An afternoon snack

The main problem with always being so hungry is the endless wait between mealtimes.  The hours that drag on to the chorus of my rumbling stomach. 

The only things that get me through are copious amounts of tea and regular snacks.  This in itself invariably presents a dilemma- whether to go with something calorie-laden and wonderful (pastry please) or something altogether more wholesome and nutritious (and thereby probably not delicious).  

The challenge becomes how to keep my mid-afternoon, post-lunch slumps at bay in a way that leaves me feeling sustained and not too guilty.   So take as an example, if you will, the rice cake.  Virtuous, practically like eating air, these babies are really ideal.  Apart from the fact that they taste like cardboard and you’ll be reaching for the digestives ten minutes later. 

But take a rice cake dressed in dip or cheese and you have something that might be just the ticket.   What follows is hardly a recipe at all, really, but an idea for some leftover butternut squash.  Said squash formed part of a recent supper of squash, sausages and sage.   So really no extra work required. 

Other dip ideas include white bean and dill, carrot and cumin, aubergine and mint and goats cheese, garlic, thyme and honey.  And of course you don’t need to use rice cakes, you could use oat cakes or bread or virtuous vitamin-packed crudités.   Or crisps. 

Spicy Squash and Cumin Dip

You will need:

1/4 squash, cut into wedges and roasted
1 tbsp creme fraiche
generous pinch chili pepper
pinch cumin powder
cumin seeds
olive oil
pinch of salt and pepper


1.  Remove the skin from the butternut squash and place in a blender (or bowl and use a stick blender) with the creme fraiche, chili pepper, 1 tsp of the olive oil, cumin powder, salt and pepper. 

2.  Blend until smooth.

3.  Serve in a bowl, drizzled with a little olive oil and a scattering of cumin seeds.  Load by the tablespoon full onto aforementioned carbohydrate. 

Pickles, Pumpkins and Pigs.

Despite summer’s confused arrival at the start of October, the evenings are really drawing in now, the clocks have gone back and I could have sworn I saw a frost on the grass this morning.   I’ve got my massive box of woolly things out of our storage room/cupboard (which Toby’s mum calls the ‘glory hole.’  Someone pointed out that the term is actually quite rude, but it’s too late now.  Glory hole it is.)  My wardrobe is ready for colder climes but my pantry (ie a shelf in the kitchen cupboard) is not.  So I spent a weekend pickling, preserving and jamming some of the autumn harvest, with pretty decent results. The post on that is on its way. 

I also bought a pumpkin, in the spirit of all things autumnal.   Having gone to an American primary school when I was little, I have a real soft spot for Halloween.  It reminds me of being a kid, clutching a lunchbox and crayons ready for the new(ish) term, dressed in my AMAZING superwoman costume.
Originally I thought I could carve it for Halloween, using the shell for decoration and the fleshy pulp for soup.  However, the thing about pumpkins is this- they don’t actually taste of much.  A pumpkin is no butternut squash which is full of sweet and nutty flavour.  You really need to do more with a pumpkin, give it a bit more love and thought, simply blitzing the flesh into a soup won’t really do. But if you spend a bit of energy on it,  you will be rewarded.  I used my medium sized £1.50 pumpkin from Tesco for three different recipes, each of which fed the two of us with plenty of leftovers.  How’s that for a credit cruncher? 
First up, I made a pumpkin, chicken and peanut soup.  I was up in the Lake District recently, visiting a friend who doing a rep season at the Theatre by the Lake is Keswick.  It’s absolutely stunning there and despite the rain, we managed a 5 am walk to see the sun come up over a stone circle.  Ok, so there wasn’t any sun, but we watched it get lighter, which still felt like an achievement.  I also found some real treasures in the Oxfam in Keswick, which was full of charity shop gold.  A gorgeous dress with a suitably autumnal print (just needs a little taking in at the shoulders and a bit of a play with the hem) and a book on soups by Hannah Wright.  
This recipe is from that book:
Chicken, Pumpkin and Peanutbutter Soup
You will need:
2 medium onions
2 small sticks of celery
12oz (350g) sliced pumpkin
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with salt
8 allspice berries or 1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon, clove and ginger
freshly milled pepper
1 1/2 pints (900ml) good chicken stock
1 heaped tbsp peanutbutter
meat from half a breast of half a leg of chicken or a few thighs, cooked. 
  1. Roughly chop the onion, celery and pumpkin flesh and put in a heavy pan.
  2. Add chili, garlic, spices salt and pepper and the chicken stock.  Bring to boil and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.
  3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little before stirring in the peanutbutter.  Blend with a stick blender or in food processor.
  4. When you want to serve it, dice the chicken into neat cubes and add to the soup.  Gently reheat and taste to season when hot.  Do not let boil.
You can add a garnish of sliced onions, pepper and parsley if you would like. 

