Thursday, 28 April 2016

Bananas. Rum, Vanilla, Granola. Coming to a desk near me shortly...

One of the pleasures of my prize Abel and Cole fruit box (I won a three month subscription as part of a prize from Quaker Oats, isn't that amazing!) has been massive bowlfuls of bananas and oranges.  I love them both, so it is no problem working my way through them, but often bananas can suddenly turn. Or I just have too many that week.

Now my turn-to way of using them up is banana bread. I hesitate to call it banana cake as some do, as I recently I have been making mine almost un-sweet, keeping the sugar content really low. And, if you keep your added sugars low, you need to make sure that your bananas are as full of sugar, as against starch, as possible.  So use up those black ones!


This recipe has some amazing things about it:

Amazing thing #1 How far should you let your bananas go before baking?  Here are the bananas I used today. You can see, the three on the left hand side are ridiculously ripe. If you didn't know, you'd reckon these were fit only for the bin. The last one on the right hand side, a very ripe eating banana, is the minimum degree of ripeness I would accept for banana bread making.



When they are opened you can really see the difference. The yellow banana is still firm, and banana coloured. The other three are turning golden and very soft, almost like caramel. The one on the far left  was just a little too far gone and was starting to shrivel slightly; it had some dry patches that I cut away.



Amazing thing #2 I added a little rum to this recipe as well, as I had seen my @tpcookbookclub friend Debora Robinson do with great success in an apple cake, and I was pleased as punch (rum punch, ok?) with this addition. I'm sure there is a chemical reason why it makes the cake light and delicious, but I don't know it. So if you, let me know, yes?

Amazing thing #3 It should have had 2 eggs in it. But I totally forgot to add the eggs. Try it as per the recipe, then try it again with the eggs (I will do soon...) and let me know which you prefer!

Amazing thing #4 There is hardly any fat in this, just 2 tablespoons of oil. The bananas plus the yoghurt make this so moist it really doesn't need any more fat. But you could try it with a bit more, maybe some butter. This is a very forgiving recipe. Let me know how you change it and what you prefer, so I can try it myself!


I baked this in three small loaf tins I have that I hardly ever remember to use. One little loaf made a very pleasant afternoon tiffin split between Bob and me, and I would imagine this, with its nourishing granola addition, would make a perfect breakfast bread as well.



Do give it a try, and let me know how you get on.

Banana Bread, with Rum and Granola.

The original recipe I adapted this from was in US cup measures. I weighed as I went, (I am learning...) to give you the metric quantities as well.

120g / half US cup Greek or thick full fat yoghurt
3-4 very ripe bananas, depending on size, the pulp should weigh around 130g +/-
1 tsp vanilla bean paste, or half tsp vanilla essence
2 tbspns rum (the dark one)
2 tbspns light oil
60g / one third US cup light muscovado sugar

200g / 1 and half US cup SR flour - I used Marriages light brown SR flour, I like the small amount of bran this gives, but I am sure white would also work
half tsp bicarbonate of soda
half tsp fine salt
120g / 1 US cup granola - I used Lizi's Treacle and Pecan, as I had run out of walnuts that I would usually add. Use any granola you like.
Extra granola for sprinkling

3 mini loaf tins (mine take around 300g - larger than minis but considerably smaller than a 1lb tin. But it isn't important. You could use anything you like, muffin tins even. Just play with the timings.)

Preheat the oven to Gas Mk 4, 350F 170C
Grease your tins and put onto a baking sheet.

Mash the bananas in a large bowl, add the yoghurt, vanilla, rum, sugar and oil and using a fork mix together until thoroughly blended.  If you decide to add in some eggs (!) you would add two here and mix them in thoroughly.
Sift the flour, bicarb and salt into the bowl, blend in roughly, as you would for muffins, you want a few strands of flour still visible, and then lightly stir in the granola.
Allow  the mixture to stand for a few minutes (this lets the bicarb start to work, I think it makes a lighter crumb than using it straight away, though its not imperative to do this. But it means that if you have forgotten to grease your tins, you can do it now!)
Divide the mix between the tins, and top with a further sprinkle of granola.

