Make your fireworks party go with a bang

Mark Hix serves up a feast to celebrate Bonfire Night
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Indy Lifestyle Online

The builders have finally moved out at home, just as we were getting used to their company. What started as a relatively small project turned into major refurb, and just as I'd got used to a constant stream of PG Tips, The Daily Sport and little piles of dust in the corners, they've cleared off.

In addition to the used tea bags and old newspapers they also left behind the chippy trimmings from the past three months, and some good chunks of firewood. There was plenty left over for a burn up in the cast-iron fire pit in the garden, so I had a bonfire-party dress rehearsal with hearty dishes to keep everyone out of the house and outdoors round the fire. Well, I didn't want them trampling all over my lovely new floors.

I thought about doing mini toad-in-the-hole that you could serve straight from the Yorkshire pudding tin, but instead I opted for these favourites. Next time, though, I shall stick marshmallows on to rosemary-stalk skewers for toasting over the fire. Because, remember, remember, bonfire parties needn't only be on the fifth of November.

Pumpkin and chorizo soup

Serves 4-6

Every year we see more and more varieties of pumpkin and squash in the shops, and they make such delicious, hearty soups. This is a nice chunky fireside soup that's almost a stew, with a little bit of its own heat. Cooking chorizo is best for this, not the slicing variety which is drier and hence tougher when cooked.

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp fresh thyme leaves
120g cooking chorizo, cut into 1cm chunks, or slices
2tbsp olive oil
1tbsp flour
1.5 litres hot vegetable or chicken stock
500-600g peeled weight of firm fleshed pumpkin, or squash, cut into 11/2-2cm chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1tbsp chopped parsley

Gently cook the onion, garlic, thyme and chorizo in the olive oil in a covered pan for 3-4 minutes, stirring every so often, without colouring. Add the flour and mix well then slowly stir in the hot vegetable stock, a little at a time to avoid lumps forming. Season and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the pumpkin and continue cooking for 15 minutes or so.

Blend a ladleful of the soup, including bits of pumpkin and chorizo, in a blender until smooth then return to the pan with the parsley. Simmer for a few more minutes and serve.

Bonfire baked beans

Serves 4-6

Home-made baked beans can be fun and it's reassuring to know exactly what's going into them. You can use any kind of bean for this, like flageolet, cannellini, borlotti, black eye, or to make it even more interesting use a mixture. The bacon can be replaced with diced-up chorizo so the beans take on a spicier, smoky flavour. If you've got lots of people round you could keep a pot of these hot near the fire.

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, rind removed and finely diced
1tbsp olive oil
1/2tsp pimenton (Spanish paprika)
1tsp brown sugar
2tsp tomato purée
1 x 400g can of chopped tomatoes
2 x 400g cans of good quality beans (or a mixture), drained and washed
2tbsp tomato ketchup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently cook the onion, garlic and bacon in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes until the onions are soft but not coloured. Add the pimenton, sugar and tomato purée and stir over the heat for a minute then add the tomatoes, beans and ketchup, season, add a cup of water and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring every so often until the sauce is thick.

You can serve these on toast, or make large chunky croutons cooked in olive oil. You can then keep the beans in a Thermos flask, adding the croutons when you pour out into cups.

Spuds you'll really like

Serves 4

I'd almost forgotten what a great meal a jacket potato makes. And cheap, too. I've been put off them by all those pub and canteen fillings for leathery jacketed, luke-warm spuds, such as tuna and sweetcorn, frozen prawns and any other left-over sandwich-bar filling. My take on the snack in a jacket is a bit of a surprise as the filling is encased inside the potato. You can use your favourite filling, but if you really want to surprise guests add a couple of spoonfuls of chilli con carne and seal the pototoes.

4 large jacket potatoes
80g butter
100-120g good quality smoked ham, diced
120g farmhouse Cheddar, grated
3-4tbsp single cream
2tbsp chopped chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the 190C/gas mark 5. Bake the potatoes for 11/2 hours, or until soft. You can wrap them in foil, but I prefer the baked skin flavour. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for about 10 minutes.

Cut a slice off the side of each potato (reserving the slice) large enough to fit a dessert spoon in to scoop the potato out.

Scoop out as much of the insides of each potato as you can, keeping it as intact as possible. Mash the potato in a bowl and mix with the ham, cheese, chives and cream and season. Re-fill the potatoes through the hole and replace the piece you removed.

Return the potatoes to the oven for 30 minutes and they'll be ready to go. If you're taking them with you somewhere, just wrap them in foil and transport in a cool box, which works in reverse keeping food hot.

Drunken apples

These are a grown-up version of baked apples. The booze is cleverly contained in the tin foil, which also makes them easier to transport.

4 medium sized dessert apples, such as Cox's, Pink Lady or Braeburn

For the pastry

100ml water
600g lard
25g unsalted butter
250g plain flour
Pinch salt
1/2tbsp caster sugar
1 small egg, beaten

For the filling

30g walnuts, chopped
10 whole almonds, chopped
1tbsp ground almonds
6 dates chopped
1tbsp raisins
2tbsp brown sugar
1tbsp whisky
1tbsp rum
1tbsp medium sherry
A good pinch of mixed spice

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.

First make the pastry: mix the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Heat the water, lard and butter in a saucepan to boiling point, then pour on to the flour and stir in with a wooden spoon to form a smooth dough. Leave the dough covered for about 15 minutes or so until it can be handled.

Divide the dough into 4 balls and roll each of them on a lightly floured table to about 14-16 cm in diameter and cut into circles.

Cut the top off the apple (the stalk end) and remove the core with an apple corer, or a small sharp knife, making a hole about 11/2cm wide - enough to pour some filling into. Mix all the ingredients for the filling together and stuff into the apples. If there is any left over just spoon it on top.

Put an apple in the centre of each piece of pastry and bring the pastry up the sides of the apple, gathering it up and pinching it together, leaving the top of the apple and filling exposed. Place them on a baking tray and bake for 45 minutes, or until the pastry is golden.

Serve with thick custard or double cream.

Mark Hix is Guild of Food Writers Cookery Journalist of the Year