Tag Archives: Vegan

Super Calamansi-istic

Corn and Calamansi Salsa

Salsa Alidocious!

As you will have seen from my Philippine Tasting Plate, I brought back a few things to use in my home cooking. And what better way to celebrate the recent good weather we’ve been enjoying than to use tropical ingredients?

I got the idea for this dish from a corn salsa I ate at Tomatillo. As is often the way, restaurant food inspires my dishes. The Tomatillo salsa is nice, but I knew that I could twist it a bit to make it even better.

I was already thinking that it needed courgette. Then I remembered the calamansi that I had packed away so carefully, and that was now residing in my fridge. I knew that I had to try to make the dish that began a while ago, and had now taken root in my brain.

Calamansi

Calamansi – about the same diameter as a 10 p piece (or €2)

Calamansi is a small citrus fruit. You can use them like limes, in salads dressings and to season stocks etc, but they are also a popular drink in the Philippines, as well as being a key ingredient in sisig. They are both sweet and sour at the same time, and have a lot of flavour despite their diminutive size.

They also have a lot of pips. I was going to chance my arm and see what would happen if I planted a few, but I forgot to tell the Big Guy what I was doing, and they got thrown out. Ah well, I know that growing citrus from seed is notoriously unreliable, so I probably saved myself a fair bit of disappointment in any case.

I first made this salsa for a birthday canal boat picnic I held for the Big Guy. It was great as a dip with tortilla chips. I was a little nervous to present it as salsa to that crowd, amongst whom were some Americans who have an in-depth knowledge of all things Tex-mex. I have previously been taken to task for a guacamole, because I had put tomato in it, which apparently makes it pico de gallo, and not guacamole. I have also been told my (Mexican recipe) chile con carne is not a real Chile (but the consensus was that it was very tasty). I needn’t have worried, this went down a treat with everyone on the boat. And no-one objected to me calling it a salsa.

I have since served this at a barbecue, where it was similarly well received, and went equally well as a garnish with my home made burgers as it did with vegan enchiladas. I think it would be great as a salad as well.

I made this with tinned corn, but you could also use fresh a little later in the year, although I’d recommend grilling it in the husk first on either the barbecue or under a hot grill. Then shuck and add to the salsa.

Recipe: Corn and Calamansi Salsa

Ingredients

1 red onion, finely chopped

Juice and zest of 6-8 calamansi (or one lime)

½ courgette, finely diced

1  tin of sweetcorn, drained (or one whole corn cob, grilled and shucked)

1-2 red chilis, deseeded and finely chopped

Small bunch coriander, including stalks, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

Method

If, like me, you dislike raw onion then steep the chopped onion in the calamansi juice and zest for at least 10 minutes before you make the rest of the salsa. The amount of calamansi that you need will depend on the size of your onion. You should ave enough juice to just coat all of the onion. I have made this twice, and needed different amounts each time.

Raw courgette doesn’t taste of much, which puts many people off trying them twice. The secret to bringing out the flavour is to blanch them.  Because these are finely diced, they only need to be steeped in boiling water for about 30 seconds or so. If you like, you could squeeze a little more calamansi juice (or a couple of drops of lime) into the water. Drain immediately, and run under the cold tap to stop them cooking further. Allow to drain completely. The courgette will now taste of courgette, but will still have a bit of bite.

Mix together the onion, courgette, sweetcorn and chili. Season well, and set aside the salsa for about an hour to allow the flavours to meld. Taste, and add more chili, citrus juice or salt and pepper to taste. Stir through the chopped coriander and serve.

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Flower Sour

elderflowers

Sweet Little Flowers

Well the elders are in bloom again, and hedgerows all over froth and foam with the delicate white unbrels, almost like the spring tides coming in. This year is a bit later than ususal, due to the length of the Northern hemisphere winter, but now the sunshine has returned, and naure is more than making up for her long sleep.

I love this time of the year, and stock up on elderflowers for cordialsugar, and champagne. All of it delicious, and making the most of the best of the season’s forage.

Elder is really abundant where I live, so there is always plenty to go around during the flowering and fruiting seasons; for us foragers and for the birds.

Elderflowers are not just for the sweet things in life, they are also great in salads, and I have heard of sauces to go with meat. An elderflower sauce is on my list of Things I Want To Experiment With. Like most food bloggers, I guess, I have several such lists – electronically, on paper and in my head. A colleague of mine recently found them in some notes I had taken as part of a work trip, and seemed surprised that I would also be making lists of flavours in between meetings.

As well as the flavours that exist on my lists, or go around in my head, I have a number of different or unusual flavours in my kitchen. For example, I am never without vinegars of all kinds of flavours – raspberry, blackberry, tarragon, rosemary; I even have coconut vinegar since a Filipina friend introduced me to it when she kindly gave me her adobo recipe.