Bake for somewhere between 20 and 60 minutes depending on the size of your tins. My tins took 30 mins. I would expect muffins to take around 20, and a single loaf tin (2lb size) the full hour. Test with a skewer, it should come out clean but not dry.


Monday, 25 April 2016

The Josordoni Claudia Roden Orange x Tarta Santiago F1 hybrid cross cake.




Here it is... as requested by many, many people.
 
The Josordoni Claudia Roden Orange  x Tarta Santiago F1 hybrid cross cake as presented to, and approved by, Sr Jose Pizarro at Thane Prince's inimitable Cook Book Club.



How's that for a plaudit, eh? 

Now, are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

Once upon a time, there was a girl called GoldiOrangeLocks. She loved almond cakes, and she loved whole orange cakes.

But the Claudia Roden cake with whole oranges was toooooo wet.

And the Tarta Santiago cake with no oranges was toooooo dry.

"But I want a cake to present to The Spanish King!" she cried. "I don't want a wet cake! I don't want a dry cake! I want a cake that is JUST RIGHT!"

So she made one.

And here it is.

And I warn you now, it uses rather a lot of different whisks and processors and stuff. So make sure the dishwasher is empty, or that the sink is full of soapy water in readiness. 

125-130g orange pulp (roughly equivalent to the pulp of one orange)
100 g ground almonds
100g ground roast hazelnuts
50g chopped roast hazelnuts
250g caster sugar - split into 2 portions of 125g each
Zest of 2 oranges
quarter teaspoon vanilla extract
quarter teaspoon orange extract - the best you can find, if you don't have an excellent one then omit it.
2 teaspoon orange flower water
5 eggs, separated

Firstly, make your orange pulp in advance as you will want it to cool. Because of the amount of time and energy used, I boiled 5 medium sized oranges, then pulped them, cooled the pulp, split it into 5 and froze in individual portions.

You need to cover your whole, unpeeled oranges with water and boil for approx 2 hours until a skewer will go through the orange with no effort at all - you can pressure cook for 20 mins if you prefer.  Slice the oranges in half horizontally, and flick out any pips. Check the little stalk buttons have been removed. Put the oranges into a food processor and process until you can no longer see any large pieces of peel through the side of the processor bowl.  Allow to cool, then remove 130g for today, and portion and freeze the remainder. I made my cake with frozen and defrosted pulp to check it would work ok; it is fine. You will find as it defrosts that the juice separates out a bit, but just use a fork to mix it all together again.

Grease and line (base and sides) a cake tin, either an 8" square or an 8" springform, depending on what you have. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 4 180F 160C

In a clean and dry food processor, put the ground nuts and one portion of sugar and blitz it together to get rid of any lumps and blend the two together nicely. Then add the chopped hazelnuts. Put this mixture to one side, and get rid of the food processor. You won't need it again, and it takes up a lot of room.

Next, I like to use a hand held mixer for whisking the egg whites and yolks. You can use a stand mixer if you like, but I find that a hand held is easier, as I need to have the eggs in two different bowls, and I only have one bowl that fits my Kenwood.

You want clean dry beaters for the egg whites, so I do them first. The slight separation in the meringue whilst you whisk up the egg yolks won't make too much difference. If you have two sets of whisks, you could do the yolks first, then you'd be sure you wouldn't lose any bulk in the whites. Your choice.

Whisk up the egg whites, then, to a nice, thick meringue, but stop before it gets to stiff peaks. (You want a bit stiffer than soft peaks, but they should still have a bit further to go. This means they still are able to expand in the oven, and this helps the cake to rise and not have a sad middle bit. )

In an another bowl, mix the egg yolks with the 2nd portion of caster sugar, until they are thick and form  a ribbon that stays on the surface for a moment when you lift the whisk. They don't need to be a really white mousse,  you don't want the egg whites to wait around too long if you don't have two whisks...

Thoroughly fold the orange pulp, the zest, the essences and the orange flower water into the egg yolk mixture.  Add the nut/sugar mixture and fold in.
Add 2 tablespoons of egg white and mix this in thoroughly, to help slacken the mixture. Then add all the rest of the egg whites in one go, and fold in carefully. You want to lose as little bulk as possible - these are your only raising agent, after all. The mixture should look very airy and mousse like.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin, it shouldn't be very deep - too thick and it takes an age for the middle to cook, which makes the edges dry out too much.  Put the tin on a central shelf, and cook for 30-35 minutes - a skewer should come out clean from the middle of the cake, and it should have shrunk very slightly from the edges.

