Showing posts with label Pumpkins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pumpkins. Show all posts

30 Dec 2017

Easy risotto with garden grown Squash(kin)

~ Squashkin, butternut and Old Boer White pumpkin ~

Let me tell you about one of the loveliest and tastiest squashes that I grew this year. I'm never without a butternut squash lurking somewhere in my kitchen so wanted to grow my own this year.  But how much better to grow a squash in the shape of a pumpkin! My eyes lit up when I saw seeds of a new hybrid called 'Squashkin' in the Marshall's catalogue last year and I promptly ordered some. But first, another tale.

I was never the child that tore into Easter eggs or birthday presents, instead I teased out the moment, savouring every tuck in the paper or release of tape, trying desperately to avoid a glimpse of what was inside. I could leave my Easter eggs in their cellophane for weeks and know it annoyed my siblings no end that I still had chocolate long after theirs had been eaten. It was my way of eking out the anticipation and choosing the right moment to indulge. Until, that is, a particularly beautiful Easter chocolate sculpture of birds in a nest with their speckled eggs was left too long in the sun and melted. Dismay, disappointment and regret ensued.

Why mention this now? Well, I've been at it again, prolonging the moment to cook the squashes and pumpkins that I grew this year. Harvested in late October, they've sat in my kitchen ever since, where I can admire their rustic beauty. (Does anyone else feel like that about their pumpkins? I'd grow them for looks alone!) I searched through my cook books for inspiration, something delicious that both my son and I would enjoy. I wasn't sure that he'd be too interested in roasted veg, while soup didn't seem to do this beautiful vegetable justice. (Although I've since found a promising recipe in an old Delia book, rescued from my mum's kitchen last year.)

Finally, yesterday, it was time. After all the cooking and eating of indulgent Christmas fare, I wanted to cook something quick, easy and soothing. Risotto ... with the Squashkin. Way back in spring, I'd been tempted by descriptions of this squash being a hybrid with the thin skin and keeping qualities of a butternut and the superior aromatic flavours of a Crown Prince. So I anticpated that the skin would be easy to slice.  It was - as easy, if not easier than a butternut whose skin had hardened on a supermarket shelf. I also hoped that the flesh had ripened enough. Apparently, yes. (It wasn't a huge pumpkin and took ages to appear - in 2018 I'm sowing earlier.) A check round the kitchen gave me onions, garlic, chorizo, herbs and stock. Dinner was served half an hour later with some butter-fried chestnut mushrooms. (Peas and greens added after photo. Oops.)

I always make extra for leftovers lunch the next day. This was so good that the pot was scraped clean for second helpings. Risotto is so easy to make that I feel silly offering this as a recipe - consider it more as inspiration. Sometimes I use leeks or shallots rather than onions, or stir blue cheese rather than parmesan through at the end, or no cheese at all, or perhaps some chicken leftover from a roast with sliced red bell peppers or a sprinkle of chilli flakes. A risotto of frozen peas and parmesan is perfect for small children - although squash added to that makes it very pretty and just as popular. I just love that the base dish is so adaptable. And there's no need for all that stirring and waiting, although that in itself can be very soothing.  My son, being a student with no time for faffing in the kitchen, taught me to throw everything in after sweating off the onions. He puts his in a big Le Creuset pot, gives it a good stir, pops the lid on and leaves it in a medium oven for 40 minutes. It tastes just the same.

The real reason for writing this post is to suggest Squashkin as a good vegetable to grow next year if you have the space. (Allow one square metre per plant.) The flavour was really good - and definitely superior to supermarket butternut squash and big orange pumpkins. Cooked in the stock with the rice, the chunks of squash softened and absorbed the other flavours and the end result was utterly delicious.  Job done!

(Recipe provided for anyone that has never made risotto.)

