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In my ongoing quest for ‘healthy’ cake I recently adapted an existing muffin recipe to use up some of the many windfall apples I get from my mum-in-law at this time of year. Knocking up a batch of these is a great thing to do on a gloomy autumn afternoon, and they’re so easy kids can have a go at them too!

To make 12 muffins you will need…

275g plain flour (wholemeal if you like)

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

150g golden caster sugar

225g chopped apple

75ml sunflower or rapeseed oil

175ml apple juice

2 medium eggs

50g raisins

 

Pre-heat your oven to 190ºC/gas 5.

Place 12 large paper cases in your muffin tin.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.

Mix the wet ingredients together in a jug.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones.

Mix lightly until the flour has disappeared, but the mixture is still a bit lumpy.

Fold in the apple and raisins.

Divide the mixture between the paper cases.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until well-risen and a bit crusty.

Enjoy – these are perfect with coffee!

Soup, glorious soooop! I must admit I do get a bit obsessed with soup when the weather turns cold. If something stands still long enough in our house at this time of year I’ll probably have it souped by lunchtime. Homemade soup is a cheap, delicious, nutritious meal and a great way to get at least two of your five a day in a bowl. Plus recent research has suggested that soup is more filling than solid food and a drink of water, which is good news if you’re trying to lose a bit of weight.

Many people think making soup is difficult and messy, but all you really need is a biggish pan and a hand blender. If you don’t have a hand blender put one on your Christmas list now – brilliant for making soup in the winter and smoothies in the summer! There are so many fab seasonal veggies around at the moment it seems a shame not to take advantage of them with a bit of soupage.

Last weekend at the supermarket I put the following in my trolley, all on special offer: parsnips, leeks, beetroot, butternut squash and sweet potato. Then I looked at them, thought “Not even I can eat that much soup in a week” and put half of them back! I kept the leeks and the squash. On Sunday we had a free-range roast chicken dinner and, not wanting to waste a bit of the bird, I made stock with the carcass on Monday. To the stock I added the chopped up leeks, a couple of cubed potatoes (skin on), some bits of leftover chicken meat, a clove of garlic and some dried mixed herbs. I boiled this til the veg was soft then attacked it with the blender. Voilà, chicken and leek soup – nothing difficult about that! You can add more or less water depending on how thick or thin you like your soup, and use a good quality stock cube if you don’t have a leftover chicken.

 If there aren’t enough of you in the house to eat all the soup at once it freezes really well. If you freeze individual portions in small Tupperware containers you can just pop one in the microwave whenever you need a quick lunch or supper, or take it to work with you. If you don’t have a microwave at work invest in a wide-necked flask – when you think how much you’d pay for a measly portion of soup from a town centre takeaway you’ll save a fortune in the long run!

This week I’ve also made my favourite butternut squash and lentil soup. Preparing squashes and pumpkins can be a devil of a job, and I think this puts a lot of people off using them. The easy way to deal with them is to saw them into halves or quarters (depending on size), brush with olive oil and roast them in a hot oven until soft. Then when they’ve cooled the peel should come off really easily and you’re left with the cooked flesh to use in your recipe – if you can resist eating it just as it is, delicious! Adding beans or pulses to soups gives them a protein boost and makes them so filling you don’t even need bread.

 Basically when making soup you can just add whatever flavours take your fancy. Of course there are classic combinations such as carrot and coriander, but it’s a great opportunity to get creative in the kitchen and experiment a bit! Try adding a blob of curry paste to parsnip soup; the combination of flavours in this is amazing, and it’s brilliant for a Halloween or Bonfire Night party. If you don’t feel inspired there are countless soup recipes available online, just have a Google and see.

So keep yourself warm and healthy this winter with some fab seasonal soups. Do let me know if you have any favourite recipes of your own, I’m always on the lookout for new ones! Must go now, I have a huge pumpkin to carve. Have a happy Halloween and make soup tomorrow!

A pumpkin isn’t just for Halloween!