Sunday, 25 July 2010

What do you keep in your Freezer?

We are getting a new large upright freezer next week, to replace a less than efficient chest freezer. Apart from it’s probable fuel consumption its main inefficiency is as far as I am concerned is its depth which means that unless I am feeling particularly athletic I take things from the top, instead of delving into its bowels to find the oldest bag of beans, box of raspberries etc.

We already have one upright freezer and I am looking forward very much to the new delivery, although I do wonder why two pensioners need so much freezer space – does in fact our allotment produce cost us a great deal more than we realise.

Apart from our allotment produce the things I like to keep in the freezer are fresh ginger, it can be peeled and grated from frozen, pulses that I have soaked and cooked, frozen into can size portions, tubs of meat stock, chopped parsley and nuts which I buy in large bags when I can. What do you keep in yours?

With this thought in mind I have this week removed some of the gooseberries from the freezer and preserved them in Kilner jars which can be stored in the larder. I haven’t done that for donkey’s years so am feeling quite pleased with myself.

Safely stored in the larder, but although I have no trouble with Kilner jars that have a disk and screw band I can never get the Le Parfait type to seal when I sterilise in a hot water bath.  If I pour boiling hot jam into one and fasten down the clip immediately it does seal. What am I doing wrong?

Notes on Bottling Soft Fruit

I sterilised my jars of gooseberries by the water bath method, and this is how I did it, the first lot I did using the slow method, the second batch the quick method.

You will need a pot that is large enough to take your jars without them touching each other or the sides of the pan and deep enough for water to come up to the necks of the jars.

I couldn’t find a trivet (to provide a false bottom to the pan) to fit the first pan I used so I folded up one of my older tea towels to cover the bottom and stood the jars on that.

Here are the two methods:-

Slow water bath  Pack the jars tightly with fruit, then fill up with cold syrup. Put the metal discs and screw-bands in place, then turn the screw-bands back a quarter-turn. Place the jars in the large pan and cover with cold water, immersing them completely if possible, but at least up to their necks. Heat gently on top of the cooker, checking the temperature of the water regularly if you have a jam/sugar thermometer, raising the temperature gradually from cold to 54°C in 1 hour, then to 82ºc within a further 30 minutes. Maintain the temperature for 10 minutes for gooseberries.

If you have no thermometer 82º is when bubbles are rising but not breaking the surface, just before it comes to a boil. A large pan will just about come to this heat after 1½ hours on low gas.

Remove the jars and place on a wooden surface, bale out some of the hot water first so you can get a firm grip on the jars, and immediately tighten the screw bands. When cold, test for a seal by undoing the screw bands and checking the discs are tight. They will be concave and rigid if there is a good seal, and as they seal you will hear a satisfying ping as the air inside creates a vacuum. If a jar is not properly sealed you must refrigerate it and use it up soon, or freeze the contents in a suitable container.

Quick water bath  As before but fill the packed jars with hot (not boiling) syrup, cover and place in the pan of quite warm water. Bring the water to simmering point in 25-30 minutes, and keep simmering for 3 minutes.

A pretty standard sugar syrup recipe is 225g sugar dissolved in 600 ml water, (8oz to a pint). Dissolve sugar in half the water, heated and add the other half cold to cool it more quickly if you want cold syrup. You can bottle fruit in plain water, or in a syrup made from sugar and wine, or cider and sugar. Depends on the fruit you are using.

Sliced apples take the same processing time as gooseberries, for plums, apricots and damsons, hold the final temperature for 15 minutes slow method, 10 minutes quick.

Pears, add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to each 450g (1lb) fruit, take processing temperature to 88ºC and hold for 30 minutes slow method, 40 minutes quick.

I've since found this very informative list of processing times.

Jams and Chutneys do not need to be processed. After they are made they are poured, while still very hot into hot jars, and sealed straight away. Jars that are clean can be heated easily by pouring water to about half an inch into them and brought to the boil in the microwave, just before you need them. When you pour out the boiling water they will dry immediately. If you need a lot of jars heat them in a low oven, about 70-100ºC

I do not have the same reliable success preserving with clip top jars with rubber rings, even when I totally submerge them for the processing. I am hoping that someone will tell me how they do it.

