Tag Archives: vegetarian food

No bake: Watermelon cake

watermelon cake

This week saw the return of The Great British Bake Off to our TV screens, it’s one of my very few must watch programmes and i’m very excited to be tuning in every wednesday over the next few weeks to watch the competition unfold. It was great to see the series kick off with some magnificent cakes, (And some less so!) its also a hot topic of conversation amongst my foodie friends, so strangely enough all this baking got me thinking about not baking.

Sometimes there just isn’t time, sometimes one of these fabled warm weather days arrives in the UK and the thought of turning the oven on is just a little too much to bear and sometimes its good to have a healthy cake on the menu. It just so happened that this weekend the weather has been a little brighter and a summer BBQ was called for to celebrate this momentous occasion. C and I planned a feast, pork belly, burgers, sausages, meat, meat, meat basically! So we decided watermelon would provided the perfect antidote for desert

We live on the Narborough rd in Leicester, Aka “the Narb” to us locals where one can pretty much acquire anything your heart desires, it’s entirely possible to exist solely on the offerings of the Narbourgh rd, should you want to.

I’ve spotted quite a few enormous watermelons on my weekend strolls and decided that this was to be the weekend to purchase the largest watermelon I could find. 10kg to be precise.

So, I carried the Watermelon,

In a blue plastic bag Down the Narbourough rd, it wasn’t terribly glamorous but my head was spinning with ideas of what to make. Watermelon vodka is always a winner at adult BBQs but I was tempted to try something a little different and created this refreshing three tier watermelon cake instead.

watermelon cake 1watermelon cake 5

The good news is watermelon cakes are pretty simple to make, all you really need is a good sharp knife. Here follows an explanation of how to achieve this for next time you have an enormous watermelon handy. There are many virtuous qualities to this cake also. It’s vegan, refined sugar free, gluten free, nut free so no need to feel guilty about diving in!

Slice your watermelon across the middle into 3 even slices to create the three tiers. Cut circles out of the flesh inside the watermelon, for this I used bottomless cake rings, 8″ for the base, 6″ for the middle and 4″ for the top tier. once you have the three tiers cut you can sharpen up any edges or straighten the tops of each tier if necessary so each layer stacks evenly. That being said, if the cakes are a little wonky this adds a little drama so don’t worry too much! Stack the layers on top of each other. No dowels needed as the watermelon itself is pretty sturdy. Once stacked, it’s time for the fun bit, get creative and decorate your watermelon cake with fresh fruit and berries and if you have any to hand edible flowers work a treat. Here i’ve used nasturtium, lavender, sweet peas, fennel and dahlia petals so the cake is entirely edible.

So next time you fee like baking consider this colourful, refreshing and above all healthy option, and of course you could also douse the cake with vodka too if you wanted to liven things up a bit!

watermelon cake 2watermelon cake 3watermelon cake 4

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Make: Fig and Fennel Jam

ingredients

Back in September when we visited Leicester botanical gardens hidden amongst the grounds and sculptures we spotted a fig tree, bursting with almost ripe figs. The smell was amazing, it took me straight back to childhood holidays spent in Spain and really got me thinking about how to make the most of them when, a few weeks later they would appear in the shops ripe and ready for eating.

Figs are one of my favourite autumn fruits. They are so versatile; great for baking, preserving, eating just as they are with a good cheese or for breakfast with honey, yoghurt and maybe a little granola. Their season here in the UK is short, just from September to October, so this year I thought i’d try preserving them to make them last a little longer. I’ve never tried making fig jam before but I have to say this is now my favourite fig recipe, i’d hoped to make enough to last through the winter but we’ve already worked our way through a couple of jars and the remaining few set aside for Christmas presents may not make it through to December!

Here’s how you make it……

figs

Figs can be expensive so do hunt around for the cheapest. I bought mine from Aldi for a very reasonable price, B also spotted some at Leicester market, 10 for £1 so it’s definitely worth shopping around. Look for figs that are plump, soft and rich purple in colour with unbroken skins.  If you can’t get hold of  a kilo of figs substitute some for cooking apples to bulk up the fruit.

To prepare the figs cut off and discard the tough stalk and cut into halves, then cut each half into quarters. Place the figs, sugar, thyme and lemon zest into the pan with a little water. Gentry heat the fruit so the sugar melts then bring the mix up to the boil. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally until the temperature reaches 104°C on a jam thermometer. whilst the jam comes up to temperature prepare the spices by toasting them over a gentle heat for a couple of minutes to release the flavour. Grind the pieces in a pestle and mortar then set aside to cool. Once the jam has reached the correct temperature add the ground spices and lemon juice and stir through.

Pour the hot mixture into sterilised jars, place silicone paper onto the top of the jam to seal then screw the lids tightly onto the jars. Set aside to cool. The jam will last 6-8 months if stored in a cool dry place.bubbling

The fig jam is delicious spread onto warm toast for breakfast, but our favourite way to eat it is spread on warm sourdough with plenty of Cropwell Bishop stilton

fig jam, stilton and sourdoughfig jam, stilton and sourdough

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Make: Chilli, garlic and herb infused olive oil

The next addition to my Christmas gift hampers will be chilli, smoked garlic and herb infused olive oil.

Olive oil carries flavours fantastically and this is a brilliant way to capture fresh flavours in a bottle. It’s also a tasty way to to recycle old wine bottles and use up any herbs that are waiting to be harvested before the frost comes. It’s fairly swift to make too, you just need to be a little patient whilst waiting for the oil to infuse.

I’ve used pomace olive oil here, which is a little less expensive than virgin olive oil but still very tasty. Virgin olive oil is cold pressed whereas pomace oil is hot pressed, its just a slightly lower grade of olive oil. I picked up this 5 litre drum from my local supermarket.

