Plum and Almond Crumble

Plums

This is a very happy “make it up as you go along” accidental recipe. Pursuing ideas for recipes for some friends who are on a gluten and wheat-free diet, I wanted to make a really tasty, guilty, no-holds barred sumptuous pudding. Something that just oozed “comfort” and “joy”.

Using some plums from our autumn crop, I was able to make a pudding (with a little help from my good friend Colin) that went down well with everyone.

The great thing about this pudding is that you can make the topping in any number of ways, and so I include a few variations in this recipe too.

Serves 8 (or 6 and one Alan! ;))

~#~

Ingredients

Fruit filling

  • Approx 20 Plums (2 punnets would do)
  • 125ml sherry or white wine
  • 150g Golden Caster Sugar
  • Chilli flakes
  • Pepper

Crumble topping

  • 200g ground almonds
  • 100g rice flour
  • 150g slightly salted butter
  • 150g Golden Caster Sugar

Method

Prepare the plums:

  • Stone and quarter the plums. Put in pan with the sherry and sugar.
  • Grind a small amount of pepper and sprinkle with a few chilli flakes.
  • Place on a low heat to simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

Make the crumble topping:

  • Carefully rub the butter and rice flour together, adding sugar until you have a nice crumbly texture. (Colin helped me for this part as I was dressed as a Vampiress and had very impractical nails on!).
  • Rub in the ground almonds, trying not to over-work the mix, or you’ll end up with something a little like marzipan.

Assemble the crumble:

  • Plop the plums into the bottom of an oven-proof dish. you want a good inch or two of plums lining the bottom.
  • Carefully sprinkle the crumble topping over the plum mixture, getting it nice and level. Don’ compact or press it down.
  • Sprinkle with a little more sugar for luck!

Bake in the oven at about 180°c for 25 minutes or until the crumble is nicely golden brown and you can see some of the juices bubbling up from the sides. Remove from oven and set aside for 5 minutes before serving.

Variations

Flapjack topping

Melt 125g butter with equivalent golden syrup. Remove from heat and stir in rolled oats until you have a slightly goop-y flapjack mix. Carefully spoon onto the plum mixture before cooking, as before.

Regular crumble

  • 300g flour
  • 150g slightly salted butter
  • 150g Golden Caster Sugar

Rub the butter into the flour until you have a fine crumb-y texture, and then rub in the sugar. Carefully spoon onto the plum mixture before cooking, as before.

Serve with

Custard! Clotted cream! Double cream! Boozy Christmas creams. Anything rich, and decadant! 🙂

Hey good lookin, what ya got cookin?

Hey, thanks for coming back. How’re you doing today? Good, good.

If you read my last post, you’ll know that I’m going to try to quit the whining and focus on the dining.

A healthy idea, non?

~#~

Today then, I want to talk about food.

Rather, I want to talk about making food. Scratch that, I want to talk about enjoying making food.  The gusto, the passion, the joy and sheer unbridled love of making yummy food.

Whether you’re:

  • cooking up a big bowl of gnocchi and pesto to eat in your pyjamas while watching America’s Next Model (don’t judge me!), or;
  • making a three course menu for a dozen people(*),or;
  • rashly inviting 10 people back to yours after the pub, pausing only to pick-up 3 whole chickens to roast on the way home(**)

– there are few things in life more enjoyable than sharing love, fun and good company through food.

But the sad truth is, so many people are still terrified of cooking. They’re scared of getting things wrong, scared of not living up to the unrealistic ideals of Nigella, Jamie, Gordon and Hugh. Not many of us have a small-holding to raise our pigs on organic apples and feed our sheep rosemary to give them extra flavour.

Most of us are lucky if we can keep a pot of coriander on the kitchen windowsill for a week before it bolts, flowers and hangs listlessly to one side. No amount of running it under the cold-tap will save that meagre “herb garden”.

And please, don’t get me started on Heston – anyone who refers to their kitchen as a ‘lab’ is not a chef and can thus be safely put to one side.

