Friday, 26 October 2007


I'm not the biggest fan of the whole hallowe'en thing, but one thing I do love is pumpkins. Lantern carving is a lot of fun, and there's so much potential to embrace the River Cottage nose to tail ethic so to speak, although I'm still trying to come up with a veggie alternative phrase. From seed to stalk maybe, or something like that. We've got at least 4, maybe 5 items out of this one - and first of all is the lantern of course...

Chop off the top of the pumpkin to form the lid. Once you're in, set aside the seeds for later. Scoop out at least half to two thirds of the thickness of the flesh and set this aside for later too, then carefully score and cut out the pieces. Be careful not to scrape the walls too much as I did though - the face is already going soft and starting to implode, I'm a little worried it's not going to stay intact until Wednesday!

Place a tealight or two inside and enjoy. I also like the slightly burnt smell it gives off as the heat from the candles starts to char the lid. I'd go for that over a sickly scented candle any day!

I made a couple of knitted pumpkins too, based on Curly Purly's pattern. They were really quick and easy, both of them completed in one day. Perfect prop for customising a hallowe'en cat.

So all that scraping wasn't ideal for the lantern itself, but here's what I've been up to with the results...

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Rinse and resudual fibres and slime off the seeds and allow to dry. Coat in a little olive oil and season with smoked paprika, cayenne, cumin and salt. Roast at 180 for 10 mins or so.

With the reserved flesh you could make pumpkin soup or add it to stock, but there's also the American classic:

Pumpkin Pie Filling

  • 1.5 lb pumpkin flesh
  • 2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
  • 1.5tbsp treacle
  • 4.5oz soft dark brown sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 heaped tsp each of ground cloves, allspice, nutmeg and ginger
  • 15fl oz double cream

Cook the pumpkin flesh over a gentle heat until soft, blend until smooth. Whisk the eggs and yolks in a large bowl until combined. Heat the other ingredients until they reach simmering point, pour onto the eggs and whisk, then whisk in the pumpkin flesh.

This is enough to fill 3 ready made pastry cases - place the empty cases on the oven shelf before filling so that you can pour in as much as possible. Bake at 180C for 35-40min.

I still had some extra flesh left over, which Rebecca is going to use for pumpkin scones - looking forward to those! Finally, I reckon it'll still be possible to roast the remaining pumpkin flesh still on the lantern once we've enjoyed it on the mantlepiece for a few days. Et voila, nothing wasted!

Here's a pair hallowe'en snaps... the two-headed cat/girl with a freaky borg eye, and the four-eyed ghost cat...

Jam hot

I had a lovely package delivered through the internal mail the other day - a selection of chillies that Jean had been growing in her glasshouse. I wanted to make something that would preserve them so that we can keep on enjoying them for as long as possible.

Two other happy events coincided to lead me to make chilli and tomato jam this evening. The first happy event, was the 'christening' of my newest and current favourite book: Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery Course (for the scientists...Darina's book is to cooking as Stryer is to biochemistry, or Alberts to cell biology).

The second event, is the bountiful harvest of chillies from the lab of Dr Kate Storey. I'm not sure she intended it, but she has two very green fingered post-docs in the form of Marios and Barry who have been growing chilies on their office window sill. The two plants love it in there and have been producing heaps of fruit continuously for several months now and still continue to produce yet more flowers. Every time I go in there, Marios is franticly triyng to give them away. I particularly like this curly one I picked tonight, and the cute tiny little (HOT) ones from Jean...

I had some yummy langoustines with chilli jam at the Lochinver Larder when we went to the NW coast with Kirsty and I've been wanting to have a go at something similar since then. Thanks to Darina for an inspirational chapter on jams and preserves, and even more thanks to Jean for the most exciting thing I've had through the internal mail system!!!

Tomato and Chilli Jam

  • 500g very ripe tomatoes

  • 2-4 red chillies...I used 6 :)

  • 4 garlic cloves

  • 2.5cm ginger, peeled and roughly chopped

  • 2tbsp nam pla

  • 275g golden caster sugar

  • 100ml red wine vinegar

    Puree the chillies, garlic, ginger and nam pla in a blender. Peel the tomaties and cut to a 1cm dice. Add all the ingredients to a pan, gently bring to the boil and cook gently for 40mins, stirring occasionally. Pour into sterilised jars, allow to cool and then refrigerate.

