Brussels sprouts

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Home-grown Brussels sprouts. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Love them or loathe them, you can’t get away from Brussels sprouts at this time of year. Believed to be a descendent of the wild cabbage, we have been eating these tasty and nutritious winter greens since the 18th century.

I planted several seedlings (variety Brodie F1) back in early June, but sadly most succumbed to pests and the plants have been dwindling as the months have gone by. However, I managed to keep a few plants unscathed, ready for the Christmas table and a couple more meals on top of that. Some of the stems have lovely tops which have developed into small cabbages with pretty pink veining, so I have them to cook as well.

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A fine stem of “fairy cabbages”. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I was told a story a few years ago by a lady who had been struggling to get her little daughter to try a Brussels sprout. There was something about the humble sprout that her daughter wouldn’t entertain even though she would eat every other green vegetable without hesitation. Her mother, in exasperation, said that they were simply tiny cabbages grown by the fairies, and from then on, her daughter ate them with gusto!

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Still life of Brussels sprout stems and tops. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Pick sprouts when they are small and firm as larger sprouts have less flavour. Smaller sprouts will be crisper in texture and have a sweeter, nuttier taste. Don’t forget the tops – these can be cooked just liked cabbage. Ideally pick sprouts just before cooking, trim away any loose leaves and leave whole if small, or halve if bigger. Rinse in cold water, and then cook in a little lightly salted, boiling, water for a few minutes until just tender – they should have some texture when cooked, and not be slime-green coloured, full of water and soggy like the ones I remember from my school dinners – yuk!

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Picked sprouts ready for cooking. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Here are a few of my favourite ways to serve fresh Brussels sprouts:

  • Brussels sprouts go well with blue cheese, goat’s cheese, chopped nuts and seeds, crisp bacon, chorizo, chilli, sage, thyme, garlic, onion, orange, wholegrain mustard, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and balsamic vinegar.
  • Serve small cooked sprouts on a bed of crushed, seasoned peas in Yorkshire puddings and flood with gravy or a tasty cheese sauce.
  • Shred or roughly chop sprouts and stir fry with shredded leeks and very finely sliced white cabbage. Finish with a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and some melted redcurrant jelly.
  • Stir fry chopped sprouts with finely chopped garlic and add sultanas, a pinch of chilli, cinnamon and cumin, and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.
  • Blanch 300g prepared larger sprouts in boiling water for 1 minute and cool quickly in cold running water. Drain well, cut in half or quarter, and mix with wedges of eating apple, fresh sage leaves and finely chopped onion. Toss in 1 tbsp each of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and honey or maple syrup. Spread across a lined baking tray, season well and cover with foil. Bake at 200°C (180°C fan oven, gas mark 6) for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for a further 10 minutes until tender.

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    Ready to bake, sprouts with apple, sage and onion. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Chocolate, rosemary and orange muffins (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Chocolate, rosemary and orange muffins. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

On the shortest day of the year, here’s a little something baked to brighten up the barely light hours. I picked rather too much rosemary the other day, and spent a few days pondering on how best to use it up. It doesn’t freeze very well and I’m not a fan of the dried stuff. After admiring the stems as a herbal arrangement in my kitchen for a while, I decided to do some flavour experimentation, and these muffins are the result.

I wasn’t really intending them to be so festive looking, but the sprigs reminded me of tiny pine trees and then my mind started going into creative mode. I hope you enjoy them. The flavour is really rich and perfect for the time of year. You only need to use the leaves for this recipe – the stems are too tough – and try to chop the leaves as small as possible for the best flavour and better eating.

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Fresh rosemary. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes: 10

  • 150ml sunflower oil
  • 150g dark brown sugar
  • 150g silken tofu
  • 45g cocoa powder
  • 2 level tsp gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
  • 1 level tbsp ground arrowroot (I often add this to help bind gluten-free cake mixtures together)
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 75g polenta
  • Finely grated rind 1 unwaxed orange
  • 2 level tsp finely chopped rosemary leaves
  • Pinch of salt
  • 125g icing sugar + extra to dust
  • Approx. 40ml freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 10 tsp Chia or poppy seeds
  • 10 small sprigs of fresh rosemary
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas mark 4). Line a muffin tin with 10 paper cases. Put the oil, sugar and tofu in a bowl and whisk together with an electric mixer until well blended and thick.
  2. Sieve 25g cocoa, baking powder and the arrowroot on top. Add the almonds, polenta, orange rind, chopped rosemary and salt. Mix all the ingredients together until thoroughly combined.
  3. Divide the mixture equally between the cases. Smooth the tops and bake for about 35 minutes until just firm to the touch – the cakes may look slightly sunk in the middle. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  4. To decorate, sieve the icing sugar and remaining cocoa powder into a small bowl and mix together with sufficient orange juice to make and smooth, spreadable icing. Spoon sufficient icing on top of each muffin and spread to cover the top completely.
  5. Sprinkle the top of each muffin with 1 tsp seeds. Leave for a few minutes to set before adding the finishing touches.
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    Decorating the muffins. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    Just before serving, carefully put the muffins into small flower pots. Push a sprig of rosemary into the top of each and if liked, dust the rosemary lightly with a little icing sugar for a frosted look.

