Tag Archives: allspice

Gingerbread

When I moved house, I vowed that I would have the sort of garden that you might see in one of the glossy magazines. Nothing incredibly elaborate mind you, but with a nicely-kept lawn, and strategically planted bushes heavy with flowers (and hopefully fruit) amid herb plants and old-fashioned roses. The sort of place to laze on spring and summer days…

Fast forward eighteen months, and I can assure you that I’m certainly not a shoe-in to appear in Homes and Gardens or Elle Decor. Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from being the shame of the neighbourhood, but somewhere along the way I’ve kind of forgotten that a lovely garden tends to be the result of rather a lot of work. That has meant the last couple of weekends have necessitated rather a lot of work outside, removing weeds, trimming borders and fixing some of the damage that has occurred over winter (it seems the result of the polar vortex in the US was that a lot more storms were hitting the southern parts of Britain, and here we experienced a lot of windy weather).

I am telling you all this because when you’ve been working it the garden, it’s one of life’s great pleasures to take a break and enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of cake. When it is still rather fresh outside, as it has been here, I find the best option in my opinion is something that is sticky and spicy, and I am a massive fan of a good piece of gingerbread.

gingerbread

It is interesting how this recipe seems to pop up when you travel. Similar spiced loaves and cakes seem to exist everywhere, from Dutch ontbijtkoek to French pain d’épices. These are also often made with honey, and while I do enjoy the flavour that this can add, I have experimented with both honey and golden syrup, and for some curious reason, the result is better in my experience with golden syrup. The texture is lighter and more delicate. However, to make up for the fact that golden syrup is not as aromatic as honey, I also swap a few spoons of syrup for some black treacle, which gives the cake a darker colour and some extra flavour. For a bit of extra oomph I’ve also added some dark marmalade and fiery preserved ginger.

How you want to finish gingerbread is up to you. These sort of cakes are sufficiently robust in the flavour department to handle thick icing or creamy frosting, but I much prefer them either with simple water icing or a light glaze of marmalade or ginger syrup, with a few pieces of preserved ginger on top. However, if you do want to add icing, it is worth bearing in mind that while the cake will last for quite some time (indeed, becoming better with time) the icing will start to colour from the brown muscovado sugar in the cake, so if you are not serving this cake until  few days after baking, then ice it the evening before or the morning of serving. The flavour is not affected, but you want to make sure you have the dramatic contrast between the dark cake studded with sticky ginger and the brilliant white icing.

Right, that’s that…I can see the garden outside, beckoning me to go back and sort out the rose bushes…well, maybe at the weekend…

To make a gingerbread loaf:

• 50g muscovado sugar
• 75g butter
• 125g golden syrup
• 2 tablespoons marmalade
• pinch of salt
• 75ml milk
• 1 large egg, beaten
• 2 generous teaspoons chopped preserved ginger
• 150g plain flour
• 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
• 2 teaspoons ground ginger
• pinch ground cloves
• 2 tablespoons marmalade and 2 teaspoons chopped preserved ginger

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F). Line a 1 kilo (2 pound) loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

2. Put the sugar, butter, golden syrup, marmalade and salt into a saucepan. Heat gently until everything has melted. Stir well and put to one side.

3. In another bowl, combine the milk, egg and preserved ginger. Check the syrup mixture is just warm, and add the egg mixture and mix well.

4. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients, and add to the wet ingredients. Whisk briefly to ensure everything is well-combined, and pour into the prepared loaf tin.

5. Bake for around 40 minutes. The loaf should be risen, springy to the touch and an inserted skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for 5 minutes, then brush with rest of the marmalade and sprinkle over the remaining chopped ginger.

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Filed under Afternoon Tea, Recipe, Sweet Things

{11} Pepparkakor

Many years ago, when I arrived in Stockholm to study there for a year, I discovered pepperkakor, Swedish spicy gingerbread biscuits. Admittedly, I arrived there in August, and it was not really until December that we got into the Christmas mood, but you get my drift.

Unlike the slabs of soft, squidgy gingerbread we know in Britain, these are rolled out thinly, cut into just about any shape you can imagine, and then baked until crisp. They can be finished with royal icing and jazzed up with silver balls, drizzled with melted chocolate, or left au naturel. Or served in the shape of an elk. To each his own…

pepparkakor8

I love pepparkakor for the very simple reason that they are among the least fussy of Christmas biscuits. They don’t need masses of decoration, and given they are rarely drowning in icing, jam or chocolate, you can happily nibble on them on an almost constant basis. Their spiciness also goes well with tea, coffee or the ubiquitous mulled wine.

