Tuesday, 29 September 2009
I don't know if anyone else has noticed but cakes incorporating vegetables seem to be in vogue all of a sudden, even Matthew Wright ate a courgette cup cake on The Wright Stuff the other day. We're all familiar with carrot cake and even beetroot and chocolate cake, but Harry Eastwood's book 'Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache' takes the vegetable cake to a new level.
She uses a huge range of veg, aubergine, parsnip even potato and turnip. I've only tried 2 recipes so far but what I'm quite impressed with the subtly and sophistication of her cakes. I was expecting endless variations of carrot cake, ie fairly chunky crumbed, wholemeal, spicy doorstops but her Chocolate Chip Cupcakes and Heartache Chocolate cake couldn't be more different. Dense, squidgy and intensely chocolaty, you'd never guess the moist texture was down to microwaved aubergine.
My only slight complaint is her rather irritating habit of personifying her recipes, for example Heartache Chocolate Cake (the aubergine one) is "...sad. It's dark and drizzling down the window panes. She puffs her chest in hope when she goes into the oven; she then breaks, like a chest heaving a sob" Am I the only one rolling my eyes and muttering "it's a cake for God's sake"? Maybe that makes me an old curmudgeon with a soul as bitter as a kumquat. Who knows?
Heartache Chocolate Cake
300g good dark chocolate
50g cocoa powder
60 ground almonds
3 medium eggs
200g clear honey
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp brandy
Pre-heat the oven to gm4/180C/350F. Line a 23cm, 7cm deep, cake tin with baking parchment and oil lightly. Stab the aubergine a few times, put in a covered bowl and microwave for 8 minutes. When it's cool enough to handle, slip the skin off and blend to a puree. Mix the chocolate into the aubergine and leave while the heat melts the chocolate.
Meanwhile whisk all the other ingredients together, then mix in the chocolate and aubergine. The recipe says bake for 30 mins but this seems to be quite variable. Rachel said hers was over cooked after 30 mins but mine was still squidgy after 50 mins so keep checking and take it out when it still quakes a little in the middle.
Leave to cool in the tin for 15 mins or so and then turn out and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!
Sunday, 27 September 2009
This photo makes me smile because it totally encapsulates my experience of the Aldburgh Food Festival this year. In the foreground, Willow and Xanthe are pretending to be statues while squabbling about who gets to be in the photo, in the background, you can just about see a blue shirt inside the marquee. That's Tom Aikens, Michelin starred chef who is holding a book signing, shortly after coming off the main stage.
Because Adam and I are the parents of small children, we are not inside queueing to shake Tom's hand, or nodding sagely in the Sheila Dillon discussion forum, we are not even making the most of sampling all the wonderful food, instead we are sitting on the grass outside, eating ice cream while covered in the sick of a 2 year old who ate too much chocolate cake.
But the day was not lost by any means. It's true we weren't able to concentrate fully on the speakers but on the plus side when we sat on the grass outside the Marquee we had unwittingly plonked ourselves right by the 'stage door', the effect being magnified even more when the sides of the Marquee were opened and we were suddenly mere inches away from the book signing table and the main stage.
While we sat in the sun Fergus Henderson tottered past, straining under the weight of an enormous cool bag (whose corners just skimmed my head) and Tom Aikens signed books over our heads while we pretended to be invisible, so we felt we were in the thick of things, well, clinging to the periphery anyway.
The children had a wonderful time both in the childrens' corner and in the main tent. Willow was uncharacteristically adventurous in her tastings, preferring smoked cheese to chocolate biscuits, unfortunately, Xanthe didn't feel very well so didn't want to try anything and eventually meant we had to leave early, though you'll be relieved to learn that I did manage to eat a pork pie and have a pint of Aspall's before we left.
I've still got a few fringe events to check out so hopefully my Aldeburgh Food Festival experience for 2009 isn't over yet.
Friday, 25 September 2009
I dunno, Quince Paste, Quince Cheese, neither sounds particularly appetising to me but then 'Membrillo' it's a bit foreign and poncy isn't it? Still, a rose by any other name etc. Personally, I love Membrillo with blue cheese, it's also good as a cake filling as it's thick so doesn't soak into the sponge and stands up quite well.
