Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Blackberry and apple jam

One of the benefits of living in the countryside is that we have loads of blackberries growing along most of the paths and small roads. Back home raspberries grow like that, almost like a weed, on roadsides and along fields. Here, I haven't seen much wild raspberries, in fact I don't think I've seen any at all. But instead there are blackberries as far as the eye can see. When I was working my previous job (yes the one that shall not be named) I used to walk about half an hour every morning as we did a car share with the Culinary Consultant who worked in the next village over and during September the road was lined with blackberry brambles and I couldn't help myself and used to snack on some berries on my way to work. A few weeks ago I came home from work to a massive load of blackberries, courtesy of the Culinary Consultant. I had never seen so many blackberries in my entire life. And he did a repeat performance, so we had our freezer stuffed full with almost 6 kg (13 lb) of blackberries. Then, the other day we went for a bike ride and our route took us past some very prolific and new (to us) blackberry pastures. What else is a girl to do than return with some containers the next day? The first brambles closest to the village were all picked clean, but just another 10 minutes or so down the road we found brambles which had huge, juicy fruit in copious amounts. So in less than 2 hours of picking we added another 2.8 kg (6 lb) of berries to our stash. However, a word of warning. Although it's free food, it doesn't come easy. I thought I was well prepared with long sleeves and trouser legs, but I still managed to get endless cuts on my hands and legs, not to mention the fact that nettles easily seem to burn through sports clothing, so next year I need to prepare by buying some military grade clothing to escape the torture of multiple nettle burn. And just as a friendly hint, you don't want to cook anything that involves squeezing lemon juice for a few days afterwards. It may not look like you broke the skin on your fingers, but you did. In multiple places. Trust me.

Although I'm perfectly happy to eat all those lovely little black gems as they are, we thought we should make something out of them (and partly because we simply couldn't fit all of them in the freezer). As jammin' seem to be the theme of this fall, we thought why not look up a nice and simple blackberry jam and try our hands at it. And the interwebs, in their great wisdom came up with Easy blackberry and apple jam from Fab Food 4 All. We doubled up the recipe as we had so much berries. And I can't help but to feel very smug about our hard work, as it equates to over £100 worth of blackberries (based on the cheapest price for fresh blackberries on the Tesco website). And I bet ours are better as they are sun ripened and only picked fresh and ripe and put straight into the freezer (or in this case, jam pot) so they have maximum flavour.

Simple Blackberry and Apple Jam
600 g blackberries
500 g cooking apples (we used a mix of cookers and sweet apples, as we used windfall from our neighbours tree that had landed in our garden)
1.1 kg sugar
300 ml water
1 cinnamon stick
(10 g butter)

The howto:
As with any other jam, prepare your jam jars by washing them in hot soapy water. Shake to remove excess water, but don't dry. Place the wet jars and lids on an oven sheet covered with newspaper making sure they don't touch each other. Put into oven, and turn oven on to 120 degrees C. Leave jar in the oven until they have been at least 10 minutes in 120 degrees. Leave oven on and the jars to wait in the hot oven until you are ready to use them (they should be hot when you pour the hot jam into them so the glass doesn't get damaged).

Peel, core and cut apples into small pieces. Add apples with the water and cinnamon stick into a large saucepan, bring to a boil and let slowly cook for about 10 minutes. Add the blackberries and simmer until soft (about 15-20 minutes). Add the sugar off the heat, stir until dissolved. Bring back to a rolling boil, and let cook until jam has set (reached 104 degrees C). You can also test setting point by placing a few small plates in the freezer before starting the jam making, and when you think the jam is done, drop some jam onto a cold plate and let stand for a minute. If you push the jam with your finger and it wrinkles it's done, if it remains liquid, let boil for 3-5 more minutes and test again. Remove excess froth with a ladle. The original recipe suggested to then stir in the butter to remove the rest of the froth, but I don't like the idea of putting butter in my jam, so I just accept that there will be a few remaining bubbles in the jam. The jam seemed rather runny when I poured it into the jars, but it did set nicely. Apples have quite a bit of pectin so it will set although you think it won't. 

Ladle the jam into jars, and put some parchment paper over the jar opening before securing the lid. I store all my jam in the fridge to make it keep longer, but so far everything has been eaten before it has gone bad.