For me, then, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to think that elderflower vinegar would be a great way to keep hold of the elderflower season for just a little bit longer, but without all the sugar.

Try to pick elderflowers on a dry day, in the morning. There will be more pollen and nectar in them, which makes the flavour more intense.

This vinegar is good with salads. I am currently embarking on the 5:2 regimen, because my need to develop great food for this blog was beginning to have a toll on my waistline. I have found that the addition of a few herbs to some of this vinegar is a good way to dress a slad without the need for oil.

You can make marinades with it, and even a couple of drops in some water gives a nice flavour, that is not too sweet.

Elderflower Vinegar

Not So Sweet Little Flowers

Recipe: Elderflower Vinegar

Ingredients

40 g elderflowers

500 ml white wine vinegar

Method

Try to pick the flowers in the morning after a dry spell, in order to maximise the pollen and the flavour.

Remove the elderflowers from the stalks by pulling a fork through the stalks in the diretion of the flowers. You don’t have to be too fussy, as long as you have removed the largest stalks.

Steep the elderflowers in the vinegar, in a non-metallic container or bowl. Cover with a tea towel, and set aside for a few days.

Whenever you remember, give the flowers a stir.

After three days to a week, your vinegar should have reached the strength of flavour that you want.

Bottle up into sterilised bottles. This vinegar will keep well in a cupboard. I cannot resist this fragrant flavour, so the trouble is making it last!

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Dressing Up Your Dinner With Rhubarb

Tilapia Fillet and Rhubarb Vinaigrette

Best Dressed Fish This Season

Following on from my inspiration to pair rhubarb with fennel, I have been doing a few more experiments with rhubarb. I have lifted today’s idea almost wholesale from the Mister Kitchen rhubarb tasting menu. They served a sea bass with spinach and a rhubarb vinaigrette. It was great. Of course, I had to come home and fiddle about with it.

Rhubarb is most frequently eaten as dessert, and I am certainly partial to desserts and cakes with it in. People forget that it is actually a vegetable. It is seldom seen in savoury dishes, although I do know that a few bloggers have been experimenting with salads and as savoury compotes lately, so maybe there is a resurgence of rhubarb as a side dish in the offing. Who knows?

I certainly have a few more ideas that I want to try before my plant goes over this year, or I rest it in preparation for winter. Of course, once I am happy with each of the dishes, I will be sharing them here with you.

The version that I ate at Mr Kitchen had a mild olive oil, finely diced rhubarb and kalamata olives, with the stones pushed out, and the flesh torn into chunks. It was rustic and very simple. And it was delicious with the fish and the greens.

I spent quite a while messing about with various things, including shallots, herbs, black pepper, chillies, and so on. I have come to the conclusion that simple really is best. Shallots and rhubarb are both very astringent, so makes for a very sharp dressing, although that might be because I also acidulated the shallots in lemon juice first to take the rawness out of them. This combination as really an ingredient too far for me, so I ditched the shallots in favour of paring everything down

Raw rhubarb is crunchy and subtle. If you decide to follow my lead and make up a vinaigrette yourself, make sure whatever you use does not over power it. I stuck with very simple flavours for this vinaigrette – in fact it is a classic French dressing, with the addition of rhubarb. It works quite well with a pinch of chilli flakes, and with tarragon or chervil, instead of the mustard. I personally think that it is better with the more grassy olive oils, not the really punchy ones, but you may disagree.

Simple and in Season Blog Badge

 

Since there is nothing simpler than a vinaigrette, and rhubarb is at the peak of the season, I thought that I’d be a bot cheeky and have two entries to this month’s Simple and in Season, hosted by Ren Behan.

I do recommend that you give a rhubarb dressing a go. This one was lovely with salad and great with fish (I served it with tilapia fillet). I bet it would also be perfect with pork or chicken too.

What classic dressings do you know that might benefit from a little rhubarb?

Recipe: Rhubarb Vinaigrette

Ingredients

About 1/2 stalk very finely diced raw rhubarb

2-3 tbsp Grassy extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Zest of half a lemon, pared

Lemon juice to taste

Method

Once the rhubarb is prepared, Whisk together the mustard, zest and olive oil.

I used lemon with this dressing, because I wanted it to go with fish. You could also team the dressing with orange. Grapefruit works as well, although you will need much less than half the grapefruit zest. Which one you choose is entirely up to you, and you can change it to match your dish.

Add the rhubarb, and season. You will need to taste it at this stage. I found that adding a little lemon juice really lifted this into a great dressing, but the amount that you will need will depend on which citrus you are using, and how sharp your rhubarb is; which will vary with age, size and how long ago it was harvested.

Serve immediately if you can, on fish, a salad, or anything you like really. It does keep for a couple of days in the fridge, but it is better fresh, because the rhubarb will lose its crunch. So simple, there’s no excuse not to give this a go!

