Halloween pepperkins

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That time of the year is upon us once more- when children go trick or treating and adults hide in their homes pretending nobody is in! It also sees the carving of magnificent pumpkins but if you think that pumpkins are the only thing that can be carved for Halloween then think again! When walking around the local market I came across orange and yellow striped peppers and I thought they would be perfect for stuffing. Now stuffed peppers tend to be thought of as a vegetarian cliché however these are packed with Indian style spiced rice which can be spiced up as much or as little as you want. I have kept them vegetarian however you could also add some minced meat or similar if you like.

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Ingredients- serves 4
8 bell peppers
250g long grain white rice
1 tsp turmeric
Vegetable oil
1 tbsp black mustard seeds
1 large onion- finely chopped
3 garlic cloves- crushed
2 tsp each of ground cumin, ground coriander, ground fenugreek and garam masala
1 green chilli- finely chopped
4 vine tomatoes- finely chopped
1 small aubergine- finely chopped
100g paneer

1. Make the rice mix first by heating a glug of oil in a large pan. Add the mustard seeds and heat until they start to pop before then adding the onion and garlic to the pan; cook the onions until turning golden.

2. Meanwhile you can cook the rice. Add the rice into a pan along with a teaspoon of turmeric and cover with boiling water; bring to the boil before lowering the heat, covering with a lid and simmering for 10 minutes. Do not remove the lid! When the 10 minutes is up, remove the pan from the heat and allow to stand (still covered) for another 10 minutes so the rice steams and fluffs up. Use a fork of carefully work through the rice to make sure the grains are separate.

3. By now the onions should be a lovely golden colour so add in the remaining spices. Stir well to combine and coat the onion. Add in the chilli, tomatoes and aubergine and simmer for around 10 minutes until the vegetables are breaking down and the tomatoes are starting to reduce. Stir through the rice and make sure it is all well mixed. Remove from the heat and grate through the paneer; allow to cool.

4. Now for the carving! Get creative and think of the designs you would like to use. Use a craft knife to carefully carve the pattern. Cut the top of the pepper and reserve this. Scoop out the seeds and pop out the carved areas. Repeat for all the peppers. When they are all ready, spoon in the rice mixture and replace the lids on the peppers.

5. Preheat the oven to 180c/ 160 fan. Carefully transfer the peppers to a baking tray. Give a quick drizzle of oil and a sprinkling of salt and roast for 20-30 minutes until tender. Serve as part of an Indian feast and enjoy!

Halloween pepperkins- it’s not only pumpkins that get a look in this year!

 

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Wild boar forest pie

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Wild boar is a meat that a lot of people have heard of and maybe seen on a restaurant menu but few have cooked at home. To get the maximum flavour and richness from wild boar it needs to be cooked low and slow so this pie recipe is a perfect introduction to it. In keeping with autumn ingredients I have paired the boar with the earthiness of porcini as it is wild mushroom season after all. This pie can be made in advance and is a great crowd pleaser. I made the boar sauce a couple of days before I needed it which really intensified the flavour. Not only do you get a pie recipe with this but you can also use  the wild boar base as a ragu which is delicious with pasta or creamy polenta so you get two ideas for one here!

Now just a quick word about mashed potato. I know potato ricers are popular up and down the country for a super smooth mash but I prefer to use a little (read ‘lot’) of elbow grease and mash for England with a good old stick masher! Yes, it is more time and labour intensive but it is still just as smooth so pick your weapon of choice and get mashing!

pie

Ingredients- serves 4
Vegetable oil
400g wild boar- diced into large chunks
1 large white onion -chopped
2 garlic cloves- crushed
Small pack of pancetta (optional)
20g dried porcini mushrooms- soaked
1 carrot- finely chopped
2 celery sticks- finely chopped
1 tbsp tomato puree
100ml red wine
400g tinned chopped tomatoes
300ml beef stock
Fresh thyme, bay leaves and 4 juniper berries
5 Maris Piper potatoes- peeled and halved
Unsalted butter
Milk
Salt and pepper

1. Get cracking by preheating the oven to 160c/ 140 fan. Take a large casserole pan and heat a good glug of oil over a medium to high heat. Add the chunks of boar and cook to brown them off. You can do this in a couple of batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan as this does not make for beautifully golden meat. When browned, remove the boar and set aside.

