Category Archives: Seasonal

Christmas. Let’s face it, it’s all about fruit and booze.

Hello hello hello.  I know, I know, it’s been bloody ages, but my cooking is pretty dull these days I’m afraid.  Something called work is apparently preventing me from being creative…

A couple of weeks ago, I decided it was about time to start making my staple Christmas prepare-ahead foods – the cake, the pud and the mincemeat.  I wrote this blog post at the time but for some reason forgot to post it after I’d taken the photos, but now I can add a picture of my tree, so perhaps it’s all for the good 🙂

I'm really pleased we've wrapped what we've got because it just makes the tree seem so much more Christmassy!  Note Father Christmouse guarding all the gifts :)

I’m really pleased we’ve wrapped what we’ve got because it just makes the tree seem so much more Christmassy! Note Father Christmouse guarding all the gifts 🙂

This year, I don’t actually need to make a cake because a) last year’s never got eaten and is still in the cupboard and b) we still have wedding cake left (which is also a fruit cake).  Just need to ice it in a couple of weeks’ time.  Easy!

I soaked the fruit for the mincemeat for a couple of days as per my previous recipe.  It’s more or less identical, except I added some freshly squeezed pomegranate juice (as I had some pomegranates in the fridge) and I used madiera instead or port, as I didn’t have any port in the house.  It smells gorgeous but doesn’t have that same wonderful ruby colour, so I’ll probably revert to port next year.

I also rolled and froze 90 pastry cases (!) so I’m well geared up for mince pies again.  The pastry is amazingly flaky and short, and the madiera has worked fabulously.  I’ve made a medly of different shaped lids this year using some new mini cutters I bought recently; they’re so cute!

Stars, Angels, Christmas Trees and Gingerbread Men.  Also available: Candy Canes, Holly Leaves and something else which entirely slips my mind...

Stars, Angels, Christmas Trees and Gingerbread Men. Also available: Candy Canes, Holly Leaves and something else which entirely slips my mind…

The puds also follow more or less the same recipe as before, except I didn’t have any dark rum, so the fruit was soaked for a week in a combination of Bacardi Oakheart spiced rum and home-steeped raspberry whisky.  I am now the proud owner of a silver sixpence, given to me by my dad and worn by me in my shoe on my wedding day for luck, so (after having been cleaned!) that was stirred into the mixture.  As A Man was out at a kickboxing thing today, I made sure I chucked all the ingredients into the bowl before he left so he didn’t miss out on Stir-up Sunday and making a wish!  The main change this year is that I’ve finally treated myself to some ceramic pudding basins, spurred by succeeding last year in melting one of the plastic basins in a friend’s saucepan at our annual get-together (whoops!).  They’re pretty too, with their polka-dotted exteriors.  I got one 2-pint basin and two 1-pints.  I also bought a lovely tall 10 litre pan yesterday, so I was able to steam the puds properly!  Now it’s just the case of finding a proper steaming trivet, as I managed to split a saucer in two this time, using it to stand the basin on…

Yay!  Pudding basins that won't melt!

Yay! Pudding basins that won’t melt!

I also decided I should do something with a load of cooking apples given to us by A Man’s mum.  The mandolin was out after having made chips last night, and I had just treated myself to an apple corer, so I decided to try my hand at apple crisps.  They are one of my absolute favourite snacks, but they’re bloody expensive to buy!  To be honest, I wasn’t sure about using cooking apples as I thought they might be too bitter, but they worked fantastically!  It was simply a case of washing and coring the apples, thinly slicing them into water mixed with lemon juice, laying the slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet and cooking at around 100C for a couple of hours, until they had dried out.  Then they get stored in an airtight container to be nommed at your leisure!  Before baking I sprinkled some with cinnamon, some with mixed spice, some with five spice and left some plain.  Some people like to add a little sugar too, but I like a nice tart apple slice, so I didn’t bother.  Honestly, they’re better than the ones you can buy!  I’m almost tempted to buy myself a dehydrator from Amazon…  So good for you, and a nice way to preserve surplus fruit, without having to go down the jelly or chutney route (which I had already done a couple of months ago, and have jars and jars of stuff leftover).

