Thursday 21 November 2019

More scrumptious eating for autumn

The tale of the orange squash: that is the orange flesh of a squash (or gourd) not the watered down fruity drink.

Although the outer skin was as tough as a leather rugby ball and the colour of khaki the inside was a fantastic tangerine and the squash made a superb soup. An unprepossessing outer shell hid a lovely rich flesh.

The soup recipe I chose to use with the squash was

Squash, carrot and ginger soup 

  • Approximately 1.5kg/3lb 6 oz peeled and deseeded squash 3cm/1 in cubes 
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium carrots - chopped
  • 1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into cubes
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp clear honey (optional)
  • 5cm/2in piece fresh root ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 1.5 litres/2½ pints vegetable stock
  •  freshly ground black pepper

The squash I was given yielded a little over 1.5 kg. You can either adjust the rest of the ingredients to suit or just enjoy a thicker soup. I don’t use honey or salt, by choice. If you read my previous post you’ll realise that cutting into the flesh of a squash is tough indeed. However place it in the bottom of an oven while cooking something else - for an hour - and the flesh yields to a sharp knife more easily. When the squash has been de-seeded  cut the flesh into chunks or 1 inch cubes.

Have a large re-useable plastic bag ready for tossing the vegetables in the olive oil. The method is very straightforward: 

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6.
  2. Tip the prepared, cubed squash into a large, resealable freezer bag with the onion, carrots and red pepper. Add half the oil and pepper and toss everything together until the vegetables are evenly coated. Tip into a large roasting tin and spread out to form a single layer.
  3. Roast in the oven for 40–45 minutes, or until tender and tinged brown. Drizzle over the honey, if using, 5 minutes before the end of cooking.
  4. Place a large, deep-sided saucepan over a medium heat, add the remaining oil and, when it is hot, add the ginger and fry it for a minute. Pour in the stock and bring the whole to the boil. Remove the vegetables from the roasting tin then stir them into ginger and stock mix and add pepper for seasoning. Bring the whole to the boil, simmer gently for a few minutes. 
  5. Remove the saucepan from the heat and, using a food processor blend the mixture until smooth. Return to the heat to warm through and serve ( or cool down and freeze).

The carrots, pepper and orange flesh make this soup look bright, warm and nourishing. The added ginger gives it an extra zest. 


Tuesday 19 November 2019

Healthy and scrumptious eating for autumn

This time last year I had let up on my healthy eating regime, and, of course, I put on weight. Not immediately. I was still exercising: walking, swimming, running on the spot and doing steps up. But I relented a little on my hitherto strict carbohydrate intake. The introduction of one potato, for instance, or a slice of bread, a biscuit or three or, of course, cake, put on the pounds.

In order to up my calorie intake for winter - we need it as temperatures drop - without growing to look like a pumpkin I have found a use for spicy squash, mustard and other ‘hot’ ingredients.

A good friend of ours brought two squashes to us. She had grown them on her allotment. One was flat and light in colour and weight. The other was as tough as a leather football. 

That weekend I was baking biscuits for a craft fair and, as the oven was on, I placed the smaller squash at the bottom of the oven. After an hour of biscuit-baking I removed the squash too. Because its thick outer skin was now much softer I could get a knife into it easily. I removed the skin, sliced the flesh into wedges and removed the seeds.

I chopped the flesh roughly, parboiled it and put it in the fridge, covered until I was ready to make it into soup. The flesh was pale but, mixed with carrots, it was looking like a healthy, free, filling lunch. 

The quantities of ingredients I used are for six servings but if you only want to make a small batch my suggestions for cooking-for-three are shown in brackets. I don’t add salt, out of choice.

Squash and carrot soup: 
FOR 6 (3)

2 onions chopped (1)
1tbsp olive oil
1 squash, peeled and diced
4 carrots, peeled and sliced (2)
2 sprigs fresh thyme or basil leaves only (1)
Salt ( if desired) and black pepper
1.5 litres hot vegetable stock (750 ml)
Parsley for garnishing
Crème fraiche for garnishing

The method is a standard soup-making affair. I use a large double-handled, non-stick, iron-bottomed casserole which acts as a deep frying pan or wide saucepan. And I make soup on the induction hob:

In a large flame-proof pan fry the onion, over a medium heat, in oil, until soft. Add the roughly-diced squash and sliced carrots and stir. Cook them for a further 5 minutes, watching that the onions don’t get too brown and overcooked. Add the herbs and season well with freshly-ground black pepper. Pour over the stock and bring the whole to the boil. 

When the soup is bubbling away turn the heat to low. Allow it to simmer gently for 30 minutes, or until all the vegetables are cooked through and soft.

If you are using it straight away pour the contents into a food processor, blend for 30 seconds until smooth, garnish with creme fraiche or thick Greek Fage yogurt and parsley.

If you don’t want to eat it immediately allow the soup to cool, blend it in the food processor and pour it into a sealed container for chilling in the fridge or freezing.


Next time I will write about a richer recipe for a lovely soup made from squash with orange flesh. It tastes superb with a little added ginger.

We’ll get through autumn in style! 

Tuesday 12 November 2019

Boeuf for a winter’s night

Boeuf Bourgignon

While my husband has been unwell I’ve shared the cooking. Once he’s got started his ideas come flooding back and he’s good to go but, some evenings, his post-surgery anxiety prevents him from taking the initial steps.

