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Butternut and ham soup

If you’re living in the Northern Hemisphere right now, like I am, you may well be in need of a little warming up.  Not too many people I know dislike Autumn, or fall, as it’s appropriately called here (anyone wanting to know Why it’s called Fall in North America, and not Autumn, need only take a long walk in a park or the countryside to find out); the colours, the hearty food, the smell of damp leaves and wood fire.  It’s all good, as they say.  Well, I’m heading to Vancouver for a few days and it’s forecast to be rain rain rain the whole way.  A little fortification is called for, so a butternut and ham soup for lunch is the best answer I can think of.   Soups are delightfully simple to make (on the most part), invigorating in the chill, and healthy too, when prepared with good ingredients.  This soup is lightly spiced with paprika and cumin, and the butternut and diced ham were roasted in a hot oven for 45 mins before being boiled into the soup.  Does this affect the flavour? You got me there, but I’ll tell you this: my house smelled divine for hours after from the doings of the oven.  Curl up on the couch with woolen socks, a cosy blankie and tuck in.

butternut

Bon Voyage, a le prochaine semaine!

Newfoundland 2007 4

I seem to have my jet-set engines on at the moment. I’m only just getting my breath back from our trip to Newfoundland and already I’m busy packing for another bout of airports and baggage check. Naturally I’m thrilled to be partaking of one of my great loves in life: travel; but it also means that I’ve not had too much time to do any cooking. And all those squash and pumpkins just lying there, calling me! I love this time of year and I’ve been waiting patiently, almost on tender hooks, to sink my cooking teeth into some new dishes. Well, they’ll just have to wait, I’m afraid, until I’m back from my exploring. Oh, our lives are not boring, at least! Now the question is: will I have time to make real Christmas pudding this year, when the time to make it would be now? The proof of that pudding … well, you know. C’est la vie, non? Right now, though, I’m still dreaming of Newfoundland, with its raw, majestic landscapes and its wild, unforgiving storms and its seas, which throw themselves, now calmly, now violently at the shores like a heartbroken woman. The kind of seas you want to stand overlooking, on a cliff, and conduct into a crescendo. The kind of land filled with fervent passion and cold cruelty, wherever you look. And with blueberries and partridge berries covering the ground, just begging for a pie.

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Hold your breath

Newfoundland 2007 2

I’ve been scouring one of the five corners of the world.  It’s a place which remains as unconnected from things like cell phone reception and internet services as a world-weary soul could seek.  I’ll be back with stories and food.  Oh, just you wait.

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The First Apple Pie

Apple Mulberry Pie

Mmmm.  What more can you say about apple pie?  Well, actually, I can think of a thing or two.  Let’s be honest.  Is there anyone out there who doesn’t like apple pie, even if it’s somewhere deep down inside your most private thoughts?  Saying you don’t like apple pie is like saying you don’t like puppies, or the Seychelles, or the Sound of Music.  Ahem.  You know, a friend once told me, long, long ago, in a far away land, that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who like the Sound of Music and those who pretend they don’t.

I always have to be strict with myself regarding apple pie: to wait wait wait for the fresh crop of apples in the early autumn to make apple pie.  It’s all about eating seasonally, non? And yet every now and then I will break down and buy apples in April or May, those shipped in from South Africa or last season’s released from months of cold storage and make a big old apple pie.  Yet, that first pie of Autumn, with it’s super crisp, slightly tangy, tart apples is better than the Seychelles, better than it all, and a reminder to us all to be patient next year and just wait a few more months.  This pudding definitely has the proof in it.

*note: the dried white Mulberries where a gift to me from my wonderful friend, Ms A, who has opened my eyes to the culinary wonders of Persian food in all it’s glory.  You should be able to find them at any Iranian or Middle Eastern food store.

Apple Mulberry Pie 2

Apple and White Mulberry Pie

1 x pate brise
– 2 cups flour
– 1 tsp salt
– 1 tsp sugar
– 2 sticks cold butter
– ¼ – ½ cup ice water

filling:
1 cup dried white mulberries
1 Tbsp Whiskey
Hot water
2 ½ pounds apples, peeled, cored and thickly sliced
2 Tbsp lemon juice
½ cup sugar
¼ cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
pinch cloves
pinch salt
2 Tbsp butter

– put the mulberries in a small bowl, cover with hot water and whiskey and allow to sit for a at least an hour to soften.

