Fruit butter (naturally gluten-free; dairy-free, and vegan)

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Homemade fruit butter. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Happy New Year! I hope you have had a good holiday. We find ourselves at the beginning of a brand new year, wondering what 2023 has instore for us all. Let’s hope it’s a good one.

It’s been a chilly, frosty and snowy end of year here in central Scotland. I didn’t venture very far. I have been in the kitchen keeping cosy and have been trying new ways of using up what remains of the stored fruit from last Autumn. This week’s post is the result of one of my experiments, slow-cooked fruit butter. It keeps for about a week in the fridge but can be frozen for use later in the year.

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In the jar. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Fruit butter has nothing to do with dairy butter. In fact, it is completely fat free. I guess it gets its name from the fact that it is silky smooth in texture. It tastes delicious and is very easy (and moreish!) to eat. You can use it like jam, spread on toast, or as a filling for pancakes, pastry cases and sponge cakes, or as a dessert with yogurt. It is delicious served with rice pudding, granola, porridge or as a topping for a cheesecake.

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Fruit butter with coconut yogurt and on griddle scones. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The sugar content is much lower than jam so you do need to keep it in the fridge. It freezes very well with no alteration in texture, colour or flavour. If you portion the butter up in small containers, it will defrost quickly and can be used up in a few days.

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Ripe fruit and flavourings. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I used a combination of quince, cooking pears and small cooking apples, but you can use the same method for a single fruit butter, although you may need to adjust the sugar content. And when it comes to flavouring, you can use whatever you fancy. For speed, ground spices are the easiest option because it saves time at the end of cooking. You can simply blitz the fruit and store. I prefer whole spices along with lemon rind, and as long as you know how many pieces you have added, then you know how many bits you need to fish out before your start blending. Cinnamon, allspice, cloves, ginger and orange would all work very nicely, it’s just personal preference.

On with the recipe. All the work is in the preparation of the fruit, then it’s a case of letting the slow-cooker do the rest of the work.

Makes: approx. 1.6kg

Ingredients

  • 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 2kg quince, cooking or firm pears, and cooking apples (dessert apples will also work, just adjust the sugar quantity accordingly)
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, split
  • 6 to 8 cadamom pods, split

1. Pare the lemon rind in thick strips using a vegetable peeler, and extract the juice. Put the spent lemon shells in a large bowl, pour over the juice and top up with cold water to half fill the bowl. Keep the pared rind for the slow cooker.

2. Peel and core all the fruit, and cut into pieces – apple and pear will cook more quickly than quince if you are using a combination. Simply cut the quince (or any firmer pieces of fruit) into small pieces for even cooking. As you prepare the fruit, put it in the lemony water to reduce the deterioration of colour.

3. When you have prepared all the fruit, use a draining spoon to ladle it into your slow cooker. There is no need to drain the fruit too much as a little of the lemony water will help create steam as the fruit cooks. Discard the lemon shells.

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Preparing fruit for slow cooking. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

4. Add the sugar, pared lemon rind and your other chosen flavourings and mix everything together, then cover with the lid and set the cooker to High for 5 to 6 hours, or Low for 10-12 hours. The exact cooking time will depend on how ripe the fruit is. After a couple of hours, give the fruit a stir then re-cover, and stir again after a further 2 hours. Continue cooking until the fruit is very soft.

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Before and after cooking. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

5. Switch off the cooker and leave the fruit, covered with the lid, to go cold. Remove the rind and whole spices if using and either use a stick blender to blitz the fruit or transfer to a standing blender. The fruit butter should be thick and beautifully smooth.

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The final step to perfect fruit butter. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

6. Once you have your butter, either spoon it into clean, sealable jars or containers for keeping in the fridge, or pack it into cartons for freezing.

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Ready for freezing. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I hope you have enjoyed my post this week. I will be back with another recipe in a couple of weeks. Until then, take care and keep well. I will see you again soon 🙂

Slow-cooked quince in mulled wine (naturally gluten-free; diary-free and vegan)

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Slow-cooked quince in mulled wine. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

One of the delights of Autumn for me is that it is the season of the quince. In recent years, I haven’t managed to find any but this October I got hold of a box of 9 of the tempting fruit. Like apples and cherries this year, quince trees have also provided a bumper harvest.