Forget the ideals, forget the aspirations. To start enjoying cooking and being pleased with the dishes you make, you’ve got to first find the fun.

There really are so many ways to enjoy making food, which suits different people in different ways.

I’d like to share with you some of the valuable lessons that I’ve learnt along the way, which may make cooking more fun for you.

Lesson 1: Make mistakes

Broad beans with dill and yogurt taste so much better if you:

  1. Shell the beans
  2. Cook the beans(***)

I’ve baked so many cakes that didn’t rise, or muffins that oozed out of the side, each one resembling a baked effigy of John Merrick. There’s the scones that came out so heavy they had their own gravity and actually bent light.

What this has taught me is that mistakes will always happen, there are many trips to the bin (and then trips to the supermarket) when trying new things. Embrace it.

My top tips with mistakes:

  • Acknowledge that recipes in books are sometimes (often) incorrect.
  • Know that you will mis-read a recipe, more than once.
  • As long as you’re not serving under-cooked chicken or ill-prepared blowfish, most mistakes will be edible, even if not exactly what you were hoping for.
  • When a mistake improves a dish (all recipes are invention and accident) – write it down so you can repeat the same mistake later. This is really handy to do!
  • Laugh at the accidents. It’s just one meal and in the grand scheme of life, is only one of the 89680 meals (if you’re a woman, men will only get to eat 85081 – make ’em count boys!) you’ll eat in the course of a lifetime.

Summary: It’s okay to make mistakes while cooking, it’s part of learning. It’s even better to share your mistakes with friends, and a lot of laughter.

Lesson 2: Make it up

There’s not a soul on earth who is interested in experiencing my coq-au-vodka ever again.

Plaice with cinnamon? No thanks, I’ll pass.

Plum crumble with ground almond topping? Went down very well, thank you. As did baked eggs in ham. Oh, and beans in toast(****).

There’s a lot of fun to be had going off-piste and forging your own culinary path. don’t be afraid to try different flavours and combinations.

Start small though, and build up. Come home from work and look in the fridge. If you’ve got eggs, you can put almost anything in a pan, with some whisked up eggs and make a none-too-shabby go at a Tortilla.

My top tips for seat-of-your-pants cooking:

  • Keep the set of ingredients small. Start with the ‘main’ component of the dish (normally meat, or eggs, or pasta etc.), and only add a few extra flavours or ingredients – see what works.
  • Make notes of ‘new’ things that work. That way you can try them again, and refine them.
  • Make notes of ‘new’ things that don’t work. A warning list!
  • Don’t be afraid. Experimenting starts with knowing that you won’t always succeed. But when you do, and you present a lovely dish that has your friends coo-ing, they’ll be so impressed when you say that you just “made it up”!

Summary: Start small, and have courage.

Lesson 3: Make it interesting

You need to feel a part of what you create (this applies to all crafts, hobbies and interests).

If you are impatient and prone to hysteria, then perfecting delicate French pastries probably isn’t for you. Neither is Sushi for that matter…

Try to find what interests and excites you in a culinary sense, and explore it.

For me, it’s sharing food. I love having friends over for an evening of food and wine. When I was younger, I used to be very pretentious about it – 3 courses, all the place settings, everything ‘just so’. As I’ve got older – while I still have flashes of that pretension – I’m a lot more relaxed. These days my interest is around big plates of well-seasoned and simply cooked dishes. Big oven-to-table dishes that can be placed on the table for everyone to tuck into.

I love cooking dishes like Lamb Tagine, Chilli, Sausages and Parsnips, Roast Chicken, a big leg of Lamb. Dishes that can be prepped in advance, and sit happily in the oven so that I can be a part of the evening, rather than “cook” in the kitchen.

My friend Joe on the other hand, loves making exquisite desserts. He is exceptionally talented at it, and possesses the right blend of precision and patience. We all have our own interests and passions.

Summary: Find what excites you, and explore ways to make it more exciting, to really ignite your passion.

