Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Christmas Goose and all the trimmings!

Christmas dinner (our first on our own for 30 years) was an opportunity to experiment a little, after all, if it doesn't turn out quite right, it was only us, so it didn't matter too much.

Roast Goose - The goose was washed in vinegar and then stuffed with fresh rosemary and then left in the bottom of the fridge to rest until Christmas eve when I prepared the stuffing.  Alas I could find no chestnuts in the shops or on the market (even though they had plenty the week before) so I substituted with walnuts.  Bad idea.  The taste was fine but the stuffing turned an alarming purplish colour which was a little off putting.  So.... I would advise not using them in future.

The stuffing:  Sausagemeat - in my case this was sausages squeezed from their skins.  Chopped onion, celery, a little garlic, chopped apple, chopped goose liver, sprinkling of salt, pepper and mixed spice and then all mixed up by hand and the goose cavity filled.

A little salt sprinkled on the goose and covered with foil then roasted for nearly four hours... first at 180C and then after a couple of hours reduced to 160C.  We spent so much time on skype with our family while the goose was cooking that I neglected to baste the goose frequently... which I should have done, though very flavourful the breast was a little dry.  And as I said apart from the strange colour the stuffing was lovely.

The gravy was made the day before by roasting the goosewings with an onion, a carrot and half a celery stick, some salt and pepper and a couple of star anise.  After bashing the bones and then roasting until all the juices run out I moved it onto the top of the stove and added a spoonful of flour and cooked until everything was very thick.  Next I poured on some wine and then let it bubble and thicken up before adding about a litre of water.  It was then left on the stove to bubble gently until reduced by about a third.  The liquid was strained off and then seasoned and just before serving I added a good spoonful of grape jelly.  Any jelly would do.  The result was delicious.

Sussex Pond Pudding.
I have wanted to do this pudding for some years and now I thought was a good opportunity.  It is a boiled suet pudding, very old fashioned and takes three hours of boiling so when are you going to do it if not at Christmas?

The recipe came from a Jane Grigson cookery book I found second hand.  It is an excellent book and I have made many of the recipes from it without any issues.

The idea of the pond pudding is that you encase a whole lemon (speared all over to release its juice) along with butter and sugar in a suet pastry pudding and then boil.  When cooked you turn the pudding out into a deep basin and the lemon juice combined with sugar and butter leaks into the dish... creating a 'pond' coloured lemony sauce.

Sadly.  When turned out the sauce did not appear.  And it would seem that the suet pastry had soaked it all up!  Mmmmm.  the pastry tasted great, the lemon a little tart but with cream it was edible.  I am not entirely sure what went wrong.  Any suggestions very welcome!

The garden did not produce any brussels sprouts in time for the feast so we resorted to carrots, broccoli and cauliflower - which was absolutely fine.  We are not entrenched in any tradition that insists on specific food.  The main criteria for a feast day is a feast.  And that is what we had.

 The best discovery of the whole festive season was that Mascarpone mixed with a little icing sugar tasted like clotted cream and was brilliant with the mince pies.  Since cream is very hard to find here and the substitute Spanish stuff does not whip thick enough to use in Victoria sponge I have been looking for an alternative and though I suspect that I have forgotten exactly what clotted cream tastes like, the mascarpone would seem me to fit the bill.  At any rate it was delicious and shall be used again, and again, and again.  More festive food will no doubt appear come New Year, although we have been invited out so our Lamb shoulder will wait for another occasion.  Watch this space.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Mulled wine and Spiced apple warmer!

I cannot lay claim to inventing the mulled wine recipe.  This one is based on a Jamie Oliver recipe and is made by infusing a syrup with the spices first before mixing with the red wine.  This means that you aren't boiling all the alcohol out of the wine before serving it.  So....

Ingredients:  200g sugar, 2 oranges, ( plus the juice of one of the oranges), 1 lemon, 6 whole cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks, a good grating of nutmeg, 2 bay leaves, 2 star anise, 1 vanilla pod split lengthways (use only half keeping the other half for the spiced apple warmer).  2 bottles cheap red wine (Jamie calls for Italian wine of course but I live in Spain so a box of Mercadona's cheapest was the order of the day!)