Cool in the tin, it is too fragile to turn out when it is warm.

Dredge with icing sugar when it is fully cold.

This is glorious served with orange fillets in caramel (I used the oranges I took the zest from), with a scoop of Greek yoghurt, or vanilla icecream.

Do try this, and let me know what you think!




Get your Oats!


Oats. They're one of my favourite grains. I adore porridge on a cold, wintery (or spring) morning, and muesli and granola come into play in the summer. All the oats.  They are extremely good for you, with a soluble kind of fibre that apparently scrubs away all the cholesterol that might be clogging up your arteries.


And it makes wonderful bread rolls. Honestly, the crust and crumb are soft, but with a bit of texture from the oats, perfect to have with soup, or as a breakfast roll, with a couple of salty slices of bacon tucked inside with some ketchup (sorry, brown sauce fans. I can't allow you to have my lovely rolls, unless you move over to the Side of Light and have ketchup. The Dark Side has no fans here).



I've made them a couple of times now, pushing up the amount of oats. The following seems to be my optimum, but feel free to play around with the recipe with more or less oats, adjusting the amount of flour to make up the same overall weight of dry goods.



I use a Kenwood Chef stand mixer, and the instructions are for that, but, of course, you can simply mix and knead by hand. If you do that, I suggest that you follow Dan Lepard's method for short, sharp kneads, as it is the most muscle-friendly, effective method I know. I found this lovely video about Dan's ethos and method on YouTube: do watch it if you have time.

So here we go, this is how I make my Porridge Rolls.

100g rolled oats (ordinary ones for preference, not jumbo oats.)
250g boiling water
10g fresh yeast, (or 1 x 7g packet of instant dried yeast )
2 tablespoons tepid water
1 tsp honey
1 egg (size doesn't really matter)
100g Light Brown self raising flour (I like Marriage's)
180g strong white flour
1 tsp fine salt
Optional: flour for tops, or egg wash (1 egg and a little water, whisked together) and poppy or sesame seeds or a mixture of both)

Put the rolled oats and salt in a small bowl and cover with the boiling water. Leave to sit for 10- 15, minutes, giving it a stir from time to time.
Meanwhile, mix the fresh yeast, honey and tepid water together in a small bowl and leave to get slightly frothy. (If you are using instant dried yeast, then omit this step, you will add the yeast to the flour. In which case, mix the honey and extra water into the oats)

After 10-15 mins, check that you can comfortably stick a finger into the middle of the oats. If not, then leave a little bit longer. Once they are nicely at blood temperature, dump the oats into the bowl of a stand mixer and using a wooden spoon, mix the egg and yeast mixture (if using fresh yeast) into the oats (this is easier than trying to do it with the dough hook).

Add the flours, and the yeast if you are using instant dried yeast, and mix on a low speed using the dough hook until it all clumps together. Cover the bowl and leave it for 20 mins so that everything can fully hydrate and the gluten start to activate.

Mix for 4 minutes on speed 2. The dough should clear the bottom of the bowl, but still be quite soft. If it looks a little dry add a little more water.

Transfer the dough to a bowl with a spoonful of olive oil in the base, and turn the dough over in the oil, tucking in the edges. Cover with cling film or a clean shower cap.  Leave to prove in a warm place for around 40-60 minutes until at least doubled in size.

Turn out onto a floured board, and using a bench scraper cut the dough into 12 pieces.  Lightly flatten and pre-form these pieces into rounds and leave for 5 minutes before shaping again into round rolls.  I like to turn each piece upside down, flatten lightly and fold in from the four sides to the middle. Then turn over so the smooth side is uppermost again, and, making a cup of your hand onto the worktop, rotate each ball lightly inside the palm of your hand to tighten the sides and make a perfect round roll.

Place a piece of parchment paper onto a large baking sheet, flour it lightly, and space your rolls out on the sheet. How far apart you put them will depend on whether you like a kissing crust (I do) or prefer your rolls baked on all sides. For joined together rolls, you want about an inch apart, for separate rolls around 2 ins.  Flour the tops quite thickly ( or leave them plain if you plan to egg wash and sprinkle with seeds later) , and cover lightly with cling film.

