Carrot, Apple and Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Christmas has been and gone and it really was lovely, but we are nearing the end of January now (which, for the record always feels about six weeks long) and as we tick over into February, I am always desperate for Spring to arrive. I have spent much of this month wondering when the days will get longer (soon), when will we start walking to school in warm early spring sunshine (er, that’s never happened) and when will Winter runs not be spent soaking wet, freezing cold and fighting gale force winds (hmm, again…).

As a small time food blogger with all the patience of a three year old, one of my ’issues’ with this time of year is the lack of daylight (first world problem anyone?) – that orangey-yellow pixelated light that is cast over all photos taken after 3pm drives me a bit mad, which is silly really because all moaning aside, Winter is beautiful –  particularly in this part of the world, where the low light over the sea gives the waves that amazing off white hue, and the shops are full of glorious root vegetables and greens. Plus, Winter was made for slow cooking, baking, soups, stews and feel good food and there is nothing not to like about that…

Below is the recipe for my current favourite soup – carrot, butternut squash and apple with thyme. I like it with a slab of warm, buttered sourdough and at least three holiday magazines. It’s dead easy – let me know what you think.

 

1 x small butternut squash

7-8 decent sized carrots

2 apples (whatever is loitering in the fruit bowl)

Fresh thyme

1 bay leaf (fresh or dried)

Vegetable stock – 600ml

Salt and pepper to taste.

Creme fraiche

 

Halve and drizzle the squash with olive oil before baking in a low oven with a few sprigs of thyme and a bay leaf – time will vary depending on the size of the your squash.

In the meantime peel, chop and boil your carrots and apples in the vegetable stock, making sure to add the apples towards the end of the cooking time.  

When everything is cooked, add in your roasted butternut squash and some more thyme before whizzing everything up in a blender. At this point you might want to add more stock or water depending on how thick you like your soup – I like mine quite thick. Season to taste, sloop into a bowl, then shake on some thyme leaves and a good sized spoonful of creme fraiche.

Best enjoyed after a freezing cold dog walk while someone else is bathes your sodden, muddy dog.

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My Top Ten Christmas Foods

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog. Spending the best part of 2017 studying, working, looking after my family and trying to start a food blog from scratch, has been brilliant but exhausting and something had to give. Thankfully, every time I count the children and pets they all seem to be there and it was worth it – I passed my course! However I’m back now – fresh(ish)  faced and about to replace studying with marathon training. At least I’ll be hungry.

The utterly brilliant thing about December is the fact that officially – CHRISTMAS HAS ARRIVED!!!! I love Christmas, all those twinkling lights cutting through the fug of winter, the planning, list making, self gifting (just me?) and dragging the Christmas cookery books down from the shelves to pour over (honestly – if you haven’t bought Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles yet, why not – it’s amazing!)

Anyway, enough with all the wittering and without further ado  – here are my Top Ten Christmas Foods….

Mince Pies – I hated mince pies as a child but I love them now, cold with custard, warm with ice-cream or on their own with a cup of tea or better still, some mulled cider. My current obsession is Richard Bertinet’s variation, with frangipane topping the mince pie – they are only improved by adding a huge dollop of clotted cream. If you aren’t lucky enough to live in Bath and have the Bertinet bakery close to hand (me neither) then the recipe for these little beauties is here.

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Cheese – Who doesn’t love a cheese board? Hands down, one of the best parts of Christmas food shopping is choosing and going completely overboard on the cheese selection. I can’t do without a roof of the mouth stripping stilton (preferably potted), an oozy brie and a creamy blue – the Blue Boy from Country Cheeses in Topsham is out of this world.

Figs – I don’t know why, but I definitely think of figs as a classic Christmas food – wrapped in bacon as a canape, served sliced with cheeses, in chutney, dried and used to liven up a Christmas cake or even as an interesting addition to mincemeat, they are incredibly versatile and always well received. We’ll be serving Hillside’s Fig Chutney with some squishy blue cheese this year..

