Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone!

This will be my last post of 2009 as from hereonin it's a whirlwind of packing followed by the whole of tomorrow being taken up with sitting around on the M6.

Look forward to more Kitchen adventures in 2010!

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Christmas Present series Part 5 - damson gin truffles

One of the joyous side effects of making lots of fruit liqueurs is the mound of booze soaked fruit you're left with at the end. I find sloes a bit tricky to deal with as they're too tart to eat with ice cream of something similar and it's really tricky to get the flesh off the stones.

This year I made damson gin for the first time and the ginny damsons are much easier to work with so I made a double batch of damson gin truffles. The children enjoyed mucking in to help (I didn't much enjoy the cleaning afterwards though, chocolate handprints all through the house) but they didn't enjoy eating them, these are properly grown up chocolates, dark, bitter and boozy. Small children explode if they eat them. Honest. At least that's what I've told my two.

Here's the recipe I lifted from the website:
Damson Gin Truffles

50g/2oz unsalted butter
150ml/6fl oz double cream
450g/16oz good quality dark chocolate
150g gin soaked damsons (stoned weight)
4 tbsp damson gin
Something like cocoa powder or ground nuts (hazlenuts work well if you get hold of them) to coat

First whizz the damsons to a paste in a food processor. Next melt the butter and cream together in a pan and bring to the boil. Break up the chocolate and add it to the pan, stir til it melts. Mix in the processed damsons and damson gin. Pour the mixture into a shallowish container and refrigerate for an hour or two 'til set.

Once set scoop out small balls of the mixture (I use a melon baller) roughly shape into a ball and roll in your chosen coating. Return to the fridge to set.

V popular Christmas gift this one!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Tangerine Jelly photos

Tangerines in the raw .....

..... and the finished product.

Tonight we finished off the last of Jamie's tangerine jelly. We love the intensely orangey, light and refreshing taste. It was delicious with a splodge of yoghurt and a drizzle of maple syrup. I'd be interested to hear from anyone else who's tried this recipe though as ours came out as a really soft set. Probably not a bad thing in itself as I enjoyed the slurpy aspect but I find myself glaring enviously at Heston's wildly boinging gelatin phallus. (In the culinary sense I mean, back off Freud)

Friday, 18 December 2009

Oh the weather outside is frightful ....

.... but the fire is so delightful, and since we've no place to go - Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Well, we knew last night that today was going to be a doozy and, sure enough, we woke to a thick, thick blanket of snow. The morning started with a phone call which was literally: "Hellothisistheschoolwe'reclosedtoday.Byeee!" click, brrrrrr. "um, ok" so the Christmas holidays started a day early in Norfolk. Willow was surprisingly glum about it as she missed her end of term party and didn't get to take in her home made cards and presents for the teachers. It was a sensible decision though, as the roads are treacherous. Last night's school disco taxi run was terrifying as the brakes on the car became frighteningly temperamental.

I wish I'd had the foresight to harvest the remainder of my mizuna crop as it the snow has given it an odd, almost translucent look I recognise from the frosty bit at the back of the salad drawer in the fridge. Still, my 'winter salad mix' I'm growing in the mini greenhouse turns out to be quite heavy on the mizuna so all is not lost. The snow has also seen off the last of the radish crop but only the tiny ones remained anyway. Feathers seems remarkably unphased by the white stuff though I do feel sorry for her out there (her snowy coop is pictured) and have been giving her extra rations of mealworms and sunflower seeds to build her up a bit.

To occupy ourselves at home today we made Jamie's Tangerine Jelly from 'Jamie's Family Christmas' on tv last night. Willow had fun squeezing all the tangerines, I've never made jelly from scratch before but the whole thing was remarkably easy. The jellies are quite lovely, very intensely flavoured and grown up, my thoughts are turning to Cointreau, I'm sure a shot or two could be squeezed in somewhere .....

The recipe doesn't seem to be on the Channel 4 website so I've transcribed it from the tv:
Jamie's Wibbly Wobbly Jelly.
600ml tangerine juice (approx 20 tangerines)
5 sheets gelatin
Small lump fresh ginger
Sugar to taste

Soak the gelatin in warm water to soften. Put half the juice in a pan. Grate the ginger and squeeze out the juice and add to the pan. Add the gelatin and gently heat, stirring til it melts. Add in the rest of the tangerine juice, taste and sweeten if desired. Strain into glasses and chill for a couple of hours.

Jamie served his with vanilla flavoured live yoghurt and chocolate curls but we didn't bother, was still yummy.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

You can't turn your back for a minute in this house.

Or "Christmas Present Series Part 4".

