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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Speedy gift tags

Much as I love making handmade cards, there are occasions when I just don’t have the time to complete a card – or when I am wrapping a present for someone and just want a speedy gift tag.

Here are some ideas to inspire you – all of these were made from odds and ends left on my desk – so zero cost involved really as I suspect they may have ended in the bin on my next ferocious clear up. (Yes, like you are going to believe I have those often – well I do, just not regularly!)

The stamped gift tag could really be any House-Mouse image (or any other suitable stamp) and it is just simply stamped and coloured and then I have mounted it onto a slightly larger piece of pink card and added some ribbon. So often you might have stamped images you have started using and then abandoned – make them up into random gift tags and keep in a box – bet they might come in handy!

The blue flower was rescued from a card that went horribly wrong – you know the ones that get thrown in the bin in a temper. What you don’t have those?! Well I certainly do – very frustrating when they just don’t work and I try and salvage any ‘bits’ and keep them on my desk for another project. This flower had been sitting in my in tray, glaring at me for ages – so here I used up some scraps of green card and die cut them with a Crealies punch, added some ribbon to a scrap of white card whisked over with some Peeled Paint distress ink pad (and an Inkylicious brush) and finished it off with some pearls. Not a tag that will ever win prizes but it looked pretty on the gift I was wrapping up and brought pleasure to the recipient!

Finally the green tag came about because I was making traditional red and green themed Christmas bits and pieces and had quite a lot of green card left over. I do have family birthdays during December as well so I wanted a tag that used up some green scraps but wasn’t Christmassy – here I coloured some cream satin ribbon with a Promarker to match the card and then added a leftover pearl or six and two lonely looking lilies that must have been from another of those abandoned cards!

So grab all those bits and bobs and have a gift tag session – next time you wrap a present you will have a lovely selection of tags to choose from and the gift will look extra special!

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The start of a new year…

Once Christmas is over and we’ve all seen in the New Year, things can feel a bit flat. Thankfully, December and the first week or so of January have been very mild down here in Devon so there are some uplifting and very welcome signs of life on the garden.

As many of you will know, hellebores are one of my favourite flowers. I think they are beautiful in both their range of colour and also in their slightly spiky architectural look. But I love them probably most of all because you can be sure that, even in the darkest, dankest January day, if you have hellebores in your garden, you will have flowers!

In fact, the whole of last autumn was relatively mild and wet. The ground temperature has remained warm and, as we know, plants like plenty of rain, so now they are probably thinking: “Hmm, winter must be over, let’s start to flower.”

Lots of shrubs are sprouting in my garden and I noticed a neighbour’s rhubarb was already sending out new bright pink shoots.

As it’s been so mild, snowdrops and primroses are already making a show – I have heard that in some areas, snowdrops were out before Christmas! Such delicate flowers, they are really beautiful if you stop and take a moment to look at them in detail. A cluster of snowdrops pushing through a mossy bank is a delight to behold.

The primrose is the flower of Devon and, believe me, they really do flourish down here! Because of Devon’s climate, soil and geographical position, the wild primrose can be widely found in woodland and countryside right across the county.

I read recently that, in past centuries, Devon’s old paper mills used to send primrose blooms to customers because the flower was seen – even then – as a symbol of a breath of fresh Devon air.

In a month or so, the banks of our steep Devon lanes will be smothered in primroses, and then I will know that Spring really has arrived.

 

 

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Cross-stitched herbal sachets

These pretty little sachets are made from a cross-stitch kit we sell, I wish I could say that I had stitched them but sadly … no time … but they were beautifully made for me by Gladys Dorr and don’t they look lovely!

I love having fragrance around the house and sachets and little bags of goodies feature heavily in many of the rooms here. Some I fill with lavender, little sachets for example in drawers and with the linen and towels in the airing cupboard. But sometimes I want a different effect, which is where making your own pot pourri comes in handy!

It depends what type of smell you enjoy the most – some people are very flowery, others prefer clean piney smells – I am very fond of citrusy smells and often use oranges and lemons for these projects.

This is a recipe for pot pourri I have used for many years:

Strawberry and orange preserve pot pourri

  • 2 cups chopped dried orange peel
  • 2 cups rose hips
  • ½ cup black peppercorns
  • 1 cup white peppercorns,
  • 1 cup strawberry leaves
  • 1 cup orris root soaked in 2tsp strawberry oil
  • 1 tsp sweet orange oil
  • A few drops of black pepper oil

Combine all the ingredients and leave to mature in a sealed ziplock bag for 3 weeks. Then display or fill little sacks like these.

Another idea is something much more feminine –  and dating back to Elizabethan times

Spiced roses for your linens

Rose petals dried in the shade with cloves ground to a powder and some dried mace.

As the recipe is so old there are no quantities but I used a large spoon of mace and clove combined with every cup or so of quite tightly packed rose petals. In Elizabethan times I am sure the rose petals would all have had a lovely smell, whereas today they rarely do. So add a few drops of rose essential oil before mixing everything together. Leave it overnight and then fill little bags.

Have a look on Google for a supplier of orris root or essential oils, they are fairly easy to find!

 

 

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