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They’ve actually all disappeared now, but they were yummy while they lasted!

I’ve now marzipanned and iced the cake, but haven’t bothered to take a photo yet as I need to decorate it yet.  Hopefully it’ll be ready before next weekend, which is the annual get-together which this year is being hosted in Birmingham, the day after my office Christmas party…  See a hint of the carnage of 2011 (when A Man and I hosted) here.

Hope you’re all sufficiently into the spirit of the season!  Much love.

Gemma xx

The Dinner that was Practically Free! Lamb and Rhubarb Tagine

Well hi there!

It’s been a while again.  Wedding and work have resulted in a lack of inspirational cooking and thus an absolute dearth of blogging but I’m back (if only momentarily).  And what better excuse than to christen the beautiful tagine that my Auntie J gave us as a wedding present?!

Last weekend, A Husband and I went back home and raided gardens and allotments for freebies.  We came home with a couple of massive bags of apples, a huge amount of rhubarb, heaps of runner beans, half a dozen corn on the cob, some potatoes, a couple of onions and an enormous yellow courgette.

The courgette is actually bigger than the fire extinguisher.

The courgette is actually bigger than the fire extinguisher.

I love free veg!  I also love the 9p lamb which was in my freezer.  Free dinner?  Yes please!  It takes a long time to cook, but more or less looks after itself and is so worthwhile!  The lamb absolutely melts in the mouth and works so beautifully with the rhubarb.  An experiment that I’ll try again.

Lamb and Rhubarb Tagine

Lamb breast
2 onions
1/2 lemon
Courgette
Rhubarb
Juniper berries
Star anise
Cinnamon stick
Dried chilli
Dried mint
Dried parsley
Garlic
Honey
Fresh parsley

  1. Pop the lamb in a pan with some water, an onion, the lemon and spices of your choice.  I used peppercorns, cloves, allspice berries, star anise and a cinnamon stick.  Bring to the boil and simmer for around 1/2 hour.
  2. Remove the lamb from the water and slice into chunks, removing any bones.  Bring the water back to the boil, reduce significantly and remove all the bits.
  3. Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of the tagine and chop in the veg and rhubarb in big chunks.  Drizzle a few spoons of honey over the rhubarb.  Pile the lamb on top and ladle over a little of the stock.
  4. Grind the spices and dried mint and parsley in a pestle and mortar and sprinkle over the top of the lamb.  Place the tagine in the oven and turn up to 120C.
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  5. Cook the tagine for around 4 hours.  I cooked it for about 2 hours one evening, turned the oven off and left it in there overnight, then turned it on again for around 1 1/2 hours to finish it off.  Don’t lift the lid prematurely, just trust that it will be perfect when the time comes!
  6. I served with boiled rice and some runner beans, finely sliced, boiled with some butter and nuts mixed in.  Sprinkle fresh mint over to serve

Tagine

Look! It’s been snowing.

Hello there.

As you will undoubtedly be aware, it’s been snowing.  You get many many bonus points if you can tell me where the innocuous phrase in the title came from.

I had to work from home yesterday, as my trains were cancelled, and A Man also worked from the Warminster office as riding 50 miles on a motorbike with snow on its tyres would not have been an especially sensible idea.  This meant we were able to meet up for a lunchtime walk, and take some pretty photos of the park.

Let it Snow

I love this man’s olde-worlde sledge!

WARNING – THIS POST IS ABOUT TO GET CHRISTMASSY 3 AND A HALF WEEKS TOO LATE

Thanks to Charles Dickens, snow in the UK is commonly associated with Christmas, despite it actually hardly ever happening.  The fact of it being snowy outside led me to make a somewhat rash decision.  Bring out the Christmas pudding!

By all rights it should have been flamed, but I was a little too tipsy to be trusted with a ladle full of rum and a match.

