Not quite pumpkin soup

Halloween happened, and hot on the heels of the spooky chili comes a spicy not quite pumpkin soup.  Pumpkins sold for decoration really don’t have much flavour at all, so we use butternut squash instead (don’t waste the scrapings from your pumpkin though, they can all go in to add bulk and a nice colour, just don’t put in any seeds or stringy bits).

  • 2 butternut squash
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 can reduced fat coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon Thai curry paste (yellow for a milder flavour, red or green if you’re going for hot-hot-hot)
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 500ml boiling water and one vegetable stock cube ( we like mushroom)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the squash in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds and stringy bits.  Brush the cut sides with one tablespoon of the olive oil and put on a baking tray with the cut sides uppermost. Roast in a medium oven for about 40 minutes, or until the flesh is soft. Poke it with a knife to test.

Put the other tablespoon of oil in a large solid saucepan and soften the onions over a low heat for about 15 minutes.  Don’t let them stick or go brown.  Add the curry paste and paprika and stir it all about.

Meantime, scoop all the flesh from the squash and add it to the pan.  Nigella Lawson maintains that you can eat the skin of  roasted butternut squash but I’m not convinced.  If you have any pumpkin scrapings, now is the time to add them.  Pour over the coconut milk and the 500ml of boiling veg stock, give it all a stir and let it simmer for 20 minutes.  Test the pumpkin flesh after this time to see if it’s softened.  Take the pan off the heat if it’s all nice and soft, and blitz with a stick blender to a nice smooth consistency.  If it feels a bit too solid, you can add more stock.  Taste and add salt if needed, and several grinds of black pepper.  Serve with croutons and a swirl of sour cream.

This soup is vegetarian (but do check the ingredients in your curry paste – some contain anchovy), and vegan if you leave out the sour cream.

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a pan containing chocolate chili

spooky chocolate chili sin carne

A staple of our Halloween parties, and (whisper it quietly) also vegan. It’s completely inauthentic but very tasty.

  • 3 red onions, choppeda pan containing chocolate chili
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 pointed peppers, deseeded and chopped
  • 3 small red chilis, deseeded and chopped
  • 2 tins chopped tomatoes
  • 1x200g tin sweetcorn
  • 2x400g tins red kidney beans
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • salt and pepper
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 mushroom stock cubes dissolved in 500ml boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons red lentils
  • 50g dark chocolate

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and add the onions. Sweat the onions gently until they are soft but not coloured.  Add the crushed cloves of garlic and all the chopped vegetables,  add the smoked paprika and stir it all around. Put a lid on the pan and leave the veg to simmer for about 20 minutes. Then add the chopped tomatoes, the stock, the sweetcorn and the red lentils and leave to simmer again for a further 20 minutes. Taste and see if it needs any more chili.  Add the kidney beans and the dark chocolate, broken up into pieces. Simmer again for a further 20 minutes, this time with the lid off.  Season with ground black pepper (you may not need salt depending on how salty the stock cubes are), and a squeeze of lime juice.

Lynn’s yellow split pea dal

Are yellow split peas chana, or something else? I always thought chana meant chickpeas, so I’ve gone with the full English description, but I’m happy to be corrected. Having read several recipes for dal, I took inspiration from Madhur Jaffrey’s seminal work “Indian Cookery” for the techniques and then just used the spices and ingredients we had in the cupboard.

  • 250g yellow split peas
  • 1 litre water
  • 1 tablespoon ghee (clarified butter), or neutral vegetable oil if you want it vegan
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • 1 dessertspoon lazy chili
  • 1 dessertspoon lazy garlic
  • 1 dessertspoon lazy ginger
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds or cumin seeds
  • 1 small onion or 2 banana shallots, cut in half and chopped into thin half-moon slices
  • Salt to taste

Rinse the split peas well in cold water, then put in a saucepan and cover with 1 litre of cold water.  This will seem way too much, but you’ll be surprised at how much the peas absorb as they cook.  I don’t put salt in the water as it sometimes makes the peas tough, and you want them to be mushy and creamy. Bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour on a low heat.  If it looks like the water is all absorbed, add a bit more.  Stir it occasionally and, if you’re feeling energetic, mush the split peas against the side of the pan as they break up.

