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Spicy Pumpkin and Pear Soup…and a little sewing

17 Oct

So, remember our pear tree? Yes, the one with an awful lot of pears on it. We’ve been really enjoying eating them in crumbles, purées, stewed but mainly au naturel and sometimes with cheese. Delicious. But they don’t store. I know, I tried it out. I spent ages wrapping a load up in newspaper and storing them somewhere cool and dark only to find a horrible, stinky mush a few days ago. Nasty.

Luckily we really did make the most of them and one of the dishes I made was a hearty soup using some of the crisper, under ripe pears left at the very end.

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Ingredients (serves 4 as a main course)

  • About 1kg of pumpkin or squash (peeled, seeded and cut into cubes)
  • 3 medium pears (peeled and cut into cubes)
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon each of ground cumin and ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger (peeled and grated)
  • 1 level teaspoon of hot chilli powder (or to taste)
  • 3 cloves of garlic (peeled and crushed)
  • 1 tin (400g) coconut milk
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Smoked pimenton to serve

(Inspired by a recipe from the book Economy Gastronomy)

Heat the oil and add the pumpkin. Fry on a medium heat until it starts to colour a little (you may need to do this in batches) then add the spices and garlic. Cook for a minute then add the pear, coconut milk and stock. Simmer for about 30 minutes, blend to a texture you enjoy (I used a stick blender) season to taste and serve with a sprinkle of smoked pimenton.

For any of you who are wondering what the heck I’ve been up to in the absence of great cooking facilities (and apart from house renovations), I decided to set myself up with a little winter project. I am hand making a patchwork quilt, following (sort of) a design pattern.

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Am really enjoying making the quilt top but may back out of hand quilting it myself. We’ll see.  Perhaps next year I’ll be eating this soup snuggled under my quilt!

Vaguely Vietnamese Summer Rolls

4 Aug

I know, I know…late for the train again. I seem to be a few steps behind at the moment when it comes to food fashion, but I get there in the end. And then, like the woman who still thinks shoulder pads should come with t-shirts (what…me with the sloping shoulders?!) I’ll keep trotting out my “new food discovery” for years to come!

Vietnamese Summer Rolls 005

Summer, even in England this year, makes us want lighter more refreshing foods and a trip round the local Caribbean/Asian store rummaging for new foodstuffs resulted in the purchase of some rice paper wrappers. Summer Rolls – enjoyed from time to time in restaurants but never made – it seemed like an obvious choice.

When I decide to make something, I behave in the same way as I do if I have made the purchase of a new gadget or a pair of shoes. I have to use/wear them straight away. All the recipes for Vietnamese Summer rolls seemed to call for minced pork or prawns. Which would have been lovely if I’d had them, but I had avocado so I went for an (almost) vegetarian/vegan version. They would have been properly veggie/vegan if I’d left out the fish sauce.

Most of the recipes did seem to agree that you can pretty much do what you like and were rather loose on quantities. I just boiled up some fine rice noodles, finely sliced an avocado and made up a batch of finely sliced vegetables then kept rolling until I ran out – 9 rolls later.

Ingredients

  • Rice paper wrappers
  • Finely sliced vegetables (I used a piece of red pepper, half a large carrot, one spring onion, 2 leaves of Chinese cabbage and about a third of a courgette) mixed with some finely chopped mint, coriander and basil and a splash of fish sauce and the juice of half a lime
  • Rice noodles soaked in hot water until soft (I used one block which gave me about a cup and a half)

For the peanut dipping sauce

  • 2 heaped teaspoons of smooth peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons of warm water
  • 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of fish sauce
  • The juice of half a lime
  • A pinch of sugar

Get a little production line ready with a bowl of warm water big enough to hold your rice wrappers, a plate with a folded tea towel on top, your various filling ingredients, a clean plate to put the finished rolls onto and a few pieces of wet kitchen paper (or a damp cloth) to cover the rolls with to stop them drying out.