Then I roasted pumpkin with sausages (the pig in the title of this post.  Sorry, I was a bit stuck for inspiration), sage and red onion, a bit of olive oil and balsamic.  This has become a bit of a favourite with butternut squash.  We normally eat this with some rice, but you could add it to pasta as well.   Also works with the addition of fennel and chili, if you prefer a spicier version. 
This was then followed a few nights later by a  sausage (pig again!) and pumpkin cassoulet, which really did feel like the perfect antidote to the autumnal winds and drizzle.   
Pumpkin Cassoulet
You will need:
A knob of butter
A pack of sausages, chopped into chunky bits
2 red onions
2 garlic cloves
pumpkin (about a quarter to half of a medium one, depending on how much you would like to use), chopped into chunks
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin cannelloni or berterolli beans
500ml chicken stock
salt and pepper
parsley to serve (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C (350F or Gas mark 4)
  2. Heat about half the butter in a large casserole dish and fry the sausage pieces until brown and caramelised
  3. Add the rest of the butter and the chopped onions.  Fry until softened before adding the minced garlic and chopped sage.
  4. Add the pumpkin and stir well until combined.  Increase the heat and add the vinegar, let it bubble and evaporate.
  5. Add the tomatoes, beans and stock before seasoning.
  6. Bring this to the boil and then transfer to the oven for up to one hour, until the sausages are cooked through and the pumpkin is tender.
  7. Serve in hearty bowls, scatter with parsley.  Enjoy next to a roaring fire.
Finally, roasted pumpkin, chorizo and quinoa salad, which is a real winner.   I basically just used what I had in the fridge, roasted the remaining pumpkin and fried up slices of chorizo.  I added this to some quinoa, chopped tomatoes, avocado and basil.  I made a zingy lemon-based dressing to accompany this one.  Simple and incredibly moreish.   
Another brilliant autumnal ingredient is, of course, the humble apple.  I really enjoy apples in savory dishes- depending on the kind of apple it can add a sweetness or tangyness, crunchy texture or a soft one.  Here are two of my favourite seasonal apple dishes:  
Normandy pot roast chicken with apples
You will need:
Olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 sticks of celery
1 pack of lardons
6-8 pieces of leg and thigh (depending on the size of the pieces)
300 ml (1/2 pint) dry cider
300mol (1/2 pint) chicken stock
3 apples of your choosing, Braeburn works nicely
4 tbsp crème fraiche (I always use half fat)
handful of chopped sage
  1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180C.  Heat the oil in a large pan, add the onion and celery and cook until softened.  Remove from the pan and put in a large casserole dish or large pot.  Add the lardoons to the pan and cook until golden.  Add to the pot. 
  2. Add a little extra oil (or butter if you prefer), to the pan and brown the chicken pieces all over, seasoning as you go. 
  3. Remove the chicken from the pan and pour in the cider, scraping any crispy bits that have stuck to the pan.  
  4. Arrange the chicken pieces in the pot, so they sit on top of the onions, celery and lardoons.  Add the cider juices and the chicken stock and sprinkle with half the chopped sage. Cover with a lid and bake for 50 minutes.
  5. Add the apple slices, rest of the sage and stir in the crème fraiche.  Cook uncovered for another 20 or so minutes, until the juices of the chicken run clear. 
  6. To serve, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with rice or mash and a simple green salad or perhaps some tenderstem broccoli. 
And here’s one for those with a sweet tooth, although this honestly doesn’t feel too naughty as it is jam-packed with the fruit.  Sort of.  
Apple streusel cake or Apple crumb cake
Taken from the newest Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, p. 42.
You will need:
120g butter, unsalted (40g cold and diced, 80 g softened)
250 g plain flour
100g caster sugar
70 g soft light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
80ml whole milk
3 large, crunchy apples, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced. 
  1. Preheat your oven to 170C or 325F, Gas mark3.  Then grease a 20cm (8in) spring-form cake tin (or the closest thing you have) with about 20 g of the softened butter.  Also add a dusting of flour (40g)
  2. First off, make your crumble topping.  Sift 70g of the flour with the cinnamon before adding 40g of the cold, diced butter.  Use your fingertips to rub the ingredients together until you’ve got a breadcrumb-like mixture.  Stir in the light brown sugar and then set to one side.
  3. Use an electric whisk to cream the remaining 60g of softened butter and the caster sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla, mixing thoroughly.
  4. Sift together140g of flour,  baking powder and salt in a separate bowl.  Add about half of this mixture to the creamed butter and sugar, followed by half the milk.  Mix well with your electric whisk, then repeat with the remaining flour mixture and milk. 
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared tin.  Arrange the apple slices in concentric circles ontop of the batter, then sprinkle with the crumb topping to form an even layer. 
  6. Place in the oven and bake for 35-45 min, until it is golden brown on top and a skewer or knife inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. 

