Christmas has come early to our kitchen. Back at the beginning of October during my weekly oxygen treatment, a productive hour spent more often than not thinking about and looking at food - I normally take in a recipe book or two from an ever growing collection, a serious addiction, I just can’t resist them !. This time though, I was reading the local MS Society monthly magazine and my oxygen intoxicated brain started to ponder on the idea of a recipe of the month. The more I pondered, the more the idea took hold and I left full of purpose with intentions of contacting the necessary person. Oh but I’m not so brave, doubt set in and my confidence vanished and it took another couple of weeks to summon up the courage to make contact. In my mind it all seemed so simple, all I had to do was send in my monthly blog and a couple of recipes. I was soon to discover that things, as we all know, are never as simple as we imagine they are going to be !. No, in the world of magazines things happen in advance, a whole month in advance. Obvious, yes, I have been looking at Christmas recipes since the beginning of November but it was this small detail that my brain had failed to process. So that is why it has been smelling like Christmas since the end of October, the house has been filled with the delicious smell of mince pies baking and the aroma of alcohol soaked fruits cooking in festive teabreads. I am not really much of a cake person but even I have been unable to resist, Andy is in cake heaven and I will admit that both of us have become a little addicted to the pies and teabread. Perfecting these recipes has put me behind and I am now in a bit of a panic, for the first time in years I have forgotten all about the pudding and and stir up Sunday has been and gone!. I am also very aware that there are no savoury offerings and I would like to tempt you, perhaps, with something a little different for Christmas day. The pudding is on hold but I have a couple of recipes which I think look special and taste special and if you are not going to be a crowd, they are perfect for smaller gatherings. Perhaps I can tempt you to try the Leek and walnut roasted pollock with caper vinaigrette or maybe the Apricot and pistachio roasted partridge with clementine sauce. I have even a little something to go with that glass of sherry or whatever your preference Christmas morning , Smoked mackerel and cranberry blinis. I hope I have given you a little inspiration for Christmas Day but more importantly, whatever you decide to feast on, enjoy !. Pudding recipes, with any luck, next year !.
I have never been tempted to make pumpkin pie before, the idea of it has just not appealed. However having spent a week or two experimenting with squash and halloween a few days away, I decide to put my misgivings aside, completely ignore my intuition and give it a go. The result, although quite appealing on the plate is, unfortunately, seriously bizarre on the palate. It is exactly as I imagined it, despite it’s almost sickly sweetness, it just feels as though you should be eating it as a main with a little gravy on the side. I do not get the attraction and nor does Andy, whose first reaction was “you can’t publish this !”. We don’t get it but are we missing something ?. I’m not sure and because it has a culinary history and, as the saying goes, “each to his own”, it has been saved from the recipe bin. So this recipe with a little twist, Squash and pecan “cheesecake” is for all of you who do get it or want to try it, to be converted or to never indulge again and I wouldn’t blame you !. I used seasonal squash because I just can’t resist them, all their different shapes and colours but if you want to be traditional use pumpkin instead. For all those who know better or are not feeling so adventurous, I hope you will try my Squash and buckwheat pizza or maybe my squash and buckwheat flatbreads.
I detected a hint of a amusement on my father’s face, as my parents so generously deposited two bags af windfall apples on our conservatory floor. “Great” I say “that’s two more bags to go with the other two. Well I suppose I have the subject for my next blog, so I had better start thinking !”, a definite smile spread across his face. My father embraces life as it comes and tackles every obstacle or event it throws at him with exceptional calm, courage and a steely determination. I believe I have him to thank for that part of me which can be just a little stubborn and determined. I know I will probably need some of his courage and I just hope in time, I will acquire some of that calm !. Before I share the results of my endeavours in the kitchen, I am going to confess to one of our guilty pleasures and that is pork. Our treat, or if I am really honest, one of our treats for the week is a meal of roast pork and preferably a big slab of belly with plenty of crackling and if you are Andy an equal quantity of apple sauce!. Bad, I know, but pork is Andy’s favorite and if truth be told it is mine and there are times when those little marbled cubes and wafer thin slices are just too delicious to resist and some dishes just wouldn’t be the same without them. I have discovered it is possible to live without bread and cheese but life would be unthinkable without the odd bowl full of amatriciana or a spicy dish with chorizo. Well we now have plenty of apple sauce to go with our roast pork and there were more than enough apples left over for a little experimentation. In fact if I could put apple in it, I did. It goes without saying that there are still a few recipes that need a little tweaking but for now I would like to share my caramel apple cake, a comforting cake for colder days, inspired by memories of the Alps. I have also discovered the delicious combination of apple and mackerel, in an apple and smoked mackerel pate and baked mackerel with apple and horseradish. I hope you enjoy !.