The verdict:
Of all the jams we have made so far, this is the sweetest one. I don't consider that a bad thing, but if you aren't into sweet jams keep that in mind. It's always a tradeoff as the sugar helps keep the jam for longer but at the same time a lower sugar jam does have more fruity flavour to it. But you do feel the wonderful flavour of the blackberries. As the apple cooks it will turn into complete "mush" so it does give a slightly different texture from a pure berry jam. I really liked how the jam turned out, but it does taste more "sugary" sweet than the other jams we made (plum jam here and fig jam here). On Saturday I will show you one fabulous way of using the jam, although plenty of it has also been devoured on toast and mixed in my morning oatmeal. And maybe a spoonful or two has been eaten straight out of the jar (but remember to only put clean spoons into the jar, if you have licked it, it shouldn't go back into the jar. This will help keep the jam for longer).

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Pork and chorizo stew

Culinary Consultant week continues here on the blog this week. This recipe was created and cooked by him with very little contribution from me, apart from taking the photos and typing up this post (although I do take credit for the suggestion of adding chorizo to it). This stew was waiting for me when I got home from work the other Friday. He is much better at cooking healthy food than I am, he seems to naturally gravitate towards rather wholesome home cooked basic food. I'm more about carbs and cheese and chocolate. To be honest, I do wish I didn't have all these crazy cravings all the time and would be happy to just eat basic healthy food. But don't worry, I will be back with some of my very unhealthy carb and sugar loaded recipes soon! To be honest, I may just extend Culinary Consultant week for one more post to show you he does cook puddings as well. 

Back to the star of the day. The combination of sweet and spicy paprika gives the stew just a little bit of a kick, without being too overpowering and the chorizo and red peppers bring lovely flavour. As it's about time to admit it's no longer summer, evenings are getting colder and darker a hearty stew is very appropriate. We enjoyed it with a glass of cider. This makes quite a big serving, but it can easily be frozen for later, and it only gets better when re-heated so a few days in the fridge will only improve it further.

Pork and chorizo stew (serves 8):
2 parsnips
4 carrots
10 medium potatoes (we used Red Duke of York grown in our own potato patch)
1 kg (2.2 lb) pork steaks
1 tbsp olive oil
black pepper to taste
1/2 + 2 tsp sweet smoked paprika powder
1 + 2 tsp hot smoked paprika powder
about 100 g chorizo 
2 medium onions
3-4 cloves garlic
1 sweet pepper (eg. 1/2 green and 1/2 red)
1 sachet of Schwarz Summerset Pork Casserole spice mix (or some other spice mix you like)
1/2 cup dry apple cider 
2 apples

The howto:
Peel and slice the parsnips, carrots and potatoes. Cut the pork into slices. Heat the olive oil in a skillet and cook the pork on medium heat until cooked through. Add a grind of black pepper, about 1/2 tsp of sweet paprika and 1 tsp of hot paprika powder to the pork while it's cooking. When pork is cooked, transfer to a bowl and pour any juices in the pan into a jug. Slice the chorizo and sweet pepper, finely chop onions and garlic. Slowly heat chorizo in a pan until it starts to release fat into the pan, add the peppers, onion and garlic. Cook for a few minutes until the onion starts to soften a little. Preheat oven to 190 degrees C (375 F)

Layer the root veg, pork and chorizo/onion/pepper mix in a large oven proof dish (we used a 4.5 litre Pyrex casserole dish) with a lid. 

Boil a kettle with about 1 litre of water. Add the sachet of spice mix to the jug with the pork juices, and add 2 tsp sweet and 2 tsp spicy paprika powder. Add 500 ml of hot water and mix well. Pour the apple cider and spice mix over the casserole. Add hot water from the kettle until all ingredients in the casserole dish are covered. 

Cook in the middle of the oven at 190 degrees for about 2 hours with the lid on. Peel and slice the apples, layer on top of the casserole and return to oven for another 1/2 hour, again with the lid on.

The verdict:
The Culinary Consultant is a big fan of casseroles (not least because they make a large serving with no need for cooking for days) and he cooks them from time to time. Usually they are made with beef, but I think this is the first one with pork. I thought it was a really tasty and hearty casserole with very well balanced flavours. And I'm not a very big fan of pork, so that should tell you something. I think the sweetness from the apples and the sweet peppers compliment the lovely full flavours of the pork and chorizo very well. This is also turned out to be a rather frugal recipe, we got the pork on a great offer of £5 for a kilogram, the apples, onions and potatoes were from our own garden. The apple cider we used was a ridiculously expensive one (in my defence, I didn't buy it, my Mum did). If you used regular cider, that would take the cost down even more, but I worked it out that the total cost of ingredients (excluding what we got for free from the garden and the spices and olive oil), it came to a total of £9.66 or £1.20 per serving.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Stuffed marrow

After last week's carb feast I thought it might be time for somewhat more wholesome recipes this week. And turns out I didn't even have to lift a finger to make this happen!

