the battle of the pumpkin

Baby Pumpkin Snack

[image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/blissfulgirl/

I bought a pumpkin. First time ever, I think, because I’m not fond of Hallowe’en as a holiday – what’s wrong with bobbing for apples, eh? But we were going to a Sunday gathering at friends, and I thought a seasonal offering might be nice. I was planning a pumpkin gingerbread, only to discover that mine hostess already had a parkin on the go. And then time ran out, and the dog ate my cookery books, and it didn’t get used.

This monster pumpkin sat on the dining table, and guilt-tripped me every time I went passed it, so I vowed on Sunday to tackle the wretched thing in all its orangey pumpkinness. My plan was to roast it off, then bung most of it in the freezer for future soups, together with a tub with the last of  the current soup (I like a starter soup, bit like a sourdough starter. But soupier).  And a tub of plainish pumpkin purée for baking,  “A fine plan“, you cry, and it would have been; except there wasn’t a cubic inch of space in the bloody freezer, which seems mysteriously to have been filled almost exclusively with tubs of lentil and cauliflower curry. No, I don’t know either.

By the time I discovered this, I had dismembered the wretched vegetable (yes, I should have checked earlier, OK?). I was also slightly taken aback by just how much pumpkin a pumpkin holds.To buy some time, I distributed about two thirds of it onto a roasting tray, with some onions and carrots, olive oil and a drizzle of honey, and the rest on a roasting tray with just a little oil. And I even cleaned and roasted the bloody seeds (no waste here, no sirree Bob).

No amount of staring at the freezer, or rearranging its contents, conjured up any more space, so Plan B was brought into play (after it had been somewhat hastily formulated). Clearly last week’s soup would need to be eaten rather than frozen, but there wasn’t much of it. What there was was some vegetable tagine made a couple of weeks ago, which wasn’t really very nice; I’d overdone the harissa ever so slightly. Two tubs of that were removed from the freezer, thawed, and blitzed in the Magimix. The plain roasted pumpkin (just starting to catch on the edges) suffered the same fate.  They were both added to the Big Red Soup Pot. This made – hurrah – some space in the freezer.

The squash-with-other-veg was boxed up and put into the gap left by the veg tagine, and thus we will have soup for the next week or two without me having to chop endless bloody vegetables.

So I did beat this pumpkin, but it was a close run thing.

the desiccated orange made a chocolate orange cake

an orange

Dear Reader, I have a confession to make. I had to throw out an orange. Oh, the shame. We’re not very good with fruit – we buy it, and then we don’t eat it, so this orange had languished in the bowl for quite a while, and had gone mouldy. It was accompanied by a companion orange which had not yet succumbed, and turned out to be really quite dry, still …  as we were out of cake, I did a quick Google, and adapted a recipe I found, thus:

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda dissolved in 180ml water
125g butter, softened (I used baking marg)
180g granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
1 orange
85g dark chocolate, chopped

(The recipe called for 200g chocolate, which would have been overpowering, I think).

Preheat the oven to 180°C / fan 160°C / gas mark 4.

Dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in the water and set to one side. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well, then add flour and salt.

Roughly chop the whole orange into chunks by hand and then blitz in a food processor, skin and all. Add this to the cake batter along with the water and bicarbonate of soda, and stir.

Add the chocolate and stir through gentlye. Pour the mixture into your prepared tin (I used a 2lb loaf tin with a liner, and as always, blessed whoever made these available for sale, otherwise grease and flour) )and bake about an hour  until a skewer comes out clean when inserted. The recipe I adapted said 40-45 minutes, but that wasn’t nearly long enough, but check and check.

everyday bread

IMG_3253-300x267

Inspired by A Girl Called Jack’s recipe, I make a loaf of this most weekends. It keeps well, makes lovely toast, and never goes wrong. But I have tweaked it a bit. so here’s my version.

250g wholemeal flour
400g plain flour – or strong white flour, or even a mix of the two
7g packet dried fast action yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
400ml warm water (*not too hot*)

You can jazz this up with, e.g., fennel or pumpkin seeds if you like.

Put the flours into a large mixing bowl (or you can use a mixer with a dough hook, but it’s not as much fun), and add the yeast, sugar and salt. And the optional seeds.

Make a well in the centre and pour in the water. Too hot will kill the yeast. And if you want to prove the bread overnight, you can use cold water. Stir it all in gently, then tip it on to a clean, floured worktop and start kneading. Plenty of tutorials on YouTube if you don’t know how. It’ll knead^H^H need about five minutes or so of working.  Take a tiny piece of dough, stretch it and hold it up to the window – if you can see through it, it’s ready!