2. Next up keep the meat juices in the pan and cook the garlic, onion and pancetta (if using) until the onion is softened and the pancetta is turning golden. Pop in the carrot and celery and cook for a further couple of minutes. Stir through the tomato puree and make sure it is all well combined.

3. Add the red wine and reduce by half before the stock, tomatoes and porcini go in. Pop in the herbs, juniper berries and season. Cover the pan and cook in the oven for 3 hours until the boar is tender and simply falls apart. Towards the end of cooking check the boar and the sauce should have reduced down; if it is still a bit too loose, simply remove the lid and finish off or simmer on the hob with the lid off. When the sauce is thick, remove from the heat and set aside as you make the mash.

4. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Boil the potatoes until they are tender when you prick them with a knife; drain well. Now for the bit that takes tasting to get spot on! Mash the potatoes like your life depends on it and add as much butter as your heart will take so give a creamy mash. Add a glug or two of milk if you like. Keep tasting as you go (I know, such a hardship!) until you end up with a creamy, well seasoned mash.

5. When the boar has cooled slightly, tip it into a large ovenproof dish and you are ready to top it with the potato. Now here comes another choice for you: to pipe or to dollop (very technical!) that is the question? I kept it simple for myself on this occasion and spooned some of the mash on before using the back of a spoon to smooth it over the boar. Take a fork and use the tines to lightly make indents. Top with a little freshly grated parmesan if you like and bake at 200c/ 180fan for around 30 minutes until bubbling and golden.

Wild boar and porcini forest pie- time to reinvent the classic cottage pie!

 

 

 

Butternut squash, sweet potato and parmesan soup

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Autumn days mean curling up with a roaring fire, rain beating against the window and plenty of comforting food. It also brings the squash season and this means that butternut squash soup is hard to resist. This soup combines squash with sweet potato and parmesan which brings the sweetness into balance with the umami edge that parmesan brings. The rind of parmesan is a secret weapon in cooking so I always keep them in the freezer so they are on hand to use in soups, stews, risottos and pasta dishes. My added extra is a delicate hint of spice and a hit of roasted garlic. I have also used the squash seeds to create a crunchy topping that can be sprinkled over the soup to serve so don’t delay- get cooking!

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Ingredients- serves 4-6
1 large butternut squash
2 sweet potatoes
Olive oil
2 bulbs of garlic
2 white onions- chopped
1.5 litres of hot vegetable stock
Salt and pepper
1-2 rinds of parmesan

For the seed topping
Sea salt
Chilli flakes

1. Preheat the oven to 200c/ 180 fan. Use a sturdy knife to cut the butternut squash in half lengthways. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and set aside for later. Use a knife to score the flesh. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into inch chunks. Place the squash on a baking tray and the sweet potatoes in another one before drizzling both with olive oil and sprinkling with salt. Roast in the oven for approximately 40 minutes or until tender. The squash will start to caramelise at the edges and this adds to the flavour. Cut the tops of the garlic bulbs off and wrap in a foil parcel with some oil and roast until tender.

2. Meanwhile you can prepare the seeds. Simply wash them and pat them dry. Pop them on a baking tray with a drizzle of oil, the sea salt and chilli flakes. Roast with the vegetables until the seeds are golden and crunchy. When they are ready, set aside and allow to cool.

3. Take a large pan that will be able to hold all of the soup. Heat a glug of oil over a medium heat and cook the onions until softened but do not allow them to colour. When the vegetables are cooked add the sweet potato and roasted garlic to the pan whilst you scoop out the squash before adding the flesh to the pan too. I then used a potato mashed to slightly break the vegetables down to make blending even easier later. Add the hot stock to the pan. Take the pan off the heat and allow it to cool until you are able to blend it. Blend until you reach the consistency you like. Return the pan to the heat, drop in the parmesan rinds and simmer gently. Simmer for at least an hour if you can so the parmesan has time to infuse. Taste as you go and adjust the seasoning according to taste. Serve in warmed soup bowls with plenty of fresh bread to dip.

Butternut squash, sweet potato and parmesan soup- the perfect antidote to a blustery autumn day!