By all rights it should have been flamed, but I was a little too tipsy to be trusted with a ladle full of rum and a match.

I made 2 Christmas puds this year in November, both 2 pints and one with a silver sixpence in.  The first we took to our friends’ house for our annual Christmas dinner and as I had no idea which pud had the sixpence, there was no question of microwaving to warm it up (not to mention, it always tastes better when steamed).  Unfortunately, a combination of drunkenness, a too-small pan, boiling dry and stupidity, the plastic pudding basin melted.  The pud was luckily salvageable and very tasty but didn’t even have the sixpence so I knew it was in the one at home.

The sixpence is hiding right in the middle of the wedge, so at least we know where it is now!

The sixpence is hiding right in the middle of the wedge, so at least we know where it is now!

As we were visiting family over Christmas we never got the opportunity to have the second pudding.  I decided that, to be safe, I would reheat the pud in the same way I cooked them: wrapped in a muslin, and steamed in the slow cooker sitting on a saucepan.  It worked really well and the pudding was surprisingly light.

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The recipe was more or less the same as last year’s, but I used the following fruit instead:

4 oz Dried figs
3 oz Prunes
5 oz Apricots
6 oz Currants
1 lb Sultanas

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After last year’s embarrassingly alcoholic pudding, I recorded how much rum I fed the puddings: 1 capful once a week for 5 weeks.  A little more wouldn’t have hurt, but the amount used was pretty good.

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Christmas pudding served with its perfect accompaniment of lots of clotted cream.

I’ve also still got the Christmas cake in the cupboard, without marzipan or icing, again because we didn’t really have an opportunity to eat it.  I’ll save it for another post, but I’m seriously considering keeping it in the cupboard until next year, and having a 13-month matured cake – that’s got to be good, right?!

If you’ve read this far congratulations.  Have a mince pie (yup, I’ve been cooking those too!).

Much love

Gemma x

Happy Blogday to Me! Celebratory duck dishes and musings on stock-making to follow.

Hello hello hello

It’s officially been a year since my first ever blog post on recipeforprocrastination!  And in the spirit of celebration, I’ve returned to my roots and have been squeezing every single possible ounce of deliciousness out of a couple of ducks.*

As I am currently awaiting the start of my new job, I am due to have some visitors next week, including my mum and family friend Elaine.  This means I’ve got to try and cook something spectactular for their visit.  Whole ducks were on offer at the supermarket, and it seemed like a great excuse to buy a couple whilst I still had access to a staff discount card!

Why two ducks?  Because there will be four of us and I plan to serve a breast each.  As a packet of two duck breasts cost £7 and the whole bird was £8 (with 10% discount taking it to £7.20) it was an absolute no brainer to buy whole ducks instead.

Once I got home, I butchered the ducks (see this post for how I did it).  The livers were separated from the giblets and put in the freezer (along with some other duck liver and rabbit liver which are currently sitting in there) and the breasts were also frozen.  Unfortunately, that more or less exhausted all of my freezer space, and I still had the legs and the carcass to deal with.

One of the photos from my original duck butchery post.

The carcass was easy – I roasted the bones, along with the giblets and excess skin, until they had browned and the fat had started to run (roasting both improves the flavour of the stock and makes the duck fat useable).  The fat was poured into a tub for later use, and everything else was put in the slow cooker with a couple of carrots, a bit of leftover fennel (from my rabbit meal the other day) and topped up with water.  I cooked on low for several hours, in order to make a delicious smelling stock (see this post for my basic method).  Now, with the frequency that I make stock I had assumed that I knew everything there was to know about it.  However, recently I have started doing a few new things.

