Favourite Five Chestnut Recipes

Across Europe and the US, people have been out and about on the streets, frantically shopping for presents and visiting the sales. Many will be fuelled with piping hot chestnuts, roasted in barrels and sold by street vendors. The piping hot nuts are a Christmas tradition across the northern Europe and beyond. Chestnuts are a great ingredient for our home cooking too; whether in sweet or savoury dishes, they are a seasonal highlight.

Chestnut & Sage Soup – Sauté half an onion in a little oil and butter until soft and translucent. Add a few chopped sage leaves and a finely chopped clove of garlic, before 100g cooked chestnuts, a couple of chopped large potatoes and 1/2 litre of vegetable stock. After 30 minutes of simmering, whizz with the blender, then add 25ml of milk, reheat and serve topped with a few sliced chestnuts and crispy sage leaves.

Sweet Chestnut Purée – In a saucepan, combine 300g nuts, 220g sugar and 250ml water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 25-35 minutes until the majority of the liquid is evaporated. Remove from heat, add a little vanilla paste, then strain the nuts (reserving the liquid). Whizz the nuts in the food processor until smooth, before adding the syrup slowly to get the right consistency. Chill and use to fill your next sponge cake.

Chestnut, leek, apple and Stilton crumble – This is based on a great recipe from Leiths Vegetarian Bible. Sauté an onion and a couple of leeks, stir a little flour into the mix, cook for a minute, before adding 300ml of stock. Add a 225g pack of chestnuts, a little thyme, and bring to the boil, simmering for a 15 minutes until the chestnuts are tender. Peel, core and quarter a couple of apples and add them and the chestnut mix to an ovenproof dish. Make a crumble from 110g flour and 55g butter, adding some Stilton into the crumble once made. Top the chestnut mix with the crumble and bake for half an hour at 190°C.

Chestnut Stuffing – A simple traditional stuffing for the festive bird (or just to have on its own). Mix a good sausage-meat with chopped chestnuts, an egg, some breadcrumbs, a little fresh sage, salt and pepper. Cook in the roast, or in a dish separately for half an hour.

Quince & Chestnut Frangipane Tart – Although a version of this tart was included in the Favourite Five Pear recipes; this chestnut version is great. Swapping the usual ground almonds for ground chestnuts gives it a lovely nuttiness and the perfumed quince is perfect for a cold winter’s evening.

Roasted Carrot and Cumin Soup with Labneh

With weather a little colder in the last few days, and certainly as a way of warming up after yet another drenching, soup is firmly back on the menu. Our carrots at the allotment have been pretty good this year, but due to the clay soil I only every grow small varieties like Chantenay  and Paris Market. Although this means I have a good amount of carrots, their small size also results in their being eaten up speedily. All this means we don’t have any carrots in storage. However, the other day I was given a load of carrots by a friend, with the mission of turning them into something yummy. My go-to use for a carrot glut is carrot and coriander soup, but we’d had that last week, so an alternative was needed. Roasting the carrots was needed to get the best of their (slightly past their best) flavour, so I added some cumin, onions and garlic when they went in the oven. The resulting spiced carrots made the perfect base for a sweet, spiced warming soup. Topped with cool slightly sharp Labneh it was just what was needed.

You will need

700g carrots, peeled and roughly chopped (larger chunks take longer to roast, so vary times accordingly)
3 cloves of garlic
1 onion (chopped into eighths)
Salt & Pepper
2 tsp of cumin seeds (slightly crushed)
drizzle of olive oil
1l good chicken stock
Labneh, freshcoriander and zaatar to serve – I made my own labneh, by straining 450g of yoghurt with a pinch of salt overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C. Add the chopped carrots, garlic and onions to an oven tray, sprinkle with the cumin, salt and pepper and olive oil. Toss the vegetables to ensure they are all covered in the oil and seasoning. Roast for 30 mins or until partly browned. Once the carrots have started to caramelise, pour them into a saucepan and add 1l stock. Bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are soft and tender. Whizz in the food processor and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Serve the hot soup with a spoonful of the labneh (or Greek yoghurt if you want) and a sprinkling of zaatar and fresh chopped coriander.

Favourite Five Pear Recipes

Our little pear tree has been a real success this year. So small that there is no way it could support a partridge for a Christmas card photo shoot, it has had a really good crop of beautiful fruit. I’ve come to pears late in my life; as a child I always saw them as grainy, crunchy and not entirely appealing, but as an adult I’ve grown to appreciate the moment in time when a pear is a perfect sensuous fruit. There is little better than a perfectly ripe, juicy, pear just sliced and eaten; but they’re a brilliant ingredient too and appear in some of the family’s favourite dishes.

