Tag Archive | autumn

Cider apple stew for elves

 

Stew 10

Apologies for the slightly hurried, out of focus picture. I was hungry.

 

Ah, so we meet again. I feel like just a moment ago I was preparing a post about freezing gluts of late summer vegetables (which I will post later) and then I fell into a hole in the space-time continuum. Somehow, it’s now January and I’m not sure what happened. Well, that’s not entirely true. A large amount of pretending to be an elf happened if I’m being honest with you. It’s been a busy few months at work, I’ve been quite ill and not a happy bunny so writing time has been re-designated to lying-on-the-sofa-complaining-and-playing-Skyrim time. Cooking has fallen by the wayside. That said, I have had a few revelations:

  • Slow cookers are amazing
  • Stew is amazing
  • Simple, medieval type foods are really good for a poorly tummy
  • Tesco now sells Lactose free Stilton
  • I can get 8-10 meals out of one roast chicken
  • Sometimes I just really need to be an elf for a while

It’s a shame I’ve not had the wherewithal to write here for a few months though as Autumn is my favourite time of year and I have a lot of seasonal recipes I love to make. As soon as September rolls around each year I start getting wistful and excited, roaming the hedgerows and farm shops muttering about “mists and mellow fruitfulness”, and I’m not sure which I celebrate more, Halloween or Christmas.

Still, never mind, on with January and its leftover Christmas cake, half-bottle of sherry and well-intentioned bag of spinach. I don’t diet in January (or indeed, ever). I don’t believe anything good can come of it and I generally have so much food left over from Christmas it takes me an extra month to eat it all. Sooner or later I do end up drifting towards healthy eating though. My internal conversation in January generally runs something like this:

Taste buds: “Oh wow, I love eating Christmas food. Why don’t I eat like this all the time? Why do I only get to have these flavours once a year?”

Brain: “Because we’d literally turn into a salami if you did. It’d be like that episode of Invader Zim where they turn into human baloney.”

Taste buds: “But what if we did it in moderation? You know, just introduce a slightly higher salami-based portion of my daily intake”

Brain: “Hmm… and spinach?”

Taste buds: “Yes, and spinach, we’ll do that. Everyone knows spinach offsets salami. It renders it neutral or something. Let’s go and buy us another salami now then.”

Brain: “Ok, yes, I think we could make this work…”

Stomach: “STOP IT! STOP IT NOW!”

Brain: “Well, I suppose warrior-elves do eat healthily…”

The main thing this warrior-elf has been eating for the last few months has been stew. Lots of it. I have gone from hating stew to pretty much been eating it 5 days a week. It’s easy to make, easy on my tummy, tastes delicious and feels satisfyingly medieval and hearty. It feels like the sort of thing a tired hero might sit down to eat by the fireplace at the inn after a busy day of adventuring and dragon-slaying. And it looks like a witch’s brew so it’s a win all round.

This change in my opinion of stew has been down to one magical recipe which I adapted from a casserole I used to make. I think what makes it nice is the addition of lots of herbs and flavours that don’t become too bland after hours of cooking.

Recipe Notes

  • This recipe can be adapted to use pretty much any veg but think about the sort of flavours that work together. Root veg like turnips or parsnips might work well but you won’t want something like tomatoes for example.
  • I prefer to make this recipe in a large cauldron over an open fire, while wearing my black pointy hat, cackling evilly and stroking the cat but when I can’t, I use my slow cooker. You can make it in a heatproof dish in the oven but what I like about the slow cooker is the consistency of times and temperature it gives and the fact that you can just switch it on and forget about it. You can even leave the house with it on which you can’t do with a dish in the oven. I like the fact that it allows me to cook dinner in the morning when I’m feeling relatively perky and not have to worry about it later when I’m tired. I also like that I can cook enough in it to feed me for a week.
  • The dumplings included in this recipe are ones adapted from the BBC’s Good Food website (you can find the original here). I make them for myself with Lactofree butter and cheese and am yet to fine a satisfactory way of vegnising them successfully for my vegan friends. I think this may be a case of simply using alternative vegan dumplings rather than modifying this recipe further.
  • You can use pork loin steaks in this recipe instead of Quorn steaks but personally I prefer Quorn these days as they soak up the flavour from the sauce really well. If you do use pork steaks you will need to brown them lightly in a frying pan first before adding them to the rest.
  • If you can, use fresh herbs. Sage, thyme and rosemary all work really well for this one. I grow a lot of herbs in my garden but you can buy them in the supermarket easily enough. Of course, dried ones work just fine but fresh really give the best flavour. I tend to use a bit of both.

