Bare trees and blue skies

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Small pear and cherry trees in winter. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Happy February everyone! Any thoughts I had of an early spring have gone out the window these past couple of weeks as temperatures in the UK have plummeted. So far, there has been little snow to speak of, but there have been many a frost-laden night and day. The saving grace amongst all the chilliness is a beautiful blue-sky and bright sunshine we have been blessed with most days.

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Copper beech in winter. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Icy sunrise. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

So, on with my quick round-up of what’s going on in the garden right now. The snowdrops and crocus have been in flower for a couple of weeks and seem to be coping well with the sunny days and freezing nights.

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Early 2019 snowdrops and golden crocus. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The first Hellebore of the year has now been joined by a couple of other blooms, but other varieties are still firmly in bud.

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Hellebore trio. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Most of the winter pansies have been chewed. Each flower head lasts about 24 hours once it opens before some wee beasty makes a meal of it. I managed to capture this pansy’s delicate, pretty petals before it becomes part of another insect supper.

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A winter bug’s next meal. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s been a good season for the winter heathers. This pink heather is full of blooms. There aren’t so many pink flowers around at this time of year, so this one is  a welcome burst of colour. Sadly the early flower heads of the pink rhododendron I photographed at Hogmanay have inevitably perished in the frost.

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Pink winter heather in full bloom. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Perhaps my next garden post will be more spring-like – who knows? So until then, wrap up warm and keep cosy. Have a good few days 🙂

 

 

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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

 

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.
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    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

Early winter garden

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Just a few apples left for the birds. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I think it’s safe to say that Autumn is over now, at least it is here in central Scotland. A couple of weeks ago it was still mild and dry, but last week it felt like there was a definite season change. The last of the leaves came off the trees in heavy rain, the temperature dropped, and the daylight hours have dwindled significantly. The garden looks quite sad now. All things told, it certainly feels like December is just round the corner.

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A frosty November morning. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s not all doom and gloom though. There are signs of life amongst the fading foliage and fallen leaves. Spring bulbs are shooting up everywhere: in containers, borders and flowerbeds; they seem more advanced than usual.

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Sprouting bulbs. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The late flowering heather is just coming into bloom. Such a pretty colour and delicate flower for this time of year.

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Just beginning to flower, Winter flowering heather. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

As a reminder of the forthcoming festivities less than a month away (I can hardly believe it!), the Santa-red Skimmia berries and the glacial-white snowberry, give seasonal cheer.

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Seasonal berries, Skimmia and Snowberry

And, here is the most regular visitor to the garden at the moment. He seems to appear whenever I go outside, and chirps away from first light. This is his regular perch, in the hollow of a large conifer, not too far from the back door.

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Master of all he surveys. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

And so to my final image. This Salvia was planted back in late spring and has been in flower ever since. A truly great value plant. Have a good week 🙂

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Still blooming in late November, Salvia. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Overnight seed and berry porridge (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Oatmeal and seed porridge with berry compote. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It still feels more wintry than spring-like here in central Scotland. We have had a blue-sky day today, the first for a while, and the temperature is slowly rising. The snow is beginning to thaw slowly, but most of the garden is still covered in a thick, white crust of powdery snow. The snowdrops under the hedge are the first to emerge at long last and I am relieved to see that they have survived their week inside a snow-cave – what robust little flowers they are 🙂

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After-the-snow snowdrops. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

One of my favourite warming breakfast dishes is porridge, and it seems a lot of people agree: porridge has become the super-star amongst breakfast cereals, and the supermarket shelves are stacked out with different varieties and all sorts of flavours.

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Pinhead oatmeal for “proper” porridge”. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I like my porridge made the traditional way, which means I prefer to use oatmeal (or groats) rather than rolled oats. However, it’s not an instant breakfast and requires some organisation: the oatmeal requires overnight soaking before it can be cooked. But if you have a slow-cooker, you can cut down on the preparation: just mix everything up in the slow-cooker the night before and leave it on a low setting until the next morning, by which time it’s ready to eat as soon as you want it.

The oatmeal in the picture above is a local Scottish brand and is not guaranteed gluten-free. As you will know, oats themselves don’t contain gluten, but there is a contamination risk from other grains during processing, so if you do have a serious gluten allergy, you should seek out gluten-free oatmeal.