Dip a wrapper in the water and gently rub until it is transparent and soft (mine took less than 30 seconds). They are fragile but not overly so. Lay the wrapper on the plate with the clean tea towel.

Vietnamese Summer Rolls 001

Place your various fillings in the centre of the wrapper, piled on top of each other) then roll the top of the wrapper over the fillings, fold in the sides to seal and then roll the bottom half of the wrapper up. As the wrapper is still wet it will seal and keep the filling in. Place the completed roll on the serving plate and cover with a damp cloth or kitchen paper.

To make the dipping sauce, simply mix all the ingredients together. I also served the rolls with some sweet chilli dipping sauce.

Fiddly, but not too challenging, and fun to make. Healthy, delicious and surprisingly filling. Result all round!

French beans, asparagus and mangetout with chopped almonds and lime

24 Jul

Another Ottolenghi inspired recipe – his calls for roasted chopped hazlenuts and orange. Hey, you do what you can with what you have on hand and “wow” it was so good!

This was a dish I took along to a barbecue but with a little grilled meat or some hard boiled eggs (for a vegetarian meal) would make a very delicious and satisfying light lunch or supper dish.

Ottolenghi Beans (1)

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

  • 400g of trimmed French beans chopped and lightly boiled
  • 400g mangetout lightly boiled
  • 1 bunch asparagus chopped and lightly boiled
  • 70g chopped or flaked almonds, dry toasted in a frying pan
  • 2 limes – zested and the juice squeezed out
  • 20g chopped parsley
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Simply mix together the lime zest, juice, olive oil and seasoning and add to the beans and mangetout. Sprinkle over the almonds, mix, taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve at room temperature.

 

Green Lentil Curry

5 Jul

We all know (and some of us love) dhal made with little red lentils. It’s fast and simple to cook and immensely gorgeous. This curry takes longer to prepare as the green (or you can use brown) lentils need about 45 minutes to an hour of cooking to become tender and delicious. It’s worth the wait though, I promise.

The recipe comes from Anjum Anand’s book Anjum’s New Indian and is perfect as a vegetarian main course or as a side dish in a larger meal. Economical to make and if you make curries regularly you’ll have most of the ingredients to hand. Delicious eaten with naan bread and/or plain boiled rice – I added a dollop of creamy yogurt and a sprinkle of chopped fresh coriander.

Green Lentil Curry (9)

Ingredients (to serve 4-6 as a side dish)

  • 250g green lentils
  • A paste made from about 6g of peeled fresh ginger and about 4 cloves of garlic
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • ½ small onion, peeled and chopped
  • Salt
  • 1 rounded tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp red chilli powder (or to taste)
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 3 small tomatoes puréed or grated or finely chopped
  • Finely chopped fresh coriander leaves and stalks

Rinse the lentils and simmer in plenty of water until soft (about an hour).

Heat the oil and add the cumin seeds until they give off their scent then add the onion and cook until golden brown. Pour in the garlic and ginger paste and cook until this turns golden then add the salt and powdered spices and cook for 10 seconds.

Pour in the tomatoes and simmer until the moisture has cooked off and the oil has separated from the mix to form the masala. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Add the masala to the lentils and simmer for about 10 minutes. Check the seasoning again, sprinkle with coriander and enjoy.

Sweet Potato Gratin

17 Jun

In our little Up the Mountain village, sweet potatoes are only available to buy in the local shops during late summer and autumn. They even sell them ready roasted as there are still folk who don’t have ovens and do most of their cooking on the stove top. Of course, if we venture down to the coast and the big supermarkets, we can buy sweet potatoes whenever we want, but the choice of variety is still fairly limited to the large orange fleshed, thick skinned varieties.

Time spent in England Down by the Sea brings a world of vegetables to us in a local supermarket whenever we want. I try to buy seasonally, but with vegetables flying in from all over the world it’s sometimes hard to know what is in season and what is not. It’s also tempting to buy things just because you fancy them. This was the case with some very small, thin skinned sweet potatoes I spotted the other day. They were about 25cm long and just a bit thicker than a fat sausage. I was intrigued and couldn’t resist.

