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My Dad is a Crunchie fan – he just loves honeycomb – actually you could probably call him a ‘Crunchie nut’ so this is ideal for him!  When I came across this just before last Christmas I just knew I had to make a batch so I could give him some for Christmas (saving some for our family, of course!)  I also made White Christmas Slices and was able to give him and mum mixed box of goodies.  I like the idea of giving handmade presents, sadly its something I rarely have time to do.  This year my mind has been on other things with little time to make those festive extra treats we love: pickles, chutneys, Stollen, Lebkuchen…

I first saw this on the television series accompanying the new (in Christmas 2010) book, Nigella Kitchen by Nigella Lawson.  Such a simple idea and I was able to take down the recipe from the TV.  A shortcut possibility, or for anyone outside the UK who cannot get Crunchie Bars (though they seem to be widely available), would be to use honeycomb, also known as cinder toffee.  I understand this is fairly simple to make and there are various methods online.  Here is just one version: Lets make a crunchie bar (giving first a recipe for honeycomb and then turning it into home made ‘crunchie’ bites) from fellow London based blogger London Eats.  If you use honeycomb rather than Crunchies, then you would need to add more chocolate to account for the missing chocolate covering on the bars.  I found that the finished article was much easier to cut straight from the fridge: once it had started to warm up the portions were not quite so neat and started to crumble.  My one concern was that the finished  article could have looked a little prettier.  I used bars of Sainsbury’s Basics range chocolate, which I understand comes from a very reputable source yet is very resonably priced and was careful not to overheat it.  I am not very experienced with chocolate and I would have liked a smoother finish, however I don’t think this was the fault of the chocolate.  The taste was great.  As an alternative to using lined shallow square or rectangular tins Nigella suggests using disposable foil tins.  I always make sure I rescue these when they come with commercially bought meals, usually desserts or cakes, rather than immediately recycling them.  By the way, don’t worry about using salted peanuts, just shake off any excess salt before use.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Sweet & Salty Crunchie Nut Bars

200g milk chocolate (I used Sainsbury’s Basics range)
100g dark/plain chocolate (I used Sainsbury’s Basics range)
100g unsalted butter (I used slightly less than the 125g in the original recipe)
1 x 15ml tbsp golden syrup
250g salted peanuts (I used Sainsbury’s Basics range)
2 x 80g Crunchie bars

1.  Line a tin about 26cm square or a rectangular tin of similar dimensions with tin foil, smoothing out as much as possible.  Alternatively use disposable foil tins (see note above).

2.  Tip the peanuts into a large hole sieve or colander and shake over the sink to remove excess salt. Tip them into a medium sized mixing bowl. Crumble and add the Crunchie bars. Stir to combine.

3.  Gently melt the butter and golden syrup together in a heavy based pan. As it melts break up and add the chocolate bars. Stir until dissolved, but do not allow to boil.

4.  When the mixture in the pan has just melted pour it over the nuts and broken Crunchies and stir together.

5.  Pour into the lined tin or foil tray.  Spread out to the corners and try to flatten it as possible.  A spatula will help with this.

6.  Cover and place in the refrigerator for several hours.  Remove and slice, working quickly before the mixture starts to warm up, which I found made it more difficult to cut accurately. I could be cut it into chunks, wedges or even random shapes.

7.  Store in the fridge until you are ready to give away.  Placed in small decorative boxes and wrapped with cellophane this makes good Christmas gift.  It could also be served as a ‘naughty nibble’ with a cup of coffee!

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I once bought a jar of caramelised onion chutney at a fayre and promised myself that one day I would hunt out a recipe and make some myself.   It is a really useful addition to the store cupboard: delicious with cheese or cold meat, so especially good around Christmas when there are plenty of cold cuts, but also good stirred into gravy to add extra flavour.  If you like hot dogs then you could substitute this chutney for the fried onions and if you like sausage rolls then why not try the recipe on this site for Sausagemeat Plait substituting Caramelised Red (or White if you prefer) Onion Chutney for the Fennel & Apple Chutney.

