Cherry Compote

cherry compote

Pitting cherries must be one of the messiest jobs in the kitchen, but it is oh so worth it. I’m not very conscientious about wearing an apron, but this is one occasion when I swathe myself in my most voluminous apron, cover the table with newspaper, and settle down to a curiously relaxing session of pitting. We’ve eaten a lot of cherries this season – mainly because back in May I was irresistibly tempted by a 2-kg crate of cherries in a Spanish venta for only 5.60 euros. I got home wondering how on earth two of us were going to eat them all before they rotted. My new cookbook, The Real Taste of Spain, provided an answer: cherry compote. A monster, messy pitting session followed, especially as I had no cherry pitter to hand.

This recipe is so simple to do, and words cannot describe how delicious it is. For a week, our breakfast was a spoonful or two of this with dollops of Greek yoghurt, and we mourned when we scraped out the last few drops of syrup from the bowl. From then on we constantly looked out for affordable cherries, and whenever we found some, we bought at least a kilo to make some compote. The last batch is now in the freezer in several plastic boxes so that we can spin out the pleasure over the summer. So my advice is, if you make this, make plenty, it freezes really well. It goes with all sorts of things: with ice cream for an extra-special Cherries Jubilee, with yoghurt or cream, or spooned over an almond cake, for example.
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Pam’s cheap-as-chips low-fat banana bread

Thank you to Pam on the Cottage Smallholder Forum for this recipe. I took advantage of it to use up three mushy bananas from the freezer. It looks a bit “whole earth”, brown and speckly, but it is moist and tastes great either on its own or (better) spread with butter. And it costs almost nothing to make. I cut down on the sugar a bit here, because I found the original 150 g made it too sweet for my taste.
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Roasted squash soup with spiced crème fraîche

roasted squash soup with spiced crème fraîche

Our veggie box had two huge chunks of bright orange pumpkin in it this week. I don’t particularly like pumpkin, but one thing I do know about squash is that the first thing you should do with it is cut it into chunks and roast it to get rid of most of the water. So into a 200C oven it went, and I used FoodBlogSearch to search for “roasted squash”. Lots of ideas, but this recipe fitted perfectly with the ingredients I had to hand. “Almost vegetarian” is a good description of me too.

Wow! It tasted wonderful — on the basis of this recipe alone I might buy the book it came from, The Flexitarian Table: Inspired, Flexible Meals for Vegetarians, Meat Lovers, and Everyone in Between by Peter Berley, despite the stupid title. The flavour was warm, sweet and spicy, perfect for a chilly autumn evening, it was a lovely deep brick-red, and the blob of spiced cream added a nice contrast. It is one of the best soups I have ever made.

Assuming you have roasted squash on hand it’s easy to make, but even if you don’t, you can put the squash in the oven while you get on with other preparation; I cooked the onions and made an apple crumble for pudding while it was roasting.

I adjusted the recipe slightly; I’m not keen on sage or cloves, so I left them out and used a bay leaf and 4-épices instead. I had some excellent chicken stock from the weekend roast chicken, so I used that, but of course vegetable stock can be used instead.
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Oven-dried tomatoes

Dried tomatoes

Well, no-one is ever likely to want to make a film about my attempt to cook my way through Delicious Days, so perhaps I needn’t feel too bad about falling off the wagon. I suddenly realised that Nicky had a way of using up some of the glut of tomatoes in our weekly organic vegetable box, so I quickly did a batch of these dried tomatoes. Barely a recipe: just halve or quarter your tomatoes, season with salt, pepper, garlic, and herbs to taste, and leave in a 90-degree oven for several hours till they are dried to your liking (I also used the residual heat after I’d used the oven for something else).

Mine are soft and semi-dried — I’m not sure how long they will keep, but I have covered them in olive oil (which can be used in salad dressings) and put them in the fridge. You can use them in salads, soups, as garnish for pizza, frittata, or quiche …

Even if I haven’t kept up with the challenge too well, I have still cooked more from this book than I might have done otherwise, and found some brilliant keepers — especially the ginger and lemon cordial, which is destined to become a summer standby, and the coffee panna cotta.

Creamy vegetable soup and plum crumble

Creamy vegetable soup

I had to take a break from Taste & Create over the summer, because I knew I just wouldn’t have time for it. Now I’m back, paired with Carol of No Reason Needed. Carol likes lemons, so is obviously a kindred spirit. But in the end, I decided to skip over the many lemon-based recipes and go for a simple, homely soup, in order to use some of the veg from our organic box. As the weather is getting a bit cooler, it made a nice supper with some good bread, followed by plum crumble and custard.

