Autumn Term rituals….and some seasonal bakes

Autumn colour_3
Glorious Autumn days are for walking but it’s time to get seasonal in the kitchen too

Our Autumn term Wednesday evening ritual is well underway as we approach the semi-final of the (Great British) Bake Off. We love the exploits in the tent, the baking triumphs and disasters, the hints and tips and the historical snippets. We love Mel and Sue and their ability to ease the tension. And we love the introduction to new and interesting flavour combinations.

Children can learn a lot from the Bake Off – how to face triumph and disaster with equal grace,  the importance of planning and practice, how to cope with deadlines and pressure, how to adapt the knowledge you have to new situations which you haven’t faced before and how to smile sweetly at Paul Hollywood when he picks faults in the work of hours without bopping him on the nose.

However the ambitious nature of some of the challenges for youthful bakers is akin to me attempting a triple salko on the ice when I’ve only just learnt to let go of the side. In reality, brave but ill-judged and over ambitious. My other ‘must have’ in my kitchen exploits is more than a sprinkling of seasonality. So in the Country Gate kitchen this week we are attempting Apple Muffins and Beetroot Crisps – seasonal, healthy and oh so yummy.

Here’s how.

beetroot is a superfood

Beetroot Crisps

A healthy alternative to shop bought potato crisps, beetroot are uber-healthy.

You’ll need three beetroot, a few drops of olive oil, some coarse sea salt and fresh thyme

Remove the stalks of the beetroot, leave them unpeeled, wash them under cold water and dry them in a towel ( Use paper towels as beetroot can be messy).

Slice the beetroot as thinly as possible with a mandolin or a very sharp knife.This is a job for a grown up helper.  Place the slices in a bowl, add the olive oil and use your hands to smear the oil on every slice. Every slice should be covered in a very thin coat of oil. This is the bit children love to do.

Line several oven trays with baking paper and place the beetroot slices on the baking paper, one next to the other so that they can bake to a crisp.

Bake at 160 degrees C for 20-25 minutes (depending of how thin they are). You will know that they are ready, when they start to shrink and become crispy.

When ready, take the crisps out of the oven, sprinkle some coarse sea salt, leave them to cool and then add some fresh thyme if desired.


Apple MuffinsApple harvest

Muffins are delicious gardening snack food at any time of year but it’s good to give them a seasonal twist. We have apples in abundance and so, what better flavour in Autumn than apple and cinnamon?

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Grease six muffin cups or line with paper muffin cases.

Stir together 1 1/2 cups plain flour, 3/4 cup caster sugar,1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp cinnamon. Mix in 1/3 cup vegetable oil, an egg and 1/3 cup milk. Fold in 2 peeled, cored and diced cooking apples. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling to the top of the cup.

In a small bowl, stir together 1/2 cup demerera sugar, 1/3 cup flour, butter and 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon. Mix together with fork and sprinkle over unbaked muffins.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until a skewer inserted into centre of a muffin comes out clean.

We may not have Mary, Paul, Sue and Mel but we have bunting, a great view from the kitchen window and a passion for baking.

Baking, beetroot and bunting.

 The recent series of ‘The Great British Bake Off ‘has been greeted with such enthusiasm by my children that one would think they’d never seen a homemade cake or bun before. Maybe it’s the upmarket bunting-festooned marquee in a field approach that’s done it….or the element.of competition. It”s all a bit bemusing to me as they have’cooked’ since they were old enough to stand on a chair and wave a wooden spoon in the air. Other mothers embraced the plasticine, glue, glitter and paint experience. Not me! I know my limits. Making biscuits or decorating fairy cakes filled up quite a few hours of toddler time,especially those awkward moments when friends came round and an argument started brewing. ‘Lets make biscuits’ was guaranteed to restore harmony.

Eventually we progressed onto chutneys, mincemeat, lemon curd, fudge, lavender sugar, raspberry vinegar and all those handy goodies that can be prettily wrapped and given to teachers at Christmas. It beats raiding the chocolate or wine shelves in pre-Christmas supermarket madness both in terms of your purse and stress levels.

Then came campfire cookery which is fun, if slightly inedible at times and involves FIRE. (What is it with boys and fire?) Actually anything eaten out of doors tastes better as far as my children are concerned, even the odd cremated potato or squash.  However, there comes a time when one has to progress onto proper cooking – putting a square meal on the table -and that time is now.

I wouldn’t want anyone to think that this has been planned in any great detail. It is an intention and happens when it happens. For instance we tackled yorkshire pudding on a day when a bit of distraction therapy was required. Saturday has evolved into pizza night, purely because it’s easy to make a batch of dough in the morning before we go out and it’s quick  to assemble an easy pizza and salad when you’re exhausted. And when my eldest son found a recipe in a book for ‘Men only Lemon Drizzle Cake’  based on a competition entry at the Flower and Veg show, open only to the blokes, it simply HAD to be made.

Like many parents I dream of having children who will eat anything – even beetroot. I am a devotee of the theory that ‘If they grow it and cook it, they’ll eat it’ but thus far my optimism has been somewhat misplaced. Cue the sainted Nigel Slater with a beautifully styled new programme, a not-so-sleepy child and a log fire last Friday.  Drawn in by butter beautifully wrapped in brown paper, yogurt in kilner jars, a huge kitchen and the quietly seductive Mr Slater he decided that roasted beetroot with goats cheese and sourdough bread was a ‘must make’ dish.

It was made – and a pretty good job of it he made too. And it was eaten…….but not by him.  You can’t win them all but at least he has another dish with which to impress future partners.

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