Saturday, 8 February 2014

Marmalade Time

The arrival of Seville oranges must be one of the few seasonal food events left to us who live in the world of strawberries in December.  I couldn't wait for them to arrive this year as my supply was well and truly depleted.  Not a spoonful left to glorify my morning toast or add to my favourite fruit cake. That said they did sit in my fridge for a few days as you really need time to make marmalade.  It can't be thrown together in minutes. Marmalade requires time to prep all of the ingredients but once that is done it can be switched on and left to its own devices for a couple of hours.

I coerced my husband to help me get the fruit ready. Out came the fruit juicer and we were away.

To make a lip puckering marmalade and why make anything else, you will need:

1kg of Seville oranges. Make sure that they are fresh as the fresher the oranges the easier it is to get the marmalade to set.

1.9kg sugar.

The juice of 1 lemon

2 Lt water.

You will need at least 6 jam jars. If they are small you will need more. They should be sterilised. I do mine by washing them in the dishwasher just before I need them.

Now comes the fun and this is why help is appreciated.

Cut the oranges in half and juice. Remove the pips and pith and pour into a bowl. The rinds should be sliced thinly, only you will know how thick you like your rind. This will take a while, but while one person juices the other can slice. Add the rind to the water along with the juice of the fruits and bring gently to the boil. This will simmer for 2 hours. It really does need this as it takes that long for the rind to soften.

Now, convention would have it that the pith and pips should be put into a cheese cloth tied with string and then added to the boiling marmalade. When this is cooked the bag is squeezed to get out the pectin which is a thick gel that oozes out of the bag. Well blow that. I put my pips and pith together with about half a pint of the water from the 2lt into a microwave bowl and cooked until mushy. This may take a few minutes. It depends on your machine. Put the resulting mush into a fine sieve and, using a large spoon, push as much as you can through the sieve. You will see the pectin coming out with ease. Scrape the pectin off the bottom of the sieve. If it gets to be too thick, take a ladle of the hot liquid from the pot, avoid the rind, and pour onto the sieve. Stir and push again. You get the idea I'm, sure. When you have removed as much pectin as possible give it  a good stir and whisk into the boiling marmalade. Allow it to finish its 2 hour simmer.

Put a side plate in the fridge to cool.

Now add the sugar and mix to dissolve. Bring the marmalade up to the boil and, if you can do it, a good rolling boil. No namby pamby simmering needed here. You really need to get up to a temperature of about 105C. This is the setting point of most jams. However, any time from 99C on you can test for setting. Do this by putting a spoonful on a cold plate, put the plate in the fridge and when cool the jam is ready if the jam on the plate wrinkles when pushed with your finger. It is a good idea to switch the jam off while you do this other wise it may over cook.

Ladle the marmalade into the jars. Screw the tops on firmly and turn upside down. this will help prevent the jam from going off. Leave to cool and when cool get out the toaster and enjoy.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Crumbly Ginger Shortbreads

Who doesn't like biscuits?  Crumbly ginger biscuits are my current favourite especially when they are made with preserved stem ginger. These aren't the traditional gingernuts but something different as they arfe light and buttery with a hint of ginger in the shortbread and a punch of it in the chunks of stem ginger.

You will have all of the ingredients in your store cupboard so let's get on.

To make approx 12 biscuits.

110g butter
70g castor sugar
1 large egg yolk
200g plain flour
pinch of salt
1 tsp ginger powder
80g chunked preserved stem ginger

Heat the oven to 180C.

Cream the butter and sugar. Doesn't need to be too light. Beat in the egg yolk.
Mix in the chopped stem ginger.
Gradually add the flour, salt and ginger powder and mix until the mixture all comes together in a firm lump.
Roll into a log shape about the size that you want your finished biscuits. About 6cm is good. Wrap and chill in the fridge for about half an hour.
Remove from the fridge and slice into medallion shaped biscuits. They should be about 1 cm thick.
Place on a baking sheet and cook for about 20 minutes. Check on the cooking as not every oven is the same. You will want them a light golden brown.
Cool until they become crisp and enjoy with a nice cup of tea. What else?