We're lucky enough to have a Japonica Quince growing wild nearby, we discovered it last year so this is our second season of membrillo and bottled quince though, sadly, it may be our last. The tree grew at a 45 degree angle and this year it's been a victim of it's own success. I described it as 'groaning' with fruit without realising that was literally true, I had a shock last week when I discovered it had fallen flat to the floor. The trunk isn't snapped all the way through so maybe it can survive but my main worry is that it grows on council owned open ground and I have a feeling that elf and safety or tidy mindedness may strike and it'll be chopped right down.
As a result I've gone on a mad quince picking session so I can make the most of (probably) the last season. I'm on my second batch of membrillo. I experimented with the first by adding some allspice, cinnamon and whisky it tastes like Christmas but unfortunately the colour has changed and it looks, quite literally, like jarred mud! My plan is to use it to make some festive jam tarts closer to Christmas with a star shaped lid to disguise the colour and palm them off *cough* I mean generously donate them to the school Fayre.
I then made a second batch in the usual way. For me that means simmering the quince for aaaages until they're pink and soft, then roughly mashing with a potato masher before passing them through a moulis to remove the skins and pips (sick of the sight of that flippin' moulis to tell the truth) I do it this way because the Japonicas are tiny and fiddly to peel and chop, unlike the larger varieties. I put the pulp in my conveniently calibrated jam pan and add an equal volume of sugar. I then boil it til it's very thick and pot up in the usual sterilised jars.
I have to admit though, my Membrillo isn't the most professional you'll ever see. It's a kind of burnt orange colour rather than the glowing, jewel red it should really be. I'm not quite sure why this is, maybe it's the Japonicas or maybe my moulis method.
A true Membrillo should also be capable of being turned out of it's pot and sliced, whereas mine is more of a spoonable consistency, I guess a fruit butter rather than an actual cheese, but this bit is a deliberate decision. Cooking the quince/sugar mixture to the correct thickness is a hazardous, traumatic event involving hot, spitting, boiling sugar flying wildly all around the kitchen, followed by weeks of slowly chipping rock hard splodges of cold Membrillo off floors, walls, cooker tops and ceilings. I decided I could live with spoonable!
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
It's been an exciting time of late in The Kitchen. One of the hottest new food trends at the moment is the underground restaurant. (I missed Jamie last night but apparently he went to one in New York) I'm pleased to report that for once, Norfolk is actually up to speed with the rest of the known world! I visited my new friend Clarissa yesterday and she is starting a Supper Club in Norwich which is wildly exciting. Judging by the amazing Malaysian lunch I was treated to, the food should be superb, especially the chutney. Why yes, gentle reader, the Unthank Supper Club will exclusively offer Norfolk Kitchen jams, jellies and chutneys.
Making a list of the preserves I have available in my larder for Clarissa made me realise that I've leaned quite heavily to the jam/jelly rather than chutney side of things. So obviously I'm keen to put that right and am now buzzing with chutney ideas, sloe and crab apple coming up, possibly quince, probably pear, need more jars - how many days ago did I say I'd finished with the preserve pan?
I seem to have re-discovered my puritan work ethic this last week. As well as busting a gut on the hawthorn ketchup, I finished my candied quince but want to try another batch and experiment a little more before I post a final recipe, it's frustrating when I've been working away in the kitchen but can't blog about it!
Also under my belt (quite literally!) is the 2009 sloe jelly. Here's the recipe, I have posted it in my comments elsewhere but thought I'd write it up properly.
2.1kg crab apples
Put crab apples and sloes in a pan with 1.3 litres water, cook til apples have softened then strain in a jelly bag. I would suggest re-boiling the pulp to increase the final yield, use half the original amount of water and repeat the process.
Measure the juice and use 1lb sugar to each pint (sorry to mix metric and imperial measures!) and boil til setting point is reached, pot in the usual way. Makes about 5lbs.
Rachel - I've not forgotton, I'll be round with a jar (plus that yarn) very soon!
