Monday, 26 October 2009

I kissed a frog and I didn't like it.

I've been making an effort to balance my preserves store of late. I have oodles of jams and jellies but was feeling a bit chutney lite. I'm always looking for something new to try so have been experimenting with a number of recipes that caught my eye. This approach is something of a double edged sword as, yes, there are previously untapped gems out there but to get to them you have to kiss a few frogs (and mix a few metaphors). Unfortunately, 'kissing a frog' in chutney terms is hard work as it involves a few hours chopping and simmering and a whole heap of washing up.

So to help you tread a little more sure footedly on the chutney path, here's a brief review of my recent chutney frogs:

Sloe Chutney - Avoid, avoid, avoid. Excessively tannic to the point of unpleasantness.
Spiced Pear Chutney - Sounded lovely, I imagined something sweet yet chilli hot. Unfortunately the spice blend was far too 'currified', it's like eating cold curry. Avoid unless you're Dave Lister.
Lavender Chutney - Probably unfair to include this as an out and out frog. If it was called Lemon Chutney it would be fine, it tastes lovely, very lemony but the lavender taste seems to have been completely destroyed in the cooking process though. Plus the recipe only made one jar. And the onions made me cry. Huff.
Date and Walnut Chutney - This one should be nice and it very nearly is, the spice blend is far too heavy on the cumin though and the it overwhelms the walnuts completely.

The Spiced Pear Chutney I'm hoping to use up as actual curry sauce, I've got half a sheep being delivered next week so I'm thinking some sort of slow cooked mutton curry may be in order. To be fair, the Lavender and Date and Walnut could be salvaged with some tweaking of the recipe next time round so I have a bit of a dilemma. It seems daft to make another batch now that I have about 10 jars of chutney in the cupboard but it also seems daft to chomp my way through 10 jars of not quite up to scratch chutney.

For the time being I'm keeping hold of them in the hope that the taste improves as they mature. I have had one success though:

Hedgerow Chutney
1lb onions
2lb cooking apples (peeled and cored weight)
2lbs blackberries
2 tsp grated lemon rind
3/4 pint cider vinegar
12oz sugar
3tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp ground ginger.

Put everything except the sugar into a pan and simmer until the onions and apples are soft. Then add the sugar and heat gently til it has dissolved. Boil steadily until it becomes thick and jammy, spoon into sterilised jars and seal with vinegar proof lids.

Why the picture of the baldy chicken? Just because her little baldy head is making me laugh quite a lot at the moment!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Right, that's IT - the moulis goes in the bin!

Flippin' thing. For one, it's massive and takes up more room in the cupboard than a baby elephant would. For two it's a pain in the rear to dismantle and wash, impossible to do without smearing pureed food all over my hands and top. But most importantly, for three, the holes are too big (even the smallest ones), they allow 'debris' through into the puree, discolouring it.

I suspected this was the cause of my rather orangey membrillo but yesterday I made my second batch of hawthorn ketchup and my suspicions were confirmed. I made the first batch using the moulis but decided to stick to the sieve and spoon method for batch two and just look at the colour difference. Batch two (at the rear) is bright, zingy, clear scarlet while batch one (infront) is a listless speckled orange. Not only that but the sieve and spoon were actually quicker and didn't wrench my shoulder like the moulis did first time round. So that's it, the moulis is confined to the kitchen appliance graveyard a.k.a the garage.

While I'm on the subject of home made ketchups, last night's dinner was a huge success. I decided to try a version of Hunter's Chicken using the cherry plum ketchup I made. I wrapped chicken breasts in bacon, parcelled them up in foil and baked at GM 4 for half an hour, then I opened up the foil, sprinkled over crumbled stilton and put them back in the oven for another 15 minutes. Once safely on the plate I poured a generous amount of plum ketchup over them. Simple and tasty, even the children enjoyed it.

