Early December in the garden

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Blue-sky December day. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

As I sat down to write this post last night, we were awaiting the arrival of the first major storm of the season. Nothing has materialised overnight, but it is suddenly feeling much colder. There is a thick frost this morning, and it is bright and clear again, the wind has dropped, and all is calm.

On the whole, the first few days of the month have been quite kind to the gardeners amongst us here in central Scotland. Whilst the east coast did have more seasonal weather, we were blessed with several blue sky days, milder temperatures, and some glorious sun rises.

To be honest, I haven’t been outside much recently – work has kept me inside. The garden is looking a bit tired now, and ready for a rest. I cleared a lot of the autumn debris a couple of weeks ago and it’s beginning to look a bit bare in places. However, the evergreens provide shape and colour and look very vibrant on a fine day, and the Cotoneaster hedge is laden with berries, as it is every year.

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Berry-laden Cotoneaster hedge. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The best value plants in the garden this year have been the carnations I planted last year – taken as cuttings from a birthday bouquet. They began flowering in August, and are still producing blooms at the moment. I’m sure the winter weather will get to them eventually, but the south-facing wall seems to be providing them with sufficient shelter to have kept them going this far into the year.

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Carnations enjoying the winter sunshine. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Elsewhere in the garden, the colours have faded. The Hydrangeas have taken on a beautiful “vintage” look, and the blooms of Echinops and white Japanese Anemones have left behind interesting seed-heads which are slowly weathering away.

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Faded beauty: Blue Hydrangea. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Globe thistle and Japanese Anemone seed heads. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The last of my garden features this month is this wee fellow, a perennial primrose. Just one solitary bloom at the moment, hidden away in a sheltered, damp part of the garden. A small flash of pale yellow which acts to remind me that spring will be here again in just a few weeks. Have a good week 🙂

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Perennial primrose. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Sesame shortbreads (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Sesame shortbreads. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’ve had a busy few days with my work, and subsequently only had time for one quick baking session this week. I turned to an old favourite of mine, shortbread. Easy to make and lovely to eat, and open to so many variations. This time, I had a break with tradition and made a super rich seeded version and replaced some of the fat with tahini.

I often replace a portion of the flour in cakes and bakes with ground almonds, and, if I don’t have enough ready-ground, I blitz up my own in a coffee grinder. If you use the non-blanched almonds, you’ll find the ground meal gives a more earthy to your bakes.

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Sesame seed paste and home-made ground almonds. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

These tasty shortbreads have a soft, crumbly texture, and a rich, nutty flavour; they are delicious with a cup of coffee and keep well for a few days in an airtight tin. I find them impossible to resist. I’m away to eat the last one after I finish typing this!

Makes: 18

Ingredients

  • 150g gluten-free plain flour (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 65g icing sugar
  • 75g ground almonds
  • 25g toasted sesame seeds
  • 85g tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 50g very soft dairy-free margarine (or butter if you eat it)
  • 1 tbsp. each of chia seeds, toasted sesame seeds and Demerara sugar, mixed, for the topping
  1. Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a bowl and stir in the ground almonds and toasted sesame seeds.
  2. Mix the tahini and margarine together until well blended, then stir into the dry ingredients until well mixed.
  3. Bring the ingredients together using your hands, then turn out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead gently to form a smooth dough. Divide into 18 portions and form each into a ball.
  4. Arrange on the baking tray, press down lightly to make chunky rounds and sprinkle lightly with the sugary seed mix. Chill for 30 minutes.

    Preparation_of_sesame_shortbread_biscuits
    Preparing sesame shortbreads. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven), gas 4. Line a large baking tray with baking parchment. Bake the shortbreads for about 25 minutes until lightly brown and crisp. Leave to cool on the tray.

    Serving_of_home-made_sesame_shortbreads
    Ready for eating, sesame shortbreads. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Mini sco-nuts (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Vanilla sugar-dredged mini sco-nuts. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The weather has turned colder this past week, and my thoughts have turned to comfort food. In my opinion, food doesn’t come much more comforting than a light, fluffy doughnut with a crunchy, sugary coating. Sadly, not usually a choice for anyone on a gluten-diet, but I think these little treats are a good alternative, and best of all, they can be made in a fraction of the time that it takes to make the real thing.

