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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.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Diary From The Pandemic Day 65 - The Food Shopping Nightmare

If the pandemic has taught be anything it is to appreciate the little things in life and the stuff that we normally take for granted.

I have been having my groceries delivered for years as I find it much more convenient and it is an excellent service generally. It certainly became all the more important to me as the pandemic spread across the world and my family took to isolating to help to shield my husband. I was very grateful to not have the stress of going out to the supermarkets and the worry that I might bring back more than I bargained for.

But then, of course, the shopping delivery services all but collapsed under the weight of demand as more and more people took to self-isolating, shielding and social distancing. As I battled to deal with apps being taken offline, virtual queuing systems on the supermarket websites and unavailablity of delivery slots for weeks on end, I struggled to find ways to bring even basic food into my home. It has probably caused me the biggest stress of the lockdown situation. And, yes, I am grateful that this "first world problem" is my biggest stress and I don't have to worry about other things!

So, with online shopping from supermarkets becomes less and less accessable, it was time to explore other options.

My first instinct was to work on my own food security by turning to the allotment with a more serious determination than I had ever had - and we have always had very productive allotments anyway! It was a relief, therefore, that the government deemed that allotment sites could stay open and people could tend them as part of their daily exercise. Thank goodness!!

However, with the best will in the world, an allotment in late March to May is not very productive and this period is known in the kitchen gardening community as the "Hungry Gap". Yep, brilliant timing Corona Virus!! So, we made the most of our end of season potatoes, leeks, beetroot and purple sprouting brocolli and enjoyed fresh asparagus, micro salad leaves and rhubarb but it won't be the ideal fruit and vegetable solution until June.

One of the first shopping solutions I tried was the Morrison's Essential Box. For £35 you can have a box of essentials delivered to your door (via courier DPD). The box was a set of fixed items and the only options were for either meat-eating families or vegetarians. Initially, it was even quite difficult to order these due to availability issues but I managed to get one at a crucial time when I was unable to get any other supermarket deliveries. Yes, it was basic but it was very welcome and filled some holes in my food cupboard! They even managed to deliver pasta and toilet rolls when the world was at its maddest! Since then, both the availability of the boxes and the contents have improved now that there is better availability of stock of key items. I note too that other supermarkets, such as Aldi, are now offering something along similar lines.

Shortly after that delivery, I happened upon Jaspers Catering. This is a national company but with local franchiases and the MK one had put together a selection of different food boxes for local delivery. I ordered a "fresh bag" of basic fresh essential aimed to feed a family of 4 and a fresh meat bag, containing meat from local "Best Butchers". They also had available a bag of readymeals suitable for someone isolating and not feeling up to cooking meals. Again, there was no choice in the ingredients included in these bags but it was a brilliant selection of good quality ingredients and it was delivered to my door a day later. Since then they have added other "bags" to their offerings including home baking, pizza making kit and an afternoon tea picnic.

After that I managed, with some stress and frustration, to secure a few delivery slots with online supermarkets. If the difficulty of getting slots wasn't annoying enough, often items were out of stock so couldn't be ordered or they weren't delivered, often with no warning until the day of the delivery, making meal planning a particular headache. It seemed the whole world had taken to making their own bread and home baking so flour and yeast went out of stock for weeks, followed by other things such as various sugars, baking powder, eggs, gelatine and greaseproof paper.

What seemed slightly odd at this time was that it was actually relatively easy to find alternative deliveries for fruit and vegetables (including local box schemes by Moorgate Farm) and even meat (including from local butchers), even if it wasn't always possible to choose exact items. It is kind of heartening to know that fruit, vegetables, meat and basic ingredients were the top of suppliers' priority lists to get out to the public. Maybe we would become a nation of home cooks after all.

However, after a while I started to run out of stuff that wasn't included in any of these box schemes; things such as fruit juice, ketchup, cooking oil, crisps, oats etc. So, what next to solve this problem?

Robots, of course!

We are very fortunate in Milton Keynes to have Starship Deliveries with their cute little robots delivering shopping to an increasing number of residental grid squares. In our area, the shopping either comes from Tesco or Co-op and, although the selection is a lot more limited than when doing a major supermarket delivery, you can at least select what you want from the items listed. A robot delivery is limited to 20 items though and often it doesn't tell you that an item is out of stock until after your order is place and even then it just tells you that you won't be getting it rather than offering a substitution.

The delivery charge is quite small (for example £1.99) but if items you have ordered are out of stock, you can end up with, say, only five things being delivered, which makes the delivery charge less economical. As you might imagine, I was not the only person to turn to robot deliveries as a solution so there were issues with crashing apps, unavailabililty of delivery slots and out of stock items but it did bring with it some successes and a few more household items restocked.  I am very grateful to have access to this delivery service and it is a wonder to be able to order groceries online and have a robot deliver them to your street within a hour.