Finding nothing particularly useable in my recipe books, I turned to the web and discovered several helpful recipes, in particular one from Tesco called Caramelised Onion Chutney, but I consulted other recipes as well.  One of these Red Onion & Balsamic Chutney, a Lesley Waters recipe on the Good Food Channel site, added orange which I wanted to include in my recipe, having made some onion marmalade (a mixture of seville orange and onions) some years ago. The Tesco recipe used a pinch of chill, but I used Piment d’Espelette as an alternative.  The recipe did not specify the type of onion, so I assume that it should be white ones, however as I had plenty I used red onions instead.  The only comment I would make is that I would have preferred the chutney to be pinkish rather than brown, reflecting the rosy colour of the onions.  The darkening came both from the brown sugar, even though I used light brown, the dark balsamic vinegar and the red wine vinegar.  If I did this again I woudl certainly use white wine vinegar and white balsamic vinegar and possibly white granulated sugar as well.   Ideally this recipe should be kept to mature for 6 – 12 months, according to the Tesco recipe.  I made mine at the start of November so by Christmas it will have matured for almost 2 months: not quite long enough I know but I plan to keep one jar by for next Christmas to see if it really does improve with age.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Caramelised Red Onion Chutney
(3 x 500g/1lb jars)

3tbsp olive oil
1·5kg/3lb onions – I used red onions
zest & juice of 1 orange
300g/10oz light muscovado sugar (or white granulated to help preserve colour)
200ml/7fl oz red wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar to help preserve colour)
3tbsp balsamic vinegar (or white to help preserve colour)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1tbsp wholegrain mustard
½tsp salt
large pinch paprika
large pinch crushed chillies or Piment d’Espelette (Espelette pepper)

1.  Peel and thinly slice the onions.  Heat the oil in a large saucepan and using a low heat gently fry them for 10 minutes until they have softened.  They must not brown.

2.  Stir in 3 tbsp sugar.  Turn up the heat and cook the chutney for 3-4 minutes and allow the onions to brown, although if you want to preserve the pink colour of the chutney try not to let them brown very much.  Stir in the rest of the sugar and then add the remaining ingredients.

3.  Simmer the mixture gently for 10-15 minutes.  The liquid should reduce, the mixture thicken and turn a dark caramel colour.  (This instruction comes from the original: using white vinegars and sugar should hopefully preserve the colour a little better although adding the sugar will make it darken a little.)

4.  Wash the jars well and sterilise them.  I usually do this by filling the jars with boiling water and putting the lids in a bowl of boiling water.  I pour away the water just before filling each jar and immediately take the lid from the bowl and screw it on.

5.  Pot while still hot into the pre-prepared sterilised jars. Screw on the lids well and then turn upside down until cool, which helps with the seal, after which they can be labelled.  This can be eaten immediately but also keeps well.

7.  If you can wait that long it is recommended that this chutney is stored for 6 – 12 months before use.

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Some time ago I added a recipe to this site for Cucumber Bread and Butter Pickle.  Put simply, this is a pickle to eat with bread and butter, perhaps alongside some cold meat or cheese.  (I actually enjoy it on its own in a sandwich.)  The original recipe was a fairly traditional one and shortly afterwards I added a second version with coriander seeds which gave a citrus flavour to the pickle. (Well at least I think coriander seed tastes a bit lemony!)  Here is a third version: different again, this time with a spicy bite from the chilli and mustard seeds and called American style, though I am not quite sure why.  I love this one, but next time will make sure I have washed off the salt a little more thoroughly.  The first batch was fine but the second needed either an extra wash or perhaps I should have used a little less salt – it was rather too salty for my taste. The salting is essential as without this step, which draws out the excess water in the cucumber, the pickle would go mouldy.  All of the cucumber based bread and butter pickles are worth making in the summer months when cucumbers are plentiful, but a smaller quantity can be made at any time of the year, especially if you can find a good offer on the market.  Adjust the chilli according to taste: I added a very small one the first time but find I am increasing the quantity with each batch I make.  Just a word about the vinegar: this version uses cider vinegar but another type such as wine or malt can be substituted, however it should be at least 5% proof in order for the recipe to be successful.  If you substitute malt vinegar the distilled clear type will better preserve the bright colours of the ingredients.