Take the split peas off the heat and leave to one side.  In a frying pan, heat up the ghee or oil and add the mustard or cumin seeds and move them about until they start to pop.  Then turn down the heat a bit, and add all the other ingredients except the salt.  Stir it all about and let the onions/shallots cook until they are soft and slightly catching at the edges.  Add the split peas to the frying pan and stir through the onion/shallot mixture, until the mixture is bubbling. Add salt to taste. If it looks too dry and solid, add a couple of spoonfuls of boiling water.  It should be a soothing, creamy, slightly sloppy mixture.  Serve it hot.

This dal works as an accompaniment to other curry dishes, and if you use neutral vegetable oil it is vegan. It becomes a complete meal if you serve it with rice and a hard boiled egg.  If you find you have some left over, it keeps well in the fridge for a few days in a covered container. You may need to add more water when you reheat it to get the creamy texture back.

Coconut lemon drizzle cake

A vegan cake I’ve been trying to get right – and this is pretty much OK, but it still looks really odd when you’re mixing the batter!  Adding coconut flour means it soaks up way more moisture than if you were using just self raising flour.

  • 200g caster sugar
  • 175g self raising flour
  • 100g coconut flour
  • 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 100g coconut oil, melted
  • 1x 330ml can of ginger beer or lemonade
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Melt the coconut oil gently, and set aside to cool a little.  Put all the dry ingredients in a big bowl with the lemon zest, and mix them thoroughly.  Put the melted coconut oil, the ginger beer and the lemon juice in another bowl and whisk them together, briefly, so that there are still bubbles from the ginger beer in the mix.  Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix them until it all comes together into a strangely fizzy and slightly grainy batter. If the batter looks a bit too dense, add a bit more water.  Speed is of the essence here, as you’re using some of the fizz in the ginger beer as a raising agent.  Put the cake batter into a greased 8 inch round cake tin. I use a silicone one for this recipe as it’s very easy to turn out.  Bake in a fan oven at 175 degrees C for about 35 minutes, or until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean.  If it looks like it’s getting too brown round the edges, turn down the heat to 165 degrees and bake it for an extra 10 minutes.

Turn out the cake onto a cooling rack while you prepare the icing.

150g icing sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Mix together the icing sugar and lemon juice to make a runny icing.    Poke the top of the cake with a skewer in several places, then carefully spoon half the icing over the cake. Most recipes will tell you to wait until the cake is cool before doing this, but if you do it while it’s still a bit warm, the icing will sink into the cake and make it much more moist and sticky.
When the cake has fully cooled, put it on a pretty serving plate and spoon the other half of the icing over it.  You can get fancy now and make the icing drip down the sides.

Pickled pears

Christmas, for us, means making stuff to give to friends and family.  This is a lovely easy thing to make, and goes really well with cheese or cured meats.

  • about 16 small-ish firm pears (Conference are good), peeled, with stalks left on
  • 1 litre white wine vinegar
  • 0.5 litres water
  • 500g sugar (granulated)
  • 4 star anise
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
  • 1 tablespoon allspice berries
  • 2 teaspoons juniper berries
  • The zest of 1 lemon, peeled in large strips
  • 1 teaspoon cloves

 

Boil up the water, vinegar, sugar and spices in a large pan with a lid. Make sure it’s a stainless steel or other non-reactive pan, or the vinegar will create pits in the surface!

Put the pears into the hot liquid, turn the heat down to a simmer, clap the lid on and leave the pears to poach for about 20 minutes.  Take the pears out of the liquid and put them somewhere warm.  Turn up the heat under the poaching liquid and boil it for about 10 minutes until it has reduced a bit and gone syrupy.