Easy Squash and Chorizo Risotto for 2-3 people

140g arborio rice
700ml hot stock (I use half home-made chicken stock, half Marigold bouillon)
1 medium onion, chopped finely
2 large garlic cloves, sliced very thinly
Half a large squash, about 600g before peeling
1 teaspoon of dried herbs (or fresh finely chopped thyme/rosemary from the garden)
125g chorizo, chopped into very small pieces (or buy a pack from Waitrose :D )
Olive oil and a half-ounce knob of butter

Add a splash of olive oil to a large casserole pot or non-stick pan. Have the pot over a low flame. Melt the butter in the oil and add the finely chopped onion. Stir to coat and cook on a very low heat until soft and translucent. Don't let the onion pieces burn but a long sweating is good as this sweetens them. Peel, deseed and cube the squash. Add the squash cubes to the onion as you go, stirring in. After 10 minutes or so, add the finely sliced garlic and cook gently for a minute.

Add the rice, stir to coat with the pan juices. Sprinkle with herbs, if using. After a minute, add a good splash of hot stock. Stir. After another minute of stirring, add all the remaining hot stock and stir for a few seconds. Pop a lid on and leave it to simmer, checking every once in a while to give it a stir and make sure nothing is sticking to the pan.

When the rice is soft (I like mine slightly over cooked, rather than 'al dente'), add the chorizo and stir through to heat. (At this stage cheese and/or chopped parsley can be added.) There you go, dish up and it's ready to eat. 

8 Nov 2016

On autumn days like these ...

Gold leaf

At this time of year my inner bear wants to start hibernating. With sunset currently at around 4.15, even after the clocks have been returned to Greenwich Meantime, there's very little gardening that can be done after dark.  Maybe I'm being shortsighted and should be potting up seedlings by candlelight in a greenhouse or digging by the light of a few well placed torches. Or maybe not.  It's tempting to get bogged down emotionally by the shortened days, darker evenings and damp misty mornings which, for those having to go out and earn a crust during the week, means less gardening. Throw in a few rain soaked weekends and it's enough to bring on a severe case of the glums. But, just occasionally, we're given a gift from the gods of a perfect autumn day (or morning) and we've had a few of those this past week. I woke up to another of those days on Sunday which meant I could get work done in the garden and allotment. A slight "WooHoo!" moment ensued as I opened the blinds, even though it was quite chilly outside. By mid-afternoon the rains came down and I returned home, unused strimmer in hand, soaked through. Welcome to the British autumn.

But even a short burst of blue skies is enough to put a smile on my face; the colours of autumn on a sunny day make me want to reach for my paintbox.  One day last week, I think it was Wednesday, I was wandering around the neighbourhood marvelling at all the berries and fabulous autumn colour against a blue, blue sky.  On days like these, it can take me a long time to get where I'm supposed to be going as I'm dragging my iphone out to take pictures every couple of steps.  Yes, even in London.  Or, perhaps, especially in London (or any urban sprawl) where splashes of autumnal colour can alleviate the city monotones of concrete, glass, metal and tarmac.

Pink Rowan berries

Splashes of colour are mostly seen in private gardens or from street planting - Hampstead Heath is still mostly green and gold although there are lots of berries.  At home, there's coppery gold seen from my window as an ornamental cherry loses its leaves but, in the veg patch, the strawberry leaves and pineapple sage flowers win the day.  (Which reminds me, I must have a look to see what else is still flowering.)

And while autumn slowly tightens its grip on nature, I'm whiling away the darker evenings with planning for next year and some crafting: painting a new seed box, twisting gathered creeper stems into quick wreaths and knitting an essential pair of fingerless gloves.  And there's always reading; has anyone got any recommendations for a good page-turner? I'm currently reading 'An Orchard Odyssey' by Naomi Slade; part story, part reference, excellent read for any fruit grower and inspiration for wannabe fruitarians. I'll be reviewing it soon here.

There was frost on the rooftops this morning for the first time. I wonder if this is going to be a harder winter than last year?  I can't remember seeing frost this early in November in London in recent years. I don't mind frost but it would nice if we didn't get the winter storms of last year.  Let me leave you with a few warming moments on this chilly day.

(Top to bottom, left to right)
Strawberry leaves, blue (now purple) hydrangea, quince and borlottis
Sweet potato and garden beetroot soup (delicious!), garden gatherings (very odd double radishes), cornus against ivy
Pumpkin (obvously), Creeper berries, quince crumble with a lovely nutty topping

And, finally, I'm in awe of this sumach tree (Rhus typhina) - could there be anything more beautiful? It reminds me of a woodblocked Indian print.