The recipe comes from Pam Corbin and the spin off series from River Cottage, River Cottage bites.  I scribbled down the ingredients from the television and am pretty sure they are right.  I expect the full recipe is in one of the two River Cottage volumes that Pam has written but I am not sure.  Now I just have to decide which recipe to make each time!

A note on how to dry the salted cucumber and onion: Tip rinsed items into the centre of a clean tea towel, gather the corners together and making sure there are no gaps for the cucumber and onion to fly out, take outdoors and shake by flicking your arm downwards, towards the ground.  This is Pam’s method demonstrated in the series but has been our family trick for drying lettuce years before the invention of salad spinners.  (Be sure to keep away from anything you could hit and try to avoid spraying the windows or the cat!)

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

American Style ‘Bread & Butter’ Pickle
(Makes 2-3 x 1lb jars)

1kg cucumber
1 medium sized onion
3-4tbsp salt (sea salt recommended if available)
300ml cider vinegar (must be 5%proof – see note above)
200g granulated sugar
1tsp ground turmeric
1tsp celery seeds
2tbsp white mustard seeds
1 chopped red chilli (size to taste – removing the seeds & membranes will make it milder)

1.  Peel the cucumbers, cut off the ends, quarter lengthways and slice into 3-4mm thick slices.  Peel and chop the onion fairly small pieces (no larger than the pieces of cucumber).  Mix the cucumber and onion pieces together in a non metallic bowl.

2.  Sprinkle over the salt, gently toss through the cucumber and onion and leave for 2 hours.

3.  Rinse the cucumber and onion well in icy water. Taste check the cucumber and rinse again if it is too salty.  To dry see note above.

4.  Wash the jars well and sterilise them.  I usually do this by filling the jars with boiling water and putting the lids in a bowl of boiling water.  I pour away the water just before filling each jar and immediately take the lid from the bowl and screw it on.

5.  Place the vinegar into a saucepan that will be large enough to eventually take all the ingredients. Add the sugar, turmeric, celery seeds, white mustard seeds and chopped chilli.

6.   Heat gently so that the sugar has dissolved, stir to combine and bring to the boil.

7.   Add the cucumber and onion, stir and bring back to the boil.  Cook for 3-4 minutes.  It needs this long to destroy any bacteria which could cause the pickle to deteriorate. Any longer and the pickle will be less crisp.

8.  Pot while still hot into the pre-prepared sterilised jars. Screw on the lids well and then turn upside down until cool, which helps with the seal, after which they can be labelled.  This can be eaten immediately but also keeps well.

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I certainly don’t claim to be the worlds biggest fan of tomato ketchup, but I live with people who do like it – and I admit that it has its uses.  One small bottle usually lasts quite a long time at the back of our fridge.  However I like a challenge so when I came across a recipe for home made Tomato Ketchup I thought I had better give it a try, particularly as I could see exactly what the ingredients were.  The finished result was a bit of a revelation.  If you are going to keep ketchup in the fridge then this is definitely the type to have.  Not that I will be splurging it over all my food from now on, but I will sometimes be using it in cooking (a lovely pork marinade recipe will follow soon) – and it has made my family very happy!

