Pickled pears

Christmas, for us, means making stuff to give to friends and family.  This is a lovely easy thing to make, and goes really well with cheese or cured meats.

  • about 16 small-ish firm pears (Conference are good), peeled, with stalks left on
  • 1 litre white wine vinegar
  • 0.5 litres water
  • 500g sugar (granulated)
  • 4 star anise
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
  • 1 tablespoon allspice berries
  • 2 teaspoons juniper berries
  • The zest of 1 lemon, peeled in large strips
  • 1 teaspoon cloves

 

Boil up the water, vinegar, sugar and spices in a large pan with a lid. Make sure it’s a stainless steel or other non-reactive pan, or the vinegar will create pits in the surface!

Put the pears into the hot liquid, turn the heat down to a simmer, clap the lid on and leave the pears to poach for about 20 minutes.  Take the pears out of the liquid and put them somewhere warm.  Turn up the heat under the poaching liquid and boil it for about 10 minutes until it has reduced a bit and gone syrupy.

Divide the poached pears between 4 large-ish wide necked jars, previously sterilised.  Pour the reduced cooking liquid over the pears, ensuring that each jar gets its share of the whole spices.  If you want you can add a sprig of fresh rosemary to each jar – it looks pretty and adds a herby flavour.  Seal the jars with vinegar-proof lids – either use parfait jars (the ones with rubber seals and metal clips), or proper Kilner jars, or improvise with wide-necked pickle jars and seal them with greaseproof circles and plastic-coated jar lids.

These pickled pears can keep for up to 6 months unopened in a dark cupboard.  Once you do open a jar, keep it in the fridge and use up within two weeks.

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Dried fruit chutney

A fabulous Christmassy chutney which requires patience and a good knife, or if you have no patience, a food processor.

  • 250g dried apricots – the ready to eat kind
  • 300g dried dates
  • 250g semi-dried figs
  • 100g raisins
  • 450g red onions
  • 570ml cider vinegar
  • 50g sea salt
  • 1 level dessertspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 450g light brown sugar
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground allspice

Chop the dried fruits and onions finely – either with large amounts of patience and a sharp knife, or bung them into a food processor and whizz them up.  Put the cider vinegar in a large pan with the salt, ginger, sugar and allspice, and bring them to the boil.  Turn down the heat to a simmer and stir in all the fruit and onions.  Leave it on a low-ish heat, stir it occasionally, and in about an hour or maybe a bit longer you’ll have a pan of lovely chutney.  You can tell when it’s done if you draw a spoon across the surface to make a channel, and the channel stays there and doesn’t fill up with vinegar.

Take off the heat and put into warmed sterilised jars.  Do yourself a favour and keep some wide-necked ones handy; they’re much easier to fill!  Seal with vinegar-proof lids (i.e. plastic-covered ones, or use greaseproof circles).  This tastes better after maturing in a dark cupboard for a few weeks.

Cranberry relish

Christmas preparations continue apace. Today we made cranberry relish, almost as easy as going to the shop and buying a jar.

  • 350g fresh cranberries
  • Juice and zest of one orange
  • 75g sugar
  • half a cinnamon stick
  • half a teaspoon of finely grated fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons of Mirto di Sardegna (black myrtle liqueur from Italy)

Mirto di Sardegna is pretty rare but we happened to have some that we brought back from Italy as a holiday souvenir.  You can substitute port, crème de cassis, or even sloe gin – anything that’s got a dark fruity alcoholic tang. If you don’t fancy adding alcohol, then add more orange juice or a splash of water.

Put all the ingredients in a pan and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until all the berries have burst. Take off the heat and stir in the alcohol. It keeps well in the fridge for up to a week, in a covered bowl. It can also be frozen – make sure to defrost it thoroughly for 24 hours before using.

Marrakshi chicken with preserved lemon

Sam is getting more adventurous with his cooking, and wanted to try a Moroccan-inspired dish. This is what he made – heavily influenced by the chicken tagine served at Leon.