Method:  Put the sugar and spices (except for the star anise) in a pan.  Cut one orange and the lemon in half and put into the pan.  Juice the other orange and add the juice to the pan.  Add just enough red wine to cover the sugar and pop the pan on the heat.  Warm until the sugar melts into the wine and then whack the heat up and boil the mixture until it reduces by about half and becomes syrupy.

Add the rest of the wine to the syrup mixture as well as the star anise and then warm it through on a very low heat.  Try not to boil it again or you will burn off the alcohol but if you do, don't worry, it still tastes very good.

Spiced Apple Warmer - This is perfect for the non drinkers, for children or the designated driver.
Ingredients: A box of apple juice and exactly the same ingredients as for the mulled wine above (except for the sugar, you don't need the sugar).

Method:  Place all the ingredients in a pan and heat to boiling.  Turn off the heat and leave it to steep overnight or for at least a couple of hours.  Serve warm.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Duck and Cabbage

Well that doesn't sound very exciting does it?  Actually it was delicious and different so I thought I would share.

Now I am not a fancy chef, I just enjoy cooking and I love food.  So.... who says the duck has to be red raw in the middle?  I suppose it might have tasted better if I had taken it off the heat a tad sooner but I am not a fan of underdone meat so my duck was perhaps a little overcooked for a real chef's taste but you can cook it for as long as you want.

For the duck breast.
Ingredients:  A large duck breast (this will serve two people in my house), a huge knob of butter.  How much is a knob?  Seriously guys... !  A little salt and pepper.

How To
Melt the butter and when it has stopped foaming pop in the duck breast skin side down.  Cook it quite fiercely on each side to start with and then turn down the heat and cook for about 8 - 10 mins (this should give you the classic red in the middle duck breast)  After cooking rest the breast under a little tin foil for about five minutes before slicing.  Nothing could be easier... oh yes... season with salt and pepper before pan frying.

Oh And I forgot!!!  Green pepper Sauce:
Ingredients:  1/4 pint red wine (I suspect you could do this with white wine, or even cider might be nice), splash of brandy, splash of port, two tablespoons of pickled green peppercorns, 1/2 pint cream, five tablespoons chicken stock (or water), teaspoonful of sugar.  Salt and Pepper.

How To:  Boil the red wine and brandy for five minutes - make sure it doesn't reduce away to nothing but it should shrink down by about a third.  Add the stock or water and boil again for five more minutes.  Add the peppercorns and the cream and once again boil for five minutes... it should reduce down by about half now.  Add the sugar and the port and stir until the sugar dissolves, taste and then season to suit.  Put in a jug and serve warm with the duck.

Cabbage - this is a spiced cabbage braised with apple and onion and needs to be prepared some hours before.
Ingredients:  Red cabbage (I used only half), Onion, one or two cloves of garlic depending upon size, two eating apples (the tarter the better), a couple spoonfuls of demerara sugar, a sprinkling of ground cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg.  Three tablespoons wine or cider vinegar.  A couple of knobs of butter.

How To
Shred the cabbage and the onion and then peel and grate the apple.  Layer these three in a casserole dish sprinkling the garlic, sugar and spices between the layers.  Drizzle on the vinegar.  Top with the knobs of butter.

Cover the casserole and pop into a slow oven (130C max) and cook for 2 - 3 hours or even longer if the oven is really slow.  I used the wood fire oven and the temperature gauge no longer seems to work but it still turned out.  Give it a stir every half hour or so to mix up the flavours.  This will keep warm and reheat without spoiling and goes really well with the pan fried duck.  Enjoy!

 And no, we didn't have potatoes or anything else with this... it just seemed to be enough on its own... mashed spuds would probably be nice to soak up the sauce... or you could just do what we did... slice of bread to mop the plate mmmm yum.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Middle Eastern Salad

I was given a a very small pomegranate by a friend but it was so small I wondered what on earth I would do with it.

When I opened it up I was amazed at how many seeds were actually in it.

So obviously size isn't an indication at all.  I'm fairly new to pomegranates and I don't think I have ever actually eaten a whole one - they never strike me as a fruit you would just eat... but I could be wrong.  At any rate I plan a pomegranate tree very soon so I thought I would make a start.

Pomegranates feature large in Middle Eastern cookery so I decided on a salad with the ingredients I had lurking in the fridge.  Namely...

Three rather past their best carrots, grated.

The last of the home made yoghurt.

A clove of garlic and a small handful of mint from the garden (being careful to only take the leaves that haven't been eaten by whatever bug has eaten most of both the mint and the sage!).

