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Thursday, 15 April 2021

The Endless Loop of Leftovers

Sometimes I find myself in a endless loop of leftovers. I make something, which leads to leftovers and then I find a way to make that into something else, but it leads to more leftovers and on it goes.

I had a meat delivery last week. Mostly I just bag it all up into suitable portions and get it into the freezer to last a few weeks. However, I turned the 700g of stewing steak into steak pies before freezing them, cooking up the pie filling that afternoon and adding some puff pastry once cooled. The pies had circular lids so I was left with some offcuts of puff pastry. 

The meat box was also supposed to contain 12 sausages, which I would normally divide into 8 and 4. We eat 8 sausages between us as one meal, and the other 4 I might turn into sausage egg muffins or add them to a mixed grill. However, I only received 1 pack of 6 sausages, which doesn't work for me in terms of numbers. Fortunately, there was a rather delicious sausage pasta bake recipe in the BBC Good Food Magazine this month that feeds four with 6 sausages so I bought some mozzerella and made that. That left a little bit of mozzerella that I boxed up and popped in the fridge.

Later, I added to the off-cuts of puff pastry when I made a batch of sausage rolls (also destined for the freezer). One tray of sausagemeat only needs three quarters of a sheet of puff pastry, leaving an odd bit. Sometimes I make this into 3 or 4 cheese straws just to be done but this time I added it to the offcuts from the pies. But what to do with the puff pastry?

I had seen a recipe for Homity Pie in the BBC Good Food Magazine too and I wondered if it might be nice to replace some of the Cheddar in it with my leftover mozzerella and maybe give it a lid of puff pastry instead of shortcrust. It certainly seemed like the perfect way to use up some of the rubbish potatoes from our allotment, along with some onions and leeks from my Oddbox delivery. However, it did mean I had to buy a pot of double cream.

With the double cream purchased, I re-read the recipe and realised it was more a tart than a pie, being without a lid, so that ruled out using up the puff pastry. I also decided that Cheddar would work much better than mozzerella in terms of flavour so I didn't use that either. The pie was really delicious, and definitely one to add to my favourites, especially at this time of year when potatoes, onions and leeks are seasonal stars.

I tried it out as a lunchtime dish for my youngest daughter and me as we like being guinea pigs for new recipes but my husband was so taken with the thin slither he tried that he decided to eat some of it for his dinner.  And the remaining two portions, my youngest and I ate for lunch on Sunday. All good, except it only used half a pot of double cream so I had to think of something to do with that now.

Looking around the kitchen for inspiration, my eyes fell upon some tired looking apples in the fruit bowl so I typed "apple pudding" into Google and found a recipe for Sticky Toffee Apple Pudding, served with cream. I whipped this up on Sunday afternoon and put it into the oven to cook once I had served up the roast dinner. Despite the moment of doubt as I pour sugar water over the top of the cake batter before it went into the oven, it turned out beautifully, creating its own lovely toffee sauce at the base. And it was particularly tasty served with cream. I just had the headache of trying to fit a half eaten pudding into the fridge where a pot of double cream had previously been!

Fortunately, we reheated the apple pudding after dinner on Monday and finished off the last of the cream with it too so that at least was now out of the fridge. We had had leftover pork from the Sunday roast for dinner too so it was a good day for eating leftovers. In addition, I had a moment of inspiration Monday morning and decided to turn the puff pastry and mozerella into a mozerella and courgette tart for lunch for my youngest daughter and me. This also used up half an OddBox courgette but it meant I opened a jar of red pesto but didn't use all of it! 

So on Tuesday I decided to try cooking up some Pasta 'ncasciate. I thought this would not only use up the aubergine I had just bought but maybe the tired looking mushrooms, the half courgette and the red pesto. I found a recipe and set about making it, realising it didn't contain either mushrooms or courgettes and that red pesto wasn't really the right thing to use for the sauce either. It turned out to be a very tasty dish and I'm pleased to have found another way to eat aubergine. 

However, it made way more than I needed and once again I found myself scratching my head, wondering how to fit the leftovers in the fridge! Still, that's lunch sorted on another day, and you know what, I might even cook up the half a courgette and tired mushrooms and add the red pesto to it when I serve it up this time!

Thursday, 1 April 2021

A Vegan Birthday Feast

It was my step-daughter's birthday on Saturday so I cooked her up some of her favourite food. She loves Japanese food and she loves sticky toffee pudding, so that's what went on the menu. As she is vegan, she obviously required that all her food was vegan but she also requested that the whole meal was vegan, i.e. that we all partook. 

The main meal was a buffet of different Japanese foods. I cooked sticky rice in my Instant Pot, baked a nasu dengaku aubergine, fried some shop bought vegan gyoza, and whilst she stir fried some tofu and veg noodles, I deep fried some tempura - pumpkin, mushroom and onion. The other addition at the table was a jar of radishes that I had pickled the weekend before. 

I had received some radishes in my first Oddbox veg delivery. Despite being one of the easiest things to grow, we don't usually bother because no one really likes them. So I figured I may as well try pickling them to see if that made them more palettable. After all, my step-daughter is generally a fan of pickled things and she likes pickled diakon, and diakon (or mooli) are just very large radishes. I have to say, after they turned a pretty pink colour during the course of the week, I was actually quite excited to try them. Yes, definitely nicer pickled and definitely a very similar taste to pickled diakon.

