Friday, November 30, 2007

I am not a bread maker. I am a pastry maker (oh, wait until you try my pastry), I am a cake maker, I am an improvisator. But bread, no. It always goes wrong - the yeast doesn't fluff or the dough doesn't rise or the freezer destroys it completely. (Yes, who is foolish enough to put amateur dough in the freezer?)

But I have a machine. Such a clever, trusty machine: I weigh, it kneads, warms, and bakes to perfection. So now I can have the baking-bread smell without so much as a minute of hard work. I do love domestic rewards, and all the more when I've hardly lifted a finger.

This is my recipe for wholewheat walnut bread. I don't do anything special except throw everything at the clever machine, and push a couple of buttons. It's extremely delicious with soup. And isn't this just the weather for it?


1.5tsp instant yeast (I use Hovis)
1.5 cups strong white flour (Dove's organic)
1.5 cups wholewheat bread flour (actually you can use any interesting brown flour here, including soft grain and other country rye-type blends. The proportions mean that the white lightens the load.)
1.5tsp salt
3tbsp walnut oil
2tbsp honey or maple syrup
1 cup warm water

... and that's kind of it. Throw everything in the machine (in this order), select the wholewheat option (not rapid, please) and wait for the scent of bakeries to tell you it's ready.

When I got my first garden five years ago, I knew what I wanted to grow in it – and that vegetables should have just as big a part as flowers. Baby corn turned the patio into a jungle, spinach grew into unwatched trees beside the paths, and carrots twisted grumpily in their miniature, growth-preventing tubs. Space was always my trouble: too little for my dreams. I knew I should, but I could not resist the curly tendrils of runner beans, the glamour of dressed corn sheaves, the ruby-red strawberry. In they went. Meanwhile roses, sunflowers, tulips and sweet peas proliferated in the gaps – so that my home could smell delicious and look fabulous, all the time.

It’s this susceptibility to pretty things that leads me towards certain vegetables. Every autumn I’ll buy armfuls of winter squashes, their mud-dusted emerald and amber hues brightening the kitchen (and this year, the living room too). This has meant that the squash has come under my culinary scrutiny more often than it might like. When I’d stretched the limits of pumpkin soup (although we can never get enough of the coconut-chilli version) I thought up new ways to get the squashes off the shelf and into the pan. Risotto, curries and tortillas followed… but oh, when you discover roasting, you don’t look back.

Visitors to our house know that they'll get cooked some unusual things. But when I told our guests one night we would be eating pumpkin pasta, they wondered whether to nip home for a snack. Unlike the butternut, pumpkin isn’t trendy, it isn’t gourmet, and most people prefer to bin it than eat it, but this recipe became a firm favourite in my kitchen and theirs. I make it every autumn, and I think that you should, too.

Serves 2
Pumpkin – roasted to the pinnacle of tender, crusty-edged beauty, then turned in fine Parmesan for extra crunch – is the star of this show. The main thing to remember is to move the pieces politely and gently from the tin - don’t throw them straight into the pasta pan and bash them into smithereens. Once you’ve roasted the pumpkin, you’re bound to find new ways with it: perhaps roast it in a slick of chilli oil and serve on a pile of salad leaves. Or roast it in two halves, filling the seed cavity with some sautéed leek and fresh goat’s cheese in the last five minutes. We are just picking the very last of the rocket from the garden - it's bitter as it gets old (hee hee), so pesto is the best thing for it.

800g pumpkin, skinned and chopped
1tbsp olive oil
Black pepper
2tbsp parmesan, finely grated
50g fresh rocket
1tbsp pumpkin seeds
2tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp white wine vinegar
1tbsp grated parmesan
Dried tagliatelle pasta
100g soft, mild goat’s cheese

Spread the pumpkin on a large roasting tray, and sprinkle with olive oil and pepper. Roast at 180°C for around 40 minutes. Remove it from the oven and very carefully toss the pieces in the grated Parmesan, before returning to the oven for another 15 minutes (slide in the dinner plates after 10).

To finish: put the seeds, rocket, vinegar and olive oil in a blender, adding more oil to achieve a drizzlable puree; then stir in the parmesan. Cook the tagliatelle, drain, and toss it with a little pesto in the warm pan. Dish up: top the green pasta with crumbled goat’s cheese, the pumpkin, and a drizzle of rocket puree.

