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Blood orange marmalade

Bloody Old Lady Marmalade

Blood orange marmalade
When we were kids, we mainly took family holidays in Italy. In the sun and beautiful countryside of southern Tuscany, we ate wonderful food and relaxed away from day to day life. Our parents often combined the best of both worlds and relaxed as they cooked the evening meal with a long cool gin and tonic. Sometimes the gin was carried from home, but usually it was bought in the hypermarchés we stopped at across the Continent and were lesser known brands such as Bosford or Old Lady’s Gin. Even as a nipper, I was tickled by the name of the latter, especially one summer when the bottle bought came with a can of Orangina Rouge made with blood orange and the exortation that you mix the two to get the hilariously named Bloody Old Lady cocktail…

Despite only sampling the Orangina Rouge sans gin at the time, this drink further fuelled Miss Marple inspired dreams of being a wee old dear before my time. Pairs of slacks, snap clasped handbags and trips to the Post Office with my wheeled shopping trolley all help the illusion, but when I found myself in possession of a big bag of blood oranges and a bottle of Tanqueray Export a few weeks ago, I knew the time had come to be all Women’s Institute and make marmalade fit for a Bloody Old Lady.

Blood oranges, in the skin

Not being a big eater of marmalade, I obviously had very little idea of how to make the stuff. I was adamant that if I was to sample my own wares, it would need to be a thick cut marmalade as I like a bit texture in my preserves. Having made one decision, I failed to do anything else like decide on a recipe or a method of marmalade making and pretty much made it all up from there on in.

Bloody Old Lady Marmalade:

• 6 blood oranges
• 1 large pink grapefruit
• 2 kilos of sugar (I used half regular sugar and jam sugar)
• 2-4 tablespoons good quality gin

I used six blood oranges and one pink grapefruit, stripping the peel off the fruit with a knife. Being a lazy sort, I did not start removing all the pith from the peel and putting it in a muslin bag to go alongside the peel, but left it on the peel. I then juiced the fruit and squashed up the remaining segments to maximise the citrus hit. I had no pips, but if I’d had them I’d have kept them to put inside a muslin bag to help set the marmalade.

I then boiled the be-pithed peel in about 3 pints of water until the peel had started to soften and the water had started to turn the same colour. I then took the peel off the heat and keeping the citrussy water, divided it into two pans as I don’t have one big enough for both. Half the water went in both, along with juiced up fruit and a kilo of sugar in each. I mixed half a bag of each regular and jam sugar with extra pectin and bunged that in. I then boiled the mixture until it reached the magic alchemy point of 220℉ or 104℃ that turns a load of citrussy gloop into marmalade. This is easiest with a thermometer but having smashed mine to ribbons, I used the simple trick of finding the ‘wrinkle point’ on a cold saucer. Once a drop of the hot liquid sets and creases up when you run a finger over it, you have your set point and the marmalade needs to come off the heat immediately.

Allow the pan to sit for about five minutes, easing down from a scary pan of spitting sugar and potential burns, to a gentle pop and sigh of citrus deliciousness (do not forget yourself and put your finger in there). This gives you time to get your jars out of the oven where they have been sterilising, clear space for filling the jars and more importantly for the peel to settle so you don’t end up with it floating on top of your jars once they are filled. Once the marmalade is calm again, add 2 tablespoons of gin (I used Tanqueray Export. It needs to be robust for this) to each pan and stir through before filling the jars. If you add the gin too early, you’ll burn it off and lose the flavour, but don’t be tempted to pour lots in as the alcohol loosens the set of the marmalade and you’ll end up with something more like a lumpy cocktail. Seal the jars with wax circles and cellophane lids and leave to cool completely.

Sliced blood oranges, ready for marmalade

I recommend making a large loaf of bread while this is happening because the instant this marmalade is set and cooled, you are going to want to slather it generously on hot buttered toast with a good strong tea on the side. The blood oranges have a more rounded flavour than their non-red cousins and that slightly soft fruit taste comes through, given a tasty kick with the gin. The first jar I opened was all gone within 24 hours. The second didn’t last much longer. I ate marmalade for breakfast, lunch and dinner, only giving jars to those I love dearly. Giddy with my own preserve superpowers, I entered a jar in the novice category of the Marmalade Awards at Dalemain Mansion, hoping to get further tips on my scorecard. The good folk of Cumbria must have heard my shriek of ecstatic glee when a certificate arrived awarding me bronze! I celebrated by dispensing with the bread and eating more marmalade off the spoon while counting down the days til further blood orange crops. I’ll just make twice as many jars next year!

