Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Plum jam

I was recently given a large bag of slightly overripe plums, so I did what one does with large quantities of fruit that won't get eaten. I made jam.

Before we get started on the actual recipe, I should just debunk a few jam myths:
  • 'Pound for pound' for all jams, i.e. use a pound of sugar per pound of fruit. Not all fruits work well with these proportions.
  • Only use fresh fruit, preferably under ripe. You can make jam with frozen fruit, and you can also use very ripe fruit, but you might want to add a source of pectin.
Plums - as many as you have
Sugar - equal weight to plums (if you ca get preserving sugar, great, but it's not essential)
Water 30ml per 500g of plums
Lemon juice - half a lemon per 500g of plums. If your plums are very ripe, up the lemon juice quantity
Jam jars with lids (see below for yield information)

  • Wash plums.
  • Place the plums and water in a large saucepan (better to err on the large side, you will need extra space when it boils up) and stew slowly until the skins are soft. I have a tendency to assault them with a wooden spoon during this stage, to release the juices.
  • Add the sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Add the lemon juice and boil rapidly without stirring until the jam reaches 105C (220F). I use a sugar thermometer, but there are other ways of testing a jam for readiness. I found that this stage went very quickly for purple plums, but it varies from fruit to fruit and also depends on the ripeness of the fruit.
  • While the jam is boiling, sterilise the jars. You can expect a yield of 1.66 times the weight of the fruit you used. Make sure you have enough bottles!
  • Before bottling the jam, prepare the bottles with boiling water, or they will crack from the heat of the jam.
  • Fill the jars right up and immediately screw the lids on. As the jam cools, it will shrink slightly, drawing the lid down and sealing the jars properly.
  • Wait for the jam to cool and set and enjoy on toast with cheese.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Zucchini (aka courgette) and carrot muffins

I finally get to add a recipe to the Z section of my recipe index. Woohoo!!

This is not a recipe with a back story, more's the pity. This is one of those google-and-tweak jobs that you do when you have a boatload of something-or-other and need a recipe to use it up.

Oven temperature

175ml vegetable oil
2 eggs
175ml sugar
125ml dark brown sugar
5ml vanilla extract
500ml plain flour
2.5ml baking powder
2.5ml bicarbonate of soda
Pinch salt
10ml cinnamon (or you might prefer ground cardamom seeds)
375ml grated raw zucchini (skin and all)
125ml grated carrot
125ml chopped pecan nuts (optional)

  • Pop about 12 cupcake cases into muffin trays, or grease up muffin trays for about a dozen muffins.
  • Beat the oil and sugars well.
  • Add eggs and vanilla and beat some more.
  • Sift together the dry (powdered) ingredients into a separate bowl and then stir into the wet ingredients.
  • Stir in the veg and nuts.
  • Divide between the muffin cups/cupcake cases. These should be about 3/4 full to allow space to rise.
  • You might like to sprinkle the top with more cinnamon (or cardamom).
  • Bake for about 20 minutes until done (test with a skewer).

Thursday, 11 August 2011

What do I do with....courgettes?

Courgettes, aka zucchini or baby marrow are a lot more versatile than people give them credit for. These vegetables, if left to their own devices can grow very large indeed, but are (in my opinion) at their best when harvested young - anything between finger and banana sized. Speaking of bananas, courgettes may have green or yellow skin. One thing to note - they have tiny hairs on the skin which can trap little grains of grit... adding a most unwelcome crunch to the eating experience. So wash them well before using, but don't peel them.

Let's explore a few things you could do with them once you've done that.

I have encountered cooks who can't think of a use for one lonely courgette (or carrot, or whatever) when cooking for more than two people. A single courgette doesn't have to be left to rot in the veg compartment of the fridge. You can do things with them so that they don't go to waste.

Pretty much as you would with a cucumber (although it tastes comp-uh-letely different), you could slice a courgette into your salad. You could also cut it into 'fingers' to use as crudites with dips.

