Chippy

I’ve been going a bit polenta mad recently.  It has been turning up in my baking, as a side dish with a chop and some roasted red peppers and even in place of breadcrumbs for pané-ing.   But these chips take the (polenta) biscuit.  They are fun, delicious and ridiculously easy to make.

You could flavour them with anything that takes your fancy really, but I went with a goats’ cheese and rosemary combo.  Other ideas include chili and coriander, chives and sour cream, sage or just leave them salt-and-pepper-plain, of course.  The only thing I would say is do oven roast them, rather getting out the deep fat fryer.  Not only is this obviously much better for you and less faff, I actually find it the best method to retain any of those added flavours.

Goats’ Cheese and Polenta Chips

You will need:
250g polenta (ideally the quick cook variety)
Fresh Rosemary, finely chopped
100g Soft goats cheese
Sea salt
Pepper
Olive oil
Fresh torn herbs: rosemary, thyme

Method:

1.  Cook the polenta according the packet instructions.  I normally bring a big pan of salted water to boil (about 1L), or even stock for extra flavour, and then pour in the polenta in one steady stream.  It will bubble up something rather vulcanic, but be ready in no time at all.

2.  Remove from the heat and add the goats cheese, stirring until melted.  Pour into a baking tray so that the polenta is about 1 inch thick.  Smooth over slightly and leave to cool and set completely.          

3. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 200 C.  Cut the cooled polenta into ‘chip’ like strips.  Place on a large roasting tray and drizzle over some olive oil, herbs, sea salt and pepper.  Toss to coat thoroughly.

4.   Bake for approx 30 minutes or until lightly golden and crispy.  Enjoy with a dip of your choice- I found chili jam was a bit of a match made in heaven.

Measuring Up

I know that January is almost over, but I am still optimistically (desperately) hanging on to my resolutions (delusions) of improved health and well being.  This feels all the more urgent because my diet at the moment seems to consist mainly of butter, egg yolks and cream.  My waistline is in serious peril.  But more on that in a later post.

My problem is snacking.  I can’t have breakfast at 7.30 in the morning and wait until 1pm for lunch.  I’ll keel over.  I need something that hits the spot, preferably with a bit of carbohydrate to keep me going.  I know I should probably have some protein, but that just doesn’t do it for me, no matter what the nutrition police say.   These oat, orange and prune bars are soft, squidgy and hearty yet butter, wheat and sugar free (well, just a tiny bit of honey to sweeten- adjust to your taste).  So they do the job in my book.  

Oat, Orange and Prune Bars

You will need:

170g oats
1 orange- zest and fruit of
10 prunes, chopped
3-5 tbsp honey
60 ml vegetable oil
150ml Greek yogurt
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

Method:

1.  Preheat the oven to 175 C.


2.  Mix together oats, orange zest and pulpy flesh, prunes, desired amount of honey, oil and yogurt with the salt and cinnamon until you have a very thick batter.

3.  Smooth this into a lined baking dish.  Push down any bits of exposed prune and bake for 30-40 min until just set.  Cool before cutting into rectangles.  Sprinkle with a little sugar should you wish. 

Pumpin’

I do love the way pumpkins look- their knobbly shapes and autumnal colour, not to mention all the weird and wonderful artistic reinterpretations you get this time of year.  But if I’m honest, when it comes to flavour I’d rather have a butternut squash.  The brutal truth is that the pumpkin is quite bland.  It hardly tastes of anything at all.  The biggest favour you could do it is to puree and reduce it down to its most concentrated and thus most flavoursome form before sticking it in a pie.  But even then it needs a lot of spice to really shine.
 

Having said that, one pumpkin can go a really long way in terms of feeding the masses, so it gets bonus points on that front.  And there are ways to use it that work really well, either with other ingredients to lift and bring out its sweetness or as a way to add moisture and texture.  And don’t forget that the seeds are edible too and make for a great snack. 

Here are some ideas to make your pumpkin go further.  These three dishes all came from one medium sized pumpkin.

To enhance the flavour:

Roast pumpkin, lemon and sage risotto.

You will need:
To serve 4

300 g pumpkin, cut into wedges, skin on
olive oil
sea salt, pepper
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 lemons, zested and juiced
200g risotto rice- arborio or carnaroli
100 ml white wine or dry vermouth
1 L good quality chicken or vegetable stock
Parmesan
A bunch of sage leaves, torn

Method:

1.  Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C.  Lay the pumpkin wedges on an oven proof tray and drizzle liberally with olive oil.  Scatter with salt an pepper and bake until just tender, about 40 mins.

2.  Chop the onion and mince the garlic.   In a large, heavy-based pan, sweat the onions in some olive oil over a medium heat.  Add the minced garlic, the zest of one lemon, a few torn sage leaves and the rice and mix well.  Fry these for a minute or so, allowing the rice to absorb some of the fragrant oils in the pan.

3.  Add the white wine and vermouth and allow to bubble away.  Once reduced, begin adding the stock, about a fourth at a time.

4.  Cook until the rice is just tender with a bit of bite to it and the liquid has been absorbed and you have a creamy consistency.

5.  Add the chopped pumpkin and lemon juice/zest to taste as well as a good grating of Parmesan. Allow to come together for a minute or two.  Serve in hearty bowls with a grating of cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and some more sage. 

To add umph to a cake- This recipe is adapted from this one I found on the BBC Good Food website.  I had some leftover coconut milk kicking about, so I used this for sweetness instead and reduced the amounts of honey and sugar.  To add more coconut flavour, add some essence or replace 50g of the flour with 50g of dessicated coconut. 

Pumpkin, Ginger and Coconut loaf

You will need:

50g cooled melted butter
75 g honey
1 large egg
150 ml coconut milk
1 tsp coconut essence (optional)
250g grated pumpkin
100g light muscovado sugar
350g self-raising flour
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp demerara or light muscovado sugar

Method:

1.  Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C.  Butter and line a loaf tin.

2.  Combine the flour, muscovado and ginger in a small bowl.

3.  In a large bowl, beat together the egg, honey, butter, coconut milk, essence and grated pumpkin.

4.  Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix until well combined.

5.  Pour into your prepared loaf tin and  sprinkle with the remaining sugar.

6.  Bake for an hour until golden and cooked through when tested with a cake tester.  Allow to cool before slicing and spreading liberally with butter. 

Waste not want not:
Smoky Pumpkin Seeds

When carving your pumpkin, it is generally assumed that you scoop out the fleshy innards, including the seeds and chuck them in the bin.  Don’t.  Save the seeds- pop them in a bowl and into the fridge until you have a spare 15 minutes and you’ve got the oven on.  

You want it to be set to 200 degrees C and have a large oven tray to hand.  Spread your seeds onto this and remove any stringy bits of pumpkin flesh.  Sprinkle with lots of sea salt, more than you think you’ll need, pepper and some paprika.  Drizzle with a good slug of oil- olive if you have it, but plain will do too.  Roast in the oven, giving the seeds the occasional shuffle about, until golden and toasted.  They’ll keep for about a week and make for an irresistible nibble. 

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

Method:

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.