First I mixed the crushed garlic with the yoghurt (that's a classic Middle Eastern flavour to start off with).

Then I grated the carrots and shredded the mint... added the jewel like pomegranate seeds and then mixed the whole lot together.  It certainly is a colourful dish.

Voila one salad.  Verdict:  could have been more minty (but I knew this)... it disappeared at lunch without any complaints... accompanied by some wholemeal bread and left over Calzone pizza.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Aubergines - Egg Plant.

The first time I ever ate an aubergine was in London in 1976.  Those were the days when most folk didn't even know what it was or how it should be cooked.  I didn't buy it or cook it myself - I was presented with it as a starter in a Greek restaurant and I loved it.  All these years later I am now growing them for the first time.  During summer we had to water them constantly and we still lost loads to the ferocity of the sun turning them bad before they had even ripened.  But now in Autumn the crop is really coming on and we are harvesting them every day... but what to do with them?

My favourite dish - and one that I first found in a vegetarian cookbook back in the 1970's when I couldn't even find an aubergine in the shops.

Aubergine with Tomato and Cinnamon
Ingerdients: One large or two small aubergines.  One onion finely chopped, a jar or packet of tomato passata, half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, a handful of sultanas or raisins and a few toasted almond slithers.  A sprinkling of grated cheese and possibly fresh breadcrumbs to garnish.

Method:  Make a tomato sauce by frying the onion in a little veggie oil until it is soft but not brown.  Add the tomato passata and a teaspoon of sugar and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, if it seems very thick you can add a little water.  Add a pinch of salt and pepper.

Meanwhile.... cut the aubergine into slices but leaving them still attached at the stalk end.  Place in an ovenproof dish and sprinkle a little salt over the top.  Sprinkle them with the cinnamon and throw over the sultanas and almonds.

Add the tomato sauce and pop the dish into the oven uncovered and cook at around 190C for approximately 30 to 45 minutes (my oven is not a good indication of timings since it doesn't hold the temperature well) or until the aubergines are starting to collapse.

When cooked they should be soft and slightly mushy... the skins will be a little firmer and will hold them together.  At this point sprinkle over some grated cheese (any kind at all) the breadcrumbs if using and replace in the oven or under a grill.  The dish is ready when the cheese has melted.

Eat with crusty bread and a salad for a lunch or as an accompaniment to sausages for a main meal.

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Michaelmas Goose

This goose recipe is full of Chinese flavours and served with a tangy sweet and sour pineapple sauce.

Take one goose and rub it all over with olive oil and then Chinese Five Spice and some grated root ginger.  Cut  a couple of oranges in half and stuff them into the cavity along with some crushed sage leaves and a bashed smallish chunk of root ginger.  Leave it to marinade in the fridge for several hours or overnight.

Bring the goose to room temperature and preheat the oven to 180C.  Rub the goose with a little more olive oil and cover the legs with tin foil to stop them burning.  Rest the goose onto a rack in a roasting tray and pop it into the oven for about three hours.  Baste frequently and keep checking to see if its cooked.  The meat should be shrinking from the ends of the legs and when pierced with a skewer the juices should run clear.  Once it is cooked.  Remove it from the oven and cover with tin foil and then a towel and leave it to rest for at least 15 minutes.

Meanwhile.... to make the pineapple sauce.  Chop up a fresh pineapple or drain a tin of pineapple chunks and put the pineapple into a saucepan with a celery stalk cut into thin slices.  Add some finely chopped ginger and half a cup of water or the juice from the pineapple tin.  Cook this mixture until the celery is soft.

Mix four tablespoons of brown sugar with four tablespoons of cider vinegar and one tablespoon of soy sauce.  Add this mixture to the pineapple and celery pan and thicken it slightly with a little cornflour.  Let it bubble for five minutes and then take it off the heat and whizz it in a food processor to make a smooth sauce.  Serve warm with the goose.

Along with this special dinner we had braised mushrooms (sliced mushrooms cooked with a little chicken stock and soy sauce and some chopped spring onions) and cauliflower tempura - par boiled cauliflower dipped in an egg batter and deep fried and some egg noodles.  It was delish!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Herb Butters

Although it is possible to grow herbs all through the winter here it is still useful to try and preserve some for when the weather is bad and I don't want to don wellies and rain mac to make the journey to the herb garden.  The most usual and easiest way to keep herbs is to simply dry them.  You'd think this was easy with the amount of sun that we have but no, nothing is ever quite that that straight forward.

