So summer has officially shifted over to make way for autumn and now the flimsy clothes have been packed away it’s time to stop all the lounging around (I know I’m finding it hard too), start making the most of all those serious produce gluts and start cooking. I’m not sure about you but I don’t know of a better place to start than with some gorgeous autumnal plums. And cake of course.
I know I’ve talked before about necessity being the mother of all invention on this blog before but never is that more true than in a house filled with boys. Maybe it’s just mine but I’m never sure whether they exist on the same dimension as me. I’m not complaining; it has led to quite a few spectacular culinary discoveries in my house and last week has was no different.
Scotland might not be renowned across the globe for its lovely hot summers but it is inextricably linked (in many British minds) to a fruit that seems to epitomise summer; the raspberry. Nothing says British summer to me more than a bowl full of raspberries and strawberries and this week they’re back. So despite whatever else is going on outside at least we know for sure. Summer’s here.
Every so often a few culinary planets align and something magical happens on even the most mundane and boring days. One such moment happened last week. I had a perfectly ripe avocado. Only one. And a perfectly ripe mango. Now I can always find a home for a perfectly ripe mango but only one avocado is slightly harder. In a family our size we need at least two so we can get stuck into some guacamole but waiting for another one to catch up never seems to work for me. Even with the help of the revered brown paper bag and over ripe banana. Of course there was always the option of devouring it mashed on wholemeal toast with some roasted tomatoes (one of my favourites) before anyone got home but I was feeling magnanimous. And summery. A winning combination. The avocado and mango ice cream idea was born.
Rhubarb is a funny one. It is a vegetable but it really does think it is a fruit. Although there are more and more savoury recipes out there nowadays more fitting to its veggie status, a quick search of rhubarb recipes will mostly yield a vast array of crumbles, fools and jam recipes. All of which are utterly delicious but all of which my entire family completely eschew for reasons best known to themselves. However I love the stuff and really can’t bear to be defeated in this one. As far as I’m concerned there are no foods you don’t like, only the ways of preparing them. Apart from the devilishly bitter radicchio. The least said about radicchio the better. Just take it from me I have tried. But I digress. Getting back to the point; it follows then that I just haven’t happened upon a way of serving rhubarb yet that they all approve of. Or so I thought.
I love the idea of using fresh and dried fruits in my baking. It helps to cut back a bit on the fat you have to use but more importantly it keeps my cakes and treats with just the right level of sweetness. Prunes, apple sauce, bananas and beetroot are all great additions to anyone’s baking; but my current obsession is dates. I haven’t found much that dates don’t go with yet, but admittedly my baking does tend to focus on chocolate so I can’t really say I’ve made an exhaustive search. Obviously they might make your sponge cakes go a funny colour so I don’t think I’d recommend going that far but I’m all for using them to help reduce my children’s sugar intake over Easter. Fortunately these chocolatey brownie nests are perfect for this time of year and make a great change from the perennially popular chocolate and cornflake combination that pops up everywhere in April. I’m not knocking that combo, they are a great way to get your children into the kitchen and I don’t know anyone that can resist them, but we all like a change once in a while. And, of course, a brownie. Try them; you’ll definitely get your chocolate fix and (hopefully) this combined with the extra fibre from the dates will keep you from diving back into the cake tin too soon after.
The other day I discovered another great ingredient. I’ve never been the biggest fan of peanut butter. I can’t help it, I just find it a little bit too flat tasting. And, yes, I do know I’m swimming against the tide here. But the good news for people like me is that there are now so many other great tasting nut butters out there that you can use instead. Macadamia, cashew and almond are all regulars in my kitchen but a few weeks ago I discovered a new gem which I hadn’t seen anywhere before and that was raw walnut butter.
Am I the only person in the world who has missed out on this cake in a jar trend? Apparently so. My teenage son caught onto to it way before me (and he’s not well known for his love of all things kitsch and cute) and challenged me on Facebook to knock him up a couple. Yeah, yeah, I said, I’ll get to it. That was a month ago, but this week as I was still ‘convalescing’ (read having a very lazy week) I decided to give them a go. It was almost worth having the flu for. We haven’t looked back, and have been gorging ourselves on cakes in jar every lunch time since.
Looking around the internet this week (and actually for a few weeks before) I’ve come to the conclusion that I must be the only food blogger that doesn’t go in for Valentine’s in a big way. And I mean a big way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely unromantic; but I am British. I’ll stretch to a humorous card but and a nice meal, but considering the fact that I do the nice meal most nights, (I have warned you all I am food obsessed) we’re not talking about a huge change. But if you can’t beat them, I say, join them so this week I decided to give my cheesecake loving husband a little Valentine’s treat and to kill two birds with one stone and use up some of my winter beetroot stocks.
The beauty of jam making is that there is a jam to be made in every season, although you might not believe it. Even right now, when you all can see is snow and frost the time is right for marmalade.