Celia at Fig Jam & Lime Cordial first brought this tomato ketchup recipe to my attention.  It comes from Pam Corbin who often features in the Channel 4 River Cottage television series and her book Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No 2.  Celia has two versions of Roasted Tomato Ketchup on her site.  In the first one you pre-roast and sieve the tomatoes with other ingredients to make home made passata which is then made into ketchup.  This is the quick version, which uses shop bought passata.  Using commercial passata has its disadvantages as you miss out on the flavours of the onion and garlic which are roasted with the tomatoes, however these can be added if you wish.  (Chop and fry a small chopped onion with a crushed clove of garlic in a little olive oil, without browning, before simmering with the passata and mixing with the remaining ingredients.  The pieces of of onion and garlic need to be strained from the ketchup before bottling: for a more pronounced flavour liquidise the onion and garlic into the passata before straining.)  In its form without the added onion and garlic this is a fairly speedy recipe, taking just 45 minutes from start of cooking to filled bottles.  The yield was two 300ml bottles with a little over.  The only disadvantage is that the shelf life is fairly short.  The finished ketchup must be kept in fridge and used within 4 months.  I have discovered that the remainder of a bottle close to its use by date freezes well for later use in marinade type recipes.

(This needs a better photograph – something to rectify when I make my next batch of ketchup.)

‘Meanderings through my Cookbook’ http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Speedy Tomato Ketchup

1ltr passata (or home made roasted tomato passata)
100ml white wine vinegar
50ml lemon juice (about one lemon)
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 heaped teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon ground ginger
a few grinds of black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
100g brown sugar

1.  Put all the ingredients, apart from the sugar, in a heavy based pot.  Bring to a gentle simmer.

2.  Add the sugar and stir well until dissolved.

3.  Continue simmering for 20-30 minutes.  If the sauce is removed from the heat too early it can be rather thin so it needs to reduce until it has the usual familiar thick ketchup consistency.  It will continue to thicken a little as it cools as well.

4.  Wash the bottles well and sterilise.  I usually do this by filling the with boiling water and also putting the lids in a bowl of boiling water.  I pour away the water just before filling each bottle and immediately take the lid from the bowl and screw it on to seal.

5.  Taste the ketchup and adjust the seasoning if needed.

6.  Using a sterilised funnel, pour the ketchup into the prepared bottle, screw on the tops.  Allow to cool and label.

7.  The ketchup must be stored in the fridge.  The original recipe states that it will keep for up to four months.  Any ketchup close to its use by date can be frozen.

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One of the enjoyable parts of food blogging has turned out to be the contact with other likeminded people.  A few months ago, out of the blue, I was emailed by ‘Macaron Queen’ (at least that is how I think of her!) Jill Colonna from Mad About Macarons.  Following a comment I had left her about fruit curds, Jill was asking me if I would like to submit a curd ‘guest post’ for her series of recipes using egg yolks (macarons use just the whites).  I have to admit that I don’t really know how the ‘guest post’ system operates.  I hope that Jill can use this post, if it is helpful, in her search for ways to use up leftover egg yolks.

Over the past few months I have been trying out different fruit curd recipes I have found online and in various books.  The initial post was for the traditional Lemon Curd – here is my latest discovery, Mango Curd.  This recipe, with amendments by me, is loosely based on one from Smitten Kitchen who discovered it in Bon Appetit, June 1998.  All curds are smooth but the silky texture of the mango seems to enhance the creamy smoothness.  Be generous with the mango as the flavour is rather mild and can get a bit lost.  I have a round gadget with a blade, a promotional item which I was sent free because I bought two mangoes in ASDA last year.  I would  not have paid the large sum originally asked for it, but it does divide the fruit very easily – they are not easy beasts to cut up, especially if a bit on the soft side!  I usually add some lemon juice to non-citrus curds as the flavour helps cut through the richness and sweetness but the original recipe used lime which I have kept as it is so good in combination with mango.  Delicious!

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Mango Curd
(Makes 1 x 1lb jar)

1 large or 2 small mangoes, peeled, pitted & chopped
115g/4ozs sugar
Juice of 1 lime (extra lime if solids not sieved)
Pinch of salt (or leave this out and use salted butter)
4 large egg yolks (or 2 whole eggs)
30g/2ozs unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1.  Remove the large stone from the mango, cut into small pieces and purée, preferably in a food processor.

2. Combine with the sugar, lime juice and salt (if using). Add egg yolks or lightly beaten whole eggs. Purée for a little longer to thoroughly combine.