Lesson 4: Make it with love

You can taste a half-hearted dish. The lack of care and effort permeates every morsel. A dish made without love tastes far more bitter than the most burnt offering made by someone who tried really hard.

Passion, care and a desire to try are at the heart of any great home cook (regardless of competence), and it’s this that your family and friends will taste when you share your food with them.

Summary: Give it heart.

~#~

Those are some of the lessons I’ve learnt as I’ve developed and grown as a cook, and I hope that if nothing else, they can supply you with some re-assurance to get into the kitchen and just have fun!

~#~

(*) I have done this and it was one of the funnest evenings of recent years.

(**) I have done this too and it was a whole heap of giggles.

(***) With massive apologies to Kate for making her eat that vile meal, and that the second attempt (which she did not sample) was so much better!

(****) You need a breville Toastie maker, and tenacity.

Putting all the vegetables away

Hello dear reader, and welcome to the (re)turning of a well-turned leaf.

It struck me that I have recently come perilously close to taking this little corner of the Interwebz back to it’s dark, dank hole of misery and introspection.

Let’s just accept that I’m an awful, anxiety-riddled neurotic with low self-esteem and an almost comical desperation to be liked (if it wasn’t so hideously needy). Let’s just take it as read that I’m working on it, and move on.

Shall we? (proffering his arm like a young, camply glam Mr Darcy)

~#~

When I sit and think about it honestly, I realise I have loads 0f things I’m actually really good at. There. I said it. There’s no going back from that now.

I can turn my hand to many, many different things and make a reasonably good stab at it.

So, while I don’t get crochet (yet), I can still take comfort from the things I can do. Pardon? Yes crochet is hard. Yes, grannies do it, but they’ve had years to learn and they are bona-fide Witches!*

Still asking about crochet? Okay, I’ll try and explain how it is for me right now.

Let me put it this way, imagine tying your shoe-laces. Yep, not a great leap of the imagination, I grant you.

Now, imagine tying your shoe-laces without being allowed to touch your shoes. Oh, a little harder you say?

Now, imagine tying the laces on shoes you can’t touch… with a tent peg. Scared? You should be.

Finally, suppose I tell you that the shoes you’re tying the laces for don’t exist, because you haven’t woven them yet.

See? Witchcraft! 😉 Kate knows I’m just kidding here as I’m really looking forward to learning! And making a whole Crocheted blanket, gulp!

~#~

Moving onwards and upwards then, for the next few posts, I’m going to talk about something that I really am good at: Cooking. Or more precisely, the enjoyment of cooking, playing with flavours and making my own small mark on the culinary world.

Travel with me dear reader, over the next few posts, and I’ll show you my tasty world…

~#~

*Except my grannies, who are/were both lovely.

Illumination (or letting the light in)

“Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”

~ Anthem, Leonard Cohen

Perfection, the pursuit of being perfect – the desire to do everything ‘right’ – I’ll be honest, it’s exhausting!

I wrote something similar in an earlier entry back in November (On Forgiveness), and I find myself looking to remember it now.

I need to remind myself of this purely because if I don’t, I so easily (and quickly!) allow myself to believe that I am a continual failure. That I continually let down, anger and disappoint those around me.

I think that the truth is different. I think I only really let down and disappoint those who care about me, by allowing myself to spiral and create a whole (imaginary!) negative world-view.

I think it’s then a sadness from others that I have allowed myself to spoil my own experiences and memories. That I preemptively take away my own ability to find fun and joy in my day-to-day life.

What I need to continue to work on is believing that just being ‘me’ with all my imperfections is okay.  I need to keep hold of a few core facts. And I need to remember that these are facts:

  • I am liked for just being ‘me’.
  • I have value and worth to others because of who I ‘am’, not just the things I can ‘do’.
  • Those who care about me are not going to wake up tomorrow and decide they hate me after all.
    – this is a hard one to get my head round!
  • Those who care about me are not thinking about me that much!
    – I am not the topic of constant negative thought I all too frequently imagine!
  • I am not perfect, I will get things wrong and make mistakes.
    – this doesn’t make me a bad person or negate the good things about me.