As you can see, I’ve got a little crazy when it comes to cutting out shapes. Sure, I’ve got loads of the traditional stars, hearts, and circles, but I’ve also got a whole gingerbread forest going on here – trees, elks, foxes and squirrels. The elk, in particular, looks nothing short of amazing.

pepparkakor3

pepparkakor4

While the woodland fantasy was purchased in Ikea (where else?), for the hearts and stars, it was an altogether classier affair. I received two copper cutters from my friend Anne, which not only cut the dough easily, but they look really lovely. They’ve already acquired a prime spot in the kitchen on the knick-knack shelf. These things are too pretty to hide away in a drawer.

pepparkakor5

For the recipe, I’ve used the version from Signe Johansen’s excellent Scandilicious Baking, albeit with a few tweaks. The main changes I have made is to play around a little with the spices. While Signe added a dash of black pepper as a nod to the origin of the name of these treats, I quite like the heat from pepper, adding half a teaspoon of black pepper. I don’t find this to be too much – it is actually very rich, warming and aromatic – but if you’re a little less keep, feed free to go easy on the pepper. I’ve also thrown in some coriander and allspice, and toned down the cinnamon. I like cinnamon, but I do like to get the flavours of the other spices I am using. I’ve also added the zest of a clementine for an added dash of festive goodness. The flavour is not

I’ve also used dark brown sugar to provide the colour for these biscuits, and in place of Signe’s almost equal weights of treacle and golden syrup, I’ve used just two tablespoons of treacle here. I’m just not made keen on treacle, but if you’re a treacle (or molasses) fiend, then by all means, knock yourself out.

Now, while I’ve banged on about how amazing pepparkakor are just as they are, they also serve as the perfect foil to go totally nuts in the decoration department. Whip up some royal icing and get going – silver balls look particularly good, and if you want to do something a little different, try studding them with a few red peppercorns. Not only do these look really pretty and festive, but when you bit into them, you get the warm, rich hit of spice. If you want to use them the way I’ve used the silver balls here, then feel free, but do taste one before serving to your guests. They’ll thank you for that, believe me!

pepparkakor6

When it comes to actually making these biscuits, I’ve got a few practical tips. First, it really is important to keep the dough chilled. It makes it much easier to roll out and cut (the colder dough comes out of the cutters). Second, if you want to cut out very fussy shapes, you’re best to roll the dough onto a sheet of greaseproof paper, then cut out the shapes and remove the excess. I tried cutting the elks on the worktop, and they all fell apart as I tried to move them onto the tray. Finally, it is worth putting the tray with the cut dough into the fridge for a few minutes before baking – this will help to keep the edges of the shapes in place. If you’ve gone to all the effort of cutting out pepparkakor to look like elks, you want them to look like elks!

pepparkakor7

pepparkakor9

It’s worth knowing that this recipe does make masses of cookies. You can either make half the amount, or bake it in batches as you need to whip up new batches (or if you’re going to leave it a while between bakes, freeze the dough in batches). If you make these cookies and find that they get a bit soft after a few days, just pop into a low oven and allow to dry out for a few minutes. They will come out soft, but will crisp up when cool, getting back their ginger snappiness in no time.

So…what’s your favourite spicy biscuit at this time of the year?

To make pepparkakor, adapted from Scandilicious Baking (make 50-80, depending on size):

• 75g light brown sugar
• 75g dark brown sugar
• 150g butter
• 1 clementine, zest only
• 50ml milk
• 120ml golden syrup (add 2 tablespoons of treacle if you want)
• 2 egg yolks
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon ground ginger
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
• 450g plain flour

1. Put the two types of brown sugar and the butter into a bowl. Beat until light and fluffy. Add the clementine zest, milk, syrup, egg yolks and spices and beat well for another minute.

2. Add the flour and bicarbonate of soda and mix to a soft dough. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge overnight.

3. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F). Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

4. Take pieces of the chilled dough. Roll out very thinly on a well-floured worktop and cut out whatever shapes your heart desires.

5. Bake the cookies for around 10 minutes until browned but not too dark. They might need more or less time, depending on their size. When done, remove from the oven, the leave to sit for a moment then transfer to a wire tray to cool completely.