  1. Using the slow cooker rather than the hob makes a lot of sense because for one thing, the likelihood of it boiling dry is more or less nil and for another, I can leave it on overnight or while I’m out of the house.
  2. I’ve discovered that you can re-use the same bones when you make stock, up until the point that they basically crumble.  Chicken carcasses will only last for a couple of batches, but duck carcasses appear to be a little more resilient.
  3. Adding a couple of spoons of vinegar to stock will improve its mineral content.  Did you ever do that thing in science where you soaked a chicken bone in vinegar until it turned rubbery?  That’s because the acidity of the vinegar encourages the calcium to leach out.  Calcium’s good for you, and you can’t taste the vinegar in the end product, so this small addition is a great idea.
  4. Reducing the stock down concentrates the flavour and takes up less storage space.  This is an obvious one, but I’d never really thought about it until looking through the Ballymaloe Cookery Course book (yes, I know I mention that one a lot, but it really is a manual as well as just a recipe book).  Since I’ve started reducing my stocks, they’ve got better and better.

Another ancient photo to illustrate stock-making.

I do declare that the duck stock I currently have on the go is the best I’ve ever made.  It smells incredible, and just tastes of liquid duck.  It’s so gelatinous that it’s basically set hard in the fridge and I’m really looking forward to using it.

I still had to deal with the pesky legs though, as I couldn’t use them immediately, but didn’t have any room in the freezer for them.  Enter confit duck.  I’ve not made it for a while, and this time I actually had nearly enough fat to completely cover the meat.  I used primarily duck fat, but also some bacon fat from my carbonara and a roast gammon we cooked recently (both of which came from A Man’s dad’s pigs).  The confit duck legs are currently sitting in a casserole dish in my fridge, submerged in fat and covered with a lid.  See this post for my confit duck method.

A previous experiment with confit duck. I may well try out the green lentils again – they were perfect!

So there we have it.  I can cook stuff for a whole year, and still I’ll return to the same old things again and again.  Nothing much changes.  I’ll probably start hanging back on the food blog front now (I’m sure you’ve noticed me starting to slack off over the past couple of months already).  I start my new job on 29th October and will have less time to cook, and a lot of my free time is being taken up by wedding planning now.  I’ll pop back now and then though, if only when I manage particularly unusual or beautiful food.  It’s been fun though!

Massive huge love

Gemma xx

*As a side note, the duck thing was honestly completely unintentional – it just happened that way!  It did amuse me when I realised my first post was about duck, I checked and it happened to be a year ago.  Perhaps it’s providence (or more likely, I guess this time of year must be prime for special offers on ducks).

Rabbit Stew

Aloha

One of the butcher’s shops in my town has recently been advertising wild rabbits, at £4.50 per kilo.  I have eaten rabbit before but hadn’t cooked it, so decided to give it a go.  Now I know that Brits often get squeamish about eating rabbits, primarily because they’re cute and fluffy and people keep them as pets.  I, on the other hand, have no such qualms.  Rabbit meat is high in protein and iron, but low in calories and fat.  Rabbits breed prolifically, and are considered to be a major pest by farmers.  Eating wild rabbit is therefore beneficial to the farming community.

In terms of taste, rabbit is (clichéd as this may sound) very similar to chicken.  Because it is very lean, it benefits from being paired with a rich sauce.  I made mine from home-made chicken stock which was enriched with bacon from one of A Man’s dad’s pigs – there was about an inch of fat under the rind.

And in case you think I’m heartless and cruel, you may like to know that I kept pet rabbits from the ages of 5 to 20.  I loved them to bits and (unless my parents have been keeping secrets from me for the past 15 or so years) didn’t eat any of them.  I don’t see this as being at odds with a willingness to chow down on their wild cousins.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s important not to detach yourself from the source of your food and not to be sentimental about certain types of meat, while happily gorging yourself on others.

Has anyone else got any good rabbit recipes for me?  I put half of it (along with the liver) in the freezer.

