Archive

Tag Archives: autumn

Food for free – what’s not to love? Foraging is one of life’s great pleasures and now we live in rural France, I’ve been taking full advantage of the numerous hedgerows. When we first arrived in June, there were elderflowers to gather and cordial to make. For the recipe, see here.

elderflower champagne elderflower cordial 2013

elderflower

Throughout the summer, we enjoyed wild mint in salads, raitas and cous cous.

But now autumn is on our doorstep it’s blackberry and rosehip time…

blackberries, rosehips and mint*disclaimer – the flowers are merely a bit of added pretty, I have no idea whether they are in fact suitable for use as a garnish.

Advertisements

Our landlord’s peach tree simply couldn’t bear its own weight any longer. A single crack, the unmistakable sounds of birds in sudden flight and it was all over for the poor tree. I’m typing to the strains of chain saw on peach tree.

peach and thyme jam

Still, something had to be done with the fruit, and I was more than happy to oblige. These sudden gluts remind me of one of my favourite childhood books: Ruth Orbach’s Apple Pigs. We’ve had peaches for breakfast, peaches for lunch and still we have peaches. Time to realise my long held ambition to make jam.

I’m warning you now, this is a non-WI approved recipe. I took the easy route and just bought a pack of jam sugar from the supermarket, ready loaded with pectin and printed with simple instructions that even a novice like me can follow. Plus, I don’t have my sugar thermometer or any fancy equipment out here.

peach jam

So here we go, peach and thyme jam.

Makes three jars

1 kg ripe peaches, peeled, destoned and chopped into small pieces. As a guide, that was equivalent to 27 small whole peaches for me

3 sprigs of thyme, leaves only

One 500g pack jam sugar

Pop the fruit, thyme and sugar into a large saucepan and bring to the boil on a high heat. Let it bubble away for a good five minutes until the fruit is soft – the packet suggested three minutes, but I was unconvinced after three. If you’re unconvinced, take a teaspoonful and leave to cool. If it starts to set, it’s ready to go.

Pour into sterilised jars and screw on the lids. Leave to stand, flipping the jars after three minutes so the fruit sets evenly throughout the jar.

‘Windfall’ – what a wonderful word; unexpected riches. In this case it happened quite literally. An almighty storm, where lightning flashed, thunder crashed, and rain dashed against the windows.

unripe plum and apple chutney The husband and I looked on in glee – oohing and aahing at nature’s fireworks from the shelter of the porch.

The next morning, we woke to calm and a crisp freshness, as if the world had been through the washing machine and was now gently flapping on the line.

A neighbour’s plum tree, its boughs heavy with fruit, had not withstood the battering, and spilled its bounty prematurely all over the road. ‘Chutney,’ thought I, and duly headed out with a colander.

green plums, unripe plums

The two kilos I purloined have barely made an impact on the piles still lining the roadside, but I like to think I have at least saved some of these beauties from going to waste.

Chutney is an exercise in delayed gratification – never my strong point – as you are supposed to leave it to mature for a few months. Hence, I can’t in truth tell you whether this adapted recipe – my first ever chutney – is any good. Roll on the grand unveiling at Christmas.

Spiced green plum and apple chutney

2 kilos unripe plums, stoned and diced

1.2 kilos apples, peeled, cored and diced

150g sultanas

6 small onions, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

A good knob of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

1 tsp mustard seeds

A healthy sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg

Ditto black pepper

1.5 tsp salt

1 tsp mixed spice

0.25 tsp ground cloves

3 dried chillies, crushed

1.5 cups cider vinegar

0.5 cup red wine vinegar

3 cups dark brown soft sugar

In a huge pan, soften the onions, ginger and garlic in a teaspoon of water for a couple of minutes, and add the mustard seeds. Once the onions are translucent, pile in the rest of the ingredients and bring to the boil.

Simmer, stirring occasionally for a good two hours until the fruit is soft and sticky, thick and gloopy.

In another enormous pan, boil about an inch of water with the lid on, then pop all your jars and lids in to sterilise. Fish them out with tongs, lay them out on a clean teatowel, then fill with chutney, topping with a layer of baking paper before screwing the lids on tight.

Leave to mature in a cool place for three-four months before enjoying with cold meats and cheese.

danish pastries: apple, blackberry and bay pastry with maple glaze

The Third series of The Killing has started and that can only mean one thing: I am back in the grip of my obsession with all things Scandinavian. I would love to go to Copenhagen, but that is not likely to happen any time soon, so instead I am swooshing my decidedly Scandinavian hair around (seriously I’ve been told on three separate occasions this week that I have Scandinavian hair?!) and eating all things Danish.

First up, Danish pastries. As per my general aversion to baking, these barely qualify as patisserie as I didn’t make my own pastry or my own jam. Jam making is one of those things that I yearn to do and one of the many things spurring me on to complete my saving mission. For where would I store a jam cauldron and half a dozen jam jars in my flat, not to mention the finished product? I already have a strict one in one out policy with tinned tomatoes. Still, if I did make jam, I would make blackberry and bay – for a start blackberries are free; easily plucked from plentiful brambles even in the city and a gentle flavouring of bay leaf cuts through the sharp-sweetness beautifully for extra warmth and depth.

