Cooking, Writing

Autumn Colour, Fast Food and Romance…

69727-acer_palmatum_bonnie_bergmanYesterday it felt like “St Luke’s Little Summer’ —the name given to mild days around St Luke’s Day (18th October)—had come a week early. Here in Gloucestershire, it was sunny enough to be almost hot. Walkers were out in the woods dressed in shorts and t shirts, collecting sweet chestnuts. It was still warm when I reached university at six-thirty last night.

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Find out more at  http://mybook.to/MyDreamGuy

Today, we’re back in the ice age. It’s time to dig out the light-therapy lamp, and think about putting on the central heating. We’re having this brilliant, easy soup (using the last tomatoes from the greenhouse), and home-made bread for tea tonight. There are buds in the Christmas cacti, and the lemons are ripening. Despite the chill, there are lots of good things about autumn!

It was cold, wet weather like this when I wrote my short romantic comedy, My Dream Guy. What could be worse than sitting in my chilly office, looking out on pouring rain? Going camping, I thought—so that’s where I sent my heroine Emma. Her romance with Jack has lost its sparkle. He arranges a holiday in Wales during the wettest summer on record, and Emma can’t see how life in a tent is going to put the fizz back into her love-life… unless the bronzed farmer who bewitched her as a teenager is still running the campsite. He is, and Emma gets a picnic full of surprises!

Whatever the weather, find some summer sunshine with My Dream Guy

 

Baking, Blog, Cakes

Let Them Eat Cake…

…and it’s all in a very good cause! Mandy is a lovely, generous person whose small business is an important part of Ross-on-Wye life. There’s some fantastic local baking talent around here, so why not join in this local charity baking competition? I know not everyone can cook, but we can all turn up and cheer (or act as tasters).

This Charlotte Royale pic is from the BBC Food website, by the way, although I have made it in real life. Covered in a thin layer of white fondant icing, it makes a great Christmas cake for DD the archaeologist—”Silbury Hill in Winter”!

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Blog, gardening

Food, Glorious Food!

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Late winter

Back in February, I wrote about the apricot tree flowering in my greenhouse. That was before winter came back to bite us, in the form of The Beast From The East. At a time when spring should have been springing, we ended up with several feet of snow, and endless days with the thermometer registering well below freezing. Despite my greenhouse heater going full pelt and plenty of insulation, the later flushes of apricot flowers were nipped by the cold.  A lot of them shrivelled before opening. Some of the earliest fruitlets were killed too, so instead of a tree covered in fruit, we were left with only a few dozen surviving apricots.

That turned out to be a blessing in disguise. If every flower had turned into a fruit, we’d have had hundreds of apricots, none of them any bigger than grapes. The stone inside each one would have taken up a lot of room, so there wouldn’t have been much in the way of juicy fruit.

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What a difference four months made!

The answer would have been for me to thin out the fruit by picking them off while they were still tiny. The idea is to leave about one fruit for every four inches of branch. I can’t bear to be ruthless, so we would have ended up with measly apricots.

Luckily, nature did the job of thinning the fruit out for me this year. We didn’t have so many fruit, but each one was the size of a peach! The seven in the photo at the top of this blog weigh nearly a kilogram (that’s 2.2lb in old money).

I’d be happy to sit in the shade and eat them fresh form the tree, but OH loves fruit crumble and custard. Here’s my recipe, which is really quick and easy. It includes jumbo oats and Demerara sugar which means the topping stays crunchy, in lovely contrast to the cooked fruit beneath.

Apricot Crumble

Ingredients:

700g (1.5lb) fresh apricots, sliced

A small amount of caster sugar

100g (4oz) flour

75g (3oz) butter

50g (2oz) Demerara sugar

75g (3oz) jumbo oats

Heat the oven to 180c (160 Fan) Gas Mark 4

Put the sliced apricots in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over a little sugar, and add a couple of tablespoons of water.

In a large bowl, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar and oats. Spread this mixture over the apricots.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for between 35-40 minutes, or until the fruit is cooked. This is delicious whether you serve it hot or cold, with custard or cream.

Of course you could always make this with tinned apricots—just use the juice instead of water, and cook until the crumble is browned and crunchy.

What’s your favourite recipe using summer fruit?

 

 

Blog, recipes

The World’s Best Soup Recipe?

You decide…

Soup is the perfect winter meal here, as it’s cooked on our gas hob. That means I can make it during a power cut, while the electric oven, Remoska and slow cooker are all useless.

BREAD_AND_TOMATO_AND_LENTIL_SOUPTomato and lentil soup is so easy, I make sure I’ve always got the ingredients in stock (or in the garden). It’s delicious, too. When I’ve made this soup with brown lentils instead of red, it’s fooled a carnivore with its almost meaty richness.

It’s hard to give quantities as I’ve made this soup so often. To be honest I put the stock cubes into one of the emptied tomato tins, and dissolve them by topping up with some of the boiling water. Then I pour that mixture into the soup pan, and add a couple more cans full of boiling water. This also cleans the tins ready for recycling, but watch your fingers when doing this. Those metal tins get very hot!

Ingredients:

A large onion, peeled and sliced

Two big potatoes, peeled and diced

A couple of sticks of celery, chopped

250g lentils (red makes a soup like the photos, brown lentils seem richer and more filling)

Two 400g tins of chopped tomatoes in juice

Three Kallo organic vegetable stock cubes

1.5 litres boiling water

Method:

Rinse the lentils well under running water. Put them in a big saucepan with all the vegetables, and the tinned tomatoes. Dissolve the stock cubes in the water (see above for how I do this, but take care) and pour that in, too.

Stir, bring to the boil then turn down the heat. Let the soup simmer gently for about an hour, or until the vegetables are tender and the lentils soft.

Take the pan off the heat and liquidise, or use a stick blender. During power cuts, I use a potato masher—if I can’t delegate the job to somebody else!

Season to taste with salt and pepper, then reheat gently to serve.  Home-made wholemeal or wholegrain bread goes perfectly with this, as you can see in the picture.

A bowl of tomato and lentil soup, and you’ll be ready to face winter again.

 

Blog, gardening

That’s Shallot!

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It’s been a long, dark winter. Gardening is a great cure for the February blues, but a cold wind is slicing in from the east. The forecast doesn’t give much hope of it getting any warmer for the next week. The garden is still so wet, walking on it squashes all the air out. That’s not good for either the soil structure or helpful mini-beasts like worms. Despite that I managed to plant some shallots and garlic today, by working off  a scaffolding plank. The old rule of thumb was to plant them on the shortest day, harvest them on the longest. Mid-winter weather isn’t always kind enough for that!

I like these big pink banana shallots, Longor, for roasting whole. Slipped in around the roast or cooked on their own in a mixture of butter and olive oil, within an hour they are chestnut-coloured, stickily savoury, and equally good hot or cold.. They go well in casseroles, too. The round varieties  such as Red Sun fit into jars better, so those are the ones I use for pickling in the autumn. A nice, crisp pickled shallot with cheese and crusty home-made bread makes a great snack.

Shallots do well in the garden at Tottering Towers. Garlic struggles to make big bulbs here, but I keep trying. Whatever size of clove I plant, whichever variety and whether they’re planted in autumn, winter or spring, the resulting heads of garlic are always small-to-medium sized. This year I’m trying the variety Marco. I haven’t grown it before, so it’ll be interesting to see if the results are any better.

Are you trying any new varieties this year?