Adaptation

If you’re not a fan of apples or cider, a nice variant on this recipe, which we make just as often, is to swap the cider for a bottle of white wine and to omit the apples. Bottles of wine tend to be bigger than bottles of cider so the extra liquid there makes up for what you will lose by getting rid of the apples, although you may want to add a bit more veg to bulk it up.

Ingredients (to make 5 very hearty portions)

Stew

  • One bottle of cider
  • Two Bramley (cooking) apples
  • 2 large carrots
  • Half a swede
  • 2 medium potatoes
  • One courgette
  • 180g pearl barley
  • 10 Quorn fillets
  • Water (approx. 1ltr)
  • Dried mixed herbs
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • Fresh sage (chopped)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 5 tablespoons of plain flour (gf)
  • Eye of newt (optional)

Dumplings

  • 200g Gluten free self-raising flour
  • 1tsp Xanthan gum
  • 100g Butter
  • 2tbs water
  • 100g Cheese (grated)
  • 2tsp Fresh thyme (chopped)
  • 1tbs Fresh rosemary (chopped)

Slow Cooker Method

1 . Peel and chop the veg into bite-sized chunks. Do not peel the apples, just core and chop them. Add to the pot. Chop the herbs finely and add them too. (Pro tip: the best way of doing this quickly is to put them in a mug and use a pair of scissors to repeatedly chop them.

Stew 1.jpg

2 . Add the pearl barley, Quorn and seasoning.

3 . Sprinkle the flour in and give it a good stir.

Stew 2.jpg

4 . Pour in the cider.

Stew 3.jpg

5 . Mix the stock cubes in with a little boiling water (about 100ml should do it) until dissolved and add to the pot.

6 . Add more boiling water, just enough cover the veg.

7 . Turn the slow cooker onto the time and setting recommended by the instructions (mine is “medium” for roughly 6 hours)

8 . Check halfway though just to make sure that the pearl barley hasn’t all stuck to the bottom. The liquid may need slightly topping up with more water or cider at this stage too – it should always just be covering the veg.

9 . Make the dumplings – Rub the flour and butter together with your fingers until it forms “breadcrumbs”. Grate the cheese and chop the herbs finely. Add these to the mixture and sprinkle it with 2tbs water. Kneed it into a ball. (Alternatively, do what I do and just chuck it all into the food processor together – much easier)

10 . Divide into 12 balls and place on a baking tray covered with parchment paper.

Stew 5

11 . Bake at 200C/gas 6 for 10-15 minutes or until they just start to turn golden-brown.

Stew 6

12 . Plop the dumplings onto the top of the stew to finish cooking a couple of hours before the end.

Stew 9

Oven Method

This method is the traditional one but it is much more an art than a science. I made it this way for years and each time the cooking times seemed to be completely different. It always worked out in the end but it was immensely frustrating and this is why I now use a slow cooker. My advice is to allow about 2-3 hours for a large stew. Check it regularly and be prepared to top up the liquid or turn down the heat if necessary. The dumplings should not be pre-cooked, as in the slow-cooker method, and they will need to be added about half an hour before the stew is finished so it is down to your judgement to know when that will be.

1 . Heat up a little cooking oil in a large, ovenproof casserole dish. Fry the veg in the oil on the hob for a few minutes until the pan is nice and hot and the veg has softened a little.

2 . Coat the veg in the flour, then add the wine and barley. Cook for 5-10 minutes until the wine has reduced and thickened a little.