Pickled Radish

1 bunch of radish
175ml cider vinegar
175ml water
2 tsp salt
3 tbsp maple syrup (or honey if not for a vegan)
1/4 tsp chilli flakes
5 garlic cloves (whole)
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp peppercorns

Wash the radish and pat dry then slice very thinly. Separate the slices as you drop them into a suitable jar. Add all the other ingredients and put the lid on then slosh it about a bit to mix. Leave for 1 week before eating. Eat within 3 weeks.

I have made vegan sticky toffee pudding a few times over the years and, in fact, I think I prefer it to conventional sticky toffee pudding because it is soft and gooey and satisfying without being overly heavy. Usually I make it as a single cake in a square cake tin and I have even made it in a hemisphere cake tin at Christmas to look like a Christmas pudding. However, on this occasion I decided to use some individual pudding tins from Lakeland. Normally I glaze the cake with some pear jam or similar but on this occasion I started by putting some of my pear sauce in the bottom of each pudding tin. To serve, I topped with a bit more pear sauce and a dollop of Oatly Oat Fraiche, although vegan custard, cream or ice-cream would have worked well too.

Sticky Toffee Pudding (makes 8)

250g dates
2 tbsp linseed breakfast topper
300ml soya milk
200ml vegetable oil
175g dark muscovado sugar
200g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground mixed spice
100-200 g pear sauce or golden syrup or date syrup or jam

Put the dates, linseed and milk in a saucepan and simmer for 2-3 minutes until soft. Use a stick blender to blitz until smooth. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well, breaking up any lumps in the sugar. Add the date mixture, the oil and 50 g of jam/sauce. Stir well to form a batter. Pour more sauce/syrup into the bottom of each individual pudding tin then dollop in the cake mixture until about three quarters full. Put the tins onto a baking tray and bake for 30-35 minutes until springy to the touch. To serve, run a knife around each pudding and tip into a serving bowl/plate then heat each one for 30 seconds in the microwave. Add more syrup to the top if necessary and serve with creme fraiche, custard, cream or ice-cream.

Monday, 15 March 2021

Cooking with Honey

I have known Carol for probably getting on for ten years now. We met because I was looking for some local honey to go into local food hampers I was putting together but we quickly became friends and I thoroughly enjoy standing on the doorstep nattering for an hour. Yes, I would invite her in but she always insists she won't stop! 

Carol's honey is an essential ingredient in my Honey & Lemon Marmalade and during February's monthly orders I sold all the stock I had of that and I could have sold more. So I emailed Carol to ask to buy another jar so that I could make a fresh batch. To my surprise she rung me up to say that she had some honey that would be suitable for cooking that I could just have.

The smell and flavour of honey varies tremenously depending on what the bees forage from. This is why Scottish Heather Honey is so prized, of course, but sometimes the foraging isn't quite so desireable. Honey foraged from ivy, for example, can have a flavour that no everyone likes. Carol didn't know what the bees had foraged on for this particular batch but it had an unusual smell that she felt some people wouldn't like and, although it tasted nice, she thought a customer opening a jar and getting that aroma might be put off.

A short while later she dropped off half a bucket of the honey and said I was welcome to have it for cooking. She also gave me a sample of some flapjacks she had made with it to demonstrate that the flavour wasn't unusual when used in cooking.

With good quality honey being a relatively expensive commodity, I was excited to have a larger than expected quantity available to me and an invitation to use it in cooking. Normally I would use a cheap supermarket honey in cooking and even then be fairly sparing with it.

I sniffed it and tasted it and, although I could see Carol's point about the smell being slightly odd, it wasn't unpleasant. In fact, it reminded me of the complex floral notes you get when sniffing real ale. From my experience with that I know that what I can smell bears very little resemblance to the flavours I taste, and so it was with the honey, which was very mild and just generally pleasant.

Happy with my tests, I used some to make the batch of Honey and Lemon Marmlade. After that it was time to experiment. 

The first new recipe was steamed honey puddings for dessert on Saturday. I made individual puddings that we served with custard and it was a delightful, light sponge.

On Monday, whilst my youngest daughter filled some time before her return to school, she made a honey cake to refill the cake tin for the week. We ate a slice in the afternoon as a snack. It was a little underdone in the middle, which was my fault as I had judged it cooked. However, the gooey middle was like a sticky sauce, similar to the "sauce" in a chocolate fondant. Later, when I came back from a walk to the postbox, my eldest asked what the cake was. She'd had helped herself to a slice whilst I was out and had puzzled over the flavour as it was almost like a ginger cake but she had liked it, unlike ginger cake. It is true, the complex flavours in the cake are deceptive, and suggest that a subtle combination of spices were used. She also said that the gooey middle was the best bit!

On Thursday I made some honey biscuits to have with my elevenses and for my husband to enjoy was his after dinner cup of tea. These proved to be soft and chewy, again with hard to pindown flavours.  Over dinner my eldest told me she liked the biscuits I had made, which puzzled me as I didn't know she had tried one. Turns out that she had seen the photo I had posted onto Instagram and had fancied eating one, then gone into the kitchen whilst I had been answering the door! 