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Mini sco-nut, fresh out of the pan. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

As the name suggests, the recipe derives from a scone mix that is cut and fried like a doughnut. I coated mine in home-made vanilla sugar but plain sugar is just as good. Leave them plain and dip them in a little of your favourite jam or sweet dipping sauce. Sometimes, I drizzle them with a little vanilla or cocoa flavoured glacé icing and decorate with a few sprinkles.

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Drizzled and decorated, mini sco-nuts. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Home-made vanilla sugar. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I always have a pot of vanilla sugar in the cupboard. I chop up bits of vanilla pod that is past its prime, or any part of the pod that has dried out, and just keep topping up the pot with caster sugar. Every now and then I give the pot a shake to distribute the vanilla pieces, and I keep the pot well sealed. You do need to sieve it when you use it, but keep the bits of pod trapped in the sieve and put them back in the pot along with a top up of sugar, and you can replenish your supply more or less indefinitely. Here’s the recipe.

Makes: 14 mini sco-nuts

Ingredients

  • 150g gluten-free self-raising flour (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 5g gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
  • 2g xanthum gum, optional – I have started adding this to my scone mixture as it really does improve the crumb texture
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil + extra oil for deep-frying
  • 1 tsp good quality vanilla extract
  • Approx. 6 tbsp. soya or other non-dairy milk
  • Vanilla sugar or caster sugar to dredge
  1. Sieve the flour, baking powder and xanthum gum into a bowl and stir in the caster sugar. Make a well in the centre, and spoon in the oil and vanilla, then bind together with sufficient milk to form a softish scone dough.
  2. Pour the oil for deep-frying into a saucepan or wok and begin heating – the oil temperature needs to be around 180°C to fry the sco-nuts properly. While the oil is heating, turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and knead gently to bring the mixture together and make smooth, then roll or press to a thickness of 1cm.
  3. Cut out rounds using a plain 5cm cookie cutter, and press out the middles using a 2cm round cutter. Re-roll the trimmings nd middles to make 14 mini rings in total.
  4. Fry the sco-nuts in 2 batches, turning them gently in the oil, for 2-3 minutes, until golden and crisp all over. Drain well on kitchen paper and keep warm while cooking the second batch.
    Sco-nut_dough_shaping_and_after_frying
    Preparing and cooking mini sco-nuts. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    Dredge in sugar if liked, or drizzle with icing. Best served while still warm. Sco-nuts do freeze well if you have any leftover; just bag them up, seal and freeze. You can reheat them gently in a moderate oven for about 5 minutes if you want to eat them warm.

    Warm_sco-nuts_being_dipped_in_vanilla_sugar
    Extra indulgence, dipping mini sco-nuts in vanilla sugar. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Super-seed flapjack (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Straight out of the tray, super-seed flapjack. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Over the past year or so, I have been trying to include as many different seeds in my diet as I am able. Seeds are crammed full of protein, minerals and fibre, and unusually for such a worthy food, I find them utterly delicious and a pleasure to eat.

I have been making flapjack since my school days; it’s a real family favourite. Over the years I’ve adapted the recipe to include flavours and ingredients that take my fancy, and for the last few weeks, I’ve been packing this much-loved bake with tiny seeds.

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A delicious foursome: chia seeds, flax seeds, linseed and sesame seeds. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

In order to benefit from as many of the nutrients in seeds as possible, it is important to make sure you chew them thoroughly. A bake like flapjack is a perfect recipe to make this happen naturally because the oats help increase the chewy texture. If you pre-grind seeds that have a more slippery texture in the mouth, like linseed and flax, you’ll help yourself to more nutrition with ease. I pop a handful in an electric coffee grinder and blitz them for a short while before I put them in the mix.

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Grinding linseeds. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Sesame seeds are a real gold mine of nutrients and a valuable source of calcium for anyone on a dairy-free diet. I love their intense nutty flavour which I enhance by toasting them lightly in a dry, hot frying pan before adding them to a recipe. Keep an eye on them and keep them moving around the pan, as they brown very quickly once they reach a certain temperature.