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Box of quince. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Back in October the quinces were barely ripe. Very firm, pale yellowy-green in colour with little of their renown aroma. As the weeks passed, the skins turned waxy yellow and the spicy scent increased. Every time I opened the box, I inhaled a waft of their fruity smell. If you haven’t experienced the aroma, it is intensely appley with a hint of sweet aniseed.

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Perfectly ripe quince. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

To be honest, I don’t think the flavour of the fruit is that pronounced, more like pear than apple, but the texture makes it very different to other tree fruits. There is a slightly granular, rich texture to the flesh and a much firmer, almost chewy bite. Quince holds up exceptionally well to prolonged cooking, making them a winner for the slow-cooker.

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Perfectly cooked quince. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Raw quince is too hard and dry to enjoy raw; it also discolours very quickly. If you peel and core the fruit and put it in a bowl of lemon juice and water this helps keep the discolouration to a minimum. However, if you want to enjoy the fruit “au natural”, hold back on the lemon and the fruit will take on a rich, rusty red colour as it cooks.

My recipe this week is simple but requires a little bit of preparation to start with. Once it’s all in the slow cooker you can sit back and enjoy the festive fruit and spice smells that are emitted as the quince cooks through. If you can’t get hold of quince, firm pears will work just fine.

Serves: 6

Ingredients

  • 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 1 unwaxed orange
  • 3 large quince (approx. 1.5kg)
  • 500ml fruity red wine
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, split
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken

1. Use a vegetable peeler to pare the rind from the lemon and orange. Put 3/4 of the rind to one side for flavouring the wine, and cut the remainder into thin strips for decoration – if you don’t want to do this, you can use all the rind in the mulled wine.

2. Extract the lemon juice and pour into a mixing bowl. Add the empty lemon halves. Fill the bowl with water to to 2/3 full and set aside ready for the quince. Extract the juice from the orange and set aside for the wine.

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Preparing quince and flavourings. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

3. Peel the quince thinly. Cut into quarters and slice out the core. As soon as you prepare each quarter, push down into the lemony water to help prevent discolouration.

4. Now prepare the mulled wine. Pour the wine and orange juice into a saucepan. Add the sugar and heat gently stirring until the sugar dissolves, then bring to the boil.

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Making mulled wine for the slow-cooker. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

5. Drain the quince very well and place in the slow cooker dish. Add the pared rind, vanilla and cinnamon and pour over the hot mulled wine. Cover with the lid, switch the cooker on to High and cook for 3 hours, turning the fruit every hour to ensure even cooking, until the quince is tender.

6. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the quince to a heatproof dish. Cover loosely with foil. Strain the wine into a saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 10-12 minutes until reduced by half and slightly syrupy. Pour over the quince, mix gently, and leave to cool completely, then cover and chill until ready to serve.

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Reducing mulled wine to syrup. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

7. While the quince is cooking or cooling, bring a small saucepan of water to the boil and cook the shreds of lemon and orange rind for 2-3 minutes to soften them. Drain well and leave to cool.

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Orange and lemon zest decoration. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

8. To serve, arrange the quince quarters in a serving dish and spoon over a little syrup. Sprinkle with citrus shreds if using and serve the quince with the remaining mulled wine syrup on the side. Delicious accompanied with vegan vanilla ice cream 🙂

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Finishing touch, orange and lemon shreds, Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Quince served with vegan vanilla ice cream. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I hope you have a very happy Christmas and I look forward to posting again for the new year. Seasonal best wishes to you and thank you for your interest in my blog.

Autumn into winter

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The first ground frost of Autumn 2022. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

As another month draws to a close, it’s been a rather wet and dreary end to the season of Autumn here in central Scotland. Photographically speaking, there have been very few blue-sky days to capture the warm, glowing colours of this time of the year. Nevertheless, I have a few images which I hope convey the natural glory of the month just passing.

