Forever looking for the positives, Maria Broadbent, of CASA in Bury St Edmunds, says we have plenty to celebrate in the coming weeks and suggests a few ways we can do that. Time to get busy. . .
There is a lot of discussion around what we are not permitted to do currently – so here is an article about what we CAN do. We are fortunate in Bury
St Edmunds, and in West Suffolk in general, with the current level of Covid and therefore being in tier one – long may it last! Anyone reading my articles throughout the pandemic will be aware that I home in on the positive and the things I can impact on. This month’s happy thoughts are around celebrating and recognising dates, events and occasions.
Festivals, celebrations and holidays have always been associated with cheering people up. This is not just on the day or week of the celebration but in all the expectation and plans leading up to it. I’m not going to say ‘If you don’t like Christmas, look away now’ as there are plenty of other options out there. Unsurprisingly, this time of year has rich pickings for crafting and culinary enterprise. The calendar gives us ample opportunity to enjoy the somewhat imposed restrictions and create. Now before you get carried away, a word of caution. Most of us are neither Mary Berry nor a Blue Peter presenter and I’m pretty sure ‘they’ NEVER make the ‘here is one I prepared earlier!’.
Don’t worry if your end product is not Instagrammable – that is not the purpose of this. Also, if you are doing it with children it is important to not set unrealistic expectations on the aesthetics as it is the making that is the satisfying bit. Who remembers making paper chains? My point exactly!
Once again whilst researching this article I have been reminded of the fundamental role food plays in our lives. Not just as a means of sustenance but as a way of sharing time and experiences with our loved ones. The bottom line is if you need to cheer yourself up and others – then you can’t go far wrong with CAKE!
The opportunities in the coming weeks:
HARVEST FESTIVAL until October 31
Between now and October 31, how about baking bread or making corn dollies, or if speed is not your thing how about making some Christmas tree decorations from straw. It is easy to buy online and the making of corn dollies is a craft that dates back over 5,000 years.
HALLOWE’EN October 31
Lots of opportunity for spooky crafts, cocktail sausage ‘fingers’, cupcakes and fancy dress outfits. Much more fun to make than to buy for a one-off wear. A family film night – but do make sure that the sensitive souls are OK with the level of scariness. I just about manage Sixth Sense but nothing more (yup a true wimp). Oh, and of course, pumpkins, making lanterns and soup.
BONFIRE NIGHT November 5
It is unlikely that there will be any large gatherings – but perhaps a BBQ in the garden? Organise a street party across back or front gardens. How about making some bonfire toffee, toffee apples or a toffee apple cake with sparkler candles in it. Some warming mulled wine or cider if we are sticking with the apple theme.
REMEMBRANCE (SUNDAY/DAY) November 8 and 11
Not so much a celebration but still a marker and definitely worth a pause to consider even in these unprecedented times what previous generations had to face. Many of us forget this is also about those still giving their lives to keep us safe. There are also those currently risking their lives to save people from Covid too, of course.
WORLD SCIENCE DAY November 10
There are hundreds of days dedicated to many different causes – when researching this I did need to reread one or two – including World Town Planning Day celebrated in over 30 countries and the friendly World Hello Day. I did think that Science Day was a good one as everything in life is actually science – so plenty of scope here. For example, did you know stable molecules in an onion’s tissues when cut transform into a volatile, sulfur-containing gas? This gas reacts with the eyes to form small amounts of sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid can lead to itching, burning – and tears.
DIWALI November 13-16
Festival of light and who needs an excuse to go out to eat, order a takeaway or even cook a Hindu inspired meal. Simple chicken curry recipe included here. (This is a Madhur Jaffrey recipe that I have been cooking for over 25 years – it is a little fiddly but worth the process. It tastes amazing and you can serve it with simple rice or go all out with pilau rice and an excellent lamb korma. Her original BBC Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cookery is easy to follow and as yet no duff ones that I have tried!)
CHILDREN IN NEED DAY November 13
This must push up our annual national cupcake production significantly – this year we will all need to put our thinking caps on as many of the now traditional activities on this day will need some level of adjustment.
STIR UP SUNDAY November 23
Christmas pudding and cake making day. Give ‘em a stir and make a wish. Somewhere between world peace and I hope I don’t burn my cake kind of wish! My wish is that my other half, who claims to bake a cracking Christmas cake, actually does – apparently living with a chef is intimidating.
ADVENT December 1-24
I made an advent calendar years ago for my children (it came as a kit) and it was very satisfying and fun to make, and it’s easy to personalise the gifts to put into it. Gifts don’t have to be materialistic either, they can be a ‘promise or treat’. There are all kinds of kits available for many different budgets and skill sets.
CHRISTMAS December 25 and a bit either side
Gifts, food, homemade wrapping paper and cards. Lots of boxes and envelopes of old photos or masses of unsorted electronic ones? These make fantastic gifts and are entertaining to compile and, dare I say, sometimes a little embarrassing – well in 1980 that DID look good I promise. My family have always loved Christmas but this for us starts with the excitement of planning. Listaholics, the lot of us, with lots of (usually) good tempered discussions about what we are going to eat and drink, when and with whom. As this is going to be limited this year I am applying this spare brain capacity to putting lists together for other people.
