Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin 1

I recently visited America for the first time. Boston to be precise, resplendent with the fiery colours of the New England ‘fall’. I was staying with my friend, and former food blog collaborator, Kristel, who is conducting some very complicated biological research at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston. America was a surprise in how much it seemed different to England in almost every way, even though the same language was being spoken. The food was a source of constant surprise to me: I found it difficult to restrain myself on my first trip to the supermarket – there were so many things that I had seen in films but didn’t imagine to exactly exist, that I then felt necessary to purchase. Such as pop tarts. These are an invention that never really caught on in Britain (although God knows why), consisting of a pastry shell filled with tooth-achingly sweet jam filling, that you warm up in the toaster. In the TOASTER. Baffling, but annoyingly addictive.

Pumpkin

As it was Thanksgiving season when I visited Boston, pumpkin was another foodstuff that was literally rammed down your throat at every opportunity. It popped up in coffee, donuts, cakes, pastries and pretty much everything else. I gladly embraced this, stopping for a Pumpkin Spice Latte (#psl) on every street corner. Also, being so close to such industrious maple syrup producing regions, such as Vermont, meant that it was nigh on obligatory to have maple syrup with every meal. We literally did this one day, taking it as somewhat of a challenge. We had maple syrup pancakes for breakfast, salad with maple syrup dressing for lunch, followed by a maple spice mocha and maple syrup “froyo” (frozen yoghurt), and then squash roasted in, you guessed it, for dinner.

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I decided to combine these two flavours in the classic Thanksgiving dessert of Pumpkin Pie. The sweetness of pumpkins (bought in a tin, to be true to the American recipe) marries very well with the nutty maple syrup, and the sourness of crème fraiche offsets the sweetness slightly. Around the latter days of November, my Instagram feed was clogged up with pumpkin pies, turkeys and the rather bizarre ‘candied yams’ (often involving sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows). So I decided to jump on the Thanksgiving bandwagon and give a pumpkin pie a go. I used a recipe from Food 52 that was, to stay true to the American theme, measured in ‘cups’, but thankfully my conversion seemed to work out fine. Pumpkin puree from a tin is laughably easy, but you can make your own by boiling the required amount of pumpkin until soft, then mashing until smooth.

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Date and Ginger Cake

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I recently heard of the concept of a ‘house-cooling’ (from the infinite wisdom that is Kinfolk magazine). This is pretty self-explanatory, being the opposite of housewarming: it involves saying a fond farewell to a dwelling that has provided so many memories, and welcoming in the transition and all its exciting new developments. My friends Alex and Heather have lived on a houseboat for the past 3 years. The time has come to say goodbye to the converted Dutch barge, and they are moving out of the boat onto dry land.

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I made this dark and sticky ginger and date cake to take to the ‘boat–cooling’ gathering. I felt that feeling something stodgy and spicy might be in order, not least to fuel the impending sorting and moving of an entire boat-worth of stuff. We ate the cake huddled in the warmth of the boat, feeling the calm sway of the water and remembering all the many previous days and evenings spent there. This time felt poignant given the shift in seasons too – saying farewell to the boat and farewell to summer. There was a definite fizz of excitement around the anticipation of the next exciting phase, of things to come.

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Sweet Potato, Goats’ Cheese and Walnut Muffins

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At the moment, I’m loving the chill in the air that signals early Autumn. The leaves are starting to turn, the days are drawing in and there’s already a sense of anticipation about the ‘C’ word. I also want to eat nothing but orange vegetables. Carrots, sweet potato and butternut squash become a staple of my weekly trip to the greengrocers. Most often I roast them with spices such as cumin and cinnamon, but also enjoy them simply boiled and mashed with lots of butter and salt.

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Sweet potato is so versatile, being equally at home in sweet and savoury recipes. The unassuming knobbly vegetable lends itself really well to being baked into cakes. Vegetables in cakes is nothing new – if you go beyond the undeniable cliché of carrot cake there’s a whole new world out there. I’ve got a whole cookbook dedicated to cakes which contain all manner of vegetables, from courgette and lemon cakes to aubergine in brownies (yes, really).