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Making Plans with Nigel

Vegetable, Bean & Citrus Stew

Stew, Changed

(c) I. Nemes 2013

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that a few fellow bloggers had, like me, received Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries II. Like me, they had also read it cover to cover, and enjoyed it as much as his first diary (which I have also read; I’m afraid my shelf life is too short for 50 shades, when I can fill my head with the sights, sounds and smells of food). Unlike me, Janice and Susan decided to pay him homage by hosting the Dish of the Month in his honour. Obviously, I was keen to join in, whilst cursing the fact that I hadn’t thought of it first!

I decided to cook from both books, on alternate months. Originally, I had intended to cook things I haven’t tried before from each of the books in turn. However, I was cooking stew for my new team, because I could make it the night before. One of them professed a love for beans and chickens. And just like laid plans, and mice; my intentions gang aft agley.

Once I knew of these preferences, I had to cook the humbly-named Chicken Stew and Mash from Kitchen Diaries (p.79). It has become a favourite. Although it uses winter seasonal vegetables, it tastes a bit like summer.

Two of my team are vegetarian. And you know me, I had to make them  feel as welcome as the others. So I needed a veggie stew. But couldn’t get away from the thought that this stew was the one I wanted to make. So, I had to come up with a vegetable version that would still hit the citrus and savoury spot, but with the same depth of flavour as the meat version.

The depth came from caramelised onions. The bulk came from pumpkin, as being in season, and good with orange. And a few chickpeas, because I had some that I’d cooked and frozen previously.

What I ended up was reminiscent of the original stew, with the savoury, citrus, and sweet tones from the orange, herbs and balsamic vinegar; but by necessity was pretty different. Since Nigel himself says in the introduction to Kitchen Diaries II “neither am I someone who tries to dictate how something should be done, and I am never happier than when a reader simply uses my recipes as inspiration for their own”, I think he won’t mind too much, do you?

If you’d like to enter Dish of the Month, then you can find the full details over at Farmersgirl Kitchen or at a Little Bit Of Heaven On A Plate. Add your post to the linky there, so that we can all see what dish you’ve chosen.

Dish of the Month

Recipe: A Bright Vegetable Stew

Ingredients

100 g white beans,

100 g chickpeas

1 1/2 onions, sliced

2 tsp herbs de Provence

2 bay leaves

3 cloves garlic

Pared rind and juice of an orange

2 leeks, sliced into coins

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

2-3 tbsp plain flour

1/2 butternut squash, diced

Vegetable stock 

Method

If you are using dried beans and chickpeas, soak them in plenty of cold water overnight. Cook them in fresh, unsalted water. They will cook further in the stew, so make sure they are not soft when you drain them. Nigel and I agree on about 40 minutes.

Some of the depth of flavour in Nigel’s version of this stew comes from the Maillard reaction that occurs as the meat browns. I had to replace this somehow, and probably the best way is to allow onions to caramelise really slowly until they are brown. As they started to turn golden, I added the herbs and the bay leaves.

As the onion reaches a deep brown, add the garlic cloves and the orange rind, and cook for a further minute. Add the flour, and mix it in well, followed by the juice of half an orange once you’ve cooked the flour through.

Add the squash and the beans to the a deep casserole dish with a lid, then add the cooked onion and flour mixture.

In the same pan as you browned the onion in, soften the leeks, being careful not to burn them. When you can separate the concentric rings, they are about ready. Add the juice from the rest of the orange, balsamic, and about 500 ml of veg stock to the softened leeks. You can also add a pinch more of the herbs de Provence too, if you feel it needs it. I did. Bring all of this to the boil, season generously with salt and pepper, and then pour this over the vegetables in the casserole dish. 

You want the liquid in the pan to come about three-quarters of the way up the vegetables, bearing in mind that the veg themselves will give off extra liquid as they cook. If you need more liquid, add more vegetable stock.

Cook for 40 mins to an hour at 180°C, until the butternut is tender, but still holds its shape. The flour that you have added should have thickened the sauce somewhat, but if you want to thicken it further, slake a little cornflour in a few drops of cold water, and mix that in. Return it to the oven for 5-10 minutes, until it has thickened up. If you are gluten intolerant, skip the flour at the beginning, and just do this step instead (you’ll need about a tablespoon if you are not using flour, then slake and add as instructed)

I return to Nigel’s instructions, and recommend that this is also served with a big pile of creamy mash  – potatoes, or a mix of potato and celariac – so that the juices can form little puddles in the mash.

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Sugar and Spice

 

Spiced Japanese Quince Jam

…Makes This Jam Nice!

Following on from yesterday’s jelly making escapades, I had a load of fruit pulp from the Japanese quince to use up. I always try to use up the fruit pulp leftover from making jelly, and frequently make fruit butters, or even add them into a pie.

