Thursday, 24 January 2013

Mastering Marmalade - or how to handle failure

Seville orange marmalade

My record with marmalade leaves a lot to be desired.  I can make jam, but somehow the knack for a perfectly set marmalade eludes me.  Yes, I know I could have added more sugar or a commercial pectin to the fruit to guarantee a set, but where's the challenge in that, and at what cost to taste and texture.  This year I did manage to produce a batch of Seville orange marmalade that tastes fantastic, has fabulous clarity and colour and .... oh, dear.

I spent three days steeping and simmering; steeping and boiling; checking temperature - with two different thermometers; and, smugly, bottling.  Jars filled and sealed, I noticed a nice crinkle in the residue coating the preserve pan. Oh, I was so confident but, you guessed it, as it cooled I realised it was so runny I could drink it!  The beautifully set film coating the pan was, in retrospect, probably thanks to residual heat.  Truth is I chickened out a degree too soon, didn't bother with a crinkle test, and paid the price.  If it happens to you, don't despair.  After 10 days, mine has miraculously thickened - a bit.  Everyone assures me they're quite happy chasing it around a slice of toast, but it's not going to win any prizes.  If you have managed to produce a great batch of marmalade, why not enter it into the annual Dalemain Marmalade Awards

As the Seville orange season is now well under way, I thought I'd share my failure with you.  Well, I can't be the only one, and I'm not short of ideas for what to do with it.  So, just in case you too came up short in the highly competitive marmalade stakes this year, here goes, and if you have any ideas you'd like to share, I'm all ears.

Spread over a baked ham before finishing in a hot oven.

Coat sausages or pork ribs in marmalade for a sticky citrus glaze.

Swirl and few spoonfuls through a cooled home-made vanilla custard before freezing for a bitter-sweet Marmalade ice-cream.  Or allow a shop-bought vanilla ice-cream to come up to perfect eating temperature and lightly mix in the marmalade just before serving.

Cut through a dish of rich, comforting, creamy rice pudding with a dollop of syrupy citrus.

Add a little to the mix for a sponge pudding, and a liberal dose to the bottom of the bowl before spooning in the sponge and steaming.

Spread liberally on buttered bread slices and you are on your way to a Marmalade Bread & Butter Pudding.

Pour the runny preserve over buttermilk pancakes.

Thanks to The Botanical Baker for the suggestion to add a couple of spoonfuls to a basic muffin recipe to add a little zing.

Replace some of the dried fruit in a fruit cake with a tablespoon or two of marmalade.

Run a few spoonfuls through a basic sponge cake recipe, bake and, while still warm, brush the top with extra marmalade.

Oh, and then, if it's very loose, you could drink it! Thank you Rosie Sykes, head chef at Fitzbillies in Cambridge, for the genius suggestion of adding a dash to a glass of Prosecco.

Next year I will master my marmalade - any tips gratefully received.  In the meantime, here's a recipe for:

Marmalade & ginger sponge pudding

Marmalade & Ginger Sponge Pudding
(Serves 4)

115g soft unsalted butter
60g muscovado sugar
2 medium eggs
115g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
1-2 tbsp milk
6 tbsp loose-set marmalade

Lightly butter a 1 pint (500ml) pudding basin.  Prepare a sheet of greaseproof paper by folding a pleat and buttering.  Cut a sheet of baking foil too.
Sift the flour, baking powder and ground ginger together.
Beat the eggs together well.
Mix the softened butter and sugar together really well until pale and fluffy then add the egg gradually until it's completed amalgamated (add a tbsp of the flour mix if it starts to curdle).
Fold in the flour mixture.  Add a little milk until you have a soft dropping consistency.
Spoon the marmalade into the pudding basin and top with the sponge mixture.  Tie the buttered greaseproof paper around the basin followed by the baking foil.
Steam for 45 minutes before turning out.

Serve with cream or proper custard.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Beef Stew to warm the cockles

Cuts of Beef from my copy of
Reader's Digest 'The Cookery Year'

I was planning to write a piece on 'food waste'.  The media has been alive with comment, and quite right too.  Then the cavalcade abrutly moved on, unceremoniously rolling out of the way to make room for the 'horse burgers' scandal.  Those 3-for-2 offers don't seem quite so appealing now we know why the supermarkets can afford to do it.  Anger and disgust quickly gave way to endless equestrian jokes.  Now we Brits are preoccupied with the current bad weather - a subject dear to our hearts.  So, I've decided to combine all three subjects to bring you a beef stew - stay with me on this.

There is no cut of beef so mean it can't be used in a tasty stew.  Shin of beef is my favourite.  Sliced from the foreleg, the rounded nuggets of meat are connected by a gelatinous membrane.  Slow-cooking in stock, water or wine allows it to yield up a sticky, rich, quality to the sauce.  It's a relatively cheap cut and works so much better than the more expensive stewing steak. In buying this lesser-favoured cut - or a cut such as bolar, found deep within the shoulder - you're helping ensure the whole beast is used, and not wasted.

You can sometimes buy beef shin bone-in, in which case your stew will benefit from the marrowbone for an even richer sauce.  Of course to get your hands on shin beef, certainly bone-in, you'll need to buy from a good independent butcher - one you can trust and who really knows his beef.

Now to that stew.  This is a very simple recipe, calling for very few ingredients, which I've made dozens of times.  As with most stews, it tastes even better re-heated the day after making.  The recipe is based on 'Shin of Beef Stewed in Wine' from Elizabeth David's book French Provincial Cooking.  It's deeply comforting served with mashed potato and buttered cabbage.  In fact, it is the perfect dish for when bad weather rolls in.