The good news in all this is that, apparently, people who worry tend to be the smartest, most creative people. It takes a lot of imagination to dream up all these worries!

So, hey! If nothing else, I have that on my side!

Lelith Hesperax

On… being wrong

When do you admit you are wrong and attempt to make amends?

  • As soon as you have done the wrong thing?
  • As soon as you are told you have done the wrong thing?
  • After you’ve had time to reflect and think about what you have done?
  • Never?

I was never born ready, but I often suspect I was born wrong.

Making mistakes  and getting things wrong comes so easily, fluidly almost. It’s a constant within me, as much as walking or breathing.

Over the course of the last few days, I’ve been thinking about the way that getting things wrong hurts, and yet is so easily repeatable. The hurt stems from not only failing myself, that I haven’t learnt from my previous mistakes, but also the sense of failing others – that I have let down those who I respect and am close to.

Why do I continue to do the things that make myself and others unhappy?

Being wrong is painful, it means acknowledging that I have failed. It all too often means acknowledging that my mistake has hurt someone I care about, that I have let them down too.

Being wrong means that in the moment I lack the knowledge, the insight to make the right choice with the situation presented to me. It means I’m faced with a situation that while it may not be new, may be different enough that applying the right knowledge eludes me.

It means that I am still learning. The mistakes I make as I learn are almost inescapable. Does it make it easier to live with?

No. It really doesn’t.

I can however, admit when I am wrong. I admit being wrong all the time. I apologise for my mistakes all the time (some might say I apologise too much).

I’ve always believed that letting others know when I am wrong is a good thing. I’ve always believed that admitting and being open about my mistakes and flaws allows me to be myself, and begin to like myself.

I’m not sure I’m doing it right though…

“When we admit we’re wrong, we create opportunities for people to accept and love us as we really are, and that’s when we can finally have loving relationships.”

I do wonder why then, even though I can be open about my flaws, I still find it so hard to believe that I am loved?

Liked even?

I’d like to throw this question out to you, if I may:

  • How do you deal with making mistakes and letting people down, and still believe that you have likeable qualities?

Orange and Almond Cake

Oranges are not the only fruit. Unless you own this bowl

I first made this cake back in March, seeking recipes for a friend who is avoiding wheat/gluten. At first I thought it was going to be impossible to make tasty cake she could eat, but this recipe saved the day.

It is loosely based on Torta de Almendra, a Spanish Orange and Almond Cake.

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs
  • 2 medium sized organic oranges
    – use organic if you can as we will be cooking and eating the peel!
  • 300g (11oz) ground Almonds
  • 200g (7oz) caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

Method

  1. Fill a large pan with water and bring to the boil.
  2. Wash the oranges before placing into the boiling water, ensuring the water covers them.
  3. Simmer for 1-1.5 hours or until the oranges look very soft.
  4. Drain the oranges, then cut into quarters (they will be hot, so careful!) and remove any pips.
  5. Whizz them to a pulp with a food processor or blender. Set to one side.
  6. Sift together the ground almonds, sugar and baking powder and mix.
  7. Beat the eggs into the mixture, getting air into the batter.
  8. Tricky(ish) bit: stir in the pulped oranges. Get the batter thoroughly mixed, but try not to be too heavy with it. If you mix too much, you’ll lose the air. If you don’t mix enough you’ll end up with a very scrambled-egg cake.
  9. Pour the batter into a greased, lined, round loose-bottom cake tin. I think 20-25cm diameter.
  10. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes in a hot oven ( 190C/375F Gas 5 ) it is ready, when golden brown and touched, it will feel nice and spongy.
  11. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool before removing from the cake tin.

Will keep for up to a week in an airtight box.

Suggestions

  • This cake goes really well with poached berries.
  • Try with mascarpone or some of those nice boozy-Christmas creams that come out this time of year!