Pop into a clean bowl (you can grease it if you like, but I often forget), cover with clingfilm, and leave to rise for a couple of hours, or even overnight. When it’s about doubled in size, tip it out, knock it back, and form it into something loaf-shaped – I generally do a sort of sausage because it’s easier to slice, but it can be round if you prefer. Put it on a baking sheet, floured if you’re very confident of its non-stickness, or greased if not, make a couple of deep slashes in the top, and sprinkle some flour over the top.

I usually leave it another 40 minutes or so before baking for about 50 minutes at Gas4/180C – preheat the oven, of course! It it’ll be done if it sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom.

Then wait for it to cool before eating – that’s the difficult part.

winter is coming

plums

Well, rather, autumn is here, and we’re back to more suitable cooking for the season.

I spent a lot of time in the kitchen this weekend; I made bread, pizza dough, and peanut butter and choc chip cookies on Saturday (recipes to come, I promise, but I’m still tweaking a bit), and on Sunday I did lamb and veg soup (or at least the components thereof), plum, apple and five spice crumble.

The soup involved roasting off £1.20’s worth of lamb bones from Morrisons, then boiling them down for stock, then picking the meat off them. There was actually enough meat for two big pots of soup, so some has gone in the freezer. Then I very finely chopped ¼ swede, 1 leek, 2 carrots and 1 courgette (takes bloody ages, but I never feel the food processor does it as well), and put them in the medium slow cooker with a glug of olive oil, and about ½” of water. Then this morning I married up stock, lamb and veg, together with 1 litre of veg soup left over from *last* week. That will do us for lunches for this week, with some crispbread or whatever.

The market stall in Hull was selling 2lbs of plums for a quid – rude not to, really. So I bought them, a *huuuuge* green cabbage, a cauliflower, and two Bramleys, for £3. Most of the plums went into a crumble – I say “most”, because I couldn’t fit them all into the pan. How I wish I had room for another freezer.

I halved them, and laid them flat in a heavy based frying pan, sprinkled with five space, and added about 1″ of water. Simmered until they were soft, then decanted them into a dish, and cooked the syrup right down. Added a peeled and chopped Bramley, topped with a oaty crumble mix and … nectar.

Pete constructed a pizza on Saturday – I use 500g of flour for dough, and it makes three pizzas for us, and freezes well. He used some smoked salami that we discovered in Aldi (along with various other stuff), and very nice it was too.

Sunday we dined on venison steak and braised red cabbage (both out of the freezer), and potatoes roasted with olive oil and rosemary. And the aforementioned crumble. It’s amazing how little meat we want these days – a 300g venison steak was plenty between us, and we used to eat 400g steaks each in the day.

This week, we will be mostly eating cabbage, I suspect. And soup. 🙂

pasta with chicken, mushrooms and blue cheese

danishblue-150x150

We bought some chicken breasts from our fabulous butcher up t’road, wrapped them individually, and froze them. And then fetched one out at the weekend to make a stir fry and, readers, it was *huge*. Well, huge to us, because we don’t eat much meat. So we used half in the stir fry, and the other half was confined to the fridge for another day.

Regular readers will know that Tuesday night is pasta night, so last night I chopped up the remaining chicken into small pieces and fried it off in some olive oil. Added four wizened mushrooms, half a wrinkly red pepper, and a chopped onion (£1.80 for 4kgs from the Turkish shop). Added about 30g of Danish blue and stirred it round till it had melted, and a good grinding of black pepper.

Served over spaghetti – delicious.  It’s worth keeping a chunk of blue cheese in the fridge, as it livens up pasta sauces, and makes great cheese scones (although you get quite sticky making them).

slow cooked spuds and onions

This was by way of an experiment, and I didn’t photograph it. It was as cheap as, well, chips. and really nice. I made it to accompany some roast venison, a piece of which I found lurking in the bottom of the freezer. It did two days – one with red cabbage, and one with green.

Put a slug of olive oil in the bottom of the slow cooker – I did this to stop it sticking.

Thinly slice potatoes and onions, and layer them up in the slow cooker – I think I did three and a half layers, starting and ending with potato. Season each potato layer as you go with salt and black pepper. I hurled some chopped garlic in part way through as well. Pour in some gravy (i used about half a mugful of Bisto granules*, which was about right for a small slow cooker).

Switch it on, walk away. It had about five hours, I think. Next time I’ll add carrot, I think, and possibly swede. Lovely with roasted meat, or sausages.

*Lets not pretend we don’t always use them from time to time, eh?

peanut butter and choc chip cookies

IMG_3198

I was having a rearrange of the cupboards last week, and found not one, but two jars of peanut butter; one smooth, one crunchy. Neither of us eat peanut butter on bread or toast, and I suspect it was bought for  some sort of Malay cooking. Shame to leave it sitting in jars, I thought.

