The last few days have been gloriously sunny and bright- a real shock to the system after the wet, dank weather we’ve had since the start of the year. The only thing that really keeps me going towards from February to March is the promise of lighter days, warmer weather and finally being able to hang up my winter coat. It looks like I’ll be doing that a couple of weeks earlier this year- this weekend we even sat outside at the pub, squinting into the sun.
There is one bright and brilliant addition to the last push of winter that I always look forward to, though: blood oranges. It seems strange that this vibrant citrus fruit is in season during the winter, though I’m not complaining, as they always seem to arrive just when I need an injection of freshness and long for lighter foods. This year, I was lucky enough to find bergamots for sale alongside blood oranges at the brilliant Deli Downstairs, my local treasure trove. So I had a bit of a mad few weeks where every meal was finished with a juicy, plump Sicilian blood orange, bright juices streaming down my hands and feat like some sort of gory feast. But I also experimented with them in salads, puddings and bakes. The results are in.
Blood Orange Curd
Adapted from Steve Parle’s recipe, found here.
(makes 1 large jar)
You will need:
400ml blood orange juice (from about 8 blood oranges)
zest of 3 blood oranges
150g caster sugar
10 eggs (5 whole and 5 yolks)
200g butter, cubed
1. Sit a medium sized bowl over a pan of just simmering water. Add the blood orange juice, zest sugar and whole eggs along with 5 yolks. Allow to thicken for about 15 minutes, until it coats the back of a spoon. Stir in the butter, one cube at a time, waiting until each has melted before adding the next one. Tip into a large sterilised jar, allow to cool completely then refrigerate. Use within two weeks.
Blood Orange and Mascarpone Victoria Sponge
You will need:
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs, beaten
175g self-raising flour, sifted
1 blood orange, zest and juice
blood orange curd
1 tub mascarpone
1. Preheat the oven to 180C and grease 2 x 23cm springform cake tins, lining each with a circle of greaseproof paper and greasing again. Cream the butter and sugar together with electric beaters until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, continuing to beat between each addition. Fold in the flour and orange zest, adding 1-2 tbsp of juice to lighten the mixture slightly.
2. Divide the mixture between the tins and bake for 25 minutes or until the cakes are risen, golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Leave the cakes in their tins for 10 minutes, before removing from their tins and cooling completely on a wire rack. Generously spread one cake with the mascarpone and curd before sandwiching with the second cake.
Pan Fried Mackerel with Blood Orange and Fennel Salad
(Serves 2 as a light lunch or starter)
You will need:
220g pack of green beans, topped and tailed
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
pinch of sugar1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly and any fronds reserved
2 blood oranges, peeled with any pith removed, sliced into rounds
large handful black olives, I used Kalamata
2 mackerel fillets, pin-boned (get the fish monger to do this for you)
small knob of butter
25g toasted flaked almonds
1. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the beans and cook until just tender. Drain and place in a large bowl of ice cold water to cool and crisp up. Whisk together 2 tbsp of olive oil with the balsamic vinegar, sugar and some seasoning. Place the fennel, blood orange slices, drained green beans and olives in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss together then divide between two plates.
2. Add the remaining oil to a large, cold pan. Sit the mackerel, skin-side down, in the pan and turn the heat on to medium. Frying your fish this way means the fillets don’t curl up and ensures perfectly crispy skin. Keep frying, basting with the oil and adding a little knob of butter if necessary. Once the flesh of the fish has gone from translucent to opaque, it has cooked through. Flip over briefly and fry for a further 30 seconds. Top the salads with the fish fillets and sprinkle with flaked almonds and any reserved fennel fronds.
Bergamot and Blood Orange Pavlovas
You will need:
5 egg whites (from the curd, see recipe above)
2 bergamots, juice and zest
275g caster sugar plus a little extra
300ml double cream
1 blood orange, segmented
blood orange curd
handful pistachios, roughly chopped
1. To make the meringues, preheat the oven to 120C. Place the egg whites in a large, preferably metal or glass, bowl with a squeeze of bergamot juice. Whisk to stiff peaks. Mix the sugar with the zest of 1 bergamot then add in heaped tablespoonfuls to the whites, whisking between each addition. Line a large baking sheet with greaseproof paper, then drop on 6 even dollops of the meringue mixture, leaving as much space between each as your baking sheet will allow. Use a spoon to swirl each meringue nicely before placing the lower part of the oven for 1 hr 45 min- 2 hrs, until the meringues are crisp and dry and will easily lift off the baking sheet. Allow to cool completely.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the double cream until stiff peaks form. Add the zest of the remaining bergamot and a squeeze of the juice. Sweeten to taste with a little caster sugar, but keep in mind that the meringues are very sweet. Once ready to serve, place each meringue on a serving place the pile high with the cream, segmented blood orange slices (in the photos for these posts I used bergamot segments, but feel these were too sour), a dollop of blood orange curd and a sprinkle of the pistachios. Serve immediately.