 

 

Crispy chilli ginger beef

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Crispy chilli beef can be a thing of beauty unless you order it from the wrong Chinese takeaway and then it can become the thing of nightmares so if you don’t want to run the risk of being disappointed I suggest you try making this at home. My version is quick, easy and big on flavour. I have added ginger alongside the classic chilli to give it even more punch so add as much or as little as you fancy.

I served this beef as part of a Chinese feast with beansprout egg noodles, stir fried choy sum, prawn toast and crispy seaweed (you know, the one that is actually lettuce or cabbage). For this, simply shred cabbage leaves finely and fry in oil until crisp; sprinkle with sugar, salt and some five spice.

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Ingredients- serves 2
2 sirloin steaks
1 1/2 tbsps cornflour
Salt
Vegetable or groundnut oil

For the sauce:
2 tsps Szechuan peppercorns
100ml rice wine vinegar
100g sugar
4tbsps soy sauce
1 tbsp honey
Freshly grated ginger

1. Start off by cutting the sirloin steak into thin pieces. Toss in the cornflour and season well with salt; set aside.

2. For the sauce, take a small pan and dry fry the Szechuan peppercorns. Grind in a pestle and mortar. Combine the rice wine vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and honey in a small pan. Gently heat over a medium heat and stir to ensure the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat and simmer so it reduces, thickens and turns glossy.

3. Meanwhile, add enough oil to a wok so that it is enough to shallow fry the beef strips. Heat the oil until it is hot enough to turn a piece of bread golden. Shake off any excess cornflour and lower the beef carefully into the wok. Fry until golden and crispy. Drain off the oil and return the beef back to the wok. To the sauce add the ginger and ground peppercorns and combine well. Add the sauce to the wok and simmer until the sauce is sticky and glossy. Serve with noodles or rice.

Crispy chilli and ginger beef- my take on a takeaway classic!

Cheesy vegetable crumble

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Ah October- the month that brings a chill in the air and an urge to hibernate in front of an open fire with all your favourite comfort foods. Well, look no further! This cheesy vegetable crumble makes the most of a range of seasonal vegetables and it is perfect as a main meal or a side dish. Potato, carrot, swede, kale and leek are my vegetables of choice which gives a balanced between earthy flavours and sweetness which marry with the creamy cheesy sauce which is topped with crunchy crumble.

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Ingredients- serves 4 as a main
1 small swede
3 large potatoes such as Maris Piper
1 large carrot
1 leek
Small bag of black kale
500ml vegetable stock
150ml milk
2 garlic cloves- whole
60ml double cream
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Pepper
Crumbly, tangy cheese such as Caerphilly
100g plain flour
50g unsalted butter
Freshly grated parmesan

1. Prepare the vegetables by peeling them and cutting the swede, potatoes and carrots into cubes. Take a large, wide pan and place the cubed vegetables into it along with the vegetable stock and milk. Place two whole unpeeled garlic cloves in that have been pricked with a knife to infuse a delicate flavour. Bring to a boil before lowering to a simmer; cover the pan and simmer until the vegetables are tender to a knife point. Remember that swedes take longer than the other vegetables so keep the cubes of this smaller so they all cook at the same time.

2. Meanwhile, in a small pan sweat the leek with a splash of oil and small knob of butter. Cook until tender before removing and setting aside. Add the kale into the pan along with a splash of water; cover and allow to wilt slightly.

3. Preheat the oven to 200c/ 180 fan. Choose a large ovenproof baking dish that is large enough to fit all the vegetables in. When the vegetables are tender, take the pan off the heat and stir in the double cream along with some freshly grated parmesan cheese, the leeks and kale and mustard. Season to taste. Spoon half into the baking dish before crumbling some Caerphilly through before spooning the remaining vegetables on top followed by more crumbled cheese. Pour the creamy sauce over.

4. Finally, for the crumble topping simply place the flour in a large bowl along with the butter. Cut the butter into small chunks for ease and rub the flour and butter between your fingers to form a crumb. Grate in some parmesan if you like. Scatter the crumble over the vegetables and bake in the oven until golden and crunchy; this should take 30-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for a couple of minutes as it will be red hot! Serve as a main or as a side dish and dive in!

Cheesy vegetable crumble- a comforting autumnal meal that deserves to be centre stage on your dining table!