What do you do with a monster marrow, to be precise 3.5kg of marrow ?. A gift from another generous friend, was certainly not to be refused and anything home grown is welcomed with eager arms, knowing that it does not contain any those nasty added extras. Unfortunately it was delivered at the end of a frustrating and unsatisfactory two week cooking experiment with courgettes. Andy’s face said it all. After many unsuccessful courgette meals we had both come to the conclusion that the best thing you can do with the irritatingly wet and bland courgette is eat it raw, pickled, in a cake, try the courgette and chocolate loaf or Andy’s favorite, cut into matchsticks and simply coated in cornflour and fried, delicious. Back to the marrow; feeling unable to do it justice at that precise moment it was left to lurk, being moved now and again, from one place to the next, staring me in the face and filling me with guilt. It was not going to be ignored. So it has, chunk by chunk been added to soups, quiches, cakes and salads, stuffed and baked but like the courgette it has left us feeling a little dissatisfied. Not one to give up without a fight, I have persevered but being the perfectionist that I am, I have only three recipes to share, marrow, walnut and poppyseed cake, sweet and sour marrow, mackerel and beetroot salad and marrow and apple bites. As you can imagine, there is still one sizable chunk left, it will be eaten but sadly my inspiration and enthusiasm has run out !. If ever you are presented with a monster marrow, of course courgettes can be used instead, I hope you will give these a try. For now though and for the rest of the year, I have a feeling that marrow and courgette will not be on the menu, much to Andy’s relief !.
For the past three years the first week in September brings last minute packing of saddle bags for a cycle adventure. Last year it was the Velodysee, a bike ride from the Spanish/French border town of Hondarribia to Roscoff. An amazing ride and blissfully kind to the legs, being mostly flat. Two years ago we crossed the Pyrennees from the Atlantic to the Med and from day one after reaching the top of our first mountain, we finally realized what we were about to undertake. The memories of utter exhaustion and the emotions experienced on reaching the top of each mountain will remain with us always and oddly enough leave us with a desire to return and cycle one or two of them again!. Three years ago Provence and the culprit, Mont Ventoux, our first taste that left us wanting more. This week leaves me feeling more than a little sad, an adventure this year, is not to be. We are lucky in a way that we had nothing planned as it looks as if I have just experienced my first relapse. Mild though it was, it was a wake up call and has made me realize just how debilitating they can be. So as well as feeling sad, I am feeling a little sorry for myself but I am now more determined than ever that this year is going to be the exception, we may have to rethink the mountains and the miles but bicycle adventures, there will be !. This week has been spent at home, making the most of what we would have missed and we are missing a lovely time of year. September is glorious and we have been trying to make the most of it. Gentle, early morning bike rides with a little stop here and there to gather what’s on offer in the hedgerows. Returning home with our bags full to concoct in the kitchen. The cupboard is now full of blackberry jam and jelly, there are a few things brewing and infusing in various vessels which will require a little time, a little patience and some willpower. But for immediate consumption a blackberry, apple and hazelnut or a blackberry and lime cake. Cycle adventures will now be planned for October!.
This week I was anticipating sharing a delicious bread recipe and on top of that miracle it was going to be a loaf without yeast or bicarb. My usual realistic approach to gluten and dairy free baking had been replaced by a rather unaccustomed optimism. I believed I could possibly overcome the impossible with a sourdough starter, where this blind faith had come from, who knew, especially with the never ending mound of crumbs on the bird table. Unfortunately my starter had other ideas and after a week still showed no signs of starting, although I am convinced that it is now happily fermenting away at the bottom of our compost bin. After a little more research, starter number 2 was more obliging and by day two it was very, very gently bubbling away. By day four, something was not quite right, and it was showing no signs of life, still, I was reluctant to consign it to the overfed bin and I have hopes of nurturing it back to life, but I am taking no chances and so starter number 3 is under way. Well, as you can imagine, my optimism is firmly back where it belongs and the reality, which is proving far more entertaining, is don’t expect bread any time soon and if it does happens, it will be a miracle!. However two delicious fish recipes I can provide. Thanks to a generous friend, we aquired a nice bag of mackerel the other week. Normally I would either just bake it whole or pan fry the fillets, but at this time of year the larger ones I find are much more oily. I prefer to use them in a citrus salad, try the mackerel, kohlrabi and orange salad or add them to a spicy sauce, try the spaghetti with tomato and chilli mackerel. It might not be bread but I am hoping you can do without for now!.