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Toasting sesame seeds. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My flapjack recipe makes a large quantity, perfect for batch baking, but you can easily educe the quantity by half and press into an 18cm square tin instead.

Makes: 24 squares

Ingredients

  • 250g vegan margarine (or butter if you eat it)
  • 165g Demerara sugar
  • 75g golden syrup
  • 75g crunchy almond butter (or wholenut peanut butter tastes good too)
  • 325g porridge oats
  • 175g mixed small seeds such as chia seeds, linseeds, flax seeds and toasted sesame seeds
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas 4). Grease and line a 20 x 30cm oblong cake tin. Put the margarine, sugar, syrup and nut butter in a large saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until melted.
  2. Remove from the heat and stir in the oats and seeds until well mixed. Press  evenly into the prepared tin and bake for about 25 minutes until lightly golden all over.
  3. Whilst the bake is hot, gently score the top into 24 squares and then leave to cool in the tin. Once cold, cut through the squares completely and remove from the tin. Store in a air-tight container for up to a week. Flapjack freezes well too!

    Squares_of_freshly_baked_super-seed_flapjack
    A stack of freshly baked super-seed flapjack. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

November blooms and berries

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Early November blooms. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Last weekend in the garden, at times, it was a little hard to believe that it was actually the beginning of November. There was a biting wind to remind me, but the sun was out, the sky was blue and in just about every corner of the garden, there were flowers in bloom. The dainty, pale-pink cranesbill above with the rose-bush in the background, are plants on their second flowering of the year. The darker pink flowers are Nerines, a glamorous, lily-like autumn flowering bulb, which I planted in late spring and have been flowering since the end of September.

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Second flowering of Rosa Felicia. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Autumn flowering Nerines. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s not only pink flowers. There are bright yellow Welsh poppies here and there, and a seasonal reality check: the first flowers of Winter Jasmine are just opening out.

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November blooming Welsh poppies. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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First blooms of Winter Jasmine. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Flowers aside, there are also various berries adding splashes of colour. The holly trees are stacked out with berries this year – both red and yellow berried varieties – and the native iris, Foedissima, which flowered so prolifically a few months ago has now become laden down with bright orange berries. It looks very curious indeed, the berries are bursting out of pods which open out to match the exact formation of the iris petals earlier in the year. With all the berries around, there is clearly going to be plenty of food for the birds this winter.

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Yellow and red holly berries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Bright orange iris foedissima berries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

And finally, one more berry to report: it looks like I may have another crop of strawberries this year. I’m not getting my hopes up on the jam-making front, but I am curious to see if they do actually ripen.

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Second strawberry crop. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

 

 

 

 

Windfall apple jelly (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

 

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Collecting windfall cooking apples. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Last weekend, I finally got round to gathering the last of the windfall apples from underneath and around the old apple tree in the garden. There were quite a few; some badly bruised, others almost entirely unscathed. I had picked a good harvest from the tree a couple of weeks previously and have these apples safely stored away in an old fridge for later use. In my kitchen, windfalls are destined for the cooking pot and for making preserves.

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Lord Derby apples, just before picking earlier in October. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I find it very satisfying making chutneys, jams and jellies, although jelly making does take a bit of planning and time, and can not be rushed. However, the finished result is very rewarding and worth the wait. This apple variety (Lord Derby) isn’t particularly flavoursome (it is reminiscent of a very large Granny Smith apple), but it is a great cooking apple as it holds its shape and some texture when baked or stewed. It’s not the juiciest for jam making, but as I had so many to use up this year, I decided to get all the jelly making stuff out of the cupboard and get preserving.

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Jelly making kit. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I always keep a good supply of glass jars on stand-by throughout the year, ready for filling as different fruit and veg comes into season. I give them a good rinse with hot soapy water and then sterilise them along with the lids – I gave up boiling jars to sterilise them, I now use a sterilizing fluid followed by a thorough rinse. I haven’t had any problems with any preserves spoiling since I switched to this less time-consuming method.

The jelly strainer is a piece of kit I’ve had for a few years. The whole contraption stands over a bowl or jug to catch the juice. If you don’t have a purpose-made jelly bag, line a large nylon sieve or strainer with some muslin and suspend over a deep bowl. Make sure you thoroughly clean all the equipment that comes into contact with the fruit or vegetable juice to maximise the keeping qualities for your preserves.