3 Nov 2012

We've done it again! Fortnum's pumpkin success!

(And by "we, I don't mean me at all but the junior members of my sister's family!)

This Hallowe'en I couldn't make it to the annual Fortnum & Mason pumpkin carving competition as I was working a long day but my sister's Midlands-based family made the effort and trekked down to London for it; I joined them for the last couple of hours in the evening.  A couple of years back, my niece Kate won the inaugural competition, coming home with a bespoke besom broom and the promise of a Fortnum's delivery truck dropping off a £1000 hamper at her door.

Last year, my great niece Lottie (then 7½) scooped the top award for her entry into the children's section - her winning pumpkin was featured in Fortnum's publicity for this year and she took home a sizeable selection of Fortnum's sweets in one of their famous hampers.

Lottie's prize winning pumpkin, 2011
Image from Fortnum & Mason website
So, no pressure for this year then...   To be honest, the bar is now set so high, with very seriously competitive entries from professional pumpkin carvers, that it would be (almost) impossible for the hobbyist to win in the adult section.

The 2012 adult winner: 3 gruesome faces carved around the pumpkin.
Makes me think of the first Harry Potter film!
Thank goodness, then, for the children's section where, yet again, the winning pumpkin was chosen from those entered by members of my family - this time by Lottie's younger sister, Sophie (6½). Her sister and cousin were also commended for their efforts.  In case you can't immediately see it, this is a devil-faced pumpkin with flames, plaited raffia beard and (slightly slipping) horns - and, in my humble and totally biased opinion, much nicer than the adult winner, retaining a certain charm and friendliness.

Winning Children's pumpkin, 2012.

** Well done, Sophie! **

And thanks for saving me the truffles from your huge hamper of Fortnum's delicious sweets!  ♥♥♥

I do keep banging on about this Hallowe'en event but it's a lovely thing to go to if you're a) in London and b) not busy trailing after mini sweet bearing ghouls in your neighbourhood. Like most established department stores, Fortnums know how to keep the crowd entertained - we were treated to superior snacks and drinks in sugar-rimmed martini glasses throughout the hour long judging.  I loved the Jeeves-style waiters with their silver salvers of sliced pumpkin and sausagemeat in pastry, bowls of spiced pumpkin risotto and plates of pumpkin pie with vanilla cream and a disc of sugar-dredged, deep fried pumpkin. The last was a diet-breaker; even so, I'd dearly love the recipe! (I've looked online and nothing seems to resemble it; I think there were ground almonds in the pie filling.)  

I was very thirsty after my day at work so avoided more than a sip of the blood-coloured vodka and blackcurrant purée in favour of the non-alcoholic thirst quenching blackcurrant purée and soda.  Hmmm, it was all so lovely that I'm now wondering about slipping along to the macaron making demonstration this afternoon! 

3 Nov 2010

An unexpected victory…

:: Trick or Treaters from The Nightmare before Christmas (6 inch pumpkin) ::
If only I hadn't succumbed to the 'flu, last weekend would have been just marvellous! Remember the pumpkin carving at Fortnums that I wrote about? My sister, nieces, their kids, my son, me - all got together for the day and entered our respective pumpkins. My son and I swiftly carved a couple of pumpkins in the morning (mine, above) before heading off for lunch whilst the rest of the family put a bit more preparation into it, going out to select their pumpkins from a nearby farm:

… and then devoting an evening to the carving. It paid off: I'm thrilled (and very proud) to announce that my niece Kate carried off the first Golden Pumpkin Award in the shape of a bespoke Fortnum's broomstick! Here she is, collecting her prize from Fortnum's jovial judge Simon who dreamt up and organised the whole shebang.

She also won the luxury Windsor Hamper; what luck! we had a sort of pre-nup agreement that whoever won would divvy up the spoils between the family. That was a pretty solid deal for the rest of us as Kate is generally known as a luck magnet. I've got my eye on that hamper basket ;) (fat chance mate!) …although I'd happily settle for the Magnifici florentines and the caviar instead!

The standard of entries was quite overwhelming; the competition was opened up to double the numbers - I think there were over 150 entries, some of whom obviously took the whole thing very seriously:

This King of the Wild Things was carved into an Atlantic Giant, with extra stalks added. Impressive! But it didn't win because it failed in one of the categories - luminosity;  the carver hadn't hollowed it out.  So there you are, hot tip to remember for next year. 

