Saturday, 30 January 2010

It's Marmalade Time Again!

The sour oranges from Seville are the best for making marmalade, that wonderful staple of the English breakfast table. They are only in season for a short time though, around January. I noticed this year that Waitrose are stocking organic seville oranges at £2.20 a kilo, which is only slightly more than the ordinary kind which I have seen in Tesco's at £2.00 kg. As I understand citrus fruit is quite heavily sprayed, it seems like a bargain, so stock up now while you have the opportunity, and you can have a whole year's supply of marmalade in the larder. If you don't have the time to make it straight away, and it's not the kind of thing you can just dash off in a spare ten minutes,the fruit keeps well in the freezer, just put whole fruit in plastic bags and freeze to use at a later time.

There are as many recipes for marmalade as I've had hot dinners, (and that's quite a few) but over the years I've found this is the easiest, and most reliable. It's particularly useful for Aga owners, in that you can leave the fruit to cook in the bottom oven overnight, but it's easily adapted to ordinary cookers.

I generally make two styles of marmalade, as I find that consumers fall into two distinct camps. The ones who like fine shreds in a light orange fruity marmalade, generally women,  and those who like big chunks in an altogether darker preserve, usually men. So I call them Ladies Breakfast Marmalade, and Gentleman's Oxford Style Marmalade respectively. However, I'm not sexist about it and you can actually eat whichever you like, with no sinister hormonal effects.

Ladies Breakfast Marmalade
should yield around 10lbs
3 lbs/1.5kg seville oranges (or any mixture of other citrus if you prefer)
2 lemons
6lbs/3kg granulated sugar
4 pints/2.5litres water

Place the whole fruits in the water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer very gently until soft. This can be acheived in the slow oven of the Aga overnight (be sure to put a plate on top of the fruit to avoid unsightly browing), or on the hob on a very slow simmer for a couple of hours or so, until the skins are very soft.  Leave until cool enough to handle, then halve the fruit and scoop the insides out with a soup spoon back into the saucepan, and set the peels aside. Place the saucepan back on the heat to simmer gently while you deal with the peel.

Cut each half in half again, and then taking several skins together slice the peel as thinly as you can. It should be quite soft and easy to cut.

When you have finished all the peel, remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the contents through a sieve, into a roomy preserving pan, pressing the pulp with a wooden spoon. Discard the contents of the sieve, and add the sliced peel, and the sugar to the pan and return to the heat. Stir over gentle heat until all the sugar is dissolved and you can feel no grittiness with your spoon.

Now you can turn up the heat and boil the marmalade to setting point. You can discern this by use of a jam thermometer, which will register around 220F/105C, or by the old fashioned cold plate method.

Place a small plate in the freezer for a few minutes, and when you are ready to test, drop a small spoonfull onto the plate. If, after a minute or two you can push the marmalade with your finger and it forms a wrinkly skin, then it's ready. It's difficult to be exact, but it  shouldn't really take much more than ten or fifteen minutes, sometimes less.

Turn off the heat and stir in a knob of butter, which helps disperse scum. You will need to allow the marmalade to cool a little before potting, so that all the peel doesn't rise to the tops of the jars. Ten minutes or so should do it. Make sure your jars are clean and sterile by putting them in the oven for ten minutes or on a hot dishwasher cycle. Cover straight away with cellophane covers, or even better, screw tops.

Gentleman's Oxford Style Marmalade

Make exactly as above but slice the peel in chunkier bits, and when adding the sugar include  two good tablespoons of black treacle, or blackstrap molasses.

Don'f forget the pretty labels.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Italian Lamb Stew

I found some unspecified "stewing lamb" on special offer in Waitrose, looked like sliced shoulder to me, and it was english, so I thought it would be a good candidate for this nice rich, stew. I think it cost just over £2 and was ample for two of us. I'm not sure how authentically Italian it is, but I've always known it as such, probably from the days when anything with tomatoes in it was "Italian". Anyway it's certainly tasty and easy to do, especially if you have a supply of home made tomato sauce in the freezer as I recommended back in September.

1 lb/500g stewing lamb
1 onion
2 carrots
2 garlic cloves chopped
sprig of thyme
half pint/250g tomato sauce from your stash in the freezer, otherwise use passata
1 tin of butter beans

Brown the lamb in some olive oil, add the roughly chopped onions, garlic  and carrots, and continue to fry for a few minutes. Pour over the tomato sauce, add the thyme, season well and put in medium oven until the lamb is tender and falling away from the bone.Add a spot of water if it gets a bit dry.  Timing will depend on the cut, but allow about an hour for shoulder. Add the drained butter beans and return to the oven to heat through. Check seasoning and sprinkle generously with parsley before serving with a green veg, kale or brocolli perhaps. Once prepared it will sit happily in a low oven until you're ready to serve.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Breaking News - Jerusalem Artichokes are delicious!

Jerusalem Artichokes. I admit it, I was wrong. Jerusalem Artichoke soup is delicious. I hadn't bothered with it before because frankly I couldn't believe that something so unprepossessing could turn out so delicious. But thanks largely to my friends at Downsizer I have to admit that this is really lovely, easy, and cheap (well it is for me because I've got bucketfuls of them, as you may remember from this photo last week

Anyway, here's the recipe, should you find yourself with similar bucketfuls, or maybe just a few slightly cleaner specimens in your veg box, (they are, as James Martin always says, bang in season now)

large knob of butter
1 Onion chopped
3 pounds/1.5kg of Jerusalem Artichokes
2pints/1 litreof chicken stock
half pint/250ml  of milk
salt, pepper
grating of nutmeg
swirl of cream

Melt the butter in a frying pan

yes, I know you know what melting butter looks like, but I thought this picture looked rather delicious......
Anyway, add the chopped onion, and the peeled and roughly chopped artichokes and fry gently without browning for a few minutes.

Add the chicken stock, cover, and simmer until soft, I think it took about 20-30 minutes. Add the milk, then tip everything into the food processor, or blender, and blend until smooth. Return to saucepan, season with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg, and ladle into bowls and stir in a little cream, in a swirly cheffy sort of way. This is a lovely homespun soup, but good enough for a dinner party too. Do try it.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 1

It never ceases to amaze me how soon new growth in the spring, like these lovely little snowdrops, can push through even when the ground is covered with six inches of snow, as it has been here for some two weeks.  I took this on the day the snow finally cleared, and it's la lovely reminder that even in the dark days of January, Spring will soon be on the way.

I also found this single little primrose shoot poking through the chilly undergrowth.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

A Pile of Mud and Knobbles (Veg Garden Update)

Now this may look to you like a pile of mud and knobbles, (did I make that word up) but it is in fact part of my harvest of Jerusalem Artichokes. The toughest vegetable that the Good Lord ever created, there's a million of them in my veg patch, please come round and get some it you want as I seldom get round to eating any of them. My dad used to grow them on his allotment as  windbreak, and occasionally would peel one and give it to us to eat raw, which was ok-ish, but they were never thought of as gourmet treats. But in recent years around this time of year celebrity chefs and food writers produce vast column inches about the wonderful culinary joys of the Jerusalem Artichoke. But I'm afraid it escapes me - try as I may, I can never get past the slightly watery gluey thing that seems to go on with them. I must be doing something wrong, because as sure as eggs is eggs, Hugh will be delivering a recipe for an unmissable artichoke salad/soup/pie, in the Saturday Guardian in the very near future, and since I'm lucky enough to be going to River Cottage HQ on Tuesday for a Day of Meat Curing and Smoking I feel Ishould be making at least an effort to join in the enthusiasm.

Here's a picture of my hens having a look and you can clearly see that even they don't fancy them.

It was lovely to get out in the garden though today, now that the snow has melted at last. I let the chickens and ducks into the veg garden, as there's not much growing in there just now (I've netted the Purple Sprouting Brocolli), and they had a good dig around in the leaf mould and the mud, and clearly enjoyed themselves no end, and helped dispose of insects and pests for me into the bargain.

I'm very much looking forward to my day of Curing and Smoking,  at RCHQ down in Dorset - never been there before - I've done loads of courses over the years- Pig Keeping, Beginners Smallholding, Beekeeping, Sheep care, - I must be the best qualified farmer who hasn't got a farm ever. Never mind, at least I have my lovely garden, it could be a lot worse, I could be in a 4th floor flat in Droitwich. (Sorry if you live in Droitwich)

Friday, 15 January 2010

Treacle Pudding with Clotted Cream (and by the way will you marry me)

Really we should be on a diet by now, and working off the Christmas excesses and all that, but all this ice and snow is not conducive to salads, and "health foods". A girl need something to keep the cold out, other than a Damart thermal vest. So here we go with the Treacle Sponge. But definately lettuce tomorrow. No really.

Ingredients for 4 large or 6 small helpings (what am I talking about, who has a small helping of Treacle Sponge)
6oz/125g self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
4oz/125g soft butter
4oz/125g sugar - half caster, half soft light brown
2 large eggs
golden syrup about half a standard jar or tin depending on how much you like

Whizz everything except the syrup in the food processor until blended. You may need a spot of milk to get a nice soft consistency.
Grease a 2 pint/1 litre pudding basin (preferably the plastic kind that comes with a snap on lid).

Pour a good amount of syrup into the bottom of the basin, the amount will depend on the shape of your basin, but you do want a good inch/couple of cm depth.

 Spoon your sponge mix lightly on top. Snap on your plastic lid, or if you've lost it like me, you will have to make a foil or greaseproof paper lid and tie it on with string in the old fashioned way. Fiddly, but still works fine. Place the pudding basin in a saucepan of boiling water, so that the water comes about half way up the side of the basin and simmer gently for an hour and a half or so. Put a lid on the saucepan so you don't turn the kitchen into a sauna, and keep an eye on the water level, topping it up occasionally from the kettle if it needs it. Timing isn't crucial, and you can leave it steaming until you're  ready. If you have an Aga you can just put it in the bottom oven and leave it there for hours, until you are ready to serve and it will come to no harm.

Turn your pudding out onto a deep dish and have more warmed syrup on hand to pour over. Serve with  clotted cream.
So few people cook old fashioned steamed puddings any more, that if you learn the really very slight art of cooking one, you will find yourself in the useful position of pleasing all of the people all of the time.Pretty well everyone loves treacle pudding, especially men.  Indeed, should you be hoping someone will ask you to marry them, this is probably the best encouragement you could give them and if it doesn't ellicit the diamond ring/one knee scenario, you probably need to move on, girlfriend.

Monday, 11 January 2010

January Pie

Everybody loves a pie. Steak and kidney, chicken and mushroom, or as in this case, turkey and ham. If you had a nice big turkey at Christmas, and possibly a ham, you will by now have had the remains safely stashed away in the freezer for some time. Enough time for the Not Turkey Again feeling to have worn off somewhat, and anyway this pie has such a lovely savoury flavour that it makes it an entirely different offering. You can of course always use a packet of ready made short pastry, but I like the flavour and home made-ness of, well home made. Judge the amounts of turkey etc, according to the size of your pie plate and how much turkey you have leftover. Leftover roast chicken does just as well.

January Pie
For thepastry (this amount will be too much but use the rest to make a few old fashioned treats like jam tarts, or just cut some saucer sized circles and freeze them between greasproof paper ready for making pasties another time)
1 lb/500g  plain flour
pinch salt
4oz/125g lard
4oz/125g butter
cold water

Put everything in the food processor and blitz to breadcrumb stage. Add just enough cold water to make a dough and roll out to line a deep 8 inch metal pie/flan tin. Use the rest to make a top and put in the fridge while you make

the filling
Remains of cooked turkey chopped into generous bite size chunks
handful of cubed cooked ham
2 large leeks
1oz /30g/flour
half pint/300ml milk
quarter pint150ml of stock
2oz/50g butter
4oz/50g g cheddar cheese
handful of chopped parsley

Wash the leeks well then slice and fry them in a little oil or butter until soft but not browned
Place the flour, milk, stock and butter in a saucepan and place over heat. Stir continuously with a whisk until the sauce thickens and comes to the boil. This is a quick and easy way to make a flour thickened sauce, and is foolproof. Just remember to stir briskly with the whisk until it thickens. Season generously with salt and pepper and add the cheese.

Stir in the ham, turkey, leeks and parsley and turn into the pastry case, cover with the lid, brush with a little beaten egg, and bake in a moderate oven  gas 5 190C bottom shelf Aga, until the pastry is cooked and golden. About 40 minutes.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Ladybird, ladybird

I've been painting the bedroom. So you can tell how snowed in we are. I can't do anything outside, I can't really go anywhere, everything's frozen solid, so I'm reduced to interior decor.

Anyway, I was getting on pretty well, when I noticed that this little group of ladybirds had taken up residence in the corner of the windowframe.  So I painted all up to and around them, but they didn't look like moving. I wondered if I should disturb them, but didn't have the heart to just chuck them out on the snow, maybe I could leave them and come back with a small pot of touch up paint in May when they've gone?

It's not unusual for ladybirds to be around here in winter, indeed they hibernate in our window frames every year at this house, something I've never seen anywhere else I've lived. Clearly they like it here so I decided I would leave them. I'm very keen on ladybirds,  - I'm quite convinced that the very rare appearance of aphids in the garden is at least partially thanks to a healthy population of ladybirds, whose favourite food is greenfly. So I'm perfectly happy to let them hibernate in the window frames for the winter, where they do no damage whatsoever. And it's lovely to see them all on a warm spring day beginning to stir and gradually wandering off.

But then another thought occured to me. Are these ladybirds our native British ones or are they the dreaded Harlequin ladybird from Europe which has been spotted all over the UK in the last few years, and has a voracious appetite and a tendency to eat our native species. And if they are Harlequins what should I do about them? Should I get out the Flit spray and the Dyson? Not really, but after a brief perusal of internet wildlife sites I was non the wiser really, so taking my life in my hands in the sub zero temperatures, I opened the bedroom windows  to check the usual hibernation areas and there they all were cosily tucked up in the window frames fast asleep. Hundreds of them.

As far as I can tell they are a mixture of Harlequins and native two spot ladybirds, which seems odd to me, but  I suppose I will just leave them to it as usual, and hope for the best. If anyone out there is a ladybird expert and can tell me for sure which they are and what if anything I should do I'd love to know.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

You know it's cold when...

this happens....

I was out breaking up the ice on the water supply for the chickens and ducks, and the horses, and on the way back I thought I might as well dig up a few carrots and whatever else I might still find in the frozen wastes of the veg garden. Sadly this old fork wasn't up to the job, and I shouldn't have been trying to dig in frozen ground anyway.  Needless to say I didn't get any veggies, and this fork has forked its last sod. It was in any case an ancient specimen, and I'm very happy to say that among my Christmas presents this year was a lovely new stainless steel fork and spade from Sarah Raven (I don't mean that the famous lady sent it to me herself of course, my lovely husband bought it from her excellent online shop for me). They're "ladies size" implements, which does sound a bit Little Britain, but it's good for me as it means I'm less likely to strain my back if I'm lifting smaller spadefuls at a time. That's the theory anyway. Personally I think I'm less likely to strain my back if someone else does the digging....

January Recipe Braised Pheasant in a Rich Red Wine Sauce

I'm lucky enough to have a regular supply of pheasants from Sid, and this is a lovely way of cooking them, at this time of year, when it's minus two outside, and something rich and warming is called for. It's so cold in the mornings  at the moment,  I have to break the ice on the waterers for the chickens and ducks and also for the horses in the adjacent field.

Game is seasonal, and early in the season, in Autumn, we have them plain roasted, but later on, ie round about now, they seem best done in a rich winey sauce, with the addition of a little fruitiness in the form of prunes. Don't be put off by the idea of prunes, by the way, they cook to a melting softness and add a real richness to the sauce. Tell people it's plums if it makes them feel better. Chestnuts are another seasonal option you might like to consider here as well.

This amount will serve four people, or, since it freezes excellently, two people twice. (It's always lovely to have a home cooked meal in the freezer that you can just bung in the oven when you come home tired and/or frozen)

2 pheasants
1 large onion chopped
2 large carrots chopped
3 sticks celery chopped
4 cloves garlic
large glass  red wine or stock
about 15 ready to eat stoned prunes
a handful of pre cooked chestnuts (optional)
a few sprigs of thyme

Brown the pheasants in olive oil in a frying pan for a few minutes until they have taken on some colour. Remove to a snugly fitting casserole.
Fry the chopped vegetables in some more olive oil, for a couple of minutes and tip into the casserole along with the prunes, thyme and chestnuts if using.

Add the red wine or stock to the frying pan and bring to the boil. Pour over the pheasants and vegetables. Season generously with black pepper and salt.
Cover and cook in a low oven until tender. If your pheasants are young and tender they will be done in an hour, but if they are older they will come to no harm if you leave them for two. Test for doneness by pulling the leg to see if it comes away reasonably easily. You don't want to cook it to rags, but you don't have to worry about dryness so much as you do when you're roasting them. Leave the lid off for the last half hour to allow browning.
Serve with mash and a green veg like kale or purple sprouting brocolli.


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