Turkey – We sometimes have a rib of beef for Christmas for a change, but if I’m honest it never feels quite as festive. Plus, the leftover possibilities with turkey are endless and nothing goes as well with pigs in blankets (which obviously are a compulsory Christmas foodstuff). I also really enjoy the ceremony of visiting the butchers, discussing my wishlist and placing the order. For the past three years we have had a Turkey Bomb from the Butchers at Darts Farm and I will be ordering the same again this year. Boned and rolled with a choice of stuffings (I love the cider, apple and sage) and covered in bacon it looks great, takes the pressure off the prep work on the big day and tastes amazing. See what I mean here.

Pate – We make a lot of it at this time of year and I don’t think a Boxing Day buffet would be the same without it. My husband and I differ in our opinions on this. He likes his as coarse as possible and I prefer smooth – he does make a cracking mackerel pate though and we are both in agreement that this recipe for chicken liver pate by Delicious magazine is a winner.
Sprouts – It’s a bit of an obvious choice but honestly, I just LOVE them. Cooked with bacon, chestnuts or both, roasted with parmesan or just steamed and served as they are. And let’s not forget sprout tops – I like them best gently steamed with butter and pepper, served with some really good sausages and garlicky mash. 

Christmas Eve canapes – I love Canapes, partly because nothing goes with canapes quite like a glass of fizz and well, any excuse. But also because they are as easy or difficult as you want them to be (each to their own, but I have yet to taste a supermarket canape that wasn’t just a little bit greasy or artificial tasting). Nigella’s mini sausages in Soy and cranberry have been my go-to for years and more recently the salt baked new potatoes from Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles, halved and served with a blue cheese and goats curd dip and ribbons of smoked trout are a favourite. See pge 412 in the book.

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Lebkuchen – The problem with Lebkuchen is that I make it, and then spend the next three days unable to walk past the kitchen without shovelling a piece in. Horribly moreish and so pretty, this German gingerbread-biscuit hybrid is a truly Christmassy addition to my list.  Make your own with this recipe here. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Leftovers – As an adult, I think leftovers might be the best of Christmas foods and I always order a big enough turkey and ham to give plenty. From bubble and squeak in the morning with a perfectly poached egg and and streaky bacon, to the inevitable turkey and leek pie to sweep up what’s left before we move on to New Years Eve. This year I’ll be turning my leftover turkey into this pie from Jamie Oliver. 

Pickled Red Cabbage – I’m using this as a bracket for one of my favourite childhood memories. On Christmas day evening, our parents would lay out cold turkey and gammon sandwiches, salad, cheese and biscuits, pickled onions, gherkins and red cabbage (half of my twin sister’s plate would be red cabbage) and as an extra special treat – a glass of Tizer (I couldn’t tell you now what Tizer tasted of, but we LOVED it back then). Then we’d either play games or all settle down to watch E.T./The Goonies/Home Alone and work our way through the Quality Street tin. Bliss. Here’s how to pickle your own red cabbage.

So that’s it, my list of favourite Christmas foods and where they fall in my ideal culinary Christmas. Not sure about the Tizer though, that might be best left in the memory banks along with the year I ate my entire selection box before 5am on Christmas morning…

 


My favourite Autumn Foods

It’s no secret that summer is my favourite month and whilst the darker evenings and cooler weather do make me feel a bit sad, there is no denying that the silver lining is autumnal food. Berries, butternut squash, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and apples are among the highlights, plus from September it’s acceptable to turn all fruit into a crumble and smother it with hot custard which can only be a good thing.

So while I dig my wellies out of the cupboard and try and come to terms with cold, rainy dog walks, here are my favourite autumn foods. I’d love to hear what you look forward to eating at this time of year – let me know!

 

Blackberries

So versatile, so easy to find and a really lovely way to get kids involved in the kitchen – lots of our family walks end with a bit of blackberry picking before we spuddle home and turn them into whatever takes our fancy. Blackberries are staggeringly good with game but lately we have been making blackberry Friands – my current favourite recipe is here.