On top of these branded household favourites, I found myself longing for a few treats to make me feel better. Let's face it, when you can't go out for amusement, enjoying good food at home becomes even more important. And this is where my local foodie friends really came into their own. A box of assorted truffles from The Chocolate Mill, a selection of tasty cheeses from Good Times Cafe and a restock of Thai curry premix from Reasons to Season were all very welcome. There were plenty of treat boxes of cakes and bakes available too, had I not been in a position to make my own, and there were several possibilities for local beer and spirit deliveries if I were not tea-total.


Indeed, if I were a big takeaway eater then I would have definitely made use of the huge range and varieties of cuisines that have suddenly become available from the local street food vendors and restaurants. From boxes of scones from Scone Quest, to lunchtime cheese toasties from Good Times Cafes, to restaurant-style lunch roasts from The Brothers Supper Club, we are positively spoilt for choice. Whilst major chains have shut up shop to even drive-thru options to protect their workforce, the family run businesses and sole traders have stepped up and filled the void with an impressive array of handmade, gourmet and artisan fayre, delivered direct to your door.

As an aside, I was particularly pleased to be able to order a restaurant meal from The Cross Keys in Bedfordshire, to deliver a hot meal to my mum on the day of her 70th birthday. With a family meal out scrapped, it was lovely to be able to at least provide her with a meal on her special day so that it didn't go by unmarked.

I have been very impressed by how my friends and colleagues in the local food scene have adapted and stepped up to the challenges to both keep their businesses viable and to provide their customers with tasty, local and artisan food under difficult circumstances. I am heartened by the support people have given these small businesses and I hope that there are useful business models and practises that will continue even when things return to something closer to normality.

Whilst I wrestled through these difficult few weeks, the major supermarkets made some substantial changes, sorted out issues with their websites and employed more drivers and gradually it became possible to book a delivery again, even if it was for three week's time and only allowing deliveries to be booked once a fortnight and for a maximum of 80 items (which sounds like loads until you try to maintain a household of 4 for a fortnight when you have been running out on stuff for several weeks already)!

So with a few delivery slots booked and entered into my diary (one of the few things in my diary these days), it was time to try to tackle some of the other missing items from my larder, such as flour!

That was when I discovered The Food Box UK. They do I range of different food boxes (some of them looks bit weird, to be honest) but it includes several bakery box options. I plumped for the "White Bread Bakery Box" and I was very pleased a few days later to be in receipt of a selection of different flours, a big bag of white bread mix (not ideal but better than nothing) and sugars. There was also some very dodgy margarine in a tin, which I would not contemplate putting into my body but I can overlook that!

Since then I have discovered that Doves Farm are now offering a box of various organic flour for £11 including delivery so I am excited to try that out when my current flour runs out, if they are in stock at that point.  I am trying not be become a hoarder and cause other people supply problems but it is tempting to hoard flour when previously faced with shortages. It would seem that flour is an important part of my life!

Just when I thought I had probably got lockdown food deliveries as sort out as I could, I received an email from Milk and More to tell me that there was now availability in my area for me to join their delivery service. I had, in desperation weeks before in the darkest of shopping struggles, attempted to join the local milk round but had been told that due to demand they weren't taking on new customers. They asked if I wanted to join their waiting list, so I did and then moved on to explore other options.

But now, finally, this delivery service was available to me so I signed up and went to explore their website. There aren't kidding about the "More" part of their name as they offer all sorts of things in addition to milk; more than you might consider a milkman to offer. Yes, eggs, juice, yoghurt and cheese. But also bacon, vegan products, fresh fruit and vegetables, cereal, coffee and soft drinks. What's more, these things are available for delivery in my area on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday... or all three if you so choose! No crashing websites, no three week wait for a delivery slot, no limitations to once a fortnight, and orders can be ammended up to 9pm the previous evening!

So, I placed a regular order for a Wednesday to include essentials such as milk, juice, cheese, eggs and a vegetable box and I was super excited to receive my first delivery. Outside my door before I had even come down for breakfast. I was hooked and soon ordered more things. It was so liberating to know I could restock these fresh essentials any Monday, Wednesday or Friday and not have to eek them out until the next supermarket delivery. In addition, it meant I could remove some of these things from my supermarket delivery, freeing up my capacity of 80 items only for other things.

But you know what excites me most about the milk delivery? It's that I can order milk and juice in one pint glass bottles. How much of saving the planet has just gone out the window whilst we struggle to exist? Even the supermarket deliveries come in plastic bags and they are not accepting them back for recycling. The green bin food waste wasn't collected for weeks and we are getting through disposable PPE like plastic waste isn't an issue. Understandably so. Can't be helped. So it is lovely to be able to order my milk in glass bottles and put my empties on the doorstep for refilling.