3. Push through a sieve into a large metal bowl with a large spatula or wooden spoon, pressing down well to obtain as much puree as possible. Discard the solids that remain in sieve.  (Alternatively omit this step for a thicker coarser curd – the yield will be higher and an extra half or whole jar required.)

4.  Place the metal bowl over saucepan of simmering water (but do not allow the base of bowl to come into contact with the water).  Add the butter and continue to simmer the mixture gently, stirring regularly, until it has thickened enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.

5.  Wash the jars well and sterlise.  I usually do this by filling the jars with boiling water and putting the lids in a bowl of boiling water.  I pour away the water just before filling each jar and immediately take the lid from the bowl and screw  it on.

6.  Beat the curd until it is creamy.  Pour into the prepared jars, cover and label.  Store in the refrigerator and use within 4-6 weeks.

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At the end of November I made several cakes to feed friends at a church event, settling on a Mixed Fruit & Ginger version of our favourite (never known to fail) Knock Up Fruit Cake, a double sized Fragrant Marmalade Cake, made in two sandwich tins with more marmalade spread in the middle plus, as a nod towards Christmas and having come across the recipe the previous week, these White Christmas Slices.  They proved to be very ‘moreish’ and I am thinking of making some more batches to give away at Christmas.

I discovered this competition winning recipe by Caroline Richards for White Christmas Slices in my local Sainsbury’s supermarket: one of many free cards available, in this case giving new ideas for Christmas food.  It appealed because, not only did I have everything available at home (apart from the inexpensive and easily bought coconut biscuits and the white chocolate), it also looked quick, easy and did not require baking.  I rarely make a recipe exactly as written and adapted this just a little.  Firstly, I cut the amount of butter by one third as I do not like to add too much unnecessary fat.  Secondly, I felt the original recipe was lacking something and decided the something was fruit, or similar.  To compensate I added dried cranberries to give one of the flavours of Christmas: glacé cherries, sultanas/raisins, dried apricot, fig or date or even crystallised ginger could be added instead.  In fact I have decided that this successful – and useful – little recipe is highly adaptable, so variations may be posted here.  I have my eye on a gingery version, which I know would be a great hit here!  These slices are quite rich so do not make them too large:  I cut mine into bite sized squares.

Update 22.12.12:  I have just made my third batch of these this year – they go like hot cakes, or should that be hot slices!  I have also made Nigella Lawson’s Sweet & Salty Crunch Nut Bars, from her new book Kitchen, but the post will have to wait for another occasion.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

White Christmas Slices
(Makes 20-24 small pieces)

200g dark chocolate
75g unsalted butter
400g coconut cookies
2tbsp runny honey
200g white chocolate
50g desiccated coconut
50g dried cranberries or alternative (see my suggestions) – optional

1.  Gently heat the dark chocolate, butter and runny honey together in a pan, stirring with a spoon until the chocolate and butter are melted.

2.  Crush the biscuits in a bag until they are large chunks and crumbs.  Do not crush too much.  Add to the melted chocolate along with the dried cranberries, if using. 

3.   Carefully stir, continuing for about 5 minutes until well coated and so the mixture starts to cook.

4.  Using a spoon, press the mixture down well into a 30cm x 20cm baking tray lined with foil (or cling film as suggested in the original recipe, but foil is easier to handle).

5.  Gently melt the white chocolate over a low heat.  Do not overheat as the white chocolate spoils very easily. Drizzle over the biscuit base and spread out. (The base may be unevenly covered and dark patches may show through, but this does not matter.)

6.  Sprinkle over the desiccated coconut.  Place a layer of cling film on top and chill for 4 hours.  If you are short of time then the covered tray can be placed in the freezer for about an hour, but do not leave too long as chocolate is better if it is not frozen for an extended period.  Do not cut from frozen as it will shatter. 

7.  Once it is set, place the block on a board and while it is still cold cut into small squares with a sharp knife.  If it warms up it is more likely to crumble, and should be returned to the fridge to harden before cutting.   I cut my block 6 squares by 4 squares, giving 24 bite sized pieces.

