them as just another preserving method. They can stay wrapped in greaseproof paper and foil at ambient temperatures. So as apples, pears and quince pass through my kitchen, another batch of Christmas puddings will be made to use one or two up. I would probably use an apple by choice in a figgy pudding but it is absolutely fine to swap it for a couple of pears or a quince, depending on what you have or what you are struggling to use up.

Figgy Puddings (makes 6 mini)

85g butter, softened
250g dried figs
50ml brandy
225g mixed dried fruit such as sultanas and raisins
1 apple (or quince or 2 pears), peeled and grated
55g light muscovado sugar
55g dark brown sugar
65g breadcrumbs
65g self-raising flour
1 tsp all spice
2 eggs

Grease the pudding pots and put a circle of parchment paper in the bottom of the each one. Chop up the figs and put 85g of them to one side. Put the rest of them in a large bowl with the butter and the brandy. Use a stick blender to blend this into a paste. Add the reserved figs, dried fruit, grated fruit, sugars, breadcrumbs, flour, spices and eggs and combine well. Divide the mixture between the pudding pots and put on the lids. Place an upturned plate or trivet into the base of a preserving pan or large sauce pan and arrange the pudding pots on top. Fill the pan to half way up the pudding pots with boiling water then put the lid on the pan and steam the puddings for one and half hours. Remove the pots from the pan and cool. 

Apple & Cinnamon Pancakes

It's the weekend, it's half term, there is an extra hour in the day and it's October. What better time to cook some apple pancakes for breakfast?

Cooking pancakes for breakfast isn't the sort of thing you can do on a school/work morning but they are a nice thing to cook for a relaxed weekend breakfast. Once cooked, however, they can be stacked in the fridge and stuck in the toaster to quickly heat for breakfast or elevenses after that. Or you can freeze them for another occasion. They make a great dessert too, served with ice-cream. 

With a bucket of Bramley apples by the kitchen door, it seems only natural to use one in pancakes at this time of year.

Apple & Cinnamon Pancakes (makes 6)

175g plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp caster sugar
1 large egg
175ml milk
1 apple
1 dessert spoon light brown sugar
1 tbsp raisins or sultanas

Mix together the flour, baking powder, caster sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl. Beat together the milk and egg then gradually stir this into the dry mix until to forms a thick batter. Set aside. Peel, core and chop the apple and place in a small bowl with the brown sugar and raisins. Cover and microwave for 1 minute until soft. Heat some oil in a frying pan then ladel two dollops of batter into the pan. Add a spoonsful of the apple mix to each dollop straight away. Fry for 2-3 minutes then flip and continue frying until cooked on both sides. Serve hot with maple syrup and cream.

Courgette & Lemon Cake

With my husband's birthday being in late August, it is hardly surprising that his birthday cake often has courgette grated into it. It would be easy to make hit a courgette and chocolate cake but he's not a big fan of chocolate cakes so I try to avoid those. As his eldest daughter is vegan, it is polite to make his birthday cake suitable for vegans if she is coming over for dinner to celebrate with him.

So the cake tick list is - with courgette, without chocolate and suitable for vegans.

Here is a recipe that ticks all those boxes.

Courgette & Lemon Drizzle Cake

225g plain flour
130g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
240ml soya milk
60ml vegetable oil
1/4 tsp vinegar
115g grated weight of courgette
1 lemon, juice and zest
Icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180°C and line a circular cake tin. Mix together the flour, sugar, raising agents and salt in a large bowl. Measure out the milk and add the vinegar to it then set aside whilst preparing the courgette. Measure out 1 tbsp of lemon juice and set aside and put the rest into the milk. Put 2 tsp of zest into the bowl with the flour then add the rest with the reserved lemon juice. Add the vegetable oil to the milk. Pour the wet ingredients onto the dry and add the courgette too then give it a stir to combine. Spoon the batter into the cake tin and bake for 60 minutes. In the meantime, add enough icing sugar to the lemon juice to make a drizzle. When the cake is cooked, pour the drizzle over the cake whilst still warm then cool in the tin.

Treacle & Pear Tart

Treacle tart was one of those desserts my grandma would often make when we went for a weekend visit. I now own the "pie plate" that she used to bake it on, so being made on a plate it was quite flat and she would stud it with cornflakes. She would serve it with a drizzle of evaporated milk and we would eat it hot, often burning our mouths on the hot filling, and scratching our gums on the crunchy cornflakes!