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Late Autumn, River Earn, Perthshire, Scotland. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I took these photos a couple of weeks ago whilst out on a walk along the local riverbank. Even though the sky was a dull grey and the waters looked cool and steely, the colours of the leaves still clinging to the trees looked spectacular.

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Golden leaf colour. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Back home in the garden at the same time, the Japanese Maple (Acer) tree was ablaze with glowing yellow leaves. But following a few heavy downpours and some strong winds, the last of the leaves have fallen.

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November sun-rise and sun-up. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Usually, the month of November brings with it glorious sunsets and sunrises, but I have only managed to capture one sunrise, and that was during the last week. You can see the same Maple tree now bereft of leaves in the early morning sunshine.

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A welcome splash of vibrant pink. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Throughout the month, these Nerines have been giving a very welcome show of bright pink colour. They look so exotic and fragile but are incredibly hardy. Still going strong is the planter of Bidens and Astors I planted back in June. Such great value. Usually by now the planter is full of bulbs ready for spring but I can’t bring myself to dig these bedding plants up just yet.

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Still flowering in the Autumn sunshine. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

And so to a reminder that winter is just around the corner. The holly hedge is abundant with great clusters of berries this year, as is the snowberry bush in the back garden. I hope this isn’t a sign of a particularly cold winter ahead. It’s been a good year for blueberries as well. This late variety is still ripening at a rate of a small handful a week.

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Red, white and almost blue, late Autumn berries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Thanks for stopping by. Until my next post, take care and keep warm 🙂

February flurries and flowers

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February snow flurries. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

We’ve certainly had a lot of weather here in central Scotland since my last post. Sunshine, strong winds, heavy rain, snow and frosts. Yet I am happy to report that the garden is slowly coming to life; the birds are feeding constantly and singing ever louder, and at times it does feel that spring is on its way.

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February sunshine, snow and frost. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

This is the month when the first proper spring flowers appear in the garden, the snowdrops. There are a few clumps here and there already, but towards the end of the month is when they will really takeover. At the moment, many are still in bud, with just one or two opened up to see the tiny green markings on the inside petals. So pretty and delicate, yet strong enough to stand up to all sorts of weather.

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Snowdrops in the shade and in the sun. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Another sign of spring for me is when the crocus appear. I just managed to capture these beauties before they got crushed by a heavy downpour of rain. I hope they bounce back again.

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The first crocus of 2022. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The winter heathers started flowering at the very end of last year and are now looking very healthy, adding splashes of pink and white to the flower beds.

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Pink and white winter heathers. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The first Hellebore is fully open now with others not far behind. The Hebe that started flowering in December is still producing blooms. I am delighted to see the first bright red shoots of rhubarb up and coming, promising delicious rewards later in the year, and the deep pink Rhododendron is slowly opening up – a bit later than in other years.

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Blooms and shoots: Hellebore, Hebe, Rhubarb and Rhododendron. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

There are more storms and wintry weather on the horizon for the UK in the week ahead so perhaps it is just as well that the garden isn’t too far advanced at the moment. Until next time, thanks for stopping by and my best wishes to you.

Aubergine (egg plant) in spicy tomato sauce (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Aubergine in spicy tomato sauce with green chilli sprinkle. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

With a nod to the widely adopted new name for the first month of the year, Veganuary, I have for you this week a tasty, warming and comforting dish which fits the season very well. Aubergine (egg plant) is one of my favourite vegetables and I especially like eating it in a garlicky tomato or curried sauce. In this recipe, I combine these two flavours in one sauce to make a dish that can be served as a main meal or as a side to go with other spicy foods. It’s tasty cold as a salad as well.

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Up close on spiced aubergine (egg plant). Image: Kathryn Hawkins

November seems like a long time ago now, but that is when I harvested my homegrown aubergines (egg plants). I grew the variety Slim Jim in my greenhouse; just a couple of plants as a trial. They got off to a slow start but by the autumn both plants were doing well, and produced several small and neat, very pretty, lilac-coloured fruits.