Ignore it; I could no longer. Sometimes you just have to give in, admit defeat, surrender yourself to the craving and indulge. For the past two weeks I have had one serious craving for chocolate. There is no other way of describing our previous consumption of chocolate other than gluttonous. We ate it almost every day, knowing that our weekly cycle rides burned off the weekly chocolate intake, along with alot of other excessive weekly intakes, which I am sure will all eventually be revealed. But give it up; we did, along with all the rest of our favorite foods. Admittedly it took a while longer, but in the end we did, mainly because finding a bar of chocolate without dairy and that dreaded ingredient that finds it’s way into everything, soya, seemed to be an impossibility. I have had a few moments of weakness and with delightful anticipation, have eaten the odd square or two. But there the desire abrubtly ended. That memory of chocolate satisfaction remained elusive, the only thing I experienced was sugar, eating a square of chocolate, I can now only best describe as eating a cube of sugar. Delicious medjool dates, I have found, satisfy that need for something sweet and, for that chocolate hit, I can now happily nibble away on cacao paste or nibs. However last week even these were not enough, so I have been concocting in the kitchen and the craving has been satisified. Here are two ways to use a basic chocolate custard and turn it into something that will satisfy any chocolate craving. My favorite has to be the chocolate truffle and raspberry tart but the chocolate cream cake was so dangerous it was taken to the office to be finished by Andy and Mike, his colleague and our friend, who also happens to be number two guinea pig, although I don’t think he realizes it. His responses, while of few words, need a little deciphering but are eagerly awaited and apparently this cake is a winner.
Whilst popping into my local farm shop the other week, I was immediately side tracked by a display of the season’s first gooseberries. As I stood there contemplating possible ideas, I heard a child’s voice say ” look mum, gooseberries” to which mum replied, “yes, but nobody likes gooseberries”. Well that ended the contemplating, I put three large punnets in my basket and as usual forgot what I had actually gone in for in the first place. First things first, time to make some jam, gooseberry jam, the first of the year. Also having never made a curd before, why not a gooseberry curd made with honey and coconut and Andy has been happily spreading both on his breakfast tea breads ever since. This led to the idea of a gooseberry jam and curd sponge, which was received with even greater delight and quickly demolished. So back to the farm shop I go, for another punnet or two, as I now have an idea for a gooseberry, lime and coconut cheesecake, which also gets the thumbs up. The ideas keep coming, but as much as I love gooseberries, I imagine by now that you, like us, will be experiencing gooseberry overload. In fact, I do not really want to see another one until next year, when I will have hopefully made some room in my garden for a bush or two.
During our recent holiday in Sardinia, I had the opportunity to eat some great food, most of which was fish. From Scorpion fish, the ugliest fish you will ever see to Bass, a little more familiar, all of it fresh, simply cooked and fabulous. I will admit however, that during those two weeks there were two evenings, when on one, the craving for something dripping a little blood was just to strong to resist and was satisfied with a juicy piece of cavallo and on the other, the opportunity to eat suckling pig, was without question not going to be missed, it was utterly delicious, just not enough of it!. Since returning I have realized how much I miss eating so much fish, so from a once or twice weekly occurence, I now make sure I buy enough for three or more meals. Fortunately, I have an excellent fishmonger, recommended by a friend, I just wish I had discovered him sooner. It might mean a small extra journey during the week, but it is worth it. The fish is fresh, inexpensive and there is plenty of choice. Knowing that I am going to eat something that has only been hours out of water has given me the confidence to create some recipes inspired by the dishes we had in Sardinia. I will confess that I have never been tempted to eat raw fish before, but that all changed a few weeks ago and I was certainly suprised when my pasta and meat eating husband ordered a carpaccio of Seabass. Unfortunately for him, it looked so delicious that he didn’t get a chance to enjoy all of it , just one of my many bad habits that he puts up with!. So here are three recipes with flavours of Sardinia, Fish tartar, White fish, orange and fennel ceviche and Cured white fish with thyme and orange. I hope you will be tempted to try one, just go with whichever white fish your fishmonger recommends and enjoy.
There is one thing I have been avoiding, and that is desserts. A meal with friends or family always ended with a choice of dessert, or sometimes even a selection. An invitation to friends would be an occassion to produce an offering of everyone’s favorite or an experiment, always gratefully received. More often than not this would be something deliciously creamy or wickedly indulgent with a buttery, thin, crisp crust. Pastry. Crisp pastry, perhaps now you can understand my reluctance and I will admit most of my attempts so far have followed the other disasters to the bird table. I have yet to produce something acceptable, I am not defeated, but for now my motto is “who needs pastry”!. A couple of weeks ago I promised some Sardinian inspired recipes, so here are three simple yet delicious desserts. Orange and Honey Salad with Candied Peel, is pure sunshine on a plate and tastes as good as it looks. Apple and Lemon sorbet with Mirto is a digestive and dessert in one, a perfect end to a meal on a warm summer’s evening. Ok, our present summer weather is more likely to produce a craving for something which is more pudding like, so there is Hazelnut Cacao and Coffee Cake. I hope I can tempt you to try one or if you have the excuse to indulge and you have friends and family like mine, why not all three!.