After that she asked if I could made some honey flapjacks - nice thick and properly sweet ones, not like the "healthy" ones I often make. So on Friday afternoon I whipped up a batch of flapjacks too! 

Wow! What a sweet week but a lovely week of experimenting and creating.

Individual Steamed Honey Puddings 

(makes 6)

100g plus 12 tsp honey
100g unsalted butter, softened.
100g caster sugar
3 eggs
110g self-raising flour
Pinch of salt
1 tsp baking powder

Butter 6 mini pudding basins. Put two teaspoons of the honey into the bottom of each pudding basin. Cream together the butter and sugar then stir in the 100g of honey and then the eggs, one at a time. Add the dry ingredients and stir well until a smooth batter in formed. Divide the mixture evenly between the six pudding basins. Put the lids loosely on the basins or cover with foil then stack on a trivet inside a pressure cooker, with two cups of water in the base. Put the lid on and bring to pressure then cook for 40 minutes. Leave for the pressure to release naturally then remove the puddings to cool. When ready to serve, reheat in the oven for 30 seconds for each pudding and serve with hot custard.

Honey Cake

250g honey plus extra for glazing
225g unsalted butter
100 dark muscovado sugar
3 eggs, beaten
300g self-raising flour

In a pan, melt together the butter, honey and sugar over a low heat. Once melted, increase the heat and boil for 1 minute then set aside and leave to cool for 20 minutes. Preheat then oven to 170°C and line a circular cake tin. Pour the cooled mixture into a large bowl then beat in the eggs. Add the flour and stir until it forms a smooth batter. Pour into the cake tin then bake for 50 minutes to an hour, until a skewer comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes or so then turn out onto a wire rack. Glaze the top of the cake with honey until sticky. 

Honey Biscuits (makes 10-12)

100g unsalted butter, softened
50g light brown sugar
25g caster sugar
2 tbsp of honey
1 egg yolk
1 tsp mixed spice
150g self-raising flour
30g oatbran

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking sheet. Cream together the butter and the sugars then mix in the honey and the egg yolk. Add the dry ingredients and mix to form a soft dough. Use an ice-cream scoop to remove a ball of dough then place it on the baking tray. Don’t squash it flat. Repeat with the rest of the dough then bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Leave to cool on the tray for a few minutes then transfer onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Honey flapjacks (makes 12)

200g unsalted butter
200g light brown sugar
200g honey
400g oats
Pinch of salt
50g sunflower/pumpkin seeds

Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease a 20 by 30 cm tin. In a saucepan, melt together the butter, sugar and honey. Remove from the heat and add the oats, salt and seeds. Stir well then spoon into the tin and level out. Bake for 15 minutes then turn out the oven and leave for another 5 minutes in the oven. Remove from the oven and cut out 12 bars then leave to cool in the tin.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Over ripe Bananas

Normally I buy 5 bananas a week and my youngest eats one banana every day at break when at school. I know that it became a bit of a joke during Lockdown 1 that everyone was making sourdough and banana bread, but I just stopped buying bananas and we didn't have any over ripe bananas to worry about. However, in Lockdown 3, my daughter decided to make herself elaborate breakfasts of chopped fruit in natural yoghurt, flavoured with vanilla extract and maple syrup. As such, I bought different combinations of fruit each week, including blueberries, nectarines, grapes, melon and bananas.

My husband likes a banana too... occasionally. Mostly he doesn't eat bananas and then suddenly he will fancy one - particularly if the bananas in the fruit bowl are the perfect ripeness for his tastes. This, as you might imagine, is hard to cater for. When I only buy 5 bananas during school times, he knows that if he eats one our daughter will go without at break time. However, if I buy extra, especially for him, he may not fancy one at all during the time that they are in the fruit bowl.

One week recently, I bought five bananas and he decided he fancied eating bananas again, so that week we had eaten all the bananas before the end of the week. As such, the following week I decided to buy 10 bananas... but that week he didn't really fancy any and then they went overly brown and he definitely doesn't like an overripe banana - or banana bread for that matter.

As you can imagine, it has been very hard to buy the correct number of bananas during Lockdown 3 and as such I have had over ripe bananas to deal with on numerous occasions. Yeah, I have a banana bread recipe but I don't make that very often because I have other recipes I prefer - banana and fudge yoghurt cake, banana and carrot cake, banana and maple muffins, chocolate banana loaf cake, and so on. Usefully the muffins and the yoghurt cake freeze particularly well so I can make them before the bananas go completely to mush and freeze them for another day regardless of what we already have in the cake tin.

In fact, in the middle of last week, my daughter made a chocolate banana loaf cake using three over ripe bananas, leaving 2 in the fruit bowl, demanding attention. As we already had the chocolate cake to be eating, I figured I would make a banana and mincemeat loaf cake at the weekend and stick it in the freezer until the chocolate cake was finished. 