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Slow-cooker porridge: oatmeal, water and salt. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

If you don’t fancy leaving your slow-cooker on overnight, slow-cook the porridge as you like, and once cooked and cooled, the porridge will keep in the fridge for a few days. You can take out a portion and reheat it with you favourite soya, rice, nut or oat milk when you’re ready. Just pop a portion in a microwave-proof bowl, mash it with a fork and stir in some milk, then reheat on High for about 1 ½ minutes. Alternatively, you can reheat the porridge in a saucepan, with milk, in the same way.

The following quantity will make 4 to 6 servings: pour 1.1litre water into your slow-cooker and stir in 175g pinhead oatmeal. Add a pinch of salt and mix well. Cover with the lid and switch the cooker on to the Low setting. Leave to cook, undisturbed, overnight (for 8-10 hours), until thick and soft. To serve, stir well and serve with hot, non-dairy milk mixed in. Add sugar or syrup to sweeten if you like, and top with sliced banana, fresh berries, grated apple, dried fruit etc.

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Homemade seed mix and my frozen summer berries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

For an extra nutritious start to the day, I like to stir a heaped tablespoon of ground seeds into my bowl porridge and top with some summer berry compote.

For the seed mix, grind 3 tbsp. flax seeds with 2 tbsp. sunflower seeds, 1 tbsp. chia seeds and 1 tbsp. sesame seeds – I use a coffee grinder to do this. Stir in 1 to 2 tbsp. ground almonds, pecans or Brazil nuts. Store in the fridge in an airtight container and use to sprinkle over anything you like for some extra nutritious nuttiness!

The berry compote is made from my freezer supply of home-grown raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. I simply put a quantity, still frozen, in a saucepan with the lid on and sit the pan over a very low heat until the berries soften and cook. I add a little vanilla sugar once the berries are cooked. Delicious eaten hot or cold.

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A spoonful of my favourite oatmeal porridge. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

 

 

Seeded wholemeal spelt loaf (dairy-free; vegan)

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Seeded spelt flour loaf. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

A bit of a departure from my usual gluten-free cookery this week. It’s been Real Bread week here in the UK  and my thoughts turned to one of my old favourite loaves made from wholemeal spelt flour. Incidentally, it’s also been a week of “Real Snow” here as well – we are currently in the throes of a snow-storm coming across our shores from Siberia. Bread-making is a perfect excuse to enjoy some baking time.

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A stormy start to the new month. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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I first started using spelt flour in my cookery about 20 years ago. Whilst I am intolerant to traditional wheat flours, the lower gluten content of the ancient spelt wheat grain is easier on my digestion, and providing I don’t over-indulge, every now and then it is a real treat to include this flour in my baking.

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Basic ingredients for my spelt loaf. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

For this loaf, I used the wholemeal variety of spelt flour, but you’ll also find it as white flour as well which is good for cakes where a lighter coloured sponge is required. Other than the flour, my bread recipe is a very standard dough with a blend of my favourite seeds added (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, fax, linseed and chia). The loaf works just as well without the seeds or you can add chopped nuts and dried fruit instead if you prefer something sweeter. Because spelt flour is lower in gluten, the resulting bread is denser and more cake-like in texture, but it still has the familiar chewy texture of real bread. The flavour is slightly sweet, earthy and nutty.

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Wholemeal spelt flour and my favourite seed mix. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes 1 x 700g loaf

Ingredients

  • 450g wholemeal spelt flour (I use Dove’s Farm)
  • 1 ½ level teasp easy-blend dried yeast
  • 1 tbsp. light Muscovado sugar
  • 100g mixed seeds
  • 1 level teasp salt
  • 275ml tepid water
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  1. Put the flour in a bowl and stir in the yeast, sugar, 75g seeds and salt. Make a well in the centre and gradually pour and mix in the water along with 1 tbsp. oil, to make a softish, mixture. Turn onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and slightly elastic – about 10 minutes. Note: to save time when bread-making, I often put the dough in my electric bread-maker to mix together and prove while I get on with other things. I then do the shaping, final rise and baking by conventional means.
  2. Put the dough in a large, lightly floured glass, china or plastic bowl and cover the bowl with a clean tea-towel. Leave at a coolish room temperature for a couple of hours until doubled in size.
  3. Once risen, turn out on to a lightly floured surface and knead gently (or “knock back”). Shape into a ball and let the dough rest for 5 minutes before shaping into an oval shape about 25cm long. Transfer to a lightly floured baking tray, cover with a large sheet of oiled cling film and leave in a warm place for about an hour until well risen.