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Home-grown Slim Jim aubergines (egg plant). Images: Kathryn Hawkins

You can use any variety of aubergine for this recipe. I always salt before cooking, regardless of variety. I find that drawing out some of the water before cooking helps to soften it so that it cooks to a melting tenderness. By the way, replace the mushrooms with more aubergine if you prefer. I hope you enjoy the recipe.

Serves: 2 as a main meal or 4 as a side dish

Ingredients

  • 1tsp each of cumin and coriander seeds
  • ½tsp ground fenugreek
  • ¼tsp ground black pepper
  • 5tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1tsp freshly grated root ginger
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 400g tomatoes, canned or fresh, chopped
  • 2tbsp tomato purée
  • Salt
  • 250g aubergines (egg plant), chopped or sliced
  • 200g brown (chestnut) mushrooms, wiped and quartered
  • 1tsp black onion seeds
  • Chopped green chilli and fresh mango to serve

1. Toast the spice seeds lightly in a small hot, dry frying pan for 2-3 minutes until lightly golden. Cool, then grind finely with the fenugreek and black pepper.

2. Heat 2tbsp oil in a frying pan and stir fry the onion, garlic, ginger and spices with the bay leaf for 1-2 minutes, then cover with a lid and cook gently for 20 minutes until soft.

3. Add the tomatoes, purée and a pinch of salt, bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for about 15 minutes until soft. Leave aside.

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Preparing spiced tomato sauce. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

4. Meanwhile, stand a colander or strainer on a plate or over a bowl. Layer the aubergine, sprinkling generously with salt as you go, and leave to stand for 30 minutes. Drain and rinse very well, then pat dry with kitchen paper.

5. Heat 2tbsp oil in a frying pan until hot and stir fry the aubergine pieces for 2-3 minutes until lightly browned. Drain on kitchen paper. Heat the remaining oil and cook the mushrooms in the same way. Drain.

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Preparing aubergine (egg plant). Images: Kathryn Hawkins

6. Add the vegetables to the spiced tomato sauce, mix well and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes until tender and cooked through. Turn off the heat, sprinkle with black onion seeds then cover and stand for 10 minutes. Discard the bay leaf.

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Cooking the vegetables in the sauce. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Serve sprinkled with freshly chopped green chilli and accompanied with fresh mango. Delicious over rice or with naan breads with a sprinkling of roasted cashew nuts for crunch.

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A spicy feast. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

That’s all from me this week. I’ll be back towards the end of the month with something suitably Scottish to celebrate Burns Night. Until then, best wishes and keep safe.

Winter whites

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Snow-covered apple tree. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Greetings from snowy Scotland. I hope you are keeping well and warm. The weather hasn’t changed since my last post. Snow has been lying on the ground for a while and there have been intermittent snowy showers almost every day. Fortunately it’s not lying very deep and right now it is raining.

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Winter 2021, snowy garden. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The garden is quiet at this time of year and having a bit of a rest, but I have found a few signs of life. I’ve been taking photos for the past couple of weeks but nothing has really changed. I was hoping that the snowdrops would have opened out by now but the petals are still clamped closed.

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Snowdrops still in bud. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Usually the Cotoneaster hedge at the front of the house is untouched by the birds. It’s bright orange-red berries offer some colour when there is nothing much else around. This year the hedge has been stripped by pigeons. I did find a smaller plant that still has its berries. Perhaps it is too awkward for the birds to get to.

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Two Cotoneasters. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Just round the corner from the now barren hedge is the white Hydrangea bush that flowered so abundantly last summer and autumn. I always leave the faded blooms on the plant until the weather warms up. This is believed to help preserve the new leaf buds. The dried blooms have caught a light dusting of snow which makes them look quite pretty.

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Snow-covered faded Hydrangea blooms. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The Hellebores seem to be taking forever to show this year. I can see the flower buds forming at the bases of the plants but only one plant has produced stems so far. It’s been in bud for a couple of weeks now. I think it’s only going to be tempted into bloom if the weather warms up by several degrees 🙂

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My first Hellebore of 2021. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Just a brief post from me this week. I’m heading into the kitchen again at the weekend, so there will be a recipe post from me next time. Until then, stay well and have a good few days.