115g marg £0.25
115g crunchy peanut butter (I used half and half)  £1.15
115g caster sugar £10p
115g light muscovado sugar £0.35
1 egg, beaten £0.25
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
85g plain flour £0.05
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
115g rolled oats £0.10p
generous dollop of chococolate chunks if liked. Don’t see why sultanas or cranberries or whatever wouldn’t work either.

Add 75p for unpriced ingredients, makes 24 for  £3.00-ish. So while not cheap, cheap. they are lasting far better than a box of cookies would do, and we know what’s in them.  And they’re much nicer than shop bought cookies.

Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/Gas Mark 4. Grease a large baking tray. (I have a fabulous flat baking tray from Lakeland which never needs greasing, bless it).

Beat together butter and sugars, then gradually beat in the egg and the vanilla essence. Add flour, bicarb, baking powder and salt, then the oats (and optional choc chips) and stir until just combined.

Place spoonfuls of the mixture onto the prepared baking trays, spaced well apart to allow for spreading. Flatten slightly with a fork.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Leave to cool on a baking tray for 2 minutes, then transfer onto a wire rack to cool completely.

So far (astonishingly) we are on day four, and they’ve kept really well.

Prices taken from mysupermarket.co.uk today, using Morrisons own brand where possible

green beans and pasta

green beans and pasta

This is another ridiculously quick and easy supper, and pretty cheap too (depending where you shop) – certainly well under £1 per serving. Works well with runner beans as well.

serves 2:

1 pack green beans (89p from Aldi, I think)
125g of pasta (fusilli, quills, whatever – Aldi fusilli is 49p for 500g, so that’s (counts on fingers) 12.5p)
1 chopped onion (20p)
1 dessert spoon (ish) of olive oil
lemon juice – a bottle is easier, and cheaper, than fresh
black pepper
about 25g grated parmesan (35p?)

Top and tail the beans, while you put a decent amount of water on to boil. When it has, put in the pasta and set a timer (mental, if necessary) for 10 minutes. I put the beans in that pot when there was eight minutes left, which left a nice crunch to them.

While the beans and pasta are cooking, cook the onion off in the olive oil. Add to the drained pasta/bean mix, stir in a good slug of lemon juice, the parmesan, and some freshly ground black pepper.

Light, quick, simple, healthy, cheap. Vegetarian, and vegan if you leave out the cheese.

indian black-eyed peas

I made a batch of these for a friend’s curry evening, and they were so nice, I’ve just made another huge batch for us! I might have gone ever so slightly overboard with the quantities, so think on if you’re going to try this 🙂

1kg black-eyed peas (£3.69 for 2kgs from our local Indian shop)
1 carton Sainsburys passata (£0.55)
2 chopped onions (£1.80 for 4kgs from the Turkish shop so – 30p max)
⅓ big carton of Aldi mushrooms, sliced thinly (about £0.50)
groundnut oil (about a dessertspoon)
various spices to suit (listed below)

12 generous servings for a fiver, absolute max.   I made this in the slow cooker, but if you don’t want to/don’t have to, I’d give it a couple of hours on the hob to get the flavour right through.

Put the black-eyes in to soak for about 12 hours/overnight. They do say you don’t need to soak them, but I always soak beans and peas. They will absorb water at a rate of knots, so use a bowl rather bigger than you might think you’ll need.

Put them in the pot, add the mushrooms and passata, and about half a passata carton of water.

Grind/mix some Indian spices; Pete always does this, but it’s not writ in stone. Cumin, coriander seeds, cardamon, bit of chilli, turmeric – whatever works for you. But we tend to go for Lots, because you want the taste. Fry off the onions in some oil (i use groundnut) until they’re just starting to catch, then add the spices and cook them off a bit. A small splash of water is a good idea here. Decant that lot into the pot, add a bit of salt and black pepper.

if slow cooking, about eight hours on low. If hobbing, bring to the boil then a very gentle simmer for a couple of hours. Sprinkle fresh coriander on top if you have any (ours has bolted, sadly).

Freezes beautifully, makes a tasty vegan meal on its own, or a great accompaniment for a curry.

basic lentil mix

This is one of my standards – you can use it for lasagne, moussaka, shepherds pie … anything you do with mince, really.

There are just two of us in the household, but I always cook for at least six so I can freeze some. Also, this recipe is a bitsa, using up what I have in the fridge.

Into the slow cooker: one chopped onion, three diced carrots, one diced courgette, half a red pepper, 4 cloves garlic, small slug of olive oil, and any spice you fancy. I usually use Ras el Hanout, but anything middle eastern is good. Left on low for about an hour. Add 1 pint of red lentils and 2 pints of water, switch to high, leave for about four hours. If you didn’t fancy the spices, substitute a splash of red wine for some of the water, and bung in some herbs.

I made a lentil bake with this yesterday, which I shall write up in a bit.