Monday, 21 September 2009
This ketchup has seen me run the full gamut of emotion, from eager anticipation through boredom and frustration to eventual triumph. The recipe comes from Pam Corbin's book River Cottage Handbook No2, Preserves. I was keen to try it as haws are so abundant it seems a shame not to make use of them somehow and I'm always keen to try out a new taste.
In all honesty I found the preparation a royal pain in the arse. Picking the berries takes forever as they're so tiny then they have to be painstakingly snipped, one by one, from their stalks with scissors. Cooking is quite time consuming as they take ages to soften and then putting them through a moulis to separate the skins and stones from the flesh has given me a dodgy shoulder and a stack of washing up a mile high. I was quite disappointed with the yield as after all that effort I only had one bottle.
However, all is not lost, the resulting ketchup is fantastic, rich, fruity and spicy. It also keeps for 12 months without any additional canning process which is an improvement on the plum ketchup I made from the Gardener's World magazine which only keeps for 4 months unopened. For that reason alone I'd make it again to keep in the cupboard and cheer us up in the new year.
300ml white wine or cider vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
Snip the haws from the stalks and rinse in cold water. Place in a pan with the vinegar and 300ml water, simmer until the skins have turned brown and split to reveal the flesh inside. Remove from the heat and rub through a sieve or pass through a moulis.
Return the puree to the pan with the sugar, heat gently til it dissolves then bring to the boil and cook for 5 mins. Season with salt and pepper, pour into sterilised bottle and seal with a vinegar proof lid.
Thursday, 17 September 2009
*Sigh* it's that time of year again, using up the drips and dregs from the various harvests. Today I picked the last of the Bens as well as the green tomatoes from the mini greenhouse. (As I type the chickens are running amok in there, hoovering up the baby tomatoes I left behind). The last of the carrots finally came up yesterday and the Swiss Chard is looking sorry for itself under it's coat of silvery mildew.
Tonight we're having our annual Last Resort Supper. That's all the raggle taggle veggies stir fried with chicken and the remnants of last year's plum sauce. At the weekend I'm going to persuade Adam to wrestle that giant spider who's been guarding the run-to-seed basil so that we can dig it up and make pesto.
Still going strong are (of course) the Jerusalem artichokes and the borlotti beans. For some bizarre reason one borlotti bean pod came out all on it's own before all the others and that has ripened, also alone. So I am now the proud owner of 3 borlotti beans. Nature's bounty is a wonderful thing.
I'm going to plant a few winter crops, I've already re-planted the Mizuna after it was decimated by caterpillars and for the first time this year I'm going to plant up the mini greenhouse with salad or stir fry leaves. I'm slightly wary of planting winter crops in the main borders for fear of exhausting the soil. Last year I grew green manure (field beans) after Christmas but found it hard to dig in and rogue beans sprang up among legitimate bean crops causing much confusion, so this year I'm going to try the bokashi system. As I understand it I fill a bin with kitchen scraps and bokashi bran then after a few weeks I can dig the resulting fermenting veg into the soil where it should rot down quickly, ready for spring.
Fingers crossed for an allotment sometime soon, I've been told it's immanent since March so I really hope it's not too much longer - otherwise I'm not sure what I'm going to write about from January to May 2010!
Wednesday, 16 September 2009
I've been working hard over the last few days but haven't produced anything worth blogging about due to the infamous membrillo disaster, the dodgy Quince jelly and the fact that I won't know the outcome of the green tomato mincemeat experiment until it's matured for a few weeks.
I think I'm finally staggering wearily to the end of my marathon jam making season. I've raised my head from the preserving pan and surveyed the wreckage of my household. The cooker top is covered in red wine syrup splashes and I'm sure they're membrillo splodges I've spotted on the ceiling. The living room has disappeared under a drift of empty jam jar boxes which the children have turned into a train and a small heap of jam jar lids still sit in the hallway where I deposited them soon after delivery.
On the plus side the children have become feral *cough* I mean remarkably self sufficient, Xanthe appears to have learned how to use scissors while my back was turned and Willow seems to be reading all of a sudden.
