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Friday, 15 January 2021

Flapjack Topped Plum Ginger Cake

Cooking with the seasons is a way of life for me and this extends into my home baking too. We like to have some kind of cake or biscuit in the tin for an afternoon snack or an after dinner dessert so I bake most weekends in order to keep the tin topped up. As the seasons pass I look at what I have to hand and what is in need of being used and this usually helps me decide what I shall bake. Sometimes this is as simple as some over ripe bananas in the fruit bowl or sometimes it is to use up a glut from the allotment.

In that regard January is an odd time of year because the available produce from the garden isn't going to make a tasty treat. Sprout flapjacks anyone? Or how about a leek mousse?! 

However, what I do have to hand is odds and ends of things in jars - little bits of mincemeat leftover from Christmas pies, some cranberry sauce, a bit of apple sauce, and half filled jars of jam.

Before Christmas I made quite a lot of Plum & Mulled Wine Jam. In fact, I sold out twice so had to restock, which was fantastic. It was a great way to make a dent in the bags of frozen plums in the freezer too after a bumper crop and in fact the only hiccup in the supply and demand loop was the rather slow delivery of some jam jars. As a result, I didn't have quite enough of my little 110g jars available at the time to bottle the whole of the third batch of jam so I had decanted it into spare 340g so as not to waste it.

Plum & Mulled Wine is certainly a flavour that screams Christmas but, as you might expect, it doesn't sell that well after Christmas. Even harder to sell two 340g jars of the stuff. So, time to find a way to use it up. 

A January tidy-up of the book shelf required a rather pleasant afternoon thumbing through past editions of The Good Food Magazine; ripping out recipes to try and recycling the rest. In an October edition I found a recipe for a plum and ginger cake that sounded like one I would like to try next August when the plums are back in season. Although, having said that, my experience of pieces of plums in cakes is that they are glorious on the first day and progressively soggy on the subsequent days, and eventually fluffy with mould. So, yes, nice idea if you want an impressive dessert for a family meal or cake for an afternoon tea with friends but not ideal when trying to restock the weekly cake tin.

And so I wondered if replacing the fresh plums with jam might help to avoid the sog, and maybe Plum & Mulled Wine Jam would be even better, complimenting the spices in the cake. So, with that change and some fiddling around with the sugar quantities and spice mixes, I came to make a Flapjack Topped Plum Ginger Cake on a Sunday afternoon. And I can confirm this Friday morning as I tuck into a slice for elevenses that there still isn't a hint of sog.

Flapjack Topped Plum Ginger Cake

140g unsalted butter
75g dark brown sugar
50g golden syrup
25g black treacle
2 eggs, beaten
140g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
Pinch of salt
85g oats

100g plum jam 

25g plain flour
25g oats
1 heaped tsp ground ginger

Preheat oven to 180°C and grease and line a small rectangular cake tin. Put the butter, sugar, syrup and treacle into a large bowl and place in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time until the butter is melted then mix thoroughly together. Stir in the eggs then add all the dry ingredients and stir well. Spoon the batter into the cake tin, leaving about 2 tbsp of the batter in the bowl. Dollop the jam over the top of the batter until mostly covered. Add the remaining flour, oats and ginger to the remaining batter and mix together. Carefully drop/crumble this mixture over the jam until mostly covered. Bake for 25-30 minutes then leave to cool completely in the tin. 



Thursday, 14 January 2021

Cream of Tomato Soup

I had a lovely box of fresh fruit and vegetables delivered last week from Jasper's Catering. It is very exciting to get a mixture of fruit and vegetables that you might not otherwise have chosen but it can be slightly inconvenient if it contains something that you don't like or duplicates something you already have. As it happens, between us we like everything that was in the box but unfortunately, we already had quite a few tomatoes in. 

With the fresh box containing a nice selection of small tomatoes in both red and yellow varieties that my youngest said actually tasted like the tomatoes from the allotment, it was, inevitably, the large tomatoes from the supermarket that got neglected - and they were older to start with!

Nobody in this house seems to want anything to do with a tomato once the skin goes wrinkly so I figured the only way to save them from the compost bin would be to cook them into something. With food and garden waste bin collections temporarily halted due to a lack of staff after two binmen died of COVID and others had to isolate, and with COVID and Brexit disrupting food supplies, there is no way I'm throwing anything away if I can help it! 

And so, with both my girls tied up with "live" online lessons until half past one today, I decided to rustle up some tomato soup ready for our slightly late lunch.

Four wrinkly tomatoes, half an onion, a little pasta sauce and some leftover single cream later and I had a batch of "Cream of Tomato Soup".


"Well, it ain't Heinz," declared my eldest upon a tentative sampling, then went and opened herself a tin of Heinz.

