Hogmanay in the garden

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Welcoming in 2019. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

A very happy new year to you all. I wish you good health and every success in the year ahead. I hope that you have had a good Christmas holiday, and now we wait to see what 2019 brings to us all.

My Christmas holiday has been very peaceful and relaxed. The weather has been mild considering the time of year and has given me the opportunity to get out in the garden and tackle a few jobs like pruning the old apple tree.

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Recently pruned gnarly old apple tree. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The holidays started on a very chilly note with a heavy frost on Christmas Eve which made everything look very festive and sparkly in the sunshine and crisp, fresh air. Frosted_Hydrangea_lawn_paths_and_greenhouse_glass

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Frosty garden on Christmas Eve. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Out in the garden today, things were looking a little different from a week ago. No frost, just mild, breezy air and patches of blue in a heavily clouded sky. 2018 has certainly given us some unusual weather and I think this is having an impact on the garden now. Several plants are much more advanced than usual: the snowdrops are almost out in flower; the buds on the early spring flowering rhododendron are breaking open, and one Hellebore is already in full bloom. The usual oddities are around too: a solitary stalk of fresh flowers on a very sad-looking, bedraggled lavender bush, and a few new red-fringed orange carnation buds are about to open for a second flowering. Snowdrops_in_bud_and_a_white_hellebore_in_bloom

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Hogmanay flowers. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I’ll sign off this post with an image of some “lucky” white winter-flowering heather to bring us all good fortune over the next 12 months 🙂

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Hogmanay white heather. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

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Mince pie crumbles (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Mince pie crumbles. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I love a good mince pie, and this recipe is one of easiest and tastiest you can make. No rolling pin or tart tins required, just a square cake tin and a pair of (clean) hands.

You can use homemade or readymade mincemeat for the filling and any combination of dried fruit or nuts you have – it’s a good way to use up leftover bits and pieces. Grated apple also works well added to the mincemeat. Add a splash of your favourite tipple and you have something very festive indeed!

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Mincemeat and fruit filling with a splash of cherry brandy. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The crumbles keep well for up to a week when stored in an airtight container – they will become softer and more cake-like a time goes by, but the flavour intensifies – and they also freeze well. Enjoy them warm, straight out of the tin, as a hot pudding, or let them cool and serve as a delicious bake. Here’s what to do:

Makes: 16

Ingredients

  • 115g solid white vegetable fat (such as Trex or coconut oil), softened
  • 115g dairy-free margarine or spread
  • 115g soft light brown sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp good quality almond extract, optional (or use 1 tsp ground cinnamon or mixed spice to flavour)
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 250g gluten-free plain flour blend (such as Doves Farm)
  • 10g gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
  • 500g vegan mincemeat
  • 100g dried cranberries
  • 100g chopped dried apricots
  • 2 tbsp. cherry brandy or your favourite tipple
  • 50g golden marzipan (optional)
  • 1 tsp icing sugar, to dust
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C fan oven, gas 4. Grease and line a deep 21cm square cake tin. In a mixing bowl, beat together the fat. margarine, sugar and salt until well blended. Stir in the ground almonds and extract or spice, if using.
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder on top and mix everything together to form a soft, crumbly mixture. Press 350g of the mix into the base of the tin – I find using a floured back of spoon is a good way to achieve a smooth, thick base. Prick all over with a fork and bake for 20 minutes until lightly golden and firm.
  3. Mix the mincemeat, cranberries, apricots and brandy together and spread over the base. Sprinkle the remaining crumble on top, gently packing it down but making sure you retain the crumbly texture.
  4. Bake for about 40 minutes until lightly golden and firm to the touch. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then slice into 16 squares. Leave in the tin to cool completely before removing and arranging the pieces on a board or tray.

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    Making mince pie crumbles. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. To decorate, roll out the marzipan thinly and cut out as many stars or festive shapes as you are able, re-rolling the marzipan as necessary. Arrange the stars on the squares and dust lightly with icing sugar.
    Serving_of_a_single_square_of_mince_pie_crumbles
    Ready for the eating. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

     

    This is my last post for 2018. I’d like to thank all of you who have stopped by my blog and read my posts. It is a pleasure to write my posts and receive such lovely feedback.

    It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas as the song says, we had our first snowfall last night and I woke to the garden transformed into Narnia. On this wintry note, I’d like to wish you all a very happy Christmas and new year when it comes. I will be back up and running in a few weeks.

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    Festive snowfall. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Salt and caramel nut butter fudge (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Salt and caramel nut butter fudge. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’ve had a hectic few days since my last post. I have got a bit behind with my festive preparations, but I’m pleased to report that back on track again now. I’ve been in the kitchen this weekend and here is the first of my 2 festive posts.

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Home-made fudge, a perfect gift for Christmas. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I am a huge fan of homemade sweeties, especially fudge, but I have found it difficult to find a recipe that works well as a dairy-free version. I have made the super-easy chocolate-based fudge recipes from time to time, but they do have a different texture to the fudge I remember from childhood.

For this week’s recipe, I have turned to an old recipe book and adapted a traditional recipe which produces the flaky, melt-in-the-mouth texture I really like, and it makes a lovely edible gift too, perfect for the time of year – if you can bare to give it away!

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Melt-in-the-mouth home-made fudge. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I used peanut butter as the main flavouring, but any nut butter (or tahini) will work just as well. To get the right consistency, you do need to use a butter replacement with a high fat content; I used coconut oil but a solid white vegetable fat like “Trex” would work if you don’t want the extra flavour from using coconut.

As with most traditional sweet making, a sugar thermometer is a vital piece of kit, but if you don’t have one, I’ve included a quick tip which will help determine whether the fudge is ready or not.

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Ingredients for making home-made fudge the traditional way. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes: 25 to 36 pieces

Ingredients

  • 450g granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp salt (use less or none if you don’t want the salty flavour)
  • 50g coconut oil or white vegetable fat
  • 150g no added salt or sugar peanut or other nut butter
  • 150ml unsweetened dairy-free milk (I use unsweetened soya milk)
  • 2 tbsp. golden syrup
  • 2 tsp caramel flavour (or vanilla extract to taste if you prefer a different flavour)
  1. Line an ungreased 18cm square cake tin with baking parchment or waxed paper. Put all the ingredients except the flavouring in a large saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the coconut oil melts.
  2. Bring to the boil and continue boiling for about 5 minutes until a temperature of 116°C is reached on a sugar thermometer. Alternatively, drop a little of the mixture into a cup of cold water. If it forms a soft ball when rolled between your finger and thumb, the cooking is complete. It is important to keep stirring the boiling mixture to prevent it sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan.

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    Cooking and testing the fudge mixture. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Turn off the heat, add the flavouring and stir well. Keep stirring the mixture occasionally as it cools. After about 20 minutes or so, the mixture will begin to thicken and lose its shine, this is the time to mix thoroughly until the texture becomes grainy and stiffer – this is how the perfect texture is achieved.
  4. Transfer to the prepared tin, smooth off the top and leave to cool for about 30 minutes until almost set. Score the top with a sharp knife into 25 or 36 squares, then leave to cool completely for 2 to 3 hours.

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    Cooling and setting cooked fudge mixture. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  5. Cut through the pieces completely and remove from the tin. Store between sheets of baking parchment or waxed paper in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
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    Ready for sampling. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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    Traditional home-made fudge. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    Have a good few days and good luck with all your festive preparations. I have my second festive post to put up before Christmas, so I will be with you again in a few days time 🙂