3 . Add the rest of the ingredients, as per the previous method.

4 . Cover the pan and transfer to the oven.

5 . Cook for roughly an hour at 200C/180C fan/gas 6. Check regularly. When it’s ready the veg will be tender and the liquid thick.

6 . Remove the lid and add the dumplings (uncooked) to the top of the stew.

7 . Cook for a further 20-30minutes until the dumplings are golden.

 

Stew 11

Another rushed, out of focus picture, this time with the camera flash on. I’m not sure if this makes it better or worse. I can confirm that it tastes the same however you take the picture.

 

 

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Autumn Leaves pie

Pie 5.jpg

vegetarian/gluten free/lactose free/can be made vegan

No, we have not taken vegetarianism this far, don’t worry. I have not (yet) resorted to eating fallen leaves from my garden. I just named this pie “Autumn leaves” because the colours remind me of autumn and I wanted to sound really clever.

pie-3

Look at the vegetables before they’re added to the sauce – aren’t they pretty?

This is a lovely, warming pie for a cold evening. It’s relatively easy to make but rather time consuming to prepare so maybe one for a Sunday afternoon when it’s raining and you want an excuse not to leave your nice cosy kitchen.

A warning: When I was shopping for ingredients to make this a few weeks ago I got very excited because next to the usual butternut squashes in the supermarket they had something called coquina squash. It looked the exactly same but was far more expensive, labelled as part of the supermarket’s premium range. Naturally, assuming it must be a far superior exotic squash variety, I bought it, only to find out when I got home that coquina is just another name for butternut squash. Probably you’re all now rolling in the aisles at my silly squashy ignorance but I thought it fair to mention.

Recipe Tips

  • In the pictures, the purple that you can see is purple carrot. I used these as I had some left over from Halloween and I’m a bit obsessed with purple vegetables. I might hesitate to do so if serving this to guests however as they turned the cooked pie filling a rather strange shade of pink. This pie works with any root vegetables really as long as you make sure they’re roasted first to soften them and eliminate excess moisture. Roast peppers or sundried tomatoes also work very well.
  • The best tip for making gluten-free pastry that I’ve ever come across was from a book about pies that friend owned. I wish I could remember the name of it. Next time I see her I’ll find out so I can link to it here because it was a very good book. The tip was to add polenta to the mix of flour. It gives the pastry a fantastic flavour, helps to hold it together and creates a warm yellow colour that makes a welcome change from the usual paleness of gluten-free pastry. Polenta is sometimes called cornmeal and it’s the fine ground, uncooked kind that you want. Most supermarkets these days stock it but you might have to hunt for a bit – try the “word foods” section.
  • If you want to make the pastry completely vegan it is totally ok to leave out the egg – just add a little more water instead. The pastry will be slightly crumblier if you do this as the egg acts as a binder. If you want to avoid this, you can use vegan egg replacer (just follow the instructions on the packet) or chia seeds. See this excellent tutorial for how to do this http://www.foodrenegade.com/how-make-egg-substitute-chia-seeds/
  • Adding the xanthan gum is absolutely vital if you want it to stick together. I’ve also found that adding Lactofree cheese to the pastry, apart from making it taste great, helps to hold it together as well.
  • Unfortunately, even with all the xanthan gum and will in the world, gluten free pastry is never going to look pretty. The best you can hope for is “charmingly rustic”. It will still try to fall apart when you lift it onto the pie and you will never get it rolled thinly. One easy way to get the pastry onto the pie in one piece is to roll it out on a plastic mat or chopping board, then quickly turn it upside down onto the pie.
  • So, you could just leave it OR if you’ve got guests coming over, you’ve had enough wine to pretend you’re a contestant on the Great British Bake Off or you’re photographing it for a food blog and want to look like you know what you’re doing, you could jazz it up a bit. Here are some ideas to impress those Bake Off judges with:

– Use the inevitable little bits of pastry left over and some cookie cutters to cover over the unsightly areas with pretty shapes. (Leaves in this case)

Pie 7 (3).jpg

 

– Use a knife to gently score patterns into the pastry.

pie-7-2

 

– Make the rough edges look deliberately quaint and homespun by squishing them all along with a fork. Put it on a gingham tablecloth for added effect.

pie-7-4

 

  • Note: The method for making the pastry that I’ll give is the old-fashioned version. I don’t actually do this because if you have a food processor you can just chuck all of the pastry ingredients in there at once and press the “on” switch. The future is here.