Steamed or boiled:
Courgette works really well as one of the veg in the traditional meat-and-two-veg meal. You can steam or boil it for this. I suggest either halving them lengthwise or cutting them into fat chunks, rather than the sort of thin slices that you would for a carrot. They cook quickly!

Stir fried:
Absolutely yummy in a stir fry, this might be where you want to slice the courgettes fairly thinly. Unless of course, you're using the teeny weeny ones (finger sized), then I'd just halve them lengthwise. Courgette is also one of the traditional ingredients of ratatouille.

If you're doing a huge joram of roasted mixed veg (beetroot, carrots, potatoes, peppers, etc.), try throwing in a few large chunks of courgette. As an alternative, you could use them with (or even instead of) cauliflower and/or broccoli in a cauliflower cheese bake.

While in Australia on his gap year, my elder son spent some time with the Kitchen Crusader, and he taught me one of her tricks with courgette. Thinly slice lengthwise and use the slices to line an oiled loaf tin. Fill with cheesy mashed potato. Bake in a moderate oven for about half an hour or so and turn out onto a plate. I'm just imagining adding bacon to that... among other things.

Because they cook so fast, and can disintegrate, they may not be at their best in a stew, but there are some fantastic courgette soup recipes out there!

Just yesterday, I was given some courgettes straight from someone's garden. I used some in a stir fry for dinner, and the rest were used to make courgette and carrot muffins. They were absolutely delicious, and I will share the recipe with you next week. But if you happen to have some courgettes to hand and you don't want to wait for my recipe, get googling - the Internet is your oyster!

So... happy cooking!

Image by raven_ryyder

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Carrot, beetroot and banana cake

You may already know that it is possible to use beetroot (beets, to you Americans) in cakes. Or you may think I have wigged out. But I haven't. Honest. Try it.

I mentioned recently that I had found some beetroots on the marked-down-for-quick-clearance shelf at my local supermarket. Well, on that same day, I also found some past-their-best carrots and a bag of totally over-ripe, bruised bananas.

Please don't ever throw your over-ripe bananas out. I know how it goes: you have a family of banana-lovers, and you buy a large bunch because they're on a special. Then, just that week, the kids decide they're not in the mood for bananas and your spouse goes out of town on business. So they begin to look a little unsightly.

I don't enjoy the taste of over-ripe bananas on their own like that, but in this state, they are at their best for use in baking or smoothies, because the flavour is strong and sweet. So bake a banana loaf, or make up some smoothies. Both these things can be frozen.

Just as an added extra to today's recipe (and I will get to it, I promise), here's a smoothie I used to give my kids when they were little and feeling unwell enough to be off their food (all quantities are 'some'):
plain yoghurt
vanilla ice cream (just a smidge)
raw porridge oats

Just zhoozh that lot up together in the blender and serve with ice and a curly straw.

Anyhoo, back to what I did with the rest of the beetroots and the other things I found that day:

Oven temperature
180 (you might have to reduce this - see method below)

250ml sugar
250ml oil
3 eggs
375ml plain (cake) flour
7.5ml baking powder
7.5ml bicarbonate of soda
10ml ground cinnamon
250ml grated carrot (about one 5"/12cm carrot)
250ml mashed banana (about 3 smallish bananas)
250ml grated, raw beetroot

250ml icing sugar
'Some' cream cheese
Little lemon juice
Little water, if necessary

  • Cream sugar, oil and eggs well.
  • Sift flour, baking powder, bicarb and cinnamon together and add to the creamed mixture.
  • Add remaining ingredients. Blend well together.
  • Pour into a deep cake pan and bake for about an hour. Check from time to time with a skewer. I found this baked really slowly, and the top started to burn a little, so I lowered the oven temperature and covered the cake with foil.
  • Allow to cool on a rack. Don't ice it until it has cooled down completely.
  • Mix a little icing sugar with the cream cheese until creamed.
  • Keep adding icing sugar and mixing in.
  • Add a little lemon juice for bite.
  • If it gets too stiff, add just a tiny bit of water.
  • Spread over the cooled cake.
Just so you know, this cake lasted less than an afternoon in my household! Oh, and that saucer (in the photo) is one of only two left from my late grandmother's tea service. I am very fond of it.