Festive cookery continues apace in The Kitchen this week as the decanting marathon commences. You may remember over the past few months we've been steeping purple bullace gin, sloe gin, damson gin and the experimental damson and elderberry gin. Everything except the sloe gin is ready for the fruit to be removed and to decant into pretty bottles, the liqueurs can be drunk straight away if you're desperate but they will benefit hugely from having a month or three to mature in the bottle.

So today I strained 2 demi johns of bullace gin and 2 more of damson gin which means I'm left with a whole load of boozy fruit to make use of. The damsons I have set aside for now and will make damson gin truffles with them next week (alcohol and chocolate, what's not to like?) and I turned my attention to the ginny purple bullace.

Adam and I opened a bottle of English 'Malt Spirit'. This is from the English Whisky company, it's whisky which hasn't yet matured enough in the oak casks to officially be called Whisky so is still a clear, white spirit. Adam and I weren't terribly impressed with it so I tipped the remainder over some of the used sloes (philistine, I know). I'll leave it a month or so, cross my fingers and hope it tastes ok.

The bulk of the leftover sloes I used to make Sloe Gin Jelly. It's just my original sloe jelly recipe but with alcoholic sloes instead of raw. I also had a small amount (approx a 'shot') of sloe gin left over so I chucked that in there too. It tastes much sweeter than the raw sloe jelly, more akin to the Sloe Jelly with Port I made.

I know the recipe was a success as this evening, Adam, Willow and I were engrossed in a game in the living room. Xanthe scampered in and announced "I like that jam!" - cue general panic about the jars of Sloe Gin Jelly quietly setting in the kitchen. My 2 year old tot had dragged a chair across the kitchen and stood on it to gleefully raid one pot of gently quaking jewel bright jelly. I couldn't exactly be cross, it is a great, fat seal of approval after all.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

And so the festive baking begins!

Back in the summer I feared my tomatoes weren't going to ripen so I picked a whole load green and made Green Tomato Mincemeat. It does sound odd but really the green tomato just replaces the green apple which is rather more conventionally used in mincemeat recipes. It produces a fairly light tasting mincemeat which suits my palate, there is no discernible 'tomatoey' taste whatsoever. To be honest though, just about anything smothered in suet, brandy, mixed spice and nutmeg would taste like mincemeat!

So, what to do with 6lbs of homemade mincemeat? Mince Pies? Check. I took some to my first jam sale last weekend to give away as samples of the mincemeat, however, I was forbidden from using them as the organisers of the fete were selling their own mince pies so I brought them home again. They are now nestling safely in the freezer awaiting a festive defrost in a couple of weeks.

Today we are on day 3 of house arrest with poorly children so to stave off cabin fever I've abandoned them to Cbeebies and locked myself in the kitchen to make Mincemeat Muffins. I used this recipe on Recipe Zaar but adapted it slightly to use what I have in my cupboards, plus I've anglicised the weights and measures. I also decided to leave out the sugar on the original recipe (there's plenty of sweetness in the icing) and use wholemeal flour. It gives the muffins a taste which is vaguely reminiscent of carrot cake and also shares that sense that if you sort of half close your eyes and squint a bit you can convince yourself that they're actually healthy.

Mincemeat Muffins.
50g chopped walnuts
1 pear, bottled in spiced cider, chopped (or chopped apple)
1 large egg
175ml apple juice
75ml vegetable oil
350g mincemeat
225g self raising wholemeal flour
1tbsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon

100g Icing sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3 or 4 tsp apple juice

In a large bowl mix together the egg, apple juice and oil. Stir in the mincemeat and chopped walnuts and pear/apple. In a separate bowl mix together flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Add to the egg mixture and mix til just combined.

Fill a muffin tray lined with paper muffin cases about 2/3 full and bake at gm6 for 20 minutes.

To make the icing mix the cinnamon into the icing sugar and stir in enough apple juice to make a thickish icing (don't spill the apple juice in a cackhanded fashion and thin the icing beyond salvage. That's a bad idea. And I didn't do it. Honest). Spread the icing on the warm muffins.

If these cakes survive long enough I'll lob in the freezer alongside the mince pies but they're so warm and spicy and yummy they may not see tomorrow to be honest ....

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Well they do say you reap what you sow ....

I'm beginning to think that the highlight of the foraging year may just be the deep mid-winter. OK, so there isn't any fruit around (other than the last few crab apples clinging perilously to the trees) but now is the time to plunder the goodies we worked so hard to lay down over the summer.

Today we're having Hugh's Artichoke and Goat's cheese salad with our Sunday roast made with winter salad and Jerusalem artichokes from the garden with foraged hazlenuts. We're following it up with Mulled Quince and Pear crumble, assembled from quinces from the freezer (kindly donated by a friend), pears bottled in spiced cider (foraged) and some more hazlenuts (foraged).