End of December garden

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First snowfall of Winter. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello everyone. I hope you are well and have enjoyed whatever the festive season brought your way. Like so many, I had a quiet one at home, unable to travel to see my family. Hogmanay and New Year celebrations are also cancelled. There has been plenty of time to reflect on what has happened this year, and also to think about new projects for the year ahead.

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Three glorious morning views. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

We have been treated to some bright, crisp days here in central Scotland this year end, with some spectacular sunrises, and the first snow of the winter falling a couple of days after Christmas.

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Snow-covered seat. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It seems like a long time ago since I was able to take a rest on my favourite seat and enjoy the peace, quiet and colours of a spring and summer garden, but even now there are some signs of new growth to gladden the soul. I took these images on Boxing Day of a primrose and one of my rhubarb plants. The poor things must have had a bit of a shock waking up the next day to a covering of snow.

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New shoots. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Back in September, once the cucumbers had ceased fruiting, I cleared some space in one of the greenhouse beds and planted 6 seed potatoes. It was an experiment to see if I could harvest fresh new potatoes for Christmas. I’m delighted with the results. All 6 plants produced, and I was able to enjoy freshly dug Maris Peer potatoes over Christmas, with a second harvest for the new year. At the same time, I sowed some carrot seeds, but these are much slower to grow, and I am beginning to doubt that they will ever root properly, but you never know. I will report back if they do develop to an edible size.

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Christmas new potatoes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Late planted greenhouse carrots. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

There were lots of berries in the garden over Autumn and early Winter this year, but by now, most of them have been eaten by the birds. However, our feathered friends never seems to dine out on Cotoneaster or Skimmia berries, so I am grateful to be left with these festive colours to admire.

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Festive berries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Like so many, I am looking forward to a fresh start in a brand new year. I am ever hopeful that we will be able to return to some semblance of normality in the not too distant future. Until then, thank you for following my blog for another year, and I send you my very best wishes for the year ahead. Stay safe and healthy, and a Happy New Year to you all 🙂

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Early flowering Rhododendron. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Gingerbread cupcakes and cookies (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Gingerbread cupcakes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello everyone. I have two lighthearted recipes for you this week. One for cake and one for cookies, and if you choose to, you can make either or both 🙂

I don’t think there are many people who can resist a  gingerbread man cookie. They look so cute for one thing and then there is the sweetness and the mellow spiciness of gingerbread itself. It is a perfect bake for this time of year with its warming and comforting aroma and flavour.

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Just waiting to be eaten. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The gingerbread men cookies keep very well in an airtight container for over a week, and also freeze well. The cakes are best eaten within 24 hours, so you may want to ice a few at a time. After 24 hours, I find that the cake dries. The cake batter has a relatively low fat content compared to other cake recipes so the keeping qualities are reduced. No matter, the cakes and the frosting freeze fine too. By the way, the uniced cakes can be served warm as a pudding, just pop in the microwave for a few seconds and voila!

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Mini homemade gingerbread men cookies. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

On with the recipes. They are remarkably similar in ingredients and straightforward to make so I hope you enjoy making them 🙂

Gingerbread men cookies

Makes: approx. 25

Ingredients:

  • 75g plain gluten-free flour blend (such as Doves’ Farm) + extra for dusting
  • ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground mixed spice
  • 25g dairy-free margarine
  • 40g soft dark brown sugar
  • 25g golden or corn syrup
  • 1 tbsp white icing for decorating (I make mine simply with 2 tbsp icing sugar and a few drops of water)
  1. Line 2 baking trays with baking parchment. Sieve the flour, bicarbonate of soda and the spices into a bowl and rub in the margarine with your fingertips until well blended. Stir in the sugar.
  2. Make a well in the centre and add the syrup, then mix everything together well to make a softish, smooth dough.
  3. Lightly dust the work surface with a little more flour and roll out the dough to a thickness of about 3mm. Use a small gingerbread man cutter to cut out shapes, gathering and re-rolling the trimmings as necessary. My cutter is 6cm tall, and I made 25 cookies. Transfer to the baking trays and chill for 30 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 190°C, 170°C fan oven, gas 5 and bake the cookies for about 10 minutes until firm and lightly golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  5. When cool, put the icing in a piping bag (no nozzle necessary). Snip off a tiny piece from the end and pipe features on each cookie. Leave for a few minutes to dry before storing in an airtight container.