Roasted Roots, Pears and Lentil salad – Roasted pears are a warm, sweet, caramelized delight, and combined with earthy vegetables like beetroot and carrot, and nutty green lentils, make a super winter salad. This salad is an adaptation of the salad posted the other day, using pears instead of apples and blue cheese instead of goats cheese.

Gluten-free Pear and Chocolate Tart – This has become a big hit with my son and is made by both his grandmothers whenever he goes to visit, indeed one of them was the first to make it and it has been passed around the family and enjoyed by all. Having made a gluten free pastry case, the filling to this tart is made of quartered pears in a chocolate almond. To make the sponge, combine 125g ground almonds, 125g softened butter, 95g caster sugar and two eggs, before mixing in 185g warm melted chocolate. Place the quartered peeled pears in the blind baked pastry case, then pour in the filling. Bake for 45 minutes at 190°C.

Pear, Red Cabbage and Walnut Slaw – Fruit in slaws is a real favourite of mine. I love how apple adds a contrasting sweetness to my beetroot and carrot slaw. This version is a nod to the classic Waldorf salad. Combine shredded cabbage, thinly sliced pears, sliced celery and some roughly chopped toasted walnuts. Add a splash of cider vinegar to some mayonnaise, season, then add to the fruit and veg. Make sure the dressing is distributed evenly, then serve.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Poached Pears – Such a simple dessert, but one which really enhances the flavour. Combine 3 cups white wine, 3 cups of water, a knife tip of vanilla paste and 3 cups of sugar to make a poaching liquid. Warm the poaching liquor, peel the pears and place in the saucepan. Use a piece of baking parchment to form a lid and poach for 10-15 mins (depending on how ripe you fruit is). When soft, take off heat and serve immediately, or pop in the fridge with the poaching liquid until needed. Super as a pudding, but equally good on top of your breakfast porridge.

Pear Frangipane Tart – I love frangipane, and it goes brilliantly with pears. In the past I have used ground chestnuts instead of the usual almonds, giving it a slightly sweeter nuttiness. Use just pears, or combine with poached quince for a more autumnal decadent tart.frangipane tarts (2)

 

Autumnal Root Vegetable Salad with Goats Cheese and Lentils

During the spring and summer, there’s not much more I like than to have a fresh salad, using what I can find at the allotment to make a delicious lunch. As the weather cools and the days get shorter (and wetter it seems), my love of the salad is replaced by a desire to eat warm comforting food like jacket potatoes, stews, and soup. However, the root vegetables are often at their best during this period and I’ve become to realise that they are just as good in a salad as a juicy tomato, or crunchy cucumber. When roasted, their inherent sweet earthiness is perfect to team with the slightly bitter leaves of chicory or rocket, providing both a fresh and comforting taste. So today, I’m having an autumnal salad of roasted carrot and beetroot, green lentils and a little goats cheese. Perfect.

roasted veg salad

You will need (for two people)

2 medium sized beetroot chopped into eighths
2 medium carrots, cut into small chunks
1 crisp apple, cored and cut into eighths
1tsp. caraway seed
dash of olive oil
100g Goats cheese

For the lentils
100g green lentils
1 bay leaf
350ml water (or vegetable stock)
A small handful of finely chopped parsley

For the dressing
3tbsp olive oil (I used the drained oil from the roasted vegetables)
1tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 clove of garlic crushed (I used a roasted clove of garlic I put in with the vegetables)
1/4 tbsp honey
pinch of salt and a few twists of black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C, then toss the chopped vegetables in a roasting tin with the caraway seeds and olive oil. Roast in the oven until soft and slightly caramelised; depending on the size and variety of your roots they may need different times, I tend to start with the beetroot, add the carrots 10 minutes later, the apples 10 minutes after that. It usually takes 30-40 mins in total.

roasted veg

Meanwhile place the lentils and bay leaf in a saucepan with the stock or water and bring to the boil. Partially covered with a lid, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are just tender. Drain away any excess liquid and discard the bay leaf. Season the lentils with a little salt and pepper, before putting to one side.

To make the dressing, just add the dressing ingredients into a jar with a screw-top lid; cap and shake vigorously to emulsify. Pour some dressing into the lentils when they’re still warm, stirring in a small handful of finely chopped parsley as you do.

To serve, combine the dressed lentils with the roasted vegetables and apple. Divide between two plates, top with broken pieces of soft goats cheese. then drizzle with a little more of the dressing.

#CookBlogShare

Feed the Birds Tuppence a Bag

The last few days have seen a return of the wet weather, but before that the autumnal cold showed itself and reminded me that the birds at the allotment, and garden, needed a bit of extra help with food. Our allotment, squeezed in between houses, shops and schools like an urban oases, has a pretty varied bird life. In recent months I’ve seen everything from blue-tits and sparrows, to goldfinches and spotted woodpeckers. We usually put out some food at this point, to supplement the natural sources and the drying seedheads of the sunflowers and other flowers.