It seemed a particularly useful recipe because it would also get the half a jar of mincemeat off the work surface that had been knocking around since Christmas. So that's what I did, except I forgot to freeze it and two days later we had finished the chocolate cake anyway so we went straight on to eating the mincemeat one. Probably just as well, as I still have 24 muffins and a loaf cake in the freezer anyway!

Banana & Mincemeat Loaf Cake

150g unsalted butter, softened
90g caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
150g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
Pinch of salt
2 over ripe bananas, mashed
150g mincemeat

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a 2lb loaf tin. Cream together the butter and sugar then add the eggs, one at a time. Put in the dry ingredients, then the bananas and the mincemeat then give it a thorough stir until well combined. Spoon into the tin and bake for 1 hour. Test with a skewer and leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Banana Loaf Cake

3 over ripe bananas
3 eggs
100ml sunflower oil
175g caster sugar
175g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
Pinch of salt
4 tbsp cocoa powder
100g dark chocolate chips

40g softened butter
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 160°C and line a 2lb loaf tin. Put the mashed bananas, eggs and oil into a large bowl. Add 1 whole egg and 2 egg yolks to the mixture in the bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the two egg whites until stiff. Add the dry ingredients to the mixture in the large bowl and combine until just mixed. Fold in the egg whites. Spoon into the loaf tin and backe for 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool in the tin for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. In the meantime, make the butter icing with the butter, remaining cocoa powder and vanilla extract. Once the cake is cool, thinly ice the top of the cake with the butter icing. 

Carrot & Banana Cake

150g sunflower oil
150g light muscovado sugar
2 eggs
225g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
50g sultanas
2 over ripe bananas, mashed
100g carrots, grated

Preheat the oven to 180°C and lightly grease and line the bottom of a 20cm square tin. Add all the ingredients in the order listed, stirring where appropriate. Once completely combined, spoon the batter into the tin and bake for 50-60 minutes.

Banana & Fudge Yoghurt Cake

2 pots of self-raising flour
1/2 pot of light muscovado sugar
1/2 pot of sunflower oil
1 pot of natural yoghurt
2 eggs
4 tsp maple syrup
1 over ripe banana
50g vanilla fudge, cut into small pieces

For this recipe you will need a 120g pot of natural yoghurt and then you will need to use the yoghurt pot as the measure. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a 2lb loaf tin. Put all the ingredients in a bowl and stir until well combined. Spoon the batter into a loaf tin and bake for 45 to 60 minutes.

Banana & Maple Muffins (makes 12)

115g softened butter
115g caster sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp maple syrup
2 over ripe bananas, mashed
225g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 190°C and put paper cases into a muffin tin. Cream together the butter and sugar then add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the syrup. Stir in the bananas. Add the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Spoon into paper muffin cases and bake for 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Apple Strudel

I had a piece of pork to roast the other day and I knew it would create leftovers. Some leftover meat is easier to deal with than others and I often find myself a little lacking in inspiration when it comes to cooked pork. As such, I had a look at what Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recommended in his leftovers book. 

As a result, we had pork rissoles on Monday. Never made them before but I particularly liked them as they also used breadcrumbs - another leftover ingredient. 

On Friday it was Chinese New year so I saved a small piece of the pork to try Hugh's suggestion of pork wontons. He said that mixing pork with brown sauce worked surprisingly well as a wonton filling. So, I bought a pack of filo pastry, cut up a little bit of pork into small pieces, dolloped on some homemade brown sauce and created some wontons. And, you know what, he was right - I was surprised by how well it worked.

However, I had a pack of 10 sheets of filo pastry and I had only needed one sheet for my wontons.

Asking around the internet for filo pastry inspiration, I decided to give apple strudel a go. I'd never made it before but I don't really know why. The only thing was I didn't have any apples left in storage - just bags and bags of cooked apples in the freezer.

So on Sunday morning I took a bag of frozen apples out of the freezer and tips its contents into a sieve over a bowl. I figured I didn't want it particularly runny as a filling so I would drain out the excess moisture as it thawed. 

I was pleased to see a mention of breadcrumbs in this recipe too, both because I like using up stale bread in useful ways, and because I figured it would help stablise the potentially sloppy mixture.

It was simple enough to turn the cooked apples into strudel filling and it was easy to layer the filo pastry up, with generous brushings of melted butter in between. I was also pleasently surprised by how easily and neatly I managed to fold and roll the pastry into a self-contained bundle. 

I figured that the wet filling probably wouldn't do the pastry any good if I left it to sit so I got it into the oven straight away then put it back into the oven later to reheat in the residal heat after removing the roast. I served it with the last of the pumpkin ice-cream. An excellent use of ingredients for the perfect winter dessert.

Apple Strudel

1 pint cooked Bramley apples (weighing about 450g)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp lemon juice
80g caster sugar
60g sultanas
20g butter
40g white breadcrumbs

9 sheets filo pastry
50g butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 190C and line a baking tray with baking parchment. Mix the apples with the cinnamon, lemon juice, sugar and sultana. In a small frying pan, melt 20g butter and fry the breadcrumbs until golden-brown, then add to the apple mixture. Melt the remaining butter in a pan. On a clean, dry tea-towel or silicone baking mat, lay a sheet of the filo and brush with some of the melted butter. Lay another sheet on top and repeat until all the filo pastry is used. Pile the filling along the length of the pastry along one side about 2 cm from the edge and carefully fold in the ends of the pastry then roll the pastry up to enclose the filling, finishing seam side down. Brush with the remaining melted butter. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until golden-brown. Leave to cool to room temperature and dust with icing sugar. Slice and serve with cream, ice cream or custard.

