Jacket Potato

This time of year is perfect for baked potatoes, or jacket potatoes as I knew them growing up. Earthy vegetables come into their own in the autumn, often becoming the main act at meal times, even for us carnivorous folks, and a baked potato can be a real star. It’s one of those homely meals that really nourishes and comforts, as basic as it is. On cold evenings it’s like a hot water bottle for your tummy and on rainy days it’s cheering with its crisp skin, fluffy insides and rising steam.

As the season moves on and the pages of the calendar flick by we come to Bonfire Night; the ultimate show for the humble potato. Anyone who’s ever stood outside in the freezing, smoky November air watching fireworks colour the pitch black sky like spray paint whilst eating a piping hot baked potato will know exactly why they’re a match made in heaven.

I love simple cooking and, really, the baked potato is so simple that making it can hardly be described as cooking; it’s just a case of heating. I got home last night tired after a busy day at work and all I had to do was preheat the oven, stab a couple of potatoes with a fork (which, by the way, I highly recommend for stress relief and PMT), bung them into the oven straight onto the bars, and sit back on the sofa for an hour or so while the oven did its thing.

There are many, many options for fillings, such as wild mushrooms, simply sautéed, perhaps with a little garlic; Bolognese sauce or chilli for a heartier meal; tuna mayonnaise for an old-school classic. My favourite is grated cheese and baked beans but, in all honesty, I don’t think any topping is as good as sea salt and a large knob of butter to melt and mash into the potato. What’s your favourite?

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Figs with Maple Syrup

You know how I posted earlier in the week urging us to enjoy a few more summery dishes before summer disappears completely? I think I jinxed us.

There is absolutely no doubt at all now about what season we are in; autumn has well and truly descended. The weather has turned and it’s been really quite chilly, especially in the mornings. We have much further to plummet down the thermometer before this year is over and in all honesty it’s probably not as cold as it seems but, still, it really is quite a change from the warm sunny days of the summer months. Certainly, I didn’t refuse Rob’s offer of a hot water bottle last night (bless him, he knows me so well!).

But, with the chillier air comes all of the good things autumn brings, such as ripe, luscious figs that are in season right now. Figs are very versatile and are great with savoury foods such as cheese and Parma Ham. I’ve got a great recipe in my forthcoming cookbook for a pear, fig and Stitchelton salad that I really love. But figs are also delicious in sweet dishes and today I was inspired to drizzle them with some of the maple syrup I had in my cupboard, bake them and serve them with vanilla ice cream and toasted hazelnuts. Very autumnal and very, very good.

Serves 4

8 figs, stalks removed
Approximately 2 tablespoons maple syrup
50g hazelnuts
good quality vanilla ice cream, to serve

Preheat the oven to 200c/fan 180c.

Cut crosses into the tops of the figs, using a sharp knife, and open them up a little by pressing on their bases. Place them in a small non-stick dish or roasting tray and drizzle over some maple syrup.

Bake the figs for about 15 minutes until they soften. Do keep an eye on them and make sure you take them out of the oven before they bake too much and start to collapse.

While the figs are baking toast the nuts. First, place them into a plastic food bag and gently bash them with a rolling pin to crush them; but don’t overdo it, you don’t want them to turn to dust! Heat a pan over a high heat and add the nuts then cook them for a few minutes until you can just start to smell them, shaking the pan every now and then to turn them, then remove the pan from the heat.

To serve, place 2 figs onto a plate along with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Sprinkle over the nuts and drizzle over a little of the syrup left in the tray the figs were baking in.

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In the Bag Logo September 10

The bag is back!

After far too long my co-organiser, Scott of Real Epicurean, and I have finally got our acts together and organised another ‘In the Bag’ food blogging event.

For those of you new to this, the idea is that we choose 3 seasonal ingredients each month for you to use to create a dish with and blog about it. If you haven’t got a blog you can use your own website or just Twitter about your dish, using the tag #InTheBagSeasonalFood.

September is a great month to be in the kitchen; as we move into autumn we have so much choice. For this month’s bag we’ve chosen:

Mushrooms
Nuts
Herbs

You can add any ingredients to these in order to come up with a dish. Have fun!

