Monthly Archives: October 2013

Red Kobucha Pumpkin Soup

If you’re a compulsive pumpkin carver, you’re probably left with a familiar issue, namely what to do with all that pumpkin flesh! In years past, I’ve thought that I would use the lot to make delicious pies, curries and soups.

Well, I was swiftly disabused of those notions. For it seems that while those giant sphere-like pumpkins look pretty cool when carved and lit up, the flesh cooks down into something a bit watery and insipid. All is not lost, and you can certainly cook up something if you add lots of spice and a decent amount of cream. However if what you want is something brilliantly orange in its autumnal splendour, you’ve got to look a bit further afield. If this is what you want, then red kabocha pumpkin is a good choice.

Now, it’s fair to say that kabocha pumpkin isn’t exactly what you would call a bit of a looker. It’s a deep reddish-orange, but the skin is rough and irregular. Not great for lantern carving, but excellent for cooking.

Kabocha is perfect for making soup. You’ve got the colour, but helpfully you don’t need to mess about with peeling it. Just cut off any odd-looking bits, remove the seeds, but otherwise you can leave on the skin to boost the colour of the final dish. Something like this.

pumpkin_cubes

I’ve kept the ingredients in the soup recipe fairly simple – it’s similar to a recipe I posted a couple of years ago, with not much more than pumpkin, a little potato, onions and stock. However, I did want to be a little creative, so I added a dash of curry powder, some cumin and a good old dose of…allspice! Yes, a rather strange choice for a soup, but it was a bit of a nod to pumpkin pie spices. It’s a matter of taste, but you want to add enough to add some rich spiced flavour, but not so much as to overpower everything else in the soup.

The soup is topped off with some pumpkin seeds , toasted in the oven and finished with a little more allspice. All in all, a bright orange antidote to all that candy that will doubtless be consumed in the next couple of days.

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So with that, I’ll leave you with a picture of one of my pumpkin lanterns from previous years….Happy Halloween!

To make red kaboucha soup (serves 4):

For the soup:

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 onions, peeled and chopped
• 1 small potato
• 500g red kaboucha squash, skin on

• 1 teaspoon curry powder
• 1 teaspoon ground cumin

• 1 teaspoon ground allspice
• 750ml vegetable stock

For the pumpkin seeds:

• 2 large handfuls pumpkin seeds
• 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
• 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

• 1 teaspoon olive oil

1. Put the olive oil and chopped onions in a large pan. Cook over a gentle heat until the onions are caramelised and lightly browned but not burned (around 5 minutes).

2. Add the spices and cook for around 30 seconds. Add the pumpkin flesh and cook on a medium heat for around 5 minutes, stirring from time to time.

3. Add the vegetable stock , bring to the boil, and simmer for around 30 minutes until the pumpkin flesh and the potato are very soft. Add any water (if needed) and add salt and pepper to taste.

4. In the meantime, make the toasted pumpkin seeds: put everything into a bowl, stir well, then transfer to a baking tray and bake in the oven at 150°C (300°F) until toasted (watch them – the go from golden to burned faster than a witch on a broomstick!).

5. Once the soup is ready, put into a blender and blitz until smooth. Pass through a sieve, then reheat briefly before serving. Finish each bowl of soup with a sprinkling of the toasted pumpkin seeds.

Worth making? It is indeed! This is really easy to make, vegan, looks great and the allspice adds an unexpected little extra something.

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Spiced Pumpkin (Savoury) Muffins

Halloween is nearly upon us again, and just as night follows day, food blogs across the world are making things using pumpkin.

Never one to ignore an obvious trend, I’m doing likewise, but not for me the sweetness of pumpkin pies, ice-cream or cupcakes. And, while we’re on the topic, something I just really do not get is the new phenomenon in the UK, the sudden appearance of pumpkin spice lattes. I’m sure they are delicious, but I like coffee that tastes like coffee, and prefer any extra hit sweetness and spices to come in biscuit form. I mean, does it even include pumpkin flavour? Or is it just the spices? Well, I guess it will just remain a mystery to me.