Worth making? These biscuits are highly recommended – very spicy, very crisp and very, very more-ish.

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Filed under Christmas, Recipe, Sweet Things

Bonfire Night Flapjacks

If you’re planning to go to a Bonfire Night celebration, then chances are you’ll be looking for something to munch on as you’re looking skywards to take in the fireworks.

With this in mind, I’ve played around with my go-to flapjack recipe to make it a bit more seasonal. In addition to the usual butter, sugar and oats, I’ve also added some spices as well as a rather random selection of things from the store cupboard – pumpkin and sunflower seeds, apricots, dates, sultanas, hazelnuts and spelt flakes. The result is sticky, delicious and has a very autumnal flavour. It also takes about ten minutes to make, so it is incredibly easy to whip up in a hurry. Just to make the point, I’ve got the recipe below – and you’ll see that all the “extras” are measured either by the teaspoon or by the handful.

bonfire_flapjack

If you’re keen to have a go yourself, you really don’t need much more than sugar, butter and rolled oats. Otherwise, just add whatever you want (or more realistically – whatever you have in the cupboard). Dried fruits work very well, as do nuts and seeds. The one unusual thin on the list is spelt flakes – I love using these in flapjacks as they stay very crisp and add some interesting texture. It’s actually taken me a while to track them down – I used to be able to buy then in a shop in Stoke Newington, but have not found them in Clapham. Lucky for me I stumbled upon a new Wholefoods store near Piccadilly Circus, so I’ve now got easy access to all manner of weird and wonderful ingredients. Result!

So there you have it – a quick and fairly healthy idea for Bonfire Night, or just to enjoy during a quiet moment with a cup of tea.

To make Bonfire Night Flapjacks (makes 16):

• 175g butter
• 175g soft brown sugar
• 40g (2 tbsp) golden syrup
• pinch of salt
• 200g rolled oats
• 45g (3 handfuls) sultanas
• 35g (3 teaspoons) candied ginger
• 20g (2 handfuls) pumpkin seeds
• 15g (1 handful) sunflower seeds
• 20g (2 handfuls) spelt flakes
• 40g (1 handful) apricots, chopped
• 25g (1 handful) hazelnuts, chopped
• 25g (1 handful) dates, chopped
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (375°F). Line a 20cm (8 inch) square baking tray or cake tin with non-stick paper.

2. Put the butter, sugar, syrup and salt (if using) in a pan. Heat gently until the butter is melted, and then boil for one minute. Add the candied ginger and mix well.

3. In a large bowl, mix all the other ingredients. Add the butter/sugar mixture and stir well. Put into a tray, spread the mixture evenly, press down and bake for 20 minutes. It should have a rich brown colour when done.

4. Once the mega-flapjack is cooked, let it cool completely, then turn onto a chopping board and cut into pieces.

Worth making? Absolutely! This reicpe is incredbily easy to make, tastes delicious, and can be

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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.

kombuchapumpkinsoup1

kombuchapumpkinsoup2

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.

pumpkin_muffin2

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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Filed under Recipe, Savoury

Oh Mon Amour! The Stolen Heart

Ah, ’tis once again Valentine’s Day! In previous years I have treated you to pink and romantic treats, but this year I felt that a little bit of a twist was in order. Everyone is all about hearts, so let’s take that idea and run with it.

I’ve drawn my inspiration from the cold and snowy weather we’ve had in olde London Town for the last few days (even if today has warmed up rather nicely). I was in the City earlier in the week, and was fascinated by those medieval buildings that are still clinging on in the face of advancing glass and steel monsters. In the icy mist, they give you brief glimpses of times long forgotten, but still not quite gone. I passed one church that looked like something from a fairy tale, but more like one of the darker true Grimm tales than anything more recent and sugar-coated. It was striking how the cool weather seems to be able to strip a scene of almost all colour, leaving it eerie and silent.

Against this atmospheric scene, this dish is a tribute to those old tales, where key characters encountered  unexpected things in the woods. There might be a happily-ever-after, but there could equally be a grisly end in the dark forest on the snowy ground at the teeth of the big, bad wolf. Yes, you guessed it, I’m going with the latter. And you can guess how that heart was stolen – basically, it’s a crime scene on a plate!

Stolen_Heart

In coming up with this, I had something rather like Snow White in mind. There had to be lots of red and white – which are, after all, the key elements that go into making the most romantic colour of all, pink – but they are presented in a way which I’ve called The Stolen Heart to suggest that some beast has just “stolen” someone’s heart in the most literal sense. Rather than lovely fluffy pink macarons or cupcakes with love hearts, this is intended to look shocking.

