Thursday, 29 November 2012


Well, with ice on the inside of the van windows this morning I guess we can safely assume that winter has arrived. Fortunately, this is the season of cheap and cheering soup - not only great as a starter or light meal, but also useful for warming your hands round if you stick it in a mug.

This is one of my current favourites, terrific for using up the sweet potatoes and butternut squash that are so cheap in the shops at this time of year.  One batch takes about half an hour to make and should provide lunch for the whole week.  Unless you have friends, of course...


2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 thumbsize pieces of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped finely
half a red chilli, chopped finely
2 onions, chopped
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes
225g butternut squash, peeled and chopped into cubes
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 litre vegetable stock, made with 4 teaspoons Marigold bouillon
freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
soured cream (optional)


1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan and add the onion.  Cook on a medium heat until the onion begins to turn transparent.

2. Add the chopped garlic, ginger and chilli.  Wash your hands thoroughly. You wouldn't want to make the mistake of putting your contact lenses in after chopping chilli now, would you? #voiceofexperience

3. Cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the sweet potatoes and butternut squash.  Cook for another couple of minutes.

4. Add the stock and sherry vinegar and bring to a simmer.

5. Cover the pan and simmer for approximately 15 minutes, checking regularly.  Your sweet potatoes and butternut squash should slide off a fork when pronged, but not be too mushy.

6. Puree the soup with a hand blender and add salt and pepper to taste.  A small dollop of soured cream adds a nice tang, if wanted.

7. Pour into mugs and serve.  Especially good with Breadline Bread.

Thursday, 22 November 2012


Nat is a friend of ours from way back, ever since Nichol and her husband Tsz used to blacksmith together.  She's a talented landscape gardener in her own right, but from our perspective as visitors who tend to appear unannounced we're just delighted that she can whip up a meal at short notice from just about anything.  

This is a pudding she baked for us a couple of years ago, and it's been a favourite ever since.    It's very quick, very easy, and for the most part is made from stuff that's likely to be lurking in your kitchen cupboard anyway.  

So here it is... Lazy Toffee Pear Cake a la Nat. And yes, we were playing Travel Cluedo after dinner last night...



3 pears
5 heaped soup spoons of plain flour
5 soup spoons of caster sugar (if you only have granulated I'm sure it won't kill you)
1 teaspoon of baking powder
3 soup spoons of milk
2 soup spoons of olive oil
1 egg


80g butter
100g caster sugar
1 egg
a few drops of almond or vanilla essence


1. Mix together all the cake ingredients except for the pears.  Beat well.

2. Pour into a small buttered flan dish or cake tin.  This will look like a ludicrously small amount of mixture.  Believe me, it will be fine.

3. Slice pears finely and place on top of mixture.  They should simply sit there rather than sinking.

4. Bake for approximately 20 minutes in a preheated oven at 160C.  The top of the cake should turn golden.

5. Towards the end of the cooking time, gently melt and mix the butter, sugar and almond / vanilla essence in a saucepan.  

6. Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly, and mix in the egg.  The cooling is important, or you'll end up with sugary scrambled egg on top of your cake (not advised...)

7. Remove cake from oven, pour the topping over it, and return to the oven until the top starts to caramelise.  This should take 10-15 minutes.

8. Eat straight away, with or without ice cream...

Thursday, 15 November 2012


Chilli is an excellent way to use up leftover ingredients.  A basic recipe can be adapted to include lots of surplus vegetables, and as a general rule the more tomatoes you can stick in it the richer your sauce will be.  Every time I make this, it comes out differently depending on what else I have in the fridge.  As an added bonus, beef mince is often sold in bargain multi-packs so if you're buying it to make something else you'll already have spare mince available to make your chilli later.   It is genuinely a something out of nothing dinner - and very tasty to boot.


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 teaspoon medium chilli powder
1 teaspoon oregano or mixed herbs
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped finely
500g lean beef mince
300ml beef stock (use 1 stock cube)
3 tablespoons tomato puree
tin of plum tomatoes, chopped (they have more flavour than tinned chopped tomatoes)
Freshly ground black pepper
tin of kidney beans (optional).  Don't add if you want to freeze the chilli though.  I often leave it out then add to the portions I'm serving up.  Add about 20-25 minutes from the end while the chilli is simmering.


200g pot of leftover salsa - this adds a fantastic richness to the chilli. Highly recommended!
250g cherry or pomodorino tomatoes (this is a great opportunity to use up your spare buy-one-get-one-free tomatoes from Tomato Prawn Curry).  Works well with the salsa too.
leftover peppers (any colour)
leftover carrots, diced finely
leftover mushrooms
leftover red chilli pepper, deseeded and chopped finely (avoid if you're not a fan of spicy food - this can give quite a kick)
Soured cream


1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan.  Add the onions and garlic (and chopped chilli if using).  Cook for 5 minutes until the onion begins to turn transparent.