Serves 4

  • 1 large onion
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic puree (or smoked garlic puree if you can find it)
  • 1 tablespoon ras-el-hanout spice mix
  • 8 small chicken joints, on the bone for preference (thighs are perfect for this, or you can buy a whole chicken and joint it yourself – there’ll be plenty of meat left over on the carcass to make  stew or soup)
  • a few strands of saffron (optional)
  • half a litre of chicken stock
  • 1 tin of chickpeas, drained
  • 4 large preserved lemons or 8 really small ones, enough for about 60g of rinds
  • 50g green olives, stoned and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons creme fraiche
  • salt and black pepper

Peel and chop the onion into thin half-moon slices.  Heat the oil in a large saute pan or casserole dish, and saute the onion in the oil over a medium heat until it is soft but not coloured. Add the garlic puree and the ras-el-hanout, stir it about and enjoy the lovely aromas of the spices as they heat up.  Put in the chicken pieces – you should really take the skin off .  Then add the chickpeas, the saffron and the stock and let it come to a simmer. Leave it simmering for about ten minutes.

Take the preserved lemons and cut them in half. Scoop out the flesh and pips and discard them, then slice up the rinds and add them to the pan along with the chopped olives.  Keep the pan simmering for another ten minutes.

Finish off the dish by adding the creme fraiche. Stir it in and then turn up the heat a bit to reduce the liquid a little – this should take another ten to fifteen minutes.

Incidentally if you use big chicken breast fillets or larger joints, you will need to increase the cooking time to ensure the chicken is cooked through.  Chicken should never be pink!

When you are ready to serve, season it with salt and pepper (it may not need salt because of the stock and the olives) and garnish with some chopped coriander leaves (cilantro to our friends across the Atlantic).  This dish can be served with couscous or rice, and it goes well with dark green vegetables such as broccoli or wilted spinach.  You could also try a mixture of traditional Moroccan braised vegetables such as carrots, courgettes, squash, aubergine and green cabbage.

 

instant cherry gelato

20170102_185627How easy is this?  It’s also low carb – no added sugar – and totally delicious. This quantity serves about 4. Or just me when I feel like icecream.

  • 350g frozen black cherries
  • 250ml double cream

Put the double cream and frozen cherries into a bowl and use a stick blender to blend the two ingredients together until the mixture looks like ice cream. It doesn’t have to be completely smooth – having visible bits of cherry makes it more interesting.  You can either eat this straight away, or store it in the freezer, but if you store it then take it out and leave in the fridge for 20 minutes before eating.  It is lovely served with dark chocolate sauce (melt dark chocolate with cream – easy).

bloody brilliant piccalilli

img_20161107_222829-1So named by family friend Eric, who is renowned for his taciturnity. However, he got very animated about this piccalilli, and declared it to be bloody brilliant. High praise indeed, from a man of few words.

  • 1kg mixed vegetables, washed and peeled as necessary. Essentials are cauliflower (white or romanesco), green beans, and shallots or small silverskin onions. The rest can be made up of sweetcorn, fresh peas, red peppers, courgettes, carrots, green tomatoes. The  more colourful the mixture, the better.
  • 50g fine salt
  • 30g cornflour
  • 10g ground turmeric
  • 10g English mustard powder
  • 15g yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground coriander
  • 600ml cider vinegar
  • 200g granulated sugar

The most time consuming part of making piccalilli is cutting up the vegetables. You need to make sure that the pieces are quite small and of an even size. Once you’ve got your kilo of chopped veg, put them in a large bowl and sprinkle over the salt.  Mix it in well and leave the bowl, covered in a cloth, overnight. This will help to ensure that the vegetable pieces stay crunchy.  The next day, rinse the veg in ice-cold water to get rid of the salt, and drain as much of the water off as you can.  The veg need to be quite dry or the resulting sauce will be watery. Put the cornflour, turmeric, and all the other spices in a big jug and mix them to a smooth-ish paste with some of the vinegar.  The rest of the vinegar goes into a large saucepan to be heated up with the sugar, until the sugar has dissolved.  Bring the vinegar and sugar mixture to the boil, then pour some of it over the spice paste and mix it well, then pour the spice paste and vinegar mixture back into the pan and bring to the boil again.  Keep stirring it until it thickens. This should take about five minutes.  Take the pan off the heat, and then you’re ready to mix in the drained vegetables.  Stir all the vegetables around until they are all coated with the spicy sauce, then pack them into sterilised jars, making sure there are no air pockets.  Seal the jars with wax paper discs to cover, and acid-proof screw-on lids.  This piccalilli can be eaten straight away but improves after about 4  weeks maturing in a dark cupboard.  It’s excellent with cheese, cured meats, pork pies, roast beef, sandwiches, anything that benefits from a mustardy, crunchy hit. I have been known to eat it from the jar with a spoon.  It’s also vegan, containing no animal products (but it tasts so good WITH animal products…!).