School terms ending at different times meant we had the pleasure of our elder granddaughter's company last week.  We made our third visit to Audley End, an English Heritage property on Thursday. This time they had just opened the stable yard, and our granddaughter was thrilled to be able to meet two of the horses, Smiler and Captain, and even help to groom them.

Willing volunteers at the Stables at Audley End

In the shop I tasted a sample of raspberry curd, which was rather nice. I’ve made gooseberry curd before but never raspberry so will have a go and post the recipe soon.

From the larder at Audley End

Perhaps we ought to keep a list of 'good days out' somewhere. (Just begun one, click here). I'd certainly recommend Audley End, near Saffron Walden as well as Wimpole Hall, a National Trust property near Royston which has a Home Farm attached. Both places good for adults and children alike.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Courgettes Again

This is the time of year that the courgettes come in thick and fast from our allotment and I need to find new ways of using them up.  The photo above is today's harvest, so I made a hasty courgette risotto.

Risotto with Courgettes
Start off by cooking a finely sliced medium onion and 2 or 3 plump cloves of garlic, cut up small, in a little olive oil (you can use butter, but I have reluctantly foresworn it) and when the onion is translucent and not at all coloured, add to the pan 150g of arborio rice, stir it round until the rice is slicked with oil, then add in about 500g chopped courgettes. Now start to add hot, well seasoned stock, a ladleful at a time, giving it a regular stir as the liquid becomes absorbed into the rice.

When the rice is soft the courgettes will be cooked and it’s ready to serve, sprinkled with some grated cheese if you like.

You can cook the courgettes in the pan of stock as you are gradually adding it to the risotto if you’d rather.

Risotto with Courgettes

The following recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a real winner, which can even be frozen for later use in soup or pasta sauce.

Slow-cooked courgettes
I often (says HFW) cook courgettes like this - they lose most of their moisture and become a thick, fragrant, chunky mass. They can be used as a pasta sauce (just add a little cream) or the base for a lovely soup (just whizz up with a little stock and/or milk). But they also make a great toast topping - which of course the Italians would call bruschetta.

3 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1kg courgettes, finely sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then add the garlic, courgettes and a little salt. Cook gently, so the courgettes soften without browning. As they release their water, turn up the heat to bubble it off. When they become more concentrated and pulpy, turn it down again. Stir whenever they begin to catch on the pan, and do not allow them to brown more than a shade. Keep cooking until they are rich and oily, but not watery. Check seasoning.

We also like courgette in salad, cooked or uncooked (very thinly sliced).  Here is a recipe I have tried this week, which would have looked prettier with the recommended red chillies!

Courgette Salad with mint, garlic and chilli

My Kitchen Devil paring knife and this sort of potato peeler cut thin strips well.

Slice courgettes lengthwise very thinly, a mandolin is best, but a potato peeler works well. Toss the courgette strips in a little oil and griddle on a pan, or on the barbeque until just cooked, lay out on a large plate, season with salt and pepper and while they are still warm drizzle over some lemon juice and olive oil. Deseed and chop finely a red chilli and half a clove of garlic. (The amounts will be a matter of taste and depend on the number of courgettes you are using, but as a rough guide this would be enough for us using 4 medium size courgettes and a chilli of medium heat). Scatter the chilli and garlic evenly over the courgettes with some chopped fresh mint.

I see Sophie Grigson adds char-grilled red peppers to a similar salad.

Here are three other ideas, all on a similar theme.

Jane Grigson’s Sweet-Sour Courgettes, Sicilian style.