This week the contents (well, the food an pictures, if not the actual text) of InvisiblePinkFood are courtesy of the Culinary Consultant. The other day, I came home from work to these stuffed marrows waiting for me. I was a bit skeptical as I have never managed to cook anything very delicious from marrows. But looks like the Culinary Consultant had a bit more talent in the marrow department than I did, as they turned out fantastic. He even grew the marrow himself! This recipe is modified from BBC Good Food recipe for Spanish Stuffed Marrow.

Stuffed marrow (serves 4-6):
1 big marrow
100 g chorizo
1 onion
4 cloves of garlic
330 g sausage meat
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp mixed herbs
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 sweet pepper
100 g grated cheese (we used a mix of cheddar and Red Leicester)

The howto: 
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F). Cut the marrow in half lengthways and scoop out the middle (see below), and cut into serving sizes. Our giant marrow made six servings. Put the halves in a large oven proof dish. 

Chop onion, chorizo and sweet pepper, finely chop garlic. In a frying pan, cook the chorizo until it starts to release fat. Add onion, garlic, sausage meat, spices and herbs and use a spatula to break up the sausage meat while it cooks. After about five minutes, add tomatoes and peppers and cook for 15-20 minutes. 

Spoon the filling onto the marrow halves, cover with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes depending on the size of your marrow. The marrow should start to soften. Our marrow was really big and dense and needed even more time to cook. Sprinkle with cheese and return to the oven for 10 minutes until the cheese is golden. 

The verdict:
When I heard the dinner was going to be stuffed marrow I thought "meeeh". I honestly thought this would be a really boring and somewhat soggy dish. I could not have been more wrong. I know they say food always tastes better if it's cooked by someone else, but in this case that was more than true. The marrow was still a great texture, not mushy at all. I was also surprised that it actually tasted really good, it had a mild but somewhat nutty flavour. Must be all the love that has gone into growing it... And the filling was so full of flavour, just a perfect pinch of heat, tasty chorizo and sausage and a nice final touch from the cheese. If you have marrows but not an idea what to do with them, this is the perfect solution. I think it's worth a try to see if you could scoop out the marrow, cut it into serving size pieces and freeze it for use later. I can't see why it wouldn't work, although the marrow might go a bit soggy after defrosting it, at least courgette does but the marrow does seem to be a bit more compact to start with so it might just work.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Garden update

It's been a while since the last garden update. Some things turned out successes - courgettes, marrows and tomatoes have been prolific. Just wait until you see what the Culinary Consultant made using one of the gigantic marrows! Our freezer is bursting at it's seams with tomatoes in all different guises. 

There is also a load of plums waiting to become jam once we have finished the current batch. Our first plum jam turned out really good. We managed to get enough figs for a small batch of fig jam as well, which turned out fantastic. The cucumbers were good, and as you can see from the pictures, there will be loads of sweet peppers as well. 

But there were also things that didn't turn out quite as they should. My attempts at growing lettuce were soon devoured by slugs. The grapes all got some weird disease and got mouldy. Birds ate all the raspberries and cherries. There were a few apricots so we finally got to try them, and lots of pears are starting to ripen. 

We have learned a lot and I am already excited to plan ahead for next spring. By the way, all of the photos were taken two days ago, so the flowers are still beautiful, I love that there is still some summery colours in the garden. 
My own courgette (the only one I managed to keep alive
 from seed) is still producing and we have collected seeds
 for next year from this prolific individual hoping for similar
 yields next year.
We had a good yield of cucumbers
and a few more to harvest.
The cucumber still thinks there is time to make more fruit,
I hope it's right.
Finally some of the peppers are starting to get ripe, we
almost despaired that there will be no peppers at all.
Most of the sweet peppers are small, but there is
one very impressive specimen.

The dahlias seem to thrive still, although most other
flowers seem to have given up for the season.

There is plenty of apples, unfortunately they are all
quite bad with spots and bruises. But they will do for
 stewed apple, just as they did last year.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Jamie Oliver's No 1 toasted cheese sandwich

I usually don't watch very much TV, except of course the Great British Bakeoff. But lately I have been stuck in front of the telly quite a bit as I have been knitting again after a long break (the results will be on show on the crafting blog at some point). One evening I happened to sit in front of the telly when Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food was on. When I saw him make this "No 1" toasted cheese sandwich I immediately knew I had to try it. We didn't have any bread at home, so to make my dreams come true I had to start by baking my own bread. I decided to make this oats and honey sandwich bread (although Jamie recommends using a simple white bloomer). 