    It's cheeky!!

    ooh, Heston Blumenthal has just come onto Jonathan Ross, excellent :)

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Sugar High Friday #35: apples and alcohol

I've been a lurker of the Sugar High Friday event for a little while now, so this month I thought I'd give it a go and join in. SHF#35 is hosted by Spittoon Extra and the theme is alcohol and apples. We must have been on the same autumnal wavelength, it was a perfect theme for me because I'm disappearing under a heap of apples at the moment, especially after last weekend's trip to the Newburgh Orchard Group sale. I love cider, and I love nice sharp British apples like cox - here's a cake with both.

There's no doubt about the 'sugar high' factor in this one, and it definitely has a strong alcoholic taste with all that cider and bourbon in it. The main taste in the cake itself was definitely the bourbon actually, but I think my favourite thing was the sauce. Reducing down all that cider and sugar from well over a liter down to just 1 cup made it VERY apple-y, and with a kind of sticky caramel feel. I'll definitely be making the pumpkin seed brittle again - it was quite fun watching them jumping all over the place as they toasted, and the final article went down very well with the visitors as we watched the rugby last night.

Apple Cider Cake with Cider Sauce and Pumpkin Seed Brittle

Pumpkin Seeed Brittle

1/3 cup sugar

2tbsp light corn syrup

2tbsp water

heaped 1/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

Pinch baking soda dissolved in 1tsp water

Line a baking sheet with well buttered paper. Combine sugar, syrup and water, and bring to the boil over a high heat. Boil undisturbed until a deep caramel colour develops. Remove from the heat and add the seeds and baking soda. Quickly mix to combine, spread to a thin layer on the baking sheet, and leave until cold and hard.

Cider Sauce

4 cups cider

1/3 cup bourbon

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup golden syrup

2tbsp cider vinegar

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 vanilla pod, split and scraped

1 cup double cream

Place cider, bourbon, sugar, golden syrup, vinegar, cinnamon and vanilla in a wide shallow pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, add the double cream then boil over a medium high heat until reduced to about 1 cup.

Cider and apple cake

1 3/4 cups and 1tbsp plain flour

1tsp each salt

1tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

3/4 cup and 2tsp cider

3tbsp vegetable oil

1/4 cup bourbon

7tbsp softened unsalted butter

seeds of 1/2 vanilla pod

2 large eggs

2 sharp apples such as Cox

Preheat oven to 180C. Butter and flour a base lined 9 inch tin. Combine flour, salt, baking powder and soda. In a separate bowl combine cider, vegetable oil and bourbon. In a large bowl beat the butter until fluffy, then beat in the sugar and vanilla. Beat in the eggs a little at a time, then beat in the other dry ingredients and liquid alternately a little at a time.

Spread 2/3 of the mixture in the tin, drizzle 1/2 cup cider sauce over it, and then spread over the rest of the cake mixture carefully. Peel apples and cut into segments. Score the segments and lay cut side down on the top of the cake. Bake in the center of the oven for 40 minutes.

Serve warm, with the rest of the re-warmed sauce and shards of pumpkin seed brittle.

One less WIP

...and one more FO! Yay for me! Utopia hat from Smariek Knits... done. DB Rialto Aran, less purple and more maroon than the pics, but lovely and springy and thick. A v quick knit, and I used just over one ball. I'd like to use the rest of the second to make a scarf although I think I'll be buying a third to make it long enough next time we go to Newburgh.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Chicken out!

Another food post I know, the knitting is suffering because I've gone WIP mad and can't stop casting on new things. Next post will be knitting, I promise!

I wanted to draw your attention to the River Cottage 'Chicken Out!' campaign. At the risk of being dismissed for biased vegetarian propaganda there's a few facts below for you to think on, but I really urge you to visit the Chicken Out website to sign and register your support. These guys are total grass roots carnivores so take it from them if not me!

The average Brit eats almost 25 kilos of chicken a year, and of these hundreds of millions of chickens, most of them - more than 95% - are reared inside, produced in industrial conditions in vast, enclosed sheds. In fact, this intensive poultry production is so slick and efficient that chicken is actually cheaper now than it was 20 years ago.

Standard chickens are now grown from newly hatched chick to oven-ready bird in an astonishing 39 days, which is half the time it took 40 years ago under less intensive conditions. Regardless of whether you're interested in animal welfare, how can that meat be good quality?? You get what you pays for! The aim of the Chicken Out campaign is to ask people to vote with their shopping baskets so to speak and go free range.

Birds commonly develop severe problems associated with unnaturally fast weight gain and restricted movement, and many die prematurely: 45 million factory-farmed birds are thrown away each year before they even reach slaughter-weight. If nothing else, that's just a shocking waste of food!


