Spiced pumpkin muffins with cream cheese frosting

Spiced pumpkin muffins with cream cheese frosting 1
GUYS GUYS GUYS. IT’S ONE WEEK TIL CHRISTMAS. One week until we can stuff our faces with turkey and bacon and mince pies (though it would be totally legitimate to have started this already…), rip open beautifully wrapped presents, throw back ill-advised quantities of champagne and sherry and then cry at the last ever episode of Downton. *Sob* (WARNING: to those who know me personally, I won’t be watching this until Boxing Day so approach me with spoilers on pain of horrific death). Below, in the “One year ago” section, are some appropriately festive recipes, but for now let’s celebrate a wonderful product of the season: the pumpkin. Pumpkins are for life, not just Halloween, so make the most of their time in the shops and do some alternative Christmas baking. I’ve posted a few pumpkin recipes in the past (spiced pumpkin soup with toasted pumpkin seeds, pumpkin pie with maple cream), so there are plenty to chose from if you really get into the pumpkin-y swing of things. The recipe for these delicately spiced and deliciously moist muffins is based onthis recipe from BBC Good Food, with just a few tweaks to quantities, spices and method. It’s very similar to a carrot cake batter, and in fact if you’re really averse to the pumpkin idea then you could do a substitution, though I encourage you to give this recipe a try as is.

While we’re on the subject, let’s clear something up: yes, “Halloween pumpkins” sold in the supermarkets are edible! Although grown specifically for carving, resulting in quite tough skin and possibly a more watery flesh and milder flavour, they are perfectly suitable for human consumption. I’ve used “Halloween pumpkins” in this recipe before and it worked like a dream, but you can get lots of different varieties of smaller pumpkins so if you see them in your local shop then give one a go (I used an Onion squash, also known as a Red Kuri squash, for this batch). You could also use butternut squash if pumpkins aren’t available.

One year ago:
Mincemeat puff pastry swirls
Sea salt and brandy truffles
Ingredients for spiced pumpkin cupcakes
Ingredients (makes 12 muffins)
250g coarsely grated pumpkin flesh (approx. 1 small pumpkin)
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
175ml sunflower oil
175g soft light brown sugar
80g sultanas
Zest of 1 orange
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground ginger
200g self-raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

180g full fat cream cheese
85g unsalted butter
100g icing sugar
Zest of 1 orange

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/ Gas Mark 4. Halve your pumpkin and scoop out the seeds with a large spoon.
Small pumpkin for spiced pumpkin cupcakes
Peel and chop the pumpkin into large chunks – use a sharp knife for this and watch your fingers!
Peeling and chopping the pumpkin
2. Coarsely grate the pumpkin until you have about 250g.
Grated pumpkin
3. Beat together the 3 eggs, vanilla extract and oil and vigorously stir the sugar into the mix.
Eggs and vanilla extract
Brown sugar, eggs and vanilla
Mixing the brown sugar, eggs and vanilla extract
4. Add the pumpkin, sultanas and the zest of the first orange and stir well.
Mixing the pumpkin and sultanas into the wet ingredients
5. Sift in the spices, flour and bicarbonate of soda and fold through the cake mixture until well combined.
Adding the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients
Pumpkin muffin batter
6. Line a muffin tray with 12 cases and spoon the mixture in leaving a few centimetres at the top.
Filling the muffin cases with the cake mixture
7. Bake for 25 minutes and then check that the muffins are ready by inserting a skewer into the middle which should come out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack – the muffins need to be completely cool before icing.
8. To make the icing, beat together the cream cheese and butter. Add the icing sugar and whisk until light and well combined. You can either add the zest of the other orange at this point or wait till the end to sprinkle it on top. Pop the icing in the fridge to firm up a little.
Cream cheese frosting on the spiced pumpkin muffins
9. Once the muffins are cooled, ice them with the cream cheese frosting and sprinkle over the orange zest if you kept some aside in the previous step.
Spiced pumpkin muffin with cream cheese and orange frosting 3
The muffins will keep well in the fridge for 2 or 3 days, though they are most delicious eaten the day of baking.
Spiced pumpkin muffins with cream cheese frosting 2

