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.

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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

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.

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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

Quick and easy gazpacho

gazpacho

I like to think of this as a summer salad in a soup. A beautifully refreshing, fragrantly deliciously ice-cold soup, perfect on a hot, sticky day.

It’s an excellent way to use up those salad ingredients that have been sat in the fridge just a little too long. I always seem to be over ambitious when I buy salad stuff. Ideally you should buy your salad the day you’re going to eat it – ideally from a fabulous farmer’s market where all the produce has been grown within a few miles’ radius. But like most people, I do a weekly shop at the supermarket and by the end of the week, the contents of the salad drawer are beginning to look a little sad. This soup is definitely the solution.

What’s more, it’s a cinch to make too. I can’t be bothered to peel and seed my tomatoes, or peel and salt the cucumber, as gazpacho recipes usually demand. Clearly if I were entertaining and out to impress, I might push the boat out and make a little more effort. But when I’m rustling up a speedy lunch, I simply bung everything in a food processor, give it all a quick whizz and in seconds you have the most glorious gazpacho. Job done!

gazpacho

Quick and easy gazpacho

Serves 2

Half a cucumber, chopped
750g ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 spring onions, sliced
handful fresh mint, roughly chopped
handful fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
juice of half a lemon
celery salt
pepper

This really couldn’t be easier. Simply place the cucumber, tomatoes, spring onions, herbs and garlic in a food processor and blend. I like my gazpacho to be quite smooth, while my husband prefers it a little chunky. So we usually end up somewhere in between.

Stir in the olive oil and lemon juice, and season with celery salt and pepper to taste.

Chill in the fridge for a couple of hours. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and, if you like it really cold, a couple of ice cubes.

gazpacho

I’m entering my quick and easy gazpacho into a number of blog events…

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No Croutons Required is a monthly blog event for soups and salads suitable for vegetarians, hosted by Lisa’s Kitchen and Tinned Tomatoes. I think this soup fits the bill.

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Vegetable Palette is a new vegetarian blog challenge from Allotment 2 Kitchen, which calls for dishes made from fruits or vegetables of a chosen colour. July’s theme is red, so I think this tomato-based soup is perfect.

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With all that tomato and cucumber, I think this gazpacho definitely qualifies as a serving of Extra Veg, which is the theme for the blog challenge hosted each month by Fuss Free Flavours and Utterly Scrummy, and this month is being guest-hosted by Juggle Mum.

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Of course, I’ve got to enter my soup into July’s hosted Family Foodies, the blog challenge I take turns in hosting with Louisa at Eat Your Veg. This month the theme is Chill Out, Baby!

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Al Fresco is the theme for this month’s Four Seasons Food, a seasonal blog event hosted by Eat Your Veg and Delicieux. I reckon this gazpacho would make a lovely lunch to eat out on the patio.

cooking with herbs

Basil is the theme for July’s Cooking with Herbs challenge hosted by Lavender & Lovage, and as my soup features lots of lovely basil (and mint too), I’ve just got to enter it.

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And finally, with all those seasonal salad goodies, I’ve got to enter it into Ren Behan‘s Simple and in Season challenge, hosted this month by My Custard Pie.

Wild garlic pesto tear & share bread

Wild Garlic Bread CollageThe lanes near our house have been heavy with the heady scent of wild garlic flowers in the last few days, the warmth of the late spring sunshine increasing their intensity. We’re nearing the end of the wild garlic season, so I’ll be picking one last harvest to make up a big batch of wild garlic pesto. It freezes beautifully and will provide us with a taste of English spring for many months to come.

The pesto is delicious simply stirred through a bowlful of pasta or spread on toasted bread to create bruschetta. It’s also wonderful in this easy tear-and-share bread, a perfect accompaniment to cold meats and cheeses as part of a buffet lunch or a springtime picnic.

wild garlic pesto bread

Wild garlic pesto tear & share bread

Makes 8 bread rolls

400g strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 x 7g sachet fast action dried yeast
250ml water
1 tbsp olive oil
half a jar of wild garlic pesto – see my recipe here

Put the flour, salt and dried yeast into a large mixing bowl and combine.

Make a well in the middle and pour in the water and oil. Gradually work the flour into the liquid to form a soft dough. If it’s too dry, add a drop more water. If it’s too sticky, add some more flour.