The big question is what am I going to do with it all? Of course I haven't just got jam, there's also chutneys, bottled fruit, ketchups, cordials and stocks of fruit in the freezer. I've been careful to make sure I have a good supply of fairly sharp, 'dry' flavoured jam which can also be used in savoury sauces. A simple one is to mix about a quarter of a jar of sharp jam with minced garlic, ginger and chillis and a generous splosh of white wine or cider vinegar. It makes a sweet chilli style sauce which is lovely poured over tuna steak, pork or chicken.
This article by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall in the Guardian changed the way I think about using preserves. I now can't make a stew or casserole without adding half a jar of something homemade, his tagine idea in particular is genius, I can heartily recommend chicken with apricot chutney.
So, just a few loose ends to tie up before I can call time on the 2009 season. On my to do list is sloe jelly (fab in gravy) membrillo #2, rowan jelly and hawthorn ketchup .... did I say I was nearly done??
Monday, 14 September 2009
Just a quickie post for anyone who remembers the Bens. I didn't really know what to expect from them, never having grown French beans before. The resulting plants are smaller than I thought they would be but they have produced an awful lot of beans. As you can see, the girls are enjoying the fruits of their labours, dare I say more than if we'd bought the beans in Tesco?
Sunday, 13 September 2009
I suffered for this one, I really did. The rose thorns ripped my hands to shreds, my right hand was sticky with blood at one point
I got this recipe from a book I found in second hand shop, bizarrely enough, in the copper mine on the Great Orme in Llandudno this summer. It's called English with a Difference by Steven Wheeler and was published in 1988. It has some fantastic seasonal recipes as well as some 80's nonsense but seeing as it was written in the 80's I think we can forgive him.
The resulting jelly is pretty and tasty it's hard to put my finger on the taste, I guess something like hibiscus. It's on a par with my lavender jelly I made which was certainly a far less painful process.
Apple and Rosehip Jelly.
3lb crab apples
2lb rose hips
juice of 1 lemon
5 cm cinnamon stick
The original recipe suggests bunging all the fruit in a pan together but I didn't like this method. I'd suggest boiling the hips first til they're soft then give them a bash with a potato masher to break them up a bit, then add the apples and about 2pints of water together with the spices and lemon juice. Cook til the apples break up.
Strain through a jelly bag overnight. To every pint of juice add 1lb sugar, boil til setting point is reached and pot in the usual way.
Thursday, 10 September 2009
"Bite the bullace" was the alternative title for this post as Willow insists on calling bullace 'bullets'.
Adam and I sat down and made sloe gin last night, though I actually think it's bullace gin. This is largely because when Adam picked them he said there weren't any thorns on the tree, plus they're ripe rather early in the season (they were falling off the tree and some were beginning to shrivel) and they show signs of being eaten by insects. I've updated this earlier post with slightly more detail on distinguishing bullace and sloes (if it matters!).
I'm sure that any fule no how to make sloe gin, especially a fule who has encountered the sloe.biz site so I won't try and add to that particular pool of expertise except to offer a tip for pricking sloes. Take 3 or 4 at a time in the palm of your hand and roll and pointy side of a box cheese grater over them, much quicker than doing them individually with a pin (or thorn from a blackthorn tree as is traditional).
I've also slightly re-calculated the original sloe.biz gin recipe as I find it easier to think in terms of multiples of 70cl bottles of gin rather than the half litres given in the original. So per bottle of gin add 600g sloes and 210g sugar. Same proportion of ingredients, just expressed slightly differently.
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
... but sometimes the tools just aren't up to the job.
I've been keen to master the old fashioned art of fruit bottling and have spent the last year imagining I was pretty rubbish at it after last season's efforts. For those who don't know, it involves packing fruit into a kilner or mason jar, pouring over boiling syrup then heating the jars to form a vacuum seal. The fruit should keep for about a year. From intense scrutiny of Google I'm getting the impression that it's a bit of a minority pass time in the UK but more widely done in the US where you can purchase all manner of specialist canning (as they call it) equipment.
