Archive | Food RSS feed for this section

When Nature can’t help itself

15 Mar

No discussion, the beginning of this week was slightly stressful. I spent most of Monday in various NHS waiting rooms (the GP’s surgery, the eye clinic’s outpatient’s in the old hospital, the emergency dept in the new hospital, the CT scan ‘preparation’ area in the new hospital and then finally Sub Wait G1 in the new hospital). But to cut to the chase, everyone is fine, and my Mum’s assertion that “I’m good at falling” remains true.

It may have been stressful, and frustrating and mostly boring (waiting, waiting, forever waiting) but our NHS is remarkable. I hope it can cope with the oncoming onslaught of Covid-19; I fear it has not been well funded for far too many years and the staff are already over-worked and under-resourced. And the staff we met were all kind, caring and competent (apart from one, who was brusque.. but she was efficient and gave us what seemed to be useful information, so I’m not complaining).

The chorus of birdsong was almost deafening the following morning as I walked across to Mum’s house, under low grey clouds, with a slight smirr of rain in the air. Two male blackbirds were singing competitively from the rowan tree. I guess it’s that time of year. Spring is springing, despite the wettest February in memory. Everything still looked grey, or that end-of-winter depressing brown. But if you looked close, there were the tiniest splashes of colour everywhere.

And then that afternoon our pond seemed to be boiling, the water bubbling up as the frogs got on with their Springtime froggie thing. And of course we now have great globules of frog spawn which will mostly end up as additional protein for the hens I guess.

Our Springtime frog spawn

So, there’s Nature doing its thing, and as sure as night follows day, here am I doing mine, back in the kitchen making treats to cheer our days. And what is more cheering than a wee slice of the most lemoniest of lemony cakes? I adore that zing of sharpness from lemons, and the soft moistness of this sponge complements it perfectly. I guess it would probably keep well, in an airtight tin, but how will I ever know? It’s lovely with a cup of tea or strong espresso, but would work equally well with a scoop of vanilla or dark chocolate icecream, or a big spoonful of creme fraiche on the side for an easy dessert.

The recipe is from my favourite of favourite cookbooks, Darina Allen’s The Forgotten Skills of Cooking.

The most delicious lemony polenta cake

Lemon polenta cake (gluten free)

  • 225g / 8oz butter, softened
  • 225g / 8oz caster sugar
  • 225g / 8oz ground almonds
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • grated zest of 2 lemons
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 110g / 4oz polenta
  • 1 tsp baking powder (make sure it’s gluten free if you want your cake to be GF)
  • a pinch of salt

Grease a 23cm / 9″ spring form tin, and line it with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 160C / 325F / GM3.

  1. Cream the butter till pale and soft, using electric beaters.
  2. Add the caster sugar and beat again until light and creamy.
  3. Stir in the ground almonds and vanilla extract.
  4. Add the eggs, one by one, beating thoroughly after each egg.
  5. Fold in the remaining ingredients: lemon zest and juice, polenta, baking powder and salt.
  6. Transfer the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for about 50 minutes (but check after 45 to see if it’s ready).
  7. It’s ready when it’s a deep golden colour on top and your skewer comes out clean as a whistle.
  8. Cool on a wire rack
  9. When cool, dredge with sifted icing sugar, to cover any slightly well-fired bits.

My other Spring makes include Wild Garlic Pesto (obviously) and I’m really in the mood for making some chicken liver pate, so I’m delighted that Past-Shewolffe has provided me with a recipe. Or go browse here and see if anything takes your fancy.

Do let me know if there’s anything you want me to make. I’m thinking I might share a few recipes using some of the stockpile in your store cupboard.

Love is….

14 Feb

Well last year love was a heart shaped sausage.

The Captain requested 12 inches of the finest pork sausage from our local butcher, and presented it to me as a Valentines supper.

He’s a keeper.

Burns Night

25 Jan
Procure a sheep’s pluck

January. It’s nearly the end of January already, but before the end we have one last celebration.

Most of January is a time for hunkering down and hibernating. Whoever thought that January was the time to start dieting, to start telling yourself that you should forego some of the things you love to eat didn’t live in rural Scotland. I’m all in favour of taking stock and putting in place whatever you need to be the best you can be this coming year, but please don’t make your new year be all about giving things up. We need nourishment in January. And we need to feed our heads and our hearts, as well as our bellies.