Sweet Potato Gratin (3)

Two were simply roasted and utterly delicious but a lot sweeter than the ones we’re used to. I turned to my old pal Ottolenghi for inspiration and his cookbook delivered with a sweet potato gratin which I chopped and changed (adding in regular potatoes with the sweet ones and changing the chopped sage for parsley as I am being over run by the stuff, and using milk instead of cream). Go back to the original ingredients for a really stunning and luxurious dish (I’ve eaten that version too – it’s incredible) or stick with my recipe for a more every day dish.

This is pretty filling and is great as a vegetarian main course or as part of a larger meal as a side dish.

Ingredients (to serve 2 people as a main course)

  • 2 small sweet potatoes, thinly sliced but with the skin on
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • 3 tsbp finely chopped parsley
  • 2 cloves of peeled garlic, crushed
  • A tablespoon of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • About 120 ml (1/4 cup) of semi skimmed milk

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Mix together the two types of potato and the parsley, garlic and olive oil.

Layer the slices in an ovenproof dish and season. Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes then remove the foil and pour over the milk. Roast for a further 30 minutes and check that the potatoes are cooked by testing them with a sharp knife.

The dish will be bubbling and hot, serve in the baking dish. Tastes great too at room temperature or even cold the next day.

Carrots with Cumin and Garlic Dressing

19 May

Well, the party’s over, the “Spanishes” have all gone home and fortunately Big Man and I walked miles and miles doing touristy things which helped burn off the excessive drinking/partying/eating calories which have been consumed over the last few weeks. I’ll share some photos of places we visited once I’m a bit more organised but for the moment it’s noses to the grindstone and back to renovations and a bit of healthy eating needs to be done.

Here’s another lovely, and very simple, recipe from the Moro Cookbook. In their version it´s billed as a salad and has coriander sprinkled over. I didn´t have coriander, so I made do! The dressing was fabulous and as I only made enough carrots for the two of us, there was plenty left over to dress a salad the next day.

Carrots with Cumin (3)

The Moro version cooks the carrots whole and then chops them when cooled but mine were too big to fit into the pan whole so I peeled and chopped them first.

Ingredients to serve 4

  • 450g carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2/3 teaspoon cumin seeds, dry fried
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Juice of ¾ lemon
  • Sea salt
  • 1/3 teaspoon caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Some roughly chopped coriander

 

Cook the carrots in boiling salted water until tender, drain and leave to cool.

Pound the cumin in a mortar then add the garlic and ½ teaspoon of salt and continue to pound. Add the lemon juice, sugar and olive oil and mix before dressing the carrots with this delicious smokey, tangy dressing.

This recipe is made thinking especially of a wonderful fellow blogger, Fran, aka narf7 over at Serendipity Farm. With her husband Steve and beautiful dogs Earl and Bezial they are based in Tasmania and living a life which is as self-sufficient as possible. Miss narf is vegan and I’m not, but she makes wonderful comments on my posts (even those pork and beef laden ones!) and makes me laugh with her brilliant sense of humour. Do take the time to pay her a visit, you won’t regret it!

Fennel Scented Cauliflower with Griddled Sea Bream

15 Apr

No sooner did we get here than it’s time to head back to England. I’ll be sad to leave our beloved mountains again but work beckons and excitingly we’ll also be renovating a property for my parents close by.  We’ll all be round the corner from each other like one big Italian/Spanish family! My dad will even have space to store his beloved Vespa and to continue the family tradition of making their wine for the year with grapes imported from Italy. We have a celebration ahead with both my mum and Big Man reaching special birthdays within days of each other. Friends from Spain will be flying over to England to join us, so I’ll be able to share that with you.

Don't worry - we'll all be travelling in more comfort than this!

Don’t worry – we’ll all be travelling in more comfort than this!