Japanese quince is perfect for this kind of repurposing, and you can make all manner of things, like pies, crumbles, stewed fruit, and many other things. Had I found these earlier on in the year, I may have been tempted to use the pulped fruit in a mincemeat of some kind, but I will probably experiment with that later. I could also have made a sweetmeat, like the membrillo I made last year.

However, this quince needed to be transportable, so I decided upon jam, since it had to get lugged all the way back to the Netherlands and needed not to leak into our luggage.

In keeping with the Persian theme, I wanted to spice the quince with flavours from the Middle East. I decided upon cardamom and cloves, to give it heat. A lapse of concentration also meant that a teaspoon or so of cinnamon also found its way in there, but it’s none the worse for it.

This jam is sweet, although not as sweet as it could be. I used a bit less sugar than the standard 1:1 ratio of the traditional set jam. I had the pectin from the fruit, and the bag of seeds in any case, and I wanted it to be more spicy than sweet. I think the spice mix would also have worked well had I decided to make a membrillo with it.

The only unfortunate thing is that Japanese quince do not turn the beautiful red that ordinary quince become after a long cooking time, so this is a rather brown jam, but it is no less tasty for it. Like the jelly, this will also be good in stews and gravies, but this will work better with lamb, and chickpeas.

Recipe: Spiced Japanese Quince Jam

Ingredients

Jam jars with lids

Boiled Japanese quince pulp, once drained of liquid

Seeds from the quince, tied up in muslin

Sugar (in the ratio 3:4 with the pulp)

Water (equal weight to the fruit pulp)

5 cardamom pods

6-8 cloves

1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon or one cinnamon stick

Waxed discs

Method

While the fruit is still warm, after boiling, pass it through a sieve, so that any skin and remaining pips are retained by the sieve, and you only have fruit pulp left. You will probably need to push it through with a wooden spoon.

Sterilise the jam jars and lids, in a dishwasher, in a low oven or in a pressure cooker.

Weigh your pulp. I got 400 g of fruit pulp from mine. Then you need 3 parts granulated sugar to four parts fruit, so I measured out 300 g of sugar.

Put the seeds in muslin that you used to produce the jelly into the pan with the fruit pulp, sugar, and equal weight of water. Tie the spices up in more muslin, or in the same piece of muslin as the seeds if it is big enough. If you are using ground cinnamon, add this straight into the pulp and mix in well.

Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved completely and then bring it up to a rolling boil. Again, the jam will set when it reaches 104.5°C, or passes the fridge test.

As soon as the jam reaches setting point, sterilise any ladles, jugs or jam funnels you are going to use with boiling water.

Pour the jam into the jars, and fill it to within 2mm of the top. This jam is quite thick, so give it a bang if you can to dispel any air bubbles. Put wax discs on the top, with the wax side down, and seal with the lids while the jam is still hot.

 

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Jam and Japonica

Japanese Quince and Tarragon Jelly

A Persian Twist

Most Fridays, I go foraging with a small group of great people. You may remember that I met one of them back when I did the seed workshop. One of them, Jennie is a herbalist, and we are learning a lot about the medicinal and culinary uses of wild plants from each other, and we all share good spots to find useful ‘weeds’.

On the last forage of last year, we hit gold, despite the cold. We found a huge stash of Japanese quince, or Chaelenomeles Japonica fruit. The Japonica is usually grown for its beautiful flowers, as many people have no idea that the fruits are so delicious, or so beautifully scented.  At this time of the year, the fruit are pretty obvious, although I used to assume that they were ordinary bushes that some kindly person had studded with apples for the benefit of the birds in winter.

Japanese Quince on the bush

Hedge Decoration

Of course, this is a valuable winter fruit for the birds too, so if you do come across some yourself, then make sure you don’t take them all, as the birds will appreciate them, especially after they have bletted well. In fact, you will also think that they are better for a good bletting. Like their rosaceous namesakes, they are not at all good when you eat them raw, but they are delicious when cooked in pies, baked or as preserves, and they are really high in pectin, so great for this purpose.

Japanese quince , halved

Seedy!

The Japanese quince is thin skinned, and has a lot of small seeds. I removed all of the seeds, and put half in a muslin bag for two types of jam, for the pectin. The other half I kept, and some of these may well find itself wending its way around in the next round of Seedy Penpals, which will be coming up shortly.

The fruits are also beautifully scented, and they have been brought into homes to simply sit in a room and lend it a lovely, delicate fragrance. As I cycled around, my foraged fruit was filling my nostrils, and my living room smelled lovely for a few days before I was off to spend Christmas at my parents, when they were unceremoniously stuffed into a bag, so we could make things with them.