Divide the poached pears between 4 large-ish wide necked jars, previously sterilised.  Pour the reduced cooking liquid over the pears, ensuring that each jar gets its share of the whole spices.  If you want you can add a sprig of fresh rosemary to each jar – it looks pretty and adds a herby flavour.  Seal the jars with vinegar-proof lids – either use parfait jars (the ones with rubber seals and metal clips), or proper Kilner jars, or improvise with wide-necked pickle jars and seal them with greaseproof circles and plastic-coated jar lids.

These pickled pears can keep for up to 6 months unopened in a dark cupboard.  Once you do open a jar, keep it in the fridge and use up within two weeks.

Dried fruit chutney

A fabulous Christmassy chutney which requires patience and a good knife, or if you have no patience, a food processor.

  • 250g dried apricots – the ready to eat kind
  • 300g dried dates
  • 250g semi-dried figs
  • 100g raisins
  • 450g red onions
  • 570ml cider vinegar
  • 50g sea salt
  • 1 level dessertspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 450g light brown sugar
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground allspice

Chop the dried fruits and onions finely – either with large amounts of patience and a sharp knife, or bung them into a food processor and whizz them up.  Put the cider vinegar in a large pan with the salt, ginger, sugar and allspice, and bring them to the boil.  Turn down the heat to a simmer and stir in all the fruit and onions.  Leave it on a low-ish heat, stir it occasionally, and in about an hour or maybe a bit longer you’ll have a pan of lovely chutney.  You can tell when it’s done if you draw a spoon across the surface to make a channel, and the channel stays there and doesn’t fill up with vinegar.

Take off the heat and put into warmed sterilised jars.  Do yourself a favour and keep some wide-necked ones handy; they’re much easier to fill!  Seal with vinegar-proof lids (i.e. plastic-covered ones, or use greaseproof circles).  This tastes better after maturing in a dark cupboard for a few weeks.

Cranberry relish

Christmas preparations continue apace. Today we made cranberry relish, almost as easy as going to the shop and buying a jar.

  • 350g fresh cranberries
  • Juice and zest of one orange
  • 75g sugar
  • half a cinnamon stick
  • half a teaspoon of finely grated fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons of Mirto di Sardegna (black myrtle liqueur from Italy)

Mirto di Sardegna is pretty rare but we happened to have some that we brought back from Italy as a holiday souvenir.  You can substitute port, crème de cassis, or even sloe gin – anything that’s got a dark fruity alcoholic tang. If you don’t fancy adding alcohol, then add more orange juice or a splash of water.

Put all the ingredients in a pan and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until all the berries have burst. Take off the heat and stir in the alcohol. It keeps well in the fridge for up to a week, in a covered bowl. It can also be frozen – make sure to defrost it thoroughly for 24 hours before using.

Marrakshi chicken with preserved lemon

Sam is getting more adventurous with his cooking, and wanted to try a Moroccan-inspired dish. This is what he made – heavily influenced by the chicken tagine served at Leon.

Serves 4

  • 1 large onion
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic puree (or smoked garlic puree if you can find it)
  • 1 tablespoon ras-el-hanout spice mix
  • 8 small chicken joints, on the bone for preference (thighs are perfect for this, or you can buy a whole chicken and joint it yourself – there’ll be plenty of meat left over on the carcass to make  stew or soup)
  • a few strands of saffron (optional)
  • half a litre of chicken stock
  • 1 tin of chickpeas, drained
  • 4 large preserved lemons or 8 really small ones, enough for about 60g of rinds
  • 50g green olives, stoned and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons creme fraiche
  • salt and black pepper

Peel and chop the onion into thin half-moon slices.  Heat the oil in a large saute pan or casserole dish, and saute the onion in the oil over a medium heat until it is soft but not coloured. Add the garlic puree and the ras-el-hanout, stir it about and enjoy the lovely aromas of the spices as they heat up.  Put in the chicken pieces – you should really take the skin off .  Then add the chickpeas, the saffron and the stock and let it come to a simmer. Leave it simmering for about ten minutes.