I'm not sure I would enjoy a treacle tart like that these days but here is a recipe for one that I do enjoy during pear season. The inclusion of pear, lemon and creme fraiche cuts through the sweetness of the syrup and gives the filling a more complex range of flavours.

Treacle & Pear Tart

Ready made large tart pastry case
1 egg
3 tbsp creme fraiche
175g golden syrup
1 tbsp black treacle
1 ripe pear
50g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 lemon

You can also make a pastry case using 115g plain flour, 55g margarine or butter, 25g caster sugar and a little water. If doing this, rub the flour and the margarine together to form crumbs then stir in the sugar and drip in just enough water to bind together as a dough. Roll out to fill a small, greased flan dish then tidy the edges and gently prick the base. Blind bake for 10-15 minutes.

For the filling, preheat the oven to 180°C. Beat the egg into a bowl then stir in the creme fraiche then add the other ingredients and leave to stand for 10-15 minutes to thicken slightly. Pour the filling into the pastry case and bake for 30 minutes until visibly set all the way to the middle of the tart. Serve hot or cold with cream.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Beetroot, Bacon & Cheddar Rolls

Beetroot, Bacon & Cheddar Rolls (makes 12)

You can use a basic white bread mix for this or make your own bread in a bread machine or by hand.

You will also need 2-3 cooked beetroot, weighing about 150g, peeled and cut into small cubes
100g grated Cheddar
3-4 rashers of crispy streaky bacon, weighing about 40g, cut into small pieces

Once the bread dough is made preheat the oven to 200°C and grease a muffin tin well. then roll the dough out into a rough rectangle. Scatter over half the cheese then the beetoot and bacon, then the other half of the cheese. Tightly roll up the bread dough along the longest edge then cut into 12 pieces. Place each piece, cut side up, into the holes in the muffin tin then cover and leave to rise for half an hour. Once risen, bake for 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Pear Roulade

It has been so delight this year to have an abundant supply of my own pears. My pear tree is a "twin" tree, with two varieties grafted to a single trunk. One half is William and the other is Conference. The William ripened first and we enjoyed those for a few weeks before the Conference ripened. It was very considerate of the tree to drip feed pears to me in this fashion and I was able to process them at a reasonable rate which meant that hardly any went to waste.

Pears are no where near as verstile as apples but I have enjoyed exploring different ways of using them this year and I have created a number of different desserts with them. I think one of my favourites has got to be the pear roulade that I made as it looked impressive and tasted delicate and luxurious. It had a variety of subtle, sweet flavours and a lovely pillowy soft texture. 

In my version, I used some of the pear caramel I made (see earlier blog post) but maple syrup works well too.

Pear Roulade

4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
50g caster sugar
50g light brown sugar
100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 ripe pears
1 lemon
250g mascapone
150g double creame
5 tbsp pear caramel (or maple syrup)

Heat the oven to 180°C and oil and line a swiss roll tin. Beat together the eggs, vanilla and sugars with an electric whisk for 5 minutes until thick and doubled in size. Sift in the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and pinch of salt and fold in. Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 10-15 minutes until springy. Roll up the cake, still in the lining paper whilst still warm and wrap it in a tea towel to hold its shape whilst it cools. In the meantime, peel and chop the pears and coat them in lemon juice then set them to drain in a sieve to remove excess moisture. Beat together the mascapone, cream and 3 tbsp of caramel. Unroll the cake and spread with the remaining caramel, followed by the mascapone mixture and then the pears the carefully roll up again. Sift over icing sugar to finish.

Hidden Veg Pork & Apple Burgers

It is quite a common idea to "hide" vegetables inside other food. Some might argue that I do it all the time when I make a courgette cake or stick pumpkin puree into something. But that isn't the same. No one eats carrot cake because it is the only way they can stomach carrots and they think it will add to their five-a-day! No, they eat carrot cake because it is delicious! And that's why I make cakes with vegetables in them. I'm upfront about it too - "Here, lovely children, eat this courgette muffin." 

When I don't think it is helpful to put vegetables within food is when it is "hidden". If you are blending carrot and courgette into your kids' pasta sauce or pizza topping and not telling them that's what you have done then it isn't helping them to learn that they like pasta sauce with added carrot and courgette. They won't realise that there is a way that they can enjoy those vegetables that in other forms they don't enjoy. So, ok, put it in their pasta sauce and don't tell them at first, but make sure that at some point, when they have clearly demonstrated that they like it, you do tell them. They need to learn to associate certain flavours with certain foods and then when they are an adult they will know that they actually like that food and not spend the rest of their lives thinking that they don't.