In Scotland we have two main celebrations in January: New Year’s Day (which is often marked by a severe hangover from Hogmanay the night before) and Burns Night. The traditional fare for a Burns Night is of course haggis, neeps and tatties. Many of you might think that it doesn’t sound like much of a celebration to eat turnips, potatoes and a savoury pudding made from the cheapest (and possibly most disgusting) bits of a sheep, but I love this meal, and it is absolutely perfect January food. It is food that nourishes us in these dark wintery weeks, and it makes use of about the only vegetable which is locally and seasonally available in Scotland right now – the turnip (some of you may call it a swede). Traditionally I guess we’d drink whisky with it, but if you’re not a purist, then red wine works a treat with haggis.

Ball haggis in natural casing, from our local butchers, J&H Cairns

Mum gave me her copy of The Scots Kitchen by F Marian McNeill (first published 1929) this Christmas. I didn’t even know we had it on our shelves (or I might have ‘borrrowed’ it sooner). In it, FMN includes “Meg Dods’s suggested bill of fare for St Andrew’s Day, Burns clubs, or other Scottish national dinners” and I don’t know what I was expecting but it certainly was not the elaborate menu shared below, with its Brown Fricassee of Duck, Crimped Skate and Rich Eating Posset in a China Punch Bowl. And that’s all before you’ve tackled ‘A Black Cock, or three Ptarmigan’. Anyway, I’m not suggesting you go full Burns Night banquet a la Meg Dods, but please do treat yourself to haggis, neeps and tatties at least once each year.

Meg Dods’s suggested Bill of Fare

In future posts there will be more on FMN and her Scots Kitchen, and probably more on Meg Dods (and her relationship to Walter Scott) if you’re interested.

In my mother’s handwritten recipe book, my favourite of all recipes was her Great Aunt Janey’s recipe for haggis, which starts ‘First procure a sheep’s pluck….’. A few years ago I was given the original recipe book in Great Aunt Janey’s hand, written for my Gran for her 40th birthday (in 1944). There are other, perhaps more useful, recipes in this wee black book, but for me none can surpass the haggis recipe.

No actual recipe this week, as I figure if you want to cook haggis, neeps and tatties you probably already know how. But if you want to look through my various tried and tested recipes for everything from Apple Chutney to Winter Salad, have a look here.

Pizza

12 Jan

The Captain and I love the al fresco life. We have a terrace outside our bedroom, overlooking the Valley, and over the years we have gradually pimped the space. For the last few years we’ve had a chimenea fire and a barbecue, and we’ve had some wonderful evenings up there, with good food and a glass of wine as the sun goes down. But for a while I’ve been hankering after a wood fired oven, to extend my al fresco repertoire beyond barbecuing and smoking. And salads of course. I make pretty good barbecues and salads, but my dream was to have fresh pizza straight out of a wood fired oven on our terrace.

The good news is that dreams do come true. The Captain bought us a pizza oven for Christmas – after researching what was available and what would suit our space best, he’d chosen one from Ooni, and it is perfect for our needs.

Midwinter in Scotland might seem sub optimal when it comes to al fresco dining, but there is something just magical about wrapping up warm, putting out the awning (to protect from the inevitable rain) and huddling next to the fire, watching the moon rise and cooking and eating fresh pizza.

Parma ham, mushroom and onion pizza

And the other thing about going for it with pizzas at this time of year is all those leftovers! Don’t be boxed in by what you think of as sensible pizza toppings – see what you’ve got in the fridge, decide if you’d like them together and go for it. This is how I discovered the joy of a black pudding and brussel sprout pizza!

I’m not a purist when it comes to pizza dough – sometimes I make my own entirely by hand, on those days when 10 minutes kneading dough will help de-stress. Other days I pop the ingredients in the bread machine and let it do the work.

What I’ve discovered makes the most difference is making a really good pizza sauce – in the past I’ve zizzed up a tin of tomatoes, or used a passata… and while both of these are fine, they are a bit too watery and can make the pizza base go soggy. So my top tip is to take the time to cook some good pizza sauce while your dough is resting or rising or proving or whatever.

Everything prepped to make our first pizzas

If you don’t ‘have a wood fired pizza oven, don’t despair – home made pizza is pretty good made in any really hot oven.

Pizza dough

Ingredients

  • 250ml water (or use slightly less water, and slug in some sourdough starter)
  • 1-2 TBsp oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 TBsp sugar
  • about 425g strong white flour
  • 1 tsp yeast

Directions

Put the ingredients in the pan of your bread machine in the order they are listed above and hit the button for pizza dough.

When it’s ready, take the dough out and separate it into 2 or 3 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, and place it in a bowl (which you’ve drizzled a wee bit of oil in the bottom). Cover each bowl with a damp tea towel, or a lid, or a plate, or cling film, or beeswax wraps, or whatever suits your environmental aesthetic, and leave for about half an hour. Don’t worry about timings too much. At the end of the time you’re going to turn each doughy ball into pizza.