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Homemade herb apple jelly. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I’ve written a couple of savoury variations on a basic apple jelly recipe I made with my windfalls during the week. Both jellies are delicious with cheeses, barbecue food or roast meats and cold cuts. If you want a plain, sweet apple jelly (the best choice if you have a really tasty apple variety), just follow the recipe for the herb jelly below, and leave out the herbs.

Herb apple jelly

Makes: 1kg

Ingredients

  • 1.5kg prepared cooking apples, roughly chopped  – this is the overall weight once they have been thoroughly washed and all the bad bits taken out
  • Approx. 825g granulated sugar
  • A few sprigs of fresh rosemary and sage
  1. Put the chopped apples (unpeeled, pips and stalks attached!) in a large saucepan. Pour over 1l cold water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, mashing occasionally, until tender.
  2. Carefully ladle into a suspended jelly bag and leave to drip into a clean bowl or jug, in a cool place, lightly covered, overnight. Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bag, just let it drip through naturally. Jelly making is an excellent test of the patience!
  3. The next day, remove the juice bowl, and cover and chill it. Scoop the pulp back into a large saucepan and add a further 500ml water. Bring to the boil, then strain again as above, for a few hours – there won’t be so much juice the second time around, so 5-6 hours should be long enough.
  4. Measure both juice yield together and calculate the amount of sugar required as 450g per 600ml juice. My yield was 1.1l which needs 825g sugar, but if you have a juicy apple variety you will capture more juice.

    Making_herb_apple_jelly
    Herb apple jelly preparation in pictures. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. Rinse and pat dry a large sprig of rosemary and sage. Pour the juice into a preserving pan or large saucepan, add the herbs, and heat until steaming. Stir in the sugar until it is dissolved, then raise the heat and boil rapidly until the temperature reaches 105°C on a sugar thermometer – this will take several minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare the jars by adding a small sprig of washed rosemary and a sage leaf in each. Remove the jelly from the heat and let the bubbles subside. Skim away any surface residue from the top and discard the cooked herbs. This jelly begins to set quite quickly so ladle it into the jars and seal them while the jelly is piping hot. Leave to cool, then label and store in a cool, dark place for up to 12 months. The jelly is ready for eating right away if you can’t wait! Once opened, store in the fridge for up to a month.

    Small_tin_of_hot_smoked_paprika_spice_with_2_jars_of_homemade_apple_and_hot_red_pepper_jelly
    Apple and hot red pepper jelly flavoured with hot smoked paprika. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Apple and hot red pepper jelly

Makes: 900g

Ingredients

  • 1.25g prepared, chopped cooking apples (see above)
  • 500g prepared weight chopped red peppers (capsicum) (approx. 4 medium peppers), seeds and stalks removed
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 60ml cider or white wine vinegar
  • Approx. 675g granulated sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp hot smoked paprika
  1. Put the chopped apples, peppers and garlic in a large saucepan and pour over 1l cold water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, mashing occasionally, until tender.
  2. Carefully ladle into a suspended jelly bag and let the mixture drip into a bowl or jug underneath. Leave in a cool place, covered lightly, overnight.
  3. The next day, put the pulp to on side and measure the collected juice. You will need 450g sugar per 600ml juice. Pour the juice into a preserving pan or large saucepan and add the vinegar and bay leaves. Heat until steaming hot and then stir in the sugar until dissolved.
    Preparation_steps_for_making_apple_and_hot_red_pepper_jelly
    Making apple and hot red pepper jelly. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

     

  4. Bring the juice to the boil and boil rapidly until the temperature reaches 105°C on a sugar thermometer. While the juice is boiling, pick out 50g of the cooked pepper and garlic, rinse, pat dry and chop finely – discard the rest of the pulp. Divide the chopped vegetables between your prepared jam jars.
  5. Once the jelly has reached the correct temperature, turn off the heat, discard the bay leaves and stir in the salt and smoked paprika. Divide between the jars – for even distribution of the vegetable pieces, wait for about 10 minutes before sealing the jars, then give them a quick stir with a teaspoon to suspend the vegetable pieces throughout the jelly before putting the lids on tightly. Cool, label and store as above. Best left for a month to mature before eating.

