Natural history adventures sailing the culinary seas...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Cold weather comforts

November is often full of pumpkins, roots and stews, tea as recommended by Radish below, nourishing baking and that dark steel blue rain reserved for the boundary between autumn and winter. And so it has been, with some added dairy-free kitchen experiments, one of the best being a cobbled together pumpkin and leek quiche.

No soggy bottom here...
To make this you'll want roughly the following:
A blind baked pastry case using pastry of your choice
1 small butternut squash or pumpkin
2 small leeks
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
1-2 tsps English or wholegrain mustard
Freshly ground nutmeg
1 packet silken tofu (pressed to remove liquid)
~ 1/2 cup soy milk
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C or Gas mark 4.
- Cook the finely chopped onion and garlic gently in a little olive oil in a large frying pan.
- Add the butternut squash, cut into small cubes (1-2cm ish) and chopped leek. Saute everything gently for 10-15 mins until all the vegetables are soft.
- Blend the tofu, soy milk, mustard and nutmeg until smooth. Season to taste.
- Add the tofu mixture to the vegetables and mix before adding to your pastry case.
- Cook for 30-40 mins until golden brown and set in the middle, and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Silken tofu experiments also led me to the quickest and richest chocolate pudding... All you need is a block of silken tofu to blend until really smooth with a couple of spoons of cocoa powder and maple syrup, and then add in whatever you like best with chocolate, try peanut butter or finely chopped stem ginger. If you blend this and then add it onto a biscuity base and leave it to set for a couple of hours it makes a beautiful chocolate torte.

I got the chance to visit the lovely Collard Hill, scene of my June Large Blue Butterfly adventures this month, for the end of year wash-up meeting to discuss the season. Somerset was damp and green, and my feet remembered many of the hill's lumps and bumps as we walked the transect route in the rain, discussing the successful increase in Large Blues during 2011. Happily, we were also able to find a Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae) egg on the Blackthorn hedge, and peered at its intricate golf ball like indentations through a hand lens. Unfortunately, my camera couldn't get that close.

Lepidopterist finger for scale.

There was some further Lepidoptera related excitement when I went out to the woods one evening with the Yorkshire mothmen... It being chilly there wasn't exactly a lot of activity, but by peering at the trunks of Beech, Birch and Ash trees we found the somewhat elusive flightless females of the Winter moth (Operophtera brumata) and Scare Umber (Agriopis aurantiaria). We also found a pair of copulating Winter moths, sometimes you can watch a female drag the male way up a tree trunk, in order to get to her favoured ovipositing spot. Sadly my photos are not amazingly clear as it was rather dark out, but the local moth blog has some good close ups of the females.

Lady winter's vestigial wings
Birch for a bed...
Scarce Umber girls are stripy

Nippy Novembrr eco-endeavours require some dense sustaining baked sweetness to keep one going, which has mainly been taking the form of flapjack. I like them to be slightly crisp rather than soft and stodgy and my favourite recipe works well with either butter or dairy-free margarine. You'll need:

150g butter or margarine
70g light brown muscovado sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
pinch salt
125g jumbo oats
125g porridge oats
200-250g combination of dried fruits, nuts, seeds, chocolate.

Grease or line a 30 x 20 x 4cm baking tin and preheat the oven to 180C or Gas Mark 4.
- Heat butter, sugar and syrup gently in a pan until butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.
- Stir in the oats, salt and dried fruit etc. If you want the whole flapjack to be chocolatey then stir in your chocolate here and it will melt through, if not, allow it to cool some more and then plonk choc chunks in so they remain whole.
- Put the mixture into the tin and spread evenly. Bake between 20-25 mins, until golden brown. If you prefer softer flapjack, bake for less time, and if you like crisper, it'll need slightly longer.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool completely in its tin. If you fancy decorating it a little, melt some chocolate and drizzle over the flapjack then allow to cool before cutting.

You can put pretty much anything in this, recently i've tried dried pear and crystallised ginger with dark chocolate, and coconut chips, cranberry and dark chocolate with sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Mmm, time to embark on more winter walks armed with oats...

Coconut and cranberry