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Cheese and Potato Pasties

I made steak pie last week and sausage rolls on Saturday morning and on both occasions I was left with some scrappy bits of puff pastry from the rolls of ready-made pastry. 

It's always a bit of a dilemma as to what to do with odds and ends like this as I don't want to put them in the bin. Sometimes I just make a few cheese straws and sometimes I make mini cheese and pickle pasties but folding some pastry over a cube of mature Cheddar and a dollop of onion chutney and crimping it shut at the edges.

This time I decided to make some cheese and potato pasties, suitable for making an interesting lunch the next day. Honestly, they couldn't be simpler (or cheaper) and particularly great if you are carb-loading!

Cheese & Potato Pasties (makes 2)

Two pieces of ready rolled puff pastry, measuring about 16 by 8cm each
1 potato, weighing around 150g
Cubes of Cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons of dried onion
Salt and pepper

Peel and dice the potato then boil for 10 minutes or so until soft enough to mash. Drain and mash with some butter and salt and pepper. Leave to cool. Once cool, add cubes of Cheddar cheese, the dried onion and a little more seasoning then mix it all together with your hands until it moulds. Divide the mixture into two and place them to one end of the pieces of pastry. Use a pastry brush to moisten the edges of the pastry with milk then fold the pastry over the filling and crimp down. Brush with more milk. Can be refrigerated or frozen at this point for future use. To cook, place in an oven at 200°C for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden.

Monday, 8 February 2021

Salted Caramel Bramley Apple Pudding

There is a notice on the allotment gates currently stressing, in no uncertain terms, the importance of maintaining social distance when on site. This is not particularly tricky to abide to, especially at this time of year when trips to the allotment tend to be fleeting and rarely coincide with anyone else. Even if there are other people on site, each allotment plot is 10 m by 10 m and I have never, in the 24 years of having a plot, felt the need to tend to the edge of my plot at the same time as my neighbour is tending to the equivalent edge on theirs. Even when we have stopped to have a conversation, it has always been within comfortable shouting distance rather than face to face.

So, on a recent trip to dig up potatoes, it was vaguely nice to see someone else on site rather in the least bit alarming. She was three plots away and tending to her apple tree. In fact, she was there with her husband, which in itself is rare as the plot is very much her hobby rather than his, but he had clearly been called in for some heavy duty work and she seemed to be pointing to various bits of the tree that needed pruning. They were fully engaged in their task and I wasn't even able to wave hello as I seemed to have snuck in unnoticed.

It was nice to see her caring for the tree as it had produced an absolute bumper crop in 2020. So much so that she had asked several of the plotholders, including myself, to help themselves to apples from it next time it was safe to do so. 

Now, I love a Bramley apple, especially the way they mush down when cooked, so I had taken her up on this, at first filling a bucket with windfalls each time I came to visit and eventually, on her insistance, helping to finish picking apples from the tree itself. These I packed carefully into open boxes in the garage whilst I worked my way through them, cooking them up and freezing them in 1 pint portions ready for use in jam, chutney or pie. 

With the general other abundances from the allotment during the autumn to attend to as well, I only made slow progress on the boxes of apples but in fact they stood very well as they were, only needing the occasional eviction of a mouldy one. Indeed, it was only last week that I took the last two apples out of the box to use in a recipe for salted caramel apple pudding. Here's hoping that with its winter care and attention, the tree will go on to crop as heavily again this year, and maybe by then I will have used up the apples in my freezer!

Salted Caramel Bramley Apple Pudding

2 Bramley apples
3 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
50g dark brown sugar
200ml whole milk
300ml double cream
375g tinned caramel
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
75g plain flour

Preheat oven to 180°C and butter a 30 by 20cm ovenproof dish. Peel, core and slice the apples then scatter over the base of the dish. Put the eggs, yolks, sugar, milk, cream, 200g of caramel, vanilla and salt in a large bowl and stir with a whisk until well combined. Gradually stir in the flour to form a smooth batter. Pour the batter over the apple pieces. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until set all the way to the centre. Heat up the remaining caramel and serve up portions of the pudding with a drizzle of caramel and scoops of ice-cream.

Friday, 5 February 2021

What to do with yellow beetroot

It was a funny coincidence that the day after I had grated part of an enormous yellow beetroot into beetroot and potato rostis, my mum mentioned that she had what she thought looked like yellow beetroot delivered in her veg box.

She had just signed up for OddBox deliveries and she was really chuffed with her first box, although she wasn't entirely sure what she was going to do with the sweet potatoes and she wasn't sure she had correctly identified the yellow beetroot. She took a photo and texted it over to me and from what I could see she definitely had two large yellow beetroots not much smaller than the two monsters I had just harvested.

Her next question was, what should she do with them and how could she cook them. I have a bit of an eye for cooking times with beetroot, having practised this mysterious craft for more than 20 years now and I told her that hers would take 40 minutes of boiling or 30 minutes in the pressure cooker.