The packing up of the car starts today and we head off on Thursday morning to drive through Spain, right up the middle past Madrid then over the border at Irun and – all going well – resting for the night in Bordeaux. The next day we continue up through France and cross from Calais to Dover by ferry and then a couple of hours later we’ll be in Bexhill. Just over 2200km – loaded with paella burners and pans for pals, cheeses, wines, sausages and of course Luna and Alfi. We definitely don’t travel light!

We'll miss the view from the patio of one of our favourite local bars. And the dogs love it there too!

We’ll miss the view from the patio of one of our favourite local bars. And the dogs love it there too!

But today I have just a little time to look back on the last month in Spain and share another simple recipe which, for me, is full of one of the flavours of Andalucia- anis.

I’m one of those funny folk who love fennel and dill but can’t stand drinks like anis, pernod or raki. Use it in cooking though and it’s a whole other matter.

Anis is a popular drink here (sweet or dry) and is served with or without ice, or if you add a little slosh of it to coffee in the morning, it becomes a “Carajillo de Anis”. Most popular with all the old boys in the local bars to start their day! We always have a bottle of it at home but it’s one of those bottles that lurks around for ages getting a bit dusty.

After resuming my mountain walks with the pups I have found plenty of wild fennel to pick – here it’s mostly the feathery fronds that are enjoyed, but you can also use the young stems in the same way you would use fennel. This recipe uses whatever veggies you have to hand, it’s all about the delicate aniseed flavours. We enjoyed ours with a whole bream stuffed with wild fennel which we cooked on the cast iron griddle and drizzled with a few drops of anis once it was cooked.

Sea Bream with Cauliflower (4)

Ingredients (to serve 2 as a side dish)

  • Half a cooked cauliflower chopped into small pieces
  • A leek, cleaned and cut into thin slices
  • A mix of red and green pepper, finely diced
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Half an onion finely chopped
  • About 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fennel and fronds
  • A tablespoon of anis flavoured liqueur
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a deep frying pan or wok and add the onions and peppers.  Fry gently until they are very soft (this will take about 20 mins) then add the leeks, garlic, fennel and cauliflower. Continue to cook until the leeks have softened, season and add the liqueur. Cook for a further minute and serve.

This would also be delicious served as a vegetarian main course on it’s own or stirred through rice or pasta.

Potato Topped Pizza and a Walk Up the Mountain

12 Apr

If, like me, you don’t fear the carbs (although realy I should), this is a tasty and economical pizza to feed a crowd. And then you take the crowd out for a walk to burn off the carbs!

Potato & Spring Onion Pizza (1)

Ingredients

  • One Quanity of Pizza Dough
  • About 2 cups of chopped tomatoes or your favourite pasta sauce
  • 1 large potato, boiled in its skin then peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 ball of mozzarella, chopped into bite sized chunks
  • 1 clove of crushed garlic
  • Half a cup of grated cheese (I used a mix of parmesan and emmental)
  • 3 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tin anchovies in olive oil (optional) omit for a vegetarian version

Turn the oven onto the highest setting while you prepare the pizza.  Put the tin or tray you will be using into the oven to heat up

Roll out your dough to fit the tin and place it on some greaseproof or baking paper. Cover with the tomato sauce. Mix the potato, cheeses, spring onion and garlic together in a bowl and spread this mixture over the pizza. Lay the anchovies over the top and pour over any oil from the tin.

Slide the pizza onto the hot tray (with or without the baking paper) and bake for about 12-15 minutes until the cheese starts to brown and the pizza is crispy.

Hope you enjoy the walk, click on the photos to see them in more detail.

Know Your Onions – Onions Braised in Wine and Balsamic Vinegar

9 Apr

What a funny expression that is. I struggled to find a decent explanation for it, although we use the expression to mean “knowing a lot about a subject”. If anyone can enlighten me, I’d love to know more!

