Spiced plum and apple compote

plums and apples

It’s that time of year when fresh fruit and vegetables are in glorious abundance. I really should be pickling and preserving, and I fully intend to soon, but for the moment most of our fruit seems to be making its way into compotes of one kind or another.

spiced plum and apple compote

Fruit compotes are such an easy way to transform a huge pile of fresh fruit into a luscious bowlful of sweet, saucy pleasure. Make lots, as it keeps in the fridge for a few days. Simply tuck into your compote just as it comes or serve with creme fraiche or yoghurt for a delicious and healthy desert. My family’s favourite way to eat it is layered with thick, creamy Greek yoghurt and homemade granola for a light yet satisfying breakfast.

We’re enjoying vast volumes of plum and apple compote, making the most of fruit from our own and friends’ trees. Plums and apples both work terribly well combined with strong spice flavours; in this recipe, I’ve used star anise, cinnamon and vanilla. It really is heavenly. You’ll frequently find me surreptitiously tucking into it straight from the bowl in the fridge when no-one else is looking.

spiced plum and apple compote2

Spiced plum and apple compote

400g plums, stoned and roughly chopped
2 or 3 eating apples, peeled, cored and chopped
juice of 1 orange
½ tsp cinnamon
1 star anise
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped
4 tbsp demerara sugar

Place the ingredients in a medium saucepan, give it all a good stir and bring to a gentle simmer over a medium heat. Cook for around 10 to 15 minutes until the fruit is soft and just beginning to break up. Leave to cool and remove the star anise before serving.

spiced plum and apple compote3

This compote is my entry into the #AgaInspiredRecipes challenge hosted by Rix Petroleum. The theme this month is cooking with plums.

Griddled squash with feta, mint and chilli

griddled squash

This is such a beautifully simple dish, inspired by a Nigella Lawson recipe from Nigella Summer. As Nigella says herself, it’s really more of an assembly job than cooking.

griddled squash3

The star of the original recipe is griddled aubergine but because we currently have a glut of yellow, patty pan squash in the garden, I thought I’d experiment by swapping the aubergine for squash. And I’m pleased to report it wasn’t a complete disaster. The griddled squash didn’t hold together quite as well as aubergine would have done, and so the end result probably wasn’t quite as pretty as it should have been, but it was stonkingly tasty nonetheless.

griddled squash2

The creamy filling of lemon-soaked feta partnered with chilli and mint is gloriously fresh and zingy, making this an incredibly moreish dish while being really rather healthy at the same time; a very good combination, if you ask me.

Griddled squash with feta, mint and chilli

1 large patty pan squash (or 2 large aubergines (thinly sliced lengthwise)
4 tbsp olive oil
250g feta cheese
1 large red or green chilli (finely chopped & deseeded)
1 bunch fresh mint (finely chopped – with extra for sprinkling)
juice of 1 lemon
black pepper

Thumbs up for…

August Collage

Somehow the entire summer has slipped by without me bringing you a single Thumbs Up For… post. So, while we still have a few days of August before us, here are some of the tasty foods and drinks I’ve been testing on your behalf that I thoroughly recommend you look out for yourself.

New York Bakery Co Seeded Bagel

seeded bagelBagels are a big hit in our house. Perhaps it’s got something to do with the hole? Holey food in general seems to go down well. But I must say, these limited edition Seeded Bagels from the New York Bakery Co went down particularly well.

With that classic bagel chewiness, these tasty bagels are a satisfying source of fibre for slow release energy, packed full of linseeds, sunflower, millet and poppy seeds from the inside out. They cost around £1.60 for a pack of four and are available at Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

Black Sheep Coffee Robusta Revival

coffeeTry as I might, I can’t go a couple of hours without a cup of coffee. But it needs to be decent coffee. So when the good people at Black Sheep asked if I’d like a sample of their new Robusta Revival, of course I said yes, particularly when I heard this is the UK’s first fine Robusta bean product. I was intrigued.

Black Sheep rebels against the common assumption that Robusta can only used for low-grade products such as instant coffees. Their product, available as beans or ground, comes from a single-estate in India – the only estate in the world to have received three ‘Fine Robusta’ certifications by tasting experts.