Entry Details
Make a dish using the ingredients and blog about it then send an email with ‘In the Bag in the subject line to asliceofcherrypie AT yahoo DOT co DOT uk by Thursday 14th October with the following information:

– your name
– a link to your post
– a picture of your dish

Rules

Here are the loose rules – but ultimately remember the objective is to have fun whilst highlighting seasonal food:

1. Participants should attempt to use all the ingredients ‘in the bag’ for that particular month, but may leave one out if they prefer.

2. Participants can include any extra ingredients that they see fit.

3. Entries should include a link back to the host for that month, and the post should be tagged “In the Bag”.

4. Entries can be written any time during the month, as long as the URL is emailed to that month’s host before the closing date.

5. Particpants from outside of the UK are most welcome to join in and substitute an item from their own local seasonal produce if necessary.

For more food blogging events visit The Food Diary.

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When you Entertain, by Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola has teamed up with Tom Aikens, Alex James, Liz McClarnon and myself, to create a limited edition stylish recipe book called ‘When You Entertain’ – a modern twist on the original Coca-Cola recipe book from 1932, which was written by the legendary American Hostess Ida Bailey Allen. ‘When you Entertain’ celebrates the brand’s rich heritage and association with food and family occasions over the last century.

We have each created a series of dishes which evoke intimate memories of mealtime occasions with family and friends, celebrating the fact that food is very much a social event. The family inspired recipes are divided into four easy mealtime categories; Weekend Brunches, Family Mealtimes, Saturday Night with Friends and Easy Lunch. My recipes include homely favourites such as Sausage and Mash with Onion and Thyme Gravy, and Bramley Apple Pie.

This unique celebration of mealtime occasions with family & friends is available exclusively at Harvey Nichols from September 20th 2010. Enjoy!

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Tuna steak with salsa

It’s that time of year again when we’re not quite sure if we’re still in summer or have slipped into autumn. Just as I think it’s time to start flicking on the heating and baking crumbles we get a warm sunny day and it seems as though summer is hanging on for another day. But of course, autumn really is just around the corner so before we say goodbye to summer completely let’s enjoy a few more summary dishes on the warmer days.

Tuna steaks just need searing in a hot pan for a minute or so on each side (depending on how thick the steaks are and how pink you like them) so they’re really quick to cook. I love them with basmati rice but this salsa I mixed up using tomatoes, radishes, cucumber and avocado is really good too; lovely and fresh with a touch of pepperiness from the radishes. Definitely a keeper, this recipe!

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Picture 307 3

My beautiful little goddaughter turned 4 this month and Rob and I helped her mum and dad set up a birthday party for her at a local hall so that she could celebrate with her adorable baby sister and her friends.

There was lots of food already for the little ones and the sandwiches were in hand, so I made fairy cakes with buttercream icing for the grown-ups to have with their tea. Aside from an unfortunate incident with a food mixer full of butter and icing sugar which resulted in me wearing said sugar, along with disbelief at the mess I never fail to make from Rob, the kitchen operation went well, with one batch of cakes in the oven, while another batch cooled and I mixed up more mixture for the next.

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We transported the cakes without incident to one very excited little girl’s house and from there on to the hall. We thought we may be able to get in early but as it turned out we only had half an hour to get things ready for 25+ little children and their parents, so it was all hands on deck.

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The tiny little chairs and tables were laid with table cloths and paper plates – Barbie for the girls and Ben 10 (never heard of him? Me neither, but I gather he’s the latest craze) for the boys, and then little bowls of party food were put out. Rob and I were on kitchen duty, making up jugs of squash, putting biscuits onto plates and preheating the ovens ready for the hot food.

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Before we knew it the little ones were starting to arrive; little girls in their party dresses and little boys smartly turned out. The children’s entertainer soon had them all gathered around her and then the party fun and games begun!

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There were pom poms and streamers, dancing and hula hoops and watching all the children running round having the time of their lives made me want to be 4 years old again and run and join them, but I managed to restrain myself.

After the games it was time to eat and when it was time for everyone to go home, in high spirits and party bags in hands, you knew they would sleep well. And so would the kids.

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