Other pumpkins were very well carved (top right: ma boy's carving of Oogly Boogly, top left: Cheshire Cat by my niece, Jen):

(Sorry, had to get those two in!)  Here's a couple more that totally appealed to me, they were so quirky - and of course included plenty of veg and flowers!

 Every table in the Ground Floor Gallery restaurant was covered in lit pumpkins as the evening got darker (wolfman, catwoman, haunted houses) and contestants with their families feasted on complimentary snacks and drinks: mulled wine or soft fruit coolers, pumpkin risotto (they've promised me the recipe, it was mega-tasty), sausage pumpkin puff pastry slices, chocolate chilli cream mousse - really, there was no need to make supper when I got home!  But I expect what you all really want to know is…  what did the winning pumpkin look like?

Trick or Treat, dearie?
(And, clever girl, she made the giant sweets on top and filled the inside with sweets and fairy lights!)  What?  Me, biased?  Surely not!!  Ha, ha.  Well done Kate!!

P.S. I hope that next year I'll see a few London based veg gardeners there with home-grown carved pumpkins?  And yes, I'm getting over the 'flu although I suspect it's all downhill towards a filthy cold.  So annoying! So much to do in the garden!

29 Oct 2010

Pumpkin Muffins

Yesterday I spoke of baking pumpkin muffins and promised the recipe.  Here it is, hopefully in time for some Hallowe'en partying this weekend.  I like to offer iced cupcakes or muffins or decorated biscuits to Trick or Treaters instead of sweets - does that make me odd?  It seems to go down well and I find it a more appealing alternative to the bags of tooth-rotting sweets that the kids come back with in their loot bags. (Most of which, in my home, don't get eaten - the thrill being in the hunter/gatherer phase.)

This recipe will make 12 good sized muffins (those are Lakeland muffin cases in the pic above, so probably about 2 inches deep - to give you an idea of size).

You will need:

7 oz (200g) peeled, deseeded and chunked pumpkin flesh
half Tablespoon oil (sunflower or other light oil)
10 oz (300g) plain flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg (I used large)
150 ml (5 fl oz) soured cream
50ml (1 3/4 fl oz) milk
5 oz (150g) soft brown sugar
2 oz (60g) butter, melted

:: This is the recipe I followed but, as an afterthought, felt the muffins would be extra nice with some fruit thrown in (raisins, sultanas, cranberries).  A friend who works at Jamie Oliver's Fifteen restaurant in Old Street also suggested the addition of ground cumin (which sounds delicious!).::

Assuming you already have your carved out pumpkin flesh, allow an hour for this recipe due to cooking time.  Important to know this if, like me, you are prone to whipping up a batch of cupcakes in less than half an hour for hungry mouths.

So, let's start:

Preheat your oven to 190C /375 F/Gas 5 ready to roast your pumpkin flesh.  Put in a baking dish, drizzle with oil and toss to coat.  (Or put oil and pumpkin in a plastic bag and give it a shake to coat.)  Roast for about 35 minutes (careful not to burn), remove, cool and mash with a fork.

Then turn your oven up to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Sift your flour, baking powder and cinnamon into a large bowl.  In another bowl lightly beat the egg, add the soured cream, milk, sugar, melted butter, mashed pumpkin and combine. (If adding raisins or sultanas and a half teaspoon of ground cumin, put those into this bowl with the other stuff.)  Pour this in with the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. 

Prepare your muffin pan:  either grease the wells or line with muffin cases.  Spoon large dollops of the mixture into the cases or pan wells. (See below for tip.) Bake for 20 minutes until risen and golden.  Leave to cool for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack.

I then carried on and iced mine as my tasters were mostly female and under 10 years old but I thought they were nice eaten plain from the oven (I don't have a sweet tooth) and of course if you've added raisins, they'll also add sweetness.

For Hallowe'en, think about icing with orange glacé icing (icing sugar and water) and chocolate stars or with white chocolate and then pipe spider webs over the top.