It definitely didn’t taste cheap or low-grade to me. These fine robusta beans made for a beautifully rich and creamy mug of coffee, not at all bitter but instead quite mellow and slightly sweet and nutty. Next time I’m in London, I’ll be heading for the Black Sheep cafe in Camden to pick up another bag, or two. At £5.40 for a 227g bag it’s not cheap, but then good coffee never is.

Västerbottensost Cheese

Cheese CollageIt might not be the easiest to pronounce, but Västerbottensost is a wonderful Swedish cheese. It’s full of flavour, slightly salty and slightly nutty, and is an extremely versatile cheese to cook with. It can be used in baking, sauces, salads or as a garnish for rice and pasta dishes.

I recently tried some in my mini vegetable frittatas, which will be appearing on the blog very soon, which were a hands down winner with all the family. The tasty cheese balanced the sweet veggies perfectly.

Västerbottensost is available in Waitrose, Ocado and Selfridges and costs around £8.90 for 450g. I’ll be looking out for when it’s on special offer!

Silver Spoon Chocolate Flavour Icing Sugar

Choc Collage

On rainy days, an activity I turn to again and again with the children is baking. And with a bag of this Chocolate Flavour Icing Sugar from Silver Spoon, creating some stunning* chocolate and strawberry cupcakes was simply child’s play with lots of bowl-licking action to be had (by kids and mum alike).

Widely available, a 125g costs around £1.60 and is enough to ice 12 little cakes. For more baking ideas, check out the Baking Mad website.

* Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder; particularly when it comes to your own child’s creations.

M&S Summer of Flavour

mands CollageOne of the plus sides to commuting three days a week to Bristol has been the chance to pop into an M&S Simply Food store occasionally on my way home from work to pick up a treat or two.

I’ve rather enjoyed their Summer of Flavour range. These world-flavour inspired deserts in particular have proven particularly popular in the Bangers & Mash household, with the raspberry and lychee panna cotta my personal favourite.

The Summer of Flavour range also includes barbecue meats and sides, tasty snacks and cooling fruit juices and cocktails. If you’re quick, you might just pick up one of the M&S in store offers.

Tesco ‘Free From’ Coconut Milk

coconut milkI’ve been shifting rather a lot of this Coconut Milk from Tesco in the last couple of months. We’re enjoying it in our porridge and fruit smoothies – it’s delicious combined with pureed pineapple and mango – and I like a tall glass of it when I get back from a run, usually with some Camp coffee or Nesquik chocolate powder stirred in.  I know; we all have our weird little idiosyncracies and Camp coffee and cheap chocolate milkshake powder are a couple of mine!

But back to the coconut milk. It’s dairy, gluten and wheat free, so ideal for anyone with food allergies or intolerances and at just 67 calories a glass it’s also a handy substitute for anyone watching their weight. It costs £1.25 for a litre carton and is widely available in Tesco stores.

Wychwood Beers

wychwood beersI can’t say I’m much of a real ale drinker; cider is more my thing really. It’s generally only when my Dad comes to stay that ales make an appearance in our fridge.

But when Wychwood got in touch to say they’d like my opinion on their very British craft beers, I was tempted. Maybe it was the curious names, like Black Wych and Hobgoblin. Apparently each beer is named after a character that lives in the ancient woodland that is the Wychwood forest.

My husband was rather taken by the Black Wych, a sweet and smooth porter, but it was a little too dark for me. I really liked Hobgoblin, a fruity ruby beer, but it was Imperial Red that really surprised me. It’s a lovely malty beer that’s full-bodied but not too  heavy. I’ll definitely be drinking this one again.

Wychwood Beers are widely available from supermarkets and off-licences and cost around £12.50 of eight 500ml bottles.

What new products have you been eating and drinking this summer? I’d love to hear your recommendations and new discoveries…

Disclosure: I was sent complimentary product samples from M&S, Wychwood, Silver Spoon, Västerbottensost, Black Sheep  Coffee and New York Bakery Co for review purposes. No money exchanged hands and all opinions expressed are my own.

Mexican salsa verde with tomatillos and pineapple

Mexican salsa verde

I am clearly not a proper foodie. The other day a carton of tomatillos arrived on the back doorstep in our weekly veg box from Riverford and I had no idea what they were. I thought they looked vaguely like Cape gooseberries, so peeled back the papery husk of one and popped it in my mouth. I instantly spat it out again as the sour juices hit my tongue.