2. Add the mince (and diced carrot if using) and cook until the meat is browned.  

3. Add the flour and stir gently.  Put in the tomato puree, stock, tinned tomatoes, chilli powder and oregano / mixed herbs.  This is also the time to add the salsa and punnet of tomatoes, if you have them.

4. Bring to the boil, stirring.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

5. Add any leftover peppers and mushrooms.  Cover and cook for 10 minutes, then season with  salt and freshly ground black pepper.

6.  Serve with rice and a dollop of soured cream.  This chilli freezes well, so you can store it in portion sizes and defrost to use as a topping for baked potatoes or pasta too.  It's also great in tacos...

Thursday, 8 November 2012


Well, Halloween may be over, but thanks to my overzealous bargain shopping I still have an awful lot of pumpkin left.  There is only so much Unexpectedly Terrifying Halloween Pumpkin Cake a girl can eat before people start to comment, so this week I diversified and made my all leftover pumpkin into soup. 

This is another very easy recipe, and you can vary the amount of pumpkin in it according to what you have.  A whole peeled 2kg pumpkin would be perfect, but I'd already eaten lots of mine in cake form, so my leftovers were considerably less generous (about half that).  The soup was still delicious though, and it smelled fantastic when cooking.


2 tablespoons olive oil 
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 small onions, peeled and chopped
Peeled and deseeded pumpkin, cut into chunks 
1 tablespoon light soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon mild curry powder or cumin
1.25 litres stock, made with 5 teaspoons Marigold Bouillon powder


1. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan over a medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic and cook gently until soft and turning transparent.
2. Add the peeled pumpkin chunks and reduce the heat.  Cover and cook for approximately 10 minutes.
3. Add the curry powder or cumin, the sugar, and half of the stock.
4. Cook for 40 minutes.
5. Add the rest of the stock and simmer.  When soup is bubbling gently, remove from the heat and blend until smooth.
6. Your pumpkin soup is ready to eat.  Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper to taste.  It's especially good served with freshly baked Breadline Bread.

Thursday, 1 November 2012


When I set out to bake the remnants of my Halloween decorations, I admit that I wasn't intending to create anything quite so... spine chilling.  Whether it was really the influence of the undead, or whether I'd simply been talking too much while I cooked and accidentally added a teaspoon of baking powder to my self-raising flour, we may never know.  But the cake was delicious regardless, although it provided rather more of a talking point than had originally been planned.

Pumpkin is a fantastic ingredient.  You can make soups, curries or cakes with it, and even the seeds - when roasted - make a wonderful snack. Given its versatility, it's surprising how few people know what to do with it, and many pumpkins simply get carved into Halloween lanterns then thrown in the bin.  It's a shame because, flavoured with the right spices, pumpkin is both healthy and delicious, and probably one of the cheapest foods around at this time of year.

Here, to use up your leftovers from last night, is Halloween Pumpkin Cake.


225g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
225g sugar
225g pumpkin puree (this is easier to make than you think)
118ml olive oil
2 eggs, beaten
4 tablespoons of water
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon all spice


1. Preheat the oven to 180C
2. Open your pumpkin, scoop out the seeds and stringy bits, and cut the remainder into chunks.
3. Place the chunks in a steamer over boiling water, and steam for 20 minutes.  Allow to cool and peel off the skin, pureeing the soft flesh with a hand blender.  A whole pumpkin will make far more puree than you need, so weigh as you go. 
3. Mix the pumpkin puree, olive oil, eggs, spices and water together.
4. Add the flour (preferably sifted), salt and sugar.  Mix gently to ensure there are no lumps.
5. Pour the mixture into a greased cake tin and pop in the oven on the middle shelf.
6. Your cake will take 50-60 minutes to bake, possibly less, so make sure to check it regularly after about 45.  It is ready when golden and risen, and a skewer or sharp knife comes out clean.


1. Don't throw out the seeds!  Separate from the stringy bits (which you can bin as I've yet to find a use for them) and soak them over night in salty water
2. Preheat the oven to 140C.
3. Drain the seeds and pat dry with a tea towel.  
4. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and half a teaspoon of salt.  Mix well.
5. Spread the seeds in a single layer on a baking tray lined with foil, and cook for approximately half an hour.  If you listen, you might hear them pop.
6. See?  Delicious.  And to think they were going to end up in the bin... ;-)