I'm surprised to discover I didn't blog the plum ketchup recipe so here it is, just on the off chance anyone's got plums in the freezer to use up:

Plum Ketchup
by Angela Nilsen

1.25kg plums, stoned and quartered
1 small onion finely chopped
2tbsp finely chopped root ginger
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
200g light muscavado sugar
275ml white wine or cider vinegar
2 star anise
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp dried chillis
1/4 tsp allspice
5 tbsp light soy sauce

Put everything except the soy sauce into a pan and simmer for about 30 mins til the plums have broken down. Remove the star anise. Puree until smooth and then pass through a sieve into a large pan. Add the soy sauce and simmer until reduced and thick. Pour into sterilised bottles.

Allow to mellow for a couple of days before using, will last 2 or 3 months unopened in a cool, dark place. Once opened, keep in the fridge.

And finally .......

My Radio Norfolk debut! My bit starts at 1hr 3mins.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Winter Preparations for the Garden.

Ugh, it's definitely winter. Poor old chooks are feeling very disgruntled. Digby is pictured listing her demands for winter which, judging by her expression, I'm guessing include a wood burner in the coop and some cosy slippers. Feathers has responded in a slightly more despondent fashion and has commenced moulting once more. I don't think this is the smartest move at the onset of winter but I'm not sure there's much I can do about it. I do feel sorry for her though, with her little baldy head getting all wet.

I have taken pity of them to a certain extent and bought 2m of clear polythene from the garden centre and pinned it over the run to shelter them from the worst of the weather. Sadly, the hemcore on the floor of the run has been well and truely soaked with today's persistent rain so that will need to be cleared out for maximum avian comfort (woodburners aside).

The borlotti beans are more than ready to harvest so once the rain stops I'll get that done which just leaves the Jerusalem artichokes in the ground. My plan is to chop the artichoke stems down as they seem to be dieing back but I'll leave the chokes in the ground and just dig them up as needed. Last year I seem to remember scraping snow of the ground in my efforts to get at them.

I'm enjoying my mizuna crop which tastes something akin to rocket. I've planted the mini greenhouse with winter salad, pak choi and tatsoi, all of which seem to be flourishing for the time being. I've also replanted the Grand Radish Project of 2009. Older readers may remember my initial radish crop was decimated by caterpillars while we were on holiday in August. The winter radishes have sprouted and need thinning, I'm not sure how long they'll survive, they were sown in a fit of optimism when we were having a warm September so fingers crossed.

Next on the list is getting to grips with the bokashi compost system and rejuvenating the soil over winter.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Have my knees stopped knocking yet?

I'm just back from the BBC in Norwich having completed my slot on Radio Norfolk about sloe gin. I was quite nervous, in hindsight, having a strong coffee in the coffee shop downstairs before and then accepting a second coffee when I was in the studio was probably not a great idea. Certainly did nothing to calm my hammering heart at any rate.

It's all a bit of a blur thinking back and the download isn't yet available so I haven't heard it back. I can vaguely remember blurting out the odd sentence which I think were relevant to the topic. I didn't fart, belch, sneeze or swear so think I managed to skirt 'arse of self' territory reasonably successfully. They've asked me to go back "Once we get hold of you, you can't get away!" said Graham Barnard in what I hope was a jocular fashion, so it can't have been all bad.

Adam's task for the afternoon is to figure out how to download the show and link to the blog without stomping all over copyright laws.

I visited the Forum shop while I was there and purchased some Ginger Beer made by my twitter friend Breckland Orchard. I also noticed Lavender Jelly on sale at £4 (yes folks, that's four of your English pounds) for a small jar. I think I've stumbled upon the method by which I made my first million .....

Friday, 16 October 2009

Things I have Learned this Week.

Things I have learned this week:

Weirdy chestnuts are indeed confined to that one tree. I now have a bowlful of nice fat chestnuts from a tree I spotted while out running.

Yellow bullace jam makes a delicious sticky glaze for chicken drumsticks.

Norfolk Kitchen will appear on Radio Norfolk on Tuesday 20th October at 11.10am to talk about sloe gin - v excited about that one!