So, what great insights did I have to offer on those hot topics of the week? Well, maybe instead of swallowing the line that the world needs to grow more food, how about we put in place practices to ensure we eat the food we already produce.  Instead of demanding cheaper food we should buy a little less meat and buy it regularly from a trusted independent butcher.  And, when bad weather is forecast, it's time to make stew.  There you go, 3-for-the-price-of-1.

Beef Stew
(serves 4)

100g (4oz) streaky bacon, cut into 1cm pieces
1 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, flattened
750g (1.5lb) shin beef (or bolar), cut into large nuggets and outer layer trimmed off
A handful of parsley and thyme
1 bayleaf
1 large glass of red wine
1 large glass of water
Salt & pepper

Pre-heat oven to 140C (120C Fan oven).  Fry the bacon in an oven-proof casserole until crisp, adding a little olive oil if it's very lean. Add the sliced onion, garlic and the herbs.  Place the beef on top. Add the wine, bring to  the boil and cook for 3 minutes.  Add the water and bring back to the boil.  Season well.  Cover well and transfer to the oven.  Cook for 3 hours.  Check seasoning and serve.

Here's a link to a helpful article by Alex Renton in The Guardian on How to Buy Beef

Friday, 11 January 2013

The Calҫots are here - Food Find

The annual Calҫotada festivals are a feature of winter in Spain's Catalunya region.  Somewhere between a spring onion and a leek, calҫots were orginally the onions harvesters missed in the autumn. The alliums remained in the ground over winter and in January/February sprouted from the old bulb.  These days they are a delicacy and are planted deliberately to over-winter.  Their harvesting is often celebrated with a festival when calҫots are consumed in vast quantities.  In Valls, in the province of Tarragona, the biggest Calҫotada takes place on the last Sunday in January.  Visitors manage to get through some 100,000 calҫots in a single weekend.  

If you can't get to Spain for the festivals and you live in London, you're likely to find them on the menu at Jose Pizarro's tapas bar and restaurant in Bermondsey.  You can also buy them from good grocers.  Tony Booth of Tayshaw, trading on Druid Street SE1 goes to the trouble of buying them direct from a Spanish farmer.  From tomorrow you'll be able to get them for the next few Saturdays from his Bermondsey railway arch.  Here's a link on my way with Calҫots and a recipe for the essential Romesco sauce to eat with them.

Location of Tony Booths Tayshaw arch and other nearby Saturday food traders:

Spa Terminus

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Irish Soda Bread

Soda Bread

Everyone, except me, seems to be baking their own bread at the moment.  The truth is, I don't have an affinity with yeast.  Believe me I've tried but every time I can still detect that yeasty aroma which really shouldn't be there in the finished loaf.  Then there's the sourdough starter, treasured, coddled and cooed over.  Don't get me wrong I love sourdough breads and I've even cultivated my own 'starter' in the past.  It squatted in the kitchen, barely contained by a glass jar; needy and attention-seeking.  A three week forced separation put an end to the relationship.  A deflated, grey residue was the only reminder of a past love affair.  Reader, I binned it.

Soda Bread, sliced
So what could change my mind about home bread-making?  Well an offer to learn about slow fermentation from one of the best bread makers in London could be just what I need.  While I'm firming up on that interesting prospect, here's what I make when I do need to produce a loaf myself.  Not that this is second rate.  Soda bread always goes down well in our household.  Unlike a good sourdough, it doesn't keep beyond a couple of days but it's gorgeous toasted on day two.

The rise is achieved by the action of bicarbonate of soda on the acidic buttermilk, so no chance of a yeasty overtone.  True buttermilk is leftover from the butter-making process.  These days it's generally only available from farms and dairies.  What you can buy in supermarkets is usually 'cultured' buttermilk.  Thicker than true buttermilk, it is pasteurised skimmed milk (or powder) to which a culture is added to sour it.  It works in soda bread but, obviously, if you can get the real stuff you'll get a better result.  In London you can buy true buttermilk from Neal's Yard Dairy.

This recipe for soda bread is adapted from one made by Irish chef, Richard Corrigan.  It appears in his book 'The Clatter of Forks and Spoons'.  Corrigan's cooking comes straight from his Irish roots and this recipe makes my favourite soda bread.  I vary the mix of plain and wholemeal flours sometimes to achieve a lighter or darker loaf depending on what I'm planning to eat it with.

Soda Bread

250g unbleached plain flour
250g stoneground wholemeal flour
150g jumbo oat flakes
1/2 tbsp sea salt
3/4 tbsp bicarbonate of soda
500ml buttermilk
1 tbsp light, clear honey
1 tbsp black treacle

Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan oven).  Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.
Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Make a well and add to it the buttermilk, honey and treacle.  With a wooden spoon, gradually mix the dry ingredients into the wet until you have a loose, wet dough.  Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, knead lightly just enough to be able to bring the dough into a round.  
Place on the lined baking sheet.  Using a sharp knife, slash a cross in the top of the dough.  Bake for about 45 minutes.  The bread should sound hollow when tapped on its base.  
Place the bread on a wire rack to cool covered with a damp cloth.  The cloth will soften the crust and keep the bread well for a couple of days.

In 2013 I will try to form a new relationship with a 'starter'.  Until then, this soda bread will do me nicely when I can't pick up a favourite sourdough loaf.