The nights are drawing in…
By Linda Parker
It was only a few weeks ago that we were enjoying an early autumn hot-spell, and had got the barbecue equipment out again. It hardly seems possible that the nights are drawing in so quickly, and that I’m sweeping leaves off the lawn as well as collecting apples and getting ready for both Halloween and Bonfire Night.
We’ve had an influx of cooking gadgets to try out, which has happily co-incided with some lovely seasonal comfort menus.
First in line was the Terracotta Clay Cooker, £39.95, which is able to cook roasts and casseroles at slightly lower temperatures, and with a slightly longer cooking time, with succulent and tender results. The base has a glazed interior and needs to be soaked in water before use, as does the lid. It creates it’s own basting environment, and the results with a simple roasted chicken (ok I stuffed it with two quartered lemons and a few crushed cloves of garlic and sprinkle of sea salt) were pretty impressive. The instructions are rather vague on quantities of liquids but to be honest it’s very difficult to go wrong when roasting anything in a sealed container. The key is to use water (or stock) rather than oil… Take a look here if you’d like to purchase one.
I also used a new garlic crusher for this task, which was a revelation … the James Martin garlic press smashed it like a demon, and costs about £7.50 – see it here – I think we’ll try the Chicken Chasseur recipe using the Clay Cooker next time!
As far as quick and easy autumnal recipes are concerned I’ve started to enjoy cooking pasta again, after a long break due to quite frankly, being a little piggy and eating far too much carbonara! One product that’s been invaluable for quick kitchen table pasta suppers has been the Microplane Cube Grater from ICTC … available from www.goodcookshop.com. It’s £19.99 and is one of those ‘I don’t know how I managed without it’ items that may be going on my Christmas list for a few lucky pals. It has it’s own cover/case/container, and three super-sharp surgical steel blades – course, ribbon or fine. It’s perfect for Parmesan, nutmeg, ginger, chocolate and even veggies – use it to make veggie strips for garnish or adding to winter soups.
The arrival of the Cuisipro apple corer was perfectly timed for our modest apple harvest, we had more apples than we knew what to do with but managed to offload them on to quite a few neighbours and also took the opportunity to fine-tune our apple crumble recipes (brown sugar, cinnamon and a handful of sultanas are required). If you do fancy the idea of quick and easy no mess apple-coring, it’s £8.99, and available from www.whiskcooking.co.uk
An item which will come into it’s own towards the festive season is the two-in-one 3 Piece Non Stick Spring Form Cake Pan Set, £14.99, available from Amazon.
This is a high-quality cake tin that can be used to make plain round cakes or with the ring mould, a Savarin-style bake. We’ve been inventive and created a few simple sponge cakes, adding cocoa powder to half of the mixture to create a marble-effect, and then finishing it off with some chocolate buttercream icing and white/silver edible glitter.
I need to perfect my technique in time for Christmas, as I think a festive chocolate Savarin sponge could be a rather nice alternative to a traditional Xmas cake. I’ll be looking at the Lakeland website for glittery decorative ….inspiration… And shhhhh… I might put the Pan Set and some cookery glitter on my Xmas shopping gift list for my keen-cook friends.
And if you’re starting to think about seasonal shopping trips, consider a visit to Absolute Abode in Raynes Park, London SW20, there’s a lovely café as well as covetable design and home ideas.
But… before leaping ahead to Christmas we need to think about Halloween…
I’ve already bought several different varieties of squash and pumpkin and have been arranging them on the kitchen windowsill and gleefully lighting pumpkin tea lights at dusk … goodness knows what the neighbours think. But pumpkin soup is a must for Halloween, and my favourite method is to use both pumpkin and butternut squash.
It’s a very easy process that can be adapted to larger/smaller quantities. In a nutshell (or pumpkin-shell), you’ll need a large pumpkin, a medium-sized butternut squash, plus 2oz butter, two crushed cloves of garlic, one to two chopped onions, and a couple of sticks of celery, chopped. Prepare one and half pints of chicken or vegetable stock. Scoop out the pumpkin flesh and remove the seeds and put to one side. Peel and chop the butternut squash. Toss in olive oil, spread onto a non-stick baking tray and roast in the oven for about 20 mins until golden, but not crisp. Then melt the butter in a saucepan, add garlic, onion and celery and stir and turn for about 15 mins until it’s glistening and squidgy. Stir in the pumpkin flesh, simmer until the liquid reduces. Add the roasted squash and simmer for a further few minutes. Add the stock, stir, then simmer for another few minutes. Let it cool slightly then liquidize with a stick blender (I’ve been using the 750 watt Stainless Steel Stick Blender, £45, by Stellar, which has a dial to up the speed gradually, as well as a Turbo boost button).
Serve with a swirl or double, single or sour cream or a dash of crème fraiche and a sprinkle of paprika and some home-make croutons. Real Halloween fiends can serve it up on hollowed out pumpkins, as shown here by the creative people at Villeroy & Boch!
If you don’t fancy the idea of soup for your Halloween party, try this creamy pumpkin risotto recipe from Tilda.