It wasn't long after that that she sent me a photo of her freshly cooked cubes of yellow beetroot. I was shocked! There is an unwritten law in beetroot-craft that states that a beetroot must be cooked whole, unpeeled and not even so much as shown the blade of a knife. Everyone knows that you twist (no cut) the leaves from the top of a beetroot and you leave its root in tact and boil it whole, or so I thought. With this assumption I had neglected to include these details when explaining the cooking times to my mum so not only had she peeled it, she had cubed it and cooked it like that for 15 minutes.

"You shouldn't peel or cut beetroot before cooking," I texted curtly back (I was working at the time).

"Why's that?"

"They 'bleed' when cut."

"Well, being yellow, there was no blood! So I haven't made it toxic?? Is it OK to eat??"

This made me laugh and also to take stock for a moment. It is one of the issues with ancient practises such as kitchen gardening. "Wisdoms" get passed down from generation to generation without people necessarily questioning why they are done and if they are indeed useful or necessary. So did is actually matter if your beetroot bleeds, especially if it yellow? It definitely wouldn't make it inedible or toxic, maybe it would lose some nutrients, and, worse case scenario, it might stain your kitchen (if its purple).

I reassured her that she hadn't rendered the beetroot inedible and she went on to enjoy it in salad for the next couple of days.

In the meantime I had one enormous yellow beetroot left on my draining board (and several still in the ground), so what should I do with it?

The thing about yellow beetroot is that it is different from purple beetroot. I mean, it tastes the same and it could be used in exactly the same way as purple but the colour really makes a difference. Whereas I might turn large purple beetroot into chutney, no one wants a weirdly off-putting light brown beetroot chutney. On the other hand, a yellow beetroot can be used in a casserole without causing the whole thing to turn an alarming colour. So how best to enjoy this particular shade of beetroot.

Having made the beetroot and potato rostis and a medley of roasted vegetables with the other one, I was warming to the idea of using it in a way that wouldn't give a purple result.

So the following weekend I made a beetroot and orange cake. It is actually a recipe carrot cake I have been using for years but I figured that yellow beetroot and carrot are interchangeable and it proved to be the case.

Beetroot & Orange Cake

140 ml sunflower oil
130g dark brown sugar
2 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Grate rind and juice from 2 oranges
225g grated raw beetroot
85g sultanas
285g plain flour
25g wheat germ or bran (optional)
1½ teaspoons mixed spice
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Preheat oven to 160ÂșC (gas 2) and place the cake tin liner in a cake tin. In a large bowl, beat together the oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla, orange rind and juice. Peel and grate the beetroot and stir it into the mix. Add the sultanas. Sift in the flour, spice, raising agents and add the wheat germ/bran. Stir well then spoon the mix into the cake tin. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, test with a skewer. Cool in the tin.

And later in the week I enjoyed inventing the pleasing sounding Bacon, Beetroot and Brie Muffins, which we had for lunch with salad and crisps. 

Bacon, Beetroot & Brie Muffins (makes 10)

4 rashers of streaky bacon
175g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
50 ml milk
1 egg
100ml vegetable oil
100g grated raw beetroot
75g brie, chopped

Chop up the bacon and fry quickly to brown then set aside to cool. Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a muffin tin with paper cases. In a large bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients. In a jug, beat together the milk, egg and oil. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and add the beetroot, brie and bacon before quickly stirring together until just combined. Dollop the mixture into the muffin cases then bake for 25 minutes.

Although I am sure that little flecks of purple in either of these would have been fine or even amusing, it was nice to stealthly ninja beetroot into baked goods in such as way as to not draw it to anyone's attention. Maybe useful to know if you are trying to feed someone who would be put off by its presence if they knew it was there?

Thursday, 4 February 2021

A glut of potatoes

When I give my talk "Growing Food, Not Gluts", I talk about how it is easy to grow gluts of some things and hard or impossible to grow gluts of others. In the list of the impossible I include potatoes. They are so useful and versatile in the kitchen and they store so well that is seems impossible to grow too many or have to use them up quicker than the natural course of things.

Or so I thought. 2020, a year of the unusual, proved to be the year I grew a glut of potatoes. But, how? Well, firstly, we grew quite a lot of potatoes, but there isn't anything particularly unusual in that. Secondly, we didn't dig them up and use them as quickly as we might have done in previous years. I think this might be down to Steve's dodgy knee and his general lack of inclination to dig currently. And thirdly, and most importantly, there was a weird combination of cold and warm temperatures in the autumn that caused the potatoes to start to regrow whilst still in the ground.

We have never had this before, with potatoes generally being quite happy to sit in the ground until March before they start to regrow. As such, I wasn't sure whether a potato that had regrown would be inferior in quality to one that hasn't. It turns out that they are - with the area that has sprouted forming a very hard "eye" that has to be dug out of the potato before use, and the central area of the potato taking on a slightly different texture. They are still edible, especially if rendered down into mash, but it is harder work and for a less satisfactory result. As such, it seems only sensible to eat the potatoes quickly or process them in some way to make use of them before they deteriorate any more. Hence, I now have a glut of potatoes to deal with.