I was a fussy eater and looking back at my former self I am as baffled by my behaviour as I am by the behaviour of my eldest daughter. I mean, what did I think would happen if I just relaxed and tried the food?! And you know what, it still kind of persists into adulthood. If I get flecks of broccoli florets on my carrots, I will brush it off with a knife rather than shoving the lot into my mouth even though I know I will probably not even taste the broccoli! It is a mental battle against illogical thinking in many regards.

And now my eldest daughter is at that crossroads in her life where she appreciates she is now dipping her toe into adulthood and she doesn't want to look like an idiot in front of other people because she doesn't like certain foods. She is fully aware of the nutritional make-up of food and how to get a balanced diet and she WANTS to eat one, yet she still struggles to eat certain foods.

Yes, there are certain foods she still flatly refuses to eat but she if tells me that she'll eat mushrooms if they are chopped finely, then I will chop them finely. And if she will eat food that has grated carrot or courgette in it, fully aware of its presence, then I think that is ok too. These are the first steps towards less finely chopped food and food presented on its own, without having to be incorporated into other foods.

At the weekend I made us all some hidden veg pork and apple burgers. This was not because I wanted to be sneeky about it or feel triumphant should she eat her burger and unwittingly enjoy it. No, it was because I figured it would make the burger taste nicer whilst at the same time finding an agreeable way to boast the vegetable content of her diet. 

And you know what, they were really tasty burgers with a lovely moist texture so I think I shall be making these again in the future.

Hidden Veg Pork & Apple Burgers (makes 6-8)

1 small onion
1 clove garlic
2-3 mushrooms, depending on size
100g courgette (grated)
50g pumpkin puree (or grated carrot)
Italian season or other combination of dried herbs
75g Cheddar (grated)
5 tbsp breadcrumbs
400g minced pork
50-60g apple (grated)

Using a food processor, finely chop the onion, garlic and mushrooms then fry them with the courgette for 5 minutes until cooked and not too wet. Leave to cool. Add all the ingredients to a large bowl and stir very well, using your hands, until well combined. Weigh out 100-115g of mixture and press into a biscuit cutter to form patties. Chill for at least half an hour or freeze. To cook, fry on a medium heat for 7 or 8 minutes on each size. Serve in a burger bun with salad, sauces and relishes of your choosing.

Chunky Monkey Courgette Muffins

These fun named muffins are a joy to eat. And using 350g of courgette, they help to make a small dent in your courgette glut. With ripe bananas in there too, they can help deal with those things lurking in your fruit bowl as well!

Chunky Monkey Courgette Muffins (makes 12)

165g plain flour
75g wholemeal flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp mixed spice
Pinch of salt
2 ripe bananas - mashed
1 medium courgette (~350g), peeled, grated and squeezed to remove excess moisture
2 tbsp oil
75g honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
90g chunky chocolate chips or pieces of broken chocolate bar

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a muffin tin with 12 cases. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl then add the courgette and banana. Add the wet ingredients and stir into a batter (add a little milk if needed). Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Cheddar & Courgette Muffins

In addition to my youngest daughter wanting varied and interesting lunches during lockdown, there was a time when I struggled to find any flour available to buy, forcing me to rethink obvious lunch choices.

It is a funny thing really because I write blogs that include recipes to encourage people to get cooking from scratch and baking, however, I did find it frustrating when people who seldom baked suddenly decided now was the perfect time to take it up as a  new hobby. Fantastic... if only supply could keep up with it and there were enough ingredients to go round!

So for several weeks I eeked out the last of my bread flour, trying to find something other than bread (and pasta as that was also sold out) for lunch. I had hardly any plain flour left too so I was rationing that and trying to find new and inventive ways of making snacks and dessert. However, I was well stocked up on self-raising flour, having bought a 5 pack from Costco not long before COVID-19 reached the news.

One thing you can make with self-raising flour is muffins. I'd never really tried baking savoury muffins before because I couldn't really understand when you would eat them. I mean, they aren't dessert and not really what I would be looking for in a snack either. And why would you eat them for lunch when you could make something with bread. 