Minestrone soup

Homemade hearty minestrone soup topped with pesto and parmesan
Right now is a great time of year to be eating kale. Although it’s available all year round in it’s curly variety in most supermarkets, it’s in season between September and February and so at this time of year you might be able to get your mitts on some more interesting varieties. Plus, we’re all trying to be a little virtuous in January, and kale is a vitamin and mineral dense vegetable, packed with Vitamin C, calcium and beta carotene (which no-one really knows what it is, but hey-ho it sounds super healthy). The kale I’ve used in this recipe was grown by my dad at his allotment and is called cavolo nero (“black cabbage” in Italian, where the variety originates). If you can find cavolo nero to use in this recipe then great – it goes perfectly in stews and soups – but if not then use any kale or cabbage that you like.

This recipe is the godsend of all store-cupboard meals. I do think that the combinations below work particularly well, but the beauty is that you can use whatever veggies you have in the vegetable drawer, whatever meat (bacon, sausages, chorizo would all be great) you have in the fridge and any type of beans or pasta shape that you have in the cupboard.
Ingredients for hearty minestrone soup
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
100g (about 6 rashers) streaky bacon
1 white onion
2 medium carrots
2 celery sticks
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp tomato puree
1.5l vegetable stock
1 tin or carton of chopped tomato
6-8 large cavolo nero leaves
100g spaghetti
1 tin cannellini beans
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Optional topping suggestions: basil pesto, grated parmesan, chopped basil, chopped parsley, croutons

Method
1. Chop the bacon into small pieces.
Chopping smoked streaky bacon
Heat a little olive oil in a large pan and gently fry the bacon until crisp.
Frying smoked bacon
Remove from the pan and set aside.

2. Finely chop the onion and garlic, thinly slice the celery and dice the carrot.
Chopped vegetables for the base of a hearty minestrone soup
Fry altogether in the remaining bacon fat (topped up with a little olive oil if necessary) for 10 minutes until soft.
Frying the vegetables in the bacon fat
Softened vegetables for the base of a hearty minestrone soup
3. Stir in the tomato puree and then add the stock and chopped tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil.
Adding liquid to the hearty minestrone soup
4. Add the crisp bacon, kale, spaghetti and beans and simmer for 10 minutes. Check the seasoning and serve piping hot at the table
Adding the extras for a hearty minestrone soup
Adding the extras for a hearty minestrone soup
Bringing the soup to temperature
This soup will absolutely stand up as a meal in itself, but serve with some crusty bread and real butter for a special treat or to make the servings go further.
Homemade hearty minestrone soup served with sourdough bread and butter
I highly, highly recommend serving this with a generous dollop of fresh pesto. I had the idea because we had a half-used, shop-bought tub sitting in the fridge, leftover from pizza-making the night before, but it was such an amazing accompaniment that I had to whizz up some more the second night that we ate this soup. You can find my recipe for homemade pesto here – give it a go, you’ll thank me! A little grating of parmesan on top will also be welcomed here, as would chopped basil or parsley or even some crunchy croutons.
Homemade hearty minestrone soup for two
Do you have a go-to minestrone recipe? What are your favourite secret ingredients or toppings?

Beef shin and mushroom casserole

Beef shin and mushroom casserole served with homemade bread and red wine
Happy New Year gorgeous readers! I hope your festive break was filled to the brim with your favourite people, your favourite food and drink, and your favourite films, music, books and games. I know mine certainly was, and so much more. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much. You know that kind of laughter that makes your stomach and throat hurt and your breathing difficult? Yeah, that.

And so now it is January. The fruit bowl has been piled high, the vegetable drawer in the fridge is stuffed full and gym memberships have been renewed with gusto. I have just discovered Yoga with Adriene’s 30 Days of Yoga and what a revelation it is. I had forgotten how amazing just a short yoga practice every day is, plus there is the bonus that Adriene is an absolute babe. Serious babe crush going on.

