Spiced Pumpkin Loaf

This delicious autumnal loaf is so easy to make and turns our beautifully despite my legendary baking ineptitude. Tinned pumpkin puree is easy to find now in British supermarkets so you bring some North American baking classics to your tea table. I love this loaf spread with salted butter and served alongside a big mug of tea. Half a tin make ones loaf so you can easily double the recipe and make two loaves for a school raffle or coffee morning. I use the other half to make Pumpkin Pancakes for the kids.

Post-Natal Superfood Profile: NUTS, BEANS & SEEDS
Some nuts, beans and seeds contain good levels of omega-3 which is an essential nutrient for your brain to function, especially when managing depression.

Makes 1 Loaf

275g plain flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
125g margarine
150g white sugar
50g brown sugar
2 medium eggs
220g pumpkin puree (half a tin)
green pumpkin seeds

  • Pre-heat the oven to 195°C (175°C Fan). Sift the flour, spices, salt, baking powder and soda into a bowl. In a separate bowl mix together the margarine and sugars to a soft cream.
  • In another bowl whisk together the eggs then slowly pour the egg into the sugar butter whilst stirring to combine.
  • Add the pumpkin puree to the wet ingredients and stir to combine.
  • Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and stir to combine until all the flour is incorporated to make a dough. Lightly grease and flour a 1lb loaf tin.
  • Tip the dough into the loaf tin and sprinkle the top with pumpkin seeds.
  • Bake the loaf on a middle shelf for 1 hour (or until a toothpick comes out clean when pushed into the loaf). Leave the loaf in the tin for 15 minutes before attempting to remove.
  • Run a knife around the loaf to loosen then leave the loaf to cool completely on a rack before slicing. Serve with or without butter and a piping hot drink.

Roasted Beetroots

My love for beetroots is deep especially in their simplest form, roasted with olive oil and salt. I’m still pulling beautiful pink and purple bulbs out of the garden and eating roasted beetroot hot and cold. I use cold, roasted ones in salads and sandwiches and serve hot beetroots with roasted meats and fish. Roasting beetroots brings out their sweetness which makes them more appealing to kids. These colourful gems are so nutritious and tasty I’ll be roasting them until the last bulb gets pulled out of the garden.

beetroots of any colour and size
olive oil
rosemary optional

  • Pre-heat the oven to 195° (175° Fan). Trim away the leaves (use any small, undamaged leaves in a salad) and excess root but do not cut the flesh. Wash the bulbs and dry with a clean cloth.
  • Get a muffin tin then in each well put a piece of tinfoil large enough to parcel each bulb. Put a bulb in each well then drizzle over with olive oil, grind over with salt then add a small piece of rosemary.
  • Wrap up each bulb then place the tray into the oven and roast for 40 minutes or until the beetroots are tender. If you have other things in the oven roasting can take longer.
  • Open each parcel and let the beetroots cool for a minute or two then using a piece of kitchen roll peel the skin away from the beetroot. It should come away easily. Quarter or slice the peeled beetroots and serve.

Roasted Mediterranean Tomatoes

For years Paul and I have grown tomatoes. Small ones to eat in salads and large ones for cooking and preserving. Last year Paul’s Aunt Grace gave us a fabulous recipe for Roasted Mediterranean Tomatoes and it has been so useful I’m making another batch this year.

In the depths of winter I can open one of these jars and stir into pasta or pour it over chicken, grate over some cheese and bake then be transported back to warmer days. Making sauces, jams and chutneys means nothing from the garden goes to waste. Even green tomatoes get picked and turned into ketchups and salsas.

To sterilize jars and lids you can run them through a clean dishwasher with nothing else in there then use immediately or wash then fill them with boiling water, empty and fill immediately with sauce.

Makes 600ml

1kg tomatoes
75ml garlic oil
2 tbsps balsamic vinegar
3 tsps sugar
1 tsp salt
1tsp oregano
1/2 tsp ground pepper
optional 1/4 tsp chilli flakes

  • Preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C fan). Wash the tomatoes and remove the stalks. Cut the tomatoes lengthways and place cut side down on a baking sheet. Put the oil, vinegar, sugar, oregano, salt and pepper (and chilli flakes if using) in a bowl and whisk together. Pour over the tomatoes then into the oven for 40 minutes.
  • You can blend the sauce if you prefer but I like to see the pieces of tomato and spicy oil. Decant the sauce into sterilized jars and keep in a dark, cool place.

OTC Garden – July to September Harvest

Autumn is on its way so I’ve been clearing the garden and picking the last of our crops for cooking or preserving. I’ve got the potatoes stored in sacks in the pantry where they’ll last for a couple of months but softer veggies need to be cooked, pickled or made into chutney so I’ll be doing that over the next week.