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    Making, baking and decorating gingerbread men cookies. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

     

Gingerbread cupcakes

Makes: 12

Ingredients

  • 300g plain gluten-free flour blend
  • 20g gluten-free baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 190g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 pieces stem ginger, finely chopped (optional)
  • 75ml vegetable oil
  • 225ml plant-based milk (I used oat milk)

Lightly spiced frosting

  • 100g dairy-free margarine, softened
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground mixed spice
  • 1 tbsp ginger wine or the syrup from stem ginger jar if using (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C fan oven, gas 4. Line 12 muffin or cupcake tins with paper cases. Sieve the flour, baking powder and spices into a bowl. Add the sugar and stem ginger if using. Mix everything together.
  2. Make a well in the centre and add the oil and milk. Gradually work the dry ingredients into the liquid and continue mixing until all the ingredients are well blended and make a smooth, thick batter.

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    Gingerbread cupcake batter. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Divide between the cases and bake for about 30 minutes until just firm to the touch – they do sink a little bit so don’t worry. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  4. For the frosting, put the margarine in a bowl and beat to make it smooth and glossy, then gradually sieve over the icing sugar, in small batches, mixing it in well after each addition, to make a smooth, soft and fluffy icing. Stir in the spices and ginger wine or syrup if using.
  5. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a small closed star nozzle, and pipe a swirl on top of each cupcake. If you don’t fancy piping, simply smooth some frosting on top using a small palette knife.

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    Baking and decorating gingerbread cupcakes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

    Just before serving, pop a gingerbread man cookie on top of each cupcake. The cookies will go soft if left on top of the cakes for more than half an hour, so best leave the arranging until the last minute to eat them at their crisp best.

    Have a good few days. Until next time, happy baking!

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    Love at first bite. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Winter garden round-up

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A splash of much-appreciated Winter colour, early Rhododendron. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

So far this year, Mother Nature has provided 4 seasons in 1 month. There have been several mild days; a few blue-sky, frosty days; a couple of snow-laden days, and in between, grey skies, rain and gusty winds. The poor bulbs and bushes don’t know whether they are on the way up or whether they should still be hibernating.

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Earlier this week. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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Snow-covered apple tree. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The snow has now gone, and the temperature has gone up several degrees. I’m happy to say that plants and bulbs that were covered at the beginning of the week, have survived and are blooming again.  The crocus were a couple of weeks early this year, so they must have had one hell of a shock on Monday night when the weather changed. The rhubarb shoots have begun to unfurl since the snow melted. I think I will pop a large pot over this clump at the weekend, and force a few stems for spring.

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Yellow crocus, snow-covered and snow-survivors. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

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New rhubarb shoots. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

At the beginning of the week, all the snowdrops in the garden were still tightly closed, but as the thaw took hold and the temperature rose again, many of the buds have opened. These are such pretty, dainty little flowers, and are a sure sign that spring isn’t too far away. Have a good few days whatever the weather brings with it 🙂

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New season snowdrops. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Spicy rice and peas (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Spicy rice and peas. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Welcome to my first recipe post of the year. I hope you’ve all had good Christmas and New Year celebrations. It has seemed like a good long holiday this year. Not only have I had plenty of time to recharge my batteries, but the longer holiday gave me the opportunity to spend time in the kitchen experimenting with different ingredients.

I have noticed that many of the blogs I follow have started the year with spicy offerings. Something about this time of the year usually gets me delving into the spice cupboard too, in search of different flavours to liven up my repertoire of recipes.