Now is the time to turn your oven on as hot as it can get, and to put a cast iron pan in the bottom of the oven to heat up.  Put the kettle on as well.

Allow the rolls to prove for around 25 mins until roughly double in size.  If you want to brush with egg wash and sprinkle with seeds now is the time to do it.

Reduce the oven heat to Gas Mk 7 Electric 425F / 220C 

If you are making floury rolls, shake a little more flour on the tops if they have lost some flour to the cling film. Tip a coffee cup of boiling water onto the cast iron pan (I use a Le Creuset griddle pan, you can use whatever you have. If you don't have any cast iron, just use a small baking pan. The cast iron just keeps the steam longer,) and quickly slide the rolls into the oven.

Bake for 10 mins then open the oven and let any residual steam out. Bake for a further 5-8 minutes until nicely brown on the underside. Give them a few minutes more if they seem a bit pallid, but don't cook for longer than 20 minutes in total.

Take the rolls off the parchment as soon as they are baked, and cool on a wire rack.

I hope you enjoy these porridge rolls as much as I do. Let me know what you think!








Friday, 19 February 2016

I Love Watercress. I really, really do....

What? you don't love watercress?

Are you MAD?

What if I tell you just how good for you it is?  No, come on. It's not medicine...

What if I tell you that green things are so of the moment? No, honestly, look, watercress is trending, it's a superfood! See, you can be trendy too? No?

What if I tell you that it is delicious? Maybe one of the most delicious green things you will ever eat?
Ah!  That gets your interest does it?

I am so lucky; I was butting in on a conversation on Twitter with @Love_Watercress and the fabulous PR lady Pam Lloyd, and found myself the lucky recipient of a beautiful box of fresher than fresh, sparkling green watercress to play with.




Shall I tell you what I made? Or would it bore you silly?
Oh. Well.... sorry, you will have to stay silly.

I made soup. Well, of course I did.  Three different, stunningly green soups.  No don't yawn like that. Soup is amazingly good for you, and these are also amazingly delicious.

Funnily enough, though they all taste different, they all have a similar base. Finely chopped onion, leek, shallot and potato (not too much potato, just enough to bind when you blitz the soup) softened in a large lump of unsalted butter.

Then I added:

For just Watercress Soup, the stems of a very large bunch of watercress and about 2 pints of chicken or vegetable stock**. Simmer until the potato is very well cooked, then remove from the heat. Add in the RAW roughly chopped watercress leaves (keep a few for garnish if you like) and blitz the lot in a blender.  (I usually use my stick blender, but a jug blender or Nutribullet type will give a smoother soup. Your call.) 



Then I made Pea and Watercress Soup. As above, but when you add the watercress stalks, you also add about half a packet of frozen peas.  This was gorgeous as a broth, with the pieces of vegetable still intact, and also blitzed.  (I had a little bread roll stuffed with watercress alongside the broth, oh! that was such a good lunch! )




Then it was Use Up The Stuff In The Fridge day.  I would usually make a minestrone, but I was still in Green Mode. So this is my Green Soup;  to the base onion/leek/potato simmering in the butter, I added a couple of sticks of chopped celery, and one small piece of fennel, and sprinkled it all with some Italian dried herbs (fresh would be better, but there were none in the bottom of the fridge this week.)

This was all simmered with the stock** until the potatoes were tender, then I added a chopped courgette, a chopped stalk of broccoli and the watercress leaves. I brought it JUST to the boil, and this I served as a broth. But I reckon it would blitz nicely too if you fancy a smooth soup.



**(I like to use Essential Cuisine stock powders if I don't have home made stock around. As they are powder I can vary the amount according to how much intensity of flavour I need. For these soups I don't need much, the vegetables have so much flavour anyway.)


But life with watercress is not all about the soups, oh no.  Do you fancy a nice orangey salad?

I found this recipe on the Californian Walnuts site, and it sounded so fresh and tasty.