Brilliant Pizza Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 (or more) garlic cloves, slightly chopped
  • 2 TBsp oil
  • 2 large tins of chopped plum tomatoes
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • your choice of herbs or spices – I like to add a wee bit of chilli, but mediterranean herbs would also be good

Directions

  • Put the oil in heavy based pan over a medium heat
  • Add the garlic and sweat for a wee minute. Don’t let it burn, just soften it in the oil
  • Add the other ingredients
  • Simmer for 20 minutes or so until it looks thick and bright dark red
  • Leave to cool

I make loads of this pizza sauce and keep it in a tub in the fridge – as well as pizza it’s found it’s way into the most amazing quiche (pizza sauce, caramelised onions, cheddar cheese and an egg/philadelphia cheese custard poured into a short pastry case), and also mixed in with pasta and some tuna as a midweek pasta bake.

You know how to make pizza, don’t you? I thought I did, but what I didn’t know well enough was that when you’re using a peel, to put the pizza into the oven, you need to make sure that peel has PLENTY of polenta on it, or you will never slide the pizza off the peel and onto the stone in the oven. The other thing I’ve discovered is that less can be so much more on a pizza – just a couple of good ingredients can be so much more satisfying than piling too much on.

Some toppings we like:

  • Black pudding and shredded brussel sprouts
  • Parma ham and mushrooms (and then add rocket once it;s out of the oven)
  • Goats cheese and beetroot
  • Blue cheese (preferably gorgonzola) and pear, maybe some ham too
Black pudding and brussel sprout pizza

Want more recipes? Perhaps a quick midweek dinner? Or easy peasy biscuits? Just head here and have a browse.

Tiny Bites Winter Festival

5 Jan

Sometime in the Autumn my nephew came to visit, and we had one of those blissful evenings on the terrace, with a log fire and a barbecue and more than our fair share of wine. There was probably amaretto too. And cheese, there’s nearly always cheese.

Anyway, on this occasion the conversation roamed around politics (inevitably still talking about Brexit) and work and food. Somehow, the next morning we had decided that the most fun thing to do at Christmas this year would be to shun the massive turkey, and instead go for Tiny Bites.

Let me explain – I’m a Big Fan of the Tiny Bites, or canapes as some of you might call them. I love the perfect morsel in miniature – flavours that zing, textures that excite and looks that delight. And if they are all uniformly set out on a serving platter (possibly even a slate, which I will allow for Tiny Bites, but NEVER for a proper meal) and brought to me by a wonderfully smiling human even better.

We shared our idea with the rest of the family, and The Inaugural Winter Festival of Tiny Bites was born, though not without some concern… Would there be enough to eat? Were we just creating the same meal as usual but cutting it up into tiny portions? What is Christmas without a plate piled high with roast turkey and ALL the trimmings? With hindsight, perhaps it’s bizarre that not once did any of us question if this was even possible, or if we were creating far too much extra work, for little extra fun.

Early in December we had pretty much rebranded it as a crowdsourced tasting menu, with family being the ‘crowd’, and we managed to have a planning session when we were all at home at Mum’s one weekend. It turns out that planning a crowdsourced tasting menu is a great use of all those planning techniques we’ve learned at work, and it’s far more fun applying the techniques to a Family Christmas than to most of the projects I’ve worked on! More on the planning another time, but needless to say, there were a lot of post-it notes and a killer excel spreadsheet.

And it turned out our plan was to produce an 18 course meal on Christmas Day, starting with The Partridge and the Pear and finishing with Cheese (subsequently renamed as The Baby Cheeses in a Manger).

The Partridge and the Pear

As I write this in the early days of the new year, I can confirm that we had the most fun on Christmas Day, that the fear of ‘not enough’ was totally unfounded. And that Tiny Bites nearly broke us, though not in a bad way. We managed only 12 (only!) of the 18 courses before we were beaten by the Bites and had to take some time out. The time out lasted right through the evening, and the Bites were never resumed, though my nephew did provide Tiny Bites Style Breakfast the next morning.