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Some time ago, in my search for alternative fruit curd recipes I found one for Banoffee Curd, posted by vintagehearth, which I have just got round to making.  I have to say it was delicious!

I made two slight changes, using soft light brown rather than dark brown sugar for a paler colour and adding lemon juice.  The sharpness of the lemon cuts through the sweetness of the curd and has the added bonus of helping keep the bananas pale in colour.  My only other advice would be to double the quantity of this recipe.  It takes only a little longer to cook a double batch and the single jar (and a bit over) yielded by 2 eggs is gone too quickly!  Apart from spreading on bread or toast, this would be wonderful as a cake filling or could be layered with crushed biscuits and cream or sweetened crème fraîche with some slices of fresh banana for an easy dessert.   When hunting for the original recipe again, I came across a second almost identical recipe, at the fruits of my labour which is for four rather than two eggs.  I would still add the lemon juice as well. 

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Banoffee Curd
(Makes 1 and a bit jars)

10oz/280g soft light brown sugar
2 medium/large bananas
2oz/50g butter
2 eggs, beaten
Juice of ½ lemon (my addition)

1.  Using a fork mash the bananas in a large heatproof bowl.  (I found that they did not need pushing through a sieve but you can do this if you wish.) 

2.  Mix in the sugar well, which will help break up the bananas.

3.  Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Cut the butter into small pieces and add, stirring until it’s melted.  

4.  Mix in the eggs. Simmer gently until cooked, stirring regularly so that the thicker layer on the bottom is mixed through.

5.   Meanwhile wash the jars well and sterilise.  I usually do this by filling the jars with boiling water and putting the lids in a bowl of boiling water.  I pour away the water just before filling each jar and immediately take the lid from the bowl and screw it on.  Shake as much water from them as possible before filling.
Alternatively put the jars in an oven set to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4 for 10 minutes.  Be careful to put them on a dry surface when removing or they could crack.  Lids can be placed in a small pan of boiling water.  Shake as much water from the lids as possible before filling.

6.  Pot the curd into sterilised jars.  Once the jars are filled and the lids well screwed on, invert them to improve the heat seal.  Turn the jars the right way up once they are cool.

7.  All curds should be stored in the refrigerator and used within a month of production as they contain egg.

More curd recipes… (Comments to be left on the Curds page, please)
091005/101212

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Prunes: love them or hate them?  Perhaps it is the humourous asides that accompany their mention – perhaps it’s memories of school dinners – I don’t know, after all, they are simply dried plums and if you like plums I cannot understand why you would not like prunes as well.  So, let’s hear it for the much maligned but versatile prune!  How do I eat them?  Well stewed, of course, hot or cold, which is the simplest way but I also put them in fruit cakes and even, in spite of my dislike of meat and fruit together, in a Moroccan style dish we love of chicken.  Now I have a new way…

I came across this recipe recently whilst leafing through one of my favourite chutney and pickle books The Penguin Book of Jams, Pickles & Chutneys by David & Rose Mabey and is extremely simple.  The instructions say it goes well with ham and I plan to make sure it goes on the table at Christmas & New Year.  I tried a quarter quantity using inexpensive supermarket Value brand prunes and was able to almost fill two attractive tall jam jars, just having to add a few extra prunes (say 50g) for good measure to top up the jars.

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Pickled Prunes
(Makes around 1½lb)

8-10ozs/250-300g no soak pitted (stoneless) prunes
2ozs/125g sugar (I used white)
1 small blade of mace – original used a pinch each of ground nutmeg & mace
12 black peppercorns
½pint/10fl ozs/300ml white malt vinegar
½tbsp brandy (optional)

(As I was using no soak prunes I omitted the step soaking them in water overnight until plump and juicy, before draining.)  However … 

1.  … if the prunes seem a little dry cover with boiling water.  Leave for 5-10 minutes to plump up before draining well. 