I'm particularly interested in bottling as I have limited freezer space so can't store large quantities of fruit in there and as much as I love jam, chutney etc it's nice to have whole fruit for pies, crumbles and suchlike throughout the year.
I first tried my hand at bottling tiny Japonica Quince last year. I made 4 jars, only 1 of which actually sealed successfully. I had no idea what I'd done wrong to make the other 3 fail so I gave up until I could figure it out as it seemed pointless to blunder on making the same mistakes over and over again.
There follows a long and convoluted story of scouring the net and torturous explanations of physics and vacuums which I'll gloss over as it's less than riveting. I even booked myself of a Low Impact Living course on preserving food as it covers bottling.
Armed with a smidgen of new knowledge, I had another go, this time with 3 jars of pears in cider syrup. 1 sealed correctly but 2 failed, by this stage I felt like banging my head on the table in despair, but then I noticed that the jars were made up of 2 different brands, the 2 failed jars were the same brand, the successful one a different brand. In fact, come to think of it, the clips on the failed jars were rather loose ....
Could it really be that simple? I'd got hold of duff jars? A year of blood, sweat and tears (that's not a recipe by the way) and poor preserving self esteem - and it was the jars??
To test the theory I bought a new clip jar and a screw band jar, bottled some plums and - they worked! As did the next batch of pears and damsons. I'm pleased to report I now have a stock of pears in cider, pears in red wine, plums in honey and brandy and a mixed jar of plums, damsons and blackberries in red wine.
A quick search on the River Cottage forums threw up an old thread on bottling which warned that many clip jars on sale are basically pretty storage jars and are not built well enough to stand the stresses of preserving, I guess my jars are just pretty faces, all style and no substance. Think I'll stick to screw band jars in future, they may be rather ugly but they get the job done.
Want to try your hand at bottling?
It's quite a technical process so I'll leave the details to the experts here. I used the moderate oven wet pack technique and some recipes for Pam Corbin's book Preserves: River Cottage Handbook 2.
Monday, 7 September 2009
So we get the message, it’s Autumn. Winter draws on etc in an effort to cheer myself up I’ve come up with my top 5 Autumn Reasons to be Cheerful (I know it says Part 3 in the title but thems the lyrics, blame Ian Drury not me). The big question is can I do it without resorting to guff about mist, crunchy leaves and mellow fruitfulness?
1. The kids are back at school. Sorry girls, I’ve loved having you at home but it’s lovely to have a bit more time to get on with stuff. I do miss you though.
2. Comfort food. Mashed potato, shin beef cooked in Adnams, roast dinners, crumble and custard. Washed down with a glass of red on a Sunday afternoon. I’m rubbish at summer food.
3. Pretending that making chutney is Really Quite Difficult, banishing the rest of the family from the kitchen while I perform the black arts for an hour or two. The reality is more like a play on Radio 4, a glass of sloe gin and a lazy stir every 15 mins or so.
4. Soft fruit may be out of the way now but apples and pears are in full flight (especially given grabby thing and a springy twig) quince, walnuts and chestnuts beckon.
5. Christmas. I do apologise, I know it’s too early for the C word but I love the build up, Christmas Fayres, roasted chestnuts, hot chocolate with brandy – definitely no mulled wine though. Ugh.
So that’s my 5, the last one sailed a bit close to the wind on the guff front I feel – Any more for any more?
Sunday, 6 September 2009
Willow requested Elderberry crumble again last night so I tweaked the original recipe a little and think this is a rather more refined version.
For the filling:
600g victoria plums (stoned weight)
pinch ground cinnamon and allspice
For the topping:
225g plain flour
100g brown sugar
50g roughly chopped hazelnuts
Combine the filling ingredients in an oven proof dish with enough brown sugar to lightly coat.
Rub the butter and flour together, leave it fairly chunky at this stage. Mix in the brown sugar, pour the crumble mixture over the fruit and scatter hazelnuts on top. Bake at gm 4 for 40 mins. Serve with cream or ice cream.
