In cold weather, there is nothing more warming and comforting than a big bowl of steaming soup. Or do I mean stew? I’m not entirely sure whether this Mexican bean soup is actually a soup or stew, but with a generous amount of vegetables, beans and spicy Mexican flavours, it certainly makes for a satisfying meal. It’s especially good when served with some hearty soda bread spiked with a little smoked chilli honey.
I’ve been hearing a lot about bowls recently, smoothie bowls, Buddha bowls and rice bowls seem to be all the rage. I thought it was time to join in and come up with my very own take: the quinoa bowl. It was also a chance to showcase not only the contents, but the beautiful Japanese vessel in which it was served.
I was lucky enough to grow up with an Aga in the house. This meant plenty of slow cooked meals. There’s something about slow cooking that really brings out the flavours of ingredients and melds them into something richer and more flavoursome than the sum of their parts. These days, I only have an ordinary electric cooker, so I don’t tend to do much of that sort of cooking. At least I didn’t until I was sent a Von Shef slow cooker to try out. Those delicious childhood stews called to me and I knew I was very soon going to make a slow cooker vegetable stew.
This recipe for squash chilli chard feta pasties makes for perfect autumnal comfort food. It’s a vegetarian take on a traditional Cornish pasty filled with colourful seasonal veg and a bit of spice to keep out the chill. The pastry is really easy to prepare and makes them a joy to put together.
For years I’ve raged against the invasion of the very American Halloween and associated trick or treating; in the UK, we have All Hallows Eve, from which Halloween is derived. Just five days later we have our very own Guy Fawkes Night, with its pagan effigy burning associations – OK Guy Fawkes was a Catholic, but never mind. Well, finally I’ve come to the conclusion that if you can’t beat them you’d better join them and this chocolate pecan pumpkin cake seemed like a good start. In fact I had no choice; this month’s We Should Cocoa theme is Halloween.
When Natalie of Hungry Hinny chose pumpkin for this month’s We Should Cocoa, my first thought was not a happy one. Normally we manage to grow a fair few winter squashes; this year, if we are very lucky and the mild weather continues for a bit, we might get one. So, for the first time in many a long year, I had to buy a winter squash, in this case a butternut. Once I got over this unfortunate turn of events, a number of possibilities went flying around my head. Last year, I made a really light almond and squash cake and some really dense pumpkin and ginger cakes, both were delicious although very different. I quite fancied making a marble cake to get the bright orange from the pumpkin contrasting with the chocolate, but others got there before me. In the end, I thought I’d go for a triple whammy and do something using pumpkin oil, pumpkin seeds and squash flesh.
- Roasted 350g of cubed butternut squash in a little olive oil at 200C for 20 minutes.
- Toasted 40g of pumpkin seeds by dry frying them in a pan for a few minutes until a substantial number had popped.
- Put 300g flour (100g wholemeal spelt, 200g white) in a mixing bowl.
- Added 2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda and 1/4 tsp salt.
- Added 2 tbsp cocoa powder & whisked together to ensure all was incorporated and there were no lumps.
- Stirred in the cooled pumpkin seeds.
- Grated in 30g cheddar cheese.
- Divided 70g goats cheese into two.
- Chopped half into small pieces and stirred into the flour.
- Chopped the other half into 24 portions and put to one side.
- In a separate bowl beat 3 small eggs with 200ml yogurt.
- Beat in 50ml of pumpkin seed oil and 50ml sunflower oil.
- Beat in 100ml milk and a good good grinding of black pepper.
- Chopped a few tarragon leaves into tiny pieces and beat these in too.
- Mashed the roasted squash roughly with a fork and stirred into the milk mixture.
- Made a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and added the batter.
- Stirred as lightly as possible until everything was just incorporated.
- Divided between 12 silicone muffin moulds.
- Topped each with a few raw pumpkin seeds and two pieces of goats cheese.
- Baked at 200C for 20 minutes
- Left for a few minutes in their moulds, then turned out onto a wire rack to cool.
As I hoped, these were a match for the beetroot muffins and made a very tasty lunch for CT and I for the next few days. Toasting the pumpkin seeds first worked really well, bringing out their rich nutty flavour. The squash was more subtle, but played its part very well in keeping the muffins moist. The tarragon added a nice aniseed hint, although a few more leaves would have given a better flavour; it was only just detectable. The cheese added that yummy umami quality which just makes you want to come back for more.