I’ll come back to this extravaganza in coming weeks, with some of the recipes. In the meantime, here is the full menu:

  • The Partridge and The Pear
  • His Bark is Worse Than His Bite
  • Gold Langoustine
  • Peruvian Prawns
  • Herring Smorgasbordling
  • Tiny Soup and Tiny Croutons
  • Tiny Soup (reprise)
  • Tiny Cheese Toastie with Apple Compote
  • Tiananmen Squares
  • Bambi Bullseye
  • A tart encounter (intermezzo)
  • The sausage meets the potato
  • The Bird
  • Bollywood
  • Pear without the Partridge
  • Storm in a Golden Teacup
  • Cranachan
  • Festive Jellies (redacted)
  • The baby cheeses in the manger with the good King Wensleydale, and Christmas cake
  • Cocktails (work in progress)
The Tiny Bites Menu

Let me know if there’s anything you really want to read more about.

Miss Morgan’s Butterscotch Sauce

4 Mar

I asked Mum about Miss Morgan a wee while ago, as I only have vague (but good) memories of her. She lived along the road from our house and occasionally babysat for us. I’m not sure why she looked after us, as our usual babysitter was Rachel, who was tall and manly and lived with the wee feminine Emily. Rachel and Emily were sisters; they had loved and lost during The War, and hence lived with one another, or that was what we were told.

Miss Winifred Morgan to my childhood self seemed sweet and kind, but with something more about her, perhaps she was secretly a Miss Marple? The other day Mum said that she had been a nurse and that she had worked in Egypt, possibly training or setting up nursing there…

My most concrete memory of Miss Morgan is her butterscotch sauce recipe. I think she was looking after us over a weekend, and to go with ice cream she taught me how to make butterscotch sauce. This was a revelation – until then I think we only had stewed fruit, or jelly with ice cream. Or on special occasions we would have a tin of fruit salad – but I sense that Mum avoided this at all costs as it would only cause arguments about who got they sole pink cherry from the tin. Butterscotch sauce seemed utterly exotic. And there was unexpected DANGER in making it.

Butterscotch sauce

  • 4oz sugar (just granulated is fine)
  • a scant 1/2 pint of water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 dessert spoon golden syrup
  • 1 TBsp cornflour
  • 2 TBsp cold water
  • 1/2 oz butter
  • a few sultanas
  1. Measure the sugar into a dry heavy based saucepan
  2. Stir over a moderate heat until it melts and turns golden
  3. Now here is the fun DANGER part: take your pan off the heat and pour in the 1/2 pint of water. It will all sizzle and bubble and steam, and then the sugar will seize and solidify on the base of the pan. That’s ok
  4. Put it back on a low heat and stir gently, until the sugar is all dissolved
  5. Add the salt, vanilla, syrup and stir
  6. Mix the cornflour and cold water together in a wee cup or mug, and then pour into the pan, stirring as you pour
  7. Bring back to the boil, stirring all the time, so the sauce thickens nicely
  8. Take off the heat, and add the butter. Stir till it is all melted in
  9. Add the sultanas if you want them. You could also add some rum, brandy or whisky at this stage to turn it into grown up butterscotch sauce.

Pour warm over vanilla ice cream. I’d say ‘the best vanilla ice cream you can afford’ but actually this would be pretty good over any vanilla ice cream, even the cheap stuff. That’s definitely what we had back in the 1970s, if only because that was all there was available at Brydens, our local shop.

Nowadays I guess I would probably sprinkle some salt flakes over the top too, to make it salted butterscotch, making that exquisite sweet-salty combo. I might use a bit more butter too. Just because.

It would also be delicious on warm gingerbread, a bit like a sticky toffee pudding. But I’m just saying that because I have a gingerbread in the oven.

There’s another butterscotch sauce recipe here, a more modern one, probably not created by a wee lady who was probably born over 100 years ago now. And if sweet treats aren’t your thing, why not look through the other delights I’ve been rustling up in my kitchen, here.

More delicious things to do with blackcurrants

14 Aug

Blackcurrants.

When you have a glut of them you REALLY have a glut of them.

I have a couple of wee blackcurrant bushes which are ignored for most of the year and this year were surrounded by chest high grass, nettles and dock leaves. I was sure there would be nothing to harvest. But of course I was wrong. Deliciously wrong.

I cropped the whole branches, placed them in my wicker trug and carried them upstairs to our terrace one evening, and spent a gentle hour picking the fruit, topping and tailing it ready for cooking. The swallows were swooping and swooshing around our heads, sometimes below us, sometimes so close we could feel the rush of air as they changed course just before their wings brushed our faces. It’s a glorious way to spend a summer evening, and the memory of it keeps me warm through the winter.

The blackcurrants this year were destined to be drinks, one alcoholic and one not.

My Mum has made blackcurrant cordial for years and I feel that in my late 40s perhaps it is time for me to give it a go. I have no children to turn their noses up at it, as it isn’t their usual brand (I always wished we had REAL Ribena when I was a child, not this wannabe pretender. Little did I know how lucky I was).

So, I searched for the perfect blackcurrant cordial recipe and settled for one by Henry Dimbleby, who started the Leon chain of fabulous eateries. I have four Leon books, but of course found this recipe online on the Guardian website. You can read the original here if you want to.  The recipe is pretty simple, but does include the addition of citric acid, which is a natural preservative, but also adds a zesty acidic zing to the juice. Citric acid is a natural compound, found in citrus fruit (of course!) but these days it is mass-produced as a chemical compound, and is more commonly known as E330 on food labels.

Blackcurrant cordial

  • 500g blackcurrants, topped and tailed
  • 275g sugar
  • 250ml water
  • 1/2 tsp citric acid
  1. Put the blackcurrants, sugar and water into a heavy-based pan, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 5 minutes
  2. Get your potato masher out and bash the fruity smoosh, breaking up as much of the fruit as you can
  3. Add the citric acid and boil for another 2 minutes
  4. Place a muslin cloth in a sieve (preferably a plastic one) and pour the fruity mixture into the sieve and leave to drip through .Don’t bother squishing it with a spoon or anything. Just leave it. Go pour yourself a gin and tonic, you probably deserve one
  5. Once it’s stopped dripping (I left mine overnight) throw out the detritus in the muslin cloth; keep the muslin and wash it, ready for another day.
  6. Decant the thick silky juice into a clean bottle and label it up, so you know this is the BC cordial and not the hooch. You don’t want to get that wrong, trust me!
  7. Dilute with water or sparkling water fora  refreshing summery drink. Or with prosecco if it’s cocktail hour already, which it must be somewhere.

But I also wanted to make a blackcurrant liqueur. And wouldn’t you know, there was a handy recipe in this month’s Good Food magazine.  Well, the recipe was for a Bramble liqueur, but it can be adapted for blackcurrants when I have a glut of blackcurrants and the brambles aren’t ripe yet.

So here you go:

Blackcurrant hooch (or boozy ‘bena)

  • 600g blackcurrants, topped and tailed (you could use frozen if that is all you can get hold of)
  • a bottle of good red wine
  • 500g sugar
  • some vodka or gin (the original recipe I now notice only asked for a large glass of vodka/gin but I poured in ahem a whole bottle)
  1. Put the currants into a large plastic or glass bowl and pour over the wine. Get that trusty potato masher out again and crush the fruit as much as you can. Cover the bowl with a tea towel (this keeps it dark-ish and keeps out all the flies we are plagued with this summer) and leave for a few days. Give it another smoosh with the potato masher every 24 hours or so.
  2. Pour the mixture through a plastic sieve lined with a piece of muslin.
  3. Tip the juice into a heavy-based pan and add the sugar. Actually it probably doesn’t really matter if your pan isn’t a heavy-based one – don’t avoid making this hooch just for the sake of an expensive pan.
  4. Heat up slowly, stirring occasionally. Once the sugar has dissolved bring toa boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Leave to cool and then pour in the vodka or gin. As much as you think is appropriate. I suspect my version with the large volume of vodka is not entirely appropriate, but we’ll see.
  6. Use a small jug, or a funnel and pour into clean dry bottles.
  7. Seal and label.
  8. It’s ready for drinking straight away, or you can put a ribbon round it and feel proud that you’ve made some Christmas presents already.

My blackcurrant ripple ice-cream recipe is here if this isn’t what tickles your sweet fancy today.

I hate marmalade

10 Feb

I don’t like marmalade.

I’ve never liked marmalade.

I went through these two statements in my head the other day, and then I thought to myself, ‘But perhaps I do’. You see, because I have known all my life that I don’t like marmalade, I’ve never tried it again since I was about 7 years old.

So then I started thinking about children not liking food, and how you should get the kids involved in cooking using the ingredients they think they don’t like. And then voila! They will at least try them. And quite possibly like them, as they are so proud of what they have made.

You know where I’m going with this, don’t you? The farm shop had lovely looking seville oranges, and I decided to test my hatred of marmalade, by making a big vat of the stuff.

I LOVE making preserves, and have several cookbooks devoted just to that, in addition to various back to basics cookbooks and family cookbooks which I was certain would have good recipes. I consulted my go-to website for finding recipes eatyourbooks. I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but if you haven’t read that post, then I’ll tell you about it again – if, like me, you have many cookbooks and no longer have an encyclopaedic knowledgeable of exactly what recipes are in which. Register them on the website, and you’ll be able to search for recipes, or on particular ingredients, and it will tell you which books or magazines will have the recipes you are seeking.

So, I narrowed my choice down to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, or Thane Prince.  And Thane won (and not only because I follow her on twitter, but because I love her no-nonsense recipes with her explanations of WHY you do certain things).

But of course, being me, I didn’t exactly follow the recipe word for word – I didn’t have enough granulated sugar in the cupboard and was determined not to go back out to the shops again, so I substituted with a mix of caster and dark brown muscovado sugar.

Orange and ginger marmalade

From Jams and Chutneys by Thane Prince. If you are even vaguely interested in preserving, buy this book – it covers the basic techniques and then delicious recipes for everything from an every day raspberry jam, through frozen cranberry vodka to smoky barbecue sauce.

  • 1.25kg Seville oranges, scrubbed in warm water
  • 115g fresh ginger, cut into 1″ nubs and then crushed
  • 1.5kg unrefined sugar (I used 3/4 caster sugar; 1/4 muscovado)
  • 200g jar stem ginger preserved in syrup, drained and chopped into slivers (keep the syrup – you’ll need it later)

You will also need a large muslin square, a big heavy based pan and preferably a jam thermometer (although this is not necessary)

  1. After scrubbing the oranges pop them whole into a large heavy-based pan, with the smashed lumps of ginger and 8 cups of water
  2. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer for about 45mins till the fruit is soft and squishy
  3. Using a holey willie (this is what we call a slotted spoon in my family!) remove the ginger and the fruit from the pan – put it in a big bowl
  4. Pour the liquid into a jug to see how much you have – if you need to, add more water to make up to 6 cups and put it back in the pot.
  5. Add the sugar to the pot, and let it start to dissolve (off the heat) while you are processing the oranges
  6. Before you do anything else, pop a side plate into the freezer, or the icebox of your fridge (this will make sense later)
  7. Now, sit yourself down, put on the radio and get to work on the oranges. You’ll need a bowl lined with the muslin square, a wee sharp knife, a soup spoon, a chopping board and the bowl of oranges
  8. Cut the oranges in half, and scoop out all the pith and the seeds and the orangey goodness into the muslin lined bowl. Once all the oranginess is in the muslin square, tie it up securely and pop it in the pot of water
  9. Thinly slice the peel. This will take a bit of time to do properly, so relax and enjoy, it’s a lovely mindless task, almost meditative once you get going
  10. Add all the sliced peel to the pot. Pop your sugar thermometer into the pot if you have one, if not, don’t worry – you’ll still get good marmalade
  11. Bring the mixture up to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes
  12. Add the ginger syrup and the slivers of preserved ginger
  13. Cook on a fairly quick boil for a further 30 minutes, or until the marmalade has reached setting point. I didn’t boil it hard enough so it took FAR longer than 30 mins. If you’re using the thermometer, just keep boiling till it reaches ‘jam’ but do the cold plate test to make sure it will set.
  14. The cold plate test – take the plate out of the freezer and drip a blob of marmalade onto it. Leave a few seconds till it’s properly cold and then push it with your finger. If it’s runny, keep boiling. If it sort of wrinkles at the edges, it’s ready. Voila!
  15. Remove and discard the bag of oranginess.
  16. Ladle into sterilised jars, seal and label

A note about sterilising jars. You must do this! If you don’t your marmalade could go nasty really quite soon after putting it in the jars. And what would be the point of that?

You can sterilise them by running them through the dishwasher and using them immediately (without putting your icky fingers inside the jar before filling them). Or wash them in hot soapy water, and place them upright in a baking tray, and pop them in the oven for 20 minutes or so. Again, fill them with marmalade before you fill them with ickiness from your fingers.

And another note for you – about soft peel. That’s what marmalade is all about, yeah? How would I know, I never liked the stuff! Anyway, if you want your peel super soft and lovely, then you have to go through the process of cooking the oranges in water BEFORE you add the sugar. If you add the sugar before the skin has softened it will just go tough and your marmalade won’t be so unctuous and delicious.

So, I guess you want to know if it worked, if I now like marmalade? Well what do you think? Would I be able to resist this unctuous bittersweetness in a jar? It’s DELICIOUS! I still don’t know if I like ALL marmalade, but I certainly love this one.

And you do want the recipe for marmalade and apricot muffins don’t you?

Next time, next time. I’m too busy on my Easy Peasy Cheese Scones right now. And must make some lemon curd, to use up some of those eggs (and those lemons looking a wee bit sad in the fruit bowl).

Going to work on an egg (or the arrival of my Greek heroes)

13 Oct

People who know me may know that for some years now I have wanted to have chickens. I don’t really know when this desire first rooted in my heart, but I suspect it was long long ago on summer holidays up at Marbrack, a Galloway hill farm where my Aunt Joyce lived (with my Uncle Frank and 5 of my cousins).

Marbrack had one of those lovely farmhouse kitchens, the real heart of the home. We all sat on a long wooden bench at the even longer kitchen table, with our backs warmed by the rayburn behind us. The same rayburn which occasionally would bring a wee cold dying lamb back to life in the bottom oven (or have I made that bit up?). And the same rayburn which produced all manner of delicious teatime treats, including scotch pancakes (drop scones) freshly made directly on the hot plate.

Anyway, I think we went to stay a few days every summer holidays. My memory is of being a hopelessly shy child, especially around all my big boy cousins, so I spent most of the time close to Aunt Joyce’s apron strings. Spending time in the kitchen was bliss – there was the huge bowl of fresh milk to be brought in from the back kitchen, so I could skim off the cream from the top. And there were cakes to bake. But best of all, there were hens. Each day we would take a pail of scraps out to the hens, and then would look for the eggs. Thinking about it, now I know why there were so many cakes – all those eggs to use up!

For years I lived in London and there was no possibility of having hens in a basement flat, so it wasn’t until my life changed a few years ago that I thought about being able to have my own chickens.

And now that I live in the country I have my own three wee chook chooks.

And thanks to The Song of Achilles being our recent book group book, two of the chickens are named after Greek heroes – well, one Greek hero and one Prince of Troy: Achilles and Hector. The third is called wee Tommy.

And yes, I know these are boys names.

Two things:

  1. I don’t suppose chickens know the difference between a girls and a boys name
  2. If by chance they do, I feel very comfortable with gender dysmorphic / transsexual chickens in my coop. And they seem very comfortable with it too.
l to r: wee Tommy, Achilles, Hector

And after three days I’m getting three eggs a day from these wee heroes. When I go out in the morning and call them they come running out of their wee hen house to see what treats I might have brought them, and they peck around my feet. I’ve learnt that shoes with shiny buckles are too enticing for chickens. And that a corn on the cob on a string is the best sport for chickens in a coop.

So, there will be many more pictures, and many recipes for what to do with an egg laid by a Trojan Prince. But for now, I give you my failsafe boiled egg for breakfast recipe.

The perfect boiled egg

Now, of course if you have access to a super fresh egg, straight from a Trojan Prince that is what you should use. Otherwise, just use an egg from an egg box. But I hope your egg is at least free range – those batteries are nasty places, and I hate to think of hens cooped up with no space to move about and be inately henny.

And where do you keep your eggs? Mine are kept at room temperature, so they are at the same temperature as everything else when I am baking cakes. I don’t see the point of keeping them in a fridge, they don’t need it. Or not in our cold kitchen anyway! If you have a larder that is where I would keep them.

The best place for eggs

Anyway.

Get a small saucepan, and pop your egg in the bottom of the pan. Pour water over the egg, so the egg is just covered with water. If your egg is super fresh it will sit on the bottom of the pan. If it’s been around a wee while one end might bob up to the top, which is fine. If the whole thing properly floats I would chuck it – it’s been around too long and may be icky.

Place the pan over the heat – a medium heat is fine – and bring to the boil.

At this point you should make your toast if you want any.

Once the water is properly boiling, put your timer on for one minute. The water should be properly boiling, not like wild rapids so the egg is being thrown about the pan, and not a wee soft simmer, but something in between.

After a minute, take the pan off the heat.

Get your egg cup ready and pop your egg on the egg cup; if you have an egg cosy, use it – it’s probably something that will make you smile, and we should never deny ourselves the wee joys in our world. Your egg should be at that delicious soft yolk stage. And all you need with it is a scrunch of black pepper, and a teaspoon for breakfast perfection. Of course if you made that toast, then a single slice of hot buttered toast works (perhaps with a scraping of marmite, if you’re feeling in need of a salty hit and some B vitamins).

For a low carb diet a boiled egg (or two) for breakfast is just perfect – in fact for everyone it is the best start to the day, with a wee hit of protein to get you up and keep you going till lunchtime.

Soft boiled egg – the breakfast of champions

Tollhouse cookies

30 Jan

Tollhouse Cookies are a memory from my childhood. I had a recipe written in my childish hand-writing, which if memory serves me correctly had the list of ingredients but no instructions. I made them so often I didn’t need instructions and so I knew that they were the most delicious of cookies.

I’m pretty sure the recipe came from my Aunt Joyce, the Queen of Baking in my world. And I’m also fairly certain that the recipe is in my mother’s recipe book. So, if I really wanted I could no doubt get back the original, and make them exactly as they were in those eternally sunny summers back in the mid 70s. But I also recall that they had half lard, half butter (or even marg) … and I know that using half lard can make pastry beautifully short, but I don’t think I want to use lard in my biscuits any more. So, if I’m going to play about with the recipe anyway, I may as well just find a new one, and adapt from there.

So, this weekend I did some internet research, so you don’t have to.  Although if you really want to find out more, you can do worse than starting out here on my friend wikipedia.

Now, a bit of background for you. One of the reasons I feel quite so strongly about Tollhouse Cookies might be because my father’s office was in the original Tollhouse in our town.  I know it’s purely circumstantial, and literally hundreds of towns must have their own historical tollhouses, so clearly my recipe was no more authentic than any other. But, my recipe had choc chips AND nuts and I am not about to mess with my memory by either making a Tollhouse Cookie with no nuts, or re-naming the biscuits of my childhood Choc Chip n Nut Cookies.

But anyway, the research revealed a few things about 21st century tollhouse cookies: the butter should be melted and the sugar needs to be a mixture of brown/muscovado and caster – this will give a more caramelly taste and chewy texture, which works for me. And the cookies should be left on their baking sheet once nearly cooked so they complete the cooking out of the oven. No-one seemed to want to put nuts in them though, so feel free to omit them if you want. But then please just call them choc chip cookies.

Tollhouse cookies

Preheat oven to 170C or Gas Mark 3. Grease at least two baking sheets. Or I guess you could line them with baking parchment instead.

170g unsalted butter

250g plain flour

1/2 tsp bicarb of soda

1/2 tsp salt

200g dark brown or muscovado sugar

100g light brown sugar (or caster)

1 TBSp vanilla extract

1 egg + 1 egg yolk

200g dark chocolate, chopped into wee chips

125g mixed nuts, chopped into wee chips. I’ve not tried it, but you could probably use salted nuts if you’re a fan of the sugar-salt-choc thing.

  1. Melt the butter in a big bowl (this is the bowl that the whole mixture is going to end up in so make it big enough). I use a microwave to melt the butter, but of course you could melt it in a pan and then tip it into the bowl.
  2. Sift the flour, bicarb and salt together in a different bowl – this is really just to mix it together, as most flour these days doesn’t need sifting – but it’s an old habit with me, so I like to sift it all
  3. Add the sugars to the melted butter and beat with an electric beater (or a wooden spoon if you want to work off those bingo wings) until you have a light fluffy mixture
  4. Now add the vanilla essence and the eggs and beat some more
  5. Mix in the flour and stuff with a wooden spoon, then mix through the nuts and chocolate chips
  6. Depending how warm your kitchen is, you’ll either have a soft-ish batter, or a much stiffer dough… my kitchen was baltic this weekend, so the butter cooled down quickly and I had quite a stiff dough
  7. Now, how big do you want your cookies? I use about a soup-spoonful of mixture in a big lump, and they spread out to around 3-4 inches diameter.  But you might want to make ENORMOUS cookies like those ones you get at train stations… you’d probably need about 4 TBsps of cookie mixture for that size.
  8. Remember to leave gaps between each dollop of mixture – the larger the dollop the bigger the gap required. For the enormous ones you’ll need at least 3″ I’d say.
  9. Bake for about 16 minutes, but this will depend on which shelf they are on in your oven, how hot the oven actually is and what size you’ve made your cookies. Ideally you need to take them out when they are golden around the edges, but not toasted in the middle. Leave them on the baking tray to cool down, they will continue to cook. Then remove them to a cooling tray. This will give you a slightly chewy cookie, if you prefer them crisper, just keep them in the oven a wee bit longer, till they are uniformly coloured.
  10. Once they are cool, transfer them into two separate airtight containers. Keep one lot at home, and take the rest to your colleagues, or to someone you love (not mutually exclusive).

There!  How easy was that? And according to my colleagues, they’re a winner.
But before you run off to bake cookies, a top tip for you. Some of you will know this already, but if you’re not a baker you might not. Don’t keep opening the oven door to check your cookies, and when you do open the door, be sure to shut it gently afterwards, as slamming it shut will blow in cold air, and mess with the cooking. This is even more important when you’re baking cakes, or anything you expect to rise. If you slam the door, it’s like slamming a big weight onto your delicate cake.
%d bloggers like this: