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Mulled wine syrup, free food, soup, Gammon and a cure for tummy ache.

The feel of the days is far more autumnal now that the clocks have gone back and my thoughts turn to comfort food in front of the log burner. Although from a Spice Company perspective we are fully into the festive season prep, I personally don’t want to get too into the Christmas mind set just yet as I like to enjoy the seasons as they unroll. Christmas didn’t used to inspire me much as, in a former life, it meant long cold damp days at work surrounded by artificial everything. However, my life is better and very different now and being with Julie has finally shown me that Christmas can actually be fun!

Some of the traditional trappings of the season I do like to stretch out a bit further and enjoy as early as possible and also carry on beyond the big day. One such festive treat in particular is mulled wine. Now before we go any further I have to confess, that I don’t actually like mulled wine all that much, mulled cider? Yes, but mulled wine is just too much for me. I would much rather drink the wine if it is good and cook with it if it is less satisfactory. However, one thing that I have discovered is that mulled wine can be used as an ingredient and as such, is far more acceptable to the point of actually being delicious in the right setting.

This brings me to the next bonus of this time of year – free food! Namely the abundance of fruit in the hedgerows and woodlands. I grew up collecting blackberries, damsons, plums pears and apples from the countryside around me. My local spot for apples and pears in particular is an old WW2 airfield fringed with fruit trees of numerous varieties. Mushrooms also grow in abundance here and although I am not a mushroom forager, even I know what a giant puffball looks like.

So with a small bag of recently collected apples (and a few pears for pickling) I set about an indulgent apple and damson jam crumble this week served with Chantilly cream and Mulled Wine spiced syrup. The syrup is made by infusing a complete bottle of red wine with a mulled wine bag that we produce. Sweetened with golden caster sugar and reduced to a light syrup the heady addition to your dessert condiments will keep in the fridge for weeks.

You only need a drizzle over the your cream to give it that Christmas feel to it. Share at the table when you are serving warmed mince pies or even Christmas cake and it is a decadent addition.

In the depths of a snowy February, it will also go well in a warm toddy.

Job offers still coming in. This week’s flurry have been a little less inviting than the Bahamas last week. Guernsey, which is incredibly expensive to rent a house on and Chelmsford Prison which is less so!

Soup is heavily on the menu at the moment. Leek and potato, curried parsnip, lentil and in the mode of using up the glut, spiced butternut squash and pumpkin, which is currently my favourite.

Squash is a great carrier of strong flavours and I hit my pumpkin and squash soup with cumin, carraway and black pepper (of the wild Madagascan jungle variety!)

Toasting the seeds is essential and grinding in a pestle and mortar helps to release all those essential oils that give the soup its hearty flavour. In the kitchen on a dull and rainy lunchtime is good but hot from the flask on bonfire night takes some beating.

Whilst we are on the subject of seeds, for those who have yet to encounter them, I would like to introduce you to Ajwain seeds. Now before I go any further, if you are having medical treatment consult your doctor before experimenting with anything health related. (That ought to keep my lawyer happy.)

Ajwain, also known as Carom, is a wonderfully aromatic herb great for flavouring deep-fried foods like poori, pakora and bhajis, as well as tadka. But it also has some great health benefits. It is often used to aid weight loss, detoxification, and ease digestion. It is the latter of these that I use it for and this is a traditional Punjabi remedy. If you suffer from indigestion problems then this remedy is a simple, gentle and natural aid.

Simply toast 2 tablespoons of dried ajwain seeds in a roomy frying pan for a few minutes until they gently begin to brown and release their aroma. Transfer to a bowl and cover with 200ml of boiling water from the kettle. Leave to infuse and cool before transferring everything to a sealable jar and storing in the fridge.

If you have indigestion, or you feel a bit out of sorts you simply give the jar a shake and drink a tablespoon full of the mix, seeds included. I am not going to lie, it is not the most pleasant thing you will ever drink, but it will help to settle your tummy. For the more reserved, you can add your tablespoon of infusion to sparkling water, lemonade or even tea if it helps it go down. The infusion will keep for a couple weeks in the fridge. After then, make a fresh batch.

Finally this week we knew that one of the boys was home from Uni for the evening so we cooked up a gammon joint that we could pull to pieces and all share served with some fresh home made flat breads and chutneys. The joy of this, apart from having George home of course, is the resulting stock from boiling the gammon prior to finishing off in the oven.

Naturally I spice my stock (Star Anise is an absolute must with all the others) and what I am left with after the gammon is done is a bowl of amazing liquid that can be used in so many ways. The current household favourites are as the basis for the most amazing pea and ham soup, (never were frozen peas better utilised!) or alternatively the cooking liquid for puy lentils. These are then served with baby beetroot from the veg box (cheers Greg) baked in their skins which can then be simply wiped off when cool enough to handle. The addition of crumbled feta and a sprinkling of fresh thyme make a great salad snack for a busy lunchtime.

So a busy week and yet more to come. I must have a look at that Christmas cake recipe…..

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