My youngest, on the other hand, rather liked the herby flavour and was grateful for it after an "awkward" morning of Teams meetings. 

What was left I bagged up and froze, ready for another day. Four tomatoes saved!

Cream of Tomato Soup (serves 4)

Half a medium onion
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped
2-3 slices of red pepper, chopped
4 large tomatoes, deskinned and chopped
200ml vegetable stock
200ml pasta sauce
2-3 tbsp single cream, yoghurt or creme fraiche

Finely chop the onion and saute for 3-4 minutes then add the pieces of red pepper and fry for another minute before adding the garlic. Plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for a minute or two then remove the skins before chopping. Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan and continue to fry for a couple of minutes until they have started to soften. Add the stock and the pasta sauce then bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until it is all soft then remove from the heat. Use a stick blender to blend until smooth. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary. Return to the heat then pour in the cream and stir through until warmed. Serve hot with bread.



Friday, 8 January 2021

Pea and Ham Soup

I guess people react to the news of entering another lockdown in various ways, although we are all universally unnerved by it to some degree. I think we all feel we need to react to it in some way - to feel as if we are doing something useful in a situation that is very much out of our control. For me, my inner response is to not waste any food. It's not a great big shouty voice but rather a little whisper that I'm barely even aware is there but is nonetheless informing my behaviour. This perhaps explains why in March 2020 as we entered the first lockdown I found myself pickling the end of season beetroot whilst others were out buying excessive amounts of toilet roll.

Lockdown 3 is an interesting one because it coincides with the end of the Brexit transition period and the completely bizarre events around the transition of the American presidency. There is definitely a feeling of worldworld unrest and uncertainty. Although we are told to continue to shop as normal and to not hoard for the sake of all of us having enough, it is hard not to wonder what might run out or be delayed at the ports. Although I don't have a feeling that we are going to be plunged into something along the lines of World War shortages, I am used to my life of relative privelage and don't want to struggle to find daily essentials (or even luxuries, if I'm honest) in the shops.

So, here I am in January 2021 feelings as if it is my absolute duty to avoid food waste and to make the most of what we have. I mean, this is not a massive change in behaviour as I can't stand food waste anyway and do what I can to make sure that very little gets put out in our food bin each week. 

One of the things I had in my fridge recently was a 750g smoked gammon. I had bought it before Christmas because it stores well and I figured I could use it if my meal planning went awry some time between food deliveries. Anyway, it was still there on Sunday and we didn't have a piece of meat for a roast dinner (this was deliberate as I figured we needed a break from roasts after Christmas dinner) so I decided it would be a good day to cook it. 

I like baked potatoes with boiled gammon, a bit of purple coleslaw and a salad. As it happened, I had tried going around to the allotment on the Friday before only to discover that someone had vandalised the padlock to the gates and it was jammed locked. I guess it could have been worse but it was vaguely annoying because I was trying to empty the kitchen vegetable scraps bin into the compost bin so that wasn't possible. I would also have liked to have harvested some more potatoes, some of our abundant watercress and another beetroot. All plans scuppered, I returned home and reported the problem to parish council who told me they would send their warden out on Monday to replace the lock. It wasn't a big deal and not a very long wait between Friday and Monday but it certainly added to my feeling of unease about food supply issues, at least on a subconscious level.

So, when it came to the Sunday gammon meal, I had to make do with the last few potatoes in the bucket that we had harvested before Christmas. Not ideal because it can be hard to find a suitably large, blemish-free potato for baking from an abundance of potatoes; harder still from just a handful. But as it happens, I was in luck and managed to find 4 just about big enough, undamaged potatoes for baking. However, there was no watercress for the salad and no beetroot for the purple coleslaw so we had frozen peas and sweetcorn instead. Yeah, first world problems!

Anyway, with food waste in the back of my mind, I save the gammon cooking water to make the basis of  pea and ham soup. Then the next day I made a quiche using some of the leftover gammon and leftover Christmas cheese, and I kept just enough gammon to use in the soup the following day, along with some marrowfat peas. I had forgotten that the recipe also called for a small leek so it was handy that the allotment gate padlock had been replaced on Monday as promised and I was able to go round and harvest a leek.  And from that I was able to make 3 portions of pea and ham soup - out of cooking water, leftover gammon, a tin of peas and a homegrown leek. It felt like food for nothing!

Well actually, it was £3.75 for the gammon, from which we had a dinner for 4, a quiche for 4 and 3 portions of soup, and it was 50p for the marrowfat peas. Excellent for making use of ingredients and wasting nothing and even better for our pockets in these days of less income. 