Both quinces and Japanese quinces are used extensively in Persian and Moroccan cookery, and although I knew I was going to make jelly and jam, I wanted this to influence what I paired with them. Inspired by this recipe, I decided that I was going to make a quince jelly with tarragon, and then I could use the fruit pulp to make a different jam. I always try to use up the pulp from making jelly, and quinces make it really easy, due to the pectin.

I’m pretty pleased with this jelly; it is tasty and unusual on toast or yoghurt in the morning, as well as being good with meat. This year, Christmas dinner was a gammon, which was prepared in the same way as this baked ham. I added a tablespoonful of this jelly to the gravy, which made it rich and unusual, bringing a slight taste of the Middle East to a Western meal.

Recipe: Quince and Tarragon Jelly

Ingredients

3 jam jars

750 g Japanese quince

Water to cover

3 large stalks of tarragon, plus another 3 sprigs for chopping

Caster Sugar (400 g per 600 ml juice)

Wax discs

Method

Sterilise your jam jars and lids, by running them through a cycle in the dishwasher, cleaning them in hot soapy water and placing them in a low oven, or by steaming them in a pressure cooker.

Quarter the quince, and remove the seeds. Take about half of the seeds and wrap them in muslin for cooking with. Place the fruit and seeds in a large pan, and cover with water. Bring the fruit to a boil, then simmer them until the fruit is tender, and the perfume fills your kitchen. This will be between 40 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on how well bletted they were when you started.

Drain off the water through a piece of muslin, but keep the cooking liquid, as this will form your jelly. Set aside the fruit pulp, because this will be the basis of your jam. Measure out the liquid, as this will determine how much sugar you will need. For making jelly, you take 400 g sugar for every 600 ml juice. My fruits yielded 1.3 l, so I used 860 g sugar.

In a large, clean pan, add the liquid, sugar, tarragon stalks and the rinsed off muslin with the seeds in it. Heat gently, stirring while the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar has dissolved completely, bring the jelly up to a rolling boil. Don’t stir it after this. It needs to reach 104.5°C to set. You can measure this with a jam thermometer, or you can do the fridge test. I often do both.

Meanwhile, chop the rest of the tarragon finely, and set aside for later. Once the jam has reached setting point, take it off the heat; remove the muslin with the seeds, and the tarragon stalks. Don’t throw the seeds away, they are useful for more jam making later. Add the chopped tarragon, and leave the jam to cool for 10-15 minutes, so that the tarragon will be more evenly distributed through the jam in the jar.

Meanwhile sterilise any jugs, ladles and jam funnels that you will need to transfer the jelly into the jam jars, by covering them with boiling water. You’ll need to dry them off before use.

Pour the jelly into the sterilised jars, making sure that the jam is within a couple of mm from the top of the jar. Put the wax discs on the top, wax side down. Put the lids on and tighten them well while the jam is still hot.

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Merry Christmas and Tarted Up Mince Pies

P1040219

Merry Christmas

Hello!

Well, It’s been a long time since I fired up the old blog. I haven’t gone away, but things have changed a little. Not least, WordPress have been messing about with the software, and the photos upload differently, so sorry if they look a little bit weird, until I can get used to the new  way.

Anyway, since I posted last I had a bit of computer trouble, so I know that I may owe a few of you e-mails, and I have some catching up to do for Seedy Penpals.

I also have a little news, that is probably exciting for me, and not for many others, but I’m going to tell you anyway. After a lot of deliberation, I decided to take a role as the Campaign Manager for the Land of Promise Campaign to get better working conditions and the use of fewer pesticides in the pineapple industry in the Philippines, and three weeks ago I signed a contract with Fairfood International. I am excited because it is combining my skills of campaigning, and food, and I’m helping Fairfood plan and deliver a new campaigning strategy.

I have dived right in, with planning for the campaign, which has taken all of my head space, but now I have done the background reading, I am hoping to get back to blogging regularly. It does mean that I need to settle into a different posting pattern, but for the time being I have a bit of a backlog of posts to catch up with, which I’ll schedule in the coming days and weeks.

But that’s enough about me. I am with my family, and have just finished the preparations for tomorrow’s food. I have also managed to squeeze in some jam making. I haven’t had as much time this year as I normally would to make all the preserves ready for Christmas, so I haven’t made my own mincemeat. The mincemeat that I picked up on Saturday is at the more mediocre end of the spectrum, and I am not one to compromise on quality that much, so I thought that I would also share my tarted up mincemeat recipe.

And of course, I wanted to wish you all a very merry Christmas, Great Yuletide, and a Happy Winter Solstice, whichever you celebrate.

Mince pie with tarted up mincemeat

Tarted up!

Recipe: Tarted Up Mincemeat

Ingredients

50 g dried fruit, I used a mix of cranberries, raisins and golden sultanas

Port to cover the fruit

1 jar mincemeat

Zest of a lemon

50 g of almonds and hazelnuts, chopped

Sweet shortcrust pastry I added lemon zest to this

Milk or egg wash

Method

Soak the dried fruit in the port until the fruit is plump. This will take at least an hour. Stir in the mincemeat, and lemon zest, and allow to soak together with the fruit.