Forsaking sweetness, I’ve opted instead for something savoury. Spiced pumpkin muffins, not unlike a savoury cake I made a while ago, with roasted pumpkin, various seeds, cheese and spices. In a bit of a nod to pumpkin pie, I’ve added a dash of allspice to give it extra flavour, so when you combine it with strong savoury flavours like Parmesan and dried tomatoes, it really is very different and absolutely delicious.

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pumpkin_muffin

I made these muffins with red kabocha squash, which is ideal. It looks a lot like a traditional pumpkin, but it has bright orange, sweet flesh. This really matters, because the pumpkins you see for carving into lanterns can end up a bit watery and pale-looking. Kabocha stays bright and firm. I cooked it by roasting it with a drizzle of honey and some pumpkin oil, so it developed its sweetness further and took on a slight nutty flavour too.

The list of ingredients on these muffins looks rather long, but it is actually a doddle to make. It is the traditional muffin method – mix the wet ingredients in one bowl, and the dry in another. The just mix, spoon and bake. The result is really quite delicious – the sweet pumpkin, the spices and the strong savoury flavour from the cheese and the tomatoes. The spices can be customised according to taste, but I think the mixture of dried herbs, turmeric and allspice is great.

Now all we have to do is sit back and ride out the mega-storm that is brewing off the south-west coast of Britain. It’s all predicted to be chaos tomorrow morning…well, at least I’ve got enough to eat in the meantime!

To make pumpkin muffins (makes 15):

• 50g olive oil
• 110g sour cream
• 275ml milk
• 2 medium eggs
• 150g self-raising flour
• 150g wholemeal flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 50g Parmesan, grated
• 25g pistachios, chopped
• 2 sun-dried tomatoes, finely sliced
• 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
• 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds
• 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
• 1 teaspoon dried herbs
• 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
• 200g chopped cooked pumpkin
• pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and grated Parmesan, to decorate

1. Line two muffin trays. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

2. In a bowl, mix the olive oil, sour cream, milk and eggs until smooth.

3. In a separate bowl, combine all the other ingredients until well mixed. Add the liquid ingredients, and mix quickly until just combined – don’t worry if there are little lumps, it’s better to under-mix than over-mix.

4. Add two tablespoons of mixture to each muffin case. Top each muffin with a few pumpkin and sunflower seeds and a sprinkling of cheese. Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen.

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Victoria Plum Jam

Yes, it’s another post about preserving! Don’t worry, something savoury is in the offing in the next few days…

While I’m a big fan of picking wild fruit and doing various things with it (jam or steeping it in alcohol for a winter tipple) I also love good old-fashioned Victoria plum jam. It’s such a bright, jolly colour first thing in the morning and the flavour is delicious on hot buttered toast.

Victoria plums are really very pretty fruit. The flesh is a bright golden colour, while the skin is a mottled reddish-purple. Nice, eh?

victoria_plums

However, when you make them into jam, the colour from the skins infuses everything, resulting in this deep amber colour.

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This is also a great recipe if you’re a bit of a jam novice. Just take equal weights of plums and jam sugar, boil up with a little lemon juice, and you’re got some fantastic jam to see you through the winter months.

If you’re after something extra special, you can add a dash of brandy or plum schnapps to each jar just after potting and before you seal with the lid. But be careful – you don’t want to add more than a couple of teaspoons, otherwise the jam won’t set (and, eh, you probably don’t want too much brandy with breakfast?). One other little trick that I do is to take some seeds from the plums and add a couple to each pot of jam – these had a bitter almond flavour, which will enhance the taste of the jam.

plumjam2

To make Victoria plum jam (makes around 6 jars):

• 1kg Victoria plums
• 1kg jam sugar
• 1 lemon, juice only

1. First, the boring bit. Sterilise some jam jars(*), and put a plate into the freezer – you’ll need this to test when the jam is set.

2. Rinse the plums. Cut each in half and remove the stones. Throw the fruit into a large saucepan with a little water. Place on a medium heat until the fruit starts to soften.

3. Add the sugar, stir well and then place on a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then keep on a slow rolling boil for around 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice, boil for another minute, then start to check for a set every minute or so – put some jam on the cold plate, leave for a moment to cool, and if it wrinkles when you push with your finger, it’s done.