Set aside to cool before removing from the tin.  Can be enjoyed warm or cold, with crème fraiche, whipped cream, ice cream or custard.  Or all of the above.  


It’s here, I found it.

Got back to the ranch late last night after seeing my friend Nick’s brilliant play, “If there is I haven’t found it yet” at the Bush Theatre and quite fancied a snack. I’d made this super sized quiche the night before and felt rather pleased with myself coming home to it.

It works on my basic quiche principle, which is a plain case filled with whatever you fancy and a 1:100 ratio of eggs to ml of single cream. For this particular one, I mixed things up a bit by using sour cream, one of my favorite ingredients (although not quite as great as creme fraiche). I’d been in the mood for some super strong flavours and this is the result.

Holy Moly Quiche

It’s called Holy Moly because it packs quite a punch- you’ve got anchovies, blue cheese and butternut squash, which I can find sickly sweet unless you pair it with something bitter, sour or punchy.

You will need
A medium sized butternut squash (peeled and chopped up into smallish cubes- bloody pain, but worth it)
Half a packet of baby spinach, washed
A strong blue cheese (I used Danish Blue as it’s what I had but Gorgonzola would be particularly nice here, I think)
anchovies (one tin), drained and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic
a big hand full of flat leaf parsley, chopped
300ml sour cream
3 eggs

1. First off, make your pastry, which isn’t as hard as it sounds. My mum taught me this recipe and although it wouldn’t stand a chance in hell at a pastry pageant, it’s easy and it works. I love the way it turns out- all crumbly and sticks to the roof of your mouth.

All you do is pour some flour into a bowl and add butter, mixing with your hands or in a mixer until you have a pale yellow dough with a large crumb consistency. Sprinkle this into your pie dish (greased if it’s not non-stick) and press with your fingers to form the pastry case. Prick with a fork before blind baking in a 200 C/ Gas mark 6 oven for about 15-20min.

2. In the meantime parboil your butternut cubes for a few minutes. Drain and fry in olive oil and chopped garlic cloves. It’s ok if it becomes a bit mushy.

3. Whisk together your eggs and sour cream, add cheese (adjust amount to your liking), anchovies and parsley. Season with pepper only as the anchovies are quite salty enough (if you don’t like anchovies, omit them and add some salt at this stage).

4. When the squash is cooked through, add the spinach and let this wilt. Pour contents of pan into your prepared pastry.

5. Pour over the eggy cheesy mixture and bake for 30 min. Serve with a a nice spinach and tomato salad with balsamic dressing. Nice.