Winter Warmers

One of the main things I missed whilst living in the Middle East was the changing of the seasons. To be lucky enough to catch sight of a fluffy white cloud sailing across the expanse of blue sky like a floating island in a tranquil sea was a rare sight for the majority of the year. Even my dog would stand and gruff at the spectacle not sure what to do about it if anything.
Winter there would have temperatures plummeting to an unthinkable mid 20’s range, but having suffered upwards of 50+ degrees during the summer, this would begin to feel like winter. If you were really lucky you may even see a few droplets of rain on the path or ground. It was a sight that couldn’t be ignored – people would text each other in case they missed it. Everyone would stand on doorsteps or go out just to see the spectacle! I can remember being so disappointed when unfortunately the rain drops didn't ever join up and the cloud would just move on.

So to finally see true seasons again is a joy. We are right in the middle of winter here and have enjoyed some of the heaviest rain seen here for years. In fact since we arrived here we’ve witnessed the hottest temperature (last January) and the most rainfall for over eight years. Personally I really enjoy a good rainy day but I must confess I’m quite looking forward to the warm sun’s return.

With the changing season’s come the anticipation of seeing something in the market place that has been missing for months, then suddenly they return. It’s like meeting an old friend. You’re immediately revitalised into wanting to take it home to cook, bake or just devour.

I’ve always been a believer in cooking and baking with seasonal produce. Maybe it’s all the cookery programmes and celebrity chefs preaching’s that have entered my being by osmosis. By the way, I’m now hooked on Australia’s Master Chef and feel I really know these contestants. What a competition! I’ve even decorated my plain white crisp apron with ‘Mum Masterchef’ I know how sad but if I don’t no-one else will!

I’ve recently taken to cooking with pears, (not too many of those in the Middle East or not without a huge carbon footprint) I've found the following recipe which you may like to try....it’s definitely a winter warmer.
PEAR AND ALMOND CAKE


Ingredients

•150g unsalted butter, softened
•125g caster sugar
•2 medium eggs
•75g wholemeal self raising flour
•75g ground almonds
•A good pinch of cinnamon
For the caramelised pears:
•3 pears (reasonably firm, but not rock hard)
•25g unsalted butter
•1 tbsp granulated sugar

Method:
1. Preheat oven to 170°C/gas 3. Grease a 20cm-diameter springform cake tin and line the base with baking parchment.

2. Peel, core and quarter the pears.

3. Melt the 25g butter in a frying pan big enough to take all the pear pieces, over a medium high heat. When it’s bubbling, add the sugar and stir gently until it has dissolved into the butter. Add the pears and cook gently, turning once or twice, until they have softened and are starting to colour – 5-10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

4. In a mixing bowl, beat the softened butter with the caster sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in one egg at a time, adding a spoonful of the flour with each to stop the mix curdling.

5. Combine the remaining flour, the ground almonds and the cinnamon, and fold into the mixture. Scrape into the prepared tin. Arrange the pears on top and pour on any buttery juices left in the pan.

6. Bake for about 40-50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

7. Stand the cake in its tin on a wire rack to cool for a few minutes, then release the tin. Serve the cake warm with clotted cream – or cold.

I’m having a little difficulty this winter. Where do you draw the line....to actually celebrate Christmas in July – surely not?

I know that quite a lot of people here actually do celebrate Christmas during the month of July! There are even programmes televised to help get you in the mood with recipes, planning and timescales etc. This I can’t get my head around. At the moment, I’m having difficulty even chatting to family and friends in the UK and hearing that they’re having good summer temperatures when I’m wrapped in my winter woollies. This still comes as a surprise. They’re even managing the odd BBQ for heaven’s sake! The current tennis tournament at Wimbledon proves this, so to throw Christmas into the mix would literally turn my world upside down.

I think we’ll keep it to December thank you very much.