Well, now bread was off the menu it seemed like the perfect time to give savoury muffins a go. It being spring at this point, what we had to hand was plenty of leeks so our first batch was leek and Cheddar muffins. My youngest and I enjoyed them immensely, especially served with some coleslaw and crisps on the side. My eldest is suspicious of anything containing leek so opted out.

As the season moved into summer and the crops from the allotment changed and flour came back into stock, we gave Cheddar and courgette muffins a go. Both daughters are very much used to eating food with courgette grated into it so they know well that it is often completely undetectable so they both tucked into these. As they also freeze well, there are a handy thing to make for lunch and to have in stock for a packed lunch on days when the bread runs out or is unexpectedly mouldy.

Cheddar & Courgette Muffins (makes 6)

1 courgette, peeled and grated
75g plain flour
50g wholemeal flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1 egg plus a dash of milk
125ml double cream
2 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 small carrot (45g), peeled and grated
70g Cheddar, grated

Preheat oven to 200°C and put 6 cases in a muffin tin. Put the dry ingredients in a bowl with some salt and pepper. Put the egg, milk, cream and olive oil into a jug and beat. Squeeze the excess water out of the courgette then combine all the ingredients. Spoon into the muffin cases and bake for 25 minutes. 

Courgette Slice

My youngest daughter is a huge fan of food in general and will eat most things, which is a wonderful way to be. And for years she has enjoyed hot meals at school. However, when lockdown happened in March she was suddenly faced with being at home every day for the next six months. Although I work from home and have a whole kitchen at my disposal at lunchtime, I confess that often I will make a simple sandwich and eat it at my desk, whilst catching up on emails or social media. However, my daughter was adament that dull sandwiches would not be acceptable for the next six months.

As such, I started to think creatively about lunch and it proved to be a fantastic opportunity. It turned out my lack of enthusiasm for lunch was mainly due to making it only for myself. And lunch presented itself as an opportunity to try out something I wouldn't want to inflict on my husband or picky eldest daughter at dinner time. 

So we started making savoury muffins, pies, tarts, different types of bread, pasta, noodle and rice dishes and elaborate salads.

This proved to be particularly useful during the summer months when we had an abundance of food coming off the allotment and we could try out new and inventive ways of eating them. Yes, I think we may have eaten courgette in one form or another for lunch and possibly also for dinner every day for a fortnight!

Anyway, here's a recipe for Courgette Slice. Not sure how to explain what this is but it is kind of like a cross between an omelette, a souffle and a crustless quiche. It seems to open itself up to lots of creative ideas and different ingredients should be fancy tweeking it for your own tastes.

Courgette Slice

1/2 cup of grated mature Cheddar
180g grated courgette 
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
3 eggs, beaten
120g self-raising flour
Salt and pepper
Optional - bacon, red pepper, mushroom

Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease and line a flan dish. Gently fry the onion (and other ingredients if using). In a bowl, mix together the fried ingredients, courgette, cheese and oil. Fold in the eggs then the flour and seasoning. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until golden and set. Serve hot. Leftovers can be eaten cold if preferred or reheated.

Courgette Pakora

Having mused in my previous blog about the flavours we tend to eat as a family, another one that we tend not to eat is curry. I do kind of wish I liked curry because it seems like such a useful dish to throw together and it can clearly use so many different ingredients. It seems like a great way to use up gluts of all kinds of surplus vegetables too and it strikes me that is a cheap way to feed a crowd. But alas, I don't like spicy food much and really can't stomach chilli. Fortunately, my husband is the same so at least we don't have to worry about being incompatible in that regard. 

I do fear, however, that I may be sheltering my girls from curry and it could be something they would enjoy given the opportunity. And, let's face it, what's the chances of them getting through life without someone suggesting they all go out for a curry?! 

I remember the first time that happened to me so off I dutifully went and was persuaded that a chicken korma would be tolerable. Well, it wasn't and I found myself nibbling on popadoms and wishing the night was over. It was then over 20 years before someone else invited me out for a curry so off I went again and this time found the chicken korma a little more tolerable and actually actively enjoyed the onion bhaji starter.