The sun is so fierce that drying stuff is fraught with difficulties - things that are still not dry can be burned to a crisp just an hour later.  So I decided to make some herb butters for putting on cooked veg.  This really is a no brainer when it comes to the difficulty ratings.

Choose your herb.  (I picked some mint and some sage.)  Wash and dry the herb and pick off the leaves.

Chop the leaves very finely.  And mix with softened butter.

Roll the butter into a sausage shape using some greaseproof or parchment paper.

Label and pop it into the freezer.  A slice can be sawn off the frozen butter as and when needed and mixed with potatoes or whatever takes your fancy.  If you are going to use it up fairly quickly you don't need to freeze it, just put it in the door of the fridge to harden up a bit.

Still on the herbs and preserving lark I also put some home grown chillies and basil into extra virgin olive oil.

This is not so much to preserve the herb as to flavour the oil which will be delicious used for salad dressings or drizzled onto cheese and tomato sandwiches or on pizza or... well the list is virtually endless.  One of the jars of oil is also going to be a gift for someone's birthday.  So easy to do and looks really special if you use a nice bottle or jar and decorate it.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Autumnal Fare

Summer was hot and felt like it went on for ever but in reality it passed rather quickly... two months and five novels later and autumn arrived all of a sudden with gifts of grapes and experiments in preserving.

Our own grapes (all five of them) were snaffled by one of the hens that snuck into the veggie plot but gifts from friends who have plenty meant that we had to find a use for them.  The first thought with grapes is always wine but here where the wine is so cheap and usually so good we decided against it.

We made juice first off.  Wash the grapes and then heat them gently in a large pan with a cup of water until they are almost boiling.  You can squeeze them now if you want, if you do the resulting juice is cloudy, if you don't it will stay clear but of course you will have less of it.

If you taste it and it is tart then you can add some sugar and stir while it is warm to dissolve it.  We didn't need to.  One bottle of juice doesn't seem very much but we diluted it with tonic water to make a very grown up and refreshing non alcoholic drink.  We did a similar thing with a glut of plums (again gifts from friends), extracting the juice and then boiling it with almost equal quantities of sugar to make a syrup.  The syrup was then used as a cordial with water or lemonade and even added to champagne for a fruity celebratory touch.

The rest of the grape juice I had left was destined for an experiment.  I wanted to make grape jelly.  A jelly is like a jam but usually clear and without lumps of fruit in it.  Grapes have no natural pectin so I needed to add pectin to it.  A while ago I purchased some powdered pectin (you buy it at the chemist here) specifically for making herb jellies.  Alas it came without any instructions or quantity to use information so I have hung on to it for ages dithering about using it.  An internet search is of no help here since all the pectin seems to be preparatory brands and comes with its own instructions.

So.... I mixed 7 tablespoons of powdered pectin with the sugar and added it to the juice and brought it to the boil.  When it reached setting point I jarred it up and crossed my fingers.  The result?  It didn't set.  Its thick but still more a syrup than a jelly.  Never mind, its great on rice pudding and will spread on toast and we have even added it to gravy for the Sunday roast.

Other experiments were with drying.  We dried some tomatoes with great success.  I put some in oil, and I kept some in an airtight container only to find moths in with them a couple of weeks later... oooh er.  I understand the knack is to freeze for three days after drying in order to kill anything off... but I would prefer to ensure that nothing is in there in the first place.  The tomatoes were dried under nets and brought in overnight but still those pesky moths managed to find a way to them.  More effort required there I think.

grapes in a net bag ready for drying
I kept back some grapes for drying to make raisons.  They have seeds in them which I hate but I might just spend an evening removing the seeds individually before using them for a Christmas pudding or some such.  This isn't something I plan to do a lot of in future.  At the moment the grapes don't look very appetising. The recent spate of rains has not helped the drying much either.  

experiment in drying grapes hanging up
Long term I think a drying box or cupboard has to be the way to go.

grapes drying on a clothes horse

And then..... we were introduced to people who have their own olive press.  And given some of their last years batch of oil.  Mmmmmmm.... maybe next year if we can afford it, trouble is, it isn't simply a case of buying the olive press... we need to build a room or shed to put the press in... could end up as a very expensive project.