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Game

It’s probably the first thing that springs to mind when you think of autumnal food – and I couldn’t leave it off my list as game season is something I really do look forward to, however it deserves a post of it’s own so so it’s just a fleeting mention until the October blog.

 

Pumpkin

Gorgeous stuff – roasted with chilli, a rich addition for stews and amazing with sage and bacon as a soup. I like it in a bundt cake with dark chocolate and clementines – Nigella’s recipe here is a good one, I usually add the chocolate chips and switch out the icing for a clementine glaze.

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Stew

The stuff of childhood nightmares (especially if it was made with sausages – sorry mum!) but as an adult I love them. The more herbs the better and if it’s chicken then a huge dollop of dijon mustard always goes into the pot as well. I’ll be popping my own recipe on the blog soon so keep an eye out for it!

 

Leeks

We eat leeks a lot – as a base for many dishes,  baked in a cheese sauce with a roast dinner, with potatoes in a variation on the classic boulangere and lately we’ve been eating them poached with a pangrattato. Try it – they are absolutely delicious. Recipe here.

 

Root vegetables

Proper winter fodder – root vegetables lend themselves brilliantly to soups, stews, roasts, and absolutely anything that needs to be slow-roasted. We usually have a veg box delivered during the winter months and I love having a good dig through the box to see what we’ll be making that week. Try the Riverford website for a plethora of great recipes for your veg box contents

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Chestnuts

The ultimate autumnal side-kick! Chestnuts add depth, texture and a really delicious earthy flavour to stews. They are also an amazing partner with chocolate, cherries or pears. Try this chocolate and chestnut torte from Delicious magazine here.

 

Apples

Apples are so commonplace that I think we all take them a little for granted, however they are a cheap and delicious fruit that goes with so many things – perfect roasted with pork and parsnips and my personal favourite – tarte tatin. Raymond Blanc’s recipe here is the best I’ve tried. 

 

Mulled cider

Mulled cider is a real autumn treat and as we’re in Devon there’s no excuse not to use locally produced cider! Gorgeous on bonfire night with sausages, baked potatoes and s’mores – this recipe from River Cottage is cracking.

There is a lot more about autumn food to love – pies, crumbles, custard and soups – what’s your favourite?

 

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Horn & Cracker

 


Shakshuka

Originating from North Africa, Shakshuka is a delicious combination of tomatoes, spices and eggs –  it’s an easy to make, grab all lunch, brunch or supper. There are many variations and I think like most recipes, you end up whittling a recipe down and tweaking it until it becomes your own version – one of the nicest things about cooking and baking.

So here is mine. It’s not particularly precise or formal and I like it best served on top of thinly sliced, cold chorizo so that the sauce warms it through. Add some rocket on the side and grilled sourdough rubbed with garlic and you’re all set. I’d love to hear your versions or tweaks, so do let me know in the comments.  

Ingredients

I tbsp olive oil

½ tsp cumin seeds

2 cloves garlic crushed

1/2 tbsp paprika

1 tsp brown sugar (this is to taste, so add more or less as you please)

2 onions finely sliced

2 red peppers finely sliced

2 tins chopped tomatoes

4 eggs

Salt and pepper to season

Parsley to garnish – a decent handful

  1. Toast the cumin seeds in a dry pan for a minute or so, before adding the oil, garlic, spices, chilli, sliced onions and peppers and fry at a low to medium heat until the onions and peppers are soft.
  1. Add the tomatoes and sugar, season and simmer gently in a covered pan for 20 minutes (during this time if needed, add enough water to keep the consistency more like a thick soup than a stew).
  1. Make four indents for your eggs in the tomatoes and gently crack them in. Cover the pan with a lid and leave for 4-5 minutes (don’t be tempted to lift the lid and keep checking – you’ll let all the heat out!). This when you need to to gather your sides, chop your parsley and char/toast your bread. When the eggs are cooked but still have runny yolks, sprinkle with the parsley.

