Friday, 29 October 2010

Apple, Bramble and Muesli Crumble

I'm a sucker for a freebie, who wouldn't be? Those lovely purveyors of sugar, Tate & Lyle, recently sent me a few bags of their Fairtrade sugar which was gratefully received by yours truly.

When the weather is drawing in and hats, scarves and gloves are being donned more often, nothing beats a good pudding to warm the soul and make you feel all cosy and happy.

The humble crumble, in all of its sweet, chewy and fruity beauty, seems the perfect choice for our British importers of sugar. It is a British classic and without the likes of Tate & Lyle, we probably wouldn't be taking our favourite sweetener for granted as much as we do. If you want to find out a bit more as to how it ends up in our cupboards, visit their website.

So here you go, a simple crumble with a little twist. Serve it with custard, cream or yoghurt. Either way, it takes some beating.

Apple, Bramble and Muesli Crumble
Feeds 4

1kg bramble apples, peeled, cored and cut into thick slices
300g brambles
150g Tate & Lyle caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
A pinch of ground ginger and cinnamon

For the crumble

300g good muesli with lots of oats, nuts, seeds and dried fruit in it
A pinch of ginger and cinnamon
150g butter
75g Tate & Lyle light brown sugar

1 - Pre-heat the oven to 200C/GM6.
2 - Put the apple slices, lemon juice, sugar and spices into a pan. Bring to the boil then simmer for a few minutes until the apples soften a little. Stir in the brambles.
3 - Butter an oven-proof dish. Tip in the fruit mixture.
4 - In a mixing bowl, mix together the muesli, spices and sugar. Using your fingers, mix in the butter so that you have almost large chunks of muesli. If it seems too dry, mix in a little more butter.
5 - Pour on top of the fruit and gently shake to level. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the topping is golden and crisp and the purple coloured sugary juices are bubbling around the sides.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Sloe, Sloe, Quick Quick, Sloe

Amongst the many pleasures of this fine season of autumn is the plundering of free food. And by that, I mean getting wrapped up and scouring the hedgerows, fields and trees of the English countryside.

October and November is sloe berry picking time, and each year for as long as I can remember, my family and I have braved the spiny thorns of the blackthorn shrub to gather in our favourite boozy berry. I call it a boozy berry as they are only good for one thing, and that is being laced with sugar and alcohol and left to allow it to slowly release its subtle flavour into your booze of choice. Taste one raw and your face will scrunch up akin to a bulldog chewing a wasp. But take my word for it; this most acrid of berries can turn alcohol into liquid gold.

I like to go for two or three options, with gin always a certainty. Vodka is probably a better option that gin as it is a flavourless liquid and you actually get more of the sloe flavour from it. Brandy can also be a fine choice. Whatever you decide, the quantities remain the same. For every 2 kg of fruit you need 1 kg of sugar and 3 litres of alcohol. Once you have carefully washed and picked the berries, allowing for the odd baby snail, prick the berries and tip into a demi-john or a large sealable container. I freeze mine for a week then defrost which means that the skins naturally burst. Then tip on the sugar and alcohol, shake several times to break down the sugars then put away in a dark place for a few months, shaking around every week or so.

6 months is the recommended time before pouring through muslin into clean bottles, but mine rarely lasts past Christmas Eve before being sampled. Warming and reassuringly comforting in the knowledge that you made it yourself, sloes are the quiet champions of the autumn harvest.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Beef and Root Vegetable Stew with Herb and Mustard Dumplings

Autumn is finally here in the UK and for me, it is the finest of seasons. The nights may be getting darker, the weather is certainly getting colder, but it all adds to the cosiness of a season that I always anticipate.

When it comes to comforting food, this is the season to eat; hot stews and casseroles, filling sticky puddings and hot custard, steaming oat porridge with syrup. These are the foods of the North East England Gods and I champion every single one of them.

The slow cooker comes into its own during these frugal and busy times and it sits there begging for yet another meaty stew to help fill the house with mouth-watering smells to come home to each evening. Some decent chunks of braising beef, lots of root vegetables, woody herbs and a slosh of red wine and stock are all that is required to make a heavenly stew. And if you can top it with some dumplings, an invention born to stick to your insides and fill the most rumbling of tummies, you can guarantee smiles on faces all round. Enjoy the seasons.

Beef and Root Vegetable Stew with Herb and Mustard Dumplings
Feeds 4

2 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
800g braising beef cut into large chunks
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 handful of roughly chopped thyme or 1 tbsp dried thyme
2 tbsp tomato puree
2 heaped tbsp seasoned plain flour
250ml red wine
250ml beef stock
4 carrots, peeled and sliced into thick chunks
2 leeks, sliced into large chunks
1 small swede, peeled and cut into chunks

For the dumplings
200g self-raising flour
100g margarine or butter
1 tbsp English mustard
4 tbsp chopped chives, thyme and parsley
Salt and pepper

1 - Pre-heat the slow cooker or the oven to 160C/GM4.
2 - In a large pan or casserole dish, heat up the oil. Add the beef and fry quickly to seal all over. Remove with a slotted spoon.
3 - Add the onion and cook for a further 5 minutes. Return the beef and stir in the herbs and tomato puree. Sprinkle in the flour and stir for 1 minute.
4 - Add the wine and stock and bring to the boil. Add the vegetables then either pour into the slow cooker or place the casserole dish into the oven.
5 - If cooking in the slow cooker, cook on a low setting for 5-6 hours. If cooking in the oven, cook for 2- 2 and a half hours, checking every hour to see if the liquid is sufficient.
6 - To make the dumplings, run the flour and margarine together then stir in the mustard, herbs and a little salt and pepper. Pour in enough water so that when mixed with hands you have a soft sticky dough. With floured hands form walnut sized balls.
7 - For the final 45 minutes cooking time, place the dumplings on top of the stew and cook until plump and cooked through.
8 - Taste for seasoning. Serve with seasonal greens.