At any rate, this is a deliciously simple recipe that can be knocked up in 20 minutes – perfect for last minute guests as there’s next to no mess involved, so you can whip these up without messing up the kitchen and, as long as you have a couple of apples knocking around, some jam in the cupboard and a roll of pastry in the freezer, you won’t even have to nip to the shops. They also fill the house with the scent of hot jam as they bake. If that’s not a welcome, I don’t know what is.

Serves: 5 (2 each)
One roll of puff pastry (I keep a stash in the freezer. It defrosts at room temperature in less than half an hour)

2 apples

Half a pot blackberry and bay jam

Maple syrup for glazing

Icing sugar for dusting
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Grease a couple of baking trays and set aside. Roll out your pastry and cut into 10 squares. Dollop a globule of jam into the centre of each square, making sure to leave the edges clear.

Fill a large bowl with cold water, then core and finely slice the apples – try to keep the slices as thin as you can get them. Pop each slice into the water as you go to stop them from turning brown (if you have a lemon, squeeze a little juice in the water for good measure).

When you are ready to assemble, scoop up four or five apple slices, dab dry and arrange into a fan, then pop them on top of the jam.

Bake in the oven for approx 15 minutes until the pastry has risen and turned golden brown. With a pastry brush, slap some maple syrup over each pastry so they gleam and glisten in the light. Finally, dust with icing sugar and serve lukewarm.

lamb stifado

I wanted to try something a little different for Bonfire Night this year; usually I make a chilli con carne—but it’s time for a change. Still, there are some fundamental rules when it comes to a winter party dish: it should always be something hot, of course—that’s a given—but it also needs to be able to look after itself, quietly simmering away as you greet your guests and furnish them with drinks. You can then dole it out as and when required, safe in the knowledge that it won’t spoil and latecomers won’t have to make do with a chilled, slightly congealed supper.

This is all conjecture – I had the flu this year, so no party for me, much less standing in the freezing cold watching fireworks, however much I may have wanted to. Instead, I am celebrating Diwali, that joyous festival that lights up our life as the days grow shorter.

A curry would be the obvious choice for a Hindu celebration, but instead I chose this warming stew, inspired by a dish I once tried in a Greek restaurant in Primrose Hill. Sadly, the place no longer exists. Luckily, the flavour is still fresh in my mind: rich, velvety sauce spiked with warm spices with an aniseedy tang. Traditionally, of course, a stifado is made with beef, but somehow lamb feels more ‘Greek’ to me – plus the butcher was doing a special: I got a kilo of stewing lamb for just £6. I know, quel surprise!

Serves: 6

500g stewing lamb (ask your butcher what would be best)

12 shallots, peeled

A handful chopped celery

1 can chopped tomatoes

1 stick cinnamon

Half a bottle red wine

1 star anise

2 cloves

1 tsp oregano

A sprig rosemary

Half a tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

200ml stock (I used lamb, but use whatever you have)

2 tbsp tomato purée

In a large casserole, brown the lamb on all sides and set aside. Then brown the shallots and celery. Pop the lamb back in and quickly add all the remaining ingredients. Stir well, bring to the boil, then turn the heat down low and leave to simmer for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. Simples!

Top tip: to peel the shallots, drop them into a bowl of boiling water, cover and leave for five minutes – drain and rinse in cold water and the skin should just slide off.

potato, pumpkin and celeriac croquettes: the magic of breadcrumbs

The husband had a hankering for croquettes this week. We were debating the merits of various dishes on the M&S Dine in for £10 menu at the time. (For those of you who aren’t UK-based, Marks & Spencer – M&S or Marks and Sparks for short – is a UK institution best described as an upmarket supermarket in this case, currently offering a main, side and pudding for two, plus a bottle of wine for £10). In the event, the rosti won the day but it got me to thinking: why have I never made my own croquettes? What an oversight.

Even better, the freezer was brimful of odds and sods of bread and I had a bag of potatoes threatening to sprout any minute. I make no claim that this is in any way an authentic recipe. I haven’t researched it and, after tasting these babies, don’t intend to. This was the product of a wonderful Sunday afternoon pottering in the kitchen and they taste great to boot, even if I say so myself.

Makes: 12-16

6 large potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters

A knob of butter

Three eggs

A splash of milk

Plenty of salt and pepper

A selection of odds and sods of bread (I pop unwanted crusts, ends and stale rolls in the freezer for whenever I need breadcrumbs) Brown, white, seeded, it doesn’t matter. You’ll need the equivalent of about four slices

Five sage leaves

2 cloves of garlic

Flavours:

I made four varieties of croquette; flavour yours with a handful of any of the below – or whatever floats your boat – a croquette laced with manchego and those gorgeous chargrilled peppers you get in jars would be delicious.

Roasted squash or pumpkin

Mashed celeriac

Crispy bacon bits

Cheddar cheese

Boil the potatoes in salted water until soft enough to mash (15-20 minutes).

