A warming winter soup

Whatever did we do before the butternut squash? This rich, creamy vegetable is so versatile I can’t remember life before it arrived on the scene and yet it is a relatively recent addition to our shopping lists in this country. Roasted, toasted, puréed or mashed its lovely golden colour and rich taste make it a very valuable veg.

Butternut squash soup is an absolute winner for me as it tastes rich and creamy – yet contains no cream or milk and can be a very healthy meal.

To make the soup:

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 tbl spoon of olive oil
  • A knob of butter
  • 1 pint of vegetable stock
  • 3 tsp ground cumin
  • Season to taste
  1. Peel the butternut squash. Discard the pulp in the centre and chop the remaining flesh into chunks.
  2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the onion, butternut squash and potato and the butter and cook until brown and caramelised.
  3. As the mixture starts to caramelise, add the garlic, taking care not to let it catch and burn, and the cumin.
  4. Pour in the stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, leave to cool slightly and then blend using a food processor or one of those really useful hand blenders.

This makes a thick soup that you may want to dilute more with some water. If I’m going to freeze it (and it freezes very well) I leave it like this to save space and dilute it when I defrost it.

Variations on a theme…

I’ve also developed some variations on the above recipe. Adding a leek or two is a nice change, but a current favourite is adding a sweet potato instead of the ordinary potato. This makes for an even more wonderful colour and lovely flavour.

Another option that I am currently mad about is adding 2 tsp of smoked paprika and just one of cumin. This adds a wonderful smoky warmth and quite transforms the soup.

If you serve this as a starter then a swirl of cream or dollop of crème fraîche looks nice, or some artistically ‘dribbled’ pesto is good too!

 

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Local food producers: The South Devon Chilli Farm

I am fortunate to live in a county rich in locally grown and produced foods. Devon is unique in England in having a coastline on both its northern and southern edges and it’s an area where farming livestock is still an important part of the economy. We are also blessed with lots of artisan cheese makers, bakers and vintners, our climate being suited to all sorts of exciting foody businesses. Through my blog I’m going to take the opportunity to introduce you to some of our local producers and I hope you will be inspired to try their produce and their recipes!

The South Devon Chilli Farm

Admittedly, the words ‘Devon’ and ‘chilli’ don’t immediately go together, but a thriving and nationally-known, chilli farm is situated about 20 miles away from my home in picturesque south Devon!

I visited it with my chilli-mad son-in-law a few years ago and was amazed at the variety of chillies grown and the array of colours and sizes… and heat!

The South Devon Chilli Farm has been growing chillies on an increasingly large scale since 2003. It has expanded a lot over the years and now grows over 10,000 chilli plants each year and harvests tonnes of fresh chillies. Most of the chillies are used in their range of chilli sauces, preserves and chilli chocolate.

Their website is very informative and includes detailed tips on growing chillies yourself and cooking with them. It also has a selection of recipes. Here’s a quick one you might like to try:

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Piri-Piri Marinade

The marinade can be made two to three days before using.

  • 200ml lemon juice
  • 200ml rapeseed oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 10 dried Piri Piri , de-stalked and crushed 
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Simply whisk the ingredients together in a bowl.

This marinade can be used to make Piri-Piri chicken (also on the website), or cooked for 10 minutes and brushed onto hot corn on the cob, drizzled over grilled chicken, or used as a dunking sauce for bread. Yum yum!

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Chilli seeds are sown in February each year and the fruits harvested from July to November. The South Devon Chilli Farm’s main site is 10 acres of land with a production barn just outside the village of Loddiswell. This is open to visitors all year, with a small shop and, in summer, a show tunnel to display the many colourful shapes and sizes of chilli. Believe me, it’s well worth a visit!

When we went, we wandered among the fruiting chilli plants, and tried their sauces and preserves and, of course, their amazing dark chilli chocolate made on the farm! We left laden down with fresh chillies, chilli seedlings, plants, seeds and chocolate, and a very happy son-in-law!

Have a look at the South Devon Chilli Farm website where you will find all sorts of interesting facts about. You can also order their products online.

PS. Just in case you get carried away – remember how to combat the burn… The best antidote to heat is either patience, or a dairy product such as milk or yoghurt. Drinking beer is one of the worst things you can do, as the alcohol washes the heat further into your taste buds!

 

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Checkerboard cake – tastes as wonderful as it looks!