2.  Wash the jars well and sterilise.  I usually do this by filling the jars with boiling water and putting the lids in a bowl of boiling water.  I pour away the water just before filling each jar and immediately take the lid from the bowl and screw it on.  Shake as much water from them as possible before filling.
Alternatively put the jars in an oven set to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4 for 10 minutes.  Be careful to put them on a dry surface when removing or they could crack.  Lids can be placed in a small pan of boiling water.  Shake as much water  from the lids as possible before filling.

3.  Place the sugar,vinegar and spices in a small pan.  Boil for about 10 minutes to allow the sugar to dissolve and the flavours to permeate the vinegar.

4.  Pack the prunes into prepared jars, using extra prunes if necessary.

5.  Adding brandy is optional and if using it should be divided equally between the jars before adding the vinegar mixture.

6.  Place the peppercorns and mace blade in the jar (cut the blade into pieces if you have more than one jar) and finally pour the vinegar over the prunes.

7.  Put the lids on the jars and invert until cool, which helps with the seal.

8.  These prunes can be eaten immediately but are better kept a few weeks or even months.  They have a spicy slightly sharp flavour and are good eaten with cold ham.

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I have been thinking ahead to Christmas cooking as some of the recipes need to be made in advance to allow the flavours to mature. I will make our Christmas cake, Christmas Pudding, Christmas Chutney and Mincemeat very soon but first here is the recipe for some delicious spiced pears.  These are good served with cold meats or cheese at a festive seasonal buffet.

The recipe comes from the Hairy Bikers BBC Christmas television series The Hairy Bikers Twelve Days of Christmas.  They credit Italian chef Antonio Carluccio as their inspiration.  I followed the original recipe for Pickled Pears almost exactly using 2lb jars (which had originally been full of Mincemeat).  Kilner type preserving jars would be ideal if available.  These pears should be eaten within two months and stored in the fridge once the jar is opened, so if you are unlikely to eat a large quantity in one go it could be a good idea to make smaller jars containing just one or two pears.  Juniper Berries are becoming easier to find, though still not widely available in the UK.  I have a small jar, bought from the herb and spice section of a French supermarket which is labelled Baies de Genièvre.  The original recipe did not specify the size of pear, but I chose small evenly sized ones, digging into the bottom and removing the end opposite to the stalk.  These are designed to be served whole on a buffet with slices cut from them by diners, but I wonder if  pear quarters might be a good alternative to whole pears.  I think too that peach or plum halves would be delicious prepared to the same recipe and even perhaps mixed in the same jar – something to try another year! 

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Pickled Pears
(Makes 2 or 3 large jars)

1 litre/1¾ pints white wine vinegar
0.5 litres/17½fl oz water
500g/1lb 2oz caster sugar
3 small star anise
1 large cinnamon stick, broken into pieces (one for each jar)
1 tbsp allspice berries
1 lemon, zest peeled off in a large strip with a potato peeler
½ tsp cloves
2 tsp juniper berries
20 evenly sized small Conference pears, peeled with stalks intact
Small sprigs fresh rosemary (one for each jar)

1.  Place the water, vinegar, sugar, star anise, cinnamon stick, allspice berries, lemon zest, cloves and juniper berries in a large, lidded, non-reactive pan and bring to the boil.

2.  Peel the pears carefully leaving the stalks intact.  I like to gently dig out the end opposite the stalk.  Add the pears to the saucepan and cover the pan with a lid.  Reduce the heat and let the pears simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, or until they are tender.

3.  Carefully remove the pears from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside.

4.  Bring the liquid back to the boil for 4-5 minutes so it is slightly reduced and thickened.  (In practice I found it best not to overdo this step as it is important to have enough liquid to top up the jars after they have been filled with pears.)

5.  Wash the jars well and sterilise.  I usually do this by filling the jars with boiling water and putting the lids in a bowl of boiling water.  I pour away the water just before filling each jar and immediately take the lid from the bowl and screw it on.  Shake as much water from them as possible before filling.
Alternatively put the jars in an oven set to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4 for 10 minutes.  Be careful to put them on a dry surface when removing or they could crack.  Lids can be placed in a small pan of boiling water.  Shake as much water from the lids as possible before filling.