For this batch of infused olive oil i’ve used the following:

  • 6 empty wine bottles, i’ve used little ones here too. 4 small bottles are equivelant to 1 large bottle
  • 5 litres pomace olive oil
  • fresh whole chillis washed- i’ve allowed for one or two per bottle
  • fresh herbs washed- i’ve used sage and rosemary
  • 1 bulb of smoked garlic
  • a handful of juniper berries
  • a handful of pink and black peppercorns
  • a funnel to help decant the oil into bottles

The possibilities are endless, you could use all or just one of the above ingredients. Other delicious variations are Cinnamon, lemongrass, curry leaves, cumin, fennel, caraway, citrus, etc, etc, etc!

Step one- steralise your bottles this can be done with some hot soapy water, rince well to make sure no soap bubbles remain, then leave the bottles upturned to dry.

step two- Evenly distribute the herbs, chillis, garlic and peppercorns amongst the wine bottles. I’ve used assorted sizes of bottles, so i’ve used two cloves of garlic and two chillis in the larger bottles and one chilli and garlic clove in the smaller bottles.

step three- gently warm your olive oil on the stove to about 75 degrees- do not boil it as it will be too hot to handle. Place a funnel in the top of a wine bottle and carefully pour in the warm olive oil.

The oil should be ready to use in 3-4 weeks time. It’s great to use for salad dressing, can be used in stir frys to enhance flavour or paired with a good balsamic vinegar this is perfect for dipping  foccacia into!

The oil lasts for up to three months, or until the herbs begin to loose their colour. The oil does not preserve the herbs, garlic and chilli, only their flavour. To make the oil last longer the herbs, garlic and chilli can be strained out, and the oil re-bottled.

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Do: Pick your own Jam

‘It’s a bit late in the season, you’ll be lucky to find any” we were told as we collected our empty punnets and embarked on our pick your own adventure.

After some groveling in hedgerows we emerged a kilo of raspberries heavier and had impressed our host with our determination. We visited Whetstone Pastures farm set in a beautiful part of the south Leicestershire countryside.

After a busy morning fruit picking in the sunshine we headed home to make late picked raspberry rhubarb and stem ginger jam.

I’m quite a fan of this flavour combination, this jam is like a little piece of summer captured in a jar to help me through the cold winter months. To make 14  jars of our rhubarb raspberry and stem ginger you will need:

  • To pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees c
  • 14 250ml- 300ml capacity jam jars and lids- or thereabouts, saving and recycling your old ones makes jam making much cheaper than buying them specially!
  • 1kg raspberries
  • 1kg rhubarb
  • 2kg sugar- I used a mix of granulated and preserving sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • A large pan to cook it all in-my 5 litre pan was just about large enough!
  • A jam thermometer. I really recomend investing in one of these as they provide the most accurate way to measure the setting point of your jam and are available fairly inexpensively.
  • a measuring jug
  • stem ginger diced into small chunks.
  • silicone paper circles, cut to the size of the mouth of your jam jars.

These quantities do make rather alot of jam. The basic rule is equal quantities of fruit to sugar.

Wash your freshly picked fruit to get rid of any beasties that may be lurking.

Place the rhubarb and sugar into your large pan with a splash of water and simmer for 15-20 minutes stirring regularly until the rhubarb is soft. Add your raspberries and attach your jam thermometer to the side of your pan, turn up the heat a little to bring the mix to the boil. Stir regularly and keep a close eye on your jam thermometer, cook the jam until it reads 104 degrees c (This will be clearly marked on your thermometer with a red arrow as ‘Jam’!) This takes around 35-40 minutes.

Take your jam of the heat as you prepare your jars.

Thoroughly wash your jars and lids in hot soapy water. Rinse clean and place the jars on a baking tray. Transfer the tray into your pre-heated oven for 5-10 minutes. Scoop off and discard any froth that may have settled on the surface of the jam with a spoon- these are impurities from the sugar and may crystallise as the jam cools down in the jars.

Decant the jam into the measuring jug and pour strait into the prepared jars while they are still hot. Sprinkle in a few pieces of chopped stem ginger (These will sink into the jam as it sets) place a silicone paper circle onto the top of your jam to create a seal and then screw the lid tightly onto the jam jar.

Adding the jam to the jar whilst both are still hot creates an airtight vacuum, sealing the jam as it cools preventing any bacterial contamination (ie mould!) Leave your jam jars to cool completely- I left mine overnight.

And now you have jam!

Delicious spread liberally over toast, crumpets or scones. These make brilliant presents too  i’m planning to send these out at Christmas (Yes i’m starting my Christmas prep now! Is that a little sad?) If sealed properly will last 6-8 months stored in a cool dry place.

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Grow: Snip

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Yesterday afternoon a startling situation presented itself, I thought I had run out of food.

Blind panic ensued, This being 5.15 on a bank holiday monday all local shops had closed, the thought of a a drive to the supermarket at my most desperate hour seemed an unnecessary evil and a takeaway pizza inevitable.

I decided to cheer myself up with flowers and went outside to cut some sweet peas, then I remembered my garden.

Now as I have admitted before I am by no means green fingered, my cucumber and nasturtium plants have perished, I killed them. There are a few treasures to be found though, low maintenance items that have enjoyed constant rain and a little neglect as I lost interest in caring for them almost the same week I planted them.

So, a few snips later, a little help from my store cupboard and an adaption of B’s vanilla sugar recipe, here follows how I spent the rest of my evening…………

 

My Garden and I are friends again, next week I shall plant winter vegetables!

How does your garden grow?

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