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Lasagne al Forno

Yesterday my brother phoned me and asked me where he could find my recipe for lasagne. He pointed out that there wasn't one on my blog. A big omission in hie eyes. Thinking about it, I suppose that lasagne has been done so much that I didn't feel the need to add a recipe here. However, to keep my brother happy, here's a recipe for lasagne with a few tips from a Bolognese lady that I used to work with.

I'll start with the Ragu alla Bolognese.

For the sugo or ragu as it is called in Bologna.

500g of mince meat. A mixture of pork and beef mince is the best option and the one most used in Italy.  Keep it as one lump. You'll see why later. The meat should not be too lean or it will be dry.
100 g pancetta, or failing that, chopped bacon.
1 large onion, finely diced
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
1 tablespoon of butter
1 clove or garlic
1 glass of red wine
1 stock cube
1 - 2 tablespoons of tomato puree this will depend on how red you like your sauce.
A bouquet garni. Make sure that it is tied up so that the rosemary does not come apart and end up in the sauce. You only want the flavour.
Either water or milk to add to the mixture
a good glug of oil for frying

What you do

Put the oil in a heavy pan and heat up until just beginning to smoke. Add the meat in one flattish lump. Do not break up or move around. Allow it to brown on one side and when it has done this, use a meat slice to flip it over so that it can brown on the other side. The browning of the meat in this way stops the eventual sugo from being un unappetising grey.

While the meat is browning, you can heat the butter and fry the diced veg, except the garlic in a separate pan. Cook until soft and put aside until you need it. Add the diced garlic now.

Add the tomato puree to the meat and begin to break it up. Fry until it is all brown. Cooking the concentrate this way sweetens it and makes the sauce taste better. The pan should be fairly hot at this point so now add the wine to the meat and bring it back to the boil so that the alcohol boils off and you are left with the flavour of the wine rather than the raw taste of the alcohol.

Add the cooked veg to the pan and top up with water or milk. The liquid should cover the meat by about an inch. It will probablt be about 1 litre. It may seem like a lot, but this should cook long and slow and much of the liquid will boil off. Put on a low heat for about an hour and a half. Check from lime to time to give it a stir and to make sure that the liquid has not boiled away. Do not cover as you want the liquid to evaporate.

If you want a good sauce, then it needs to cook for at least and hour and a half. After that you cana decide if it is dense enough or if it needs to have a little stock added to it.

When you are happy with your sauce add the stock cube and salt and pepper as necessary.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

More Vanilla Beans than Sense

Recently I decided to buy some vanilla. Ok, one or two beans. No such thing, I bought 500g. That's a lot of vanilla. So, when I do this sort of thing I have to use it up so that it does not go dry. My two ideas of choice are:

Vanilla Bean Paste


Vanilla Extract

The vanilla bean paste is for those who have no patience.  It is quick to make and can be used immediately. If the smell in my kitchen was anything to go by even before it was finished would have been good.

Simply take about 12 vanilla beans, (a lot, I know but his will make enough for a year at least.

Cut the beans in to pieces of about 2cm.

Weigh out 500g of sugar and mix the beans with the sugar. Put the whole lot into the bowl of a blender and blend until all of the beans and sugar are reduced to a fine powder. You will need to have the sugar in with the beans or it will not work. Trust me don't bother to try it.

Next I sieved the whole lot to separate it out into the sugar with the vanilla seeds and the chopped up beans. Now this is where reality and desire become confused. What I should have done at this point is added the sieved vanilla and sugar to the water and proceeded from there. Did I do this? Not really. I actually changed my mind and threw the lot into the pot with the water. I boiled it up and when it came to the boil I sieved it again.

Then I boiled it up until the mixture became syrupy.

Bottle and it can be used straight away.

Now, I'm not too sure whether this is the best way, but it certainly gets a very dark paste.