Friday, November 23, 2007


I have dozens of gorgeous pictures on the camera, but no lead to transfer them! Eek. I've been photographing chestnuts, Christmas cakes, dried lavender, fresh holly and pumpkins, sprouting broad beans, my new kitchen, autumn in Devon, and all sorts of other lovely things. And I am desperate to share some of these with you... so please bear with me (you might want to make yourself a cup of tea) while I rummage in attic and shoe-cupboard, and come back soon for new recipes - with pics!

PS If you're taking a coffee break (good work), you could do worse than checking out some of my favourite food blogs - new addition on the right. See? >>

Monday, November 19, 2007

Cooking spree...

I have had an unusually productive weekend, trying to organise as much as possible for Christmas... our next few weekends are tied up, so I have been feeling a bit stressed. My mental 'to do' list gets longer and longer. The cure is work: and lots of it. So I worked super-hard on Saturday. As well as freezing some cute puffs (below) I managed to make a huge pan of soup for the week and even wrote for a couple of hours and cleaned the house. (I was on my own - husband was called in to the hospital - and I am always more efficient when it's just me!)

Then - after a trip to the farm shop on Sunday - I even got our Christmas cake baked and stored. I used Nigella's Chocolate Fruit Cake recipe, which turned out really beautifully - rich and full of that gorgeous Christmas-baking scent. I am going to try making a delicately vanilla-flavoured marzipan to go on top, and if I find time to order metallic gold lustre... all will be perfect!

It has made me feel a bit too smug and complacent this morning, though. I am trying to kick-start the day but I still have this all-wrapped-up feeling. And I have soooo much left to do, and everything is soooooo not all-wrapped-up. Not in the slightest.

We did have a yummy butternut squash and spinach tart on Saturday, which I might write up, but, I mainly wanted to post this really lovely soup recipe. Will be eating it with seedy brown bread later tonight. It's not very strongly flavoured, but quite simple and warming. Also a great source of protein and see-in-the-dark vitamins!


400g carrots, washed and chopped
2 onions, chopped
4oz (4 heaped tbsp) red lentils
1tbsp curry paste (from a jar)
2 cloves garlic, chopped

1" ginger, chopped, if available
1-2 pints Marigold vegetable stock

Gently soften the onions, ginger and garlic in the curry paste, with a lid on, in a large casserole. After about 5 minutes add the carrots, without stirring, and replace the lid. Leave to sweat for another 10 minutes, then stir well. Finally tip in the lentils (no need to rinse) and stock, season gently, and replace the lid (leaving a gap). Simmer for at least 20 minutes, then put the lid on properly and leave to cool slowly in the pan. When you're ready, blend thoroughly, and serve with a sprinkle of chopped coriander - or toasted almonds - and warm bread.

This is adapted from a Claudia Roden recipe: I made her Lebanese Spinach Pies on Saturday, then decided they would be even nicer rolled in egg and parmesan. I've also added pine nuts and garlic to the basic mixture.

We didn't eat these (okay, so I baked and tested one) - they were frozen on a tray (managed to find an inch of space in the runner-bean-stuffed freezer), then bagged up and tied. Ready to be thawed, brushed, rolled and baked for Christmas holidays - they will be perfect snacks to serve with drinks. I am busy collecting cocktail recipes too!

200g flaky or puff pastry
300g spinach or chard, washed
1 small onion, chopped finely
1tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 small handful pine nuts
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Salt and pepper

Parmesan and 1 egg

Pack the spinach into a saucepan, and set over a gentle heat, turning until it's all wilted. Press into a sieve with a fork, and then your hands, to remove water. Remove to a chopping board, and chop finely.

Heat the oil in the pan, and add the onion. Turn the heat to low and allow the onion to slowly turn golden, adding the garlic and pine nuts after about 10 minutes. When the nuts are toasted, take off the heat, and stir in the lemon juice, seasoning, and spinach. If there is any liquid, return the pan to the heat to evaporate it. Now let the filling cool.

Roll the pastry as thinly as you dare and cut out 10cm circles with a fluted cutter. Brush the edges of each one with beaten egg, then put a teaspoon of filling in the centre of each one, and bring over one side like a miniature Cornish pasty.

To cook: brush the thawed puffs generously with beaten egg. Make a pile of finely-grated Parmesan on a chopping board, and roll each puff in it, to give a generous coating. Bake for 15-20 minutes in a preheated oven and cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.