As it happens, we do occasionally buy a packet of "Indian snacks" from the supermarket because my husband and I do quite like an onion bhaji and even a samosa or two if not overly heavy on the chilli. It turns out neither of our girls much care of these and my youngest absolutely hates them - or anything else with coriander in for that matter. The eldest has found she likes Japanese curry and is quite partial to katsu curry but she's not keen on the Indian combination of spices. I don't know whether I should be congratulating myself for rightly avoiding these foods all their lives or wondering if it is because I have that they don't like them.

Anyway, the result is we don't eat curry ever as a family but I do occasionally make a bhaji or pakora to offer as a side dish should anyone fancy giving them ago. And during the summer months, the vegetable of choice for a pakora is courgette.

Courgette Pakora (makes around 12)

1 small courgette, grated then squeezed to remove excess moisture
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp salt
50g plain or gram flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Chilled fizzy water

Put all the ingredients in a bowl, adding just enough fizzy water to make a thick, coating batter. Heat some oil in a small pan then deep-fry small balls of the batter, 3 or 4 at a time, until they float and are golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper before serving.


It's funny how within any family there are certain ingredients and certain recipes that feature over and over again and yet a whole host of ingredients and recipes that never get used. It is easy to see how we can feel that we are stuck in a rut sometimes, especially with weekly meals. It is easy to buy the same old thing and to stay within our comfort zone when it comes to family meals, especially if the family have different tastes and there are only a few meals that everyone agrees on.

And so it is in our house. Despite the variety of ingredients we use and grow, I do feel that our weekly menu goes round on a fortnightly rota. I can't help thinking too that my style of cooking and my choice of meals will influence what my girls go on to eat in the future. I hope I have instilled in them an appreciation of cooking from scratch and to value to benefits of seasonal eating with balanced nutrition. However, I will have inevitably failed to introduce them to food that they go on to love or they may rebell against certain dishes that I serve up so fequently that they are just dull.

One ingredient I have never been keen on is aubergine. You would think that such a beauiful purple-black fruit would be a delight to eat but I find it to have an odd texture and a bland flavour. Given that it is also hard to grow successfully in this country, I have never had a glut of them to contend with so haven't had the motivation to explore possibilities further.

I did once cook a fairly edible chocolate and aubergine cake when I had an aubergine delivered in a veg box. It had the texture like a cross between fudge and brownies and it weirdly improved with storage over the course of a week. However, I didn't really feel any grown-up sense of achievement towards my goal of liking aubergine when eaten in this form.

My eldest daughter introduced me to the Japanese dish nesu dengaku, which is a kind of oven roasted aubergine with savoury, oriential flavours and I am pleased to say I actually quite like this. So now and then we will buy an aubergine and eat it like this.

Nesu Dengaku

1 aubergine
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp mirin
Black sesame seeds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Cut the aubergine in half lengthwise and score it deeply diagonally in both directions to make a series of diamond shapes. Fry the aubergine face down for a couple of minutes until browned. Turn over and add some water to the pan and cook with the lid on for 3-4 minutes until cooked through. In the meantime mix the other ingredients together in a small jug. Transfer the aubergine onto a baking tray and pour on the mixed liquid and rub in. Cover with foil and put in the oven for 10 minutes. Scatter with black sesame seeds and serve with sticky rice, stir fried vegetables and gyoza.

So that sort of added aubergine to my list of occasional ingredients but it still doesn't feature very highly in my menu choices. However, when faced with a glut of courgettes over the summer, my youngest daughter asked if we could try making ratatouille. I confess that there is nothing about this recipe that appeals to me but not one to dampen enthusiasm, I bought the required aubergine and let her get on with it.

Turns out ratatouille is her all time favourite food and since her first attempt in the summer she has made it repeatedly, especially when she wants to opt out of the steak or lamb dinner her father and I are having that night. She makes a full batch then adds the leftovers to pasta the next day or uses it to make a type of minestrone soup. She has even made it into pie and lasagne. I am confident she will be a very healthy-eating student in a few years time with this kind of enthusiam and it will be cheap too!

Ratatouille (serves 2-3)

1 aubergine, cut into chunks
2 small courgettes, cut into chunks
1 pepper, cut into pieces
2 large ripe tomatoes, skinned
1 small onion
1 clove garlic

Fry the vegetables until they are cooked then add the garlic and fry for 1 more minute. Taste to season. Serve hot.

Chocolate, Courgette & Orange Bundt

My eldest daughter's birthday is in early October so when it comes to birthday cakes she often gets something containing courgette or pumpkin. Fortunately, she is very obliging in this regard and will actually request cakes containing these seasonal ingredients. This year she wanted Pumpkin and Orange Traybake as her birthday cake so I duly obliged. 