Even by great British weather standards this summer’s weather has been pretty odd. Grey days, dry days, soggy days and very few sunny days have confused our crops. Some of our veggies survived these unpredictable conditions but others just said “Oh, for goodness’ sake” and gave up the ghost. Here’s a round-up of which crops thrived and which died over the summer.

The potatoes were a great success this year. I forgot to note down the variety I planted so it was just trial and error as to when to pull them. The plants flowered, which doesn’t always happen, due to heavy rain followed by intense sun. I don’t know if this affected the haul but I was really pleased with the result. I picked them all at the end of August, cleaned over the dirt with a dry cloth (don’t wash them) then stored them in clean pillow cases or hessian sacks in a cool, dark place.

The green beans have been far and away the best value for money this year. My lovely neighbour gave me a seedling to plant and within a couple of weeks it had grown up the 6ft pole and we’ve been harvesting beans since early July and it’s still going. I haven’t had chance to parboil then freeze any because Evelynne devours them before I have a chance.

The mini cucumbers have been a bit hit and miss. Last year we planted a spreading variety and this year was a climbing plant. I think they struggled with the inconsistent heat which meant they couldn’t produce the volume we got last year. One of the two plants is still going and actually the latest fruits have been the best so far.

I picked the peas too late this year so they’d got a bit big. This made them tougher than I would like but otherwise they were still a decent harvest. From two 6-foot plants I got about a kilo of peas.

I wait with baited breath for broad bean season because I love this legume. I planted three stakes but got a very small harvest. The beans themselves were delicious there just weren’t enough of them. I think they suffered from overcrowding as they were planted close to the peas which can be nutrient hogs.

I planted a blackcurrant bush and loganberry plant last year so this year was their first chance to bear fruit. Not surprisingly we didn’t get many fruits off either as it takes time for fruiting bushes to establish. But what we got was so good. The strawberries were from second year plants and we were able to pick a consistent harvest from May into July. They grow in window boxes so I don’t know if they may already be exhausted. I’ll plant a back up in case they can’t produce for a third year.

The rainbow beetroot did well. They’re a pretty reliable crop that could cope with the erratic weather. I’m pulling the last of them this week and will share my roasted beetroot recipe with you. It’s a simple and delicious recipe.

The sunflowers were resplendent this summer but there were fewer heads and they didn’t grow as tall as last year’s. I’ve collected the seeds which are drying then I’ll roast and salt them for Paul to have as snacks.

There were successes and hilarious disasters for the carrots this year. The ones that made it into the ground did brilliantly but I had more seedlings than space in the ground so I put about 30 into pots and they became the gnarly mess you see on the left. I still managed to salvage some flesh and made stock. Waste not want not.

The tomatoes were equally hit and miss. The cherry toms in the green house have done well and I’m still harvesting them but the three larger varieties that are planted in full sun are yet to redden. The skins have already split as the water and sunlight exposure has been so erratic. I’ll pick them this weekend and let them ripen in the house then turn them into salsa and passata.

There have been some straight up disasters this year. Both my yellow and green courgettes came to nothing. The flowers came, a small fruit grew then almost immediately rotted and died. I had one late seedling which is still in the ground and amazingly it looks like it might bear fruit; I’ll update this later if it comes to anything. The fennel was all frond and no action. The fronds were lovely in salads but the bulbs failed to mature. I didn’t have any planting ground left so these were grown in pots and I wonder if they got too dry between watering.

Cauliflower Cheese

Cauliflower cheese has to be one of the most popular comfort foods and cauliflowers are incredibly cheap right at this time of year. It’s a perfect side with Sunday dinner or served with salty gammon steaks or roasted salmon. Vegetables smothered in cheese have a better chance of being tried by my veggie-hater so it’s worth trying if you have a picky eater. I have three essentials for a cauliflower cheese:

  1. A hard, red cheese like Red Leicester or Double Gloucester for the sauce
  2. The cauliflower needs to have some bite not be a soggy mush
  3. Some leaves included with roasted edges

Serves 2 Adults
and 2 Kids

1 large cauliflower head
75g Red Leicester
30g unsalted butter
35g plain flour
375ml semi-skimmed milk
black pepper
sea salt
salt for boiling the cauliflower

  • Cut the cauliflower into medium to large sized florets and keep any undamaged leaves. Put a large pan of salted water on a medium high heat to boil.
  • Once it’s boiling blanch the cauliflower florets for 4 minutes (adding the leaves for the last minute) then drain and place the florets and leaves in a small roasting dish and grind over with black pepper.
  • Melt the butter in a small milk pan over a medium heat then add the flour and whisk to combine. Gradually, but constantly, add the milk whilst whisking until you have a smooth sauce.
  • Grate the cheese then add to the sauce and stir until it melts completely into the sauce. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with the sea salt as necessary.
  • Pour the sauce over the cauliflower and place in a 220°C (200°C Fan) oven for 15 minutes. If you want a browner top pop it under the grill for a few minutes.