I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to spicy heat in my food, so, although I call this “hot”, it’s pretty mild. However, if you can stand the heat, this is a good recipe to add as much chopped red chilli to suit your taste. Just cook the prepared chilli with the apples and peppers at the beginning of the recipe – leave the chilli seeds in as well if you like!

 

 

Baked vanilla pears with chocolate “butter” (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Home-grown Comice pears. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’ve had a very “light” pear harvest this year. In fact, just 4 fruit developed on one tree and the other had no fruit at all. Not sure why, the spring was fine, there was so much blossom and plenty of bees around to pollinate it. Perhaps the pear trees decided to have a bit of a holiday this year.

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Just before harvest. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

So with such a precious harvest, what to cook? I picked the pears a couple of weeks ago, and they have been ripening gently and slowly in a cool spot in the kitchen. They remained quite firm, so I decided I would cook them.

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Vanilla baked pears with chocolate “butter”. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Vanilla is one of my favourite spices, and it is a particularly delicious flavouring for pears. This is a very simple recipe, but it tastes a little bit more special because the pears are cooked in Moscatel de Valencia – the floral notes of this sweet Spanish wine are a perfect match for both pears and vanilla.

Chocolate is another “must have” with pears as far as I’m concerned, and this easy “butter” makes an interesting alternative to the usual chocolate sauce. Moscatel is one of the few wines I think goes well with chocolate, so this is a “win win” recipe for me. Serve the pears very slightly warm or at room temperature so that the cooking juices don’t  begin to set, and avoid chilling the chocolate accompaniment (unless the room temperature is very warm) as it will become very hard to spoon.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 4 firm pears
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • 300ml Moscatel  de Valencia wine (or white grape juice if preferred)
  • 1 tbsp. agave syrup (or clear honey if you eat it)
  • 40g dairy-free margarine (or unsalted butter)
  • 100g dairy-free 85% cocoa chocolate
  • 50g golden syrup
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas 4). Peel and core the pears, and cut in half. Brush lightly with lemon juice and place cut-side up in a shallow baking dish.
  2. Split the vanilla pod and scoop out some of the seeds using the tip of a sharp knife. Push the rest of the pod into the dish of pears, mix the scooped-out seeds with the wine and pour over the pears.
  3. Dot the pears with 15g of the margarine and drizzle with agave syrup. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, turn the pears over, baste with the cooking juices, and return to the oven to bake, uncovered, for a further 20 minutes or until the pears are tender.
  4. Cool for 30 minutes in the cooking juices, discard the vanilla pod, then lift out the pears using a slotted spoon and place in a heatproof dish. Pour the cooking juices into a small saucepan.
  5. Bring the cooking juices to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes until reduced by half. Pour over the pears and leave to cool.

    Steps_to_preparing_baked_pears_with_vanilla
    Preparing baked pears with vanilla. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  6. For the chocolate “butter”, break the chocolate into pieces and put in a saucepan with the remaining margarine and the golden syrup. Heat very gently, stirring, until melted. Remove from the heat, mix well and pour into a small, heatproof dish. Leave to cool – the “butter” will solidify when it becomes cold.
    How_to_make_chocolate_"butter"
    Making chocolate “butter”. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    Serve the pears at room temperature accompanied with the chocolate “butter”. If you prefer, leave the chocolate mixture to cool for about 30 minutes and serve warm as a thick, glossy chocolate sauce.

    Single_serving_of_vanilla_baked_pears_with_chocolate_"butter"
    Vanilla baked pears with chocolate “butter”. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Tattie scones (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Freshly cooked tattie (potato) scones. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The best things in life are often the simplest. These wise words certainly apply to my recipe this week. There aren’t many dishes more straightforward than a tattie scone. Just 3 ingredients, plus some oil to cook them in, and that’s it.