If you are making your own pastry, make it now using the method here. Wrap it up and let it rest in the fridge for about an hour.

Tarted up mincemeat

Mincemeat Plus

Add the chopped nuts to the mincemeat just before rolling out your pastry. By using shop bought mincemeat, you are taking advantage of the pulped fruit (usually apple) and the spices. Normally mincemeat has to mature for at least a month before use, so this is a shortcut to tasty, fruity mincepies, without compromising on flavour.

Heat the oven to 160°C.

Roll out your pastry to about 3mm thick. Use two cutter sizes, one slightly larger for the base, cut an even number of bases and tops. Grease some tart tins. Cover with the bases, then press down gently with some dough offcuts.

Add a heaped tsp of the mincemeat to each base.

Brush the rim of one side of the top with milk or egg wash, cover the tart, wash side down, and either crimp or press gently with a shot glass to seal the pie.

Mince pies

Cheating Tarts

Brush the pies with more milk or egg wash. Put in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until they are golden brown.

Serve them to your friends and guests and no-one will tell that you cheated a little bit.

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A Silky Soup for September

Spiced and Silken Roast Vegetable Soup

A Change in the Seasons

OK, so I was clearing out the fridge, but this is a great way to use the last tomatoes and aubergines of the season, and the first sweetcorn of the next one.

At the moment, we are trying to avoid calorific food, but I am determined that does not mean that we will miss out on flavour. This is easy when you can pack your salads and other dishes with loads of fresh herbs, but as we near the end of the herbs in the garden, I am looking to spices to plug the gap. And they are doing a great job.

My Sister just had her hen do, and I made everyone roasted aubergine with a chermoula spice rub. Partly because I was doing vegetarian, and also partly as part of my quest to make more middle eastern food.

When I found a couple of aubergines in the fridge, I initially thought I was going to make a chermoula and aubergine soup. When you roast or burn aubergine in its skin, it develops a lovely smoky, silky texture, as you can see from Baba Ganoush and similar dips. That was also going to give the soup a richness without the need for fat or cream, which is perfect for how I’m trying to eat at the moment.

As I kept poking, the fridge also relinquished some tomatoes and half a red pepper. In the spirit of not wasting food, I decided that they could go in the soup as well. And since I was already roasting the aubergines, I may as well roast these too, making the oven use more efficient, making it easier to peel the veg, and also to develop a bit of flavour, especially of the later developing vegetables that may not quite reach their full potential.

At this time of year, the sweetcorn are just appearing too. The Big Guy loves fresh corn, and we had a few cobs, though not yet from our garden. Since the soup was to be spicy and smoky, I didn’t want to just let the golden little kernels cook in the soup itself, I wanted them to add to the overall smoky flavour, so I decided to put a cob under the grill until the kernels were browned.

I had also intended to use some preserved lemons to add to the soup, in keeping with the chermoula idea. I was going to chop them fine, and use them to garnish the soup, but when I tasted it, it definitely didn’t need a sour salty note. Instead, I opted for a spoonful of yoghurt, to counter the fact that the chilli I had used was much hotter than expected!

This soup is great for the start of September, as the summer turns to autumn, and the nights get that bit colder. And it turns out that aubergines are great to add creaminess to a soup without the need for dairy too.

Recipe: Spiced and Silken Roast Vegetable Soup

Ingredients

2 medium aubergines

½ red pepper

6-8 tomatoes

4 cloves of garlic, still in their skins

salt and pepper

2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil

1 cob of corn, with the husk removed

1 medium onion, chopped

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped

1 tsp ground coriander

750 ml vegetable stock

2 tbsp natural yoghurt

Method

Heat the oven to 200 °C

Cut the aubergine and the tomatoes in half. Arrange the aubergines, pepper and tomatoes in an ovenproof dish, and season with the salt and pepper. Slosh over 1 tbsp of the oil, and toss the veg to coat with the oil. You want the aubergine and tomato cut side up; but the pepper skin side up, because you want it to char.

Put in the oven to roast for 30-40 minutes, until the vegetables have taken on a bit of colour. After about 15 minutes, add the garlic cloves, so that they don’t burn to a crisp. You want them to be golden and soft, not crunchy.

Once the vegetables are roasted, put the grill on high, and put the corn underneath it. You will need to turn it as it cooks. If you have a separate grill, which I don’t, you can do this at the same time, it may take a while.

Meanwhile, dry fry the cumin until it is fragrant, then grind to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar, or a spice grinder.

Sweat the onion in the rest of the oil, until translucent. Add the chilli and cook for another minute on a gentle heat, then add the spices, and just cook through.