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My friend Clare and I thought that some gentle Sunday afternoon baking was in order. So we decided to use the sweet potato to make some savoury muffins, utilising the natural sweetness of the vegetable to combine with the sour goats cheese. We used a combination of wholemeal, plain and polenta flour in this recipe, giving the muffins a slightly grainy texture and a more full flavour. But if you don’t want to faff around with this just use plain or wholemeal. The general muffin method is to mix together all the dry and all the wet ingredients and fold one into the other. The highlight for me of making these muffins was mashing the boiled sweet potato together with a frankly obscene amount of butter into a gooey puddle, then eating a sneaky spoonful (or three).

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Gooseberry, Blackberry and Almond Cake

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Gooseberries are tart little devils. I remember summers spent at the pick-your-own farm, enduring the torturous wait until they had been carted home and stewed with copious amounts of sugar to eat them. The ones used for this cake came from my friend Nicola’s garden –actually more accurately from her freezer, where they have been stored for the winter months ahead. As did the blackberries, and given the choice several freezer-dwelling fruits, we chose these two as a match.

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Fruit and cake is a winner in my book. And you can kid yourself that it is somehow healthy, and can therefore be justifiably eaten for breakfast. The sourness of the gooseberries is offset by more forgivingly mellow blackberries, and the sweet, almondy sponge. Upside down cakes like this one, where the fruit is placed at the bottom of the cake tin, and the batter on top, always provide a satisfying moment when turned over to reveal the fruit underneath. For some reason, I’m always slightly surprised to find it still there, thinking that it might have been consumed by the cake batter.

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Having a cake around is dangerous: I get to the stage that I struggle to have a cup of tea without a slice of cake, or more accurately I have a cup of tea as an excuse to eat cake. This cake disappeared in about two hours – and not only (although almost only) due to me. And I had a large slice for breakfast the next day, covered in natural yoghurt – because if something has yoghurt on it, then it’s breakfast, right?!

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All About Apricots: Chargrilled Apricots with Chard, Almonds and Cous-Cous

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This time of year is my favourite. There is a slight chill in the air, making it the ideal time wear a ‘transition scarf’, yet there is still enough of a whisper of summer left to make the occasional evening unendingly balmy. At around this time every year I take this opportunity to gorge myself on fruit like it’s going out of fashion – so much so that I’m even cajoling it into savoury dishes.

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According to the Waitrose catalogue (on which I base a lot of my culinary decisions) one of the best things about this period of time, referred to as late summer, is the abundance of apricots. Paris and I decided to turn to the apricot for our next source of culinary inspiration. Such a versatile little number deserves some attention – so we’re going to experiment with how they can be used in sweet and savoury dishes.

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We have discovered the joys of chargrilling fruit, caramelising the natural sugars into blackened lines. This works particularly well with soft stone fruit such as peaches, nectarines and apricots. Brushing a bit of scarlet-red, fiery harissa paste onto the fruit before grilling is a good idea, although it’ll leave a burn in the back of your throat as it cooks. To add to the harissa apricots, we wilted some chard, and piled the whole lot on top of some cous-cous. Not just any cous-cous, mind. Giant cous-cous – also known as maftoul –is, as the name suggests, a bigger, plumper version of the regular variety, with a pleasant nutty taste. The whole thing was finished off with a dollop of yoghurt with some more harissa swirled into it.

For Paris’ write up, click here.

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Rabbit Stew

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My next-door neighbour rang the other day, to enquire as to whether I might like a rabbit. A recently shot rabbit. I headed next door somewhat dubiously, worried about what blood-splattered scene might await me. But I was presented, very casually, with a freezer bag containing said rabbit. Minus fur, skin, head and guts, but with the heart, lungs and ribcage still left in ‘for making stock’. And still very much looking like a rabbit.

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Having seen the slightly horrified look on my face, my neighbour suggested that he might show me how to joint the poor little thing. I retained minimal amount of the information, as I was still getting over the shock of there now being two dead rabbits in the kitchen. So I took the one that had been jointed for me to cook right away, and stowing the other (whole) rabbit hurriedly in the freezer, to worry about some other time.

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Rabbit doesn’t have much meat on it, so if you add the saddle too, there is more to pick at. I just chucked the lot in, along with some bacon to bulk it out. Rabbit tastes a little like chicken crossed with lamb- it’s got a rich, meaty flavour that goes well with cider. Some recipes suggest red wine, which you can use instead if you want a more hearty affair. But use some booze please, it’s getting close to winter after all.

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