Last year she wasn't so sure, although she said something chocolately would be nice and maybe something chocolate orange. And so I made her a chocolate orange bundt cake... with some courgette in it. And coated in a ridiculously indulgent chocolate ganache. She was suitably pleased.

Chocolate, Courgette & Orange Bundt

170g softened butter
275g caster sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest and juice from 1 orange
300g plain flour
50g cocoa powder
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt
375g grated courgette

100ml double cream
200g dark chocolate
Zest of 1 orange plus 1 tbsp juice

Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease a bundt tin. Cream together the butter and sugar then beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla and juice of an orange. Put the dry ingredients into the bowl then mix well. Fold in the courgette. Spoon into the tin and bake for 1 hour. Leave to cool in the tin. In the meantime, heat the cream in a saucepan then stir in the chocolate until it melts. Add the zest and 1 tbsp of juice from an orange. Leave to cool until thicken then pour the ganache over the cooled cake.

Courgette & Mushroom Tart

A courgette and mushroom tart is dead simple to make and can be eaten as a lunch or as part of a main meal. It is similar to pizza and as such it can be easily adapted to suit your tastes and its size can be changed to suit the number of servings required. In the recipe below I don't include any quantities because you can decide for yourself how big you want it. You can make them as individual tarts or a large one for sharing, or even mini ones as buffet food. It's also a useful way to use up a piece of leftover puff pastry from another recipe and a simple recipe to cook with children.

Courgette & Mushroom Tart

Puff pastry
Pasta sauce or passata
Garlic powder and dried herbs
Grated cheese - a combination of mozzarella and Cheddar is best
Courgette and mushrooms - thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 200°C and line/grease a baking tray. Roll out the pastry and cut into squares of a suitable size for your desired tarts and gently mark out a 1 cm border on each piece with the tip of a knife. It is a good idea to move your pieces of pastry onto the baking tray at this point and assemble them from there. Spread the tomato sauce around the central area, avoiding the 1 cm border. Sprinkle over the garlic powder and dried herbs the scatter the grated cheese on top. Finish with your slices of courgette and mushroom. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Courgette Loaf Cake

Yes, I do like to hide my courgettes in cakes so here is a recipe for another loaf cake. Traditional flavours from the spices and a little bit of dried fruit.

Courgette Loaf Cake

2 eggs
125ml sunflower oil
85g light brown sugar
350g courgettes, grated
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g plain flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
140g sultanas or raisins

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a 2lb loaf tin. Whisk together the eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl Put the grated courgette in a tea towel and squeeze hard to extract the moisture then add it to the bowl. Put the dry ingredients on top of the courgette in the bowl and mix together. Spoon the batter into the loaf tin and bake for 1 hour.

Courgette, Potato & Cheddar Soup

There aren't many surplus vegetables that can't be used up in a satisfying soup and courgettes are no exception. Being quite a watery vegetable, they need to be paired with potato and cheese to add thickness and a creaminess but the combination results in a warming, silky smooth soup, perfect as the weather becomes more autumnal.

Courgette, Potato & Cheddar Soup (serves 3-4)

225g potato, peeled and diced
500g courgette, peeled and chopped
1 small onion
1 vegetable stock cube
2 cups of water
50g Cheddar, grated
Grating of nutmeg

Saute the onion then add the potato and, after a few minutes, the courgette. Add the water and stock cube then bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes until tender. Add the Cheddar then blend with a stick blender until smooth. Taste to season. Grate in nutmeg and serve.

This soup can be frozen if you don't want to eat all of it straight away. Lakeland do a range of Soup n Sauce bags in 1 litre and 500 ml size which are very good for storing liquids. However, if you only want one portion at a time, a little tip here is to look for breast milk freezer bags in the supermarket as these little, liquid-proof bags are perfect for a single portion of soup.

Courgette Bread

Courgette bread is another great way to use up courgettes in a way that makes it hard to tell you are even eating courgettes. It honestly just makes a normal bread and you would never guess it contains courgette. You could argue, why bother?! Well, why not! It uses courgettes and it makes tasty bread so it's all good.