 

Ingredients

(To make one pie that serves roughly 4 people)

 

Pastry

  • 6oz gluten-free plain flour mix
  • 3oz fine cornmeal (polenta)
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 5oz vegan margarine
  • 1 egg (or substitute)
  • 2tbs cold water
  • A handful of Lactofree cheese (optional)

 

Sauce

  • ½ pint milk or milk substitute (Soya milk works well, as does Lactofree)
  • 3 heaped tablespoons of cornflour
  • 4oz cheddar cheese (melty vegan or Lactofree extra mature work fine)
  • Salt and pepper
  • A pinch of Herbes de Provence
  • 1 teaspoon English mustard

 

Filling

  • Half a butternut squash
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 1 medium courgette
  • A handful of sundried tomatoes
  • I small packet of Quorn chunks

 

Method

 

  1. Prepare the vegetables.

    pie-2

    More pretty colours…

 

Peel the carrots and squash (or any other root veg/peppers) and cut into bite sized cubes. Place on a roasting tray (I cover it in tin foil to save washing up if I’m short for time) and roast on 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 for about half an hour or until the edges start to brown. Chop the courgette into very small cubes and put straight into the pie dish with any extras like the sundried tomatoes.

 

  1. Meanwhile, make the pastry…

 

  • Mix together the dry ingredients in a bowl.
  • Add the fat straight out of the fridge so that it is as cold as possible and cut it up into small chunks before adding it the bowl. Using the tips of your fingers, rub the fat into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  • Add the egg (or substitute) and work it into the mixture with a spoon. Gradually add some water, just a little bit at a time, gently kneading the dough with your hands until it forms one solid ball.

    pie-4

    If you’re using a food processor the dough should look roughly like this when it’s done.

 

Remind you of anything? That’s right – it’s the same method as the one we used for the pizza, just slightly different ingredients. Turns out the component parts of many different recipes are pretty much the same – once you learn the basic skills they’re easy to remember and adapt.

 

  1. And the sauce? This is exactly the same as the one for macaroni cheese. It’s a Mornay (cheese) sauce.

 

To save you reading that recipe twice, (although if you haven’t yet, please do) here it is again. Thank you, copy and paste function:

 

  • Mix the cornflour with a little of the milk in a glass until it dissolves.
  • Add the milk to the carrot water (if a lot has boiled off you might need to top it up – you should have roughly 1 pint of liquid in total)
  • Add the salt, pepper and herbs.
  • Heat until it starts to simmer then remove from the heat.
  • Tip in the cornflour and stir. (A balloon whisk can help here) pie-1
  • Return the pan to the heat and keep stirring until the sauce thickens.
  • Grate and add the cheese. Stir until it melts.
  • Add the mustard and a generous pinch of yeast flakes.

 

  1. Now put it all together…

 

  • Put the vegetables and sauce in a large pie dish with thin slices or tiny cubes of the courgette – as small as you can get them.

 

  • If you have one, pop a pie funnel in the middle of the pie.

 

  • Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and transfer to the top of the pie. Trim the edges with a knife and cut an X shape in the centre and use it to make a little hole – either for the pie funnel to poke out of or just as it is to release some of the steam.

 

  • Decorate as you prefer. If you have any holes or bits that don’t quite look nice you cn cover them up with the extra bits of pastry like I have in the corner here.
  • pie-6

    Fixing the broken bit on the corner to make it look deliberate…

 

  • Bake at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for half an hour or until the top has browned slightly and the vegetables are cooked through.
Pie 7.jpg

All done!