low sugar mincemeat

20161210_191103I know I’ve written about mincemeat before, but we’ve been on a bit of a dietary adventure over the past six months, eating a low carb/high fat diet to alleviate Chris’s Type 2 diabetes – and it’s worked!  So we’ve been thinking about adapting many of our favourite recipes to cut down on the carbohydrates.  This version of mincemeat contains only 50g of  added “half and half” sucrose/stevia.  It is not low-calorie, as the dried fruits contain high levels of fructose, but this is absorbed more slowly than other sugars and so is better for diabetics. In any case there’s only a heaped teaspoon of mincemeat in a mince pie anyway.  Oh, and it’s also suitable for vegans as it contains no animal products.

  • 200g vegetable suet
  • 300g cooking apple, peeled and grated
  • 50g whole almonds, chopped into slivers
  • 200g dried apricots, chopped small
  • 140 g raisins
  • 300g sultanas
  • 225g currants
  • 150g dates
  • 150g prunes
  • 50g brown sugar with stevia (by Tate & Lyle)
  • 4 teaspoons mixed spice
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • Zest and juice of 2 large clementines
  • 6 tablespoons brandy

Put the dates and prunes into a food processor and blitz to a paste. Put in a big ovenproof bowl with all the other ingredients except the brandy, and mix it all together thoroughly. Leave it overnight, covered in a cloth.  In the morning, take off the cloth, stir the mixture well and cover it loosely with a piece of foil. Place the bowl in a very low oven (gas mark 1/4, 110 degrees C) for 3 hours, then take it out of the oven. As it cools, give the mixture a stir occasionally. When it’s completely cooled down, stir in the brandy (be generous – and maybe add a splash of Pedro Ximenez sherry as well; after all, it is Christmas…) and mix well, then spoon into sterilised jars and seal with acid-proof lids and wax discs, or parfait jars with rubber seals.

This makes just under 3kg of mincemeat (about 6 normal sized jamjars).

 

Prize-winning Eccles Cakes, 2016

So, OK, I only won the prize because no-one else entered, but I’m confident they would have stood up to any competition.

I’m usually disappointed by any Eccles cakes apart from the usual shop-bought ones which aren’t really ‘puffy’ puff pastry and these did turn out very like them: I used Delia Smith’s cheat method for puff pastry, because life’s too short. This recipe makes about 10 decent sized cakes, but you could make more if you go for a smaller size of pastry square. Don’t forget to adjust cooking times if you make smaller ones though – they’ll cook more quickly.

Ingredients:  Rough Puff Pastry:

  • 1 pack (250g) salted butter
  • 350g plain flour
  • Water

Filling:

  • about 100g currants
  • 25g chopped apricots
  • 30g butter
  • zest of an orange or lemon or 2 limes
  • Orange liqueur*
  • two tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom

* NB. you can use any booze here, the original recipe used to have brandy it in apparently, but then those temperance folk came along and complained. You can use mixed peel but I hate it so usually substitute apricots.

Freeze the butter for about half an hour, measure the flour into a big mixing bowl and then grate the butter into it using a box grater – the side you’d normally use to grate cheese. If the butter’s getting a bit melty, dip it in the flour. When it’s all done, mix it up with a knife, chopping any big lumps until it’s the consistency of bread crumbs. Add the cold water a bit at a time until you get a reasonable dough.

Put the dough in a plastic bag or clingfilm and chill it in the fridge for an hour. Take it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you’re ready to roll, or it can be too hard to roll out.