Take the preserved lemons and cut them in half. Scoop out the flesh and pips and discard them, then slice up the rinds and add them to the pan along with the chopped olives.  Keep the pan simmering for another ten minutes.

Finish off the dish by adding the creme fraiche. Stir it in and then turn up the heat a bit to reduce the liquid a little – this should take another ten to fifteen minutes.

Incidentally if you use big chicken breast fillets or larger joints, you will need to increase the cooking time to ensure the chicken is cooked through.  Chicken should never be pink!

When you are ready to serve, season it with salt and pepper (it may not need salt because of the stock and the olives) and garnish with some chopped coriander leaves (cilantro to our friends across the Atlantic).  This dish can be served with couscous or rice, and it goes well with dark green vegetables such as broccoli or wilted spinach.  You could also try a mixture of traditional Moroccan braised vegetables such as carrots, courgettes, squash, aubergine and green cabbage.

 

instant cherry gelato

20170102_185627How easy is this?  It’s also low carb – no added sugar – and totally delicious. This quantity serves about 4. Or just me when I feel like icecream.

  • 350g frozen black cherries
  • 250ml double cream

Put the double cream and frozen cherries into a bowl and use a stick blender to blend the two ingredients together until the mixture looks like ice cream. It doesn’t have to be completely smooth – having visible bits of cherry makes it more interesting.  You can either eat this straight away, or store it in the freezer, but if you store it then take it out and leave in the fridge for 20 minutes before eating.  It is lovely served with dark chocolate sauce (melt dark chocolate with cream – easy).

bloody brilliant piccalilli

img_20161107_222829-1So named by family friend Eric, who is renowned for his taciturnity. However, he got very animated about this piccalilli, and declared it to be bloody brilliant. High praise indeed, from a man of few words.

  • 1kg mixed vegetables, washed and peeled as necessary. Essentials are cauliflower (white or romanesco), green beans, and shallots or small silverskin onions. The rest can be made up of sweetcorn, fresh peas, red peppers, courgettes, carrots, green tomatoes. The  more colourful the mixture, the better.
  • 50g fine salt
  • 30g cornflour
  • 10g ground turmeric
  • 10g English mustard powder
  • 15g yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground coriander
  • 600ml cider vinegar
  • 200g granulated sugar

The most time consuming part of making piccalilli is cutting up the vegetables. You need to make sure that the pieces are quite small and of an even size. Once you’ve got your kilo of chopped veg, put them in a large bowl and sprinkle over the salt.  Mix it in well and leave the bowl, covered in a cloth, overnight. This will help to ensure that the vegetable pieces stay crunchy.  The next day, rinse the veg in ice-cold water to get rid of the salt, and drain as much of the water off as you can.  The veg need to be quite dry or the resulting sauce will be watery. Put the cornflour, turmeric, and all the other spices in a big jug and mix them to a smooth-ish paste with some of the vinegar.  The rest of the vinegar goes into a large saucepan to be heated up with the sugar, until the sugar has dissolved.  Bring the vinegar and sugar mixture to the boil, then pour some of it over the spice paste and mix it well, then pour the spice paste and vinegar mixture back into the pan and bring to the boil again.  Keep stirring it until it thickens. This should take about five minutes.  Take the pan off the heat, and then you’re ready to mix in the drained vegetables.  Stir all the vegetables around until they are all coated with the spicy sauce, then pack them into sterilised jars, making sure there are no air pockets.  Seal the jars with wax paper discs to cover, and acid-proof screw-on lids.  This piccalilli can be eaten straight away but improves after about 4  weeks maturing in a dark cupboard.  It’s excellent with cheese, cured meats, pork pies, roast beef, sandwiches, anything that benefits from a mustardy, crunchy hit. I have been known to eat it from the jar with a spoon.  It’s also vegan, containing no animal products (but it tasts so good WITH animal products…!).