Monday, 8 August 2011

(Sort of) Borscht

You've probably realised that I'm a pretty transparent, heart-on-my-sleeve sort of person. I'm no good at dissembling (and have no interest in acquiring the skill, either, come to that). So if you are connected to me in other spaces, you will know the brutal truth that the reason that I have not been posting many recipes here, lately, is that I simply can't afford the ingredients. It occurred to me that, if I was being so up-front about it on Facebook and Twitter, there was no reason to be coy about it here.

We are currently in a fairly difficult financial position that is set to get immeasurably worse within the next few months. Of course, we continue to hope for a miracle and to work hard at making sure we have left no stone unturned, but, for now, it is what it is. We have been blessed by friends who have given us food hampers, which has been wonderful and kept us all fed, but I have been uninspired recipe-wise. I hope you understand.

Be all that as it may, my local supermarket has a shelf where they sell fresh produce that has passed its best. I decided to pull my head out of my... erm... navel and get creative with what was on offer there. This is what I did yesterday, with a bag of no-longer-firm beetroot (beets, to you Americans) I found. Variations of beetroot soup (probably best known as borscht) are very popular in most East European countries.

The thing you need to know about this soup is that it is extremely low in fat (apart from the soured cream, that is, and you could always choose to leave that bit out) and highly nutritious.

15ml olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stick celery, sliced (optional - I leave this out because I have one son who loathes it)
3 or 4 beetroots, peeled and grated
1 large potato, peeled and grated
1 carrot, scraped and grated
1.25l stock - meat for omnivores, vegetable for veggies
Black pepper
Splash of red wine
Generous pinch of sugar
Soured cream

  • In a large saucepan, heat the oil and saute the onion and celery until the onion becomes slightly translucent.
  • Add the carrot, beetroot and potato just briefly.
  • Add the stock and bring to the boil.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer for about 40 minutes.
  • Season with black pepper (and salt if you feel compelled) to taste.
  • Add the red wine and sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Serve, with a dollop of soured cream and crusty brown bread.
Some things you can try with this soup:
  • Add a sprig or two of dill - it's surprising how well dill works with beetroot!
  • Add about 15ml of freshly grated ginger root (instead of the dill, not as well as).
  • Instead of either of the above, about 5ml horseradish will put hairs on your chest, if you like the stuff (I don't).

Thursday, 4 August 2011

What do I do with...eddoes?

This is one of those things that regularly appears on the 'exotic' stand in the fruit and veg section of our larger supermarkets, along with mooli, yams, okra and dudhi. It's one of those things you might pick up and look at from various angles, wondering "What's one of these? To which cultural group is this an everyday thing? What would I do with it? Would the kids even eat it if I bought one and had a go?" Okay, you might not. But I did. So now you don't have to!

They are found in places like the Caribbean and are popular with West Indian cultures. We have a great many people of West Indian descent in our area, so it's no surprise that our supermarkets stock these corms - they know their target market! Apparently, they are also a staple in parts of Africa, but I never encountered them in any of the parts I visited. I must not have visited the right parts - after all, it is a large continent!

Eddoes look a bit like hairy, striped potatoes, and you can pretty much treat them as you would a potato. Chips, mash, roast, sauteed... the whole shebang.

To be honest, that is really all I need to say about them. They have a slightly different taste: sweeter and slightly nutty, with a silkier in texture. They feel a little slimy when you're working with the raw version, but don't be put off, they don't taste slimy when cooked.
Our eddo experiment...

We tried this recipe, which has them coarsely mashed with sauteed onion and a dash of chilli. Very nice, they were, too. All four members of the family approved. Tesco has also provided a few recipes that are worth exploring.