    The muffins freeze well once iced and seeded, and will also keep for 4-5 days in an airtight tin once decorated. Simply decorate with fresh rosemary and icing sugar just before serving.

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    Frosty-looking chocolate, rosemary and orange muffin. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    Gluten-free_vegan_baking:_chocolate_and_rosemary_muffin
    Gluten-free and vegan, a deliciously dark and tasty chocolate, rosemary and orange muffin. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Baked coconut apples (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Late September harvest Lord Derby cooking apples. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It seems like a long time ago since I picked all these apples from the aged tree in my garden. I still have plenty, stored in a fridge in the back kitchen, and every now and then I bake something suitably fruity. My apple store makes the perfect “turn-to” choice when the fruit bowl is running low, and cooked apple is so very comforting when it’s cold outside.

This variety of cooking apple, Lord Derby, is not particularly tart or exceptionally flavoursome but it retains texture when cooked which makes it the perfect choice for baking. I have often eaten the smaller ones like a crisp eating apple and they taste rather like a Granny Smith.

My recipe this week is a very simple dessert which tastes as good warm as it does at room temperature. I often bake a batch to have for breakfast accompanied with coconut milk yogurt. Delish 🙂 Add ground cinnamon or cardamom for a more seasonal flavour. If you don’t like or can’t eat coconut, vegetable margarine (or butter) is fine to use, and replace the coconut flakes with your favourite nuts or seeds, or use dried cranberries for a fruitier alternative.

Makes 6 – 8 servings

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 750g cooking apples
  • 75g coconut oil, melted (if you are not dairy-free, unsalted butter works well)
  • 50g Demerara sugar
  • ½ – 1 tsp ground vanilla pod (use a clean, old pepper mill/grinder and put chopped up dry vanilla pods inside – it works so well ground over fruit for baking)
  • A handful of raw coconut flakes
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas mark 4). Line a large shallow baking dish with baking parchment. Pour the lemon juice into a mixing bowl and half fill with cold water.
  2. Peel and core the apples. Cut into thick wedges. Put the prepared apple wedges in the lemony water and mix well – this will help keep the apples from discolouring too much. Drain the apples and blot dry with absorbent kitchen paper.
  3. Arrange the apple wedges on the baking tray and brush all over with the coconut oil. Sprinkle with the sugar and vanilla.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes, turning halfway through. Sprinkle with coconut flakes and continue to bake for a further 20 minutes or until tender and lightly golden. Best served warm with the cooking juices spooned over.
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Steps to making baked coconut apples. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Freshly baked coconut apple wedges with vanilla. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Festive Floretines (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Festive Florentines. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’m spoilt for choice at this time of year as to what sweet treats and edible goodies to make, but Florentines have to be up there in my Top 10 of all time favourites. These thin, crisp, Italian, chocolate-spread morsels are jammed packed with fruit and nuts, and they are just as delicious served with a spoonful of your favourite ice cream or sorbet, as they are with a cup of coffee.

I have chosen to use a combination of candied green fruits, seeds and nuts, but you can use any dried or candied fruit, and any unsalted, roasted nuts and seeds – in fact these biscuits are one of the best ways to use up any bits and pieces of dried fruit, nuts and seeds you have leftover. They will also work with all fruit or all nuts and seeds, so you can make up your own combinations to suit your personal preference.

Traditionally, Florentine biscuits are spread with melted dark chocolate on the back, but they are good left as they are. Cover the backs with 90% extra dark chocolate for a less sweet finish, and, if you can bring yourself to give them away, they make a lovely gift.

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Angelica, green-coloured cherries, pistachio nuts and pumpkin seeds. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes: 20

  • 75g coconut oil or vegan margarine
  • 75g golden syrup
  • 50g gluten-free plain flour blend (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 60g pumpkin seeds
  • 60g unsalted shelled pistachio nuts, lightly crushed
  • 100g green glacé cherries, roughly chopped
  • 25g angelica, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp good quality natural almond or vanilla extract (such as Dr Oetker)
  • 200g milk free, vegan white “chocolate”
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas mark 4). Line 2 large baking trays with baking parchment. Melt the oil or margarine with the syrup in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients except the white “chocolate”.
  2. Drop 20 heaped teaspoonfuls, spaced well apart on to the prepared trays, and flatten each mound slightly. Bake for 10-12 minutes until flattened and lightly golden. Leave to cool for 10 minutes on the trays, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.Preparation_of_mixture_for_baking_Florentines
  3. To cover the biscuits with chocolate, put just over half the amount of chocolate in a heatproof bowl and melt over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Line a large board with baking parchment.
  4. Working on one biscuit at a time, carefully dip and roll the edge of the biscuit all the way round in chocolate and place on the lined board. Leave to set.

