Witches Broth (or Pea and Mint Soup)

I first met this soup at a Mother’s day lunch and never imagined that I’d be calling it Witches’ Broth and serving it up myself a few years later at a Hallowe’en party. I should assure you that this renaming says more about the thick green colour of the soup than it does about my views on motherhood …

It is hardly a well-kept secret that Hallowe’en ranks high on my list of all-time favourite festivities. It comes at a magical time of year when the days are shortening, the air is cooling and the trees are resplendent in their cloaks of fiery colours. The children’s excitement is on a par with that of Christmas in our house as they delve deep down into their dressing-up box to pull out black gowns, orange and green-striped stockings, pointed hats and vampire fangs. We decorate the house with silvery cobwebs, read stories of errant witches and shiver at the bone-rattling skeletons in Berlioz’ dream of a Witches’ Sabbath.

I think that what makes this festival particularly special for me is that there are no pre-conceived ideas about what form the traditions should take and no expectations of receiving presents among our children. They enjoy themselves enormously through the simple pleasure that comes from sparking their imaginations and partying with friends.

Unlike in the depressing scene depicted by William Langley, we have amiable neighbours who are happy to collude in a little organised trick-or-treating, while our costumes and party trimmings are largely homemade and provide an opportunity for creative fun.

Far from being an imported custom, the roots of Hallowe’en extend further back in Britain than those of the seemingly more traditionally-celebrated Guy Fawkes night. In fact, the origins of Hallowe’en practices in America can themselves be traced to the arrival of Scottish and Irish immigrants during the nineteenth century.

So pull up your cauldrons, grab your wooden spoons and join us for a warming bowl of witches’ broth 🙂 .

Witches Broth: Pea and Mint Soup (adapted from a recipe by Charlotte Kilvington)

2 oz unsalted butter
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
600 mls chicken stock
2 lb frozen peas
1 head of firm lettuce, eg. Iceberg
a handful of fresh mint, chopped
300 mls milk

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and fry gently to soften.

Add the stock and frozen peas. Bring to the boil and simmer until the peas are tender.

Add the lettuce and mint. Continue cooking until the lettuce has wilted.

Stir in the milk.

Blend in a food processor and season to taste.

Serve with a swirl of single cream on top – pull through from the centre outwards with a toothpick to create a spider’s web.

Snappy, Snacky Pizza Bread

I confess openly and whole-heartedly to having a certain single mindedness when it comes to pursuing a goal. If you’re looking for someone who’s prepared to stand in front of a microwave, fork and thermometer in hand, stirring a bowlful of flour every ten seconds for half an hour, then yes, I’ll be the one to do it!

I make my own puff-pastry, I bake my own loaves for bread sauce and my children enjoy eating our homemade chicken nuggets. Quirky, obsessive, nerdy? Perhaps I’m all of these … and happy to be so!

Having builders working in our house again has moved the goalposts slightly, however. The gloopy plaster that they carried through my kitchen in a large bucket yesterday was the closest I’ve come to seeing anything resembling a cake batter in there these last two weeks! Whilst I’m reaching cloud nine on dreams of my soon-to-be-installed Rangemaster Induction cooker, my actual opportunities for baking much this side of Christmas are severely limited.

Taking advantage of this enforced hiatus in my baking obsession, my elder daughter and I have become huge fans of a super-easy ‘pizza’ bread. It takes about as long to prepare as cheese-on-toast, but it’s oh so much tastier.

It seems absurd to talk about a recipe for this – we basically spoon some tinned tomatoes over a slice of bread (err, yes, I did make the bread …), top with slices of cheddar cheese and sprinkle with dried oregano and freshly-ground black pepper.

pizza bread preparation

Pop it in a hot oven until the cheese melts and oozes over the edges. Mmmm … delicious!

pizza bread

Moroccan Chickpea Pâté

Luckily for us, it has mostly been a glorious autumnal week here in Devon. Our builders have been all over our house, propping up ceilings, filling holes with concrete and positioning all sorts of steel things in our loft. As much as M would love to help, our house during the day hasn’t really been a suitable environment for a 2-year-old! We have therefore spent a tiring but wonderful week in self-enforced exile, kicking the fallen leaves in Bicton Park and throwing handfuls of sand and shells into the sea at Exmouth.

Consequently, our time in the kitchen has been severely limited. No time for cakes, cookies, bread, pies or pastries … but hey, I did manage to create a rather tasty chickpea pâté one evening. My savoury-toothed husband was very pleased to have something he actually liked to take into work for a change!

Moroccan Chickpea Pâté

Moroccan Chickpea Pâté

2 red peppers
60 g/2 oz butter
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
60 g/2 oz dried apricots
2 x 240 g/8 oz cans of chickpeas, drained
1/2 teaspoon crushed chillies
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon coriander powder
30 g/1 oz fresh coriander
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and white pepper
3 sheets leaf gelatin (to set 1/2 pint)
200 g/6 oz cream cheese
250 ml/8 fl oz whipping cream

Cut the peppers in half and de-seed. Dunk the pieces 3 times in boiling water to remove their harsh flavour. Chill by dunking in cold water. Pureé 1 pepper and roughly chop the 2nd.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Chop and gently sauté the onion and garlic. Add the apricots, 1 can of chickpeas, spices, herbs, lemon juice and seasoning. Cook gently until softened. Whizz to blend. Stir in the 2nd can of chickpeas and the roughly-chopped red pepper.

Soak the gelatin sheets in cold water for 10 minutes.

Heat the red pepper pureé. Remove from the heat. Add the soaked gelatin (squeeze first to remove soaking liquid) and mix well until melted.

Add the pepper pureé to the chickpea mix and stir well to combine.

Whisk the whipping cream to peaks. Add the cream cheese and whipped cream to the chickpea mix. Stir well.

Scrape into a loaf tin and refrigerate overnight.