Friday 2 December 2022

Advent 2022 - Fast Tracking #6


Today's Challenge: Fast from... all out of season foods.

Eating seasonally is more complicated for us in our globally interconnected world than it was in the past when it was a simple matter of availability. So much of our food is either imported or manipulated to be available out of its natural growing season that apart from some obvious candidates such as summer berries or asparagus say, it's quite hard to have a feel for what is genuinely naturally in season at any one time. I found a useful site here which lists seasonal food in the UK for each month of the year. There is a sister site for the US and Canada and I'm sure there are equivalents for elsewhere in the world too. 

For December in the UK seasonal food primarily means winter vegetables - potatoes, carrots, onions, parsnips, leeks, cabbage, cauliflower, pumpkin, turnips, swedes etc, home-produced autumn fruit that keeps naturally in cold storage such as apples and pears, supplemented by meat, game and shellfish. Add to that imported seasonal foods such as cranberries, pineapples and citrus fruit such as tangerines, clementines, satsumas, oranges and grapefruit, new season's dried fruits, a wide range of fish, including cod, haddock, coley, sole, plaice and mackerel and nuts - almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, Brazil nuts and chestnuts. 

As I said in my introductory post, in the past, eggs and dairy products were less plentiful in winter as the heavy milk yield and prolific egg-laying of spring and summer naturally dwindled towards the end of the year. Cheese and salted butter made from summer milk surpluses might last however into the winter with careful storage with some cheeses only really coming into their own in the winter after maturing over the autumn. Modern food production has evened out these natural fluctuations but I shall try to keep them in mind. 

There are a couple of no-unseasonal-food days over the coming weeks, if I remember correctly, but this has been the meal plan for today:

tea with unsweetened soya milk
apple juice - pressed from this autumn's apples grown in the garden and bottled 
stewed blackberry and apple made from this autumn's apples as above and foraged blackberries
porridge made with oats, milk and water, drizzled with maple syrup

aubergine and walnut butter* with crudités and sourdough crackers
a Golden Delicious apple from the garden and a pear

*This is based on a recipe I found over twenty years ago in Lunchbox by Amanda Grant. I've simplified the original a bit and fiddled with the quantities but the method is the same. You roast two or three halved aubergines for an hour until soft and, for just a few minutes of that time, add a baking tray with some walnut pieces to the oven, to toast them lightly. Once cool, scoop the flesh from the aubergine skins and tip it and the cooled toasted walnuts into the food processor. Add some salt and pepper, a splash of sherry vinegar and some walnut oil and whizz to a subtle, taupe-coloured purée. Sometimes I add a bit of thick, Greek-style yoghurt too though I didn't today. The stuff may look a bit drab but it's addictive. It makes a good prepare-in-advance starter for a dinner party or a light lunch with crudités, crackers, breadsticks or whatever you fancy.

black tea
individual panettone with golden raisins, orange and vanilla 

scallop soup - the base is made from leeks, fennel and potato, homemade vegetable stock, salt, pepper and a good pinch of dried saffron, cooked in the pressure cooker for 12 minutes before being whizzed till smooth in the blender and reheated just before serving. I then halved and added the scallops and some whole milk and simmered the whole for a few minutes to cook the fish before finishing with chopped fresh dill from the garden.
pumpkin rolls 

fresh pineapple and mango with lime zest and juice
almond and pistachio cantuccini** flavoured with fresh rosemary from the garden

**Cantuccini are a good use for some of the seasonal nuts coming into their own now and I tend to associate them with the run-up to Christmas. This recipe uses a mixture of raw almonds and raw pistachio kernels but you can use any nuts you like. I like to flavour the dough with some vanilla seeds and some very finely chopped rosemary leaves which are still green and tender in a UK garden in winter if you just pick the youngest tips.  

Mix 225g plain flour, 175g caster sugar, a pinch of salt, ½tsp baking powder and any flavourings you want in a big bowl. Add 175g raw nuts of your choice and mix together. Add 2 large beaten eggs to the bowl  and mix to a soft, quite sticky dough. Form the dough into 3 slim sausage shapes and place on a lined baking tray. Bake at 180 ℃ for 25 minutes.

Remove from the oven and slice each sausage into approx 1.5cm thick slices. Turn the slices so that the cut edges are uppermost and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. 

Cool on a wire rack. They are versatile - as good dunked in tea or coffee, as in their classical accompaniment, vin santo, - and they're useful to have in a tin, as they keep for ages, to be deployed as needed. 

Because they keep so well and are quite robust, bagged up in a cellophane bag and tied with a pretty ribbon, they also make a nice small gift for anyone you want to give a little something to at this time of year, or to pop in an adult's stocking when it gets to Christmas. These probably won't make it that far so I shall have to make another batch for stocking-fillers nearer the time.

E x

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