This is the sort of thing I like to make in the middle of a courgette glut when I am wondering how I will ever get on top of the harvest, not wanting to waste something that I have grown but not sure the family can tolerate another helping of courgette at dinner. It's simple to make if you have a bread machine and I sometimes use leftover whey from yoghurt making in it too so it's very good at making something tasty from essentially unwanted ingredients. I have been known to pair it with Courgette, Potato & Cheddar Soup to have a double helping of courgette for lunch!

Courgette Bread

130ml whey (or skimmed milk or a mixture of milk and water)
175g grated courgette
375g white bread flour
75g granary flour (or wholemeal or more white flour)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
40g butter
1 1/2 tsp yeast

Load the ingredients into the bread machine in the appropriate order for your machine and set to "dough". When the dough is ready, knock back and shape to fit a 2lb loaf tin or shape into eight bread rolls. Cover and leave to prove for half and hour. Preheat oven to 190°C then bake the bread for 45 minutes for a loaf or 25 minutes for rolls.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Dessert Sauces

 A few years ago, when faced with a glut of pears from my parents' garden, I had a go at making a vegan alternative to honey. Some people are surprised that vegans don't eat honey but as this is a product made by bees and they don't eat anything that comes from animals, they don't eat it. 

Honey is essentially sugar so it no surprise that a vegan alternative to honey needs plenty of sugar. My recipe also calls for pears and pineapple juice and after several hours of simmering, it produces a gloopy golden liquid not too dissimilar to honey. The technique requires makes me marvel all the more at bees!

Once strained off, there are also some cooked sweet pears remaining so I decided to blend these into a smooth paste, which was actually quite like set honey. So I made "runny honey" and "set honey" from the same batch, which was quite satisfying.

Having made the stuff, it proved a little tricky to sell. It was, of course, popular with vegans but they are only a small percentage of the population so only an occasional visitor to my stalls at craft fairs. However, other visitors to my stall often picked it up because they were looking for actual honey and then I had to explain what it was as it wasn't honey and, apart from tasting similar, doesn't have the properties to it that people often associate with honey. 

In the end, I found it sold best when my friend Debbie, from Minkiemoo put it on her stall at dedicated vegan markets. She, however, has since moved to Cornwall!

This year my own pear tree decided that after eight years of not cropping, now was a good year to go crazy. So for the first time I had an abundant crop of pears of my own to process. 

Pears don't make particularly good jam on their own because they are low in pectin and don't want to set. So I made a batch of Orchard Fruit Jam with apples, pears and plums, and I used some in Autumn Orchard Chutney too. But what about the rest?

I thought back to the vegan honey alternative recipe as this requires a kilogram and a half of pears but I have a rule not to turn one glut into another glut. That's to say, what is the point of turning a glut of pears into a glut of vegan honey? With no events on this year and Minkiemoo in Cornwall, how exactly would I reach vegans to sell it?

At the same time, my mum's tree had also had a good cropping year and she was busy making her pears into preserves - mostly a pear and ginger chutney from a recipe she had found on the internet. She asked me if I thought she should make pear jam but she said she didn't really eat much jam anyway, preferring honey and caramel sauce when she wanted something sweet. Well then, it seemed only logical that she could turn her glut of pears into a year's supply of "honey" for her own needs so I sent her the recipe.

Having put the idea of caramel sauce in my head, I started to wonder if it would be possible for my mum to meet her caramel requirements using her pears too. I mean, sticky toffee pudding is mostly made from dates, so maybe a pear/date concoction would be the answer. 

I decided to experiment.

Sortly afterwards I had made my test batch of pear caramel and it was gorgeous! Inspired, I explored the possibilities and adapted my vegan honey into another sort of sauce and then fiddled with the ingredients until I had created a ginger version too. 

Honestly, I would be happy to lick these off the spoon but they are absolutely perfect poured over ice-cream or drizzled on pancakes and waffles. And better still, with nothing other than fruit and sugar in them, they are suitable for vegans and allergy sufferers too! And there seemed to be endless possibilities for ues. So often pears seem to be paired with caramel or biscuit spread in recipes and I had created a caramel sauce out of pears so what could be more perfect?!

My first cooking recipe using the caramel sauce was a batch of ginger pear muffins. When I had last made the recipe I had used some biscuit sauce that I had been given so this time I used pear caramel and, my goodness, they were the softest, pillow-like muffins I have ever created.