On consulting the Riverford website, I discovered these little green fruits were indeed tomatillos, native to Mexico and a staple of Mexican cuisine. It turns out they are actually related to the Cape gooseberry, so I don’t feel a complete plank for stuffing one in my gob.

tomatillos

So, what to do with them? I posted the question on Twitter and Instagram, and the response was almost unanimous: Mexican salsa verde. Who was I to argue? Particularly as were planning a barbecue later that day, and I thought a salsa verde would make a perfect condiment.

But as is my wont, I felt the urge to play with the Riverford recipe I turned to and decided to throw in some ripe pineapple for a little sweet to balance out the sour, an addition that worked out rather well I thought. Some recipes call for cooked tomatillos, but Riverford recommend  using raw as “they retain a sour freshness that would be perfect for a summer’s day”. I rather liked the sound of that. The end result was a vibrant and fresh dip for tortilla chips that works equally well as a tangy accompaniment to grilled steak and fish, particularly when washed down with an ice cold beer.

My nine-year-old loved it while my six-year-old wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole – perhaps it was just a little too green for her?

Mexican salsa verde

Mexican salsa verde with tomatillos and pineapple

350g tomatillos, husks removed and washed
½ ripe pineapple, peeled and chopped
1 small onion, finely diced
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
juice of 1 lime
large handful of fresh coriander (plus a little extra for serving)
1 tsp brown sugar
sea salt

Simply throw all the ingredients into a food processor and whiz them up until you achieve a still chunky salsa texture. Pour into a serving bowl and garnish with a little extra chopped coriander.

spice trail badge square

I’m entering this Mexican Salsa Verde into August’s Spice Trail challenge, hosted by moi, where the theme is Beach Barbecue.

Grilled salad of courgette, chicory, basil and mozzarella from ‘The Natural Cook’

The umming and ahhing is over. The decision has been made. Our house is now officially on the market and we’ll soon be leaving the sticks and heading back to the big city. Bristol, to be precise, which isn’t exactly a heaving metropolis and is actually one of the most laid back, greenest and coolest cities I know.

Bristol was home for us until our first daughter was about eight months old, at which point we decided family life meant a bit of the good life, the country life. And while we’ve loved it here and having space and green fields around us, a veg patch and apple trees, foraging in the hedgerows, picnics by the stream and drinking scrumpy at the annual village fete, it’s now time to crank the pace back up again with a bit of inner city living. You can take the girl of out of the city, but you’ll never take the city out of the girl, it would seem.

There are lots of things I’m looking forward to about being back in a city. One of them is not having to drive so much to get, well, anywhere really. I love the idea of being able to walk back home after a night in a restaurant, or at least being able to afford the taxi fare. And one of the restaurants I intend on visiting as soon as we’re in Bristol is Tom Hunt’s Poco on Stokes Croft, with its emphasis on seasonal ingredients, thrifty cuts of meat and sustainably sourced fish, most of which is sourced from within a 50-mile radius, and at the same time producing the minimum of food waste. Continue reading

Summer spice and all things nice…

The rain was verging on torrential yesterday in the Westcountry and I was watching telly last night in slippers and a big woolly jumper, wondering if it is too soon to turn the heating back on. So it seems slightly ironic that I’m now sat here writing a round-up of summer spice dishes. The scorching heat of July seems another world now, but hopefully the thought of these deliciously vibrant recipes will brighten the mood just long enough for the sun to make a reappearance.

Summer Spice Collage 1

We start with these tasty Pudina Paneer Tikki or Mint and Indian Cottage Cheese Patties (1) from Linsy at Home Cook Food. Made with mashed potato, grated carrot and paneer and flavoured with lots of mint, lime, chilli and ginger, these would be delicious served with your favourite chutney – or perhaps some of this mouthwatering Usirikaya Pachadi / Goose Berry Pickle (2) from Shailaja over at Sahasra Recipes. Continue reading

Family Foodies round-up: chill out, baby!

Here in Somerset, we’ve been enjoying some real scorchers in recent weeks, which has been perfect for the start of the school holidays. Your entries for July’s Family Foodies challenge have proven simply perfect inspiration for deliciously refreshing ways to chill out in this sticky heat.

chill collage 1

Continue reading