2012 Marmalade Awards, Fortnum and Mason, London

 

 

Baked Alaska Mince Pies

While there are many Christmas foods I adore, I just can’t get excited about mincemeat. It’s been several years since I ate a mince pie and feeling somewhat left out, I decided to make my own this year to see if I could get myself more enthused. Unable to get my hands on enough quinces to do jelly this year, I decided to get my fix by following Nigella’s Quincemeat recipe from page 265 of How to Be a Domestic Goddess and up the fruit content of those pies.

The quincemeat went into a jar in September to mature gently and I gave myself time to get excited. I was quickly distracted when The Little Loaf and I managed to find a date that we could meet for a pre-Christmas bake. An idea to do a winter inspired chocolate brownie Baked Alaska developed a life of its own when I heard about Sainsbury’s mince pie ice cream. We just had to do Baked Alaska mince pies instead! Talk about exciting…

We decided to each take a component and prepare it in advance and because we were baking at mine, I went for the ice cream. I wanted it to be inspired by that extra thick brandy cream people top their mince pies with and decided to push the boat on it. Using the foolproof custard from David Lebovitz as a base, I tweaked it slightly to be as rich as possible. You’ll need:

250ml (1 cup) whole milk (I used unhomogenised Jersey Milk)
500ml (2 cups) double cream
100g sugar
8 egg yolks (you could use 5 if you prefer)
pinch salt
dash of vanilla extract
good slug of brandy

Heat the milk and sugar gently to make sure all the sugar is dissolved. Add the cream and make sure it is nicely warmed. Then take a cupful or so of the warm dairy mixture and stir into the beaten egg yolks to temper them and stop them scrambling when you tip them all back into the milk mixture.

Gently add the tempered yolks into the warm milk and cream and cook over a low heat, stirring well. Use a spatula for this to make it easier and because you’ll know when the custard is ready when it coats the back of the spatula.

Take it off the heat immediately. Pour into a metal bowl, adding the vanilla and brandy and either chill overnight in the fridge or make an ice bath inside another larger bowl. Then once nicely chilled, pour into your machine and churn as standard. About five minutes before the end, gently add in about 250g of the quincemeat, a tablespoon at a time and let the machine mix it in well.

You’ll need scoops of ice cream for your mince pies so if you want you could shape the scoops now and freeze them on a plate or simply place in a container with a lid and freeze as normal. You can soften it slightly and do the scoops when needed but you’ll need to re-freeze them for at least two hours to prevent a fit of melting that would alarm even a climate change denier.

It was all a bit Blue Peter for me when the pies were assembled as The Little Loaf had made this beautiful clementine pastry and had rolled it out, pricked with a fork and blind baked it while I turned 3 egg whites, a teaspoon of cream of tartar and 100g of caster sugar into some meringue with the help of a hand whisk.

A scoop of ice cream went into a cooled pie case and the meringue was piped in with a disposable bag and a large star nozzle. Piping gives lots of surface area to crisp up and looks lovely, but you could also smooth the meringue over with a mini spatula and rough up with a fork. Make sure there are no gaps either way and then put the piped pies into the freezer for about 20-30 minutes.

Get the grill nice and hot and then toast the pies under it for about 2-3 minutes. Do not take your eyes off them for even a second. Meringue has a nasty habit of turning without close supervision. You can like us finish the meringue off with a blow torch for extra toastiness (and dinner party entertainment) but be careful the whole thing doesn’t ignite! Meringue is surprisingly flammable.

Serve your pies immediately to get the maximum mixture of buttery pastry, creamy cold ice cream and and crispy crunchy meringue. These Baked Alaskas are smooth and sweet with just enough bite from the quincemeat and the brandy not to be sickly. I’d use a bit less cardamom in the quincemeat in future, but otherwise this was pitch perfect. I think I’m a total mince pie convert now…

wild_garlic_pesto-9

Wild Garlic Pennine Pesto

I can’t believe it’s only a year since I first tried cooking with wild garlic: this proved to be a revelatory experience on two levels. First, I rediscovered it’s fun to forage for local, wild food (as Miss South can testify with her participation in regular Invisible Food Walks) and secondly, I found out wild garlic tastes really, really good.