It was really easy, made in minutes.  I ignored the quantities in the original recipe, I was making a side salad for two of us, not feeding the five thousand, so used:

One blood (but ordinary is fine) orange, rind zested, flesh cut into segments. (keep all the juice from the segments to add to the vinaigrette)
One handful of radishes, finely sliced
One shallot - finely slice one half for the salad, finely chop the other half for the dressing
One handful of watercress, pulled into manageable pieces.

Arrange this nicely on two plates or dishes. Then dress with an orange vinaigrette made from:

The finely chopped half shallot from above
The zest and reserved juice from the orange above
Two tablespoons of sherry vinegar (or other wine vinegar, but Maille sherry vinegar is delicious)
Seasoning
6 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
(The original recipe called for honey to sweeten, I thought the oranges sweet enough, but you might like it, in which case add it to taste)
Whisk everything together and drizzle over the salad. You probably won't need it all, so keep some for another day - it will keep covered in the fridge for around 3 days.

Top the salad with a handful of crumbled walnuts.



And finally, I added a fat handful of chopped watercress to the potato, onion and cabbage of bubble and squeak I made to go with some cold ham.



So. I think that is enough for you to be going along with.  Let me know how you get along, with photos on my Instagram account please!  You'll find pictures of all these recipes there as well as here, so do feel free to comment there if it is easier for you :)





Friday, 1 January 2016

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!


I've had a tough year healthwise, so I'm afraid that lots of things have had to be shelved, my blog posting being one of them. BUT, I know what is wrong with me now, and that means I can start to plan what to do to make it better - and maybe tell you all about it here as I go.

So welcome 2016, you will be a better year for me, and I hope for you all as well.

xx
Lynne
xx


Sunday, 15 November 2015

Fabulous Sticky, Sweet, Sugary, Crystallized Orange Peel.

Who would have thought this was so easy?

I recently finished my precious stash of Italian artisan crystallized peel, and I was about to peel an orange.   I like to use my old Tupperware orange peeler - What do you mean, you haven't got one? Didn't you go to any Tupperware parties back in the 70s? They gave them away all the time... what's that... you weren't born then?

Oh.  Well, look, they are these things...you can still find them on eBay and Amazon.




So anyway, I was peeling my orange, and with these, you peel your orange in nice petal shaped pieces, that include all the pith. They looked just like my artisan Italian orange peel. You see where I'm going, don't you?

Remember, girls and boys, Google is your friend.  A quick shuffle through the interwebs, and it would seem that crystallizing your orange peel is something commonplace. You start by putting your orange peel petals in cold water and bringing it to the boil, and then chuck the water away. Don't fret, as you throw the aromatic golden water down the sink, that you are throwing all the taste away; there is still plenty of flavour in your orange peel. But too much of the wonderful orange oil can be bitter and make your mouth tingle, so it is better fragrancing your pipes than searing your throat.

You now do the blanching and jettisoning of the water again. Then one more time, but this time don't chuck the water, let the peel simmer for about 20 minutes until nice and soft and you can push a skewer through without any resistance. Once the peel goes into the sugar (the process is the same for marmalade) it won't get any softer so you want it as soft as you like it now.

I used the peel from two large navel oranges, as I was making this as an experiment and didn't want to make too much at once. By the way, you don't want the thin skinned oranges, you want something with a fairly thick slightly nobbly skin. The pith will go transparent and delicious when it is candied


For that amount of peel, you only need a small pan, so it's not going to take forever to come to the boil. Dissolve 500g of granulated sugar gently in 300g of water, and when it is all dissolved, bring the mixture to a boil. Drain your softened oranges and carefully pop them into the boiling sugar. Bring the sugar down to a nice simmery boil, not a massive seethe as you don't want to risk it starting to caramelise.  Let them boil for 45 minutes, then remove them onto an oiled rack to cool down. (Do not throw the syrup away, we're going to do something with that whilst the orange peel cools down.)



When the orange peel is cool, toss it into a ziplock bag of granulated sugar to keep for deliciously orangey buns, and Christmas cake. Or, slice into matchsticks and toss these in granulated sugar for lovely, sticky twigs of joy. To eat as they are, or to dip into dark, glossy chocolate for pretty petit fours.

Are you looking at that pan of syrup now? Ah, it is still on a low heat keeping warm? Well first of all, get the remains of that pot of double cream out of the fridge, pick up the salty butter. And grab the pack of Maldon salt. Now crank up that heat, you are going to caramelise the remaining bit.

No stirring now. Just shake it from time to time to spread the heat evenly. There is still quite a bit of moisture in the syrup so it will be very frothy, unlike when you make caramel from scratch, but give it time, you'll start to see the edges go brown. Start sniffing. You want the caramel smell to just have a faintly bitter edge, but don't overdo it. Bitter is good, burnt is not.  Pour in a nice glug of cream.



No, I don't know how much, as I don't know how much syrup you have left over. But enough to make it the right colour. It will seethe and froth and the caramel will turn to a fat lump in the middle. Don't panic. Just put it back on a lowish heat and stir with a silicon spatula until the caramel has melted back into the cream. The stir in a couple of tablespoons of salted butter, and a good sprinkling of Maldon salt. You can add a couple of drops of good orange essence if you want to push the orange flavour up.  Stir it all up, let it cool slightly and pot it as you would jam.  I made two one small pots of golden brown glory.



Let it cool down, then either spoon it over icecream, onto the bottom of a tart case to be topped with bananas and whipped cream.

Or, take a spoon and lovingly eat it. I assure you I didn't make two pots full, I only made one. The empty one with a spoon is a figment of your imagination....

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Gravy

We live our lives (or I do) cooking fast these days. Sausages. Chops. Pork steaks. Anything quick and easy.

But.... I love my gravy. And that's good to go if I am pan frying something, as I've got all those lovely caramelised bits in the pan. And roasting of course, no worries, but that takes too long for everyday; roasting is for weekends or days with time to spare.  But if I am grilling, that's tougher.  Nothing to make good gravy. And I don't like Bisto...

I am here to evangelise about the new meat glaces from Essential Cuisine. I apologise in advance if I sound like an infomercial, but they are really, really good. They've had the glaces in the professional bit for ages, and a while back they introduced them into the Home Chef section, but only in quite big pots. They were too expensive for me to invest in since I wanted ALL the flavours.

But now they've introduced them in smaller pots at a much more affordable price. And since you don't need more than a teaspoon full at a time, that's good for a LOT of meals.

So how do I make gravy with no meat juices? I make a roux, as if I were going to make a sauce, but with oil rather than butter and keeping it very thin. Then I mix in some water from the veggies until it is the thickness I like. Then I add a bit of Essential stock powder, and, for the two of us, a good half teaspoonful of meat glace.

Or, you can use a gravy powder, (I like the Essential ones again... but then, if you read my blogs you'll know I am a great fan of Essential, they really do taste much better than other similar things) and add in the glace. And I promise you, it tastes as though you've used the juices from a roast.

We had lamb chops yesterday. I don't like using the fat from the grill pan, it is just too greasy. So I used a bit of lamb stock powder and some lamb glace added into Essential Savoury Gravy powder. Look at the delicious colour on this!


DISCLAIMER: I received samples of the glaces from Essential to say thank you because I rave about their stocks so much. I make no apologies for raving. They are GOOD!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

The best of A Greedy Piglet..#understandblackberries

It was all the way back in 2011 that I posted this originally, back on the original Greedy Piglet blog. This was the first time that I met the inimitable Carol Ford, and realised just how much I love fresh produce.

This, of course, was all about the blackberries, and was somewhat later in the year, but I have LOADS of raspberries in the garden, and I am hearing that everyone is groaning under the weight of raspberries, loganberries, tayberries, strawberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants..all the glory of English summer berries seems to be hitting us at once.


So here is how to make the most delectable fruit vinegar. You can substitute any soft fruit for the blackberries in this recipe. In fact, one of my favourites is the most frugal. I use a stoner to take the stones out of my cherries, which leaves a little cap of fruit on one end. I throw the stones into a bowl cover them in wine vinegar, and then just add more stones as I go, topping up the vinegar to make sure it keeps them covered, until there is sufficient vinegar and it is sufficiently fruity to strain and sweeten for keeping. 

By the way, the vinegar keeps amazingly well. I still have a teeeny bit left from this 2011 batch, and it is still rich and delicious.

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It is the end of home grown summer fruit now... so sad, but it has lasted longer than usual this year with the mild autumn weather we have been having. And among the last to leave the supermarkets were the blackberries.

Blackberries


I have always treated blackberries as wild foraged fruit, rather than fruit to buy in the supermarket, but lots of our foraged blackberry bushes finished very early, so I turned to cultivated varieties. To my surprise, this year's fruit has been exceptionally large and sweet. Why is this?

I discovered why when I was invited by Carol Ford of Growing Direct to the #UnderstandingBlackberries event held by Berry Buddies Hargreaves Plants to introduce the Reuben blackberry to a group of interested people. I was thrilled to be included, most of the people who were invited were connected with the trade, either in a growing or selling capacity, or as a member of the specialist press. I, of course, am none of the above, but still found the event fascinating. The deeply technical information from Prof John Clark of Arkansas University, and Jane Fairlie of Hargreaves Plants , was balanced by the fun of listening to the esteemed Peter Seabrook, who excited us all with stories of his work in schools, nurturing the next generation of gardeners. The new Reuben blackberries are being created to grow and crop in one season, which will be perfect for introducing berries to schools, who need the children to be able to plant and harvest their crops within the confines of a single school year.

The Reuben blackberry is important to the consumer as it is sweeter, has a longer growing period, and resists mould. Sweetness is good for a lot of people, although to be honest, I like my berries on the tart side, but the resistance to mould is a real seller for me. I have thrown so many raspberries and blackberries away just because I didn't eat them in the short 1-2 day window you get from buying them to opening the fridge and finding them wet and starting to mould.

The Reuben not only eats well as a dessert fruit, it cooks well too. The second half of #understandingblackberries kicked off with Vickie Humber from Humbers Homemade preserves showing just how simple it is to make good jam. Well, it is simple if you have the knack, and Vickie certainly has. ( Her Blackberry jam is truly delicious. In fact it may knock Raspberry of its perch as my favourite jam. Even in a Women's Institute Victoria sponge it would be better than raspberry! )

Chef Jose Souto produced some fabulous muntjac deer with blackberry sauce, and a truly scrumptious blackberry and meringue semifreddo that could also be served as a mousse. I could have eaten both again and again and again...





Blackberry Semifreddo




Rupert Parsons of Womersley Fruit Vinegars was with us too, offering tastings of his stunning award winning blackberry vinegar. I have been a huge fan of Rupert's family vinegars for a while now, they are brilliant as salad dressings and added to meat and fish to intensify the flavours. Vickie of Humbers Homemade also produces a range of vinegars. All of them are delicious - if you haven't tried fruit vinegars yet, I must urge you to try.

Of course, in the best way of true food lovers, I felt that I had to try my hand at making vinegar too. I might not get the same level of finesse as Rupert and Vickie (after all, they are professional and have been making fruit vinegar for a lot longer than I have..) but it would be interesting to see how the flavours would differ. And, not being one to do things in small ways, I decided to make a selection of three types of blackberry vinegar, all made using the same amount of fruit and vinegar, roughly according to Pam Corbin's recipe. I used wild brambles, Loch Ness (culinary) blackberries and Reuben (dessert) blackberries.

I say roughly, she uses 600ml of vinegar to 1kg of fruit. I made mine with 500g of fruit to 500 ml white wine vinegar, steeped for 10 days in a bowl covered in clingfilm, kept in the cool. After the 10 days, strain the vinegar through a jelly bag ( best left overnight in the same way as for jellies) and then add between 150-300g of sugar for every 500ml of strained vinegar (dependent on how sweet you like your vinegar). Let the sugar dissolve, then boil for around 8-12 minutes until syrupy. Don't boil for any longer though, or you will end up with it concentrating and setting too much, more like jelly than syrup. (Don't throw the strained blackberries out, add them to a pan of chopped crab or cooking apples to boil up to produce blackberry and apple juice for jelly, or add them into a favourite apple chutney recipe to add intense fruitiness. Remember the frugality mantra.. waste NOTHING..)

It is heavenly stuff. I love it with sparkling water as a refreshing drink, mixed with a little extra wine vinegar as a fat free salad dressing, spooned over meat as a glaze (in the way that Chef Jose glazed the venison) or mixed into gravies (in the same way that classically trained chefs use a gastrique) to add depth and zing to the flavour.