I assume I don't need to tell you that eating one of these will probably decrease your life expectancy by at least a few months... But this blog is not called InvisiblePinkHealthFood, and bread and cheese are my ultimate cravings so I just had to try it. I won't say it will become a staple in our kitchen, I think I need to give my arteries a decade or so to recover but it was worth trying. I suspect other grilled cheeses will seem a bit plain after making this. I even dare to suggest that I have improved on a Jamie Oliver original recipe as we decided to add some chorizo to the sandwich - you can go plain and do it the Jamie way, or take it up a notch with the added chorizo.

Jamie Oliver's No 1 Toasted Cheese Sandwich (for 1):
2 slices of bread
grated cheese (suggestions cheddar and Red Leicester)
(a few slices of chorizo)

The howto:
Butter the bread slices on both sides. Grate a generous amount of cheese onto one slice, and add the optional chorizo. Place the other slice on top. Toast the sandwich in a pan over medium heat, about 3 minutes per side. This should result in a golden brown sandwich with gooey melted cheese inside. Weigh the sandwich down with a plate or something else similar while it's cooking. Remove from the pan and grate a thin layer of cheese into the pan, making sure you cover the entire surface of the pan. This will make the cheese crown of the sandwich and is the crowning (pun intended) glory of this sarnie. Place the sandwich back into the middle of the pan and let the cheese cook for about a minute, until it has melted and formed a uniform "mat". At this point you can add a pinch of cayenne to the cheese. Then slide a flipper spatula under the sandwich, making sure the whole cheese "mat" is holding together. Gently lift the whole shebang up, so that the cheese "mat" hangs down over the edges of the spatula. Keep it lifted for about half a minute, until the cheese has set, and when you turn the sandwich around, the hardened cheese will form a "crown" for the sandwich. Serve with brown and/or red sauce and/or some chutney.

The verdict:
This is just as good as you would imagine it is. Possibly a tad better. If you are not big on bread and cheese, don't try this. It tastes like bread and cheese. To the umpteenth power. And it's glorious! Like I said, I don't think I will be making it very often as it probably contains a week's allowance of calories, but it's worth every one of those calories. I can imagine this is the ultimate hangover food but it's also great for a decadent weekend brunch. 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Honey and oats sandwich loaf

I can't believe it's hump day already! Halfway to the weekend. The weeks just fly away, it was barely spring and now it's less than 100 days to Christmas. But rather than thinking of dark mornings and evenings ahead, let's think about happy things. Like carbs!

This recipe is adapted from the Brown Eyed Baker blog, as it was one of the first hits that came up when I googled "sandwich bread recipe oats" and I thought it looked and sounded very delicious. I saw a very special sandwich on a cooking program on telly the other day, and am dying to try it but we didn't have any bread in the house so instead of buying some substandard British supermarket bread I just thought I would make some myself.

I always convince myself baking bread is a huge hassle, so I don't do it nearly often enough. But I started this dough after getting out of bed on a Saturday morning (around 8ish), and it was out of the oven by 11.30 am, so after giving it a bit of time to cool I will have super fresh bread for our lunch sandwiches.

This is a very simple dough to throw together from ingredients you are most likely to have at home at any time (possible minus the honey, depending on if you are a big honey fan or not. I have some old honey that has started to crystallise a bit, so this recipe was a perfect way to use it up before it became completely unusable). The original recipe uses traditional oats, not the quick cook ones, and there were comments on the site saying the dough was too soggy if using quick cook oats, but I didn't have a problem, hopefully this will work for other people as well. If you use traditional oats, have a look at the original recipe, as you are supposed to soak them in boiling hot water first and then letting the mixture cool before proceeding. I made my bread exactly as described below without problems. 

Honey and oats sandwich bread (makes 1 loaf):
1 cup warm water 
1/4 cup warm milk
2 tsp instant (easy bake) yeast
1/4 cup honey
1 cup quick cook oats
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter (cut into small pieces)
1 cup strong whole wheat flour
1 2/3 cup strong white flour

Ready for the oven
The howto:
Mix the warm water, milk, yeast, oats and honey in a bowl, and leave for a few minutes. Add the butter and salt and mix. Add flour and turn onto a table and knead until a soft dough forms (this can be done by hand or using a machine. As I don't have any other options, I did it by hand. The dough is a bit soft, but after kneading this brioche bun dough, this dough was easy peasy). Leave to proof for about an hour, or until dough has doubled in size. 