Make the pastry:
– whisk together flour, salt and sugar.

– chop cold butter into small pieces and then run into the flour mix until it starts to resemble oat meal with pea sized chunks of butter.

– add water and mix with your hands until a dough just starts to form.  Dump the almost-dough onto a piece of cling wrap.  Divide the mix into two, putting the other half onto another piece of cling film.  Shap each piece into a rough disc, cover completely with plastic and pop in the fridge for an hour.

– pre heat the oven to 440˚F

– remove one half of the chilled dough at a time and roll out into a circle, large enough to line the pie tin with a a good 1½ inch flap over.  use one half to line a greased pie tin, in the fridge, and keep the other flat, on a baking sheet in the fridge for the top.  Refrigerate pastry for another 15 – 20 mins while you prepare the filling.

– mix apples with lemon juice, flour, sugar and spices, leave at room temp for 10 mins.  Add mulberries and mix.

– take pie shell out of the fridge. Fill with apple mulberry mix and dot with butter.

– Brush edges of pie crust with water and place top pastry over the filling, pressing down on the edges to seal the pie.  Trim the pastry edge to a 1 inch over hang. Tuck top pastry under bottom along the edges to form a good seal.  Use your fingers or the tines of a fork to reinforce and decorate pie edge.  Cut 4 slits into the pie, starting from about 2 inches short of the top and running to about 4 inches from the edge for steam vents.

– decorate with pastry leaves, if desired, and brush pastry with milk or beaten egg.

– place you oven shelf on the lowest rung available and bake pie for 50 – 60 mins until juices are bubbling out of the slits and the pastry is golden brown.

Apples and Mulberries

the perfect apple

I received a phone call from a wonderful friend the other day. “I’m so excited,” she quirped, ” I’m outside a fruit stall and I’ve found the most perfect apples. They’re just too beautiful, I’m going to buy you one.” My kind of friend. And she was right. When we met up later at the Farmers Market, which has sort of become a naughty habitude of ours, she plonked her find down on the picnic table we were sitting at, snacking on various freshly bought goodies, and grinned at me. “Don’t you think?” she asked. I did. I thought very much. Just perfect. It’s colour somewhere between ochre and chartreuse, the size of a softball, and firm and crisp in texture. I got home, gave it pride of place in the fruit bowl and spent 2 days looking at it before deciding just what would be the perfect ouvre for this perfect apple. A perfect, early autumn apple. A bread pudding perhaps? Could it be that simple?

So, the problem I’ve always had with bread pudding is that it often felt like some sort of punishment at home. I was known, as a child (and sometimes as an adult), for living with ‘my head in cloud nine’, as my Mum would say. There were plenty occasions growing up where I left my lunch behind on the kitchen counter: peanut butter and jam sandwiches neatly wrapped in wax paper; only to find, later that starving day, that we were having bread pudding for dinner. Peanut butter and jam bread pudding. Needless to say, it’s taken me a bit of time to confront the bread pudding demon from my past and establish that it is, indeed, one of the greatest of comfort puddings known to man. And downright thrifty too, if you don’t mind me saying. In fact, I might go so far as to say that bread pudding is quite possibly the only acceptable way to head into autumn. An army marches on its stomach, after all. Best be prepared, non?

Apple nut bread pudding

Apple and Four Nut Bread Pudding

feeds 4 (or 2 with leftovers for round two the next day)

4 slices whole grain bread
butter, enough for spreading bread, greasing dish and dotting on pudding
6 – 8 Tbsp sweetened Chestnut Spread (creme de Marrons)
1 big (perfect) apple, peeled, cored and sliced (I ate the perfect peel, don’t you worry)
½ cup saltana’s
4 large eggs
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp clovesCreme de marrons
pinch nutmeg
pinch salt
¼ cup golden brown sugar
1 cup milk
¼ cup chopped walnuts
¼ pistachio’s

– preheat the oven to 400˚F

– thinly butter the bread and spread with chestnut spread. Cut slices into quarters, diagonally, to make tirangles

– grease an oven proof dish. Alternate slices of bread and slices of apple to fill the dish.