One Ingredient is also featuring pumpkin this month, so in addition to entering this, I’m also looking forward to seeing the other entries – squash is one of my favourite vegetables. This month’s challenge is hosted by Nazima of Franglais Kitchen, but is co-hosted by Laura of How to Cook Good Food.
As the last of our tarragon was used in these muffins, I am entering them into Herbs on Saturday, hosted by Karen of Lavender and Lovage.
I’m also submitting these to Weekend Herb Blogging as I’ve used both tarragon and pumpkin seeds. This is a weekly challenge where any recipe featuring some part of a plant can be submitted. This week is being hosted by La Cucina di Cristina.
On perusing my favourite new baking book, Dan Lepard’s fabulous Short & Sweet, this recipe for pumpkin ginger cupcakes very quickly made its presence felt. We had four massive Boston Marrow squashes (you can see last year’s pictures here) from our plot this year. These are big with firm orange flesh and are easier to grow in our climate than most. They are also thin skinned, like a butternut squash, so are easy to prepare. The downside of this is that they don’t keep very well. We have, therefore, been supping on squash soups, curries or stews most nights for the last month or so. I’ve made pumpkin syrup, pumpkin biscotti, pumpkin butter and now these cupcakes. Luckily, I love squash, so I’m sort of pleased and sort of sad that we’ve only got enough left of this year’s crop for another 4 or 5 meals plus maybe some pumpkin scones.
Another reason, if another was needed, for making these particular cakes, was the element of ginger. I wanted to submit something to TeaTimeTreats, a new baking challenge set by Karen of Lavender and Lovage and Kate of What Kate Baked. Ginger and bonfire treats is the chosen theme for November. I did make an apple and ginger oat pudding a few weeks ago, which I was going to enter, but cakes are more of a teatime treat than puddings.
Having made the pumpkin butter, I was keen to use it, so the topping is not the one Dan prescribed but one I made up. I also swapped the nuts for chocolate – how could I not? And made a few other amendments. This is what I did:
- Grated 250g squash.
- Finely chopped 100g crystallised ginger.
- Roughly chopped 50g dark 70% chocolate.
- Creamed 175g molasses sugar with 125g unsalted butter.
- Beat in 2 large eggs, one by one.
- Stirred in the pumpkin and ginger.
- Mixed in 200g flour (half spelt, half white), 2 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp ground ginger 1 tsp allspice, a grating or two of nutmeg and 1/8 tsp ground cloves.
- Stirred in the chocolate and spooned into twelve muffin cases.
- Baked at 180C for 20 minutes, left to cool for 5 minutes then turned out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- Beat 100g icing sugar with 125g mascarpone until smooth.
- Stirred in 2 tbsp of pumpkin butter.
- Spread onto the cooled cupcakes and decorated with slices of crystallised ginger.
I was so pleased with my pumpkin butter topping, it was delicious; creamy and spicy, with a nice tangerine tint to it. Once again, I had to refrain from eating the lot before it went onto the cakes.
The cakes tasted like a Jamaica ginger cake, according to CT, only not nearly as sweet and considerably more substantial. The lumps of ginger were nice and chewy and the chocolate chunks a welcome addition. Amazingly, with all these strong flavours, the pumpkin was detectable, in both the cake and topping. In fact, CT, in uncharacteristically techie mood, summed it up as being “like the html behind the blog”. He also noticed it left a clean and refreshing taste in the mouth.
This is another of my recipes that isn’t a chocolate one, but can be justified appearing here because it WILL be used in a chocolate recipe – to be posted shortly! Adapted from the excellent blog One Perfect Bite, where you will find the photograph is so much better than mine, I have reduced the amount of sugar and spices and increased the apple juice content. There is much debate as to whether pumpkin butter can be water processed, thus extending its life to a year or so; as the debate has not proved conclusive either way, I thought I’d go with the safest method – the ‘keep it in the fridge and try and use it within a month’ one. This is how I did it:
- Cut a big chunk out of the last of our Boston Marrow pumpkins.
- Peeled and de-seeded it, then cut it into small chunks (about 1″ sq) to weigh about 2.5 lb.
- Placed in a large pan with 1 cup of very local apple juice, kindly given by a friend.
- Brought to the boil, then simmered (with the lid on) until soft – approximately 30 minutes.
- Pureed this with a hand blender.
- Stirred in 1 cup of granulated sugar and the following spices: 1 rounded tsp ground ginger, 1 rounded tsp ground cinnamon, 1/8 tsp ground cloves and a good grating of nutmeg.