At our local French restaurant, owned and run by French chef Christophe, I enjoyed a superb boeuf bourgignon. I had made it myself the week before but my sauce was less rich than Christophe’s. On the day of our visit our hyperactive chef was up a ladder repainting the exterior to his eaterie. At any moment I expected him to strip off his overalls, wash his hands, tie on his wrap-around apron and start cooking but on this day he stuck to one thing. Decorating!

When we left I asked him how he got such a rich sauce for his boeuf bougignon. My recipe was a ‘Delia’ and was part-cooked with white wine ( that was a mistake - red wine is a must). After a lot of joshing from Christophe about using a Gordon Ramsay recipe he said the secret to a good boeuf bourgignon was in separately cooking each of the ingredients and laying them to one side until your dish was ready for the oven. And then there was the special, secret ingredient.

‘What’s that, Christophe?’

‘It’s a trade secret.’

However, undaunted, I took to my cookbooks and discovered The Hairy Bikers wrote a recipe very in keeping with the Frenchman’s preferred method: each part of the dish treated separately. The net result was a truly rich,thick sauce and melting meat. It took approximately 2 hours 5 mins as I used ingredients for two people - cut down from a recipe for six.

Stage 1

9 oz good-quality braising steak (diced)
2-4 tbsp olive oil
freshly ground  ground black pepper
31/2 oz lardons ( or diced bacon) 
1/2 onion (finely chopped) and 1 clove garlic ( crushed or finely chopped)
38 cl red wine
1 tbsp tomato puree ( a generous spoonful)
beef stock cube
1-2 bay leaves
leaves from a sprig of thyme

  1. In a large saucepan heat 2 tbsp olive oil, season the steak with ground black pepper, take a third of the meat and brown the steak evenly over a medium heat. Lay to one side. When the steak is browned all over transfer it to a flame-proof casserole dish.
  2. Pour a little more oil into the pan in which the beef was browned and fry the bacon for 2-3 minutes until it is crispy and beginning to brown. Scatter the bacon over the meat. Add a touch more oil to the frying pan and fry the chopped onion over a low heat for 5-6 minutes, stirring often until softened. Stir the garlic into the pan and cook for one minute more. Turn the oven on to 170 degC, 150 fan or gas mark 3.
  3. Add the cooked onion and garlic to the pan with the meat and pour over the wine. Stir in the tomato purée and 150ml/5fl oz water. Sprinkle the stock cube into a little water, allow it to dissolve, pour over the meat, add the herbs and stir. Place the casserole on a ring, bring it to boiling point and quickly allow it to simmer for a moment. Stir well, cover with a lid and transfer it to the oven. Cook for 1 hour 20 mins, or until the beef is almost completely tender. This stage can take 13/4 hours if you are cooking for six.

Stage 2

1oz butter. 
12 silverskin onions 
5 oz button chestnut mushrooms, wiped, peeled and halved or quartered (5 oz).               
2 heaped tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp cold water
freshly chopped parsley, to garnish

  1. While the beef is cooking, wash and peel the mushrooms and halve or quarter them.
  2. A few minutes before the beef is ready, ie by the time it’s tender, melt half of the butter in a large non-stick frying pan with a touch of oil and fry the onions over a medium heat for about five minutes, or until golden-brown on all sides. Tip into a bowl. Add the remaining butter and mushrooms to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes over a fairly high heat until golden-brown, turning often. 
  3. Mix the 2 tbsp cornflour with the 2 tbsp water in a small bowl until smooth. Don’t halve the flour ingredients if only cooking for two. It’s best to keep 2 tbsps flour & water to keep the sauce thick and rich.
  4. When the meat is tender remove the casserole from the oven and stir in the cornflour mixture, followed by the onions and mushrooms. Return to the oven and cook for 45 minutes more, or until the beef is melting and the sauce is rich, tasty & thick. 

A superb sample of French cuisine in your own kitchen.

And the trick is to use red wine and keep the sauce thick and rich. I still don’t know what Christophe’s secret ingredient is but this version from The Hairy Bikers was almost as good.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

Nexus Methodist Church in Bath
has a smaller institution in Eastbourne Avenue, Fairfield Park, BA1 6EN.

When three of us rescued the Larkhall Art Trail event this time last year the Nexus church was keen to get on board and act as a hub for artists’ work.

The Claremont Community Centre, no longer Claremont Nexus Church, had been a space for play groups and a prayer room and other events but less so an art gallery.

Now it’s hosting a year-round art event. David Ringsell had his own show up until mid-October. From now until January more artists’ work is on show: Ruth Davies, Joanna Cacanas, Pam Jones, Niall Briggs ( the curator and Nexus pioneer worker), Dominique Coiffaitt, David Ringsell, Liz Carson and my husband - Richard Olver.

We had a private view two Fridays ago and the cafe has been open since. This Saturday a group of us are selling pre-Christmas goodies at an early Christmas craft fair. That’s on November 9th from 10:30 am to 4 pm. 

I do hope the Claremont Centre takes off as a community hub. I sense more volunteers are needed to operate the tills and serve lunches say on Tuesdays, Fridays and every Saturday rather than just on an occasional basis. It’s such a good light, bright location and Niall is impressive with his hands-on, can-do approach. 

But if we want a community space to serve our community we have to serve it, otherwise I fear it won’t survive. Our local is threatened with being knocked down to make way for new builds. Now is the time to foster local amenities. 

As they say ‘once they’re gone, they’re gone’