Pea and Ham Soup (serves 2-3)

250ml water from a boiled gammon
300g tinned marrowfat peas plus liquid
1 small leek
Some pieces of cooked ham/gammon
2 tsp cornflour mixed into cold water
3 tsp mascapone cheese or a bit of grated Cheddar and a slurp of cream
Black pepper

Put the water, peas and leek into a large saucepan and cook for 20 minutes. Use a stick blender to blend until smooth then add the remaining ingredients and taste. Bring back to the boil and simmer a little longer if necessary to thicken or serve.



Monday, 4 January 2021

Turkey Soup

Although pumpkins are a symbol of Halloween, we usually have several left in storage in December. It is not uncommon to clear the pumpkins to one side to make space for the Christmas tree, resulting in a weird juxaposition of Halloween and Christmas.


Once Christmas festivities are out of the way, I turn my attention to the stored fruit and vegetables. By new year there is approximately six months until the new soft fruit season when demands on freezer space will be at their highest. So I see this at an opportunity to pace myself to clear the previous year's harvest ready for the new. 

The most pressing place to start is with the stuff just in open storage. This includes onions and shallots already attempting to regrow with green shoots, garlic bulbs in danger of drying out to an empty papery shell, apples slowly turning wriggly, and pumpkins looking prestine one moment and mouldy the next. Once they are safely converted into preserves or eaten, I then turn my attention to the freezer contents.

I don't know about you but I find myself drawn to making soups during the winter. They are so warming and wholesome and often turn ingredients that are past their best into something convincingly nurishing. Sprouting potatoes and a leek can be quickly turned into leek and potato soup. Leftover gammon and some dried peas make a glorious pea and ham soup. I made a lovely minestrone soup the other day from a potato, a carrot, some leftover pasta sauce and stock and some dried spaghetti. 

As for all that leftover turkey at Christmas, it seems almost compulsory to make it into soup. It is even better if you can boil up some of the skin and bones to make turkey stock before you start but a stock cube or two can be used instead. And it is another occasion for Halloween and Christmas to collide with the addition of chunks of pumpkin. If you don't have stored pumpkin then butternut squash works well too. Once cooked, enjoy it hot with some fresh crusty bread or decant it into suitable containers and freeze.




Turkey Soup

1 onion
1 carrot
300g pumpkin (or squash)
2 cloves garlic
300g cooked turkey
2 tsp Japanese curry powder
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 pint of turkey (or chicken) stock

Saute the vegetables for a few minutes until softened then add the garlic and saute for another minute. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20-30 minutes or cook in a pressure cooker for 15 minutes. 



Christmas Pudding

I know a lot of people aren't fans of Christmas pudding these days but I do like a little bit at Christmas. And I think that's the key - a little bit. Certainly one of the reasons I thought I didn't like Christmas pudding when I was a kid was because it was just so filling. After an enormous Christmas dinner, quite frankly the last thing anyone needs is a big helping of Christmas pudding with custard and cream. But with many Christmas puddings being large and designed to feed a whole household of festive visitors, it can be hard to only serve up a little bit.

We never have many people over on Christmas Day and of those there is only really my husband and myself who might want some Christmas pudding. But then again, when we also have mince pies, Christmas cake and yule log all on offer, it isn't a dead cert what anyone will select. As such, it has always seemed sensible to me to cook individual Christmas puddings rather than a massive one. This also enables me to give my mum her own pudding in her hamper of Christmas goodies. 

It is normally sometime in the late autumn to early winter when I make the Christmas puddings. If properly cooked and well wrapped, they can keep for months, if not years, so it is fine to make a month or two before Christmas. It also means there is no urgency to eat them up at Christmas too, so often we wait until the yule log and mince pies are eaten up before eating the Christmas puddings so they frequently make a nice New Year dessert instead. Anyway, with autumn fruit to hand, I like to grate some into the Christmas pudding - maybe an apple, occasionally pumpkin, sometimes a quince, but preferrably a pear - a lovely way to make use of these awkward fruit and prefectly complementing the ginger wine soaked dried fruit.

Christmas Pudding (makes 5-6 individual)

250g dried mixed fruit
200ml ginger wine
75g butter
75g dark muscovado sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
70g self-raising flour
70g breadcrumbs
2 large eggs
150g fined grated fruit
1 tbsp black treacle

Soak the fruit in the ginger wine overnight or for several days. Cream together the butter and sugar then add the other ingredients. Spoon into well-butter mini pudding basins and cover with a layer of parchment and foil. Lower onto a trivet in a pressure cooker and pour in boiling water to almost cover. Steam with the vent open for 10 minutes then pressure cook on low for 35 minutes. Leave to cool and depressure then remove. To store, wrap in Clingfilm. To serve, microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute and serve with hot custard and/or cream or brandy sauce.