Squeeze the garlic from their skins, and add to the spice and onion. Allow to sweat on a gentle heat while you scrape the creamy flesh from the aubergine. Add this to the saucepan, and cook for 2-3 minutes to combine the flavour.

The tomato and pepper should also be really easy to skin as well by now. Mine just slipped off. Discard the skins, as these are indigestible, and hopefully the pepper skin will have blackened and blistered, so will be bitter and unpleasant anyway.

Add the flesh of the tomatoes and the pepper, along with any juices in the roasting dish to the saucepan. Add the stock, and bring to the boil. Cover the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Blend the soup with an immersion blender or a food processor, until it is smooth and rich.

Run a knife down the corn, to remove the kernels, which should be brown and succulent, not black.

Divide the soup between 2 bowls, add a tablespoon of yoghurt to each, and sprinkle the corn kernels over the top.

Perfect to come home to after a day’s foraging, whether that be outside or in the fridge!

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Of Gluts and Gluttony

Courgette & tomato "Pasta"

Courgetti Spaghetti

Have you ever planted too many courgettes, or even had an exceptional year, and not known what to do with your excess? I’m sure that this has happened at some time to most gardeners, and you have been desperately trying to give them away to friends, relatives, passing students, and anyone who knocks at the door. Not to mention trying to pickle, grate or shove them into fritters, soups, salads, stews, cakes and on your breakfast.

This year, many of the courgettes seem to have got off to a very slow start, due to the weather, but we are now finally starting to see them take off.

This is a recipe that I use both to use up excess courgettes, and also because it is a tasty, and unusual take on a ratatouille.  It is also a low carb alternative to pasta, as well as being a quick and easy supper.

I have made this for many years. Sometimes, I make it even lighter, by keeping the cherry tomatoes whole, leaving out the onion, and grating in some lemon zest. I find this version needs a little more parmesan, and that you need to mix this in over the hob.

This courgette pasta is actually a version of Pasta Neapolitan.Using the courgette as pasta is also a nice alternative with many other pasta sauces – I have also tried it with al’arrabiata and puttanesca to great effect, but I also imagine it would be good with pesto, carbonara, mushroom-based sauces, and even bolognese, if you are careful not to add too much liquid  to the sauce.

I like to use herbs liberally in this dish, for an extra fresh kick. Always thyme, and I like to add oregano. Rosemary or basil would also work well. Play around with it, and see what you like best.

Simple & in Season Blog Badge

I am entering this into Simple an in Season for August, hosted by Ren of Fabulicious Food. There is nothing more seasonal than using a glut of your vegetables, and this dish really couldn’t be simpler.

If you do try this recipe, please leave me a comment and let me know which herbs you used, I’m always interested to hear what people have done with my recipes, and learn new variations.

Recipe: Courgetti Spaghetti

Ingredients

1 Medium onion, finely diced

A Little olive oil for frying

2 Cloves garlic, crushed to a paste

4-5 Sprigs thyme, leaves only

200 g Cherry tomatoes, halved

2 Courgettes

A little lemon juice

2 Large sprigs oregano, leaves only, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

A little freshly grated parmesan cheese to serve

Method

Sweat the onion off in a little olive oil, until the onion pieces are translucent. Add the garlic and thyme and cook out for a minute.

Add the cherry tomatoes, and cover the pan, to encourage the tomatoes to break down and cook out. Once the tomatoes have broken down a bit, uncover the pan, and allow to cook down on a low heat.

Top and tail the courgettes. Using a mandoline, and being careful of your fingers, make juliennes of the entire length of the courgette, to resemble spaghetti. You can julienne them by hand if you don’t have a mandoline, but this is time-consuming. Instead, take a vegetable peeler and peel the courgette lengthways to give you thin papardelle sized strips.

Cover the courgette strips with cold water with a little lemon juice in. This will stop the courgette from browning, while the sauce  cooks down.

When the sauce has been cooing for at least 15 minutes, and has thickened a bit, blanch the courgette strips in boiling salted water for 2 minutes. You want the courgette to retain some bite, but take the raw edge off. Drain well, and leave in a colander, for at least 10 minutes. You can squeeze a splash more lemon juice over them to prevent browning.

Because the courgette is much more watery than normal pasta, you want to cook the sauce down until it is fairly thick, otherwise the courgette will flood the sauce and dilute it.

When the sauce is almost too thick, add the oregano and mix through. Continue to cook on a low heat, and taste. You can add a little sugar (less than ¼ tsp) if you think you need a little more of the tomato flavour to come through. If you use very ripe tomatoes, you should not need this.

Add te well-drained courgette to the sauce, over the heat. You just want to combine the sauce and the courgette. The courgette is likely to start giving off water, so keep the heat on low while you mix  it all in, and season it to taste. Remove from the heat, and serve immediately, with a little parmesan cheese. Or leave the cheese off, for a simple, seasonal, vegan supper.