Vanilla extract is another matter alltogether. This time I used very strong alcohol. A flavourless Vodka is good. No need to buy anything good as it is really only a carrier for the vanilla flavour.

It is simplicity to make as all that you have to do is cut 4 vanill beans in half put them in a jar with 200 - 250 ml of vodka. Put on the top and wait,      and wait,     and wait.

It will be about 6 months before the extract is ready to use.

My suggestion is to do both the paste and the extract. use one straight way and the other when the first is finished.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Montersino Rules for Bread.

These may well be 'Montersino Rules for Bread' but for me Montersino really does rule over the kitchen. So when I was watching one of his Accademia Montersiono programmes on Alive TV
( Italian language only) I gleaned several things form him that I think are important to note down here before I forget them.

  1. The longer the raising time the smaller the quantity of yeast needed.
  2. A biga must be left to develop for 18 to 20 hours. 
  3. Add the salt at the end of the kneading process as the salt crystals make the gluten strands rigid and inhibit their production.
  4. The amount of salt in the mixture affects the time that the dough takes to prove. If you want to lengthen the proving time of the bread add extra salt. This has to be within reason. I didn't quite catch the rule so I'll watch the programme again to get the formula right.
  5. Use a medium gluten content flour if you want to have a crisp crust. The protein in the flour absorbs humidity and makes even the crispiest crust go soft.
  6. These may well be 'Montersino Rules for Bread' but for me Montersino really does rule over the kitchen. So when I was watching one of his Accademia Montersiono programmes on Alive TV
    ( Italian language only) I gleaned several things form him that I think are important to note down here before I forget them.
  7. The temperature of the dough should not go above 27 C as it will inhibit the yeast growth. If the dough is mixed in a machine, the action of the dough hook can raise the temperature significantly. This is why many bakers tell you not to use warm water to make bread. (Paul Hollywood being a case in point).
There's a fantastic tretis on the science of it all here:

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Great British Bakeoff

I watched the bakeoff this evening and, I'm afraid that I predicted that Becca would go. It'sa pity as she has worked so hard and I think that what she has made has been terrific.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Plums and apples the flavours of autumn

In recent years I feel that we have lost sight of the seasons. The supermarkets bring us whatever fruit or vegetables that we want at any time of the year. Strawberries at Christmas being a good example of what I mean.  So, for this post I want to cook exactly what's in season and today that is apples and plums. The apples were given to my by a dear friend and the plums come from our garden in Italy. We picked them ourselves after waiting eagerly for them to ripen up to our satisfaction.

I decided to make small tartlets as I can contain myself to one rather than scoffing a large piece of a tart. I also wanted them to look pretty. Not too sure that I achieved that though. They certainly look homemade.

I tend not to weigh out too much when it comes to the filling as I just make use of what I have on hand.  If I make too much, I freeze it until I can use it up in a different way.

  1. Make the filling by peeling, quartering and cubing some apples. I used Bramleys.
  2. Remove the stones from an equal weight of plums and mix in to the apples. Add enough sugar to sweeten to your taste. I like mine sharp so I don't add too much. You can always taste after they are cooked and add more.
  3. I cook mine in the microwave for as long as it takes to soften the fruit. All microwave ovens will differ.
  4. Cool the mixture before using it to fill the pastry shapes.


200g plain flour
120g butter
60g sugar
1 egg

  1. Rub the butter into the flour and sugar.
  2. Add the egg and bring the mixture together into a ball of dough. If there is not enough liquid try adding a small spoonful of water at a time until the ball of dough forms.
  3. Put the dough into the fridge to firm up. About 30mins should be enough.

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C.

On a floured surface roll out the pastry until it is about 3mm thick. Cut into rounds big enough to fill small muffin tins. Line the tins with the pastry.
Fill the moulds with enough of the apple and plum filling to just below the top of the moulds.
Roll out the remaining pastry and cut into strips. decorate the tops of the tartlets with the pastry.
Cook in a preheated oven until well browned.
Wait until the tartlettes have cooled a little before turning out.

Now for some custard or should it be cream?