I made a few slight tweaks to Carol’s recipe. It makes a lot of soup — enough for at least 6-8 servings — so there’s plenty left to freeze for later in the winter. Thickening soup with rice is a first for me — it worked well, but actually I like the taste and texture of potato in soup so much that I think I’d go back to potato next time. I only used half the specified amount of rice, because I’d nearly run out of rice, but the soup was still quite thick. And I added some spices.
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Ginger and lemon refresher

Just in case you thought this blog was abandoned, here I am! Life is busy in the summer and I don’t have much time or opportunity to cook. I actually first made this recipe from Delicious Days about six weeks ago. Since then, I have made literally gallons of the stuff, served at village events as a non-alcoholic cocktail. It has been a huge success with both adults and children — we’ve sold 10 litres in a matter of minutes — and it is so easy and cheap to make. This is a slight variation on the original recipe.
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Gingery Lime Punch

ginger and lime punch

This month’s Taste & Create partner was Rachel of Tangerine’s Kitchen. Not a blog I’m familiar with, so I enjoyed browsing through the wide range of recipes (although the design could use a bit of work, the large un-optimised photos brought my slow connection grinding to a halt!).

As usual there were a few that tempted me: cheesy calzones and spiced apple tart to name but two. In the end though, yet again I went for something quick and simple.

A couple of weeks ago (during a visit to a free-range pig farm as it happens) we were served some delicious non-alcoholic aperitifs before lunch. One of them was made with fresh ginger, and it was excellent. So my eyes lit up when I saw Rachel’s gingery lime punch. This had to be worth a try. And it was.

After making the syrup I refrigerated it and then served it topped up with chilled sparkling water. Lovely, so refreshing; I did add a bit more ginger after tasting it, as it wasn’t quite zingy enough initially. It will make a great non-alcoholic and driver-friendly alternative to the lethally thirst-quenching Marquise that we serve at summer parties.
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Lemon and olive oil mousse

lemon and olive oil mousse

This is a fantastically quick and easy way to knock up an elegant-looking dessert in 10 minutes from ingredients you always have on hand. OK, it won’t look as if you’ve spent hours slaving over it in the kitchen, but it is delicious and would make a light and refreshing finish to a substantial meal. Don’t leave it too long in the fridge, or it will start to separate and collapse. The usual warnings about lightly cooked/raw eggs apply.

Adapted from Very Easy…Kitchen (in French).
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Chilli jelly

chillis

I managed to buy a jar of chilli jelly on a recent trip to the UK, but I’ve long fancied trying Fiona’s recipe and making my own; this stuff is too tasty and versatile to be reserved for special occasions. So I bought a couple of kilos of apples and eventually tracked down a selection of chillis in Carrefour (they can be difficult to find, since the French don’t do hot as in chilli).

The first lot didn’t look much like chillis I’ve seen before; they were relatively large and bell-shaped. “Do you think I should use one or two?” I asked Steve. He looked at them and scoffed. “Pah! They’re so big they can’t be hot, and they are French after all. Those small pointy ones will be hotter.” Boldly, he cut a bit off one of the bell-shaped ones and chewed it. A moment’s silence, then: “AAAAARGH!” Quickly, I handed him the antidote, a spoonful of yoghurt, and he swallowed it gratefully. “OK,” he croaked after a minute, “I’ll try the small ones.” Bravely he nibbled one: “Humph! Not hot at all!” Armed with this information I added one cut-up bell-shaped pepper, seeds and all, to my simmering apples.

The next day, I tried the disappointingly scanty juice that had dripped through the cloth. ‘Phwoarhhhh!” Luckily there was some yoghurt left. Well, maybe the sugar will tone it down. Hmm, only 400 ml of juice from 1.5 kg of apples? I did the maths in my head with difficulty, added the requisite sugar, and boiled it up — result, half a jar of jelly, admittedly a beautiful colour. This didn’t seem like good value, so I tipped the pulp back into the pan with more water and managed to get two more jars of pale, translucent jelly from it. Their innocent looks belie their ferocity though; I think I’ll have to put health warnings on them.

jelly

Later, a bit of googling suggests that Steve might have inadvertently scored a further point in the Omnivore’s Hundred: raw Scotch Bonnet pepper … if you try this recipe, I recommend you use less virulent chillis than I did, or at least remove the seeds!