But on the other hand, we are still in the depths of winter. The days may be getting gradually longer, but it really doesn’t feel like it right now. So let’s all agree that we still need some comfort food every now and then, yeah? We can stick to stir-fry and steamed vegetables and baked fish during the week, but on a Sunday night let’s snuggle up together on the sofa, wearing our comfiest pyjamas, with steaming bowls of stew and glasses of red wine. Cheers to that.
Ingredients for beef shin and mushroom casserole with parsnips
Ingredients (serves 2-3)
1 generous tbsp dried ceps (aka porcini mushrooms)
2 small onions, finely chopped
1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
2-3 small carrots, cut into chunky wedges
2 medium parsnips (or in my case, one daddy, one mummy and one baby parsnip), cut into chunky wedges
350g beef shin
180g mushrooms, either cup or button
Large glass of red wine
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp redcurrant jelly
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/Gas mark 2. Lightly crush the dried ceps in a mortar and pestle.
Dried ceps in a pestle and mortar
Dried ceps lightly crushed in a pestle and mortar
Cover with a few tablespoons of hot water and leave to soak.
2. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a casserole pot or pan and gently fry the onion and garlic over a low heat for 5-10 minutes until soft and just beginning to brown.
Sautéing finely chopped onions
3. Turn the heat up so the onions sizzle and add the carrots and parsnips, mixing well to coat them in oil. Allow the vegetables to cook for another 5 minutes.
Adding carrots and parsnips to the onion
4. Remove the vegetables from the pan and set aside. Add a little more olive oil and wait until very hot. Generously season the beef shin with salt and pepper and add to the hot pan. Fry on a very high heat for a couple of minutes until brown and caramelised on both sides.
Browning the seasoned beef shins
5. Pour the wine into the pan and bubble for 3-5 minutes to reduce the liquid by about one third.
Adding red wine to the beef shin
6. Add the vegetables back into the pan, along with the now-rehydrated ceps (including the soaking water), and stir. Season and tuck a couple of bay leaves into the stew, pop the lid on the pan and put into the oven.
Adding the vegetables back into the casserole
7. Remove the stalks from the mushrooms, peel and cut in half. If you’re using button mushrooms then skip this step and use them whole! Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Peeled and chopped mushrooms
8. After an hour and a half remove the stew from the oven and stir in the mushrooms and redcurrant jelly. If necessary add a splash of water to the stew.
Adding mushrooms and redcurrant jelly to the beef shin casserole
9. Continue to cook the stew in the oven for a further 30-60 minutes. The meat should be beautifully tender and the relatively large amount of fat in the cut of beef shin should have melted away into the sweet, rich liquid.
Beef shin, mushroom and parsnip casserole
Serve with potatoes, cooked in the style of your choice, or some lovely fresh bread which you can use to mop up the delicious sauce. And of course, since it’s January, I suppose some steamed vegetables on the side will help to make us feel that little bit more virtuous.
Beef shin casserole served with green vegetables and homemade bread

Mincemeat puff pastry swirls

Christmas mincemeat puff pastry rolls
I am really pleased with this new recipe. It’s going to be my festive go-to recipe for whipping up a last minute sweet treat from now on. Basically, it’s a mince pie in disguise, and one that is even easier to make and store (which is really saying something, since mince pies aren’t exactly the trickiest kitchen task and don’t take up an awfully lot of room in the freezer). This mincemeat-packed pastry is the most efficient use of freezer space and can be put together in a matter of minutes. I used shop-bought puff pastry for this recipe because it’s all about convenience, but if you have time on your hands you can always make yours from scratch.

If you’re organised and already have homemade mincemeat ready to use then it will be perfect in this recipe. If not, then you can buy lovely mincemeat in the supermarkets, and we’ll perk it up with some orange zest, fresh pear and obligatory Christmas spirit anyway.
Ingredients for mincemeat puff pastry rolls
Ingredients (makes 24 pastries)
300g mincemeat
1 orange
Splash of brandy
2 ripe pears
1 lemon
500g all-butter puff pastry

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/Gas Mark 6. Measure out the mincemeat into a bowl and add the zest of the orange and a splash of brandy. Mix together.
Adding orange zest and brandy to the homemade mincemeat
Homemade traditional Christmas mincemeat
2. Peel, core and finely dice the pears. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the pear to stop the pieces from browning.
Finely diced ripe pears
3. Generously flour the work surface and roll out the puff pastry into a large rectangle, with the long edge facing you. The pastry should be about 0.5cm thick.
Rolling out the puff pastry
4. Gently spread the mincemeat onto the pastry, right up to the edges of the sides, but leaving an inch gap at the front and back. Sprinkle the pear chunks on top.
Spreading the mincemeat and pear on the puff pastry
5. Roll the pastry into one long sausage-shape. Start by folding over the long edge closest to you (as shown below) and then roll up gently, using both hands. It will get easier as the roll gets thicker.
Beginning to roll the puff pastry
Rolled puff pastry filled with mincemeat
6. Trim the edges from the pastry roll to neaten it up. Cut it in half to make two manageable rolls. Chill in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up the pastry and make it easier to slice. Alternatively you can wrap the rolls in cling film and leave in the freezer, ready to slice and bake whenever you like.
Tidying the ends of the puff pastry roll
7. Remove the firmed pastry rolls and slice into 24 circles (or 12 if you’re just using one of the rolls). Space out on a large baking tray lined with baking parchment.
Sliced puff pastry roll ready to bake
8. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and crisp on the outside. Leave to cool on a wire rack (or eat them while they’re warm!).
Baked puff pastry rolls stuffed with mincemeat
Cooling the mincemeat puff pastry rolls
Dust these flaky, spiced pastries with icing sugar for the perfect snowy effect if you like. Serve with steaming mugs of tea, coffee or (preferably) mulled wine.
Christmas mincemeat puff pastry swirls
Note: if cooking from the freezer, remove the roll about 30 minutes before you slice it. Cut off as many pieces as you need. Use a sturdy and very sharp knife, as the frozen pear makes the roll particularly hard. Bake as instructed above. Feel smug about how organised you are.

Homemade mincemeat

Close-up of traditional British mincemeat
Traditional mincemeat is a great little recipe to make around this time of year. It’s incredibly simple, keeps well and your homemade jar can be whipped out the cupboard at a moment’s notice if you’re in need of emergency mince pies. If you’ve already made your Christmas pudding (like this one here…) then it’s highly likely that you have leftover dried fruits or chopped peel or even some suet lurking in the cupboards. This is a great way to use them up, and with 18 days left til Christmas (yes, that’s right, EIGHTEEN DAYS) now is the perfect time to do so. If you can resist, it’s best to leave this recipe to infuse for 2 weeks; and if you manage there will be a jar of perfect mincemeat sitting in your cupboard to use in the days leading up to Christmas – and of course, most importantly, on Christmas Day itself.

Before you begin making this recipe make sure you sterilise the jar, or jars, you are using to store the mincemeat in. You can do this in a few different ways. If you have a dishwasher then the easiest method is to put your already clean jars through a hot rinse. If not then you can wash them out with boiling water (or heat with water in them in a microwave until the water boils – I couldn’t do this since my jar has metal on it!) and leave to dry upside down either naturally or in a very low oven.
Ingredients for traditional Christmas mincemeat
Ingredients (makes enough mincemeat to fill a 2 litre jar)
600g mixed dried fruit e.g. raisins, currants, sultanas, cranberries, cherries
300g suet
90g chopped peel
250g soft brown sugar
¼ tsp mixed spice
¼ tsp ginger
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ fresh nutmeg, grated
1 lemon
1 Bramley apple, peeled and grated
100ml brandy
2 bay leaves

