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

Bowl_of_freshly_picked_home-grown_Comice_pears
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.

Comice_pears_growing_just_before_picking
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.

Bowl_of_baked_pears_with_chocolate_"butter"
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)

Flat_griddle_pan_with_cooked_tattie_scones
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.

Servng_of_freshly_cooked_tattie_scones_and_jam
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.

Trug_of_freshly_dug_pink_fir_potatoes
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)

Chunk_of_dark_chocolate_granola_bar
The perfect pick-me-up. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
Slab_of_dark_chocolate_granola_bar
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)

Home-grown_baby_sweetcorn
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 – fussing like an old mother hen, protecting the plants from the slightest breath of wind and giving them an occasional feed – has paid off.

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

I chose a hard variety of baby corn called Snowbaby. 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.

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

The tall sweetcorn stems with their draping, long, ribbon-like leaves and fine feathery flowers make an attractive architectural plant display, and the way the baby corn cobs develop is very 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 to be picked. 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.

Preparing_freshly_picked_home-grown_baby_corn
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 first harvest of 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.

Sweetcorn_fairy
My sweetcorn fairy. Image: Kathryn Hawkins