The idea is that this is a snowy scene, achieved with a mixture of yoghurt and mascarpone. Roasted figs are added (a fruit that is so often linked with romance and passion) to represent something that has been left behind by the miscreant. The scene is dusted with snow-like sugar, and then finally splattered with a red fruit sauce with a dash of pomegranate molasses, this latter ingredient bringing in the fertility associations of pomegranate as well as adding sharpness. The result is strange, in turns both pretty and unsettling, and perhaps the complete antithesis of all the chocolate hearts and sugared rose petals that seem to be everywhere else at the moment. That said, perhaps this is not the most suitable thing to serve your special someone on Valentine’s Day, but then, that wasn’t what I was going for.

So what do you think? Taste-wise, it’s actually delicious – rich roasted figs, heady with the perfume of spice and lemon in red wine, chilled mascarpone with just a light hint of sweetness – so it does make a lovely late winter pudding. But it might just freak you out too…

Finally, just one little tip – it’s wonderfully great fun to splatter the red sauce in a dramatic fashion, but either do it over a sink or in the garden – otherwise you will find your Jackson Pollock frenzy makes the kitchen look like a crime scene. And serve it straight away – the sauce will start to bleed (ha ha!) and dissolve the sugar snow. You want it to look like the crime has just been committed, and someone’s heart really has just been stolen. Perhaps too literal an interpretation of Valentine’s Day?

To make The Stolen Heart (serves 2):

For the figs:

• 4 large ripe fresh figs
• dash of lemon zest
• 3 tablespoons red wine
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• pinch of allspice

For the snow:

• 100g natural yoghurt
• 100g mascarpone cheese
• icing sugar

For the blood:

• 100g raspberries (frozen work best)
• sugar (to taste)

1. First, roast the figs. Cut the figs into quarters, then mix with the zest, wine, honey, brown sugar and allspice. Put into an over dish, cut side up, cover with tin foil, and cook at 200°C (400°F) for 20 minutes (you might need to check from time to time and spoon the wine sauce onto the cut figs). Remove the tin foil, spoon the sauce into the figs again, and cook for another 10 minutes. Put the tin foil back, turn off the heat, and leave until cold.

2. Make the “blood”. Heat the frozen raspberries in a saucepan until quite liquid. Mash, then pass through a sieve to remove the seeds. Sweeten to taste with sugar. If you want, you can add any left-over wine syrup from the figs to add flavour and deepen the colour.

3. The prepare the dish, mix the yoghurt and mascapone cheese until smooth. Spread onto two large plates.

4. Chop the figs into large chunks. Drop onto the plate in a rough manner.

5. Dust everything liberally with icing sugar for a snow-like effect, and immediately “splatter” the plate with the red fruit sauce (you might not need all of it – just enough to create the dramatic effect). Serve straight away.

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Winter Slaw Salad

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been trying to empty the fridge and cupboards after the excesses of Christmas. This often prompts a strange array of dishes with a random festive ingredient, or what can seem like an endless supply of Clementine juice…and there is that stray jar of mincemeat that needs to be used up…somehow!

Today’s recipe addresses this, as it allows you to use up a few winter vegetables to make a colourful and healthy coleslaw salad, full of raw vegetables with lots of fibre, which makes for a comforting side dish. The sort of thing that works very well alongside baked potatoes with butter. It is, after all, snowing outside, and that’s not the sort of weather that you want to eat only cold raw veggies, is it?

winterslaw3

I have to fess up to the fact that I’ve seen a few versions of winter slaw around recently, so this is something of an amalgam of those ideas. However, I’ve made this recipe based on what I had in the cupboard (I’ve tended to buy very little since Christmas other than milk and bread!), and lends itself to endless tweaking based on what you have to hand. I’ve just used some red cabbage, Brussel sprouts, fennel, carrot and apple, and the sauce is made from mayo and sour cream that has been enlivened with some spicy harissa paste and allspice. Sometimes just going with what you have to hand is a great way to come up with exciting flavour combinations. But you might just want to stop short of crumbling some left-over Christmas pudding on top, eh? The only thing I would suggest you make sure you do is to shred the veg as finely as you can – it means all the sauce will get mopped up, and of course it looks all the more dramatic on the table. If you want to go even further, top with some chopped fresh herbs (dill being a bit of a seasonal favourite at the moment) or some chopped toasted almonds or pistachios.