Method
1. Put all the dry ingredients except the bay leaves (so the dried fruit, suet, chopped peel, sugar and spices) in a large bowl. Mix well.
Dry ingredients for Christmas mincemeat
Mixing the dry ingredients for Christmas mincemeat
2. Add both the zest and juice of the lemon, along with the apple and brandy, and give everything a really thorough mix.
Adding the wet ingredients to traditional mincemeat
3. Carefully spoon the mincemeat into your sterilised jar(s) and push one or two bay leaves into the top. Seal and store for a couple of weeks.
Traditional British mincemeat
Mincemeat will store for a long time provided you have properly sterilised the jars – lots of recipes say up to 6 months, but I’m pretty sure I have used mincemeat from the year before and it tasted delicious.
Traditional Christmas mincemeat to be stored

Pumpkin pie with maple cream

Slices of pumpkin pie served with maple cream
Pumpkin pie was a revelation to me. I had never tried it until a couple of years ago, when I decided to give it a go from scratch for a Thanksgiving meal. I loved it. The pastry is crisp, the filling is smooth and the sweet pumpkin is amazing paired with Christmas-y spices like cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. You can make pumpkin pie with pumpkin from a can, but it’s actually so easy to prepare fresh pumpkin…using a microwave. I came across that tip in a BBC Good Food recipe and it works perfectly. If you don’t have a microwave you could probably steam the pumpkin until soft, but a microwave is quick and simple.

The pastry for this pie needs to be blind baked – baked without any filling – which keeps it crisp even once the wet filling has gone in. You can use proper ceramic baking beans for this, if you have them, but any sort of dried bean will do the job just as well, as will uncooked rice. Just don’t try to cook and eat the beans or rice after you’ve used them for blind baking!
Ingredients for pumpkin pie with maple cream
Ingredients
700g piece of pumpkin
Sweet short crust read-to-roll pastry
150ml double cream
150g light brown muscavado sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
Grating of whole nutmeg
2 eggs

150ml double cream
1 tbsp maple syrup

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/ Gas Mark 6. Cut the skin off the pumpkin using a very sharp knife and chop into large chunks. Place in a microwaveable bowl and cover with cling film. Microwave for about 15 minutes until the pumpkin is soft. Drain away any water and leave aside to cool.
Chunks of fresh pumpkin to be cooked in a microwave
Cooked pumpkin chunks
2. Roll the pastry out so it’s a little bit bigger than your pie dish. Lift carefully, with the help of your rolling pin (/wine bottle), onto the pie dish. Gently coax the pastry into the dish, and press into all the edges. Leave some of the pastry overhanging the tin – you can cut this away to neaten up the pie after baking the case. Short crust pastry, and in particular sweet short pastry, can be tricky to work with as it breaks easily. First of all, make sure everything is cold – the pastry, your hands, even fling open the windows to chill the room down. Secondly, don’t panic if the pastry rips because it can easily be patched up with some excess pastry (as you can see in my pictures!). Once the filling is in no one will ever know…
Sweet shortcrust pastry for a pumpkin pie
Lining the pie dish with sweet short crust pastry
3. Line the pastry with foil, baking parchment or cling film and then fill with ceramic baking beans, dried beans or even rice.
Blind baking the sweet short crust pastry
Bake for 20 minutes and then remove the baking beans and bake for a further 10 minutes without anything on the pastry until it’s a nice golden brown colour. Now you can neaten up the edges of the pie with a sharp knife.
Cooked pastry case
Tidying up the cooked pastry case
4. Blend together the pumpkin, double cream, sugar, spices and eggs.
Pumpking pie filling ingredients
Pumpkin pie filling
5. Turn the oven down to 160C/140C fan/Gas Mark 3. Pour the filling mixture into the pastry case and bake for about an hour. The filling might puff up a little, but will fall back down when it cools.
Filling the pumpkin pie
Baked pumpkin pie
6. Whip the rest of the double cream with the maple syrup.
Pumpkin pie
Pumpkin pie is great both hot and cold. Serve with the maple cream, or some vanilla ice cream if you prefer while the pie is hot.
Pumpkin pie served with whipped maple cream