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Tray of spices and flavourings for basmati rice and chana dal. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

My recipe this week is based around 2 basic and ordinary ingredients: rice and dried peas. But cooking with some spices, onion and other flavours, they can be transformed into something quite sensational.

The combination of spices I have used in this dish are more fragrant and comforting than spicy. You may want to add something with heat to give it more of a kick if you prefer e.g cayenne pepper or dried red chilli. To mellow the flavour, toast the whole spices first in a dry frying pan, just for a couple of minutes, and then cool and grind them up before using. If you don’t have the time to make your own spice mix, use 2-3 tsp curry powder or garam masala.

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Preparing the spice mix. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The combination of spiced chana dal (yellow-split peas) and fragrant basmati rice makes this a very tasty accompaniment to serve with a vegetable curry sauce, or you can sprinkle it with roasted cashew nuts or almonds to make a deliciously comforting meal. It freezes well too, so is worth making up as a batch-bake and then portioning up for the freezer, ready to serve at a later date. The recipe takes a bit of time to organise but being able to make it for the freezer is a good incentive to have a go.

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Ready to serve, Indian-style rice and peas. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The dish is made up of 2 layers of basmati rice, top and bottom, with an onion, garlic and ginger chana dal layer in the middle, enriched with coconut yogurt. To finish the dish, the spice mix is sprinkled on top along with lemon juice, coconut milk, green chilli and butter (or coconut oil or dairy-free margarine).

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Rice and pea flavourings. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Once the dish is baked, leave it to stand for a short while, then stir it up before serving so that all the wonderful flavours mingle together.

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All mixed up and ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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A spoonful of rice and peas. Image: Kathryn Hawkins.

Serves: 3 to 4 as a main dish, or 4 to 6 as an accompaniment

Ingredients

  • 100g chana dal (yellow split peas)
  • 350g basmati rice
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves. peeled and finely chopped
  • 25g root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 fresh bay leaves or 1 dried bay leaf
  • 5 tbsp dairy-free coconut yogurt
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 40g butter or ghee if you eat it, or use coconut oil or dairy-free margarine instead
  • Juice 1 small lemon
  • 3 tbsp coconut milk
  • 1 or 2 large mild green chillies, deseeded and sliced
  • 1 tsp each cumin and coriander seeds, toasted and ground
  • ¼ tsp crushed black peppercorns
  • Seeds of 4 cardamom pods, crushed
  • Fresh coriander and cashew nuts to serve
  1. Rinse the chana dal in cold running water. Place in a bowl and cover with cold water. Leave to soak for 45 minutes. Then drain, rinse and place in a saucepan. Cover with fresh water, bring to the boil and cook in simmering water for 25 minutes until tender but not mushy. Drain well.
  2. Rinse the rice in cold running water. Place in a bowl and cover with cold water. Leave to soak for 30 minutes. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Drain and rinse the rice and then add to the water. Bring back to the boil and cook for 5 minutes only. Drain, rinse and leave to one side.
  3. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onion, garlic and ginger with the bay leaves for 5 minutes over a medium heat until lightly golden. Add the yogurt 1 tbsp at a time, stirring the mixture in between additions, until the liquid is absorbed. Stir in the salt and cooked chana dal. Leave aside. Discard bay leaves if preferred.

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    Preparing the chana dal and onion layer. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C fan oven, gas 4. Spoon half the rice into an ovenproof dish and spread to form an even layer. Top with the oniony chana dal mixture and then the remaining rice. Pat down gently.
  5. Dot the top with butter, ghee, coconut oil or margarine, and drizzle with lemon juice and coconut milk. Sprinkle with sliced chilli to taste. Mix the spices together and sprinkle over the top of the rice. Cover the dish tightly with aluminium foil.

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    Layering the rice and peas. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  6. Stand the dish on a baking tray and cook for 45-50 minutes until piping hot. Leave the covering in place and allow to stand for 10 minutes before removing the foil and gently mixing everything together. Serve with fresh coriander and cashew nuts.

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    Out of the oven and ready to serve. Image: Kathryn Hawkins