So, having identified the glut, it is now necessary to deal with it. Therefore, I have decided to dig up a whole bucket of potatoes (two rows) every time we need to restock our potato supplies. This is about double the amount I would normally have in the house at any one time. It means that I have an abundant supply of potatoes, which in turn means I am more likely to cook potatoes for dinner rather than rice or pasta or bread, and I can cook double portions and freeze some should I wish to.

I went out to dig up a double row of potatoes one sunny Friday afternoon, aware that the weather forecast for the weekend was grim. I'm so glad I did it as the allotment was covered in snow by Sunday! Whilst I was there I harvested a couple of leeks and some enormous yellow beetroot.

On Saturday morning I made a batch of leek and potato soup. This is Steve's favourite soup and it really feels as if it is made from nothing, being nothing more than homegrown potatoes, leeks, an onion and some stock. There was enough for lunch and some leftover to go into the freezer.

Saturday afternoon I made some beetroot and potato rostis, using the yellow beetroot, creating rostis that looked much more normal than the slightly unsettling purple beetroot ones. I made a big batch and we had a couple each with our hot dogs and I put the rest in the freezer.

On Sunday we had a roast dinner so I peeled and par boiled twice the usual amount of potatoes and made roast potatoes out of half of them and smothered the other half in goose fat (from Christmas) before putting them on a tray and freezing them.

Monday was sausages and mash and, yes, you guessed it, I made double the usual quantity of mash and put half of it in the freezer. It was an unusual evening in that my eldest was in the kitchen whilst I was cooking dinner. Normally she keeps herself tucked away in her bedroom, busily working on her creative A-levels. I say bedroom, there is a bed in there, but the rest of the space is dedicated to art so it feels like a choatic, creative workshop when I dare to venture in there. She had been working on a Klimt inspired oil painting solidly for several days and she had just finished it so had brought it down the kitchen to show it to me. 

With only a few minutes until dinner was due to be served, she had stayed. As she was on hand I asked her to run a fork over the top of the mash whilst I started to dish up. Needless to say it was the fanciest forking I have ever seen!

After that followed a rather fancy and very tasty potato and mushroom gratin, served up next to sirloin steak. And I also made a rather successful chicken and mushroom hotpot, where Steve particularly noted how tasty the potatoes were.

Anyway, it had been a productive few days in the potato glut battle, and I'm almost at the bottom of the bucket. Some inspired meals and some lovely gifts to my future self in the freezer.

Ironically, in the midst of all this, the postman knocked on the door with a parcel that proved to be our supply of seed potatoes for this year. 

"Careful, it's heavy," he warned as I bent to retrieve it from the doorstep.

"Oh, it's our seed potatoes," I said. Previous conversations with our postman had led us to discover that he too has an allotment. 

"Oh, yeah, right," he said, "yeah, probably should think about getting some myself."

"Well you'd better be quick because apparently the seed companies are inundated with orders this year," I told him.

"Oh well," he said, "doesn't matter as I haven't dug up the last lot yet. Might just let them regrow!"

Beetroot & Potato Rostis

4 medium to large potatoes
2 medium beetroot
Dried onion
Garlic salt or powder (optional)
Seasoning to taste

Peel the potatoes and cut into large roast potato sized pieces then par boil for about 10 minutes (depending on your potato variety). Once cooked, drain and run under a cold tap to cool the potatoes down enough to pick them up. Grate the potatoes into a large bowl, using long strokes on the grater. Wash and peel the raw beetroot then grate into the bowl with the potato. Add the seasoning. Combine well until it all sticks together. Use a circular pastry cutter to squash balls of mixture into the rosti shape. Place them on a floured plate, cover with Clingfilm and refrigerate for at least an hour or put in the freezer at this point.  To cook, heat some oil in a frying pan then fry for about 2 minutes on each side to brown then place in an oven for 20 minutes to cook through.

Potato & Mushroom Gratin (serves 4)

800g potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 onion, finely shopped
200-300g mushrooms, thinly sliced
Vegetable oil
Salt & pepper
Garlic powder or crushed garlic (optional)
300ml double cream
Grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 180°C and have a square casserole dish ready. Once you have prepared the potatoes, put them into a large bowl with the oil, salt and pepper and garlic and swirl it all around until the potatoes are evenly coated. Put a single layer of potato into the dish then scatter over some onion and mushrooms then repeat, finishing with a layer of potato. Carefully pour over the double cream, moving the dish to make sure it flows around the potatoes. Scatter over some parmesan then bake for 1 hour to an 1 hour and a quarter.