Serve to the rapturous applause of your guests. Or, as is the norm in my case, the disgruntled sighs of your children who have yet to recognise that super noodles are not a substitute for actual food.

Horn & Cracker

 


Harry’s Restaurant – Longbrook Street Exeter

The weather may have left a lot to be desired last weekend (where has summer gone?!), but it was still a good one. A highlight was dinner at Harry’s in Exeter on Saturday night. Way back at the beginning of the 00’s, my husband and I came here on our first date. A lot has changed since then – no one listens to Portishead anymore,  Doug and Carol finally got their act together in ER and we’ve somehow become responsible enough to be in charge of two children, a dog and two cats (in fairness, the cats would disagree with that sentence).  We come back to Harry’s every now and again to pat ourselves on the back for putting up with each other for such a long time and laugh (cry) about when we thought getting up at 7am on the weekend was early.

Opened in 1993, Harry’s has long been a much loved part of the Exeter restaurant scene and with good reason. Set in a big, beautiful building on Longbrook street with high ceilings, lots to look at and a comfortable, easy atmosphere, Harry’s serves great food, cooked well without pomp or circumstance.

To start, we had the smoked salmon pate with sourdough toast and calamari with aioli which we both loved, followed by Creedy Carver chicken, and fajitas – they were again delicious. Harry’s portion sizes are on the generous size, which is great but it did mean that unfortunately neither of us left space for a dessert, I saw a few go past and they looked good! (I’ll squeeze one in next time and let you know how it was). The service is as friendly and easy going as the atmosphere and our (lovely, smiley) waitress made us feel welcome without hovering over us, something I find particularly irritating in restaurants.

One of my favourite things about Harry’s is it’s use of local produce – If you look at the photo above (I had to borrow one of Harry’s because mine was terrible) you can see the board on the wall near the kitchen which lists the produce currently on the menu and where it came from, including the distance in miles. It’s a fantastic ethos and I love seeing it up on the wall. This same ethos extends to the wine list which also features local producers – we had a great bottle of Sharphams Sauvignon Blanc that I will look out for in future.

It’s a busy place and I recommend booking plenty in advance to make sure they have space but I promise you’ll be glad you did. I’m off to bed now – early start in the morning…   

 

Harry’s

86 Longbrook Street

Exeter

Devon

EX4 6AP

Tel: 01392 202234

 


In praise of the good old fashioned Cookery Book…

Who reading this still buys cookery books? I know they seem a little old fashioned in current times, but I have to admit that I still love a cookery book and I know I’m not alone in this. I would wager that there are lots of us squirreling away books with pages covered in flour, spicy fingerprints and scrawled notes in the margins. If you were to walk around my house, you would find two bookshelves dedicated to current favourites, a shelf for baking, an overflow shelf for the current favourites shelf and lastly, a dusty old shelf stuffed with cookery books that I should probably get rid of but can’t quite bring myself to. 

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Every once in a while, my husband will mention that we do seem to have quite a lot of cookery books and maybe we don’t need all of them (he does this about my running book collection too – to look at it you’d think I’m some kind of ex-olympian, not a slightly obsessive 38 year old). It always falls on deaf ears – I might need a recipe from one of those books one day.

Despite the fact that we can all access any recipe for any food we could imagine in seconds thanks to the internet, physically turning the pages of a book, folding over corners and making shopping lists for potential recipes is still one of my favourite things to do. Sat in bed on a sunday morning with a coffee and a stack of cookery books, lazily planning the day’s eating and cooking is my idea of heaven.

There are a few that particularly stand out for me –  I once bought Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookery book ‘Notes From My Kitchen Table’ after a few glasses of wine, slowly remembering when the Amazon parcel came through the door a few days later. That book was so pleased with itself that it had forgotten that food is there to be enjoyed – one of few books to have been culled.