~Not my best photo - the lighting was poor and the cakes wouldn't last until morning! ~

This recipe is adapted from Susannah Blake's in the book Baking Magic - 280 pages of incredibly tempting muffins, cupcakes, biscuits - both sweet and savoury - with irresistable photos.

Helpful tip - filling cake cases:  When making cupcakes or muffins, I can't be bothered with the faff of spooning the mix into the cases (waaaay too messy and time consuming) - I use my ice cream scoop (like this one: Ice Cream Scoop) i.e. a squeezy one that delivers just the right amount of mix over to the cases without mess.  I didn't realise they came in different sizes, mines about 5 cm diameter. 

28 Oct 2010

Best for carving pumpkins…

Well, we're nearly at the end of October; I had the best intentions of thrilling you all with a daily dose of cooking inspiration with pumpkin as the main ingredient which - load me up with guilt - has not happened. Those particular seeds of inspiration have fallen on stony ground thanks to a several factors: a few autumnal tummy bugs sweeping through the home, extra large doses of domesticity being required from me as I have my twent-ager niece staying with me (I begrudge housework when I could be gardening) and getting my son off to a school trip to Spain (sooo envious) … not to mention Work.

The draw for my giveaway book took place (drawn by my son) and the winner is:  Pandora!  The book is now winging its way to Cornwall in time for some spooky and creative carving.  Thank you to everyone that entered, it was such fun checking out where y'all hail from.

And I found time to start my pumpkin carving experiments. Tomorrow I'm off to Fortnum's to see how the professionals do it (and will try and take loads of photos for a blog show-and-tell at the weekend).
In the meantime, for anyone about to start hollowing out a pumpkin, this is the tool that works best - for me at least:

Yep - a melon baller.  I spooned the orange globe into submission. My pumpkin was fairly small - about 8 inches diameter - and this really did the biz for final smoothing when getting the right thickness.  You can see the array of "tools" which I worked through:  Sharp knife, small sharp knife , spoon, grapefruit knife.  All useful but, seriously, with the melon baller we're talking icing on cake for speed and tired hands.  (Plus, I imagine that small, child-sized, hands could manage this easily.)  I've read elsewhere that ice-cream scoops can help; I haven't tried - yet - but I'd recommend one that has a clean edge for digging in to the pumpkin flesh.

 Did I mention cake?  By the end, I felt that I'd earned a treat and I baked all that lovely golden flesh into Spiced Pumpkin Muffins.  Yum, yum. Recipe will be posted later today - they're delicious eaten warm from the oven!

15 Oct 2010

Last Day for my Giveaway!

There are lots of pumpkins appearing in the shops now and, (unlike me) if you were organised enough to grow some this year, I expect you've already harvested a few.  Are you saving any for decorating? You might want to know exactly how to deal effectively with all those innards (how to get the shell really clean so your decorated pumpkin won't start to rot and stink so soon), which tools are the best to use (and where to get them from) and how to be inspired beyond the spooky Hallowe'en faces.  For the more environmentally minded, there's even a project on making bird feeders from squashes - very important to keep the birds fed as the days get colder and there's less food around for them.

In which case …

Decorating Pumpkins and Gourds: 20 Fun and Stylish Projects for Decorating Pumpkins, Gourds, and Squashescould be the very book you need (click on the book title for a 'look inside' linkthrough) and - more excitingly! one lucky reader will win a copy by midnight tonight … ~ahem~ by the time I wake up tomorrow morning.  Just leave a comment at the bottom of the original post (click here) (or at the bottom of this one - gosh I'm indecisive today) to have your name added to the Wellie Boot of Luck.  You can enter the draw even if you don't live in the UK! (A big thank you to everyone who has entered already.)

Regardless of your carving skills, what do you do with the pumpkin flesh?  I'd love to know!  I've heard a lot about American Pumpkin Pie so will try and track down a  recipe for that (anyone got a recommendation for me?) but check back tomorrow and I'll have a pumpkin muffin recipe for you.

And don't forget to save the seeds!  Keep a few back for re-sowing next year (wash, dry and store in dry place) and eat the rest!  Try this yummy way of cooking them: Chilli Lime Roasted Pumpkin Seeds from Roamyourwayhome, one of the members on Jamie Oliver's food website. I think these would make great grown up Hallowe'en snacks!
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