Monday, 15 October 2007

Food and Yarn in Newburgh

Last weekend saw the monthly trip to knitting group at Twist Fibre Craft Studio in Newburgh. It proved to yield a bountiful harvest, both woolly and foody. I was rather good and only spent a couple of quid over the £10 bonus I had on my twist card – I bought some lovely springy and stretchy DB Rialto Aran in a dark burgundy colour, a nice long circular needle for an upcoming project (MUST finish SKB first!), and some lopi for Diane.

I had visions of making gloves/mittens with the rialto by modifying a pattern for fingerless gloves from knitty. The cables came out beautifully, but things started going off the rails once I’d completed the part the pattern covers and started freestyling instead. I think this yarn is just a bit too thick and chunky for doing individual fingers, and even mittens would end up more like oven gloves. I like the fingerless ones, but I don’t think I’d really wear them all that much so I pulled it all out again. Maybe a nice cabled hat instead? I’ve got my eye on this from Brooklyn Tweed (probs better in tweed tho) and this from Smariek Knits.

When w
e arrived, we found that Newburgh Orchard Group were having their last sale of the year on a little stall near where we parked. It’s really nice to see a bunch of people getting together and selling stuff that they’ve been growing, and that you just can’t get in the supermarket. I bought some Newton’s Wonder apples, some Concorde pears, and some cooking apples which I can’t remember the name of. They are a variety that goes soft and fluffy when cooked, unlike Bramleys. I also bought a jar of beetroot chutney, and some sloes.

Last night I used one of the apples together with some blackberries that I picked at the top of my road, and made a sponge pudding with the fruit at the bottom and loads of custard on top. Yum yum. I just had salad for tea so that I could have an extra large helping of dessert!
I felt a bit of a cheat buying the sloes rather than picking them, but they were complete with leaves and bits of twig, and I’m sure they came from a Newburgh hedgerow, and it’s good to support the orchard group so I think it’s ok ☺ Just about the only good use for sloes is making them into sloe gin, hurrah! My mum makes sloe gin but she’s very protective of it and won’t let me take any home with me, so I’m excited to have a go at making my own…

Sloe Gin

1L Gin
around 450-500g Sloes (best picked after first frost, or can be frozen first!)
100g sugar

Clean the sloes and remove any bad ones. Gently dry, then prick all over and put into a sterile bottle or jar with the sugar and the gin. Shake every day for a few weeks, then every week after that for another 2 or 3 months.

The bottle must be stored in the dark to encourage good colour development.

Different sources have different suggestions about when to strain the mixture and decant the liquid, but it seems like anything from 3 months to a year. I guess the trick is to keep tasting it until it seems good, and adding more sugar if necessary. Many recipes have much more sugar than this, but I want to keep it to a minimum to avoid the finished product being to sickly sweet.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

My first publication (sort of!)

...and it's not in a scientific journal!! HaHa. I was very excited on Saturday morning to open up the Guardian magazine and see a full page photo of the biscuits I made at River Cottage staring back at me. Lots of out of proportion pride and joy! I kept having a little peek to check they were still there all weekend. At risk of my head getting too big I took it to work yesterday as well. Judith very kindly got quite excited too, and photocopied the article. Bless her.

There isn't a pic in the online article, but the recipes are there.

Monday, 8 October 2007

There's got to be a mushroom around here somewhere!

It seems that there's a genetic component to successful mushroom hunting: a good amount of Italian DNA is a distinct advantage for sure. Last weekend however, Barry and I took our pale English selves off to Tentsmuir with a nice basket (thanks Nikki!) and our fingers crossed. No luck however. There were a few fungi dotted around here and there, but we certainly weren't tripping over them and there were absolutely no porcini to be seen. I think it was too dry. Oh well, next time perhaps. Here's Barry strolling along as I scrabbled about underneath the trees and occasionally popped out to straighten up and remove the twigs from my hair. As well as no mushrooms, I also came home with no tics this time, so it's not all bad!!

There's been a distinct dropoff in both the knitting and the baking this weekend due to an awful lot of rugby world cup excitement (and rugby-related hangovers on Sunday). But I did make some rocky road chocolate bars and some honeycomb for match snacks on Saturady afternoon. The Coopers Australian ale was just a bit too tasty...


100g caster sugar

4tbsp golden syrup

1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Heat the sugar and syrup until dissolved and turning golden (don't stir too much). Remove from the heat and quickly whisk in the bicarb, then pour out onto a greased surface. Break into chunks once cool and hardened.