Much love

Gemma xx

 

Rabbit Stew

Wild rabbit, jointed (my butcher jointed mine for me)
1 or 2 rashers of fatty bacon
Onion
Fresh thyme (plus I used some thyme jelly)
Parsnips
Mushrooms
Chicken stock
Cornflour
Garlic mashed potato, to serve

 

  1. Chop the bacon into chunks and fry on a low heat to render the fat out.  Remove the pieces of bacon from the pan and reserve.  Brown the rabbit in the fat for a couple of minutes and remove from the pan.
  2. Dice the onion and fry in the bacon fat.  Add the thyme, dice the parsnips and mushrooms and fry off until the veg is starting to soften.
  3. Add the bacon and rabbit back into the pan and pour over the stock.  Cover and cook on a very low heat for about an hour.
  4. Mix a spoonful of cornflour with cold water.  Remove the rabbit from the pan and keep warm.  Add the cornflour to the stock and stir continuously until the sauce has thickened.  Serve the rabbit immediately on top of a mountain of mashed potato and covered with the sauce.

 

 

We’re Jammin’…and jellyin’ and chutneyin’ too

Hello!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a week, but hadn’t quite got around to it.  Last weekend I did a lot of fruit picking with my dad.  We’d gone sloe and blackberry picking down the drove and collected plums and both eating and cooking apples from my parents’ garden.  I was driven home last Sunday with a lot of this fruit and one of my parents’ large pans so that I could make some jam and other such jarred loveliness.  The result was several jars of plum and ginger jam, plum and apple chutney, apply and thyme jelly and sweet chilli jelly, not to mention the blackberries, stewed apple and sloes (which have since been thrown into a kilner jar with some gin) in my freezer.

I’ve been collecting jars for several months – jam jars, condiment jars, sauce jars etc.  If you’re not a serial hoarder, you can buy jars from cookery shops, homeware stores and even some supermarkets.

Youngest brother climbs into the plum tree.

The instructions below are very very rough – a lot of it was trial and error, involving a lot of tasting between times.

If anyone’s got a favourite preserving recipe I’d love to hear it!

Much love

Gemma xx

Jars and jars and jars of stuff 🙂

Plum and Ginger Jam

4lb fresh plums (most of mine were yellow plums, but there were a handful of little red cherry plums too)
Around 4oz fresh root ginger
1 pint water
Between 1-4lb preserving sugar
Pectin (I used 1 Tate and Lyle Pectin Sachet)

  1. Sterilise some jars and leave in a low oven to keep warm and dry.  I ended up with 6 jars of jam.
  2. Grease your preserving pan to prevent the fruit from sticking.
  3. Weigh the bowl or pan you’ll be stoning your plums into and zero the scales.  This will prevent frustrating guesswork as to how heavy your fruit it later on.
  4. Wash the fruit as necessary.  Stone your plums into the bowl or pan you weighed.  This is a job which can be done whilst sitting on the settee watching a favourite film or some TV programme.  I watching University Challenge and then trashed it up with Don’t Tell the Bride😉

    All of my plums. I had just over 6lb of fruit after it had been stoned. I used 2 thirds in the jam and the rest in my chutney.

  5. Peel the ginger and grate finely.  Squeeze the juice from the fibrous gunk into the fruit and discard.  Add the grated ginger to the plums with the water.
  6. Stew the plums on a medium heat until they have cooked down.  Mix the pectin with some sugar and stir through the fruit to dissolve.  Continue to sweeten the plums, tasting as you go.  I only added about 1lb of sugar because I like my fruit more tart than most people.
  7. Remove the jars from the oven (carefully – they’ll be hot!) and jar the jam immediately.  Label with the type of jam and the date.  Keep in a cool, dark, dry place and refrigerate once opened.

Plum and Apple Chutney

2lb stoned plums
1lb cooking apples
A few onions
Your favourite spices – I think I used some mustard seeds, smoked paprika, ground ginger, cumin and cayenne pepper
Sultanas
Dried figs
2lb brown sugar
1 pint malt vinegar (I used the absolute cheapest stuff and it worked fine)
2 tablespoons salt

Some of our apple harvest.