As with my curiosity to wonder if some of our social changes and new business models will continue into our post-pandemic world, I am curious to know how our shopping habits will change as a result. Will there always be more demand for flour and basic essentials now that people have got to grips with home baking and cooking their own meals? Will people discover new local businesses that offer a fantastic service and decide to stick with them or will they return to their familar chains and brands? Will people still want, or even be offered, local food delivered fresh (and sometimes even hot) to their door or will we return to customers going out to events to find them?

I for one will be glad when booking a supermarket delivery isn't as stressful but whatever happens I will at the very least continue to support my local milkman and rinse and return my bottles.

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Diary from the Pandemic day 57 - Elderflower Season

Last Saturday was the end of the long run of beautiful weather we have been having recently. The forecast for Sunday was for the temperature to plummet, bringing with it the possibility of frost. It is one of those things about May, it is easy to get lulled into a false sense of security and to push ahead  enthusiastically. I have learnt to hold fast and to not plant out tender plants into the garden until the end of May/beginning of June. Even so, we had a very healthy crop of potatoes poking their leaves out above the soil and they would surely be damaged by a frost.

Even with the forecast, it was hard to believe that there may be a frost. Often when one is forecast, it can mean for somewhere else and not for us in our sheltered spot in the warmth of a city. So we decided that earthing up the potatoes would help to protect them from the frost but we probably didn't need to cover them in newspaper or fleece. So there I was on a hot Saturday afternoon attempting to bash solid clay soil into submission so that I could break it up enough to rack it up over the potato plants.

And yet what really caught my eye was the elderflower bush in full blossom in the hedgerow that grows along the allotment fence. I was surprised to see it so advanced. I couldn't recall seeing any others in bloom yet locally but then I remembered that I am barely leaving the house so when would I have seen them? I felt the urge to rush over and pick them right then and there and before they went over but I had a job in hand - an exhausting job that would leave me too tired to be processing elderflowers once back at the house.  So I focussed on my task and continued to earth up the potatoes.

Job done, I walked over to the elderflower bush to inspect it. I wanted to see if any of the glorious blossom was within reaching height and to see if there were buds that would potentially be flowers in a few days time. Yes, on both accounts. So I went home knowing I could come back in a few days.

Well, the weather did take a turn and it got cold. And there was a frost - three in fact! And, despite our efforts, the potatoes got damaged. Although, I was reassured today that one of our allotment friends had covered her potatoes with fleece and they had still got damaged so we wouldn't have avoided the problem had we decided to cover them.

So for the past week I had to scrap my plans to plant anything else out from the greenhouse. Obviously I wasn't planning to plant out the tender stuff such as tomatoes, sweetcorn and French beans anyway, but I thought I would plant out the salads, leeks and peas during the week but it didn't make sense to yank them out of the cosy greenhouse to the shock of cold nights.

Instead, my thoughts returned to the elderflowers that had been so distracting on Saturday. So, I went out and harvested enough to set up a batch of elderflower cordial. This not only makes a lovely, refreshing summer drink, but it is a lovely flavouring to add to other desserts too.

The next day, having infused the flavours, I bottled the elderflower cordial then went on to make elderflower panna cotta with my youngest daughter. Weirdly, I had just put them into the fridge to set when Facebook decided to remind me of a memory. It was from 9 years previously to the day and my eldest daughter had made elderflower panna cotta for the first time! Ah, there is something lovely about the rhythms of eating with the seasons.

Anyway, if you fancy making elderflower cordial do it soon. Unlike so many things these days, the elderflower season isn't something you can get on catch-up or get round to when you have more time - it is now and needs your attention now if you want to make the most of it.

Elderflower Cordial

450g granulated sugar
450ml boiling water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
about 7 large elder flower heads
1 lemon, sliced
1 lime, sliced

Put the sugar in a non-metallic bowl with the boiling water and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the lemon and lime juices. Wash and flick dry the elder flower heads then snip off the flowers into the bowl. Add the sliced lemon and lime. Stir then cover the bowl with Clingfilm and leave to stand for 24 hours. Scald a jelly bag and drain the mixture through it into a clean bowl. Funnel into sterile bottles then refrigerate. Dilute to taste with still or fizzy water. Will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 months.

Elderflower Panna Cotta

100ml whole milk

250ml double cream
20g caster sugar
2 tablespoons elderflower cordial
2 gelatine leaves
150ml plain yoghurt

Soak the gelatine in cold water for 5–10 minutes. Combine the milk, cream and sugar in a saucepan.  Scald the liquid – bring just to the boil, but don’t let it bubble then add the elderflower cordial.  Heat the gelatine to melt it then add to the cream mixture.  Cover the surface of the cream with clingfilm and leave it to cool to room temperature then stir in the yoghurt. Pour into suitable containers then refrigerate for 4 hours until set. Eat out of the container or turn them out onto a plate. We often serve it with some diluted raspberry jam.