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Fairies That Can Really Pack A Punch

Marinated Tinkerbell Pepper Salad

Fairy Salad

I recently got hold of some small Tinkerbell Peppers, of assorted colours. They are like bell peppers, but smaller. They are officially a dwarf sweet pepper, but it has given me some ideas for what to call those that I grow, which sometimes turn out not to reach their full size!

I jest. I saved the seed, and I’ll be planting some of these to see if I can grow them next year. We’ll see how successful I am. I hope they’re not F1 hybrids.

Tinkerbell Peppers in Perspective

Fairy-Sized

I recommend this variety, they are small, but perfectly formed, and have quite a lot of flesh for such small peppers, and they have much better flavour than the greenhouse varieties that we get from supermarkets. They would be great for stuffing to use as canapés, on the barbecue or even simply in salads.

I always knew I was going to marinate these peppers, which I often do to larger varieties, to serve with homemade burgers and veggie burgers at barbecues. At the moment, I am also trying to find ways of injecting a lot of flavour into salads, without adding too much by way of fat (more on that soon).

I also have some very good smoked Maldon sea salt, which complements the smokiness of the charred peppers perfectly. I usually char the peppers on my hob, but these were tiny little things, and I wanted to add to the salad by charring some ciabatta, so I used my griddle pan. A fairly recently lit barbecue would also be a great way to char the peppers, and the bread can char just before you serve it. The delicate smoke of the salt enhanced the smoky flavour of the peppers.

It struck me that I could use the peppers and the marinade to dress a nice salad. However, the salad would have to stand up to the punchy marinade, so a normal butterhead lettuce wouldn’t cut it (and this would definitely be no place for an Iceberg). I think any of the mustard greens would be suitable, as would watercress, and some of the foraged greens that are abundant at the minute (e.g. wood sorrel, sorrel, fat hen, chickweed). I had rocket, chickweed and parsley in the garden, so I used those. I bulked it up with some baby spinach. The iron and peppery flavours were just what was needed.

I have also found apple mint and sumac great for adding a lot of flavour to salad leaves, without resorting to cheeses and too much dressing.  If you have any other tips for creating good flavours, I’d love to hear them.

This entry is part of the 52 Week Salad Challenge, where they are currently discussing pests. I know Michelle would love to hear from you if you have anything to add about the bane of slugs or other nuisances.

Recipe: Smoky Tinkerbell Pepper Salad

Ingredients

For the marinated peppers:

5-6 Tinkerbell peppers (or one or two large ones)

A little oil for the griddle pan

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tbsp blackberry vinegar (or sherry or red wine vinegar will work, even balsamic if you have to)

1 clove garlic, very finely sliced

Small pinch of dried chilli flakes

Good pinch of smoked salt (or normal sea salt)

Black pepper to taste

For the salad:

4 thick slices of ciabatta

A little extra virgin olive oil

A bunch of rocket

A large handful of baby spinach

Bunch of chickweed, chopped if the stalks are long

Bunch of parsley, leaves only

¼ cucumber, diced

8-10 cherry tomatoes, halved

Method

Heat a little oil in the griddle pan.

Halve and deseed the peppers. Put skin-side down in the hot pan, and leave until the skin chars and blisters. You may need to press them down a little on the rounded bits to get the skin to char evenly. Don’t worry that the skins go black.

When the skins are blackened and blistered all over, place them in a plastic bag, a bowl covered with cling film, or in an airtight container, and seal. Allow to cool for 5 or so minutes, when you will be able to rub the skins off easily.

In another airtight container mix a dressing of the extra virgin olive oil, the vinegar, garlic, chilli flakes, the salt and a little pepper. The acidity of a dressing tends to be a matter of taste, so adjust this to your liking.

While the skinned pepper halves are still warm, add them to the marinade, cover, and set aside for a while – at least half an hour – to allow the flavours to mingle. At this stage, you can use the marinade peppers as a side dish or relish too, if you like.

Drizzle the ciabatta slices with some olive oil, and put in the warm griddle pan. You should be able to hear it sizzle, as you put them in. You want a nice striped toast to the bread, so once it is in, resist the temptation to keep moving and checking it.

I used ciabatta rolls, cut in half, so I only toasted the cut side. Leave this for at least 3 minutes, until you can smell the bread toasting. If you are using bread slices, then turn it over, and char the other side, again resisting temptation to move it around. The second side will need slightly less time. Leave to cool slightly.

Meanwhile wash the salad leaves and prepare the cucumber and tomatoes. When the bread is ready, dress the salad in the peppers and marinade, tossing to mix it well.

Serve the salad over the toasted bread, and pour over any remaining marinade.

You will have a smoky, hearty salad, that does not leave you wanting. The marinated peppers may have a fairy’s name, but they really do have a giant flavour.

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