The spice in the bottled pears is actually very strong and 3 small, chopped pears are enough to flavour the whole dish. I poured a little of the cider syrup over the fruit prior to cooking. As the warm, buttery smell of cloves and cinnamon wafts through the house there can be no doubt that Christmas is upon us. (Especially after our visit to Father Christmas this afternoon)

One of the joys of living in a small Norfolk market town is the impossibility of buying alcohol on a Sunday evening. Until recently we had 2 off licenses which meant we had until 8pm to buy wine but as the credit crunch has forced them to close we now have to rely on the supermarkets which close at 4pm. It's a pretty safe bet that about 4.05pm one of us will say "Did we pick up any wine to go with dinner?" - Doh. However, our foraging ways step in and save the day once more. Our store of fruit liqueurs and Quince cider will be pressed into service this evening, a tad unconventional perhaps but needs must.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

RIP Sir Digby Chicken Ceasar (a girl, despite the name)

Well, we are now down to one chook as poor old Digby turned up her toes yesterday. I came outside on Thursday and noticed her comb had turned a dramatic shade of purple and was flopping over to one side but she was still hopping around the garden reasonably well. I gave her a handful of mealworms and hoped for the best. In the meantime I looked up a variety of chicken diseases on the internet but I was somewhat puzzled as she didn't seem match any of the listed symptoms. The only plausible suggestion I found was that a purple comb can be a sign of heart problems. Digby has always had a wheezy chest and I think that heart and respiratory problems can be linked so that was my best guess.

When I went out to the coop on Friday morning she had taken a dramatic turn for the worst and, to be frank, it was obvious she wasn't going to last much longer. I made her as comfortable as possible, shut Feathers out of the run to give her some peace and went indoors to break the news to the children.

Willow was surprisingly upset for a child who claims to be scared of chickens but she seemed to come to terms with the situation quite quickly. She came up with the rather sweet idea of making a memorial of some kind to Digby to put in our fairy garden.

Sure enough, by tea time, Digby was no more. Feathers seems to be fine, though she's still rather pale faced followed her moult and she's still not laying but she looks energetic and healthy and her feathers are beginning to re-grow. Just to be on the safe side we'll leave it til after Christmas to get a replacement chicken in case my diagnosis is wrong and Digby had an infectious disease of some sort.

She's pictured with Feathers in happier times this summer, staring through the catflap in that gimlet eyed way she had. She used to peer through the murky plastic til she saw human feet walk past then she'd peck furiously on the catflap, making it flap and bang in an alarming fashion, in the hope of alerting us to her presence and persuading us to feed her marmite toast.

RIP Digby - fondly remembered chook and marmite lover.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

1st December 2009

1st December, how did that happen? Had to scrape ice off the windscreen for the first time today. I finally got around to 'closing down' the garden for the winter, not sure why I procrastinated about it for so long, it only took about 20 minutes in the end. All the old/dead plants have been dug up and one border dug over, I've left the other as it's still full of Jerusalem Artichokes. I pulled up the radishes that were of any size in case the frost damages them and I've brought the fairy houses in from the fairy garden for the same reason.

As I dug I reflected on the successes and disappointments of the season and started to ponder my plan for next year. I've decided my main goal is to maximise yield in relation to space utilised. My peas and beans were nice this year but the crop was disappointingly small. I sowed petit pois, broad beans, runner beans and borlotti beans. Each crop only produced enough for one or two family meals each which wasn't really worth the effort if I'm honest. I might give runner beans a go next year, around the bean frame in the front garden, would it be too optimistic to hope I'll have enough to give salted beans a go??

My main tomato crop was smaller this year than in previous years which was a tad disappointing but thems the breaks I suppose. I'm wondering if there's something else I can grow in the mini greenhouse next summer as a bit of a change though I'm not sure what. The strawberries were also somewhat thin on the ground, they provided a snack every now and then for the children but not enough to sit down to a bowlful each. I think next year I'll give the strawberry hanging baskets over to tumbling tom tomatoes which were a good crop again this year.

Rainbow Chard, Jerusalem Artichokes and Carrots were all great successes which I'll grow again. Crop rotation is a problem in a small garden though, the carrots will need to move but I don't know where to, the only alternative place is the sunny spot I'm keeping for next year's courgettes (which I'll grow in pots and bags to avoid the moasic virus I acquired this season).

Think I need to send off for some seed catalogues and peruse them from under a snuggly blanket armed with some sloe gin. The joys of winter gardening.