winterslaw2

winterslaw1

To make winter slaw:

For the slaw:

• 1/2 small red cabbage
• 1 small fennel bulb
• 2 large carrots
• handful of Brussel sprouts
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1/2 lemon, juice only

For the sauce:

• 2 large tablespoons mayonnaise
2 large tablespoons sour cream
• 1/4 teaspoon harissa or chilli paste

• squeeze runny honey
• 1/2 teaspoons mustard
• 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
• 1/8 teaspoon allspice
• pinch ground mace
• salt and pepper, to taste

1. Start with the sauce – put everything into a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Adjust salt and pepper if needed.

2. Prepare the slaw – put the olive oil and lemon in a large bowl (you’ll add the vegetables as you go, and tossing in the lemon juice will stop them from getting brown). Peel the carrots, then use the peeler to slice the carrots into thin pieces. Trim the fennel and cut lengthways into very thin pieces. Peel and core the apple and finely slice. Peel the sprouts and shred. Last of all, finely shred the cabbage as thinly as you can. Put everything into a large bowl with the olive oil and lemon juice, and toss gently to ensure the vegetables are coated.

3. Just before serving, pour the sauce over the slaw and toss gently to make sure all the vegetables are coated.

Worth making? Nice and easy, and a great way to use up a glut of veg. The sauce is the place where you can get very creative – allowing you to make sure the slaw sits well with other dishes.

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{10} Panforte

As we get close and close to the big day, the Christmas baking gets grander and grander. I’m not going the whole hog and making a Christmas cake, but the Italian panforte gets pretty close. This is a real step up from small biscuits, and looks, smells and tastes amazing!

panforte_2

Panforte, Italian for “strong bread”, is not much more than lots of toasted almonds and hazelnuts paired with candied citrus peel and fruit, flavoured with spices and then bound together by a sugar and honey syrup. The result is rich, incredibly rich, but it really does have a flavour that can be described as the essence of Christmas. It’s also the sort of thing that you can have sitting somewhere, so you or guests can cut off the occasional sliver to enjoy with coffee or as an evening treat with a glass of liqueur.

This cake is a tradition from the Italian city of Siena. There are two versions, essentially white (as I’ve made here) and black, which is made with more dried fruits (such as figs and sultanas) and cocoa. It’s just a matter of personal choice which you prefer, but I like the former.

I’ve seen some recipes that say panforte should contain seventeen ingredients. This is said to link back to the number of districts within the city walls of Siena, and I quite liked the idea of trying to do this. It means you’re forced to add a bit of variety in terms of the ingredients. In my recipe, if you ignore the water in the syrup, but count the mixed peel (orange, lemon and citron) as three different ingredients, I did indeed get to the magic number. What does matter, however, is that if you’re going to make one of these, you need to go with the right ingredients, and try to use good nuts and candied peel. Almonds and hazelnuts are traditional, but I’m sure good pecans or walnuts would do the trick, but I’d  perhaps draw the line at putting peanuts in there! The candied peel is a must though – I used part candied peel and part papaya for the fruit, and while you could skip the papaya and instead use pineapple, apricots or even preserved pear, you should not miss out the citrus entirely. It’s such a fundamental part of the flavour.

You’ll see a lot of versions of panforte, from thick and even cakes in stores to my more “rustic” version. The rougher look is due to using whole nuts, rather than chopping then. You can chop the almonds and hazelnuts, but if you do, you don’t get the amazing look when you cut the slices. In addition, as the cake is so rich, I’ve kept it thin. When you taste how rich it is, you won’t feel the need to make a deeper panforte, as a little really does go a long way!

So there you have it – an Italian option in place of Christmas cake, and it’s not too late to make this – 20 minutes to prepare, and 30 minutes to bake. You’ve still got time!

panforte_1

To make Panforte:

• 100g almonds, skinned
• 100g hazelnuts, skinned
• 100g candied citrus peel (I used orange, lemon and citron)
• 135g candied fruit (such as papaya or melon)
• 50g plain flour
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
• 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
• 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
• 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
• pinch black pepper
• 50g honey (I used orange blossom)
• 150g white sugar
• 25g butter
• cold water

1. Preheat the oven to 160°C. Grease a 20cm (8 inch) loose-bottomed tin with butter. Line with rice paper (if using).

2. Put the hazelnuts and almonds onto another baking tray and toast in the oven until just starting to colour. Remove from the oven and put into a large bowl.

