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Something Halloween-y – Pumpkin, Celeriac & Chilli Soup

Happy Halloween! I love festive occasions, any excuse for a bit of fun and a party. Halloween was one of my favourites as a child. We were always on mid term break and so had ample time to fashion costumes, from, *cough*, the most humble of substances. Witches costume from a refuse sack? No problem! I blame Bosco (all you Irish readers can nod your head).

Pumpkins were never something we could get our hands on in the wilds of Waterford, so we use to raid the local sugar beet fields and fashion jack-o-lanterns out of them. I wish I could communicate using words the foul stench of burning sugar beet, but we persevered and carried them from house to house. There was a big band of siblings, cousins and neighbours that would march for a mile or so, stopping at the sporadic houses, singing in 3 parts everything we knew – stuff from TV (yes, Bosco), school, church, you name it. We didn’t want monkey nuts, we despised them, just money or sweets please, thank you very much. It’s a wonder they answered the door to the refuse sack clad, sugar beet wielding, singing children on a dark and cold Halloween night!

So, what did we eat? Sweets, lots of them. I’ve kept up that tradition here today, I’ve eaten way too many jelly snakes and percy pigs, but it had to be done. There was also apple bobbing, and putting a grape on top of a pile of flour and nudging the flour without knocking the grape… and lots more I can’t remember now. Certainly not pumpkin anyway, but as an adult, I eat alot of it this time of year and today is one of those days.

So, criteria for a halloween dish? Preferably pumpkin-y, should be spicy, and orange would be good (pumpkin helps!). I am not at home tonight so settled on a halloween lunch of pumpkin and celeriac soup with chilli which I made last night for today.

Pumpkin & Celeriac are a great match. Both really good for you too, pumpkins are full of beta-carotene, potassium, vitamin C, calcium and fiber and celeriac is rich in vitamin C, phosphorus & potassium. Their texture in soups is wonderful, so smooth. Chilli is great with pumpkin, it livens the flavour and adds that spice we want. Any pumpkin or squash will work, preferably an orange fleshed one, butternut squash, onion squash or pumpkin are great. I add red split lentils to thicken the soup and to provide some protein, garlic and onions as a base, and some good light stock, vegetable or chicken are great. This is a really quick soup and takes care of itself as most soups do. I am a bit greedy when it comes to soup and am like a pig at the trough swilling bowl after bowl, so, it’s difficult to estimate portion sizes but I would think that this would serve 6 normal people.

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A Sunday afternoon in Marylebone

The cold weather has really grabbed London now, and with it’s friend, the rain, has made it a thoroughly miserable place. Well, miserable in that, being wet is no fun, but, in truth, I do like the autumnal evenings as long as I am inside in the warmth looking out or next to a roaring fire in a pub somewhere! This was not the case yesterday where I was exposed to the weather alot more than I care for.

From my current Zone 5 outpost, I made the trek into London yesterday to revisit my old routine, Marylebone Farmer’s market for my veg and random other bits, The Ginger Pig for some smoked streaky bacon and whatever else takes my fancy, La Fromagerie for, on this occasion, granada ham & pata negra chorizo as I already have too much cheese in the fridge & finally, a nice lunch, this time at Orrery Epicerie next to the Conran Shop on the Marylebone High St.

The whole of the transport network seemed to grind to a halt, the trains were down due to signal failure and the northern line wasn’t running because of engineering work, but, I had a date to keep, so I made it down with a combination of buses, tube and lots of walking. The weather was really grim, I don’t know how many eyes I nearly pulled out with my spotty umbrella’s spokes, that’s the hazard of being 5 foot 3 inches! Well, a hazard for the other pedestrians anyway, all you tallies look out, I am coming to get ya!

I had my heart set on pumpkins, I am determined to fill my week with them. They’re a favourite of mine and I always have some lurking around. An ex flatmate was not so enthused and used to bemoan my collection of shrunken heads, at one point I had 7 large ones from an organic pumpkin farm in Ireland filling the cupboard (& I lived in London). I am nothing, if not excessive. On this occasion, I bought one big onion squash and 6 small pumpkins. They were so cute and they will be tasty. That lot sounds heavy, but I didn’t stop there, I continued with a big celeriac and a bag of potatoes, an Irish girl needs ‘em. Other little bits and bobs like Chegworth juices (apple and beetroot – wonderful) and tomatoes followed and then we headed off to the Ginger Pig, who, sadly had sold out of sausage rolls but had lots of bacon.

To finish, we went to La Fromagerie. I like La Fromagerie alot and will dedicate a post to it at a future date. The one I usually go to is on Moxon St but occasionally I pop to the one in Highbury as it’s nearer work and my new home. It’s a fantastic cheese shop with a cheese room and lots of other bits and pieces – seasonal veg, great meats, chocolate, cakes, honey – all presented beautifully. It’s one of the few places in London that sells buffalo ricotta. You can eat there too around an enormous rustic table. I tease myself by receiving their mailing list of Slow Food and other events. They had a fantastic one last week based around Frances Bissell’s Scented Kitchen, I really must go soon! I wanted Bayonne ham but they didn’t have any, so I was advised to try the Granada ham, which is good at this time of year. They gave me a little taste and it was all I could do to stop myself grabbing the leg and running with it, so I got 12 slices and tried to stop myself pulling it off the slicer as it was sliced. Whilst waiting and reviewing the other meats I decided that I would try some pata negra chorizo also. I wasn’t disappointed.