Over on the beautiful prairies of the Midwest of America, our very dear friend Celia goes along each year to a big swapping fiesta. She usually comes home with some exotic and adorable creature like a white peacock or beautiful Boo the dog. Here, swapping is rife but generally restricted to gluts of fruit and vegetables and also poultry and eggs. As we’re not around so much right now, we can’t offer much but our dear friends and neighbours are busy keeping us supplied with delicious goodies.

Yesterday Big Man said he was popping out to see a man about some onions, as you do, and this is what he came home with.

Cebollas (3)

A lot of onions. And we’re due to be heading back to England in about a week, so there’s no way we can pack them into the car…we’d be asphyxiated by onion fumes. Time to get creative with onion recipes. Well, there’s Up the Mountain Onion Soup, of course. And maybe a caramelised onion tart. How about something different? Memories of my godmother, who came from the north of Italy, near Venice, and her method of cooking tiny onions in balsamic vinegar inspired me. I’m not sure if it’s exactly her recipe, but the taste was very similar and definitely worth buying onions to make specially.

Ingredients

  • Onions
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • White or red wine
  • Salt and pepper
  • A few stems of a hardy herb like oregano (or you could use thyme or rosemary)

Chop the tops and bottoms off the onions so that they will sit flat in a deep frying pan or saucepan. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle over the balsamic vinegar (I used about 2 tablespoons for approximately a dozen onions), the same quantity of olive oil and pour over a glass of wine. I used Vino del Terreno (this translates as Wine of the Earth or Terrain) which is a wine many of our neighbours produce, a little rough and slightly sweet but oh so good with salty food. Scatter over the herbs and cover tightly with a lid or foil.

Cebollas (7)

Bring the pot to boiling point and then reduce to the lowest heat possible and cook gently, turning the onions once or twice, for about an hour. Just before serving, remove the lid and turn up the heat to reduce the delicious cooking liquid slightly. We ate these onions hot as a side dish but they would be delicious served at room temperature as a tapas or starter.

And just in case you don’t like wine but do like dogs (clearly not braised in wine and balsamic vinegar) here is a completely gratuitous shot of my pups Luna and Alfi hoping I don’t notice they are hogging the sofa.

No Dogs On The Sofa Please

No Dogs On The Sofa Please

 

And when she got there, the cupboard was bare … Almost Panzanella

18 Mar

You know what it’s like when you get back from a holiday and there’s nothing in the fridge apart from a sad carrot and a stinky piece of cheese you thought might just last until you got back? Yes? I thought so! Well, imagine how little there was at home for us after an absence of almost 5 months. A deeply sad situation. Thank god for the local bar/restaurant where we were welcomed with open arms on our first night and sent home with bread, tomatoes and onions to see us through the next morning.

After my favourite Spanish breakfast I got to thinking about how inventive we can all be when we have very little to play around with. Every country has a dish for leftover bread and the Italian bread and tomato salad called Panzanella came to mind.

Sunshine is a glorious extra!

Sunshine is a glorious extra!

We have litres and litres of our very own beautiful olive oil which was milled just a few weeks ago and our lemon tree is loaded with lemons. I added a tin of tuna from the larder (not very authentic but what the heck) and a handful of parsley from the garden. Honestly, I should leave the fridge bare more often so that I can remember to enjoy dishes like this.

Ingredients (you choose the quantities)

  • Stale bread cut into small cubes
  • Roughly chopped tomato and onion
  • Chopped parsley (basil is more authentic though)
  • A finely chopped clove of garlic
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Lashings of olive oil and plenty of lemon juice or wine vinegar
  • Add some chopped cucumber if your fridge is being kind to you
  • Optional – a tin of tuna (omit to keep it vegetarian)

Put all the ingredients (except the seasoning and dressing) in a bowl and mix with your hands. Dress lavishly with oil, add lemon or vinegar to taste and season. Mix again with your hands, squishing the tomato a little so that the juices run out. Leave it for at least 10 minutes so that it can absorb all those wonderful flavours and enjoy!

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