3. As the nuts are cooling, cut the peel and papaya/mango into chunks (aim for pea-sized pieces). Add to the nuts.

4. Mix the flour and spices in a bowl. Sieve into the nut/fruit mixture, then stir briefly.

5. Make the syrup – put the honey, sugar and butter into a saucepan with some water. Warm on a medium heat until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage (113°C/235°F). If you don’t have a candy thermometer, then drop a little of the syrup into a bowl of very cold water – it should form a soft ball!

6. Pour the hot syrup onto the other ingredients and stir with a spoon until combined. Transfer to the prepared tin. Flatten the mixture with a buttered spoon (or if you have asbestos hands, but butter on your palms and pat the mixture into shape).

7. Bake the panforte for around 30 minutes until the syrup is bubbling. The mixture will firm up when the cake cools. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then transfer to a plate to cool completely(*).

8. When the panforte is cool, dust with icing sugar, and rub lightly with your fingers so a bit of the fruit and nut details are clear. Serve in small slices with coffee or liquer after dinner. Or any time!

(*) If the panforte is difficult to remove from the tin, put it in a warm oven to soften slightly.

Worth making? This is a superb cake, and unbelievably easy compared to just how good the final result tastes.

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Sweet Potato Wedges

Autumn is now with us. The mornings might be bright, but there is that unmistakable crispness in the air that signals things are about to get a lot “fresher” in the coming weeks, and the evenings are getting dark very quickly. Sure, it might still feel warm if you’re in a sunny spot, but when you’re in the shade, or a breeze blows past, you feel just how nippy things are getting.

With the chaos of moving house almost at an end, I’ve finally been back in the kitchen. All of a sudden, my cooking has moved away from the salads of summer, and quick, light suppers, and into much more substantial fare. Lentil dishes with lots of spices, curries, baked squash, soups, fritters…it’s the time of year to batten down the hatches and do all you can to fend off the cold weather that is approaching. It’s not a conscious change on my part, but there are certain dishes the you just have a craving for as the seasons roll by. I have, however, resisted the urge to buy Christmas pudding, even if my local shop has decided that this is exactly what we want to eat in October.

In much of my cooking at this time of year, I use a lot of spices, and I take a heavy-handed approach. I somehow feel that lots of cumin, pepper, ginger, garlic and sambal will help to fight off the sniffles during the colder months. It might work, it might not, but it certainly makes things a lot more tasty. It’s also worth getting a little more creating in how you season things – one of my current favourites is ground allspice, which is very common in sweet treats like biscuits and gingerbread, but it adds an interesting dimension to savoury dishes too.

It was with all this in mind that I got round to trying something that was on my “to make” list for quite some time. I love sweet potatoes baked and topped with feta, so I expected great things when they were spiced and baked as wedges.

Pleasingly, these are very, very simple to make – nothing much more than peeled sweet potato, cut to size, then tossed in oil with some spices, and then baked. They also have the benefit of looking very impressive – a jolly autumnal bust of orange when freshly cut, turning a deeper colour after baking. They can also be prepared hours ahead of time and left in the spice mixture to marinade (if it is possible to marinade potatoes?), and make a great snack or side dish. However it is the spices that take these from so-so to wow-wow. The spices you use are completely up to you – I went with some personal favourites (allspice, paprika, curry powder, black pepper and cumin). A tasty little dish as the long nights draw in.

As you can see below, these wedges hold their shape rather nicely too after being baked in a hot oven.

To make sweet potato wedges:

• 2 large sweet potatoes
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• spices – select 5, and use 1/2 teaspoon of each(*)

1. Preheat the oven to 220°C (420°F).

2. Peel the potatoes. Cut lengthways into eight wedges, then slice each wedge diagonally (so each potato provides 16 pieces).

3. In a large bowl, combine the olive oil and spices. Mix well, then add the potato wedges.

4. Transfer the coated wedges to a tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake for 30-40 minutes until you can insert a knife easily, and the wedges are just stating to brown at the edges.

5. Serve immediately with the dip of your choice.(**)

(*) For the spices, I used allspice, paprika, curry powder, black pepper and cumin. And then I cheated and added some dried thyme too.

(**) I served these with a sprinkle of salt, and a dip made from tahini, yoghurt, sambal and lime juice.

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