A truly outstanding crumble, even if I say so myself! The quantities of fruit can obviously changed to suit what's available but I wouldn't recommend including more than 200g of elderberries as their taste is very strong.
Saturday, 5 September 2009
A note to my foraging self in 2010:
1. If you heed any of these rules, let it be this one. Do not compete with the squirrels. You Will Not Win. Forget copses, spinneys, woodlands and any hedgerow thick enough to support a squirrel population. Look out for billy no mates trees, standing forlornly alone, or surrounded by roads.
2. Look down. Concentrate on the ripe nuts which have already fallen, they're less effort to gather and also a generous pile of nuts on the floor is a good indicator that point 1 has been fulfilled.
3. Windy days are your friend. The best crop of 2009 was gathered after 2 days of gales.
4. If the outer green husk does not come away from the nut cleanly and easily, discard the nut, it will be rotten.
5. Forget those weirdy, disproportionately large, bulbous nuts. They are always empty.
6. There will be earwigs. Oh yes, there will be earwigs.
After my busy day on Wednesday I spent Thursday continuing my bottling experiments - more of which anon. By Thursday afternoon the house was free of fruit (apart from the cherry plums in the freezer) so, naturally, on Friday I re-stocked.
A friend very kindly asked if I'd like to accompany him on a visit to his friend's house (friend of friend, with me so far?) with an actual orchard. I arrived bearing jam, chutney and chilli jelly by way of recompense but by the end of the visit that felt woefully inadequate compared to the bounty we left with.
The star of the show as far as I was concerned was a damson tree, groaning with achingly beautiful inky blue black fruit. It was here I discovered the advantage of a maintained orchard over foraged fruit. The grass around the tree is neatly trimmed and free of weeds, nettles etc and rotten fallen fruit is regularly removed. This meant all we had to do was shake the tree so that damsons rained down around us (the children adored this bit) and then we just picked them up off the floor with the children helping in a meaningful way for a change. I haven't weighed our crop yet as there's way more than our scales could cope with, I'm guessing at 6 kilos or so.
And that was just the start .....
Victoria Plums, 2 varieties of eating apple, bramleys and pears followed. A very productive afternoon all round.
My plans are to bottle the plums with spiced brandy (provided I can make this bottling thing work) pickle some damsons using a different method to the one I used the other day, more plum and elderberry crumble for Willow, damson and elderberry gin and umm ... more jam I guess!
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
Seeing as I'm up to my eyes in fruit and insects I thought it was time to get my head down and have a marathon 'processing' session.
My first task was damson gin while the kids were in bed last night. I used this recipe from the sloe.biz website. All went well until this morning when I awoke to a small purple puddle in the kitchen - one of my demi johns had cracked and gin had been slowly leaking out all night. Fortunately the other one was fine so all was not lost.
Next up was cordial made from a mixture of blackberries and elderberries. I used the basic recipe given here but changed the fruit to roughly 2 parts blackberries and 1 part elderberries I also added a pinch of ground cloves and cinnamon to the juice before adding the sugar. I love the resulting cordial, the elderberries give the blackberries additional complexity and depth. Last year I made blackberry vodka but was rather disappointed with the result which I thought was a bit one dimensional and weedy. I'm now wondering how a mixture of blackberries and elderberries would be, I may have to give it a go before the season finishes.
Finally, pear and elderberry jam, from a Marguerite Patten recipe, naturally!
Pear and Elderberry Jam.
1lb each pears and elderberries (peeled, cored weight for the pears)
3tbsp lemon juice
Chop the pears into small dice and put in a pan with about half a cup of water. Simmer for 10 mins. Add the elderberries and cook til soft. Add the lemon juice and sugar, cook on a low heat til the sugar dissolves then increase the heat and boil til setting point is reached.
Apples can be substituted for pears in this recipe.
So, once I've made my plum and marzipan tart for tea tonight the fruit in the house will be back under control, just a bowlful of pears and apples like any other normal household. So naturally tomorrow I'm off damson picking with friends, oh yes, and then there's the 3kg or so of cherry plums still in the freezer (sigh) I'll miss the fun once the fruit season ends though.