Autumn Pumpkin Festival at Royal Victoria Country Park

Recently, I popped along to my local pumpkin festival at Royal Victoria Country Park, and I thought I’d share some of the photos of the day!

Pumpkin montage 1Central chapel / prize-winning pumpkins / Mulberry logo scarf / matte nails with OPI top coat and Ciate’s Hopscotch / heavenly chilli / the remains of Royal Victoria Hospital

Royal Victoria Country Park is one of my favourite places to visit. Nestled on the shores of Southampton Water, the site used to be home to the Royal Victoria Hospital, which was much used during World War I and visited frequently by Queen Victoria herself, as well as Florence Nightingale. Little of the original hospital remains except for the chapel, as a fire devastated the rest of the building in 1963. However, you can still walk the grounds and even visit the patients’ graveyard on the site, which has some fascinating grave stones.

The annual pumpkin festival is an October highlight for me, but this year it was strangely devoid of pumpkins to actually buy! I usually pick up loads of munchkin pumpkins for decoration for Halloween and Thanksgiving, but they were thin on the ground. Luckily, we managed to swing by Pickwell Farm Shop on the way home to stock up!

Pumpkin montage 2

The light green pumpkin is one of my favourite eating varieties, called Crown Prince (my other favourite is Kabocha). Although good meaning types will tell you to save the pumpkin flesh from your carving varieties to make soup and avoid waste, I have to say, it’s a good way of making rubbish soup. Literally, soup from rubbish. If you actually want to enjoy eating pumpkin, you need to purchase culinary pumpkins, which are delicious. The carving types are generally watery, tasteless and very stringy.

So I piled up my little trolley with some delicious pumpkins in order to make some pumpkin hummus from the first Leon cookbook – along with some other tasty tapas dishes from the same book, including sesame chicken wings, flatbread, sweet potato falafels, Imam Bayildi and magic beans. I highly recommend the book if you like healthy, hearty food. I’ve never had the pleasure of eating at a Leon restaurant, but the recipes are amazing.

Pumpkin montage 3Pumpkin votive from Cox and Cox / tapas spread / inside of a Crown Prince / pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks / trying to decide between three shades of orange nail varnish / pumpkin votives, munchkins and Design Ideas black Sherwood tree from John Lewis

The rest of the month has been a pumpkin-flavoured blur – I’ve been getting loads of use out of my gorgeous pumpkin shaped candle holders from Cox and Cox (no relation – I wish!), and downing as many pumpkin spice lattes at Starbucks as my stomach can handle (a lot, it turns out!). I also bought some more orange nail varnish, as my Ciate Hopscotch was actually a cheat – I nicked it out of the advent calendar ahead of time. Naughty! (I ended up with Orange Attack from Maybelline.) Finally, I picked this pretty black Sherwood tree from John Lewis, which looks awesome bare as a Halloween decoration, or can be accessorized with baubles, birds and blossoms you can buy individually!

Square logo initials

Tasty, crunchy, Thai spring rolls

Although I love my gingery spring roll recipe more than any other variation on the spring roll theme, sometimes a girl needs a change. Otherwise, we’d only ever have one pair of shoes, right? No, that doesn’t sound right at all!

Anyway, these are spicy, crunchy, Thai-spiced spring rolls, which are delicious as part of a Thai meal, or as a starter, or as part of a buffet. Make up your own excuses to eat these! Whatever reason (aliens, hurricane, big puddle outside your house) it’ll be worth it. Like a lot of Asian recipes, the ingredients list seems intimidating, but once you’ve chucked everything in, you’ll realise that long lists don’t mean lots of work! Also, if you can’t find minced turkey, you can substitute minced chicken or pork. Lamb and beef will be too powerful here, though.

To make these spring rolls for bento boxes, buy the largest size spring roll wrappers you can get, and then divide them into four quarters. Make sure that all the ingredients are finely chopped, and trim the noodles to a shorter length.

Recipe for Thai spring rolls

Thai Spring Rolls

INGREDIENTS

  • Packet of 15cm/6 inch square spring roll wrappers
  • 50g cellophane/harusame noodles
  • 250g minced turkey
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/2 tsp minced ginger
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 2 red chillies
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Ground pepper
  • 1 small carrot, grated
  • 70g beansprouts
  • 1 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp mint leaves, finely chopped
  • Oil for deep frying
  • Sweet chilli dipping sauce

METHOD

  • Put the noodles in boiling water to soak for 10 minutes, then rinse under cold water, drain thoroughly and cut into 5cm lengths to make them easier to eat.
  • Heat the oil in a wok and fry the turkey mince on a medium heat, until the mince is separated and cooked through. Then add the garlic, ginger and spring onions and cook until the mince is slightly browned. Be careful not to burn the garlic as it will turn bitter.
  • Now add the noodles, soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar and mix well, adding pepper to taste. Turn the heat low and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Put the carrots, beansprouts, coriander and mint into the pan, stir and take off the heat.
  • Now to wrap your spring rolls. Place your spring roll wrapper diagonally on the work surface and fill the corner nearest to you with a tablespoon of mixture. Pull the corner up over the top and then roll twice – you should now be roughly to the centre of the wrapper. Fold the two corners into the middle and then continue to roll it up, sealing the end with water – this is vital or your roll will pop open when you fry it.
  • The frying method is the same for Chinese spring rolls – you can use a deep fat fryer at 170 degrees centigrade to cook your spring rolls, or heat them in a pan of hot oil. To test the oil is hot enough, add a spring roll – if it sizzles and the oil bubbles around it vigorously, you have it right. Cook on each side for a couple of minutes, then drain. If your rolls go dark brown too quickly, turn your heat down.
  • To serve, arrange on a plate with a dish of sweet chilli dipping sauce.

Spicy Thai mince recipe

Who would have thought that Narita airport would be full of tempting bento boxes? On a trip to Tokyo, I was resisting the urge to buy hundreds of new ones until I spotted a branch of Mono Comme Ca in the airport’s shopping complex, which had a fairly large range of bento boxes. I picked up this black onigiri box and the red chopstick holder you see here, plus a black chopstick case and a pink two-tier box. These boxes are really high quality, though a bit on the pricey side. I honestly can’t remember how much they were, though!

Mono Comme Ca

Inside my bento I’ve packed three onigiri with different furikake, a spicy Thai mince with lettuce leaves, and some lovely strawberries. The spicy Thai mince is delicious – for a party, make canapes or starters by pouring this mince into small lettuce leaves (Gem is the best!).

Recipe for spicy Thai mince

INGREDIENTS

  • Cooking oil
  • ½ inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 red chillies, deseeded and julienned
  • 500g turkey mince
  • 1 tsp light brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 2 fresh, shredded lime leaves
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Little Gem lettuce
  • 2 shallots, finely sliced
  • 1 extra lime for cutting into decorative slices
  • 1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves

METHOD

  • Heat a little cooking oil in your pan and fry the ginger, garlic and half the chillies for one minute, or until they become fragrant.
  • Add the mince and break it up as you cook, continuing to stir until it is slightly golden.
  • Sprinkle over the sugar, and add the fish sauce, lime juice, the shredded lime leaves and the rest of the chilli, saving some for a garnish. Cook for a few minutes until the sugar has dissolved and has made a sticky sauce. The mince should be dry when finished.
  • To serve, pour the mince into a bowl lined with lettuce leaves, topped with the shallots, coriander, lime slice and some reserved chillies.

Note
Like many of my recipes, you can use this to make around four adult bentos, or cook half for dinner and save the rest for your lunch. The mince is equally delicious hot or cold.