20-Minute Fluffy White Rice

It’s very tempting to buy the 2 minute microwavable rice packets because they’re convenient, but if you look closely there’s quite a lot of fat in there to keep the rice separated and the packaging is far from environmentally friendly. So if you want a convenient solution with no added fat and less environmental impact then this method could be for you. I only have to put 1 minute of effort into this and it comes out perfectly every time. In 20 minutes I can often make the dish I’m serving with rice so everything’s ready to serve at the same time.

Serves 2 Adults & 2 Kids

200g white rice (this equals 1 cup of rice)
475ml water (this equals 2 cups of water)
1/2 tsp salt

The principle for this recipe is 1 volume of rice PLUS twice the same volume of water.
Use any container (a cup, a mug, a jug) for the rice then use the same container to add twice the volume of water and you’ll get the right result. NB: This recipe only works for white rice.

  • Put the rice into a small saucepan that has a lid then add the water and sprinkle over the salt.
  • Turn the heat up as high as it will go and as soon as the water comes to the boil put the lid on, turn the heat down to medium low and set a timer for 20 minutes.
  • Don’t remove the lid for the whole 20 minutes then once it’s done, remove the lid, fluff with a fork and serve.

Potato and Egg Salad

We had a really good potato haul this year. One variety as big as jacket spuds and another small like new potatoes. After pulling them out of the ground I cleaned off the excess dirt with a clean, dry cloth then I have them stored in a clean pillow case in the pantry. I’ve used lots of small spuds to make this Potato and Egg Salad because it’s a meal on its own. Even as autumn edges out the last throes of summer I’m still making this generous salad for family lunch at the weekends.

Post-Natal Superfood Profile: Eggs
Contain Omega-3 (DHA) and Selenium which improve physical brain health and stabilize mood.

Serves 2 Adults & 2 Kids
1kg potatoes
5 free range eggs
1 red onion
1 stick celery
small handful of parsley
100g low fat garlic and herb cream cheese
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

  • Peel and finely slice the onion then place in a small bowl and pour over the vinegar and grind over with sea salt. This will soften the onions slightly.
  • Cut the potatoes to be roughly the same size (leave the smallest ones whole and cut the larger ones in half) then place in cold, salted water in a large pan.
  • Bring the water to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender (about 12-20 minutes) then drain and place into a large bowl.
  • Put the eggs into boiling water and cook for 7 minutes then plunge into cold water until you’re ready to peel them.
  • Finely chop the celery and roughly chop the parsley.
  • Strain off the vinegar from the onions into a bowl and gently whisk in the cream cheese. Add the olive oil and whisk to combine.
  • Tip the mixture over the potatoes then add the onion and celery and stir everything together.
  • Shell the eggs then halve them. Put the potato salad onto a serving plate, add the eggs, scatter with the parsley then grind over again with salt and pepper.

Summer Holidays, Depression and Food

At the beginning of the summer holidays I was able to be full throttle Mum and still write for OTC. After just 2 weeks I experienced a PTSD trigger that resulted in a 3 day depression episode (for me an episode is feelings of fear/exhaustion/inadequacy that make simple tasks very hard). I made a decision that I couldn’t simultaneously do OTC justice, be the Mum I wanted to be for the kids’ holidays and keep my mental health under control so blogging had to go on hold.

So this is my first post in almost six weeks and I’ve been a little nervous about writing again after such a long hiatus. The serotonin-depleted part of my brain has been trying to sabotage my confidence with questions like ‘Are my recipes actually helpful, are they easy enough to follow, is my writing good enough?’ All these doubts simmer away at the back of my brain but today I’m writing in an effort to prove them wrong so I thought I’d give you a quick look at the food and love that peppered the OTC missing weeks.

Food Tourism

Like thousands of others we had to cancel our holidays plans (no bottomless Beaujolais and mountains of fromage for me this year…*sob*) so we did a little traveling around the UK for lovely day trips with the kids. In amongst the playgrounds, sandcastle-building and swimming pools I found time to pop into independent food shops. I get such inspiration seeing great ingredients but I’m also constantly ready to eat so buying lovely food makes me really happy. One of my favourite hauls was in Harrogate where my love of jars and the deli-counter culminated in one of the best anti-pasti platters I’ve ever made.