Blood Orange Jelly with Custard
(makes 5-6 individual or 1 large jelly)
You will need:
For the jelly:
3 leaves of gelatine
300ml fresh blood orange juice (about 8 blood oranges)
For the custard:
290ml double cream
zest 1 blood orange
2 large egg yolks
2 tbsp caster sugar
1. Begin by making the jelly. Place the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water so they are completely submerged. Leave for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, gently heat the blood orange juice and sugar until just dissolved. Do not boil. Set the sweetened juice to one side, then squeeze out any excess liquid from the now softened gelatine leaves and add to the pan. Stir for a few minutes, until all the gelatine has melted. Pour into a medium sized bowl or, for individual servings, ramekins and wine glasses work well. Allow to cool before chilling until completely set- at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.
2. Make the custard. Place the cream and orange zest into a pan and bring slowly to the boil. Set aside to cool briefly. Beat the yolks and sugar in a medium-sized bowl briefly until combined and creamy. Pour over the cooled cream and then clean out your pan. Return the mixture to the pan and stir over a low heat, until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. This should take about 10 minutes- do not simmer or boil at any point. Strain if necessary and use to top the set jellies. Return to the fridge for a further hour before serving.
I’ve been spending far too much time thinking about how to winter-proof my life. I’m cycling the 12 miles into work three times a week, which has meant investing in all manner of hivis, lycra and thermals. The list of kit requirements grows every time the mercury drops by a degree and I still haven’t found a hat that I’m willing to leave the house in. My only choice seems to be a toss up between looking liken an elf or a toddler.
So it’s a good thing I’ve got this distracting, sunny post to remind me of cotton, linen and short sleeves. These photos are from a long weekend jaunt down to Somerset, just before everything started heading towards Autumn. We were visiting Toby’s brother, sister in law and little nephew and spent a glorious afternoon with them walking up and down the Mendips before catching the last of the afternoon sun in their garden.
This is cider country, where even the tiniest hamlet has at least one, if not several, pubs and it seemed each one we went into was even friendlier than the last. Driving through the Mendip’s valleys is a stunning experience, with clusters of thatched cottages lurking behind each bend, not to mention gorges and wild goats! A particular treat, a belated birthday present, was a trip to The Ethicurean. It’s been on my wish list ever since it was voted Best Ethical Eat in the Observer Food Monthly Awards in 2011, who also gave a nod to its head bartender this year.
No surprises there, their chipotle infused take on an Old Fashioned was the nicest, strongest and most unusual cocktail I’ve had in a long time. A drink to be sipped, steadily and contemplatively well into the first course. Toby’s cucumber beer from the Wild Beer Co. also went down a treat. We were lucky to arrive while it was still light, so could enjoy a stroll around the gardens and the views of the surrounding hills. The restaurant is set in a walled garden and built into a series of conservatories. The whole thing would risk being overly twee if it wasn’t for the fact that the food and drink is so damn good, you’ve got to take it seriously. Everything is, naturally, sourced or grown locally, which means the menu is incredibly innovative as these constraints demand a fair degree of resourcefulness. The staff were also fantastically knowledgeable and we left promising to go back. Hopefully soon.
We stayed at the gorgeous Longbridge House in Shepton Mallet. This B&B only has one gorgeous room at the moment, which overlooks a quiet courtyard. It was a lovely place to stay and not without some historical cudos- the Duke of Monmouth stayed at the house before the battle of Sedgemoor in 1685. We were given a warm greeting by Tanya, the proprietress along with tea and homemade cake in our room, which won me over straight away and that was before I saw the enormous tub. Breakfast was cooked to order and included eggs from Tanya’s own hens. I went for a little stroll and visited their coop at the top of the house’s tiered garden and took some snaps before we drove back to London.
We’ve both been working pretty much flat out since then and I have to admit I wish we’d had a bit longer in Somerset to rest up before the whirlwind of my new job, Toby’s recording schedule and the usual run around in the build up towards Christmas. However, I’ve been able to produce a few recipes inspired by our few days there, all with that most autumnal and most Somersetian of fruit- the apple!