Pear & Ginger Muffins (makes 12)

200g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb
Pinch of salt
125g light brown sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 eggs
175ml sunflower oil
4 ripe pears, yielding 200g grated fruit
100g pear caramel (or biscuit spread)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir. Put the eggs and oil in a jug and beat. Grate the pear onto the dry ingredients then pour in the pear caramel. Stir everything together then spoon into muffin cases and bake for 25 minutes.

My next flash of inspiration came on Sunday evening when I was thinking I really fancied a dessert with our Sunday roast. I had been processing fruit and vegetables all weekend but there were 6 over-ripe pears still lurking on the side telling me that I hadn't quite ticked everything off my to-do-list. So I peeled two, whipped up a sponge pudding batter and dolloped slice of pear with spoonfuls of pear caramel into the bottom of four ramkins. When the roast came out of the oven, the puddings went in and just as we came to the end of dinner, they were cooked and ready to serve. And, oh my goodness, they were delicious! 

Pear Caramel Sponge Puddings (serves 4)

115g margarine
115g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
115g self-raising flour
2 ripe pears
100g pear caramel (or use caramel or syrup)

Preheat oven to 170°C and butter 4 ramekins. Cream together the margarine and the caster sugar then add the vanilla and eggs and mix well. Stir in the flour to make a batter. Peel and slice the pears and distribute evenly into the four ramekins. Divide the pear caramel between the ramekins too, just coating the pears. Spoon over the cake batter then bake for 25 minutes. Tip out of ramekins so that the pears are at the top and serve warm as it is or with custard or cream.

I reckon a little tweaking of the sponge mix to include brown sugar and some ground ginger, these would work very well paired with the ginger dessert sauce too.

Anyway, there's a few things for you to think about here and lots of scope to get creative with desserts so I would recommend that you get yourself some delicious pear dessert sauce - or all three!

Monday, 19 October 2020

Courgette Teabread

If you are feeling particularly fed up with the number of courgettes you have to eat and really can't stand another dinner with them in, then hide them in a cake. Here is a recipe for a tasty courgette teabread and this lightly spiced with traditional fruitcake spices and feels as if it would go well in an old-fashioned tearoom.

Courgette Teabread

3 eggs
125g caster sugar
100g light brown sugar
225g sunflower oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp syrup from a jar of stem ginger
225g grated courgette
2 level tsp ground ginger
340g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp Demerara sugar
1 tsp ground ginger

Preheat oven to 190°C and line a 2lb loaf tin. Beat together the eggs and the sugar then add the oil. Add the vanilla and ginger syrup then stir in the grated courgette. Add the dry ingredients and stir well to form a batter. Pour into a cake tin then sprinkle over the Demerara sugar and ground ginger. Bake for 1 hour and test with a skewer.

Courgette Fritters

 If you fancy jazzing up courgette a little to serve as a side then courgette fritters are a simple way to do this. Add a poached egg on top and you have a tasty lunch or starter.

Courgette Fritters

1 large courgette
1 tbsp self-raising flour
Ground black pepper
Garlic powder
Finely grated Cheddar cheese

Peel the courgette and then grate it into a bowl. Press down with a saucer to squeeze out some of the moisture and carefully drain away the liquid. Add the other ingredients and squish handfuls of the mixture together and flatten to form fritters. Heat some oil in a frying pan and fry the fritters for 5 minutes on each side.

Vegan Beetroot Burgers

Beetroot is an obvious ingredient to use in a vegan burger and often features on restaurant menus and in shop-bought burgers. There has even been the contraversial "bleeding" vegan burger that uses beetroot juice to ooze. Not sure who that's trying appeal to! But with it's pink/purple colour, it certainly makes for an appetising colour when included in a vegetable burger, and it's good for you and tasty too so it's a win win.

Beetroot Burgers (makes 3)

250g raw beetroot
150g Merchant Gourmet Tomatoey Lentils
1 1/2 tbsp oats
1 1/2 tbsp ground flax
Garlic salt and pepper to season

Peel and grate the beetroot then tip into a double layer of kitchen towel and squeeze tightly to remove the moisture. Put into a large bowl and add the lentils from the packet. Whizz the oats in a blender to turn into a coarse flour. Add the oats, flax and seasoning to the bowl. Stir well then pack portions of the mixture into a large biscuit cutter to form burgers. Chill for at least half an hour or can be frozen. Fry on a low/medium heat from chilled or frozen, flipping occasionally. Takes about 15 minutes from chilled and longer from frozen.