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    Proving and shaping the spelt dough. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
  4. Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan oven, gas 6). Remove the cling film. Using a sharp knife, cut diagonal slashes in the top of the loaf. Brush with the remaining oil and sprinkle with the remaining seeds. Bake for about 45 minutes until golden and crisp – the loaf should sound hollow when tapped underneath. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
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    Freshly baked spelt loaf. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

    I’d like to have brought you up to date with my garden this week but all the newly sprung snowdrops and crocus are buried under several centimetres of snow. This glorious hyacinth stands proud on my kitchen window-sill just now, and is a reminder of things to come. Until next week……. 🙂

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    Double pink hyacinth. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

     

First of February in the garden

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Blue sky day. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s been a lovely start to the new month today. Very clear and crisp. After taking the image above this morning, after a full day of sunshine, by the time I got round to typing up my post, most of the snow had melted away.

There has been quite a lot of snow fall in January, and it’s been quite cold too. No sooner had the temperature risen again and things were beginning to feel a bit more spring-like, then down came another pouring of the white stuff yesterday.

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Last day of January snowfall. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The new season’s growth seems a little slower in showing this year. Most of the bulbs I have planted around the garden are only  just beginning to poke through the soil, but the ones below, in an old wheelbarrow, are much more advanced. When I’m gardening I often accidentally dig up bulbs. I usually put them back in the same place, but last year I cleared an area which had become too densely populated, and ended up with loads to replant. The wheelbarrow and an old barrel seemed like suitable new homes. Hopefully I will end up with a colourful display from both in a few weeks time.

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My barrow of bulbs. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Looking back at my garden in February last year, I had a few snowdrops out in full bloom by this time. At the moment, the petals are firmly closed, but with a couple more days of sunshine, they should open up. In other more sheltered spots around the garden, the snowdrops still have quite a way to go before they flower.

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First of February snowdrops. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Another precious flower in the garden at this time of year is the winter-blooming white heather. It certainly looks very healthy. Believed to bring good luck, white heather brings the feeling of life and vibrancy to the garden long before the other colours of spring appear.

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Lucky white winter heather. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Another plant that is also looking very floral just now is a new Helleborus Orientalis I planted last year. It’s very pink and very pretty. The more established Hellebores in the garden are only in leaf with no sign of flower stems, so I guess that this one must be an early variety. It does look a wee bit lonely in the border, with just the one flower open, but there are lots of buds, so they may well be flowering when the others decide to make a show. See you next time 🙂

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Early Hellebore. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Happy new year!

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Hogmanay heather. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Happy new year to you all. My very best wishes to my blogging friends for a happy, healthy and peaceful year ahead.

It’s been a quiet start to the year. After a milder, rain-soaked, grey morning, the afternoon brought with it much calmer and brighter weather, with a glorious blue sky, sunshine, and crisp, fresh air.

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The glow of fading sunshine on the first day of the year. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Enjoy the rest of the holiday. I look forward to starting my regular posts again soon 🙂

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A first-footing robin. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

February in a Scottish garden

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Frosty mornings. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Frost and fog have been the order of the day since my last out-of-doors post. Without doubt, February is my worst month of the year. To me, it’s neither one season nor the other, and I am longing for Spring. Many plants that seemed so advanced back in December, have slowed down recently, and my hopes for an early end to Winter have been thwarted.

On a positive note, the afternoons are getting noticeably  lighter as the days begin to draw out, and, the snowdrops are beginning to bloom at last. I hadn’t given much thought to this well-known, delicate little flower until I moved to Scotland. Snowdrops grow every where in the countryside around me: from the sides of the roads to carpets in the forests, and in the most modest of gardens to the landscaped grounds of castles and palaces, they certainly feel at home here. I have small clumps growing in different areas all over the garden; none have been planted, they come back naturally year after year.

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Early February snowdrops. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Other bulbs are greening up, and most shrubs are in tight bud; I am hoping they will open up in the next two to three weeks. I have are a few heathers in bloom here and there, adding splashes of pink amongst the green shoots.

The weather has just turned milder these past couple of days, which means (fingers crossed) that the garden will spring into action once more. Until next month………..

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February pink heathers and rhododendron buds. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

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