4. While the jam is cooking, crack open some of the plum stones and remove the seeds. Blanch them briefly by boiling for 30 seconds, and the seeds should slip out of the skins. Split the seeds into two.

5. Once the jam is ready, ladle into the prepared jars, adding 2-3 pieces of the plum seeds. Seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.

(*) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.

Worth making? Yes – this is easy, delicious and a great addition to the breakfast table. And with brandy…well, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere…

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Slices of Quince

In Edward Lear’s famous poem The Owl and the Pussycat the protagonists chose to dine on mince and slices of quince. Whether or not this was a delicious combination (and as the owner/servant of two cats, I doubt that the quince was the highlight of that meal for the feline), there are better things to do with quince. Like today’s little idea – take those slices of quince, but skip the mince and steep them in alcohol, add a little sugar, and then leave the fruit to infuse the mixture. Incredibly simple!

quincevodka

Quince really is one of the strangest of fruits. They are nigh on impossible to eat when raw (but there are some varieties out there which will ripen into something soft and sweet), but cook the things and they change completely. The flesh will turn from yellowish-white to a pretty pink colour and you will be rewarded with rich, aromatic fruit. The simplest option is to poach some quince and enjoy with yoghurt, or add a slice or two to an apple pie for flavour. It’s also very happy in jams and jellies, or can be transformed into Spanish membrillo for the cheeseboard.

The particular quince that I got hold of was a handsome golden specimen. It had that distinctive aromatic quality to it, but it was, as expected, rock-hard. I bought mine at Borough Market, at what seemed to be an eye-popping price. I remembered seeing them at many of the Turkish shops in Stoke Newington, where they seemed to be cheap as chips. Ah well, we all pay for convenience, and I was not prepared to journey half-way across London on a weekend when various tube lines were suspended just to buy a quince. I just sat in the train on the way back home thinking to myself: This had better be worth it…

As for making this concoction, it’s really a breeze. However, this is something that will be hanging around the house for the next couple of months, and I was keen to check out the options to make it and have something that would look pretty. Things like damson or sloe gin look quite attractive as the fruit either floats (damsons) or sinks (sloes) in the steeping alcohol, the colour developing day by day. For quince, there seemed to be two main techniques. One suggested peeling the quince, then chopping it, mixing with sugar and leaving the lot for a month, then using the resulting syrup as the base for the liqueur. While this might have worked, this sounded like a bit of a faff, and I know that quince goes rather brown rather quickly…a jar of anonymous “brown” on the shelf was not too appealing. Another suggested just grating the whole quince – skin, pips and all – and then infusing that with vodka, plus a little sugar. This seemed more like it, but having grated quince in the past, it tends to be rather unattractive (mushy, tendency to go brown). And so, I had a brainwave. Rather than grating, I just sliced the quince very thinly, taking a few slices at a time and dropping them into the bottle and covering with alcohol. This stopped the quince going brown, and the resulting mixture also looked rather attractive.

So, I have added another jar to my collection of winter drinks. While I should say that I don’t know how this will be until I try it, I must confess that I did sneak an early taste after three days, and the flavour is coming along nicely. It is not too sweet as the proportion of sugar is fairly low, but the aromatic and honey-like quince flavour is developing.

To make quince vodka:

• 1 large quince (normally 400-500g)
• caster sugar (half the weight of the quince)
• 500ml vodka

1. Wash a 1 litre glass jar in hot, soapy water. Rinse well, and dry in the oven at around 100 degrees for 15 minutes. Leave to cool.

2. Slice the quince thinly. After cutting 4-5 slices, drop into the jar, and cover with vodka. Repeat until all the quince is sliced and the fruit is covered. Add as much of the sugar as you can, and then seal the jar (if you can’t add all the sugar, don’t worry – you can add more when the liqueur is ready in a few months).

3. Store the jars in a cool, dark place (the back of a cupboard is ideal). Shake the jars gently each morning and each evening for a week until the sugar is dissolved, then shake them twice per week for the next three weeks. Store for around three months. When ready, strain the liquer decant into a sterile bottle. At this point, you can add a little more sugar if needed.