Making Hawthorn Ketchup (pictured) can't have been that bad as I've picked a second batch of haws.

The Pickled Plums taste amazing on potted cheese but are still too sharp to eat with something sweet like ice cream.

Sloes do not make a good chutney.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Christmas Present Series Part 3 - Hyacinth Pots

This particular present is made 100% by the children and, if I'm honest, is one strictly for doting Grannies and school teachers!

Every year I buy a pack of Hyacinth bulbs (£2.50 for 5) and some small terracotta pots (55p each). The children are then let lose with white paint, snowmen stickers and glitter to decorate the pots. Once they're dry we plant up the bulbs and leave them in a cool dark place, in our case the garage, to sprout. If we do it at this time of year, by Christmas they are usually an inch or two tall and ready to be brought indoors to flower. I find the main problem is remembering to water them, out of sight out of mind etc. To finish them off I tie a festive ribbon around the pot and attach a luggage label with care instructions written on it.

The main bonus, however, is that for at least 5 minutes you can enjoy the self satisfied, smug glow of knowing that you are an alpha Mummy whose offspring are not prone on the sofa gazing slack jawed at Cbeebies, but are outside doing a worthwhile and educational activity. Or at least you can until the 2 year old decides that a flower pot full of earth is not the correct place for a hyacinth bulb and throws herself, screaming and flailing to the floor every time the twain do meet. At that point she's enticed indoors with the promise of Cbeebies while Mummy finishes the project in peace and faces up to reality. Hooray for 5 year olds is what I say.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Lovely Quince Tree: A Valediction

I've written about the perilous state of our local Japonica Quince previously. I had been clinging to the hope that it might survive but Adam and I are increasingly pessimistic. It still looks green and healthy, just rather, ummm, broken. I fear over zealous local authority bureaucracy is it's greatest threat at the moment as it's lying on the floor in an untidy fashion and the official grass cutter men can't get underneath it anymore. My widow's weeds are on order.

The tree has a special place in our family history of foraging as Willow spotted it about a year ago when she was 4. Adam and I had seen it but dismissed it as a crab apple due to it's tiny fruit, it was Willow who frogmarched us over and made us begin our Google odyssey to eventual identification (and she hasn't let us forget it). The fruit tastes and cooks exactly like the full sized quince but has the added inconvenience of it's size (roughly golfball) which makes peeling time consuming and fiddly.

I can freely admit we're in a slight panic at the prospect of no more free quinces so we have methodically stripped as much fruit as we can handle and I've been trying to keep a pile of slowing bletting quince under control. At least the kitchen smells good. So far I've made 2 batches of membrillo, 2 of quince jelly, 3 jars bottled quince, 2 batches crystalised quince and Adam has embarked on quince cider (if it's any good I'll blog the recipe).

In my previous Membrillo post I was pondering the cause of it's dark orange colour, I'm now reasonably confident my theory about small bits of skin passing through the moulis holds water. Take a look at the jewel bright colour of the bottled quince which are peeled prior to processing. I'm very tempted to make a 3rd batch of membrillo using peeled quince to see if I can get the colour right but that feels excessive even to me and the peeling feels like a faff too far.

Here's the recipe I use for bottling quince, don't be alarmed by the vinegar, you can't taste it in the final product, it just gives an almost alcoholic depth to the flavour. This is excellent warm over good vanilla ice cream.

Bottled Quince
2.5kg quince (peeled weight)
625g sugar
190 ml white wine or cider vinegar

Put the sugar and vinegar into a pan and heat til the sugar has dissolves. Add the quince, cover and simmer until the fruit turns bright red, this will probably take 2 or 3 hours and doesn't work in a slow cooker by the way.

It can be eaten at this stage and will keep in the fridge for some time. To give it a longer shelf life it can be bottled. I use 1l mason jars. Pack the quince into sterilised jars, bring the syrup in the pan to the boil and pour over leaving about an inch head room at the top of the jar. Screw the lids on and loosen a quarter turn. Put into the oven at gm 2 for an hour. Take out of the oven one at a time and tighten the lid. Leave to cool for 24hrs then test the seal (in my jars this means the lid becomes convex and won't flex when pushed)

Makes 2 1l jars.