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Onion Rarebit

A friend recently recommended this Nigel Slater recipe to me. It’s a comfort one, for times of stress or indulgence. Nigel himself describes it as an “unctuous mix of onions, thick toast and melted cheese that pleases most.” I am an indulgent kinda gal and recent events have been particularly stressful, so, as a form of escape, I dedicated some time to this.

It’s perfect for this time of year! So creamy, and beery, and cheesy. Although, I am not a huge fan of beer, so, I am thinking about ways I can smuggle white wine or even champagne into this dish instead. But, everyone else loves it so, it’s beery, and, I’m sure that you’ll like it that way.

I changed a couple of things: I caramelised the onions for an hour or so for an extra level of decadence, I used dijon mustard, and, I substituted manchego for the cheddar. Use good bread, I used one with seeds in and the contrast was lovely.

Nigel’s original recipe is published on the Guardian website.

 

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Latkes with apple sauce

Another conspicuous absence and another apology! I have been keeping a low culinary profile recently but have dug out a dish I made some weeks ago and never had the chance to blog – latkes.

As always there is some sentimentality attached, I first came across these many years ago when I lived in Amsterdam. I had just arrived, and, was staying in a youth hostel that a friend was working in. It was Rosh Hashannah, and, two Jewish girls from the US decided to make latkes. My interest was piqued, I had never heard of them before (I was relatively fresh from the Emerald Isle ;)), and a new way of cooking potatoes that involves frying sounded good, surely, this is a new posh crisp?! I was soon to discover it was much better, and, it’s a recipe that I make now with fond recollection.

I most recently had latkes on my August trip to Paris on a visit to the Marais. I went to the famed Jewish deli, Finkelstajn’s, and indulged. It’s a wonderful deli, full of treats like baked cheesecake and the aforementioned latke’s. Recent weeks have been gloomy and full of upheaval, so to restore my spirits, I made some of these.

I prefer to use a waxy potato when making these, like a Desiree or Charlotte potato. I have made them with floury potatoes and I don’t like the texture that results, they’re too dense. Some people prefer floury potatoes, though, so experiment if these are new to you. I have read that it’s traditional to fry latkes in goose fat but I used light sunflower oil, occasionally I use olive oil, whatever’s your preference really. Matzo meal is a common ingredient in recipes too, although I don’t use it here.

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Sushi Say

Erm, apologies for the absence. My life has been upside down for the last few weeks but it’s slowly normalising. My laptop broke, I killed the screen on my remaining camera (it doesn’t have a viewfinder), I’m half way through moving, I’ve moved out but not in anywhere yet, so I haven’t been cooking much as I haven’t had a kitchen and when I have had one it’s contents are in boxes. I have been eating out though and there’s one place in particular that I would like to blog about – Sushi Say as promised in my last post.

Sushi Say in Willesden has been on my list for a long time. I am terrible for going to places that are near me as I feel they will always be there but, Sabras proved that this is not always the case, so, I made sure we went when my sister and her fiancée were over. They had never eaten Japanese before and were a bit nervous, but, open to it. I gave my sister a mini-sushi-crash-course in Harrod’s that morning with some tuna nigiri and she refused at first but after one bite was hooked. So, after a heavy day circling the streets of London looking for the last minute wedding bits she needed, I was in need of some nourishment and definitely some sake!

Sushi Say has been recently refurbished, gone are all the set menus from the window, which previously looked untidy but eclectic. Not an issue for me, I am suspicious of things that are too tidy anyway! As we arrived, we passed the sushi counter, which was all reserved and were greeted warmly and guided to our table. We weren’t sure what we wanted to eat, I was tempted by the tempura soft shell crab and defintiely wanted to try the sashimi. We decided that we’d all get a different set menu and see how we fared. We asked for advice on the sake, it’s far from my specialist subject. Our hostess recommended a cold sake, it was excellent, really crisp & dry.

Now for the food, this may be dull if you’re really not into food, but then I’d have to question why you’re here in the first place ;)

So, the set menus that we had were the tempura menu, sashimi menu, sushi menu and sushi say menu. They ranged in price from approximately £24-35. We started with some garlic shoots in a sweet & thick miso paste/broth. It was divine. It looked almost like cucumber and was perfectly arranged and presented as Japanese food always is. I really didn’t know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised when it fell apart after my chopstick touched it. The bitter shoots were beautifully contrasted with the sweet miso. Next was a light broth with vegetables, mushrooms and tofu. Again, delicious. The broth was light and fragrant and the tofu had absorbed the flavours of it and the accoutrements.

Yakitori

At this point in the meal the sushi say set menu stepped into it’s own and the rest of us were jealous! A bubbling pot of savoury custard – chawanmushi – was brought to the table. Nestling within was a variety of savoury treats. I am told it was delicious. Next, for all of us came yakitori, one of my highlights of the meal. The chicken pieces were seperated by spring onion, the meat itself was succulent and moist and the skin crispy. I woke up craving it the next morning! Read more