We have teamed up with our wine merchants to bring you their top selection of wines for the festive season. We will be mixing cases and matching up cheeses and other treats for those of you that just want an end product. Tasting notes will be included.
AUTUMNAL MULLED CIDER
1 litre cider
5 star anise
3 cinnamon sticks
3 lemon and ginger tea bags
Brandy, Calvados or Cointreau
To serve – per glass
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1 slice orange
Pour all the cider into a pan and set it on your smallest ring on its lowest setting.
Add the orange cut in half, star anise, cinnamon sticks, tea bags and stir.
Stir regularly in the pan until it starts to just move a little on its own – DO NOT LET IT BOIL – then turn the pan off and leave it to infuse for ideally at least three hours or better still, make the night before.
Strain the cider through a sieve to remove any unwanted bits (or scoop them out).
Gently reheat and stir in the spirit to your preferred level.
Ladle into heatproof glasses or mugs.
Add one cinnamon stick, a large slice of orange, and two star anise to each glass.
CREAMY CURRIED PUMPKIN SOUP
2 tablespoons of oil
2 teaspoons mild curry powder
1 kg pumpkin
700ml vegetable stock
150ml cream (or coconut milk)
Salt and pepper
Peel and finely chop the onions – cook gently in the oil for 5 minutes, add the curry powder and cook for another 2 minutes.
Scoop out your pumpkin and separate the seeds.
You can roast the pumpkin first for extra flavour for 15-20 minutes at 180C or simply add it to the onions and cook.
You may also toast the seeds in the oven on a baking sheet for about 10 minutes at 180C or fry with olive oil in a pan until they start to pop.
Add the stock and bring the soup to a boil, then turn the heat down until it just gently bubbles – keeping a lid on uses less electricity and gas. Bubble gently for 10 minutes or until the pumpkin is totally soft.
Blitz the soup with either a hand blender stick or in a liquidizer – make sure the lid is on tightly.
Add the cream or coconut milk and season with salt and pepper to your taste. This will freeze for up to two months.
200g golden caster sugar (normal caster sugar is fine)
200g softened butter
4 eggs, beaten
200g self-raising flour or wholemeal
self-raising (Duchy organic is gorgeous)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon mixed spice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Handful sultanas (optional)
3 apples (I prefer to use cooking, but eating apples will work too)
50g dark muscovado sugar
Heat the oven to 170C
Line a rectangular baking tray (small)
Peel and core your apples and cut into slices – lay these in 3 rows down the length of the tin. Sprinkle evenly with the dark brown sugar and if you really like sweet things a bit of extra maple syrup!
Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large bowl along with all the remaining ingredients except the sultanas (ie beaten eggs, caster sugar, butter/margarine at room temperature, spices). Beat thoroughly until you have a batter then stir in the sultanas and pour over the apples.
Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Do NOT open the door before 25 minutes as the change in temperature can cause the cake to sink. If you do, then close the door gently. To test if the cake is done – a sharp knife should come clearly out of the centre of the cake.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes in the tin and then upend on to a cooling rack and carefully peel away the paper. You can eat it warm with cream or custard or allow it cool. If you are pacing yourself then you can cut it into portions and freeze individually. It is then possible to eat one at a time (yes, really!) either at room temperature or gently reheated in a microwave.
CHICKEN IN FRIED ONION SAUCE (Curry in other words)
1¼kg chicken joints (see CasaBuryStEds Facebook page on how to quickly and easily joint and skin a chicken)
350g onions, peeled
4cm cube fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled
7 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon ground coriander seeds
1 tablespoon ground cumin seeds
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
¼-½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 pint (570ml) water
225g tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped (tinned tomatoes may be used)
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon finely chopped coriander
Coarsely chop 2 onions. Cut remaining onions into halves lengthwise and in very thin slices.
Put chopped onions, ginger and garlic in a food processor. Blend until a paste.
Heat oil in a large pot over a medium flame. When hot, put in sliced onions. Stir and fry until they are a deep, reddish brown color. Remove with a slotted spoon, squeezing out as much oil as possible to leave in the pot. Set onions aside.
Remove pot from flame. Put in the blended paste (avert eyes), place back on medium heat, stir and fry until browned (3-4 minutes). Add coriander, cumin, turmeric and cayenne; stir once. Add 1 tablespoon of yogurt. Stir for 30 seconds until incorporated. Add remaining yogurt 1 tablespoon at a time. Add chicken pieces and stir to cover (1 min).
Pour in water, tomatoes and salt. Stir to mix and bring to a simmer. Cover, turn to low heat and cook for 20 minutes. Sprinkle in the garam masala and fried onions. Cook uncovered on medium heat for 10 minutes (until sauce reduces and thickens).
Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds
Call 01284 701313