Happy New Year – here’s something just a little different to get the new year off to a flying start – and it tastes as wonderful as it looks! Jo Bridgeman, our accounts person, made this cake and brought it in to share with all the staff – yum, yum! I can tell you, it’s worth working here just for the cakes and recipes we all bring in. You can get the tins to create this clever checkerboard effect from our website if you fancy a go!

Cake

  • 85g dark chocolate
  • 4 eggs
  • 320ml milk (divided 80ml/240ml)
  • 1tbsp vanilla extract
  • 400g self raising flour
  • 400g white sugar
  • 2tbsp baking powder
  • 1tsp salt
  • 227g unsalted butter

Butter cream filling

  • 110g butter
  • 200g icing Sugar
  • 1-2tbsp milk
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

 Chocolate butter cream topping

  • 125g butter
  • 250g Icing sugar
  • 40g melted chocolate
  • 1-2tbsp milk
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

Method

Preheat oven to 350ºF/177ºc, grease the three tins and line bottoms with baking paper.

Melt chocolate over saucepan of simmering water, set aside.

In a bowl whisk the four eggs and 80ml milk and the vanilla extract, set aside.

In the bowl from your electric mixer combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, add the butter and 240ml milk and beat until combined. Then gradually add the egg and beat until combined.

Divide the mixture in half, and stir the melted chocolate into one.

You are then ready to fill the three tins, this can be done using two large piping bags or spooning the mixture in carefully. Place the divider ring in one of the tins and pipe or spoon the mixture into each section, alternating batter colours (example – outer and inner ring yellow, middle choc). The mixture should fill the tin about half full. Now carefully lift off the ring and wash, place into next pan and fill, when finished you should have two pans the same colour and one the opposite.

Bake for about 20mins and once the cake is cool, mix up the buttercream filling and spread thinly between each layer. We didn’t add any jam in this cake, but feel free to add an extra filling of your choice. Then mix up the chocolate buttercream and spread over sides and top of cake, grate some chocolate over the cake and add chocolate fondant flowers to the top of cake for decoration. The cake we made is chocolate and vanilla, but you could choose chocolate and orange, vanilla and rosewater, the combinations are endless!

You could just use two tins and two thirds of the recipe and make a two-layer cake instead of three if you’d like it to be a little smaller!

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Sweet Chilli Jam

I’m very fond of cold meats – which is fortunate as there’s always lots left over at Christmas time – and I love adding pickle or a preserve to my plate. This preserve not only tastes wonderful, it looks lovely too! A rich glossy chilli red, you can have no doubt that it is going to pack a punch. Men generally seem to like spicier, hotter things and I think this is always a good preserve to have in the fridge ready to add a dash of heat to a simple lunch or supper, or to just dollop on the side of your plate to add some delicious warmth!

You will need:

 

  • 8 large red peppers, deseeded and chopped
  • 10 red chillies halved
  • 50g fresh root ginger pealed
  • 8 garlic cloves peeled
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
  • Put all these ingredients in a food processor and whizz until nearly smooth, then put in a large pan along with
  • 750g sugar
  • 250ml red wine vinegar

 

Bring it all to the boil and simmer for about 1-2 hrs, stirring occasionally. It is ready when the mixture is volcanic. Put into warm sterilised Jars and seal. Keep for up to 3 months and, once opened, keep in the fridge.

Makes about 8 small jars.

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Caramelised red onion chutney

I do enjoy caramelised red onions, they make a change from traditional chutney and can liven up anything from a cheese sandwich to a sautéed duck breast! This recipe is easy and the result is delicious.  If you’ve time on your hands and enjoy preserving, I’m sure a few jars of this would go down very well as presents – hand-made preserves are always so much nicer than shop bought.

My mother has been the stalwart chutney and marmalade maker in the family to date – but this recipe is a quick and easy that all of us make from time to time! Between my sister and mother and myself we have a fair few ‘easy present’ recipes and I will pop a few into the  blog next year for inspiration for you!

You will need:

  • 6 medium red onions
  • 2 medium shallots
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 2 red chillies (deseeded and chopped)
  • 100g raisins
  • 250ml balsamic vinegar
  • 50ml red wine vinegar
  • 220g dark brown sugar
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 large spring of rosemary (leaves picked and chopped)
  • Olive oil

Peel and Chop all the onions to chutney sized pieces, place in a large pan with the olive oil, bay leaves and rosemary and cook for about 20 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan and simmer for about one hour.

Put into sterilised jars and seal. This can be left for 4-6 weeks for the flavour to develop, or you can eat right away.

Makes four standard sized jars.

 

 

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