Fennel and Blood Orange Salad

When its dreary and cold, or as the Scots would say “dreich”, I always crave something zesty and full of sunshine and this salad gives me all of that simply and quickly with its Mediterranean flavours of aniseed fennel, salty olives and the bright zesty sunshine taste of the oranges.  That’s the strange thing;  oranges (and indeed all citrus fruit), which look like bright orange orbs of sunshine, are at their best right now, in January. Winter.  Not a lot of sunshine.  Duh?

Most importantly, and particularly so for all you who share Paddington’s favourite food, Seville Oranges have arrived!! Y Viva Espana!!  NOTE:  Hurry as they are only here for a few weeks although you can buy them and stick them whole in the freezer if you haven’t time to make marmalade right now. Continue reading

Christmas Gingerbread

Gingerbread House

I do love Christmas traditions.  I am also partial to a bit of kitsch and childish glee. Ticking all those boxes is the gingerbread house and gingerbread cookies for the tree I made this week.  The rustic charm of the house is due in no small part to a few subsidence problems due to my royal icing not setting quickly enough and my gingerbread being a bit wonky – but hey, curlywurlys came into their own as a roof ridge and hiding the gap where the top of the roof didn’t meet properly and jam jars make wonderful scaffolding till all is firm enough to hold its own. Start another Christmas tradition by having a mulled wine whilst you wait then your gingerbread roof will all seem a lot straighter! 

Wonky roof line adds to the charm?!

If you are vegan do not despair you can be easily make this recipe by using caramel to stick the gingerbread together rather than royal icing and choosing your decorations carefully – mini Oreos would make wonderful roof tiles. Use icing sugar mixed with a bit of lemon juice and water to make a thickish paste for a snow effect and vegan chocolate buttons instead of jelly tots. 

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Fruit Tarts – Plum and Almond – Pear and Quince – Fig and Earl Grey

STOP PRESS!!  You may not realise this but ready rolled puff pastry – with the exception of the all butter variety – is VEGAN, or at least the Just Rol brand is.   It’s one of those mainstream products I like to call “accidentally vegan”.   Like Pringles Texas BBQ crisps or the classic Oreos, these are the products that didn’t set out to be, and that you just don’t expect to be, vegan.  But are.  This doesn’t mean if you aren’t vegan you shouldn’t use the All Butter Puff if you prefer I am just giving options.

This simple and quick pastry tart can therefore be vegan without even trying.  It’s totally delicious. I think it looks pretty wonderful and you can make endless variations.  If you have more patience than I do and want to slice the fruit more finely and arrange more carefully, this can result in a tart (or should I say galette?) that would grace the window of any French Patisserie.

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Chicken, Olive and Tomato Traybake with Herb Dressing

Who doesn’t love a Traybake?  Particularly one which has chunky, crispy garlic croutons, intense and lush tomatoes and pops of salty black olives – and I have even mentioned the juicy but crisp skinned chicken and is dotted with a basil and parsley oil.  All the flavours of the Mediterranean but in a Traybake.  Easy enough for a weeknight but special enough for a kitchen supper with friends

Tomatoes

My tomatoes in the greenhouse are on their last hurrah and so I’ve used some of the last of them in this dish before I turn the remainder into chutney but shop bought will do as well as the roasting intensifies the flavour.

I love how this recipe uses bread – be it the remains of a sourdough loaf or ciabatta as it is a great way of using up bread that’s just past it’s best.  You must used a “textured” loaf for this as sliced supermarket bread hasn’t got the body to stay intact when rolled in the tomato and chicken juices.   The crunchy, toasty-ness that it brings to the dish is the savoury equivalent of dunking a biscuit in a cup of tea.  Quite wonderful and quite addictive. Continue reading

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

I fondly remember making these with my lovely goddaughter Chloe a couple of years ago.   They were delicious.   She had a bit of time that day so made her wonderful peanut sauce to go with them – if you are reading Chloe I am still after that recipe!

Chloe is vegan now and this is her version.  I often make them and add shredded left over roast meat to the roll but, honestly, it doesn’t need it. They provide a wonderful crunchy freshness as a totally vegan dish and  I swear they make you feel good as well as being delicious.

I love  Chloe’s website www.vetyogi.com and I really would recommend you have a look   There are wonderful guides to yoga postures and my favourite – 5 minute sequences for everything from neck and shoulders to back to feet and toes   Absolutely wonderful to practice along with at any time

In the mood for something healthy, fresh, crunchy and quick to make? These Vietnamese Rolls are ideal for helping you to get some of your 5 a day, and you can use whatever you fancy (or whatever you happen to have in the fridge). I often take these to work for lunch, and I find myself really looking forward to them. I can’t pretend my way is very traditional, but to be honest as long as they taste good, I just use whatever I have in at that time. Continue reading

A Bun in the Oven – Rabbit with Plums and Port

Michaelmas Daisies, Michaelmas Goose.  Michaelmas Fairs.   Today, 29th September is St Michaels Day or Michaelmas!  Traditionally in the rural calendar this was an important “Quarter Day”.  The day which signified the beginning of Autumn,  when the harvests were supposed to have been all brought in, rents paid and land bought and sold.   Things are a bit different nowadays of course.  Autumn is starting to make its presence felt with fiery reds beginning to light up the countryside and the nights drawing in.   In my garden the michaelmas daisies are in full bloom and pears, apples, quinces, blackberries and plums are all at their best.