Meanwhile make the filling. Melt the butter in a pan, and add everything else. The longer you can leave this soaking in the booze, the juicier and more fabulous the currants and apricots will taste. Currants will soak up quite a lot. If you have some free liquid when you’re ready to use it, pour it off or you’ll get a soggy bottom. Actually drinking it is quite nice.

Roll the dough out, fold it up – all recipes seem to think it’s important to fold over a third into the middle and then the other third over that, so why not do that? Then roll it and do it again a couple of times more.

Finally cut out a square about the size of a CD case and put a dollop of the fruit mixture in the middle and fold in the corners – a bit of water applied to them will help them stick. Turn them over and nudge them gently into a more round shape. When you’ve done them all, make some slits in the top, wet the tops slightly with water and sprinkle them with some brown sugar.

Bake for about 20 mins in a 225°C oven, until they’re a nice golden brown. If they still look or feel a bit soggy and pale around the sides or bottom, leave them in for another 5-10 minutes. For god’s sake leave to cool before sampling. The insides are hotter than the sun when they first come out. They’re actually better completely cold.

To serve: Stuff them into your face as fast as you can before someone else gets hold of them. With clotted cream is nice.

ecclescakes

 

 

 

French almond cake

5 eggs at room temperature showstopper_cut_almond_cake
200g  caster sugar
half a teaspoon of salt
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
200g ground almonds
30g plain flour
Knob of butter for greasing your tin

Switch on your oven and pre-heat to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.  Base-line a 23cm (9in) springform tin with greaseproof paper, and smear the insides with a bit of butter. Grate the zest of your lemon, then cut the lemon in half,. Get two large bowls ready. The one for the egg whites should be ceramic, steel or glass – trying to whisk egg whites in a plastic bowl is a recipe for disaster, as plastic is never completely grease-free and any trace of grease will mean you can’t get as much air into the whites as you need. Rub the inside of the bowls with the cut lemon halves (you can use them for putting in your gin and tonic later). Separate the eggs and put the whites in one bowl and the yolks in the other.  Add half the sugar to the yolks and beat together until light, pale and fluffy. Add the lemon zest and beat for a bit longer. An electric hand mixer is great for this – if you use a hand whisk you will get really tired trying to make this cake!

In the other bowl, beat the whites until they form stiff peaks. If you are using the same mixer for both yolks and whites, make sure that you clean the blades well before whipping up the whites – see comment above about grease and egg whites. Add the remaining sugar to the whites gradually, and keep beating until stiff and shiny.

Using a metal spoon add two big spoonfuls of the whites to the batter to loosen it then fold in the rest, using a cutting motion to avoid knocking out all the air you’ve carefully beaten into the whites. Weigh out the salt, almonds and flour and mix together thoroughly, then fold gently into the egg mixture. There’s really no need to sift the flour/salt/almond mixture, just make sure there are no big lumps of ground almonds and that the salt is evenly distributed.

Scrape the mixture into the springform tin and bake  for 40 minutes. The sponge should be coming away from the sides and the middle should spring back when gently pressed.

Leave in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out and place the right way up on a cooling rack. Once it is completely cool, remove the paper. This cake does sink slightly in the middle as the only raising agent is the egg whites.

The image is of my entry for the street party bakeoff challenge – three layers of French almond cake, sandwiched with blueberry and raspberry jam, finished with white chocolate ganache, white chocolate fingers and white chocolate buttons, and topped with fresh strawberries and blueberries. It came second…showstopper_almond_cake

Sam’s mackerel paté

pateSam wanted to learn how to make paté, but we couldn’t find any chicken livers in the supermarket.  So we made this instead.

  • 200g smoked mackerel fillets
  • 100g unsalted labneh (yogurt cheese: see previous labneh recipe) – or you could use low fat cream cheese
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Pepper to taste

Skin the mackerel fillets, and remove any really big bones that are still left in the mackerel flesh.  Break the fillets up a bit and put them in food processor. Add the yogurt cheese, and most of the lemon juice, and blitz for about 2o seconds. You don’t need to do it for too long or it will go completely smooth; it’s nicer with a bit of texture.  Season with freshly ground black pepper, and spoon it into a nice serving dish or pot.  Cover with clingfilm and store in the fridge.