Anyway, *sniff* Farewell lovely Quince tree (dabs eyes with black edged hanky), I dread the day my blue cheese will go unadorned. (draws black veil over face)

Friday, 9 October 2009

Weirdy Chestnuts

Last year was our first chestnut forage, and quite a successful one it was too. We found plenty of sweet chestnut tress growing locally but we had that age old nut gathering problem - squirrels. The first tree we tried was actually being raided by the furry critters as we approached, they scattered when they heard us, leaving half eaten chestnuts in their wake. Unsurprisingly we didn't find any in that location. After another couple of false starts we finally found one the squirrels had left alone and we got a nice big bagful of chestnuts (top tip: big boots and thick gloves), in fact, I think there are still a handful in the freezer.

I wasn't expecting the 2009 season to start just yet, if memory serves, I think it was November last year when we collected them, so it was a bit of a shock to the system when a few days ago we drove past a sweet chestnut with huge piles of fallen nuts all around it. Obviously I was keen not to miss out this year and yesterday I took myself off to the scene of our 2008 triumph - only to be bitterly disappointed.

Last year we noticed that most of the spiky outer husks contained 2 nuts, one big and fat, the other tiny and shrivelled. This year I was dismayed to discover each husk contained 3 tiny shrivelled nuts, none of them big or developed enough to be worth eating. A few weeks ago I ran past the squirrel infested tree of 2008 and paused to skive, I mean check on the progress of the chestnuts, at that point I noticed the husks were looking smaller than I remembered but thought it was my memory playing tricks on me. I'm now wondering if that location is similarly affected though it'll be a few days before I can get over there to check.

I'd be interested to hear from anyone else with more chestnut experience than me, I'd love to know what may have caused the multiple, underdeveloped nuts, is it just my tree? Has anyone else had this experience this year? Is it the weather we've had?? All opinions gratefully received.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Christmas Present Series Part 2 - Figgy Mostardo

This is another recipe from Pam Corbin's 'Preserves' book. I chose this to put into my Christmas Hampers as it struck me as being quite a masculine preserve which would be a good partner with the delicately feminine Lavender Jelly as a present for a couple. Plus the name is irresistible, how could I bypass the chance to write out 'Figgy Mostardo' labels?

Figgy Mostardo
500g dried figs
zest and juice of 2 grapefruit
1 tbsp yellow mustard seed
200g sugar or honey
25g mustard powder
100ml cider or white wine vinegar

Using scissors, snip the figs into 4 or 6 pieces. Put in a bowl with the mustard seeds and grapefruit zest. Measure the grapefruit juice and top up to 500ml with water, add to the bowl. Cover and leave overnight.

Put the figs in a pan with the sugar, heat gently til the sugar dissolves. Blend the mustard powder with the vinegar and add to the pan. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 mins til thickened.

Spoon into sterilised jars and seal with vinegar proof lids, mature for 4 weeks before opening. Should keep for about 12 months. Makes 4 225g jars.

Mine have been maturing for a couple of weeks now and have nice hot and fruity taste with an unexpectedly crunchy texture, perfect for a Boxing Day cold meat buffet.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Spiced Crystalised Quince

Christmas Present series Part 1. (Anyone who receives Christmas presents from me, please look away now)

I'm pleased to finally be in a position to blog my crystalised quince recipe. It's been weeks in the making but I'm thrilled with the final version. It looks daunting as it takes at least a week but the time input per day is minimal. They keep for ages, one recipe book confidently claims they keep 'indefinitely' but more modern recipe books are a bit more cautious. Either way, they're ideal to make now and will happily sit in the cupboard in an air tight container til Christmas. There's also plenty of time to browse Ebay and get some pretty sweetie wrappers and cello bags to put them in.