Hyssop

As a result of all this bounty, the rabbits and pigeons have  grown plump eating the windfalls and hedgerow berries as well as anything left unprotected in the vegetable garden – with cabbages and lettuces being particular favourites! It’s a perfect time to take advantage of this plumpness and get your own back by eating them.  Sorry if I sound a bit like Mr McGregor here always chasing after Peter Rabbit to put in a pie and obsessed with protecting my plants! Continue reading

Blackberry and Apple Jam

There is nothing better in the mornings than a hot piece of buttered toast slathered with some homemade jam.  Blackberry and Apple Jam is just right for this time of year and accompanied by a hot cup of tea or coffee breakfast feels cosy and autumnal.   But don’t just stop at spreading this jam on toast.  This jam is a great all rounder.  Try it sandwiched in sponge cakes and atop scones but also it works really well with savoury dishes – alongside pork or with venison for example, or it’s lovely served alongside a hunk of tangy cheddar in a ploughman’s or as part of a cheeseboard.

Now I know what you are thinking if you are over the age of 25. …. “great, but what about all those blackberry pips?  I’ll be forever picking them out of my teeth!”  Not exactly an exciting prospect I will be the first to agree.  But don’t worry because this very old fashioned jam recipe of my grandmothers gets over that problem (just as well as she had dentures)  by removing nearly all of them by sieving the pulp.  This isn’t as time consuming as it sounds so please keep on reading.  If you have an old fashioned piece of kitchen equipment called a mouli it is super quick (if not they are really cheap to buy – try Lakeland) and they are so useful for so many tasks in the kitchen.  If not a sieve and a wooden spoon does the same job only it’s a bit slower.

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A mouli in action sieving the pulp

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Chocolate Pear Pudding

I was reading in the newspapers today about something called “coorie”.   In many ways this is the Scottish version of hygge.  To “coorie in” means to snuggle up and applies to everything from log fires and sheepskins to food, exploring the outdoors – in fact everything that gives a sense of well-being.

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Chocolate Pear Pudding is a great coorie dish. I love it as a Sunday lunch pudding. I can imagine it as an old fashioned nursery pudding in a story book like Peter Pan or Mary Poppins.  Homely, comforting, easy to make and involves chocolate – what more could you want?  I certainly would have no problem in snuggling/coorie in to  it with its soft chocolatey sponge and unctuous, juicy pears.  If you are a chocoholic serve it with more chocolate in the form of a sauce (homemade or your favourite bought one),  although it does make a little sauce of its own where the pears juice mixes with the chocolate sauce at the bottom, or try it with cream or icecream and while you are at it why not both?  Can you ever have too much coorie after all? Continue reading

Aubergine Parmigiana

It’s been a wonderful year for tomatoes and aubergines and I have had a bumper crop!  But, to be honest I’d make this dish at anytime of year as the flavours are somehow rich, lively and vibrant yet comforting.   Just what you want in any season.  Layers of soft aubergine, bright tomatoes, zingy fresh basil and unctuous, stringy mozzarella  topped with a crunchy breadcrumb and parmesan topping.  Yum yum pigs bum!  Except there is no meat in this – pig or otherwise!

The first time I made this for Chloe (my goddaughter) was before she was vegan.  She loved it so much that I now regularly make it for her using vegan mozzarella and parmesan both of which are really excellent in this dish.  The brand I use is Violife.  When I make if for myself I use dairy cheese.  If I am making for both Chloe and me then a cocktail stick pushed in to the assembled dish stops any confusion and – in our house – leads to a chorus of “spot the vegan” sung to the cartoon tune of “stop the pigeon”.   I make it in individual dishes but there is nothing to stop you making this in one large dish for a family sharing meal though you’ll need to adjust the cooking time by adding an extra 15 mins.  I usually accompany the dish with either a dressed salad or green beans as a side. Continue reading

Mushroom Soup

There is a distinct nip in the air in the mornings now and I am beginning to turn away from salads in favour of something more homely and comforting.  A bowl or a mug of soup is the equivalent of a food hug and I am happy to huddle down in the kitchen with some, yet, if the weather sunny it’s something I often take outside to eat in the garden. It makes a great packed lunch put into a flask especially if you take a bread roll to eat alongside (or dunk in) !   I particularly like taking this soup with me when I take the dogs for a walk.   It fits right in with foraging for sloes and picking wild damsons or blackberries for a crumble or pie.   I love  Plum, Hazelnut and Sloe Gin Crumble  so I am always on the look out for damsons.  Mind you a great apple pie is hard to beat and there are lots of apples about at the moment as well as wild blackberries.

When I was young, soup tended to come in tins.   We weren’t allowed anything to do with the Campbells in our house (something to do with the Campbells betraying the rest of the clans to the English at a highland gathering they were hosting) so it was either Heinz or Baxters.   Tomato was my favourite (Heinz) and Oxtail or Mushroom were my brothers.   I have very fond memories of those days but homemade mushroom soup is an absolute revelation compared to the canned stuff.   I will never be able to open a can of it again.

Mushroom soup maybe doesn’t look the prettiest soup in the world but boy does it taste wonderful.  There are a lot of mushrooms about in the countryside right now.  As I much as I’d like to be able to channel my inner Antonio Carluccio I’m not an expert when it comes to identifying mushrooms so I often end up making this with bought mushrooms rather than foraged ones. *  My favourite one for this are chestnut or field mushrooms though you could always garnish this with some fancy varieties such as girolle or morel if you wanted to look fancy! Continue reading

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