Paul’s 40th

Paul turned 40 in August and we had a wonderful celebration, whilst missing our Canadian family a lot. I arranged various surprises for Paul’s special birthday including two incredible Tomahawk Steaks from www.meatandco.co.uk I first saw Tomahawks at Granville Island in Vancouver and squirreled it away that one day I’d love to cook them so Paul’s 40th was the perfect opportunity. At 1kg each, these two steaks fed 10 of us alongside two sides of ribs, a side of salmon, corn cobs, mango salsa and new potatoes straight from my Dad’s garden. It was a truly memorable day with seemingly endless food.

Days out and Pizza

With some restrictions still in place throughout the summer, the kids and I did lots of playing outside, picnics and paddling. I made lots of sandwiches and snacks and pizza was dinner on many more than one occasion. Food was about fitting in with our time rather than finding time to cook. It felt good to serve beans on toast for dinner and not worry that they’d had it a few days ago. The kids were happy and that was more than enough.

What’s Coming up in Autumn on OTC

This is one of my favourite seasons because the harvest comes in which means an incredible array of vegetables so next week will be harvest week focusing on foods I’ve harvested from our garden. As the weather cools I’ll be sharing comforting one pot recipes as well as North American pumpkin favourite and recipes ideal for Halloween and Bonfire Night.

Tofu and Carrot Noodles

If you’re a fan of my Pickled Carrot Salad then you already know how good this dish tastes. You can serve it warm or cold as either a main meal or as a side dish to be served for a group. This meal eats like comfort food but in fact it’s incredibly good for you. It’s full of fibre, protein, anti-oxidants, vitamins C and K1. It’s a dish that makes you feel good and does you good.

Post-Natal Superfood Profile: Spice
Certain spices contain chemical compounds that aid brain function and repair. The post-baby brain works extremely hard and spices help support the changes that happen.

Serves 2 Adults

200g julienned carrots
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp honey
1 chill
medium bunch of coriander
2 tbsp sesame oil
175g silken tofu

  • Wash or peel the carrots (depending on how old the carrots are) then use the julienne peeler on all sides of the carrot leaving the core in tact (it’s just not very tasty on its own but you can save the cores in the freezer for when you make stock).
  • Put all the julienned carrots in a mixing bowl then finely chop the chilli and add to the bowl.
  • Mix together the vinegar, honey and salt then pour over the carrots and toss everything together. Let the salad stand in the pickle to soften.
  • Put 1 tablespoon of sesame oil into a large frying pan over a medium high heat. Put the whole block of tofu into the oil and cook for a few minutes until a caramelized skin forms then turn over. Don’t worry if pieces fall off because once the tofu is fried on both sides slice the tofu into bite-sized pieces.
  • Cook the noodles in boiling water until tender (a couple of minutes). With a slotted spoon remove the tofu from the pan and place in a small bowl then drain the noodles and place in the frying pan. Add another tablespoon of sesame oil and toss to coat the noodles.
  • Use tongs to remove the carrots and chillies from the pickling liquid then add them to the noodles along with roughly chopped coriander. Use the tongs to toss the veggies and noodles together.
  • Dish up the noodles to bowls or a serving platter and spoon over some of the pickling liquid then top with the tofu and a scattering of sesame seeds or chopped peanuts.

Dinosaur Egg Rolls

In my never-ending mission to sneak vegetables into Henry’s diet I landed on the idea of Dinosaur Egg Rolls. You might be familiar with my regular Ham and Egg Rolls and this is simply a spinach-infused version of that quick dish. I believe in honest parenting except when it comes to the elaborate stories I tell Henry around where these ‘green eggs’ come from. He asked me if I ordered the eggs from Jurassic Park and I said “Yes, yes I do.” With wide eyes he happily ate the lot dipped in buckets of ketchup.

Post-Natal Superfood Profile: Iron
Iron helps to regulate blood sugar which in turn regulates energy and mood; an essential part of managing depression. SPINACH

You can make the omelette without turning it into a roll and serve with beans for a nutritious kids’ lunch.

Serves 2 Kids

3 eggs
splash of milk
30g spinach
1 tsp minced garlic (or garlic paste)
45g cheese
1 flour tortilla wrap
20g butter
1/4 tsp salt
(ham optional)

  • Crack the eggs into a deep sized, small mixing bowl then splash over some milk and add the spinach, minced garlic and 1/4 tsp of salt.
  • Use a stick blender to whiz everything together. The spinach will turn the mixture green.
  • Melt the butter in a frying pan, the same size as the flour tortilla, on a medium high heat. Once the butter has melted use a brush to spread it over the whole pan then add the egg mixture, sprinkle over the cheese and leave to cook for 2 minutes.
  • Place the tortilla on top of the omelette and press down. Cook for another minute or so until the omelette comes away from the pan and you move it.
  • Flip the omelette over then cook for another minute (optional: place a couple of slices of ham onto the omelette) then remove from the pan to a chopping board. Roll the tortilla to create the egg roll then slice into portions.