The tattie (potato) scone is synonymous with Scotland. Just about every self-respecting baker makes his or her own, and no supermarket bakery aisle is complete without them. The scones are a good way of using up leftover boiled potato which is mashed and bound with wheat flour, but gluten-free works fine. Tattie scones are  usually quite thin, but I make mine a bit thicker  (about 1cm) as I find the mixture easier to work with. Eat them warm as part of a savoury meal (often served as part of a hearty breakfast) or  as a snack spread with butter and jam. The scones make a great alternative to bread as an accompaniment to a soup or stew as they are perfect for mopping up gravy or a sauce.

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A tea-time favourite: tattie scones and jam. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I dug up the last of my home-grown potatoes this week, and decided that there was no better way to enjoy them, than by making up a batch of my own scones.  I’ve been growing the same main crop variety (Pink Fir Apple) for a few years now, and haven’t found any other to rival it in texture or flavour. The potatoes are pink-skinned and can be very knobbly indeed. The flesh is creamy-yellow in colour, sometimes flecked or ringed with pink, and when cooked, it becomes dry and floury in texture. The flavour is slightly sweet and earthy. Pink Fir Apples potatoes are perfect for crushed or mashed potato. and also roast well. They can be cooked and eaten peeled or unpeeled.

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My last harvest of Pink Fir Apple potatoes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Here’s my recipe.

Makes: 6

Ingredients

  • 400g main crop potatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 40g gluten-free self-raising flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  1. Peel the potatoes thinly, cut into small pieces, and place in a saucepan. Cover with water and add half the salt. Bring to the boil and cook for 8-10 minutes or until completely tender. Drain well through a colander or strainer, and leave to air-dry for 10 minutes.
  2. Return the potatoes to the saucepan and mash finely with a potato masher. If you have a ricer, use this to achieve a super-smooth texture.
  3. While the mash is still fairly hot, add the remaining salt and sift the flour on top. Gently work the ingredients together to make a pliable dough.
    Potato_preparation_for_making_tattie_scones
    Ricing the potatoes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    Making_rolling_and_shaping_potato_dough_for_tattie_scones
    Making and rolling the potato dough. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. Turn the dough on to a lightly floured work surface and roll to form a round about 18cm diameter – roll to 20cm for slightly thinner scones. Cut into 6 triangular wedges.
  5. Brush a large frying pan or flat griddle pan generously with oil and heat until hot. Cook the scones for 2-3 minutes on each side until lightly golden. Drain and serve warm. You can reheat the scones successfully, by either popping them in the frying pan again or under the grill to lightly toast them.

    Serving_of_tattie_scone_with_jam
    Straight out of the pan and spread with my favourite topping: homemade raspberry jam. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Pick-me-up dark chocolate granola bars (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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The perfect pick-me-up. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Out of the tin and ready for slicing. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s that time of year when the weather turns a bit dull, the nights draw in fast, and it begins to feel a bit chilly. For me, it’s time for a pick-me-up. My standby on these occasions is always some kind of melted chocolate-based mix; it’s easy to put together, requires no baking, and keeps for several days in the fridge.

The recipe is the perfect way to use up all the bits of seeds, fruit and nuts you have in the fridge or cupboard. I usually end up with a different combination of flavours every time I make this recipe. If you prefer, simply half the quantities, pack the mixture into an 18cm square tin and cut into 12 portions instead.

Makes: 24 chunky pieces

Ingredients

  • 500g 90% cocoa solids, dairy-free chocolate
  • 100g coconut oil
  • 60g golden syrup
  • 200g gluten-free, vegan granola
  • 75g crisp rice cereal
  • 100g pumpkin seeds
  • 75g shredded coconut + extra to decorate
  • 400g chopped dried, glacé and candied fruit such as pineapple, cherries, orange peel, golden sultanas, etc.
  • 100g dairy-free, vegan white “chocolate”
  1. Line a 20 x 30cm cake tin with baking parchment or cling film. Break up the 90% cocoa chocolate into pieces and place in a heatproof bowl with the coconut oil and golden syrup. Stand the bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water and leave to melt. Remove from the water, stir well and cool for 10 minutes.
  2. Mix in all the remaining ingredients except the white chocolate. Stir well until everything is coated, then pack into the prepared tin, pressing down well with the back of a spoon. Cool for at least an hour or until firm.
  3. Carefully remove from the tin and peel away the lining parchment or cling film. Place on a board. Use a large bladed knife to cut into strips and then chunks – the mixture is quite firm to slice.Line a large tray or board with baking parchment and arrange a few pieces on top. Melt the white chocolate as above and then drizzle over each piece. Sprinkle with shredded coconut if like. Leave in a cool place for several minutes to set before serving. Decorate the remaining pieces in the same way. Enjoy!