- Simmered this gently (with the lid off) for a further hour, stirring occasionally, until the mixture was thick and leaving a well defined trail when a spoon was dragged through it.
- Spooned into 6 warm sterilised jars.
- Left to cool and placed in the fridge.
Having mentioned the C word in my last post, I am fully committed to it now. In a bid to try and remember what Christmas is all about and to get away from the avid commercialism associated with it, Vanessa Kimbell has created a thought provoking Let’s Make Christmas event. The idea is to inspire people to make their own Christmas gifts this year – or at least some of them. As I’ve always tried to make a few of my own each year, I heartily approved of this sentiment. Then Vanessa came up with a second Let’s Make Christmas event which I was also keen to participate in. She is hosting a food blogger gift swap – in Fortnum and Masons no less. I haven’t been to this shop in many many a long year, but it still lives on in my memory as a perfect Aladdin’s cave of foodie delights. I really didn’t want to miss out on this one.
But oh what to make, what to make? It needed to be something light, that would travel well and could be made well in advance. My first thought was biscotti, as the ones I made last year were so good. On reflection though, I thought this wasn’t very original so contemplated making these chocolate oranges instead. But, having mulled that over, I rejected it, mostly because the only organic oranges I could find were thin skinned and your really need thick skinned pithy oranges for this. Hmmmmm, various biscuits, brownies, tiffin, truffles all came to mind. Then I was sent a copy of Cox Cookies & Cake to review. The review will follow in a later post, but one of the recipes that leapt straight out of the page was this one – oh well back to the biscotti idea after all. But pumpkin biscotti! Surely not many others will be doing that. And we did manage to grow quite a few large pumpkins this year, which nicely tied into my seasonal theme. Having been inspired by Karen’s mixed spice over at Lavender & Lovage, I was keen to make my own for this recipe. The only missing ingredient was chocolate, but chocolate dipped biscotti can only be a good thing, surely?
Something this special required a freshly ground spice mix. I often make my own mixed spice for baking and this was one of those times.
Mixed Spice Recipe
- Ground 2 inches of a cinnamon quill in the coffee grinder with 1/4 tsp of cloves, 2 star anise, 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, 1/4 tsp black pepper corns, the seeds from 5 cardamom pods and 1/4 tsp allspice berries.
- Added a good grating of nutmeg then pounded it further in a pestle and mortar to make it as fine as possible.
So here you have my first batch of pumpkin biscotti. I shall make some more for the big do in London nearer the time. I halved the recipe, although the mixture was so wet (probably because I added more pumpkin than I should have) I had to add quite a few spoonfuls of additional flour to the mix, so this is really quite a bit more than half. Here’s how I did it:
Spicy Pumpkin Biscotti Recipe
- Steamed 80g of peeled and chopped pumpkin (Boston Marrow) flesh for 15 minutes until tender.
- Left to drain for a good half an hour to ensure it wouldn’t be too wet.
- Mashed with a fork.
- Toasted 100g mixed nuts in the oven at 180C for 10 minutes until just starting to brown.
- Placed in a pan and fried them in 15g butter for a few minutes.
- Sieved 225g flour (100g white, 125g spelt) into a bowl with 1 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp of the mixed spice.
- Added 175g dark brown sugar.
- Made a well in the centre and added 1 large egg and the mashed pumpkin.
- Mixed this in, starting in the middle and working outwards.
- Added about 3 tbsp more of spelt as the mixture was very wet.
- Spooned onto a baking tray lined with a silicone mat in a rough log shape.
- Baked for 25 minutes at 180C.
- Left to cool for 20 minutes.
- Cut 1 cm slices diagonally across the log with a bread knife (17 long pieces in total).
- Placed the slices on two lined trays and baked at 160C for a further 15 minutes.
- Left to cool on a wire rack.
- Melted 60g 72% dark chocolate in a bowl over hot water.
- Coated the ends of 8 of the biscotti in the melted chocolate by means of dipping and pouring it over with a teaspoon.
- Left on a wire rack to set.
- Placed in a jar and tied a ribbon and tag around it (I use old Chrismas cards as tags).
Nutty, spicy and delicious, I thought these had the necessary star quality to travel with me to London. I was particularly pleased with the spice mix, which was so much more aromatic for being freshly ground. These were not overly sweet as evinced by CT’s first comment on biting into a piece, “mmmm, tastes like a sausage” – great! However, once covered in chocolate, no more mention was made of sausages, just pleasant grunts of satisfaction were evinced. The only thing I would do differently is to make much smaller pieces – I had to find a very tall jar for these to fit in.