150g butter, softened
250g self-raising flour
1 apple, like Bramley or similar cooking apple, cubed
2 plums, cubed as best you can
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
100g caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
For the topping:
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp sugar
Handful flaked almonds
1. Preheat your oven to 180C. Butter and line a 2L loaf tin with some parchment. Place the flour, sugar and spices in a large bowl and stir in the butter. Stir the eggs and milk together and gradually mix into the the dry ingredients. Finally, stir through the chopped fruit and raisins until evenly distributed. Pour into the prepared loaf tin.
2. Rub the butter sugar and flour for the topping together in a small bowl. Add the flaked almonds and mix together with your hands, breaking the almonds up a little bit. Sprinkle over the loaf and bake for about 40-45 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool before tucking in while still slightly warm.
Summer! A time for BBQs, sunshine into the lazy evenings, drinks on terraces and trips to the beach. But not necessarily a time for afternoon tea. In my opinion, tea and cake (pleasant as that combo may be) really belongs to the more blustery days of autumn and winter. But sometimes on a June afternoon (and in my case rather too often if truth be told) rather than that cooling glass of lemonade or sticky ice lolly, I crave a coffee and slice of something sweet. And it is also true that friends come round for tea even in the summer.
These occasions call for a cake that’s a bit different to something you may wish for on an autumn day- something lighter and more pillowy but still has a decent crumb. Above all it needs to be packed with plenty of seasonal fruit. This berry cake is just the ticket for a summer’s afternoon tea. I’ve added apricots too, which add a bit of tart sweetness. You could top this with a dusting of icing sugar or maybe some toasted flaked almonds, but I find that a dollop of creme fraiche is all I need. Serve with pots and pots of tea or coffee.
Strawberry and Apricot Cake
You will need:
1. Preheat oven to 170 C and grease a 20cm cake tin (ideally with a loose bottom) with the extra butter. Dust with a little sugar. In a bowl, toss the fruit in a little extra sugar to coat and set aside.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium sized bowl. Beat the butter and 150g of sugar until light in colour and fluffy. Use electric beaters if you prefer! Gradually add the milk, egg and vanilla. Slowly add the flour mixture.
3. Pour the cake batter into your prepared cake tin. Working quickly, lightly press the sugar-coated the fruit into the cake.
4. Bake until cake is golden brown and coming away from the sides of the tin, approx 1 hour. Leave to cool slightly before removing from the tin and transferring to a wire rack to continue cooling. Serve warmish or a room temp.
I love, love, love October. The leaves! The slight chill in the air! The colours! I know everyone raves about Autumn or Fall, to be all American about it, but surely even the most cynical of seasonal apathists must take some pleasure in this time of year.
For me, it’s the autumnal harvest that does it- some of my favourite things come to bountiful fruition over this period. Blackberries, apples, pumpkins and squash, leafy green kale, root veg, chestnuts, game. It’s all good, hearty stuff for when the nights begin to draw in and there’s lots of brilliant (and some shamefully awful) period drama on telly.
Plums take centre stage in this post- wonderfully versatile in that they can be transformed into sweet, salty or spicy treats. I think they are really delicious with rich meats or pungent cheeses in the form of a chutney. The European plum is in season from August until the end of this month, so get pickling now.
The delicious vanilla-scented upside down plum cake was actually one I made towards the end of the summer, as a treat to enjoy when we were queueing for the proms. Make sure you caramelise the plums completely to get that gorgeous sticky crunch at the top.
You will need:
2 tbsp butter
5 large plums, roughly chopped
1 red onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tbsp mustard seeds
100 ml honey or syrup
50 g sugar
1 red chili, chopped
200 ml white wine
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
1. Melt the butter over a low heat and add the plums, onion, garlic and mustard seeds. Cook for a few minutes until the onions are soft and translucent.
2. Add the honey, sugar and chili and stir for a few moments. Add the liquid ingredients and cook over a low heat for about 25-30 minutes. The plums should begin to melt and thicken into a jam-like consistency.
3. Season with salt and pepper before transferring to a sterilised jar and allowing to cool. The chutney will keep for a few weeks in the fridge.
You will need:
150g butter, softened
3 tbsp milk
270g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
3 tsp butter
1 vanilla pod
4.5 tbsp icing sugar
1. Put the oven on to 200 C and line and grease a loose-bottomed 20cm cake tin. Halve the plums and remove their stones.
2. Beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition. Add the milk.
3. Combine the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl and slowly add to the mixture.
4. Melt the 3 tsp of butter and add the plums. Coat with the melted butter before adding the icing sugar. Sizzle until the plums start to caramelise slightly. Arrange in the bottom of the cake tin, cut side facing down.
5. Pour the cake batter into the tin and put in the oven for 30-35 minutes. To check if the cake is ready, prick with a cake tester- it should come out clean and the top of the cake should be slightly golden.