It was interesting that the different blackberries did certainly add different things to the vinegars. I love the intense sweetness of the wild blackberries, but interestingly, many people found that too sweet and sour, and preferred the gentler vinegars made from the cultivated berries.



An interesting and highly educational evening, thank you to everyone.

Now....are you hungry? So who's for blackberry and apple crumble then?



Friday, 26 June 2015

it's #NationalCreamTeaDay today!

It is today! National Cream Tea Day, and Rodda's Cream 125th Anniversary.

Clotted cream. Home made raspberry jam. Delicious.




Jam on the top or on the bottom? Do you care? I guess that, being a Londoner, I am more interested in getting the little nugget of creamy jamminess into my mouth than arguing for a West Country standard. So I shall swap mine about, sometimes on top, sometimes underneath, that blanket of thick, mellow creamy richness.


Because clotted cream is Rodda's clotted cream (I use Sainsbury's TTD as this is made by Rodda's) .


Jam I am not fussy about, so long as it rich and fruity. (although this one is home made raspberry jam and is delicious)

But I am fussy about my scone. Firstly, it is a SKONN. None of that odd SKONE business.

Brian Bilston on the Twitters said this today, his poem for #NationalCreamTeaDay:

SCONE

Is it pronounced
scone
or scone?

I guess that's
what you'd call
a known un-known

Or, for some,
a non un-non

So there you are it would be a non un-non in this house. If it were un-non of course. Although it is non to me to be a scone. Anyway...

Scones to be eaten with jam and cream are soft, billowy and creamy smooth.
They are not crumbly.
They are not dry.
They do not have dried fruit in them
They do not have spice in them

They look like this:




OK? So here is how you do it...

My recipe: based on Dan Lepard's Everyday Scones from Short and Sweet 

Before you start, pre-heat the oven to just above 200C/ 400F/gas mark 6

200g everyday plain flour
200g 00 pasta flour (I like Sainsbury's TTD own brand one)
2 level tsp cream of tartar
half level tsp salt
20g caster sugar - or more or less according to how you sweet you like your scones. This makes a scone that has just a faint sweetness to complement the jam

Mix this together in a bowl.
Rub in
50g unsalted butter (or salted if that is what you have, in which case leave out the half tsp salt above)

Meanwhile in a jug, mix together
250 ml slightly sour whole milk, or milk blended with a few tablespoons of yoghurt
25ml double cream
1tsp bicarb of soda
(adding the bicarb of soda to the milk seems to make the scones lighter and doesn't leave any soda patches to taste soapy in your mouth)

Add the liquid to the dry mixture, and lightly blend together using a table knife, not a wooden spoon. You want to keep the mixture light and not compressed in any way.  When it is almost fully blended, tip it out onto the worktop, and lightly knead using just the tips of your fingers to incorporate all the flour.

Pat the mixture out to about an inch thick - I prefer not to roll, I think it compresses the mixture, but give it a go if you like. If you are making square scones, to minimise any waste, then square up the edges using a palette knife or similar, and then cut into 12 squares.

If you prefer, roll the mixture out keeping it nice and thick, and cut round scones. Very lightly knead the trimmings and cut more, but only do that once, any more and they will be really heavy.

Well flour a baking tray, and put the scones on to the floured surface, not touching but not far apart. They rise straighter if they are close together.  Brush the tops with milk (or egg if you like them golden but I prefer the softer gloss of milk)

Bake for 14 minutes until gently golden but sides are still pale.

Allow to cool slightly, then slather with jam and cream and eat :) 

Saturday, 6 June 2015

The London Produce Show 2015

I love a good trade show... all those amazing new things to try, loads of people to talk to, to exchange information, and generally geek about food to our hearts delight.

The London Produce Show has to be a favourite, being all about fresh produce, the nuts and bolts of the food we eat, the delicious and amazing cornucopia of fruit and vegetables we grow here, and source from around the world.

There were terrific chef demos as well as stalls from individual suppliers, not least 2 for the Media Masterclass, where we tasted dishes that were prepared in front of us. Jeremy Pang from The School of Wok, and the Nikkei Boys, Michael Paul and Jordan Sclare, from Chotto Matte did their stuff, and we demolished it all with glorious gusto.






















 thanks again London Produce Show, looking forward to 2016!