– scatter saltana’s over top

– beat eggs with spices, salt and sugar, then add milk and beat well but not long enough to froth the eggs.

– pour milk/egg over bread. Scatter nuts over top and let pudding sit for 5 minutes. This lets the bread absorb the liquid.

– bake for about 35 – 40 mins.

– serve with vanilla ice-cream or whipped cream.

Apple nut bread pudding baked

Autumnal Stuffed Squash

I love squash. I was brought up eating gem squash a couple of times a week, steamed in a pot and mashed up in the half shell with a slathering of salted butter and black pepper. Yum. I don’t know why we don’t eat that many any more, but when I saw these beautiful, variegated, stripey squash in amongst the first autumn pumpkins I knew just exactly what I was going to do with them: stuff ’em! And even though it’s still warm out (amazingly, thinking back to the wet, chilly September we had last year) I’m filled with the excitement and energy autumn seems to bring me and a really, truly Autumn meal is just what the doctor ordered, especially when served with a divine, meaty South African Cabernet. Oh, my!

Stuffed Autumn Squash

1 Kale leaf, chopped
2 Beet leaves, chopped (use the ones from a bunch of beets if they’re fresh and not wilted)
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 small zucchini, finely chopped
⅓ – ½ cup mushrooms, finely chopped
5 – 6 meat balls ( or a bit of cooked mince, or some pancetta, chopped)
handful chopped parsley
2 – 3 Tbsp chopped Almonds
salt and pepper to taste

1 or 2 squash, halved and deseeded
Camembert cheese, enough for a chunk on each squash half

– preheat oven to 400˚F

– simply mix all ingredients in a bowl, seasoning to taste, and fill the cavities of each squash. You might have filling left over. Bake this in a bowl along with the squash for a great lunch treat. Top each squash with a generous chunk of Camembert.

– bake the squash for about 40 – 50 mins or until squash is tender when poked with a fork. Serve with polenta or mashed potato

Autumn Kale

Artichokes 1

The ever willing to be fed Mr P and I have been experimenting with Artichokes now and again this Summer. These prickly little devils are not something we’re at all used to dealing with in their whole, gorgeous form. I love artichokes, but have never ventured further than the marinated, Italian kind you throw on pizza’s or into a pasta. Yum. So, when I saw the whole thistle at the market, earlier in the Summer Season, how could I resist giving it a go? Well, I did the research and picked the thing up de temp en temp, turning it in my hand, eyeballing it suspiciously through narrowed eyes and wondered what to do. Out came the kitchen shears, a steamer and an apron. I whipped up a little bowl of dip, set the table for two and yelled “grubs up” down the passageway to a very distracted Mr P, who came sauntering into the kitchen just as I hauled the steamed, now brownish green globes from the steamer. He stopped, raised a quizzical brow and slowly, rather gingerly, sat down.

Artichokes2

“These are supposed to be great”, I told him as I arranged one on each plate. “Everybody raves about them. Very Californian, you know.” As if that would make him feel less anxious about the strange, almost grey now, artichoke in front of him. “So, what you do, is you pick off a leaf, dunk it in the dip and, voila!” I chirped, doing just that. And sort of spat it out again. It was tough, leathery on the one side and pasty, squishy on the other. We kind of picked at the leaves, one after the other, until we both gave up, our faces and plates a mess of half chewed artichoke leaves and dipping sauce. I think we ended up with beans on toast that night, but the wine was pretty good.

artichoke with parmesan and olive oil

This couldn’t be right. There must be something I’m missing. How can everybody be going gaga over artichokes when they seem so Wrong? I’ve tried a couple times, and this last time I was seduced by how fresh this bunch looked. They’re quite a bit smaller and I figured more tender. Well, they didn’t taste bad by any means, but still not worthy of a rave account. I chopped off the tops, steamed them for about 10 mins, stuffed them with parmesan, bread crumbs and olive oil and then baked them for another 10 or 15 mins.

Help? Someone? Anyone?

artichoke with parmesan and olive oil 2