There’s a spot nearby where ramsons run wild and profuse so at the weekend I picked a few handfuls… some to take to city-dwelling veggie mates who appreciate the delicate spring freshness… and the rest for me. I tend to pick the leaves and the occasional flower bud, rather than lifting whole plants. After all, this should be a sustainable food one can come back to year after year, so keep the roots and flowers going. So now I had the sustenance from this year’s spring, what was I to make of it?

Towards the end of last year’s season I had a recommendation to make pesto from the wild garlic leaves, as it freezes well and is a good way of preserving a little bit of spring sunshine into the winter months. I didn’t have time to try this out, although I did freeze a few leaves, which we ended up using in our blog’s first birthday dinner. So it seemed only right that I give Pennine pesto a go this year as the brief season is now fully underway.

I’ve previously made Pesto Genovese at home, taking my cue from years past when our mum used to convert the surfeit of fresh basil from the greenhouse into great pesto. From what I remember it was pretty classic pesto… only basil, parmesan, good olive oil, pine nuts and garlic. Last year MIss North and I were very pleased with a fantastic pesto we made from cobnuts and beetroot tops. However the whole subject of pesto making is a contentious subject, discussed in this piece by Felicity Cloake, so I did some more reading. The more I read, the more I wanted to keep it simple, doing a straight swap of basil for ramsons. I rather liked this blog post about wild garlic pesto, so after some brief prep I rolled up my sleeves and got started.

I (rolls eyes) toasted my nuts in a heavy pan, then tossed them in sea salt and let them cool down fully to bring out the best of their flavour. Meanwhile I washed each ramson leaf. Yes, one by one, like some slow-motion chlorophyllic shampoo advert. Although it’s a bit of a faff when you have a load of leaves it’s worth doing it properly to remove any icky things. I grated the cheese (half pecorino romano, half parmesan) and measured out the oil.

At first I tried to use my mortar and pestle to mash up the mix (doing things the traditional way), but I soon realised I’d need a Belfast sink-sized setup to grind all the long leaves easily. I was also getting hungry, so I used the hand blender instead, incorporating the wild garlic, nuts and oil in batches. Once they were done I stirred in the cheese, and a healthy grind of black pepper. I kept the final mix quite coarse; wanting a little bite from the pine nuts, and to let the grated cheese bind everything together. If anything I think it was a wee bit thin, so in future I’d probably reduce the quantity of olive oil, although it was only afterwards I realised I should’ve kept some back to top the jar off with.

The pesto was vividly viridecent; ramsons don’t have the same tendency to bruise or discolour as basil, so it looked fab. The flavour was clean and fresh, without tasting too ‘thin’ or indeed too ‘garlicky’. Tastes and looks great over some good spaghetti or linguine… and as I’ve made enough to keep me going for a while, any spare can go straight in the freezer to add some springtime greenery for a later date!

Knowing me, knowing you… ah-ha!

Game, ceps and mash…

Partridge 10

We’ve written before about our shared love of game, especially the profusion of locally-sourced goodies from my part of the world in the Pennines. As our first birthday beckoned, and we thought of something to raise a fork and a glass to, I picked up a brace of partridge from Stansfield’s in Todmorden with an eye to our celebratory seasonal feast. As luck would have it, work took me to London for the weekend so we conspired to rustle up a hearty wintery meal which would encapsulate many of the tastes and temptations of the first twelve months of our blog, from both north and south.

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Rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb…

The pastel hues of Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb

Great news for those us with access to one of Yorkshire’s finest regional specialities… forced rhubarb has achieved Protected Designation of Origin status this week.

I just picked up my first bunch from the market today (just look at its pale, shy colouring!), and I intend to make the most of this delightfully delicate flavour. This particular bunch is going to get stewed simply and stirred into some creamy full-fat yoghurt for dessert, but next week I’m determined to serve up some more with mackerel, as it’s supposed to be a classic pairing. Roll on the rhubarb!