Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Strawberry Jam

Some time ago, Thomas Dux were selling strawberries for an incredibly low price: just $1 per 250g punnet. Ordinarily it just isn't viable to make your own jam, but when you get your fruit that cheaply, it only costs about $10 to make 4 jars- bargain. You'll find that about 8 punnets of fruit, or 2 kilos, is enough to make 4 jars. Obviously, you'll have to discard the greenery or any berries that are mouldy, so you'll end up with about 1.75 kilos, give or take.

Traditionally jam is made with equal parts of sugar and fruit. Personally, I find this combination a little too sweet. I opt for about 3 parts sugar to 4 parts fruit. If you can, use Jam sugar, as it contains a little pectin to help the jam set. Strawberries are not particularly high in pectin, so they need a helping hand. If you can't find jam sugar, add some Jam setta or pectin, according to the instructions on the packet.

Before you begin, sterilise your jars. I put the jars and lids through a dishwasher, then into a low oven to ensure they are completely dry. You can, instead, boil the jars for several minutes in a large pot, then remove to a tray and into the oven to dry. Be very careful not touch the inside of the jars or lids- you do not want to contaminate the jars after sterilising.

Wash your fruit well, drain thoroughly and put into a large pot with the sugar. If you like your jam chunky like me, then leave your fruit whole. If, on the other hand, you like a very pureed jam, chop your strawberries finely before adding to the sugar. Leave for a good half hour, stirring occasionally, to allow the strawberries to macerate and the sugar to dissolve. Put the pan on the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and, using a slotted spoon, remove the scum/impurities that appears on the surface, ensuring that the finished product is beautifully clear.

Stir the mixture occasionally and continue removing the scum from the surface until the jam reaches 105 degrees. At this point, remove a spoonful carefully from the pot onto a small plate. Leave the jam on the plate for a minute to cool, then run your finger through the centre to see if it has set. It shouldn't be runny, nor should it be solid: just a soft set jelly. The line you create with your finger should remain without the jam on either side oozing back into the centre. If it is still very runny, keep boiling and testing until it reaches a desirable consistency. The whole process may take up to half an hour, depending on the quantity of jam you are boiling. Immediately pour the jam into the sterilised jars- the heat will further ensure that the jar and the jam is free of bacteria. The jam and jars will be very hot- take care not to burn yourself. Using a tea towel, screw the lid carefully onto the jar. Leave the jam to cool thoroughly, then store in your pantry. They are ready for use as soon as the jam has cooled. The jam should keep for considerable time, so long as everything has been thoroughly sterilised. Enjoy with some fresh scones and double cream for a delectable afternoon tea. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Girls weekend

Last weekend I played hostess to two of my dearest friends, Natalie and Amy: the very same ladies who coerced me into blogging again. They are personally responsible for taking all the photos that you see here, in hope, I believe, that if they did some of the work for me, I might go the extra mile and post the photos onto this blog. After their efforts, I feel obliged to at least post their photos of our marvelous weekend of food, movies and merry-making.

The fun began on Saturday afternoon with some cheese and spinach triangles, made with the spinach from our very small, but nonetheless precious, vegetable garden. Another day in the scorching sun and the spinach leaves, I fear, would have withered away, so their coming over was a perfect excuse to use them up. In addition to the spinach, which I steamed and then drained thoroughly, I added ricotta, fresh mint, lemon zest, parmesan, an egg, as well as a generous grinding of salt and pepper. I placed a mound of the filling onto several sheets of buttered filo and rolled, to the best of my ability, into triangles. Brush with egg wash or more melted butter, and then bake at 180 for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

For dinner we had hamburgers with homemade brioche buns;  homemade pickled Jalapenos, red onions and cucumbers; ground beef patties (made from mince with 10-15% fat content); Gruyere cheese and a special sauce. When I was in New York in November, I had the most amazing burger at The National. It was called 'The Ugly Burger' on account of its turning into an ugly mess when eaten, but nothing about the taste, could be said to be ugly. It was so magnificent that I had to try and recreate it at home: this is my attempt. Although delicious, I'm afraid nothing will quite live up to my memory of the National 'Ugly burger'. If you are at all interested, you can find the recipe for the pickled vegetables and special sauce here.