Chicken & Mushroom Hot Pot (serves 4)

Handful of dried mushrooms
800g potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 chicken breasts or 6 thighs
60g butter
1 onion, finely chopped.
100g closed cup mushrooms, sliced
40g plain flour
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 stock cube (chicken or vegetable)
Salt & pepper
Grated Parmesan

Put the dried mushrooms into about half a pint of boiling water and leave to soak for twenty minutes or so. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Once your potatoes are prepared, put them into a saucepan of boiling water, bring back to the boil then turn off the heat and allow the potatoes to sit in the hot water. Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and gently fry to brown. As they begin to colour, add the closed cup mushrooms and fry for a further two minutes then transfer the chicken and mushrooms into a large ovenproof dish. Melt half the butter in a sauce pan then fry the onions in it until just beginning to colour then transfer this into the ovenproof dish. Using the same saucepan, melt the rest of the butter then add the flour, mustard powder and crumbled stock cube to it. Cook for a minute to make a roux then gradually incorporate the water from the dried mushrooms into the roux to make a sauce. Use more hot water if necessary until the sauce is the consistency of a thick gravy. Chop up the soaked mushrooms and add those to the ovenproof dish too. Taste the sauce and add seasoning to taste. Pour the sauce into the dish. Drain the potatoes and arrange in a couple of layers over the chicken. Season the potatoes and sprinkle over the Parmesan then bake for an hour.

Monday, 18 January 2021

Toffee Apple Doughnuts

If there is one thing that COVID times have taught me, it is never put off until tomorrow something which you can do today. Clearly as this is an ancient saying, it is not an original thought or revellation but it is so much more obvious now than under normal circumstances. I'm sure we have all experienced a moment when we thought, oh I'll do that next week or see that person soon, only to have restrictions put in place that meant that it was no longer possible.

So when it was sunny briefly last Tuesday I asked Steve if he fancied digging up some potatoes that afternoon as we were running low. It wasn't an immediate problem as I had planned a rice meal for dinner that night and noodles for the day after that. However, it was still a surprise when Steve said he didn't fancy digging up potatoes that day. With rain forecast Wednesday and Thursday, I decided I would regret missing the opportunity to dig up potatoes in the relatively pleasant conditions of Tuesday so I pulled on some warm clothing, grabbed a bucket and a fork and marched off to the allotment myself.

And yes, I was very pleased at the end of a wet Thursday when I was able to grab a few potatoes to make mashed potatoes to go with our sausages for dinner. In fact, I was so enthusiatic about my haul of potatoes that I used way too many of them and we couldn't eat all the mash.

Never fear, mashed potatoes are well worth keeping and I put them in the fridge whilst I dithered about which leftovers recipe I would use them in.

The previous weekend Jaclyn had recorded a vlog about making doughnut using up some of the apple sauce we made before Christmas, based on a recipe in the Good Food Magazine. We enjoyed custard and apple doughnuts after our Sunday roast whilst watching The Great Pottery Throwdown. 

Maybe that was why the nag in my brain kept coming back time and time again to using the mashed potato up in doughnuts. This was something we had first tried years ago, based on a recipe from Sorted Food. Having said that, the recipe had failed and we had had to add way more flour to it to get it to work but I didn't weigh the amount we had used so I had never written the recipe down.

So this Sunday I went back to Sorted Food and found the recipe unaltered and just as soppy but this time I sensibly noted how much extra flour I needed and how much mashed potato I used and I altered the method, based upon the success of the previous weekend's doughnut making.

With the doughnut dough knocking around in the bread machine I gave in to the call of the sunny weather and went outside for a bit. I didn't know what I would do when I got round to the allotment but I knew there would be plenty that needed doing. Indeed, one of my fellow allotmenteers was sat in the boot of his car, pulling his whellies on when I got to the allotment gates and he commented on what a lovely afternoon it was for it. For what? It turned out neither of us knew but we both knew we would be busy.

So I pottered around for a bit, tidying away bamboo canes, still stood upright with dead plants tied to them. I pulled up a few easy weeds and spread some black plastic over a patch of ground to suppress more weed growth. And I said a cheery hello to my allotment neighbours before we settled in to a conversation at a respectful distance about the struggles of lockdown and our gratitude for a piece of mud that offered a reason to be outside on a sunny January afternoon.

Back inside, the dough was ready for knocking back, shaping and another prove and whilst I waited for the rise, I peeled and chopped 3 pounds of Bramley apples from storage. With the phone wedged under one ear whilst I talked to my mum, I fried the doughnuts then turned the apples into Toffee Apple Jam. Then squirted some of the suitably cooled jam into the centre of each doughnut.

And so, as we watched The Great Pottery Throwdown, Ros said, "Am I having deja-vu or were we eating doughnuts this time last week too?" 

"I have created a new tradition," I explained, "of eating doughnuts whilst watching the Pottery Throwdown. What flavour would you like next week?"

Mashed Potato Doughnut (makes 12)

200ml milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil
400g plain flour
100-125g mashed potato
80g caster sugar
Pinch of salt (unless there is salt in your mashed potato)
7g dried yeast

Sugar for dusting
Oil for frying
200g of jam

Load the doughnut ingredients into your bread machine and set to dough. When finished, knock back the dough and roll out to about 1cm thick. Use a 7cm circular cutter to cut out the doughnuts and place them on a well floured board/tray. Cover with greased Clingfilm and leave to prove in a warm place for half an hour. Heat 2-3cm of oil in a deep frying pan until hot (aroun 170-180°C) then fry the doughnuts in batches for about 2 minutes on each side. Sprinkle with sugar whilst still hot then put on a rack to cool. Once cool, use a piping bag or syringe to fill each doughnut with jam or custard or sauce of your choosing.

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.