Spiced Crystalised Quince.

1lb quince, peeled and cored weight.
White sugar
Brown sugar
1tsp ground ginger
half tsp ground cinnamon

I used Japonica quince for this recipe which are tiny so it was sufficient to just peel and quarter them. If you're using the larger quince, they'll need to be cut into bite sized pieces.

Put the pieces into a pan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes and then refresh under cold, running water. Make a hot syrup with half a pint of water and 6oz white sugar, pour over the quince slices and leave for 24 hrs. (I left mine in a lidded pan)

Next day, add a further 2oz white sugar to the pan, heat to dissolve the sugar then leave for another 24hrs. Repeat for a total of 7 days.

On the 7th day, spread the quince onto a baking sheet in a single layer and put into the oven on it's lowest setting for an hour or two. The aim is to dry the pieces leaving them with a crisp sugar coating. Allow to cool and then place the fruit in a jar with about 6 tbsp of brown sugar and the spices (or to taste) and give it a good shake to coat. If you find the fruit too sticky, leave it a week or so then dry them out in the oven again, at this stage they should be totally dry.

Maybe it's because I used freshly opened ground ginger rather than the old jar that had been sitting around for years but, heavens to betsy, these spiced quince are gorgeous. And that's saying something coming from someone who's not that fond of ginger unless it's in Grasmere Gingerbread!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Culinary Heritage

Here are my two daughters, busy making elderflower cordial back in May. I hope that one day (once that teenage thing is out of the way) they'll look back fondly on their days in the kitchen with me and maybe even make cordial with their children too.

I've often wondered where I get my interest in food culture from. I'd love to be able to say that I learned how to make chutney at my Grandmother's knee or that my Grandad taught me how to manage a veg patch ... but I really can't. My family food history is one of astonishingly peculiar quirks of the palate.

My Mum's Mum was wildy eccentric in her cooking, baked beans were fried in lard and pork pies were served plonked in a bowl of Heinz soup. My Mum inherited many of her culinary tricks, my childhood favourite was 'chips wi' soup over' which was a plate of chips with Heinz vegetable soup poured over them - beef soup would have made more sense, more akin to gravy I guess, but vegetable is bewilderingly leftfield.

Dad's side of the family weren't much better. His Grandad used to drink his tea with (brace yourself) a raw egg whisked into it. To be fair to Dad's Mum, she did teach me a few things, like making gravy from scratch. That sounds terribly promising but believe me it's all in the execution, yes it had scrapings from the roasting tin, yes it had vegetable cooking water but it also contained a staggering amount of gravy browning and so much cornflour that the final product could be considered a non Newtonian liquid - you wouldn't have to fill a swimming pool with it to know it could be walked on.

She did teach me how to rub flour and fat together and how to make Potato Cakes but then she went on to teach me how to make a Sunday roast, including reducing the veg to mush (if you want to know, you boil them for half a day then take a potato masher to them to beat out any remaining texture. This is a versatile technique which works for any vegetable), how to reduce the beef to matchsticks of charcoal and how to finish the roasties in the chip pan. And did anyone else's grandparents insist on putting sliced cucumber in a small dish of malt vinegar all morning before adding it to salad?

The funny thing is, as a child I loved all this food, soggy cabbage with salty gravy and crispy potatoes - mmmmm. I still love Potato Cakes smothered in butter and the smell of them cooking under the grill takes me right back to my Nan's kitchen and writing this is making wonder if I have any soup in the cupboard.

There have been successive 'Nan Bennett's, it's not a mere name but a title passed down from matriarch to matriarch. I'm not sure I'll ever adopt it, they are rather daunting shoes to fill. I never met the original Nan Bennett (My Great Grandmother on my Dad's side) but I've heard she was an amazing cook, a great one for high tea and a prolific baker. I wish I knew more about her and had been able to spend time in her kitchen or read her notebooks but I never have. Maybe the cooking gene is recessive, skips the odd generation but remains lurking in the background, waiting to make it's presence felt once more.