Flour the work surface before tipping the dough onto it. Knead the dough for five to ten minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover loosely with cling film and put in a warm place for about an hour, until the dough has doubled in size.

Grease and flour a 20cm round cake tin.

Uncover the risen dough and punch it back down. Flour the surface again and divide the dough into eight equal portions.

Roll each portion of dough into a rough rectangle, approximately 20cm by 10cm. Spread each rectangle generously with wild garlic pesto and roll up carefully into a tidy spiral. Stand each spiral into the prepared cake tin, spacing them out to allow them room to spread.

Cover loosely with cling film or a clean tea towel and leave to rise again for another 45 minutes to an hour.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6 or use the middle of the top oven of an Aga.

When the bread has risen again, place in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Place the tin on a wire rack and leave to cool for 10 minutes before turning out. Lovely eaten while still warm, drizzled with a little olive oil.

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As this bread makes use of a sensational spring ingredient, I’m entering it into this month’s Four Season’s Food challenge hosted by Eat Your Veg and Delicieux where the theme is Celebrating Spring.

SimpleinSeason

And as it’s a very seasonal recipe, I’m also entering it into Simple and in Season hosted by Ren Behan.

cooking with herbs

Finally as it features wild herbs, I’m sharing it with Karen at Lavender & Lovage in this month’s Cooking with Herbs challenge.

Easy aubergine and hummus dips

aubergine and hummus dips

I reckon we’re pretty good in the Bangers & Mash house when it comes to snacking healthily. Just as I sat down to write this post, my girls came in with their usual mid-afternoon demand: “Mummy, we’re hungry! Can we have a snack?” They are now happily munching their way through a bowlful each of dried apricots.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re not food saints by any stretch of the imagination. We enjoy our potato crisps and chocolate biscuits as much as the next family, but these are clearly seen as occasional treats rather than everyday snacks.

As well as dried apricots, the girls also love their dried apples, which we dry ourselves above the Aga – perfect in late summer when our apple tree is heaving. Dried apple is a perfect ingredient for our fruit & nut balls and granola, both of which make ideal snacks. Cherry tomatoes, chunks of cheese and cucumber, and carrot sticks are also snacktime favourites with my girls.

Healthy Snacks Collage

But probably the snack the kids ask for most are dips and breadsticks. We always have a pot of chunky hummus or some other dip, such as this deliciously smoky aubergine puree, on the go in the fridge. I used to spend a fortune on the shop bought varieties, until I realised just how cheap and easy they are to make at home. And so much tastier too.

Both recipes are based on ones I found in Leon cookbooks, but I’ve tweaked them slightly for my family’s tastes, in particular by increasing the amount of garlic involved in the proceedings.

aubergine dip

Aubergine dip

Use yoghurt instead of the tahini to turn this dip into babaganoush.

3 large aubergines
125ml tahini
juice of 3 lemons
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 220°C / gas mark 7.

Prick the aubergines with a fork and bake in the oven, direct on the rack, for around 20 minutes until the skins have blackened.

Peel off the aubergine skins using a sharp knife while they are still warm.

Whizz up the aubergines in a food processor, together with the tahini, lemon juice and garlic. Taste and season with salt.

Pour into a large bowl to serve, drizzled with olive oil.

easy hummus

Easy hummus

1 x 400g tin of chickpeas, drained
juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp tahini
70ml extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
½ tsp paprika (optional)

Simply place the chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, tahini and olive oil into a food processor and blitz until you reach a good consistency. I like mine fairly chunky but you might prefer yours smoother or looser. If it seems to dry, add a little more olive oil and/or lemon juice.

Season to taste and pour into a bowl to serve. Sprinkle with a little paprika if you like.

Why not serve your dips as part of a mezze?

Why not serve your dips as part of a mezze?

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. As my children like to say. Both dips are a good accompaniment to crudités, breadsticks or warm pitta bread, or serve as part of a mezze.

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I’m entering these dips into April’s Family Foodies challenge, hosted this month by Louisa at Eat Your Veg. The theme this month is Healthy Snacks. Do pop over there to take a look through the other recipes entered so far – there are some really good ones this month. In particular, I’ve got my eye on the Easy Peasy Mackerel Pate from Casa Costello, which looks delicious and wonderfully simple to make.