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Then there’s the pistachio nubuck, decoratively boxed Laduree book that I spent weeks searching online for, only for its (beautiful, embossed) box to be scribbled on in biro by one of the resident toddlers within a week of it entering the house. What was I thinking?

In amongst weird purchases like the mottled second hand old fashioned books bought on a whim in a charity shop, or the persian/vietnamese/whatever is currently trendy book that I saw at a friends house or on social media, there are also favourites that I revisit time and time again –

The Riverford Farm cookbook – this came free with my veg box a long time ago and is full of sensible recipes that work. I have since bought copies as gifts for people and it’s always been well received.

Nigella Bites – One of my first cookery books. I learned to cook with this in my early twenties and for a long time the linguine with garlic oil, pancetta and parsley was my go-to dish when friends came over for dinner. A dish that we would serve with bottles of £5 wine from the shop at the end of the road, 20 Marlboro lights and a Moby playlist.. (actually I made the linguine again not very long ago and it’s still good – these days without the accompaniments).

Every book Bill Granger has ever written. I know it seems lazy not to pick just one, but I honestly can’t. I love Bill Granger’s food – the recipes all work, are delicious, and cater to every level of motivation from ‘really cannot be arsed’, to ‘desperate to impress’. Plus, Bill doesn’t need you to go out and find honey from bilingual bees (I’m looking at you, Ina Garten) and he won’t hold it against you if you don’t own a selection of heavy based copper pans (sorry, Raymond Blanc). The icing on the cake is the food photography – full of sunlight and beautiful crockery. It’s because he lives in Sydney isn’t it? I’m green with envy.

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Richard Bertinet – Pastry – I also have his books Dough and Crust and like them equally. I think the format and layout of his books work brilliantly. They are easy to follow and full of useful photos, my daughter has started to use these recently too.

So that’s it – my roundup of current favourites and a weak justification for all those books crammed into shelves around my home. Let me know which cookery book you couldn’t live without. I’m off to show this to my husband…

Horn & Cracker


Why the humble tart should be your go-to summer dish.

Thought to have sprung from medieval pie making traditions, there’s a reason that tarts are such a popular summer food. Although I love them all year round,  when the weather is warm and cooking feels like a bit of an effort, they come into their own as a deceptively hard working foodstuff – hear me out…

Made with whatever pastry you can lay your hands on, be it shop bought puff, a sweet short dessert pastry (or, if you’ve a bit of time on your hands some herby shortcrust), making a tart is as labour intensive as you want it to be. A sweet or savoury dish that’s on the table inside of 45 minutes and needs nothing more than a salad or a (huge) dollop of clotted cream, It’s a brilliant catch all for a fridge full of leftover ingredients or to use up the odds and ends from your fruit and veg box. And the best bit is that if you make it big enough, you’ve got tomorrow’s lunch sorted as well.

This week we had the end of a piece of Blue Boy from Country Cheeses in Topsham to use up (if you haven’t already tried it -it’s delicious!). With some creme fraîche, spinach and marinated artichokes it made a great little puff pastry tart – virtually no effort and cheap to boot.

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Blue Bay, spinach and marinated artichokes with creme fraiche.

When you’re feeling a bit more committed to the kitchen, or have a spare bit of baking time it’s easy to upgrade your toppings with cured meats or fresh seafood and a slow cooked sauce as a base. Another version is the French Galette which is traditionally made with buckwheat flour –  making the crust is actually very easy and I love the golden, folded over edges. That said, this recipe from the fabulous Lavender and Lovage uses puff pastry and always goes down brilliantly with guests.

I could go on and on with this topic – on the sweet side, the list is pretty much endless….portugese custard tarts, tarte tatin and rhubarb with ginger are just a few suggestions, proving (in my opinion!) that as a low effort mainstay – the tart is a real workhorse. Let me know what you think – tag me in your tart recipes on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter – extra points for photos!

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Peaches soaked in sauternes, blueberries and a lemon marscapone cream.

Horn & Cracker