    Ready_to_serve_dark_chocolate_granola_ars
    Drizzled, sprinkled and ready to eat. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Sweet baby sweetcorn – growing your own baby corn and serving suggestions (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Freshly picked baby corn. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The month of May seems like a long time ago now, but this is when my quest to grow my own sweetcorn began. I am quietly astounded that I managed to raise 12 plants from seed to fruit in an unpredictable Scottish climate, yielding their first harvest this very week. It seems that Mother Nature’s combination of a mild spring, intermittent sunshine and showers, along with my interventions – protecting the plants from the slightest breath of wind and giving them an occasional feed – has paid off.

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Sowing sweetcorn seeds in early May, and planting out one month later. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I chose a variety of baby corn called Snowbaby, which is more suitable for hardier climes. All varieties of sweetcorn need to develop a firm root structure in order to grow to the height they needs to produce cobs. If you take this into account from the very beginning, you will find the crop easy to grow. Pack the sowing compost firmly into compostable pots – using biodegradable pots will enable you to plant the young seedlings into the soil without disturbing the roots. From sowing the seeds at the beginning of May and keeping them sheltered in an unheated greenhouse, it took 4 weeks to develop seedlings with 5 or 6 leaves which were then ready to plant out after acclimatization.

Sweetcorn likes a nutritious, well-draining soil; a sheltered spot; plenty of sunshine, and frequent watering. I put 6 plants in an old barrel and the other 6 went in a suitable spot in the garden. Sweetcorn requires little maintenance and is virtually pest resistant. Triumphant, some 4 months later, I picked my first bunch of cobs.

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Mature baby sweetcorn plants and cobs. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Home-grown baby corn. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The tall sweetcorn stems with their draping, long, ribbon-like leaves and fine feathery flowers makes them an attractive architectural plant display, and the way the baby corn develops is so intriguing. The cobs form in the gap between stem and leaf. Once the cobs are large enough, the silky threads protecting the cobs inside the leaf wrapping, burst out of the tops to indicate that the baby corn cobs inside are ready for picking. Simply twist the cobs from the stalks or snap them off outwards. Cook them quickly as they are prone to drying out, although I have kept the cobs, still wrapped in leaf, in a jug of water in the fridge for 3 or 4 days, and they stayed perfectly fresh.

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Preparing baby sweetcorn. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Carefully strip away the outer leaves and gently pull away the silky strings to reveal the mini cob in the centre. Either steam or boil the cobs for 3-4 minutes and serve immediately. For best results, don’t salt the cooking water but add a pinch of sugar instead to bring out the sweetness. Freshly picked cobs have an earthy, sweet flavour so avoid over-seasoning in order to appreciate the difference between home-grown and mass-cultivated crops.

Serving suggestions:

  • Strip away a few leaves from the cob but keep a few in place so that you are able to wrap the cob up again; carefully remove the strings. Secure the remaining leaves round the cob again with string and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain well and cook over hot coals for 2-3 minutes until tender and lightly charred. Remove the string and leaves and serve as part of a barbecue feast.
  • Simmer baby corn cobs in coconut milk with a little chilli and garlic and serve sprinkled with chopped coriander and toasted sesame seeds.
  • Slice into chunks and stir fry with shredded leek, pak choi and chopped garlic for 3-4 minutes until tender. Dress lightly with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and a spoonful of honey or sweet chilli sauce.
  • Blanch sliced baby corn pieces for 1 minute; drain, cool and mix with cooked sweetcorn kernels, a handful of raisins, and toasted pine nuts. Dress with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar.

No recipe pictures from me this week. I enjoyed my freshly picked baby corn cobs steamed and served with a dollop of lightly salted butter and a sprinkling of black pepper – nothing fancy but completely and utterly delicious. I couldn’t resist taking this last picture though. I hope “she” makes you smile.

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My sweetcorn fairy. Image: Kathryn Hawkins