Worth making? As with all of these “steep fruit in alcohol” recipes, only time will tell…but first indications are rather tasty!

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Box Hill Bramble Jam

If you’re in northern climes, the signs of autumn will surely have arrived. Fresher days, cooler nights and leaves on trees turning from green to red and gold. And, if you’re unlucky, there is a wild apple tree in the street that attracts a couple of really loud crows at odd hours of the night…and too early in the morning…

With this time of the year, there are benefits. Most countryside walks will yield some sort of haul, and one of my favourites is picking blackberries. I had one attempt in early September in Epping Forest to the north-east of London, but for some reason the season had not quite arrived there yet, and I came away with about twenty berries in total. This was made all the more frustrating by the fact that the blackberries lining the railway lines in south London seem to be groaning with fruit, but of course it’s rather dangerous to try picking fruit along some of the busiest tracks in Europe. Another plan was needed.

A few weeks later, I was at Box Hill in Surrey for a bit of fresh air and walking in the forest. As you can see, lovely views, green woodland and – most vital of all – lots and lots of ripe blackberries!

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I came away with about a kilogram of deep black fruit, all picked from wild bushes far from roads and beyond the reach of passing dogs and foxes. And if you look carefully in the blackberry picture, you can even spot of spider – fret not, he remained in the freedom of the great outdoors!

Once the fruit was home, I rather quickly realised that I didn’t have time to do anything with it, so the whole lot went into the freezer. This is a great idea if you’re either busy, or have been collecting berries over the course of a few weeks (for example, if you’ve got one fruit bush, you can collect the fruit over a period of time until you’ve got enough to do something more exiting). Just whip them out the night before you plan to use them, and they will be ready in the morning.

So what should I make with these blackberries (or brambles, if you’re giving them their Scottish name)? Jelly is always delicious, and I made some a few years ago with fruit from a more successful sortie to Epping Forest, but I was a little annoyed with the amount of wasted fruit pulp that gets thrown away at the end. So forget jelly – when you’ve put this much work into picking the fruit (and then removing some of the spikes from your hands) it has to be jam.

boxhillbramble1

Bramble jam is really quite special, with the fruit turning the whole thing into something black and delicious. However, I tried something a little different. First, I kept the fruit to sugar ratio on the high side, and added a little extra boost to the flavour with some burgundy wine. This gives the jam an extra richness and slight tartness. And beyond that, there really is not much more to say, other than this is utterly, perfectly delicious and perfectly suited to the chilly days of winter spread thickly on warm toast or added to yoghurt.

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To make bramble and burgundy jam:

• 800g brambles
• 600g jam sugar
• 150ml burgundy wine
• 1 lemon, juice only

1. First, the boring bit. sterilise some jam jars(*), and put a plate into the freezer – you’ll need this to test when the jam is set.

2. Pick over the fruit, removing any bad berries. Throw into a saucepan with just a little water and the sugar.

3. Place the pan on a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then add the wine. Keep the jam on a slow rolling boil for around 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice, then start to check for a set every minute or so – put some jam on the cold plate, leave for a moment to cool, and if it wrinkles when you push with your finger, it’s done.

4. Once the jam is ready, ladle into the prepared jars, seal, label and hide it somewhere to enjoy later.

(*) To sterilise jam jars: wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place upside-down in a cold oven, and heat to 90°C for 15 minutes. Leave in the oven to cool down while you are making the jam . To sterilise the lids, wash with hot, soapy water, then rinse well, place in a saucepan with boiling water for 5 minutes.

Worth making? Yes – the wine is a great addition to the brambles. The alcohol will boil off during cooking, so don’t worry about getting boozy at breakfast.

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Aubergine Pasta

When I was younger, I was never really a fan of aubergines. In my student days, I started to experiment with them, and while I was always aware that aubergines mop up oil like a sponge, I still always ended up with something greasy and, well, just not that appealing. I probably made the novice error of adding more and more oil as the aubergine was cooking. Yes, this meant that I endured many, many meals involving badly-cooked aubergine with too much oil served pasta, with salt, pepper and spices seeking to mask the horror that I had cooked up.