Winter spiced pumpkin soup and toasted pumpkin seeds

Lightly spiced pumpkin soup with toasted pumpkin seeds
I love Halloween. Nostalgic memories of getting dressed up and perfecting a doorstep-routine in order to go trick-or-treating and collect a haul of sweets. Ridiculously messy games like ducking for apples and treacle scones or doughnuts on string. Dark nights inside with blankets, candles lit and a scary movie (which I actually hate, but it always makes it better if there’s someone else who hates them more than you…naming no names ahem). And, of course, Halloween wouldn’t be Halloween without pumpkin carving.

However, pumpkins aren’t just for carving. At the moment, during autumn, the squash family are in their prime and they have a delicious sweet flavour that works equally well in savoury dishes and puddings alike. I have a classic pumpkin pie recipe for you later in the week, but today’s post is all savoury with a lightly spiced pumpkin soup and some toasted pumpkin seeds. Even if you are carving your pumpkin, don’t throw away the seeds inside – frying these off with a bit of spice is super easy and they’re so tasty. But the flesh of the pumpkin is the real prize, so pick up an extra pumpkin while you’re getting some for carving, and try this gorgeous soup, flavoured with warming spices like chilli, paprika and nutmeg and made into a hearty meal with some red lentils. A perfect autumn lunch.
Ingredients for spiced pumpkin soup
Ingredients
Large pumpkin (about 3.5kg)
2 tbsp olive oil
25g butter
3 onions, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
100g lentils
1 tsp chilli flakes
3 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp cinnamon
Grating of whole nutmeg
3 litres chicken stock
Salt and pepper

For the pumpkin seeds:
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
Salt and pepper

Method
1. Prepare the pumpkin. The easiest way to handle a large pumpkin is to cut it into manageable chunks using a large, very sharp knife. Cut one side away and scoop out the seeds inside with your hands – put these in a bowl of cold water for later. You can scrape away even more of the stringy innards that are stuck to the flesh using a spoon. Cut the rest of the pumpkin into big chunks, throwing away the stalk. Using a smaller, but equally sharp, knife cut away the tough skin and chop into small cubes.
Rinsing the pumpkin seeds
Chopped pumpkin for winter soup
2. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan. Once the butter starts to bubble, throw in the onion and garlic and fry for a few minutes.
Browning onions for pumpkin soup
3. Toss the pumpkin pieces in the onion and continue to cook for about five minutes until the pumpkin begins to brown and soften. Tip in the lentils, chilli flakes, paprika, cinnamon and about 1/3 of a whole nutmeg grated. Mix well and continue to fry for a couple of minutes.
Adding the pumpkin, spices and lentils
4. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Season, pop a lid on the pan and lower the heat a bit so that the soup is just simmering. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the pumpkin and lentils are tender.
Adding the stock to the soup
5. Leave the soup to cool and then blend until smooth – you can do this in a counter-top blender, but a hand blender is even quicker and easier. Of course, you can just use a masher if you prefer a chunkier texture.
Spiced pumpkin soup to be blended
Pumpkin soup blitzed with a hand blender
6. After immersing the pumpkin seeds in cold water, the gunk around the seeds should sink to the bottom and come away easily. Lay the seeds out on paper towels to dry while you heat a frying pan. Dry fry the pumpkin seeds, moving them around in the pan until they start to brown. Sprinkle over the ground cumin and coriander and some salt and pepper and continue cooking for a few more minutes. Keep an eye on the seeds as they can burn quickly. Turn the heat off and set aside to cool.
Toasting the pumpkin seeds
Dry frying the pumpkin seeds with spices
To serve, heat the soup and sprinkle over a few pumpkin seeds for extra texture. Some warmed crusty bread with butter, or even garlic bread, is a perfect accompaniment. The soup will keep in the fridge for a week, and of course can be frozen for longer. The seeds should store well in an airtight container and are great for snacking on if you’re in need of a nibble.