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    Covering the sides and backs of Florentines in melted white “chocolate”. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. Once all the biscuits are dipped and set, melt the remaining chocolate as above. Turn the biscuits over and spread a little chocolate thinly over the backs. Leave to set. Note: If you can leave them alone, these biscuits will store well in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
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Vegan, gluten-free, chocolate-dipped Florentine biscuit. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

Cranberries & Cranberry Jam recipe (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)

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Cranberry plant with fruit. Plant images: Stuart MacGregor. Berry image: Kathryn Hawkins

In my humble opinion, there is no fruit nor vegetable that looks more festive than the cranberry. The fresh berries have just started arriving on the greengrocer’s shelves these past few days. The season for fresh cranberries in the UK is quite short, so I’m stocking up my freezer for a year round supply.

The cranberry plant is low growing and creeping in habit, and likes damp, acidic soil; it is a member of the heather family. A few years ago, I grew my own plant in a deep pot. Once it was established, it made a lovely trailing plant in a hanging basket for a while, until I forgot to water it (!) and sadly, it met a very sorry, shrivelled, end. I hope to try again this spring if I can track down a suitable mature plant.

The waxy-looking, scarlet berries are rich in Vitamin C and a staple of the Thanksgiving and Christmas menu. I’ve just made a batch of jam to serve with the Christmas roast; very easy to make and much nicer than anything you can buy in a jar. Add finely grated orange rind for a zesty flavour, and/or a few spoonfuls of Port at the end of cooking for a richer taste. I put the jam into small jars which then makes it ideal for gifting.

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Jars of my freshly made cranberry jam. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes: 5 x 200ml jars

  • 500g fresh cranberries – the recipe will also work fine using frozen berries
  • 175ml water
  • 600g granulated sugar
  1. Put the berries and water into a preserving pan or large saucepan. Put a lid over the pan and begin heating – the berries will start “popping” and may jump a bit as they warm up.
  2. Bring the contents of the saucepan to simmering point and cook gently for about 10 minutes until the berries are soft and pulpy.
  3. Stir in the sugar over a low heat until dissolved, then boil rapidly for 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick and the liquid has reduced. Cranberries have lots of pectin so this mixture will set readily without having to test that a setting point has been achieved.
  4. Spoon whilst hot into warm sterilised jars and seal immediately. Once cool, label and cover the jar lids if preferred. Store in a dry, cool, dark cupboard; as with most preserves, cranberry jam will keep for several months.

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    Homemade cranberry jam. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

My garden in December

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Early Winter sunrise over a Scottish garden. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s been a busy month of work for me. I haven’t been around at home for more than a few days at a time, so subsequently, I haven’t had any gardening opportunities.

We haven’t had any snow yet in this part of Scotland, but there have been a couple of very heavy frosts which put pay to most of the flowering shrubs in the garden – I took this picture a few days ago when the temperature had dropped well below zero overnight, the ice beautiful patterns are on the inside of the window!

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Icy window. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Today, I have been able to get outside for a couple of hours – hoorah! There is lot as of clearing up to do after the frosts: plenty of bedraggled shrubs with drooping leaves which make the garden look very sad and now need cutting back. The weather forecasters are saying that we are due some milder weather this coming week, so I should get some out-of-doors tidying up done.

I was happy to see that there is still some colour, here and there, in the more sheltered parts of the garden. A shrub that grows well in several places in the garden is Cotoneaster horizontalis, but usually by now the berries have dropped off or have been eaten by the birds. This one is still covered with fruit and gives a welcome blaze of colour growing up against a small outbuilding wall.

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Cotoneaster horizontalis. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

By next month, the sprawling Winter Jasmine, which grows outside the back door, will be in full bloom. Today there are a few buds breaking open to reveal the cheery yellow blooms I love. It is one of my favourite plants of the season, so delicate and pretty.

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Winter Jasmine flower and bud. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Another favourite is the Snowberry. I see them each Winter growing in other people’s gardens and in the hedgerows, but never get round to planting one for myself. This year, a few straggly branches have appeared growing through an old Camellia bush in the back garden. I will take care now I know it’s there, and see if I can get a better crop next year.

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Snowberries. Image by Kathryn Hawkins

I like to end my monthly garden report with something quirky and unseasonal. I found this wee fellow growing at the top of the rockery, under a big conifer tree, in the back garden. Not sure how he’s managed to remain unscathed from the effects of the frosts, but he was looking very healthy and strong, and truly magnificent in bright blue bloom.

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Solitary Periwinkle in bloom in early December. Image: Kathryn Hawkins