These days, however, me and the aubergine have made up and get along just fine. I love them smoked and made into salads or baked and turned into baba ganoush (even if they’ve been known to explode all over the inside of my oven), but most recently I’ve been making lots and lots of this simple aubergine and tomato sauce. Very easy, very delicious and fantastic with pasta.

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This recipe really is sheer simplicity. Just chop the aubergine into small cubes, then put into a pan with some olive oil and salt. At first, all the oil is soaked up, and you think that nothing will happen when you cook it. But be patient, and the  aubergine transforms into something browned, soft and delicious. The flavour is rounded out with some tomatoes and herbs, and that’s about it. This is great on pasta, cannelloni, polenta, gnocchi…with chillier days, that’s the sort of stuff we like!

aubergine_sauce2

To make aubergine sauce (enough to serve 4):

• 2 medium aubergines
• 50ml olive oil
• salt, to taste
• 4 tablespoons tomato paste
• 2 tins chopped tomatoes
• sugar, to taste
• pinch of chili powder
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano

1. Cut the aubergines into 1 cm (1/2 inch) chunks. Put into a large saucepan with the olive oil and a generous pinch of salt. Cook on a medium heat until the aubergine is soft and it is starting to brown, around 15 minutes (At first, the aubergine will soak up all the oil, but keep heating it and it will release the oil and cook down).

2. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir well and adjust the seasoning if needed. Leave to simmer on a low heat until the sauce has reduced down. Just before serving, adjust with a little water and/or olive oil if needed (this sauce can be made ahead and reheated at the last minute).

Worth making? I reckon so – I’ve probably made this four times in the last three weeks!

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Spiced Pear Liqueur

I’ve managed to get myself a new hobby. It started oh-so-innocently when I made a batch of sloe gin two years ago with berries that I got hold of from the local park. The result? Quite simply stunning. It is just so ridiculously easy to leave fruit soaking in some sort of spirit, and come back months later to something magical.

Roll forward two years, and now I have not only two jars of sloe gin maturing in the cupboard, but various other concoctions steeping at the back of a cupboard. I promise that these will appear over time, but today’s little feature is one that I am particularly looking forward to.

First off, I have to ’fess up to the fact that this is a complete lift-and-shift from a recent cookbook acquisition of mine, the fantastic Salt Sugar Smoke by Diana Henry. If you’re into preserving things at home, this is definitely a book for you! It has wonderful photography that takes you through the world of jams and jellies, pickles, smoking, salt preserving and how to make a range of fruit liqueurs.

This autumnal recipe in particular really caught my eye – you just take a whole pear, pop it into a large jar, add a few spices and some orange peel, and leave the lot to steep for a few months.

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Now, I was a little unsure about this “whole pear” approach (surely I should be slicing the thing to get all the flavour out?) but sure enough after a few days, the pear skin splits and I’m imagining all the flavour mixing with the spirit. The mixture has already taken on a slightly orange hue, but the hard part is waiting for nature to take its course. The pear and spices need to sit for a month before the sugar goes in, and then the whole lot needs to site for another four months to mature. All this means that some time in February 2014 I should be able to enjoy this liqueur. That, or I might just sneak the stuff out from the cellar in time for Christmas….we’ll just have to wait and see how patient I can be!

To make spiced pear liqueur (from Diana Henry’s “Salt Sugar Smoke”)

• 1 ripe pear (an aromatic variety, like Williams)
• 1 cinnamon stick
• ½ whole nutmeg
• 1 piece orange zest (no white pith)
• 800ml vodka
• 225g white sugar

1. Pop the pear (unpeeled) into a large jar with the cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest. Add the vodka. Seal the jar, and leave on a kitchen window for a month. Admire it from time to time as the alcohol takes on the colours (and hopefully flavours) of the fruit and spices.

2. Add the sugar and re-seal the jar. Shake lightly, then store somewhere dark. Shake every day for a week until the sugar is dissolved. Leave for at least four months before tasting.

3. Drink!

Worth making? We’ll find out in a few months…

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