  1. Sterilise some jars and leave in a low oven to keep warm and dry.  I ended up with 4 very large jars of chutney.
  2. Peel and chop the apple and onion.  Fry the onion and spices in a little oil.
  3. Add the apples to the onion and cook for a couple of minutes.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to the boil.
  4. Turn the heat down and simmer until the fruit has softened and the chutney thickened.
  5. Jar the chutney, label and allow to mature for a couple of weeks before using.

Apple Jelly from The Ballymaloe Cookery Course

5 1/2 lb cooking apples
4 1/2 pints water
2 lemons
Sugar
2 sachets pectin (Darina Allen tells you not to use pectin, but I don’t think this would have set otherwise)
Your chosen flavours – I did some with fresh thyme and some with fresh chilli, but use whichever herbs/spices you fancy

  1. Sterilise some jars and leave in a low oven to keep warm and dry.  I ended up with 7 jars of jelly.
  2. Chop up the apples, but do not discard the peel or cores.  Place in a pan with the water and lemon zest.  Cook until the fruit has turned to pulp.
  3. Transfer the pulp into a jelly bag and allow to drip overnight.  You’re not supposed to squeeze the bag, but I did in order to get as much juice as possible out of the apples.

    Dangling in a muslin from my kitchen cupboards. One advantage to having door handles which you can thread string through.

  4. Place a couple of plates in the fridge.  You will use these to check if the jelly has set.
  5. Measure the juice into a pan.  Mix the pectin with the sugar and add 1lb of sugar for every 1 pint of juice.  Squeeze the lemons into the juice and warm gently until the sugar has dissolved.  Bring to the boil and cook without stirring for 10 minutes.  As a warning, my jelly was very sweet, but perhaps the apples weren’t as sharp as cookers usually are.
  6. Drop some juice onto one the the cold plates and return to the fridge for a couple of minutes.  Remove the plate and push your finger against the juice – if it wrinkles, it has set and the jelly is ready to jar.
  7. Stir through your chosen flavouring and jar.  As the jelly cools, twist the jars in order to redistribute the herbs/spices so that the pieces are suspended throughout the jelly, rather than floating to the top.
  8. Serve with meats and cheeses or use in cooking.  We had some of the thyme jelly with roast lamb at the weekend, which was really good.  Mint or rosemary would have worked well too.

This is a tasty burger

Hallo

Yesterday, A Man and I went to have a look at how our wedding rings are coming along, and was that ever exciting!  This meant that we were out of the house half of the afternoon, and didn’t want anything too labour-intensive for dinner.  This wasn’t too time consuming (especially for me as I didn’t make it!) but absolutely delicious.

Earlier on, I had caught the scent of a BBQ blowing on the breeze, and realised just how long it’s been since I had a homemade burger.  A Man was put in charge and the result was amazing.  Honestly, I’m seriously considering having another one for breakfast.  It was goooood.

I leave you with the recipe, and the wise words of Samuel L Jackson (aka Jules Winnfield).

Love love

Gemma xx

A Man’s Tasty Burgers

Good quality beef mince
Fresh breadcrumbs
Fresh basil leaves
Half an onion
One fat clove of garlic
Salt and pepper
1 egg

  1. Finely dice the onion and garlic.  Place all of the ingredients in a bowl together.
  2. Mix everything together really well with your hands.  Add more breadcrumbs or egg until the meat stays together well.
  3. Shape into burgers and leave to rest until ready to cook.  Cook under a medium grill or on a BBQ for a few minutes on each side.  You can leave it slightly pink in the middle if you like.  I melted some mild cheddar on top of my burger just prior to serving.
  4. Serve with your preferred side dishes.  We had toasted ciabatta bread, homemade baked chips, corn on the cob, tomato, lettuce and thinly sliced red onion.  My favourite way to eat my burgers was with a scrape of mayonnaise and a dollop of sweet chilli sauce.  Om nom nom nom nom nom nom.

There’s also a rather attractive photo of me attempting to stuff this in my gob. For some reason I don’t seem to have uploaded that one…