Last year I made seed cakes which, hung from the apple tree, were very popular with the feathered visitors to the plot. As was the peanut wreath which we hung on the shed door. Our own homemade food sources were always supplemented by bought bird feeders filled with seeds and nuts. However, the winds of early autumn have destroyed or completely removed these feeders, sending them across the allotment and into mangled heaps or oblivion. Despite the fact that I can buy a new one from a supermarket for a few quid I decided to make my own replacement. I may not be able to buy seed for tuppence a bag, but its pretty cheap from discount stores, so a homemade feeder cost me very little really.

You will need

A juice bottle or similar
Stick or twig of suitable size
Drill with drill bit matching diameter of stick
Needle
Seeds
String or thin wire
Craft knife

Wash and dry the bottle, as its important to ensure that its as free of moisture to start with (too much moisture will promote seed growth which birds aren’t keen). Use the needle to pierce a few holes in the base; this allows any water to drain out too. About 1/3 of the way up from the base, drill 2 holes the diameter of your chosen stick, and then thread the stick across so it forms a perch on both sides. On either side of the bottle, use a craft knife to cut out an opening just above the perch. Tie the wire or string around the neck of the bottle to form a hanger, before using the opening by the perch to fill the feeder with seeds. The seeds should reach the level of the perch, so that initially the birds don’t need to reach too far into the feeder. Hang on a branch with easy access for yourself (to refill) and the birds (easy to land etc.).

bird feeder

Favourite Five Pumpkin & Squash Recipes

Last weekend we went to the Slindon Pumpkin Festival, enjoying the amazing display produced using these autumn fruits. Nothing says autumn more than a pumpkin or winter squash. They echo the changing colours of the foliage of our trees; transforming from the green of the summer to the blue-grey, orange, cadmium, gold, and yellows of autumn. As an ingredient, they bring an earthy sweetness, bringing a warming richness to a plethora of dishes. I love them and never manage to grow enough on the plot, despite annual attempts to have vast numbers of plants. Still, with the various pumpkin and squash I do grow, I like to make these Favourite Five dishes.

Blue Cheese, Squash and Rosemary Gnocchi – I love the pillowy lightness of good gnocchi. They’re soft and go brilliantly with the punchy flavours of squash, blue cheese and rosemary. Simply roast the squash and a few quartered red onions, combine with blue cheese and rosemary and mix into cooked gnocchi. For more details check out this post.

Butternut Squash Soup – Soup is perfect for this season, and simple to make. Heat some olive oil and throw in a finely chopped onion, celery, carrot, garlic, rosemary leaves and a a few chilli flakes. Cook for ten minutes, until the veg is sweet and soft. Add in the peeled and chopped squash, a litre of good chicken stock and simmer for roughly half an hour. When the squash is tender, remove from the heat and whizz in a blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and serve with a few crispy sage leaves on top.

Pumpkin Risotto with Sage and Walnuts – Start by making a simple risotto bianco, before adding pumpkin purée to the rice during the last few minutes. In a separate pan heat some butter until frothing, adding a few sage leaves until they are crispy. Remove and add some chopped bacon and walnuts, frying until nicely coloured. When the risotto is almost finished, take off the heat, add a good knob of butter and some Parmesan, put the lid on and leave for a few minutes. To serve, ladle out the risotto and top with the walnuts and bacon, and the crispy sage leaves.

Roasted Squash and Puy Lentil Salad – Roast a squash, cut into 2cm cubes, with rosemary and garlic for 30 minutes until soft and just starting to brown. Meanwhile, cook some Puy lentils and then mix with mustard and honey dressing. Toss lentils with the squash, season and serve, with the addition of a few toasted walnuts.

Roasted Pumpkin Purée – Peel and cut your pumpkin or squash into large chunks and place in a roasting tin. Toss with olive oil, a few sprigs of rosemary and a couple of cloves of garlic. Roast in a medium oven for 40 minutes until the pumpkin is soft. Peel the roasted garlic and whizz the contents of the roasting tin, seasoning as required. Delicious as an accompaniment to sausages.

7 Fruit and Vegetables to Eat this Autumn

Autumn is without doubt my favourite season. It starts in September with the last hoorah of summer, and makes its way through to the cold of November. So when Ashley, of US food blog My Heart Beets, asked me to write a guest post on this season’s fruit and veg, I jumped at the chance. Check it out and let me know what would be in your 7 Fruit and Vegetables to Eat this Autumn.

7-fruits-and-vegetables-to-eat-this-fall myheartbeets