I also served up a side order of Nigella's delicious Tuscan fries from her new book, Nigellissima. You can find the recipe for those here.

Now onto dessert. Again taking inspiration from Nigellissima, one of my newest culinary acquisitions, I opted for something cool and summery to end our evening: The Double Amaretto semifreddo. A semi-solid parfait, if you like, littered with shards of crunchy amaretti biscuits and enhanced with a dosh of Disaronno- that headily aromatic, almondy liquor, often referred to as Amaretto. I LOVE anything almondy: Marzipan, almond croissants, friands, Dr Pepper, Maraschino cherries. If it contains almond, I'm a taker. This dessert was, to my great delight, as intensely almondy as you can get. It was just as well that Nat and Amy both like Almond- or so they told me- because if you weren't a fan of Almond, you most certainly wouldn't like this dessert.

The only thing I would say against the recipe, is that there wasn't really much process involved. I suppose that's good if you are in a hurry or you don't really enjoy cooking; if, however, you are like me, it is a joy to spend a little more time pottering in the kitchen. I suppose, in truth, had I made the sauce to go along with it, there would have been a bit more to do, but anything that contains Apricot- apricot jam being a core ingredient in the semifreddo sauce- is of absolutely no interest to me. I just served mine with a little maple syrup and a scattering of a few more crushed amaretti biscuits instead. If you enjoy apricot, the by all means, make the sauce.

Before we knew it, it was Sunday morning and time for brekky. I had made enough brioche dough on Saturday to be able to make a small loaf in addition to the burger buns. What do you do with stale brioche? French toast of course. I cut the brioche into fairly thick chunks, so they did need quite a long time to soak. It is so vital that you take the time to soak the bread properly, as there is nothing worse than dry french toast. After soaking in a mixture of egs, cream, sugar and vanilla, cook at a low heat until golden and cooked through. I had some lovely ricotta left over from the triangles, so I sweetened that with maple syrup and added a little cinnamon and vanilla. I then macerated some strrawberries in some sugar and balsamic vinegar. To serve, I smeared some ricotta across the plate, sprinkled over some of the remaining amaretti, put the strawberries along side and the french toast on top with a mint leaf garnish. Serve with extra maple syrup, if desired. In my books, a little maple syrup is always desirable.

This post is dedicated to Nat and Amy! Thanks for sharing the weekend with me :)

Monday, 7 January 2013

Nigella's Chocolate Guinness Cake

Many, many months have elapsed since I last updated my blog, so long in fact that I had begun to doubt whether anyone would even remember that it exists. A recent discussion with two of my dearest friends, Natalie and Amy, assured me that it had not been forgotten and encouraged me to get the blog back up and running. Thanks girls for your support!

This cake was by no means a recent concoction. In fact, I made it all the way back in September for my brother, Andrew's birthday. It was seemingly a twist of fate that the cake I decided to make should contain the national drink of Ireland, Guinness,  and that his son, born that same day, be given the name of Patrick. When I began to make the cake, however, he was not yet named, so it was not intentional, I assure you. Instead, this cake was selected by Andrew's daughter Eloise, who insisted that Daddy wanted a beer cake. I was only too happy to oblige, and so made the only cake for which I was in possession of a recipe containing beer. 

This Guinness cake ended up being a real winner. It is incredibly moist and, because of the bitterness of the Guinness, not overly sweet. I am not a fan of either chocolate or beer, but I must admit I liked this cake; perhaps the combination of the two together counteracted the chocolatey-ness and beery-ness, leaving you with a pleasantly spiced, treacly cake, not unlike fruitcake, but without the fruit. Not only did it taste lovely but it was easy to prepare and looked remarkably like a pint of Guinness: a cloud of cream-cheese frosting floating atop the ebony cake base.

I encourage you all to give this recipe a go. The good news is, if you don't have the book Feast, you can find the recipe easily enough on Nigella's own website