6.  Remove the spices from the liquid and return it to the pan on a low simmer to keep it hot.  Divide the pears between the sterilised jars, handling them gently as they will be soft but packing them in as tightly as possible. As you fill the jars equally distribute the spices and lemon rind between them, at the same time adding one small sprig of rosemary to each jar.  Finally divide the reduced cooking liquid equally between the jars.   (I found that the jars were not filled right to the top so I topped them up with some freshly boiled water from the kettle, hence my comment above about not boiling the mixture away too much.) 

7.  Seal the jars tightly.  I find that inverting the hot jars, until they are cool, helps with the seal.

8.  These pickled pears can be stored for up two months.  They can be eaten after one week but once the jar is opened it should be stored in the fridge and eaten within two weeks.

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Having made Crab Apple Jelly my recipe recommended that the remaining pulp in the jelly bag be made into Crab Apple cheese, a thick sweet puree, so never one to be wasteful I gave it a go.   Fruit cheeses can be so thick that they can be turned out with slices cut from them and were a feature of Victorian dinner tables.  Crab Apple cheese was eaten at Christmas time as a dessert, studded with hazelnuts and decorated with whipped cream, alongside a second dark coloured cheese made from Damsons.  As with apple sauce, it can also be served with cold meats.   The instruction was to sieve the apple pulp to remove the peel, cores and seeds.  These had not been removed as they were necessary to give a high pectin content to the jelly.  There was a sizeable amount of pulp but sieving the pulp was very time consuming and in the end I gave up.  I think an old fashioned mouli blender may have been more successful (the sort that used to be used before the advent of liquidisers and food processors.  In the end I opted to remove the pieces of peel, which thankfully were quite large, by hand, taking out any large pieces of core and seeds as well.  Then I used my metal potato masher to turn the whole mixture into a puree. 

The recipe, as with the one for Crab Apple Jelly, was from The Penguin Book of Jams, Pickles & Chutneys by David & Rose Mabey.  The resulting puree was very sweet indeed.  We ate it with pork but we have also found it is equally as good eaten as jam.  I think it would be good spread on slices of bread and made into a Bread & Butter Pudding.  This version is simply apple and sugar, with no other flavourings as recommended by the original recipe which said the wonderful flavour of the apples would speak for themselves. I have seen other versions which are flavoured with cinnamon or ginger.  Would I make this again?  Probably, just because I don’t like to see waste, however I would have to think of a way of making it less time consuming, perhaps by removing the peels, cores and seeds but still cooking them in a small bag within the jelly bag, possibly.  I wonder if anyone reading this has had a similar experience and how they solved the lengthy sieving process?  Your comments and thoughts would be welcomed!

'Meanderings through my Cookbook' http://www.hopeeternalcookbook.wordpress.com

Crab Apple Cheese

Puree left over from Crab Apple Jelly
Sugar (amount equal to weight of sieved puree)
Straight sided jars, or similar, so that the cheese can be turned out.

1.  After making the Crab Apple Jelly, turn out the puree in the jelly bag and sieve to remove pips and skins.  These are laborious to remove but it is important that they are included in the mixture as they add to the flavour. 

2.  For each 1lb/545g of pulp weigh out 1lb/545g of sugar.

3.  Discard the peels and pips and place the pulp in a saucepan.  Stir in the sugar and cook until it is dissolved.  Cook until very thick. 

4.  Wash the jars well and sterilise.  I usually do this by filling the jars with boiling water and putting the lids in a bowl of boiling water.  I pour away the water just before filling each jar and immediately take the lid from the bowl and screw it on.  Shake as much water from them as possible before filling.
Alternatively put the jars in an oven set to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4 for 10 minutes.  Be careful to put them on a dry surface when removing or they could crack.  Lids can be placed in a small pan of boiling water.  Shake as much water from the lids as possible before filling.

9.  Pot into the prepared jars.  Cool and label.  The cheese should be kept for several months and may shrink slightly in storage, which is normal.  Serve as a dessert or with cold meats.

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