Meanwhile, pop your bread, sage leaves and garlic in a blender with a good sprinkle of salt and pepper and whizz into crumbs. Whisk two eggs in a bowl and spread your crumbs ready on a large dinner plate.

Mash with a knob of butter and a splash of milk, then crack in an egg and mash some more until you have smooth, golden mash. Prepare your flavour, whatever it may be – e.g. if cheese, chop into tiny chunks.

Once the mash is cool enough to handle, Stir in your chosen flavour. Pick up a small handful and form into a small lozenge shape by hand.

Dip your lozenge into the egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs. Then repeat to ensure you get a lovely thick, even coating of breadcrumbs. Set aside on a greased baking tray and get rolling the next one!

Once all your croquettes are lined up on the tray, pop it in the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, turning every 10, until golden and crisp on all sides.

Serve with quiche and salad, tapas or this.

purple power: aubergines big and small for bonfire night

You couldn’t dream up a more British celebration than Guy Fawkes night, or Bonfire night as it’s commonly known. The French have Bastille Day, the United States have July 4th. Both mark the day when the establishment was overthrown, the triumph of successful revolution. In England, we celebrate the failure of anarchy, a plot foiled. Admittedly Fawkes’ intentions weren’t exactly to steal from the rich to give to the poor, entrench human rights in a written constitution or usher in democracy, but still.

Still, dubious roots aside, Bonfire night has to be the most fantabulous celebration of the year. For a start, no one has really worked out how to flog stuff for it. It’s a marketing department’s nightmare; a whole celebration with no bottom line benefit. Ha! Sure, locked fireworks cabinets appear in supermarkets, garages (gas stations) probably shift a few more bags of logs and hawkers stock up on glow sticks to flog to the crowds but there is no ‘Happy Bonfire night’ card, no big gaudy display of tat you don’t need and aren’t even sure you want. The closest you’ll get is a BOGOF deal on bangers (sausages, my non-British friends). It’s just pure, unadulterated fun, free from Hallmark sabotage and phrases like ‘bottom line’. My beloved Bonfire night flies in the face of corporate bullshit and that is why it is so special. Oh, and did I mention the fireworks?

As for Bonfire night food, it’s a time of year to indulge your childhood campfire fantasies. Sausages, jacket potatoes and marshmallows, all cooked over the fire and it’s better than a barbecue because everyone expects it to be cold and damp.

This year, inspired by a recipe Adolfo and I improvised over the ‘summer’, I thought I’d try something a little different: aubergines (or eggplants as they are known across the pond). The advantage of this recipe is that you can make it with the tiniest fire and therefore the tiniest of gardens – a disposable barbecue would work. And for very little effort and even less skill, you get something that tastes exquisite. The flesh becomes a melt-in-the-mouth smokey sensation. An explosion of taste.

Serves: as many as you need to

A selection of aubergines (eggplant) – whatever shapes and sizes take your fancy: allow 1/2 a large or 3 baby aubergines per person

A good glug of good olive oil

A sprig of rosemary, leaves stripped from the stem

2 cloves garlic, chopped

A generous pinch of sea salt

chiminea: bonfire night aubergine

Lay the fire like a good girl guide (not that I would know, I was neither good nor a guide) with a pile of newspaper swirls, covered by a teepee of kindling with a log or two poised and ready over the top (or just cheat and use firelighters!).

Come on baby light my fire: aubergines

Light and nurse to get a good flame going then let it burn until you have a bed of red-hot embers and a steady, gentle flame licking around your logs.

Gently heat the olive oil, rosemary and garlic in a frying pan until the aromas start to rise and scent the room, then set aside to cool.

Prick all the aubergines with a knife or skewer. Tear off a large strip of foil and pop an aubergine or two in the centre – I did two big aubergines per piece, or a handful of the littlies.

Test the oil to check it’s cool enough to handle and spoon over the aubergines, making sure to include some of the rosemary and garlic on each sheet. Give each aubergine a good rub to make sure it’s completely coated in oil and then scrunch the foil up and over the aubergines to make a little parcel. Pop another layer of foil over your parcel—better safe than sorry!

aubergines cooked on a wood fire

Hopefully by the time you’ve done this, your fire will be well and truly on its way. Pop the foil parcels on the embers as close to the flames as you can get them without putting the fire out and/or burning yourself. This is what barbecue tongs were made for.

I’m afraid cooking times are a little sketchy on this one. It’s really a case of size matters: both in terms of the fire and the aubergine. You should be able to hear the oil start to sizzle, and then enjoy a natter and a glass of wine something-completely-responsible-and-appropriate-for-someone-who-is-tending-a-fire before you have to worry—but do have a little check once in a while —we’re talking a ballpark of 15-30 minutes. I’d say check every 10, turning the aubergines inside the parcel if needs be. The skin should wrinkle, the flesh soften, the structure collapse. Sprinkle over the salt and tuck in!

aubergines cooked on open fire

%d bloggers like this: