The worst thing about blogs and twitter is that I get lured in and at this time of year feel a need to do all the Christmassy domestic things. However bitter experience has taught me that this is just ridiculous as I work full-time and I am not naturally a domestic goddess so I am trying to pick and choose my moments of domestic goddessness.
Last Saturday an early morning twitter conversation about mincemeat had me looking out recipes before I did my weekly shop. I settled on Delia’s mincemeat recipe as she has never let me down in the past, well not if you overlook the plum jam incident. It’s a traditional mincemeat recipe and Delia says it is easy – sounds right up my street. The recipe says it makes 2.75kg but I am hopeless at visualising how many jars this might be. After looking at jars in the cupboard and peering at labels I decided to err on the side of caution and make half the mix.
The recipe was indeed easy. You just mix all the ingredients, apart from the brandy, in a large bowl and leave overnight. Then you cook in the oven on a very low heat for 3 hours to melt the suet which then covers and coats the fruit in a unctuous goo.
In case you don’t have Delia Smith’s Christmas Cookbook to hand here is the recipe
450g Bramley apples, cored and chopped small (no need to peel)
225g shredded suet
225g whole mixed candided peel, finely chopped
350g soft dark brown sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
50g whole almonds, cut into slivers
4 tsps mixed ground spice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
6 tblsp brandy
- Combine the ingredients, apart from the brandy, in a large mixing bowl. Stir and mix together thoroughly. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave in a cool place overnight or for at least 12 hours.
- Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 1/4, 225 F or 120C. Cover the bowl loosely with foil and place in oven for 3 hours
- Remove from the oven. As it cools stir from time to time. When the mincemeat is quite cold stir in the brandy
- Pack into clean dry jars, cover with wax discs and seal.
Makes 6lb (2.76kg)
If you are more adventurous than me or a real domestic goddess then you might like to try this mincemeat recipe – Deborah, the owner of this blog is one of the people who encouraged me to have a go and I am glad she did.
This weekend my domestic goddess moment will see me trying to make a wreath for the front door – hopefully!
It’s funny how the smallest achievement can give you a huge sense of satisfaction and bring a smile to your face. Making four jars of strawberry jams was one of those achievements.
This is the second lot of jam this year from the plot – the first lot being rhubarb and ginger. I like the idea of making jam since it will give me a reminder of summer in the winter and it just tastes so much nicer when you have made it yourself. I think, and I maybe prejudiced here, but I think your own jam even tastes better than someone else home-made jam. I last made strawberry jam about 20 years ago when the boys were very little and I was trying to be a good housewife – then my marriage ended, obviously the jam was not enough, and my finances were non-existence so no more jam making.
I still have the copper preserving pan, funnel and thermometer from back then so I really have no excuse apart from a lack of confidence. I did try making jam last autumn but it was damson and the recipe was rubbish and I had glue. The rhubarb and ginger jam though is quite simply divine and has boosted my confidence.
As we are going away later this week I wanted to pick as many strawberries as possible from the plot. The crop has been ridiculously bountiful, I have never seen so many. However sadly only a third are harvestable and the rest had to be thrown. I don’t know if its rain damage or some disease but many of the fruit are mouldy. I had put a load of straw under the plants a while ago to protect the fruit but with all the rain we have had I suspect it may have done more harm than good. So today I set too and cleared all the rotten fruit, disposing of them off site in case it is a disease, but I still managed to pick just over a kilo. We have had numerous bowls of strawberries so I thought I would give the boys the evening off strawberry eating duty and make jam instead.
After my doldrums about the damson jam it was recommended that I buy the River Cottage Preserves Book you can’t beat Pam Corbin for preserves. I have to say the recipe was incredibly simple and quick – much simpler than I remember. I get very stressed about the setting point so ended up checking three different ways: temperature, saucer and wooden spoon tests. Then I had four jars of sparkling jam. From the leftovers I scooped out of the pan, oh and off the spoons it is very good jam but the proof will be when I re-open the first jar to see how solid it is. But in the meantime I shall admire the jars of gooey ruby treasure on my increasingly full preserves shelf.
Note: I haven’t reproduced the recipe here as I can’t find it on the internet and therefore I don’t want to infringe any copyrights so if you would like the recipe I would recommend buying the book.
Well it’s not really praline as I believe that is something altogether different but it’s what we call this recipe in my family. It is very like a refrigerator cake although less ingredients. It is my youngest son’s absolute favourite cake and he often chooses it for his birthday ‘cake’. I really struggle to get birthday candles into it so have to be rather inventive stacking the slices and wedging the candle holders in between.
If you would like to try this recipe here it is:
225g digestive biscuits
2 tblsp drinking chocolate
1 tblsp sugar
1 tblsp golden syrup
- Melt the butter in a saucepan with the drinking chocolate, sugar and golden syrup. The sugar you choose to use will decide the stickiness and sweetness of the end product. I use golden castor sugar
- Meanwhile crush the biscuits into a fine crumb. I pop them in a plastic food bag and bash them with a rolling-pin – very therapeutic
- Stir the melted butter mixture into the biscuits crumb, mixing thoroughly
- Press the mixture into a cake tin which has been lightly greased. Put the dish into the fridge for a couple of hours to set
- Melt some chocolate and pour over the top of the dish and return to the fridge for at least 3 hours until chocolate is cold and set.
- Divide into slices/wedges and turn out.
… I know it’s not that revolutionary but for me it is a huge achievement. My track record on preserves in recent years has been disastrous. There was the marmalade which burnt and had black bits in it and last summer I tried to make damson jam, over cooked it and ended up with damson glue which was stiff enough to bend spoons!! I used to be able to make jam years back and I have a proper preserving pan and thermometer etc so I am determined to get my jam mojo back so to speak.
Anyway, I have been harvesting rhubarb from the allotment for the first time ever in recent weeks. I planted two plants last year and was very good not pulling any stems in order to give the plants a chance to establish. I have mulched them both with spent hops and manure and they have rewarded me with lots and lots of stems. A conversation on twitter and the prospect of a few days off work with rain forecast brought the idea of rhubarb jam into my head. Dare I try again? Anyway, a recipe was recommended for rhubarb and ginger jam and I bought the rest of the ingredients.
It did seem a rather strange way to make jam to me. I had to cut up the rhubarb and macerate it with jam sugar, lemon juice and zest, stem and root ginger. There was a lot of ginger and the smell was quite overwhelming. I was worried that the ginger would drown out the delicate rhubarb flavour. Anyway, you leave the mix for two hours so the flavours combine. Then you put it in the preserving pan, heat, dissolve the sugar, bring to the boil and heat until setting point is reached. This is where it normally goes horribly wrong. Despite the jam not reaching the ‘jam’ point on the thermometer I set the timer as the instructions suggested and then did the set test and lo and behold I had wrinkly jam.
I even think I have the right quantity at the end of the day. The recipe says 4 x 450g jars and given the different size jars I have I think I am more of less there. Tasting the jam I needn’t have worried as the ginger has mellowed and just warms the rhubarb rather than overwhelming it. I shall now write some labels for the jars but first I think I need some crusty bread.
My squash crop
…eating it – well for me.
I don’t have a problem eating vegetables, or fruit, I love them. My problem is that I am a creature of habit and routine and I am rubbish at doing things differently. I am getting better at going with the flow generally and don’t have panic attacks as I did many years ago when I was first on my own with two small children. Whilst I have more or less conquered this problem I still find it hard to remember to cook different things and try new recipes.
I do like cooking but you know how it is when you work full-time in a demanding job – when you get home you just want to rustle something up quickly without much thought. The idea of trying something new after a long day doesn’t really appeal but I am going to have to get to grips with it or the whole point of having an allotment and growing my own will be lost.
One of my many cabbages
I have managed it before when I had a veg box delivered and when I have been on a diet so I know I can do it but whenever I stop trying I slip back to my standbys off ratatouille. Ratatouille is fine in the summer when there are home grown courgettes and tomatoes but in November when I have a pile of squashes . shallots, garlic and kale sitting waiting to be eaten, with cabbages and Jerusalem artichokes lurking in the wings it does seem to be the wrong approach.
I did take the approach when planning what to grow to only grow things I like to eat or think I would like to eat. However my unoriginal eating habits mean that if I only grew what I ate my allotment would only be productive for a few months with tomatoes, courgettes and salads. I am determined for the allotment to be productive for as much of the year as possible so I need to change my ways.
Black Tuscan Kale - which I need new ways to cook
So I am now on a mission not to eat ratatouille until my squashes have run out and I have to resort to using the courgettes I hid in the freezer. Tonight I made my first squash risotto and it wasn’t too bad. I won’t share the recipe here as it was a bit hit and miss as I desperately need to do some shopping for essential ingredients. However, thanks to my twitter friends I have a number of pasta and risotto recipes to try over the coming weeks as well as a wonderful soup recipe.
I need to find quick and easy alternatives to my favourite pasta, risotto and stir fry recipes so any suggestions will be welcome and I will be pouring over the recipe books over the coming evenings. Who knows I might be sharing recipes on the blog one day.
A glut in waiting
I am beginning to think of myself as almost a real allomenteer (is that a word?) or veg grower as I have my first glut – courgettes.
It’s hardly surprising given that I have three courgette plants and it is really only me that eats them, although I do adore them and eat enough for two. I have been wondering what to do with the excess as even I, a keen courgette consumer. cannot keep up with the quantity being produced. So I have a two prong approach – both experimental for me.
The first prong is to try to freeze some courgette to use later in the year. Apparently you need to shred it, squeeze the moisture out (sprinkling with salt and applying a weight to grated courgette in a sieve seems to be the recommended approach) and then freeze in batches ready for using in stews and sauces etc in the winter.
The second prong of my plan has caused a few raised eyebrows in my home – courgette cake. I can’t see what the fuss is about. It is no different to carrot cake and I remember eating courgette (or zucchini) cake when I was in Australia years back. I had a mooch around the internet and this is the recipe I decided to follow although there are lots of variations out there. My recipe is from the foodiesite which seems to be a very useful resource.
250g butter, broken into pieces
250g caster sugar
350g self raising flour
juice and zest of 1 orange
1 tsp cinnamon
half tsp mixed spice
350g courgette, grated
50g walnuts, roughly chopped
- Grease and line either a 25cm diameter cake tin or two 20cm cake tins. Preheat oven to 180 C
- Cream the sugar and butter. Add the beaten eggs gradually mixing until the mixture is creamy and fluffy
- Sieve the flour with the spice and fold in a third, followed by half the orange juice and zest and repeat until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
- Stir in walnuts, sultanas and courgette
- Pour into cake tins and cook for 1 hour until firm to the touch (if you are using two 20cm cake tins reduce the cooking time by 30-40mins)
- Turn out on to a rack and cool
I think the cake would be quite nice as it is but you can add to it with icing, although be warned this is a pretty sickly icing.
Ingredients for icing
125g cream cheese
50g unsalted butter
300g icing sugar (I ended up adding more to get the consistency I wanted)
juice and zest of quarter orange
Beat the cream cheese and butter together until creamy. Gradually beat in the icing sugar and orange juice and zest until you have a smooth creamy icing. You can use this to sandwich together the two smaller cakes or to ice the top of the big cake.
The general consensus, even from my non-courgette eating son was that it was good cake!!
I am now going to investigate recipes for my next expected glut – squashes!!
At 12:34 on the 7th August 2009 I was just sitting down to my lunch of Chicken Noodle Soup.
I am celebrating having lost 1 stone in weight today. It has taken me 10 weeks and the last 6lbs have been very slow to go. One of my discoveries has been Weightwatchers recipe for Chicken Noodle Soup which I am addicted to.
I suppose I had better include the recipe:
For 4 people. Heat up 1.2litres chicken stock (I use the liquid concentrated stock dissolved in water). When simmering, add 225g chicken breast (skinless & boneless) thinly sliced. Cook for 5 mins. Add 100g dried egg noodles, chopped spring onions and 1 sliced pepper. Simmer for a further 5 mins. Stir in 2 tblsp soy sauce (light), 1 tblsp coriander (1 had run out today so added a bit of parsley) and seasoning. Serve.
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