If using a regular bread loaf pan (9x5 in), butter it. I used my trusty silicon loaf pan, which needs no prep, I love it as it's one more step that can be omitted, making things just that little bit easier. After the dough has proved, oil your hands, and knock the air out of the dough by kneading it a few times. At this point the dough seemed really well behaved, it didn't stick and was easy to handle. Shape the dough into a log by smoothing it out to a rectangle and make a roll, tucking the ends under and rolling a few times on the table to ensure its even. There are some pictures of the process on the Browned Eyed Baker blog here if you aren't sure how to do it. Pop the loaf into the tin, and leave to proof for another hour to hour and a half (my loaf was climbing well over the edges of the loaf pan after an hour). At the end of the proofing, preheat oven to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F). Bake for 45 minutes, and protect with foil if bread starts to brown too heavily. I added 10 minutes to the baking time as the bread still felt a bit wobbly after 45 minutes. Also, it didn't become nearly as dark as the bread in the original blog post, not sure why but it turned out great nonetheless.

The verdict:
This was a very easy bread to put together and it had great rise. It was really hard to wait until it had cooled completely before sampling it. But I do urge you to wait, as the bread is really difficult to cut while the loaf is still warm (don't ask me why I know). This bread is quite sweet from the honey, so beware if you don't like sweet breads. For me it was perfect, as I do like a bit of sweetness, and it goes great with the light nuttiness of the oats. I also like that it's very soft and fluffy, not at all dense. I think it would be perfect for toasting and serving with butter and jam. I'm not sure it would be the best for sandwiches as it seems quite soft, and quite hard to cut into really thin slices. Given how little work it is to make, this is a really great, tasty and lightly textured bread which baked perfect the first time I tried it although I did make some alterations to the original recipe.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Potato fritters

I never thought this week would end! I have survived that horrid first week back at work after a wonderful, relaxing holiday. There are few things in life as depressing as going back to work, particularly if the holiday week was as enjoyable as mine was. I had some very dear guests from back home. I love that our house is large enough to comfortably accommodate guests, and I love our wonderful conservatory which is such a beautiful space to serve meals in. For breakfast it's light and the scenery out over the fields is beautiful and in the evening it's cosy when lit up with candles and some soft light. And in the daytime it serves as a great office space for writing my blogs now that our old sofa has retired and moved to the conservatory as well.

Anyhow, the main point was I survived the week at work. And as it's the weekend, there was a need for something delicious for brunch. And that something is... drumroll... these lovely potato fritters. The recipe is from the wonderful The English Kitchen and is used almost unaltered, except I reduced the amount of cheese a little bit as I happened to have a 75g chunk hanging around. These are great as you can prep the potatoes on the evening before, and then they are pretty quick to make. Also very frugal food, particularly if you don't use much cheese the rest of the ingredients hardly cost a thing (particularly if you can just go outside and dig up your own potatoes!)

Potato fritters (makes 12):
500 grams floury potato
75 g grated cheddar (original recipe says 120 g)
3 spring onions finely chopped
1 egg
3 tbsp flour plus some more for coating
oil for cooking (about 3-4 tbsp)
black pepper and salt to taste
nutmeg (original recipe says fresh, but I only have ground)

The howto:
Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. Cook in lightly salted water until soft. Drain well and mash. Chill until cold (original recipe recommends in fridge over night, I only let them cool outside in the slightly chilly weather for a few hours). Mix in the grated cheddar, spring onion, egg, flour, salt and pepper to form a sticky dough. Form into 12 little fritters about half an inch thick. Coat in flour. Heat oil in a frying pan and cook fritters in small batches until golden brown on both sides. Place on a piece of kitchen towel to absorb excess oil, and keep fritters warm in an oven while finishing to cook them all. The original recipe suggested to serve with some more chopped spring onion and sour cream, which sounds delicious. I served mine as brunch with some bacon and toast.

The verdict:
These little fluffy potato fritters are delicious for a brunch or as a light lunch. You could also serve them as a side with something more substantial. They have a very comforting feel to them. The outside is nice and crispy from the flour that cooks in the oil, and the inside is light and fluffy. These were a brunch hit in our house and will definitely be made again.