1kg courgettes                         1 large clove of garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil              2 tablespoons wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water                 30g pine kernels
30g sultanas                             8 anchovy fillets, chopped small
Salt and pepper

Cut the courgettes in strips . Cook the garlic slowly in the oil and after a couple of minutes add the courgette strips. Keep them moving until they are just beginning to colour. Pour in the vinegar and water, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Uncover, add the nuts, sultanas and anchovies and cook more rapidly until the liquid is reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Keep stirring so the courgettes are bathed in the sauce, check seasoning and eat with crusty bread.

Browned Courgettes, which are great just as they are, or with a little garlic cooked with them as a vegetable side dish.  They are quicker to cook if they are sliced into rounds, but these are ready to use in Jane Grigson's recipe.
Elizabeth David – Italian Food. Sweet-Sour Courgettes

Cook gently 1kg sliced courgettes in olive oil, using 2 pans if necessary. When they are nearly tender season with plenty of black pepper, a little powdered cinnamon, four tablespoons of wine vinegar and two tablespoons sugar and a little salt. Turn them over in the juices which should evaporate into a small amount of sauce.

Antonio Carluccio Fried Marinated Courgettes

6 medium courgettes, topped, tailed and cut into batons, quarter lengthways if not too big.

Olive oil for frying

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch of fresh chopped mint leaves

2 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Salt to taste.

Heat a little oil in a pan and fry the courgettes in batches. Fry until brown and drain on absorbent paper.

Put the courgette batons in a dish, and add the extra virgin olive oil, mint, garlic, vinegar and salt, and leave for the flavours to combine before eating.

Jane Grigson's Sweet-Sour Courgettes - Sicilian Style

Woodpecker Feather

I found this beautiful little feather on a walk through fields.  It's 9cms long and I'm pretty sure it's from the wing of a Spotted Woodpecker, but don't know if it's a Lesser or Greater.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Garden Bunting


While the weather has been so hot and all I've wanted to do is stay in the shade I've completed my first lot of bunting, which seems to be as fashionable as cup-cakes at the moment!

I wasn't very organised, am I ever, as I made a lot of triangles in my favourite fabrics and pinnned them on to tape to view the effect.  All my lovely florals looked quite indistinct when seen from the other end of the garden, so these fabrics are a bit more 'in your face'.

I made myself a sturdy cardboard template 17cms wide and 23cms from the centre of the top of the triangle to the point at the bottom.   I used two triangles for each 'flag', stitched face to face and turned the right way round and pressed flat.  I found some stuff called seam binding in our local haberdashers, all sorts of colours and 2cm wide.  Using 4 metres of tape I needed 15 'flags', any closer and they hang oddly when looped, a bigger gap between them wouldn't come amiss, but then I personally don't like them so much when they are in a straight line!

Using pinking shears, bunting can be made from just single fabric, or  two-sided stitched with the wrong sides together. I haven't tried this, but if it's festooned around gardens or marquees I wonder if you would really notice the difference.

A red string is next off the production line, and during the snow at the beginning of the year I made a lot of 'flags' in Christmas fabrics, so if the very hot summer continues I hope to finish that one before Christmas this year.

Smart New Bookshelves

I've just had some new shelves for my cookbook collection made for our kitchen, and they are exactly how I wanted them, thanks to the practical input of Alex,  of  A.A Cabinets who had to interpret my ideas into timber. No mean feat I can assure you!  Here are two photos, the one on the top has the the books that were on the old shelves and on the bottom almost fully laden, so you can see how much space I've gained.  It's wonderful to have so many of them in one place, it's been like greeting old friends trying to decide which ones should have a place here.

The two books I have the fondest memories of are long term residents.  Bakery  by Maria Floris bought in 1971 gave me such inspiration and began my enthusiasm for making bread and two years later I bought my copy of Dorothy Hartley's  Food in England.  This is the book that began my curiosity about  ingredients and how others used them, and in the forty years since it has been written I don't think it has been bettered, it's both usable and readable.  Not to say that I don't love my Elizabeth Davids, Delia, Nigella and so on, they just don't have the associated nostalgia.  Now thanks to my wonderful new shelves they can all share the kitchen with me!